Chapter 4:

Dan didn’t know how long he had been sleeping as he opened his eyes. He was on the couch in the living room and the TV was still on with the sound very low. But that wasn’t unusual as that was where he had slept ever since the day Ronnie had died. He just could not sleep in their bed because he kept waking and reaching for her.

He came out of his thoughts with a jolt. He remembered what had happened the day before. But it must have been a nightmare because the vessel that had contained Ronnie's ashes was still there on the mantel. Shouldn't it be in the closet? Now he wasn't even sure if he'd been to the bay to empty it. What evil jokes the mind plays on you when you are most vulnerable. This was nothing new. He had had dreams and nightmares ever since his wife's death.

It was very quiet, not even a breeze outside. He had better go and check on his dogs since he could not remember if he had put them away and fed them. As he opened the back screen door and descended the steps there they were, all back in their kennels just like they should be. A wild thought entered his mind. What if it had been real? If so, where was the girl now?

Dan walked back into the house and approached the main bedroom with apprehension. He had only been in there a few times since Ronnie had passed away. He was almost afraid to open the door for fear it would prove he had been dreaming. Slowly and ever so quietly he reached for the doorknob, turned it and pushed the door ajar. Was he still dreaming? The woman that looked so much like his wife was right there in their bed as if that was where she was supposed to be.

How was he going to handle this unbelievable strange world he was now in? On the one hand he should take this person to the hospital and have her checked out, but on the other he was afraid to destroy the illusion, if that is what it was. The girl moved very slowly as she adjusted her position under the sheets. Although she was sleeping, there was a hint of a smile upon her lips.

As Dan began to leave the room and close the door his new 'girl friend' opened her eyes and looked right up at him. This was the final proof he was looking for. Her eyes were the deepest blue he could ever remember seeing. These were the eyes of his lost wife. This new reality, if it could be trusted, still had him struggling to come to grips with everything that had happened. Was he dreaming now or had he dreamed of her death. What was the truth?

As Dan was reeling in this unusual time and place his wife's 'look-alike' spoke in a much stronger voice "What happened to me?" she inquired. "What is the last thing you remember?" he asked. She frowned as she fought for any kind of memory that might be forth coming. "I can’t remember anything except you finding me in the water and bringing me back here." she said. He asked her if she remembered her name. She said she didn’t. "Do you recognize me from anytime before last night?" he asked. "I don’t think so." she replied. "I’m very hungry and thirsty though." she decided.

Taking this as an indication that whether this was real or imaginary, at least the girl was well enough to eat something. "If you’re sure, I’ll go make you something." he said. "What would you like, anything special?" he added. What he heard next would surely make him wonder if he was losing it. "I would like a tuna fish sandwich, some Cheetos, and, can you make me some snickerdoodles later on?" she asked. "Er I’m sorry what was that you just said?" he queried in disbelief. " I said, I would like a tuna fish sandwich and some Cheetos." she responded. "No, what was that other item you requested?" he inquired. "Oh, I think I said: Could you make me some Snickerdoodles later." she reiterated.

That was it. Dan had gone over the edge. He knew he had never gotten over the loss of his wife and now his mind was retreating in the only manner it knew how. He was going insane. "Is something the matter Babe?" the girl inquired. Complete shock and horror hit him now. "What did you just call me?" he pleaded. "I said is something the matter?" she replied. "No, you just called me Babe" he noted. "Why would you call me that?" he begged. "Well, I don’t know. Maybe I call all handsome gentlemen who rescue me, Babe." she responded. "Why?" she asked.

Dan's forehead had broken out in a cold sweat. He’d seen movies with scenarios like this, but they were just someone’s imagination turned into a story. How did he know he wasn’t conjuring up this whole thing? Or, maybe he was still asleep. He couldn’t prove this one way or the other. Just then the phone rang. Who could that be and what would he say to them? "I know, I’ll let it go to the answering machine." he said under his breath.
Hello there, this is Mom. Just wondered if you were OK. We hadn’t heard from you the last two days. I’m still looking for that episode of Passions on tape. I’ll tell you if I learn anything. Dad wants to know if you are watching the A’s game. They just scored. Well, that’s all for now. Hope all is OK. Hang in there son.
This sent a new revelation searing into his brain. How was he going to explain this to his parents? How was he going even to speak about this to anyone? This was just too much for him to handle. He had to contact someone just to confirm that what was happening was reality. But who would he be able to talk to? A shrink? A friend? Who? Maybe this woman wouldn’t even be visible to someone else. "Oh my God!" he whispered. Was she a ghost?

As Dan was preparing her tuna sandwich, Cheetos and tea he wondered, what if this girl didn’t like tea. He was assuming she would like the same things that his wife had. He wasn’t even sure if he still had his sanity much more know if this was his recently deceased wife, Ronnie. And just then another thought flashed across his mind. What about the ashes? Were they still in the urn? Maybe he hadn’t spread them over the bay after all. "Take it slow and do one thing at a time" he told himself. He remembered his neighbor Karen Bendy had told him that just after Ronnie had died. Or did she?

He had to do something and fast. But just what, he didn’t know. He brought the food to her on a TV tray and set it by the bed. His new companion was sitting up with the sheet up to her neck. "Oh! I’d better get you something to wear." he said. He went to the dresser and grabbed a T-shirt and underpants and handed them to her.

Dan was amazed to see the girl simply stand up, drop the sheet and proceed to put the garments on. She wasn’t shy in the least. She acted like this was as normal as ... as normal as ... husband and wife. She spun around and sat at the edge of the bed so she could pull the tray closer. As he watched her she looked up at him and smiled that smile he knew all too well.

Dan was beginning to think he had imagined Ronnie's death and that this was just another day. But, wait a minute, what about finding her in the surf. What about his Mom saying "Hang in there son." And, worst of all, how could that golden vessel containing her remains even exist. Where did reality and dreams get so blurred? He had to check the urn and see if there was anything in it. He smiled back at the girl as she ate. She asked him if there was anything on TV. "I don’t know, let me see." he answered. "Do you want 'Days of Our Lives'?" He suggested. "OK." she replied. "No, find something else, those shows never get anywhere." She added. He found a 'Matlock' movie for her and then left the room to verify the contents of the vessel... or the lack there of.
As Dan entered the living room, trying to digest the conversation he'd just had with the girl, he could see the container still resting just above the fireplace, exactly where he’d placed it the day he and his Dad had picked it up from the Neptune Society. He crossed the room and slowly reached for it. He froze. What if he were in the midst of some sort of spell and removing the lid would break the spell? Maybe he would just lift the lousy urn. No, that would essentially be the same thing because that too would indicate that he didn’t believe. If Ronnie was not dead then why was this golden 'thing' sitting on his mantel? Maybe he was in some sort of trance. How would he continue to keep something from snapping him out of this half concious state? Would it be a visitor, a phone call, or what about when they had to go someplace? He wasn't at all sure he wanted to wake from this 'dream'. Just then he heard the girl say something. He turned back toward the bedroom door. "Sorry, what was that?" he asked. "Are the dogs OK?" she wondered.
Again Dan had to gather his wits. "What dogs?" he solicited. "Our dogs." the girl affirmed. "You know about the Aussies?" he asked. "Sure." she continued. "How do you know about them?" he ventured. "I don’t know. I just do." she answered. "Do you know their names?" He inquired. "Well, no, I guess not." she admitted. "How come I don’t know their names?" she asked sadly. "I’m not really sure." he said. "Maybe you just forgot and it will all come back to you later." he continued. "Yes, that must be it." She decided. And with that the poor girl seemed comforted and went back to watching her TV show.

This 'wifely clone' of his hadn’t lost her memory, at least not all of it. She wasn’t crazy. She seemed to think and react rationally. But part of her memory was definitely lacking, at least for now. What should he make of this new development? Let’s see, she is here and in their bed. But, her cremated remains are still sitting on the mantel. These two things just couldn’t happen at the same time.

Dan was dreaming again. That had to be the case. He still missed Ronnie so much that he was creating this fantasy as a way to bring her back. But, when would he wake up and how would he know when that had happened? For now he would just have to let this strange dream or reality play itself out. The phone rang again.

Hello Mr. Sanborn. This is the Neptune Society returning your call about the death certificate error. We will send you a corrected copy in a few days. The State will send you a new one in about six months. If you need anything further please don’t hesitate to call us. Thanks.
With each moment new contradictions were occurring faster than Dan could explain them. He pondered the whole situation further in his mind. How does one know when they are dreaming? He remembered that someone is always supposed to pinch you and if it hurts then you are awake. He knew one thing for sure. He had to verify this reality somehow and do it now. He would have to take a chance on breaking this spell or dream whichever it was. Yes, he must take action but first he would see if the old method of having someone pinch him would work.

He returned to the bedroom to ask the girl to pinch him. He looked down at her lying on the bed. She was asleep again. He saw a pin resting on the night stand. He picked it up and poked himself with it. "Ouch!" That made her moved slightly but she did not awaken. He was bleeding now and he was beginning to get a headache. He thought that was strange since he did not get headaches.

Dan left her and grabbed a bandaid from the bathroom. Was this proof that he was existing in reality? His mind sought further proof. Another thought escaped from his memory. It was the dream. He remembered now. When this day started, he had been dreaming. Now, let’s see, how did that dream go? Oh, yeah. It was the one where he couldn’t swim. Funny, before Ronnie died, whenever he had this dream he never had a problem with swimming. He would just float ... This was not helping and his head was pounding. As he downed some aspirin he wondered: Could a person dream a dream within a dream?