Lesser of Two…?

1) She wore a long dark trench-coat and something even longer and darker underneath. Heavy black shoes. Loose knit cap. Her face was one of those that’s hard to place or age – touch of brown but not from sun, a slight wither but not from age. I made a note of all these things only after the fact, while trying to look anywhere else but in her eyes. The color of storm clouds, those eyes were watching me deeply. Not looking at, not staring. Watching, from just a few feet to my right where I happened to turn during a minor break from my favorite waiting-for-the train activity: coming up with as many words as I can out of the name if the station written on the wall on the other side of the tracks (“Warden” is good for about a dozen words). When I turned and saw her my first instinct was to run, without waiting to see whether or not the skin I jumped out of followed. My second instinct was to assume she was just another weirdo who missed her pod back to Wenzhou, so I tried to shame-stare her back but I only lasted about a nanosecond, because nothing changed. She continued to watch me, going through the contents of my soul with laser focus – a soul which in that moment, for some reason, felt like it was located along the inside of my spine. I looked away, then looked back. She wasn’t done. Watching, willing. Is this what I get for lazing out and taking the escalator today? An Omen moment? Then she whipped her head away, as if I’d somehow disappointed her. That’s just a guess, I didn’t go around her to check, though I did move in a wide circle behind her to the far end of the platform.

2) Like most people, the best ideas come to me in dreams, or in the moment of waking, or in that heavy state of resurfacing from sleep. More often it’s the first one. In sleep, during dreams. The perfect phrase, the right solution, my next great idea, a flash of revelation. For a time I used to keep a notebook and pencil by my bedside (pens die unannounced) to jot down whatever came in the dark. But the problem with writing in the dark is that what feels like the line below the one you just wrote is in fact the same line, so that you wake up to several lines worth of once-in-a-sleeptime brilliance written right on top of each other. So I changed to a tape recorder instead. I know, by feel, where the record button is so I just flip it on and, eyes closed and technically still asleep, I speak what has come to me. Then I turn it off and go on dozing. This idea is so genius and has worked so well that I wonder if it came to me during sleep and was kind enough to loiter in my conscious mind after sunrise.

One day, a couple of weeks since I last transcribed, I sat down with paper and pen and pressed play. The sound quality was, as usual, quite good. Several minutes in, I heard a whispering voice that wasn’t mine. It spoke in between my words, like a shadow that stopped a little bit after me, always a little late. The next recording brought a second voice, so it was like two people were having an urgent, secret conversation in the background while I talked to me in the foreground. What were they saying? I wish I knew. It wasn’t any language I understood. That’s not true. They’d start out echoing my words, then the sounds would become more garbled until nothing they said meant anything to me, only to each other. Voices of children.

One of these stories is true.

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