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by Branden Hart
Chapter 3 of An Audience of Shadows
If you have to think of the word you use the most, the one single word in the world you use the most, what would it be?
In a survey of one hundred people, one percent may say fire (as in "You're Fired") or God (as in "Praise Be to God") or freeze (as in "Freeze—you're under arrest"). The other ninety percent will say hello, or one of its many variants.
As if everything isn't a variant of something it isn't.
Any conversation anyone has usually starts with some sort of greeting.
The word I use the most is quirk. When someone asks me why I walk through the door to a classroom three times, I say, "It's a quirk." When they ask what I'm counting, I tell them, "Just counting my footsteps--it's a quirk."
"Why are you washing your hands again?"
"Well, I touched part of the towel dispenser, and it might be dirty. It's just a quirk."
Nobody ever says hello to me. Their greeting is always a variant of "Why are you doing that," and I answer, "Quirk."
My own little variant of goodbye.
Because anytime anyone hears that it's a quirk, they shut down. Everyone is concerned, not for me, but themselves. "Why is he walking through the door three times? Is it for any good reason?" No, just a quirk. "Phew," they think, "as long as it doesn't have anything to do with me." Their faces are all compassion.
Feigned pity and madeover relief are the two emotions I get from people.
At my new school, the one I go to after my father leaves and I'm shipped to a "Home for Displaced Children" across town, things are the same. I hear people talking to each other, saying hello-goodbye, then people talking with me in the why-quirk language I'm accustomed to.
Familiarity with ritual breeds surprise when that ritual is called into question.
"Why did you do that?"
I turned. I'm in the library at my new school and was putting a copy of The Stranger back into its spot on the shelf one, two, three times.
"Quirk," I say out of habit.
"Oh," she says, coming to stand beside me. "I like quirks."
She's not looking at me; she's searching the stacks for something. It looks like an attempt to be close to someone, but nobody has ever tried that with me before.
"Have you ever had naked lunch?"
My heart pounds, my stomach wrenches tight, a clamp on itself. I'd never been hit on before. My tongue swells up in my mouth, my brain goes crazy/ier trying to figure out when to kiss her, hold her hand, do all the things I had to admit to myself I knew nothing about.
"No," I manage. "But I'm up for anything."
It's the kind of line that I always hear guys in the movies saying, but it comes out as a strained jumble of words I'm certain she won't understand.
"Well you should try it," she says, and leans up close to me, where her breasts are touching my arms, firm beneath the fabric of her shirt, and I think I'm going to come right then, and then she leans the length of her body against me, her breasts pressing against my arm, my first contact with that flesh, and I do come, right then, in my pants.
"Burroughs is an amazing writer," she says, looking at the cover of the book she's just pulled from the stack right above the copy of The Stranger I was looking at. She hands it to me before walking away.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.
For one brief moment, I have an independent thought—one that doesn't stem from my disorder at all. In that second, I forget that I'm walking through a door only once. I forget that I have a disgusting mess in my pants that I have to clean up. I forget everything besides what I observed during my conversation with a beautiful woman:
It's amazing how much 'read' can sound like 'had' when you want it too.
Another part of me says it isn't amazing, not at all.