Humans are inference engines. Give us a fact or two, a little context, and we fill in the rest. For example, this haiku, taken from a police report out of some newspaper:
Yet another dent.
On the windshield, a small note.
The paper is blank.
From “”windshield,” you infer a car. From “dent” and “note,” you infer that another car collided with the car while it lay parked, unattended. From “blank paper,” you infer a sniveling bastard of a driver who left a blank note on the wounded car to give the appearance of responsibility.
And he would only do this, you infer, if there were onlookers that he wanted to send away, satisfied that he’d left contact information on the car. Only he hadn’t.
As my regulars know — and who else reads this blog — I write 17-syllable haiku taken from crime items in small-town newspapers. A story told in 17 syllables is going to be 75 percent inference — at least.
People like to build a story from the inferences I prompt them to make. I see a glint of satisfaction in their eyes after they reflect on the haiku for a bit, and ‘get it.’ With luck, what they ‘get’ is what I intended them to.
In some sense, existence is a giant haiku: an endless reality about which you can obtain only certain facts. And from them you infer the rest, or try to.
Jack and Diane live a couple of houses down the block from us; they moved in 25 years ago, just after we did. We’ve never been close to one another. Rhumba and I are flighty and touchy, while Jack and Diane are somber and stand-offish to a fault. The day they moved in I walked over to say hello and offer help. Nobody would speak to me. It was as if they didn’t know what to say.
Jack is a engineer and as the young people would say, “he’s on the spectrum.” Doesn’t play well with others, never starts a conversation and sometimes doesn’t finish them either. Diane is no-nonsense with flinty eyes. We used to talk some; now she just flashes a grimace.
They raised two attractive, bubbly girls. Eventually, both turned as tactiturn as their parents.
Jack went over the hill to work every day in his Hondota, and Diane had the minivan and, after awhile, mainly stayed home. The minivan went in and out on errands all day. Their garage could just about fit both cars if each parked as far to left or right as possible.
And that’s about all that we saw of them. The cars came and went each day. Diane’s minivan would take the kids off to school, and then come home again. Jack’s come home around six or seven.
Eventually Jack got a job at Google, with even longer hours than before. He bought a bigger and better Hondota. And their cars continued to come and go as they had for decades. Until the day that Jack’s failed come back. And it didn’t come back the next day or the day after.
Weeks rolled by. We noticed that Diane was parking her minivan in the middle of their garage instead of to one side. Od mattresses and boxes accumulated against each wall. In no time at all, the two-car garage became a one-car garage.
One evening, Jack’s car pulled up — but not into the garage. Jack walked to the door with a sheaf of file folders under one arm. A while later, Jack’s car had gone again.
A couple of weeks later, it appeared for us one more time: waiting outside Jack’s old house again. Jack was not at the wheel; we assumed him to be inside, with more folders. A glossy, handsome woman waited in the passenger seat, idly flicking a finger across her smartphone. Blonde ringlets spilled over the shoulders of a velvet jacket.
A few evenings ago around 7, Diane stood in front of her house: coiffed to impress and dressed to kill. She straightened her purse and peered down the street. Waiting.