Short Cuts: fiction by a top writer in Poetry
Continued from One: Folly…
After work, Jordan walks three blocks uphill to Central Station, taps her go card at the entrance, keeps left on the escalator down to the platform, and stands behind the yellow line until the Nambour train shows up at the usual time, which is five minutes after its scheduled arrival time.
She takes a seat reserved for disabled passengers — the only other option is a backwards-facing seat under a flickering fluorescent light — and tucks her tote bag under the seat, carefully hooking the strap over her knee so it won’t fall over.
She does all this without taking her eyes off the screen of her Huawei Mate 10 Pro.
Jordan hates Egral.
At least, she hates it in principle. And when she’d first loaded its front page and seen all those clickbait listicles, she’d been confident she would hate it in practice as well.
But that’s proving surprisingly difficult. Her trouble started with that heartwarming tale of a woman who lived in a very strange place, followed by the hilarious piece about being a writer with boobs.
After racing through just a handful of narratives — that’s what they’re called on Egral, whether they’re narratives or lyrical pieces or uplifting selfie montages by an irritating entrepreneur — she had used the last three minutes of her lunch break to download the Android app. And sign up.
Jordan hasn’t stopped reading since then, except to write a comeback or leave some thumbs-up. She has no idea where the afternoon went, but she may have missed at least three meetings. She has a sneaking suspicion she also may have failed to respond when her boss, Julian, shouted to get her attention.
She’s already becoming desensitised to the previously intolerable double hit of clickbait at the top of the screen, but Jordan feels as though there’s still something a bit off, though she can’t put her finger on it. She’s sure there must be a reason why the clickbait keeps rising up her feed, even though she never reads it and the platform creators claim they aim to promote quality longform narratives.
Right now, the Egral app’s limited feature set is what bothers her the most. No private messaging. No quick list of publications. And the worst — no line breaks, only paragraph breaks, so there’s an emerging subculture of poetry that’s impossible to flash (highlight) properly.
She’s about to delete the app when a thumbnail image grabs her attention. It’s a stamped slice of toast with an unfamiliar filter, and she ends up down the rabbit hole, only emerging when some deliciously sexy poems about common dairy foods get her too worked up for Brisbane’s public transport network.
Jordan loves Egral.
Over the next week, Jordan writes positive comebacks with just a hint of constructive criticism until she starts to get noticed by others in the poetry community. When she receives a few positive comebacks of her own, Jordan decides she’s ready to jump in.
She tries her hand at crafting her first standalone narrative. It’s a critical reflection on her career experiences, focusing on the intersection of science and art in a gendered environment, presented as a pantoum.
It’s good, and she knows it. To boost her readership, she adds a few large, eye-catching images (appropriately attributed, of course) and three popular and relevant labels. As expected, she receives positive comebacks from Egral’s poetry elite, so she waits for the deluge of thumbs-up that’s surely coming.
But it never arrives. Dam it. That’s not a typo; Jordan suspects someone has interfered with her river of thumbs-up appreciation by building a barrier between her and her fans. Either that, or there’s a really shitty algorithm to blame.
“So, anyway, I see you started writing on Egral. Real name, too — brave. How’s that going?”
Jordan ignores Chris and his katsu curry. She stares intently at her lunch, inexplicably angry at its unwillingness to be anything other than a white bread sandwich with egg, lettuce, and a touch of mayo.
“You don’t have many stalkers, do you.”
It’s not a question, so she doesn’t answer. But she does wonder if Egral went with stalking because it’s a more honest representation of modern cyber-relationships than following.
Unlikely. It just sounds more sensational.
Chris sits opposite her, disproving the old adage that if you ignore it, it will go away. He sniffs in the general direction of her sandwich. “Omelette? Oh, no, ugh — egg salad. Hey, don’t worry about it. Once you get your first thousand stalkers, then you’ll be on the right track.”
“A thousand?” Previously pleased with her six stalkers, Jordan now feels grossly inadequate. Against her better judgement, she asks, “How many do you have?”
“Nineteen thousand, eight hundred and seventy-two.” His phone buzzes and he checks it, then smirks. “Make that seventy-six.”
He shrugs. “Like I said, I’m kind of a big deal.”
Jordan’s sigh bubbles out as a laugh. “Thanks, Ron Burgundy.”
A confused frown eclipses his smug radiance, but only momentarily. “You can laugh all you like, but I’m making real money off this gig. I also just ended up in a curated list of the top ten curators of top ten lists.”
“That’s a thing?”
“Of course it’s a thing!” His indignation is fleeting; all of a sudden he’s helpful, encouraging. Charming, even. Jordan doesn’t trust it. “Hey, you should read some of my stuff.” Chris scoops katsu curry into his gob.
“Will that mean you get paid more?”
Chris smiles, points to his mouth, points to his bowl of curry. Can’t talk, mouth full.
Jordan hates Egral.
Yes, of course there’s more to come. Check back for part three of Short Cuts, coming soon!