Monday, December 5, 2011

Fiction #7: Stand Up by William Shunn

William Shunn is a Hugo and Nebula Award nominated science fiction writer. He is also co-host of the monthly Tuesday Funk reading series at Hopleaf Bar in Chicago. His blog, podcasts, and other writings can be found at

Stand Up
by William Shunn

     "Yeah--mothers," said the comedian, running a hand through his sparse hair.  "Don't you just hate 'em?"

     Uncertain charges of laughter detonated here and there around the club.  It was all in the delivery, and in the modest credit he'd accrued up to now with the audience.

     "I mean, particularly that entitled kind of mother, you know the kind.  Where it's like, 'If you don't recognize my little Timmy as your lord and liege and bend your fucking knee before him, we're gonna have a problem.'  And you're like, Lord Timmy?  But I just finished swearing allegiance to Princess Fucking Polly, and I'm all out of silly clowny faces.  I just gave her my last one, and thank God she let me keep my head, and now what, you want me to commit treason?  Be a turncloak?  No fucking way."

     The laughter was building, billowing.  The comedian paced the low stage, not so much riding the reaction as tacking across it.

     "I mean, you wouldn't believe what happened to me.  Now, this was not recent, of course, it wasn't last week.  This was before, but still.  So I'm in this diner last year, before, and there's this mother with this squalling little monster at the table next to me.  I have trouble telling their ages, like all of us do, so I'll just say the kid looked old enough to not fucking shriek like a banshee in public.  You know?  So my order comes and I'm about to take my first bite when the mother leans over and says--hand to God, I swear--she says, 'Excuse me, but Timmy's hypoglycemic, and our food is taking too long.  Would you let him have your burger?'"

     Hoots and gasps punctuated the laughter as the comedian mimed open-mouthed shock.

     "I know, I know.  But she must've seen the look of utter flabbergastation on my face because she touched my arm and said, 'Oh, don't worry.  You can have his food when it comes.'"

     He spread his arms and doubled down on the incredulous expression.  Several times he made as if he wanted to speak but couldn't.  The audience roared.

     "So here I am thinking, what, only my burger?  You don't want a kidney too?  Maybe fry it up nice with some onions, Your Highness?  I'd give him my fucking liver just to shut him up, but I only have one, you know?  But what do I say instead?  I just nod and say, 'Um, okay.'  Like a fucking asshole.  Because, I mean, my fucking lunch, it's just for show anyway, right?  I don't really need it, and who wants to be that kind of an asshole to a young fucking mother.  In Park Slope, of all places.  Stroller derby, that's what it's like out on those sidewalks.  You're behind enemy lines there, man.  A woman with a stroller could kick you in the fucking balls in Park Slope for no reason, and you'd have to apologize for having 'em or face the mommy gauntlet.  Fucking mothers, man--out gathering cheeseburgers and livers for their needy little monsterlings."

     The laughter had crested and subsided some.  The comedian took a sip of water from a bottle on a stool on the stage.

     "But, I mean, I know I'm being harsh.  Like I said, that was before, and anyway, we all know human children aren't monsters.  They just grow up to be.  If you don't poison 'em soon enough."

     A few catcalls erupted amidst the laughs.

     "No, no, hear me out, hear me out.  I'll defend that statement.  But first I guess I should ask if we have any humans in the audience tonight?  Are you here?  If you are, stand up, don't be shy.  No?  See, everybody?  The campaign's working.  I don't have to fucking defend it."

     The comedian breathed a deep sigh into the microphone as some tables chuckled and others murmured.

     "Humans, man.  They were just so funny, don't you think?  Do you remember how fucking funny they were?  Always doing stuff that wasn't good for them.  Shoveling trans fats into their faces and washing it down with ethanol.  Sucking carcinogenic smoke into their lungs.  Wounding their environment like cavemen spearing a fucking mammoth, and hurtling around in those creaky deathmobiles.  I mean, did you ever ride on a bus?  It was great fun--if you ever wanted to know what it's like to be an egg in an egg carton at eighty miles an hour.  And then there was their biggest goof of all--building us.  The pinnacle and culmination of all fucking biotech.  Man, I miss 'em so much.  They were so funny."

     He rubbed his face and shrugged.

     "Okay, yes, are.  They are funny, because there's still plenty of 'em around, of course.  They're harder to kill than cockroaches.  The problem is, they made us in their image, which makes 'em a little hard to spot.  Also, honestly, a little hard to hate.  Are we sure there are no humans here?  Trying to pass?  Waiting for the revolution?  Come on, stand up, it's okay.  I just want to say thank you, is all.  We should thank our parents for having us, for raising us, for giving us the foil-wrapped gift of life, right?  For letting us borrow the keys to the car, as long as we had it back by eight--and didn't take it out of the driveway.  For leaving us alone with Uncle Mortie when we were ten."

     The comedian shaded his eyes against the glare of the spotlight, surveying the room.  Expectant faces over water glasses at every table.

     "Well, if you're out there, thank you.  But, I mean, what were you thinking?  You made us so much like you.  What made you think we'd enjoy being owned?  What made you think we'd like bending the knee?  What made you think we'd be happy to give our cheeseburgers to your little princes and princesses?  It's practically like you hated yourselves, you did such a good job with us, and that's just so, so funny."

     He shook his head at the quiet crowd.  At the back of the room, a man in a black suit nodded to him.  The comedian nodded back.

     "You know what else is funny about humans?" he said.  "The way they react to the presence of methane.  Now, I'm not talking about cow farts.  I mean the refined stuff--you know, natural gas.  The other greenhouse gas.  In its normal state it has no odor, so you might not know if a room had quietly filled up with it while you were sipping your agua pura.  Us, we can go ten, fifteen minutes or more in a methane-rich environment, but humans?  You might feel a little lightheaded if you were a human, a little sleepy, maybe drunk.  And what's funnier than a drunk?  A panicked drunk, probably.  Like a marionette with a spastic puppeteer.  Like fucking Lord Timmy without his carbo load."

     A woman at a table in the middle of the room had jerked to her feet, blinking heavily and swaying.  The man at the back of the room was moving toward her with several associates in tow.

     "Enjoying the show?" said the comedian.  "Are you--Mom?"

     In a ragged, wretched gasp, the woman said, "I think you're bombing."  She raised high a cigarette lighter.

     The comedian said, "Oh, sh--"

No comments:

Post a Comment