“Prominence” by Mike Lee


I do not belong here.

I check my compact, and see my lips are too red.

I slip it back in my clutch.

My hands, folded, rest on my periwinkle sheath dress with the lace bodice. My legs are closed. The dress is too tight. My knees sweat. I sweat when I lie.

I am like my father. But when we speak truth, the silences between the spoken is where the prevarications nestles comfortably, curled up undisturbed until suddenly roused with an unexpected follow-up question.

Everyone takes your word until they don’t. My father did all right until one silence between words betrayed him. They tied him to the back of a wooden chair and shredded him through his tan cashmere overcoat.

Through tears I learned: no false moves. When you talk your way into a situation, know exactly what to say to walk it back. Nothing is a full circle, just a high wire strung.

Do all these things, and you will die old. With what I intend to do today, this will not be my fate.

I slowly grow nervous. I shift weight, pulling my legs behind me like a child in class, ankles crossed. I went over the script in my head, visualizing the scene playing out as it was planned—and how I want it to happen.

Then the door opens, bringing forth a rush of wind with color and light splayed out around me. Through the light I see forms take shape to human, before becoming clear in my mind’s eye. From this formlessness I see fingers, knuckles, nails, and the palm gestures with an underhanded twist, fingers in unified motion. Fingertips elegantly turn inward to the person, an aging press officer with a sharp, straight hairline forming a short military haircut.

He looks like Albert Camus with acne scars.

My impression of him is he’s the type that brags in bars that he is a press secretary. He isn’t: a press officer is an underling used for passing messages, writing memos and working on first drafts of talking points. Also a sacrificial lamb when things go terribly wrong. Press officers are thrown down stairwells and machine-gunned for the cameras. Quite the Baader-Meinhof, but that was a long time ago.

Father remembered. Told me stories. He kept reminding me that he did not live them, only read and watched on television when he was an inspired child.

Eventually he joined the resistance with fanatic enthusiasm, pressing his luck until no more.

I hear a sting quartet playing in the distance. It’s music that conjures Mama. This provided the key to open the cipher—I never knew her. Shortly after my second birthday she was picked up in Peru and died in jail before I turned 7.

The permanent revolution is an eternal war. Generations pass ideas as grenades from one to another.

I feel a sense of disassociation when I greet the press officer, whose name escapes me. I forget everything, names, places, everything except the mission. This drives me further, encourages. Distance from existence focuses my attention on the goal.

He leads me into the large museum gallery. The strings reach for the crescendo.

Everything unfolds as I expect. I am calm to the point of deadness. I make eye contact, smile, and nod in pretend recognition. I hold my clutch close to my stomach. My message to the world is within.

We meet. He is a middle-aged man with tousled wavy hair, and an ageless face. His hazel eyes, however, betray a sad, weary expression.

I smile, inch closer to him and press hard with both hands on my clutch.

Suddenly, I’m thrust into the Gnostic divine. I reach to grasp the light.

Dad. Mom. Achieve dialectical synthesis.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Alexandria Quarterly and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for the photography website Focus on the Story.