by Teresa Stenson
"We make our borders and we live within them. We know where the edges are, and we do our best to keep away from them. Do you see what I’m saying, Jim?”
It’s Friday night, they are out for dinner, and Bridget is speaking about borders for the third time this week. It’s her latest thing.
Jim is somewhere else.
Bridget gives him a half smile. Not one of the good ones from the old days when a half smile was a between-us secret, an invitation.
She goes on. “It links to this obsession people have with keeping busy, as if there’s value in being busy.”
This he can get on board with. “Yes! Completely. People think you’re lazy just because you’re okay with quiet, with a slow pace.”
Bridget doesn’t nod or move closer in agreement like Jim hoped. She pauses then says, “So, within you, where is that okayness with quiet coming from, Jim? Is it relief because you don’t want to interact with others?”
“No, it’s not that,” he says. “And what has this got to do with borders?”
Later, on the sofa, Bridget has an idea for something she wants to try and is eager for Jim to participate in.
“I want us to describe the journey to the edges of our land together. Starting from this sofa, let’s talk through the route we’d take to get to our garden gate.”
Jim’s insides sink. Why is this a thing she wants to do on a Friday night when they’re slightly tipsy and could be watching TV in near-silence? Also, why is she saying the word “land”?
“I’ll start us off. The first action would be ‘Go left,’ ” she says.
It wouldn’t, he thinks. It would be “Stand up.” But he won’t say that. Actually, he will.
“I think the first action would be ‘Stand up.’”
“Well, that’s obvious, Jim.”
“Can you not be difficult?”
“Bridge, I just think it’s better to say, ‘First, stand up from the sofa, then turn left.’ It’s clearer.”
She narrows her eyes.
He wonders if she is comparing him to someone else who would just go along with her whims. There was definitely a time when he would.
She exhales loudly. “Oh-kay. So, stand up from the sofa then turn left. Go straight ahead until you’re at the living room doorway and go through it.”
“You don’t need to say ‘Go through it’ about a door, Bridget. It’s kind of implicit.”
She smiles a full but not remotely real smile. He can feel the energy behind it. It’s quite exciting.
“Honey. All these obstacles indicate that it would be better if we did something else.”
Short silence, then, “No, Jim. Keep going. I won’t interfere. You’ve just gone through the living room door.”
They stare at each other.
“All righty, Bridgey. I go through the door, down the hallway, to the front door, open it, step out, follow the path to the front gate.”
“Don’t just say ‘Follow the path.’ Describe the path.”
“Describe the direction the path takes.”
He breaks. Throws his hands over his eyes. “I don’t want to do this. I’m not doing this.”
He pushes the heels of his hands hard into his eyes, watches pink and red shapes appear and mutate. Then there are flecks of sharp white—bright fleeting instances.
“It’s just a game,” she says.
“I know,” he says. And he knows the route.
Usually, my writing isn't this dialogue-heavy but Jim and Bridget started to speak to each other as I read Miranda July's The First Bad Man in a cottage deep in the north of England, and I think it shows. These two characters and their tensions were fully formed from the moment Bridget spoke her first line of dialogue. July is definitely one of those writers who opens doors for me.
Teresa Stenson lives in York, England, where she balances her job as a ghostwriter with her own creative pursuits. Her short stories have been published by The Bridport Prize, The Guardian Summer Reads, Fairlight Books, and Litro. Though she has ghostwritten almost a dozen books, Teresa is yet to complete one of her own—something she hopes to rectify this coming year as she works on a collection of connected short stories. A life-long diarist, Teresa shares writing news along with extracts from her teenage diaries at www.teresa-stenson.blogspot.uk, and she can be found on twitter @TeresaStenson.