…and the quest for the holy grail
by Robert John Miller
They all travel. They all touch the elephants and have something stolen by a monkey gang. And they photograph themselves with malnourished children and leave a small donation and really truly feel like they’ve made a difference. They’ll do better in their own lives, they think, they’ll be better people. This trip has been so good for the soul, they think. And then, having seen nothing but spectacle and heard nothing but their own thoughts, they come back to whatever place they pretend to call home and tell you about it and shower you with the images they say will live true in their hearts and urge “if only you could’ve just been there, oh, you just have to go,” all as if there isn’t a deep longing on the other side of their camera, as if it’s not obvious act of nihilism, as if they’re not desperately trying to shore up an emptiness in the conversation with shallow thoughts of how big and deep the world is — if you just go out and grab it, just grab it by the throat and choke it out, just choke it to death and take what’s yours, they allege — and they do it all while not ever having grown up enough to realize all the magic that’s just everywhere all the time, free for the taking (or rather, they think, having grown out of such naiveté). And then, having achieved what they believe is sufficient enviousness in their audience (though they prefer to call it inspiration, always acting for others, the kind-hearted worldly jetsetters that they are) — and just when you think you can’t stand it anymore — they stand up instead and leave like little malnourished children themselves, having somehow had everything in the world to eat and yet eating only from the plate across the table, licking their lips.
Robert John Miller’s work has appeared in Hobart, Necessary Fiction, MoonPark Review, X-R-A-Y, Peregrine and others. You can find more stories at robertjohnmiller.com. He lives in Chicago and is polishing his first novel.
Artist’s Statement: Robert John Miller’s work investigates the ways in which systems of power contort, and the coping mechanisms employed, to evade the psychological emptiness that results from disfigurement. His grotesques often exhibit an exuberance for life but also a dread, unable or unwilling to understand the structures that confine them.