It was his fourteenth birthday. Earlier that morning he had discovered acne on his chin and three struggling hairs on his chest. He was about to discover another phenomenon, but he did not know this yet.
He held out the book. The librarian looked up.
“This one?” The librarian was a woman in her forties. Her eyes were shaped like horizontal teardrops.
“This one, please —” His voice broke.
That was when the power entered him.
Moments later, he found himself standing in the stacks, the librarian speaking to him as real tears spread down her cheeks.
“And that was when he left me…”
He could only stare. He wondered if this meant he would have to switch library branches.
“I’ve never told anyone this before. But, somehow, I felt I could tell you.”
It was a refrain he would hear, in various guises, over the next ten, fifteen years. From shopkeepers and administrative assistants. From his brother’s girlfriend. From flight attendants and pilots and passengers before he stopped flying. From bartenders before he stopped going to bars. From men he loved and women he went to bed with. Back when he still went to bed with anyone at all.
Their confessions were mundane, alarming. Sometimes they spilled out all at once; sometimes they arrived slowly. But he could always sense when they were going to appear, as his dog could sense the approach of a distant, thundering storm.
On his thirtieth birthday, he sat alone in his apartment.
On the intercom earlier:
“Leave it just inside the door.” And he pressed the buzzer. But then:
“Do you mind if I tell you something?”
He hid in the bathroom, in despair.
Later, blowing out the candles on his cake, he wished the power would leave him. Instead, he awoke the next morning to discover his dog standing over him on the bed. Its lips were pulling back and forth, and its eyes appeared to be weeping.
He put his apartment up for sale and sent the dog to live with his brother.
He moved to the countryside, to a remote corner of a remote county. He called himself an organic farmer; he told himself he believed in sustainability. He grew his own food and generated his own electricity. He saw no one.
He was, for a time, content.
But even as his crops sprouted in the spring, he noticed their stalks bent toward him. He woke up each morning surrounded by toadstools and procumbent pearlwort and the long tendrils of passiflora clinging to his index fingers, pleading, hoping to be heard.
One day, while out walking, he came across a graveyard: a cluster of graves under an oak tree. He could sense its branches leaning toward him.
He lay face down on the wet grass atop one of the graves, the pate of his head touching the cool stone of the upright marker. He pressed his lips to the earth, feeling the blades of grass emit from their stomata their secret thoughts, the worms and ants crawling out of the soil to tell him of their labors underground.
He imagined he was a shard of pottery, waiting to be found by an archaeologist, five thousand years in the future.
He imagined he was kissing the lips of the skull that lay buried beneath him. He imagined its mouth sealed shut and unresponsive.