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August 21, 2020


Aaron Burch

“Why would you do that, question mark exclamation point.”

Kelly did that sometimes—she speech-to-texted so often that sometimes it slipped into her regular speech. Comma, period, lol, question mark. Open quote, unquote, when retelling a story about something stupid one of her coworkers or friends said.

“Interrobang,” I said.


“That’s the word for it, for the combination question mark-exclamation point.”

“You ate a ball of raw meat exclamation point.” This time she caught herself. “Oh, I did it again, didn’t I?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember that.” I didn’t remember eating any raw meat, a ball or otherwise. That didn’t sound like me. Well, actually, maybe it did? I wasn’t sure. “Also though: yeah, you did. You know I think it’s cute though.”

I started to wonder if it had to be question mark then exclamation point or vice versa, or if the order didn’t matter. I wanted to get out my phone and look it up, but it didn’t seem like the right time for that.

“And then you just pooped out a whole ball of raw meat!”

I didn’t remember that either, but the moment she said it, it sounded true. It sounded funny, like a joke, but it sounded weirdly true, too.

“And I had just posted that picture of us!”

“Oh? You did end up posting it?” She’d texted me the day before, asking if I thought she should post a picture of us and, if she did, did I have any good caption suggestions. I’d spent the rest of the day brainstorming for something extra clever or funny but never came up with anything good, and then forgot. “It’s like when someone tells you to say something funny, but it doesn’t work like that, you can’t just be funny on command.”

“What are you talking about?”

“How can I explain something I don’t remember doing?”

“Why are you like this?”

It was a valid question, although I wasn’t sure how to answer, because I wasn’t totally sure what she meant by this. It could be so many things. What if I tried to answer for the wrong this and that wasn’t what she’d meant but now we had to deal with that? Also, I suddenly realized, I think her question had been rhetorical anyway. One of the ways I was like was often answering rhetorical questions literally.

“It was a rhetorical question, Brian.”

“Right. I just realized that.” I must have looked like I was trying to remember or explain or figure something out. I looked like that sometimes. Sometimes because that is in fact what I was trying to do and other times because I just looked like that. I couldn’t help it. How can you stop doing something you don’t know you’re doing until after it’s done?

I got my phone out of my pocket and unlocked it but then forgot what I’d gotten it out for. I searched “interrobang” and it pulled up the definition and a bunch of images of exclamation points and question marks overlaid one atop another. By which I mean, it turns out, I pulled up a bunch of interrobangs. Then I remembered and clicked over to see what caption she’d ended up choosing.

“I don’t see the picture of us?” I said.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you. I deleted it. I had to. I deleted it off my phones, because even just looking at it reminded me.”

That seemed drastic, but whatever. And that was another things she did sometimes, adding an s where they weren’t needed, pluralizing the singular. What was that movie with Oscar Isaacs? Want to go to Taco Bells? I need to charge my phones. I used to try correcting her but she just thought I was being an asshole.

“Oh, right. Because of the meatball?”

Ball of meat! All caps raw meat!”

“Right, right. And the poop.”

“Don’t be gross, Brian.”

Why was I like this? I wondered. Except, in my brain, I thought it like, Why italics was unitalics I like this, like starting to talk with an accent when you’re around someone who talks with an accent for long enough, even though phones don’t do italics.

“I was wrong,” I said.

“It’s too late.”

“I’d thought interrobang was the word for the combination, like when they’re next to each other, one after another, but it’s a specific character unto itself.” I drew it in the air with my finger, making a point of not moving my finger sideways at all, trying to exaggerate that they were one atop the other not next to each other.

“What are you doing?”

“Phones probably don’t even recognize it anyway. It’s probably moot.”

I opened up a new text message and thumbed the microphone button. I said, “Question mark exclamation point interrobang.”

I watched for my phone to respond. It only took a second or two but felt longer. The anticipation! It felt exciting. I looked up and Kelly was gone. I didn’t know where, though I knew, somehow, it was forever. I looked back down at my phone. I was right! The screen showed, “?! interrobang” I hit send.