See, i like to sit on the floor with my back to one of the tall built-in kitchen cupboards and fan my face with the pages of whatever book I’m reading. The silence in the house is complete … no voices or footfalls down the hall, no whirring from the refrigerator; in the space between one of the halfopened screen windows a trapped fly had abandoned its struggle a few minutes ago, and I guess I must have just stopped noticing it’s buzz just now.
When I push my knees out straight before me, I can see the familiar, endearing, pucker of skin right above my scarred kneecaps. I fell so much as an awkward, clumsy kid growing up. Aren’t I still growing up? Perhaps the scars are just internal now.
This silence hisses in my ears and my vision is faintly distorted, I don’t know, it’s like my hands in my lap appear unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. When I raise one hand and flex its fingers, it’s natural to wonder how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be mine, entirely at my command. Or did it have some little life of its own? I think I’ve bent my finger and straightened it several times by now. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when my intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. It’s funny, I feel like if I could only find myself at the crest of this movement, this moment – I might find the secret of myself, that part of me that was really in charge.
I bring my forefinger closer to my face and stare at it, urging it to move. Of course it remained still because I’ve just been pretending, not entirely serious, and because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it. But when I did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of my mind. When did it know to move, when did I know to move it?
There was no catching myself out. It was an either-or sort of thing. There was no stitching, no seam … and yet I feel like that behind the smooth continuous fabric is the real self. Is it my soul? This thought took the decision to cease pretending, and gave the final command. And my finger moves obediently. Obedience.
These thoughts are as familiar to me, and as comforting, as the precise configuration of my knees.
Their matching but competing, symmetrical and reversible, look. A second thought always followed the first, one mystery bred another: Was everyone else really as alive as she was? For example, did her dogs lying beside really matter to themselves, as valuable to theirselves as I am? Was being Kirby or Koda just as vivid an affair as being Kirsten? Did Kirby also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did he spend time thinking about it, with a paw held up next to his face? Did everybody, including her father, mother, brother? If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique … when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance.
But if the answer was no…. then I am surrounded by machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling I just had, have had, will have. This is sinister and lonely — as well as unlikely. Though it offends my sense of order, I know it’s overwhelmingly probable that everyone else has thoughts like mine or better ones at that.
Now see, I know this, but only in a rather arid way; I don’t really feel it.