The Reaction

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The excitement’s in my eyes as I say, “You have to see this.” I steer you to the phone or the computer where the video begins to play. I hide the title, of course. Why would I want to ruin the surprise? The video starts. All the while I am silent. If the video is funny, I am ready with my self-control to hold back laughter. Maybe you laugh, maybe not. Maybe the video is serious, and the self-control is not required for something humorous, but shocking instead.

The video ends. The air is thick with expectation. There’s a sticky silence that might as well be filled with, “Well, did you like it?”

But I say nothing. In fact, I’m holding my breath. Perhaps you are, too. And then the crucial moment, when you realize your time has come, that your reaction cannot be delayed any longer. Your opinion is demanded. You can hear your heart beat in your neck. Prickly drops of sweat tickle your forehead. My eyes are piercing, looking right at you, seeing through politeness, demanding the truth on pain of death, if the criticism is indeed that harsh. The lights dim; the room gets hot. The static buzz of electricity –