Chitchat is a mystery you’ll never unravel. There are too many threads to sort and you always sort them wrong anyhow. At least, that’s what people tell you. You stand, you drink, you deadlift a smile and hold it for a three count. You wear pin striped suits or zebra print dresses—depending on the part you’re playing—and laugh half a beat behind everyone else.
It’s like kindergarten all over again except with microbrews and muscatels. And here you are, the odd one out, the kid in the corner eating paste and you don’t even like paste.
You’re exhausted. You want to flee. All the way back to the womb.
See Dick run. See Jane run.
You are Dick. You are Jane.
You start staying home—it’s just easier that way. You get a striped cat and name it Spot. Hey, it’s cool: the cat will never get the joke. You’re not sure you get the joke. It might not even be a joke. In fact, you’re sure it’s not, but people laugh all the same; ask, “Why not call it Dog?”
When this happens to Dick, he shrugs, tries to grin at his co-workers’ cleverness yet that happy arc never climbs as far as his eyes. Jane tells delivery persons, “Same reason I don’t answer to Bitch.” No one smiles then. Jane can be hard, but she’s been called worse.
Be quiet, Dick. Hush, Jane.
No one wants to see you cry.
You forget if you’re wearing your Dick stripes or your Jane stripes. Sometimes you answer to Spot because it’s easier and when’s the last time you had easy and why do things have to be ‘either or’? Why can’t it be ‘both’? The way vertical lines cross horizontal ones to form checks. Lines of tiny boxes you cram yourself into, trapped inside repeating patterns. Shepherd’s check and houndstooth and tartan plaids quietly proclaiming your identity.
The area of Squares A and B is Dick2 + Jane2. It takes Spot time to circle the perimeter.
See Dick weave. See Jane loom.
Spot hides in boxes. Stripe, Spot, stripe.
Eventually, you break free. You find your smile waiting, words stacked in your stitched-up shadow. They’ve been here all along. You were looking at boxes and not seeing the lines. All you saw was checkered space.
Balance, Dick. Balance, Jane.
See You balance. Smile, You, smile.
You’re a tattersall of autumn Dicks and a madras of summer Janes who live with a cat named Spot because the tabby gets it, the cat understands: You don’t make the stripes; the stripes make you.
And you’ve always liked stripes, even when they crisscross themselves crazy into two-tone ginghams and colorfully mixed-up plaids. You love them. They’re you.
They just … are.
—H.L. Fullerton lives in New York and writes fiction—mostly speculative, occasionally about stripes—which is sometimes published in places like Lackington’s, Devilfish Review, and Daily Science Fiction. On twitter as @ByHLFullerton