In the past few weeks, you’ve been shortlisted. Twice. You are on shortlists. In fact, if you sweep the whole of 2014 into your thirsty embrace, you can offer up three shortlisted spots: one, a story about an accidentally pregnant lesbian, one about a reluctant hospital visit*, one for something you didn’t make up**.
You’ve been here before, in other years — the upward surge and downward plop that leaves you clutching disappointment like a Kleenex. At that moment, when you learn from a cold, unflinching computer screen that you are not the one, that you are not a winner, you can’t help it: you start to resent the shortlist.
In your mind, the shortlist has become a short man, friendly enough, attentive. He’s pleasant, not fawning, but ingratiating all the same. He stands too close. In the next minute or the next, he will offer to buy you a drink.
You’re not attracted to him, not at all; he both alarms and thrills you, yet you feel you’d do almost anything to make him like you that little bit more. Which feels dirty.
He walks with a slight limp. He lists. He has fine, sandy hair that he is clearly shampooing too regularly with something he bought from Shoppers Drug Mart. It has stripped away the natural oils. When a breeze stirs past, rogue hairs sway upwards, downy and desperate, as if they, too, would rather be rid of the short man and all the ways he is holding them back. He’s wearing a jacket too big for him. His breath smells of drip coffee and hamburger. He tilts towards you when you least expect it, injecting a little gleam of hope and possibility into whatever else it was you were supposed to be thinking about. Then, when you need him, he can’t be glimpsed. You are alone in the dim corner of a noisy bar surrounded by people who all know one another, who are laughing with a confidence you yourself have misplaced. He’s off buying someone else a beer.
In your day job, the one where you must blast past words and sentences because you have deadlines that hound you like debt collectors, a colleague reminds you: it’s an honour to be on a short list.
At this, the short man with a list will nod his head, sagely, although he’s eyeing up the other girls.
Keep working at this, keep chugging, he might mumble, his fluffy crown already bobbing away, getting swamped in the crowd. Chin up. Head high.
*UPDATE April 22. Holy Guacamole, you won! No small-of-stature man in sight. Your very first win, in a year of losses. Proud.
**UPDATE May 3. Honourable Mention! You go, girl***.
***UPDATE October 29: This story was subsequently published in the Fall 2014 issue of carte blanche.