When these words circulated around the Internet a couple of years ago, they tickled me for several reasons. My ongoing distaste for many facets of Facebook has been documented so I won’t get into it again. But even though there’s a lot of criticism for the way we use social media to record the “banal” parts of our lives, that actually appeals to me. I like knowing about people’s daily lives and the things that are occupying them. Maybe sometimes those things seem boring or predictable, but what a nice counterpoint that is to the grim realities we get in the news. Especially when people share details of those things that make them happy–the music they listen to, books they read, friends they saw, time with their families, projects they’re working on, fun they’ve had–these things make me happy to know. When they share their challenges or worries, it provides me a chance to offer encouragement or gives me perspective about my own.
However: Would I like to read people’s minds? HECK NO. Our thoughts are still our sacred and private space, thank goodness; we need that. And speaking as an avid reader and a writer of fiction, think of the stories that wouldn’t exist if we were all mind readers. No mysteries. No romances. No suspense. Fiction depends on the secret threads of our lives to weave compelling stories.
Misread signals and misdirected messages are used to humorous effect in Mark G. Harris’s short story “The Green Sweater.” After enjoying a flirtation with a stranger at a party, protagonist Jay becomes the unwitting recipient of too much information.
Jay washed his hands and contemplated his luck. He didn’t have a conceited bone in his body. To his mind, it wasn’t the magnetism of a winning chin, but more likely a kind shove of luck that had propelled him into sublime collision with Doug tonight. No other power besides luck could have dropped Jay within kissing distance of the golden lump of that Adam’s apple above the silk purple knot of Doug’s safety-pins-studded necktie. They’d hit it off. An hour’s conversation was sufficient to make Jay want to mate socks with Doug at a Laundromat years from now. He wanted to steal bacon off of Doug’s breakfast tray. Though modest, Jay was in love with the unfolding idea of Doug and himself getting immodest. He corrected himself; he was in lust with the idea and hoped it might unfold days from now, instead of years, but he was prepared to wait it out.
Jay’s laryngeal musings at the sink might have continued to curlicue unchecked had he not discovered something.
Beside the soap dish stood a folded piece of paper, arched like the roof of a house, or a sawhorse, or a displeased eyebrow. It read, HELP ME!
He opened the note.
If you are reading this you have to help me. This boring guy who is really, really stupid has latched on to me and WILL NOT LEAVE ME ALONE. I’m at this party on my own. I don’t know anybody, so you have to come up to me and pretend you know me and RESCUE ME FROM THIS FREAK. I need a ride home, too. You can’t miss me. I’m the VERY CUTE BOY being tortured by the JERKOFF in the GREEN SWEATER.
Jay placed the note against his chest and examined the hole he’d just noticed in his sweater, near the collar. He also noted, as if seeing it for the first time, that his sweater was the jarring, unnatural color of TV- dinner peas, or golf courses in wintertime.
“So…” Jay said, not really knowing where to go with the word.
You can read the entire story in Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, available now from booksellers everywhere in trade paper and ebook format.
Excerpt reprinted with permission from Cleis Press. All rights reserved.