FAUX PAS • by Cameron Vanderwerf

At the party, there are some people you know well, some you know a little, and some you don’t know at all. It’s at the apartment of a friend’s coworker. You glom onto your acquaintances and linger by the snacks and drinks whenever you’re on your own.

At one point, through some positronic social transitioning, you find yourself in a conversation with three friendly strangers. You introduce yourself, and the four of you bounce spiritedly between topics of conversation. You’re three or four drinks deep by this point.

You find yourself recounting the funny thing that happened while you were dogsitting. The humorous incident occurred when you were out walking your neighbor’s chihuahua. By some fluke, the music dies while you recount the anecdote, and other conversations lull. Most of the room is listening to your story, which suddenly seems mildly entertaining at best. You try to keep up your energy in the telling. People appear to hover somewhere between curious and bored.

When it happens, you almost sense it, but not quite. It’s sometime around when you laughingly say, “I never even saw it coming!” There’s a tightening in the room. No one is smiling or feigning polite interest anymore. It’s not until you leave the party that you realize you somehow put your foot in your mouth. You replay all of your own words in your head, trying to find the offending clause, but you come up empty.

You go to bed and tell yourself it was nothing. You remind yourself that everyone does dumb things at parties, and no one else ever really cares or remembers.

A week later, something feels odd, and you realize that no one has contacted you since the night of the party. You’ve received no casual text messages or invitations. You think nothing of it at first. After all, people are so busy these days. But when the days of isolation stretch into weeks, it becomes clear that something is wrong.

At first, you send off a few nonchalant texts and e-mails to friends. If you reference the party at all, you do so in an oblique, offhanded way. The next few days only bring further radio silence.

Eventually, you call up your best friend on the phone. During the conversation, your friend gives uncharacteristically brief, clipped answers. Suddenly panicking, you ask about the party directly. “Did I do something wrong? Did I say something that might’ve gotten misconstrued?” Your friend makes a disgusted sound and hangs up.

Word spreads of your faux pas. Your boss asks you not to come in anymore. The postal service stops delivering your mail. The city shuts off your water and electricity. All of your social ties dissolve into ash. You languish in your dark, cold apartment. You tape cardboard over the windows so that gawking children cannot sneer at you and shame you for what you have done.

Every day and every night, you replay the fateful events of the party, picking apart your increasingly threadbare memory, trying to discern when exactly it was that you said the wrong thing. You consider making a loop out of your belt and wedging the loose end into the top of a closed door, because maybe in your final moments before death, the cause of your disgrace will become clear to you.

The next time you go outside, months have passed, or maybe years. You have subsisted solely on nutrients from dust mites and the coolant that leaks out of your broken AC unit. The outside world has become a blighted wasteland, razed by some disaster of which you know nothing.

You walk the apocalyptic landscape for a long time before you encounter another person. You don’t know who it is, but they seem to recognize you. They squint in your direction, and as soon as they make out the features of your face, they say “Oh god, it’s you” before rolling their eyes disdainfully and turning to walk in the opposite direction.

Cameron Vanderwerf is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Hollins University. His past work has appeared in Page and Spine, Literally Stories, Pilcrow and Dagger, and Fiction on the Web.

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