No Literary Award for Kiki Melville

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This short story is a tragically funny tale about a hard-working author who fails to get the recognition he wants.

At the age of thirty-four, Kiki Melville published his first novel. He worked hard during the twelve years that followed and slowly gained a modest amount of popularity. Out of shyness, Kiki Melville gave only email interviews and refused to send his photo when asked. As a result, nobody knew what he looked like. Readers and critics assumed that, given the author’s name, this secretive person had to be a woman. Based on Kiki’s writing style, which paid considerable attention to detail, many people agreed that the author had to be an annoying and haughty spinster. Others pictured him as a centenarian grandmother that lived in a gigantic greenhouse, with twenty-six cats. One day, Kiki Melville appeared for the first time on television. When asked why it had taken him so long to show his face, he shrugged and smiled. His fans were astounded to discover that he was a man. Had he been a tad androgynous, his gender might have been excused. Alas, Kiki Melville was the archetype of the middle-aged male, pot-bellied, bald and bewilderingly graceless. A thick layer of hair covered his hands, his neck and, presumably, his backside. In stark contrast to the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Kiki Melville was the guy you would not want to bump into on a dark night. He was the anonymous extra on a horror movie set, lurking in the basements of haunted houses. Pictures of him had popped up all over the Internet since he had decided to no longer hide, including that dreadful one in which his shirt was not buttoned to the top, revealing a black, tangled mass that looked a little too much like pubic hair. However, some media outlets that cared little for background research still referred to him as a she.

During interviews, Kiki Melville was soft-spoken and very kind to his hosts. He gave concise replies, always careful to pick the appropriate words. He dreaded getting into arguments and therefore agreed with everyone on almost every topic, except when the injustice of a particular situation was too hard to bare, for example when a hippopotamus got violently killed in a zoo or when a fourteen-year-old girl received the Man Booker Prize.

‘I was appalled,’ he said, in both instances.

Indeed, Kiki Melville did not hide his dislike for Chastity Jones, the girl who was said to have written her first book at the age of four and who received one of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes ten years later. He compared her fame to a pop star’s, dazzling at first, like a firework, only to fall into dirt once the fuel has burnt out. Kiki Melville was convinced that few people would remember Chastity Jones, in just five years. The girl’s prize-winning book was the story of a man who spends most of his life in a wheelchair, following a motorbike accident. In the book’s opening pages, the man is rolled down a street by a transgender Sri Lankan nurse. Pedestrians and drivers all stare at the duo, wondering what the three fluids bags hanging above the handicapped man contained. The transparent one’s function was obvious because every grownup knew what a drip was, but what about the two others? The one full of an opaque beige substance that looked like melted caramel ice cream was particularly alarming, especially since it appeared to be on the verge of bursting open, covering the poor man below in gooey dessert.

‘Can’t that man be fixed?’ a child asks, on page two.

‘Some people are broken beyond repair,’ her mother replies.

‘A Man Booker, for Christ’s sake,’ says Kiki Melville.

***

Winning a world-famous prize must be exhilarating, Kiki could only guess. Receiving one that nobody has ever heard of was better than nothing. He was therefore very pleased to learn that he had been shortlisted for the Supermoon Award. As he dressed for the event, Kiki Melville wondered whom he might meet. Would grander writers consent to show up, or would they snub such a little-known event and drop the invitation letter into a bin, as if it were covered in snot? He changed his clothes many times and finally opted for a very thick non-see-through white T-shirt, a finely cut blue blazer and dark jeans. He arrived early at the venue, which was a handsome, official-looking building he had passed by on many occasions, but never entered. He walked to the lobby’s main desk and showed his invitation letter to the receptionist.

‘Are you representing Kiki Melville?’ the woman asked. ‘Couldn’t she make it?’

‘I’m Kiki Melville,’ he replied.

The receptionist stared suspiciously at him.

‘Google me,’ he said. ‘You will see.’

The woman did as told. Her eyes darted several times between her screen and the man. To his annoyance, she still looked unconvinced.

‘Would you allow me to make a suggestion?’ she asked.

Kiki raised his shoulders.

‘If I were you, I’d upgrade my name to Dick Melville,’ the woman said. ‘It is much more manly, and also a subtle homage to Moby-Dick.’

Kiki stared at her, speechless.

‘You know Moby-Dick, don’t you?’ she asked. ‘That book was written by a dude who shared your surname. You’re supposed to know these things, as an author.’

‘Where’s the ceremony?’ Kiki snapped.

‘Over there,’ the woman said, pointing down a corridor.

Kiki Melville marched off without saying good-bye. Though the reception area had been empty, the part of the building in which the reception would take place was surprisingly busy. He scanned the crowd and, seeing no familiar faces, headed to the cafeteria, which was indicated by a large arrow with a steaming-cup pictogram above. The room was empty, save for one person, a teenage girl seated at a large table. She was reading a book while sipping cappuccino. It was Chastity Jones. Kiki Melville had an urge to walk away, but decided otherwise. Who knows, maybe if he spoke to her and got to befriend her a little, he would not have shivers of hate crawl up his spine every time he heard her name. He ordered a coffee from the self-service area and sat down, not at her table, but at the adjoining one. His attention was caught by the girl’s handsome book, which was covered in powder-pink leather. He squinted his eyes, but could not make out its embossed title. A woman in an emerald-green two-piece suit entered the cafeteria and walked up to Chastity.

‘I’m looking for Kiki Melville,’ the woman said. ‘Have you seen her?’

Chastity did not look up from her book and nodded towards the man.

‘She’s right there,’ the girl said.

Kiki Melville’s jaw dropped. Above everything else, above gratuitous cruelty towards animals and undeserved prizes, the man loathed rudeness. He gawped at the girl and did not realize that the woman in emerald-green was standing next to him and that she had asked a question. He looked up at her.

‘Would you have a moment, after the ceremony, for a brief interview?’ she asked again. ‘I’m doing short pieces on a selection of authors that have been shortlisted for the Supermoon Award.’

Kiki Melville tried to reply, but the words were stuck in his throat. He nodded.

‘Good, I will see you later,’ the woman said and left the room.

Kiki Melville managed at last to utter a few words.

‘You terrible, terrible writer,’ he told Chastity.

‘It’s all a matter of taste,’ the girl replied. ‘I think your books are absolute rubbish and yet here you are, shortlisted for the Supermoon Award.’

The girl said this without once glancing up from her book. Kiki Melville was shaking with fury. He wished he could control himself and formulate a clever retort, words that would have made the emerald-green woman laugh, had she lingered in the cafeteria, words that would have been remembered and forever quoted, had people been standing around to hear them.

‘Eat shit, kid,’ he spluttered, standing up abruptly and spilling his untouched coffee on the clean, white table. He ran out of the cafeteria, rushed to the bathroom and locked himself in a cubicle. Once he had calmed down, Kiki Melville realized he had entered the ladies’ room.

***

All chattering came to a halt when the event’s hostess ascended the stage. She talked for a long while, articulating every word, as if speaking to children. Then, she tore open an envelope and announced the winner: Prosper Klijkdmanzsky. The hostess fumbled the man’s surname and resaid it several times, attempting various pronunciations.

‘Oh, well, let us call you Prosper,’ she giggled.

Kiki Melville was disappointed, but relieved that Chastity Jones had not received the award. The winner walked up to the stage, while everyone else clapped. He looked preoccupied, as if he had forgotten something, but could not remember what. The hostess handed him a trophy, a full moon on a metal stand. Kiki wondered whether it glowed in the dark. Prosper first shook the woman’s hand, then awkwardly pecked her on the cheek. He started descending the stairs, back to his seat. Mid-way down, he stopped and waived his trophy to the attendees, most of whom were still clapping.

‘Thank you, thank you,’ he said.

‘I hope you were not too disappointed,’ the emerald-green woman told Kiki Melville, half-an-hour later.

‘Of course not,’ the man lied. ‘There are only a handful of awards, for a plethora of writers. It’s to be expected that some of us end up with none.’

‘You never received any kind of award for your writings?’ the woman asked. ‘Not even during your school years?’

Kiki Melville racked his brains and shook his head. The woman smirked.

‘Poor little Kiki,’ she said.

The emerald-green woman crossed his name from the list and walked away, in search of the next author.

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