I had to get to the bottom of this: the material which I was breathing had momentarily turned different, thinner, so that when I inhaled I went deeper, higher, in a more precise straight line. If I was unable to remember where I had bought my radio then it was a sorry, sorry case. A sort of derailment- an incident that occurred yesterday as I was returning from the press release office, midtown, where I worked. I was supposed to meet my friend from the University for coffee, and I waited for him at the corner of Madison and 35th, as we planned. The cold, clear haze reminded me of San Francisco rather than New York, so much that, like once in Prague, I wondered if I had not mistaken cities- a possibility which occurs more frequently than one might think, for the plane I lived in, at least, was neither flat, nor spherical, but wrinkled and wavy with many knots, loops and horrendous folds. But that idea occurred to me much later, as I was listening to the radio. Now I was struggling like a lion trainer with my sharp wit, which was getting more and more out of control and expanding to fill everything I had never thought of doing or saying. As I stood there and felt strangely unreceptive of the cold, I searched through the bustling crowds that passed me (an extremely overestimated New York cliche among beginning writers, and also very untrue) for Sergei. Then I saw a man walking towards me, looking directly into my eyes as though he were about to say something. A foot away he stopped, and addressed me in Russian, my feminine language, but by my English name, as Sergei would do. "Sorry to keep you waiting. There was construction on the R train line."
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and turned angrily away. I did not know this man, at least not his face- lean, angular, with scraggly blond hair and a half-drunk expression in his brown eyes, though the man was obviously entirely sober. Sergei was in fact plump and dark- an almost Armenian face, though his darkness was merely the result of gypsy blood. Whatever the case, this was not Sergei- not his face, not his body, and certainly not his clothes. "Who the hell are you?" I barked in English.
"What do you mean?" he asked, almost offended and stretching out the last syllables of the phrase just as Sergei did, and just as Sergei blinking his eyes. "Didn't you call me this morning?" I did. I had called Sergei.
"What's your name?" I demanded sideways, looking more insane than he (an insanity that he did not show, but that I, in my ignorance of the situation, naively assumed).
"My name? What's wrong with you?" Now he earnestly grew defensive, putting on one of Sergei's typical behaviors that often annoyed me. "It's Sergei."
I examined him closely under knit eyebrows. "You are his friend, playing a practical joke. You are not real."
"But you know all my friends," he protested. That was also true, just as there was nothing unfamiliar about his words or intonations. Another fifteen minutes of him bringing up intimate details that only Sergei knew, and I would no longer argue. Then when it finally occurred to me that the mistake could have been mine, I was suddenly too embarrassed to talk about it. If it had been a mere mistake of memory I wouldn't have felt so defensive, but it wasn't, it was a special mistake: another one of those moments when I was certain that I had derailed somewhere in time. I was talking to the new-faced Sergei like to the old-faced one, and wondered between the lines and sips of cappuccino why I couldn't grow a new face myself. But it only bothered me to think about it- I was sorry I ever mentioned the difference at all, and when a mutual friend, whom neither of us had seen in weeks, walked in wearing his own face and recognized us both without comment, I decided never to talk about it altogether, even if something like this happened again, which I knew it would.
The air really was different, though it was still September- I felt I was in need of a scarf and kept catching the scent of Muir Woods and the Bay, which I didn't like thinking about either, for the same reasons. But even those associations were blurred. Some aspects of some cities turned invisible: the air of San Francisco among the windows of New York; myself- a man that day (at least as far as I knew), speaking my feminine language, and my old friend wearing a face that had never been his. And no one, not a soul, noticed these things, things which were preposterous to me as hell, as preposterous as the voice on the radio carrying gibberish except for the fact that between ramblings he articulated the only way I had of explaining what had happened, which I had been too uncomfortable to articulate myself.
But what had actually happened? I was too self conscious to dismiss the sometimes confusing planes of dreams and found myself often unsure of whether something had been dreamt or taken place actually, and now the fine line between these two things was being blurred, either by me or faulty information that I was surrendering to. Days later I still wondered if the Sergei incident was real, but then it would mean that at some point I must have remembered waking up. Bullshit: a person never remembers waking up, no matter how distinct two realities can be the movement from one to another is so traumatic that an organism saves more energy detaching most of its perception centers.