A Polished Turd
by K. A. Mielke
“You polished a turd and thought you’d found gold. What was it really? Corn, Terry. You found corn in your turd. A turd with corn in it is still just a turd.”
Terry sipped at his lukewarm latte. He stared at the empty document on his screen—a document that should have been filled with creative genius long before Kevin had come to beat him down. Itchy with anxiety, Terry scratched across his scalp with overgrown fingernails. His latte found its way back to his mouth in a moment of desperation.
“That is both the cruelest and the strangest thing anyone has ever said to me,” Terry mumbled.
“I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, buddy,” Kevin said. “While we’re at it, wearing a fancy hat and scarf inside doesn’t make you an intellectual.”
Kevin was fat and loud, with a neck beard and a head of hair the texture of wool. The beard made it painfully obvious that he didn’t have a chin. He wouldn’t have known good literature—or intellectualism, for that matter—if it chased him with a razor.
“I appreciate your honesty,” Terry said.
He’d reached the bottom of his latte and found himself wishing he smoked. The last vice he had left grew past the tips of his fingers, but there was no dignity in chewing off his fingernails. A proper writer would order another latte and describe the flavour for use later. No—a proper writer would order a pint of whisky and get so shitfaced that the writing gods would pity him and allow him to channel Hemingway or Fitzgerald through his girly little fingers.
Did they sell whisky in pints? Terry would have to look that up.
“Do I need to get you another ‘How To’ book?” Kevin asked, brushing scone crumbs from his vintage Smurfs t-shirt while neglecting those clinging to his facial hair.
The stubborn old man in Terry recoiled in fear. The last writing instruction manual he’d read challenged and criticized everything he knew and left him creatively comatose for six months. He and his inner entitled geriatric didn’t need the help of newfangled professional know-it-alls. Terry spat his dentures out in protest.
Metaphorically, of course.
“That would be nice,” he said with the most polite smile he could manage in such a crisis. On top of everything, there went his last chance of Kevin getting him a letter opener for Christmas. Nothing said ‘professional’ like a letter opener. “You know what else is nice? Letter openers.”
“Oh yeah, man. I have three at home.”
Terry squinted. Kevin was out to get him.
He wished he was rasher, reckless enough to throw a punch in the middle of a café. As it was, Kevin was his only friend, and had been for too long for Terry to start swinging now.
Terry leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped atop his head. “Alright,” he conceded, “what’s wrong with it?”
“It’s called ‘The Man.'”
“Could you be any more vague? It’s bad enough it’s a ‘The’ title. Do you know how uncreative that is? Have you seen all the uproar about movies coming out with boring-ass titles like that? You need to think, like, Of Mice and Men, or A Clockwork Orange. Now those are some bitchin’ titles. Read some poetry or something, man. Sample song lyrics.”
A Clockwork Orange was a bitching title.
“Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney had a song called ‘The Man’,” I mumbled.
“You’re not a pop star, you’re a starving artist. And a writer! You can’t be listening to pop songs. And what are you even doing in a café if you’re starving?”
Terry glanced at the mug that once held his $3.50 latte.
“If the title is your only complaint—”
“It’s boring. From beginning to end. Even the shootout was boring. And you write sex like a woman-hating gynecologist.” Kevin rubbed at his temples with bratwurst-sized fingers. “You’re really not cut out for this.”
Kevin’s neck-equivalent was much too large to wrap Terry’s unfortunately small hands around. He would have to find another method. There was the spoon that was always curiously provided with his drink. He could scoop his eyes out and be gone before the police showed up. He had run track in high school.
Terry resisted the urge to inform Kevin that he’d show him exactly how boring his shootouts were. He was a writer, dammit. Better than petty insults. Expected to deliver intelligent, truly damaging comebacks.
“You’re fat,” Terry said. He could feel his face getting hot and red.
“It’s not my fault you’re a shitty writer, Terry,” Kevin said with his arms held in mock surrender. “Even if you could write, writers need to be prolific. You are infertile. Your writing balls are out of writing sperm. There will be no in vitro.”
“It is too your fault!” Terry said. “You’re always here to bring me down! Ever since we hit puberty, that’s all you’ve done!”
“You really didn’t have a chance of getting any in fifth grade. Let it go.”
“Dammit Kevin, you suck! Leave me alone!”
Terry’s hand swung out, knocking the mug to the wooden floor. He jerked to life as the ceramic smashed into a thousand pieces, and his eyes shed their settled glaze. The open document on his computer was still as white as the snow piling on the city streets.
“Are you okay, sir?” the barista said as he rushed by Terry’s side with a dustpan and broom.
“Sorry?” Terry said, shaking his head. He avoided acknowledging the café patrons now looking his way. “Shit, I’m so sorry. How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
The glass clinked together noisily as the broom’s bristles swept it away. A spot of brown liquid smeared on the floor, an oasis fit for a mouse.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Another latte, please.” Fishing in his pockets, he gave the barista exact change and turned his attention back to the laptop.
With a heavy sigh, a steeling of his will, and the relative silence of his inner critic—
(“And part-time Tyler Durden,” said a gruff, neck-bearded voice in his head.
“Shut up,” Terry said to himself.)
—Terry began to polish his turds.
◊ ◊ ◊
K. A. Mielke
K. A. Mielke is a freelance writer from Guelph, Ontario, a fearsome city overrun with rabid environmentalists. His short fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Niteblade Magazine, and The Running Bunny, and will appear in the forthcoming Murder Mayhem by Flame Tree Publishing. He enjoys panicking about his writing career, watching entirely too much television, and reading Coraline to his children whether they like it or not.