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Short Fiction: 'The Face Of Any Other' By Michael J Seidlinger
Karl Smith , November 2nd, 2014 14:52

This week's new writing comes in the form of an extracted piece from Michael J. Seidlinger's forthcoming novel, The Face of Any Other, forthcoming 27/11/2014 from Lazy Fascist


Insincerity //

Hello, my name is Richard Tell, and I love my job. I do. I wake up thirty minutes before my alarm, every morning—never fail—so that I can get that perfect and necessary head start. Truth is I need the extra thirty minutes to build up to the fact that it’s another day. Another damn day. I’m at work by seven thirty—never fail, I’m reliable—and I show that I care by going the extra step. I make coffee for the entire office. I make sure the office is clean and ready for the workday. It’s part of my job as office assistant and some of the people here, I bet, think I’m trying to show off, trying to kiss the boss’s ass, but I’m not. I just really care. I do. Never fail to show that I like and value my job. So many people are jobless and I won’t let anyone see that the real reason I try so hard is because I’m afraid that one mistake might be the difference between being able to pay my bills and being out on the street. I won’t let anyone know that I’m afraid of being replaced. Won’t let anyone see, not even myself. But I wear it well, my enthusiasm. I wear it well and I’m so happy to have some reason to wake up every morning. I like to hide my real feelings because I’ve gotten used to it. Half the time I don’t even know I’m smothering them, hiding from any feeling by focusing on some new task, or trying so hard to tune into the current conversation between colleagues so that I have someone else to listen to, something else to do with my energy, so very concerned with staying in form, like I might break down in front of the entire office if I don’t. But I’m here and I’m early. No one else is here. I’m the first—never fail—to arrive. I’ll volunteer to do something because, again, I care and I love my job. I love my job. Really won’t show my nervous hands, shoving them in my pockets whenever possible, because I developed that bad habit in a meaningless attempt to deal with my anxiety about being disliked by others. I don’t feel like I fit in here so I do my best to predict when they’ll want something from me, and I do it ahead of time, with a positive outlook, and say something simple like, No problem.

If they don’t say my name, Richard, then I’m not in the spotlight.

I care. I do. I really do. Like this one time I knew that the office would need fifty three slices of pizza and fifty three bottles of beer for the Friday office party but the people at the pizza place messed up and only gave us fifty two beers so I went ahead and didn’t drink, even though no one noticed except for one guy that mocked me for not drinking, thinking I was one of those straight-edge fucks. I don’t tell—never fail—myself that it hurts, being undervalued despite giving my best efforts. I don’t tell—never fail—that I am insincere. I don’t tell myself most things, preferring to bury them underneath busy work.
         But the same can be said for most people.
         They work so hard to be something they’re not.
         I would know.

Welcome Mats //

When you have the face of any other, you tend to see the cracks forming long before they are ever felt. You look into a person’s face, like young Richard Tell here, and you see the youth wearing away with the ambition that continues to go unaddressed. You see the years that add on with age, the years that burn out like a tired flame. You see what I see, and then you’ll see why it’s much easier to work hard with the belief that it will pay off later.
The question thought by many is, How much longer?

A person will go to great lengths believing that, in every effort, there are dues being paid in full. Richard puts in the work, but the waiting weighs him down. He’s twenty-eight years old going on twenty-nine and he feels like he hasn’t made it through the front door.

He’s still waiting, staring down at the welcome mat, beginning to assume that the welcome is for someone else. From where I stand, when I knock there are no warm introductions. From where I stand, there are no introductions that aren’t addressed to someone else; there are no introductions, save for the blank stares and their faces, always their faces, baring all. When you have the face of any other, you can’t help but see, and I truly mean, see everything that lies beneath.

Peripheral Vision //

Richard Tell here, telling nobody that I feel like a third wheel at this meeting. It’s a big conference table and there are a few empty seats but I don’t sit down. See, I don’t sit down because if I do, I end up sitting between two other colleagues that would rather speak to each other. But I’d be in the way, blocking their vision.
         They would have to speak to me.
         And why would they want to do that?
         Still I’m going to sit down because I should be able to sit in on the meeting.
         One colleague gives me a look.
         I return the look.
I go back to taking notes—acting as though I am not nervous, barely able to keep myself from shaking. It’s not like me to do this, to sit down and to speak without being first told to sit down and instructed to speak.
         I’m low on the ladder.
         I sense that they are staring.
         But I keep my gaze trained to my notepad.
         Taking notes.
         I use my peripheral vision to see if what’s occurring matches my worries. But then it’ll be worth the sigh of relief when I see that nobody’s paying attention.
         Nobody finds this odd.
         I’m sitting down, taking notes.
         Today young Richard will leave a lasting impression.

Boredom //

When you have the face of any other, you tend to get a little bored. You see through a thousand different sets of eyes—blue, brown, grey, hazel—but it goes on with no clear indication of difference. Like Richard here, you see how the body and the mind function and you see the white space, the abstracted, hidden edges of every personality. You see everything that’s held back. That’s why you decide to sit down when normally young Richard would wait on aching legs for the long—sometimes three-hour long—meeting to conclude. You sit down and get to playing into what could be picked out of the white space.
         What hinders a person from being honest, truly representative of themselves?
         What is Richard Tell hiding?

Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Laughter of Strangers, My Pet Serial Killer and The Sky Conducting. He serves as Electric Literature's Book Reviews Editor as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specialising in unclassifiable/innovative fiction and poetry.