At 7:05 AM, a city transit bus with a dental practice advertisement across its side pulled up in front of me. Its model grinned her brilliant smile at me as I pried myself from the bench and climbed aboard. A headache was coalescing in my skull, fueled by my forgotten coffee mug and my brain implant warming up.
I shuffled down the bus aisle, my gaze skimming over the seated passengers’ faces. Most eyes that were open had a familiar, glassy look of being in another world. A man wearing wireless earbuds was the only one smiling, clearly the sole person able to opt out of the transit system’s pay-by-advertising plan and enjoy the ride.
As soon as the gaudy moquette and grey plastic of the seat pressed against my back, I smelled the warm scent of cinnamon and caramelizing sugar. Suddenly I stood barefoot on the tile of my parents’ kitchen, propped up by my elbows against white countertops. My mother stood in front of the oven, inspecting the contents through its glowing window.
“Almost done,” she said, straightening stiffly.
Awestruck by the mundane but impossible scene, I stepped back, then walked around the counter. “Mom!” I cried. “Y-you’re, I thought you were—” I rushed forward and hugged her tightly.
We both lurched a step as she reciprocated. “Oh! Moza, what’s this about?”
“I don’t know! I think…I think I had a dream you were dead, or something.” I looked down at the oven. “I remember thinking I was never going to see you again, and feeling really sad…”
“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. That sounds terrible.” She pulled me in for another hug. I pressed against her neck, damp with sweat from the heat of the kitchen. Eventually she pulled back and offered me a scrap of paper towel. “Here, for your eyes.”
I let out an exasperated laugh; I hadn’t even noticed a few tears had escaped. I gestured at the oven while I dabbed. “What are you making? It smells like apple pie.”
“It is! Moe asked for one to celebrate paying off the mortgage.”
There was a throb at the back of my head. “We never—Dad hates apple pie.”
“I’m making it for Pete, since he already got finished paying off his loans.”
My headache cleared completely. “Really?” My brother, and the rest of the family, had planned on paying for his school loans for over a decade. “How’d he do that?”
“He won big on Polar Palace Slots. He hit the weekly jackpot, eighty-three thousand dollars.”
I stared at her. A lot of questions roiled inside of me, but for some reason, the one I asked was shockingly inane. “How long has he been playing Polar Palace Slots?”
“He just downloaded it last week!” she chirped. “It’s easier than ever to get started right from your phone, with a five hundred dollar-value bonus package when you create your account. I’m so glad I raised you two to be smart with your money.”
The back of my head was throbbing again. “Mom, that—”
A beep sounded from the oven. “Oh, wait, let me get the pie out.”
She slid the pie onto a trivet. The sweet ooze of the filling had flooded the top of the pie through vent holes to form the pattern of a cartoon penguin pulling a one-armed bandit.
“You should give it a try some time. I’m so happy Pete had an opportunity like this; I want you to have that chance too,” Mom declared, calling my attention away from her pie. She smiled warmly and took my hand. “I love you both so much.”
The air started to feel fuzzy as I gazed back at her face, radiant in the afternoon sunlight. “I love you too, Mom.”
The walls were quivering.
I stirred to airbrakes and a shallow pothole as the bus pulled into its stop a block from my office. The grey drizzle outside my window promised the walk would be a miserable rush across the soaked concrete.
A dissatisfied feeling lingered while I groped through my memories to recall what today’s advertisement had been. My eyes traced down to my lap, and like a reflex I checked my phone for notifications. What had that ad been? There’s no way they’re effective if you can’t even remember them. But it was like trying to nail down a dream, with the distractions of the office looming through the cold drizzle. I found myself opening my photos as I wondered. People were standing in the aisle, fidgeting with coats and umbrellas, but beneath my thumb, my mom was smiling in the kitchen with flour up to her wrists. The man with earbuds chuckled.
A lump pushed at the inside of my throat. Wasn’t there something I meant to download?
About the author:
Adri Persad is from West Virginia, though he currently resides in East Virginia to work with weather satellites. His free time is spent writing, exercising, and grousing. You can follow him in real life or on his Twitter.