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.