I don’t want to say it’s like thinking – it’s not. It’s more like feeling than like thinking. But I don’t feel it in my heart, or my body. I feel with my mind.
I can taste with my mind, or smell with it. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I know. Someone comes close to me, I want to know more about them. I go into them, or they go into me. I don’t know. It’s weird.
I met Rita in line at a vending machine. I could see her face and the shadow of her breasts reflected in the glass in front of me – her lips puckered and her eyebrows curling tight. She was putting the dollar in, and getting it back, and rubbing it flat before trying again. It didn’t seem real – the sheer amount of effort she was using.
I leaned close, and took her in. Rita’s mind was stark and shining like a water’s edge. Crystal. No color. She kept the whole world sharp and cool, letting nothing hide.
I snapped back into my own reality, gasping. She turned to face me – her eyes bright and fractal and gray, like the feel of her thinking.
“Your consciousness is breathtaking!” I said. “Also, your ass!” I didn’t want to say it, but the thought of a secret in her presence felt like a dirty slur.
“Say that again.”
“Your ass is nice, ok? It’s nice! If we weren’t in a line right now out in public and you were down I swear I’d strap my dildo on and bend you over so fast– “
“Not that!” She waved her hand to stop me. “Say the other thing.”
I thought back on it. “I think I said, ‘your consciousness is breathtaking.’ I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be weird.”
“You’re a mind-reader.”
“What?” I felt my heart in my throat and for the first time, I knew that was exactly what I was.
“It’s no use trying to hide the facts,” she said. “I also have a power. When something is true, it rings with me. Now you’ve read my mind, it rings with you too.” She came closer, looking me in the eyes. I felt my stomach drop. “Can’t you feel it?” She demanded. “Can’t you feel the truth ringing, in your skin?”
“Yeah,” I almost whispered. “Like goosebumps!”
“And your hairs stand on end, you’re trembling, and your heart is going too fast…truth rings hardest when you’ve had it suppressed and then finally set it free. It will go through you in so many waves, the shock might knock you down!”
“I can stand it,” I clenched my teeth. “I can!”
“You want more, don’t you?” Rita grabbed my shoulders, laughing like wild. “You’re not afraid?”
“I am afraid!” I held my arms open. “I still want more!”
Rita gripped my hand, suddenly, and started to run. We went out of the gym (which is where we were), around a corner, into a park, and into a gap in some bushes where we took off our clothes and turned the kind of crazy together where you can’t use any words.
We were together after that. Nothing else would have made any sense. She saw me, and I saw her. We’d each been alone too long to let each other go.
Our powers fit like gloves. With me, if I get too close and become even a little bit curious, peoples’ minds are like little pits of quicksand. I get sucked in and see the world as they do. I try to learn from what I see and have it make sense without losing my mind, but it’s exhausting. My head gets cluttered with all these different points of view that I keep trying to fit together.
And minds, pure minds, are tricky places. People walk around with good ideas that haven’t happened yet, and choking fears, the shadows of things that happened once before. Inside your own mind, you can tell the difference between imagination and what’s really happening – because you’re the one making everything happen. When you’re looking at someone else’s mind, you can’t always tell.
With Rita, she can’t tell what people see or want or dream about. People get scared of her, and she has no patience with them. Only the truth excites her.
When we’re out together, in big crowds, Rita stays close, waiting for me to feel people out. When I pop back into my own mind, I tell her what the people are like. And half the time she’ll tell me, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!” This means the person I was looking at is all filled up with fantasy, and I’d better not get attached. But sometimes she’ll look at me with her eyes bright, and I’ll know the person we found is doing something real.
It happened different when we met Thom. We were at a diner, having lunch. I wouldn’t have seen him, but Rita touched my elbow with her thumb.
“There’s a guy!” She was nodding at a barstool. It was in front of the booth we were sitting in.
I looked again. There was a guy. Before I could see into his mind, I had to see through the way the atmosphere had folded in around him. It’s hard to explain. He was there, but he didn’t seem like he was. The best I can describe it is, if there was a picture on the wall someplace you’d been a million times, and you couldn’t see it anymore. If somebody started talking about the picture in another place you’d have no idea what they were talking about. Even though I knew where he was, my eyes kept wanting to slide past and look at the wall.
The way Rita had seen him was, she heard the waitress mutter absently, that there was a guy at the booth, and that set the truth free and shaking through her. She wouldn’t forget he was there, and kept tapping my arm when my eyes tried to wander.
It was work to get into his head. I couldn’t get curious enough. I stood up and went to the barstool, stumbling. Sometimes I have to lean close to take someone in. The guy didn’t move, and when I finally managed, with all my concentration, to take a sniff of his mind, it was smoky – like barbeque. Dark, with sharp bristles. But it was a brief and receding glimpse. The barbeque-burn was going away, like water had been added, and over his darkness went a shine. I was tasting some mushroomy mucus that made me feel sick to my gut.
I went back to Rita, gagging. Her eyes asked a question.
“Like mushrooms,” I said, making faces. “Wayy too much mushrooms!”
“How, like mushrooms?”
“Slimy and spongy, a boogery flavor.”
Rita muttered, “bullshit,” but stood, staring at the back of the guy’s head. “No shit,” she said, sounding like she was correcting herself. “Bullshit?”
“I get it!”
Rita looked at me.
“He’s invisible. He makes you taste yourself. Before that, he’s like barbeque.”
Rita spun toward the guy before I could stop her, every feature sharp.
“Excuse me,” she said, tapping his shoulder. “Excuse me!”
The guy stood, and turned. He’d heard everything we’d said, I was sure of it. Now his face lit up with Rita’s fast clarity, as though he was a mirror.
“Oh, none of this bullshit, please!” Rita said. “I can see that you really are here, and I can see that you want not to be seen. Tell us why.”
Irritation flashed over his face, chased by a cloud of false severity. He was still pretending to be like Rita, and he still didn’t say anything.
“You know,” I said, sidling up next to them. “I don’t think it’s our business. Why don’t we just leave him alone, babe? People have a right to privacy.”
Rita looked shocked at me. “Oh, right! Privacy and minding our own business, after you’ve tried and failed to look into his goddamned mind!”
“Hey, I did read it a little bit! There was barbeque-smoke, so. It’s like a strong presence. Little bitter, kind of angry. Won’t go away. Everywhere at once, seeing everything, feeling people out. And sweet, but only when he thinks you’re not looking. He’s got a thing for chicken.”
Me and Rita both looked up. We’d forgotten he was there already. He chuckled a bit. He had a plate of nuggets, in line with my predictions about his liking chicken.
Me and Rita both started talking at once, me apologizing for forgetting he was there and Rita saying “A-ha!” And then scolding him for making us forget him, and then me apologizing for Rita’s scolding him, and then her arguing with me, and then he stood up and was going to walk away while we were in the middle of arguing but we both said “Not so fast!” And got him to stay.
It took some arguing and cajoling, but Rita got Thom to admit to having powers, and then he accepted us as friends. Anyway, he’s easier to forget that way than if he tried to stay a stranger.