Fiction · 02/05/2014

dreamPod™

When the dreamPod™ first comes out, you will be skeptical. A device that records your dreams? Not possible, you’ll say.

The magazines and the television shows and the newspaper all say that it works, that The Company’s patented technology actually works, but still you’ll be doubtful until a few days later, when the first person you know buys one and shows you — insists on showing you — the wonder of this new mini-machine, that with only the push of a button can record your dreams and play them back to you.

You have to see this, this person — this early adopter — will say to you one night at the bar. You are on yet another unsuccessful date, and so you say okay, anything to fill the time less awkwardly. You won’t be sure, but you think you might even detect a note of desperation in their voice. Desperation to show you the device that they paid so dearly for, the dream that the device has brought to them as their reward for paying so dearly.

And this person will move a little closer to you, too close, but you both need to be crowded over this tiny screen in order to see. And they’ll press play, and then there the person is, still standing next to you, your size, life-size, but also now in miniature on the screen, parachuting into a jungle, or walking a red carpet, or on the top of Mount Everest, or some other showily impressive feat, copied straight from their subconscious to this screen.

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As the weeks go on, more and more people you know will buy the dreamPod™. The Company releases new updates to the dreamPod™ software, so that users can index dreams by location, emotion, occasion, persons involved. The Company creates a website for storing dreams, dreamBox™, so if something were ever to happen to a user’s specific device — spilled coffee, broken screen, dropped in the toilet (surprisingly common) — their dreams would still be safe. The Company releases a series of dream filters, so you can shade your dream in sepia or black and white or ultra-saturated color.

The Company creates another new website, for sharing dreams, dreamTime™, which you can use to tag other people, those who appear in your dream, those you want to share your dream with. People can “like” dreams and comment on them, and, after a few more weeks, the website updates again so that dreams with the most Likes are featured at the top of the dreamTime™ website, and you can view them whether you know the dreamer or not, whether you have a dreamPod™ or not.

You are surprised by how many of your friends’ dreams seem to be almost exactly like their real lives: getting married, having babies, working at real jobs with real salaries, going on beach vacations, buying houses. You are partner-less, baby-less. Your salary is enough to live on, but not enough to vacation on. You live in a one-bedroom apartment. Maybe if you had all these things — a partner, a baby, a real job, a beach vacation, a house — you would dream about them, too.

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Months pass, and finally, you give in. You buy the dreamPod™. It is a little bit out of your price range, but so be it, you’ll eat a lot of pasta this month. And when you go to bed that first night, you are excited — you hate to admit it, but you are. So excited that you have a little trouble falling asleep, but finally, you slip under, and all is dark.

When you wake up in the morning, you don’t remember your dream at all, and you roll over eagerly to pick up the dreamPod™ from your nightstand, the screen alight with data, a graph showing the duration of the dream, with peaks and troughs in activity. You can’t wait to watch it, to watch yourself parachuting into a jungle or walking a red carpet or summiting Everest or whatever wonderful thing your subconscious got you up to.

But no. You have not dreamt of triumph, of celebrity, of thrill. You — strange, sick little you — have dreamt that your eyebrows are taking over your face. And now you watch yourself — mini, dream-you — on the tiny screen as you stand in front of your bathroom mirror, tweezers in hand, desperately yanking at them, black and bristly, but they are spreading faster than you can possibly pluck, first across your forehead, then your temples, then your cheeks, until they cover your whole face like you are some kind of beast. A small furry beast.

No one else seems to have dreams like yours. You always assumed that other people had strange dreams, too, maybe not exactly the same as yours, but strange nonetheless. But if they do, those dreams aren’t the ones they’re posting, the ones they’re sharing, the one’s they’re Liking.

You think about sharing your eyebrow dream, but you’re worried that no one will Like it. Sometimes people you vaguely know — people you went to high school with, people you met once at a party — sometimes they post dreams like your eyebrow dream. Dreams that are not all adventure and triumph and beauty; not all houses and babies and beach vacations. You notice that very few people Like those kind of dreams, the ones like this beastly eyebrow dream of yours.

Who are you that you dream such un-shareable, un-Likeable dreams?

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The next night, before you go to bed, you tell yourself to dream nice dreams. You read somewhere that you can affect your dreams if you concentrate hard enough right before going to sleep. So you think hard on clouds and motion and sky, and it works! You dream that you are flying, and it’s beautiful, peaceful, magical, everything that a flying dream should be. It’s also kind of cliché, and you know that, too, but when you wake up the next morning, and you remember your dream, you think, Finally! Something worth sharing on dreamTime™. Your friends might have their dreams about babies and houses, but you have this flying dream, and that’s just as good.

You are excited to choose the filter for it.

But then you go to your computer, and it turns out that your friend Kerry Ann, who, incidentally, also has a baby and a house and a job at a law firm and a handsome husband, already shared a flying dream that day, only sixteen minutes ago, and it’s already gotten thirty-two Likes. And it’s a better flying dream than your flying dream — not only is it twenty seconds longer, but it doesn’t even need a filter, it’s that clear, that beautiful. You could still post your flying dream, but you don’t want people to think you’re copying Kerry Ann or trying to steal her thunder.

You know Kerry Ann from college, and you don’t really keep in touch anymore except for what you see of hers, what you Like of hers, on dreamTime™. You were both history majors and she always sat next to you when you were in the same seminars. You graduated with honors and you’re pretty sure Kerry Ann didn’t, but then you went to art school even though you could have gone to law school, and so now here you are, eating a bowl of cereal before going to your day job as a receptionist at a law firm much like the one where Kerry Ann is now a junior partner.

Maybe you will save your flying dream and post it some day when you don’t see any other flying dreams.

You are disappointed. You stare at the Share button, at the other dreams that are popping up on your screen at that very moment, accruing one Like, two Likes, three Likes.

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You log off of dreamTime™. You finish your cereal. It is still early; you don’t have to be at work until nine, but you get up at five every day to have some time to paint before you are too tired from the filing, from the phone calls, from the endless drudgery. You have been thinking of painting your eyebrow dream, shameful as it is. A self portrait.

You want to watch it again. You press play on the dreamPod™ and the dream unfolds, just as you remember it, like a little movie. It’s short — only eight seconds — and it looks like it was filmed in stop-motion, the hairs appearing on your face in little bursts and spurts. You press play again and again, falling into the rhythm of the hair appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing, and you think, there is beauty in that, in its motion, in its rhythm, in its very strangeness.

You think that probably no one else has ever had that exact dream, and that makes you proud of it, somehow, that you are the only one who knows that dream exists, that — out of all the infinite dream possibilities — this one, too, is possible.

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You step into the makeshift studio that you’ve set up in the corner of your living room. You put brush to paint, paint to canvas. These days, everyone thinks you are just a receptionist at a law firm. When you go out for drinks with your friends, no one asks you about your art, whether because they don’t remember or because they think it would be impolite or because they think you’ve given up, you don’t know. When you go out on a date, and the date asks you what you do, you don’t know what to say, because you’re not really a law firm receptionist but you don’t know if you can call yourself an artist, either.

You draw your face as you saw it in the mirror, the eyebrows beginning to take over, but it’s missing both the motion of the eyebrows — appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing — and also the you who is looking at the mirror, the you who is watching.

Because what is a dream without someone to watch it? Without someone to Like it?

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You log back onto dreamTime™ and upload the eyebrow dream, no filter. You watch the little wheel turn and turn while the video loads.

You tell yourself not to care about how many Likes you get, or if anyone comments, or how many Likes Kerry Ann gets, Likes that could have been yours if you posted generic flying dreams, guaranteed crowd-pleasers.

You tell yourself not to worry about whether the dream is flattering, or if your ex will Like it, or if it will gain one of the much-coveted spots at the top of the queue.

Your finger hovers over the Share button. You don’t have to Share the dream, you think. You don’t have to ever Share anything. You could lurk on dreamTime™ infinitely, indefinitely, a perpetual voyeur into others’ curated subconsciouses.

You stare at the touchscreen, at the simulacrum of a button, made two-dimensional for your device, flattened just like your dream, just like your furry face in the mirror.

It is a good dream, you think, as you press the Share button. It is a good dream, as you see it appear on the site.

Yes, it is a good dream, you think.

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Claire Miye Stanford’s fiction and essays have appeared in Bluestem, Paper Darts, The Monarch Review, The Millions, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Minnesota and currently lives in Minneapolis. Follow her at @clairemiye.