Death by Public Speaking

Public Speaking Fear by Sara-MaraIllustration by Sara-Mara

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

For some annoying cosmic reason, Mid-Mid’s (Middleton Middle School) Eighth Grade Promotion Ceremony had been the beginning of the end not just for Zack Dore, but for his sister Gina as well:

Her graduation dress was the center of her “post-punk princess ensemble,” a frilly white dress with hot pink knee socks and black combat boots. Along with her flashing green eyes and thick auburn hair, Gina somehow managed to be pretty and make fun of pretty all at the same time. Mom wasn’t going to let her wear the boots until Ms. Killian, Mid-Mid’s incurably bohemian English instructor, called and insisted that the boots would be “delicious.”

It was Gina’s last official day of middle school. She’d done eighth grade right: played Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, won the Spring Poetry Jam, and gotten nearly perfect grades.

Nearly. Truth is they’d been slipping since the end of last year, and it was getting harder and harder to maintain the illusion of effortlessness, but no one except Gina was worried. Her grades and wonky wit had landed her one of just three student speaker spots on the graduation platform. Her task: to write and recite the annual “Wings of the Future Inspirational Closing Speech.”

Fifty-three minutes into the ceremony, Mom looked up from her program, for the sixth time, and whispered “I don’t see her.”

“She’s going over her speech,” Dad reassured. He was at least as nervous as she was but, being a lawyer, had mastered the art of pretend certainty.

After getting the nod from Mrs. Williams, Gina straightened the bows on her knee socks and crossed to the platform steps. She suddenly felt absurd and inadequate. Missy Herbert had just completed her valedictorian speech. It was good, but predictable. Which in Middleton was the quintessence of goodness. Not that Gina resented her, it was just that Missy was “safe,” and somehow her safeness drew attention to Gina’s not-safeness.

With Ms. Killian’s approval, Gina had decided to stand the whole Wings of the Future tradition on its head. “Not everyone soars forth on the wings of the future,” Gina’d planned to say, “some drag themselves backward on the elbows of the past.” Ms. Killian had called the line “pure genius.”

Only now had Gina suddenly realized that Ms. Killian was insane.

The Seventh Grade Jazz Ensemble finished their nearly on-key rendition of “New York, New York,” which had nothing to do with anything, but was their best number.

“And now,” five-foot-four-inch Principal Glassmann intoned in his incongruously large voice, “here’s Gina Dore, winner of last month’s Spring Poetry Jam, and our own Catalina in the spring drama production of The Dawning of the Shrew, to present the Wings of the Future Inspirational Closing Speech.”

Applause—frighteningly over-expectant applause.

It suddenly seemed to Gina that the sound was coming from alien scientists on the other side of a thick glass window who were here to study her in her…what?…natural habitat? Hardly. There was nothing natural about this. What was she doing here?

As she climbed the steps and floated toward the microphone, she thought, How absurd. All these humanoid creatures folded onto their posteriors, smacking their forepaws together as if it had some kind of actual meaning.

She approached the stand and raised the mic. Which, as planned, brought a hearty laugh (poor Principal Glassmann had to suffer this indignity at least a dozen times a year). But instead of jarring Gina out of her altered state of consciousness, their laughter only added to her sense of disassociation: Those creatures are making strange barking noises now.

Why had she agreed to give this speech?



Thoughts: Have you ever felt crushed under the weight of others’ expectations?

To read the next episode, click here.

Wishing pix-Map

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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21 Responses to Death by Public Speaking

  1. Pingback: The Last Kid on Earth | Mitch Teemley

  2. Gary Fultz says:

    Confession: I skipped class on oral book report days (I had a stack of sick passes and was good at several signatures) so I could do written make-up reports. Death was a warm fuzzy thought vs any up front speaking…Gods humor…”you will become a public speaker in your adult (cough, hack) life.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ejstoo says:

    Most interestingly, there is a Middleton in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. I have family living there…which is how I know that 🙂 Life is full of challenges. You don’t always get to choose them 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. rwfrohlich says:

    It is a frightening thing to stand before an audience full of people who expect you to say something worthy of their time and attention. That fright is a strong motivation for thorough preparation, so that once you open your mouth, speech can flow effortlessly. If you ever lose that feeling, you won’t be worth listening to.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Piano girl says:

    As a pianist, many times. In the middle of a performance, thinking…do I really know how to play this? What is happening? 😬

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Excellent, Mitch. I have been speaking in public my whole professional life. I did have an occasion to wonder what I was doing up there. I was playing Humprey Bogart in Play it Again Sam in Connecticut theater. I think this was in the late 70s. Just before going on, someone asked me a silly question. I answered and then walked out on the stage. I found my mind totally blank. I could have been in Ohio for all I knew. Lucky for me, the actor on stage at the time threw me a hint, and I recovered. It was the longest two seconds I had ever spent.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was supposed to give the history of our graduating class in High School. Why they let me is beyond my comprehension. So I wrote it out, warts and all. I got called into the sponsor’s room to discuss my speech. “Um, it’s very good and has some very funny moments. And you know it’s good too, and that it’s true. But we’re not going for truth here. We want everyone to feel good about themselves. We don’t want to have a mirror that reflects the real events. For some, this is the highlight of their lives.” “They have nothing to look forward to?” “Nope.” “So…” “So tone it down.”

    So I toned it down, but before I did, I made copies of it. I tried not to be snarky when I presented it, but I did include a caveat at the end, “If you want the true history, there are copies available,” and then I ran off the stage. Luckily, seniors had been done for a week so I didn’t have to face people the next day. I joined Toastmasters to learn how to keep my big mouth shut, and instead, learned how to say the exact same thing I did in high school and make it sound like compliments. I don’t have that guilt that stops me in my tracks when I speak now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. numrhood says:

    what is the girl in the box wearing


  9. I like to imagine and feel that I am all of the people in the audience. That way, I don’t feel like so much as a speaker as much as a person just having a random conversation, even if all eyes are on me. I believe that if you are willing to be vulnerable and maybe screw up and get back up, people will actually like you more. And if they don’t, then you know who to avoid. So, win-win!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Melting Down While the Universe Watches | Mitch Teemley

  11. Pingback: Attack of the Out-of-Control Kid Brother! | Mitch Teemley

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