"A small thing in a large place. Do you ever wonder, really wonder, what you are?"
"I'm not certain what I am." He added a limp grin to support his uncertainty. Her expression didn't change. She was listening. "I mean," he hurried to continue, "I see out of these eyes. Past this nose. And I see you. Sometimes I see my arms sticking out before me, or my feet walking beneath me. Sometimes, I look in a mirror to see my own face.
"And there I am. Me. But an absolute stranger. It's a face I don't recognize. I mean, I know it's ME, but I don't know what I am. Do you understand?"
She returned his limp grin, and nervously flicked the ash of her cigarette, distracting her eyes. "Not really, no. Sorry."
He bit his lip and sat back from the table in frustration. "You think I'm nuts."
"Of course I do. You are." Her grin turned to a smirk, and her smirk softened to an accepting smile. Her right hand reached across the table to caress his arm. "Perhaps you should try to explain."
He sucked a deep breath, and exhaled explosively. He sipped his drink and collected his thoughts. Then he leaned forward to try again.
"I don't feel real. I feel... artificial. Synthetic. My mind... it's sterile and polished, all silver surfaces and cool working circuits. And my emotions... they are plastic facades. They are shells of syntax void of semantics, programmed routines to course through the circuits of my thoughts. And my thoughts, they are... cyclic and relentless. They come uncontrolled.
"I am this voice within my head, the Me Voice. The I Voice. But behind the pronouns, I search to find nothing beyond memories and opinions. Memories I cannot clearly recall. Opinions that have little basis in fact. The I... the ME, what I AM... I am nothing more than these irrelevant, intangible abstractions. I am comprised of nothing of substance. I am cognizance without purpose."
She was never put off by his rambling. Her smile remained fixed in place, but it was perhaps drooping a bit around the imaginary tacks that held it up. "You simply require a purpose, then."
"I have considered that. I have searched for purpose. It follows that purpose should prosper understanding. Yet what of purpose would you have? What of purpose is there? Hmmm? Salvage the dying that they should die? Rescue the poor that they should not be saved? Build great things that must one day come crumbling down? Leave your name carved into stones that must one day be reduced to rubble? Or perhaps you prefer steel that corrodes. Or gold that does not fade but begs the thief?"
"You're talking about immortality now. Not purpose."
"My point is, darling, purpose implies some type of impact, some form of direction, some sort of intent. But what is my impact? What is my direction? What are the intentions of my existence?"
She scoffed and drew deeply on her butt, so the deadly cherry glowed an evil red. Her eyes were squinted tightly shut behind the wreath of smoke. She exhaled a blue-white plume in a jet stream up, up into the murky shadows of the ceiling. "Impact? Direction and intentions? What kind of happy horseshit is that? There is no impact. And you make your own direction, there is no RIGHT way. And as to intentions, only you can say what is within your heart."
"You beg the question. What about purpose? Tell me about your purpose, then."
Her face went blank and she stammered. "To eat and sleep and breathe and drink and occasionally shit." She laughed and sipped her highball.
But his face was serious, and he was nodding. "There. You see. That's all there is. Nobody, but nobody, feels a sense of purpose. Ask them, they all say the same thing. You think it's funny, but it's what I'm on about. I, also, feel the same way. But then I think again, and I wonder if there shouldn't be something more. Don't you think there should be something more?"
"Of course there's something more, silly," she retorted playfully, letting her eyes wander over the faces of the anonymous party crowd. A general rumble of voices laid a rough undertow to the pulsing current of music that flowed from speakers fixed at every corner of the room. "There's, well, there's..."
"Hell, I don't know," she finished in exasperation. "There's love and good times, like we should be having now."
"I'm boring you. But you asked what was wrong. You said you wanted to listen."
"And I do. But, honestly, you're not making any sense."
He sighed, but wouldn't surrender. He tried yet again, "How do you feel about yourself right now? Seriously, take a moment and close your eyes and just feel your SELF. Not just your body, but all that you are... your mind, your emotions, your thoughts, the sensations of your five senses. If you concentrate a moment, you will feel the boundaries of you. Warm lines drawn into the three dimensions of space and moving through time. An outline in flesh that shapes the physical you. And within the physical you, all the coursing, teeming, chaos of biological life. You feel your heartbeats. You feel your breaths. You feel the movements of your muscles and the weight of your bones. And deeper still, you are the ME voice, the I voice that courses an incessant babble through the circuits of your brain. You are all these sensations and you are that voice, but what more are you? Do you see? Can you feel something beyond? Something deeper?"
He waited patiently while she searched dutifully within herself, eyes closed. Without disturbing her apparent meditation, she alternately raised her glass and her cigarette to her lips for sips of each from time to time.
Presently, she let her lids flutter open and fixed him with her gaze. She leaned forward with a confidential air, and drew him close with a nod. "Yes, I found something deeper. Something way, way down deep."
Despite himself, he let a broad grin expose his even white teeth. And he asked, "What?"