“He tentatively lifted the eraser. Where to begin? What did he fear the most? Blindness. Yes, that was there on the board. He deleted it. Dying alone. Gone with a stroke. Never finding love. Vanquished and vanished. He was growing excited.” Burt Kempner
By Burt Kempner
GAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—4/22/2013—He was an exceptionally timid man in a world increasingly out of control. When he approached the chalkboard, his heart was beating so hard he was certain it would burst from his chest. “Your fears erased here daily,” proclaimed a sign atop the board. It was crammed with words, phrases, letters, numbers, some of which he understood and some of which he didn’t but, as though by magic, every utterance connected with him at the deepest level.
He tentatively lifted the eraser. Where to begin? What did he fear the most? Blindness. Yes, that was there on the board. He deleted it. Dying alone. Gone with a stroke. Never finding love. Vanquished and vanished. He was growing excited. Each eraserly removal felt like an exorcism. Failure. Good-bye. Public speaking. Begone!
He was starting to sweat now in the summer sun, but he didn’t even notice. Over an hour passed as he disposed of greed, ignorance, spiders, dogs, loud noises, loud people, war, illness, poverty, his mother, airplanes, eyelid mites, bananas, and fear itself. A smile spread across his face as he disappeared cowardice. He was no longer a timid man but the true master of his own fate.
He took a few steps back to admire his handiwork. The board had been wiped clean. Every word, squiggle and symbol – each of which had been a mirror of his terror – had been consigned to oblivion. Now there was nothing. Nothing. And in the face of this Nothingness he became more frightened than he’d ever been in his life. He wasn’t any kind of hero; he was just an empty shell with aching arms. Tears began rolling down his cheeks and refused to stop. By the time the sun set, people were still stepping gingerly around the weeping man.
The next morning, the owner of the chalkboard walked up to it holding a black marker. On the sign that said, “Your fears erased here daily,” he appended: “(But sometimes a little fear is a good thing).”