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Phantom Applause

              At one o’clock in the morning, the residential streets between Chuck’s apartment and The Everyhour Gas Station and Convenience Store were deserted, damp, and leaf-strewn. The windows of the houses Chuck passed were dark but for a few which were not. He wondered if any of the people in the houses ever looked out of their windows to watch him pass; he wondered if they wondered about him, who he was and why he was out at this hour and where he was going. He hoped that these people, if they existed, perceived how little thought he gave them, his current line of thinking notwithstanding.

               Chuck wore a black jacket and a tight stocking cap which kept the temples of his glasses pressed against his head. His jeans hung lower on his hips than he preferred, and he wished he’d worn a belt. The wet leaves adhered to the toes and soles of his sneakers as he propelled himself through dense piles of fallen foliage with a stride developed over decades of fostering a deliberate near-limp.

               From the time he graduated high school until he was 41 years old, Chuck saved nearly all of the money he earned from various low-level jobs around Multioak. This intensive saving was made possible by living with his parents and eating their food and watching their TV and using their internet and paying for none of it. Then, having piled up enough money to replicate this lifestyle on his own for a few years without maintaining a low-level job, Chuck quit his low-level job and moved into a cheap one-bedroom apartment. This new era of Chuck’s life – the current era – was like the previous one, but less productive and less social. He didn’t know how long the money would last, but when it ran out, he’d just move back into his parents’ house, get another low-level job, and start the cycle over again with the assumption that his parents’ eventual deaths could always give him a jump on his next work break, allow him to extend it, or both.

               The Everyhour Gas Station and Convenience Store was not Chuck’s destination. His destination was his apartment, which was also where his nightly strolls began. Everyhour was just the midpoint. Sometimes he didn’t even buy anything, sometimes he didn’t even go inside, just tapped the door handle with the back of his hand and headed home. Tonight, though, Chuck wanted a small serving of human interaction, a brief exchange with whoever was running the counter, probably Georgia. She would try to suppress her grimace when she saw Chuck walk in, but he would notice it anyway and call her out on it. Then he’d just take it from there, maybe say something rude to get her riled up, maybe browse for a long time in silence without buying anything to make her tense, maybe act totally normal to make her negative reaction toward him seem unfounded and unfair.

               There were no cars at the Everyhour gas pumps or parked in the lot. As Chuck crossed the cracked blacktop, he peered through the convenience store windows, trying to determine if the employee hunched over the front counter was Georgia or someone else. He didn’t notice the man sitting on the curb next to the convenience store door until he was almost on top of him. Chuck was startled enough to stop short, one foot up on the sidewalk, one foot down in the parking lot.

               “What are you looking at?” asked the man. He was younger than Chuck, maybe in his early 30s, and the hood of his dark coat was lined with fake fur. He wore baggy sweatpants and unlaced boots. He ate bright orange chips from a big bag resting in his lap. He did not have the best skin, but neither did Chuck.

               The man’s confrontational tone appealed to Chuck. Wasn’t this the exact sort of interaction he’d been hoping for? And he didn’t even have to be the one to initiate it. “I can look wherever I want,” said Chuck. “You’re sitting on a public sidewalk.” Which, yes, sort of undermined his initial claim – that he could look wherever he wanted – but it didn’t matter, the man on the sidewalk would take it as it was intended.

               The man broke eye contact with Chuck long enough to gaze into his bag and select a chip. He didn’t speak until the chip was in his mouth; the speaking and chewing occurred simultaneously, an effort that saved both time and wear on his jaw muscles. “Look anywhere you want,” the man said. Chip crumbs hitched rides on his words as they issued from his mouth. “Except at me.”

               Chuck’s back foot joined his front foot on the sidewalk, fully committing. Then he strode to the seated man, stooped, and snatched the bag of chips from his hands. Beneath the sound of the bag crinkling in his fist, Chuck heard another sound. He paused to listen as the seated man stared up at him in what was still innocent, wounded surprise. The anger was on its way, presumably, but had not yet arrived. “Do you hear that?” asked Chuck.

               “Gimme my chips back,” said the man, swiping at the bag with both hands.

               Chuck yanked it out of the man’s reach, took a step back, and there was the sound again. Hands clapping. A smattering of applause. He looked around, turning a quick circle, and saw no one. The applause faded.

               “I said gimme my chips back,” said the man, rising to his feet. He was taller and thinner than Chuck, but even the looseness of his sweatpants could not conceal the wobble in his legs. He seemed to realize that Chuck had noted his unsteadiness, and he stayed where he stood, one arm extended to receive the demanded chips just in case the scowls he was trying out worked, by some miracle.

               Chuck hurled the bag into the parking lot, the weight of the chips packed in its bottom giving it enough heft to sail nicely. The applause returned, a little louder this time. Still a smattering, but a bigger smattering sustained a few seconds longer.

               “Come on, man,” said the chip eater, letting his hand fall to his side, his flavor-coated fingers brushing orange tracks onto the thigh of his pants.

               “You really don’t hear it?” asked Chuck. “You didn’t hear it either time?”

               “Hear what?” asked the man. The fight had gone out of him. He was about to sit again, anyone could tell he wanted to.

               “Listen closely this time,” said Chuck. He walked out to where the bag of chips had landed in the parking lot. “Are you listening?”

               “Listening to what?”

               “I think it’s connected,” said Chuck. “When I do…well, when I do stuff to you, that’s when I hear it.”

               “You owe me a bag of chips,” said the man. “A new one.” He almost seemed more offended by Chuck’s preoccupation with the sound than he had by Chuck’s direct hostility.

               “Listen!” said Chuck. “Shut up!” He stamped on the bag of chips with his right foot, grinding it under his heel, reducing the orange chips to orange powder. The applause was back! And yes, definitely louder this time, whoever was clapping was really enjoying this bit.

               “Come on, man! Why are you being like this?”

               “Do you hear it or not?” asked Chuck.

               “I don’t hear anything except you talking and you crushing my chips!” shouted the man.

               “No clapping?” asked Chuck. “You don’t hear anybody clapping?”

               The man gave in and sat down again, defeated. “No,” he said.

               “Huh,” said Chuck. “I wonder if it only works with you.”

               The man turned his head, pointedly withdrawing from the conversation.

               “Is Georgia working tonight?” asked Chuck.

               The man stared across the street at nothing. Passive resistance.

               Chuck picked up the bag of ground-up chip remains, returned to the sidewalk, and upended the bag over the seated man’s head. Much of the chip detritus caught in his coat hood’s fake fur. The clappers, whoever they were, made their appreciation known. This was no mere smattering, this was just plain applause, and Chuck found it rousing. He wadded up the empty bag, tossed it in the outraged man’s lap, and went into the Everyhour convenience store.

               Georgia, who must have seen what was happening out front on the security monitors, made no attempt to suppress her grimace.

               “So it is you tonight,” said Chuck.

               “Buy something and get out,” said Georgia. Her face looked both round and hard, a rare combination. She held her arms at her sides like a gunfighter poised to draw, though she of course wore no pistols. “Or, better yet, just get out.”

               “Hold on,” said Chuck. “I’m trying something. I’m experimenting.”

               “I’ll get you banned,” said Georgia.

               “Oooooh,” said Chuck, waggling his fingers like a sorcerer with drooping pants. He hitched up his pants.

               “I’ll call the cops,” said Georgia.

               Chuck looked around, then stepped to the periodicals rack, selected a magazine at random, and rolled it into a club. He couldn’t fight his smirk, and didn’t really want to anyway.

               “Stay away from me, you psycho,” said Georgia.

               Chuck lunged and swung the magazine over the counter at Georgia. She lurched backward against the cigarette case behind her, narrowly avoiding Chuck’s swat. “Get out!” she screamed.

               Chuck did not heed her command. Even though he had missed, his audience had been thrilled by his attempt to strike Georgia. It seemed they appreciated the effort, if nothing else. They were still clapping, in fact, and he couldn’t help but think that they were urging him to press the attack, to take another shot. Chuck scrambled around the side of the counter so he could get close enough to Georgia that she couldn’t dodge him. But she was clever; as soon as Chuck set foot behind the counter, Georgia sprang over top of it with surprising agility and bolted for the door.

               Chuck threw the magazine after her in frustration, missing badly. The magazine fluttered harmlessly to the floor and lay there face down as Georgia ran outside and across the parking lot. There, Chuck saw her stop by the gas pumps and pull her cell phone out of her pocket. The cops would be here soon. He had to get a move on. His audience had not clapped for his botched attempt to corner Georgia, and Chuck couldn’t help but feel he’d let them down. He glanced around for a way to win them back before fleeing. How did they feel about random vandalism? He knocked over a rack of cheap sunglasses on the way out the door, but this garnered nothing but silence. The audience, it seemed, wanted specific victims, wanted to see the confusion and fear and hurt on their faces. Random vandalism was not good enough.

               Outside, the chip man was gone. From across the parking lot, Georgia called, “Where are you going, coward?”

               It made Chuck mad, so he did what he always did when he got mad except for times when he lost his temper. He gave her a big grin, which he knew looked very mocking because he’d practiced it in the mirror many times, and a big wave, which he had not practiced but which felt of a piece with the grin. Then he turned to walk around the side of the convenience store. He knew he should hurry, but he didn’t want Georgia to see him run away. He would hurry once he rounded the corner.

               He would not hurry home, though. The police might look for him there. And besides, he wasn’t finished. He could win his audience back, he knew he could. He could bring the house down, waves of thunderous applause, a standing ovation. But a rolled-up magazine wasn’t going to cut it.


               Chuck made his way through slumbering Multioak neighborhoods by keeping to the lawns where he could duck behind trees or bushes whenever he saw headlights. Where his way wasn’t obstructed by fences, he cut through back yards, side yards, gardens, and parking lots. It was slow going, but the police didn’t catch him and neither did anyone else. No nervous homeowners calling in quavering voices for him to depart their property, nor furious ones waving weapons. Chuck saw only one cop car between The Everyhour Gas Station and Convenience Store and his parents’ house, and there was no way to tell if it was after him or just making its usual rounds.

               Under normal circumstances, it would not have taken Chuck an hour to reach his parents’ property, but his caution slowed him. He approached their house through the back yard in case the cops were watching from the street. Georgia knew his full name, so he assumed the authorities had already been to his apartment, and that this would be their next stop if they decided him trying and failing to swat a convenience store employee with a magazine warranted that much effort. It probably depended on their level of boredom. If it was a slow night, maybe a few sleepy officers would decide a dedicated pursuit was worth their time.

               Chuck used his key to slip into the garage. Before he had moved out, Chuck’s mom had made some remarks about needing to make sure she got his key back from him once he left, but she had never pushed the issue, so Chuck had kept it. Now that decision was paying off.

               Chuck fumbled for the light switch just inside the door and turned it on. The garage was better organized than it had been the last time Chuck had seen it. His dad must have spent considerable time getting it squared away. That meant Chuck was going to have to search through drawers and cabinets to find what he was looking for. But what was he looking for? Something to please his audience, something to bring the applause back in force. He hadn’t heard so much as a solitary clap since his first swing at Georgia with the magazine, and the silence was weighing on him. With each minute that passed without eliciting applause from his audience, Chuck felt he was falling short of their expectations, boring them. They’d been so supportive of his confrontation with the chip man, back when Chuck hadn’t even known they were there, when he hadn’t even been trying to please them, but now that he did know they were watching and now that he did want to satisfy them, Chuck hadn’t been able to offer them anything good. He only hoped that they would be patient, that they would recognize that what he was doing now – avoiding capture, equipping himself – was setting the table for a real showstopper.

               But, again, what was he looking for? A hammer? A crowbar? Chuck rummaged through his dad’s tools, sporting equipment, lawn care implements, pieces of outright junk. What about a golf club? Hedge trimmers? A length of twisted rebar?

               “Chuck? What are you doing here? What are you looking for?”

               Chuck turned to see his mother standing in the doorway leading from the garage to the mud room. She wore a fluffy yellow robe and winter boots, which she must have stepped into on her way through the mud room to the door. Her dyed-brown hair was pulled back into a short ponytail.

               “I’m looking for something,” said Chuck.

               “I know that,” said his mom. “I asked what you’re looking for?”

               “I need something,” said Chuck.

               “The police just left 15 minutes ago,” said Chuck’s mom. “I’d just gotten back in bed when I heard you rummaging around out here. I figured it was you.”

               “The police were already here?” asked Chuck.

               “They were looking for you,” said his mom. “They said you were attacking people at the gas station. Dumping chips on people, trying to whack people with a magazine. A rolled-up magazine.”

               Chuck laughed. “You say that like that makes it worse.”

               “It does make it worse,” said his mom. “It hurts more when it’s rolled up. You know that as well as I do. That’s probably why you did it.”

               “What did you tell the cops?” asked Chuck.

               “That you weren’t here and that I hadn’t heard from you in weeks,” said his mom. “Which was all true. Now I’ll have to call them back.”

               “Don’t bother,” said Chuck. “I’ll be long gone by the time they get back here.”

               “Why are you like this?” asked Chuck’s mom. “You’re almost 42 years old. Why are you like this?”

               “It’s a new thing, Mom,” said Chuck. “It just started tonight. I have an audience. They applaud when I, you know, go after people. I hear them applauding, and it’s intoxicating, Mom, I have to give them what they want. I’ve been bitten by the performing bug. Is it corny to seek the approval of an invisible crowd that seems to only delight in violence perpetrated against other people? Maybe it is. But I can’t deny them a good show, Mom. I must play my role, and I will. I’ll have them cheering in the aisles before the night is through!” When he stopped speaking, Chuck was slightly winded and a little embarrassed at the floweriness of his language. Still, it was what he felt, and he would not apologize for that.

               “This behavior isn’t new,” said Chuck’s mom. “You’ve always acted like this. You’re antagonistic! You got kicked out of 4th grade for pushing a kid off the merry-go-round. You got fired from the garden center for swinging a piece of trellis at your manager. I can’t even count all the stuff you’ve thrown at me over the years. I’m not asking you why you’re like this tonight. I’m asking you why you’re like this in general. Looking back over your entire life, why are you like this?”

               Chuck made his most skeptical face. “I swung that trellis at Pete because he was micromanaging, Mom. I didn’t do that for applause, I did it because he deserved it. If you’re a manager, micromanaging is one of the worst things you can do. It destroys employee morale.”

               “But now you’re hurting people for applause,” said Chuck’s mom. “That only you can hear. Is that right?”

               “Yes,” said Chuck. “But why should other people be able to hear it? It’s for me. They’re not just an audience, they’re my audience. I’m the draw, apparently.”

               His mom shook her head. “I’m gonna be up all night because of this. I’ve slept so well since you’ve been gone, Chuck, and now the police are gonna have to come back, and oh, it’s just going to keep going and going.”

               “Don’t call them, then,” said Chuck. “Just go back to bed.”

               “But you’re about to go hit someone with your dad’s axe or something,” said his mom. “I can’t just go back to sleep when you’re out there running around with an axe trying to make your imaginary audience clap.”

               “The axe!” said Chuck. “That’s perfect! Where is it, Mom? Where did Dad put it?” He began to open and close cabinets with renewed energy, even the ones not large enough to house an axe.

               “You think I’m going to make it easier for you?” asked his mom. “For all I know, you’re gonna try to use it on me before you go.”

               “No, no,” said Chuck. “My audience wouldn’t want that.” But it made him wonder. Would they want that? Maybe they would love that? He paused his search to look at his mother over his shoulder.

               She deciphered the look in an instant, and said, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. That’s exactly what I thought. Just try it, buster, and see what happens. See how much your audience applauds when your own mom brains you with a fireplace poker.” She stepped back into the house and closed the door, locking it behind her, the deadbolt too.

               Once Chuck found the axe he wouldn’t have much trouble hacking through the door, but his dad did have a few guns. He doubted his mom would actually settle for dueling him with a fireplace poker. She’d probably just get Chuck’s dad to shoot him, or shoot him herself. Better to not risk it, to not even try to find out if his audience was into the idea of him using the axe on his parents. Because what if they were into it? Better to stick to the original plan, ill-formed though it was. Maybe if the rest of the night went well, he could build up to something more extreme, but as a performer, Chuck wasn’t sure he was ready for something on that level. He needed to build confidence, stick with stuff he knew he could handle. He didn’t want a repeat of Georgia’s easy escape. Another scene like that and his audience might walk out on him.

               The axe wasn’t in any of the cabinets in the garage. It was suspended by its head from two screws in the wall. It had been hanging in plain sight this whole time. Chuck couldn’t help but admire his mom’s self-control, the way she had not allowed herself to even glance at the axe while she and Chuck were talking about it. He grasped the axe by its handle and lifted it down, hefting it in one hand, then the other, then both.

               This alone was enough to provoke a fresh round of applause. So his audience was still with him, and they were willing to be patient. They knew what Chuck procuring the axe meant, they were sharp, they were sophisticated.

               Chuck didn’t even look at the locked door leading into the house. He didn’t want to get the audience’s hopes up for something he didn’t intend to deliver. Not yet, anyway. He turned the garage light off and left through the back door. He even used the key to lock the door as he left, an act of uncharacteristic responsibility that was perhaps an apology to his parents for something he had considered doing, or something he might still do. Then he was off, back into the night in search of not just a victim, but a supporting actor. He was willing to share the spotlight, even if he knew the applause would be all for him. Because what would be the point of applauding a corpse? A corpse cannot hear.


               Chuck had to be even more cautious now. He knew the police were looking for him, and if his mom had followed through on her threat to call them back, they would know he had a weapon, and they would probably know it was an axe. Regardless, a man creeping around the streets at 2:30 in the morning while carrying an axe was bound to alarm people. Chuck couldn’t afford to be spotted by anyone until he was ready to act. He needed the eventual confrontation to happen on his terms so he could control the scene, building the drama to a suitably climactic moment and then graciously accepting the adulation of his audience.

               But he wasn’t sure where to go. He tried to balance creeping through the shadows with a purposeful bearing, but it wasn’t easy. Chuck felt he’d received confirmation that his audience was willing to wait for what they wanted, but he doubted they be as accommodating if they knew how vague the next steps of his plan were. Breaking into someone’s house was not an option. Or it was a last resort option. There were home security systems, dogs, handguns resting on bedside tables, visiting relatives sneaking out of unnoticed guest rooms brandishing heavy motocross trophies. Just too many ways it could go wrong.

               What Chuck needed was someone like him. Or someone like he’d been a couple hours before. A nighttime wanderer out by himself with no means of defense and nothing more than moderate suspicion of the intentions of strangers. Or, if he was suspicious of strangers, he would also be unduly confident in his ability to handle them if it came to that. So confident, in fact, that he might start an argument, pick a fight. That would be ideal. But what were the odds of someone like earlier-Chuck picking a fight with Chuck while he was carrying an axe? Now he was wondering if he should have picked something that he could have concealed. But no, the audience loved the axe. They’d applauded him just for picking it up. He had to make it work, and he would.

               Sunrise was still a few hours away. Chuck lurked behind a dumpster someone had rented and parked in their driveway. It was empty, so Chuck surmised the project it had been rented for had not yet begun. He had plenty of time to orchestrate something great. He just needed a little luck. He didn’t think orchestration and luck were antithetical. Not at all. How good would the orchestra be if its whole violin section got sick? Or if the, like, lady doing the big cello solo tripped and broke her cello? Or if a fly flew into the conductor’s nose mid-conducting and made him freak out and flail his baton and the orchestra didn’t realize what was going on and they tried to follow his wild conducting and just played faster and faster and louder and louder until they all collapsed from exhaustion? Yes, Chuck’s hypotheticals had grown cartoonish, but the point stood.

               He heard footsteps. Not casual footsteps, but crisp and businesslike on the sidewalk on Chuck’s side of the street and coming nearer. A ripple went through his audience; he had never heard them make a non-clapping sound before, but this was something else, an anticipatory murmur. They sensed that the longed-for moment had arrived. Chuck crouched and slunk around the side of the dumpster, preparing to spring upon the walker from hiding. But the footsteps stopped. Chuck waited. Had the walker leapt onto the grass and hurried away? No, the lawn was littered with fallen leaves, his frightened flight would have crunched, and loudly. Perhaps he had tip-toed away, placing the balls of his feet on only the most silent patches of concrete? Or was he standing there still, just out of sight, sensing wrongness and hesitating accordingly?

               Then came a voice. “Come on out. I know you’re there.”

               And the crowd went crazy. Gales of applause plus stamping of feet, hooting, cheering, whistling. Chuck had never heard anything like it. The wild abandon of the applause was enough to make him question his perception of the audience. Maybe they weren’t the sophisticates he had imagined them to be. Or maybe they were and the arrival of Chuck’s supporting actor – his victim – was enough to make them behave like yokels, they were that excited. Well, he would not disappoint them.

               Rising to his full height, Chuck strode out from behind the dumpster and took his place in the middle of the sidewalk, holding the axe across his chest with his left hand just below the head and the right at mid-haft. After a few moments spent imagining how he must look to the man standing opposite him, trying to visualize how impressive he appeared in the other man’s eyes, Chuck noticed the axe. The other axe. The one held by the man standing opposite him.

The audience went nuts again. It sounded as if the intensity of their applause might topple the pillars and bring down the ceiling of whatever packed hall from which they watched.

The other man was a few inches shorter than Chuck, a few years older, a few pounds heavier, a lot balder. He wore a coat with at least two missing buttons. The dark scarf bunched around his chin and shoulders made him appear neckless. He stood with his legs spread and the toes of his hiking boots angled faintly inward. His axe rested on his shoulder and he held it one hand atop the other in the middle of the handle’s bottom third.

The applause went on. Which was okay with Chuck. He could use a second or two to think. Because this was not what he had been envisioning. Sure, he could understand how the prospect of an axe-versus-axe fight could be exciting, but it wasn’t consistent with the other scenes the audience had enjoyed. What about the chip man? That hadn’t been a fair fight. And Georgia, the crowd hadn’t wanted him to fight Georgia, they just wanted him to get her. And that’s what he’d been preparing to do with the axe. Just pop out and, you know, get someone. Chop them. But this was not that. But the crowd loved it. But Chuck was nervous. And it wasn’t just stage fright, it wasn’t just the pressure to perform. It was more about what if this other guy got him with his axe. Like, what if Chuck got chopped?

The applause began to diminish, then subsided. The instant silence returned, the other man’s face changed, and in the next instant, Chuck realized why. The other man had been listening to the applause too. Not just listening to it, basking in it. This man was not here to be a victim. He was not even here to be a supporting actor, not even a co-star. He wanted to hog the applause! He wanted to make Chuck’s audience his audience!

               “This is where it ends,” said the other man.

               “Where what ends?” asked Chuck.

               “The madness,” said the other man. “The mayhem. The killing.”

               “What killing?” asked Chuck.

               “Don’t play dumb,” said the other man. “All the people you’ve killed. But no more. It ends now.”

               “I haven’t killed anyone yet,” said Chuck. “I poured chips on a guy and hit a lady with a magazine.”

               “With a magazine?” asked the other man.

               “Well, I almost hit her,” said Chuck. “I missed.”

               The other man looked put out. “Well, even better, then,” he said. “I’ll stop you before anyone has to die. That’s even better. No loss of life!” He paused for applause, but none came, and he looked even more put out.

               “My audience doesn’t applaud speeches,” said Chuck. “They applaud action.”

               “Your audience?” said the other man. “They’re rooting for me.”

               “No way,” said Chuck. “They’ve been applauding me all night.”

               “Of course they have,” said the other man. “They can’t justify the thrill they get from me killing you with an axe unless you’ve done something to deserve it.”

               “No,” said Chuck. “No, that’s impossible.”

               “Come on,” said the other man. “Everyone delights in villainy when they know it’s going to be punished. The worse you are, the more satisfying it is to see me split you open. They know that! They’re a sophisticated audience!”

               “But I’ve hardly done anything,” said Chuck. “I barely got started.”

               The other man shrugged. “They’re sophisticated, but they also take what they can get.”

               “What makes them so sure you’ll beat me?” asked Chuck.

               The other man maintained his shrug. “They’ve seen me do it enough times. None of the other bad guys have beaten me. Why should you? The good guy prevails. It’s predictable, sure, but I think the audience enjoys it for its predictability. Maybe they see it less as predictability and more as reliability, something they can – ”

               Chuck flung his axe at the other man. He had envisioned the blade embedding itself in the man’s face, but instead the flat side of the axe head clonked against the man’s big, round forehead. The man toppled sideways into the street and lay still. Chuck approached the fallen man with caution. He was not breathing. Chuck checked for a pulse, and he wasn’t sure he was doing it right, but he didn’t feel anything. He collected his dad’s axe and hurried away, leaving the other man where he was. He had just begun to accept the fact that the lack of applause at his victory might support the other man’s claim when the booing began. Loud and continuous booing, spiteful, contemptuous, bitter.

               Hours later, as Chuck huddled under an old tarp in some stranger’s disused shed and tried to think of a way forward, the booing had not abated. He wondered if it ever would. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever chosen to remain seated during a standing ovation? If so, where did you find such deep reserves of courage/obstinacy?

  • What’s the most worthy performance from which you’ve withheld applause?

  • What’s the least worthy performance you’ve ever applauded?

  • What’s the most heinous act you’ve ever encouraged with your applause?

  • What’s the most heinous thing you’ve ever done for applause?