Jenny walked out of the elevator toward her office, with Winston beside her. He seemed to lag a bit behind, and didn’t respond to her continuing conversation about tasks at hand.
“You ok?”, she asked as she peered behind herself.
“Yea… just noticed that they put down a new rug in front of the elevator”, Winston said as he studied it carefully.
“I hadn’t noticed”, Jenny replied.
“You know what’s weird?”, Winston said as he caught up to her a few steps away,”I didn’t see it – I didn’t even feel it beneath my feet…. I realized I was slightly higher off the ground than I usually was”.
“What do you mean?”, Jenny said in confusion.
“Well, it’s hard to explain – almost like my eyes glanced onto the hallway in a new way – they were seeing everything from a slightly different perspective – one a small bit higher than ever before”, Winston said as they neared their desks.
“I guess I wouldn’t notice given that my height changes daily depending on my shoes!”, Jenny said with a laugh. Her proclivity toward extremely high heels, and days off from them after ‘over doing it’ were well-known throughout the office. Winston’s comment, though, made her wonder about how many things she took for granted in her daily routine. And if things were changing around her, was that a bad thing?
Her natural reaction was “Yes!” – she’d read enough stories about killers lurking in hidden corners, victims seeing things awry but not being able to put their finger on the exact source of the incongruity until the knife was already held at their throat. If the world was changing subtly around her, she should take that as a sign that she needed to be more diligent in her observation. For the next few weeks she watched her surroundings like a hawk (metaphorically speaking – she wasn’t looking for prey). She began to notice little changes day by day. The man handing out the free newspaper at the bus stop normally used the exact same motion to pull one paper from the crook of his arm, except when handing the paper to an attractive lady – then the motion slowed slightly, the man glancing away from the woman toward the papers to be sure he pulled only one. Perhaps a nervous affliction – one that men seldom had around her plain appearance. In addition to the newspapers, she inadvertently noticed work schedules of those serving her. The attendants at the gas station worked 4 days a week, and 1 weekend day, most working Monday-Thursday, and then Sunday. Jenny marveled at the new information she had picked up.
Until she realized most of it was utterly useless. It wasn’t as though her brain had a finite limit of things it could remember – quite the opposite, however Jenny had the sense that she had learned so much and had not once foiled a would-be criminal, or helped someone at the office by noticing a minute detail, or even been able to work her facts into idle conversation with her friends. All the work she’d done was useless. The work had tuned her brain, tuning that would last longer than the months she’d practiced observing, but had no noticeable benefit. Jenny moved on with life, abandoning her little project. She still noticed the odd mannerisms of the newspaper man and the gas station attendant’s schedules, but dared not work them into conversation for fear of being labelled that “weird girl”.
Many years went by, with the details becoming more or less explicitly forgotten. In fact, Jenny wondered if she even noticed them anymore. Until one day when she was walking home and had the urge to take a different route. She’d lived in the same neighborhood for years, and it had sadly declined over time. Still she never felt too unsafe, and it was broad daylight, so why bother changing her habits. Reluctantly though, the strong urge persisted and resulted in her walking into a coffee shop for a few moments to contemplate her odd feeling.
Just as her coffee was served, she saw the police cars pull up in front of her house down the street. She could see the police moving up her driveway, and she anxiously sat in the shop until she saw a man running down the drive, tackled by the police as he tried to turn to run toward the shop. She took her coffee and began to cautiously walk down the street, toward the scene. The police met her a few houses down.
“Ms. Turner?”, the officer asked.
“Yes”, Jenny said, wondering how he knew her.
“Ma’am, it’s a good thing you waited a few minutes to come home today. The man we caught has hidden in the house behind yours – we’ve watched him for weeks. Today was the day we decided to move in, and we were going to do so before you came home. However we were delayed, and couldn’t move in until a few moments ago”.
As the officer talked, Jenny realized that she’d noticed vehicles parked along the streets over the past few months that were missing today, something she later inquired about and was told that they were indeed the watchful eyes of the detectives involved.
That night, the irony hit her: She changed her routine to notice facts she hadn’t before. Over the years, that itself had become routine, to the point she wasn’t even consciously aware of it. And while today may have been exceptional in the level of excitement this ability may have prevented her, she wondered how many other things in the past years she’d avoided without ever knowing. Did she avoid a speeding ticket by noticing the signs a cop was watching? Had she clued into the system used to mark down prices at her favorite stores, securing her the best deals? Or had today been the only time her “weird” ability had helped?