Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassment (01/12/12)
TITLE: The Rise and Fall of Harry Harrison
By Theresa Santy
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A well-caffeinated announcer introduces Harry as “A scrawny boy from the analog age turned beefy Internet mogul.”
Harry humbly accepts the crowd’s welcome and proceeds to share the story of how he became a sought-after, money-making machine. He explains how he used to be an introvert from an invisible village in Wisconsin named Yuba, population ninety-two. Now, minus one.
“The place was positively suffocating,” says Harry. “It was a cage of obscurity, and I thought of nothing my entire childhood but breaking free.”
Crowd anticipation reaches pitch height, and Harry goes on to explain his secret to success, revealing his ingenious formula: A healthy body creates a positive image. A positive image creates a successful mind.
It’s that simple.
“You’d be amazed what a little calculated weightlifting can do to transform an image,” says Harry.
Hundreds of gangling computer geeks laugh out loud while typing furiously into their portable electronic devices. Following the lecture, attendees clog the halls, cramming themselves near Harry’s table to grab all they can. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they vanish.
One attendee remains, a woman who stands at a distance at first, but then hooks her big brown eyes onto Harry and reels herself in. She’s an athletic type with a graceful gate, her shimmering chocolate hair brushing against her shoulders. Harry is mesmerized.
“Hi, name’s Karen,” she says, her lashes fluttering bashfully. “I’m a fan.”
The tone of her voice is peculiar, and yet familiar.
“You’ve read my book?”
“No, um—I’m a fan from your choir days, Harold.”
Harry’s manicured brow rises. He was sixteen the last time he sang in the Yuba church choir. Eighteen the last time he let anybody call him Harold.
“Karen! I remember you now. You used to sit in the grass by yourself at recess.”
“Yes, and you sat by yourself at the other end of the grass.”
Harry is amused by Karen’s response, and flattered that she’d followed him to Los Angeles, though she insists she’s in town on other business. The hour hand rushes around Harry’s Rolex as he chats with Karen about what was and what has been. Harry says he had felt trapped inside the smallness of Yuba, with its one school, two churches, and only three bars. Karen still lives in Yuba, and says she teaches at the one school, adores the two churches, and quite frankly, could do without the three bars.
Harry notices a diamond cross pendant bouncing off Karen’s throat whenever she speaks, but it is her eyes that dazzle him. He wonders how it could be fair that he’s spent half his life running away from a place that houses this stunning creature. He makes plans as he walks Karen to her car. He’d get her number and take her on a personal tour of the big city. She would be impressed. But before Harry gets a chance to speak again, Karen leans in.
“You have a hair on your shirt,” she says. “Let me get that.”
Swift as a fox, she grabs the hair and pulls.
Harry screams, jumps back, and grabs his chest; Karen screams, jumps back and flings her arms up high, indicating zero intention to harm.
“I’m sorry I—”
But Karen’s voice is frozen and she can say nothing else.
The hair was attached.
Apparently, this particular chest hair had grown tired of letting Harry’s bulging muscles hoard the glory, and so breached the confining fibers of the Polo shirt. This persistent hair had risen above obscurity, basking in notoriety, right up until the moment it had been assaulted.
Smoggy wet air fills Harry’s lungs and he is struck as speechless as his companion. Awkwardness drives a wedge between the pair.
As Karen’s midsized sedan peels out and away from the parking lot, gaining speed with every passing second, Harry grasps onto the possibility that she had been astounded, perhaps impressed, by his hairy manliness.
Certainly, Karen returned home with a completely different impression of Harry than she had when she had left.
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