“You are too kind.” She said it so automatically that he hated the words in her mouth. How could he . . . how could anyone be too kind? Just a platitude, something she said when thank you would suffice.
She had said it as he let her precede him through the electronic door at Target—an automatic response for him now that you couldn’t even open a door for a woman. It opened before he got there, and still she said, “You are too kind.”
“I am not,” he said loud enough to make her draw her shoulders up and avoid his gaze as she got her cart. Good, he thought. She knows it now. I’m not too kind.
It happened again the next day, on their walk around the lake. One glove slipped out of her hands as she was tugging on the other, he picked it up, handed it to her. “You are too kind,” she said, but didn’t look at him this time or flinch when he shouted, “A goddamned thank you would be enough.” He had the feeling that she was smiling, not out of kindness but from some sort of perverse pleasure she got from saying words she knew grated on him like no other. Killing him with kindness.
That was it. She was doing it on purpose to get the rise out of him, kindle his inappropriate surge of anger. Mocking him when in fact he was being kind, letting her precede him through a door, retrieving her glove, holding a chair for her. He was being kind, damn it, and she was taunting him for it.
Or was she?
Perhaps she too was being kind, but had only that one hackneyed phrase to express it. He was almost hyperventilating as these thoughts surged. Who was right, damn it? Could it be she—or them both?
He stumbled after her, through an automatic revolving door, the confusion swirling in his head, convinced she had started something she couldn’t finish, when he realized he was going around the circle with the door for a second time while she stood smiling and waiting patiently inside the building as he stumbled past again.
The third time he put out his hand, and she took it, pulled him out of the door that moved on its own, too fast, saved him from the muddle in his head, dragged him to safety so that he couldn’t help but mutter,
“You are too kind.”
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran