what men say in the dark

“How about if we go for a walk?” he says, standing at my open door. He will soon be my traveling companion mentioned a while back, but I don’t know this yet. When invites me to go with him, I am filled with optimism.

Shipka, Bulgaria--where the wild strawberries are perfect
Shipka, Bulgaria--where the wild strawberries are perfect

We’ve been in-country for a week and the tactophobe is a month out of my life. He didn’t make or ask for promises and I’m not pining for him. Of course not. I’m being asked to go on a walk with someone new.

My future traveling companion chooses a path that goes behind our dormitory and into the scraggly woods. We talk about language classes and meetings and paperwork. We find a stone path and the sun has set. There are no lights and it is dark. Most of the town below us can’t afford to have lights on at night, and so this place is the kind of dark we rarely see anymore. But moonlight comes through the trees and we can see well enough–though we both stumble over loose stones and holes.

There is a bench and my traveling companion sits down and lights a cigarette. I’ve never dated a smoker, but I’m in another country and have left a lot of me back in the states. Not that we are ever going to date.

I don’t sit next to him. After all, I don’t really know him, and I can’t see him. I see the orange glow of his cigarette. “There’s this girl back home,” he says. I realize I’m going to get The Talk. I sit on the bench now too because I’m not worried about his intentions. I’m glad he can’t see me because I lean back, stare up the branches, and mouth the words, “I really like you, but…” I think about what I’m going to say to look less stupid for making it obvious I liked him. I think about how many times I’ve heard this talk.

“She wants to come over here and stay with me, but I don’t think it is a good idea, do you?”

I straighten up and my optimism kicks in. “That seems like something you have to decide,” I say, wondering if he is looking my way. “What would she do here?”

“See, she’s really naive and sheltered. She wouldn’t know what to do. She’s not someone like you who could be out on her own like this. But I don’t know what to tell her.”

Yes, that’s right–I’m a woman who can travel the world! I let this flattering, notion tromp all over my judgment. After all, it’s not like I’m pining for anyone. That life is so far away. And I’m so worldly! “Tell her what you think and let her decide,” I say. “She might be tougher than you think and it’s not so dangerous here, you know.”

“But she’d be bored,” he says.

I think she is an idiot for thinking she could keep a guy who leaves the country for 2 years. I think she’s an idiot for wanting to follow a guy and have no life of her own. “She could probably find work teaching English,” I say. I think I am not an idiot.

“Yeah, but I don’t think it would work. But I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” He finishes his cigarette and grinds it under his shoe. Only the sound of his voice tells me where he is.

“Well, you can’t let her come all this way if you don’t want her here,” I say.

“You’re right. It’s good talking to you about this,” he says. “We better be getting back.”

My mother always told me not to believe things men said in the dark. It might true then, she said, but that doesn’t mean it will be true when the sun comes up. But I was in another country, I was independent, and I was certainly not getting over anyone. And I was optimistic whether the sun was out or not.

Some characters get into trouble because they overestimate themselves. They overestimate they’re strength, their intelligence, their worldliness. Sometimes you look at these characters and you eagerly await they’re fall. They so have it coming to them. Sometimes you might feel anxious for them and worry what they will do when the inevitable disappointment, heartbreak, loss takes them by surprise. Sometimes you just may not care.

What characters in fiction were you happy to see fall and what characters made you empathize?

6 thoughts on “what men say in the dark

  1. Probably reveals something unpleasant about me to say I’m most happy to see Perfect Characters fall. I think, like, “Thank God that insufferable prig is gone. S/He was making me sick.” Luckily, most writers recognize how unnatural and strangely disgusting perfection is, and “wart up” their protagonists accordingly. (Even in something like Christopher Moore’s Lamb.)

    I think I am not an idiot: When I’m reading something, I don’t often laugh audibly, but that line elicited a Ha!

  2. JES, I laughed at that line too. It’s a goodie.

    And this isn’t really what you asked, but no matter how many times I read or watch Hamlet, I always want the melancholy Dane to figure it out, to take action, to whack old Claudius in the beginning, and allow everyone else a happy life.

    He never does.

    I actually prefer to see characters fall, and then pick themselves up again. Someone once said I was post-post modern. Or maybe it was post-post-post modern.

  3. I was glad to see Pip come to a decision point he could take, especially in light of what he’d been through.

    I was disappointed that another great first-person narrator allowed himself to be done to by Tom Sawyer, but he redeemed himself considerably by lighting out for the territory ahead because he didn’t want to be civilized.

    And I liked your immediate wisdom in this segment of your life you shared; your feelings about this dude made me trust the narrator.

  4. I suspect stories where the character is so perfectly bad that we are clearly supposed to be delighted when they fall. IMO, effectively bad people er more subtle than that.

    People have have harmed me the most in my own life, are still able to elicit my sympathy when they suffer, though the difference is, I don’t feel obligated to take their suffering on. I both empathize and keep my distance.

    As for who I like to see fall? I like seeing self-satisfied people fall. People who through their narcissism, hurt others.

  5. JES and rowena, that line got a wincing laugh from me when I wrote it.

    Shelly, do you mean you trust the narrator’s judgment (which you probably shouldn’t here anyway) or you trust the narrator’s honesty (which I hope you can) or in some other way entirely?

    And “immediate wisdom” made me laugh as I have generally felt foolish. Oh, and I love Pip.

    Sarah, if not always in life at least in fiction I hope I can always empathize with the bad guy. As his creator I suppose i have to.

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