by Lorraine Allan
It was a crowded city street on a busy Saturday morning. Shoulders scraped shoulders, feet kicked the heels in front of them while others sped past the lackadaisical strollers. With my head down I bumped against one pedestrian and was pushed by another. I raised my head and watched a sea of eyes penetrating my forehead. My hand slapped across my temple. Those that were prying now looked away. Their faces blushed, no doubt ashamed they were caught glimpsing into my most personal secrets.
The crowd was filled with people trying to bore their eyes through my hand. But I wasn’t going to let them in. These are my thoughts, my mysteries, my ideas and I wasn’t ready to share. But still they stared. I pushed my way across the crowd; bodies collided as I went against the tide. A side street came into view and, with a few quick steps, I made it around the corner.
Small human clusters sauntered down the short alleyway. A few open doors, one led into a book store, another a ladies boutique. I took the last door where coffee beans wafted through, and the chairs held the odd patron. A small round table down the end lured me deep into the cafe.
With great care I searched my perimeter and saw no threat. Cautiously, I lowered my hand and exposed my forehead. No one turned their attention toward me and a low breath escaped my lips. From the side I saw someone approach. No need to send a message, my hand flew across my forehead.
She stopped at my table and raised her eyebrows. “Would you like to order, hon’?”
“Ah, yes. A double shot latte and a ham and cheese croissant. Thanks.” I stared at her as I felt the beads of sweat pop across my upper lip.
She looked at my hand. Here was another peeping Tom snooping through the open window of my mind.
Was there nowhere safe?
Lorraine Allan is an Australian writer. Her first novel is still in the polishing stages and in the meantime she has turned her hand to writing short stories.
by Troy Blackford
I’m the biggest YouTube star of all, though no one has seen my face. I’ve never appeared on any talk show, but you all know my name. Every time a teenager rides his bicycle off a second floor roof, or tries to jump a twelve-foot canal and doesn’t quite make it, I am there. Every time a dancing girl gets hit in the face with an unexpected basketball, or a man shatters a priceless relic on live TV, I’m in the background, laughing voicelessly. Every time a news anchor says “Officers fucked the man—cuffed, rather,” mine are the invisible fingers that twist their tongues.
I am the Fail.
I’ve been around as long as creatures have been attempting to exert their feeble wills. The cat who pretends, nonchalantly, that he didn’t really want to make it all the way onto the countertop. The bird who thinks a window is an open gateway. I take my thrills where they come.
My hands have always found business enough for them, long before the dawn of humankind. But things certainly got interesting, to say the least, ever since you folks started to wander the earth, upright and full of misplaced confidence. There almost hasn’t been enough of me to go around.
The larger the goals, the more spectacular the failures. And I have been right there, loving every minute of it. Every cannon that blew up in the shipmate’s face, every pair of scissors that found their way between the ribs of some overly anxious art teacher: that was me. I am the intersection of intention and limitation, the immovable object that blockades aspiration’s path with decisive finality.
‘Cruel,’ I have been called by some. And cruel I may be. But there’s a need for cruelty in this world, for why else should I take such pleasure in what I do?
Though I may seek sensation—along with satisfaction, its partner—I have never sought celebrity. Rather, it found me. I have not been alone, you see, in the mirth I take in the frailties of your kinsfolk. If anyone laughs louder than me at my successes, it is you yourselves. This mean little injustice has always given me disproportionate joy. As my toothless grin leers down at those afflicted by my hand, I can always count upon the laughter of crowds. Is it petty, to take such glee in bearing witness to so small a weakness? Then ‘petty’ is a label I shall have to live with.
Yet never in a hundred thousand years of taunting your kind, did I ever expect to dress myself in such glamorousness. It has been a rapid and not altogether ungratifying transition. However tawdry and unbecoming the fame now ascribed, I take pride in noting that it is not fleeting. My fans, I’m happy to report, are both consistent and rapacious.
The technological marvels that have enabled your species to befuddle itself to no end have also, to my surprise and lasting pleasure, made me the biggest thing going. If a drunk is about to teeter off a third-story parking garage parapet, it’s easier to record the schlub’s descent than it is to lend a helping hand. If a stage collapse is imminent at a heavily-attended concert, the odds that it isn’t being recorded by dozens of spectators are slim to none. What once I did solely for my own personal gratification is now performed for a virtual audience of millions.
My only problem is, as you might expect, a matter of scale. Where do I go from here? Don’t get me wrong: I take pride in what I do, and I enjoy it as much as I ever have. But when one starts to receive adulation from the masses, one always finds that mere blandishments cease being enough. One begins to crave accolades, recognition. And that is a profoundly difficult thing to come across in my line of work. I mean, people will laugh at a bicyclist who grinds his face into the asphalt when his handlebars come off in his sweaty fists, but they don’t exactly nominate the faulty bike for a Golden Globe.
So, I’m at a bit of a loss, here. I have plans: big, big plans. But I need to find the right outlet, the right marriage of subject and audience. That’s where the real money is.
I’m talking, of course, about Tragedy with a capital ‘T’. Failure is sweet, but the real star of our memories and our regrets is the Inescapable Tragedy, the Ineluctable Mass Atrocity. We enshrine such events, singing eternal, bleak paeans to them in marble. That’s the closest to an award I can hope to obtain.
So, yes. I’m working on a few things. But, in the meantime, doesn’t that gymnast practicing in her apartment look like she’s awfully close to landing on that scented candle burning away on her coffee table?
It’ll have to make do, at least while I put a few things together.
Troy Blackford is a writer living in the Twin Cities with my wife and two young sons. He has twenty-three published short stories—to be found in places like The Missing Slate, Inkspill Magazine, the Mulberry Fork Review, ‘Fireside Popsicles‘, and the Halloween-themed anthology A Shadow of Autumn—as well as an assortment of longer works available on Kindle and in paperback.