“May I help you, Sarah?”
I’m not sure how long I’ve been standing here looking at the large poster on the wall. I remember leaving my companion at the top of the stairs leading to Toyland, A nearby clock told me that it was 1:25 then, but I haven’t seen another clock, and I don’t know how long ago that was. I am still in the department store, but now in the men’s clothing department. The clerk who has just spoken to me is apparently male, and wears a name tag that says “DRONE.”
“I’m sorry, I was just looking.” I look around, feeling as though I must look stupidly confused. “I didn’t realize anyone else was here. I’m just waiting for someone who is in The Toy Department.”
The drone has been smiling slightly all along, like a sales clerk would. But the responses now run afoul of that image. “It is quite obvious that you were looking, and it is obvious what you were looking at. The help that I offer you is not related to making a purchase.”
The large poster on the wall shows a muscular blond-haired and blue-eyed man, a few years younger than me, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, and looking as though he is ready for some farm work. He’s holding a pair of work gloves, and seems to be headed for a barn, while simultaneously holding a catalog-model pose and smiling as if he’s having the time of his life.
The man on the poster looks exactly like… no, strike that, he is a man named Joshua Yoder. He lives on a farm just up the road from where I live, and I’ve known him for years. His parents were originally Amish, but they left the church. Josh is now a member of the Mennonite congregation in town.
I look at the drone and lower my voice without thinking about it. “That is Josh Yoder, isn’t it?”
“I believe so, ma’am. You know him quite well, do you not?”
“Yes, I do. Why am I seeing his picture here? I didn’t think this trip was about me.” Saying that last part felt very lame.
“It is about all of us.” Stated matter-of-factly.
I look up at the poster again. “So this—the poster, I mean—is about me.”
“Yes, it is. When I asked if I might help you, I meant help you with understanding how it is about you.”
This time when I look at the drone, I’m aware that I can’t prevent the suspicion from showing on my face. “Identify your dilation, please.”
The drone smiles, pausing a moment before responding. “Fantasy.”
“Fantasy.” Not a question, but a repetition. “My fantasy.”
The drone nods. “Fantasies, you might say. Our fantasies.”
I look in the drones eyes, and see the tiny reflection of my companion, who is currently in The Toy Department. There is both kindness and threat in those eyes, it seems to me. I can’t hold their gaze, and I look at my feet. “I had a fantasy that included Josh Yoder, a few years ago.”
“There’s more than one problem with that statement, Sarah. Should we sit down over here, perhaps?” He indicates a pair of chairs a few feet away, but still with the poster in view.
I walk with him to the chairs, and we sit. “More than one problem? I suppose one of them is with the past tense?”
“That’s the most glaring problem, yes. It’s up to you to say how.”
“It’s a problem because it is not just a fantasy I had, but one that continues…” It takes me a moment to think of the word I want. “…to haunt me, to haunt us.”
The drone nods. “But you didn’t need help with that part, did you?”
The drone waits. A longish silence.
“I said that I had a fantasy that included Josh. But that’s not right. It would be better to say that Josh…”
The drone nods slightly, with approval and encouragement.
“…that Josh IS a fantasy. He’s a real person, but Josh as fantasy is not really Joshua Yoder.”
“That is correct. Can you say how so?”
I stare at the poster for a minute, thinking. “Are his eyes really blue?”
“I don’t know that. But notice especially that you are not sure of it.”
My turn to nod. “The Josh of my fantasy is someone who becomes my lover, but who is not the real Josh.”
The drone’s expression becomes more serious and intense. “Your lover; what do you mean by that?”
“Would it be more honest to say: a man with whom I have sex?”
“That sounds more honest superficially, but think about it. Is that what you mean?”
More silence. Somewhat longer this time.
“It does involve that desire, but that isn’t the point, is it? Because I don’t simply desire sexual contact with this man who is not my spouse.”
Another nod, and patient silence.
“I don’t wish for the end of my relationship with my spouse, but I also don’t wish for sexual relationships with two partners at once. I don’t wish to…” Knowing how loaded the action has become here, I close my eyes. “…to commit adultery.”
“The fantasy always involves some rationale for the legitimating absence of your spouse.”
The drone’s look is still very intense, and I can only meet his eyes for a second before looking away again. “That sounds very clinical and detached, that phrase, ‘legitimating absence.’ Is it not my spouse’s death that I envision, at least sometimes?”
“Yes…” The drone shifts his weight in his chair. “But that is when you are most likely to notice, and to feel guilt and shame. Can you name what it is you really desire, Sarah?”
I look up at the poster, which now portrays an attractive generic male model that only looks very vaguely like Josh. I stew for what I think must be at least two minutes. Then suddenly I know what to say. “I want two things to happen, but I want them to happen separately. I want each one to happen as if the other is not happening, while nonetheless both are happening.” Now I can look the drone in the eyes to continue. “This is what Jesus was talking about. The adultery is not the sex, not ‘having sex.’ The adultery is the desire not just for Josh instead of Amos, but for a different reality, for a whole nother world.”
The drone smiles again. “‘A whole nother world.’ Yes, that’s getting into the right neighborhood.”
I’ve warmed to thematizing it now. “Parallel realities that are both true, but are somehow separate in such a way that they do not contradict each other, that they have no moral relationship.”
“You say ‘both,’ but are there only two parallel realities here?”
My face must look blank now; I have no immediate response. I look at the poster again, and see that the male model now looks nothing at all like Josh. His dress is what many would call “business casual.” I feel stuck, as though I’m trying to think, but it just won’t work.
The drone sits back in his chair. “Take your time.”
I think about Josh. After a few moments, something shakes loose. I wasn’t thinking about Josh. Now I start actually thinking about him.
“Josh’s world is a whole nother world too.”
The drone does not respond in any way, but somehow exudes approval.
“The fantasy is violent, it’s murderous, because it tears Josh from his world as well as tearing me from mine. I’ve thought about his wife and children, but…” I cough slightly, probably out of intense discomfort with myself. “…I haven’t thought about them. Not really. Not about them.”
“Keep going, Sarah. You’re doing fine.”
“They are part of who Josh is, and Amos is part of who I am. John was… is part of who I am too, as are all of my children. It’s not just that I have a world or am in one; I am a world.” I close my eyes again and gently massage my temples with my fingertips. “Now it’s flooding in. Too fast.”
“We will all have ample time to think about this, Sarah. For now, there is one more thing that I should point out in relation to your original statement and what you have just said.”
I look at the drone. I must look weary now.
The drone is looking intense again. “Fantasy. That is my dilation.”
I blink. “Yes?”
“Are you thinking that the point here is to distinguish between worlds that are fantasy and worlds that are not?”
I blink again, but do not respond.
“Here are the real questions, Sarah: Is there not an indeterminate blending of fantasy and reality in your world? …in our world? Isn’t it our assumptions regarding the demarcation of fantasy and reality that are part of the problem here? A problem not just with Josh, but with any others with whom we have been—or are—caught up in fantasy?”
I just stare at him, not blinking now.
“These are very hard questions. We need not answer them today. But it was very important that they be asked explicitly. You will also find it interesting to ask your companion later about having, for that is also related.”
I look up at the poster again. Now it shows a family enjoying some sort of outing. I stare at it for a few seconds, then turn to see that the drone is gone. On the chair where he had been sitting lies a pocket watch. I lean over and pick it up.
The waiting that I have to do is still to come.