A Short List by Tony Espino

A bronze statue of a face with no head in a garden of flowers
Image Source: Snappa

I glance down at the list written on the palm of my hand. I don’t remember why my middle finger is crooked. But it must be the reason no one takes me serious when I flip them off. It’s hard to read my skin without any lights on. I’m left in the shadows since the sun seems tethered to its post and fenced in by a hazy sky today. The washer has been filling for hours. I’m just glad it drowns out the sound of my cat puking on the living room carpet. Maybe I’ll clean it later. Maybe I’ll even change out of pajamas today. Seems too risky. This kitchen doesn’t feel right today. Almost like it’s been replaced with an identical one but drained of any essence. The open silverware drawer looks suspicious. I wouldn’t be surprised if it consumed the life of this kitchen and chewed it up. It’s the only thing that explains the bloody toothpick by the sink.

I guarantee this is yet another slip in my reality. Time and space melting, causing aberrations in existence as I know it. Or maybe I just drank too much coffee. They say too much caffeine can cause your world to fragment into millions of pieces. Everyone remembers the popular jingle when we were kids: “The best part of waking up is Folgers splitting your universe into oblivion.” Anyway, I cross off ‘Be Present’ from my list. A short list of actions I’ve performed today.

The list is always short in direct correlation to my imagination. I imagine a life with adventure and wonder. Mysterious people who I shouldn’t talk to, but who talk to me. Me existing in such a way as to be forced to use my curiosity and make discoveries. Any type of discovery would do. A new interest, a coincidence in a dream, even a missing sock. You know, the classic cliche type. The kind that’s even cliche to refer to as such, but that’s how I imagine it because my imagination is by all accounts dull and boring. And so it is that my boring imagination has led to my boring life which leads to my boring imagination which creates a loop, that to say I live in would imply I interact with, but as you’ve probably already guessed from the cliche nature of this story I like everyone else can not live in a loop of this nature. I can only exist until the point of exhaustion.

My list of what I do every day in written form, showing me how I’m utilizing my lifetime is meant to shock me into action. To jar my existence into a life of direction and meaning through a desire that would be awakened in me the moment I saw, printed out, a receipt of my lack of living. This list, the key to unlocking the door to which I will walk through and forever be changed. The kind of change and growth one imagines they’ve gone through when traversing the narrow corridors at the end of a life.

But I must say a tiny curiosity wizard did not sprout in my brain and start casting spells all day long. I didn’t outgrow this wretched skin holding me back and skip away with my potential meter gushing like Old Faithful. Of course not. Instead, I did what anyone would do at the sight of such a sad, short list: I shrugged my stupid shoulders. That’s all that happened. Nothing else. Any stories of the contrary are, by all accounts, one hundred percent fabricated.

Here, I the editor of this story, must interject. The author seems to have chosen to dive deep into a sea of self-pity and not come up for air. Through a shared Spotify playlist I had the pleasure of dissolving my consciousness into his. It is thus how I speak with such clarity as to the events that unfolded following his shrug of his “stupid” shoulders. While this may seem an act of nonchalance, in reality, it was the first sign of defeat.

In the telling of his details he wanted you, the reader, to feel bad and sympathize with his struggle of living. He appears to have become aware of his whining at some point in his writing and wrap it up in order to grasp at whatever shreds of dignity remain. But tell me, dear reader, what good as ever come from leaving a man with any dignity? So I say let’s take that as well.

In his desperation to live a life, our protagonist had turned to a podcaster for guidance. When the awakened state of mind he hoped for didn’t manifest he located the podcaster’s social media and left a vague, yet simple, message: Your list technique didn’t work! This was followed by a man throwing himself into a wood chipper emoji. A reference to the time the podcaster stated that she believed in the power of emojis over the power of God.

But rest assured this was no self-help podcast. This woman podcaster wasn’t in the business of spewing recycled life advice on ways to modify the human spirit for optimal performance and satisfaction. Her podcast was about cornhole. Sure, one could say there were nuggets of wisdom here and there. It is even plausible that while caught up in the excitement of her origin story she revealed something similar to the list technique in question. And he would know. He listened to her show every day. She became his self-help guru who spoke of nothing but cornhole. She was his messiah.

He would listen to her old podcasts on repeat until new ones arrived. His obsession caused him to slow down the recordings to half speed. Listening to what now sounded like an intoxicated guru decipher the enigma of dealing with harsh wind conditions and mysterious shadows while touting the nobility, honor, and moral responsibility of the cornholer. Somewhere in between the words there was a deeper message. One he listened for for hours at a time, knowing full well it was one he could not hear. The unspoken messages buried in her subconscious that he wasn’t even certain she was aware of. He believed they would be transmitted to him because he wanted them the most. Needed them to live.

His belief in his messiah was so strong he would tell all his coworkers, “You have to listen to this self-help podcast. It will change your life.” They were unconvinced after evaluating his life on several levels and determining it unchanged. And so he found it his rightful duty to play these hour long commentaries on the magic of cornhole for his coworkers whose spiritual lives were at stake. But unable to withstand the boredom and monotony of one speaking at length regarding the soaring nature of beanbags, his coworkers soon fell asleep. And, as a result, were fired. He would reflect on his day and recall these events. Attempting to live. This, our protagonist, would add to his list. Dull and boring. A short list.


Tony Espino is a human (for now) who lives in Newfield, NJ. A small town known for its rich history of UFO abductions in the mid-to-late 1800’s. He enjoys writing all sorts of nonsense including screenplays, sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, short stories, flash fiction, and obituaries. He once received an A+ on his own obituary at community college. A hallmark of his career he brags about whenever someone he knows is very ill. His stories have appeared in Stories We Can’t See Quarterly, Imagine Words Here Magazine and Are We Fiction Or Are We Missing? You can also find his work in the black hole of the internet located at Tony Espino – A Human Writer.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Tony’s short list is something each one of us can relate to. Humans are what they think, feel, do, hear, and see. The beautiful aspect of this humorous yet painful story is that no matter how many goals we set or self-help gurus we tune into, the responsibility of living a better and satisfied life rests solely upon our own shoulders. Want to shrug that off? Go ahead. I bet nobody cares enough to stop you. Live and love yourself.
    We hear ya, Tony. Congratulations!


  2. tony espino says:

    Thanks for all the kind words and support! It’s certainly appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations Tony! Relatable! 👏🌷

    Liked by 2 people

  4. jonicaggiano says:

    Yes, I get it too. Especially now, these are such crazy times it is easy to feel as if you are going around doing the same thing every day. You can begin to feel like you don’t recognize what you did the day before as one runs into the next. As for all the how to stay focus and to self heal and self help, much of that is easier said than done. Congratulations for your publication on MasticadoresIndia. Very creative piece, nice writing. Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tony espino says:

      Thanks so much! Glad you can relate. I guess this piece ended up being a bit too much of a bummer. Lol! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.


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