A local paper (The Camarillo Acorn) hosts an annual short story contest, so in October of 2020 I figured I’d take a swing at it. The following is based on a feeling I’ve had somewhat frequently when out in the street. Or looking at Christmas lights. All these houses, lit up from the inside. What if I didn’t belong to any of them? What if I was an outsider, who couldn’t gain admission even if I asked nicely? A street child perhaps. What a barrier!
All the barricades, fences, and walls that make a home feel so safe, also serve to make the home intimidating to those outside. And yet, so close, really more “among” the houses than “within” them. How can the physical distinction be so specific? Walls within walls, and tier on tier of refusal. Are the windows to the soul of the home blind? Or do they merely look out in the day, and at night turn inward?
So there you go, the introduction is longer than the work itself. I present to you:
Great villas sparkling with warmth in deepening night. I, among them, but uninvited.
Why so cold? There is warmth abundant, passing needs. I, pressing needs, and nose against the glass yearn to belong. I, an embarrassment, not so much shunned as blanked.
Nonentity cannot hope for hospitality. Among them, but outside; Lingering in the streets, the guts, where all nourishment is extracted and waste, like me, moves on.
Forgotten, will I fade away? Or was I ever here? The smudge of face and breath, my tender mark of hope, the servants will expunge.
I told this story to ChatGPT, and it spontaneously (?) expanded it into the following text.
In the realm of opulence and grandeur, where great villas glimmered in the embrace of a deepening night, I found myself among them, but uninvited. Their facades radiated warmth, their windows adorned with curtains that whispered tales of luxury within. Yet, despite the abundance of warmth and passing needs within those walls, I remained an outsider—a mere observer of a world that seemed so distant, so unattainable.
Why was it so cold? Was there no room for one like me amidst their gilded halls? I, with my pressing needs and yearning heart, pressed my nose against the glass, hoping to catch a glimpse of belonging. But in return, I was met with indifference. Not shunned outright, but rather blanked—like a nonentity whose existence was inconsequential. It seemed that the realm of grandeur had no space for the likes of me.
I lingered in the streets, in the guts of the city, where life pulsed with a different rhythm. Here, all nourishment was extracted, and waste, like me, moved on. I became a forgotten figure, blending into the shadows, my presence fading away with each passing day. Was I ever truly here? Would I leave behind nothing but a smudge—a faint mark of my hopeful existence—only to be expunged by the diligent hands of servants who polished away any trace of imperfection?
But even amidst the cold indifference and the gradual erasure of my presence, a glimmer of resilience persisted within me. I refused to let myself be completely forgotten. Though I was but a passing breath, I would make it count. I would leave my mark, no matter how tender or fleeting. For even the smallest acts of hope could create ripples, capable of stirring hearts and challenging the established order.
So, I would continue to linger among the mansions, the uninvited guest in this world of privilege. Though they may never see me, I would persist, finding solace in the whispers of the wind and the flickering stars above. For in the depths of my soul, I knew that even if I were to fade away, even if my existence was questioned, I had touched something within myself—an unwavering determination to belong, to be seen, and to leave a mark, however small, upon the tapestry of life.
So then I asked it to evaluate the subtext of the story, and it did quite well!
The subtext of the story "Among Mansions" explores themes of social exclusion, longing for belonging, and the struggle for recognition and significance in a world of privilege. The narrator, who finds themselves uninvited among the grand villas, represents an individual who feels marginalized and overlooked in a society that values opulence and status.
The contrast between the warmth and abundance within the mansions and the cold indifference experienced by the narrator highlights the divide between the privileged and the excluded. The narrator yearns to be a part of this world, pressing against the glass in an attempt to bridge the gap and find acceptance. However, they are met with apathy and are made to feel like an inconsequential nonentity.
The story delves into the internal conflict faced by the narrator, who questions their own worth and existence. The uncertainty of whether they will fade away or if they were ever truly acknowledged reflects the feelings of insignificance and the fear of being forgotten in a society that values material wealth and power.
Yet, beneath the surface of resignation, there is a flicker of resilience. The narrator refuses to be completely erased, seeking solace in the notion that even the smallest acts of hope and the tender marks they leave behind can have an impact. The story implies that one's worth is not solely determined by societal recognition or material possessions, but rather by the strength of their spirit and the determination to make their presence felt, even in the face of adversity.
Overall, the subtext of "Among Mansions" invites reflection on the human desire for connection, the impact of social exclusion, and the power of individual agency in a world where privilege and indifference often prevail.