duct duct duct DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories   duct
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Mitchell Levenberg


met Telepathy one day while jogging around the lake. It was a cold and drizzly day and she leaned against the railing of the bridge that stood above the lake and stared at the dead fish floating unremarkably upon the surface. I jogged often, but slowly. It seemed everyone ran faster, more determined, unable or unwilling to keep down with me. I was in no hurry, I was filled with uncertainty and indecision, and my running showed it. I often liked to look at women as I ran and this slowed me down. Nature is good to look at too but you can just take so much of dead fish and the gulls, those beautiful white gulls with their pudgy necks who flew off in panic as I approached. Getting back to women, though I had never seen her before, Telepathy looked particularly good that day. Nature dulled in comparison. The gulls stood on the railing next to her and stared. She worried them. They couldn't seem to figure her out what she could possibly see in those dead fish. She made them feel very uncomfortable and yet they wouldn't move. She was a threat to Nature because she stood there in the rain trying to learn its secrets. Telepathy had her coat open and it fluttered in the wind like one great wing itching to take off. The gulls too were getting wet but they didn't look as good wet as Telepathy did. This woman is hot, I thought to myself as I jogged for the second time around the lake and before I could say or think another word she called out to me, "You're right, I am!" and that's how we met.

But that was the last time I really guessed right about her. One night we went to a party given by some friends and we were sitting around having a conversation and there was a supervisor or two from work sitting in this group and they were talking and telling jokes, forcing everyone to laugh, even though I could never quite hear the last line of the joke and always had to pretend I did or else I had to push my head further into the circle where the smell of onion dip on people's breaths had gathered, yet despite this, this dipping of my head into the group smell gave me just the necessary pained look to be able to simulate interest in the conversation. Telepathy sat next to me and when I finally withdrew my head from the middle, she whispered to me: "That man hates you." "Which man?" I asked her. "The man sitting opposite you hates your guts and would rather see you choke on a cracker than leave this party alive." "That's impossible," I told her. "That's Jerry Blaine, my immediate supervisor who taught me everything I know. I've been to his house. I know his kids." "I know that," she said. "And I also know he hates your guts and that I don't want to be at this party anymore."

I couldn't believe it. Jerry Blaine had been nice to me all evening. At about ten P.M. I remember spilling a drink on him and he just laughed it off. "There are more suits where that came from," he said. Perhaps there was a warning in this. Didn't he, only minutes earlier, before some unknown force corralled us into this unearthly circle, compliment me on my input at the company? Yet, Telepathy insisted that he harbored ill feelings towards me all evening. "Excuse me," I told the group. "My girlfriend has suddenly taken ill and I have to take her home." "That's too bad," someone said. "Which one is your girlfriend?" I pointed to Telepathy. Jerry eyed her suspiciously. "That's too bad," someone else said, someone I had never spoken to in my life. "Couldn't your girlfriend take a taxi? We were enjoying your company so much." That's impossible," I said. "My girlfriend isn't feeling very well and I'm afraid she's going to have to be removed from the party." "To be removed by whom?" someone said as if I had handed him the wrong requisition orders back at the company. "Couldn't someone else take her home?" a man said, a man from the company I had only seen from the back of the head until tonight. "One time my wife got sick at a party and I had someone else take her home. I ended up having a terrific time!" "It's different, they're not married," someone else said. "Her eyes do look a bit glazed," the man with the back of his head turned away from me said. "It could have been the dip," one of the woman managers said while purposely dipping her celery into it. "Dip can be devastating if not properly digested," she said with just a titter of dipsomania. This whole time Telepathy said nothing, but her eyes looked like they did that morning at the lake when she tried to look into the souls of the dead fish. "You see," I said, pointing to her. "I'm afraid I'll have to take her home after all." Jerry looked at me as if he knew all along I was capable of such outrage, such breach of human decency. "Who the hell do you think you are?" he suddenly said. "Don't you realize that positions are being determined here as we speak? Is that what you would like me to understand? That you of all people who has not had an original idea in five years shouldn't know better than to jeopardize his entire future over a woman who has been in a catatonic state since eight o'clock this evening onion dip or no onion dip?" I looked at Telepathy. "I told you," she said.

The whole next day Jerry was very cold to me. At one point he pulled out the plug of my computer, wiping out five years of work and not once apologizing for it. "Don't worry," he said. "You won't be needing it." I realized then and there that the business world was not for me. Telepathy had told me that very thing the moment we returned home last night. She just seemed to know everything before it happened. "Jerry Blaine wanted my ass," she said. "Is that why he ruined me?" I asked. "It doesn't matter," she decided.

She thought I should be an artist. So all day I sat before a blank canvas and she would imagine the masterpiece I would paint or I would ponder over a blank notebook and she would imagine the novel I would write.

The next day I sat blankly before the same canvas and painted nothing until Telepathy came home and told me that what I had simply done was to paint one of the great masterpieces of all time. Certainly, the canvas was blank, my own mind was blank, but yet she insisted. "What is it?" I asked her. Describe it to me." She couldn't she said. At least not in a way that would do it justice. "Was it abstract?" I asked her.

"No," she said.

"Then what is it?" I insisted.

"It's nothing," she said. "You wouldn't understand."

"But it's my painting," I told her. "What right do you have to keep my own painting from me?"

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Sorry?" I answered. "Don't I at least have the right to know what it is I've painted? Or what it is I haven't painted?

"Look at it!" she screamed. I looked at the blank canvas. "It's your painting! Can't you see what you've done?"

"Maybe," I said. "Maybe if I could just use some paint. Maybe then I could..."

"No!" she stopped me. "That would ruin everything."

The whole next day I stared at the blank canvas which Telepathy said was my masterpiece. It did nothing for me. It was just a big blank piece of nothing. Perhaps I should start over, I thought. But this time without the canvas. The canvas was distracting. It tampered with my vision. I would be much better off using blank space. I thought for the first time that I was onto something but Telepathy got angry. She figured I was mocking her, as well as my own talents. I suppose she was right. Try writing the novel, she told me. It will get your mind off the painting. True, I had plenty of paper. I had stolen five years worth from the company. Everyone at the company stole paper. But that's only because they were thieves and not because they wanted to write novels.

But this time I was determined to do it. Unlike the canvas, I would not leave the paper blank. I would put words on it. And when Telepathy came home that night I showed her the first ten pages of my new novel. It was about the life of a clairvoyant living in New York City. She hated it. "Why do you insist on writing about something you know nothing about?" she asked me. "I know you," I told her but she knew that wasn't true. "It's garbage," she said. "It's the rantings of a madman. Take my word for it."

"Why should I?" I asked. "You're the one who liked that painting!" She said nothing. She looked at me. Then she looked inside of me. It was that look again. I felt as if the fly of my soul was open. "Anything wrong?" I asked her. "I just read your novel," she said. "What novel?" I asked. "The one you haven't written yet," she said. "Any good?" I asked her. "A masterpiece," she said. "Is there anything I can do?" I asked. "No," she said. "Why not?" I asked. "Because you have to understand something," she said. "What?" I asked. "That you, like most of my former lovers, are incomplete." "Incomplete?" "Yes, and I suppose I'll just have to make the best of it," she said. "You will?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "The burden always falls on me." "And when will I be complete?" I asked. "That's up to you," she said. "But it won't be in our lifetime."

For the next few days, I missed work terribly. Not the work I was doing, I hated that, but the hours I sat doing nothing but sitting in my little cubicle and harboring deadly thoughts about my co-workers. I missed hiding my thoughts from other people. It's really what made life bearable. Even people trying to guess what I was thinking made me uneasy. And now I spent all my time with a person who could not only read my thoughts but know them years before they were to be formulated. She knew what mood I'd be in all day before I would even wake up in the morning. "Well, aren't you in a foul mood," she'd say to me just as I was opening my eyes that day for the first time. Sometimes I'd go back to sleep and ask her to wake me up when she thought I was in a better mood. When I finally did get up I found exactly what I wanted for breakfast waiting for me, the exact number of eggs, the exact number slices of bacon, of toast I wanted. Sometimes I'd try to throw her off the track. "I wanted cereal!" I'd cry. "I wanted Kellog's Cornflakes!" "Liar!" she'd cry back. "A relationship cannot survive on lies!" She was right. Who was I fooling? Besides, I would have been heartbroken if she took back the eggs. She knew everything. She knew when my arteries would first begin to clog or when my cells would begin to multiply at breakneck speeds. She knew the workings of my body as well as my soul. At a Jeans store she said once: "Make sure you buy those pants one size larger because next year you will be three pounds heavier."

Telepathy thought I was OK in bed, at least in the beginning, but after a while she grew bored. Then she grew frightened. Once I reached out for her in the middle of the night and she said, "Don't touch me. Our children would be mutants." This was her way of letting me know our love life was over. I suppose it was for the best. How could I possibly satisfy a woman who was having sex wired to her from telepathic hunks all over the world. This was only a wild hunch on my part, which she denied, but for which she was extremely proud of me for thinking. "Thank you for trying to read my mind," she said. "It shows you care." Of course I cared. Otherwise, I would have thrown her out months ago, which I suppose I never thought about, not even unconsciously, or else she would have had her bags out by now without me having to say a word.

The trouble was Telepathy wanted me to think like her. So one day I made a deal with her. I told her that all day I would try to think like her if she would try to think like me. "Is that possible?" I asked her. "Could you do that for me? Just for one day?" "I'll try," she promised.

So what she did was sit at my desk and write down the names she had made up for all the dead fish she had seen floating upon the surface of every lake she had ever looked into from the railing of a bridge. "This will quiet my mind," she said. "It will stop me from thinking."

I, on the other hand, as I had promised, tried to look deeply into the secret nature of things. Moments later, the doorbell rang. I expected Telepathy to call out to me as she always did something like, "Tell him to come back tomorrow at 9 A.M." or "He's gonna want $7.49 C.O.D.," or "If she's selling the stuff with the blue gel, buy it!" Or sometimes she'd just say, "Don't answer it! Whatever you do don't answer it!" but this time she said nothing and went to the door to answer it herself. Was it some kind of a surprise? I wondered. After all it was my birthday and perhaps she had ordered a surprise. On the way to the door she looked at me and asked "Do you know who it is? Do you have any idea who it is?" I wanted to. I struggled to know, all day I struggled to know what lurked behind closed doors, what secrets lay within the petrified gills of dead fish but alas I could not. "No I don't," I said. "I have no idea." The bell rang again. It seemed urgent. This much I did know. She looked at me with the same hopeless look as always and she said, without hesitation, "Well then, neither do I!" But I knew she was lying. She too had struggled all day not to know as I did, but to unknow, to see nothing, to know nothing past the first unsuspecting moments of the day. But she too had failed. I saw that. In the normal non-telepathic way of humans figuring things out, I truly knew that. "I'll answer it," I said. "It's the least I can do." "No, she said. "I'll answer it. "It's the least I can do too." "No, me," I said. "Happy Birthday!" she cried reaching for the knob and when I heard the blast of the shotgun and watched her drop, I knew she loved me more than any other woman I had ever known. "Happy Birthday," she said as I bent over her, watching whatever strange stuff it was that could look into the souls of dead fish fade out of her eyes forever. And when I looked up again there was Jerry Blaine, my old boss, smiling, with his arms stretched out as if to welcome me back into the embrace of an unpredictable universe.


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