Short story by Michael Botur

 

The 24 year old born Miranda Lilith Pruitt – the same lass who’d begun her poetry career at our trite tavern get-togethers reading entries from her journal in a teenaged voice so frail she struggled to be heard over the sound of people sipping the foam off their beer – was to be presented with the People’s Choice Award. With the award came a cheque for $10,000, budget to publish a hundred page poetry collection, and she would have her name engraved on a roll of honour in the English department up at the university. There wasn’t much we could do to stop her success. Now known as Miranda X, she was the most successful member of our literary community.

And we hated her for it.

The award was announced by faithful emcee Muriel Malcolm at Vocal Locals, the poetry evening our Independent Writers Guild put on every two weeks at the Bard & Barley. There was a coveted list for open mike readers which most of us had to wrestle to find a spot on, but now that she was to become writerly royalty, Miranda was invited up to the mike first, without so much as having to write her name down. Miranda pushed behind her ears the hair she’d had curled and dyed black to appear “more 99 per cent,” in her words. Rejecting her ancestry had provoked a dispute with her Mum and Dad which led to her legally divorcing them as her parents. They had had to fly back from Bermuda to sign the papers. She’d dirged upon her situation in the poem On Rejecting Privilege. The poem’s description of her parents’ holiday homes and neo-liberal comfort were truly confronting. Any one of us could have been Miranda’s mother or father, arrogantly forcing our love on a true independent spirit who needed no one but herself. 

The Chosen One lit a cigarette, blew the smoke out then sucked it up her nostrils and exhaled it again, a stylish loop. Performers aren’t supposed to smoke inside, but the last time the duty manager dared to challenge Miranda she chained herself to the bar rail and wailed about how smoking is one of the few pleasures left for People of Colour. She carved Grand Dragon KKK servd here into the bartop before performing a full Māori war dance, slapping her thighs and tonguing the air and screaming KA UPANE! KA UPANE! KA UPANE WHITI TE RA! The police who asked her to leave were informed by Miranda, at exceedingly high volume, that this “haka” of hers could not be described as a threat, it was actually honour and respect and empowerment all mixed into one, following which they tucked away their notebooks and shrugged.

‘So I’ve got these stale pale male publishers begging to immortalise my every utterance or whatever,’ she said into the mike in an exhausted tone, and yawned, and sucked her smoke, and scratched an itch inside her knee-high boots. The boots were black, her jeans were black, singlet too, and her hair and eyes. We’d watched her, over a few short years, chrysalis from a waif with an unoriginal impedimenta of teenage angst into a bouff-haired militant in black and khaki with two holes cut out of her tank top so her pierced nipples could, in her words, “breathe.”

‘And I have allowed my manuscript to be published by Defiant Press, y’know,’ Miranda drolled. ‘Just more publisher-pigs trying to immortalise a nigga’s words while she’s still alive. Course, none of you have to worry about publishers vampiring on your talent, lol.’ She aimed her eyes at us. She even glared at Mrs Gladys Fotheringay, winner of the 2013 Romance Writers Guild First Kiss Award. Miranda took a slurp of her mulled wine, took the black necktie off her chest, tied it around her eyes in solidarity with blindfolded political prisoners being executed by firing squad, then launched into her West Papua Resistance poem. Six minutes after the red light had come on and Miranda was supposed to have been clapped off the stage by our emcee, she ripped off the blindfold and lurched into a tribal dance. Miranda X – about to be named the nation’s most innovative literary doyen for her poem ‘Everything That’s Totally Not Xenophobic about Brexit,’ which consisted of three blank pages – then pulled her singlet over her head and stood proudly, panting, chubby breasts outthrust, hands on hips, bathed in a standing ovation. Within seconds there was a mob of people three-deep at the tiny bar fighting to buy her a kombucha and a gluten-free slice. Amongst them was Magnus Nilssen, our neurotic young essayist who’d had his romantic overtures to Miranda rejected repeatedly. Miranda was seen to kiss Magnus on the cheek, for a moment, before kissing the cheek of Sir Richard Bradbury instead. He’d once given Miranda $400 rent when she was facing homelessness. Miranda’s weary face tonight, however, indicated everyone was just an adoring blur.   

The rest of us sat stroking our Clearfiles, trying not to let her afterglow scorch the precious words we’d gone to Warehouse Stationery to have painstakingly printed, the cheeky limericks, the rhyming ballads, the excerpts from the historical novellas we’d never complete. We queued, waiting for the privilege of snapping a selfie with the literary queen we’d nurtured. We airkissed, we hugged, we flattered. We did every nice thing we could to keep her from realising we wanted to destroy her.

 

***

That’s the first 1000 words. 

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