2. Dreams of Memories of Dreams

The waiting area was dim, quiet, and at least three degrees warmer than the rest of the hospital. An elderly maintenance man was working on the light fixture above the desk. He took little notice of Anton speaking to the receptionist.

She smiled and nodded. “Have a seat. Dr. Brynn won’t be long.”

Anton stood a moment longer, watching the maintenance man, before taking a seat.

A twenty-four hour news channel flickered silently on an old television wedged between two chairs in the corner of the room. A colossus of a man, sweating profusely, sat within arms reach of the television, clutching the remote control in one hand and a soda can in the other. In spite of his thunderous snoring, he appeared to be awake.

Anton tried to watch the muted television, hearing only the titan breathe, but was distracted by the soda can in the man’s gargantuan left hand. Every half-minute or so, the man would twitch and the soda can would droop a little more. Judging from the ring of condensation on the can, Anton awaited the imminent spill.

“Excuse me.”

No response.

Anton cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

He leaned to the left, dead center in the giant’s wide-eyed field of vision. “Hi.” He pointed at the remote control. “Do you mind if I …” Anton mimed changing channels with the thumb of his empty hand.

The soda can tilted another few degrees and fizzy brown liquid dribbled out, splattering on the floor.
Anton straightened up and looked back toward the receptionist’s desk. She was nowhere to be seen. The maintenance man had also left.

The deep, rhythmic, almost hypnotic snoring that had filled the room was suddenly shredded by an explosion of violent coughing. Reflexively the man reached up with his right hand to cover his mouth, still holding the remote control. When the eruption subsided, he frowned disgustedly at remote control and wiped it on the upholstered side of the waiting room seat, leaving a visible smear of phlegm behind.

Anton broke off all attempts to communicate further. He turned his attention to the pile of magazines on the table in the middle of the room. Glancing back at the trail of mucus on the chair, he pulled his hand up inside his sleeve and nudged through the stacks with the cuff of his jacket, careful not to touch any of them with his bare skin.

The most recent publication on the table was more than two years old. He performed a quick mental calculation to estimate the number of infectious hands that could have thumbed through the pages: Two-years, times two-hundred practice days per year, six hours per day, roughly four patients per hour … nine-thousand, six-hundred.

He sat back with his hands safely tucked into his jacket pockets and closed his eyes.

The receptionist returned. “Anton Novik?”

Anton stood up and followed her down a narrow hall to the last door on the left.

Dr. Brynn was tall, thin, pale, had short, cropped, graying hair and a gray goatee. His tortoise shell glasses, brown corduroys, and tweed jacket with leather elbow patches added a Freudesque air of eccentric wisdom. He held out his hand in a welcoming gesture. “It’s good to see you again Anton. You look well. How have you been?”

Anton hesitantly shook the doctor’s hand. “Not bad.”

“How is Elena? Getting close now, I suppose.”

“Eight months and counting. She’s only been off work for two weeks. It’s like she’s going through withdrawal now that I’m her only patient.”

Dr. Brynn nodded knowingly. “So you’re here under duress?”

Anton touched the tip of his nose with his index finger, then pointed at the doctor. “Something like that.”

“She seemed quite concerned when she called me last week, Anton.”

“Really? What did she say?”

“No matter. Tell me what’s going on. Really. How are you doing?”

Anton rolled his eyes and peered around the examining room as if looking for answers on the stark, white walls. “Well, if you ask Elena, I drink too much, I exercise too little, and I stay up too late.”

Dr. Brynn opened a file folder on the desk and took a pen from his pocket. “I’m not asking Elena. I’m asking you.”

Anton took a minute to consider where best to start, searching the bare walls again for answers. “Well, she’s right, in some ways, I suppose. I haven’t been sleeping well. When I wake up I’m confused.”

Dr. Brynn nodded. “That’s normal. It’s called sleep inertia. Everybody wakes up at a different rate, but it can take a few minutes for the brain to become fully conscious.”

Anton squinted, shaking his head slightly from side to side. “I know what you mean, but no, this is different. I have these vivid dreams that just …” He paused, still searching the white walls for the right words, “… they just turn me inside out. I’m almost afraid to fall asleep.”


Anton shook his head. “Not frightening. No. Upsetting. Really intense. Like bad memories that I just can’t let go of.”

“Are they? Memories, I mean?”

Anton leaned back and ran his hand through his hair. He took a deep breath then looked Dr. Brynn square in the eyes. “That’s part of the problem. I don’t know. They feel like memories, but I can’t be sure. Sometimes, during the day, I remember things but I don’t know if I am remembering a dream or something real. Other times I dream about people and places and I’m not sure if they really exist. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure if I’m awake or still asleep and dreaming. It makes reality a bit fuzzy.”

Dr. Brynn was writing furiously on the notepad in the file folder. “That would be confusing. When did this begin?”

Anton stared blankly at Dr. Brynn for a moment. He looked down at the floor, then around the room. He closed his eyes briefly, then shook his head with an uncomfortable sort of nervous laugh and a pained expression. “That’s the other part of the problem; I don’t really know when it started. It sort of feels like I’ve always been this way.”

Dr. Brynn changed tack. “Elena told me but I’ve forgotten … what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a data analyst. Statistics bureau.”
Dr. Brynn wrote a few more lines on the notepad in the folder. “Ah yes, now that you mention it, I remember Elena mentioning that. A numbers man.”

Anton’s tone changed. “Forgive me, Dr. Brynn. I realize you and my wife both work in the same hospital, but I didn’t know you were so close. You seem to know quite a bit about her and I.”

Dr. Brynn closed Anton’s file folder on his desk, pushed his chair back, and stood defensively. “Well, Anton … for the last few years we’ve eaten in the same cafeteria, ridden the same elevators, waited in the same lines for the same bad coffee, attended the same meetings and conferences, and in case you’ve forgotten, I live across the street from you.”

Anton felt the warm brush strokes of embarrassment moistening his brow. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t implying …”

“I know. It’s quite all right. You’re under a lot of stress, Anton – you’re not yourself. Lack of sleep will often cause paranoia. Take some time off. Spend a few weeks with Elena before the baby arrives. How long have you been married?”

“Almost two years. Our second anniversary might be spent in the delivery room.”

From his jacket pocket, Dr. Brynn produced a small, plain, white prescription bottle. “I want you to take one of these each day for the next while.”

Anton took the bottle and examined it. There was no information on the label other than a string of digits and a pattern that resembled a bar code. He opened it and shook a few of the round orange pills into his hand. “Skittles.”

Dr. Brynn looked confused. “Skittles?”

“Yeah, you know, the chewy, fruit flavored candy in the crunchy shell.”

Dr. Brynn frowned and shook his head. “No. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a … a skittle.”

Anton awkwardly dropped the orange pills back in the bottle and snapped the cap closed. “Right. Not Skittles. One a day. Got it.”

3. Like a Dog

Elena woke shortly after 3am. Anton’s side of the bed was still made. She walked down the hallway into the dim light of the living room. Anton was holding a copy of Kafka’s The Trial in one hand and a bottle of pinot noir in the other. On the coffee table in front of him, the handle of a knife protruded from a block of cheese on a plate like an axe that had been thrust into the stump of downed tree. He held the bottle upside down and watched the last few drops fall into his wine glass.

Elena sat down next to him on the sofa. “A book? I expected to hear the clicking of computer keys, not the turning of pages.”

He put down the bottle and read from the book with an imperceptible slur that only Elena would have noticed, “You don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.”

Elena lied back and tucked her feet under Anton’s leg to warm her toes. “Depressing view.”

“Ah – a beauty and a scholar. Yes … The lie made into the rule of the world.”

Elena leaned over and picked up the glass of wine. “They sound like somebody’s final words.”

The book fell out of Anton’s hand and he fumbled to catch it. He looked wide-eyed at Elena with disbelief.

“Did you memorize the whole book?”

Elena took a sip of wine.

Anton reached for the glass in her hand. “I’m sorry, love, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks. Even longer if you’re breastfeeding, I think.”

She held the glass high, out of Anton’s reach.

He smiled sympathetically at her. “Okay. I know, I know. I have to cut back. I swear I won’t have another drop until we can both enjoy a glass together – to celebrate, okay? I Promise.”

Elena fixed a cold stare into Anton’s eyes and guzzled the entire glass of red wine.

“Hey, come on now. That wasn’t very smart.” He reached out to touch Elena’s belly but jerked his hand back as though he had received an electric shock. He stammered, “W… uh … where? … what? …” His eyes flashed around the room.

Elena looked puzzled. “Are you okay?”

Anton was frantic. “Elena, where’s the baby? What happened? Did … Did something happen?”

“Was that your first bottle?”

“Elena. Where is the baby? We need to get you both to the hospital.”

Elena sat up straight. “What are you talking about? What baby?”

Anton read her face. There was no humor in her eyes, no levity in her lips.

Panicked, he ran to the bedroom and turned on the lights. He pulled back the covers to examine the sheets, feeling around in the bed like a blind man. He ran back out into the hallway. “Elena! Where did you … ?”

He sprinted down the hall to the bathroom, slid open the shower door and peered at the clean, dry, tiled floor of the stall. He squeezed his head with his hand like a crab covering a rock, then repeatedly smacked his forehead with his open palm. “Think. Think. Think”

The thinking produced a thought that turned his blood to slush. He stood frozen in place. For a moment the smallest of movements demanded a strength of will beyond his means. Then, with superhuman effort, Anton turned slowly and looked down at the closed lid of the toilet.

He listened without breathing. He closed his eyes and searched the air for any sound; a whimper, a breath, any hint that would put the baby anywhere other than in the toilet. The air was still except for the thunder of his own heart smashing its way through his rib cage.

He knelt down. Slowly and reluctantly he lifted the seat, readying himself for whatever was about to confront him. With his eyes still closed, he reached into the bowl and swirled his hand around. The water was clean and clear. He collapsed into a crumpled heap on the cold tile floor, gasping for air.

His fear and confusion was rapidly transforming into frustration and anger. After only a few seconds of recovery he opened his eyes and sprang to his feet, darting out of the bathroom, back down the hallway to the living room.

Elena sat on the sofa, strangely calm, bordering on annoyed, listening to the crystal tones produced as she tapped her wedding band against the side of the empty wine glass. “Are you ill?”

Anton grabbed her by the arm and yanked her up to her feet. She struggled instinctively as he forcefully pulled up the front of her nightgown and roughly palpated her lower abdomen. Panic had set in.

She shoved him away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She grabbed the knife from the block of cheese on the coffee table and pointed it at her husband. “Stay the hell away from me.”

Anton was becoming catatonic. He stumbled towards Elena with his trembling hands slowly rising, reaching out to touch her face, imploring her to offer up some explanation. Meaning only to push Anton away again, Elena accidentally shoved the knife between his ribs, deep into his chest. He stumbled backwards and sat clumsily on the edge of the coffee table for a moment. His strength spilling out through the gash in his chest. Speechless, he eased back at first onto his elbows, then flat onto his back.

Finally, lying supine on the table, Anton looked up into Elena’s horrified face looming over him and moaned, “Like a dog.”

4. Dressed all in Black

It rained the entire day of the service. Old men feeling older stood with bent backs beneath black umbrellas, listening to the priest read passages from the dog-eared pages of a brown, leather-bound bible. Each of their faces was as different as all their days past, yet made same by their patient stoicism; the suit of armor worn to shield them from the crippling absurdity of their brief existence. Stone faced masks concealed the wide-eyed astonishment and drop-jawed despair at realization that time accelerates exponentially with every passing year.

Elena quietly watched the slowly shrinking rectangle of white sky reflected in the polished lacquer lid of the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. “It’s really for us, isn’t it?”

Anton leaned toward her. “What?”

“Walnut and bronze. Hand stitched silk. Padded with eider down. Stupid, isn’t it?”

“Not if it’s what he wanted.”

“No. It was for me. To make me feel better.”

“Do you?”

She squeezed Anton’s hand and looked up into the white beyond the rim of her black umbrella. “There’s something to be said for the Tibetans.”

Anton looked up at the white sky while the priest, to his left, continued to recite scripture.

Elena tipped the umbrella back and closed her eyes, letting the light rain fall on her face. “The family wears white.”

Anton smoothed his pants legs with his hands. “But I look good in black.”

“And the Buddhist monks feed the dead to the vultures. It’s a sort of transformation. As your body is consumed by the birds your spirit supposedly takes flight. That’s what I want.”

Anton shuddered. “You want me to take your body to Tibet so you can be dismembered and fed to the vultures?”

Elena nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

“You’re not Buddhist.”

Elena glanced over at the priest. “The vultures don’t care.”

The priest exhausted his funerary repertoire ending with the signum crucis – a reflex born of a profound devotion to habitual practices.

As Elena and Anton walked back to the waiting limousine, Anton sensed he was being watched. He opened the door and held the umbrella over Elena as she took her seat in the back of the car. Anton looked back at a solitary figure standing by the graveside. Without knowing why, he waved to the stranger in the distance.
In the car, Elena took a compact mirror from purse and examined her eyes, dabbing at their edges with a tissue. “Who did you wave to?”

Anton shook his head. “I thought I recognized him, but maybe not.”

* * *

Elena examined the items on the antique oak desktop in her father’s study. She gently held each of them with the reverence of a pilgrim seeking the divine among religious relics: a Montblanc fountain pen and drafting pencil, a pair of tortoise shell spectacles, a pad of linen writing paper, a rotary telephone, a crystal decanter of eighteen year old single malt Scotch whisky.

Slowly working her way around the room, as though viewing a museum exhibit, she gently ran her fingers down the sleeve of a tweed jacket that hung on the stand beside the fireplace. She leaned closer, breathing in the lingering traces of Russian Leather from the collar. The scent transported her simultaneously to a dozen different places and times. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled and she closed her eyes, giving in to the flood of memories.

Anton silently approached from behind and put his arms gently around her waist.

She leaned her head back, resting it on his shoulder. “I don’t want to miss him. He doesn’t deserve it. Son of a bitch.”

Anton combed her hair back with his fingers and kissed her temple.

“I remember coming in here when I was four years old. I climbed on his lap, right there, behind that desk. I wanted to talk to him about something, I don’t remember what, but when I said ‘Daddy’ he cut me off. He told me I was too old call him that. From then I had to call him Peter. Who does that?”

Anton tightened his embrace. He could feel her rib cage tense as she struggled to keep from crying.

“I used to come in here and watch him work. I’d sit right here on the edge of the hearth with my own little notepad and a pencil, pretending to be just like him. Sometimes I’d come in when he wasn’t here and sit behind his desk. I’d look through all these books – diagrams, equations, schematics. I tried to make sense of them. I’d stare at them for hours, until my eyes and my head ached, but I could never make any sense of them. I knew I’d never be like him. He knew it too.”  Her chest heaved and her voice cracked. “No one would ever be like him.”

Anton slid his hands down onto the sides of Elena’s belly, waiting to feel a kick from inside. “I don’t think your father and I ever exchanged a full sentence.”

“He didn’t speak to anyone. He would drew his diagrams and wrote his equations. Even when he sat next to you at the dinner table, he was miles away, searching – always searching.”  Elena broke away from Anton’s arms. She returned to the desk and sat in her father’s leather chair beneath the window in the fading afternoon light.

Anton knew she had more to say, but knew he couldn’t coax it out of her. Elena would let him know when she was ready. He watched while she opened and closed the top desk drawer. She removed the cap from the fountain pen and signed her name on the top sheet of the linen note paper. She clicked on the architect’s lamp.

That was Anton’s cue. “You said he was searching. What did you mean?”

The lamp gave a warm glow to the room. Elena stared into the shadows. “For meaning. For answers. The classic existential dilemma.”

Anton sat in a green, leather, wingback chair next to the fireplace, facing the desk. “I think, deep down, we all search for meaning – even if most of us never acknowledge it.”
“Peter was obsessed. It defined him. He was a true polymath; a renaissance man with a god complex. Medicine, mathematics, physics, philosophy – it was all his.”

“Husband and father, too. How did he keep it all together?”

Elena laughed quietly, but bitterly. “With Planck-like precision.”

Anton had no idea what that meant. Not wanting to seem ignorant, he just nodded his usual nod.

“I spent thirty-three years trying to earn his love but I never got it. For thirty-three years I just wanted to be his daughter but to him I was just a B-student. He didn’t feel love like others feel it. Or if he did, he never showed it. That part of him was broken. I loved him. And I hated him.”

“He must have loved your mother.”

“Like you and I love a hand or a foot, I suppose. A utilitarian sort of love.”

Elena used her sleeve to dry her cheeks. She reached forward and tapped her fingernails on the bottle of Scotch. “I’d kill for a glass right now.”

Anton’s brow furrowed and his eyes scanned the bookshelves behind the desk. “You haven’t been reading Kafka, have you?”

“Kafka? No. Why?”

5. Come Sweet Slumber…

The receptionist lead Anton down the corridor to a small, quiet room. The walls were soothing yellow and the room was softly lit by a single lamp on the bedside table. A pair of blue hospital pajamas were folded neatly on a short table at the foot of a single bed.

The receptionist held a remote control. “You can use this to choose from different nature sounds. Some patients find it helps them sleep.” She pressed a button and the room was instantly filled with the sound of light rain and frogs chirping in the distance. “Go through them, see what you like – crickets in a field, surf at the beach. Personally, my favorite is the hum of the air conditioner. I’m a city girl. Turn that on and I’ll sleep like a baby. Everyone is different.” She set the remote on the bedside table next to a glass of water.

Anton smiled at her. “Silence works best for me, but thank you.”

“Okay. Dr. Brynn will be by in a few minutes to help you get into your pajamas.”

Anton laughed. “I think I’ll manage.”

She paused as she left the room. “No. These pajamas are a little different than what you’re probably used to. Have a seat. The doctor will be right in.”

Anton watched her leave, then stepped around to the foot of the bed. For the most part, they seemed like ordinary hospital pajamas; cotton top and bottoms, pale blue with a darker blue pinstripe, lingering traces of chlorine bleach. He picked them up for a closer look. The top had a stretchy, tight fitting hood, lined with what looked like a mesh made of thousands of small purple beads.

Dr. Brynn came into the room. “Good to see you again Anton.”

Anton hastily put the pajamas back on the table. Doctor Brynn gently closed the door. “How have you been? Any change since we last spoke?”

Anton shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“I see. You’re still experiencing the confusion? The strange memories?”

Anton nodded.

“Well, we’re going to try and get to the bottom of it – figure out what’s going on inside that head of yours. By the way, before we get started, I have to apologize. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be at Peter’s funeral. I was out of the country. I hope you will pass along my condolences to Elena.”

Anton flashed a half-hearted smile. “Yes. Of course.”

Dr. Brynn picked up the pajamas from the table. “He and I worked together many years ago. In fact, Peter developed the technology in this hood. It’s surprisingly comfortable. You should have no trouble sleeping while you wear it.”

“Come sweet slumber, enshroud me in thy purple cloak.”


“Art of Noise? Max Headroom? Never mind. Go on. What does it do, exactly?”

Dr. Brynn stroked his goatee and looked over the top of his glasses at Anton. “You know that Peter’s genius spanned every discipline imaginable; medicine, mathematics, psychology, and most notably physics – quantum field theory in particular.

“You see, at the very smallest distances, in the very shortest spans of time, things don’t happen as we expect them to. The laws of the universe, as we have come to know them, don’t apply to the infinitesimally small. In the gaps that exists between atoms, between quarks and leptons, in the tiniest fractions of space where measurement becomes nearly impossible, logic begins to fall apart.

“Peter uncovered a phenomenon. At the finest end of the quantum scale the trusted principal of cause-and-effect is shredded. Effect can occur after cause, as we would expect, but it can also occur before its cause, or both. Cause-and-effect is the rule that makes our universe run – if that fundamental rule breaks down, what happens to us?”

Anton looked at Dr. Brynn with raised eyebrows. “I’m sorry. What?”

“Your father-in-law was able to demonstrate that under certain conditions, events can have both happened and not happened. He proved that an event doesn’t always require a cause. Peter proved Newton wrong; Not every action has an equal and opposite reaction – not in quantum terms. Peter proved that some actions have no reaction, and some actions are purely spontaneous. In layman’s terms, quantum objects can exist simultaneously in multiple places, or even more strangely, can both exist and not exist. Uncertainty is ubiquitous. Imagine Hamlet’s conundrum on the the quantum stage: To be, or not to be … or to both be, and not, simultaneously.”

Anton rubbed his forehead. “That would make for a very long and confusing play.”

Dr. Brynn nodded. “Yes. Infinitely long – but not if there is an audience. When a quantum event is observed, by the audience, so to speak, the very act of observing removes the uncertainty. That is to say, an event that has been observed has obviously happened – so it can no longer have not-happened. Do you understand what that means? Observation cements the past in place – like protecting a computer file against accidental deletion or change. Our universe uses observation as a sort of write-protect, making the past permanent.

“Now, remove the observer – close the curtain on the quantum stage. To the audience, anything can be happening behind the curtain. They are uncertain of what has happened, is happening, or will happen, as long as the curtain remains closed. The past, not having been made permanent by observation, remains an open book of blank pages. Likewise, the unobserved future is infinitely variable. And what do you think lies between an uncertain past and an uncertain future?”

Anton nodded slowly. “An uncertain present.”

Dr. Brynn clapped his hands. “Exactly.”

Anton tilted his head from side to side, stretching his neck. “So, is that what’s happening to me? I’m the victim of an uncertain present?”


Anton sighed. “I know I’m stating the obvious here, but I’m slightly bigger than a quark or a lepton.”

Dr. Brynn picked up the pajamas and opened the hood. “Take off your shirt and put this on.”

Anton unbuttoned his shirt.

“Peter always felt that medical science’s understanding of the brain was just too simple to fully explain what makes us who we are. He believed that a person, a being, a consciousness, had to be more than just a series of chemical reactions in a brain. He wasn’t satisfied to think that his entire existence was contained in that gelatinous blob between his ears. He was convinced that there is something more to it. The hood with its network of sensors woven into it will be taking measurements while you sleep.”

Anton put on the pajama top. Dr. Brynn adjusted some straps and precisely positioned the hood on Anton’s head.

“If your brain is damaged or destroyed, Anton, what happens to you?”

Anton raised his eyebrows. “I die.”

“Right. If the brain dies, Anton dies. So, it would seem that consciousness is a function of the brain. Yes?”

“Yes. That makes sense.”

The doctor connected an umbilical of wires to the hood. He opened a closet door. He connected the other end of the umbilical to a rack of electronic equipment in the closet. “We live in a technologically enlightened age, Anton. Right now, today, we have the means to use your DNA to grow an exact copy of your brain from stem cells in a lab. Imagine, a perfect duplicate of your brain – a spare brain in a jar, waiting, just in case you should ever need it. From time to time, we would connect you to the spare and update all of your fresh memories. Extraordinary, isn’t it? Lie back.”

Anton lied with his head on the pillow. “You don’t have a brain in a jar at the back of that closet do you?”

Dr. Brynn laughed. “No. This is just hypothetical.”

The rack of equipment was coming to life, emitting seemingly random beeps and tones in time with rows of blinking lights. “Perfect.” Dr. Brynn closed the closed door. “If you fell victim to a brain wasting disease or a traumatic head injury, we could replace that damaged organ in your head, with the spare. The new brain, identical to the old brain, would be completely intact with all your memories and personality traits, quirks and all. Your friends and family would never have to grieve your loss. Aside from a scar hidden in your hair, nobody would ever know that you had a new brain. It’s a wonderful prospect isn’t it?”

Anton turned to respond. “I’m not so sure …”

“Lie still.”


The doctor came around and sat on the edge of the bed. “But … how could Anton, the consciousness that we call Anton, exist in two brains simultaneously? The spare brain is identical to the original, right down to the arrangement of the axons and dendrites – every single synapse is the same. But if you have two identical brains, and consciousness is a function of the brain, then there must be two consciousnesses. How can Anton have two consciousnesses; two selfs?”

Anton’s mouth hung open and he seemed to stop breathing for a moment.

“Your mind, that is to say, your identity, your soul, your spirit, that divine spark of Anton-ness that you experience as your self is only a function of that lump of tissue we call the brain; the self is a product of biochemical processes, like the bio-luminescent light emitted from a firefly’s abdomen; just waves of energy.”

Anton closed his eyes. “That’s humbling.”

Dr. Brynn stood. “Light and consciousness; there’s very little difference in the end. If you were a lamp and I replaced your burnt out bulb, would you be the same lamp? I mean, you would still illuminate the room, wouldn’t you? If Elena was unaware that I replaced your bulb, or brain as it were, she would carry on loving her old Anton, never knowing that you were not really the original Anton. If we could indefinitely continue replacing your bulb, we would achieve immortality. Yes?”

Anton nodded.

“Please try to lie still … Where was I?”


“Right. We could all be immortal. But …” Dr. Brynn scratched his head and roughed his slicked back hair. An air of frustration seeped into the tone of his voice. “But, we must give consideration to the original Anton. We have only considered how others experience the transition from one Anton to the next – they remain unaware. What about the self? What about Anton? Even though the new brain is identical, the original Anton is gone – annihilated and replaced. The new Anton continues where the old Anton left off, equipped with a completely up-to-day set of memories, so that even the new Anton is unaware that he is not the original. But the original Anton, you, the self, has experienced obliteration.”

Anton suddenly sat up. “But why? Why are the two consciousnesses different if the two brains are the same?”

“Exactly. Why? Even if the two brains are identical right down to the physical arrangement of every single molecule and the orbit of every electron, it’s the quantum characteristics of the two brains that makes them different. The quarks, muons, taus, and leptons have an infinite number of possible states. As long as they remain un-observed, the two will have infinite variability – they will be different.

“Peter theorized that the true progenitor of consciousness is the impossibly complex and infinitely variable quantum character of the brain’s sub-atomic physicality. The biochemistry of the brain only determines our mood or state of mind at any given moment. Our consciousness is rooted in the quantum state, not in the classical, four-dimensional, Newtonian state.”

Anton leaned forward, but suddenly stopped with a jerk when he reached the end of his tether. “But if you destroy the brain, its all over. If, as you suggest, our consciousness resides in some ethereal quantum state, wouldn’t we remain conscious even if the brain ceased to exist?”

Dr. Brynn put a hand on Anton’s shoulder and guided him carefully back down onto the pillow.

“Observation creates permanence. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Peter and I both suspected that there was something different about the subatomic particles that make up the atoms and molecules in your brain’s fifty-billion neurons. That was the focus of his research when he died. His suspicion was that the subatomic particles of the brain’s matter are more prone to phenomena like quantum entanglement. The hood on your pajamas creates a field which allows us to monitor the subatomic activity in your brain.

Dr. Brynn poured Anton a glass of water and placed a yellow pill on the bedside table. “This is just to help you sleep.”

“Sleep? How do expect me to sleep after all that. My mind is tied in knots.”

“Take the pill. You’ll sleep. I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.”

Minutes passed and Dr. Brynn had still not returned. The sleep aid was taking effect and Anton could barely keep his eyes open. He lied back on the bed, his thoughts twirled in dizzying randomness until, finally, only blackness remained.

6. Woke up in Haiku

Anton found it difficult to move, barely able to open his eyes. The room was a distorted blur. Electronic beeping noises emanated from somewhere in the room, but even the sounds seemed out of focus. As the effects of the yellow pill gradually wore off he became curiously aware that there were far more wires attached to his body than he had been expecting. He lifted his head to look around, but he was stopped short by the searing pain in his chest. He immediately dropped his head back onto the pillow and his curious awareness escalated into a sense of confused panic.

Dr. Brynn came into the room. “You gave us quite a scare.” He sat down on the side of the bed and shone a penlight into Anton’s eyes. “Good … good.”

Anton tried to speak, but the pain in his chest barely allowed enough breath for a whisper. “What did you do to me?”

Dr. Brynn nodded reassuringly. “You’ll be fine, Anton.”

Anton tried to raise his head again. His face contorted and he vocalized the exact sound of sandpaper sliding over the strings of a violin.

Dr. Brynn consoled him. “Stay calm, Anton. You’ve been through a lot. You are healing very well, but you’ve got a way to go yet.”

Anton repeated, pleading. “What did you do?”

“I don’t imagine you remember much right now, but it will all come back to you in time.”

Anton closed his eyes for a minute, then he whispered, “Water … please.”

Dr. Brynn supported Anton’s head and gave him a sip of water. “Not too much.”

Anton lied back. “What happened?”

Dr. Brynn stood up and flipped through Anton’s chart. “Like I was saying, I know you’re confused. The air bag on the drivers side didn’t deploy. Fractured sternum. Collapsed lung. Internal bleeding. Concussion. Lacerations. You were in quite a state. The first responders thought you were dead – the ER doctor on duty even called it – but a nurse found a pulse. We didn’t give up on you.”

Anton gingerly touched his chest. “No. No, No. I was here for tests. Not an accident.”

“Yes, we ran a lot of tests after the accident. And I can say now, you’re going to be fine.” Dr. Brynn stood up and gave Anton’s foot a friendly squeeze as he walked past the end of the bed. “I’ll check on you again later this afternoon. I can’t promise, but you should be able to go home in a few more days.”

The doctor walked out into the corridor and Anton slipped back into oblivion.

Elena was sitting in a chair, reading in the wash of sunlight by the window when Anton came round again. He watched her for some time, turning page after page. She had looked at him several times, but at that angle the bandages obscured his eyes and it was impossible to tell if he was awake or asleep. Finally he gathered the strength to breathe out a “Hi.”

She looked at him again, unsure if it was an attempt at communication or just a transient in his respiration. He lifted his fingers and made a waving gesture.

She moved from the chair to his bedside. “Hey stranger. I haven’t seen you around in a while. Where have you been?”

Anton managed a smile.

“Want some water?” She bent the straw and held it to his lips.

He cautiously cleared his throat. “What happened?”

Elena set the polystyrene cup of water on the bedside table. “What do you remember?”

He hesitated in thought. “In thy purple cloak… I ate the yellow skittle… My brain in a jar.”

Elena shook her head. “That’s the worst haiku I’ve ever heard.”

Anton wanted to laugh but was held back by the pain.

“You don’t remember the car accident?”


“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean?’?”

Elena gently kissed his lips, barely making contact. “You need to rest. Give it time. It will sort itself out.” She walked toward the door.

“Hey.” Anton struggled to sit up. “Wait …”

She stopped and turned, looking back at Anton.

His voice cracked. “You’re not real. I’m only dreaming.”

Elena was at a loss for words. She blinked heavily.

Anton pointed at her with a trembling hand. “You’re not pregnant.”

Elena tilted her head and looked at Anton sympathetically. “I was. Two years ago… he’s at daycare.”

Dr. Brynn interrupted, stepping into the room from the corridor with a clipboard in his hand. “Elena. Can I see you for a moment.” He nodded to Anton and left again.

She looked back at Aton, “Rest”, and followed Dr. Brynn.

Anton lay back and closed his eyes, mumbling to himself as he drifted back to sleep. “Two years. It can’t be. Two years …”

The boy held tightly onto the rubberized handle of the spoon. Anton watched as he repeatedly plunged the blunt utensil into a small tub of chocolate pudding on the edge of the table. Brown goo oozed out between the tiny fingers of the boy’s clenched fist. Before each mouthful he spoke in a whisper, “Fo’ me”, then offered every other spoonful to Anton, “an fo’ you.”

Anton silently refused with a deadpan face and a subtle shake of his head. This stoic response fueled the toddler’s determination. He scooped up the last spoonful of pudding and held it out, touching Anton’s tightly pursed lips. “You hafa eat, Daddy.”

Anton stood up and wiped the pudding from his lip with the back of his hand as Elena walked into the dining room. Anton looked away, avoiding her eyes, and left without a word. In the living room he could hear their cheery conversation from the kitchen.

“Come on cutie. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“I like tocka poon.”

“Chocolate pudding is yummy, isn’t it?”

“Mmm. Mummy like tocka poon?”

“Yes, I like chocolate pudding.”

“Daddy na like tocka poon?”

“He does. But I don’t think Daddy is feeling well, sweetie.”

The boy’s tone took on an air of concern. “Daddy tick?”

“No, sweetie. Daddy’s not sick. He’s just tired.”

“An tad.”

“Yes sweetheart. And a little sad too.”

Anton squeezed his hand over his mouth to stifle a sob, then quickly and quietly slipped out through the door. He walked to the end of the driveway, hoping the fresh air would help him regain his composure. He stopped at the sidewalk and looked back at the house.

Dr. Brynn silently walked up and stood beside Anton. “Trying to pick a new paint color?”
“Jeezus! Where did you come from?”

Dr. Brynn pointed back over his shoulder. “I just got home and saw you standing here. I thought I’d come over to see how you were doing. I hope you don’t mind.”

Anton tried to appear as though he was not on the brink of complete emotional collapse. “I’m good. Chest still aches, but it’s getting better.”

Dr. Brynn looked over the top of his tortoiseshell glasses at Anton. “How’s your memory? Are things coming back to you?”

Anton answered with a shrug, then opened up. “Not much. Little flashes now and then, but not enough to make any sense of.”

The doctor stroked his goatee. “Hmm. It’s been a few weeks now since you woke up. You’ve been home for what, ten days? Why don’t you come back to the office tomorrow for follow up – better to be safe. I’ll tell my receptionist to clear some time for you.”

Anton’s gut rebelled at the thought of returning to the clinic. “Oh, you don’t have to do that for me. I’ll be okay. Like you said, it’ll just take time. Thanks anyway.”

“Nonsense. Two o’clock tomorrow. I insist.”

“No really, it’s okay … “

“Nothing invasive. We’ll just chat.” Dr. Brynn smiled reassuringly and patted Anton on the back before starting across the street. “Two o’clock. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

Anton looked back over his shoulder and gave a small, parting wave. He took a deep breath and walked back down the driveway to the house.

Elena was still in the kitchen when Anton entered. The screen door closed with a bang behind him.
“Shhhh. I just put the baby down for a nap.”

Anton looked around the kitchen. “Do you remember when we bought this house?”


“I feel like I’ve always lived here. I don’t remember ever living in any other house. When did we move here?”

“You grew up here. This was your parents’ house.”

Anton looked straight through Elena. His eyes wandered around the room. “I don’t remember much about them. I don’t remember much about anything.”

Elena approached, standing toe to toe with him. “Anton, you were pretty banged up. You were in a coma. You were pronounced dead. Give it time. There are bound to be some lasting effects. We’ll work through this … together.”

Anton’s stoic expression was betrayed by a tear, which he promptly smeared with the side of his hand. “I remember you were pregnant. I remember having bad dreams and not sleeping well. I remember going to see Dr. Brynn. I remember he gave me some pills.”

Elena put her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart pounding. “You remember the accident?”

Anton shook his head. “No. Not the accident you and Dr. Brynn keep referring to. I remember an accident, but I was just a boy. I remember my parents fighting in the car. It was raining. I was reading Robinson Crusoe and eating Skittles. That’s the only accident I remember. It’s as if everyone else is confused. There was no other accident.”

Elena wiped a tear from his other cheek. “You remember waking up in the Hospital?”

Anton rolled his eyes. “I remember going to see Dr. Brynn for some tests. We had this crazy conversation about some kind of quantum theory of his and having two brains. I put on some special pajamas so he could monitor my brain activity. He gave me a pill to help me sleep. Then I woke up in the hospital, like this.”
Elena patted his shoulders patronizingly. “There. See. It’s coming back. It’s all making sense now.”