By Allison Morris
Maria had successfully been normal for 2,477 days. Since the night of her second date with Joe. She was good at it and no one knew how much of a challenge each day once was. Wake up. Go to work. Chatter at the water cooler. Subway home. Dinner with Joe. Rinse and repeat. She barely felt the strain of it anymore.
And then on a bright, breezy day at the start of September, Maria heard the song that would change her life. She drove a rented car, winding her way towards to the Berkshires to interview a chef for the week’s column, hardly paying attention to the music. And then “Water’s Edge” began.
When Maria heard Sam Montgomery moan the opening notes of the song, despair overwhelmed her. It was physical, like some undiscovered organ secreted an electrically charged chemical. He drew her in—a magnet—gravity—she could not pull herself away. Maria did not know that anything was missing from her life until she heard his voice.
She eased the car onto the grass on the side of the parkway to compose herself. Once calm again, she downloaded the album onto her iPhone and listened to him sing.
On that 2,478th day, in the early autumn breeze on the side of the Taconic Parkway, all of Maria’s efforts to live a normal life fell away.
This is when the dreams began.
Autumn in New York, the best time to experience the city. Though she brought her lunch to the office – leftover stir-fry that Joe made for dinner – she bought a salad just to escape outdoors in the afternoon. Despite the high sun, surrounding skyscrapers cast the streets into shadow. A cross street air tunnel plastered the monochrome layers of clothes to her body.
With the wind blowing her hair into her eyes, Maria did not see him until they walked into each other and bounced apart. “Excuse me,” she mumbled as he put his hands on her shoulders to steady her. She looked up to apologize but the startled expression on his face cut her short.
“Oh, it’s you.”
She tried to place the man. Wide forehead, three days of beard, sunglasses that gave no hint at his eyes, black hair in need of a shower. Tall. Young. And then she understood.
It was him.
They stood staring at each other with matched confusion until the car horns broke through their trance. The traffic light changed and they now stood in the middle of the street, blocking angry taxi drivers from their way. Neither one looked away from the other as they hurried over to the sidewalk.
“You recognize me?” Maria asked, confused that the real life star of her made up world would notice her, even if she had quite literally walked him.
“Um, yes?” He removed the sunglasses and his eyes narrowed, crinkling around the edges. She watched a film strip of thoughts flash across his face before he spoke. “This is going to sound like the worst line in history, but I dream about you.”
Huh. That was unexpected.
“Daydreaming? Or when you sleep?” she asked.
“When I sleep.”
He looked confused by her question—whether because of her lack of reaction or her request for detail, she couldn’t say. All Maria knew was that once moment she was walking down the street having a perfectly normal day and the next, a rock star showed up and made everything surreal. She lacked the capacity to wrap her mind around that just yet and the mental gear lock manifested itself with a remarkable resemblance to calm.
When Maria first looked up to see Sam Montgomery, she believed that she had gone crazy. Like submerging herself in the bathtub, she had slipped nearly unnoticeably into the world of people who eat sweaters and talk to teapots. She did not want to be insane, to have that be her life’s narrative. To hurt Joe like that. It made her sad.
And now another thought occurred to her: Perhaps she wasn’t insane. Perhaps Sam Montgomery stood in front of her in the middle of 51st Street. He had finally arrived.
“Hmm. For me it’s daydreams. I just thought I was bored.”
“You mean you’ve been dreaming about me too?” Sam Montgomery straightened his back and put his hands out in front of him. He looked like he couldn’t tell if he should be confused or angry. Maria spoke and moved carefully.
“More like thinking about you, but yes. It’s a little less weird for me though. I knew you existed at least.” He blushed, Maria supposed, at this reminder of his fame. His embarrassment struck her as fairly ill suited to the extraordinary conversation.
“What the hell is happening?” Relaxing out of his cornered cat posture, he now questioned Maria conspiratorially, as though they faced a common enemy.
“I don’t know.”
Maria surveyed Sam. She took in the messy mat of hair, the alabaster skin. She knew his aviator glasses hid large gray-green eyes, hard and deep like slate. Sam Montgomery had a wide, smooth forehead, prominent cheekbones, and a pointy chin. A heart shaped face, androgynous but beautiful. Right now, she looked past all of this and focused on making certain he was all right. Green-tinged and clammy, he looked like he might be in shock or sick.
Despite the surreal conversation and the layers of impossibility it implied, Maria felt calm. She was talking with Sam Montgomery. He was just as beautiful, even in his unkempt state, as on the cover of Rolling Stone. And he had dreamed about her. “When I make up stories about you—which makes me sound like a crazy stalker fan—you and I are good friends. What about you?”
“Yes. We’re good friends.” He tested each word as he spoke.
“What do we do in your dreams?”
“Talk mostly.” His face flushed. “And you?”
“The same; talk mostly. I’ve also imagined how we would meet.”
A pause. What now?
“Can I buy you lunch then? We can talk?” he asked.
“No.” Sam frowned. “I have to get back to work. But if you are free this evening, it seems we have a lot to discuss.”
“I can be free.” He nodded and swallowed loudly. With each passing moment, she saw him win another inch in the fight to regain composure.
“Good. Meet me here, on the corner, at five.”
Maria watched Sam walk away. As the crowd of lunch hour commuters absorbed his tall frame, her breaths grew shallow. She sucked ragged, unhelpful gulps of air into her lungs but it was too late. She was past the ability to pull oxygen into her blood. Hot tears spilled from her eyes and became steam on her cheeks. Pouting seemed childish and petulant but she couldn’t help it. Staring at the crowd, no longer able to make out more than shapes and colors, Maria burst into flames.