Summer 2020 - Fiction

Kim Magowan 

Not Talking

 

Jess, I only want to talk. Can we just talk?

No.

Why not?

Because I promised Arthur—listen, I promised Arthur, and I did it in front of Dr. Breitmann, which is like fucking swearing on the Bible—that I would not talk to you.

Why can’t you just not tell Arthur that we talked?

Because literally the first thing he does when I get home is cross-examine me. As soon as I walk in the door: “Did you talk to Neil?” And he makes me look him in the eye. You don’t get how paranoid Arthur is. I feel really shitty about it. He used to be so normal, and I’ve completely fucked him up.

Hmm. I never thought he was all that normal. He wears turtlenecks.

You’re biased, Neil. Frankly, I must take your opinion with a dollop of salt.

Not just a grain, huh?

Ha. Arthur has gone a little nuts. I was doing a Google search last week, and I typed in three letters, and what popped up was ‘Interrogation techniques.’ Neil, he is looking up clues for how to decipher if someone is lying! I’ve always been a shitty liar, and now he has this—repertoire—of “tells,” or whatever. So I can’t talk to you. I promised, he insisted. Dr. Breitmann seemed to believe it was necessary, so my agreeing to not talk to you has shrink-authorized gravitas. Plus, Arthur will grill me the minute I walk in the door.

So what were you Googling?

Oh…interviewing skills.

Why?

Because I am the world’s worst interviewee. I get all flustered and mechanical and I don’t seem genuine.

But why were you Googling that? Don’t tell me you’re looking for another job.

What do you want me to say, Neil? This situation isn’t sustainable. Seeing you every day, getting cross-examined about seeing you every day. I’m losing my mind. Arthur is losing his mind. Why aren’t you losing your mind?

I suppose…because I know what I want. I have clarity. I’m not conflicted.

How fortunate for you!

Don’t be pissed, Jess.

I’m not, Honey. Fuck. Neil.

If you knew the effort it takes to keep calling you “Jess”…

Don’t.

You were saying?

I’m envious. I would love some clarity. My life now is under one of those supermarket vapor machines. I’m a big pile of spinach, getting misted.

Spinach is the vegetable you’d be?

Why, you think I’m something else?

I see you as more of a root vegetable. The kind that dyes your insides when you eat it so when you urinate your pee is red. Jessica the beet.

Ha. So romantic.

It is, in fact, romantic. You leave an indelible impression.

See…I can’t talk to you. When we do, I just want to heave my life into a dumpster.

So heave it.

I have a child. I have obligations. You’re the damn misting machine! You make my mind fog over. Really, Neil, we can’t talk.

Tell me about that Google search. Give me an example of an interrogation technique.

Okay, this is kind of interesting: when people lie, they typically look up and to the right.

Weird! Like they’re in a cartoon and reading a thought balloon?

Exactly like that. Who knew? So now I consciously look straight ahead. That’s useful info, no? In case you ever need to lie.

I’m over you. So was I looking up and to the right?

Exaggeratedly so.

I just want to be friends. How about then?

Stop, Neil. Seriously…this is too hard.

Hence the interviewing skills search?

Hence.

Any useful tips?

When interviewing, look people in the eye. It communicates confidence. That’s a theme of this conversation, huh? Look people in the eye.

So don’t talk. Just look at me.

Neil…

Come on. Arthur isn’t going to ask, “Did you look at Neil today?”

Actually, he might very well ask “Did you see Neil?” That’s a perfectly foreseeable question.

Well, of course you’re going to see me. Our offices are thirty feet apart. Of course you’ll see me getting out of the elevator or grabbing one of these stale-ass donuts. But Arthur’s not going to ask “Did you look at Neil today?” That would be a weird and creepy question. So fine, we don’t need to talk. It’s a deal. Let’s just look at each other.

Neil! Don’t you see how much scrutiny I’ve been under? The other day I made tomato sauce just to have an excuse to chop up onions. Just to have an acceptable reason to cry. I shouldn’t even eat tomato sauce, the acid kills my stomach. You remember…If I cry at Dr. Breitmann’s, it always has to be in this context of, I’m so sorry about the pain I’ve caused. I’m so grief-stricken about hurting Arthur. Do you think you’re the only one who thinks this sucks? If it weren’t for Katie…Stop looking at me like that. I know what you’re trying to do. Damn it, Neil. Me, too.

 


Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) was published by 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com


           

 

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