It was not her fault. No, it was really not her fault at all. She had tried to correct the problem but to no avail. She knew the thought balloon was always hovering just above her head, even when she was certain she had no thoughts to offer on a given subject.
People never looked at her face. Her friends complained that men, and sometimes women, looked at their breasts instead of their faces, while engaging in even the most serious conversation. If only that were the problem, she could solve it with a harsh word, or some less than subtle body language. But, no. Everyone stared just above her head and never at her exceptionally large creamy brown eyes that fit so nicely in the face she was told was quite easy to look at.
She had confessed to a few friends that she knew about the thought bubble. And, yes, it looked exactly like the bubble that allowed cartoon readers to get the complete story in just a few frames. There was a thin black line that circled the words and came together into one line that pointed to the top of her head. The contents were always unconsidered, unrevised, unsweetened, and unredacted. In fact, once they had been seen, they could not be unseen, and would likely be remembered forever. Her kinder friends tried to ignore the problem and talked about her unfortunate lack of filters. But sometimes she could hear a sudden intake of breath before they turned abruptly to walk away, muttering something about now seeing what she really thought.
Occasionally, the line around the words formed itself into a heart. That was almost the most embarrassing thing that could happen. Well, no, it was actually worse when there were no words in the circle. Just sounds. “Baaaaaaa”. “Yuuuuuuuck”. “Eeeyouuuu”. “Uuuuuuuugh”. That always put an immediate stop to the conversation.
She was lonely.
She entertained many ideas about how she might solve the problem. She bought an exceptionally tall hat at a costume store and learned to balance it on her head. It worked briefly but soon enough the bubble began to bulge up the top of the hat. Someone exclaimed that her head appeared to be about to explode. And people were still not looking at her face.
She tried wearing her hair in an extravagantly high do from the sixties. People thought she had taken retro-style too far. Eventually, the black line began to work its way out of the hairdo, twisted and stiff with hairspray. She hoped the words would stay lost in the colossal chaos of hair but they finally escaped, as well. Although they bounced around in the wrong order, the sarcasm was still obvious and impossible to ignore.
She tried taking sleeping pills during the day, although they made her wander around in a sort of trance. She hoped her thoughts would be so slow to form that she could replace them before they appeared in the bubble. Her friends began to think she was taking heavy drugs and conspired to create an intervention. Once she even ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. She pleaded with the doctor, “Just let me go home. There’s nothing really wrong. I’m just sarcastic, acerbic, and cynical.”
One doctor even suggested that a new procedure had been developed to replace the broken filters in her head. It involved something the size of a memory card being inserted in just the right place. Of course, it was tricky and did not often work quite as intended. Sometimes it filtered out the good thoughts instead of the offensive ones. There had been lawsuits.
One day, when she was so frustrated, she was thinking about moving to a sparsely inhabited island, or the middle of an unpopulated desert, a new possibility began to form. There must be a way to simply obstruct the view of the bubble.
She called the few friends who were still loyal and told them she would be meeting with them in the park near her house later that day. When the time arrived, she climbed a magnificently expansive tree and lodged herself as near the top as she could climb, making sure her head was poking high into a part that was thick with leaves. She would have to shout to be heard below but, mostly likely, the bubble would be obscured by the leaves.
And it worked. For the first time in ever so long she was able to have a normal conversation and say the kind of nice socially acceptable things people expected to hear. The chat rolled along comfortably, lasting for a reasonable amount of time. There was laughter. No one huffed away. But, as the sun began to slip away, they all went home to dinner, or set off in twos for the pub.
She was not sure how to make the transition from being the nice person in the tree to being the insufferable person on the ground. It was dark in the top of the tree where the streetlight did not penetrate, and she had not worn a jacket against the evening chill. Her tummy was grouchy about the lack of dinner. Still, she was unable to give up the feeling of triumph her plan had brought. And she was less secure about descending the tree safely than she had been on her exuberant climb up a few hours earlier.
The two policemen were shouting up into the tree that she should come down immediately “Lady, what are you doing up there? People have complained. Children are frightened. Come down now, or we’ll bring you down!”
She was too terrified to speak. Her mouth hung open waiting for words to make their way out but none came. She just stared at them with her eyes wide, as their angry language surrounded her. One of them climbed up far enough to tug, not too gently, on her dangling feet.
As she eased down huge gloved hands grabbed her waist and passed her to the man on the ground, who immediately threw her on the wet grass and roughly restrained her, rudely knocking her head on the ground. As they pulled her upright, she could already feel a painful bump rising on her forehead, budding into the size of a small fruit. She felt a bit wobbly. They walked her, dragged her, tossed her into the car and sped away blaring the sirens that were intended for actual criminals. Once again, they had made the world safe.
She sat in a hard plastic chair in an interview room, finally having calmed herself enough to formulate credible answers to their questions. They would be able to see her real thoughts in the bubble, so she would have to convince them that she had no idea what they were seeing. Maybe she could do this. There had been plenty of practice in the past.
The man sat across from her using a most intimidating and authoritative voice to imply that she was in the tree with the intention of jumping down and harming the people below. Perhaps murdering old men. Perhaps robbing. Perhaps stealing children, or dogs.
There was nothing left to do but plead. She assembled her most compelling and captivating face and fixed her brown eyes on his. Then she saw it. He was looking into her eyes with an intensity matching her own. Not looking down. Not looking above her head. As she gingerly touched the knot on her forehead, she thought he might never know what she was really thinking about him.
He was actually just looking into her eyes.