This story is by Meghana Singh and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Ashley was jolted to a start as her boss plonked a thick bundle of files on her table, narrowly missing Ashley’s nose. Ashley had been day-dreaming again. Thinking of ingenious ways in which she could torture her vicious boss. “Hello young lady. Wake up. You don’t get paid to rest your fat chin on your hand all day,’ Emma, her boss, snapped.
“Yes..umm…y-yes Emma. I was just brainstorming for tomorrow’s presentation,” Ashley bumbled.
“Oooh, ‘brain’storming! And all this while, I thought your brain was out on a vacation, probably stuffing itself with doughnuts too” Emma snickered, glancing at a half-eaten doughnut on Ashley’s tiny table. Ashley swallowed, her lips dry and eyes wet. It had been a year and she still couldn’t make peace with Emma’s relentless taunts.
With an unsettling, deeply contented smile, Emma turned and strutted down the corridor, brushing away the morning greetings that meekly passed her way.
With a long, big sigh, Ashley slouched down in her squeaky, tattered chair. How she wished she could leave this nondescript job of an executive at a marketing firm and do what she was really born to do. Glide around like an angel onstage in a Broadway theater production. Woo everyone with her clear, ringing voice. And get many, many handsome male admirers.
Before she knew it, Ashley’s eyes had glazed over again as she imagined herself making a grand entry on to a Broadway theater stage, in a beautiful, pink gown. She visualized Emma sitting in the front row, trying to hide how immensely jealous she was.
As Ashley lumbered home that day, feeling gloomy, two men suddenly popped in front of her, seemingly out of nowhere. Dressed in black suits and dark sunglasses, they seemed menacing. Ashley’s eyes wavered to the outline of a gun formed near their pockets. After clearing her throat several times, she inquired in a quivering voice, “Umm….do I know you?”
“Yes Ma’am,” the taller, grim-looking man answered. “We are from your daydreams. Remember your daydream from the morning today, that you have been dreaming every single day for the past one year?”
Ashley stood rooted to the spot. No way! That was a horrid dream. It was downright nasty. Yet, she felt nervous excitement flooding her gut.
“But how can you be real? You were just in my head. Is this one of my daydreams too?” Ashley asked, the last bit somewhat to herself. She tried to shake herself, inconspicuously, out of the daydream.
“Ma’am, don’t you know that if you dream the same thing repeatedly and really desire for it to come true, you give enough energy to your thoughts for them to manifest as reality?” the shorter man piped. It was as if he had been rehearsing this line ever since Ashley had dreamed him up.
“Kindly let us know your boss’s address so that we can get down to the job.”
Ting-tong! The bell rang innocently. After a couple of tension-filled seconds, Ashley heard Emma’s heels clanking indignantly against the hardwood. “Who the hell is disturbing me at this hour?” Emma shrieked.
The men quickly tied Emma’s hands and legs as she opened the door. They took her towards the the living room window and held her out, upside down, just the way Ashley had imagined.
Her dress fell on her face, revealing black shapewear. And to think that she called me fat all these months, Ashley seethed.
Emma screamed, ordering Ashley to tell the men to get her back in. “A-a-apologize to me,” Ashley stuttered. She kicked herself mentally for feeling nervous even when Emma was hanging upside down out of her 17th floor apartment.
“What? You fat, dim-witted, girl. You want me to apologize to you?!” Emma bellowed with the same nastiness she had on foot. With a nod of her head, Ashley made the men lower Emma further.
“I-I am sorry! I am really sorry. Please get me up. I AM SORRY, ASHLEY. Please forgive me!”
And now it’s time for the the Broadway dream to come true, Ashley thought excitedly as she swaggered home. Impatient yet immensely satisfied at the same time, she bounced up the sidewalk. The world looked brighter, more colorful. On reaching her apartment building, she sprang up the steps instead of taking the elevator. I must lose some pounds after all, for my performance in the most successful Broadway musical ever, Ashley thought to herself.
Ashley didn’t step into office for a week. How could she, after what she had done. But not one stage director came to her apartment, honored to cast her in his play. Her phone had been as quiet as her boring, old neighbors.
On an overcast Saturday morning, the doorbell to Ashley’s apartment rang at around 8. She dragged herself out of bed in her scruffy nightdress, breathing into her hands to check how foul her breath smelled.
A shiny, middle-aged man stood in front of her. Everything from the tip of his nose to the tip of his pointed shoes looked dazzlingly bright.
“Hello Miss,” the man extended his hand. “I am the director you daydreamed of. I am extremely honored to cast you in my upcoming play,” he spoke with a blindingly bright smile.
The next few weeks were spent rehearsing for the musical. Of course, Ashley got the main lead and had the most gorgeous co-actor, just like she had imagined. Her eyes glinted back at her as she opened a copy of the New York Times a week before the first show.
On the day of the show, Ashley was radiating with happiness and glitter in a fulsome, pink gown. Her hair hung down in pretty ringlets, her face shone with dramatic make-up and her gloved hands wrestled with each other as she waited for the curtain to be raised.
She stumbled on to the stage (damn the gargantuan gown!), her knees shaking with nervousness. Even though she couldn’t really see the audience, she could feel their looming presence.
“This stupid theater is so idiotically dark. Ouch!” Emma spoke loudly. Wow, that was Emma stumbling into the front row. Everything was manifesting just right.
Ashley began to sing,
“IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY
WHEN I MET A BEAUTIFUL KNIGHT
DAZZLING EYES, SHINING ARMOUR IN PLACE ALRIGHT”
Before she had even finished singing, she heard rapturous applause. She could see only as far ahead as the first couple of rows. With a sullen-looking face, Emma was filing her nails, looking bored. Oh, she’s just trying to hide her jealousy, Ashley reassured herself.
Ashley’s co-actor entered the stage, riding a huge puppet horse, singing,
“WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY
WITH THE SUN GLEAMING SO
BUT NOTHING IS MORE GORGEOUS
THAN THAT FAIR MAIDEN AND HER GLOW”
Ashley heard the thunderous applause once again. She beamed at how well the play was going but was made uneasy by the fact that the applause sounded unnaturally identical to the previous round.
As the male lead trotted about on his horse, Ashley observed the audience in the first couple of rows slumped in their chairs, some yawning, others busy twiddling away on their phones. With a sinking stomach, she realized she had never really imagining exactly how her performance would go.
Ignoring the nervousness that flooded her, she began to speak her dialogues with forced zeal. Even though she tried not to admit it to herself, Ashley knew that her voice cracked and her words wavered.
She looked to the side, into the wings, and saw the director beaming with pride, giving her a thumbs-up.
There it was again. The flattering but fake applause she had dreamed into existence. Just a phony soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Emma had had enough of snickering at Ashley’s poor performance. Her eyes bore into Ashley’s panic-ridden face. “How dare this fat, pathetic Broadway wannabe humiliate me,” Emma snarled.
Slipping her hand into her purse, Emma took out a banana peel. Before Ashley could make sense of what was happening, she had collided with the puppet horse, sending her co-actor and herself into a jumbled heap on the stage. Real laughter and wolf whistles now flooded the theater.
Emma stood on her chair, clapping the loudest. Ashley shut her eyes tight, trying with all her might to ‘un’manifest all her stupid dreams.