The Burden Of Perfection

December 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm  •  Posted in Fiction, Humor, Short Stories by  •  2 Comments

Run-down pickup truck abandoned among the leaves behind a house in the cityI was born the perfect child of northern Appalachian circus performers.

My parents, fearing that my perfection would one day bring them shame, and being unable to devise a sideshow act that would put my unparalleled qualities to monetary use, decided to release me into the wild as their parents had done with them.

They crafted a basket from hemlock branches cut from trees growing in the mountains of New Hampshire. After several minutes of defective goodbyes, they set me adrift in the Pemigewasset River, and I embarked on a journey toward my new future among the mundane inhabitants of the outside world, a place filled with untold errors and egregiously flawed personalities.

I was rescued from a sandbar just south of Plymouth by a scraggly fisherman, and was adopted by a family of simple mill workers. They provided me with food, shelter, and uncompromising love; this, in spite of their tendency toward accidental self-flagellation with hand tools.

Even though I had everything I needed, I never felt like I fit in, and soon grew weary of being surrounded by people less ideal than myself. After graduating at twelve years old from the elite high school held in a large oak tree behind the mill, I set off again in search of my perfect destiny.

For years, I traveled the world, searching for others like me who excelled at whatever task was put before them. I spent several years in Europe, the pinnacle of Western civilization, but was disappointed to learn that even among their most learned scholars, balancing a checkbook resulted in countless discrepancies.

Next, I ventured to the Middle East, the cradle of modern mathematics, but found only pedantic astronomers who routinely parted their hair on the wrong side of their head.

Finally, following in the footsteps of earlier truth-seekers like the Beatles, I visited India. This land offered the most promise, because I had heard that wise gurus could religiously calculate the number of molecules in a bag of sand.

Sadly, here too my hopes were smashed open like a melon upon the rocks alongside the Ganges River. The gurus were little more than charlatans who perpetuated their fraud by picking a number beforehand and counting until they reached that number.

Distraught and empty-hearted, I returned to the United States. I resigned myself to spending the rest of my life alone, a glimmering jewel in a world filled with unsalvageable rocks.

Traveling by train across the country to my hometown, my patience was severely put to the test by the state of disorder among that transportation system. Trains either arrived late due to miscommunication between the conductor and the cows standing idly on the tracks, or else failed to depart when no one realized that the engine connected to the train was, in fact, a cardboard cutout borrowed from a local restaurant.

Early in the morning in late September, I reached Boston and walked to the food court in search of a breakfast sandwich that was less irregular than those I had seen throughout my journey.

Turning the corner near the doughnut shop, I saw a sign that would empower me to live in peace among the beautifully unsound people who had taken me in when I was a child adrift in a basket. There, on a machine at the edge of the food court, painted in rough black-and-white lettering, was a single word: CHANGE.

Before traveling north to reunite with my family, I stayed in Boston, determined to use my exceptional perfection to cultivate unmindfulness. To hasten my progress, I enrolled in courses at the university–Psychology 101 and Rocks for Jocks–that seemed to support an error-prone lifestyle.

I also purchased an mp3 player and a touch-screen cell phone, as well as an electronic book reader that allowed me to switch rapidly between reading a novel and searching the internet for inaccurate statements.

After several months, I decided that it was time to return home. Confident in my newly imperfect abilities, I boarded the next bus to Plymouth. I sat by myself on the bus reading, listening to music, and surfing the internet.

When the batteries on my electronic devices had all died, I looked around the bus and saw that I was still the only person sitting there. As I stood up, a man wearing a wrinkled uniform of the bus company stepped onto the bus and I asked him how much longer until we reached Plymouth.

“Plymouth?,” he said, looking at me with a scowl on his face. “This bus ain’t going to Plymouth. It’s been broken down for two days. You haven’t even left the bus station!”

The man stepped off the bus and I sank back into my seat, and as a smile spread across my face, I thought of how my family would finally accept me as one of their own.

Short story: The Burden Of Perfection © 2010 by Shawn Radcliffe / Branáin


  1. Alexandra / December 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm / Reply

    Delightful! Especially, “…that even among their most learned scholars, balancing a checkbook resulted in countless discrepancies”

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