I turn the corner and wander down the block to the Sixth Avenue subway, processing what exactly has happened tonight. It seems, in short, that something extraordinary occurred at my workplace, which gave me a new and wondrous power of sight into the imagination of another person, either in the form of a clairvoyant tune-in or a hypnotic scouring, and that I was then cheeky enough to come here straight away and use this ability to compel the commissioning of a television programme. Did I really just do that? Yes, I did. It’s hardly just any old television programme, either: it’s an enormous television event, focusing on me. Children, don’t try this at home. And not only that; it seems I involved my friend Alaia in the project, following no consultation with her whatsoever. Perhaps I’d better phone her now.
“Hey,” she says, and at the sound of her sleek familiar voice I feel a touch of sanity.
“I’ve got some serious news,” I say. “Can I come round and tell you?”
“OK, sure. Where are you?”
“Midtown. I’ll be half an hour.”
So it’s fixed. Descending the subway stairs, I apprehend that I’m frightened—really scared—of what else may happen, any moment, of a comparably great and unexpected nature. The instant of sanity in Alaia’s voice just now was too brief. I dare not think about madness, though the topic lurks somewhere in the wings of my mind; how could it not? I grip metal handrails and analyse the geometric qualities of ceramic tiles and light-fittings; I drink in the symbols on subway maps, focus on the typefaces and orthographies of printed words, and dwell on the satisfying numerical construction of Manhattan’s street grid. Anything abstract or mineral, anything plain and hard and non-human, I fixate on, as a clean, clear, unambiguous anchor for my sanity.
By and by, this incipient panic starts to dissipate. I begin to risk less hard, more ambiguous objects. I flick my gaze from one fellow passenger to another. So far, so good; people don’t seem to find me any stranger than they usually do. So my powers aren’t visible. Thank goodness. It would truly alienate me if they were. I suppose I could have concluded this from my walking earlier to the GE Building, but I was catching no eyes then and in any case that walk now seems like a long-past dream. I catch a couple of people’s eyes now, as if not intending it, for just long enough to tell they are not registering anything too odd. And I note that I am not seeing into people. I can feel that I could see into them, if I directed myself to—but I’ve had enough of that for one day. Except for Alaia: maybe I’ll just have a quick look into her, when I reach her place.
However, something is wrong. It feels as if something subtle has gone missing in me. What is that? I step off the F train at Second Avenue station, find a subway official and ask if he knows of any imminent train delays, just to hear myself interacting … and it sounds like somebody else is asking. Or rather, I feel as if I don’t know in what personality to ask. I mean, in what default personality; for there doesn’t seem to be one of those in me any more. I could ask him in dozens of ways. But what would be my own way? How did I use to interact when I could just be my own spontaneous self, a few hours ago? How did I choose to respond to things and perceive things, when I did so “naturally”?
It wouldn’t have occurred to me that one could lose such a thing as the memory of one’s personality. I shouldn’t have known what such a thing might feel like. But now I know. And I think I need to fix this, before I lose track forever of something that was preciously mine.
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