“Before the Fall Guy” by David O’Donoghue

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Trading in junk derivatives and as yet publicly unconfirmed insider trading..

I tried to focus on the words on my cracked phone screen but the sounds of thumping steps and slaps kept jarring me out of my concentration. I looked up to find Stephen had gotten out of his chair and was pacing a short distance up and down the hallway, slapping himself repeatedly.

“What are you at?” I asked with an exasperated exhale. He turned on the ball of one foot. Tears were taking root in the bottom of his blue eyes and his cheeks were now splotchy and red with the risen blood.

“Stanislavski man. You ever see these guys when they go on TV? Apologising and all this. Always with a face like a smacked arse and like they’re about to ball. You have to really live in that skin if you want people to buy it. What does it say on the website…give them…catharsis”.

I looked at him. It was pleasant sometimes to be surrounded by my fellow theatre graduates in my new line of work. And sometimes, at times like these I thought, they’re eccentric devotion to what was always referred to as ‘the craft’ was just irritating.

“How can you be sure anyone has ever seen them on TV?”

Stephen murmured something like agreement and took a seat again. He rubbed at his whiskers. They’d be taking a couple hundred off for that attempt to maintain the art-student identity.

“Mr Cowen…the studio is ready for you now!”

Neither Stephen nor myself took our heads out of our phones  to see the woman in the pant-suit peering out the doorway at us. Our thumbs flicked furiously through the interview prep (“I apologise unreservedly” “I will be taking time to be with my family” “It is a systemic and not individual issue”) to hit the point where the bolded, main biographical details of the case would bump against the soft yellow branding strip at the top of the app’s windows labelled “Pat-Si”. Mine eventually bumped to a halt and the canary-coloured corporate logo gave a little wiggle against the block reading Name, Age, Occupation and Scandal.

“That’s me. I’ll be out in a bit bud”.

I doffed my phone slightly at Stephen who had a look of minor relief on his face. Not his time to sweat on the boards just yet. He could have a bit more time to hone his character with whatever Marlon Brando crap he wanted to indulge in. I tipped the phone, gave some of the words a little flick and brushed up on a couple of trickier points. Confident enough I slid the phone into the right breast pocket of the crisp pink business shirt I hadn’t quite yet learned how to comfortably wear. Had to make sure it peeked out just a bit. The public had to get a bit of flash with their mea culpas for this thing to really work right. I allowed the pant suited woman to lead me into the barebones studio.

In the centre was a stool pooled in harsh lights. Beside it was a little dresser where a glass of water from a branded bottle I didn’t recognise stood. I took a seat and squinted as the lights glared into my eyes. The pant-suited woman came over an affixed an ear piece to my left ear, given that the right one had a bluetooth headset that had been a last minute addition on my walk to the performance. An excellent touch even if I did say so myself. The woman’s fingers were all I could see silhouetted in the harsh lights, shadows dropping away steadily into the light and counting down as the ear piece crackled. And then it was show time.

“We go live now to Reginald Cowen, Senior Executive at Hibernian Finance to explain exactly how this all could have gone disastrously wrong…”

And for 5 minutes I shut myself away in a little cavity in my chest. And Reginald Cowen came to live in my skin. Not the actual Reginald Cowen of course, who was no doubt on some yacht or at some occult sex party, indulging in all manner of bacchanalian pleasure as he arranged for the swiftest possible legal resolution to his problems. But the Reginald Cowen that the seething mass of the public could rage at was sat in a little study on the outskirts of the city, wearing my skin and sweating my sweat. He was running his palm nervously through my hair and hinting at maybe crying my tears in the tensest moments. I, the unemployed theatre graduate, could give the public the Reginald Cohen they wanted: a blood sacrifice. And after they’d ripped out my still-beating heart, which was Reginald’s heart now, they would offer it to the setting sun on the 6’oclock news and go looking for the next sacrifice.

Eventually the news anchor bid me farewell and the possession ended. I turned and swished the whole glass of water back in one go. It was pure and sweet and classy. The kind of water Reginald Cowen drank, I mised. I stepped back out into the hall to see Stephen sitting there, looking edgy.

“Have you seen the latest job?” he asked, his eyes wide and white as a deer’s tail.

I pulled out my phone and noticed one new posting from the Pat-Si app. I saw three words that made my stomach roll with what I’ll tell you was disgust to preserve some dignity.

Child molestation ring

Apartments were so expensive then. Especially ones that weren’t in danger of being swallowed by the sea. Maybe Chloe and I could finally afford to have kids? I tapped “Accept Role” with my thumb and thought about what colour we were going to paint the nursery.

 

David O’Donoghue is an Irish author, journalist and activist currently resident in Limerick City. His fiction has been published in The Singularity, Sci-Phi Journal, The Runt, Flight Writing and Tales From the Forest. He won the 2015 Kerry’s Eye creative writing competition and was shortlisted for the 2015 Hot Press Creative Writing Award and the 2016 Penguin Ireland Short Story Award. His short story “Beautiful Along the Break” made the Top 6 Shortlist in the 2016 Aeon Literary Award. His is presently contributing editor at fiction/art/political essay zine the Lunatic Soviet. See him do a bad impression of weird Twitter @DavidJODonoghue