Fame or Shame

George Gould

"The walls of the dance studio were almost entirely covered in mirrors... Gareth pranced around in the company and audience of himself .... In his periphery, amongst the scattered streamers and few loose socks, Gareth noticed a briefcase.... Much to Gareth’s surprise, the case was unlocked and opened with a simple flick of a buckle. Much more to his surprise were the contents."


Success, success, a rousing success! If an artists’ work is any reflection upon himself then it was gold, gold, gold! These were the thoughts that circled through Gareth’s mind as he floated around his, now empty, dance studio; his students having just delivered their final year performances.

I am the cannon that shoots forth stars, Gareth thought. People will trace back the lines in the sky to find me; the origin, the inspiration, the mentor. Was it Shakespeare? I was born great and now I thrust it upon my students. There were a few loose hairs, duly noted - we can’t expect every batch to be ripe throughout - but those rickety legs will be straightened out into stallions or they will be put down. It’s survival of the fittest; my way; God’s way.

The walls of the dance studio were almost entirely covered in mirrors from the floor to the ceiling, all except for a small, slightly cracked window in the distant corner; its light was not needed with the amount of spotlights strategically placed about the room. Gareth pranced around in the company and audience of himself, casting a glance at his reflection as he came to a halt, balanced on a single tip-toed foot with his arms extended either side in perfect symmetry. In his periphery, amongst the scattered streamers and few loose socks, Gareth noticed a briefcase. As he turned for a full inspection Gareth saw that it was a metallic case, such that he could only associate with film portrayals of the FBI; his curiosity quickly overcame his confusion and he approached to attempt an opening.

Much to Gareth’s surprise, the case was unlocked and opened with a simple flick of a buckle. Much more to his surprise were the contents.

The case appeared to contain a single object, which in fact may well have been several, it was a square, metallic contraption with a variety of buttons and lights; one light in the centre flashed rhythmically with the seconds. Gareth thought it looked like a computer monitor without its frame.

His immediate response was no sudden movements, is that bombs or bears? He unthinkingly uttered aloud to himself, ‘what on earth’, and with that the machine beeped a single tone causing Gareth to leap up and flee to the distant corner with the window. His eyes were fixed on the mysterious device, Gareth slowly stood and straightened himself. The contortions on his face ceased and he began to think rationally, pacing to the centre of the room.

Just to imagine, thought Gareth, someone, out there somewhere, someone was willing to risk their lives to sabotage my studio. My studio. If that isn’t recognition then I don’t know what is.

Gareth moved to his bag by the studio door. Retrieving his phone, he began to type in the number for the police. After further consideration he rummaged again in his bag and took out his Polaroid camera.

I don’t want the media making this some moral panic! Someone has chosen me, as the epitome of my country’s success and I shan’t be lost in the resolution.

Gareth began photographing the case, but then thinking that people might say, that could be any dance studio, Gareth set the camera’s timer and took several photos of himself with the unknown object. With the thought that ‘any photo is a chance to be seen’, he began performing somersaults and striking poses, with perfect symmetry and balance, just in time for the camera’s flash. Satisfied with his snapshots, Gareth gathered the photos and flicked through, marvelling at his perfect posture.

Fit for a portfolio! Gareth thought. Perhaps these will ignite my debut, my boom.

Noticing the pun, Gareth giggled frantically and childishly at his own whit, being careful to cling the photos to his chest.

Without it I’m bankrupt but with it I’m ethically the same. Surely every man would sin to avoid shame? Leave it, just leave it, they’ll have opened it by now - you can’t collect that kind of thing like a jumper in the lost and found. I shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, so much money spent securing a skill I’m supposed to have. What kind of a country is this where you can buy a lie-detector with the click of a few buttons? Natalie still asks about the money, I say I got mugged; a prod to the ego is better than a stab in your pride.

John paced around his kitchen, his hands were never still, either playing with his coat buttons or hair, he couldn’t be settled.

I have to get it, he thought, there’s no two ways about it. I’ve risked enough so far. Who’d have thought that in my attempts to be a good father and see my daughter’s performance I would drop the bomb that could destroy my entire reputation? No one has to know. If there’s anyone there I’ll just say I work with the law, it’s not a lie, just bent truth. What kind of a lawyer can’t gain custody against his own cheating wife?

John left his flat slamming the door behind him, he descended the staircase without a pause and wormed through the crowds on the pavement without casting a backwards glance.

I don’t need the machine but it’s the comfort of reassurance. I used to think that truth mattered, but ‘innocent’, ‘guilty’; these are just terms. It’s how you portray reality that matters - blur the scope, crop the picture and it’s a different world. Even ‘true’ and ‘false’ don’t really matter, delusions can mean more to people than solid certainties; the detector itself is only 97% correct. It’s all conditional, that’s what I’ve learnt: morals are conditional. No two people share a concept or concern, we all try to hold our heads above each other but if the time comes we’ll all strike a low blow.

John’s pace bordered on jogging, his feet occasionally left the ground but his weight brought him down with a thud. His gaze did not deviate from in front of him, it was as if he sensed the traffic lights at each crossing and stopped accordingly, but really, it was an unexpressed peripheral awareness; he didn’t feel the need to show that he could see everything, he was content keeping the knowledge to himself. As John approached the studio he remembered why he had been here last.

My angel, Chrissy. Natalie calls her Christina but I won’t let her take everything from me. The last time she stayed for the weekend all she said was how nice ‘Mum’s house’ is. She asked why the bread was hard and I said it was French. Pathetic pride. She was too young to remember the divorce settling, I’m sure Natalie said whatever she wanted anyway. When she’s a star maybe people will look back and see me as a part of it, just a part of it.

As John entered the studio’s building and began to move down the corridor he heard a giggling. Out of fear and paranoia his mind made the random connection that it was someone finding his case. His pace became a sprint as he burst through the door.

After knocking the door wide open John froze, embarrassed, to find Chrissy’s instructor still in the studio. Gareth was so startled by John’s entry that he dropped his photos. Initially he forced a smile to calm his appearance but then noticing the photos he quickly dropped to the floor and gathered them.

“Sorry for the intrusion” said John, still panting from the sprint, “I left my suit case here earlier -”

The detector flashed green.

“It’s yours?” Gareth cut in, almost immediately adding, “Why me?”.

John ignored the question, “I’ll just grab it and be on my way”. He advanced towards the case but was paused in his movements by Gareth’s shout.

“Wait! What is it? Who are you?”

“My name’s John, I was here earlier with my wife -”

The detector flashed red.

“- my ex-wife -”

The detector flashed green.

“- and my daughter -”

The detector flashed red.

“- she’s MY daughter!”

The detector flashed green. John’s shout echoed in the mirrored room, he had only just scanned his surroundings and realised that they were alone in the company of themselves. John began to blush and fidget with his buttons. Gareth was confused but determined to maintain control of his studio.

“Look, the police are on the their way -” the detector flashed red but John was still distracted by his reflections “- I saw an ‘unattended package’ and made the connection. Now, tell me, what is it? And why did you leave it here?”

John sensed antagonism. “You look. It is none of your business. What, you thought it was a bomb? Who’d bomb a dance hall? I’m a lawyer, ok? Why would the police believe you over me?”

Gareth took these comments as deep stabs to his pride; the owner of that which once sprouted recognition now gave way to confrontation. As he spoke, Gareth stepped towards John, who was standing a few metres from the suitcase. “I’ll tell you why: because I’m Gareth Aldgrave; renowned dance instructor. You’d struggle to find a soul who hasn’t heard of me -”

The detector flashed red.

“- I’ve been behind every dance talent for the past decade -”

The detector flashed red.

“- Every time you’ve seen a name in lights I’ve been by the power switch -”

The detector flashed red. Gareth turned to face his reflections.

“- I’m a national treasure.”

The detector flashed red.

“Why is it flashing like that?”

John smirked but then concealed it, “It’s a lie detector.”

Gareth remained as he stood, his posture was solid with his hands on his hips. You would have to look closely to see his eyes widen and his lips quiver. The machine had made a mockery of him. The wad of photos fell from his hands, landing face down on the floor. At the sound of their drop, Gareth turned towards the detector, then with grace and agility he sprinted and leapt, landing his feet onto the centre light. A crack was heard and the light died out. Gareth moved so fast and unexpected that John only reacted after the break, his initial shock calmed and then seethed into a restrained rage.

“You’ve broken my property”.

“You’ll never prove it” replied Gareth.

“I’m a lawyer”.

“It would seem you are a cheat”.

“You’re a fraud”.

“Yes, but in my industry, it is called being pretentious, in yours it’s called being unprofessional … speaking of which, what is your daughter’s name?”

John was agitated, but his options were limited. “Chrissy”.


“Chrissy” repeated John.

Gareth was astonished. “She’s my star pupil, I’m recommending her for a scholarship. I can take her to the top! With my teaching she could be the best”. A smug certainty covered his face.

John’s stare did not move from Gareth’s face, his periphery only showed varying angles of the same man. True or false. Right or wrong. He turned and walked towards the door. “You won’t see her again, I can pay for her fees myself. You can give the police the package when they arrive”.

“I lied” said Gareth, his posture slouched. John didn’t turn back, he exited and slammed the door. The noise echoed through the room and a crack formed in the corner of the mirror closest to the door.

Inexplicable the small window in the distant corner shattered and the light struck Gareth’s face.



George Gould


brightONLINE student literary journal

06 Oct 2011