The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew exactly who she was: Alice. Pronounced Ah-LEE-chay, like the Italians. I knew everything about her: She was partial to stars for children from cut paper and glitter. Her college major was anthropological studies. Her favorite summer dish was minted cucumbers. Her breasts dissatisfied her. Fucking in the rain made her hot. There was another ass she should have kissed at work to get ahead, but hadn’t. She’d never mastered the art of microwaving a hot pocket. Her father brimmed with vows and admonitions — I won’t tell. Don’t tell your mother. Father knows best. Do as I say. Don’t talk to strangers. You can count on me — that had never served Alice well.
Because all that information instantly flooded my overheated brain before Alice even opened her mouth to say hello, it was hard to pretend we were perfect strangers, particularly when she lied to me about the minted cucumbers.
Nevertheless. Deep breath. Patience. Dial it back. Ever since the accident, they tell me I’m no longer good at calibrating when I’m coming on too strong. Not everyone, I’m told, experiences this unpleasant brain-rush of certainty about complete strangers that is at once sharp as a pinprick and heavy as an anvil. At one time, my family assures me, I used to be normal.
But fuck normal. I’ve got what I’ve got: the primary side-effect of a brain once three weeks swollen with fever has been the occasional onset of inexplicable intuitions that can’t be ignored when they flare up like a case of psychic hemorrhoids. Thankfully, they always go away quick, but while they last, the intuitions have their own imperatives. They must be acknowledged and acted on. And I am convinced that, in the right circumstances, they could prove to be a startling gift if I only understood and used them the right way.
And maybe, just maybe, my new friend Alice was like me? Maybe she, too, was pretending? Maybe she, too, had a brain like mine and already knew my name?!
All the masturbatory bullshit she might have intuited about me in turn made me blush.
She asked, “Are you sick?”
Don’t you know it, I thought. I’m a sick bastard. Ought to lock me up for the things I’ve done and thought, for all the people whose secrets I’ve stolen and lost, for all the sick fevers I’ve dreamed through to the end.
“No,” I lied. “Healthy as a horse. Never been sick a day in my life.”
In my mind, I vowed to use my gifts to fight her enemies. To make her enemies my enemies. And not to give up until her enemies were cold and dead. On account of the fever’s damage, I still sometimes meet strangers that I’m told I already know, but this girl was of a different stripe. She was worth defending. My intuitions made that clear. They made me want to drop to my knees and give thanks for the bird flu.
Burn me up again, I thought. Maybe I’ll know Alice even better.
“Good,” she said slowly, as if she was still trying to figure out whether she liked me. “Horses are good. Health is good.”
Mutually dismayed, we exchanged banal pleasantries. To my relief, I soon found myself forgetting things about Alice. As they always did, the details slipped away one by one. Conversation came more easily.
But this one thing I remembered: Alice was a good person, maybe a little flawed, but essentially so. It made her likeable.
“Listen,” I proposed, “I know we’re perfect strangers, but would you like to drive down to Horseneck Beach, pitch a tent, eat minted cucumbers, and shack up for the night?”
Alice’s expression turned wary. She looked right and left for witnesses and innocent bystanders who might step in to help if shit between us went south, people who would know where to look for her body to give it a proper burial.
“I just met you,” she murmured.
“I know it’s strange,” I admitted, “but, you see, all this shit happened to me, an infection and brain-swell and whatnot, and it’s still happening, even as we speak, no remissions, and sometimes I get mixed up and come on too strong, but you look like an interesting person, and I think I’d just like to spend some time together and hear exactly who you are in your own words. Sans interruption. Plus beaucoup cucumbers.”
She pursed her lips.
“Or maybe not even that,” I said. “We could just sit by the beach and laugh and make fun of people walking by.”
She finally smiled broadly, and then she admitted: “I do feel somehow like I know you already.”
“I know exactly what you’re talking about,” I assured her, and though I had already forgotten her name, I stood ready and willing to learn it all over again.
Scott David is a writer based in Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts. His stories, novels and other work have appeared under a variety of pseudonyms (including Scott David).