The Lesser Gatsby
by Shelley Kim
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Ayo, yer gonna git roight rozzered if ya wolk out onna the street loike that ya lil ankle boiter!"
This was when I was a small child; I had had a sudden existential crisis and tried to walk into the street in hopes of being run over and ending my pre-pre-teen angst. It did not work. And contrary to my father's advice, I was not approached by the police.
I suppose he has once or twice told me more relevant, sage wisdom, but sadly I cannot recall that at this time. Oh, once he told me that if I'm ever in a situation where a small child is choking on an ice cube, not to panic. Just pour boiling water down their throat and the ice will melt, instantly getting rid of the blockage! Yeah.
I guess I can get on to the exposition now. My name is Terry Careaway, I live in New York in a rich people area. The rich people area is actually split into two rich people areas, one being the richer rich people area and the other being the rich but not as rich in the same richness rich people area. I live in the second place, next door neighbor to a particularly affluent fellow by the name of James Gatz. A few of my acquaintances live in the richer rich people area, and one of them, Aubrey, sent me an invite to go to her place with some of her friends.
I looked at myself in the mirror as I prepared to leave and sighed. The mirror had obligatorily been added as a part of my routine so that this low-effort short story would fit in with the magazine's subtheme of "Mirror". Also mirrors are useful for shoehorning in a description of character's physical features. Unfortunately for me, the author had deliberately chosen a bland-looking, androgynous young protagonist so that any reader could project onto me and relate to the story more. I don't think it's working.
At any rate I went to Aubrey's house. It looked like a house in the background of stock photos of golden retrievers.
"Terry!" My friend Max waved to me from the porch. Max is a girl, but she has a dude's name to make her eccentric and memorable. I don't think it works.
"Hey, glad you could come, make this nonsense more bearable," she continued. "The others are inside right now, they're- Oh hey, there's our host." Max cleared her throat and did her best to muster some enthusiasm. "Hey, Jacey!" She piped, and beckoned to somebody inside the house.
"What? Jacey?" I frowned. "Her name's Aubrey, that's what was written on the invitation." Something was wrong.
"It's pronounced Jacey."
Jacey poked through the screen door and ran a hand through her hair as she looked up. "Hm?"
"Mmm." She acknowledged our existence briefly before occupying herself with her phone again and slipping back inside.
Once she wasn't paying attention to us, I spoke. "God, I hate Jacey. Her name is stupid. She's stupid. She's flat and unlikable and I don't know why she's so popular."
"Uh, because she's a wealthy, high-class attractive white girl."
"Jacey's not white. She's… some….ambiguous race. Bah." I flailed my hands around in an attempt to be politically correct.
"She might as well be. I bet if I took a strip of litmus paper it'd be some pH 14, y'know what I'm saying?"
"It's a joke. pH is a measure of acidity. I'm saying she's basic."
"Yeah, tell me something I don't know."
"My parents put me up for adoption."
"Chrissake I didn't mean- "
"Hey," Jacey sauntered over, thumbing through her smartphone screen with her earbuds dangling, jaw delicately chewing gum. "I got this feeling that you guys were talking about me, just checking?"
"I hate you," I blurted.
"Same." She didn't look up from her phone.
"Wow, she's quite the unflattering caricature. I'd venture that the author has had some unpleasant experience with people like her and is trying to vent by depicting this stereotype in a negative light," Max remarked.
"No. And stop making meta jokes."
"Fine, let me fill you in on the latest gossip instead. You know your next door neighbor, Gatz? Well, he's been throwing parties every week to build up a reputation and hoping that Jacey will notice his parties and how rich he is, because five years ago they met and fell in love, but they couldn't get together because of oppressive class difference social stigma. So now Jacey's married to some other dude instead and Gatz wants to restore the past back to how it was five years ago when they met but he can't and it's really dramatic and would make for a really neat, short, dense, American-literature-defining novel simultaneously criticizing and vibrantly illustrating the Jazz Age."
"Cool story bro."
"And it's your turn to play into it!" Max jumped up, sending her chair flying into an unsuspecting pedestrian. "You're figuratively close to Jacey and literally close to Gatz, you can set them up!"
"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," I mused, thoughtfully going over what motives I could possibly have to go about this task. I came up with absolutely nothing.
"Eh, sure I'll do it," I shrugged.
And that's how I ended up sitting in my living room across from James Gatz, a man who practically radiated charisma and the word "old sport". Unfortunately his charisma wasn't enough to neutralize my social awkwardness, and we said nothing and tried to avoid eye contact as we waited for Jacey.
So I sat there, the resonating awkward silence permeating through my every being. Gatz coughed. I considered getting off the chair and lying on the floor so that my soul could be closer to where it belonged. Which was in hell.
I racked my brain for something interesting to say. Think, think! My eyes desperately scoured the room, which Gatz had deliberately set up earlier in preparation for Jacey's arrival. The silver tea set and fancy cookies on the table between us. The Boomy the Cat alarm clock on the fireplace mantle. The Renaissance-style painting of Gatz on a rearing horse. The figurine of a red herring tucked against the wall. The angry man pressing his nose into the window and making faces. I kept glancing about and began sweating nervously. Why couldn't rich people stop being shallow and meaningless?
"Are you okay, old sport?"
"Your eyes looked like you were having a seizure. Old sport."
"Uh." I decided to ignore that. "Hey, you see that clock there?" I asked, pointing to the aforementioned clock.
"Yes, I do, old sport."
"I bet it's there for a reason." I wiggled my fingers. "Ooh, foreshadowing. What does it mean, huh?"
"The clock, old sport?" He frowned.
"Yeah. I think… I think it's a metaphor. For…time. Lost in the past. And trying to restore the past. Yeah, that's deep. A deep metaphor." I leaned back, proud of myself for my literary analysis.
"What? No!" Gatz shook his head vigorously. "S' not a metaphor, I just put it there 'cause I think it looks cool. Why do you literature twats need to overanalyze the heckeroni and cheese out of everything, yeezy."
I blinked. "Sorry."
At that moment, Jacey kicked down the door.
"BLAGHGHRFGHFAL," I yelled intelligently and sexily.
"JACEY!" Gatz screeched.
"GATZ!" Jacey bellowed.
"TERRY!" I added hopefully, to make sure I wasn't forgotten.
It didn't work. Jacey and Gatz immediately grabbed each other and leapt out of my house.
"Well, if that's the way the cookie crumbles," I said to myself, then helped myself to the cookies on the tea set.
No sooner had I stuffed the first cookie into my mouth did a gunshot ring out on the streets.
"I'M SORRY OLD SPORT I DIDN'T MEAN TO STEAL YOUR COOKIES!" I screamed with my mouth full, spraying crumbs everywhere. But when I looked up, James Gatz was nowhere to be found. Actually, a little bit of investigating revealed that he was lying dead on the street next to his car. Jacey was sprinting away from the scene, and a man with a gun was hulking over Gatz's corpse.
"What's going on over here?" I inquired politely.
The man with the gun nodded at me. "I'm an important side character who didn't appear for most of the story and then suddenly got involved because…" He trailed off here and mumbled something. "Well, anyway, now Jacey doesn't have to choose between him and her husbando. Thanks to me and my gun here," he shifted the rifle on his shoulder. "Chekhov model."
"Oh. Wait, why did Gatz have to die again?"
There was a long, awkward silence. I wished Gatz was still alive to interject with one of his charismatic "old sport"s.
"Well, I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles," I finally said, then went back inside to finish the cookies.