Reginald P. Togbottom’s Search for an Exquisite Word: A Short Story (Part 1)

On his forty-third birthday Reginald P. Togbottom was the greatest writer alive, and no one knew it yet. He was a stout man and enjoyed stout beer, the foam of which often clung to his chevron mustache. This fact necessitated the breast pocket of his three-piece, pin-striped suit be solely for the storage of a small comb with which Reginald would sweep away the suds when enjoying said coffee and chocolate beverages. His appearance and mannerisms made him the butt of many jokes, the punchlines of which often included the names Hercule Poirot or Uncle Pennybags, though Reginald rightly considered these barbs ridiculous. Poirot was so often described with an egg-shaped head (Reginald’s was notably squarish) and Uncle Pennybags was balding and wore a top-hat (Reginald found hats bothersome, and often too small for his head). All of the hairs, both on his head and his upper lip, were dark black, save for nine which had turned a silvery grey. Three more would join their ranks by the end of his forty-third birthday, driven there by the stress created in his search for an exquisite word. It is this search which serves as the subject of our story.

As everyone knows, adventures which cause a thirty-three percent increase in grey hair always take place on birthdays, and no man knows he will soon embark on such an adventure the morning of. So it was with Reginald. He intended to begin his forty-third birthday as he had begun every birthday since his twenty-first: with a pint of ice-cold breakfast stout, a plate of French toast, and six crisp strawberries. However, a morning phone call had interrupted him prior to devouring his initial bite.

“Unquestionably, you have failed to see the heart of the matter, Doris.” Reginald considered the woman on the phone to be a good friend and confidant. Doris, on the other hand, considered Reginald to be her unattainable Adonis toward whom her affections and devotion were unswervingly directed. In short, she had been in love with Reginald for three years. Reginald, as with many things, was completely oblivious to the fact. This morning she had called under the pretense of wishing him a happy birthday. She called every morning with a different pretense. “The manuscript is still missing something. I simply cannot send it to the publisher in a state of any deficiency. It must have the color I intend. As it sits currently, it conveys only black and blue. The bruises of a tortured soul unable to find that perfect word.”

“You do go on,” said Doris through a smile, which anyone attuned to normal social interactions would’ve been able to hear through the receiver. Reginald did not.

“Of course I go on. If I were to cease it would be quite unfortunate. Death is unbecoming on the majority of the populace.” To Reginald this was simply a statement of fact uttered with a modicum of bewilderment at the initial phrase. To Doris, and most other humans, the phrase sounded like playful flirtation.

“Are you sure it would be unfortunate? You never know what you’ll enjoy until you try it,” said Doris laughing. “You know the publisher is not expecting perfection, Reggie.”

“My name is Reginald, Doris. You know how I feel about nicknames. And it doesn’t matter what the publisher expects. This is about what I expect. They may accept drivel. I do not. And finally, I need not experience death to know that it is to be avoided. I’m surprised at your callous attitude.”

Doris was taken aback at Reginald’s rebuke, having thought that she had finally broken through his formal exterior to experience some level of intimacy. She was silent for a moment on the other end of the line.

“Doris, are you still there?”

“Yes. I am. I have to go now. You do what you want. Just don’t come crying to me when they cancel the project entirely,” she said, and dropped the receiver into its cradle.

Reginald considered the advice and instruction of his friend, unaware of the disgruntled spirit they were meant to convey or the offense he had caused. Instead he thought to himself, “Doesn’t she know by now that I always do what I want? And why would I cry if the project were dropped? Sometimes she is completely oblivious to the reality of the situation at hand.” With that, he cut into his toast and ate in silence for the next fourteen minutes.

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