Word Count 500
By: Sam McManus
The uneven sound of my loafers slapping against the floor echoed wildly in my mind as I crossed the expanse of the stage, certain of my impending humiliation. I fiddled with the change in my pocket, as a fidget, as a grounding wire to keep me from exploding. In my ears the pent-up energy of the crowd began to grow to a fever pitch, and I stumbled before regaining my balance. The mic loomed up expectantly, greeting me like a long lost relative – whether to embrace or to disengage, I wasn’t sure, but I stood there nonetheless, knees knocking, heart in my throat.
They sat in seats down below, around a table made of glass, so I could see their knees supposedly tucked away but exposed nonetheless. It made them seem less threatening. The one on the end, though, the one with the brunette curls, she began talking, and I knew it was my time to respond, even if I felt less than ready.
“F-U…” I began, then paused, suddenly unsure of myself. The audience tittered, unable to contain their joy at my expense.
“Can you give me the word in a sentence?” I asked, stalling for time.
She did, even repeating it for emphasis, but it didn’t make me any more sure than I already had been.
“F-U…” I started again, slowly, sensing the eyes of the other contestants on the back of my head.
“What is the word’s origin?” I inquired, interrupting myself once again. A few groans could be heard from the audience, but I had to make sure. My mother sat in the second row from the back, where I told her to sit, so as to take off the pressure, but even she was frowning when I looked her way. It didn’t help.
“It comes from the Latin,” the judge said, and I saw the verdict in her eyes, heard the skepticism in her voice, even as she tried to hide it behind staid tones.
“F-U…” I began again, but I couldn’t continue, as if time was an endless loop and I would be forced to say “F-U…” until the end of time, even though my brain tried to force me to continue, tried to push through the blockage, for better or for worse.
“Can you repeat the word?” I asked, the groans now a palpable force from the gathered audience. I couldn’t even look at my mother anymore, knowing as I did that the ride home would be unbearable after such a performance.
“Funambulist,” she said, not even pretending to care, because she knew, as did everyone else in the auditorium, that I was toast, already burnt and blackened beyond repair.
“Funambulist,” I repeated, shaky but still clear enough. “F-U-N-A-M-B-U-L-I-S-T. Funambulist.”
A hush fell over the room, as people struggled to grasp what had just happened, as some were certain I had misspelled it while others finally woke up.
“That is correct,” she said. Perhaps the ride home wouldn’t be so bad after all.