Podium

He read from the podium like a man possessed by two demons. One, his own personal demon, was with him wherever he went, living inside him, pressed between his heart and his ribcage. This demon was purple, a kind of eggplant shade that most people hate, and that the writer reading liked. He sometimes dreamed at night of painting his walls this color, all of them, but he knew, in his rational, waking moments, that this would make him horribly depressed. His demon, anyway, was this color, and it was slimy, too, the way you imagine a snake feels. Snakes, though, end up being smooth, but the demon wasn’t, it really was slimy and wet with the internal fluids that seep and slosh around inside the body, making the mysterious machines in there work properly. It had a voice, this demon, a very deep bass that took over when the writer had to read something difficult. At the podium, the man moved his lips and felt the demon’s long tongue touching the roof of his mouth and click against his teeth to make the right vowels and consonants. It was a much better reader than he himself was.

The second demon possessing the man was the less tangible one that was nevertheless present. He was familiar with it because he’d come across it often in front of audiences such as this. It was a demon made of gasps and exhales, of expectations fulfilled and disappointed, a demon of projections of prior knowledge and snappy new impressions. An audience of sixty or eighty, all of whom had demons of their own lodged inside their calves or the small of their backs or between their thighs or up their nostrils, wove together a demon that hovered over the writer reading like the cartoonish personal raincloud, except he knew it wouldn’t rain on him if he did something wrong. In fact, he knew, the demon above him wouldn’t do anything to him, precisely. Instead, it simply descended on him, bit by bit, a mantle gifted to him. He didn’t want the gift most of the time, not anymore, and he wished he could give it back; his shoulders were already heavy with cloaks, with wraps, with the warmth of strangers suffocating him.

The man at the podium read, possessed, until his tears blessed his audience and cleansed his listeners. His demons were soothed by the salt water, but only for a little while. Until the next podium, the next audience, the next mantle taken up for a cause of unclear worthiness.

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3 thoughts on “Podium

  1. Well written. Congratulations. One teensy-tiny, pain-in-the-butt, nit pick. Some folks are “purists” about how ‘podium’ is used. They never tire of saying “You’re using the word wrong (or the wrong word). A ‘podium’ is what you stand ON; a ‘lectern’ is what you stand AT.” However, I have heard newscasters using podium the way you did, so you have plenty of company.

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