Solipsism, or When Beth Met William

William A. Blank was a peculiar man. He entered the room, and nobody noticed him. With his black, white and grey argyle sweater and pleated black trousers, he looked simultaneously intriguing and nondescript. Casually taking his seat at an open table near the entrance, he began chatting with the girl across from him. As he and the other men moved around the room, meeting woman after woman, I kept my eye on him. The way he glided across the green-, white- and yellow-tiled floor, the way he kept his head down and avoided eye contact with those he passed, and the way he glanced over at me a handful of times since he first walked in, held my interest.

Before they dimmed the lights, I watched a little spider crawling across the floor. I was the only person sitting. It just crawled at its pace, moving from tile to tile, in between the feet of people too large to notice or care. As William walked by my table and looked at me, he stepped on the spider. I heard it crunch.

The first guy I talked to was real nerdy looking. Balding a little, but with a pony tail, glasses and a button down shirt, his nervousness deserved a kind heart — the kind I couldn’t offer. Then there were three guys in a row that I couldn’t tell you much about. They kept talking and talking about themselves, and I tend to get pretty bored with other peoples’ stories. Instead of listening to them, I would just smile and look beyond them or down at the floor. They didn’t notice though, self-centered people.

Once just before the change-it-up buzzer, I looked down at my watch and when I looked back up I couldn’t find him, William that is. I smiled at the guy across from me as he shook my hand and stood to walk away. And then he sat down across from me.

“Hi,” he extended his hand, smiling, “William Blank, nice to meet you.”

I shook his hand, smiling almost, “Beth Green.”

“So. What do you suppose I should say?”

“Anything that isn’t about yourself.”

“Can I tell you about you?”

I rolled my eyes, and I’m sure he noticed. “What are you some kind of . . . ”

“No, no. Nothing like that, it’s a game I like to play. Most of the time the people I’m thinking about don’t ever hear my ideas of who they are. Could be fun?”

“I guess”

“Ok.” We paused for just a second; then I told him he’d better get started or else he’d run out of time.

“Well,” he put his elbows on the table, and his palms V-ed his chin and jaw. “You work, but you don’t have to. You don’t like your job, but you feel like you have to.  You hate meeting people and are fine with being single, but you feel like you have to try and . . . Yes?”

My eye twitched. It looks like I’m angry, but sometimes it just happens. “You tell me. These are kind of generic statements. I’d need to hear more to say whether you’re actually right.”

“Ok.”

“Well. What then?” I asked, as he leaned back in his chair.

“You’ll laugh.”

“So. You only know my name.”

“I know all that other stuff, too.”

“I didn’t say you were right.” My eye twitched, again. “Ok, now that you’ve told me about me, tell me something about you.”

“I’m a scientist.”

“You’re a scientist?”

“No,” he leaned in, “solipsist.”

The buzzer sounded, and he moved over to the next table. I sat there, brow furrowed and head tilted.

While the next guy talked, I tried to focus on what William was saying just a few feet away. The background noise had become foreground noise, and when a bunch of people talk at once, the voices tend to step on each other. He looked over at me once, and the girl across from him just sat there.

At the end of the night, walking to my car, he was about twenty feet in front of me. I kept it that way. I decided to see where he was going. I walked past my car and turned down the town’s main street, lit up by the small restaurants, bars and shops. Street lamps every four sidewalk squares. Groups of teenagers took to the street at night, not really bothering anyone, standing outside of shops, walking in groups that fill the whole sidewalk. Main Street was where people went on Fridays, at least around this time.

I lost track of William at a certain point. He made a turn and seemingly disappeared. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said, so nonchalantly telling me that he doesn’t believe in other people, that other minds don’t exist. Of all the self-centered assholes I met that night.

I found a spider weaving a web between two posts people lock their bikes on. When I looked up, I found him again. I followed him when he turned the next corner. Wanting to call out something to him, to do something unexpected to him, I just couldn’t decide. Would that prove I was not imaginary. The smoke from his cigarette flew back and carried it’s strong smell into my face. What an unbelievable asshole, I was thinking, just run up and push him down. Just push him down to the ground and kick him. He wouldn’t be expecting something like that.

Then, he went into this kind of small house. I’d never noticed it before, but there it was, right between 2nd and 3rd Streets. I walked past it all the time, I guess. A little bit back from the road, the house had a screened in porch, beyond a yard children wouldn’t want to play in. Small patches of green sparsely grew out of the dirt. I kept myself hid and watched to see where the lights in the house went on. After about twenty minutes, there was nothing, no lights and no sounds.

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