Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Curtain Call

I submitted an entry to NPR's three-minute fiction contest in May. The challenge was: In 600 words or fewer, write a story in which a character finds something that he or she has no intention of returning. It wasn't picked for the website, but I didn't think it was a bad story, especially since I wrote it in a couple of hours. Perhaps I should have added another sentence at the end.

This was the winner. I don't like it. Here are the others they picked.

Curtain Call

It couldn’t be real. Nick looked at the ticket again; the date was as he saw it the first time and the seat was one of the best the opera house had to offer. Tosca, his favorite opera, the one that had put him on the verge of stardom in his youth, would be performed the next night and he held a ticket to it in his hand.

I have to turn it in, he thought each time he looked at it, even mumbling it aloud once, but then another wealthy Washingtonian would look past him as he came to get his coat at the coat check and it became easier to hold the secret in his pocket.

You once adored me, he thought to himself. I was Mario Cavarodossi.

Indeed he had been. He was going to be the best – maybe not Luciano, but close. Everyone said so. The music came from another world; how a man with such a small stature could produce such a big sound was a marvel to all who heard him. He made them remember their humanity, made them feel emotions they had forgotten existed. They had adored him and brought him into their circle and he loved them all but when his voice failed him they forgot he existed.

The ticket had fallen out of someone’s coat pocket and was lying there on the floor as if it were a worthless thing. He nearly threw it away but gave it glance, more out of boredom than curiosity, and that glance cost him his peace. He could be fired from this job if he did not turn it in. They’d know where it had been lost – they always knew exactly where their things had been and they mostly found the lost things, but if they didn’t, someone always paid.

When Nick lost his voice he lost his world, and it was a thing that couldn’t be found. Ten years had passed since his voice stopped working and in those ten years life had been a struggle. He hadn’t been to the opera house since he last set foot on that stage. At first it was too painful but then it was too expensive, and soon pretending not to miss it was no longer possible. He took solace in cheap whiskey and floated from job to job, often serving those who had once let him into their homes. It took a long time to stop feeling ashamed. His talent had taught him pride, but pride can only last so long before survival requires something else, something like working the coat check at a charity function to raise money for a cause that no one in the room really cares about. He felt that seeing Tosca could get him his soul back. He sang a few of Mario’s lines under his breath.

“You were good once,” he heard a woman say in a voice he knew far too well, even now, all these years later. He had loved her, almost as much as he loved the opera, but she was the first to go, even before he knew his voice was gone forever. She looked much older; time had not been kind or maybe he had just lost track of it.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“I seem to have misplaced a ticket,” she told him. “To Tosca. For tomorrow. Have you seen it?”

“No. No I haven’t.”

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