She typed the words onto the computer screen and stared at the flickering cursor, hesitating. Should she save or delete? Should it be a Facebook status comment, a Twitter update, or a post on her blog? Or should it be a personal e-mail? The last was a bit direct. On reflection, she thought not.
As she pondered the prospect of deleting, she was suddenly reminded of her friend’s novel where some strangers all type the same sentence into their computers and through an internet search they get directed to the same house where their lives change irrevocably – change for the better. Writing things on the internet, following your hunches and intuitions, is a little scary. Maybe it has happy endings in some novels, but what about real life?
She reflected on an earlier time in her life which came to mind unprompted. When she was a student she had a teacher who would occasionally send her postcards with quotations from Henry James novels. She was never quite sure of the oblique references but she knew the notes were for her – after all, they were addressed to her and they ended up in her pigeonhole. She used to look out for them and was secretly delighted to receive them. Their ambiguity was delicious and it was part of a shared unspoken communication. She still had one of these postcards, with a quote from The Ambassadors: “Stage: Stage III: ‘Waymarsh had accompanied him to the play, and the two men had walked together, as a first stage, from the Gymnase to the Cafe Riche’…..[But then ‘It came over him for instance that —- looked perhaps like Mary Stuart’].” Now what was that all about? The no-doubt once meaningful references, the relevance of what was quotation and what was not – all of that had faded into oblivion.
Anyway, this was different. Or was it? First off, she wasn’t sure she was being watched, she wasn’t sure any of the comments or references were for her. How could she be sure? But there were coincidences – themes that had arisen, words that were being used. It was the kind of situation where you could go mad. You could become paranoid if you let yourself, if you doubted yourself. It was a test of self-definition. It was a challenge. But she trusted her intuition, it was a healthy fine instrument, and it was very often right even when she might have preferred otherwise. She always challenged it too, using the blunter instrument of logic to hold it in check.
A peculiar moment earlier that day – she had been wandering around a shop wondering whether the latest comment was indeed a sign that this person had discovered her blog, when idly gazing she observed some lovely hard-edged artwork. The subject matter was creatures and birds. The artist’s name was written in calligraphic script on an ornamental card. Her glance fell upon it – and it was the name of the man in question! But of course it wasn’t him. Was that a sign, an omen, or a meaningless coincidence? Life plays tricks, he is a trickster. Always a tricky question to determine whether something is a synchronicity or just a meaningless coincidence, whether the inner matched by the outer holds any significance. It was quite a common name really, though not one she came across daily – or even ever, she thought, on reflection. Timing is everything. She thought of the phraseology of that latest comment and she felt in her bones she was right.
There had been two of these too-close communications in as many days. One she had queried, and of course there was a plausible answer as there always is. There were two levels of dialogue going on. On the surface level there was argument and confusion and missed or mixed messages. On a deeper level there was this other message, the teasing taunting, ‘I know you, I know who you are, I know where you are, I see you, I’m watching you. You won’t catch me, I’m clever, I’ll never tell. You’ll never find me out.’ This was the trickster in a dream.
This endless barrage of self-questioning – from the veracity of her intuition to the validity of her views – was undermining and irritating. She resolved to stop it, but she wondered whether it would always be there now, a feeling in the back corner of her mind, haunting and distracting her.
Self-consciousness – wasn’t that what Henry James novels were all about in both style and content? And what was it James had said about Americans? ‘It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to under value them.’ James was the master at writing about and creating American self-consciousness, culminating in The Golden Bowl whose plot, she remembered, was almost undecipherable.
That was how this felt. What was the plot? Was there a conspiracy? Was she losing the plot? Maybe there was no plot. Maybe it was all moves and maneouvres. Mirrors and mirages.
Did it matter? Did she want it to end? Did she want to challenge it? Probably not. She liked games after all – children’s games in their innocence. Yet now she was tired.
‘I know you’re watching me…..Now you know I know. Maybe I thought you knew, maybe you thought I knew. Now we both know for sure.’
She looked at what she’d written. Probably best to delete on reflection. The law of unintended consequences would no doubt kick in if she did anything else.