Chasing the Ethereal, Part One: Drunk from Dreams and Morning Light

by Shaun Terry

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable–what then?” ― George Orwell, 1984

Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop! Oh, no. That’s how Ruff Ryders roll… The music painted the air in loud, distorted tones, resonating strongly at some frequencies and avoiding others altogether. Justin’s tan, modest, but sinewy arm swung blindly toward his mother’s weathered wooden nightstand. He groped for and then landed on his cell phone, before swiping his chapped thumb to the right across the glass screen, trapping the old rapper’s sentiments in the air.

Fifteen minutes, he thought to himself.

Justin eventually rotated his spine over his ribcage and stiffened his arm. The light snuck in through slices of space between the fraying curtain and the wall. Justin wasn’t overly thin; his musculature was modest and his slightly rotund belly protruded over the waistband on his plaid boxers.

He meandered toward the door to the bathroom like someone drunk from dreams and morning light. The eggshell-colored door swung over the yellowing linoleum floor, and Justin positioned himself over the toilet. Is it unhealthy to have to pee so bad in the mornin’? Justin bounced three times out of ritualistic reverence to hygiene and he looked at the sink.

The fluorescent pink-and-green ergonomic toothbrush was invisible. He looked on one side of the plastic cup before picking it up. His pupils aimed at one side of the sink and then the other. His body arched to one side as his head tilted out to look beneath the sink. Behind the toilet, under some clothes, in the bathtub: not there.

He stepped outside the bathroom and looked around the door: nothing. Nightstand: nothing. He went back into the bathroom. He opened the medicine cabinet, but it had mostly contained dust and crusted flies for the past few years. There were some of his mother’s long-expired Oxycontin pills that he’d never sold and an odd smattering of old toiletries, but nothing that anyone would want at this point. He grabbed the cup and looked inside it as though he wouldn’t have seen the toothbrush poking out. He lifted it higher than necessary, moved the liquid handsoap bottle.

Where the hell is that toothbrush? Justin walked down the hallway, past 1990s photos of what had been his family, past the old man in the bedroom that he had sometimes gone in, over the multi-toned carpet that used to be covered in a thick plastic preserver, back when it had been meticulously manicured and maintained.

Justin reached above the refrigerator and grabbed the cardboard box marked: “Brown Sugar and Cinnamon,” before flipping its panels open. As the microwave roared, Justin grabbed the milk carton and relocated the mental image of his toothbrush. Probably time to get a new one, anyway.

Justin stared out the window as he scooped the beige, milk-covered porridge into his mouth. The flowers on the big magnolia tree were fully open and as Justin looked out, it felt like he could smell them. That stupid old man isn’t that stupid. Where the hell is that toothbrush?

His ceramic bowl was nearly empty. There’s nowhere it could be. Justin started to have the kinds of thoughts that don’t get enumerated with words. He wondered if someone had taken the toothbrush and he realized that no one would’ve. There was almost no chance. Had he accidentally taken the toothbrush somewhere? Why would he have? He wasn’t the kind of person to be so absent-minded. Each morning, his toothbrush had landed with the bristles pointing toward the ceiling, next to the pale blue cup, perpendicular to the wall, with the head end adjacent to the wall. Don’t make no sense.

Did it grow legs and walk over yonder? Did it disintegrate into nothin’? What if it was a hologram? Maybe I’m really in the Matrix and forgot which pill I took.

Justin reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a can of Yuengling. He cracked it open and gulped some down. What if it didn’t exist? Do I exist? Am I part of someone else’s experiment? Or dream? Is it the CIA? They got Kennedy; they could get me.

Part two
Part three
Part four
Part five