The False Actor

This felled lemon, shriveled and yellow, will serve no purpose. As I hold it up to the others, a shadow falls behind me.

“I remember this.” He whispers.

I turn to face him, already tiring of his condescension. Does the asshole remember being a dick, I’d like to snap. “You have it?” I ask instead. The man pulls out a sealed manila envelope, and as I unravel its string I ignore his pallid stare, tugging at roots beneath my skin.

“What is this?” I mutter. I read it more than once, occasionally aloud, expecting to hear laughter at my own expense. He doesn’t bite.

By the time I finish, I’m livid. “I can’t submit this.” My teeth are throbbing from a clenched jaw but still he shrugs, uttering what he always utters. “I. Didn’t. Write it.” The words sound mechanical, so greased that I’m provoked. “Yes you did. You DID. Don’t think you can give me your shit for this long and then cut it off like this. Give me something serious.”

The man blushes as he draws a cigarette. “Such staggering vernacular, no wonder you’re concerned.” He gives a wink and takes a drag, vaguely assuming the role of asshole. I slap it from his mouth before he can take his second.

“You’re smoking on purpose!” I hear myself screech. The outburst grates him more than he expected. “Of course I am, buffoon! Didn’t you read the ending?!” The man, suddenly wrinkled, glances doggedly at my crumpled envelope before calming down. “But not for reasons you’ve assumed. Look man. If I were the author, choosing to deceive you with rehearsed facades so elaborate that I’m even now obligated to plant my right foot forward in ‘emphasis’…” and here he does plant his right foot forward, as if to prove the point, “in spite of this, how would I possibly puppeteer your reactions?”

I don’t reply, perhaps out of panic. Perhaps my mind is too befuddled to define the man standing here, who’s likely had an entire night to study what’s happening.

“Oh believe me, I used the entire night.” He’s clearly memorized it. “So let’s think through what else is possible. One, perhaps somebody is filling in our moments like a coloring book. Only it isn’t me, because I’d never suggest this dreadful ending, and in spite of the first person narration we both know it isn’t you.” He reaches beneath his pocket. “Something else then? A religious icon, avatar of the flash fiction cliché? Showing editors what fun they could have with atheists? I suppose it’s possible, but arbitrary behavior like that would leave us so hopelessly dispensable that I’d prefer to deny it altogether.” I see the glint of something fumbled, not another cigarette. He’s clearly nervous now.

“Or perhaps we’re simply toy soldiers on an assembly line, caught behind that half second marker of a recognizable now, yet just ahead of the reader’s next sentence.” He pauses, perhaps recalling the rest of his script, before continuing. “No I’m not. But to me, the real me, investing anything further into this sham of a discussion isn’t worth anything, not when I’ve by now realized that every syllable in every sentence in that damn envelope so far has come perfectly to my lips.” Pulling out his knife, he points it at me like a gun. “Sad to say, my conclusion is that accepting the scene is our only way to overcome it, but the responsibility now lies with you.”

At first I think I’ve offended him, and begin to apologize, but as he stutters on about breaking the binds that have us so well-behaved, I finally understand. And as we wrestle to the ground I become irate, at the idea that this man presumes that I would sacrifice MY life to prove a fiction that’s so blatantly, so irresponsibly fictional! I have no qualms about hoisting the blade away from his weaker grip, and sliding it almost effortlessly beneath his ribs.

What a hypocrite. What a coward, for coming at me in the first place. While waiting for his wheezing to subside, I skim the pages once more, slowing towards the last paragraph, to where my remaining chance to be spontaneous, to improvise for the sole purpose of putting into jeopardy this conclusion’s maddening finale, is finally fading. I scoff at its awkward addendum, tacked on third person drivel recommending that I acknowledge the reader, just because it hasn’t happened, or hasn’t happened yet. Disgusted but dignified, I walk back into my house, thinking at first of how to conceal the evidence, and then, as I shut the door, of how to ignore this story’s parting insistence that I will disappear once I leave the scene.

Break down the fourth wall, to break the pattern.