I’ve had some extremely weird rumors spread about me. Not recently, or at least not to my knowledge, but there was a time in middle school, in particular, when people actually came up to me to ask if they were true. Looking back, the rumor that I was a poorly behaved kid with dozens of detentions is not only laughable, but so benign that I can’t believe it bothered me as much as it did.
Which isn’t to say that rumors don’t have power; obviously they do. The stakes were low when I was 12 and the worst thing anybody could think to say about me was that I got a lot of detentions. I’m sure other people have said worse things about me now that I have 30 years of making friends and enemies with people, but I try—try—not to think about them.
The idea picks at me, though, that there’s a narrative about me that I can’t control, that somebody might have more say over the person I know myself to be than I do. Unfortunately, I just have to let it go, shrugging off the annoyance that I don’t get to tell my own story.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
(n.) from Latin calumnia—”false statement”
You don’t need swords to destroy someone. A strategic question will do, if you know who to ask and in what tone. Nobody can accuse you of a lie; you’re simply inquiring out of concern or curiosity, not malice. If others act on that question, that’s their doing, not yours.
It’s how she claws her way to the top of society, her words sweet as honey but bitter and venomous beneath. She is subtle, deadly, her words dissolving proposals, peace talks, promises, until one day someone inquires about her health in a whisper, and everyone begins to see the cracks.