Something was about to happen. He could feel it. He could feel it with the same eerie certainty he used to have in his school days, when he would know, a millisecond before it happened, whether his bat was going to connect with the ball. He could feel it the way he would occasionally dream of an old school friend the day before he received a letter from him; the way he once suddenly understood, watching his mother’s car halting for him at the curb of his school at 3 o’clock, that his dog had run away again, this time for good. The way, pursuing his solitary interests years later, he knew without prior word from his library that Harris’ The Art of Astonishment had arrived, and he could stop in on his walk home and claim its varicolored pages at the reference desk. The way he’d always known a rainy evening in a cloudless day.

Its precise dimensions eluded him. There was simply an amorphous excitement, a peripheral tingling that had begun to pervade his waking hours, making it difficult for him to sleep. And when he did sleep, even his dreams were harbingers. They’d become vivid and strange. Never memorable, at least not in describable terms, they left a residual scent on his skin: His body, when he awoke, had the faintly metallic sweetness that used to clothe him after hours spent in the sun as a child. How strange that he should awaken smelling as if he’d been playing all day in the woods outside Durham, New Hampshire—a place he hadn’t visited in thirty years.

Such premonitions used to frighten him. Once he seemed to know in advance that he was going to be mugged. He had just taken the job with the new firm, and for an entire week he felt overly aware of strangers in his personal space. One day he decided to photocopy the contents of his wallet, although he couldn’t have said why. At first he thought of asking Daphne, the paralegal who wore low-cut blouses and black fingernail polish, to do it for him. But he’d concluded it was more prudent to do it himself. That night, on the way from his favorite restaurant to his car, he was cornered in the parking lot. Even as he surrendered the calfskin billfold, he couldn’t help thinking, with a dark pride: I knew it!

But he was a man of logic, not superstition. He was a lawyer. True, he was a lawyer in Los Angeles, but still, there were certain standards. He didn’t think he possessed ESP. On the contrary, he wondered if these were instances of SSP: subtle sensory perception. Possibly the mugger had been casing him throughout the week, before going in for the attack, and he’d noticed him subconsciously. Perhaps the old school friend had called, and left no message, but he’d seen the name flash by his caller ID. Maybe he’d glimpsed a smudge of tears on his mother’s face, or had seen a dog collar or some other token in her hand. There were always explanations for things, if you looked hard enough.

Or so he told himself. Unheeding, his heart beat back its answer: Something was coming. And soon.

~This story won the 2008 Arts & Letters Prize and may be read in the Fall 2008 issue.~


Alethea Black, © 2007-2018
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