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"Super sorry, buddy" by Catherine O’Brien

The lure of the footlights drew him here and taught him to befriend himself. The gently sloping stairway to stardom kept him here. Adulation mushroomed to occlude other concerns. The chorale of their reverence and their waterlogged eyes when he gave his all sustained him. Here he knows where he is. He desperately dreads when the curtain falls and he begins to end. 

He has his father’s eyes with their eyelashes imitating dragon wings but none of his sticky but sugarless words. Robert has been described as a fine specimen of a man and an accomplished actor. He likes these compliments but finds it hard to believe they bear any proximity to the truth. He also likes performing comedies as they feed you nothing but leave you feeling full. 

Robert has never suffered from stage fright but he has been frequented by a phenomenon he knows as throat scratching. It is triggered by direct engagement, in particular eye contact, with his audiences. He is fine when they are a morass of blurry faces but if he locks eyes with a beautiful stranger the itching begins and doesn’t tend to end. He often curses what he perceives as God’s negligence in choosing to forego a small inlet so tears don’t streak your cheeks. 

Sometimes he spirals into thought for days on end. He wonders how his father left, if he looked back, and if so, how many times. How many times would be enough? It’s been thirty years. How many tears have flowed in slow motion from the end of their shared aquiline nose? 

He has pictures and has age-progressed them in his mind as if it were a digital photo frame. He is a benign-looking older man who throws a stick for his dog in the park every day around noon and allows his shoulders to slump as he waits for his reward. He is the eccentrically dressed man on the tube who always has a quizzical look on his face as if one of the other commuters may possess the piece that would move the jigsaw into place. He is the yoga teacher whose small frame belies a bizarrely strong physique which enables him to fight a forest fire and become a local hero. He is the smiling man who doesn’t allow others to sway his view and sets his sun in the south. 

“Nothing really matters but making yourself happy”, he is speaking the lines aloud because that is how he learns. He’s proud that he has never faltered and needed to be prompted from off stage. The stage is his, he’s hypnotic there, and while he remains at one with the words it stays that way. Staying is important. There he can confidently hold hands with the rhythm of his soul in the interlude. 

There are dark days when he needs to vent. He does this onstage. He fashions himself a victim and lives their life for a few hours. Their hurt is his and though he would never admit it, there is something strangely soothing about the uniformity of universal suffering. Sometimes it is necessary to deflect so the past doesn’t make a comeback through the broken clock of his memory. The comeback contains an apology “super sorry, buddy’. It’s vague and certainly no masterpiece but it’s something. It’s something he was never offered and it’s something that has painted its stain on every day.

Catherine O’Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. Her work has most recently appeared in Comhar, Splonk, Fractured Literary, Flash Boulevard, The Gooseberry Pie Literary Magazine, Firewords and Bending Genres. You can find out more about her and her work on X @abairrud2021.


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