Experience the archive of our Saturday fiction series here.
by LINDA EDDINGS
Q: What do you think about when I mention the idea of self-expression?
A: I picture something closing, then opening again.
Q: You were the third of four children.
A: My mother worked as a veterinarian. She loved animals when she began her practice; by the end she was completely indifferent to them.
Q: Can you suggest a particular incident or anecdote to illustrate that point?
A: Yes. Self-expression... it isn't that the concept itself is a fallacy, it's that what we usually think of as self-expression is actually more like lies which benefit us the moment they are announced.
Q: I have noticed you are fascinated by what something isn't.
A: You're right. It's a problem I have.
Q: Do you mean an actual problem or is that simply a flip statement designed to ward off future questions on the topic?
A: I honestly don't know.
Q: When I was thirteen I was taking a bus to visit my father. Tunneling through some bad part of town, I saw a family roasting an animal on a spit. It was a cat.
A: That's not what I call self-expression.
Q: Do you dream?
A: Only when I have had too much to drink.
Q: For the rest of our conversation, I want you to speak without using the verb "to be."
A: All right.
Q: For the rest of our conversation I want you to speak without thinking of what I will think.
A: My father worked as a physician. He never developed my mother's indifference. He spoke often of his patients. Posssibly this was unethical, I always felt in my heart that it was unkind. When he hugged or kissed me I felt in his embrace that the act meant something but perhaps no more than it meant for him to shake the hand of an acquaintance.
Q: Go on.
A: He always seemed impossibly old.
Q: That word "seemed." It is overused. Be careful.
A: It refers to a perception.
Q: It's not as if, comparatively, he was young.
A: My mother's 68 now. She looks a decade older. When I visit her, I have to remind myself the person I knew left some time ago.
Q: It is the same person. Numerical age means nothing except insofar as we adjust our own behavior. It's all preconditioned.
A: Why do you lie?
Q: A nightengale, for example.
A: A bird.
Q: One can never exactly know how old it is. (pause) A moment ago, you used the word "is." Before that, "was." Just because you used a contraction doesn't mean I did not notice.
A: When I have had. Don't. When I have had too much to drink, I begin to anticipate my dream, hoping for certain things it might contain. The idea that how old something is does not matter is an invention of the old and the young.
Q: In my dream, a white lion went down on all fours. She screamed in agony. A bird in flight caroused back and forth, slamming down a forty. The lion shuddered and arched her back. The bird ceased its flight. The lion's front paws turned into licorice. The bird began its ascent.
A: If you were the bird, it means you're going to die someday. If you were the lion, it means the same thing.
Linda Eddings is a writer living in Brooklyn.