Congratulations, he would say.
This is a memory, of course: Golden clouds float by in eternally violet skies underneath tasteful black and white furniture sets with contemporary photography of nude males and mannequin heads nailed to the air above them, swaying in the breeze and knocking against the invisible walls that once housed the meth head who previously lived in this space. "He actually did quite well for himself," he had told me, "but the place was a mess."
What are you doing?
"I’m learning," I said from the stage, hands on my hips. He sat in the audience, hardly listening, with a cigar in his mouth. He exhaled so indifferently, and the smoke took the shape of a Pollock painting.
"You’re gonna have to do better than that," he said.
So I sang a song for him. It was a song that I heard once before, only once, and though I couldn’t remember the precise moment I had heard it before, I performed with such virtuosity to convince any that it was a daily ceremony of mine.
After I finished he put the cigar out on the table before him. "Yes, I know that one," he said looking up at me. "I’ve heard it once or twice. Nicely done, but I was a master when I was your age."
He then asked me, instead of the song, to tell him the tale of the wandering planet, so I cleared my throat and clasped my hands before me and tried to recite the story correctly:
"There once was a lonely, wandering planet," I began, "in a galaxy far from our own that traversed the limitlessness of space of its own accord. On that planet were lifeforms beyond imagination including two alien lovers who lay in each other’s arms or tentacles or whatever you’d prefer to call the extraordinary appendages that their biology entailed night after night watching the ever-changing constellations. Despite this act of honest intimacy, they longed for a place their planet would be able to stay put for once, and they fell asleep each night dreaming of comets racing the length of Ophiuchus in a foreign night sky, a lost paradise. In the daytime it was said the skies were a lovely hue of violet."
"That’s enough," he told me, "no need to continue."
The curtain is rising. Walk across the stage in the spotlight. Accept the diploma, shake hands, turn and wave to the audience. They’re there for you, you know, each and every single one of them. Approach the podium, don’t forget the big smile. Hear that clapping? Everyone is clapping. For you, for you. Everyone is clapping for you and your big, shiny smile. Now move your lips. Speak. Tell them about those violet skies.