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Fear of Trembling

As it is wont to do misfortune had struck at the most delicious time. Steven was exquisitely dressed, the new top hats had arrived from Amazon only that morning. At long last he felt close to that sublime effervescence within which he sensed that he was transcending. The few other times he had experienced this state of stupefied pleasure, pain had been the inevitable and noble causeway — moving beyond it today however seemed impossible. The itch was on the top of Steven’s skull buried under the two top hats fitted tightly to his slender head. It danced: spinning at the tender parts of his scalp, racing over his neck to come out in frustrated tufts at the corner of his eyes. It had been doing so for the past hour. Stood in his usual spot on Birmingham’s New Street, painted head-to-toe in liquid bronze with a Pret-A-Manger cup at the foot of his box, Steven contemplated his next move. Usually, he found that once he had acknowledged an itch he was freed of it. That quite rudimentary manoeuvre did nothing today. The itch called to him like a small child. He decided thusly. If he scratched it, he would pack it in for the day as in so doing he would have to remove his costume which would confuse the integrity of the act. No good. He continued on. For a sweet fraction of a moment, he believed that he’d been granted salvation as he felt a numbing wave wash over him and he began to lose his body. Swiftly afterwards of course the punishing sensation blossomed once more on his crown and he was overcome. Steven packed up and left. He had a shift later anyway.

She was around thirty-five, with a poetic ovaloid face and tall gums. For a moment he thought that she was Jane. She laughed just like her — an offensive sound which could be heard even from the office out the back. Other Steven was cashing her up as she laughed and threw her hair back. She didn’t look much like her, Jane was mixed-race and much younger and much prettier. But the laugh was the same. The woman left the shop and Steven watched her go and remembered the first time he met Jane.

They were at a bar in The Arcadian, he was with Gwen at the time and she was buying them drinks whilst Steven went to the toilet. Jane gave him the eyes as they crossed paths, he was taken by their globular shape, so wide open it seemed they would imminently fall out of the socket. 

“You’re gorgeous,” he said shakily to the air just behind her, unsure if she’d heard him.

“Thank you,” she’d stopped and was smiling, “What’s your name?”


Jane moved around the column that separated them from Gwen’s line of sight and Steven followed.

“Are you having a good night?”

“Yeah are you?”

“I am.”

“What do you do for a living? You look like a teacher. Are you?”

“I’m a receptionist. What do you do?”

“I’m a retail manager and an artist.”

“An artist? What kind?”

“I’m a living statue.”

She laughed then which was people’s typical reaction.

“What do you mean? You paint yourself gold?”

“I paint myself bronze, everywhere. Even the places you don’t see.”

“I’ve never met a living statue.”

Steven raised his hands.

“Anyway, Steven, nice to meet you. My friends are waiting for me.” She began to turn slowly, when she realised he was not saying anything she added, “Are you going to ask for my number?”

To stay was wrong because of the emotional deceit, and to go was wrong because of the betrayal. And so Steven had instead opted for indecision which was just as painful and just as wrong. Thus when Jane went away and one option was lost it did provide some relief, but only some because there was also the magnificent sense of shame. Shame for having been so yellow, shame that he had not been the person who strove forth into decision gallantly. Much of his life had been led this way, idle and indecisive. In another life, he might have chosen Jane and even as wrong as she might have been and how much time with Gwen he’d throw away, he would have been proud to have chosen. He often wondered where she had gone, she didn’t live in her old place anymore, when he had knocked someone else had answered the door. 

0 stars, Ciombhe O’Malley,

Rudest person ive ever encountered as a customer. Don’t bother going if you’re a woman.

“Amit do you know what this is about?”

Steven showed Amit the Google review on his phone.

Amit rolled his eyes, “She was taking the Michael.”

“What do you mean?”

“Took half an hour going back and forth from the till adding things and changing shit.”

“So what happened? What did you say?”

“Told her to make up her mind or piss off.”

“Amit … you can’t tell customers to piss off.” 

Amit shrugged.

“I’m not joking I’m being serious. You can’t treat customers like that. I’ll get it in the neck for this.”

“You’re being dramatic. People leave shit reviews all the time.”

Steven felt his chest growing tight, “This isn’t the first time someone’s complained about you.”

Amit was silent.

“What? You don’t care?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to say sorry.”

“To who? You?”

“To me, to that woman, whoever. Write a response.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

“Go home then.”

Steven stared Amit down, wavering only slightly before he repeated himself holding his ground, “Go home.”

“Are you firing me Steven?”

“We can talk about this later.”

“Let’s talk about it now.”

“I’m letting you go.”

CrepStar was a boutique sneaker store sat on a dark quiet street around the corner from the Children’s hospital. Steven virtually ran the place because Phil was in Ibiza most of the year. They’d sold nearly twice the number of Jordans and Nike Air Forces since Steven had taken over, he paid his baby cousin Renée £50 a month for low quality videos which had steadily raised footfall nevertheless. He had hired Amit two months ago. Amit had been distant and disengaged since the beginning. In that short time he had called in sick on four occasions and had already built a short history of run-ins with customers. These were things Steven might have already fired another employee for but Amit had been his friend for seventeen years. Amit was a good person. Steven had also reasoned, those many other times, that Amit desperately needed the work, he had just been made redundant and had recently lost his brother. 

Flyers and plastic bags crawled with spasmodic winds across New Street, the adhan’s of fervent proselytisers preached to an empty road and to Steven who stood still in its middle painted bronze wearing a top hat, a crusty twirled moustache, a single spectacle and a heavy paint-laden suit. Steven hadn’t slept that night for the guilt he felt. And that day as he stood he thought of Amit and the decision he had made. He knew the woman who had left the review. She was routinely a nuisance. Once she had come into the store with no shoes on. It was true that Amit had been desperate but it was also true that they had desperately needed staff. Before Jane left, Steven hadn’t taken a day off in a year and ever since Jane had, his temperament had changed. The other day Amit had covered for Steven when he had been so low that he had not been able to get out of bed. Steven had not been perfect. He was late pretty much everyday, sometimes several hours late, the store had been robbed because of his negligence spending long times in the back with the till and the floor unattended. Whatever Amit had done, he had done worse but somehow, perhaps by the grace of God or for the fact that his Uncle was his boss, he had gotten away with it everytime. He had spoken to Gwen about the decision he had made and instead of agreeing with him as he thought she might, she seemed surprised and disappointed.

“People leave bad reviews all the time.”

“I didn’t fire him because of the review, it was his attitude towards it.”

“So are you not talking to Amit then?”

“Listen you have to make a decision sometimes even if it’s hard and will hurt people.”

“Even if you’re not sure if it was the right thing to do? And you could have maybe taken a minute to cool down and think about it but you didn’t?”


“I’m just saying, but no. I trust you. You did what you had to do.”

And so now he was agonising about it, had called Amit several times, Amit hadn’t picked up. His mind was at sea. His feet were hurting and posture was poor. People passed by without looking despite the fact that he was the only thing in the street to look at, not even the children were vaguely interested or disturbed. For a long time as he stood he felt himself buoyed by familiar waves of shame. Even in his costume he did not feel hidden enough. When he struck it was lame, when he did not strike he still missed the mark. Though despair opened up black and wide beneath him, he tried to remain still. As it flattened out again more broadly below, stretching out over a yawning terrain, he felt a tear drip down his cheek. How was he to know? He stood for a long time that day, still but trembling.

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