There is nothing remarkable at all about Jeffery Smith. Not his name, not his job, not even the cancer that is threatening his life. But when his disease inspires him to start living his life instead of just dreaming it, the most remarkable things happen.
Robert J. McCarter
Jeffery Smith was a wholly unremarkable man. He was neither old, nor young; neither short, nor tall; neither skinny, nor fat, although he did have the appropriate middle-aged bulge around his waist. He dressed unremarkably in jeans, which he looked slightly awkward in, and a long-sleeved white dress shirt buttoned all the way up to the top. Even his phobias were entirely unremarkable: spiders, airplanes, and intimacy.
Jeffery Smith was the kind of man that would go to a party and no one would remember he had been there. When he left a job, it often took his coworkers several days (or even weeks) to realize that he was gone.
Jeffery Smith was dying, but in the most common way. Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer had just been discovered. Statistically speaking—and being an accountant, Jeffery knew statistics—he didn’t have much time.
But today, on this Monday in March, Jeffery Smith felt remarkable. The previous week he had gone in to see his doctor for a cough that would not go away. He was surprised by the call from the office to come in (he thought he had the flu, or maybe even bronchitis). He was even more surprised when his doctor solemnly told him of his diagnosis. There would be MRIs and more tests to type the cancer and determine the treatment, but the doctor was sure of the diagnosis.
And, perhaps most surprising, is what Jeffery did after the appointment: he went to his place of employment, the accounting offices of Richards, Parson, Thomas, and Gosling, and promptly gave his two weeks’ notice. When he told his boss, Alan Gosling, the news, Mr. Gosling promptly sent him on to HR, and HR, seeing that he had nearly one hundred days of vacation and sick leave accrued, told him to pack up his cubicle and leave. Now.
And so he did, filling a banker box with his few meager possessions: a tiny flag of Japan; some anime action figures; a few manga; a Final Fantasy IV poster; and other miscellaneous office flotsam.
Jeffery was dazed by the suddenness of it all, although he was not surprised; he knew he was just a salaryman, an easily replaceable cog in the workings of Richards, Parson, Thomas, and Gosling. He stood outside, banker box in hand, for a full five minutes wondering what to do. Then something remarkable occurred to him, so he walked to the bus stop and took the bus to the mall.
Jeffery Smith, banker box in hand, stood at the front counter of Dream Makers. He had stood there for some three minutes, but the receptionist hadn’t noticed him. This was normal. He studied her, as he often did when people didn’t notice him. She was young and thin and beautiful with blonde hair, very white teeth, and was showing a slightly more than tasteful amount of cleavage. Unremarkably, Jeffery did not mind waiting.
When she finally looked up and noticed him standing there, she said, “Welcome to Dream Makers. How can we make your dreams come true?”
“Umm…” he began. “Ahh…” he continued. Jessica (which is what it said on the receptionist’s name tag) just sat there smiling evenly, showing off her dazzling smile and perfect teeth. “Well… You see…” Jeffery continued to stammer and start. “I want to dream.”
“Excellent,” Jessica said. “Just one moment and I will have one of our Dream Specialists come speak with you.”
Jeffery Smith sat across from Dream Specialist Mindy Miner. She too was beautiful, with a dazzling white smile, and plentiful cleavage on display. But she was a brunette, not a blonde. Something for everyone, Jeffery thought.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked.
Jeffery paused, normally he only had the one cup in the morning, but today was different, today was special. “Yes, please.”
“How do you take it?”
“One sugar with cream.”
When Jessica had delivered the coffee, Mindy smiled at him and said, “What dream can we fulfill for you today, Mr. Smith?”
Suddenly over being shy about his dream, Jeffery let it come tumbling out. “Japan! I want to experience an epic adventure in the land of the rising sun. It should take place in the 17th century and start off like the miniseries Shogun, but end happily with the daring English adventurer finding love and embracing the new culture as his own.”
Jeffery Smith had watched Shogun with his father when he was eight years old (over the strenuous objections of his mother). It was then that he had fallen in love with the Japanese culture. Much of his adult leisure activities revolved around Japan: manga, anime, aikido, faulting attempts to learn the language, and tending to his three bonsai trees.
“Very good, Mr. Smith. We can do that. I presume you have seen the miniseries numerous times?”
“Oh yes, at least twice a year since the DVD came out.”
“Very good, that will help. And I suppose you would like our deluxe package, which includes: extended REM; advanced hypnosis—”
“Yes, yes, all of that. It will feel real, right?”
“Absolutely real. Guaranteed.”
The interview went on for quite some time with Mindy asking specific, and often embarrassing, questions about what he wanted to experience. Nudity? Sex? How much sex? How explicit should the sex be? Even what positions he liked and attributes of his preferred sexual partner. Jeffery Smith answered these questions, slowly, with his face beet red. He came to the unavoidable conclusion that the typical Dream Makers client wanted to dream of sex and romance.
On Tuesday, Jeffery Smith went to see the Dream Makers physician, Doctor Chahel Sen, for a physical. Doctor Sen was a beautiful man with shiny black hair, smooth brown skin, and kind brown eyes. Jeffery was worried that his health condition would cause problems. When he told Doctor Sen of his diagnosis, the doctor asked, “Are you currently being treated?”
“No,” Jeffery answered. “Not yet. They still have more tests to do before a treatment plan can be determined.”
“Then it will not be a problem, sir. Many of our clients come to us as after a diagnosis such as yours.”
Jeffery Smith felt sad to hear this. He thought for once in his life he was doing something remarkable. It was upsetting to hear his reaction was common.
On Wednesday he went to the Dream Makers psychologist, Doctor Karen Thompson. She too was beautiful, with long brown hair and shining blue eyes. But, much to Jeffery’s relief, she was not displaying any cleavage.
They started with a brief hypnosis test (to make sure he was a good candidate) that left Jeffery with a brief and shining image of him fighting Darth Vader with a samurai sword. Maybe it was her affable manner, maybe she had done something while he was hypnotized, but soon she had him talking with ease about his parents, his childhood, and how he felt about his diagnosis.
As he was leaving she asked him one last question, “Why don’t you just go to Japan, Jeffery?”
“What?” he asked, surprised by the question. He couldn’t imagine that particular question was Dream Makers approved.
“You long to see Japan; you could just get on a plane and go see it.”
“Well… I… You see…” he stammered. “I don’t have much time. I want the epic adventure.” He didn’t mention what was, perhaps, the real reason: his fear of airplanes.
On Friday he received a call from Dream Makers telling him that he had passed his exams with flying colors and that development of his program was well under way. Was he available for a Monday evening appointment?
The rest of Friday and the weekend passed with excruciating slowness. He spent his time watching Shogun, Godzilla movies, Memoirs of a Geisha, Cowboy Beebop, Ghost in the Shell, and many other of his favorite Japanese movies. Interspersed with his movie watching, he went to the dojo twice to practice aikido (or “falling down and getting up” as Sensei referred to it), ordered and ate Japanese takeout, and danced around the room singing: “Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so.”
This and nine other stories are part of Life After: Stories of Life, Death, and the Places In Between available as an ebook or paperback:
(The ebook is on sale for $0.99, through 1/31/2019)
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Signed copies are available in the bookstore.