My family is different, wonderful really, but different. They don’t ever argue or correct each other. They never say a harsh word to one another or reprimand another’s child they just stop speaking to each other for very long periods of time. These quiet times are almost never over real injustices, only perceived ones.
It doesn’t take much. A look will do it, or a glance, a raised eyebrow or a lowered lip. A whisper, nod, point of a finger, a nod and a point, a point and a whisper, nod and whisper, or especially nod, point, and whisper. Even a shrug, a gesture, a smirk, laugh or eye roll, a tilt of the head, a quizzical look. Or a stare, a twitch, or a yawn. Even a bad meal (you didn’t care enough), a meal too good (putting on airs), instant coffee (good enough for this side of the family), frugality (when it comes to us), conspicuous consumption (showing off), a hrrumph, or a too loud belch.
You! Don’t worry. They are going to love you. Just be yourself. Don’t gush. Sometimes you gush. They hate gush. Me? I think it’s adorable personally. No. Never be obsequious, worse than gush. This is not like an inspection it’s a simple meeting. Don’t worry. If I love you, they will love you. Guaranteed! Don’t wring your hands, they will take it as a sign of weakness. No – blasé’ is no good, inquisitive is ok if it’s not like nosy, not indifferent, or too well dressed or attractive (that’s highfalutin). Not sloppy-they hate sloppy. Just be yourself. Don’t hang on to me. Of course, I like it! They will say clingy. Don’t stay away. Remote and uncaring I can hear them now. Stop worrying.
They will talk about the ones they don’t talk to who are not there or even the ones that are there. Trust me on this one. Just nod. Don’t let them draw you into agreeing with them because the next thing you’ll know they will be talking to each other and not to you. Family. Ah! Family.
How long? The silences usually range from six months to, well, sometimes forever. Things like shrugs, raised eyebrows and the like are usually only six months to a year unless of course during that time a person is shrugged back at and then this could go on indefinitely.
Weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, holidays have no effect. They all go and look through each other and talk about each other. A funeral. Ahh. Another story altogether. That starts a new slate. There is nothing like a good death to bring my people together. Everybody talks to everybody and no mention is made of past transgressions.
Oh sure. A new perceived injustice could begin at a funeral. Many do. Perfectly within the rules. Happens all the time. It is very rarely with the same people. That’s part of what makes my family so unique.
OK. Crisis. It depends. Say someone is hospitalized and it’s not too serious. They will go but if the parties are not speaking they will continue not to speak even during the visit. If it is serious they will speak formally and politely while looking at the other person’s forehead or ear. Never eye contact. Just in case, God forbid, of a death, they can say, “Well at least we spoke.”
Ready? They are going to love you. Fine. You will be fine. Believe me. I know them like I know the back of my hand. Here, spit out the gum before we go in. It will save on chewing cud comments. Pick up your feet when you walk. No. It doesn’t bother me. Not to worry! Don’t slouch, they hate slouching and if you can remember to sit up in your chair and not talk with your mouth full this will be a breeze. No, you don’t do that. I’m just saying, that’s all. Of course. You look terrific! Pay no attention to their remarks about being braless or having long unruly hair. No. It’s not how I feel. I love you just the way you are. It is not unruly to me it’s natural— the way I like it.
Please don’t whine. Sobbing. No that’s no good either. Why don’t we just wait a few minutes while you compose yourself. What ever got into you? It’s only my family.
Paul Beckman’s fourth flash collection Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), was a finalist for the 2019 Short Story Indie Book Awards. His stories have appeared in the following publications as well as many others: Spelk, Necessary Fiction, Litro, Pank, Playboy, Thrice Fiction, and The Lost Balloon. Paul curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York’s lower east side.