The flight to Brazil was brilliant. The plane shook non-stop from the time we took off until we landed. Mom slept the whole way. Dad screamed like an old lady with night terrors. I held my arms up like I was on the world’s largest roller coaster.
The plane was also playing an in-flight movie: the animated version of Alice in Wonderland. It kept flicking back and forth into static with the shakes of the plane. It was creepy. Every now and then, especially when the Cheshire cat was on the screen, the static seemed to be smiling at me. I tried to get Dad’s attention, but he was too busy clenching his eyes shut.
Life in Brazil lasted two years. I would be glad to tell you about all of my exciting Brazilian adventures, but Dad insisted on homeschooling me and hiring me as his research assistant. I can tell you it was really hot most of the time though.
I remember the first night Dad included me. He instructed me to tie my own belt around my head to mimic his, which was beginning to leave a permanent red mark around his forehead. I did as he asked and waited for further instructions.
“Listen, Alan,” Dad said, “You need to place the belt gently on your head and lie down on your back. Mr. Darius said the study will produce inconclusive results if you sleep on your chest.” He looked over at Mom to see if she wanted to get involved, but she excused herself from the activity. I would later find out this was because she couldn’t abstain from laughing.
Dad ignored her. He motioned for me to go to my room. I obliged while he followed closely behind. I sat down on my bed and got in dream study position. Dad sat on the edge of the bed and pulled a tattered notebook out of his pocket. He read from the book, “We all dream. I dream, your president dreams, you dream—”
“We all dream for ice cream?” I couldn’t help myself.
My father chuckled, finally taking a break from being so serious. He had a wonderful laugh too: boisterous enough to catch someone’s attention, but subtle enough to invite outsiders in on the joke. He continued, “Yes, I suppose that also applies. Try to focus, kiddo.”
“Some of this might bore you,” he said, “But Mr. Darius believes there are certain people that have the same dream from time to time. The chances of these experiences grow when those two people are related or are wearing similar items,” he stopped, pausing to let me finish yawning, “I promise it’ll get fun in a minute.”
I stretched my arms, beginning to feel snug in my bed. I said, “So, why are we wearing the belts on our heads? Aren’t we related?”
Dad took a deep breath. He was struggling to maintain his enthusiasm, which reminded me why Mom may not have wanted to participate. He wasn’t known for his patience. He lowered his eyes to his watch, “Well, Mr. Darius thinks there is a group of people somewhere out in the—,” he stood up for dramatic effect, “—great beyond and his or her job is to create our dreams. Occasionally, that group allows two people to come visit their world. We are already family, so I think wearing similar items gives us a bit of an advantage.”
The idea rolled around in my brain like a marble until I arrived at one conclusion, “So, I am Charlie and you are Grandpa Joe?” Dad looked like he was about to pop. I quickly recovered, “Okay, okay. Why would they choose us? What makes us unique?”
The question revived Dad like a cup of coffee. He said, “Darius found a way to send messages to this group. He told them to look for two people of similar blood wearing similar headbands under the promise that our visit will be purely academic. They agreed.”
My head began to ache. I said, “You sent an email to an alien telling them to look for two people wearing belts on their heads? What are we going to do up there?”
Dad pointed at the clock resting on my bedside table, noting the time, “It is nine o’clock right now. At nine thirty, I want you to go to sleep as hard as you can. Can you do that for me?”
“Aren’t you going to tell me why?” I urged. Chill bumps were forming on my arms.
“That would spoil everything. Please, Alan, do what I asked.”
I nodded my head. Immediately, I felt like I had made a huge mistake.
I tried to go to sleep at nine thirty like he asked, scrunching my eyes closed tightly until it gave me a headache. Somewhere between not being very good at following instructions and nervous energy, I woke up again thirty minutes later from a dreamless sleep. My eyes took a few moments to adjust to the brightness of my alarm clock until the time came back into focus. Part of me felt like I might have let my father down. The rest of me was overcome by the notion that he was out of his mind.
I started to wonder silly things like would the group take one person to their workshop if their teammate was awake? If they did, was I missing out on anything? A few tears fell from my eyes. I didn’t believe any of his stories, but I hated disappointing him. Another hour passed before I drifted back to sleep.
Dad woke Mom and me up the next morning. He said he had met with some new colleagues in the night who had warned him about the neighbors that had moved in next door. Mom said, “Oh, I met them yesterday. The Albuquerques are really nice people. Mr. Albuquerque insisted on taking us to a Samba dance party. He said it would integrate us with some local culture for once.”
Dad scoffed, “I bet it is a cover up. First, it’s the Samba. Next, we are floating down the river purged of all of our secrets.”
That night we skipped town. I didn’t have a pillow to sleep on. Dad already packed it up. There was no time before the men in suits arrived to help us on our way to the next stop on the Quinn family world tour: London.
London won the coveted prize of becoming my favorite place we have lived in even if it was only for a few days. What changed? I finally got to get out and explore with Mom.
Dad sent me into early retirement from my assistant duties after I accidentally let it slip that I had not gone to sleep on time like he asked. I didn’t protest. Instead, I cut my losses and followed Mom into the city.
Mostly sticking to window shopping, Mom would let her curly blonde hair bounce against her shoulders. She looked alive. She used to say some of the most cryptic things to me like “This is how it should be, Alan. It’s always been you and me.”
“What do you mean by that?” I’d ask, but she wouldn’t respond. She would just grab my hand and take me deeper into shops.
One time, she showed off some acting chops I didn’t know she had. She jumped in the middle of a Grassroots Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, slipping comfortably into the role of Titania. On those occasions, I didn’t recognize her. It was rare to see my mother that happy.
The experience didn’t last long. Four days after we had settled into our London flat, Dad had a panic attack outside our building. He swore he could see the shape of a man forming in the image of oncoming traffic. He shouted, “What do you want from me?” for three straight hours in different languages and levels of volume. The cops were called and Mom was given the option to have him tested by the crazy doctors.
Instead, Mr. Darius sent another assortment of vehicles and helpers.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.