KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Flash Fiction: 678 words

Very Good Is Not Good Enough

by Kimmo Rosenthal

She would have entered campus at the east gate, walking down the tree-lined path with a hurried step, as if being pursued, and perhaps that is how she felt. Beneath the dazzling armature of the sky, sunlight glittered off the snow and this pristine panorama may have only heightened her despair. How incongruous, such beauty on this of all days.

I imagine she heard the clarion lament of chapel bells carried by the cold air, yet was oblivious to all who passed by. The look on her face seemed to bear a grudge against the world, yet one might have noticed a fragility, as if she were a solitary leaf blown along by an angry wind, her lips shivering with tiny unbidden tremors.

Her breath would have vaporized in the frigid air—would have hung suspended for a moment and lingered behind her as if calling her back, as if telling her to turn around, that it was not too late—before dispersing as she moved towards the appointed hour and place.

She entered the room with a look of calm indignation. We were seated in a row behind an imposing mahogany table, our demeanor solemn, officious, and inquisitorial. I was surprised to see her in a violet dress, a color I had never seen her wear, and I recalled that violet is the color of sorrow and repentance. I had never really noticed how attractive she was: elegant and dignified, reminding me of a violet flower, the tears of Isis. She considered me with a curious admixture of sadness and anger, and then I detected a distinct shudder which forced me to look away.

Quentin began speaking and the words were not registering although I was aware of the hieratic tone, patronizing and imperious, as she sat there immobile, not a muscle moving, no hint of reaction. As if emerging from a haze, I suddenly heard Quentin’s last words quite clearly. “In order to be granted tenure your scholarship and teaching must be judged to be, at the minimum, Very Good in one area and Excellent in the other. This is unfortunately an instance in life where simply being Very Good is not good enough.”

All that she said was, “I see,” no protestation, no desperate pleading, only those two words in a soft voice, not even a voice really, more like an expelled breath, a barely audible suspiration yet one with disturbing clarity, followed by an expression which one might mistake for a smile. I saw her lean down and slowly open the bag that rested on the floor, thinking she must be reaching for tissues, embarrassed and humiliated, sensing the tears coming, having tried so hard to maintain her composure. The sunlight shining through the slanted blinds seemed tainted, as the serried dust motes danced sadly. My eye caught a glint from her bag and then I noticed the mother-of-pearl handle with its nacreous shine, as her hand slowly withdrew a delicate revolver, quaint, innocent looking, like a toy.

Time seemed to proceed discontinuously, in fits and starts, and I found myself thinking that guns have their own logic, their own inner epistemology, implacable, inexorable, beyond interdiction. Transfixed by the barrel, everything but the gun momentarily out of focus, I managed to look over at Quentin, who seemed perplexed, his mouth open but no words issuing forth. Was he wondering whether he would be first? It would be the first time in his life that he would be glad not to be. Every detail imprinted itself on me as she began a choreography of death by slowly raising the pistol, a surprised expression on her face as if she never believed she would be able to proceed, yet perhaps she was now independent of thought, pure action, and she glanced at me with that smile that was not really a smile. The report of the gun reverberated and doubtless she had never fired it before, but even if her aim was not excellent, very good would be good enough.

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