THE READING

Gregg read aloud. “These are a few works I’ve yet to publish,” he began. A kind person and a heavy breather, with an outfit marked by a tasteless simplicity, Gregg stood in front of the mic with a ream of paper and wanted to read what he’d written but the audience wouldn’t let him.

As soon as he finished the opening paragraph, a few people began coughing during the pauses he took to breathe and continue. The story was about a man at a bank who’d misplaced his keys, which may have never existed in the first place. The whole story bored the audience, so much and so quickly that several people walked out before the conclusion.

Gregg was frightened. “Hold on please, just a minute now, I’m almost done,” he said. He continued, going on and on about the missing keys, until a few people began heckling.

“Quit while you’re ahead, pal,” one old man said in the back.

“Louder,” a woman shouted.

“It is almost finished,” Gregg lied. Over the course of 700 words, the main character was no closer to finding his keys, but Gregg read on while a few audience members began clapping as an act of rebellion. At first, it encouraged Gregg. He finished the first story and immediately began reading another, which seemed almost identical to the first — in structure, cadence, plot, and characters.

Someone booed, and that spiraled into a smattering of boos, and then a glass cracked and a plate shattered. Gregg ducked. He took two gulps from the seltzer water bottle he’d wedged under his armpit, and as he chugged and chugged his eyes had nowhere else to look but forward, at the people. The only remaining audience members were perhaps the most defiant, those unwilling to part quietly. Instead, Gregg’s brief eye contact set them afire. One man tipped over his table. A father of two yanked a tablecloth out from under his family’s food and dishes. Everyone cheered for him except Gregg, who could only open his mouth. “I would very much like to read a third story that will only take fifteen minutes. I just need to use the restroom for five or ten minutes, I won’t be long, I promise, but please, use this time to relax, stand up, talk to your neighbor, grab a smoke outside, or order another drink, but don’t forget to tip your bartender.”

Only one man remained, to whom Gregg read a tale about a dentist whose dog had many cavities.