A Room Of Dreams

Philip’s wife fell into a coma and nobody knew why.
That was the first strange thing.
The second strange thing:
Everyone was expecting it.

“Mr. Huyt, why is your wife in a coma?”

Philip Huyt searched his mind for the quick answer to what should have been a straight-forward question. But there was a big black hole in its place and he instinctively bluffed for time.

“Why? What do you mean ‘why’?”

Louis Lewis, the grey-suited and boyish-looking UPC Insurance rep was sitting opposite, in a private corner of the Rhamnous Hotel, London.

“We’ve spoken to the family, the medical staff, her employer, her colleagues at BBLC… no one seems to know why she’s in a coma. Just that she is.”

For the last few months, Philip’s life had been consumed by Amy’s illness. He was at her bedside day and night. Watching and praying for some sign that she was still alive in there, somewhere. And now this kid was asking stupid questions.

“It’s been awhile coming. But we knew it would have to happen eventually.”

He’d got used to repeating that. Over and over. And everyone had been happy. Up until now.

Louis Lewis leaned forward onto his elbows, rested his chin on his hands and looked curiously into Philip’s eyes.

“That’s what everyone says. Everyone knew it would happen, but nobody knows why.”

Philip’s mind drew a blank.

Things had been tough since the doctors confirmed Amy had no vital signs.

“The neurological tests have been pretty conclusive,” Dr Esra Dills insisted, as she led him into her office. He didn’t want to hear it. She’s still living, she’s still breathing, she’s positively glowing — damn it. And nature can do amazing things. Nature is more resilient than people realise.

“You know about the Antarctic nematode worms? When conditions get too dry they pump all the water out of their bodies and drop into suspended animation. They can last like that for decades. When water comes back — boom — they re-animate themselves.”

“Take a seat, Philip.” Dr Dills was already at her desk, flipping through the results. She ticked off the long list, one by one. “No behavioural or reflex responses. Verbal response — no sounds. Eye opening, none.”

“The PET and the MRI?”

He saw the blow coming but still it landed right in his stomach.

“There’s almost no chance of recovery.”

They’d been together almost 10 years. Wasn’t it just yesterday they stood nervously and awkwardly together, promising to stay that way “until death do us part”? Until death, they had promised, and they weren’t there yet.

“Mr. Huyt, you’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this,” said Dills, trying to snap him back to reality.

But he still wasn’t prepared — not for this final, terrible step. He needed Amy. She was the mother of his child. He’d planned their lives together and never imagined an alternative future; a future in which she wouldn’t be part of him.

“I can’t. I can’t let her go.”

“That’s for you to decide. You and the rest of the family, of course.”

In room 126, Philip began unpacking. He’d booked himself into the hotel to be near Amy. It was only right he should take time off work, considering her condition. Plus, he wanted to be around to keep the medical staff on their toes. Which they would be, if they knew he’d be there every day. And of course, he was a doctor himself. A different kind, sure, but… He just wanted them to know he was watching their every move. And that he was no shit-for-brains, just crawled out of the crush.

He knew, almost certainly, his wife had no awareness of what was going on around her. But even with his science-based background, he still found it very hard to rationalise. That she was now just a lump of artificially-breathing organic material. If the doctors were right, there was no Amy any more. What he could see lying in the bed, still as beautiful as the day they met, was just an illusion.

But he wasn’t going to accept that. No way.

“Hi Philip. I hope this message finds you well, my friend! Listen, would you help me raise awareness about an issue I feel very strongly about? I just found out there’s a rare species of monkey who are being hunted for their use in making biochips…”

Philip tapped closed the video message on his phone and continued unpacking. Just more spam to deal with. Just another desperate soul trying to get a piece of you. He once led a project on biochip development. Hence, it must now be part of his algorithm profile and, from time to time, he’d get these stupid messages.

This profiling made him feel a little claustrophobic, sometimes. He appreciated the economic benefits for businesses. Of course, they used it too when hiring new researchers. But it starts to get a bit invasive when your profile has an accurate understanding of how you’re feeling at any given moment. When he got off the plane today, for example, his profile knew he’d be tired and sold that information to a minicabter operator who was already waiting to collect him.

He sometimes missed the feeling of having a choice. Like, you just spontaneously decided to take a minicabter instead of the train. Like in the old days. Most people didn’t know this, but in almost every restaurant now, although they still hand you a menu, they already know what you’ll order. The meal is being prepared for you before you’ve even asked for a table.

Why do they bother taking your order? Because they know customers are happier with the illusion of choice. The ritual of having a menu, discussing the options. All part of the theatre of restaurant dining. He tried to catch them out, once in a while, ordering the weirdest dish on the menu. Something he’d never normally eat in a million years. Camel brain soup, or whatever.

But always your profile knew. Your rebellion had been scheduled. Delivered by a waiter with a professional smile which said: “Don’t even try.”

He dropped into bed, exhausted. But the stress of the situation kept him awake. And of course, just as his eyes finally closed, wouldn’t you know it — a baby started crying from somewhere in the hotel.

“I don’t want to make an official complaint or anything. I’m sure they just had a bad night. I mean, maybe the kid’s sick or something but… I’m a paying customer, here, and I need my 8 hours.”

The receptionist frowned at him, confused.

“There are currently no parents with infants staying here, Sir.”

“I heard a baby crying. All night. Literally, as soon as I got into bed, until… sunrise.”

“Mr Huyt… there is no baby here.”

“Mr Huyt?” A voice came from a man they hadn’t noticed, standing behind Philip. It was Louis Lewis, the young rep from UPC Insurance.

They went into a back room for some privacy. UPC were paying for Amy’s expensive care, they had been for the last 3 months, and they understandably had some questions. Louis ticked off a few standard ones — underlying conditions, heart problems, diabetes? He asked about their son, Tom. But that was just the build up to the punchline. And what a punchline.

Philip was expecting there to be a problem with the policy. Something in the small print to take away Amy’s cover. Or the rep wanted to sell some extras. Instead, he ended the meeting with his head spinning — why was his wife in a coma?

But this guy was right. He asked a basic question and seemingly nobody had the answer. No wonder the docs were in such a hurry to get things over with.

Now Available on Amazon

This is an extract from A Room Of Dreams available via Amazon for $0.99.