by James Gunter
George woke up feeling odd. He took a shower,
got dressed, ate breakfast, and brushed his teeth before lea,·ing the
house. He sniffed the morning air, smelling nothing. A man walking a
dog passed him. George tried to smile, but the feeling came back to him. He looked around. “Nothing, ” he whispered to himself and continued down the road, head down, watching his feet hit the pavement.
When he arrived, he knocked on Harry’s door. Squinting, he tried
to discern the color of the door, but as Harry opened it, George let his
“Morning, George,” Harry said cheerfully. “Was l expecting you
“That’s the thing, Harry, l’m … I don’t know. ”
Harry looked at him, his head cocked to one side.
“Can 1 come in?”
“Yes, of course,” replied Harry.
George crossed through the front room to the chair by the window
and sat clown. Harry took a seat on the couch a few feet away.
“Are you okay?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure,” George said. “There’s something strange going on.”
” Is it that dog of yours again?” said Harry.
“I have a dog?”
Harry hesitated. “I think you have a dog. ”
“Are you sure?”
Harry glanced down at his house slippers. “Yes. Yes, I’m certain
you have a dog. ”
George turned to the window. “Why didn’t you come to my house
“Well,” responded Harry, “I guess l hadn’t thought of it. I didn’t
even know you were coming here.” Harry leaned forward slightly. “Are
you all right?”
George shifted in his seat, furrowed his brow, and looked at the
“Is the chair uncomfortable?” asked Harry.
“Yeah, well . .. ” George let out a long breath. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Harry watched George run his hand along the armrest.
George looked up. “We’re friends, right?”
“Yes, of course,” said Harry.
“So, you have been to my house, right?”
Harry brought his hands together Oat and placed them under his
chin. “Of course I have. Just like you are here now. ”
“When?” said George.
“Yes,” George said, “when was the last time you were at my house?
Why were you there, and what did we do?”
Harry leaned over and put his elbows on his knees. “Well, let me
think. I know I’ve been there. It was . . well, I’m not sure.” Harry’s
shoulders relaxed and he leaned back against the couch cushions.
“This is ridiculous,” he exclaimed, ” I’ve been to your house. We’re
friends, right? 1 must have been there sometime. What does it matter
when or why?”
“I suppose you’re right, ” said George, and he turned back to the
“Now, are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
George sat quietly. A tea kettle gave off a high-pitched whistle from
the kitchen, and Harry jumped up off the couch.
“Ah, yes, the tea kettle,” he piped. “Must have forgotten I put it on.
I’ll get you a cup of herbal tea- it might make you feel better.”
Harry disappeared into the kitchen.
George could hear Harry taking cups from the cabinet and placing
them on the counter. He stared out the window as if he were trying to
make out something in the distance. He wiped dust off the window with the sleeve of his jacket. “Nothing,” he muttered and ran his hands
over the armrests absentmindedly. He felt where the fabric stopped,
a small wooden knob protruded. The armrest was velvet, he knew
what velvet felt like, but running his hand over the armrest felt nothing
like velvet, it felt like . ..
Harry came back into the room carrying a tray with two cups of
herbal tea on it and sat down on the couch. He put the tray on the
coffee table and began stirring his tea. “Give it a minute to cool down
and it’ll be ready,” he said and turned toward George, who was now
fingering the wooden knob al the end of the armrest and staring off
” I can see you’re troubled,” said Harry, “but I don’t understand it.
Let me know what’s really going on.”
“What’s my dog’s name?” George asked.
Harry gave a small laugh, “You didn’t come over here because you
forgot your dog’s name.”
George sat upright. “That’s the thing, I don’t know why I came
over here. I feel fine, it’s just .. . just .. . there’s something odd. ”
“George, if you … ”
“Harry, do you know my dog’s name?”
” I … ,” Harry paused, thinking, ” I think I’ve forgotten.”
“You don’t know his name. I have a dog, I’m sure, but 1 don’t know
his name either. It’s not that I forgot his name- I just don’t know it. ”
He slumped back in his chair again.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s Rover or Spot or Bob. What do I know?”
“But I should know my own dog’s name!”
The two of them sat there for a second. Harry slowly reached for
his cup of lea, brought it to his lips, and took a sip. “Do you want some
of this tea? It might make you feel better.”
“What flavor is it?” asked George.
” It’s . . . um … well, it’s tea.”
George sat straight up. “I know it’s tea, but what flavor is it? Tea
Harry furrowed his brow and set his cup down. “You don’t have to
be sarcastic just because you’re feeling a little weird. It’s … uh …
sweet. There. Happy?”
“No,” said George, leaning forward. “What did you taste when you
sipped your tea? Are you just saying it tastes sweet because you know
it’s supposed to taste sweet, or because that’s what you tasted?”
“What’s the difference? I always drink my tea with sugar to make
it sweet. ”
George muttered to himself, “I know that and you know that, but
what did your tea taste like?”
“This is foolish,” said Harry, and stood up. ” I’ll go get the box and
show you that it has a flavor.”
George watched Harry go back to the kitchen, then turned back to
the window. A minute passed, then a few more, in silence as George
strained to see out the window. Harry walked back in, looking at the
box in his hand. “Like reading off a page,” George whispered.
“That’s strange,” Harry said. ” I swear I picked out a flavor at the
grocery store. Why wouldn’t I pick a flavor?” He walked over to
George and handed him the box. George took it and looked at the
label that simply read: “Herbal Tea.”
“I could have sworn I picked a flavor…,” Harry repeated.
George set the box down on the coffee table. “When I got up this
morning I took a shower, got dressed, ate breakfast, and brushed
my teeth in what seemed to be one breath. One flashing moment of my
life. T here was no detail, no pause to decide what to eat or what to put
on. It simply happened. I don’t even know what I ate.” He glanced over
at the tea cooling on the coffee table. ”And when you went to get the
box of tea, it was like the same thing. I mean, I know you were gone for
a few minutes, but the time passed as if I were just reading it off a page.
“I know you took more than a minute, but the knowledge came to
me, not in time, but- by something else.”
George stood up and started pacing the room. He glanced at the bookcase and started again. “It’s like a story where the author telescopes an event, or series of events, into one sentence so he can skip all the unimportant details .. . it’s . . . ,” George stared down at the carpet.
“What’s my dog’s name, Harry?” George’s voice was beginning to
“For heaven’s sake, George, will you let it go?”
“I can’t. ”
Harry started to look flustered. “Fine. You want to know your dog’s name? Let’s go back to your house and look at his collar. He’s got a collar, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he’s got a collar,” said George.
“Then let’s go.” Harry crossed the room to put a coat on and
exchange his slippers for shoes.
“I can’t. ”
“If you can’t let it go, let’s go solve this once and for all. ”
“No, Harry. I can’t leave this apartment. ”
Harry turned around slowly, “Why not?”
“Because I can’t. ”
Silence hung between them.
“Come back and sit down,” said George.
Harry crossed the room with a look of concern on his face.
“Harry,” George began, “what if I don’t know my dog’s name
because he doesn’t exist?”
Harry stared hard at his friend, “George, you need help. ”
“No, Harry, you don’t understand. I can’t leave this apartment. I
want to. I want to go see my dog and read his name off his collar, but
I can’t. There’s nothing out there. Look for yourself.” Harry started
toward the window. “I can’t see out the window,” said George. “I look, but there’s nothing there. I know there is something outside this apartment- through the window- but I can’t see it. I can’t describe it to you. The outside doesn’t exist! ”
“George, I’m going to call the hospital, okay?”
“No, Harry. Sit down and listen,” said George with a slight edge to
Harry didn’t move.
“There is no hospital either. ”
“George . . . ”
“The outside has nothing to do with what is going on in here,” said
George. “It’s not important. My dog’s name is not important. The tea
flavor is not important. It serves no function- no function at all. ”
“Why is it not important?” Harry interrupted, but George paid no
attention to him.
A shudder went through George’s body and he let out a nervous
laugh. ” I’m Estragon and you’re Vladimir,” he blurted out. “Or you’re
Vladimir and I’m Estragon. Which sounds better to you?” His hands
“I .. . ”
“I don’t know either,” whispered George. He looked around
the room. “The dog’s name isn’t important. It’s not important to the
“What story?” Harry asserted. He seemed to crumble off from
the couch onto his knees and raised his head to look at George.
“This story. The story that is going on right now,” said George.
“It’s the reason I can’t leave the apartment, and why I can’t see out
the window. It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist until it becomes part of the
story. “He let out a small breathy laugh and looked at Harry. “Where’s
Godot? Is he coming too?”
“George?” Harry whispered.
” I don’t know. T hat’s the thing- it doesn’t matter.”
The room filled with silence. George’s arms went limp and hung at
his sides, his muscles loosened. He looked down at Harry, still on his
“No, George, don’t. ” Harry pleaded, “Please … ”
George muttered, “That’s what the odd feeling was. I felt like
words. I felt just like words.”
James Gunter exists only on paper. He is made up of drum machines, burritos, and the shredded bits of Philip K. Dick novels. He is an English major and editing minor, with an emphasis in creative writing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.