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Three Acts of Self-Actualization

Story by Lisa Muschinski (Read author interview) September 12, 2022

Art by Eduardo Soares


When I see Mr. Jacobs, HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER, at King Soopers, his face doesn’t shift with recognition. Not as I, PAST STUDENT, stand behind him in the checkout line. Not as his Old Spice deodorant—Bear Glove, like the one in my cart—sails down the conveyer belt. I watch him hurry to bag his things. My gallon of milk rattles against his bag of peaches. Let me get out of your way, he says, slinging a reusable bag over his shoulder and plucking the bruised fruit from the bagging zone. He straightens his flannel waistcoat and gives my loose-fitting jeans, my oversized tee, my thin silver chain, a once over. Sorry, sir, he says, gesturing to the checkout lane. It’s all yours.


Before, I, COLLEGE GIRL, let frat boys pour shots into my mouth straight from the cherry-flavored Burnett’s handle. Before, I, PRETTY THING, held back my Hollywood locks with bejeweled claws, careful not to let the vodka dribble on my shirt. The girls by my side—PARTY GIRL ONE, PARTY GIRL TWO, PARTY GIRL THREE—had Emma Watson brows which leaped about their foreheads, had arms which would hook into mine, which would pull me to a grimy bathroom or the bushes out back if the line was too long.

Before, at their tidy apartments, complete with monstera plants and overflowing bookshelves, with cautious cats which flicked their tails in hesitation, I had splayed my knees on their plushy love seats and sipped on a beer. Before, I’d wrapped an arm around one of them, listened to their thoughts on my favorite novelist, on the socialization of the gender binary, on power dynamics within a heterosexual relationship, infatuated with the way they cocked their heads. Obsessed with their clever takes. Consumed by their crooked smiles and buttery eyes.

Before, one of their boyfriends had joined for a drink. I’d taken note of his stooped posture, his navy-blue sweater which made him look sinister, but not in a bad way—more like he’d been washed to shore, like he’d just returned from battle, like he harbored a secret he was desperate to tell. I’d watched him drape shadows about the room—over the love seat, over the whisker-twitching cat, over me.


Before—long before—as I, CURRENT STUDENT, stood before Mr. Jacobs, HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER, auditioning for SCREAMING GIRL TWO in our annual haunted house, I choked. I was no Susan Backline, no Toni Collette, no murder victim, no girl screaming. But I couldn’t back out—not halfway through a breath, palms clamped around my jaw. So, I went through with it, with the moan, the sigh, the wail, until it tapered to a cough.

Let’s try that again, said Mr. Jacobs, tugging at his suede waistcoat. I don’t know if it was more awkward for him to see me, STRAIGHT A STUDENT, fail at something so vulnerable, to flounder at something as simple as a scream, or for me, the next day, when I stayed past the bell to ask a question about Pygmalion, when I said I guess acting isn’t my thing, when my skirt was too short, but I hadn’t been dress-coded for it, when he said, without provocation, You should get yourself a sport coat. Like Kristin Stewart? I think you’d look good in it.

But that hadn’t happened yet. None of it had. One more time, he said, straightening the stack of papers—sign-up sheets of other actors, real actors who’d been leads in last fall’s rendition of Guys and Dolls. He gestured to the small strip of painter’s tape on the hardwood floor. With a glance at the clock—my five minutes were almost up—I took center stage, sucked in a breath, and tried again.

About the Author

Lisa Muschinski is a Colorado-based writer with words found or upcoming in HAD, Flash Frog, FlashFlood, Olney Magazine, Bear Creek Gazette, and elsewhere. She typically writes absurd little stories about sexuality, the gender binary, and mental health. @lisamuschinski

About the Artist

Eduardo Soares is a photographer from Punta Grossa, Brazil.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Seven

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