Do you think that some of us have more than one voice? Or maybe just a few of us? Okay then, is it just me? I suspect that most of us have an inside voice that we don’t share with anybody -it’s the same one we encourage our kids to use in MacDonald’s- but is it really there? I mean, if we were hooked up to an fMRI or something, would it find a special area in the brain -maybe a secret a closet somewhere- that housed an extra mouth? Some place different than where the Thoughts and Guilt wrestle with each other?
The reason I ask is because there are times when I suspect I’ve rented out a room to one -I’m pretty sure there’s only one… And it’s not the one that screams at me when I’ve over-used my knees, or burps when I’ve eaten too much -those ones don’t actually speak in words. Like bullies they attract my attention physically; each organ has its own soap-box; each organ has its own enforcers. And they’re not funny.
No, the voice I’m referring to sometimes speaks and actually takes over my lips, but more often it uses silent messages: like a texts from inside somewhere. I’ll be on a long walk, and suddenly it will SMS something humorous that occurred to it, and I will laugh -well, one of us will laugh, at any rate. At first I wondered if it was the long-atrophied tongue of my conscience speaking, but I doubt if it would come out with some of the stuff I hear. I mean, it’s not usually rude or anything, but I probably wouldn’t say it at a party -although maybe I have, and that’s why I don’t get invited to them anymore.
Anyway, I’ve known it for an awful long time, but I still don’t know why it does things. Sometimes it gets me to play the straight man for humour, and yet other times it just talks. Observes. Expostulates -it depends on my mood, I guess.
I don’t want this to sound too creepy; I have to be clear that I’m pretty sure there are not auditory hallucinations vying for neuronal control inside. And whoever it is does not try to scare me with messages from the tax department, or tell me that I should have my old fillings replaced and not believe anything they say or anything. I do not harbour any particular paranoia -although I suppose I do worry about radar guns when I’m speeding- and do I not think I am hearing the voice of a dead relative sent to guide me through the sundry moral dilemmas the day has sprinkled in my path. I do not get any stock tips, and news is still new to me when I hear it on CBC. Whatever is going on, I definitely did not get the high tech version.
By and large, this accessory entity bestirs itself when I am alone and perhaps engaged in some mind-numbing task -long-distance driving through the prairies springs to mind. Driving should not engage the autopilot in any of us, but I have to admit I have an easily aroused penchant for it. Driving through miles of slowly swaying grain on lonely back-country roads with only the occasional house trying to hide far away in a field, the horizon mysteriously receding at precisely the same speed as my car, and my eyes forced to find amusement at windblown things snagged by the unbroken stretch of wire fences that guard the highway from meadow-creep -all of these awaken the slumbering kraken in my head. Boredom does that.
I remember a long drive I took last summer, when I was heading for Drumheller, a small town buried in the badlands of Alberta, for example.
“Look at that, G (it always insists on using my childhood nickname).”
Of course, I look -I’m bored, anyway. “What?” I almost say out loud before I catch myself.
“That’s torn, dirty underwear hanging on that fence, don’t you think?”
I figure it’s safe to shrug. Anyway, I’m not impressed -it’ll have to be something better than that to make me chuckle.
“So did somebody chuck it from a car? C’mon eh? Who does that?”
Now I’m interested. “Who tears underwear off in a speeding car…?” I whisper very silently to myself, trying not to move my lips so I can’t be accused of anything.
“Maybe it blew off a clothes line, then,” it texted immediately -the damned thing was eavesdropping. Again. “Farmers probably tear a lot of underpants, eh? I mean they work with soil, right? Occupational hazard maybe… They get soiled, get it? ” It managed a laugh through my lips.
I had to sigh at the rather unclever response, but I suppose it was just waking up.
“I think I’d use mine to shine the pigs -if I tore them, that is…”
Pigs?? Stupid voice had obviously never lived on a wheat farm.
“Neither have you,” it SMSed.
I couldn’t believe it: I’d actually insulted myself.
“Anyway, you’re such a prig, G. You’d probably bury them at night somewhere on the back five with the tractor.”
It was mercifully silent for a bit. Then, suddenly, a text: “Now you’re wondering, aren’t you?”
I glanced at the seat beside me, as if I might catch it talking.
“Don’t tell me you’re not, eh?”
I rolled my eyes, hoping it wouldn’t notice. I mean, it’s only natural to wonder if they’re ripped, or whatever -like, how would you ever know if you always put them on in the dark?
“And when you buy them from that pile on the sale table at Value Village, you could easily grab some with poor stitching, eh? Anyway the underwear is pretty suspect there…”
There was silence for a moment, and I noticed that it was using a lot of ‘eh’s’. Very Canadian.
“I think you should switch back to Walmart -you can get them in three-packs there. More hygienic when they’re all wrapped in plastic.”
“More expensive, though,” I mumbled to myself against my better judgement.
“And why spend more when nobody’s gonna see them, right?”
I hate it when it reads my mind. Besides, how do I actually know that was underwear on the fence, anyway? I glanced at my watch -I had plenty of time to go back and verify the sighting, I thought as I slowed the car down on the empty country road, searching for a place where I could turn around.
“Okay, I was a little hasty,” a now more timid voice whispered in my ear. “No need to check, eh? Probably blown away by now, anyway.”
It’s like that, living with an SMS, though: there’s always a codicil if you hunt around a bit. They’re really hard to pin down.