Did she exist?
Well, of course she existed, that was obvious and self evident, but was it?
What if she was just some errant thought that grew and created a life of its own. A life with family and a back story. What if, once she realised this, she would vanish from existence in a puff of sudden realisation that she did not, in fact, exist.
She was a person, she had a life, she had a family. She must be real. If she was real then so was everyone else, but that couldn’t be right either. millions and billions of minds thinking and calculating, whirring away. How did the collective force of it all not kill everything with the sheer weight of it, the constant noise and shouting of a brain at work.
She took a breath.
Perhaps this was all just some existential crisis. She said the word aloud, letting it roll around her tongue, getting used to the feel of it. Was that even the right word? It sounded right, it sounded nice too, so that was the word she was going to stick with.
It calmed her down slightly, but other than that, it did nothing to help.
It could be a kind of mid-life crisis, that she was just freaking out and she’d go off and marry rich old dudes and buy stupid shit. Could you have mid life crisis’s in your twenties? Crisis’s? Crisi?
What ever it was, it wasn’t that. She didn’t like the word. Crisis. It made everything feel too immediate, too real. Her problem was arguably small, thought still terrifying in all its implications.
Catherine’s problem was this, she was dead.
Yet here she was, walking, talking, thinking, but most definitely dead. She had a pulse, she had visited the doctor and been told she was in perfect health, but that couldn’t be. They were wrong, because after all, she knew she was dead. She remembered it. It hadn’t been a dream, that much she was certain of, dreams are not supposed to hurt and dying had hurt like a motherfucker.
She had been picking up a few things in a small shop, she had just gotten off work and was tired, but she promised Todd she’d pick up a few things, she’d be home faster than him and he promised that he’d cook her dinner tonight, so it was a fair trade. She browsed the aisle, list clutched in hands, when a man with a gun started shouting. Her list had fallen to the ground, she watched it go, watched as it landed and slid underneath a shelf nearby. Her whole body was trembling, her mind screaming that she had to get down, quickly, and cover her head, the robber couldn’t know she had seen him. He was taller than she would have thought, robbers had always been short people in her mind. He was waving the gun around, the black length, waving back and forth, The cashier was trying to get the money out of the till, people were shouting, but she couldn’t quite hear it. She had to get down, had to move, had to do something. Then she did the only thing that seemed to make sense. She ran. Right towards the door. Unfortunately, what she hadn’t realised when she started running, was that it was now blocked by a man with a gun. She might have been screaming, she wasn’t sure. Time moved slowly, like everything was moving through a thick syrup. The man with the gun turned, his mouth started to move, forming words and sentences but there was no noise from him either. His gun swung around and up, pointing directly at her. She didn’t have time to stop before the shots came. These she heard, but they were not loud, they were gentle. Something hit her chest, her stomach and her arm. Her momentum seemingly stopped and she fell to the ground. It was difficult to catch her breath, the running must have taken a lot out of her, which wasn’t right, she ran all the time. Her arm felt numb, but her stomach and chest were burning, like someone had set off a firework inside her. The robber turned from her and grabbed the money, he fired twice more, then fled. She watched the cashier fall backwards, a spray of blood coating the wall behind him. She writhed on the ground, the burning was too much, it was too hot, she couldn’t breath she- blacked out.
When Catherine came to, she wasn’t in the shop, she was two streets over and sagging against a wall. A concerned looking man paused briefly, “I’m fine, really.” And continued on. But she wasn’t fine. She was trembling and unbearably cold. She reached out, expecting to find the front of her work blouse to be wet and drenched in blood, but it was dry. She sat down, head between her knees, vaguely thankful she was wearing trousers. After a few deep breaths, she began to feel better, it was just some kind of fucked up daydream. She absentmindedly rubbed her arm, it was throbbing gently, she must have hit it against the wall. The silence was shattered by sirens nearby. She didn’t want to know, didn’t want to see anything, yet she still stood and began to walk towards them. Catherine didn’t need the sound to guide her, she already knew where she was going.
She stopped outside the small shop, police were inside, as were an ambulance crew. She craned her neck, not wanting to see. There on the wall was the cashiers blood. She looked over at where she had been, nausea hit her, sudden and hard. There on the ground was blood. She stumbled away from the crime scene, she didn’t want to see what was going to happen next.
At home, she turned on the kettle, then sat down. She needed a cup of tea, one loaded with sugar, she was in shock, people in shock should have sugar. Or was it salt? She stared at the kitchen wall and stayed like that for almost half an hour, when she snapped out of it the kettle was lukewarm. She flicked it on again. Todd must be running late. She was glad. She didn’t want to see anyone right now. She made herself tea and drank it slowly, then she found a few biscuits and delicately nibbled on them. She knew she should eat them, but the thought of doing it quickly make her want to throw up. She already knew what she was going to tell Todd, she had seen what had happened, she was passing by. The police might know she was lying, but she didn’t have to tell them anything. She’d tell Todd she was afraid of the robber or something. He’d believe that and surely there was some anonymous tip line she could ring. It wasn’t like she had gotten a good look at the robber either, he was wearing some Halloween mask.
That night had passed quickly, Todd had ordered take away for them and sat with her in silence. They watched some TV, Catherine didn’t actually know what they watched, but it was distracting in a vague sort of way.
She had been dead for a week now. A week. She was sure that if she went back to the store, she’d find her list under those shelves, but she was afraid to check. Afraid that the universe might rebound and send her back to that place in time. Sure she was dead, but she was still alive. Perhaps she had been ejected from her own universe and into a new one, taking over the life of this Catherine. There hadn’t been any differences that she noted, but then they might be subtle, too subtle for her to notice. All Catherine knew for sure is that a week ago she was dead and now, she wasn’t.