“Disappearing Act” by David Galef was first published in F(r)iction #9
One day, Steven woke up to find that everything he disliked on the planet had disappeared. Traffic jams, well-done steak, hour-long meetings. Tangerines, heavy metal, overpriced coffee bars. The list was long, and he discovered new items daily. Creamy coleslaw, pickup trucks. Often it was hard to tell whether it was a shortage or a genuine gap, but when he asked others about certain objects—grape Kool-Aid, Kawasaki motorcycles—he found they had no clue what he was talking about. The color chartreuse, toy dogs who yipped rather than barked. But no people disappeared because, odd to say, Steven found some good in everyone, even Brendan, his irritating boss at GraphicArts.
On the other hand, when he found any new items to dislike—hard-shell luggage—they usually disappeared. On the third hand, wishing away war or hunger didn’t work.
For a while, the disappearances pleased a certain part of him. What’s not to like? he told himself, walking down a street that contained no potholes or flattened patches of chewing gum. But gradually he began feeling guilty over his power, first over the disappearance of strawberry yogurt, just because he’d grown tired of it last year. Then discount coupons and traffic circles.
Soon enough, he realized what he was: a slayer of a lot that was good and decent, a murderer of the past. Why make old Volkswagen Beetles disappear? The world reflected his preconceptions, and that was wrong. When he walked around town, no longer did he think of himself as a decent guy with grievances but as a menace. He’d killed food stamps, though he couldn’t recall why. He’d winkled out emojis. It had been months since he acquired his power, and he couldn’t recall the last time he’d been happy with the world—or himself. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a petty, dislikeable man. So Steven disappeared.
David Galef is a shameless eclectic, with over a dozen books in two dozen directions, including the novels Flesh, Turning Japanese, and How to Cope with Suburban Stress (a Book Sense choice, listed by Kirkus as one of the Best 30 Books of 2006); the short-story collections Laugh Track and My Date with Neanderthal Woman (winner of Dzanc Books’ Short Story Collection Award); and the co-edited anthology of fiction 20 over 40. His latest volume is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press. A co-founder of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi, he is now a professor of English and creative writing program director at Montclair State University.
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