Public Space

Kiss me, baby,” Ruben bobbed his head to an imaginary beat and enjoyed the song in his memory. After resisting it for two days the pop melody drilled through his subconscious. Now he stood in a crowded subway car wishing he brought his earbuds along. He spotted a bright pink head of hair bopping out the same rhythm as his. “Kiss me again and again,” he sang in his mind. The neon-pink head turned and Ruben saw the owner’s face. The pale young woman’s purple lips sang along with the lyrics in his head.

Huh. she doesn’t have earbuds either,” Ruben noted to himself. The pink-haired woman continued to mouth the rest of the song while she shook her head. She moved slow enough that Ruben thought she could be replying to his observation, but he chalked that up to his growing anxieties. He decided she was singing and obviously dancing to herself. His subconscious felt uneasy enough to finally give up the earworm.

Are you ready to rock?!” the voice in his head matched a famous singer. The correct answer to the question was, “I’m ready to rock!” along with a ‘devil horns’ gesture in the air. Ruben almost mimed the gesture as a habit but stopped himself when he noticed the girl respond. She made the two-pronged gesture with her hand and smiled directly at him.

I’m ready to rock!” she mouthed the words to avoid attracting attention from the other passengers. Ruben’s eyes opened wide.

YOU CAN HEAR MY THOUGHTS???!” He shouted the question in his mind. The woman squinted at him in confusion. Then she shrugged and nodded as if to say, ‘duh.’

What does that mean? You can? Why can’t I read yours?” The woman rolled her eyes and pushed her way through the crowd to get to him. Once she stood next to him she lifter hand chest height to introduce herself.

“Hi, I’m Rose,” she smiled.

“I’m Ruben,” he shook her hand. “What’s going on?” he leaned closer and whispered the question.

“Okay, uh. Where are you lost?” She asked in a way that made Ruben feel dumb for not already knowing.

“You can hear my thoughts?”

“You can’t?” Ruben made tight fists with his hands as he stared at her.

“Stop answering my questions with a question,” he said in a stern tone. “Please,” he added through gritted his teeth. Rose shook her head with a giggle.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant exactly what I asked. You know how when you talk you can hear your voice?” she asked. Ruben nodded. “That’s what I meant. You’re thinking out loud,” she shrugged. “I thought you were doing it on purpose.” Suddenly a parade of stern and disgusted women’s faces played back in his mind.

“How do I turn it off?” Ruben asked.

“Practice. There’s a very subtle difference in the way the thoughts feel. You know how sometimes you can tell if someone has you on speakerphone? It’s like that. Keep practicing and you’ll learn what the difference feels like.” The subway slowed down and the conductor came on the intercom to announce the next stop. Rose pulled away from Ruben.

“How do I do that? I just think?” He asked. Rose shook her head and handed him a small pink business card with her number on it.

“You need to be with someone that can tell you when you’re broadcasting and when you’re not.” She winked at him then followed the flow of bodies out of the car.

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