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A Pause in Conversation
fiction

The conversation had come to a halt. I had read or heard that this was supposed to happen every twelve minutes in groups of seven or more, but I may have had those numbers reversed.

'I hear this is supposed to happen every twelve minutes in groups of seven or more,' I said. 'But I may have those numbers reversed.'

The statistic temporarily brought everyone back to life, generating discussion as to whether or not it was accurate, how it had been gathered, and if it wasn't created as a means to alleviate the problem it was said to explain. For a few moments, they carried on, and eventually the natural course of things took us on to another topic, but it was one about which I knew fairly little, so I was compelled either to sit silently or go and get another drink.

Only my second, I decided that the time needed to refresh it would be sufficient for the topic to change again, or, if not, another drink would make me less likely to care. As I stood up, unnoticed, I wondered if my leaving six people there would bring about another silence before twelve minutes had passed.

There were about nine minutes left out of the original twelve from the previous silence, but that was based on the presence of seven people. If I left, leaving six, a silence should occur roughly every 10.28 minutes, as according to the rule of twelve for seven, each person accounted for about 1.7 minutes. But, having left in the middle of a round of seven, I was forced to estimate, and concluded that my leaving would not reset the group to a six, and the silence should occur not in nine minutes, as it would have, but in just over seven.

I decided to wait and see by the bar, while I was ordering another vodka tonic. With any luck, the bartender would be busy, and I could wait without appearing suspicious.

He was down at the other end of the bar as I stepped up between a man a little older than me and a woman a lot younger than him. She didn't seem to mind the intrusion, and I wasn't sure I had really meant to come between them at all, until I was wiping the blood away from my nose.

He wouldn't have hit me if it hadn't appeared intentional, and if it looked that way, it must have been, even though I was not consciously aware of it at the time.

I remembered thinking she was attractive, in that girl-at-a-bar sort of way, which usually indicated that it was acceptable to look and wonder if being with a woman like that would be as I had always thought it would, or if the results would be disappointing, and I would find out that women like that weren't really all that different from other women. I did not know much about women.

Perhaps I had looked and wondered a little too long for this gentleman's liking. But then, I had to consider that he was no gentleman, and might have told him so, had I had even the slightest amount of courage at the time.

The expectation one has while sitting amongst cigarette ashes and sloshed alcohol after an unwarranted pummeling is for something in the way of a brawl, complete with flying chairs and bottles smashed over heads. In crowded social places, one speculates, the mob mentality will be such that a single event will trigger a subsequent one much like it, even while the first goes one. This in turn will inspire another, and the whole place should erupt into fisticuffs, rather like a round proceeds in song--more physically violent, of course, but equally unpleasant.

I was surprised, then, when nothing happened.

I sat on the floor, and waited. Something should come hurtling by any second. I would just have to hold my nose for a moment, then squeeze out of the heap of combatants on all fours, presumably followed by my attacker, with whom I would share a cigarette and write the whole thing off to one of those drunken bar experiences that one has.

Instead, there was silence. I said nothing, did nothing; he did the same. I thought about feeling my head for the indentation of a wedding ring, but was not certain with which hand he had hit me. Both were currently covered by the napkin he was wringing them with, and I recall noting that this was the first time I had seen my blood being wiped away by someone other than myself.

Funnily, he didn't seem repulsed by it, whereas if someone so much as spits in my direction, I'm all for burning the clothes I was wearing and boiling my entire body. I concluded he was probably a doctor or other sort of emergency technician, used to the sight of and contact with the stuff.

It occurred to me that this therefore must surely be some violation of the Hippocratic oath, but I did not know all of it, and was not prepared to test him on his knowledge, for fear not only of being struck again, but for the added injury of being publicly proven wrong and discovering that he was in fact well within his rights, not only as a man, but as a physician.

As far as the code of the bar went, I likely had no case against him. Ha--I thought--the code of the bar. Bar code.

When finally I stood, the bar resumed its activity, and the older gentleman turned to the younger woman, and the younger woman turned away from me, and did not slap or sneer at the older gentleman, thus removing my last hope for the rescue of my dignity, low as it would have been, being protected by the younger woman, instead of by me, a man of average height. I turned away from them, and, looking back to the table, was disappointed that the experiment of silences had been interfered with. But I thought to myself that the younger woman did catch my eye, even as it rolled upward with the older gentleman's blow, and that somehow, our relationship had not yet been completely lived out.

It was in this way that I met the love of my life. Rather, I should say the first love of my life, as three years after her death I met the second, or as I say to her, having learned that it was best to do so, the true love of my life. It pains me on occasion to so illegitimatize the depth of feeling I had for no. 1, but no. 2 so hates the notion of being no. 2--the death of no. 1 apparently being no consolation to her--I decided that for the sake of the relationship, I must be conciliatory, and hope that no. 1, wherever she is, would understand.

Her being dead has since become something of a mixed blessing to me, fraught with religious implications, for while it means that there can never be any awkward meetings amongst the three of us in this life, there is no guarantee that they should not occur in the next, if in fact there is one, and I can imagine no more unfortunate thing than having to arrive in the afterlife with bags freshly packed, only to be greeted by someone whom no.2 knows as no.1, with no.1, if she has been paying any attention, knowing that she has something of a superior status to no.2.

It is primarily for this reason that I ceased to believe in God, viewing that as the most efficient way to be released from any such obligation of choice.

I realize, though, that at later stages of life one typically returns to having faith, and it was in anticipation of this development that I further resolved to die separately from no. 2, and well in advance of, as this will afford me not only the opportunity to rejoin no.1 without unwelcome accompaniment, but will also prevent their being together without me, the possibility of which sends shivers down my spine to this very moment.

My funeral is a focus of dread to me for similar reasons; the thought of everyone I knew separately suddenly converging to discuss me without my being able to offer any defense terrifies me.

It is for this reason that I had previously resolved to survive everyone I know. This resolution, unfortunately, and rather obviously, contradicts my first resolution, to die before no.2.

Not only that, but should there be an afterlife, my surviving everyone I know would only mean that upon my final arrival to it, there would be a whole collection of them waiting for me, no doubt demanding explanations, and having done all the work that my not having a funeral for them to gather around was supposed to have prevented in the first place.

I had thought that my being precluded from the afterlife via faithlessness would be sufficient, but I could not help the discomfort I felt in knowing that such events would take place, despite my never knowing about them.

It was for this reason that I resolved everyone I know should go to Hell, where I presumed they would have better things to concern themselves with than me. Sadly, I soon realized that this was beyond my control, and it is for that reason that I for some time wallowed in something of a depression.

Needless to say, this had a detrimental effect on my relationship with no.2, which was not helped by my interminably if silently thinking of her as such, a fact she brought to my attention regularly during the whole of its duration. I have since resolved to consider her my true living love.

So far, that has been a compromise I have been able to accept.

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