A Smile for Greg

Greg once did an extraordinary thing. Just as he was leaving one of his classes one of the girls smiled at him in the hallway. She was a pretty girl, not the hottest he had ever seen, but she was certainly good-looking. But instead of smiling back, Greg walked right past her and pushed down the hallway. As he was walking he anticipated the girl’s reaction, her confident face deforming into something of utter confusion and dejection. This image, without his noticing, allowed a grin to emerge on Greg’s own face. A girl as pretty as she had never been so promptly rejected, Greg thought as he exited the building, walking into the clear, spring day. He felt as if he had unearthed a certain power that had been resting within him. He started walking toward the dorm building, a grin still plastered to his acne-scarred face.

In his room, his fingers busied themselves on the keyboard, conjuring monsters on the computer screen to raid an enemy’s fortress. He pressed a couple of buttons and the minions overtook the walls. Fireballs ruptured through the sky and pummeled the top of the fortress, inching its life-bar closer to the red. Eventually, the lair became gutted and black with its once lofty towers disappearing into nice plumes of smoke. Greg’s hand slammed a couple of cheese-coated crackers into his mouth as he watched his minions gather the innards of the fortress for his virtual kingdom.

Greg sunk a couple of more hours into the game. There was satisfaction here, until Greg started thinking about the girl again. Greg’s fingers stopped moving and his eyes turned away from the computer screen. The girl had no interest in him. No, of course not, at least not as a potential boyfriend, but rather as some sort of lowly freak to toy with. He looked back at his computer and started playing his game again. He tried to erase the girl’s smile from the pockets of his memory, but its meaning lingered.

He soon recalled how, a couple of days before, she had complimented his hat, incorrectly referring to it as a fedora. He told her that it was actually a porkpie and then she smiled. But it was the sardonic tone that he had found within her voice that now held him. Of course, he thought, no girls are interested in him—they’re all just phonies who like to smile for the sake of smiling or to practice their certain power over others. His mind then turned toward himself. He thought about how stupid it was to even consider that someone as good-looking as she would be interested in a pale, noodle-armed loser like him. His face started turning warm and red. He tried getting back into his game; it was the only thing that he could do.

During the weekend he tried ignoring that face in the hallway, but his mind would drift back towards it. Sometimes, he would be eating something and the smile would appear to him in a flash. It was especially rough on Saturday when Greg was sitting innocently in his dorm room, gazing at the back of an empty bag of chips. He saw that one of the ingredients was aged-cheese powder and, for whatever reason, this triggered the smile’s return. He tried pulling his mind back by focusing on the different varieties of potato chips, but the attempt was futile. That wretched, toothy grin glowed before him, enveloping everything. Soon, his mind floated past that image and into darker things. He started thinking about how, at nineteen, he was still a virgin and how he’s never even had at and that the only smiles he has ever received were from girls that had no intention of sleeping with him, and fatties.

Greg wasn’t a jerk like most guys were, he thought to himself. Yet, when he was in high school, all the girls were averse to him and favored the boring rich guy with the haircut that looked nice regardless of the weather. Greg was the outsider, but he considered himself “above” most, including the more popular and likeable students. He was, after all, a genius. But people were more interested in how far you can throw a football, not in how well you can maintain your resources in an online game. People favored superficial things, rather than intelligence, and Greg always thought that this was the reason why he was labelled a “loser” in high school and why he was never laid.

But now, certainty slipped from him. Greg rose from his chair, letting the empty bag escape his hand and onto the floor. He looked out the window—it was getting dark. Greg, without thinking, left his room and went outside. He wandered around the campus and felt silly doing so, but he continued anyway, circling around the campus and eventually coming back to the front of the dorm building. Instead of going back in, however, he turned and sat at a bench. From there he looked up at the building. It was three stories high. The lights were coming on and soon every other window turned to a yellow. He started feeling silly again, silly for being outside in the cold and not back in his own room playing his game. Why did he let that girl get to him? Why did she matter at all? He stared at the windows of the dorms and imagined what each student was doing and how most of them had average hopes and average ambitions. They, like that girl, were held by society’s game, Greg thought, and insecure and hopeless, destined to live barely-human and mediocre lives. Greg got up and headed back to the door. As he turned the handle he thought about how he was above all that.

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9 thoughts on “A Smile for Greg

  1. I liked this very spare story…had hints of Salinger in it. You should post over at yeahwrite.me. We would love to have some new fiction/poetry voices.

  2. On my blog, and particularly the UtM series, I only allow constructive feedback. Your comments were not constructive and seemed more like criticism. I am so careful to be balanced and constructive with my critique, so I do cringe a bit when someone doesn’t put equal time into theirs.

    Secondly, I have a personal rule that I only critique when someone asks for it. Elizabeth asked for a critique by submitting her piece. I did not ask for a critique on my critique. As stated at the top, it is merely my own personal opinion. Now, had you phrased your comment talking about how you liked her intro just fine the way it is (without my suggestions), that would be perfectly acceptable as both constructive and focused primarily on her writing (the person asking for the critique).

    As a side-note, I don’t see how breathing in high altitude is a cliche. Personally, I think that too many unpublished authors are tooting the “cliche whistle” a bit too often. Sure, there are cliches, but the avoidance of cliches is turning into a cliche itself in some ways, don’t you think?

    • My feedback was constructive as I did point out that I agreed with some of your suggestions and the worst thing I said about some of your suggestions that I disagreed with was that they were “odd” and I elaborated why. An example of bad criticism if I I had just merely said it “sucked balls.”

      While you didn’t specifically ask for critiques of your critique I find it odd that you’re still not open to other people’s opinions and ideas. If someone offered my ideas that were contradictory to my own I would be happy to allow their comment to be seen, especially if they make good points. If you’re interested in creating a communication with other writers shouldn’t you be more open to other ideas? There was no undercurrent of nastiness in my post; I was just pointing out what I thought were flaws in your critique. I also think my comment would have been a benefit to the author for while he didn’t specifically ask for a critique from me if he read my comment he would find some helpful points about avoiding narrative cliches.

      And yes, your first line was a definite cliche as was the rest of your paragraph, both at the sentence and narrative level. And no, complaining about cliches is not a cliche because cliches are the antithesis of good writing. Cliches represent the absence of thought and originality, problematic when you want to intellectually engage the reader. Cliches are okay when you’re able to subvert them as you will be playing the reader’s expectations. If you cannot realize this then maybe you shouldn’t be offering critiques in the first place.

      • We clearly have differing opinions, which is perfectly fine. I disagree that your comment was constructive. I work very hard to keep that series constructive, and I don’t feel that your comment adheres to it.

        As stated, if you wanted to leave a short comment about how you like Elizabeth’s original text better than mine, then please feel free to do so.

        Take care.

    • Also, you missed an opportunity by not approving my comment; my comment provided a refutation of some of your points and suggestions which you could have at least tried to counter, thus attempting to strengthen the legitimacy of your critique. If the author wasn’t sure about your critique then read your counter against my comment then he might have become more certain that your critique is correct, depending on the strength of your arguments.

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