"Keep on dreaming," I thought to myself. "He isn't looking at you. You're making it up in your head and it's all nothing more than a lie."
With my OCD, anxiety issues and general depression that voice was usually present to tell me what I was doing wrong, what I should be doing instead and how generally messed up and bad I was.
I had gone into the little cafe for a coffee. It had started to rain outside, my umbrella was wet, semi closed and by my side as I waited at the counter for my order to be filled. My Avoidant Personality Disorder made it difficult for me to talk to the barista so I focused with dismay on the puddle that my umbrella, imprinted with a map of the world, was leaving on the tiled floor instead. That was when I felt as if someone was watching me and I turned around to see a man at a table behind me, his own wet umbrella leaning against his chair, staring at my back and then my turned face.
The man was tall, dark and handsome seemed too mild a word to even describe him as being. The hair on his head was dark brown and his eyes were brown also. There was a cast to his features which spoke of several varied ethnicities and his face was a testament to the beauty that could be created by cultural fusion. None of this was what made me want to tremble as his eyes found and stayed on me though. It was the fact that I felt that this stranger saw me and seemed to be interested for some reason.
I was overweight and doubted my worth. He seemed hopelessly cute, if a little thin and crying out for me to bake him endless trays of chocolate chip cookies. But still too cute to actually like me so I had to be dreaming. Nothing else made any sense
I paid the waitress for my large Irish cream flavored coffee and retreated to a booth in the corner because I have always liked booths and because the man's stare was beginning to bring my shyness to its full peak.
Sipping the coffee, after having given it a fairly decent blow, I felt both terrified and thrilled when the stranger slid on to the seat across from me, umbrella in tow. I lifted my gaze to find him, staring at me again with the same intensity which up close now seemed a little shy in itself.
"I like your umbrella," he commented.
"Thank you," I replied.
"Notice anything about the other customers here?" he asked me.
I rotated my head to study them as quickly as I could without drawing their attention. I needn't have worried: they were all pretty consumed with their own lives so mine hardly mattered to them.
They were all also very wet.
"We're the only two people who have umbrellas," I finally answered the question. "And the only two people that are relatively dry, not counting the workers."
He grinned at me, a sweet and somehow cocky action. "Why'd you bring yours? It wasn't calling for rain."
I shrugged. "Something just told me to."
"Same here," he revealed.
Silence as our umbrellas continued to drip, mine onto the floor and his onto the seat by his side.
"Who are you?" I asked him as I blushed and wished he'd just go away but dreaded the moment that he would.
"The one," he replied.
I felt my heart stop, the hair on my body stand up and insinuations in my soul of things more sensed than known start to whisper unintelligible words.
He then placed some change on the table. "Who is going to pay for your coffee," he added and looked at me and smiled sweetly again.
* * *
Thomas Anderson was the one I soon found out.
The one that bought me coffee every morning for a few weeks despite my arguing that I do it every once in a while. He was the one that gradually wore away my shyness so I finally went out with him and who made my broken mind stay quiet in his company. For he was always kind, patient and understanding with me. Thomas was the one who took my virginity one night as the rain fell outside and I climaxed with him deep inside of me, my body receiving his own torrent which soon followed.
He was also the one that eventually broke my heart. Or maybe I should say, I broke his. Or we broke each others? That's more closer to the truth. Like us both being the ones carrying umbrellas the day that we first met. We were both at fault and both innocent. Enemies set to destroy each other by the simple act of being together.
But it wasn't our choice. Not really. We would have happily grown old together if things had worked out as they shouldn't have.
Another thing my Neo did, for I had soon found out that that was the name he commonly used online and when dealing with his less legal activities, was to introduce me to the Matrix.
"You ever hear about the Matrix, Erin?" he asked once while he sat in the chair in front of his computer as I lay in our bed. It was our bed then because I had moved in with him pretty quickly after our first night making love.
Neo was a hacker. When he first told me I made some lame joke about Robitussin being able to help him with that. It was a common sight to wake up from a post-coital sleep to find him surfing the net and typing away on his keyboard. It always struck me as funny that while Tom was the first one to fall asleep after we had made love, he was always the one to awaken first; it was as if dreams made him uncomfortable and the first second he found REM claiming him he'd instantly wake up to go online instead. And whenever he was at his computer screen, Thomas Anderson bid a hasty retreat and became simply Neo instead.
"The Matrix?" I repeated half asleep and sitting up. "Dot Matrix I know from Spaceballs. I used to associate it with my old Gameboy too."
He laughed, a short but sincere sound. "I don't think that answers the question I'm searching the answer for."
I climbed out of bed and walked towards him, the floor cold on my bare feet. I rarely wore socks even in the winter. They made my feet feel claustrophobic and I threw them off the first chance I had. Making my way to my lover's side I looked down at him, holding myself as my brownish auburn hair fell in a curled strand over my shoulder. "And that would be?" I asked in curiosity.
Neo looked up at me all thoughtful questioning. "What is the Matrix?" he both answered and asked at the same time.
I thought about it before sliding on to his knee to play voyeur with his screen for a bit. Neo likewise slid his arm around me and we looked at the computer together which displayed various Google entries pertaining to the word "Matrix." I saw a gold robot looking back at me in one image and thought, "Hello Joan."
"Have you ever had the feeling that there is something wrong with the world?" he asked me.
"I'm a Christian and a pessimistic one, remember?" I reminded him. "I think everything's practically wrong with the world."
He quickly kissed my cheek and held me a little tighter. "Well I think it all ties in with the Matrix," he informed me somberly.
I wrapped an arm around his broad shoulders, not liking the word now that I had heard it too often falling from his lips. Curiosity had killed the cat, after all and the part about satisfaction seemed to be unknown for a reason.
I fixed my eyes on Neo but he was staring at the screen again and not at me as he moved the mouse quickly here and there on the pad. "I just need to find out how and what it really is."
"Be careful," I warned him. "The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow."
The screen briefly flashed red.
* * *
About a week after that, Thomas announced that he'd gotten a better paying job at some place called Meta Cortex. It was supposedly a software company, which was right up his alley, but I knew he hated office jobs and the thought of him being tied down to one was making me uncomfortable.
"Why?" I asked him as we sat in our cafe at our favorite booth.
"It was just time," he said avoiding my eyes.
I shook my head. "You were always telling me you couldn't stand a 9 to 5 job," I said. "You want freedom not a desk and a pen that hardly ever works."
"There'll be time enough for that later," Tom told me as he briefly took my hand and caressed it with his thumb. "We'll go on adventures together later. Now it's important for me to save."
"We?" I asked with a smile helplessly seizing my thin lips. "Did you just say 'we'll' Thomas Anderson?"
He wouldn't answer my question, would barely even look at me after that. But his hand remained on mine, still gently stroking it.
* * *
For all the time that had passed which had seen our often passionate couplings, my moving in and Thomas' hiring at Meta Cortex the man had never once used the word "love" in regards to his emotions for me. I couldn't tell if that was how he even felt or if he had just paired up with me because I reminded him of himself in a way and his apartment had started to feel too lonely and his cock had grown tired of his hands.
So it came as a startling surprise one day when a black man with a resounding voice, pretty, wide spaced eyes, a gap between his teeth and an imposing presence told me that Neo's love for me was going to damn him.
And also every other human being in creation.
* * *
I had been walking down the street, thinking about what to pick up for supper that night, wanting to make it special because Tom's boss had been giving him a hard time about this or that when the stranger approached me. Or rather he stepped in my way. There were so many people on either side of us that I couldn't really step around him nor did it look like he'd allow the attempt. Being a big girl, I could have given it a fair go but still would have, odds are, failed miserably.
"You live with a Thomas Anderson, am I correct?" he asked flatly.
I didn't know what to say, fearful that Neo's hacking and illegal shenanigans had finally caught up to him or that this was another client. I just stood on the sidewalk like an idiot trying not to get the man I loved in trouble and at the same time being afraid I'd lose him business.
"You don't know who you are sleeping with," he said when faced with my silence.
I thought it was a question so I responded with a testy, "Maybe I just don't like strangers blocking my way and asking me questions I don't want to answer."
The man laughed, a low sound and more than a little serenely self righteous. "No," he stated. "I was not asking you anything...I was telling you: Thomas Anderson is not who you think he is."
I scowled at the man, believing he was my first suspicion, a cop, and about to try to get me to hand Neo over to them. "Tom is a good man," I defended, tears stinging my eyes.
"Yes," the stranger agreed. "Possibly the best."
I was confused again and speechless.
"And he loves you very much," the man continued. "But that love will only keep him from the role he was destined to fill: as mankind's savior. I am not the person in the way: you are Miss Smyth. And all of humanity will suffer because of your interference in Neo's fate."
Hearing those words, ones I had not been expecting, something inside of me said to run; just as it had told me that one fateful day to bring my umbrella. Seeing an opening in the crowd, I took it and let the stream of people carry me farther down the street, deeper into the city and away from the stranger and his unwanted words.
* * *
When Tom came home that evening, I couldn't tell him about the unsettling encounter with the stranger. I did not want to reveal something that had disturbed me so badly nor that seemed so ridiculous now that I was back in the apartment. Still, I couldn't keep the words from repeating in my mind and when I looked at Thomas as he stood in the kitchen removing his tie, looking like any other man except for the fact that he was exceptionally handsome and I loved him, the word that overpowered them all and suddenly felt horribly right was:
"Spaghetti?" he asked looking at the meal I was setting on the table.
I had picked it up at the grocers after my run in with the stranger. It had just come into my mind and felt just as right as looking at Tom and thinking he could be a messiah.
"How did you know what I wanted for supper?" my lover asked with a contented smile that seemed to wash the weariness of the day from his formerly tired face.
"I don't know," I answered truthfully. "I just did."
* * *
I loved Thomas "Neo" Anderson. I knew that much as we made love that night and the ones after. And as he entered me and my hands explored his body, his own doing the same with mine, I felt once again that he could save the world if he were called on to do so. Tom never believed in himself all that much. He doubted so much of everything, a reason why he professed agnosticism in contrast to my own Christianity. But I believed in him. I had believed what I had told that man on the street, the crowd surrounding us like sheep.
My Thomas was a good man.
And I believed what the man had said in return too:
That he was possibly the best.
So with all of my confounded faith swirling around me, and my love for Anderson merely growing everyday, I couldn't help but begin to believe in the stranger's claim and warning. And often at the point of climax or in the still moments after, when only my heart was doing most of the movement as I lay in Tom's arms, I couldn't help but wondering if I was damning him and the whole world by falling asleep in his embrace instead of silently crawling from the bed and leaving him behind forever.
* * *
Tom crept up to me one day as I sat in bed, lost inside my worries.
"Unwanted thoughts?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered although it wasn't the kind he meant. These weren't the OCD variety but were still becoming obsessions.
"How about we go away someday soon?" he suggested, holding me closely.
"Where to?" I craned my neck to meet his brown eyes.
"Wherever you want," he stated charitably.
I picked a destination and he smiled and said it was a good idea.
"Did you ever find out what the Matrix is?" I asked, feeling that it was somehow important and explained more than I wanted it to.
"No," my man answered.
"Have you looked?" I asked, knowing what he would say before his mouth opened.
"I've been so busy with work, including the viruses and information selling on the side, there hasn't been enough time."
I frowned but tilted my head so he would not see it. Quietly his hands went to my breasts, and his lips found the bare skin of my neck as he showed me what else he had been too busy with as well.
* * *
I was half expecting it when the man, now not quite a stranger, approached me again. Only this time he had several others with him. Two women, a blonde and one with black hair, grabbed one of my arms each and half dragged and pushed me towards a parked car.
"Got her Morpheus," the blonde said to the man whom now had a name, as if he couldn't see that fact for himself.
"Sorry Miss Smyth," Morpheus apologized. "But you have to meet with someone. They will help you to see the truth."
I wanted to scream but another part of me wanted to learn more, had been tormented with too many questions and longed only for the hope of an answer. I let them take me where they planned to. The blonde glanced at me once or twice but the black haired woman...she wouldn't even look at me at all.
At an apartment building, Morpheus rode with me in an elevator to a specific room but would go no farther than that. He waited outside while I turned the knob and stepped inside. A woman informed me that the Oracle was busy but would see me in a bit. As I looked around what counted as a waiting room, I guessed that that was the person I was intended to meet.
Various people were in the room with me. They seemed only half interested, marking me as the nobody that I was. They did the most amazing things, these humans, mostly children. Some floated while some climbed the walls or bent objects to their silent wills. It was like a carnival but without the trickery. The television played an old movie, "Kingdom of the Spiders" with William Shatner.
It was a relief when I was finally called in, feeling hopelessly mundane around such special creatures. Even William.
There was only an older black woman in the kitchen I was shown to. Nobody that seemed showy enough for the name Oracle. She was smoking away, as if nobody had ever told her that it was bad for her health, and offered me a cookie, as if seeing how fat I already was she was equally unaware of the danger of the temptation of an innocent enough seeming chocolate chip.
"Come on," she said in a wonderful voice. "They are your favorite."
I caved in and grabbed one, taking a bite of it.
"You aren't going to ask me how I know because you are acquainted with the word Oracle," she stated, placing the tray on a nearby table and her finished cigarette in an ashtray.
I nodded and took another bite.
"I know why Morpheus brought you here...you do too..."
"Yes," I replied. "He's trying to convince me that Thomas...Neo...is the Messiah...that he will save us all..."
"Quite an idea to let sink in," the Oracle stated lighting another cigarette. "That you've been having sex with the Christ."
I blushed and looked down. "He's not the Christ to me," I finally said after a bit. "He may be a savior but he's not the same one born in a stable and nailed to a cross for our sins."
Walking to the table where she stood, I sat down in the chair and took another cookie. "But I believe that he could save a lot of people...that he could save their bodies if not their souls. That feels right."
The Oracle sat down and stared at me kindly. "You live your life by what feels right to you, don't you?"
"And it no longer feels right to stay in his arms and his life. It doesn't feel right but it feels good and that's why you can't leave him."
"I don't think he'd care one way or another," I said, staring at the chips melted in the cookie in my hand. "But he's the first man that has accepted me and given me the illusion of something close to love."
The Oracle reached across and held my arm.
"He loves you," she stated.
"He's never said it," I argued, looking up at her.
"Does he need to? Men don't say things. Their mouths won't let them. Their actions sometimes don't either but if you look close enough sometimes they will."
I stared at her. "But if he loves me...if I stay I damn him and everybody in the process?"
"If you stay, Thomas will be wonderfully happy. And so will you, child. You'll grow old together and Thomas Anderson will die a perfectly normal death and be perfectly content in doing so."
I thought about this for a moment and then asked. "What if I leave him?"
She smiled just as equally peaceful as her amused grin beforehand. "You should know first that none of what you see here is real: it's all a dream. Your body...you are somewhere else fast asleep. Neo will be a great man that will free mankind from their slavery to this dream and awaken those whom choose to do so. Many whom suffer will find peace and joy. Neo will die a heroes death for the many far too early but his name will live on and with the opportunity to return someday in the future. Greatness will be his and it was what he was born to do."
"And what was I born to do?" I asked in fear for I had already realized days ago if Neo was to be savior what my role was if I was to be a mere obstacle.
"You are the one created to stop him, Erin. You are his dream girl made to fit his every wish so that he keeps on dreaming. Perfectly you were created to be his enemy, despite your hating your body and brain, because you are all he ever wanted. You are so innocent you are even unaware of how dangerous you are to him. You will distract Neo so that he does not awaken and fulfill his purpose. And many will die unenlightened, suffering and captive. You are the damnation of many including the very man that you love."
She stood up, and didn't grab my arm now but took my hand instead.
"You are the anti-Christ, my girl," she said sympathetically.
I frowned and stared at the ground beneath my well worn sneakers, knowing in my heart that that was what I had been all along without ever realizing it.
* * *
Morpheus and the women dropped me off back at the apartment building and the black haired one still wouldn't so much as turn her head in my direction. I had that sudden crazy notion of mine again of doing what felt right and I looked at her and took her hand just as the Oracle had done with me. "What's your name?" I asked her.
She at last turned to meet my eyes, and I thought, "They will look good together: my Neo and her."
Instead, all I said was, "Take care of him."
She looked upset but I couldn't stand to look at her any longer and climbed out of the car, passing the blonde.
Morpheus called out from his window. "Now you know."
"I always knew," I turned around and spat angrily at him.
"What are you going to do?" he inquired of me but I just waved him away, giving him the finger and ran back to the apartment where I lived with Thomas Anderson.
* * *
I walked paces around the room just like some chubby Lady of Shalott before my Lancelot finally returned to me. He looked tired again as he walked through the door but he smiled when he saw me and when I ran into his arms, I knew that the Oracle had been right then. Words were not needed: Tom loved me. He had never said it once but his slaving away at a job he hated was proof enough. He was trying to build a life for us but was afraid to tell me incase something went wrong.
Or he exposed more of his heart than he felt safe doing.
My poor sweet doubting Thomas; yearning to be a new man but still too human to make the final leap and only able to toy with the idea as he sat behind a computer.
I kissed him passionately then and supper was forgotten about as we fell on to the bed.
"I love you, Tom...Neo..." I whispered as he placed me gently on the sheets. "Never doubt that okay."
He ran his fingers through my hair and looked into my eyes before saying, "I love you too, Erin."
I was crying as he kissed me and we started to make love because I knew it was for the last time.
* * *
Afterwards, when he had drifted off to a sleep I knew was only the dream of one, I studied his face and touched his naked chest gently, afraid I would wake him and knowing that I didn't have long anyway.
"You saved me," I whispered. "That's how I knew what they told me was right. You loved me for who I was and accepted me. The demons went away whenever you were close. They'll be back when you are gone. I was lonely before you. I'll be lonely after you. But, at least, I had this time here in your arms...thank you."
I kissed his lips gently enough so as not to disturb him. Then, instead of falling asleep in his embrace, I silently crawled from the bed, got dressed and left him behind forever.
* * *
It was late when I arrived on the Oracle's doorstep. Her assistant was not surprised to see me nor was the Oracle when I was brought in to the same kitchen to see her. I half expected to see her baking scones, or muffins for breakfast maybe but she only sat at the table, smoking like a chimney in England: the place I had chosen to visit with Tom but would now never see.
"Tell me one more time," I requested. "I want to believe it."
"Neo will be a great man," she began before I started to shake my head violently.
"Not that," I said. "I know that. I saw it everytime I looked into his eyes or felt it everytime he touched me. I never doubted it for a second even before that damn man stood in front of me on that blasted sidewalk. No. Tell me about what it would have been like if I had stayed. That was what I always had trouble believing."
Her smile disappeared because she knew it would bring me no comfort for they had stolen this happiness from me: Morpheus and her. If they had never contacted me I'd have never known I was something intended to damn everybody. I could have guiltlessly remained by Neo's side. It was in the knowing of it that the evil would have been born which would have damned myself if I had stayed. Once you knew what a sin was you could no longer claim innocence. You could only shift blame if you committed it; like Adam and Eve defending themselves to God following the bite from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
"You would have had a life few ever are blessed to experience," the Oracle told me again. "Your lives would have been long and joyful. There would have been a house with a white picket fence, children that adored you and were adored and cared for in return. A pet or two...You would have loved each other, Erin deeply, wholeheartedly and with great happiness. All of your dreams would have come true...the both of you."
I had closed my eyes as she spoke, picturing a life with the man I had loved and would always love but could never have now.
I would leave the role of anti-Christ for some other fool to take. Foolish it would always be
"Thank you," I whispered, my eyes remaining shut so I would not have to see her again as I left.
* * *
Outside it was raining. I hadn't brought my umbrella this time, its world emblazoned self still back at the apartment beside Neo's.
It didn't really matter anyway because it wasn't real, I comforted myself. Neither were the tears falling from my eyes, I thought and then hastily corrected my mistake.
No. Those were real.
Wherever I lay sleeping, I had no doubt that I was crying as I kept on dreaming.