Pamela’s brain was a chaos of sparring thoughts and statements, swirling in a disjointed pool, before the canal was made. It was a tool, something to funnel the thoughts that otherwise were unruly waves, eddies, and whirlpools into thought that could be presented. The canal had great stone walls on either side and maybe couldn’t fit the heaviest boat, but was enough for these reactions.
So, when some man (with a face round and stubbly, wide, expectant eyes, and a mouth too red) said “you should smile more,” first there was the unending pool, the conscious and the unconscious: memories of her matronly mother telling her she needed to cook to please her man, her math teacher giving Drew Nesbitt credit for the answer that she found, memories of cousins touching her shoulder too long while sitting in the sand on the beach, the book jacket that once said “Not just good as a women’s book, but a real piece of literature.”
All of these anecdotes swelled up in a heaving mass toward the first lock, filling it with a thousand possible responses. Loud and present was always the punch-in-the-face option, or the curt “fuck off,” or the more elaborate “I will smile when you walk away.” Another option was a dissertation on the banning of the mixolydian scale during the middle ages, just for fun.
As the water reached the next lock, certain large reactions were left behind—there would be no screaming and, regrettably, no punching. She thought the option of telling him it was the eighth time she’d already been told that should remain. The tearing out of eyeballs, both hers and his, was also eliminated from contention.
As these options were beginning to spill into the next level, the time delay was becoming apparent. The stupid, wide-eyed smile on the man’s face was beginning to freeze into place. She realized the expectation now of some answer. Other violent options from the deep tried to swell, to break through the first lock and overthrow the whole thing. But the construction was strong.
The reaming locks continued to fill, eliminating the wilder and more base responses until one little trickle came out of the other side into the real world. It was one raised middle finger, and a curt half smile, before continuing down the sidewalk.
The man might have said something as she walked away, like “I was giving you a compliment,” or “I was just trying to help.” They were always “just” something. More fodder to enter the uncharted sea. But today, the crowd noise drowned out all else.