I M A G E
OF THE EVERYMAN
A Short Story (flash fiction)
By Michael Priebe
Note: This story was first published at MASH stories as part of their seventh quarterly flash fiction competition's shortlist. The author encourages readers and aspiring writers to visit mashstories.com to view other works and participate in the quarterly flash fiction competition.
“Do we talk about intimacy?” I asked, trying to sink into the couch like a proper patient. I was desperate to put in the work this time around.
Doctor Gemilia raised a plush eyebrow; then he lifted a digital camera. Clicks and flashes rattled me.
“You lying pensively on a half-back sofa. We’ll use that somehow.” Gemilia unbuttoned his navy blazer. “We’ll need plenty of you and Megan together, too. Captions like Date Night or My Best Friend should work. Good to release one every week.”
“Well your new wife’s concerned,” Gemilia said.
“I get she’s concerned. Hence her insistence I see you for …”
Gemilia nodded, encouraging me to finish my thought.
“For relationship counseling?”
“Is that what she called it?” Gemilia said.
The doctor’s chirpy tone made me spasm a little. He continued, unfazed.
“She said you didn’t have a Facebook account.”
“That’s true. But that’s intentional. And how is that—”
“Listen,” Gemilia said, raising a hand but not his voice. “She’s worried people will have difficulty forming a favorable opinion of you … or, more precisely, a favorable public opinion of the two of you.”
Pictures I hadn’t noticed on Gemilia’s wall became visible: him and a philandering ex-president, him and a disco-dancing actor who swears he isn’t gay, and him with a tiny elderly lady in a flowered dress.
“The last picture is just me and my mom,” Gemilia said. “It helps people get an idea of my values.”
“You are a doctor, right?”
“I’m a social-media image therapist.” Gemilia said. “And a PhD—public relations. I worked in Washington and before that Hollywood. But I’m getting older. Now I’m more concerned with doing meaningful work ... stuff that helps the everyman.”
“Listen, I don’t have a public image to groom.”
Gemilia laughed, and spicy cologne swirled from his neck. “But you can,” he said passionately. “That’s the beauty. Image isn’t just for the elite anymore.” A subversive glint marched across the doctor’s eyes. “Public opinion used to be something only Congress was concerned with. But with Facebook, Jeremy, your mother’s opinion of you is public opinion. You write Happy Mother’s Day, she writes a lovely comment back, and everyone sees this. Everyone knows you’re a good son. This is all an art.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“We’re creating jealousy. It doesn’t matter if you eat Spam at home most nights—not saying you do—but the world sees the nice restaurant with Megan. It doesn’t matter if you live mostly in neurotic self-fancy—not saying you do—but everyone reads about the delivery of lavish flowers on the anniversary. Then they like you because they want to be like you, and this all works.”
I cringed thinking about the twilight zone Gemilia promoted. Then I considered the prospect of another divorce.
“Let’s talk about profile pictures,” I said.
Copyright 2015 Michael Priebe - Title background photo acknowledgment to and imgbuddy.com