Better Clichés—Christopher O’Halloran

I walk the streets, the night sky twinkling with stars the night sky a shade of milky black, stars as discernible as maggots in cream. One wriggles, the unfathomable explosion manifesting as a glow barely seen through the light pollution.

“They’re listening to me,” says a wisp of a man dude so thin, a gust of wind could blow him away any self-respecting doctor would strap him down and pump him full of blended cookies.

He can’t afford a doctor; he’ll be thin until he isn’t anything. 

“They can hear my thoughts.”

“Can they?” I ask.

His eyes gleam widen like the sliding open of a manhole cover.

“You can hear me?”

“You or something making noises while your mouth moves.”

“Nobody ever talks to me,” he stammers.

“Because they know what you’re about to say.”

His mouth falls open like a landed fish and off, his jaw coming loose with a click and a rip. It lands in a puddle, dirty water spraying his bare feet. His tongue writhes around in his toothless mouth.

“What should I say, then?” asks the tongue.

Why must he speak? Why can’t he be silent?

“Would indifference hurt if you weren’t trying so hard to be heard?” I pick up his jaw and put it in my jacket. You never know when you’ll have to strike down a thousand men.

“I need that!” calls the man, or the man’s tongue, or whatever speaks for him. 

“Those in Hell need ice water,” I return as I continue on my search for better clichés.

We’re all using the same words, aren’t we? Shirley Jackson, Charles Dickens, Anne Frank. Kafka, Keats, Shakespeare.

I mean, Shakespeare fucked around and found some new ones, but that just won’t fly these days.

Do it once. Do it first. 

Here I am using the same words and trying to find something new. Something interesting. It can be done, but can I do it?

Question: What is the best I can hope for? 

Answer: Something original rare. Something said, sang, written less often.

Better clichés.

We exist in a culture where we say the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over until it becomes a dead horse beaten beyond recognition.

Ope. See what just happened? Did you catch it?

A cliché.

A dead horse.

I didn’t come up with it. I simply took an age-old concept and used it as a punchline. Not even a good one!

So I’m in search of better clichés.

Two women fight in the doorway of a condemned movie theater. Their hands, shaped like claws, flexed and full of holes, are repelled by the magnetism of two identical poles. Kept inches from one another.

We were supposed to meet at eight,” they whine, together, voices harmonizing, melodic in a minor key.

Why were you late?”

Do you not respect my time?”

Do you not respect me?”

They’re seconds away from tears. They can’t see how similar they are because those similarities are what’s keeping them apart that last inch. You can see the tension in their necks, jaws clenched, vice-like, locked like hyenas tugging on the same leg as they try to get through to each other.

I approach gingerly, mindful not to be caught between them. Extending a gentle shoe, I nudge the woman on the right, pushing on her knee with my soul sole.

She twists. Her face has no room for two emotions, so discards anger for shock. Facing the other way, she falls into the arms of her partner.

I leave them holding each other. Their platitudes and apologies make music.

Is it bedtime, yet? My shoes have worn away. The muscles in my legs plan mutiny. My eyes are drier than a Methodist. I’ve been down every street. I’ve seen people loving and loathing, living in squalor and dying in ecstasy.

I pass a man behind a mailbox, sniper trained on a courtroom.

“Fancy yourself a hero?” I ask.

A judge exits, not-his-wife on his arm. She laughs.

The sniper takes the shot.

A judge exits, not-his-wife shrugs.

“Gotta break a few eggs,” says the sniper.

Me and the universe groan.

The jawbone turns the glow from my child’s nightlight into fingers that stretch up the wall. It clicks down on the nightstand. My child stirs, smiles, sleeps.

I give up. It’s bedtime. The night has been wasted. I could have been sleeping. I could have woken refreshed with my family. Greeted their smiles and morning breath with my own. Happy.

There are no better clichés. There are no better clichés. There are people and language used to manipulate and support, cajole and caress, satisfy, stimulate, and simulate a sanctimonious presentation for—what? Whom?

Ourselves. I am Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison and Ernest Hemingway and the baby born tomorrow. Making ethereal cocktails of whatever the Hell I can get my hands on. Pouring shampoo into body lotion into floor cleaner into a tube of toothpaste and asking you to like it.

Doing it every day like a madman. Walking the same path every night, in search of better clichés new ways to say I love you and I hate you. Searching, but coming to bed nevertheless. 

Christopher O’Halloran is a milk-slinging, Canadian actor-turned-author with work published or forthcoming from Kaleidotrope, No Sleep Podcast, Tales to Terrify, The Dread Machine, and others. His novelettes are in anthologies Howls from Hell and Bloodlines: Four Tales of Familial Fear. He is Reviews Editor-in-Chief, Social Media Co-Manager, and Discord Mod for the most active horror book club on the web, HOWL Society. Follow him on Twitter @BurgleInfernal or visit for stories, reviews, and updates on upcoming novels.

photo by Janko Ferlic (via pexels)