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Flash Fiction: Appreciation

I am the most appreciated person in the world.

When I step outside my apartment on a cold, frosty day in July, the boy from three blocks down offers to shine my shoes for free. I give him a penny for the mediocre service anyway and send him on home to his mother-of-six whom I saw plucking bread from a trash can last week. Today she peers down at me from her three-story window and gives a little wave and weak smile when I catch her eyes.

The postman who delivers the morning paper catches me at the end of the street and hand delivers my goods, tipping his hat and laughing to my fiftieth retelling of a comic column joke two weeks old. I love to humor people, and they love to humor me. That’s what it means to be appreciated.

Two trains sit at the station awaiting my six AM arrival, and I pick the one with the fresh blue paint because blue is always better on a gray day. The crowd on the platform parts before me and closes in my wake, twenty-five lopsided smiles being the best that the bleary sea of businessmen and women can manage. They get little better as the train speeds across the city, a woman in a faded red pantsuit beaming a plastic try-to-smile-but-grimace at me for five damned minutes straight.

So I pluck the notepad out of my pocket and write blue train riders in my curly calligraphy script that I spent the past three months in my little mountain cabin perfecting before my official title took effect. A sharp gasp bites at my ear drum, and I turn to see a young woman–a child, really–clinging to a week-old infant. Except woman with baby, I add. Messing with children can easily damage your level of appreciation; it’s best to steer clear in that department.

I’m the first and only one off the train, the rest being cordially detained by a group of riot-gear clad officers with rather nasty-looking batons. Their commander gives me a shallow bow as I pass by, and I flash my so-far list in his face. He reads it three times–a hint of hesitation shows a lack of appreciation–before barking the corresponding orders at his inferiors. I reclaim the notepad and write police commander at City Center Station underneath the baby comment and continue on my way.

There’s a car waiting for me at the station doors. Rudolf is driving. Dear old Rudolf. He’s a jolly older man with a gray beard and wise eyes, who’s been driving around the most appreciated people in the world for half his life. We crack a few good jokes–the comic column one included–before he drops me off at City Hall and wishes me a Good day, sir.

The notepad stays firmly in my pocket.

Until I run into Glenda. Poor, poor Glenda. I’ve allowed her lack of appreciation to creep under the radar for far too long, and my honed ability to ignore insults finally loses its last grasp on composure when she runs smack into me with a stack of papers. The entire hallway goes silent, and Glenda profusely apologizes as she scrambles to pick up her mess. She’s got a pretty round face with a bright red bob that makes her look like a Christmas ad, but I’m more in the mood for fireworks these days, so the effect has gradually worn off on me.

I write Glenda in my notepad.

Shuffling into the nearest open elevator, I turn around just in time to see her collapse in the sea of ruined paperwork, sobbing incessantly. Well, Glenda, dear, that’s what happens to people who lack appreciation.

There are two people in the elevator with me; the custodian from the fourteenth floor and Herbert, the middle-aged clerk whom I often see running coffee to his bosses. Today is no exception. He’s got sixteen coffees balanced on his arms, a mixed aroma of various flavors wafting through the air. I ask if I can have one.

Herbert immediately offers me his own and puts down every single other cup to hand it to me. Now that’s appreciation. The elevator dings as it rolls to a stop, and I leave Herbert trying to quickly reclaim the other fifteen coffees. The custodian wheels his little cleaning cart around the circus-act-clerk and heads down the hallway in the same direction I do.

When he notices me staring, he nods his head in respect and points to the office three down from mine. Ah, yes, a newly minted mind among the appreciated is to be inducted in a few day’s time. I thank the custodian for his great service and appreciation and head into my office.

It’s unlocked, primped, cleaned, and prepped with everything I’ll be needing today. My lovely team of secretaries gets here two hours early every day just to prepare it for me. I hang my coat on the rack–almost forgetting to withdraw the notepad–and sit myself down on my luxury leather desk chair. On the genuine oak desk before me rests a world map with various swatches blacked out. I pluck a red pen from the rainbow assortment organized by the standard of ROY G. BIV and take up the paper on the top of my daily stack.

Montreal had a riot this morning. I draw a nice fat X over it. Los Angeles? Oh, a large-scale prostitution ring. An even bigger X for that one. And nice, once-warm Miami? A heroine prevented a clash between police and protestors. The pen hovers over the city for a few moments, but then it moves on its way.

Four hours, sixteen minutes later, I decide to break for lunch. So I ring up one of my lovely secretaries, who answers with a soprano Good afternoon, sir. What can I do for you? Silly girl; she knows what I want. But there’s no better appreciation than humoring me, I suppose.

I pick up my list of X-ed out places and sit it next to my notepad, quickly skimming to make sure I didn’t miss any lack of appreciation.

“I’ve got this morning’s list, sweetie. Can you send it on over to you-know-who?”

She answers Absolutely, sir in that delightful little voice, and I begin my dictation. Ah, dictations. I don’t even have to lift a finger.

“All right. Here goes: Execution List Number 676…”

Truly, I am the most appreciated person in the world.

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