You’ve always stared and you’ve always told yourself it’s not a bad thing. So what if you live to drink in the details of that persons outfit, or the way that guy carries himself, or the way she’s quickly, nervously, feverishly glancing around her? You think everyone’s got a story, and just like staring at the words on the pages of books to gleam a story, you stare at every little fibre of the people around you to gleam theirs.
Friends have told you to stop before. They’ve noticed you staring at the person across the restaurant, across from you on the train, waiting at the bus station. Then they’ve noticed the people you’re staring at, and how they shift uncomfortably. They hiss, “hey, stop, you’re making that guy so uncomfortable.” So, you do. For a while. Just until no one notices you return your gaze.
Have complications arisen from this habit? Obviously. It’s a bit like smoking, or drinking heavily at any opportunity. It’s become an addiction and it’s not exactly the best for your health. People have squared up, demanded to know what your problem is. They’ve called you weirdo, freak, even asshole, when you’ve told them “I just wanted to stare at you.” It creeps them out; they walk away. They don’t look back at you. They remove themselves from your field of vision. They cut you off. God damn it, you think, genuinely distraught. You hadn’t gotten their full picture, and now they’re gone. You wonder what they look like when they’re angry. Do they pace? Rub their temples? Shut down completely?
One frequent victim of yours is Beth. Big Beth. Big Beth the basketball player. With the broad shoulders. She towers above you. She’s only a few inches taller than you but she’s wider and angrier so yeah, she towers above you. You stare at her because you, hand to god, think she’s fascinating. With her hair, between blonde and red, scraped back constantly into a pony tail, with her jumper sleeves always just a bit too short for her arms, her resting bitch face. Fascinating. You stare. You can’t help but stare.
It’s not like you’re in love with her, or anything. You’re genuinely not. Definitely not, remembering the way she talked to you the last few times she’s caught you staring. “What you after, creep?” She asked the first time. “Can you fucking stop that?” She said the next. “I’m going to fucking kick your head in,” she spat most recently.
She’s eating a sandwich. She’s eating it like she’s angry at it. You cannot avert your eyes. She’s chomping down on the turkey and the lettuce and the whole wheat bread like she’s just found out it’s got the secret location of her kidnapped family members. It’s like she’s torturing it. You cannot avert your eyes.
Ah, no. She’s spotted you. She throws her sandwich down and it’s completely in bits. Bread here, turkey there, lettuce all around. She’s storming towards you. Every step shakes the earth. Your own sandwich trembles in your hands. Uh oh.
You rise to meet her. You’re sure you can explain this to her, you’re sure you can be reasonable. It’s a compliment, really, that you’re staring at her. You’re curious. Intrigued. Interested. You can be reasonable.
“So, what, wee man?” She demands, still several feet away from you but fast approaching. She’s mad. She might not even give you the chance to be reasonable and explain yourself. All you want to do is tell the truth! “What is it, you think you’re better than me!?”
Well, you do want to be truthful. That truth is that you can be introspective and genuine in your observation in the world. The truth is, she can’t appreciate that and resorts instantly to anger, never really thinking or asking why you stare the way you do. You want to be truthful. You do a sort of half shrug, because it was really meant to be a mental gesture. You purse your lips. You bump your eyebrows up once. “Yep,” you admit. “I do think I’m better than you.”
Beth is red. It really brings out the red in her hair when she is this red in the face. She is livid. She is coming closer. She is raising a fist. In an instant, you’re on the ground and you feel the blood red trickle down your nose before you feel the sharp pain that should accompany.
Beth beats the living shit out of you.