This Great Society - Contents


This Great Society


Illustration: Mindy Heins

"How To Say I Love You" Short Story by Joel Bentley
Illustration: Mindy Heins

Meet her at a party. Show up late, exhausted. Search the house for the one person you know. He is nowhere to be found. Find beer. Sip it nonchalantly. When a girl with dove eyes and caffeine hair strikes up a conversation with you, mumble through it. She will wax poetic on toy cars and Dave Eggers. Fall for her immediately. Forget her name and be too embarrassed to ask. Leave early.

Kick yourself.

See your friend the next day, the one who was supposed to meet you at the party. He will not know her name either, but will find out for you. Thank him. He is your new best friend.

Wait impatiently.

Later that night he will give you her name, and this: she will be at the show on Thursday. Thank him profusely.

Cancel plans with your mother. Fret for days over what to wear. After changing your mind four times, settle on your Of Montreal t-shirt.

Drink one beer for courage, another for amusement. Go to the show.

The band will be playing when you arrive. See the crescent of her face on the far side of the club, dark and vibrant. Move in her direction. Say hi, leaving a blank where her name should be. She will offer her hand, her name, and a wry smile. Smile back. Try to think of something funny to say. Instead ask, “How are you?” twice in the span of a minute. Fall silent. Speak a total of 54 words throughout the rest of the show. When she turns to leave, ask her if she wants to hang out sometime. Feel the room shrink and your chest expand. Watch her lips curl down to the left as she says, “Sure.” Forget to ask for her number. Leave rueful and elated.

Stalk her on Facebook. Restrain yourself to the first three pages of her photos. Tell yourself you will not message her. Flip through the fourth page of photos. Message her.


Think about her constantly at work. Fail to conjure the image of her face. Focus on individual parts: her eyes, her wry smile.

Grow impatient. Message her again.

She will message you the next day. Her message will begin by saying, “Oh hey,” and go on to describe a café on Main.

Meet for brunch. Tell her your best story, the one about the lost dog and all those puddles. When she smiles feel it like warm water in your arms. She will reciprocate with her own story about friends who raised their cats like children, making them sit up straight at the dinner table. Agree to meet again.

Take her to the gallery. Rally sly remarks about the inaccessible art. Suppress laughter at the security guard who looks exactly like a Chinese Tommy Lee Jones. Her eyes will fill with water and joy.

Take her home. Apologize for the mess. When she shrugs, feel an unreasonable amount of gratitude. Make her tea. Think about kissing her. Tell yourself you will be spontaneous, though you have planned this night and hoped for this moment. Talk about nothing. When there is a pause in conversation, tell yourself you will not let it get awkward. Sit silently, unmoving, for two whole minutes. It will be awkward. Take a breath. Touch her hair. Meet her inviting lips.

When she says she should head home, kiss her again. When she says she really needs to go, change the topic. Twice. She will delve into another long-winded story. Spend far too long saying goodnight.

Call her the next day. Take her to the park, the cinema, the bistro on 4th. Feel like you are smiling all the time, although you know this cannot be true. What you feel is the sensation of a smile.

Think about the future in frightening detail. Camping trips to the coast. Literature-themed dates. Co-hosted potlucks. Though you know you shouldn’t, make comparisons with exes. On the list, her pros will outweigh all other cons. Come to an unforeseen conclusion. Feel a stirring deep in your chest, like baby rabbits nibbling on grass. You are in love.

Allow this realization to sink in over the following week. Make a plan to tell her. Prepare. Set a date, an hour, a moment. Realize you are being too precise and deliberate. Scrap the plan.

When she invites you over to her apartment, bring flowers. No carnations. She will smile and place them in a makeshift vase: a water bottle. Make tacos together. Eat too much, watch TV, make out. Think about saying it. Feel the words get stuck in your throat, blocked by an invisible plug. It is harder than you first expected.

When she falls asleep, wander around her apartment, noticing little details that weren’t there before. Before there was only her, now there are photos, candles, side tables. Say “I love you” to her side table, as a warm up. Say “I love you” to her bookshelf. You really do love her bookshelf. Wander into the kitchen. Say “I love you” to the cutlery, the plates, the spatula. When her cat emerges, circling figure-eights around your legs, say it again.

Slide back in beside her on the couch. Feel her breathing, the soft rhythm of sleep. Say “I love you” in a whisper. She will rustle at the sound, turning to face you with her clear, dark eyes.

Pronounce it clearly, just like you practiced. When there is no other sound in the room, let the words emerge like honey.


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