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The Prophetess
Written December 1966

Background:  When I, as a younger man, became interested in a young woman, I paid attention to everything she said and did.

For example, in 1984 a co-worker named Betsy caught my eye.  I got to know the way she thought.  When in a casual conversation with someone else she mentioned an upcoming family event, I made a mental note.

A couple of weeks later, three of us were talking.  Betsy asked, "Is today the 18th?"  When we confirmed it, she looked off into the distance and gave a dramatic sigh.

The other guy asked, "What do you suppose that sigh meant?"

I looked directly at Betsy.  When her eyes met mine, I read her mind.  I spoke what she was thinking:  "'My mother's birthday is only two days away, and I haven't gotten her a present yet.'"

Betsy looked stunned.  I asked her, "Was that close?"  She replied, "That was it!"

I was quite proud of my mind-reading, but she probably only thought it was scary.

Eighteen years before that, in college, it was a girl named Susan who had caught my interest.  I must have sensed that she too was mystified that I knew her better than I ought to.  We went out on a Saturday; two days later, I wrote the following very short story from Susan's point of view.

I rewrote the story that Thursday, slightly less analytically and more lyrically, in the more exotic language of German — a language, incidentally, which Susan also spoke.  Then, in 2001, I translated the German back into English.  Here are all three versions.


December 12, 1966

The prophetess sat in her room with a sheepskin across her knees and pondered.  "A person," she reasoned, "who remembers every detail he hears about another person and has those details instantly at hand, does it in one of two ways.  Either he is the possessor of a truly marvelous memory, or else he is so attracted to the other person that he spends much of his time reviewing the brief conversations that have passed between them, so as to learn as much as possible about the attractive one without giving the impression of being too forward or aggressive and thus perhaps endangering the relationship.  The first possibility is rather unlikely in the present case.  As for the second . . . ."

The prophetess broke off, rose and walked slowly to the window.  She seemed vaguely uneasy as she stood looking out at the snow that lay there in the moonlight; yet to one who watched, it seemed she smiled.


15. Dezember 1966

Die Prophetin sitzt im Zimmer, ein Schafpelz auf den Knien, und denkt nach.  "Jemand, der sich an alle Tatsachen und Einzelheiten augenblicklich erinnert, könnte ein fast übermenschliches Erinnerungsvermögen haben," denkt sie.  "Aber das ist unwahrscheinlich.  Er ist sicher kein Übermensch.  Doch könnte er sich daran erinnern, wenn er sich die Mühe genommen hätte, die Einzelheiten auswendig zu lernen; wenn er die Andere irgendwie gern hätte, und wenn er sie besser kennenlernen möchte . . . ."

Die Prophetin wird ein bißchen rot, steht verlegen auf und geht langsam zum Fenster.  Sie sieht etwas unruhig aus, während sie da steht, blickend auf den bläulich mondhell Schnee; allein scheint sie gleichzeitig zu lächeln.


December 15, 1966

The prophetess sits in the room, a fleece on her knees, and thinks.  "Someone who instantly recalls all the data and details could have an almost superhuman memory capacity," she thinks.  "But that's unlikely.  He is surely no superman.  However, he might be able to remember them if he had taken the trouble to learn the details by heart; if he perhaps liked the other person, and if he wanted to get to know her better . . . ."

The prophetess blushes a little, arises self-consciously and walks slowly to the window.  She appears somewhat uneasy as she stands there, gazing at the bluish moonlit snow; but at the same time, she seems to smile.


For a glimpse of this almost-relationship from my room, click here.  That article has a link to a longer parable with a picture.



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