To stir up interest in my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, I’ve decided to go ahead and let people read one of the short stories for free online. The story I chose is The Shopper Awakes, a time-travel yarn about a fashionista who inexplicably wakes up at a future time when it’s no longer fashionable to be fashionable. Each day I’ll upload the next section of the story until it’s complete. *Note: although I’m allowing people to read this for free, normal copyright laws still apply.
The Shopper Awakes
Rita supposed she had every right to glibly blame her father for her death, but since she was reborn, she decided it best not to hold it against him.
The vile mess all began because Daddy insisted she should devote herself to intelligent and ambitious men, not the ‘magnificent dregs’ as he summarily dismissed her past intrigues as. Up until that proclamation, her criteria for romance revolved around Attitude, Body and Cleanliness, although why that was separate from Body, this humble chronicler doesn’t pretend to know. The 21st century had its eccentricities, and we can leave it at that.
It was her misfortune that if Intellect was suddenly the deciding factor, her other hopes would have to be jettisoned, meaning she would have to settle for substandard material if she was to keep her charge cards and servants. The man she reluctantly settled on was no great catch—nothing to text her friends about—but he did speak in polysyllables rather than grunts and said he once spent a summer in Paris, and not just the Paris of the South, and so he was very different from her last boyfriend Clem.
His name was Richard, or Richie, or Dickie, or some such twee Anglo-name, and he liked to consider himself a ‘cineaste.’ She didn’t really know what a ‘cineaste’ was, or if it were his hobby or his profession, but she did recognize it sounded civilized and intelligent (rather than pretentiously Gallic) and that it had something to do with movies. She was mad about movies. Right away, for their first date, he invited her to a movie at a run-down downtown Portland theater she wouldn’t otherwise glance at twice. What he called a date, she considered a trial run, with Daddy not far from her thoughts.
When he asked her to spot him the cash for the tickets, she should have guessed this would not end nicely.
The film, she discovered belatedly, was a black-and-white picture called Things To Come. She told him in the opening credits it wasn’t what she hoped for; black-and-white films, she said, always had a deadening effect on her, and she couldn’t sit comfortably without a feeling akin to rigor mortis setting in. “Oh calm down,” he said abrasively, “it won’t kill you.”
She explained to him she enjoyed films featuring Hollywood heartthrobs, wall-to-wall pop songs, couture fashion and cutting edge special effects. “The s-f-x,” he started to say before she cut him off by gasping “—Let’s not!” Flustered, he resumed, “The special effects in this movie were cutting edge for their time…” She hastily replied, “That’s not the same.”
It wasn’t the same. The movie was the most trenchant and leaden thing she had ever seen, with long scenes of soldiers shooting each other on ugly war-torn battlefields. It was psychotic, she thought, positively psychotic to think a lot about the past when the present was so much more pleasant. The plot of the ‘psychotic’ film, cooked up by the ‘psychotic’ mind of H.G. Wells, was something about a poor schlub who conks out during a fierce battle, only to wake up in a ‘dystopian’ future, whatever that was. She didn’t really know because she texted and called her friends throughout the introductory scenes and the rising action, stopping periodically to ask her date what was going on, much to his mounting irritation.
Finally, when he felt the eyes of the audience swaying between his date and the movie screen with the unsubtle malice of the sword of Damocles, he said sneeringly, “You wouldn’t understand because you’re a cinephile and not a cineaste! There’s a difference.” Actually the semantic difference was slight. “All it takes to say you love movies is money and free time.”
“You forgot to say patience!”
Rita had infinite patience for the new but expended none on the old. Her ‘intelligent’ (now highly suspect) date for the evening was shockingly old, moldy and deathlike when she really looked at him, or perhaps his youth was wholly deprived in her critical gaze. Youth, after all, was the ultimate prerequisite, and without it, he was nothing.
She steadfastly pivoted on her stiletto heels and began to storm out of the theater, click-clacking all the way. She escaped the screening room with her dignity intact but didn’t make it out of the lobby, and this chronicler is afraid to say I mean that literally.
While storming through a poorly lit and dingy hallway in search of the restrooms, things took a turn for the worse when she mistakenly opened a door thinking it to be a bathroom only to then fall down a flight of steps to the basement and to her apparent death.
But to save this chronicle from becoming a cruel and tawdry parable about the harrowing dangers of talking during a movie, let’s skip ahead to the part where Rita’s life truly becomes of interest to us. Because, as those raving mystics of the past used to say, Death is not the End
If you’d like to own The Shopper Awakes and read several more stories not quite like it, please purchase my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.
To read more of The Shopper Awakes for free, check back tomorrow.