by Alissa Nutting
Leaving things unsaid is not my biggest problem. I tend to say too much. I used to want to say too much so badly that I lied if I didn't have enough to say. I did this until I became involved in a serious relationship, and suddenly had someone there who could attest to the lack of validity of everything I was saying. It is not fun to get busted. I will say that.
Luckily, advances in information technology now give me new things to say all the time. There are not enough hours in the day to even cover it. Still, there is something unfulfilling in spreading around news about people and events that have no relation to me. I find it easy to go dead in the eyes when I’m not the heroine.
Once, when I was about five or six, a childhood friend and I left my grandmother’s house and went to the bathroom in the backyard trees. “I do this all the time,” I told my friend. That was a lie. I had also told her that I lived on a farm where I had to rise before dawn to extract milk from the udders of cows and goats (in truth we did not own even a goldfish), and that somewhere on the premises of my family’s plot of land there was an electric spanking machine.
When I finished, I decided it would be funny to wipe some on the side of the neighbor’s house. We placed it on a leaf and then swirled it in a giant circle. “They will think a bird did it,” I masterminded. I’m not sure what prompted me to think they’d believe a bird would make a fecal circle about a foot in circumference on the house’s siding. Later we saw the neighbor out front with a hose.
I think about this sometimes, because that is what it feels like to talk about other people. Unsatisfying, like I’m just spreading something around with a leaf.
And the unsaid does not have any sort of forgiving middle ground. To leave things unsaid means that even hints are off the table. It would seem that stating, “I’d love to say more but I shouldn’t,” or “I promised not to tell,” would be a happy medium whereby I could acknowledge the unsaid without actually spilling the beans. But saying this is even worse. In the speculative economy of secrets and information, such statements raise the stock price of the unsaid so much that people will offer irresistible temptations (alcohol, email fwds with puppy pictures, words such as ‘please’) in order to make me squeal.
People like it when things are said. Words often garner responses of laughter and smiles. Sometimes there is even applause. I suppose this is what I leave unsaid when I say everything: I want to be liked. Occasionally I’ll even comment upon things to my dog, hoping that he will think me clever, love me more, want to cuddle. But to him, it’s probably just the same if I don’t even speak. Maybe I could go to an unsaid rehabilitation clinic lead by dogs and learn to separate saying things and being valued. I think this therapy would work for a time, while I stayed there. But when I left I’d probably go right back to the way I was.
Alissa Nutting is a current Schaeffer Fellow in fiction at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she is finishing her PhD in English. Her first collection of short stories, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, was selected by Ben Marcus for publication through Starcherone Books in Fall 2010. Her work has been published in such journals as Tin House, Fence, and Mid-American Review.