16 | matt tompkins

alpha, beta, delta, theta


“If you watch the monitor, you’ll see what your baby is dreaming.” The technician, a tall Asian-American woman in a crisp lab coat and bright pink scrubs, said this matter-of-factly, as if she were commenting on the weather. She pulled down a flatscreen on a long swivel arm from the low, paneled ceiling of the dimly lit room, and positioned the display in front of us. My wife was half-reclined in a large examination chair, her tee shirt tucked up under her breasts. The tech sat alongside her, gliding a gray, plastic puck across my wife’s bare, rounded belly. After a moment, the screen flickered and then glowed solid white. Images appeared, abstract at first: pulsating washes of color—warm reds and cool blues. There was sound, too, like air gusting through a tunnel. Gradually, the colors shifted into familiar forms: an elephant, an oak tree, a housecat. “I can’t believe this is real,” my wife said, her eyes wide with wonder. Common sense said our daughter, in the womb, had never seen any of these things. The technician smiled, her eyes still focused on the screen. She said it was certainly real, strange as it might seem, and that it could suggest collective consciousness or embedded genetic memory. I imagined it must be exciting, getting to show this to people and witness their reactions, but then I noticed the technician wasn’t looking at us at all. She appeared as mesmerized by the parade of images as we were. The sound changed then, from white noise to murmuring voices. Mine and my wife’s. “She hears us,” my wife whispered, squeezing my hand. Soon more images flashed across the screen: a fish thrashing in a net; a flock of seabirds in flight; a child chasing a ball; a train trailing a plume of smoke; plums piled in a basket; a screen door throwing a long shadow. “How does it work?” I asked. The technician still hadn’t turned from the screen. She answered without looking at me. “The sensor detects alpha, beta, delta and theta waves in your baby’s brain and the computer deciphers them as images and sounds. Not so different from a radio or a TV, just signals received and translated. Deceptively simple.” I nodded. “Sure,” I said. “Simple.” I looked to my wife, to see what she thought of the explanation, but she didn’t seem to be listening. Her eyes were closed, her hands laid flat on either side of her belly, and tears were running down her cheeks, pooling at the corners of her placid smile.


matt tompkins is the author of two fiction chapbooks: Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press) and Studies in Hybrid Morphology (tNY Press). Matt’s stories have appeared in Post RoadNew Haven Review, and online at the Carolina Quarterly. He lives in Virginia with his wife (who kindly reads his first drafts), his daughter (who prefers picture books) and his cat (who is illiterate).