A Little Banter Won’t Kill You

— Graham Towers

“I think I found my dream job.”

“Yeah?”

“I want to be an interior designer, but only for institutional spaces like this. See that blandly comforting painting?”

“The one of the desert?”

“No, but that’ll tie in to my point. I meant the abstract one, that looks just like the turquoise-and-purple soda cups from the 90s.”

“Ah.”

“You take that, you take the other one—the landscape—then you look at the actually-kind-of-classy upholstery on the chairs.”

“It doesn’t go together, is what you’re saying.”

“It’s schizophrenic.”

“Which could be seen as apt.”

“There we go, a little banter won’t kill you… I could whip places like this into shape. I wouldn’t get rid of the kitsch, mind you. I’d make the kitsch my specialty. ‘Institutional Design by Annie.’”

“Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.”

“Well, it’s still early stages. Just picture it: you want vomit-patterned chairs in your waiting room? Great, I’ll pair them with equally terrible tropical fish wallpaper. Top it off with a sad little ficus in the corner. Fake, of course. No natural light in these places.”

“…”

“Oh hey, remember there’s street sweeping at my place on Wednesday and Thursday, so you have to move my car to the other side. Please. I’m sorry, that was supposed to be a request. My manners are always the first thing to go.”

“No problem; I’ll take care of everything. Do you think it’ll be that long though?”

“I hope not, but it’s not entirely up to me.”

“…”

“I tell you I’m working on a joke? It’s a blonde joke.”

“Nuh-uh. Lay it on me.”

“Did you hear about the blonde who wanted to kill herself? She heard the best way to do it was pills, so she took fifty Flintstones vitamins.”

“That’s not very funny.”

“I know, there needs to be a harder turn or an extra step or something. ‘Flintstones vitamins’ isn’t much of a punchline.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Sorry. Talking to talk… But you know, it’s normally you who can’t be serious. The fact that you’re being so quiet is actually kind of freaking me out. More so than I already am.”

“I just don’t feel up to bantering. Given these particular circumstances. I’m worried.”

“It’ll all be fine. Or at least less bad.”

“I hope so.”

“Trust me. It’s not my first rodeo. And you know, you’ve brought me here before. So you’re no rodeo virgin either.”

“…”

“Did you tell anyone I was gonna come here?”

“Just Samir.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“What should I have said? He was concerned. He’s been asking how you are every time I see him.”

“I know. You have to be able to talk to your best friend. But he’ll tell his wife, and she has a big mouth.”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not ashamed. Shame is a luxury. You need to have the emotional resources to allocate to it. I don’t have such resources right now—I would just prefer not to have certain things advertised.”

“You sound…”

“What?”

“I don’t know…overly logical, almost robotic; the way you talk sometimes. About this stuff specifically. It worries me. But then I compare it to how you were this morning and you seem more—”

“Normal?”

“Not that. It seems more like you might be swinging. Back toward the manic side.”

“Maybe soon, but not yet. I still feel like I want to… The thing about the robot-talk is it helps me dissociate. It’s a reaction. It lets me sort of evaluate myself, clinically, which feels proactive. And being here is a first step, kind of. Just coming here is an actual, positive decision. So it’d make sense that I’d be…however it is I’m being.”

“Do you feel it’s going to be different this time? After, I mean. Maybe longer-lasting?”

“No idea.”

“I’m just worried it’s a cycle.”

“…”

“…”

“Do you want to leave? I’ll be okay.”

“No, I’ll stay until you’re admitted.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“…”

“The other thing that helps, weirdly, like the overly-logical robot-talk, is research. You spend so much time obsessing over it you become an expert. I know all the signs, their progression. Like how I knew today was the day, because it shifted from a fantasy to a plan. That makes me ‘moderate risk’ according to the Columbia Scale. FYI.”

“I know. I’ve done my homework too. What was the plan? Only if you want to talk about it.”

“I’d prefer not to.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“And so with my research—you asked if it was a cycle?—I mean, you must have heard that for most people it’s a lifelong thing. It’s possible to still be successful, but not by ignoring it. You have to talk about it with your partner.”

“We are talking about it. Lately it feels like all we ever—”

“We only talk about it when it’s bad. We ignore it the rest of the time. Which is pointless, because we’re both still dwelling on it, even when things are good. I am, at least.”

“So am I.”

“The couples who manage are the ones who are able to joke about it. At least some of the time. Otherwise it’s like giving it special treatment, almost.”

“I guess I see that.”

“Not everyone can handle it; living with it like there’s a third person in the house. And obviously, no one wants to. So you can leave. If you’d rather.”

“Annie, I—”

“Hold on…They’re calling my name. Here, give me a kiss… And I’ll see you in a few days.”

“I’ll—”

“Or if you’re going to be busy—or you know…whatever—do me a favor and call my mom to come pick me up, when it’s time.”

“Wait, before you go—did you hear the one about the guy who dropped off his girlfriend at the psych ward?”

“God, I love you… No, I haven’t heard it—tell me about the guy who dropped off his girlfriend at the psych ward.”

“I love you, too. The guy said it’s not so bad, really; at least now he knows she’s not afraid of commitment.”

 


 

Graham earned an MA in Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University in 2012. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and works in television for ABC Studios. Most recently, his story The Efficiency Expert, or: How Satan Got His Groove Back was published in Bartleby Snopes.