A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Selfhood

(Flash Fiction, 850 words.)

I had fallen into a kind of grumbling funk recently, upon reflecting that I was clearly not the protagonist in my own life story. I’m not sure ‘story‘ is even the right word here. My days are something like the output of a random event sequencer stuck on repeat. Like being a fly on the wall in a room where nothing much ever happens. A peaceful work-a-day grind, neither happy nor sad. Then again, I was not beset with overwhelming problems either. Somehow I became fixated on it. I couldn’t help wonder what life might be like in the plot-driven fast lane.

So, if not the protagonist then what role did I occupy? I wasn’t even sure. I might have been the plot-point casualty, that character whose sole function is to get killed off in order to inject an element of dread into the narrative without a lot of messy exposition. But I’m getting on in years and that seems increasingly unlikely. I could be the comic relief, but no one thinks I’m funny at all.

Then I started toying with the idea of marrying a protagonist. I could at least be an accessory after the fact in a yarn that’s actually going somewhere. In a fit of myopic brilliance I concluded this was a fine idea.

Then I met Anne.

Anne and I started dating and I kept a keen eye out for indications that she might be the focus of her own life’s plot. She was smart, had vitality, good looks. The sort of things you want in a protagonist. So we dated some, and after a while it appeared her life was nearly as aimless as my own and I decided to breach the subject with her, about my little obsession.

She listened, her interest piqued, then laughed and said, “you’ve got it all backward, I want to be the antagonist, not the protagonist.” Turns out her quest was something akin to my own. She too was puzzling over life roles and plot arcs and whatnot, and had settled on being the wrench shoved in someone else’s gears. In this admission a good bit of her considerable charm had melted away.

It was a relief then, to not be a main character type after all, as she seemed capable of a good bit of mischief. I smiled and asked her what was to become of us. She just flashed those bright, devious eyes at me and said, “oh, I’ll think of something.”

I felt a distinct jolt of adrenaline at this cryptic remark, weighted as it was with intrigue and alarm. What exactly was she signaling? It felt like the game afoot. I started to forget about all the hand wringing and hypotheticals of an imagined life. Wasn’t it time to stop being such a putz and try something a bit more capricious? Perhaps give that fly on the wall a little something to write home about.

Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction
Anne will ideally be played by Uma Thurman, “oh, I’ll think of something.”

I took her hand and said, “let’s get out of here.” She looked up over my shoulder and gestured a pause, then stood and started to walk away. At this time, two detectives approached the table. “That’s him,” she said, winking at me. And she was gone.

I spend a lot of time now in meetings with attorneys and in court and it’s a real mess. She had framed me good. Once in a while the desire to get even with her occurs to me and then immediately collapses under the weight of its own contrarian logic. But at least I have something to do. I’m no longer preoccupied with what role I am supposed to play in life. I am just trying to stay out of prison and no longer have the time to think about it.

When Anne shows up in court to testify I find myself mesmerized. There she is, the embodiment of her own life in full blossom, and the committed guarantor of my own ill conceived wishes.

When I think about her I recall that Smiths lyric, “You shut your mouth, how can you say I go about things the wrong way?” That’s exactly what I had been doing. Worrying about my life not being the center of a damned story. Often, the whole point of a story is that you just want to see what someone else does when things go sideways, you know, pick up some tips maybe, in case it happens to you. They call it entertainment but it’s really like school. We’re taking notes.

I thought I wanted stuff to happen and just like that, Anne had appeared. In retrospect coasting through life on the sidelines, this is the way to go. There’s no pressure and you get lots of time off. It’s quite peachy, really, and you can save a bundle on attorney’s fees.

All I’m saying is you can leave off with the stories. There are better ways to frame a life. Stories are what happens when your luck turns South just when your desires start drawing you North.