FEARS LIKE KAFKA • by Chris Vander Kaay

The podium is uneven on the grassy outdoors, and Anthony feels it wobble slightly as he rests his notepad and palms atop it. The hum of the wind lilts as he clears his throat and loosens his black tie just a little.

Everyone listens, but no one looks up at him. They are all staring at the shiny wooden box hovering over the perfectly measured hole in the dirt.

Anthony breathes deep. The notepad blows open, the wind flipping past pages of his words. Anthony pins them back down with his fingers as he slides his glasses onto his face.

“What legacy does a writer leave behind?”

Though he doesn’t look up from the pages, he can see in the corner of his eye that his mother is now looking right at him. He can’t see her expression, but he knows it is one of anger. After twenty-six years, Anthony knows how anger feels, even when he can’t see it.

“In a standard screenplay, a page is equal to about one minute of screen time. But on average, it takes sixty times that to write a single page. So a minute of screen time takes sixty minutes of writing time. Every minute of a movie takes an hour to write.”

Eyes begin to turn towards Anthony now. Uncomfortable shifting in seats is now more audible than the shifting wind.

“By that math, my father wrote for nearly ten thousand hours, when you count the twenty-five hundred hours writing screenplays that were never made, the twenty-five hundred hours spent writing literature that was never printed, and the five thousand hours spent writing an online journal that no one ever read.”

Anthony sees his sister lean towards his mother, whispering in her ear through clenched teeth, shaking her head. Anthony notices this, along with the fact that her purple bra strap is sliding down her shoulder from under her black sleeveless shirt.

“Ten thousand hours is approximately four hundred and sixteen days. My father spent four hundred and sixteen days writing. That’s over a year, which doesn’t sound like much in a sixty-five year lifespan. But it was spread out, in pieces, over all those years. Hours and afternoons here, weekends there. A lifetime of bedtime stories and theme park trips.”

Anthony flips the page, and in the pause as he looks to the top of the next page, he hears a stifled sob from somewhere. A man’s sob, so Anthony figures it must be his dad’s brother or one of his former co-workers.

“He had thirteen computers in his time as a writer. And every one of them is in a dump somewhere, leaching brominated dioxins into the environment. Brominated dioxins cause severe reproductive and developmental issues, damage immune systems, and cause infertility, birth defects, impaired child development, and diabetes. That is the legacy of a writer.”

Anthony senses the tension in the crowd, the inhale before the scream, the pause of the conductor’s wand before the crashing impact of the orchestra’s opening note. He flips his notepad closed.

“Wasted time and resources, and impaired child development. One moment of success or recognition might have changed all of that for him, and for his family. But it never came, and it never will. You can get 80,000 sheets of paper from a single tree, and he filled two trees’ worth of paper with ideas no one wanted.” Anthony holds up the tiny notepad, waving it back and forth to flap in the breeze. “This is everything I’ve ever written about him, and all I ever will.”

Anthony steps up to the hole in the ground and stares down at the burnished red wood of the casket. He grabs a handful of dirt from the mound and tosses it down on top, and follows it quickly with the notepad.

He walks away from the unbalanced podium, past his seat in the crowd, and out towards the parking lot. The wind is at his back, and it makes the walk that much easier.

Chris Vander Kaay has been published at McSweeney’s, has three published educational books about film history, and is a contributing writer at Deseret News and Bloody Disgusting.

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