by Patrick Key
Artist: Jonas Hafner
Tallulah Rain had been called many things in her life. Most of her monikers couldn’t be repeated in polite society, but she was shocked when a random grade schooler called her pretty. Maybe she was pretty when she was that child’s age, but now she thought she could only squeak out a decent if she was under the correct angle of sunlight. Maybe the child was complimenting her dress. She took a sip of her chamomile tea to shake her out of her thoughts. She didn’t know why a compliment so benign as “pretty” would scramble her headspace so much.
She looked into the camera.
“Death Has no Meaning. That’s why it’s Beautiful is the title of the newest novel written by the acclaimed – and controversial – novelist Tommy Ray Lynn. He says that it’s about finding joy in the small things and leaving the big questions unanswered. Here to discuss the book with us are –”
Her mind went blank after she introduced the panel. She tried to remember why and how she ended up being the art commentator at some backwater news show that was started as a grad school project ten years ago. She remembered strutting along the mean streets of every major city, covering rapes, murders, bank heists, and the occasional embezzlement scandal. She brought herself back into reality just enough to nod and smile and wave her cup of tea in the direction of the person whom seemed to be the most energetic. It took her awhile to figure out where the discussion was headed.
“I really like how the fifth chapter is written. It’s so whimsical and fun, but it’s loaded with self-affirmations. I also liked how it reinforced the importance of goal setting. Life doesn’t just happen!” Tallulah said. She decided to let her mind wander away again. I could just quit. She often had that thought, but there was something about being filmed that just made her life feel right.
“Well, thanks for joining the show! My name is Tallulah Rain. See you next week.”
“And cut! Good job folks. Tallulah, can I speak with you for a moment?”
“Sure thing. What’s on your mind Scott?”
“Walk with me.”
“Is this going to take long? I have a reservation that I need to get to.”
“No, it’s not.”
She got out of the chair and followed Scott to his office. It was the size of two janitor’s closets, but it had DIRECTOR plastered on the door. Her heart felt a pang as she read his job
title. He opened the door and took his seat. She noticed that it was the only one in the room and walked in and let the door close behind her.
“Is everything okay? I’ve been noticing you zoning in and out a lot more recently.”
“Yes, everything is fine. I’ve just been thinking a lot about life lately.”
“Haven’t we all?”
He let the rhetorical question fill the room for a bit. Tallulah started to get worried. She’d had many conversations like this throughout her life. What’s wrong? Is there something I can help you out with? I’ve noticed that you haven’t been giving it your all. Have you been taking care of yourself? You look a little pale around the eyes. You’re not interviewing, are you?
She broke the stalemate.
“A young girl – maybe around 10 or 11 – called me pretty yesterday.”
Scott didn’t know what to do with that statement. She noticed and started to speak
“It’s odd. I’m still a skip and a hop away from being 40 but I haven’t been called pretty in
at least a decade.”
“Is this some…um…mental health thing? If it is, I know someone that you could talk to.”
“No, no. Hell, what part of life isn’t a mental health thing?” She chuckled a bit. “But no. I’ve just been wondering about a lot of things lately.”
“Did that book you all just finished talking about have something to do with this? I mean
with a title like that I’m sure it could have upset you.”
“It had some lines that made me think, but that wasn’t it.”
“Well, whatever is going on you need to figure it out. Our viewers are leaving comments about you on social media, and what they are saying isn’t pretty.” He took his phone out of his pocket and loaded an app.
“Is it just me, or does Tallulah look like she’s half dead? Why is she staring at the camera
while three other people are talking to her? Did you see her almost throw her mug at that
woman when she started disagreeing with her?”
She folded her arms behind her back and started to rock on her heels.
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but something has to change. Know that I’m
here for you, but we can’t go around and disappoint our viewers.”
“I understand and I’m sorry. I will get it together shortly. I promise.”
“Okay. Thanks for your time. You’re free to go.”
She nodded and left the room. She soon found herself walking down the sidewalk. She wasn’t hurt or angry or even sad. She just felt numb. There’s a thing that happens to you when you care about your job: you wonder if you will have health insurance. You wonder if you can pay your bills like a real adult. Et cetera. Et cetera. Then there’s that flash. Everything you’re doing has no merit. Has no goal. You’re doing things because you’ve been told to do them.
She thought about walking onto the road and traveling in the same direction as the cars behind her. She did it for a few minutes, but nothing happened, and she hopped back onto the sidewalk. The next thing she remembered was that she was in her house, buried under a
weighted blanket. She smelled vanilla and a tinge of faint smoke. Did I eat? Did I brush my teeth?
What did I do? Other questions ran into her mind as the sunlight forced itself in instead of
waiting for the blinds and the curtains to give them permission.
What day is it?
She rolled off the floor and shuffled to the bathroom.
“Pretty.” The mirror reflected something else to Tallulah’s mind. She undressed and
studied before entering the shower. She did the same when she dried off.
Her phone rang. She rushed to it, but the number wasn’t saved as a contact.
“Hey you. How’s it going?”
“Going just fine. Who is this?”
“Wow. I know we had a date and all scheduled for last night, but I can see where this relationship is not headed. I see why they talk about you like that online.”
“Wait! I – ” The phone call ended. Tallulah remembered that she had an appointment. She refused to say “date” to herself, but that didn’t’ help the situation. She sighed. And sighed again. Then she got dressed.
She decided to walk in the street again while on her way to work. She remembered opening the door to her studio, but she couldn’t remember saying hello to anyone.
Patrick started writing seriously later in life, thanks to the help of a poetry class during his undergraduate years. His works have appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Ephemeral Elegies, and Better Than Starbucks, among others. He is also the founding editor of Grand Little Things. More can be found at https://patrickkeywriter.com/