by Neal Suit
I’m fine, I say. It means I’m anything but fine. It’s the international exchange of complaint and pointlessness.
I’m fine. It’s fine. We’re all fine.
It’s the kindle of divorce. The exemplar of dismissiveness. It’s what we say when there is nothing to say. Or when we don’t want to talk.
No one has ever been fine. We’re all something. Happy. Sad. Jealous. Sleepy. Hungry. Disgusted. Surprised. Something. Even when we’re sleeping. Or daydreaming. Getting married. Having a baby. Attending a funeral. We’re never just fine. Fine implies an achieved equilibrium. An impossibility. We’re perpetually teetering, holding our breath, hoping the next step does not lead to the tumble we’ve spent all our lives fending off. We’re always moving toward something. Or retreating away from something. Surging or diving, living or dying.
Fine is a nonsense word. It’s jabberwocky. We might as well say we’re feeling gerblatz.
“How are you today, Mr. President?”
“That’s good to hear, Mr. President.”
“God, how do you feel about creating the world in seven days?”
“Pretty gerblatz, to be honest.”
Fine and gerblatz are equally helpful and descriptive. At least when you say gerblatz it makes you lift your tongue and fire the word from between your teeth. It’s more fun to shout. Run around the halls of your apartment or corridors of your home, screaming, “Gerblattttzz.” There’s a certain joy generated when it clatters against the walls and floor.
Gerblatz is much better than the mundane, tiresome, meaningless, fine. It doesn’t matter how you use it. Fine is only a word uttered by those hiding something or too uninspired to find an appropriate descriptor.
There is no way to use the word that imbues it with meaning or distinction.
“That meal was of fine quality.” It’s a useless adjective.
“How’s your horrible, excruciatingly bad breath?” “Oh, fine.” It’s equally futile to use it as an adverb.
“You were inappropriately petting that goat and you must pay a fine.” Nope. Even as a noun it fails.
There’s nothing pleasing about the word. It adds nothing, means even less. It conjures no emotion. It drifts into and out of use, carrying no gravity or import.
I’d rather feel gerblatz than fine any time.
When my wife came home, having worked a 10-hour shift at a department store selling anything that sparkled and gleamed—earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, and pendants—I asked her how she was doing.
She said fine.
I said no really how are you doing.
She said I told you I’m fine.
I tried explaining to her that fine was not helpful. I explained my theory about replacing fine with gerblatz. I expect she did not agree, but she expressed her point of view with only a stare.
I’m going to grab a bite to eat she said. Then I’m going to bed.
I responded by telling her I wanted to work on communication. It’s the key to a happy marriage. Everyone says so. I think we should ban the use of the word fine. Force ourselves to say what we really mean.
She replied by telling me she said what she really meant.
I reach out to touch her arm, hoping to feel the warmth of her skin. I want to drape my arms across her body, our legs intertwining. I would bury my nose in her hair and it would smell of lilacs and peppermint. She would giggle as my rough, coarse skin tickles her neck. But when I reach out, she has vanished, a shimmering ghost, infinitely just beyond my fingertips.
We go to bed with only a perfunctory goodnight exchanged.
We’re fine because we’re anything but fine. We always are.
Neal Suit is a recovering lawyer. He writes fiction and is completing his first novel. He has short stories published or forthcoming in Mystery Weekly, Boston Literary Magazine, and Fiction Kitchen. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his family and periodic writer’s block.