prompt: still, title: still life with caramels in "the next big thing" flash fiction

  • Feb. 29, 2024, 1:22 a.m.
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“What left you so cynical, anyway? What broke your heart so terribly that The Curse collapsed, revealing the floorboards underneath the glamour?” Frank considered. “You’re alive, you aren’t starving. You didn’t live your dreams, but that’s nearly everyone. Why would you be different?”

There are seven thousand things I could’ve said (and maybe I did) I’d never put down on a page, for my privacy’s or paranoia’s sake, but eventually we worked back to the question I’ve wrestled with ever since I left Los Angeles, at least as a permanent resident.

“Is it better to be a failure or a monster?” “It’s not such a simple binary.” “What if, just for me, it was?” “Was what?” “A choice between unremarked nobody and someone famous, admittedly as part of exploitative ecosystems enabling atrocities, even if I myself was only marginally-scum?”

Frank paused. “No question in my culture,” he corrected, “what my culture was. We’d rather not hurt others.” “Okay,” I looked toward my hands, as if I were dreaming and I could’ve controlled everything by glancing down, “that’s fine, I’m sincerely glad your people were better than mine. But your life’s study is humanity,” I looked in his eyes, “in this culture, this one that created me, is the answer the same?” “Well,” Frank strained for any words other than just no, “no, but still.”

“I’m not saying your answer is wrong but I’ve been soaking up American Humanity since birth. Everything it ever sold me says it’s better to be a monster than nobody.” Looking down granted no control at all. “Awful as it is, the idea’s gonna stick in me until the day I die. Maybe longer.”

“Still,” Frank repeated.

“I shook hands with the devil, y’know,” I admitted, “not the magic one, a real one up on Earth. I delivered candies to Harvey Weinstein, the famous Hollywood rapist, once and we shook hands. There were whispers about him even then, sure, but some idiotic errand-boy doesn’t think about whispers when brushing against Major Influence. Christ help me, Frank, I was starstruck. In that moment, even though it was someone else’s transaction, the notion did dance through my brains that this was a man who could grant anyone The Muppet Movie’s “Standard Rich-And-Famous Contract”. I didn’t know his horrors then, just my own possibility. But I do now and it kills me.”

As of these writings, he rots away for his terrible crimes in a prison an hour from my Adirondack home but who knows, he was so powerful, he could still die free on technicalities. And here I am, fifty miles away as a crow flies, a failure who knows the devil’s favorite candies. And as of these writings, I’m still so ashamed of myself for my momentary starstruck greed. But living in a land where a rich man with even worse sins than his was made President, there is still that part of me screaming how there’s nothing noble about failure, and how monsters are never-ever forgotten.

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