“Sometimes neurological responses fall outside the median,” she says. “It’s not that unusual, but the more deviant symbols produced, the longer you’ll need to stay here.”
“Why?” A spike of unease starts the symbols chittering across the screen again, streaming by so quickly they become irregular black lines leaving stripes across your vision.
“It doesn’t work otherwise,” the Reader says, a tang of regret in her voice. “I can’t decode unregistered symbols unless I have these on.” She indicates the lines of wires connecting your mind with hers, and hers with the screen. “Bloody annoying, I don’t mind telling you.”
The Reader checks her watch, and you bite down on an instinctive apology.
“I need to record you for another 15 minutes,” she says. “And then we can try and tackle the translation.” She pats the hard exam table. “Lie back down, Coralanne. The less we stimulate you, the better, it seems.”
The Reader says almost nothing for the next 15 minutes, or whatever span of time it is she keeps you lying down.
You don’t ask her what it all means as you have some inkling, and anyway would rather let the Reader talk.
“These are imprints of your brain activity,” she says, hushed with the awe of her own work. “The computer can recompose the electricity into symbols through me, and then I translate them to understand your brain functions.”
Out of the corner of your eye, you see her study you as you study the screen. The symbols have reverted to black, still hurrying across the screen like the last crest of evening commuters. The shapes are wild and nonsensical, and it seems impossible that they could have come from your own mind.
“Your brain activity is… intense, as you can see, Coralanne,” the Reader continues. “Stress can cause reactions like this, but ordinarily the electrical responses are much more normalized.”
“How do you read this?” you ask her warily.
“Only readers can do it,” she says. “We’ve got receptors in our brain, pattern-makers that most people don’t know how to use.” She sounds proud, and you wonder if she should be. “And,” she adds, “We make dictionaries of universal symbollage.” She glances at you, biting her lip. “I don’t know how useful those will be for you, though.”
Thick splatters of rain slung across the window, melting away the world.
I reconnected with my high school art teacher yesterday. She’s going to help me make a costume, or rather, teach me, since I don’t know the first thing about sewing or fabric or patterns or anything like that.
She started showing me the basics of the sewing machine (needle, presser foot) and explaining the way the threads looped through the contraption and how to use a bobbin. And it was the strangest thing, because I felt like my grandfather - my mother’s father, I called him Bom-Bom - was there watching me.
He was a printer, but also a tailor earlier on, and I remember him teaching me how to thread a needle once when I was little. I’m not much one for this sort of thing, but all I could think of was how proud he felt to see me finally learning to sew. And a little bit frustrated, because I was sort of an idiot at it, but in a good way.
“Lie down,” the Reader says, her voice laced with a frazzled ribbon. Your swelling pulse beats the room black and back again, but you can see her eyes flickering nervously between you and the screen as though one of you is about to move very suddenly. “Lie down, Coralanne.”
The dark pounding of your pulse begins to cool as you breathe, your fingers curling tightly on the edge of the table.
“I don’t want to talk about Regina,” you say, enunciating each word so there can be no misunderstanding.
“No!” you shout, and your voice breaks with the unexpected force. You begin to scrape at the electrode over your right eye, and the Reader’s face is drenched in red light from the computer.
The Reader stands, fear and curious resolve grappling in her eyes, a cocktail you have never tasted. She takes your arm and pulls you down off of the narrow table. Your bare thighs scrape over the edge.
“Coralanne,” she says again, and you wish desperately that she would stop. She positions you in front of the pull-down computer screen. “I shouldn’t do this,” she says, and then, “Look.”
The screen is flooded with markings, almost symbols but not nearly so meaningful. Squiggles and dashes, circles and darts, almost no two just the same. Three-quarters of the symbols flicker in black, but those at the bottom glow in a lurid red that seems to waver and shift in the dimness of the room.
I saw the first of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park performances tonight. I did the standby line with two of the siblings; I didn’t think there would be much of a line, but it was longer than I anticipated. We waited for a bit more than an hour, give or take, and only got tickets about 30 minutes before the show started. It all worked out though; my brother even left the line to get us shwarma, and we didn’t get caught. (Thank you, bro.)
The play was A COMEDY OF ERRORS, or what I gather to be a highly condensed version of that play. It was pretty damn funny, but quite short (only like 90 minutes) and sort of frothy. I’m glad I didn’t try and get tickets in the early morning or anything like that. It was a lot of fun, but not worth a massive investment in time.
I will say that always feel a bit unsettled at seeing edited productions of Shakespeare. It’s not that I’m a super-purist (I like it when productions find new meaning and surprise me) but I like that meaning to come out of the text, instead of being crammed into it. That said, I haven’t read COMEDY OF ERRORS, but it probably gets wild and a bit dull in it’s full-on form. So I understand why cutting happens, but I do sort of feel like the productions should say something like “So-and-so’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s Blah-de-Blah.” Though I realize that kind of anal and technical of me.
Cutting is not as bad as adding material, though. Ugh. No. That’s just wrong.
“Family,” the Reader says. The word falls like a pebble into the restless pool of your memories, and you snatch at the first droplet that rises from the splash.
“Mice,” you answer.
The Reader pauses, just for a second; a hiccup in her performance. “Birthday,” she continues smoothly.
“Paper,” she says.
This word makes you pause. The machine hums uneasily in the air just to your left - its dim glow stains the far wall with sickly light - and the tempo of the Reader’s click-click-clicking has increased. It sounds to you like a symphony of nerves.
“Money,” the Reader repeats. Her voice is absent, as though she is preoccupied by something more important, which should emphatically should not be.
“Regina,” you blurt out to the ceiling with it’s spidery cracks, and the woman who might not be listening, because for a very small moment, you had forgotten the wires, and the reason you waited all day to be stuck with glue and lie on a papery cot.
“Who is Regina?” the Reader asks, and her voice is different, as though it is a wall rising around a secret.
You sit up abruptly and the dark room spins around you. Your ears pound with blood, and you can only hear every second word in between the rush of your heartbeat.
The orderly dims the lights on her way out of the dank room. You can hear her white sneakers squeaking on the hallway tiles after she shuts the door.
For once, you don’t have very long to wait.
Still on your back, you have to crane your neck to see the Reader when she bangs into the room, huffing loudly.
“… Fifteen minutes for lunch,” she grumbles, and you catch a glimpse of short black hair.
The wheeled gray chair skates across the floor and the Reader disappears from your range of vision. A tugging on your electrodes - you feel oddly possessive of them now - and the unmistakable creak of an old fold-down computer screen set your nerves tingling. Your feet are numb.
“Right,” the Reader says, her tone reminding you of long flights with your mother when she used to steward on red-eyes. “Umm… Coralanne. Are you relaxed?”
“Good.” Your wires pull again, and if you lift your head just so and squint, you can see the Reader attaching corresponding electrodes to the circle of skull. Maybe that’s why her hair is so short.
The screen emits a long, cool beep.
“Okay… now I’m going to give you a list of words, and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. You can do that?”
“Gooood,” she says, pulling out the word like a blank tape measure.
After the glue has tried, the orderly tells you to lie down once again. You can feel her fiddling with the ends of the wires attached to the electrodes as you study the spiderweb of cracks in ceiling above you. Your face feels stiff with electrodes and glue.
With a small metallic clatter, the wire go still.
“You understand that all information retrieved through this process can and will be used by the Society for Electro-Cranial Studies and its auxiliary offices?” The orderly recites in a flat voice.
You nod at the ceiling, wires ringing softly in whatever metallic collection bin they rest in now.
“And you understand that said information can and will be reproduced and retransmitted by SECS, and that you hereby release all ownership and copyright claim to the Society?”
Another tiny nod.
“And that the Society for Electro-Cranial Studies and its auxiliary offices are not responsible or liable for any resulting harm which may come to you during or after this procedure?”
“Yes,” you whisper.
The orderly takes your thumb and index fingers and presses them onto a synth-pad so cold, goosebumps run up your shins.
“Good luck,” she says.
I slept a lot today. Like four hours. I meant to read outside, but it was muggy and I got back from lunch exhausted. My bed looked delicious.
I’m reading four books now, and there are a whole bunch more I’d like to read. But I need to buckle down.
I don’t know why that little short story came out in second person. But it did. It came from an idea I had years ago, about… well, I won’t give that away. (Nobody cares.) I have a weird memory of having part of this idea in the shower.
My right eye is itchy and watery. I still haven’t fully kicked this cold, which is now more than a week old. At least I can breath, but I’m sick of blowing my nose embarrassingly in public.
I painted my nails white with dark navy stripes, and everyone says they look like prison nails. I was going for beachy and seersucker… but whatever.