Who Was He Under The Lights?


word by Kate Shaw

colour by Giordano Poloni

He was tired, sullen, overweight, but he talked fast. His tongue had become only more capable as the rest of his body (and personality) steadily deteriorated. Sitting in that armchair – indiscernible among the puckered, fading cushions if you just took a quick glance – he looked utterly defeated.

But you could never have reached this conclusion from listening to his show. The voice that danced through the crackles and pops of 880 AM had more vitality than a sugar-stuffed toddler, twisting and bending at the will of the emotions his characters were feeling. Perhaps his voice had sucked all the energy from the rest of him.

Every Tuesday morning he sat in that chair, broadcasting the next segment of his show for the listeners who’d been loyal and invested for years. They couldn’t imagine the wasteland he’d become.

There was a time when Adam was okay. It didn’t make up the majority of his thirty-four years, nor was it an era he particularly benefited from, but it’s something worth noting. He found a niche right after graduating.

Adam had a socially unsuccessful time of the points in his life that were supposed to make that sort of thing easy: high school and college. When everyone in high school subscribed to the highly specified doctrines of various cliques, he couldn’t even make it with the Weird Kids. At the start of the “Best Years Of Your Life!” period – freshman year of college – he and his roommate immediately fell into a pattern of double-edged apathy, neglecting even to acknowledge one another after the first week of classes, and from there Adam went on to seek singles in the dorms on campus. By that point, he’d developed the assumption that he simply was not a social creature.

That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy those times, necessarily. As stated, he dubbed himself an introvert and (almost) never looked back. He’d spent his whole childhood taking things in stride; he was trained in the art of Moving On.

But in college, he discovered that, behind a guise of sorts, he was capable of masquerading as a people person. In other words, people liked him when they didn’t know who “he” was. He could bark and whisper and chortle life into archetypes that listeners rapidly began to follow, and for a while Adam was able to bask in the love directed toward his characters; he was a surrogate.

But the faded, flickering neon signage of the local hotel always cut through any self-acceptance he’d mustered up. He always found himself back, lingering awkwardly in the vestibule while the latest half-hearted hour-long partner ducked out of the rain and into a taxi. Harsh, gaudy lights formed a spotlight, inescapable, revealing to him the only truth he knew: he had no one.*

From the author: “The rain in this art piece was the first aspect to set a negative tone for my writing, but I quickly realized that the bright, garish shade of the light seemed to echo the idea of imperfections revealed by fluorescent lighting. From there Adam was born, struggling not to see his own self-proclaimed identity as a “loner” or “introvert”, but failing under the inescapable lights of the hotel.”

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