The Ballad of Nothing
Fiction by David Drury
The boy was born into plenty. He was given everything and taught to treat it exactly as such, and so, of course, it amounted to nothing at all. The whole family was something, all right. There was plenty of nothing to go around. Plenty for business, plenty for pleasure, plenty for mother’s hair. Plenty for the boy to close his tiny fingers around when father placed it in his palm and sent the boy off into the world.
The boy turned plenty into plenty more, and all of it into an abundance of barely anything. In this way, he became a man. The skyscrapers he built were tall and sturdy and gilded with gold. The relationships he built were squat and greasy and littered with glass. His plenty was nothing much, but his nothings were anything but. Cavernous miseries and grave fears waited around every corner. But the man had plenty of things to keep any such darkness walled off from sight. His things could fill more empty space than the things of anyone else he cared to know. They could be counted and stacked and marginally enjoyed in an array of opulent rooms 50 floors above the stink of the people in the street. In this way, the man became a leader among leaders. In this way, he became the highest-ranking leader.
Whom he did not like, the man fired. Who threatened his plenty, the man fired. Who pointed out his nothing, the man fired. He fired those who defied him, and those who might. He fired those who would not pledge their loyalty, and those who had. He fired his staff. He fired his lawyers. He fired his waiters. He fired his chefs. He fired a farm in Calgary, Alberta, and each one of its cows by name.
One day the man had a heart attack. Sure enough, he fired the caddy who found him slumped over in the clubhouse. He fired the 911 operator. He fired the first responders, he fired the ambulance driver. In the throes of death, he fired his own heart.
The man found himself attended by angels, floating in a tunnel of light. He fired the angels. He found himself in a throne room standing before God. When God stood to greet him, the man fired God. All the saints and angels in the room shook their heads in disbelief. God, however, quietly accepted the firing. Simply got up and left the room, and the saints and angels went with, and every speck of available light followed God out the door, too, and the man was left alone in utter darkness. The man needed something to make himself feel better, so he fired the darkness. This only made the darkness darker. He fired this darker darkness, which only made the darker darkness darker still. This pattern continued for many centuries, until the man found himself inside an air dense as rotting teeth clamped down on a lump of coal inside a mouth full of boiling motor oil. It was a darkness that had an infinite ability to grow darker still, so the man kept firing.
Finalist for the 2022 Luminaire Prose Award