The wrong ostracon

I don’t know what I did. You wouldn’t, though, and you’d never find out.

You wouldn’t see it coming. If you were paying close attention there might have been a day or two of people exchanging subtle eye-rolls when you walked in. A faint, wincing paranoia might have started to snag at you. But you wouldn’t be prepared. Nobody ever was. That might have been the point.

I thought perhaps not knowing might have been down to the amnesia. I wondered for a while if it might equally have been some sort of social blindness on my part, except that it wasn’t. There were others, victims and reluctant perpetrators, all equally ignorant. When we talked about it later we called it the Silence.

It was a sudden weaponised ostracism. You’d come in one day to find yourself invisible. People would look through you, talk over you, make plans in front of you and leave you out. If you tried to talk to someone they’d cut you dead or wait serenely till you were out of their path. Sometimes buses would leave without you.

There’s a special kind of haunted isolation that comes from being surrounded by people who won’t acknowledge your presence except to pointedly deny you attention. It’s not the sort of soft loneliness you can retreat from with a book, oh no. The Silence would follow you.

Reading or drawing or doing any other thing to keep yourself occupied would somehow turn up the freeze. They’d get louder, more animated, more affectionate toward each other, popping snacks into each others mouths or forming cross-legged conga lines of neck rubs. Without ever explicitly acknowledging your presence they’d work to ensure you knew you were being left out.

The icing on the cake was that when the Silence got turned on me I was stuck on a desert island with twenty of them and none of anybody else. And I still don’t know what I did.

It was apparent from the moment I woke up on that last day that it was my turn in the barrel. I was always late to breakfast, preferring to wait until everyone else was done, but it got packed up in front of me when I came to get some. Questions about the day’s plans went unacknowledged. People started conversations with one another if I persisted in trying to talk to them.

The second last conversation I had was with Obs. I was nominally friends with Obs. His mental health issues hadn’t become apparent yet but he was already as odd as a bottle of chips. At that point we hadn’t connected far beyond some shared interests: D&D, early Pink Floyd records and home marijuana cultivation.

Nobody else was usually interested in talking to him so I imagined that cutting me off would be a kind of social suicide. He did it anyway. It seemed so gutsy that I wasn’t even offended. “I can’t be friends with you anymore,” he told me. “How come?” I asked. “It’s not worth it,” he said. “I understand,” I said.

I didn’t.

I was wrong about it being a bad move though. He got suddenly – if temporarily – much more popular.

My very last conversation was with Bam. We were sixteen. We’d been close since we were nine. “I can’t keep talking to you,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “It’s just not worth it.” “I understand,” I said.

I didn’t.

Thankfully the next day involved a choppy three hour barge ride where nobody else had figured out the trick of sitting in the wheelhouse watching the horizon and eating gingernut biscuits with the pilot, so I was happy to be left out of the communal activities. Breakfast didn’t seem like such a missed opportunity either, viewed over.

The Silence lasted the duration of a number of very, very long bus trips then petered out over a few days once we were home. Obs and Bam drifted back to talking to me, teachers started addressing me directly again and everyone else went back to what passed for normal in Arcadia.

I watched poor Obs go through the same thing later that year. He quit school immediately to begin a steady career in full-time pot smoking.

I never found out what he was supposed to have done. You never did.

*Names are changed regularly to meet recycling targets