OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got to know Jane over the course of several weeks, in a recurring dream. In this dream I would be working at my desk when, invariably, she would show up and wait for me to notice her standing behind me, making faces. Then, around an ill-concealed grin, she would ask: “You ready?” And with those words it was as if she had unlocked something.

I was filled with a sense of freedom as we set out, leaving behind us the geometric clusters of oblivious toilers, and we wound our way through a maze of crooked, narrow passages. A row of belching furnaces ran the length of the final chamber, at the end of which was a bank of monitors. Each screen, set within a panel of knobs, displayed a different view of the hive upstairs in flickering chiaroscuro. There was something familiar about the equipment, though I’d always wait for Jane to explain it. “This is how they adjust the company,” she would say, and as she turned one of the knobs at random the cubicles on one of the monitors would flick in and out of existence.

Then we would chat, and that’s when the dream became lucid. “We been here before,” I would say. “I remember it now. So let’s talk about something else this time.” And we would, sometimes for long stretches. These conversations weren’t always linear–in fact they tended to meander–but in spite of that, or because of it, I felt like I had a confidante, a partner in crime, and I looked forward to our discussions.

The only problem–and it’s a significant one–is that I do work with Jane. To be clear, I’d never actually met her before a few days ago, but I’d seen her around the office. Why my subconscious fashioned her into a practitioner of corporate subversion I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I couldn’t have dreamed up a less accurate profile.

When I finally met Jane in real life, I felt like I was losing a friend. She possessed not a single discordant characteristic. She spoke just like everyone else, each term couched in the banal metaphors of the day, and that playful light I’d seen behind her eyes so many times before simply wasn’t there. During a meeting she prattled on about some new project, and I wanted to reach across the table and yank the Gantt chart from her hands. “Don’t settle for this,” I would say. “You’re capable of so much more, I know it.”

But she wasn’t.

After I met the real Jane I stopped seeing the dream Jane entirely. The office dream began a few more times, but when I looked up there was no one there. I suppose I can’t complain too much about losing an imaginary friend, but it was an unfair swap, reality for fantasy, and I have lost something intangible in the process.

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