Consciousness

There was a man, not any particularly remarkable one. Pick any man of all men and it might as well be him. When I spoke to him at first, there was nothing to suggest to me that he was different. Nothing whispered that something was odd, nor stroked a warning finger down the hills of my spine. There was no way to know.

You would think, once you did know, that it would be more obvious. You would think that he would be frantic, afraid, sad. His eyes would bulge, or his hands would shake. When you meet him, though, he’s a perfectly ordinary man. Rather, he seems to be a perfectly ordinary man.

I am lucky. I never spoke to him for long enough to find out. That, I think, would have been worse. One of his friends, I suppose it must have been, walked over to me after I met him so briefly, and explained to me. I’m not sure why – out of a vindictive sort of malice, perhaps, but for no reason I can see.

After the stranger told me about the man, I went home. It was too strange to stay, and the tumbling in the bottom of my stomach gave me all the excuse I needed. I went home and went over the words. Here is exactly what I was told:

“That man you just met is not normal. You think of life as continuous, you know? He doesn’t. He doesn’t know how. His life has no present and no past. He lives just a bit farther away from time, outside the flow of it maybe. He lives in a single moment. It’s unattached to his past, to his present, to anything. He lives in the split-second of being conscious and when he’s not, he’s simply, I guess, not alive. This moment – this one, right now – is his whole life.”

I nodded at the words, and I packed up. I went home and I huddled into my sofa and I waited for the horror to fade. I’m not sure why it struck me so breathless. They’re not such inflammatory words. They ran through my mind until they seemed normal, and then I let myself sleep.

The man never showed up again. I’ve mostly forgotten, except for the four-o-clock ramblings like now. These times, when I wake up gasping and can’t sleep again for the thud of my heartbeat, I bend over a notebook and I write something down. Somehow that seems like I’m saving it, the shred of half-remembered dream or the feel of the breath slicing in my chest, and once it’s carved into the paper in blue ballpoint it will stay. That moment at least is preserved, as if I could go back to it.

That’s what bothers me the most, of course. When I think too closely about the words I heard, my pulse skips and my shoulders tense. There’s a horror there that I don’t understand, and then what’s worse. If I’m thinking too hard about it, so much that it seems unexceptional, then I start to wonder. It stops making sense that this way to live is different from how anyone lives – from how I live. Then I’m trapped in the moment, shivering and wordless, and I can’t find my way out.

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I’ve been reading too much Borges

I went to visit Adam today. He’s been so busy lately, though there hasn’t been anything to show for it. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been typing furiously, pen scratching on the paper and head bent over the desk. There’s a mountain next to him, a pile of crumpled paper on the desk that’s nearing his head. It’s been threatening to fall for a while now, and today it had actually started to drift to pieces. Adam didn’t look so well either.

He’s gotten a bit haggard. When I knocked he opened the door and I was shocked, breath pushed out of me. His eyes are so wide, and ringed with shadow. It looks like his skin is bruised, and I swear he’s gotten thinner in the past few days alone. He smiled when he saw me, though. He stepped aside and ushered me in, and started to talk.

“I’m breaking through it, this stupid writer’s block. You know it’s not something that happens much to me. Just the past couple weeks, and my god I’ve been going crazy.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you have.”

He snorted, and plucked the paper from his desk with a flourish. It was a gesture at odds with his appearance, like a beggar bending in a courtly bow. I took the paper from him, and the words rushed from him.

“I’ve come up with this new character. Theodore, I think his name is. Theo maybe. He’s brilliant, just the answer to everything. I’m sure I’ll figure out his story – I think probably he’s a writer too, don’t roll your eyes, but he’s a writer and he’s having this trouble with, I don’t know, someone. Anyway he’s clever and a bit disheveled and all kinds of screwed up, the kind of guy you can’t talk to for five minutes without wanting to edge away a little. You know what I mean?”

I nodded, and skimmed the paper he’d given me. It was a description, simple, of the person he’d just described. It didn’t seem like much to me, except that it was the first paper in a long while that he hadn’t crushed into a wad and tossed on the top of the growing pile. So I gave him a hug, and told him I was glad. I didn’t stay long, because Mary was waiting for me. We were going to go out to dinner.

***

Yesterday I saw Adam again. When I headed over there I was thinking that he’d be so much happier, looking healthy, smiling. Once I saw him, though – he was smiling, but he’s shrunken and shriveled more than ever. It looks like his skin is withering on his bones. He was so enthusiastic though, jumping around and talking, a prancing skeleton with a mop of unwashed hair. He was telling me about Theo – he had to remind me, that was the character he’d made up. This guy lived in a little apartment, and he was dealing with his father’s death only a few months before. He had a situation with a woman that he wasn’t quite sure of – I interrupted here to ask Adam, pointedly, how he was doing. He really just wanted to keep talking about how Theo was doing.

I could see, clearly, that having something like this to focus on was giving him energy. The motivation, the drive that I’d always seen in him was there, stronger than ever. He practically quivered with the intensity of his excitement. It looked like that energy was disappearing from his body even as it filled his mind. He kept babbling about Theo, and waving his arms. I thought he might fall.

After a bit I got him to sit and eat some cereal. There didn’t seem to be much other food in the whole place, though I searched the cabinets. I found some old cereal, sour milk and a rotten bunch of grapes in the fridge, and a drawer full of dry spaghetti. He was eating cereal when I put some water up on the stove, after washing out the pot. The spoon shook as he brought it to his face, and he had to concentrate on feeding himself like something he was remembering how to do. I made him a pound of spaghetti and put it in the fridge, and I didn’t leave before I made him promise to eat some at least twice a day. I think he only waited for me to shut the door before going back to his desk and his pen.

+++

To be continued, once I have written more of it. Also! A drawing of mine and an accompanying snippet of words were published today here.