The Underdog

by: T.E. Cowell

The world is against him, but he types on all the same.” An author questions his worth as an artist, and as a human being…

He’s flipping through a magazine full of young writers’ work — young meaning the writers are in their twenties and thirties. It’s a commemorative issue from a prestigious magazine, one he’s been trying to get published in for years. He picked it up off the shelf at his local library on a whim. The word “young” was on the cover and he wanted to see what young looked like these days. He wondered if he could still be considered young, or if, like he feared, he no longer had that advantage.

He discovers that he is indeed older than most of the writers featured in the magazine, at least three-quarters of them. The year each writer was born as well as a photograph fills the page prior to their story. There’s also a little blurb about each writer below their photograph summarizing their accomplishments. After noting the year of birth and then scrutinizing each photo, he reads the blurbs with bitterness, jealousy, despair, and distrust.

Most of the blurb’s mention a few other magazines the writers have had work published in, magazines as established as the magazine he’s holding — magazines that, also like the one he’s holding, he’s been submitting to for years and years without luck — before going on to list all the awards they’ve won, and grants and fellowships they’ve received.

If he could, he would check the magazine out and take it back home to his apartment, but the newest issues of the magazines the library has in stock can’t be checked out—library rules. So he takes the magazine and finds a vacant table to sit at.

Opening the magazine to the first page of a short story by a male writer, roughly his age who’s written two award-winning novels and a collection of short stories shortlisted for some no doubt wondrous prize, he stops and begins to read. He reads in rapt concentration, in an effort to determine what this writer has that he doesn’t. A stronger voice? Better character description? Dramatic tension? Plot? Theme? He finishes the story and thinks to himself it wasn’t that good. He feels relieved in thinking this, invoking in this revelation a resurgence of hope that there might still be a chance for him after all. So what if he’s taking his sweet time getting recognized in comparison with these young hotshots? He’ll get there, and when he does it’ll be all the sweeter because he’d had to wait for it.

He starts reading another story, this time by a woman five years his junior. When he’s done with this story he gets up from the table where he’s been sitting and puts the magazine back on the shelf. He’s read enough, he figures, at least for now.

He leaves the library and starts walking back to his apartment, thinking as he makes his way that maybe it’s not too late for him after all.

His apartment’s in an alleyway littered overhead with crisscrossing power lines. Above the power lines the bellies of airplanes can be seen regularly flying past on their way to the airstrip a mile or so away. He lives in the first floor apartment of a squat two-story building that as a whole has about as much aesthetic appeal as an outhouse. It’s just a gray stucco building with wooden stairs attached to its side and an enormous antenna on the roof. The rent’s cheap.

His apartment has two small windows, one in the kitchen and the other in the combination living room/bedroom. They both look out onto an array of run-down, anxiety-inducing houses with beater cars in the driveways. Sometimes he imagines he’s in jail when he looks out one of the windows. Then he thinks that may be exactly what he’s in, that that’s exactly what everyone’s in, but that some people, the lucky ones, just have more room to roam around than everyone else does.

He enters his apartment and goes straight to the fridge. He takes out a beer and downs it quickly, then takes another beer out and sits on the couch. His laptop’s on the coffee table before him. He leans forward, flips it up and opens the latest story he’s been working on. He reads over the last paragraph he’s written. He sips his beer and thinks about where he might go next. He puts his fingers over the keyboard and begins to type right as another plane flies by loudly overhead.

The world is against him, but he types on all the same. The world is against him, and it’s at once frightening and exhilarating to know this. He has nothing but his hopes and dreams, and if he loses these than he’s lost everything that makes him him. If he loses his hopes and dreams than his life is over.

Yes, the world is against him. The world is against him and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s the underdog. There’s a sweet, stubborn pride to be had in coming to terms with this.


T. E. Cowell resides on an island in Washington state. His fiction’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Eunoia Review, The Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, Jellyfish Review, Storychord, Punchnel’s, Ginosko Literary Journal, and elsewhere. He’s also been featured numerous times on No Extra Words: The Flash Fiction Podcast. He has received encouraging rejections from such publications as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, BOMB, The Missouri Review, Carve Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and possibly a few others, but as of yet no bites.

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