“You just don’t know how to accept individual differences.”
“I’ve never tried to fit into your clothes.”
“You don’t respect individual choice!”
“I didn’t realise that was obligatory.”
Whatever Grace would say Max would think of a quip, moving laterally to avoid a direct hit. As he (almost) unconsciously ground out his comebacks his face never reflected a great deal of mirth. At this point in time he looked drawn after a long argument and the shallow grin that automatically accompanied the one-liners quickly gave way to a grave expression.
“I’m sorry. I know I always avoid dealing with it. But I don’t really know what it is.”
“There isn’t an ‘it’”, Grace replied, momentarily softening with his frank admission of failure, “Relationships need work and commitment. I’m not looking for you to resolve things for us. This isn’t something I’m asking you to fix. It’s always going to need worked on and discussed.”
Max often felt that men were weak when it came to dealing with a lot of things. As he slunk off under Grace’s accusing stare, a stare always adopted to admonish him when he retreated from an argument, he felt pathetic. He looked into the mirror at his thin face. Overly large black eyebrows jostled for attention to form a simultaneously ironic and hapless expression. Max decided he must definitely spend time reading the book he had borrowed from the library earlier that day, Brainwashing.
The term ‘brainwashing’, Max learnt over breakfast, was first used after the Korean War as a reaction to the apparent conversion of US prisoners of war to communism. Although the term has often been used carelessly in crass political or journalistic fields it is still thought to refer to a specific and important social and psychological phenomenon. Max had the book placed open face down on the breakfast table to conceal the cover from Grace. This meant the book was at an awkward angle and as he strained to look at it while eating his cereal he pulled a muscle at the back of his neck. He straightened up with a wince.
Now Max idly flicked through the pages as Grace came in to the kitchen. To his surprise he spotted a note written at the back of the book. It said, “You did not read this of your own free will”. Max looked nervously up at Grace, she gave him a large fake smile.