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To Be Me

James Hemlock could not see the world through normal eyes. Everything to him was seen through the lens of a stage drama. When entering a grocery store, his head would tell him that he must enter through the doors stage right, find his vegetables with conviction and exit stage left. Any exchanges he had with the grocers or the checkers or the bagboys was instantly translated into a page of script in his head.

Bearing in mind that he would always appear much more eloquent in his head than in reality, a typical scene in a grocery store would look like this:

The curtain rises.

A grocery store.

Enter HEMLOCK, a successful stage actor and teacher, to buy his weekly allotment of food. He is dashing and walks with a disarming swagger. He’s blonde with a red beard and penetrating gray eyes.

After making his vegetable selections, he moves upstage to speak with the CHECK-OUT GIRL.

Hemlock: ‘Tis a wonderously beautiful day for shopping? ‘Tisn’t it?

Checker: ‘Tis Master Hemlock. ‘Tis.

Hemlock: ‘Tis indeed. And how have you been, Madame Grocer?

Checker: Better times have I seen, good sir, to be sure. If you could spare a farthing, life’s dull ache might be relieved for the price of booze to fill my gullet.

Hemlock: Indeed, poor girl…

Hemlock reaches into his wallet and hands the starving wino of a check-out girl a ten dollar bill.

Checker: Oh, but kind sir, your kindness is too much. I could not consent to a gift as much as this…

Hemlock. Never fear, poor girl. I’ve more where that came from. So, take it and I bid you good day. I shall return for more sweet-meats and greens as soon as my supplies have run dry.

Hemlock exits stage left.

Curtain closes.

This is just how he saw things. Sadly, he was neither rich nor a terribly talented actor. To be honest, he’d never even spoken to the check out girls, although there were times he wanted to. The only place he was comfortable was on stage and in his classroom.

Most of the time, the two were the same. James Hemlock was a high school drama teacher.

Those who can’t do, teach.

The rest if this short story can be read in the book God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut. It is available digitally and in print.
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