Short Story

By Denebola
Published: September 2007

By Skyler Fulton

It’s funny the way things turn out when you try to turn everything around. Well, funny for them, not so much you. Who are they? Everyone else. But it really is funny.

This morning, at my favorite bookstore, I politely asked the man at the counter (a man no older than I, but undeniably more attractive), “Can you show me where to find the self-help section?” He glanced up at my eyes with a barely masked expression of delight, and said, “Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?”  

The cute cashier-girl next to him giggled rather generously and peeped at him out of the corner of her eye. She liked him. He wasn’t interested. His name was Ted. I am not a generally perceptive guy, so it began to worry them that I stood stock-still and observed them for some odd minutes after Ted’s remark. I turned my back to them. They hadn’t seen the last of me. Just kidding. See? I can be funny, too.

Right now I am in my cozy one-room apartment, snuggled in my batman sleeping bag that I bought with my allowance in seventh grade. Leaning over the table, I am struggling to work out a good response for the book. What book? My comeback book. My step-dad, Hank, would call it a “supplementary attribute compensating for my lacking oratory, situational comprehensiveness, and assertive skills.”

He’s a jerk. Really it’s where I write out comebacks that I would have said –but just…didn’t. I rememorize each comeback daily in hope that someone recycles an old insult, then WHAM, I’m funny.

Laugh if you want.

If they say, “Hey, beer-belly!” I say, “At least I save money on heating during the winter.”

If it’s, “What’s with the mustache?” I say, “It’s so I can’t smell your potent aroma.” (But truthfully it was to prove at my ten year high school reunion that I hit puberty). “If you’re really 29, why do you look 40?” “I know how and when to grow up!” They aren’t ideal, but they’re what I have.

The idea of keeping logs of things that I wish I said to the world came from my childhood psychiatrist. He said that I was “less eloquent and less verbal than the other lads.” I would have said, “Your wardrobe is verbal enough for the both of us!”

Gosh, I wish I said that one at the time. They usually hit me about a week or so later.

As for now, it’s hard to concentrate on the Ted situation because Mom is due to stop by any minute. She shouldn’t be here for long because I told her to leave Hank behind, who will most likely sit bitterly in his Mercedes, honking and muttering things about his field of experimental biology at MIT.

If I was in the car with him I would say, “It seems like you were some kind of freak experiment!” He wouldn’t like that.

When Mom came, she didn’t knock, she just came in, wafts of putrid eau de crematorium first, orange meringue-like hairdo second, and put her “Mom’s own special banana bread deluxe surprise” on top of the television next to the decaying one from last month’s visit.

To my dismay, she didn’t start it off this time by saying, “You should open a window in here” or “Ever heard of a vacuum?” (Since, of course, I have comebacks to both). Instead, she saw me writing in the book.

She thought I threw it out years ago. She scooped aside dust bunnies and empty pudding containers on the floor so that she could have a comfy area to stare despairingly at me. She beams motherly shame at me. There is no comeback to a shame beam.

She finally breaks the silence. “Eight years,” she said spastically, almost to startle me. I knew exactly where she was going with that, too. “Eight miserable years unemployed, alone, and utterly unproductive. What if I stopped paying your rent?”

I nodded, but I restrained a giggle because I noticed that her bulky spectacles were fogging up. She knew it too but she remained serious. “Sorry,” I said.

“I’m Sorry. 23 years ago it made sense to be this way.” She was referring to when my father died. “Morty was great but he is long-gone now.” She glanced at the famished looking book.

“He was a fine comedian, and a sociable guy.” She paused, patted her nose with a teal handkerchief, and took a deep breath, but had forgotten what she was talking about. She returned saying, “No one is asking you to be something you’re not.” She wiped my bald head and met me eye-to-eye. “You’re not funny.”

I cringed at her and moved her hand away from my head.

Then she added, “Get outside. Get yourself a job and a girlfriend. You’re beginning to grow a little beer belly.”

“It’s so I can’t smell you!”

Damn. That’s never happened before. Right then I imagined Ted in his apartment, turning on the television, telling his friends about his clever remark, popping open a beer, and never thinking about it again.

My mom was both right and wrong: I do need to do something with myself, but Dad would never have me give up.

Somehow, the shame beam, dust bunnies, smell of that vile banana concoction, and the sound of the honking Mercedes outside all somehow led me to such a brilliant comeback to Terrific Ted that I didn’t even care if Mom saw me write it down in front of her.

I can’t tell you exactly when she left, because I have no idea. I was too busy, head down at work, to pay mind to any dramatic exit. I would have felt bad if I was aware, but I was, and still am, too elated for any negative emotion. I have the power to put Tepid Ted in his place. This comeback drives all the others into the ground.

Literally. I wrote the line on my wall, and then tossed the book out of my seven story window. I hate to be corny, but today truly is the first day of the rest of my life.

I am doing something now that I have never done before: pacing. All I need is for Tasteless Ted to repeat his zinger and then I emerge as the new king of comebacks.

He might even cry. He will definitely quit the job. Maybe people will clap upon hearing. Who knows, maybe the cute cashier-girl will fall instantly in love with me and we will elope. Who knows?

But first things first: I need to have some sort of disguise (if the same guy asks the same question, it could seem fishy).

I ordered hair replenishing gel online, which takes one week to arrive, and two weeks to become fully effective. That gives me three weeks to lose some weight, and buy some new clothes.

I also ordered a stealthy spy camcorder that appears as a button my shirt, but actually films whatever I see. Maybe I will send the tape into America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Maybe a famous producer will see the clip and think I am genius. He might fl y me, my cute cashierwife, and our three children, Brandon, Annette, and Siobhan, to live in Hollywood where I would write and direct my own hit television series, “Zingers.” I might rethink the name when the time comes.

The day arrived sooner than I had anticipated. I lost two pounds, and there are seedlings all over my scalp, showing promising signs of hair. I have also shaved off the mustache and replaced it with a hip soul-patch that compliments my new sunglasses. I’m cool now.

I checked the store website to make sure Ted’s work hours were all-day, and I gave the camcorder device a few last tests. It’s showtime.

Biking to the store, I can see their faces, (everyone else that is). I only wish they could be here now.

Susie Adler, who called me a “booger-nose” and kicked sand in my hair in second grade. Arnold Shkrelli, who told the girls at Hebrew school that I had toe jam. Evan Folz, who made fun of me at the prom for slow dancing by myself.

Professor Vasilau at Emerson, who pointed out to the class that I ripped my pants twice in one semester. That still stings, but it’s fading from me.

As I walk through the glass double-doors, I see Terrible Ted, standing and staring blankly at his fingernails in front of him. He truly has no idea how severely his ego is about to suffer.

The cashier is there, at least, and she is twirling her gum in her finger due to her loss of interest in her job and Ted. It must be his new dreary demeanor. Things could not be more perfect, however I have never felt more nauseous than I do now.

I inch closer, swallow up all of my angst, wipe the sweat from my forehead, and say with the most sangfroid you could imagine, “Hey dude, can you show me where to find the self-help section?” “Aisle four.”

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