The way years creep like sizzling butter atop a non-stick pan heated by the range of regret, she came to me.

We were in a casino; hardly surprising. Our entire relationship was based on longshot gambles and glitzy illusion. This place does not exist outside the bounds of dreams, but I knew I'd dreamt of this alternate reality before. When I walked the floors and pits of video poker machines and blackjack tables I knew somewhere somehow someway someday I'd seen this all before in another episode shown nightly in the theater of nighttime oblivion.

She was sitting in the booth across from me, in a dingy hotel/casino coffeeshop. Smiling. Dressed in a sharp black. Something about her cheekbones were different from before. Maybe she got that nose job she was always talking about. I didn't know. I was overblown with joy at the possibility of friendship following the stark decay of our goodwill toward one another. It was clear in this alternate world she understood we were two new people, dissimilar to the ones we were before and together. That we could start an honest friendship having synthesized the perceptions we developed in the heat of our past follies. That we could be vindicated from our errors.

She owned a game room here in the Fiction Hotel/Casino Resort. She was doing well. Business was booming because everyone wanted distraction from the hellblown torment grazing the shoulders of mankind, blades sweeping in fierce uneven catastrophe. Something about the outside felt downright dreadful: this made me kinder on the inside.

She leaves for some reason unexplained and I warp to the game room in the way that dreams bypass the moments necessary in life otherwise filed away under F for Forgotten or maybe R for Routine or maybe B for Boring. I am in front of something like a Doctor Frankenstein hybrid of air hockey, foosball, and the control panel of the Death Star. I am woefully unfamiliar with this state-of-the-art entertainment: there is a playing field flat and black with a grid of wires and rods on the surface. On the right edge there are three pull levers: the first two are metallic; the last, black.

Something in me is the high-end stupid. I figure: what the hell, there's always the reset button. I pull the black lever.

Dreams are like sitcoms, and I'm sure this is no coincidence. The human mind likes to wrap itself around a single theme and explore it in isolation from the others. This time, my human mind chose inexplicable guilt.

The first thing I notice is the heavy downpour of fire sprinkler mayhem. The next thing is the klaxon and intercom system ordering everyone out of the building. The third thing I notice is the stampede of panicked gamblers tearing through hallways and floors and pits toward the nearest inconceivable exit. This is my dream and I am no architect: I'm pretty sure my mind would have forgotten emergency exits.

And the water fell black and cool like Shaft. I was standing in the dead center of the casino drenched with some horrifying mixture of oil and sweat. And all I could think of in the middle of whatever the hell I had just done is:

I am responsible for this. How am I going to cover this up? My prints are all over that black lever. She will never be my friend now.

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