Day three of Flash Fiction Pride Month, and here is my third bit of flash. This one is on the long side of the range, I suppose, coming in now at around 900 words. Still, it’s that sudden flash feeling. At least, I hope so. Enjoy.
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A crack in everything (July 3)
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Dinner with my sister Alice always involves a drink. Or drinks. It helps us get through the occasion.
So, tonight I’ve got single-malt scotch in my hand, not sure what brand, but positive that I couldn’t afford to buy it. I sit on the sofa and watch her with her friends: lawyers, stock brokers, marketers, a mid-level bank officer or two. To me, they are just names and faces from another dinner.
When I take my leave for a few moments to use the facilities, I notice that the bathroom mirror remains cracked. This surprises me. The mirror has been broken for over six months. That it remains broken doesn’t fit with Alice’s tidy life and nearly obsessive neatness. Any nick or dent in anything, and it’s trashed or replaced.
I sometimes worry that she will replace me. Or, given that adopting a middle-aged brother in your own middle-age might not be realistic, perhaps my worry is more that she will trash me. I mean more than with words, something she does often and with relish. I mean literally throw me out in a trash heap.
Some of my nicks and dents show. Small scars, bags under my eyes, wrinkles, graying hair, a deep weariness that drags me into torpor. Everyone can see it in me. Here’s Uncle Joe, he’s a’movin’ kinda slow, at the junction…
Most of the imperfections do not surface, but hide deep. Alice doesn’t mind shining a light on them, though. When she’s had two drinks, she starts, for anyone who will listen in this crowd or among family, all of whom, other than me, were not invited to this particular event. When she’s had four, she slows down and becomes more interested in her guests, especially the wealthier and more good-looking among them—either men or women, machs nix.
She is on her third drink. I am on my second. I hear her in the other room as I creak my way up the hall, returning from the bathroom.
“His second so-called book of poems? Do you know how many sold? Not even fifty. Why does he persist? There’s no profit in it.”
I see heads nodding assent as I enter; an only slightly embarrassed hush falls over her audience as they sense my presence. They pointedly look away from me.
Alice carefully arranges everything from cocktails to dessert. At dinner she has set me down between two unmarried women—a divorced social-media marketer (whatever that is) named Janet and another woman, Yvonne, whom I recall from another Alice dinner party expressing a vague interest in writing.
By the time dessert comes, Yvonne has turned to the man on her left. She prefers novels, apparently, preferably thrillers or romances. Presumably her taste in writers follows suit, that is, not my suit, which is a bit threadbare compared to the rest of this crowd.
Janet has hung in with me, explaining social media, engagement, conversion, search-engine optimization. The English language seems full of words that I thought I knew the meaning of, but which apparently have taken an online turn that I didn’t follow.
“What you need to do,” she holds forth, “is market yourself. Make you and your poetry into a brand. You need to define your mission, tell your story, sell yourself.”
“You mean like a movie star?” I ask politely.
“Exactly. Or a best-selling author. It’s all about projecting personality. You have to build followers, have people friend you, and post interesting things. That’s what will convert to book sales.”
“I write poetry,” I say, and wonder when friend replaced befriend as a verb.
“Well then, define your audience. Probably other people who write poetry. Who else buys poetry books?”
“Readers of poetry?”
“Nobody reads poetry. Do you have an eBook I could download?”
I shake my head. I know about eBooks, at least, but I can’t help thinking that they’re several steps below a B-movie. I mean, there is no E grade. The scale goes from D to F, totally skipping E. Would making an eBook put my work in ungraded limbo? E for effort, though, that’s in the lexicon.
I don’t say these things to Janet.
“An eBook’s cheap. People buy them. You can have it converted into an app. My client wrote a self-help book about succeeding in the stock market. He turned it into an eBook and an app. Once you enter your portfolio, the app gives updated stock reports and net worth, buy and sell recommendations, research articles. He’s a broker and knows the stock game. He gave his clients a coupon—buy the app, get the eBook. He makes almost as much money selling the app as he does as a broker.”
“No. But I’m a marketer, it’s what I’m supposed to say.”
I realize now that she’s had enough to drink.
“Want some coffee? Or perhaps you’d prefer a nightcap at my place?” I ask casually.
She looks at me. My nicks and dents are probably out of focus. She gives me a little smile.
Alice frowns at me as Janet and I slip toward the door while she’s serving coffee. I smile back at her.
Sometimes, I’m like a cracked mirror reflecting her own image back at Alice. Usually, this is on her fifth or sixth drink. There is a crack in everything, I realize fleetingly, as Janet and I exit.