No Surprises, Please

By Matthew Stone

“Where does this comma come from,” she shouts, smacking the desk. “You didn’t proofread it at all. Fuck this. Fuck you.” A little upset shall we say? I don’t know who she’s talking to on the other end of the phone. Maybe it’s a group assignment. They often bring out altruism and goodwill in people.

I wouldn’t consider myself the sort of person to start a screaming match in the library over sentence structure, but we each have our baggage to deal with. Grammar certainly is a point of contention from time to time. However, I never expected such elevated emotional tensions might stem from one’s stance on the Oxford Comma; yea or nay?

Smacks the desk again, louder this time. “I trusted you,” she hisses down the phone. “This was important. I’m not smart. I’m not pretty. I don’t know where the fuck I’m going.” One or two people sheepishly steal a glance at her, but quickly resume whatever they’re doing on their computers. Nobody approaches. Nobody helps. No gentle pat on the back; “it’s not your fault, man. We’ll get through this comma thing together. I’m a literature major and everything, you’re in good hands.”

Then again, I don’t say anything either. Why is that? I just sit and keep on doing my thing like the rest, Radiohead playing on the side.

No alarms and no surprises, please. Handshake of carbon monoxide. I’m pretty good with a comma. I even used a semi-colon up there.

This isn’t really that kind of world though, is it? People will be scared of that sort of warmth. Possibly they have been burned before, and we shouldn’t judge that. These sorts of scars are a private thing after all.

Must we condemn sadness and confusion to a private arena too? Can’t we just go up and try to help somebody who needs it? Are we stuck at an impasse here? Is there no context where a stranger can extend a hand of solidarity and say, “Hey, commas aren’t all that, bro? Maybe it was a run-on sentence anyway. Let’s just chop it off altogether. We don’t need it.”

No surprises, please. A sound that could be a sigh, or a whimper, or whatever else, who knows? I look up but she’s already stood up, walking away. I don’t go after her. I doubt anybody else will either.

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