Stories No. 60 – Jonathan Cardew

How To Do Staring Contests With Strangers
By Jonathan Cardew

1.Apply eye drops before you do any of this. It is important to oil up your eyeballs for the extra workout they’re going to get today. It doesn’t make sense, I know, because they’re going to be stationary, remain fixed in your skull. But trust me, your eyes will hurt afterwards. Pain is a relative thing. Really relative.

2.Find a person in a crowded room or a train station or wherever you happen to end up. Doesn’t have to be anyone special. Fix them with your stare. If they look away, don’t be disheartened. They just need time. If they persist in looking away, get closer. From personal experience, getting too close freaks out strangers. The reasonable distance of ten feet does not.

3.Hold their gaze. Show no emotion. What really is emotion? Can you tie it up with a bow? Can you mail it via standard USPS delivery? No. I didn’t think so.

4.Aim for a mid-point on their face—the middle of the forehead, for instance. Hindus—you’ve got it made. Devout Muslims—trickier. Blind people—lose points. The partially sighted—without the benefit of an eye test, there is no sure way of saying how partially sighted they are. If they’re squinting, move on. If they’re smiling, look behind you. If they approach you, freeze.

5.Do not become emotionally involved. This includes romantically.

6.After the contest, record your feelings into a personal electronic device such as your cell phone. Do this away from the contest arena. Like your apartment. Drink a glass of wine, dip your feet into a bowl of warm water. Feel satisfaction in your success. Relive some of those moments. If you’re stuck for questions, ask yourself these: How did it feel knowing you weren’t going to look away? At which point did you realize that people—the human species—were not much more than two eyeballs stuck inside a head? Actually, did you realize that?

7.Make staring contests with strangers a priority going forward.


Jonathan Cardew is the Fiction Editor at Connotation Press. His stories, reviews, and interviews appear or are forthcoming in JMWW, Segue, Smokelong QuarterlyPeople Holding, Atticus Review, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He was a finalist in Best Small Fictions 2016 and received a Pushcart nomination for 2017. Jonathan and his family live sandwiched between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan.

Photo by Gessy Alvarez