Tom Stoppard wrote The Real Inspector Hound, a play about the hard fate of the second best (or third best). I think of it often when Shiggy disappears into the horizon ahead of me.
Moon is a theatre critic for a nameless British paper. Higgs works for the same paper and is a better critic. So Moon rarely gets to criticize — Higgs usually does the job. And then there is also Puckeridge, the third string who never ever gets to do anything because the other two are there.
Sometimes Shiggy doesn’t show up. Sometimes I get to win my age-group.
I’ve never beaten Shiggy in a fair race, and I’m kind of embarrassed that the only time I have beaten him was when he got lost this past Sunday. It doesn’t really count. I kept wondering where he was…
BIRDBOOT: Where’s Higgs?
MOON: I’m standing in.
BIRDBOOT and MOON: Where’s Higgs?
MOON: Every time.
MOON: It’s as if we only existed one at a time, combining to achieve continuity. I keep space warm for Higgs. My presence defines his absence, his absence confirms my presense, his presence precludes mine… When Higgs and I walk down this aisle together to claim our common seat, the oceans will fall into the sky and trees will hang with fishes.
BIRDBOOT: (Not listening) Where’s Higgs?
MOON: The very sight of me with a complimentary ticket is enough. The streets are impassable tonight, the country is rising and the cry goes up from hill to hill— Where–is–Higgs? Perhaps he is dead at last, or trapped in a lift somewhere, or succumbed to amnesia, wandering the land with his turn-ups stuffed with ticket-stubs.
BIRDBOOT: Where’s Higgs tonight then?
MOON: It will follow me to the grave and become my epitaph— Here lies Moon, the second string: where’s Higgs? … Sometimes I dream of revolution, a bloody coup d’état by the second rank—troupes of actors slaughtered by their understudies, magicians sawn in half by indefatigably smiling glamour girls, cricket teams wiped out by marauding bands of twelfth men—I dream of champions chopped down by rabbit-punching sparring partners while eternal bridesmaids turn and rape the bridegrooms over the sausage rolls and parliamentary private secretaries plant bombs in the Minister’s Humber—comedians die on provincial stages, robbed of their feeds by mutely triumphant stooges—And march—an army of assistants and deputies, the seconds-in-command, the runners-up, the right-hand men—storming the palace gates wherein the second son has already mounted the throne having committed regicide with a croquet mallet—stand-ins of the world stand up!–
Sometimes I dream of Higgs.
I’m sorry Shiggy…