Then Years ago I had a colleague who stopped me saying my name. In the course of our work, delivering training around south London, she would interject when I tried to introduce myself to the group. She was taller than me, and if we stood together it was as though she cast a shadow across me, muffling both light and sound. The shadow lengthened until it reached across rooms, then across buildings, until even my weekends were blighted by the thought of her voice. The shadow reaches across decades and I hear her still—a cloying tone, a bubbling laugh, an ooze of speech.
Naturally I grew to hate her, but time has lent perspective. I see now that she was a warm person—garrulous, anxious, with some defective inner sensors that provided incorrect temperature and location readings. I’ll call her Melanie. She explained to me once that her childhood breakfasts had been a battle for parental attention, with Melanie and her brother both shouting over one another. I met her brother once—a reserved man—and it seemed to me that he must have withdrawn from combat at an early age. Melanie had a great interest in psychology and was in fact training to be a counselor, a profession for which she seemed strikingly unsuited. She told me that adults turn out weird ‘cos of crazy family shit, and thus she was not responsible for her constant interruptions—her compulsion to barge into every sentence I uttered—because of breakfasts back in the day, yeah?
If I’d expressed any skepticism, would have interrupted me.
The situation lasted for at least a year, during which I became a student of interruption, a professor of rage.
Melanie and I became strangely conjoined, so that I could anticipate her interruptions. At a certain point in a sentence my body would flinch, like a structure giving way to the ingress of water. It was as though I was giving her permission, even giving her a cue—now, Melanie, now! It happened when I paused for breath or paused for thought, or reached for the right word. She leaned forward from the waist, scanning me for weakness. She found the slightest gap in speech and jemmied her way in, like frost working at a hairline crack.
Other people acknowledged what was happening. They said it must be vexing. I knew I wasn’t imagining it. I tackled her about it, I told our manager. Still the interruptions came. My thought patterns began to change. It became harder to construct complete sentences in my mind. My concept of grammar broke down, and I lost the knack of subordinate clauses. I began to think in symbols, in colors. I felt agitated all the time, even when I was alone, as though I was beset by gnawing or stinging insects.
My words came out wrong.
Now In my long contemplation of the subject I’ve developed the theory that we respond to interruption as we’d respond to touch—it can be an act of intimacy, of affection, or of violation. It can be formal like a handshake, or impulsive like a kiss. It can be a blow, a shower of repeated blows.
Do you want to be touched by that person? No? Then you do not want to be interrupted by them, either.
There’s a friend I’ve had for a quarter of a century. I would have called her, once, my best friend. I used not to mind that she trod on the ends of my sentences. We were girls together. Rough and tumble, arm in arm. I probably interrupted her—we all do it, it’s like bumping into someone or clattering against a coat-stand, just one of the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. But I have noticed, of late, that she does it all the time, relentlessly. When I speak, she speaks. She overlays my words, deletes them.
She is deleting our friendship.
If I do manage to say anything it lies inert on the ground between us. We look at it, a foolish thing, hardly worth the expenditure of breath. It’s as though my words have no currency at all.
Perhaps as we grow older we naturally step apart from one another, and so the leftovers of a former closeness appear incongruous in later life. Her slightly accented voice, which always delighted me, now sounds strange against my ear. I am quiet in her company. I’m beginning to avoid her company.
When we part I incline my face towards her and she hovers over my cheek, as though kissing it. But we do not touch. When I try to say good-bye, I say the good, and she says the bye.
Josie Turner lives in a small town outside London and works for the UK's National Health Service. Her short fiction has been published in journals including Mslexia, Ellipsis Zine, Noble/ Gas Qtrly and Mechanics’ Institute Review Online, and her creative nonfiction has appeared on the Submittable blog. In 2016 she won the Brighton Short Story Prize and received the Sue Lile Inman Award for Fiction from the Emrys Foundation.