Lacey first got the hint that the world is just a fiction of someone’s fevered imagination at primary school. She’d repeated a lesson about colour blindness at the dinner table, astonished at the idea that not everybody in the world saw things the same. Her Dad had nodded as he swallowed a mouthful of pasta and said, like it was the most ordinary thing in the world, “I’m colour blind.”
Once she got over her anger that he’d been keeping this knowledge from her for the 8 long years of her life, she became obsessed with understanding. She’d point at things and demand he tell her what it looked like. Eventually he lost patience with the game and banned her from asking but that didn’t stop her thinking about it.
She gathered her data. She learned about synaesthesia and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. She read psychology, then neuroscience and philosophy. She studied physics and theology. The more she read, the more she became convinced: nothing is real. Everything was an illusion.
Not long after her parents died, the people she was placed with put on an old film called The Matrix and it blew her mind. It was, she was certain, the ultimate proof. There were more movies and she watched all of them, fascinated. Was it truth, though? Truth wrapped up in a veil of fiction. Or a clever ruse to divert her from uncovering the real truth. She couldn’t decide. Then the makers changed genders, one at a time, and there was one thing she knew for sure: nothing was real.
After high school, when she had to learn to stand on her own two feet, she realised being convinced everything was an illusion didn’t exempt her from the rules of the illusion. Hunger felt real. You needed the illusion of money to deal with the illusion of your bills.She tried believing that money would take care of itself but but she ended up on the streets and that felt very fucking real.
The paradox didn’t dissuade her. Instinctively, she knew she was right. She kept seeking, kept researching. She tried yoga, she tried BDSM, she tried drugs. And still she believed: nothing is real.
It was exhausting and lonely and so when she met a decent man who made her laugh, she tried marriage, and faking it til you make it, and for awhile she could almost believe that she had made it real, just by believing it so. And then the light plane her husband was flying lost power suddenly during landing and crashed and he died in the fireball and that was just too surreal to comprehend.
After the funeral she didn’t go to the wake. She didn’t go home. She just drove and drove and drove until she reached the end of the land where the ocean crashed against cliffs until they crumbled. And she sat there, looking at the cold steel of the waves and the frenzy of the foam until the sun went down and the sky went dark, and she thought about throwing herself in, or just letting herself fall. Letting her lungs fill with water and her body be crushed against rocks. Nothing mattered. Nothing was real. A little more pain, then the bliss of oblivion. Why not?
But she didn’t let herself fall. Lacey watched as the stars revealed themselves and she thought about how ancient the universe was, and how young. As a star fell from the sky, burning white across the black horizon, for one shining moment she understood, she saw how it all came together, and then just as quickly she lost it again. She wept, overwhelmed by emotion.
When the tears stopped, there was a sort of peace left. She knew better than to think it would last, but she knew she was right. Nothing is real. She left Lacey there, beside the ocean, and drove Lacey’s car into into a future she understood, where nothing is real, not even her name.