I was mean the other day and I got my comeuppance. I just thought I’d get this in early, in case you thought this was a post about reptiles.
It happened at a service station. Not a very promising place for a story, I know, but it happened there all the same. I was queuing at the hot food counter, trying to decide whether the chicken tikka masala or the pie and chips looked less unappetising, when I became aware that the couple in front of me were having a bit of a tiff.
The gist of it was that she (white, American, very cross) had to work tomorrow; why did they have to come to this service station and wait in line? Couldn’t they go somewhere else instead? Or even better, couldn’t he just wait until they got home and make himself something to eat there?
He (Asian descent, very British, embarrassed about making a scene) didn’t say a lot, just huffed and puffed and fixed his gaze on the steaming stainless steel containers in a way that suggested he wasn’t going anywhere until he’d availed himself of his fair share of their contents.
Call me a child, but there’s something about watching other people lose their tempers that’s always made me giggle. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been known to fall victim to the red mist myself from time to time, so I find it reassuring to see someone else behaving like a bit of a git.
This time around, though, the thing that tipped me into comedic schadenfreude was the mother dimension. Because throughout the exchange, the mum of Hungry Chap was twittering feebly at his side, too nervous to intervene but desperate to comfort her poor, henpecked son. This she did by stroking his arm, looking anxiously up at him whenever the girlfriend made another verbal thrust to assess the damage and adjust the speed of the palliative arm-stroking as necessary.
Sadly for American Girlfriend, the queue moved slowly, so I enjoyed the spectacle in a thoroughly unkind way for the ten minutes or so it took them to be served. I was still smiling meanly to myself as I carried my tray over to a table; still smiling as I took my seat; still smiling as I placed my cutlery on the table top. Then I lifted my plate from the tray, catching its plastic cover on the saucer of my teacup and spilling scalding green tea all over my lap.
After the blisters had healed, I thought I should take some time to reflect on this experience. I wondered: what would happen if the concept of karma extended to the things you wrote? What if by writing about terrible events or emotions – betrayal or hatred or murder – you were somehow adding to the sum of negative energy in the world? What if the afflictions you imposed on your characters were revisited on you?
It’s a bit problematic, this. How can you write a murder mystery without a murder? Or a crime thriller without a crime? How can you even write a romance without misunderstandings along the way? Simon met Helen and they got on really well and got married and had two lovely, well-behaved children just isn’t the kind of tale to get the blood racing.
In the end I concluded that it was impossible to avoid putting my characters through the emotional wringer. Anything else is ridiculous, right?
But just to be on the safe side, I’ll be ordering cold drinks from here on in.