IT HAPPENED • by Justin Hoffman

He stood before the mirror, bordered by lights, bright and round. His reflection escaping from an explosion of light: his makeup done, his suit pressed, his tie knotted perfectly, his breathing smooth, his routine nearly complete. The mental checklist done to the last item. It hadn’t changed since he began reporting forty years ago. On a card was printed tonight’s opening line: “Our first story tonight is so tragic because the two girls were so young.”

He spoke the words slowly, letting each syllable form on his lips before spewing it out at himself. His reflection was not his own; it was hard, chiselled. Somewhere he had become lost in time, and his body had aged in the usual way, wrinkling and sagging and spotting. Altered by surgeons; covered by professional makeup artists. It wasn’t really him speaking those words, but his reflection, sounding so calm and even. He reached out to flip off the lights because he couldn’t bear his face anymore, and noticed his brittle, yellow fingernails.

He thought about the words, “Our first story tonight is so tragic because the two girls were so young.” He whispered them in the dark to no one. Recently headlines had starting getting to him, affecting his delivery. His lips would stumble and he’d mispronounce words. He had begun to see his own life in each line. Tragedies reminding him of his own plights. Things like car accidents would remind him of a crash or three he’d been in, fires brought back the flames that engulfed his home, deaths of mothers and daughters reminded him of his departed wife and girls. They weren’t really girls when they passed, but they would always be his girls. The daily bad news was stripping his life of the good memories, and distracting him from delivering the lines. Soon, he expected, he would be called into a meeting room and told it was time to let someone younger, albeit with less authority, deliver his lines. Lines that would always be his.

Our first story tonight is so tragic because the two girls were so young.

Certainly the viewers would hold onto that line and refuse to change the channel. Some unpaid intern, whom he always felt bad for, wrote his lines. He lavished them with expensive bottles of wine and other unnecessary gifts. It was his way of making sure they knew they deserved more. They repaid him in headlines. He thought maybe this one could stop time, become the final line. Create a moment for him to live in forever.

A soft rap-tap sounded through his door. “Five minutes,” said a voice he didn’t recognize.

Behind the news desk, he sat in his chair, the light blaring into his eyes. “We’re live in five, four, three,” a voice said off stage. After counting two, one in his head, he looked directly into millions of homes and said, “Our first story tonight is so tragic because …” He fumbled, the ball lying there on the open field. Someone hidden by the lights gasped, but he didn’t hear. He seized the ball, a strong recovery. “It happened,” he continued as if he’d intended to pause.

After the program ended, the producer told him he would be reserved for special assignments. There was no private meeting room; the entire crew could have heard tonight’s news had they cared to stop and listen.

As the producer told him his new fate, which meant he was employed without a job, he thought, “Our first story tonight is so tragic because it happened.” His last headline was truly his line.

Justin Hoffman has been published in Outcry Magazine and FreightTrain Magazine. He lives in Chicago with two kids, two cats, and one wife. There isn’t much time, but he likes to write when there is.

This story is sponsored by
Clarion West — Apply now through March 1 to attend our 2014 six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.

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