Carrie Cooperider’s story, Small Talk for Monday Morning was published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Antioch Review.
No one really wants to see anything new; we want others to see us; we hope to confirm the superiority of our superstitions; we visit backdrops, not places: yoo-hoo! here I am, warming your frigid monument—here I am, smiling against your sullen panorama—here I am, posed on the crumbling loge of your tender edifice, perched on the brow of your sad cascade, soiled and spent at the peak of your heathen mountain!
I was inspired to write the first few sentences of Small Talk for Monday Morning after an exchange with a colleague about how much she hated the bob-and-weave of what seemed to her to be pointless and insincere inquiries after one’s well-being and weekend activities. I, too, have sometimes found it uncomfortable, and wanted to twist that discomfort into an unexpected shape.
The ritual—or, depending on one’s temperament, the ordeal—of exchanging small talk is meant to create a space of polite sociability in which nothing of substance is said, and where a dignified, impenetrable façade may be maintained by all. Dorothy Parker sent up this conventional mode of speech brilliantly in her short story The Waltz, in which the private thoughts of a woman being asked to dance are in satiric contrast to the demurely acquiescent words she utters aloud. It creates the appearance of accord among strangers, even in that exile called the workplace, where, possibly, the only thing its transitory occupants hold in common is a desire to be elsewhere. The acceptable range of stock phrases two office-mates have to broker across their Monday morning are perfectly calculated against the addition of insight into either’s true state of affairs. What would happen, though, if they were to cross the alien divide in a moment of truth?
In Small Talk for Monday Morning, a character’s response to the standard questions “How are you? How was your weekend?” is so preposterously inappropriate as to be comedic. Too much information escalates into more. The self-involved monologue ends with an abrupt realization that the speaker must acknowledge the other person in the room with a reciprocal inquiry. The response this time is as understated as the previous one was overblown, yet in a few words manages to lay a life bare.
Although I knew that both characters would probably be pegged as female—in part because I am female—I wanted to avoid referring to gender in order to leave space for greater identification or empathy from the reader. I still cherish my childhood mislabeling of Joan Miro, the (male) Spanish painter, as female; it was quite a productive mistake since, as one of the only “girl” painters I’d ever heard of, little Joanie (I pictured her as a small woman) was an early inspiration.
The description of The Movie is an homage to Isabella Rossellini’s “Green Porno” film series, in which she dons costumes representing various creatures in order to illustrate how they enact their reproductive rites; her approach is both funny and educational. You can see a sampling from her videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WtftQ7AbEw. It is also based on a natural history tape of leopard slugs mating—but I’ll leave it to you look that one up.
Carrie Cooperider is a visual artist and writer living in New York City. In addition to the Antioch Review, her work has appeared in Cabinet Magazine, New York Tyrant, Artishock, and The Southampton Review, among other publications.
© The Antioch Review 2016