Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Short story: Feigned Ignorance

Feigned Ignorance

It's a weapon, a communal covering, a defense -- yes, even a charm-- but it is primarily a skill.

Stumbling at first upon a secret, one's eyebrows unintentionally arch, eyes squint, and perhaps a smile of recognition come naturally to the lips. Ah, the soul says, I see. I see now.

But this is where discretion, self-preservation, and the preservation of the other comes in. It is not perhaps needful to appear to see. This is the difficult thing to teach children. Because. . .for humans, seeing is communal. We are taught to share our seeing. 

When older, we begin to understand feigned ignorance...but even then, we ache for honesty. Our eyes still betray us, might hint slyly at adult secrets. And for the cruel among us, those eyes might even. . .vaguely. . . threaten, hinting that we "know."

But. . .even this "hinting" misses the mark. As I've said: feigned ignorance requires skill.

I have been told that I am charming. Not a genetic charm, I think. This charm was honed in childhood. Cruel households create secrets and children reared in them grow to understand the magical power of not seeing. Yes, some evil can lead to good and I was well-prepared for this world. But I am talking about you; it is you I'm advising.

You have told me that you were seated after work in the dim of the local coffee shop when your married boss and his suddenly-pregnant unmarried secretary passed by. Holding hands. Your eyes meet theirs. In a flash, in a moment, the secret was unveiled before your careless eyes. 

Nothing can be done, you say, it is now all out in the open.

Ah, my friend, do not under-estimate your skill. All is not yet lost. I repeat: do not underestimate this charm.

If we had been forewarned of this occurrence, I would have told you that however surprised, however offended you might be at this sudden intrusion upon your peace...you must hold your gaze. Fall back inward. Shock is easier to control than the world would have us believe, and it really is quite easy to pretend one has recognized nothing. Steady now. . .keep the face calm. Restrain the eyebrow's instinct to arch. Keep your gaze dull, as if your eyes are turned inward...lost in some personal trouble or glorious memory. Pretend spaciness. Above all else, even if your eyes have met, you must not blush, fumble, or turn your eyes away. You must pretend to be less astute than you really are. Seem to be lost in thought. 

I would have told you all that. And if you had -- since childhood-- been skilled at hiding away your true emotions, (or if you had been schooled by me) your boss and his secretary would have believed this.

But all is not lost.

Tomorrow, you must enter your cubicle as you always do. You will do nothing out of the norm. Your boss and his secretary will perhaps hover around you needlessly, spying you out, obviously wondering what thoughts are bouncing about in your mind. The pregnant secretary might even accost you alone in the lunchroom and remind you that you saw her last night. Friend Mine, all this requires skill. At the end of the day, the boss must conclude you are mindless, and the secretary must understand that you saw her but somehow you did not "see." It is not a hard thing to seem unobservant or even stupid in such a situation. For you wish neither to lose your job nor to become your co-workers' confidante and accomplice. It is not a hard thing I'm recommending. You must not straight-out lie. You must not say you did not see them. They would see through such a lie immediately. But you must be utterly ignorant of the hand-holding. Because if they are true to human nature, they would've guiltily unclasped their hands when they saw you. And they will want to believe you did not see. 

Restrain yourself from showing your discomfort. Do not seem to be wanting to "slip quietly away." Do not appear flustered, forgiving, world-savvy. Remember, you did not see anything. You were lost in thought. So there is nothing to be flustered, forgiving, or world-savvy about. And all this is easy enough to do if you feign ignorance well.

Can you do this? Stop worrying and trust me; all will be well. May I tell you a secret? I have feigned this same ignorance when dealing with you. I have, yes. So stop crying. I am not as ignorant or as spacy as I seem.
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