Bea went to the satellite park because it made her feel closer to her own thoughts. Supposedly, the satellites no longer worked, but Bea took that to mean they simply didn’t work the way they were intended to. Artists had covered the concave dishes in murals of birds and snakes, raindrops and bursts of flame. When Bea painted her own satellite dish at the park with the bright wings of a cardinal, it occurred to her that only now were the dishes being used as they should be. Sometimes, if she sat there long enough, Bea could feel her own thoughts returning to her, threading through the stars and entering the needle of the satellite until Bea could feel them re-enter her imagination as images or feelings, or sometimes, as fully formed and unadulterated ideas. Just last week at the Satellite Park, she was able to retrieve a thought she’d lost months before, one about her grandmother’s wedding dress, a simple pencil skirt affair with a bodice of lace that her grandmother had made herself on her her circa 1920 Singer sewing machine. “The machine is still sitting under the Christmas ornaments in your mother’s garage,” the thought told her, which explained why she’d spent the previous Sunday searching her mother’s garage for her grandmother’s wedding dress when what she’d really been looking for was her grandmother’s sewing machine. And now, of course, she knew just where to find it. The satellites were useful this way.
The affliction of expressing every second thought instead of the one that preceded it wasn’t always an affliction. At times, it was simply a condition, something she couldn’t help but didn’t mind too terribly much, like eczema or flat feet. There were days she hardly noticed it. In parenting it could even be helpful, making her sound more like someone who was gently shepherding her children towards the right path instead of like the impatient ogre she sometimes felt like. Instead of saying stop juggling ice cubes goddamnit, she’d go straight to eat your dinner, please. And wasn’t that better? There were times, of course, when it was humiliating. At a recent staff meeting when they’d been discussing ways for employees to build rapport and trust, she had blurted out, I’ve always been terrified of birds, instead of her first thought, which was that every Wednesday perhaps the staff could share with each other something about themselves that was unique or even a little strange. See, she rarely had time to censor the thought before it came floating out of her, carried on the unspoken raft of that first thought, and sometimes the results were shocking, even to her.
One time, out of the blue, Bea’s new friend friend Mel had expressed her desire to become a collared priest who could perform exorcisms. Bea had been excited, thinking that perhaps Mel, too, shared the first-thought-affliction, but it turned out Mel was just someone who said that kind of thing in conversation. It was lonely, only being able to express your second thoughts. Lonelier still when you lost the first thought altogether. Mel’s first thoughts sounded so much like second thoughts, though — disconnected from whatever they were discussing previous — that Bea was comforted by them. Last week, when Bea was telling Mel about the satellite park and how she’d gone about measuring a painting fourteen feet in diameter, Mel interrupted to ask if Bea had put any thought into cryptids. Bea hadn’t. But Mel was beginning a series of poems about cryptids, it turned out, and lately Mel found it difficult to think about anything else.
Bea and her son had, with Mel’s help, begun their own list of cryptids: Yeti, Ogopogo, Sasquatch, Moth Man. And those were just the famous ones. There was also the Dyuth of the Appalachians and the African Dingonek, which Bea’s son explained was some sort of jungle walrus with the head of a lioness, the markings of a leopard, the scales of an armadillo, and two long white fangs. Countless European explorers of the 19th century claimed to have seen this terrifying beast-fish, but no one has ever confirmed its existence. It was exhausting, to think of so many creatures whose very existence had been denied: the Dobhar-chu, the Honey Island Swamp Creature, the Beast of Bladenboro, the Loch Ness Monster. Oh, the loneliness of the disputed sea serpent! To be talked about but never seen, to be more doubted more than anything. Bea’s second thoughts were like this — the distant, unseen cousins of her first thoughts — lonely and drifting, lost in the mire of a wilderness that would not release them to the eye or the ear.
As a painter, Bea had to admit that the affliction had its benefits. Her thoughts skipped ahead past the first thought and straight to the second so that instead of having a thought like I’d like to paint a metaphor of gentrification, she went straight to an image of a fledgling bird cowering beneath dozens of cookie cutter houses, without always knowing exactly why. It sometimes wasn’t until someone suggested a meaning to her that she thought yes, maybe that’s what the first thought was. But then, did it matter really what idea led to the painting when the painting was right there, a thought all its own, separate from whatever idea came before?
Still, it was a solitary existence, to always be chasing after one’s thoughts. Just this morning, when Bea took herself out for breakfast, she’d responded to the waitress’s “What can I get for you?” by saying, “Does it come with those little pineapple wedges?” Only when the waitress said, “Does what come with those little pineapple wedges?” did Bea realize she’d missed something, again. She told the waitress to forget it and just bring her coffee. Having been a waitress herself, Bea knew that surely the waitress had seen worse — toddlers who smeared the windows with butter or men who called her baby and forced her to read their bad poetry. Still, it was embarrassing, and Bea vowed to spend more time with the satellites, to get a handle on things.
She drank her coffee quickly and left the cafe without having sketched in her notebook, as she’d planned. On her way out, Bea saw a wall of clocks she’d never noticed before on the cafe’s wall — there must have been ten or eleven of them, all crowded together on the wood paneling — and she wondered, as she had many times before, if the problem was merely a matter of timing, one thought collapsing into the next so quickly that she failed to notice their connection, letting one eclipse the other entirely. She carried that image all the way home, the two thoughts — the first and then the second — flying ahead of the clocks’ dull metronomes, until one fell behind. Back in her studio, when she picked up her paintbrush, she had every intention of painting a clock. But when she was done, it was a goldfinch staring back at her from the canvas.