Once Narcissus decided to step back from his pond. The place had simply grown too popular of late. If you could barely see yourself anymore for the reflection of the crowds peering over your shoulder, why hang around? Where did this horde of mugging, chattering parvenus calling attention to themselves come from, anyway? What absolute frights they were! Was this what passed for appeal today, these gauche attempts to hide no doubt some nagging inner flaw by making a spectacle of yourself? Did they think the way to rival his charisma was to put their ill-favored psyches on full display? For imitation to be the sincerest form of flattery, it at least had to be worth notice surely. Winners of Little Miss Cutie Pie Contests and their parents, pop idols fresh from rehab, rookie athletes staggering beneath their signing bling, think tank senior fellows strutting before senior correspondents and senior correspondents strutting before each other, bloggers by the terabyte on whatever, CEOs dressed up like Caesar in a shower curtain for that party splurge, one or two prideful pastors on a rant, a former president hoping for renewed power and other aphrodisiacs—these and so many more in the full gamut of self-flattery were here. Even leaning as far as he could over the edge of the water offered Narcissus no escape, since these unwanted companions all strained to do the same, clouding his own inimitable allure with rank upon rank of their close monotony, like the same Facebook site with a million hits at once. Narcissus had been oblivious in the past to what formed the background to his self-infatuation. For all he’d been aware or cared, it might as well have been a wasteland as anything else. But now he wondered what really did lie beyond this crush of poseurs. Were there immense continents to explore out there, challenges to awareness just waiting for discovery? Narcissus found it hard to imagine there could be. For as long as he could remember, there’d always been more than enough space within the bounds of his own ego for another galaxy or two if some diversion was needed. Not that he’d felt the need very often. When you already knew pretty much everything about yourself worth knowing, why bother? Yet what if there actually was something else out there? Nothing was impossible, after all. Unlikely to the point of vanishing, to be sure, but not utterly impossible. And if he, Narcissus, could envision the mere possibility, then, possibly, it could in fact merit his attention. So how might this larger world present itself? Here, even Narcissus had to concede, gazing perpetually at your own reflection probably wasn’t the best preparation for finding out. But when that reflection had been the only map you’d ever needed before, following a new one presented a daunting prospect. This whole business was going to be hard, no doubt about it. Not being in the know at all times was damaging enough to one’s amour-propre, but much less than the mortifying thought anything of consequence was not already to be found within yourself. Once past the admission that the limit to his own attention span might not in fact correspond to the limits of the known world, however, Narcissus reckoned the next step could prove easier to take, and the ones after that easier yet. He just had to find the will to set off in the first place, and the rest should come of itself. Then he might also find the will to regard whatever he encountered not as a glassy tribute to his own perfection but a revelation of all that the summons to “know thyself” allowed no room to ignore. Nor time to lose. That was the moment Narcissus decided to step back from the pond. Or rather tried to step back. For push as he might, the counterpress of his unwanted companions proved stronger. As was the peeved impatience with which they voiced their displeasure at the distraction caused by his efforts. “Hey, down in front, ya jerk!” was how most put it. Barely able to keep his balance anymore with the pressure at his back, Narcissus feared he might be pushed right into the water and drown. Worse, would anybody notice? Would it be as if he’d never been here at all, never been rooted to this spot in constant admiration of his glory? One last look to reassure himself of his peerless splendor might be all there was left now before the end came. But when he searched desperately for that familiar face into which he might at least take a swan dive that did honor to his memory, it was nowhere to be found! Nowhere! Just endless masks of hollow-eyed oblivion . . .
Copyright © 2008 by Geoffrey Grosshans