After ten minutes, I’m beyond my party limit, am starting to shake, and am working my way to the door.
She says, “Hello.”
If I assume cooperative principle, it follows that she is talking to me because she wants to; and, furthermore, I’m talking to her because I want to. That, I think, is a given. I am certainly talking to her because I want to.
She is pausing. Her emeraldine eyes are searching, shifting left first, a good sign that she is feeling rather than thinking. Prolonged pauses suggest thought, disaffection, or—ah, you fool—merely a relative transition point in the conversation. She has passed the baton to you. Pick it up.
Any idiot can say hello.
A question. Ask a question to show interest.
“So,” I start. I hate coordinate openings. They are false implications of continuation of cooperative exploration of existing discourse goals. But I’m in it now. Utterance can’t be revised, erased, or modified. I add, “you’re not attending classes here?”
The eyes come back to me. Her long, red hair catches light, refracts, creates linear prismatic effects. I almost gasp. Her pupils are deep and black. Dilated pupils are a good thing. I hope it’s because she likes me and not from drugs or alcohol.
Does alcohol dilate? I’ll have to look it up.
“Yeah,” she says.
Cooperation. Minimal utterance. She’s continued the conversation and fulfilled all four of the basic axioms: truth, quantity, relevance, and clarity. The pause is my queue. I don’t want to ask her where she is attending classes. She might not be. It would be awkward to get past that.
“What do you do to fill your days?”
“Massages, manicures, and energy work.” Her pupils narrow. The delicately plucked line of her red brow pulls in toward the center line of her face.
She’s scrutinizing me.
She’s still working in the frame of the conversation according to cooperative principles, though she hasn’t established a personal discourse goal. A man can hope, though. As long as she has not violated or flouted any of the four axioms of cooperation, I can assume we are headed toward similar goals.
Assumption. Perhaps not. Perhaps she is here by accident.
Certainly, it would seem an odd place for a massage therapist to spend her Saturday evening, especially one as pretty as this. I have to guess now. She’s examining me for something…Judgment, I decide. Contrasting the socio-economic mean of the population of the party against the stated and, assumed cooperative, utterance, the most likely intent of scrutiny is her own self-conscious expectation of judgment.
“Energy work? I think I have a good idea of what goes into a massage and a manicure, but I’m not sure what energy work is.”
She sighs. Her brows relax. She sips her drink. Her head tips slightly to one side, and I’m once more mesmerized by the contrast of pale skin, blue-green eyes, and shining, thousandish nanometer reflective hair.
Paused over her drink, she looks up at me and says, “Most men want to know about the massage.”
I reel. I was wrong. Her knitted brow wasn’t anxiety about me judging her. She had been preparing herself to judge me, to dismiss me because I…
Now that I’ve missed the normal utterance, I feel a sense of loss, a bit of failed pride for not having been male enough, normal enough, quick enough to pick up on the sensual possibility of the implication.
It’s so simple. I can’t understand why it’s so hard for me.
Relevance. It was all there.
Give as much information as is needed. Do not give more information than is needed. Strictly speaking, she didn’t need to speak all three activities, and the massage was first. Precedence suggests the most important item in a list will be first or last, depending on the discourse goals of the individual.
First and last. Massage was first because it has given her trouble in the past and it allows her to filter out the superficial, the prurient. Looking at her leaning against the wall the way she is, I can understand why. But then the last item, the energy work. That might have been the more important item to her, and I picked based on interest rather than evaluation.
Stupid, fifty-fifty shot. Luck. Dumb luck. “I’m sorry to disappoint,” I say.
She laughs, and the warm, lilting ring of it tells me she is still in-frame, still cooperating. I take it as encouragement.
“It’s just that I get a massage every Friday,” I say. “My curiosity demanded that I ask about the thing I haven’t experienced.”
“You get manicures, too?”
“No.” Honest. Direct. I double-down. “I’m much more interested in your energy work.”
I run through memorized facial expression photographs. The match that comes up is labeled “lustful, lascivious, interested, wicked.” I swallow hard.
She says, “Would you like me to clear your kundalini?”
The light touch of lacquered fingernails scraping along my forearm combines with her odd intonation to rob me of speech. I manage a nod.
She takes my hand and leads me from the party.
PATREON EXCLUSIVE: BEHIND THE SCENES INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR ERIC WITCHEY
Q: What is your biggest challenge when writing flash fiction?
A: Effectively implying the characters’ larger body of experience that allows the piece to deliver its emotional/psychological impact…