Sunday Stories: “It’s Hard to Say”

"It's Hard to Say"

It’s Hard to Say
by Claire Hopple

The fastest recorded escape from a straight jacket while underwater is 22.86 seconds. I’d like to say I still remember that from when you told me. When your voice became flatter and more hollow like it was trying to escape from its own straight jacket. But I had to look it up.

It’s noble you tried for that Guinness record for however many years and just got really close. Though I don’t know if or how you get over such a thing.

There’s definitely some hubbub at the block party across the street. A movie scene or perhaps more accurately a prescription drug commercial is developing. People are talking and laughing and loping across the lawn in full sun with an otherworldly ease. Their fluidity looks simple and pure. It seems like something I should be able to do. 

I’m playing back the last voicemail I have from you as a pathetic talisman for summoning the courage to make my way over there with all the neighbors.

“…People have pelted me with a power washer before and they probably will again…”

Ah, yes, this was part of your defense. A few of the neighbors I’m seeing over-gesticulate to one another at the block party right now had once accused you of some light arson, if you recall. Simply because you seemed capable. Well, that and you’d thrown all your valuables into the Sikorskys’ pool well before the flames reached your weeping cherry tree.

You had what could only be called a reputation. Once a few of us had learned about your traumatic brain injury from an accident that may or may not have been someone attempting to murder you, and that the injury had led to scientists studying you—well, we didn’t really know what to do with that.

Which was why when you started throwing food from your porch at some of the teenagers we just went along with it. You kept saying it was a food fight but the throwing was one-directional.

Even though you’ve been gone for two years, some neighborhood kids are still afraid of you. Nobody has ever been afraid of me.

You threw me off a bit too, at least initially. You emerged from your garage the first time I saw you wearing a tie covered in tiny Tabasco bottles beside a giant, unbridled mutt. I smirk when I think about your dog Bartles, how you rescued it from a sorority house and the girls had already named it after their favorite brand of wine cooler.

“…Don’t lie to me with any nonsense about a lawsuit because I already know you don’t think Justin is going to pass the bar exam…”

Your voice has a haughtiness that comes from living on this street the longest. Though that isn’t the case anymore, I guess.

You are somewhere in Minnesota right now. A woman has replaced you. Why she’s here doesn’t add up. But that is a different story.

Her first day in, she started a property line controversy. She didn’t appear to notice the death stares as she staked little neon flags where she thought they belonged.

I’ve always felt that I am too good for your friendship and also not good enough. Like, I can picture you sitting on my porch but I can’t imagine you on my couch. 

I’ve started pilfering from local lost and found boxes and making it into this whole project.

Recently, I’ve been labeling all the items with a label maker. Not labeling them what they are but who they belong to, and by that I mean whose face claims my mental real estate when I pick up an item or merely spot it from another side of the room. 

The Bob Ross Chia Pet I excavated from Claxton Elementary displays your name across the bridge of Bob’s nose. Who will commandeer the actual kitchen sink from the bus station is to be determined. They say “everything but the kitchen sink,” but let me tell you. I already told you. The things people leave behind.

The end of your message cuts in and out but I hear you mention something about my inability to endure eye contact and I swear you said the phrase “Pen Pals” but I might be making that part up. 

Are you still a window washer or did you trade out your life completely?

Okay, it’s pretty obvious I’m hiding from them. I am sitting and deciding what I’ve already decided. I’ve closed most of the blinds so they think I’m out, possibly at a different party.

This isn’t part of your message of course but I can hear you telling me there’s no reason to avoid them. You’d be saying, “It’s exactly like in the movies. It’s really as easy as it looks. It’s not only a matter of time—it’s a matter of space, too. And it’s not really something. It’s not really anything at all.”


Claire Hopple is the author of two story collections and a novella. Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Heavy Feather Review, Timber, and others. She’s just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at

Image source: Vitor Pinto/Unsplash

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