Unsubtlety

Flash Fiction July, 10

Last time I knew her, she had a penchant for stating the obvious. She was the sort of person who would chatter to fill silence, not to say something of meaning. When I think back on it now, most of what she said was dead weight, a desperate effort to not be trapped in silence.

She wasn’t the sort to stop and think – instead, she’d be the one who would draw in a breath, two breaths and then words would spill out as if she feared they would run out before she could catch them all.

When I moved away, started over in some strange world I didn’t like and barely understood, I adopted silence as my new habit. It became typical for others to find me curled up with something in my hands, book or knitting or notepad or even just an old iPod, headphones firmly clamped over my ears and a steady stream of music flooding through the wires. I’d sworn to be the opposite of her, someone who only pointed out the subtleties in life.

One day she got back in touch, very out of the blue. For me, moving away meant breaking all ties, removing all traces of the person you once were. For her, moving away meant just the opposite.

It began with, unsurprisingly, something obvious. I don’t remember it now, but it was something along the lines of how it’d been so long since we last were in touch. This suited me, but didn’t suit her. It wasn’t so much guilt as being drawn into an orbit, the kind of situation where warmth and friendliness were the norm. Over time I adapted to her obviousness, a charmless sort of way of simply saying whatever happened to be happening in the world and finding a way to relate it back.

This fascinated me.

She was always trying to draw me out of my shell, often using pieces of information which she felt were common knowledge and always seemed to leave me startled, grasping for the most appropriate response and finding none. Subtle, she was not.

Day by day I fell back into new patterns, ones I’d buried under years and layers of habits that hid everything I needed hidden and stripping away the layers. Under her supposed tutelage, I came to barely recognize myself as I spun off into something new, some new creature of her own making and smoothed over all the rough edges of the habits I’d worked so hard at.

Compliments were her favourite way to angle the odds in her favour, and in my case it was not unlike adding honey to otherwise bitter tea; to drink it, once the honey was added, it was still bitter – only now there was the faintest hint of sweetness, a bit that was easier than all the rest to consume.

(later, I’d be pouring a freshly brewed pot of tea and searching out the honey; finding none, I opted for some form of syrup which rendered the whole thing sickly.)

She doled out her compliments easily, rolling them off her tongue with the ease of someone who maybe has practiced before. My mistrust had given way to wariness, and I took every compliment she gave as though handling a jagged piece of glass: beautiful, but liable to slip and cause damage. I felt that she was too obvious, too bold in her complimentary action, choosing to focus on all the good things I didn’t know I possessed. Instead of ever taking them I preferred to twist them, throw them away and dissolve them in hot water.

I’d always been analytical, and yet at the same time theatrical. I felt that she had at least one of the same traits, which reared my inherent suspicion of her sincerity. Taking compliments prettily wasn’t something I’d ever been able to do, especially when I suspected that she rehearsed at least half of them and picked the most-common things to talk about.

It lacked depth, I felt, and promptly began to withdraw again from someone who hadn’t yet learned the art of cleverness. I managed to be subtle about it, but this wasn’t difficult when I compared myself with someone who lived her life with every artery and blood cell of her heart on her sleeve.

I moved away again, this time opting to travel far and wide. Communicating had been hard enough for me when I lived in the same city and time zone; now I was jumping between dozens of cities a month. It became easy for me to insidiously slip out of the lives of all the others I’d known ahead of me, to pack a bag and wander away as if distracted.

(I created distractions for myself by the dozen, lined up excuses in jars on a windowsill of a cheap motel room and let the jars clink against each other in my bag)

(And years later I received an email letter, that she knew my whole plan all along Рto leave, and to have someone let go of me

and that she’d not wait, but, nonetheless, expected to see me again. For the first time, I felt someone had seen through my supposedly subtle maneuvers, and wished I’d formulated a plan better than this one)

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