Barker had given me something in the parking lot. A pill. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, just that I would find it ‘rad’ and ‘groovy.’ So I took it.
We weaved through the crowd in the bar, winding our way like serpents to an empty booth. We sat down on the leather-like covered benches, elbows on the scarred wooden table, leaning our heads close together so we could hear each other over the noise.
Barker signaled a waitress who brought over our customary pitcher of Margarita’s. When we poured our glasses Barker leaned towards me again and said, “Man, I had a crazy thought today.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Listen,” he said. “What if we’re all, like, characters in a story? Like, we don’t really exist except in some dude’s head? Like, maybe there is a God and he’s this author dude sitting at a typewriter and making us up?”
I looked at my fingers wrapped around the Margarita glass. They had started to pulsate, getting bigger and smaller, bigger and smaller.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Like, we’re not real, just in someone’s imagination?”
“That’s it, Clarke!” Barker cried. “That’s exactly what I mean!”
I thought this was weird coming from a devout atheist. Barker had never gone in for the idea of a god before, capitalized or not. One time he had explained to me how Chaos Theory dictated that nothing was random, that everything was a series of events that happened one after another. If you traced all the events in the universe backwards, he said, all the way to the Big Bang, it would show that when the very first particle created in the universe took off, it went off in a direction that would, billions of years later, culminate in Barker being pissed off that day. My thoughts were becoming less coherent. I thought about that pill again. And my pulsating fingers.
“Everything would make sense that way,” continued Barker. “Like, how we were able to get this prime booth in a crowded bar on a Friday night. Like, how, when you’re in a hurry, there’s always someone paying by check in the express line.”
I watched his brain light up his forehead with a sequence of lights. It looked like a special effect from Star Trek. But he was right, it would explain a lot of things.
Why were there never cars coming until I wanted to make a left hand turn? Did those people exist around the corner of the road before I got there?
Barker interrupted my thoughts. “Listen, we don’t even know if we knew each other before today, man.”
“What do you mean? We’ve known each other since we were kids. I know you exist,” I protested.
“Dude, what if those memories were just made up now? What if we just sort of came into being right out there in the parking lot. You can’t remember everything that’s ever happened to you right at this moment, can you?”
That was true, but I was blaming it on the pill he gave me in the car. I couldn’t, really, be definite that my memories of us, or even just me, were real or not.
I said, “Wait, there must be a scientific way to prove that we’re real and not made up?” I was grasping, but you could always rely on science to shoot down fantasy and fun.
Barker slapped the palm of his hand on the table and yelled, “Ha! How could it? The author would write all that in, right? He could, like, wrap his own science around his own universe. If a scientist tried to figure that out, the science would work out to be whatever the author wanted it to reveal.”
He was right. The entire world would be created in any way he wanted. Nuaga’s, instead of being raised on farms, could be caught in traps in the dark forests of Illinois before being turned into furniture covers. Beer could taste good. Women could make sense. The possibilities were endless.
The world swooned around me. Yellow lights floated over the crowds head. The crowd. I didn’t know anyone in the crowd. Were they real, did they have a back story? Or were they just cardboard cutouts made Barker and mine’s benefit?
My fingers pulsated madly. I looked at Barker, staring back at me with pinwheel eyes, his red lips glaring from the center of the forest of his grizzly beard.
I didn’t remember Barker having a beard. “Hey man,” I said, “have you always had a beard?”
“Of course, man. You can’t be a prophet without a beard.”
“Do I have a beard?” I honestly oouldn’t remember.
“No way, man. You can’t grow a beard,” he said, “it just looks like you have a dirty face.”
I slid out of the booth and tried to stand up. The world swirled around me in multicolor phases. I cursed the damn pill that Barker had given me. I was that if I was straight I could laugh off everything that he had told me. As it was, it all made sense to me. It was a little way out there to think that there was a story just for me, I mean it would have to be just for me if I were the first person narrator, right? Did Barker have his own story? Did the fake milling crowd have a story? I didn’t know. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I pushed my way through the fake people, fighting for a way to the door. Music pounded in my ears, words floated through my brain. I pushed through the large oak doors out into the calm, cold, night.
My breath poured out of my mouth in a fog.
I was a character in a fucked up story. My God was some guy sitting around thinking up all this crap. Why? For what?
And what would happen to me, I wondered, if he got bored of it all. Would my entire universe end up in a crumpled ball next to a wire wastebasket?
What would happen to my life, my thoughts, my self, if the story were to suddenly end