“Whatever one man does, it is as if all men did it. For that reason, it is not unfair that one disobedience in a garden should contaminate all humanity; for that reason it is not unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew should be sufficient to–” A wrinkled hand with a luxurious watch fell upon page seventy and then scurried away. I looked up to see a man worn out by life claiming the aisle seat. He gave a quick apology, shifted his carry-on bag under the chair in front of him, and I returned to my reading.

I was in the middle of reading a short story by Jorge Luis Borges titled “The Shape of the Sword.” This story, I believed, was vital in my research for a novel of my own, which at the time had the preliminary title Borges Mountain. My novel followed a set of characters across time as they traverse a labyrinthine mountainside governed by a malicious spirit who wishes to trap and kill as many people as possible. Unknowingly to all, a young couple arrive in accordance with some old prophecy and free the landscape from its dark shadow.

The man next to me, who previously disturbed my reading, now asked for my name and what I was reading. I told him both. He ahhed when I mentioned the story, recognizing that I thought highly of this man “Borges” but having no idea who it was. Changing the subject, he asked what I did for work. I told him that I was a writer. His face lit up, and he said excitedly that he had a great story for me. He asked me if I would like to hear it. I kept my face tight and recited, “I’d be happy to hear it.”

“But before I tell you,” he began, “does anyone read what you write?”

“No.”

“Good. Then I can begin.”

And so he did:

“I’ve lived a long life, and I’ve confessed nearly all my sins—I’m very Christian, you know.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, but there is one story that I’ve never put on my lips, and my soul drags because of it. I’ll tell you this story, Davis, only as long as you promise to write it down and share it with the world below.” He said, I think referring to our being on an airplane.

I nodded.

“I was a young man,” he said, taking a deep breath, “only a few years out of college. I studied theater, and I had plans to be a successful actor. I was married to a stunning gal named Leah, beauty of beauties, and I had a daughter, Isabel. This beginning is an oft-told story, so I take it you understand the conflict already: I could not find much work—any work, really. For better or worse, I had my standards. I promised myself I would not take a job doing something less than I deserved. Leah, on the other hand, worked feverishly as a secretary during the day and as a hostess during the evening. All so I could practice for my auditions.

“Audition after audition went by, and nothing connected. My problem certainly was not confidence. The feedback I generally received, if any, was that I raced through my lines as if my tongue were on fire. For the longest time, I took this as a compliment. I believed that what audiences needed was a character who experienced modern conflicts, like time. I portrayed these characters as if they were burdened with the same desire for productivity that we as Americans feel today. As if they felt a sense of urgency to say their lines before the curtain drops, not knowing when it will happen. Imagine Hamlet checking his wristwatch throughout his soliloquys. To be or not to be, that is the—wait, what time is it? I thought this was an original take, a new idea, but it had not worked for me.

“You must understand something. At the time I had great dreams, but I also had great shame. What man lets his wife slave away at work while he is off playing in costumes? I brought this up to her, and she would often say something like, ‘I love that you have dreams. Chase them. Wait for the right opportunity, and let all these critiques make you better.’

“Her words warmed me, but they could not burn out the guilt that comes from a man’s utter and perverse financial dependence on his wife. And I arrived at a great dilemma so early in life: Do I cut back on my dreams to alleviate some of Leah’s burden, or do I turn a blind eye to my own wife’s needs and hope fate merely delayed my  career? Trapped in the labyrinth of life, what was I to do? But fate sought me out and rescued me through one man who changed my life forever.

“I met Frank Shore after an audition. Per my usual routine, I prepared arduously. I worked myself into a sweat on the stage, giving every last letter of every last word a flair unique to me. If there had been an audience, they would have stood up and shaken the building with their applause, I’m sure of it. But of the two men watching, one leaned forward to respond: ‘Thank you for the audition. The cast list will be posted to our website in a few weeks.’

“I left the theater through the lobby, imagining what it would be like for the hoi polloi to pour into this room, with my name on the front of all the programs. Seated near the exit was none other than Frank Shore. Now, I hadn’t met him yet, but I was about to. And he would soon become the man who’d leave the biggest mark on my life. More than anyone.” He sighed.

We paused the story for a few minutes as the airplane took off. This was to be a short flight, and I wondered if I’d still have time to finish Borges’s story.

“Anyway, back to the story. That day, Frank mentioned he caught a glimpse of my performance and, discouraged for his own career, had left thinking I would surely get the role. I told him my chances were slim to none—the judges did not seem interest. He was stunned. He said they were insane to pass on such talent, and then he asked me how many big roles I had obtained. Somewhat flattered, somewhat annoyed, I explained I had yet to land any role at all. He asked how I supported myself, and in the same manner as my previous answer, I said I did not. He receded, perhaps feeling shameful for making me admit this. He offered to buy me dinner, and I agreed as we left the theater.

“Our meeting, it turned out, was preordained. I found an inseparable bond with Shore the moment we sat down together. This man had a swagger about him, some unworldly confidence amid his theatric failings. I personally was in a pit, and his spirit was bringing me back out again. If he could live like this—happy, bold, taking friends out to dinner—then so could I. We talked for the first half-hour or so about various auditions we’d had, how they went right or wrong, and how invariably we did not get the part. We complained together, praised each other for certain artistic decisions, dreamed together—all before our food came out. We our meals arrived, Shore asked if he could change the topic, if he could explain the reason for his happiness amid all these struggles. I said yes because inside I sincerely wanted to know. He scanned me for a moment, as if he was deciding again if I was worth sharing this secret with, but then he pulled out a business card and slid it across the table.

It had a simple, one-color background and in the middle was the word Pomonsia. What is this? I asked.

He explained that it was a way to make a living while still auditioning for roles. The pressure was off him to get any role since he had money coming in another way. I asked him how it worked. He said that it was a watch company that mastered the art of person-to-person sales. All you had to do was post about the watch on social media, and you would get a healthy chunk of the profit. Our conversation at this point tailed off into topics such as how old characters should have a modern notion of time, but soon our topics were exhausted, and it was time to return home. I thanked him for the advice, exchanged phone numbers with him, and took the card with me.

“I was eager then to begin pulling my weight in terms of our finances, so I joined Pomonsia that evening. All I remember was that there was a small monthly fee to become a sales associate, but which also gave me the one-time ability to choose any Pomonsia product to sell first. I took advantage of this nice offer, picking the most extravagant watch they had. It would arrive in a few days, and surely I’d sell it in no time. It was an exciting evening for me, Davis, and I hardly slept because I couldn’t stop thinking about that watch.

“Well, to keep the story short, eventually the watch came. I advertised for it online. I was encouraged by the attention it received, albeit there was no buyer as of yet. But the mere knowledge that the watch could sell gave me great peace. I was calmer, I performed better, and I even landed a minor role in a small production. Success had finally come my way, and it was all because of the watch.

“Now I figured it hadn’t sold because I wasn’t a trustworthy seller. Who would buy an expensive watch from a man who had never been known to sell anything, and here he is selling this fancy thing? No, no, I needed more items in stock. More options, at least to show that I was a serious sales associate and a reputable man. Now at the time, any Pomonsia member could order more watches for their personal sales inventory at a reduced rate—it was almost like getting these watches for free. I selected a few more to be sent out to me, and even just one of these being sold would more than make up for the cost of the membership and the cost I spent to select them. When they arrived, I touched base with Shore as to best practices related to sales language, copy for social media posts, and he offered some wise advice. In fact, he always had wise advice for me. We’d meet every now and again at the same bar we’d had our initial conversation. And every now and again too Shore would email along exclusive codes for high-selling watches on Pomonsia’s website which I could order for my inventory for free. Over the course of several months, I had amassed a decadent collection of wrist watches, each one ticking in anticipation of their sale—and my profit. At the time I marveled at what a blessing friendship can be. This man had shared a lucrative secret with me, and for that I was grateful. More than this, I felt quite indebted to him. I would soon perform in my first show, during which surely some talent scout will take notice of my undervalued ability, and then I would come back from the show to find my bank account increased twentyfold. All of it thanks to Frank Shore.”

I looked down the aisle to see if the bathroom were clear. The man took this as a sign of my boredom or impatience.

“I’m almost finished, I promise.” He said. “Because nothing worked out that way for me. Near my first dress rehearsal, Leah and I received a letter from our property manager that said our rent payment had not gone through—our account was overdrawn. We looked at each other in bewilderment. How could this be? I looked into our bank account after not having checked it for a long time—I had theatre practice, you know. Nonetheless, what I discovered, truly something that I should have known, was that I had been making various, consecutive, and increasing payments to Pomonsia. I’ll spare you the fine details, but essentially what I would later discover—too late!—was that when I became a sales associate, I had somehow agreed to pay for the watches myself, plus interest, had I not sold them in a given time-frame. Usually four to six weeks. And I had always picked the nicest, most expensive watches! In haste, I went online and cancelled my membership, ending my status as a sales associate. But this too was costly: I had also agreed to a year-long contract, and a substantial fee came along with breaking the contract. All in all, Leah and I were in massive debt with much to pay off still. And if we could not make our rent in thirty days, we would be evicted.” He took a breath.

Was that the end of his story? I eyed my book.

“To my credit, I came clean about everything to Leah.” He continued. “Of course, she was mad. She took Isabel and the car, and we didn’t end up speaking for quite time. But in that moment, I texted Shore: We need to talk. And I told him to meet me at our usual spot.

“When I got there, I sat down at the bar. Of all things to happen, there was a man next to me with a Pomonsia business card on the counter in front of him. I asked him about it, asked him if he worked for them. He said not yet, but he planned to. He could see judgment on my face, and he explained how he just had a conversation with a struggling seminary student. The man couldn’t find work as a pastor—not even as a part-time youth pastor or worship leader—and it was discouraging to say the least. To be on a path that God himself called you onto, and now you can’t find work? This man said he too was in a similar position. He had risked so much, he could have worked a normal job with a normal paycheck. He just felt like the Lord refused to open doors for him. Then he asked me if I knew the Lord. I shook off his question and asked him about the man he had talked to—

“‘What was his name? Where’d he go?’”

“‘His name is John Moon, and that he just stepped away to use the bathroom.’”

John Moon? A clear alias for Frank Shore, I thought. I stole the business card from the pastor and ran outside—Shore was close.

“I sprinted around the block, up and down alleys, across streets—and then I spotted him. He was too terrified to run straight. I chased him down, dragged him into a nearby alley, and pinned him up to the wall. I screamed:

“‘You lied to me. You tricked me. I have no money. My wife and daughter left me. I have nothing except for these stupid watches!’”

“He pretended as if he didn’t know, as if he didn’t mean for this to happen, but I didn’t want to hear it. So I yelled again: ‘This is all because of you!’ And I pushed him over and over again until we both bled.”

The man paused, telling his story. But he had held his breath, so I assumed there was a final line coming or some next plot point for the story. I watched him closely, wanting to know how things ended. He looked at me in a confused, almost angry way.

“What? You believe what I’ve said? I wanted to lie, but I didn’t think it’d be this easy. That’s a writer for you, always accepting a good story at face value, not caring whether it is fact or fiction. But I’ve lied too long, Davis. Here’s the real truth: There was no Frank Shore. Everything that happened, I did to myself.”

Soon after that, the pilot announced that we were starting our descent, and I put the book of short stories back into my backpack.

“Whatever one man does, it is as if all men did it. For that reason, it is not unfair that one disobedience in a garden should contaminate all humanity; for that reason it is not unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew should be sufficient to–” A wrinkled hand with a luxurious watch fell upon page seventy and then scurried away. I looked up to see a man worn out by life claiming the aisle seat. He gave a quick apology, shifted his carry-on bag under the chair in front of him, and I returned to my reading.

I was in the middle of reading a short story by Jorge Luis Borges titled “The Shape of the Sword.” This story, I believed, was vital in my research for a novel of my own, which at the time had the preliminary title Borges Mountain. My novel followed a set of characters across time as they traverse a labyrinthine mountainside governed by a malicious spirit who wishes to trap and kill as many people as possible. Unknowingly to all, a young couple arrive in accordance with some old prophecy and free the landscape from its dark shadow.

The man next to me, who previously disturbed my reading, now asked for my name and what I was reading. I told him both. He ahhed when I mentioned the story, recognizing that I thought highly of this man “Borges” but having no idea who it was. Changing the subject, he asked what I did for work. I told him that I was a writer. His face lit up, and he said excitedly that he had a great story for me. He asked me if I would like to hear it. I kept my face tight and recited, “I’d be happy to hear it.”

“But before I tell you,” he began, “does anyone read what you write?”

“No.”

“Good. Then I can begin.”

And so he did:

“I’ve lived a long life, and I’ve confessed nearly all my sins—I’m very Christian, you know.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, but there is one story that I’ve never put on my lips, and my soul drags because of it. I’ll tell you this story, Davis, only as long as you promise to write it down and share it with the world below.” He said, I think referring to our being on an airplane.

I nodded.

“I was a young man,” he said, taking a deep breath, “only a few years out of college. I studied theater, and I had plans to be a successful actor. I was married to a stunning gal named Leah, beauty of beauties, and I had a daughter, Isabel. This beginning is an oft-told story, so I take it you understand the conflict already: I could not find much work—any work, really. For better or worse, I had my standards. I promised myself I would not take a job doing something less than I deserved. Leah, on the other hand, worked feverishly as a secretary during the day and as a hostess during the evening. All so I could practice for my auditions.

“Audition after audition went by, and nothing connected. My problem certainly was not confidence. The feedback I generally received, if any, was that I raced through my lines as if my tongue were on fire. For the longest time, I took this as a compliment. I believed that what audiences needed was a character who experienced modern conflicts, like time. I portrayed these characters as if they were burdened with the same desire for productivity that we as Americans feel today. As if they felt a sense of urgency to say their lines before the curtain drops, not knowing when it will happen. Imagine Hamlet checking his wristwatch throughout his soliloquys. To be or not to be, that is the—wait, what time is it? I thought this was an original take, a new idea, but it had not worked for me.

“You must understand something. At the time I had great dreams, but I also had great shame. What man lets his wife slave away at work while he is off playing in costumes? I brought this up to her, and she would often say something like, ‘I love that you have dreams. Chase them. Wait for the right opportunity, and let all these critiques make you better.’

“Her words warmed me, but they could not burn out the guilt that comes from a man’s utter and perverse financial dependence on his wife. And I arrived at a great dilemma so early in life: Do I cut back on my dreams to alleviate some of Leah’s burden, or do I turn a blind eye to my own wife’s needs and hope fate merely delayed my  career? Trapped in the labyrinth of life, what was I to do? But fate sought me out and rescued me through one man who changed my life forever.

“I met Frank Shore after an audition. Per my usual routine, I prepared arduously. I worked myself into a sweat on the stage, giving every last letter of every last word a flair unique to me. If there had been an audience, they would have stood up and shaken the building with their applause, I’m sure of it. But of the two men watching, one leaned forward to respond: ‘Thank you for the audition. The cast list will be posted to our website in a few weeks.’

“I left the theater through the lobby, imagining what it would be like for the hoi polloi to pour into this room, with my name on the front of all the programs. Seated near the exit was none other than Frank Shore. Now, I hadn’t met him yet, but I was about to. And he would soon become the man who’d leave the biggest mark on my life. More than anyone.” He sighed.

We paused the story for a few minutes as the airplane took off. This was to be a short flight, and I wondered if I’d still have time to finish Borges’s story.

“Anyway, back to the story. That day, Frank mentioned he caught a glimpse of my performance and, discouraged for his own career, had left thinking I would surely get the role. I told him my chances were slim to none—the judges did not seem interest. He was stunned. He said they were insane to pass on such talent, and then he asked me how many big roles I had obtained. Somewhat flattered, somewhat annoyed, I explained I had yet to land any role at all. He asked how I supported myself, and in the same manner as my previous answer, I said I did not. He receded, perhaps feeling shameful for making me admit this. He offered to buy me dinner, and I agreed as we left the theater.

“Our meeting, it turned out, was preordained. I found an inseparable bond with Shore the moment we sat down together. This man had a swagger about him, some unworldly confidence amid his theatric failings. I personally was in a pit, and his spirit was bringing me back out again. If he could live like this—happy, bold, taking friends out to dinner—then so could I. We talked for the first half-hour or so about various auditions we’d had, how they went right or wrong, and how invariably we did not get the part. We complained together, praised each other for certain artistic decisions, dreamed together—all before our food came out. We our meals arrived, Shore asked if he could change the topic, if he could explain the reason for his happiness amid all these struggles. I said yes because inside I sincerely wanted to know. He scanned me for a moment, as if he was deciding again if I was worth sharing this secret with, but then he pulled out a business card and slid it across the table.

It had a simple, one-color background and in the middle was the word Pomonsia. What is this? I asked.

He explained that it was a way to make a living while still auditioning for roles. The pressure was off him to get any role since he had money coming in another way. I asked him how it worked. He said that it was a watch company that mastered the art of person-to-person sales. All you had to do was post about the watch on social media, and you would get a healthy chunk of the profit. Our conversation at this point tailed off into topics such as how old characters should have a modern notion of time, but soon our topics were exhausted, and it was time to return home. I thanked him for the advice, exchanged phone numbers with him, and took the card with me.

“I was eager then to begin pulling my weight in terms of our finances, so I joined Pomonsia that evening. All I remember was that there was a small monthly fee to become a sales associate, but which also gave me the one-time ability to choose any Pomonsia product to sell first. I took advantage of this nice offer, picking the most extravagant watch they had. It would arrive in a few days, and surely I’d sell it in no time. It was an exciting evening for me, Davis, and I hardly slept because I couldn’t stop thinking about that watch.

“Well, to keep the story short, eventually the watch came. I advertised for it online. I was encouraged by the attention it received, albeit there was no buyer as of yet. But the mere knowledge that the watch could sell gave me great peace. I was calmer, I performed better, and I even landed a minor role in a small production. Success had finally come my way, and it was all because of the watch.

“Now I figured it hadn’t sold because I wasn’t a trustworthy seller. Who would buy an expensive watch from a man who had never been known to sell anything, and here he is selling this fancy thing? No, no, I needed more items in stock. More options, at least to show that I was a serious sales associate and a reputable man. Now at the time, any Pomonsia member could order more watches for their personal sales inventory at a reduced rate—it was almost like getting these watches for free. I selected a few more to be sent out to me, and even just one of these being sold would more than make up for the cost of the membership and the cost I spent to select them. When they arrived, I touched base with Shore as to best practices related to sales language, copy for social media posts, and he offered some wise advice. In fact, he always had wise advice for me. We’d meet every now and again at the same bar we’d had our initial conversation. And every now and again too Shore would email along exclusive codes for high-selling watches on Pomonsia’s website which I could order for my inventory for free. Over the course of several months, I had amassed a decadent collection of wrist watches, each one ticking in anticipation of their sale—and my profit. At the time I marveled at what a blessing friendship can be. This man had shared a lucrative secret with me, and for that I was grateful. More than this, I felt quite indebted to him. I would soon perform in my first show, during which surely some talent scout will take notice of my undervalued ability, and then I would come back from the show to find my bank account increased twentyfold. All of it thanks to Frank Shore.”

I looked down the aisle to see if the bathroom were clear. The man took this as a sign of my boredom or impatience.

“I’m almost finished, I promise.” He said. “Because nothing worked out that way for me. Near my first dress rehearsal, Leah and I received a letter from our property manager that said our rent payment had not gone through—our account was overdrawn. We looked at each other in bewilderment. How could this be? I looked into our bank account after not having checked it for a long time—I had theatre practice, you know. Nonetheless, what I discovered, truly something that I should have known, was that I had been making various, consecutive, and increasing payments to Pomonsia. I’ll spare you the fine details, but essentially what I would later discover—too late!—was that when I became a sales associate, I had somehow agreed to pay for the watches myself, plus interest, had I not sold them in a given time-frame. Usually four to six weeks. And I had always picked the nicest, most expensive watches! In haste, I went online and cancelled my membership, ending my status as a sales associate. But this too was costly: I had also agreed to a year-long contract, and a substantial fee came along with breaking the contract. All in all, Leah and I were in massive debt with much to pay off still. And if we could not make our rent in thirty days, we would be evicted.” He took a breath.

Was that the end of his story? I eyed my book.

“To my credit, I came clean about everything to Leah.” He continued. “Of course, she was mad. She took Isabel and the car, and we didn’t end up speaking for quite time. But in that moment, I texted Shore: We need to talk. And I told him to meet me at our usual spot.

“When I got there, I sat down at the bar. Of all things to happen, there was a man next to me with a Pomonsia business card on the counter in front of him. I asked him about it, asked him if he worked for them. He said not yet, but he planned to. He could see judgment on my face, and he explained how he just had a conversation with a struggling seminary student. The man couldn’t find work as a pastor—not even as a part-time youth pastor or worship leader—and it was discouraging to say the least. To be on a path that God himself called you onto, and now you can’t find work? This man said he too was in a similar position. He had risked so much, he could have worked a normal job with a normal paycheck. He just felt like the Lord refused to open doors for him. Then he asked me if I knew the Lord. I shook off his question and asked him about the man he had talked to—

“‘What was his name? Where’d he go?’”

“‘His name is John Moon, and that he just stepped away to use the bathroom.’”

John Moon? A clear alias for Frank Shore, I thought. I stole the business card from the pastor and ran outside—Shore was close.

“I sprinted around the block, up and down alleys, across streets—and then I spotted him. He was too terrified to run straight. I chased him down, dragged him into a nearby alley, and pinned him up to the wall. I screamed:

“‘You lied to me. You tricked me. I have no money. My wife and daughter left me. I have nothing except for these stupid watches!’”

“He pretended as if he didn’t know, as if he didn’t mean for this to happen, but I didn’t want to hear it. So I yelled again: ‘This is all because of you!’ And I pushed him over and over again until we both bled.”

The man paused, telling his story. But he had held his breath, so I assumed there was a final line coming or some next plot point for the story. I watched him closely, wanting to know how things ended. He looked at me in a confused, almost angry way.

“What? You believe what I’ve said? I wanted to lie, but I didn’t think it’d be this easy. That’s a writer for you, always accepting a good story at face value, not caring whether it is fact or fiction. But I’ve lied too long, Davis. Here’s the real truth: There was no Frank Shore. Everything that happened, I did to myself.”

Soon after that, the pilot announced that we were starting our descent, and I put the book of short stories back into my backpack.

Davis Wetherell writes aesthetically inclined, biblically leavened stories that follow self-interested characters amid acute existential crises. His work has appeared in Maudlin House, Straylight Literary Magazine, J.J. Outre Review, and Pleiades Magazine.

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