IF WISHES WERE HORSES • by Michael Snyder

Harold sits, thinking. Not his best skill but something he does more and more often these days. Which, given his current situation, does provide some modicum of hope.

He used to have it all. Only he didn’t know it at the time. His was not a problem of circumstance or provision, or even impending death or boredom. Harold had a problem with definitions, with words like audition, contract, reality, and show. And of course, Binding: executed with proper legal authority; cohering, compacting solid and restricting flow, as in machinery or bowels.

Harold fished and fished until he had gotten his wish. Hitchhiking to Hollywood was Sheila’s idea, a bohemian slow dance, brutally romantic, and long. Sheila’s other idea was to slip off in the middle of the night with all of Harold’s money and half his food. A spate of deliberate hindsight revealed (among other things) Sheila’s recurrent glances at a Greyhound station earlier that afternoon. He convinced himself he wouldn’t miss her, that her leaving was for the best. But he knew it wouldn’t take.

He worked three jobs, slept in public parks, and auditioned for everything but porn. He invested in razors and good shoes, his belief never wavering that his face would someday make him famous. And he had miles and miles to go before he got there.

The show is called, ironically enough, Big Break. After several rounds of negotiations with his so-called talent agent, the producers dug in the heels of their Berluti sneakers and refused to accept liability for anything but ratings and paychecks. It took a series of auditions, a battery of psychological screenings, blood work, and signed waivers. Then amid his agent’s rote objections, Harold eventually agreed to their terms. And why not? It was a reality show for godsakes, on a major television network, not some sci-fi retread on cable or sinister throwback to Roman coliseums. So he climbed aboard a white panel van with a dozen strangers and was eventually ferried to an island.

Each contestant was given a backpack with protein bars, bottles of water, a utility knife, a single roll of toilet paper, and a small metal box called a “panic button.” A few days in, Harold pretended not to notice a camera facing the beach. He made his way to the water’s edge, paused to regard the panic button in perfect profile, then tossed it into the waves with all the melodrama he could muster. As he ascended the white dunes, Harold was already crafting clever replies to post-show interview questions. I had to think like Cortés, he would say, burning my ships to ensure victory, to obliterate any chance at surrender.

They never really explained the rules of the game. Or the noises that kept him up nights. Or what to do once the rations were gone. He has no clue what he’s supposed to eat, who is friend or foe, or just what he’s supposed to do about his debilitating diarrhea. Nor did he ever learn what happened to the gasping lady caked in blood that he’d stumbled upon a few days back. His only instructions were these: never look at the camera and take care of your shoes.

Now Harold sits, still thinking. His stubble itches like mad, but scratching only seems to make things worse. He alternates his gaze between the gleaming blade and a plump green vein throbbing away in his wrist, then tries to imagine what it might be like to open it. He tells himself he could do it, but knows he never would. Harold swallows what he hopes are a handful of blackberries then turns his attention to his feet, careful with the laces as he slips one shoe off, then the other. He can’t help but wonder if Sheila is watching now as he conducts yet another delicate inspection of each battered sole. Taking his time, Harold fondles every knurl and crevice, wiping at stains, seeking out fresh blemishes and caressing familiar scars. He tips his last remaining water bottle toward the sun and drains it. With that done, he stares out across the expanse of woodland and wonders if he’s famous yet. And why it ever seemed to matter so much in the first place.

Michael Snyder lives in middle Tennessee with his amazing wife and children. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The First Line; Greater Sum; Relief Journal; Cease, Cows; Foliate Oak; here at EDF; Lit.Cat; Cicatrix Publishing, among others. His first three novels were published by Harper Collins/Zondervan. Michael can often be found coaxing sound out of stringed instruments, sometimes in a band called Elvis Shrugged.

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