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By Matthew Spence


There. Somebody had finally said the last word, and thankfully someone besides him. The aftermath of it hung in the room, like an invisible beast or entity that was waiting to be summoned again. No one seemed to have the nerve.

It had started innocently enough. A casual conversation, meaningless office party small talk. “Have you seen the latest…” “Did you hear about…” “What is with them, anyway?” Then somebody tried to make a bad joke, somebody else laughed , there was another discussion, and words were said. The wrong words, words they might not have said without a few drinks or in polite company. But it happened, followed by the silence that had doomed all of their conversation.

Tension filled the room. Words had been spoken, things said. Everybody looked at each other differently now, including him. He looked back, no longer knowing what to say. People milled about, some awkwardly heading for the snacks and sandwiches.  There was a deathly stillness in the air from all the tension. Finally, he spoke.

“Now what do we do?”

Nobody else spoke.

He looked around, looking for somebody else to give him an answer. No one, not even his girlfriend and date for the evening, answered him. They were too lost in their own awkward thoughts. His girlfriend looked down at the floor, seemingly at her high heels. He looked over at his friend again, but he had moved away, as if afraid of being contaminated by even trying to bring up the subject.

There was still too much tension. Nobody wanted to speak, nobody wanted to stay, yet they couldn’t leave. They had to wait until everyone agreed on the right time, but that didn’t seem to come.

He saw their hosts, looking around somewhat pensively. Finally, one of them started to speak.

“I think,” he said, with a false wit and humor, “that maybe we should…”

His companion touched his shoulder. No one else in the room would have been able to do that, but it silenced him, and they both stood, literally at a loss for words, like everyone else.

Finally, he decided to whisper to his friend again. “What the hell do we do?”

His friend didn’t answer, looking at the carpeted floor instead. It was divided between the light from the windows and shadows from those around them. He wanted desperately to stay in the light, but he didn’t know what to say. He pretended to be interested in something else, like everyone else.

He looked over at the snack table. One of the empty plates had a knife at the side. He Thought for a moment about picking it up, literally using it to cut the tension. But he didn’t.

He just stood by himself, wondering what, indeed, he was supposed to say next. Nothing came to mind. He returned his attention to the snack table. Everything on it was still in place, in order, as if nothing had happened.  But it had.

There was only more tension.






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