A phone is ringing. I pick up the nearest handset, but the ringing continues. It is the wrong handset.
A phone is ringing. I look for my phone and touch the “Answer” icon. The call drops but the ringing continues. My phone is incapable of completing the call.
A phone is ringing. I chase the sound of the phone through a house that is rapidly deteriorating around me. I enter the room where the ringing is loudest and reach blindly for the source of the sound. The handset melts out of my hand and the sound warbles and dies. I quickly leave the building before it collapses.
A phone is ringing. The ring tone announces the caller. It is someone I have been hoping to hear from. I search desperately in the room I hear the ringing from. As I lift cushions, open drawers, and move furniture, the items I move out of the way disappears. The room is now bare to the point of exposed studs and cracked foundations. I am the only thing remaining in the room. The ringing continues.
I go to the library. There is a large and bright touch screen displaying the “spirit of the day” at the entrance. The image is of the caller that was announced by the ringing phone. I openly question if the caller really has been trying to reach me or if I am allowing wishful thinking to make me feel wanted. A passing librarian asks me if I see an image on the screen. I tell them that I do. “That screen has been broken for months. We haven’t been able to control what shows on the screen. It shows a different image to each person.” I ask if there is a commonality to the images. “It doesn’t show what each viewer wants, it shows what is wanting each viewer, if that makes any sense. What each viewer sees is something that is going to be a part of their lives whether they want it or not. It has frightened many people.” It comforts me. I turn back to the librarian to inquire about alternative communication methods. The library is closed and I am standing outside the locked doors.
A phone is ringing. I am seated at a desk with a silent rotary phone. The cord has been cut so that the phone is incapable of making any terrestrial connection. I know this is not the ringing phone but it is the only phone I have. I reach out and touch the handset. The ringing stops.
I lay my head on the desk, wrap my arms around my head, and cry.
“Hello, Miss! What can I help you with?”
“Gimme a bit. I’ve never been here before and I’m a little disorientated.”
“No problem! The shop is always overwhelming for newcomers. Take your time. I’m here to answer your questions, and there is no shame in leaving empty handed.”
I allow the door to close behind me but I stand to the side of the entrance so I don’t block anyone else coming in. The [mixed ethnicity] middle-aged man wore white service clothing that reminded me of a butcher, complete with a white folded paper hat. He stood to the far side of the counter to not distract me from the bright screens over him or the glass shielded offerings before him.
The six screens announced the three most popular indica strains and the three most popular sativa strains with closeup photos of samples from each. The purple and green leaves and buds appeared generously dotted with what appeared to be large sugar crystals.
Behind the glass shield, a dozen large glass jars were clearly labeled with names and details of what strain it held. A sample from each jar was placed on a small plate before it to display the contents. Behind the counter was a sign. “Special strains available by custom order. May take up to 3 days for delivery.”
Next to where the very patient man stood a series of pamphlets and flyers about the history, folklore, and effects of the plant. A handwritten calligraphic sign was next to his hand. “Don’t know what to get? Tell me what effect you are looking for.”
“I wish [redacted] was available. He’d know how to ease me into this.” I knew where I was, but I was not yet aware that I was dreaming. “I have no idea what to ask for or what to do. I’m not even sure if this would help.” I was not aware that I had spoken out loud.
“That depends, Miss.” He adjusted the calligraphic sign to face me squarely. “You don’t have to tell me everything, and you certainly don’t have to tell me anything at all. But certain strains have certain effects, so if you know the effect you are seeking, I can help you with that.”
Years ago I had played with this plant just to see what it would do to me. I didn’t know anything about strains or concentrations, and to be truthful, most of what I had available to me was so dried out and old, it was probably pinched from a former teen’s forgotten tailings. Until I asked for some that was “a little more potent”.
Four days later, I emerged from the experience better than I had entered it bearing answers to some questions, new questions to carry, and a command from the spirit of that plant. Do not seek her again. When she wants an encounter with me, she’ll let me know.
As the realization of where I was at warmed me into lucidity, I wondered if this was her invitation.
“Um… I’m in my own way, and I need help standing to the side. If that makes any sense. Fuck, that doesn’t even make sense to me, and I’m the one thinking of it. Sorry. I… I don’t know how to put this in words.”
He turned to face me but kept the mini-stand of brochures and pamphlets between us. I realized it was his way of giving me explicit space for me to work my shit out.
“It’s like I have this phone in my head…” I pointed to my skull and realized how stupid I must have looked and sounded. “And I can’t answer it anymore. I can’t make the connection anymore. My head is so busy that it is full of noise and I can’t separate the signal from the carrier. Does that make sense? I need to silence the noise, or at least diminish it enough so I can parse the signal.”
He nodded. He placed a small notepad on the counter and wrote some notes. I wasn’t discomforted to see him do so. It meant he was taking me seriously and I was greatly relieved not to be dismissed as crazy. “When you seek to answer this phone… do you involve your whole body, just your head, or just your mind?”
Oh. Good question. “I… um… hmm. I never thought about that before. Ya know, while we’re on this analogy, I would say that I use my whole body as an antenna, my head is where the processing happens, and my mind receives the extracted signal.”
He nods and takes more notes. “What would you say is your experience level with…” He waves at the glass jars.
“I’m so beginner, I’m FNG.”
He stops writing and looks up at me. “FNG?”
“Fucking New Guy.”
He laughs with sincere mirth and adds to his notes. “Have you had any experience at all?”
I look away in sudden embarrassment. “Eh… Here’s an analogy for you… after a couple of weeks playing in a puddle for my first experiences, I got kicked off an Olympic diving board. After coming up to the surface, I haven’t gone near it since. It’s been at least five… no, six years and I haven’t even so much as looked at it since.” I laughed nervously and scratched itches that didn’t exist.
He put down the pen and stared at me with such unblinking intensity that I wanted to run away to escape it.
“So. You’ve met the Proprietress. You don’t have to answer. I saw her mark on you when you walked in the door. I was more curious if you had abided by her request. If you hadn’t, that would make this harder. She doesn’t take well to those who abuse her generosity.”
“Heh. That’s one way to put it.” I laughed a little too loud in agreement and embarrassed myself twice over.
He smiled, and the tense atmosphere thinned into comforting acceptance again. “This is going to take me a while. You have other boundaries that must be respected and worked around. While you wait for an answer from me, go look into other means of smoothing out the noise. I’m sure those that are trying to reach you are aware of your difficulties. They will be patient as long as you are active in trying to help yourself instead of waiting for someone to rescue you.”
I sighed with relief. “Now I see why you said there is no shame in leaving empty handed.”
He finished his notes and pulled the pages off the pad. “It is better to leave empty handed with a plan on how to fill them with the right thing, than to leave with the wrong thing and make things worse for yourself.”
I turned for the door and laid a hand on the handle but paused. “Look. I know I’m dreaming. It’s just that the last time I… met… her…” I looked back at him. “I don’t wanna get on her bad side. If she’s not here for me chasing this, then I’m out.”
“If the Proprietress wasn’t here for you, you wouldn’t be here.”
I nodded and looked around at the shop one more time. A sign in the far corner announced that brownies, candies, and syrups would soon be available. The man had already pulled out an old, thick tome and was cross-referencing his notes with entries in the book.
As I pulled the door open, I realized that more than just my mailing address has changed.
As I passed the threshold of the door, I exited the dream and gently woke up.