Small Talk

Krys Malcolm Belc

We could talk about how easy television chefs make it look to strip thyme off the stems. It never comes off like that, in a neat pile, does it? I’m sure we can agree that laundry pods are a useless invention, that the world still needs magazines, that nobody’s feet look sexy in Birkenstocks. I’d like to discuss how the train tracks in this small town are not just for show; you used to be able to get somewhere from here. It should be easy, this kind of talking about nothing, but it is not so easy for me to meet anybody anymore. I’m afraid now. I see you trying to look through my clothes and I don’t mean in a good way. You and I are the kinds of people who should make small talk at the grocery store or the library, should nod when we pass each other with our strollers. But you will try to look through me, try to learn my insides, not whether my heart has four chambers or whether my capillaries can move the blood between arterioles and venules. They can. Italian biologist Marcello Malpighi first observed the capillary system, in a frog’s lung. He discovered several structural elements of kidneys; that blood clots differently in different areas of the heart; that invertebrates do not rely on their lungs to breathe. Let’s talk about him when we cross paths in Target, buying our children mittens because first snow came early this year; winter always seems to be coming in Michigan and yet parents never seem to be ready for it. Target is the same everywhere and I could be anybody in Target. In the 1600s, when Malpighi worked, it was easy to trailblaze, to conquer and map the human body. A man and a microscope, a yearning to know what is inside. You, too, want to know. You try to undress me but you can’t. You get to have clothes that are just clothes. A shirt with a crumpled collar. A tee shirt from your high school graduation. But mine are an elaborate covering: covering binders, covering curves, covering the poor posture of a lifetime of hiding. Shielding me from eyes that wander during small talk. You probably wish you were my neighbor. He has seen me naked dozens of times because I am not as careful as you think someone like me ought to be.  One evening after he got into an argument with my wife over pushing his gigantic lawnmower too close to our toddlers, he stood in his window watching us eat dinner. He was lit from behind like a Halloween decoration. He crossed his arms and watched me serve stew into five bowls and I could just see that he knew, knew everything underneath my sweats and my tee shirt. It is possible that Malpighi was not the first person to see red blood cells, that he was the second. But he saw a lot of things first. Is knowing what’s inside when it is already known to somebody else the same? The fluid, the rush, the noise of the body: dilation, contraction, a system working perfectly, moving as if by design, something worth talking about.

Krys Malcolm Belc’s chapbook of flash essays, In Transit, is forthcoming from The Cupboard Pamphlet. His work has been featured in The Adroit Journal, Brevity, Redivider, and elsewhere. Krys lives in Marquette, Michigan with his partner and three sons. He is an MFA student at Northern Michigan University and Managing Editor of Passages North. You can find him on twitter @krysmalcolmbelc.