The great revelations of my adult life began with the shouts of a lost soul in my neighborhood breakfast joint. I couldn’t see what was happening, what with my head hovering an inch or so above the coffee cup clasped between my hands. I could hear plenty.
One voice, rising and falling in plaintive wails. A beg for help, a screech for mercy, this guy was all over the place. There was the definitive sound of snot being sucked up as racking sobs collapsed him into himself, a soul with some new cracks in it, if it wasn’t completely broken apart.
The contradictory voices inside had a split second collision as they shoved each other aside to get to the forefront. Seeing as it wasn’t a question of whether or not they would get their say, their incessant need to play tug of war inside my head was infuriating and exhausting. The only conclusion their cacophony ever accomplished was lethargy anyways, so what was the goddamn point. That’s what I never could figure out.
The inner dialogue had blocked out the sounds of a waitress walking over to the man. As the real world filtered back in, I heard a genuinely empathic voice ask the man if there was anything that she could do. “Even if it’s just a glass of water, hon, I’d like to do something for you.”
The snickety voice snarked out. “Really? A glass of water. Crazy helpful, waitress lady, that’ll solve all the world’s problems. If that’s really the best you have why would you even say anything? Just leave the dude alone, if he actually wanted help he wouldn’t be sitting around with a bunch of people he doesn’t even know.”
A softer voice murmured, no less strong for its quieter tone. “It’s another human being in obvious distress. Why would you not try to help? Maybe just the kindness itself is what he needs. Or maybe he wants a fucking glass of water. How would you know if you didn’t ask? What in the world could it possibly cost you to ask him if he needs help?”
“Well, but what if you asked him if he needed help and he needs, like, a ride somewhere far away? Or what if he needs money? Or what if something really awful just happened to him and he wants to talk about it?” Fretting and fussy, worried. “I never know what to say when people are like um, I have cancer, or, or my mom just died, then I look like an idiot, I don’t want to look like an asshole just because I don’t have the right thing to say, I can’t help with anything like that!”
The softer voice came back a little stronger, with a touch of exasperation now, a mom whose toddler did not listen to Samuel L. Jackson and shut the fuck up and go to sleep. “How in the world are you supposed to know what the man might need if you never ask him? If someone was lying on the ground bleeding out in front of you would you what-if him to death before helping him?”
Snarkasm jumped back into the fray with a scoff. “Please, that’s a life and death thing. You know damn well we do fine in crisis situations. That’s Logic and Practicality, that shit’s easy. This guy is freaking out, who knows, he’s probably crazy. Who the hell else is going to come in for breakfast and a meltdown? So let him freak out, someone will kick him out or call the cops or something, it’ll get handled.”
A grey voice threaded through the fray, hardly noticeable at first, until you couldn’t notice anything else. “It’s possible that this man will lose his mind and pull out a gun. Or a knife. Or go insane. It’s possible that there may be a mob looking for a door in a minute, so I suggest you notice viable exit routes. The man may pick up a fork and stab it right into his eye. Are you aware of the awful potential outcomes this situation has? I suggest that you drag your nose out of your coffee cup and go home.”
The other voices fell into a stunned silence. You never realized how long the insidious grey voice had held the mic until you were listening in rapt and horrified fascination to his stories, rooted and rotted in place.
Logic puffed up his chest and muscled his way to the front, prepared to end the debate. “Everything that you said is not only ridiculous but highly unlikely given the current circumstances. God, you’re such a dick, seriously. Why do you do that?”
Huffy now, the grey voice retorted snottily. “I’m not doing anything but trying to make sure that all possibilities are taken into consideration. No one wants to be caught unawares; you have to be prepared for any eventuality.”
“Not for a fork in the eye, you don’t. I’m pretty sure that we can safely leave that one in the don’t worry about it category. Anyways, all of this is merely academic, seeing as we don’t even have a situation anymore. The man is gone.”
I swung away from the counter and looked behind me. It was once again a quiet diner, a couple people eating some breakfast, reading the paper, conversations in booths maybe a little more intense than they had been before. I had no idea what had happened.
I waved vaguely at the same waitress who had offered the man a glass of water. “What happened to the guy that was just here, the one who was freaking out?”
She looked at me with a hint of disdain. “He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but he wrote down a number for me, so I called his son and got him to come pick him up about twenty minutes ago.”
I was honored with the choice of the Master Class prompt this week, and while I originally reallyreallyreally wanted to use something of Guy Gavriel Kay’s I found that all of his first lines belong solely to him. So I went in a completely different direction with Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter.
I swear in real life. A lot. I get that some writer’s use curse words as a tool. I use them when it’s what I hear. It’s not to make a point, or to try to be cutting edge, it’s just how I talk. Not all stories are conducive to them, so they don’t come out, but when they do I use them. To me, they’re still just words that were made up like all the other ones, and just because someone once decided to call them bad doesn’t make them so. In my opinion 😉 I also realize there is some disparity in the ‘voices’, that some of them have names and some don’t. Some don’t deserve to be named, ha. Dirty little rats…
Written in tune with Lungs, Florence and the Machine