flash fiction by Gloria Frym
Some people are chummy with strangers and passersby. I mean sincerely friendly. Which brings up the question of sincerity. Is insincerity the opposite? Or is it artificial, a close relative? Do you sometimes create artificial feelings in order to live in the social world? Of course you do. Perhaps you cannot say what you really want, so you say what is wanted of you. Because the mind knows that saying what you want all the time is foreclosing the possible, even the improbable. Yes, you say, I’ll come over for drinks in your garden (even if it means driving forty miles). The afternoon obliterates your initially negative reaction to the invitation, as you wind up laughing and telling stories and making others laugh. Now you sincerely want to do it again.
On a walk during the pandemic, you stroll by people who live around the corner and they feel compelled to introduce you to their entire family, including Puddles the Shitsu who barely stops yapping enough for you to hear everyone’s name. They’re amiable people, and don’t use false irony, like “hot enough for ya?” on a blistering day, no, that would only work if you and the neighbor or passerby you see occasionally but never speak with were standing across the street from someone else’s burning house, watching the roof cave into the living room. A quip like that would be in the spirit of Joan Rivers who called her agent on the morning of September 12, 2001 and asked, Would you like to lunch at Windows on the Ground? a variety of morbid New York humor only found where people don’t even know their next door neighbors. Is a joke an artifice? Or is it a sincere attempt to mitigate misery?
No, there is such a thing as genuinely friendly, such as, Tesla sure makes a beautiful red, says a woman to a man getting out of his vehicle. Yes, they do, replies the man, who gazes in the direction of a large pink house. I think there’s another one, the woman says in all innocence, a kind of SUV type that’s red like yours and parks here sometimes. No, says the man, no this is MNOP Model S with a higher roof than the XYZ model you mostly see around, and I’m the only one who parks here. Oh, says the woman, I’m mistaken then. I take various routes when I walk my dog. She wants to keep talking only in short, measured phrases so as not to seem too chummy, just sincere. But as Gide writes, One cannot both appear to be sincere and be sincere. I think Tesla, she says, has really influenced new car design (as if she knew). Oh yes, says the man, car design smooth soft lines . . .She hears, but she doesn’t really listen, too caught up in the fact of their conversation. She hasn’t talked to anyone for three days. Yes, she says, they’re beautiful. She sighs, but not too naively, Well, I used to think that—when I drove more! Sure, says the man, becoming almost as chummy as the woman now, I only got it a month ago—it’s all electric and quiet, no gas station ever, it auto cruises at 70 miles per hour, there’s no sound, and you can’t feel bumps in the road. He’s beaming now. Well, she says, you pay for it! Yeah, he says, you do. Ah, says the woman, insincerely, one day I hope to ride in one.
In the long few seconds it takes for the man’s response, the woman remembers her dusty old Toyota and couldn’t care less about a ride in a Tesla, because luxury cars, like Renaissance paintings, or diamond jewelry, or designer gowns, are wonderful to look at, but not possess or even try on for size or horsepower, because something fishy always seems to accompany their acquisition, something about the money the buyer has to exchange for them is dirty, stained with colonial fingerprints whose owner possibly cheated, robbed, evicted, betrayed others to get it. She thinks these things sincerely as her thoughts all run together. Suddenly she flips her own thinking—so his life is organized around capital, maybe his money was inherited, maybe he won it in the lottery, he could earn it as a people’s doctor or lawyer for the low-income or he could be a socialist tech guy, he’s got a year to live and he sunk his retirement savings into it, for all I don’t know.
The woman thinks these thoughts in maybe five seconds, and the man says, Hey, when Covid is over, stop by, I’ll give you a ride. Deal? Her feet shift their weight, the sycamore leaves crunch under her Keds. She stops thinking. Deal, she says.
Her dog tugs at his leash with only one sincere request which is, Can we go now, already? Then he lifts his leg to mark the spot.
A few weeks later, the woman walks by the man’s house again just as he’s getting into his Tesla. Hello, she says warmly. Ah, he says, Hi. He doesn’t recognize her, but he’s always in the habit of returning a greeting.
Gloria Frym lives in Berkeley, California. Her most recent book is How Proust Ruined My Life & Other Essays (BlazeVOX, 2020). The True Patriot, a collection of proses, came out from Spuyten Duyvil. She is the author of the short story collections Distance No Object(City Lights Books) and How I Learned (Coffee House Press), as well as many volumes of poetry. Her book Homeless at Home received an American Book Award. She is professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Writing & Literature Program at California College of the Arts.
Frym’s books are available at Bookshop.org.
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