‘Playing Before Royalty’ by Ian MacMillan

Playing Before Royalty by Ian MacMillan, 2008

The magic trick:

Showing how addiction skews a story’s reality

I suppose every story has its own set of constraints and altered expectations. For instance, it doesn’t take long for the reader to ascertain that everything the narrator says in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is perhaps compromised.

“Playing Before Royalty” has no such reliability issues with its narrator. What it is though is a story about addiction. So it serves as an excellent example of how the reader quickly adjusts judgments and understandings of the story’s characters based on the way addiction alters a reality.

And that’s quite a trick on MacMillan’s part.

The selection:

She had learned early that drugs made self-centered liars out of anyone involved with them. On the bus ride over to Waikiki he tried to control his irritation with having to babysit his sister, who was on a break from school for two weeks, and looked at the familiar scenery of the Pali, the golf courses below, the woods above Nuuanu, and the dense cluster of hotels in Waikiki. She deserved her chance to do this. He would not sink to the degree of self-centeredness his parents had achieved. His father had gone even beyond that. Before he left for the Big Island and was living in his van, Jeff had the chance to talk to him, to try to reason with him about coming back. He got this philosophical look and said, in his Midwestern Army vet’s drawl, “You know, if I had a million dollars, I’d do this: buy me a new van, get a plate that reads ‘hi4lif’”—he spelled it out—“and invest the rest so that I could have an income that would do what the plate said.”


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