A salesman approached me at a home-improvement warehouse where I’d gone to buy a can of paint. He was eager to shake my hand and let me know about a promotion for free estimates to update kitchens, bathrooms, or whatever my house needed.
“Just give me your cell number,” he said, “and a representative will call to set up an appointment. What’s the best time for you? 11 AM, 3 PM, or 7 PM?”
“The appointments last four hours?”
“That’s to give the rep time to go over all options available to you.”
“I don’t have a cell phone.”
“You don’t carry a phone?”
“I just said that.”
“I don’t want to call you a liar.”
“I wish I could say the same to you.”
He chuckled off the remark and said they could contact me by email. I said I didn’t want to give him my email address.
“Another thing,” I said. “I don’t own a house.”
“What’s that got to do with you?”
“It has to do with my business.”
“But your business has nothing to do with me. I also don’t have any money.”
“We’d be happy to help you with financing.”
“I’m sure you’d like nothing better.”
“I’ll give you my card.”
I left the store without the paint.
I was called for jury duty not long ago and one of the lawyers asked me, as he went down the line of prospective jurors, what I was thinking. He said he could see my wheels turning.
I’d served on a jury a year and a half before, an assault case, I told the lawyer, and the defense attorney in his summation claimed that the witness who’d allegedly been assaulted never stated in her testimony that the attorney’s client had brandished a knife in her apartment, which was the substance of the charge against him. But the jurors later asked to have her testimony brought to us and in fact the witness had testified that the defendant brandished the knife. After we’d found the defendant guilty the defense attorney came into the jury room to ask about our discussion. I asked him why he’d made a false statement in his closing remarks. He said he’d made a mistake, he’d forgotten that part of her testimony.
I told the attorney who’d seen my wheels turning that I was skeptical of the explanation. He asked if I’d agree there were two sides to every story. I replied that there were more than two sides to every story and opposing attorneys typically presented two completely biased versions of a story on the grounds that the system required it. Jurors would hear more credible sides to every story if attorneys had to swear, just as witnesses did, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I was not selected for the jury, an outcome that relieved me.
But as I drove my car or pushed my shopping cart through Costco or the grocery store I remembered what I’d said to the attorney, in front of the judge and the jury pool, and I feared I’d come across as a crank. I also recalled the salesman I’d been rude to at the home-improvement warehouse, a man trying to earn a living, at his customers’ expense, but who was I to challenge his right to offer a service I could have wanted? Was that the kind of trail I wanted to leave behind? Yet in my thoughts I continued to argue with him.
At times as I drive I find myself reflecting on other past events and can’t remember passing through intersections or turning corners or getting from point A to point B, my mind occupied with more obscure destinations I’ve so far failed to reach. When I arrive at my place I drop into my chair and listen to the inner noise. Nothing stops the din of voices, not sleep, music, meditation, or drinking. I can’t watch the news without talking back to it in my head, the conversations on some topics lingering for days or weeks, the noise of others adding to my own.
I remember that when I was six my father one day tired of listening to me chatter. Shut up, he shouted, his looming fury erupting, and slapped me across the face. His hand and voice shook my spine, and my voice reversed course and stuck at the bottom of my throat. I still get angry thinking of it and feel an urge to triple in size and yell back at him until his skull opens and disgorges its contents, though he’s been dead for years. As often happens with my internal arguments, I know my reaction can’t be right.
Glen Pourciau’s second collection of stories, View, was published last year by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by The Collagist, Corium, New World Writing, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and others.
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