Jennifer is trying to escape her way of life, but will it be too hard?
| Jennifer suddenly realized that she was being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. She ran with everything that was in her, brushing past cliché vines and generic trees, neither gaining nor losing ground. She ran for a few minutes like this, compressed into about ten seconds, without becoming short of breath.
Then, with a preternatural stretch of its leg, the T-Rex planted its foot on Jennifer’s back, pinning her to a lavish bed that was now inexplicably in her cramped apartment. She realized that the giant, reptilian foot was now a mugger holding her in an arm-lock and trying to smother her with her own pillow. With a surge of strength, she pushed him back and sent him reeling, still holding her jacket.
Jennifer whirled around to face her antagonist, only to find that he was now three men wearing plain black suits and ID cards on lanyards. The middle one held out his hand to reveal a pile of pills that he tried to cram down her throat. She knocked his hand aside and took off down a long, dark hallway; the black suits walked calmly after her.
She ran for an indeterminate amount of time before she ran into a thick glass wall, the inside of a giant television screen. On the other side was a family of obese Caucasians, laughing their heads off and eating popcorn. Jennifer pounded on the glass with all her strength, glancing back at the suits and screaming for help. No sound came out. The family just kept laughing at her, laughing, laughing…
Her eyes darted open. She breathed a sigh of relief as the absurdity of it all assured her it was only a dream. Then the headache set in, assuaging most of the relief.
Jennifer sat up in bed and looked around the room. It was a lot like her own bedroom, but a lot more sterile. The clock on the table read 3:07 A.M., and next to it was a check with her name on it. She was alone in the room; she had expected to see Kevin there as usual, and his absence was a great relief. She slowly gathered her things, including the check, and quietly left the building, meeting no one.
The walk home was uneventful besides a few catcalls that could be expected at that time of night. Jennifer arrived at her apartment at that all-too-familiar time of night when no one stirred. She wearily turned the key in the lock and plopped down on the bed as an overwhelming wave of shame swept over her. She had to get out of this business. But for now she would sleep the rest of the drugs out of her system.
Jennifer woke up from dreamless sleep and realized again how cramped her apartment was, remembering how short she was on money. She changed into something only slightly more presentable, deciding to spend her free morning looking for a way out. She slipped out of the apartment building, avoiding the landlady who always demanded her overdue rent. She remembered that she should cash her check and pay her off, but the thought of it nauseated her.
Jennifer tried to hide her face as she walked down the street. Lately people had started recognizing her, but they seldom had anything positive to say.
She walked into St. Mark’s Cathedral and turned toward the office that she had been to several times before for the same reason. Somehow she thought that this would be different. She pulled one of her hands out of her pocket, knocked quietly on the already-open door, put her hand back in its pocket, and walked sheepishly into the office.
Father Stevenson looked up from some holy text and saw her through his spectacles.
“What a pleasure to see you again, Ms. Matthews,” he said with a warm smile as he rose and took off his glasses. Jennifer made eye contact with him briefly, then continued looking at the floor. Father Stevenson was a lanky man, just starting to bald, who seemed to be drowning in his liturgical robes. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m so ashamed” was all that Jennifer could muster past the lump in her throat.
“You’re still at it I suppose?” he asked, his expression letting his disappointment show.
Jennifer nodded dejectedly.
“Listen,” he continued, “I can help you end this lifestyle, but not until you decide to do it for yourself. I’ve told you before that the Sisters have classes for people like you. They can teach you to sew or type so you can get a real, honest job. And until then, we can help you stay on your feet.”
Jennifer continued to stare at the ground and nod weakly. Father Stevenson took a step forward and lifted her chin up so he could look in her clouding eyes.
“Listen. I want to see you succeed at this as much as you do. All you need to do is to make a commitment.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Look, admitting you need help is the hard part. Once you’re ready to do that, come by anytime, and I’ll do everything in my power to give you that help.”
“Thank you,” Jennifer muttered meekly. She turned to leave.
“Wait,” Father Stevenson said, turning toward his desk. He lifted a few folders, then produced a pamphlet. “Take this. It has the times that the Sisters are holding some of their workshops. Just come to one of them. I’ll tell the Sisters to expect you.”
“Thank you,” Jennifer said, walking away.
“God bless you,” Father Stevenson replied.
When she had walked out of the door, Father Stevenson closed his eyes and said more imploringly, “God, bless her.”
Jennifer walked home, looking at the pamphlet that Father Stevenson had given her. Her hope was starting to be overridden by a feeling of hopelessness. Here was a way out, yet when she pondered it, no matter how plausible or inescapable it seemed, she had a feeling in the bottom of her stomach that told her it would never come about.
Jennifer was still reading the paper when she got to the door of her apartment building. She looked up too late to see that her landlady, Mrs. Pickett, was standing at the door, waiting for her. She was a shrewish looking old woman with glasses who didn't ever seem to like anyone.
“Ms. Matthews,” Mrs. Pickett practically shouted at her, even though they were standing at opposite ends of a flight of ten stairs. Jennifer jumped and almost fell over. “You’re two months overdue; I need rent money.”
“I have some,” Jennifer answered, cramming the pamphlet hastily into her pocket and pulling out the check to show her.
“Let me see that,” Mrs. Pickett said. Jennifer climbed the steps and held it out to her. Mrs. Pickett snatched it away, looked it over hungrily, and then grunted.
“This is only one month’s worth. I need twice this much.”
Jennifer could feel the pamphlet poking her leg in her pocket. She swallowed hard and said shakily as she pushed her way into the building, “I can get it tonight.”
At about 7:30 that night, Jennifer took a bus to one of the many commercial districts in town. She got off about a block from where she was going. She walked determinedly down the street, screwing up her courage for the confrontation. While she was still concentrating on what to say, Jennifer found herself at her destination, the main office of the __B__ broadcasting company. She didn’t feel ready yet, but she had to go anyway.
She walked up to the receptionist, who was getting ready to leave for the night.
“I need to talk to Kevin Jeffries.”
The receptionist eyed her warily. “I’m sorry, but he has already left for the night. Besides, he only meets by appointment.”
“Call him at home and tell him that Jennifer Matthews needs to talk to him.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, especially for some nobody off the street.
Jennifer found herself more confident that ever before. She gripped the desk and leaned into the receptionist’s face. “Tell him that Jennifer Matthews is quitting the Dreamcatcher program. That will get his attention.”
The receptionist scowled at her and punched the numbers into the telephone with strong, frustrated strokes. “This better not come back and bite me in the butt,” she snarled at Jennifer as the phone rang.
Jennifer heard the other end pick up, and the receptionist straightened up.
“Excuse me, Mr. Jeffries,” she said, glaring at Jennifer, “but I have a girl here named Jennifer Matthews who wants you to come up to the office to talk to her.” The receptionist looked somewhat surprised. “Well, she said she’s quitting the Dreamcatcher program.”
Jennifer could hear the shout from the other end. The receptionist almost jumped out of her chair. The voice on the phone continued to talk quickly and loudly. The receptionist tried to get a word in, but failed until the phone clicked. She shot Jennifer another dirty look.
“He’s on his way.”
Kevin Jeffries rushed into the office, still buttoning his suit jacket. He was a rather non-descript, cliche-looking businessman. Jennifer had been waiting in his office for about ten minutes and had been looking at everything on the walls. There was a degree from Harvard, a framed crayon picture (which he had actually done himself to fool people into thinking he was a family man), and a traditional Native American dream-catcher. Mr. Jeffries wasn’t Native American though; it was just a gimmick to go with his latest hit reality show.
“Good evening Ms. Matthews,” Jeffries said in a calm voice as he sat down next to her. “What is this I hear about you leaving the show?” There was just a slight edge of nervousness in his question.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to try and get an honest job. I’m going to go to some workshops and learn how to do real work.” Just that one statement seemed to drain all of the determination and moral energy that Jennifer had come in with. She suddenly wanted to apologize and run out the door.
“Come on Ms. Matthews,” Jeffries said with a nervous chuckle, “you make it sound like it’s illegal or something.”
“It’s not that. It’s just that I’m so… ashamed. I feel like I’ve sold myself out.”
“What do you mean? How?”
“It’s just that…” she swallowed hard and started to tear up. “When people can see my dreams, they can see into my deepest fears, my hopes… my desires. It’s like 20 million people see me naked every Tuesday night.”
“Come on,” Mr. Jeffries responded with a chuckle and a smile, “you make it sound worse than it is.”
Jennifer started to cry more now, and she could barely get her words out. “Last month, when season one started airing, my mother… saw the dream where she was… a slave driver, and then… she turned into that monster… and I love my mother, I really do but… now she thinks I hate her… and she refuses to talk to me!” By now, Jennifer was positively bawling, and Mr. Jeffries leaned over to comfort her.
“I’m really sorry to hear about that. But, think about this. Think of all the people you bring joy to. You’ve been given an amazing gift; Your dreams are some of the most amazing that I’ve ever seen, and that’s why we’ve asked you to come back so much.”
Jennifer snorted. “Sure, when you drug me up like you do, anybody could give you psychedelic dreams like you want.”
“Now you know those drugs are only to make the dreams more accessible to the computer. Believe me, we’ve tried so many other people that I’ve lost count. Sure we get lucky once in a while, but that’s nothing compared to you. Why you’ve practically carried the show by yourself; everybody who works on it, especially me, is indebted to you.”
By now Jennifer had mostly recovered, except for a few sniffles. “Nice try, but I’m serious about leaving.”
Mr. Jeffries got up with a sigh of resignation. “Alright. I guess I’ll put another ad in the paper and start looking for more prospects.” He extended his hand toward Jennifer, waiting for her to shake hand with him. “It’s been great working with you.”
“Wait.” Jennifer paused; a renewed pillar of shame rose up in her chest. “I know I said I was going to stop, but I have some overdue rent, and I need to do it one more time. Just for tonight.”
Mr. Jeffries smiled. “I see. I’ll get the sleep room ready. You know the routine.”
Jennifer lay in the same bed as the last night as a technician placed electrodes on her forehead. Mr. Jeffries looked on with a pleasant smile.
“I’ll leave the check on the table again tonight. If you leave without saying goodbye like last night, this might be the last time I ever see you again. So goodbye; it’s been fun.”
The technician turned some knobs on the large machine at the side of the bed, said “She’s ready,” and walked out of the sleep room to the control room on the other side of the hallway.
“OK. Sweet dreams.”
“Yeah right,” Jennifer said with a sleepy chuckle, “sweet dreams don’t make you any money.”
Mr. Jeffries tossed his head from side to side as if he were considering it. “I suppose you’re right. Well, good night.”
Mr. Jeffries walked across the hall to the control room. He stood next to the technician and watched the screen as a T-Rex chased Jennifer.
“It’s a pity she’s leaving,” the technician commented.
“She’s not leaving,” Mr. Jeffries answered with a smile, “I know her type; she’ll be back, again and again. I have no doubt about that.” He looked at the screen and saw Jennifer pounding on it from the other side, yelling for help.
“Yep. She’s trapped.”