“Likable” by Deb Olin Unferth is from NOON ’s treasury of stories, traditions, legends, humor and wisdom from 2000 through 2016.
—Diane Williams, editor
She could see she was becoming a thoroughly unlikable person. Each time she opened her mouth she said something ugly, and whoever was nearby liked her a little less. These could be strangers, these could be people she loved, or people she knew only slightly whom she had hoped would one day be her friends. Even if she didn’t say anything, even if all she did is seem a certain way, have a look on her face, or make a soft sound of reaction, it was always unlikable—except in the few cases when she fixed herself on being likable for the next four seconds (more than that was impossible), and sometimes that worked, but not always.
Why couldn’t she be more likable? What was the problem? Did she just not enjoy the world anymore? Had the world gotten away from her? Had the world gotten worse? (Maybe, probably not. Or probably in some ways but not in the ways that were making her not like it.) Did she not like herself? (Well, of course she didn’t, but there was nothing new in that.)
Or had she become less likable simply by growing older—so that she might be doing the same thing she had always done, but because she was now forty-one, not twenty, it had become unlikable because any woman doing something at forty-one is more unlikable than a woman doing it at twenty? And does she sense this? Does she know she is intrinsically less likable, and instead of resisting, does she lean into it, as into a cold wind? Maybe (likely) she used to resist, but now she sees the futility, so each morning when she opens her mouth she is unlikable, proudly so, and each evening before sleep she is unlikable, and each day it goes on this way, she getting more unlikable by the hour, until one morning she will be so unlikable, inconveniently unlikable, that she will have to be shoved into a hole and left there.