What Happens in Kitchens, by Hugh Smith

She is a funny, kind, generous, interesting, attractive and tall person. I am a tall person. Something is probably going to happen. Somewhere.

I noticed her characteristics in the order given. I am sure she has other characteristics too but I don’t know what they are. Perhaps she hates everything. She almost certainly wants to die: everyone who is both interesting and funny wants to die, and her generosity will not save her, unless its stronger than I perceive, but twelve minutes is a long time, and that’s how long we’ve been talking.

Right now I am in the kitchen. I didn’t really intend to go into the kitchen but it became apparent that I needed to leave the room where we were talking, and there was nowhere else to go. Going to the toilet would not have constituted the kind of break I wanted. It would have been too short and sad. Twelve minutes in, the conversation had that “someone needs to leave” quality, and I was the one nearest to the kitchen. That’s just how parties work. The conversations goes well, and to keep the conversation interesting, you have to leave, because then you get to come back, new and happy. Go one kitchen away and it’ll set your love on fire. I may even find some food there to bring her. Maybe toast. I anticipate talking about what I have seen in the kitchen when I return. That will give our conversation some real fuel.

There is an extremely attractive person in the kitchen, next to the fridge. Her attractiveness is as extreme as it is attractive. When I realize how attractive this person is, I realize that I will not find any toast. It is not that kind of kitchen. I will not even look. Food is suddenly pointless. I don’t know why anyone eats it. This person is not funny, kind, generous or interesting and she is not tall either. She is extremely attractive. But are not attractive people interesting? Yes, sometimes. But extremely attractive people are not interesting, not because they aren’t interesting people, but because it is not possible to know whether or not they are, and when you don’t know whether someone is interesting, the usual, human, thing to do, is to assume they are not, to assume that they are dead and empty inside, if they even have an inside, because perhaps they are merely a shimmering surface, which the eye glides over, absolutely and irredeemably absorbed. They are simply extremely extremely attractive. To find out if they are interesting, you would need to look beneath the surface, which is very difficult. It is difficult to want to look under the surface when the surface shines in this incredible way.

It is not the kind, generous, interesting, attractive and funny people who move obsessively from room to room at parties. Kind, generous, interesting, attractive and funny people divide their time into neat and well-thought out twenty minute blocks, one for each room. This is why they seem so interesting. And it is not the kind, generous, interesting, attractive, funny and tall girls who gather in the kitchen during parties. They begin in the hallway, logically enough, where they stay for twenty minutes, and then move, as logically as they can, through the other rooms in the house. If you see them in the kitchen, they won’t be there for long. But the extremely extremely attractive ones simply pass directly through the walls of the house, and end up in the kitchen, staring into the hollows of the fridge.

I don’t consider myself one of the extremely extremely attractive ones. The surface of my body is of no particular interest to me. So if someone asks why I’m now in the kitchen, leaning on the fridge, I will have to use a different explanation. But you can’t just stand in the middle of a room, you have to find a place at the edge. I will just say “there was space here.” But I don’t think I will be called on to explain myself. The kitchen is full of restrained silence. It’s like a monastery in here, with a fridge. Everyone is trying not to say “OH DEAR LORD GIRL, YOUR FACE” to the extremely attractive girl with the extremely attractive face. I won’t try to describe it. Just imagine dying. Some are restraining themselves better than others, but the silence is nonetheless pervasive. There are occasional flinches. There are other people in the kitchen, of course, two or five or something. Men and women. It’s hard to count when she’s here. We can’t see her face anymore, because she’s looking into the bottommost drawer of the fridge, but we can all remember it.  Everything else is what they’ve forgotten, like how to count, where to start counting, where to stop. She was facing a completely different way a couple of minutes ago. She was looking at us. That was about a hundred years ago, when I still thought I’d find some toast. Fool! She saw how we were looking at her, and she went straight for the oranges. I don’t know how she knew there’d be oranges in the fridge. I don’t know anything.

I try to look like I’m thinking, to improvise some sort of expression. My eyes are open and active, at least. They move around the room, like they usually do. Thanks to them, I probably appear admirably human. I might even come across as curious. This is a good camouflage. In truth my mind is a cognitive desert. I wait for a thought, something not “OH DEAR LORD GIRL, YOUR FACE” to occur to me. Someone has to do something about this silence. But there is nothing funny or interesting or generous or kind or tall, either in the kitchen or in my mind. Only beauty, and I refuse to speak about beauty. I am not stupid, after all. I miss the girl in the other room. Now the extremely attractive girl is kneeling down by the fridge. Maybe she’s praying to herself. If I was her, I’d pray to myself too. It’s getting too religious in here. The silence, the beauty, and the feeling that we’re all somehow completely insane. I point myself at the door. I’m moving. She comes back out of the fridge with a big fat orange in each hand. I want to eat both those oranges. They’re beautiful. I want to squeeze my face into them. But I’m still moving. I’ve gone.

“Beauty is as empty as it is sad. Or emptier.” That’s something I could say when I get back. The girl in the living room will want to know the news from the kitchen. She’s curious, too, like all interesting people. I don’t want to be honest, and go into the ghostly details. “Beauty killed me in there. It was so empty, that beauty, you wouldn’t believe!” “She found two big fat oranges. I’ve never seen anything like it, I swear to god, they were glowing like little suns in her hands, I swear.” “I’m dead.” “It was the most normal kitchen ever. I wouldn’t even bother going in there. Let’s stay in this room, in this part of this room, forever. It’s safe here. You’re nice. ”

I definitely can’t lie about what was in the kitchen, because she will go in there soon. There’s nothing I can say to her that will keep her in this room. She’s not my child, I can’t control her. And you have to go to the kitchen once at a party, like the toilet. So I can’t lie. I’m close to her now, moving through the people. I could just talk about what I saw in the kitchen, the furniture. Suddenly I’m no longer completely sure there were in fact people in the kitchen. Perhaps I didn’t even go in there. Perhaps I was in the toilet the whole time, or the fridge. Two big fat oranges, one in each hand. If what you see doesn’t make any sense, it’s hard to know whether or not to believe it. If only it was a cult! It would make perfect sense if it was a cult. We had to look at her and not say anything. She had to get the oranges out of the fridge. That’s what happens in the cult.

If I think all the things I shouldn’t say, I’m less likely to say them, but I can’t keep walking towards her forever. I’m going to arrive at some point. I don’t have time to think about everything I shouldn’t say, because probably I shouldn’t say anything. I’ll let her talk. Interesting people can talk for ages. And maybe there have been some noteworthy goings on in the living room. But these thoughts are not helping me. But knowing that won’t stop me from having them. It will only make me have more of them. And thought frequency is not scaled to thought-helpfulness. I’m in front of her now. I’m arriving. She is very tall actually. I like it. My own height feels suddenly appropriate, god-given. It’s destiny that we are about the same height, at the same party. We’re even in the same room, again.  I wonder if she might not be very interesting, too.

Silence. Someone needs to say something, about anything, something, and then everything will be perfect, probably forever. It has to be me. I’m the one doing the returning. But why didn’t I just stay here, and try to find out if the tall generous attractive girl hated everything, and if so, why, and since when, and how much. That could have been perfect. But I went to the kitchen, so what now? The two oranges, lighting everything up. I can’t talk about it now. I start lying. I say there were four chairs in the kitchen, maybe five, around a square table. She says she’s going to go in there and check. The mistrust is beginning. I feel a great weight descend on me. I feel a whole foot shorter with this on my shoulders.

Hugh Smith is a 25-year old writer and teacher from London, currently based in Slovakia. He has had work in The Belleville Park Pages, The Moth Magazine, Similar:Peaks, and at The Cadaverine. Two of his short stories are shortlisted for the inaugural Paris Lit Up fiction prize. More of his writing can be read at lettersinwordsonpages.wordpress.com.

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