MONDAY: Arcadia’s Choice


Copyright is held by the author.

ARCADIA SMITH stood before the pit of fire with three boxes at his feet containing 42 years’ worth of work —12,000 poems including sonnets, blank verse, free verse, narratives, elegies, and more.

An angel stood at Arcadia’s side, dressed in a Gap T-shirt and jeans, his hair slicked back and tied in a ponytail. “Let’s go, Arcadia, I’m on a schedule.”

Arcadia shook his head. “How can I burn my life’s work? Everything I’ve written will be forgotten. It will be as if it never existed. Even I won’t have the memory of the hours I spent in my study just writing — those wonderful hours alone with my thoughts. It was my time. My favourite time.”

The angel peered over the pit. “We’ve discussed this. You’re a wretched poet.”

“Says you.”

“Says my master, which is why I’m here. Your work, Arcadia, is an affront to all artists. Even your wife despises your work. After four decades, you have not even achieved a simple level of mediocrity or competence.” The angel placed his arm around Arcadia. “Take the deal. You’re 67 years old. Another 15 years of life would be wonderful. You can travel. You can begin another hobby. You can build the model railroad you’ve been planning for 20 years. You can watch your grandchildren have children. It’s not a bad deal. Choose life, Arcadia.”

“But if I toss my work,” Arcadia said, “it would be as if I never lived. I’m an artist. A true artist.”

“You’re what?”

“A true artist. A true artist places his work above everything else: friends, family, society and self. Every day I wake up with one goal: to be better at my craft. I seek to learn, to open my heart, to listen and observe, and to write with empathy.”

“Hey, the big cheese doesn’t deny your dedication,” said the angel. “It’s the results. It’s our fault. The angels have been unkind. You’ve been blessed with remarkable perseverance but zero talent.”

“And the result of this ironic unkindness is that I stand over a pit of fire.” Arcadia leaned over. It was a strange fire. All flame and no heat. No smoke. “Your master has nothing better to do than evaluate the work of obscure writers. Why me? There are plenty of other mediocre artist and writers.”

The angel chuckled. “You’re the hardest working poet alive, maybe of all time. I suspect the Head Dude feels bad and wants to make amends.”

Arcadia groaned. “Does my wife know I’m here?”

“No. Right now you’re in your den slumped over on your desk. Your heart continues to tick, but barely. Your wife is about to knock on your door. Take the deal.”

“If I choose my art, what happens to my poems? Will they be read? Will they be published?”

“Published? Heavens, no. Your death doesn’t affect their quality or the public’s opinion. If you choose death, I suspect your wife will take these three boxes and tuck them in the basement behind your stationary bike and weights. I doubt anyone will read them once you’re gone.”

“Dying with pen in hand,” said Arcadia. “Not the worst way to go.”

“And your children will mock you and your devotion to your work just as they do now. Wouldn’t you prefer to leave a favourable memory and have 15 more years of life?”

“I think they will remember me with kindness.”

“Arcadia, you’re not listening. Your work stinks. Choose life.”

“If I take the deal, I would be admitting my life was a lie. No, my children will miss me, but they won’t mock me. I lived my life as an artist, and I will die as one.”

“If I can guarantee you not 15 years but 20 more years, would you reconsider?”

“Twenty years . . . and a publishing credit?”

“No publishing credit. I’m not a miracle worker. Look, I can go as high as 25 years. Take the deal, Arcadia.”

Arcadia thought for a moment, smiled at the angel, and took the long dive into eternity.

The angel watched Arcadia descend into the fiery depths. “It’s always the publishing credit that breaks the deal. They will die to be published. I don’t get it, but then, I’m not a writer.”

  1. Very funny especially the last lines — yup, what we writers will do to get published!

  2. What a creative approach. I really enjoyed this story. You held my attention and curiosity from beginning to end.

  3. Good one, Frank. I look at my life’s work and wonder, why did I do it? Why do I continue to do it? When will I come to my senses? I’ll take the twenty, but then I’m already published.

  4. Clever!

  5. But the angel is NOT offering a publishing credit; it says ‘I’m not a miracle worker’. What am I missing? A fun read. thanks. Mel

  6. Mel: You are not missing anything. You got it! Arcadia would rather die than have his work destroyed. Believing he is a true artist, he will not give up his work, no matter how bad, for anything including 20 more years of life.

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