Conversations With The Living
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Séance"
Originally featured on 04-23-2009
As part of our series "Where the Wild Words Are (Words Gone Wild!)"



Never trust anybody who says good morning like it’s two words. First off, nobody really means it, and since the phrase has no meaning, it works just as well when you abbreviate it to a slurred ‘mornin’ that actually comes out of your mouth as not two syllables, not even one whole syllable, just some grit left over in your mouth.

Second of all, if it was sincere, it wouldn’t even make grammatical sense. Are you pointing something out? Observe the morning: it is good. Or is it a command, as in, have yourself a good morning?

If you were actually saying something with the phrase, instead of faking an obligatory greeting, it might behoove you to be a little more specific: that is a splendid sunrise atop the mount, or I wish you success in the day’s exploits, my good lad would work. Or if you wanted to be even more specific, you could say may your first cup of coffee be spilled out of your hand by a meth’d-out three-eyed prostitute stumbling out of a bank, and may that fuel you with an anecdote to tell at the water cooler that will evoke from your boss a snort of laughter, disarming the tightwad to consider the prospect of a promotion.

What kind of jackoff says good morning and means it?


-morning,” said Steven Jenks as he ambled from the sink, where he was rinsing an empty can of tuna fish to be recycled, to the wall-mounted telephone to answer a page on line seventy-six. Steven Jenks was not smiling. On some mornings Steven Jenks only smiled instead of speaking.

The window behind the wall-mounted telephone on which the button for line seventy-six was blinking red looked out on a milky parking lot. Rain nagged at windshields and waxed silver hoods, never raising its voice.

The window above the sink offered a clear view of Chancy Boulevard. The downpour was not as noticeable on Chancy Boulevard.

The sound of two dogs barking at each other on street level was superseded by the whir of the electric can opener at chest level. Mick Shirfoot was opening his prescription diet supplement to be mixed with two quarts of water.

On the opposite side of the room, Steven Jenks lowered himself onto the chair as he held the phone. Most days he did not sit down to use the phone. At least he never sat down and smiled at the same time — smiling was an act that was only fit for standing.

The other end of the phone conversation, unheard by everyone else, was his mother breaking the news of his younger sister’s hospitalization.

The next time I saw Stephen Jenks was in the bathroom.



If you’ve already told someone good morning, which you shouldn’t have in the first place if you’ve any dignity, then telling them good afternoon warrants eternal damnation; it’s that polite way of telling someone they didn’t hear your instruction the first time, so you’re repeating it in different language.

In the morning nobody’s brain is functional enough to make autonomous decisions, but by the time you’ve eaten lunch and defecated, I mean, come on. First off, if you’d be so presumptuous as to assume somebody desires to have a good afternoon — in the case that their afternoon is proceeding through a negative course — what qualifies you to be making suggestions?

If you’ve got nothing to say, just keep it that way. And if you genuinely feel that a projection of warm, positive congeniality might synergize results beneficial to the team, no matter how trite and standardized a vehicle through which it’s delivered, then to hell with good morning and good afternoon; just plant a big sloppy kiss on their tongue. And then bite off a small chunk of it, be sure they reciprocate and do the same, keep bloody chunks of each other's tongues in the backs of your mouth, that way it's like your kissing the rest of the day.

Everyone else can go on exchanging empty words, never knowing.


-afternoon,” I say to the stall that is washed at eleven: twenty every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I get no response. I don’t know who’s in there; that’s the joke. Nobody gets my joke. Whomever is in there does not care for my humor.

I’ve always wondered what the byproducts of Mick Shirfoot’s diet supplements look like coming out. Am I morbid?

I knock on the stall, loudly and forcibly. I don’t know what the hell has gotten into me. It’s just what I’m doing at this moment.

He wants to ask what the fuck I’m doing, but would never allow himself the trespass. He says, strained, “Just a minute, and it's all yours.”

I don’t stop the barrage of knuckles on flat surface. He zips up his pants so fast the action is louder than his voice. The door opens. His face has sunken back a few inches from where it lives. He says, “Jesus.”

Steven Jenks doesn’t want to talk about it. He does. I mean, of course he wants to talk about it. Everybody wants to talk about it, nobody ever doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s what fucking makes us human, I mean, right?

Steven Jenks does not want to talk about it.


Stephen Jenks is a total tool. Trust me. Why am I thinking about Stephen Jenks now, of all the things I could be thinking? I should drink some water. This is ridiculous. No. I need more caffeine.

What am I even doing here?


Line seventy-six was for me. Steven Jenks doesn’t have a sister.

The rain is coming down hard. It’s nice to look at. The dogs were barking. Maybe they still are barking. I wish I was having a better morning, because then maybe my afternoon would be better, accumulatively. I just need to relax.

I’m competent.

Nothing requires discussion.

Dogs parley with each other all day. At my hiring committee, I wonder how they would have responded had I unzipped my pants and urinated in a circle around the conference room, and then grunted a witticism about marking my territory. It would have shown initiative, leadership and courage to transcend conventions — are you a self-starter? Sure as fuck. Bathrooms are an inefficient waste of space.

I’m fearless. Steven Jenks knows this now. Or if he doesn’t, he'll comprehend it later.


“Good evening.” This time I mean it.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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