Blue petals slipped gracefully down the smooth fabric. The black dress just ahead had captured his attention — its intricate blue roses looked as real as his hand in front of his schnozz, and they slowly rotated on three-inch blue stems. Petals slowly being sloughed, their three-dimensional bits of mass — whether imaginary or real — drifted down the smooth fabric and disappeared at the woman’s unseen feet.
Thomas counted backwards from seven. Walked backward in his memory condo to the morning pill combination: Santa picked his nose with a lit match while his grandmother made a grilled cheese and cotton candy sandwich. That was all of his pills, and no other conspicuous, unreal images popped out.
He shouldn’t be hallucinating.
But, waiting for a train surrounded by people paying it no mind, four different roses slowly dropped their petals down the black dress.
Thomas had an appointment on the westside with Dr. Schultz but — what if this was a sign? He used to believe in signs. They led him by his nose, he learned. The woman’s scapulae poked out, simultaneously exquisite and malnourished. She turned her head to check the tunnel, revealing high cheekbones. Was she eating enough? Thomas thought, then chastised himself.
The Different Strokes theme played in his head, he smiled.
The uptown train arrived and the dress entered. Thomas had only a moment to decide, before stepping across the transom and for five long stops, from the corner of his downcast gaze he watched the blue petals ride the cascade of the woman’s dress where she stood before a row of empty seats.
Dr. Schultz’s latest cocktail had been a gift. After years of triangulating his neurochemistry, tweaking it, they’d hit upon a nice equilibrium and now Thomas wondered if it’d been too good. If he’d tuned into some universal field, or his brain had been slick enough to fool both him and the good doctor while building masses of negative reserves to all strike at once. Not the dreaded long decline but a quick slaughter.
Feeling mildly-stalkerish, he knew he’d follow this sign to the end of its path. If it dead-ended, he’d force himself to ask the woman about her dress. Approach the problem directly.
That resolution was euphoric.
The dress floated across the transom again and Thomas followed. Exiting the station, a sunbeam lit the dress angelically and Thomas could finally see that beneath the layers of silky fabric was a mesh of LED lighting creating the blue illusion.
Thomas peeled off and bought a vendor’s soft pretzel. Fashion week, Thomas thought. Something like that. Content in his solution, he texted “I’ll miss today, sorry. Chatting with a girl Uptown.” White lies, Thomas thought, are sometimes better than trying to explain nuance over text.
As he crumpled the pretzel’s paper in his palm, the phone buzzed “Good for you. Catch up next week.” With his afternoon free, in a neighborhood he’d never laid eyes on, Thomas bought a second pretzel and strolled the strange streets, nose-up.