Glen Pourciau ~ Two Shorts

Reaction

We’d reached a turn­ing point. We didn’t want to tell our friend Cynthia what we thought of her choice of hus­bands, and we didn’t want to ask her what she saw in brawny reac­tionary types. What did her three choic­es of hus­bands have to do with us? It would have been more pleas­ant social­ly if we could have tol­er­at­ed any of her hus­bands’ com­pa­ny, and the way things had stood for many years was that we’d avoid­ed being with Cynthia and her hus­bands as cou­ples. When we did, say, go out to din­ner with them, we’d con­stant­ly remind our­selves for days before to keep our crit­i­cal thoughts about her hus­bands not just unsaid but unsug­gest­ed and not to make dis­parag­ing com­ments about their favorite politi­cians or pun­dits. As an extra pre­cau­tion, I had a long-stand­ing promise with Elaine not to use loaded phras­es such as “nar­cis­sis­tic rage” or “para­noid fan­tasies” in their pres­ence. If we had weak­ened and done any of these things they might have felt jus­ti­fied in air­ing their grudges and view­points. We often got wind of their views through Cynthia, who tend­ed to sym­pa­thize with them and was enter­tained by their sup­pos­ed­ly man­ly tales of fights and threats, a par­tic­u­lar habit of her cur­rent hus­band, Crandall.

We kept our opin­ions to our­selves not only to cir­cum­vent self-right­eous erup­tions from her hus­bands but also to con­ceal our lack of respect for their beliefs and opin­ions. Not only did their beliefs and opin­ions offend our beliefs and opin­ions but our beliefs and opin­ions about them offend­ed our beliefs and opin­ions about us. We dis­ap­proved of our­selves for look­ing down on them, but our efforts to use our ratio­nal minds to man­age our thoughts and emo­tions nev­er suc­ceed­ed in putting them to rest. We have been relent­less­ly revolt­ed by all of her hus­bands and think less of her for choos­ing them. We’ve talked to each oth­er about what fac­tors con­tributed to her choic­es. Does she love men who don’t take any crap from any­body, exclud­ing of course all the crap inside their heads? Does she admire their strength and cer­ti­tude and the sim­plic­i­ty of their val­ues? All of the answers we’ve imag­ined imply dis­par­age­ment of her and her val­ues.

We under­stood that our intol­er­ance of them could not be defend­ed. Should we have looked in the mir­ror for the source of the prob­lem? Perhaps we should have focused on the mir­ror, but we’d be lying if we said we did. We blamed her hus­bands, cur­rent and for­mer, and Cynthia for choos­ing them, no mat­ter what we would have found gaz­ing at our­selves in the mir­ror. If she could have brought her­self to mar­ry a dif­fer­ent sort of per­son there would have been no prob­lem, or not this prob­lem, and the fact that we had no con­trol of her choic­es did not cause us to shrug and accept the predica­ment but instead made it hard­er to accept. Did tol­er­ance com­pel us to deny or ignore our thoughts and beliefs? Should we have dumb­ed our­selves down in order to be at peace with her hor­ri­ble judg­ment?

In frus­tra­tion, I began to con­sid­er stag­ing an inter­ven­tion to sep­a­rate Cynthia from Crandall. When I told Elaine what I was think­ing she reject­ed the idea. She under­stood why I would imag­ine it, she said, but she asked me to con­sid­er whether my inten­tions were good or if they were destruc­tive. I con­fessed that my inten­tions were both good and destruc­tive. We both want­ed to help Cynthia and I didn’t see how we could do her any good with­out open­ly attempt­ing to end her mar­riage. Elaine said Cynthia would be out­raged. And if this mar­riage blew up as the oth­er two had, she added, Cynthia might end up with anoth­er man much like Crandall and the oth­er ones. She’s not a vic­tim in this, she said.

I could see Elaine was right. An inter­ven­tion would have been com­plete­ly wrong­head­ed, and I told her it angered me that the sit­u­a­tion with Cynthia had led me to dream up such an absurd plan. Elaine said I was respon­si­ble for my anger, not Cynthia; she said I could be suf­fer­ing from a case of nar­cis­sis­tic rage.

I’m turn­ing into a crack­pot, I said. I don’t like this con­ver­sa­tion, but I’m tired of try­ing to cen­sor myself.

I don’t like it either, Elaine agreed, and it’s going to be in our minds as long as we stay friends with her.

We looked at each oth­er. I won­dered if she was think­ing what I was think­ing.

Our friend­ship is not help­ing her with this, Elaine said. She doesn’t believe she needs help.

A lot of adapt­ing and talk­ing back to emo­tions comes with it, I said.

I’ll cut back with her, Elaine said. It’s been a lot of years and it’s wear­ing on us.

I’m out total­ly, I said.

I’ll even­tu­al­ly dis­ap­pear to her.

We’ll see. You might blame your­self.

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I hadn’t said any­thing to Euphoria about Coy’s predica­ment, but she knew about all of it or part of it.  I asked Olivette if she’d said any­thing to Euph that would have clued her in, but she denied mak­ing even a hint of a men­tion.  Why would Coy have said any­thing to her?  Is there more between Euph and Coy than meets the eye?  Could she be in some way involved in his predica­ment?  If I asked Coy would he not want to answer, fear­ing a reac­tion and that what he said could find its way to X?  Who else could it have been?

I want­ed an answer, so I asked Euph face to face where she’d heard it.  She tilt­ed her head up and looked down at me.  What I made of her look was that she didn’t think it was my busi­ness to know.  I’d always thought she was trou­ble and didn’t like the idea of her keep­ing a secret from me.  I asked why Coy would tell her.  She looked at me as if she could smell me, and I was prob­a­bly look­ing at her in much the same way.  I wasn’t going to beg her for an answer, and I end­ed the con­ver­sa­tion.

Later, I called Olivette to bring her up to date.  Olivette said she’d already heard.  Euph had told Coy I’d con­front­ed her and Coy had spo­ken to Olivette, fill­ing her in on Euph’s ver­sion of my so-called con­fronta­tion with her. Olivette said she regret­ted being in the mid­dle of oth­er people’s busi­ness and didn’t want to dis­cuss the sub­ject any fur­ther with me.  I didn’t like her atti­tude, I told her.  Why would she talk to Coy and then refuse to talk to me?  Why had Coy called her?  I asked her to start with why Coy had called.  She hadn’t called Coy, she said, he’d called her.  If I want­ed to know why he’d called, I should ask him.  I told her I wasn’t going to ask Coy why he’d called her.  He wasn’t account­able to me, I said, and she replied that she wasn’t either.  I hung up and paced around the room, argu­ing with her inside my head.

I tried to make up my mind I’d have noth­ing more to do with Coy and his predica­ment, but I couldn’t quite do it.  What about X? I began ask­ing myself.  She had a right to know, and it was like­ly she didn’t know, though I couldn’t be sure with­out stick­ing my nose in deep­er.  If I sent a text to Olivette, say, ask­ing her if she knew if X knew, an uproar could ensue.  Yet if an uproar did ensue, would it be my fault?  I couldn’t be respon­si­ble for what X didn’t know unless I with­held the infor­ma­tion.  Why should I think it was more impor­tant to con­ceal infor­ma­tion about Coy than to let X know what we knew?  I had noth­ing against X and couldn’t think of a valid rea­son for her to remain unaware, assum­ing she was unaware.  Could any of us defend the idea that she should find out only if forces she and Coy didn’t want in their lives came knock­ing?

I became furi­ous with Coy for putting us in this posi­tion.  The four of us had been more or less friends going back to school days, though Euphoria had nev­er seemed trust­wor­thy to me, but how far should our loy­al­ties go?  Within the group, I felt the strongest con­nec­tion to Olivette, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask what she knew of what X knew or why she had no qualms about her.

I slept on it, had night­mares on it, but in the end I chose the easy way and said noth­ing to X.  My deci­sion dis­turbed me, even more after I hap­pened to see her at the gro­cery store, chunk­ing frozen foods into her cart.  As I neared, her eyes fixed on me.  I could see she knew but hadn’t known and that she also knew that I had.

How did she know I knew?  I had no right to ask.

~

Glen Pourciau’s third col­lec­tion of sto­ries is forth­com­ing from Four Way Books in 2021. His sec­ond sto­ry col­lec­tion, View, was pub­lished in 2017 by Four Way Books. His first col­lec­tion, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His sto­ries have been pub­lished by AGNI Online, Epoch, fail­bet­ter, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, The Rupture, Witness, and oth­ers.