At the pharmacy counter I wrote down my name, birth date, and prescription info and handed the note to someone, who located the bottle, stuffed it in a bag, and stapled the bag shut. I paid, nodded, and didn’t say a word, not wanting to encourage a dialogue. I pushed my shopping cart to the other side of the grocery store, to the produce section, no eye contact with anyone. The outgoing man who always wanted to know how people were doing was on duty, standing beside a cart of vegetables. I turned my cart away from him, annoyed he was blocking the broccoli. No matter how innocuous he thought he was he was still human and there was no sense in triggering his words. If I could stay out of people’s way I’d be in the clear until checkout, where I could often answer questions with a nod or a head shake. A wave didn’t hurt at the end, just to show there were no hard feelings. After all, we shared the same fallen fate. I didn’t want to inflict my language on them and hoped they’d oblige me by remaining as silent as their job allowed.
With the checkout bottleneck behind me, I rolled the cart outside and loaded my groceries in the back of my car. I sat behind the wheel and started the engine to get some air moving and to distract myself from the sounds in my mind. It didn’t work. I saw all the people I didn’t speak to, the pharmacy person, the man in produce, the checker. I talked with them all the way home as they went about their business, relieved their words could not affect me and mine could not affect them.
I do not reply to my neighbor, who for a long time has tried to engage me in conversation. You know we shape our world with our attitudes and words, he told me one recent morning when I’d gone out for my paper. That explains it, I wanted to say but didn’t. Popping off only made matters worse. How are people going to get anywhere if they don’t speak to one another? he asked. Where did he want to take me? I would have answered. Were all those people we saw driving up and down the road going somewhere better as a result of some conversation? Almost everyone, it seemed, felt a desire to be heard, and staying quiet was what I could do to make that situation better. What we needed were disembodied words from a higher being. I was willing to bet my neighbor would chuckle at that one, and so would I. I went back inside without picking up my newspaper, wondering why he hadn’t figured out he wouldn’t want to hear me anyway, and the rest of the day I had imaginary arguments with him and imagined him calling me up and telling me off.
I had no expectation that he’d learn from the futility of his efforts to get me to talk. As a last resort I decided to go to his door and ring the bell. I rang it twice. Finally, he pulled the door open and gazed at me with suspicion. I couldn’t blame him for the way he greeted me. What are you doing here? he asked. I did not speak or react. I didn’t intend to contradict the purpose of my visit by answering questions or entering into explanations, not even to tell him that not saying anything had nothing to do with him. He looked into my eyes and waited, and I hoped the point of my silence was soaking into him. Good to see you again, he said and closed the door.
Since my visit he has not uttered one word to me. His eyes avoid me, as far as I can tell. I can’t help imagining what he’s thinking, but I do not want to hear it and would turn away if he ever spoke to me again.
Glen Pourciau’s third story collection, Getaway, is forthcoming in September from Four Way Books. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, failbetter, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, The Rupture, and others.