Compliments on the Road Home
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Crepuscular"
Originally featured on 10-05-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

“Darling, you can be sure I meant dipshit as a term of endearment.”

Like hell she did. She meant it like she meant everything else she said.

So for the rest of the day, I sat back and tried not to be there. One hundred and eighty more miles of highway till the valley would welcome us back with mosquitoes and the blare of fire engines. Without looking at her—and it was easy not to look at her when she was driving—I let it be January fourteenth, the day we started our series of games.

We would meet at a social function in a town where nobody knew us, and we would pretend to be strangers, and enact a courtship process as spectacle. We would dress up as classier versions of ourselves and pretend we were characters in some nineteenth century novel. We would spend weeks preparing personas for ourselves, and scenarios for why these two lonely characters had never crossed paths, and why they should meet at this particular venue. January fourteenth we crashed a literary ball, I showed up as the famous cartoonist Mick Fernberg (author of the autobiography I View The World As An Exaggerated Version Of The World, Here’s How You Can Too.)—a fictitious person and a nonexistent book—and you were Magdalena Oppenbright the art critic.

You waltzed over to where I stood holding a martini glass and said, “So. When do I get to be honored with one of your famous compliments?”

Turning my head only an eighth of a rotation from the painting I was studying on the wall, I said, “Not the same day you receive one of my famous insults. That would be sensory overload.”

“I don’t think you could overload my senses. I don’t think ten of you could.”

I then turned to you, sneaking glances to my peripheries to see if anybody was paying attention to us. “Are you ready for your compliment?”

You started humming a tune to the wall, looking away from me.

I put my hand on your shoulder. “You negate eighty percent of the pejorative generalities I’ve drawn about women in my first twenty five years.”

You looked not at me but around me, as if your eyesight was a mouth opening to try and swallow me. You swirled my words in that mouth searching for a taste but finding them to be bland. Then you smiled. A smile is something you are not capable of faking.

I’m not Mick Fernberg and you’re not Magdalena Oppenbright, and nobody will ever be those two people except during fragments of an evening, and still their attention will be reaching across the expanse of the reception parlor for an audience, begging for one.

The silence of the road has a way of creeping up between the seat cushions and sending sharp pains up my back. The road is noisy except when I forget that I’m listening to it. The sun has been flitting between the trees like a DVD that doesn’t play properly and I just want to scream at it. So I scream at it, to myself, inside my chest. Now the sky is calm, like a film of fat condensing at the surface of a glass. As I breathe, I realize the fact that I’m glad you’re here. I wish I had something to say, because I suddenly am aware that I like you, I really really really like you. Nobody can see us and what we’re talking about in the car, so I can’t work too hard to say something brilliant or you’ll be sad that I wasted the effort, or maybe I’ll be. But I want to tell you…

I’m just glad you’re here, that’s all, and who the fuck was Mick Fernberg and Oppenbright anyway, I won’t get my feelings hurt if you call me a dipshit, you can say anything you want and we can be anyone we want because we are in-

“Jason. Jason?”

“What?”

She said it softly, perhaps loudly internally, and so softly I might not have heard it if we drove over a bump in the road. “Nothing.”

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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