You are not you—instead, you are the second person you have seen today.
In actuality, you know this person more intimately than most, for you have glimpsed upon them and could see the minute details of their countenance, near enough to decipher emotions and thoughts from presence alone. Don't worry about getting something wrong. Take some guesses. This isn't a test. Most likely they would get a few things wrong about you, too. But you are not you.
Think for a second, if you would, about what it means to be this person, the second person, and what you now hold dearest to your heart. Is it your family? Your job? Your hobbies? Clubs? Fandoms? Fetishes? Tastes? Habits? All those. What makes you special, so to speak? Are you unspecial? Why would you think that?
And why do you feel so shitty all the time?
You stroll down the sidewalk of an unfamiliar part of town—and, for the season, the weather seems temperate, kind. If you have a job, you're not there today, but if you don't have a job, it's a normal afternoon.
A chill interrupts the otherwise calm air about you, clinging to the back of your neck like a follower's breath, and you quickly turn.
Nothing, aside from the part of the sidewalk you have already surpassed.
Who exactly are you trying to be? Why did you choose the clothes you're wearing? Are they the best you can afford? What would you think if someone saw you like this? Does anyone know how terrible you feel every day?
A clambering scuffle emits from your right. A little behind you. Stopped in your tracks, you inspect the source of the sound, and realize your blood pressure rose on account of a stray cat, black, of course, and now it stares at you with its gold-yellow eyes. It mews like the ones on TV—do you have a favorite show? Have you seen House of Cards on Netflix? How many seasons of it? What would you do if you were not you?
What happened to the cat? It was just there.
On your way down the street, for there isn't a sidewalk here, you try to remember the last time you felt totally safe, or were at least totally content with your surroundings, however foreign or familiar they may have been. Things must be changing around here, and you can tell. You have been noticing little things for some time. How long?
Your neck feels cold. What would happen, right now, if you found out your neighbor had suffered a cardiac arrest and died? It can happen to anyone, you know, not just the sick and the old. You would get closer to home and see all the cop cars with their lights and the ambulances and your first assumption would be—what?
What would your first assumption be?
Your first assumption would be that it happened to you, if indirectly.
Then you'd get closer, closer still, and discover the EMTs and professionals were there to cart away the person living next to you, who would no longer be living. Died of a heart attack. The number one.
And you'd feel relieved. Then guilty.
God, why do you feel so shitty?
At the corner you ask yourself what you would do if every single one of your worst fears came true on the same day.
Nobody is on this street and, despite being unaccustomed to walking around here, it feels like the norm for these parts. A plastic cup rolls forward and backward next to the curb, trapped for the moment, and you can see buildings between the two alleys which look like they could be home businesses. Tailor shops, piano instructors, psychiatrists.
You hear a vehicle stop at the intersection where you had just turned to walk down this street. It's a black full-size van, the sides covered in clumpy dust, and the glare against the windshield and windows prevents you from clearly seeing the driver.
But you catch yourself. You're doing it again. Stop it. Won't help anything to think like that. There's being cautious and there's doing more harm than good.
The van turns the same way you did and scoots across the street. You try not to look at it, or make eye-contact, and as you tell yourself to relax you could almost swear it has turned and stopped in the alley, directly in front of you, blocking your way.
Because it has.
It sits, idling, and you try to find any casual reason for it to have done so.
Is this how it goes?
Your heart actually thumps—you can hear it—and you make a beeline to the backside of this van, trying to remain cool and unconcerned and not terrified out of your wits.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump.
You wait for the next part, continuing to walk while you wait.
And it never comes.
You want to turn around and you almost want to laugh and you want to turn around to know what the van was doing there—but it's gone now.
You sigh, longingly, and it takes a minute for your nerves to settle. Try to be calm, please. A heart attack can happen to anyone, remember?
But what the fuck happened to the van?
Do you go back the way you came, or is the van going to try to cut you off again?
What else would a black full-size van be doing here?
You don't want to laugh any more. You want to scream and call someone. If you have a phone—and who doesn't have a phone—you take it out, but, in the rare event you haven't a phone, your mind fills with the image of a communications marketing executive describing this exact scene in a board meeting.
"Imagine, if you would," he says confidently in his finest suit, trim figure, "you are meandering down an empty street, when out of nowhere comes..."
You stop yourself from calling. For once, you don't want to overreact. For once, you want to tell yourself you were able to get through something without anyone's help, or without something going awry, or without worsening matters by worrying.
How much more of it can you take?
The refuse rolls behind you, no longer filled.
Maybe you should call them, after all. Better safe than...you know what.
Do you know what? How often do you ponder this, anyway? That often? Don't you think that's a little excessive?
Why did the van do that?
But you're not going to bother them because you've bothered them so much already. Eventually, they're going to stop answering. Eventually, you know, if you didn't stop yourself, you would end up like those people who get their numbers blocked. Unless you already are. So either you have no phone or it stays in your pocket or bag.
You wonder if you made the right choice.
Ahead of you, above, in the trees, a tiny bird seems to be watching you, and you recognize the type and recall the story you heard about that sort of bird. It's a nice story, too. Nice enough.
Bird bird bird bird bird bird bird bird.
There. You've made it to the end of the street now, and the van doesn't seem to be anywhere.
You checked before turning the corner, of course.
Anyway, what are you doing? Why did you come here? Because you do it, whatever it is. It didn't take as long as you had thought, too. Thankfully.
You decide, as you're leaving to go back home, to not take the way you came. Okay, sounds good to you.
This street is out of the way, but more well-known establishments have opened and pairs and threesomes of cars glide in the four directions, like landspeeders. More than likely you like Star Wars. If you don't like Star Wars, you're still thinking about the story with the bird.
Other people are walking, the poor saps. At least the weather's not too bad. But why is that one guy on the other sidewalk wearing his hood up?
And why is he looking right at you?
And why is he smiling like that?
You look away, right away.
Was that someone you know?
Oh, fuck, you're almost afraid to look. Remember that time you saw an old friend of yours, and they had their phone out, but you could tell they were only trying to avoid your gaze?
Maybe they were just having a bad day.
Who was that guy?
Why do guys smile at people?
You come up with several reasons a man with a hood would smile at you.
How many of them were not good?
At the corner to turn toward home—or toward where you're currently staying—you take a peek to make sure he hasn't been following you.
That would have been bad, had he been.
Another cat sits in a plot of grass as you're almost there. It's white and has a green collar, but it nevertheless stares at you, so slightly turning its head as you stroll along.
Why do cats do that?
You search for your keys and can't find them! As the thumping resumes anew, you realize they were in a different pocket for some reason—whatever, you just want to be home and let yourself rest on your day off, whether or not you have a job.
The keys tinkle and the lock clicks. You double check it, but it doesn't feel locked enough. Has it ever?
You recall another moment when you didn't care whether the door was locked or not. Where did it take place? Were you on vacation? At a friend's house? A party, where everyone had a good time? Were you at home? How long ago was it?
Did you lock the door? You check again, and you did, it's locked.
How much have you seen of Alfred Hitchcock Presents? There's an episode called "The Creeper" where a serial killer works as a locksmith.
What sort of maniacal asshole came up with that? But maybe it's like that one show you enjoy watching, where it always seems like they base their stories off real events.
Has it always been like this but you were just never paying proper attention?
To make matters worse, no one is home, even if you live with your family, or your roommate doesn't work or works from here. It's only 1:06 p.m. Does that seem weird to you?
Some sort of drink is waiting for you, either in the refrigerator or upon any flat surface, and you take a moment to swallow from it. The walk has made you thirsty. Some places don't have safe drinking water. How often do you think of that?
Not often enough, you decide, and you feel bad as you quench your more temporary thirst.
You almost want to go to sleep because it feels like everything won't be better again until you wake up.
A good night's sleep—as in feeling like you've gotten one. Do you sleep well? Or does something keep you up sometimes? The neighbors? Your family? Your city? Stray cats? Nothing in particular? Think for a moment. Why are you afraid of that?
If you heard a knock or your doorbell right now, what would you do? Right now.
Who would be at the door? What if it was the guy in the hoodie?
You don't hear a knock or anything but, for some reason, you're asking yourself this as you hold your beverage and sit, wherever you're sitting.
And you think it would be awful.
You are not you still, and you are not the second person you have seen today, either, because you are now the employee of a musical instrument dealership who has to apologize for being late. The woman in the blue collared shirt eyes you suspiciously. Of all times for your GPS to do that! You carry your piano tuning kit and make a mental note—tell the boss that the van needs to be cleaned again. That time of year, you guess.
You're not them after this. You are a nineteen-year-old boy and you kick yourself for not appreciating your friends while they still talked to you. What did you do wrong? But everyone is so fuckin' mean and they're always in such bad moods that all you can do is put up your hoodie and put in your iPod and wonder when someone will finally return your smile with their own. Dammit. You're starting to seriously doubt if anyone ever will...
You're the second person you have seen today once again, and you take another drink, and you are still feeling terrible. You have just spent about thirty seconds borrowing footwear, so to speak, and you realize there could have been innocuous explanations for everything that occurred during your walk.
How weird would it be to have to drive around in a van like that for your job?
What would you do if no one wanted to talk to you?
And you instantly realize they could have been exactly what you had thought.
You are now one of the suppliers of a human trafficking ring, and you hate to do what you do but if you stop now they'll take your son.
You are now a different individual, a man, one who has been kicked around your whole life, and every time you make an effort to turn clean, the boot comes down. That same boot, different foot! Your ex-manager's condescending voice rings in your ear—what a rich dick, like all the rest—and you think if God wanted you to be a taxpayer then they'd at least give you full-time! Well, it's not like you haven't done it before. There's one. It's either them or you. They'd do the same if they were you, right?
Another one.... You're late to work and you have just seen a person on the street clutching their chest but you remembered when someone told you they once stopped to help a man in a similar situation and he was just pretending and took her purse. But you didn't stop.
You're not them but someone new and you have been arrested for kicking your cat within sight of that white lady who lives two houses down. You feel the cuffs on you wrists, cutting and cold, and the cop smells like Old Spice and coffee. Arrested, for kicking a cat, and not even your hardest? And Nana's at work. Guess you know who's getting your phone call. Know what else? The only thing you can think about is all the times you watched dudes get the fuck beaten out of them back home. The cat is alive. He just needed to know it wasn't right to dig up Nana's daisies. But he's sitting there licking his front paws as he watches the cruiser pull away and he is definitely still alive. You can't say the same for the dudes.
You have just hung up and you were always suspicious but this confirms it—Danny is a fucking Nazi. Or something. You have never heard anyone say that word so many times in that way, the one which goes beyond words and letters...and now what? He sounded high, didn't he? Or more drunk? Or has he finally lost it? But he's your friend, probably your best friend. At least he used to be. You care for him so much but dialing those digits is like asking a stranger to take him away forever. Maybe it's for the best. Maybe it's not your place. Yeah, he's just venting. He's probably just a little off lately—he'll get better. It didn't mean a thing.... Wait. Fuck, fuck. Fuck! He bought a gun two months ago. HE BOUGHT A GUN TWO MONTHS AGO.
You are a prostitute—the girls call you "Auntie Claire" but it's one of those moments when you forget your real name...what was it? ...Was it Claire, actually? You think about that one time you were getting something to eat and overheard those two college girls and two college guys discussing your line of employment—you remember? The time when that one brunette made those interesting points about legalization. You had thought no one else would see it like you do—obviously the demand is always there, isn't it? Obviously. The demand is thrusting on top of you at this very minute, and you've forgotten his name, too. But here's something you can't forget—the lady cop, another brunette, the undercover spook, who sounded like the force's big plan was to lock up every John this side of the state line and then magically Randy was going to start treating the girls better. June's arm will be in the cast for two months! The fuck is she going to do? "Yes, that's it," you tell the demand as the beads of sweat gather on his pale forehead. Another lay, another dollar.... Shit, what day is it, again?
"You are feeling more tired and relaxed. You are going into a deep sleep. Deeper...deeper...." As the emerald pendulum spins and refracts, the man with the calming radio-smooth voice asks you what happened on that day in 2006, and you see the basement and the lantern and the two boxes. And the blood over the grey brick walls. You opened the first box—and inside were bones, however many bones, and some of them were sticky. Then your grandfather called from behind you, and he asked if you wanted to look inside the other one. You see and saw the way his eyes looked different down there. Have you always known?
You are now a person who is dying of a heart attack. You lie on your back as your vision becomes darker on the sides and your chest can't move and you can't move and there's a bulldozer parked on you and you can barely reach out, reach out to the person walking next to you and they pause for a moment. But they don't stop. Why? You just want to know why it hurts like this. And you wish you would've done more with the people you actually loved.
You are the second person you have seen today, yet again, thankfully, and you wish you hadn't done that. You take another drink.
These bad things come from the hands of human beings for reasons such as your own, not those of an unseeable force, and you ask yourself if you can tell the difference. You ask yourself your own questions.
Would you think twice before picking the black cat?
You have to make a choice—and you're presented with it every day. You wonder what you would do. What exactly could you do about it? You take a minute, if you can, though maybe it'd be better if you were someone else entirely.
So, anyway, what are you up to tonight?
Do you feel like going out to eat?