“What would you like for birthday?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I guess I don’t need anything.” We were in the large empty living room of our new house. There were two couches by the walls, but other than that, the room was empty and the hardwood floor looked like somebody cleared it for a high school dance. I could not shake the feeling our new house was a jigsaw puzzle of different places I had visited; my high school gymnasium, the kitchen in my neighbors’ house, the stairs up to my aunt’s attic, the hallway in my first office, the broom closet of my last office.
“If it could be anything,” she said, “Anything at all, what would you like?”
Her eyes were very blue. I am sure I had never seen anything as blue, nor ever would. “Is my birthday coming?” I asked, “I cannot remember.”
“It is, silly,” she said, smiling.
“She never called me ‘silly,'” I said, shaking my head.
She took a step back. There was no point in her saying anything else, but she did say it. “What do you mean, ‘she?'”
I was not going to be fooled. I was still on Mars in that antediluvian chamber behind the anti-asteroid gate. I was looking at the ancient drawings made by non-human hands. The were never done right, there was always something wrong with them, so they messed with your head. I was getting lost in visions. I rushed out of the house, into the garden. She tried to stop me, but I had too much momentum.
It looked perfectly normal, but it was all wrong. What season was this? I focused on a branch of thistle. Closer and closer, until I was able to observe the fractal symmetry of the petals. The perfect mathematics that could only be brought about by artifice. I smiled triumphantly. “You won’t fool me. Now I just have to get out of it.”
My wife was right behind me, holding her phone in her hand. She had a perfect look of concern on her face, too perfect. “I called doctor Reynolds,” she said. “He will be right here. You are getting confused again,” she said.
I looked at her, startled. “Am I?”