I’ve learned to carry with me a small pill box every day. You see, I have a series of maladies.
I have an illness in speaking with strangers. I want to appear to them as the best human they have ever met. Or at least I hope that they will forget me.
I may never see them again, but I worry myself sick over their unknowable thoughts. When I am checking out at the grocery store I will silently catch the clerk’s eyes and suddenly wonder, “Does she like me? Is she impressed with my good-natured comments about the day? Does she feel like I’m a real boy?”
So, I’ve learned when I see the clerk waiting it is best if I reach into my box to take a pill.
Ted has no internet at home, so every morning at 10 he walks to the public library to check his email. Recently he has been arriving early out of excitement, thinking that perhaps she has written. She never has.
He has begun to reassure himself of all of the reasons why she has not written. She certainly must be carefully considering the offer. Such things mustn’t be rushed. Haste makes waste and all that rot. She would be over the moon with endless thoughts. She needed to make up her mind cautiously. She must respond soon.
It was just over 2 weeks ago that Ted had written to Stefanie asking her to marry him. He told her that he loved her very passionately. He said that he was happy for them to live in his apartment, or, should she prefer it, he could move in with her. She lives in one of the new downtown lofts which is near to the coffee shop where they had met last month.
Even though he had invited her to sit down with him, she seemed intent to stay near the sugar bar. But then they had spent some time talking about her new job in the newspaper office, and she seemed quite content to answer his questions.
He thinks about all of these things as he closes his email inbox. When he steps outside the library he smiles. It will be lovely to read her happy response when it arrives tomorrow.
I have another worse condition. A sickness with people I already know. The problem here is that of familiarity. We have a history together. They have a frame of reference. I cringe when I feel these friends and acquaintances draw near. I assume that each moment I speak with them that I am either improving my image in their eyes or I am slightly degrading it. I’m rising or falling. Always. If I rose the last time we talked I hope to go months before seeing them again. I want to leave them impressed. And then never need to see them again.
I try to avoid these discussions whenever possible. Sometimes I go the long way round the building or take the hallway on the floor below. When I cannot avoid them I reach into my box for a pill.
But tomorrow Stefanie has still not written. He received a spam email from a hardware company and a reminder from his mother that he had not answered her email from three days ago. She had asked him something about the doctor. But no Stefanie. He frowns briefly as he ignores the spam and deletes his mother’s email.
That night he had a dream. In the dream he and Stefanie are in Europe together. They have just crossed the bridge over the Danube, and Stefanie begs him to buy her a flower. She tugs mischievously like a kitten, and he is undone and consents. Stefanie is dancing from foot to foot as he fishes at his wallet looking for the right foreign coin. At the last moment he tells the flower seller that he will take an entire bouquet, and Stefanie had absolutely covered him with kisses. He awakes from the dream with a deep glow of happiness on his face.
Perhaps the most difficult moments are the times when I am with myself. I dislike myself intensely. I fear myself because I know myself extremely well. I know everything I have ever been frightened of and every awful thing I have done or thought. I know all my weaknesses and I exploit this knowledge mercilessly against me to my advantage. I accuse myself repeatedly. I take delight in wallowing in my own wretched failure. You might think that I should be sympathetic to myself and willing to help. Perhaps I should see myself as a needy orphan. Why can’t I swoop in to rescue myself? No. I throw the self-inflicted darts the hardest.
The only thing that helps me in these moments with myself is to take a pill.
That morning he is back at the library like clockwork, just before 10. The doors open and the desk of computers are facing him like a curious wall of eyes. He sits down and pulls up his email box.
There is nothing. Stefanie has not written. The screen of his computer stares at him with a shrug. He feels weak and terribly tired. He stands up slowly.
As he turns to leave his eyes fall on the computer next to his. Someone else has left their email box open. There is an email addressed to someone named Peter. The email has not been opened.
He glances around the library. Everyone else is busy with their other library things and the soft tremor of the room gives him a quiet turn of courage. He presses his finger to his lips for a moment and then sits back down at the computer with Peter’s email. After looking around to make sure that no one is watching him he begins to read the email.
“Peter, my sweet love,
I have been ever so desperate to hear from you. It is really not right that you should make me wait so long. I only remind you because you yourself told me to write if you did not respond by Tuesday. Well, here it is, now Tuesday come and gone, and I certainly don’t know what to do or what to think.
I’ve worn such a path in my rug with pacing, and all I can do is turn and fret with nowhere to go and nothing to do for fear that you might not have liked my proposal of Bermuda. I’m sure you know this, you fine specimen. Dearest, of course we don’t HAVE to go, but Daddy’s made the cabin available for the whole week, and we’ll never get another chance now that you’ve received your promotion.
Darling, if you could only just send me a short note then I would know that everything was fine. Until you do I shall be waiting with bated breath, and you must know that your dear anxious girl waits for your quick assurance…waits for your every beautiful word. Love, Sylvia”
After reading it Ted slowly lets out a long breath and placed his hand on his chest. He closes his eyes. The library hum fades into the distance and all he feels for a long spell is the quiet assurance of the warm room holding him firmly on all sides.
Ted opens his eyes, leans forward, and begins to write, “My dearest Sylvia…”
I have been lying. I have no pills.
Selected: March Short Story
Published in Issue #28