First day at the dreamhouse

by Amandeep Jutla

“Who sent you?”

This is my new boss. She is brusque, to-the-point, all business. I like this about her. Last person I worked for was a real sleaze-bag. Took me to clubs, acted like we were friends. I believed it until he said we needed “to talk.”

Never a good sign. If we need to talk, talk. You don’t need to warn me, even if you’re letting me go. Honest. You don’t have to coddle me.

Only two people know what happened to my last boss. I’m one. The pathologist is another. He agreed never to talk, but of course nobody does any damn thing for free.

Had I the money, I’d have bought him off. Simplest. Least headache imaginable. Note to self: consider emergency bribe fund. Something for the future. Not for now.

Right now, my new boss has a question. I answer, give her the pathologist’s name, and watch a strange expression dart across her face. A flicker almost too fast for me to see, but I catch it. What it means, I have no idea.

“Well, come on,” she says. She’s at least a foot taller than me. More substantial. She is more of the world than me, ninety-four pounds last I checked, cancer’s a hell of a thing, bad in all the obvious ways, good perhaps in a few others.

I think of my old boss. Would I have done what I did to him if I hadn’t known I would be dying myself within a year? It’s a boring question. Obviously the answer’s no.

We’re inside the dreamhouse now. I’d love to say I’ve never been here before, but no, there was a time when I lined up like everyone else.

I was tired of the standards, you know. The falling one. The erotic one. The one where I fly. The one where something’s chasing me. The one where I’m supposed to give a speech but I don’t have any notes, and also I’m naked.

At my worst I went every week. I bought whole handfuls. Once, the sins were on clearance. Seventy-five percent off. I got the whole set. Lust was too ephemeral. Greed wasn’t satisfying. Pride and sloth, though? The best.

I kicked the dreamhouse habit eventually. Most people do. It’s something you grow out of, unless you’re the guy I’m looking at now.

My boss has stopped moving, holding out a hand and bidding me to do the same.

“Just a moment,” she says. She walks towards the man, who just plain will not stop screaming.

“Sir,” she says, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave if you won’t be quiet.”

I’m not sure if she genuinely thinks this man will listen to her or if she’s just going through the motions because she figures it’s what the other customers expect. I suspect the latter.

Sure enough, she’s back in front of me, hands me a hypnodermic. “Take him,” she says. A ghost of a smile. “I suppose your first day on the job’s as good a time as any to take a look behind the curtain. You’ll have to find out eventually.”

I think of the pathologist at the coroner’s office. A twitching mess. I remember finding it hard to believe that he’d managed the autopsy at all. How was it that he had found it in himself to cut straight?

We only met the one time. It was enough to see that something had gone terribly wrong inside of him, something behind his eyes had gone dark.

He’d grabbed my sleeve so hard I thought it would rip. “Find out,” he’d hissed. “Find out.”

The last sentence ringing in my head now, as I lug the unconscious customer to the back room. A row of figures in white, drills gleaming in fluorescent light.

“Find out where the dreams come from.”