by Rey-Philip Genaldo
You hate what she’s become. It’s two in the morning and she’s just come home from who knows where and woken you up to show you. You’re sitting on the edge of your bed and she’s standing there in that doorway, just looking at you like she owes you no explanation, with her hip out to the side, with her hand on it. The clothes she’s wearing: a black crop top exposing her bare midriff and tight pair of black jeans, like it’s the nineties again. She wasn’t even born yet, in the nineties. It’s the thirties, and you know she’s not wearing that short shirt for fashion. She’s showing off her new stomach.
Those are your mother’s clothes, you say.
I know, she says. I found them in her closet. They fit me perfectly.
She’s right: they do. In fact, the resemblance is striking.
I don’t even know you anymore, you want to say. What have you become, Sami?
Remember way back when it was the nineties? Back when you were young. Yeah sure you rebelled against your parents too, but what was the worst you could do back then? Kids these days don’t get tattoos anymore. They get body replacements. Like you used to do to your car. One summer, you saved up to put a spoiler on your Honda Civic. Nowadays kids save up to put new eyes into their heads. New brains. There’s just so much more at stake now. You want to tell her that. You want to tell her that it’s not just her body; it’s her humanity too.
Why can’t you just get your belly button pierced? you say.
She touches her shiny new mid-section, polished and silver. If she made a fist of her hand and knocked on it, it would make a sound like knocking on a refrigerator door.
Oh Sami, you say.
You know how long she must’ve kept this secret from you. The hospital used to be a place people avoided. These days there’s a line out the door and you’ve got to wait two months to get in. You know this because you looked into getting augmentations yourself once: a fact that Sami uses in her defense.
She says: Don’t forget, dad, you were obsessed with this stuff too!
You’ve never argued with your daughter like this before, so you’re not sure what kind of father you are. Are you the soft type who listens and carefully addresses his child’s argument? Or are you the hard type who ignores her words.
It’s not safe, you say.
Apparently you’re the hard type.
In frustration, Sami flails her arms upward like whips cutting air.
What would your mother think? you say.
Sami says: Mom would’ve loved it!
She’s right. Charli would’ve loved it.
It was exactly that type of procedure that took mom from us, you say.
This shuts Sami up, if only for a little while.
There are noticeable lumps bulging from underneath her new chassis. Inner-scaffolding, it’s called. She’s not done yet with the procedure. Two, maybe even three more visits to go.
You sigh. You rub your head. You groan and sit down.
What’s done is done, you think. You resign yourself to your child’s new body.
Eventually you ask her what she augmented.
My stomach, she says.
What about it? you ask.
Sami’s face lightens with a smile. You’re showing interest rather than resentment; this is all she wants, really.
She’s still self-conscious. She puts her hands over her new chassis as if she is with child.
She says: I can control nutrient intake.
You scratch your head and ask her what that means, even though you already know.
She says: Whatever I eat, the nutrients pop up on my heads-up display and I can choose what I want and don’t want to absorb.
So you have new eyes, too?
You cringe as though this knowledge is causing you physical pain.
Of course, she says. I need new eyes for the new stomach. Duh, dad.
You are still sitting, and now your daughter leaves the doorway and walks to you.
It’s still heavy, she says, her hands still over her new stomach.
She continues on about the perks of her augmentation, but you are barely listening. She tells you about how she can eat all the sweets she wants and not have to worry about diabetes. She tells you about how she has complete control over her weight and body shape now. She can drink as much as she wants, she tells you, then flush the alcohol from her system and drive home perfectly sober.
You used to worry about me getting home, she says. Now you don’t, dad. I’ll never be drunk again! Not uncontrollably, at least.
Uncontrollably, you echo absently.
She is standing over you now, and she leans in to give you a hug. Sitting, you are at her stomach’s height, and as she reaches around to embrace you, you see your reflection there in the polish of her new abdominal plate. The closer she closes in, the wider your reflection expands, and suddenly it is touching your face, you and your reflection cheek to cheek, and you are pressed against that cold surface as your daughter clasps and pulls and tightens.
You cannot breathe.
Without thinking, you flinch and shove her away.
She’s not used to this new weight, and can’t adapt to it as you shove her off balance. As she falls sloppy as a drunkard, her arms swing in futile attempt to find equilibrium with the new mass within her. She gropes at and brings the lamp—the only light in the room—down. It falls and shatters. The world around the two of you dims, the only light now coming through the doorway in from the living room hall.
Your fallen daughter is looking at you, her face wide-eyed and watery. A child jilted.
You want to comfort her, you really do, but you can still feel her new chassis upon your hands, like a phantom weight. She is heavier than you’ve ever known her to be, and you know what’s inside her, and it disgusts you.
You do not know what face you are making, but by the look on Sami’s face, you are sure it is not good. One tear falls from her right eye, then another. The burn of being rejected by her father. You can see it right through her skin, it’s seething. And, soon, the tears: they come in torrents.
First she is whispering it.
Fuck you, she whispers.
Then she says it again louder, then louder the next time.
Fuck you, she says.
With every repetition, her voice mounts toward something of a climax.
Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck. You.
Feeling the sudden pangs of guilt, you get up and reach out to help her, but she slaps your hand away. Fuck you, she says. Her face is still aflame with rage, and she can barely say the words she wants to say. She scrambles to stand, but for a short while she struggles like a tortoise flipped on its shell. Eventually, though, she gets up. She stands in front of you.
You open your arms and move toward her, but this time she is the one to flinch and shove, and this time you are the one to fall. You can spring to your feet easily, but you stay there, down there, looking up at your daughter, at your daughter’s shiny new stomach. From the floor she is a monolith of a woman, silhouetted by the light from the hallway behind her, which beams and reflects from her midriff as though she were a prototype at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
You wonder if she can read minds too, because her face twitches like she knows you’ve just thought of her as a car in an auto show.
She turns and she runs out the room.
Stand up. You cannot let her go. She is your daughter. What kind of father are you?
She is already out the door and into the night by the time you call her name. You are out the door too. She is sprinting across the street, and as she goes, she glances over her shoulder to see if you are following. You are. You’re not the worst father in the world, at least. At least you are running after her. At least she knows you love her that much.
As she is looking you in the eyes; as you see, in hers, a glint of relief because you are chasing after her: she is hit by a car. Her body twists and contorts as it rolls onto the swerving car’s hood. She slams against its windshield, creating a spider web of the glass, and just as quickly as she was on the hood, she is off again, flung outward in a low arc and back onto the street. She rolls, she slides, then she stops. She is not moving.
A man steps from the car, dazed and un-augmented. He stumbles and catches himself.
What happened, he says. What happened?
He looks at you.
Did you do this? he says, pointing at the dent on the hood.
He doesn’t know he’s hit your daughter. He’s so drunk, he doesn’t know.
You do not go to her. You already know you cannot bring her back. Instead, you charge directly at the driver. You lower your shoulder and spear him with your body. When he lands, he spits blood into the air. You do not flinch when you get this blood on you; you punch him in the face.
All the rage you feel now, all the rage you have felt all these years, you are purging. It’s unfair, you know, but you do not care. This man, he will take it, he will bear the burden of your loss, loss that extends beyond your daughter, back in time to your wife, to the loss of your wife. With your left fist, with your right, with your left again: you purge. There is more blood and there is more blood. There is another swing to the face, then another swing to the face.
The people on the street have gathered around the scene you’ve created. The people in their cars have exited their cars. Not a single person stops you.
When you finish, he is still alive, but barely. He coughs blood, his nose caved, his cheek caved too. The right side of his face has collapsed in on itself. He needs medical attention, but you do not get off him.
Instead, you sit there still on his chest. Why? you want to ask him. You ask him but he has no answer. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be the answer to the question you are really asking. He’s so drunk you can still smell, past the blood, all the alcohol.
You think of your daughter, of what she said to you. She could drink all she wants now, she had said. Drink all she wants and then purge it and drive home sober.
She is behind you, in an un-neat pile, sprawled in ways she shouldn’t sprawl. You will see later that pieces of her new stomach have left her body. That other organs that she has had since birth have left her body too. You will see that her face has on it not a single expression, not even a blank one.
You are not looking. You refuse to look.
You are sitting silently over this drunk man, sitting on his chest. The people gathered around you: they are now beginning to talk. You are looking at your fists, your hands, at the blood between your fingers. Your eyes are open, and you are looking.
Rey-Philip Genaldo welcomes your comments at rpgenaldo[at]gmail.com.
photo by Tucia.
by Paul Blumer
Isn’t it funny how we’re sometimes visited with miracles? Like right now, this couch. Purple crushed velvet, faded but clean. Thick cushions, almost bursting at the seams. One broken foot, lending a charming imbalance. Yeah, this couch is good. This couch is sainted. This couch is
Can’t even say how long it’s been since comfort like this. Funny how a life can change in just the blink of an eye. Like, Jesus, only twenty minutes ago, everything hurt: knees zinged, back ached, finger joints burned, eyes throbbed, teeth stabbed, intestines knotted—and then the couch.
Just a few seconds, and an instant cure-all. Like half a hit of the good stuff, that prickly flow through every vein and inch of skin, through finger tips and the ends of hair, a quiet warmth before the heavy onset of the nod.
Twenty minutes ago, wandering aimlessly through the dawn-lit streets, a few half-ass attempts to find a few cans or scrounge a few dollars. And then there, boom, on the sidewalk, sticking out at an inviting angle, the purple crushed velvet, the stuff of kings, and a couple a rolled-up carpets saving the seat. Now acting as camouflage.
And oh man, oh man, oh man. Nothing like it in the world. And every position change reveals a whole new layer of comfort. This must be how angels feel all the time, plush and pampered, enveloped like all’s well in this fucked up place, and it’s just a cozy and joyful ride to the finish.
Like Baby Jesus, finally finding a place to get born, knowing he’s got all the time in the world, knowing he’s just riding and cruising with God on his side, and not a goddamn care in the world. Yeah.
Like jazz, man, yeah, like jazz. The first roundish notes from the bass, then puckered up and tingling with the horn, and the whole while, sizzlin and groovin, plucky with the drums.
Hidden under the rolls of carpets, away from the mess and the cracked-up sidewalks and the motherfuckers always trying to jack a guy. Away from the pain and the cold and the hard hard concrete. Away from the sad looks and the disgusted looks and the savage looks and the worst of all ignoring looks away. Like a guy doesn’t exist, like that styrofoam jangle is something in the breeze, like that voice is coming from the streets themselves.
But all that gone, melting into the crushed purple velvet, muted by the cushions and the soft give of the fabric.
A day in the life. Funny how miracles just sometimes happen, like maybe there is a God looking out from His perch. And this is a sign. This morning miracle is a sign. A sign to start over, to drag this thing into a good pad somewhere, to set up a den and get comfortable, some place with locks on the doors, some place with doors, and get a job and start working and start eating good and pay The Man and straighten out and
It’s just too comfortable to move, like twenty years of cold ass rain and cold ass people just oozing away back to where they belong, and every breath feels fresher, and every muscle relaxes, and every second drifts closer and closer to sleep, an unimagined sleep unlike anything from the last hundred-fifty years, unlike anything between a cold doorway and a ratty army blanket, unlike anything with feet stuck in a shopping cart to keep it from disappearing in the night, unlike anything with that gnawing in the pit of stomach and soul.
Everything fades; the cars drifting past, and the people in them just glancing at an empty and cast-off sofa, glancing away and rolling through stop signs, and not even imagining the comfort of crushed purple velvet, of faded, broken-in cushions, of a brief respite in the hard truth of the savage world.
Like a painkiller, like a crushed-up anonymous pill, like finding a whole unlit cigarette, it all just fades away. A lightness; a floaty, soothing, dreamy embrace, like getting lost in the TV, like losing connection with the crumbling asphalt, like the last slow waves of an acid trip. The soft arms of the couch
Thoughts float in and get lost in the fabric. Hunger and pain…
The truth is…
The spirit of the city…
In all honesty…
Suddenly jerky bumping turbulence, a sickening belly drop, a lurching twisting creaking groaning, the ground pulls away but sky stays in place, the couch tosses like a lifeboat in a hurricane, eyes flash open under rolled-up carpets, hands clutching at crushed purple velvet. There’s a stench, a thousand-year reek that’s not coming from this jacket or what’s underneath, like rotten fruit and rotten diapers and rotten shoes and rotten urine and rotten rot, with an undercurrent of hot plastic and pneumatic grease. A diesel engine rumbles and coughs. A shuddering lurch, and the purple couch lists.
Then total darkness.
Paul Blumer welcomes your comments on “Morning Miracle” at paul.blumer[at]gmail.com.
photo by Casey David.
by David Mitchell
“Who were you just talking to?” my mother asked. She’d seen that I was talking to someone on the phone, and had been for some time, so much so that I’d stepped outside and went on a walk to get away from everyone. It was dark outside, but I didn’t mind a good stroll around Franklin.
“An online friend of mine,” I said.
“Is she your age?”
I laughed incredulously.
“How old is she?”
“What? Why does it matter?”
“I was just curious.” She shrugged innocently, and I went back into my room and shut the door.
It was typical of my mother to be unreasonably nosy without appearing to be aware of it. If I lived away from her, of course, this conversation wouldn’t need to happen. My parents didn’t mind the fact that they had yet to be empty nesters, given how few options I had, but I didn’t want to stay with them any longer than I needed to. Worse still, I had even briefly mentioned to my mother that I’d chatted with a self-professed “cougar” sometime in March, but that was when I didn’t think I would seriously consider meeting her. As my parents were going on a brief trip to Belgium in the near future, that opportunity might happen now. Lolly was old enough to be my mother, but as my actual mother was old enough to be her mother (the age difference between them was about the same as the age difference between her and me). It mattered little to me. The voice I’d just heard—on the phone for the first time—sounded sweeter and slightly less sure of itself than the one I imagined I heard over the net.
“Well, what do the two of you think of her now?” the Brain asked. He was busy paging through Lolly’s file while the Penis looked on attentively.
“Can’t wait to meet her!” said the Penis.
“What about you, then?”
The Heart was a bit more stable than before, but he sat far away from the table, having apathetically moved his automatic wheelchair back some distance. He was still holding one file in his hands, and gazing lovingly at a certain photograph. His vision still hadn’t faded completely yet, and he wanted to make the most of it.
“I think this picture doesn’t really do justice to Losang,” the Heart said, his teeth chattering slightly, “Maybe it’s the Hello Kitty thing in the foreground. When I close my eyes, she looks so much more vivid to me there. I miss her . . .”
“I miss her, too,” said the Penis.
“We aren’t discussing Losang,” said the Brain, “We’re discussing Lolly.”
“You don’t need me to talk about her,” the Heart shrugged. “You guys don’t really need me for anything.”
The Brain walked up to the wheelchair while the Heart put his eyes back on the picture. He began to trace the contours of the figure in it when the Brain snatched both the photograph and the manila folder out from his hands.
“This file is closed,” he said.
“So? Why can’t I look at it?”
Without answering, the Brain returned to the table and placed the file back into the blue crate, centered his tie, and paged through Lolly’s file once more.
“We need some consensus from you eventually,” said the Brain.
“You guys do what you want. I don’t want to have a part in this,” said the Heart.
“We need your approval before we can go ahead,” said the Brain.
“Didn’t he already give it to us?” said the Penis.
“No, he didn’t. He dejectedly resigned himself to your—“
“Lolly’s alright, OK?” said the Heart. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“So you’ve changed your mind about her now?” asked the Brain.
“Well . . . I guess I was wrong about her before. She’s nice enough that I wouldn’t mind meeting her. And maybe this sort of arrangement might actually help me, you know? What’s at stake here, anyway?”
“Right,” said the Penis. “Enjoy a pit stop. A little May-December action on the side.”
The Heart did not wheel himself any closer, and still his shoulders sagged, but when he met the gaze of the watchful Brain, even with his own damaged eyes, he smiled quickly. He would be taking a backseat for once. He wiped his runny nose and eyes, then raised his arms and folded them behind his huge head.
I’d never been to Fall River before, so crossing the Braga Bridge for the first time, I missed the exit I was supposed to take, and found myself in Somerset instead. When I headed back in the right direction, I found myself in a traffic jam somewhere over Taunton River. When I called Lolly to tell her that there was going to be a slight delay, I only got a hold of her son, Logan, who told me I should have had the number of her cell phone, but I did. Of course, I couldn’t write it down once traffic began to move again. And finally in Fall River once again, I stopped at the first Dunkin’ Donuts I found, hoping it was the one we agreed to meet at (Lolly didn’t have a car, so she picked one within spitting distance of her house), but instead I found this was one of ten in the city. None of this was Lolly’s fault, since I came in the wrong direction, but I really hated to be late for anything. Only by intuitively weaving in and out of streets did I find myself on Plymouth Avenue, which I haphazardly crossed once I saw a Dunkin’ Donuts on the left side. I didn’t care that I was parked across more than one space; I just needed directions. By sheer dumb luck, this happened to be right one.
I knew it was her at first sight. No, I probably wouldn’t have recognized Losang at a glance if she did not wave to me or approach me when I met her in Somerville, but I sure recognized Lolly—not by her broad face, broad shoulders, and wavy hair dyed a mild shade of pink—but simply by the way she carried herself. One frustrated glance at the Dunken’ Donuts some 40 feet in front of me, and there could be no doubt I was looking at the woman I’d been chatting with for the last month. She was leaning patiently against one of those painted metal and concrete cylinders behind the curb. She was dressed in earth tones, a loose flowing skirt with sandals, and she wore sunglasses. I stepped out of my car and approached her intently, waiting until I came within earshot.
She put her shades back into her purse and put on her normal glasses.
Then she put one arm around me and kissed me lightly on the cheek.
“Glad I could make it,” I said. “Sorry if I’m a little late. I took the wrong exit on the way in . . .”
Lolly didn’t mind. We walked to my car, but before we could get in, she had to step around and view the back, since I told her before that the bumper stickers I displayed would give me away. I have a Jesus fish and a Darwin fish side by side to the left of my license plate, and an Iron Maiden logo on the right.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “I display both of those without a trace of irony. It’s my way of extending my middle finger towards Richard Dawkins and the idiots who built the Creation Museum at the same time.”
Lolly nodded, though I was quick to add that I wasn’t sure if by having the fish face away from each other, I was implying conflict more than having them face each other.
“I don’t know,” Lolly said, “to me it would look like they were kissing.”
When we got into my car, I suddenly became conscious of the fuzzy 20-sided dice hanging from my mirror, but didn’t bother explaining them. When I started the ignition, there was metal blasting through the car, but I quickly turned it down.
“Uhh . . . that’s Blind Guardian,” I said. “They’re German power metal. Sort of like a cross between Queen and Metallica, but better than both. This is one of their earlier albums.”
“Oh, not bad. I don’t mind.”
After a moment, Lolly turned to me with a smile. It was early evening, but the sun was still out and it was perfectly bright.
“Well, whatever we end up doing, I just want you to be comfortable,” she said. “So . . . what are we going to do?”
“I dunno . . . I just figured we’d find something worth doing. My parents are gone for the week, so I have the house to myself. And if there’s something to do around here . . .”
“Not much,” said Lolly, “I mean, I do love Lizzie’s, but I’m pretty sick of this place. It’s too noisy. The people next door to me are always waging war with each other. It’s driving my son nuts.”
After a beat she said, “Well, there is the mall, but that’s not too great. I just wouldn’t want to bring someone in if the kids are home and I’m meeting him for the first time.”
“I don’t really care about malls, either,” I said. “I just wish we could be in a quieter, more private place.”
“Well, I do know of this one area . . .”
The two of us were relaxing in a grassy meadow, underneath the shade of a large tree. Looking to my right, I could see a beautiful brook and a concrete dam. Some people were fishing on that side of the brook, too. There was a school and a cemetery across the street. My car was parked in a gravelly expanse a good distance away, and I’d left my cell phone, CD wallet, and directions inside. I was sitting in the grass not yet feeling comfortable enough to lie down, while Lolly was reclining on her stomach with the comfortable poise only a cat could have. Perhaps she wasn’t the first person to come to mind when I thought of the word “cougar” in this context. I could see she was slightly bulkier underneath than what I guessed at earlier, but she wasn’t unattractive. We’d been talking for some time, and now she was gazing at me with fascination.
“I don’t think any of the pictures you have on your profile really do you justice,” she said. “Your eyes are so dark and so beautiful . . .”
“I thought most people liked blue eyes or something.”
“I’m not most people,” she said with a warm smile.
“Funny,” I said, “I kind of imagined you’d have the voice of a sorceress or something.”
“Oh. Well I hope I’m not disappointing you.”
“No, you’re not. I’m just wondering: Did you imagine my voice would sound any different?”
“I don’t know . . .” she said. “Maybe a little higher.”
“I just saw myself as the Knight of Cups, wandering the woods of cyberspace. And as for you, I just have to re-adjust that image of good old Puma concolor I had in my head . . .”
“The fourth largest cat, native to the Western hemisphere.”
“Oh. The whole ‘cougar’ thing? Are you comfortable with that? Most guys would have given up on meeting me for fear of running into their friends with me and feeling embarrassed.”
“I don’t care about that,” I shrugged, “At the time I was talking with Losang, it was just a quick calculation that it probably would have been more worth my while spend time with someone who I was more likely to have a viable long-term relationship with. But now, I guess I shouldn’t pass up any opportunities . . . hmmm, I mean, I shouldn’t limit myself like that.”
“Limiting yourself does sound like a better way of putting it,” Lolly chuckled. “Otherwise, it just makes you sound like an opportunist.”
I laughed for a second or two.
“It was just hard for me to comprehend that Losang may have cared about me, but she didn’t want to have a serious relationship.”
“Right,” Lolly said. “I went through something similar years ago. It was my fault as much as it was his. Some people view sex as something they should only share with one person—that person you’re sworn to be with forever—“
I chortled slightly, but it was an expression of despair and not irony.
“—while other people just view sex as fun and games. I guess I’m somewhere in between. I wouldn’t go to bed with someone if I didn’t at least care about him.”
I was leaning back, but before I knew it I found myself lying back on the grass instead. The grass was delightfully dry and bristly. I rolled myself onto my stomach and flanked her.
“I’m just wondering,” I said, “When did you realize you liked guys about my age?”
“Hmmm . . . well, when my husband left five years, Logan had to stay with him for a while to finish school, but I still had to stay close to my son, involving myself with all the things he was involved in, like video games and what not. Then I realized how cool all of these things were just for their own sake, and how much more fun I was having with younger guys who are more likely to have these interests. I’m total rubbish at video games, but I love watching young men play them.”
“My parents were too cheap to ever get me a console system of any sort,” I said with a smile, “though looking back, I guess I should be grateful that I got to use my imagination as much as I did. So aside from the old Atari 2600 that Paul LeBlanc lent me when I was 12 and the Sega Saturn Serissa lent me a while back, I’ve really only played some old classics for the PC from about 10 years ago, but nothing works on my computer any more. I wouldn’t have time to play anything now anyway.”
“Doesn’t matter much,” she smiled. “What about you then? Why did you want to spend time with me?”
“Well . . . I was in a pretty interesting space when I was talking with you and Losang, because I couldn’t have conceived of a universe where you existed at all—well, either of you.”
“You couldn’t have conceived of a universe where I existed?” Lolly said, chewing on my words with fascination, “What do you mean?”
“I guess it goes back to a time in which I first started dating Serissa, and she thought I was perfect or something, and felt this strange fear that she would wake up and find that I was just a figment of her imagination—that is, if she hadn’t seen me interacting with anyone else. I just told her that I was certain she existed, because I never could have dreamt up such an outrageous fictional character, and I was a more realistic writer than that. I meant it affectionately, of course. Real people are so much weirder and more improbable than fictional characters.”
Lolly stared off at the water for a second as she digested my words.
“That . . . is one of the sincerest and most interesting compliments anyone’s ever given me,” she said. “Thank you!”
“Ah, well most women wouldn’t think I’m worth much of anything, anyway.”
Lolly stopped and stared at me for a moment.
“If I didn’t think you were worth anything, I never would have bothered to meet you!”
“God, I’m sorry,” I sighed, “it’s just . . . I don’t know. Too much of Serissa rubbing off on me . . . or the opinions of ‘most people’ I mentioned earlier . . .”
After a moment or two, I said, “funny, the Tarot spread I did a while back just told me to be confident, with the Sun and the Emperor. You didn’t really show up in the spread at all.”
Then I nearly cringed.
“Oh God, I hope I’m not freaking you out with Tarot cards and such.”
“No, not at all,” Lolly said, “I read them too.”
“The symbolism is fascinating, but sometimes it’s really only about as reliable as astrology . . .”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m of the firm opinion that you already know the answers, but sometimes the spread presents them to you in a way you might understand better. Sometimes it answers the question you should have asked instead of the one you did. That’s interesting that the spread just told you to be confident and didn’t mention me at all.”
“I’m not even sure which card would signify you,” I said. “There wasn’t even a queen in the spread.”
“Well that’s because I’ve never been a queen. The card that represents me most is actually the Magician.”
“Really?” I said, “That’s interesting. He’s supposed to represent masculine power, though. Funny how queens and pages can sometimes represent men, and knights and kings can sometimes represent women. I guess it says a lot about gender stereotypes and all that crap.”
“Yeah, it does,” Lolly chuckled, “but the Magician is also the most blatantly magical card in the deck. There’s a psychic who works with me at Lizzie Borden’s Bed and Breakfast. She said that in a former life, I was a witch in Ireland and that I was burned at the stake. She said there has never been a time when I haven’t been a witch.”
“Are you, um, still a witch now?”
There was another beat. Wow, I thought, this just keeps getting better.
After a comfortable silence, Lolly said, “I do love tactile sensations,” Lolly said, “I do miss the touch of other people . . .”
“I loved to touch my ex, but if I did something she didn’t like she sometimes equated me with her abusive step father. He liked to touch her too, of course, but not for the same reasons.”
“Well I don’t really relate to that . . .” Lolly said, sounding disturbed.
“I once bought a book on erotic massage techniques that I left in my ex’s apartment. When she broke up with me she gave me my stuff back, but kept that book. What really pisses me off is the thought that she and her boyfriend are probably making use of it now.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said with a grin. “I think I remember most of those techniques anyway.”
Lolly smiled knowingly. I sat up slightly and put my hands on her back, rubbing her slowly. She smiled shyly as I made circles with my thumbs and travelled down the length of her spine. I caressed her sides as well, pulling upward with both hands.
“Hmm . . . well, I can’t do everything that was in that book here,” I said.
“I understand. But I love what you’re doing, regardless.”
Eventually, I checked my watch.
“Damn. It’s past 8:00 already and I wouldn’t have guessed. Summer days are so long.”
“I guess we should be going soon.”
When we stood up, I headed back to my car, but Lolly stopped me.
“Wait,” she said, her arms lightly around me, “May I?”
“Uh . . . sure.”
Lolly leaned in and kissed me where we stood, and to my surprise, she did it rather tastefully. Of the women who had kissed me up until this point in my life, she was the only one who didn’t use her tongue, at least not on the first kiss. There was a metallic taste to her. I said nothing, but quickly glanced across the brook, at the people who were busy fishing, then back to the car. No one seemed to be looking our way.
“So where to now?” she asked.
“To my house?”
She only looked at me intently for a moment.
“So . . . we can do what we couldn’t do under the tree?” I added.
She smiled, rested her head against my shoulder, and whispered, “the notion appeals to me.”
All this, and somehow, I was feeling strangely apathetic. But no need to limit myself, now was there? Besides, I was certain we could make Jesus and Hecate dance.
It took us a little longer to get back to my house than I expected, but when we found ourselves nearing the Bridgewater road service station, I knew how to get back. When I pulled up into the driveway, the sky was already darkened. When Lolly stepped out of the car with me, she was staring in awed silence around the neighborhood.
“This place is so quiet,” she said.
“My dad doesn’t think so,” I chuckled. “It’s the kids next door and across the street that bother him. He’s sometimes even talked about leaving because of the noise.”
“Are they just normal kids?”
“So far as I know.”
“Ah, well that’s nothing. My neighborhood isn’t peaceful like this.”
“Yeah, I thought his complaint was idiotic, too.”
I made my way up the stairs and opened the door to the house, letting Lolly in after me. While in the living room, I gestured around to the baby grand piano, and the huge abstract painting my mother had painted many years ago.
“Ah, that’s right,” I said, “You read my memoir Half-Born. Recognize anything?”
We talked a little more, and I microwaved a snack, then we headed downstairs, to where the futon had already been made into a bed. I’d been sleeping here for the last few weeks, since the summer heat made my room upstairs unbearably hot and humid. It was still too humid to think about heading up into my bedroom. I also kept my pets down here.
“I mentioned the newts before, didn’t I?” I said.
“You did. I remember having a few of those when I was a kid.”
“They like humidity, but they hate high temperatures, so I keep them all down in the basement.”
There was a tiny five gallon tank on an aquarium stand in one corner of the basement, cut in half by a divider. This tank was shared by two newts, a Japanese Fire Belly and a Hong Kong Warty respectively. Were it not for the divider, they would have killed each other long ago. It was filled with a few inches of fresh water, and its inhabitants were watching us from the inside, following our movements and making futile attempts to devour us whole. On a shelf above it was an even smaller glass tank, where there lived a tiny dark-skinned paddle-tail. She was just as aggressive as the two beneath her. Below was a shoebox-sized plastic terrarium.
I smiled and knelt down gingerly to pull this one out from underneath to let Lolly see him up close. Pulling the grilled lid off, I revealed the pseudo-environment within to be a mossy abode with only a single small pool of water and a tiny cave for hiding. The tenant of this one was quick to step outside and greet us. Unlike his dark-skinned, bright-bellied brethren above, he had bright orange raised crests on his head, down his back, and similarly colored warts along each side of his body. All bright orange against a dark canvas. He was the color of Halloween, but he had a sunny disposition.
“This one’s Angillas,” I said. “He’s a Mandarin newt, or Chinese Emperor newt, whatever they’re called now.”
“He’s beautiful,” she said.
I smiled. Not too many people stopped to look at newts. Most pet stores didn’t carry them anymore. When they did, they usually mislabel them and kept them in horrid conditions.
“I’ve had so many generations of rats, gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs . . . real sweet, but they die in just a few years. Newts live forever, if you ignore them properly enough. They’re pretty resilient. Their defenses are entirely chemical, and they can regenerate, too. I’ve had Molly and Angillas since middle school.”
I replaced the lid on Angillas’ cage, and gingerly slid him back under the stand. And with one thing or another, we then found ourselves reclining on the futon, where I enthusiastically continued the massage I began back in Fall River. Once Lolly rolled over, I was in the process of helping her undo the large knot that kept her shirt loosely bound, and I noticed her right earring was a tiny silver axe.
“Something from Lizzie’s?”
“I never wear both earrings from any set, in case one gets lost . . .”
Fascinated, I gently took it between my fingers and made chopping motions with it against her neck. She laughed with delight. I continued my ministrations to the rest of her body, with my bare hands. I was engrossed in the rush I was experiencing. The opportunity was too infrequent, too precious for me not to be, here with the release of built-up frustration and inspiration. I ran my fingers and my lips across any exposed area of her flesh, starting with her freckled neck and shoulders. Her bra came off soon after the knot was undone, and while gravity flattened her breasts as she lay back, they were still pleasing. My shirt and shorts same off soon after. When we had only our naked selves to gaze at, she stared quietly at me for some time.
“You’re beautiful,” she said softly.
It almost sounded like a gasp. Then she laid down on the futon next to her newfound Adonis. I was looking over her and smiling.
“What do you want me to do . . . ?”
“Anything!” she gasped, “Whatever you want!”
The Brain was watching the monitor carefully, his arms behind his back. The Heart sat far away from the table on his wheelchair, fidgeting in his seat. The Penis could obviously not be present at this time, but he would provide a full report later. Through the static, the top of Lolly’s head could be seen bobbing in and out of view.
“Do we really need to see them have sex?” said the Heart, his teeth still chattering, “Isn’t that . . . I dunno, exploitative?”
“I’m not watching this for the entertainment value,” said the Brain, “I’m collecting data. Why are you here? I thought you didn’t want a part in this.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t watch.”
The Brain turned back toward the monitor. The Heart smiled slightly, but the corners of his mouth twitched again. He continued to squirm in his seat. He glanced at the plastic crate the Brain had set on the table, and wondered how quickly he could steer his wheelchair across the room, find Losang’s file, and snatch it from the crate without being detected. Certainly not quickly enough.
“What are we doing?” asked the Heart.
“As I said, I’m gathering data. You’ve decided to watch.”
“No, I meant as a whole. We’re having sex with a middle-aged woman who’s probably about as lonely as we are, and for no particular reason except that we can. Are we being opportunists?”
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“I don’t know. Why do I feel nothing?”
“When you invest nothing, you get nothing back. It was your safety policy, remember? You thought it might help you a bit.”
“Oh, that’s right,” the Heart said, “Well I certainly wouldn’t say Lolly means nothing to me. I’m glad to be with her, and I’ve stabilized somewhat, but . . . I still feel empty. Was it just the painkillers I took today?”
“You aren’t taking any, but the withdraw symptoms from Losang’s drug might still be in effect. Do you want to stop?” said the Brain.
“Well, no,” said the Heart, “that would be unfair to everyone involved. Let it ride.”
“Oh David!” Lolly gasped. Her hands were gripping my back like a pair of claws. I was smoothly gliding in and out of her, but because of the condom, I couldn’t feel much. I’d never used a condom before. There was absolutely no reason to with Serissa, as we were both virgins and she had no uterus. And Losang, thank the bodhisattvas, was impulsive enough to reach down and stuff me in while I tried optimize my erection by rubbing against her before rolling the condom on.
“Do you normally last this long?!” Lolly said.
“Uh . . . that’s a long story.”
A movie wasn’t playing anywhere in the background, nor was there a clock nearby, so I wasn’t keeping track of the time. Regardless, it should have been clear to me that the answer to that question was yes, much to Serissa’s detriment and the delight of the two women who followed.
A few minutes later, Lolly said, “Do you want to try another position?”
I drew out of her and sat back on the futon. I felt my vigor rapidly slip away. I was overcome with a dazed indifference. My body was more exhausted than I thought, and despite her efforts, it soon became clear to both of us that there was nothing she could do to revive it. Though she’d climaxed long ago, her face now looked ashen. Lolly turned away from me, sulking in silence.
“Eh . . . it’s alright,” I said.
“No, it’s not alright . . .” she said, in a sadder and more deflated voice than I’d ever heard from her. “I really wanted you to enjoy this.”
“I’m fine. Really.”
Lolly reclined on her stomach, like a big cat, but she was facing away from me. I laid down next to her. Sometime later, she turned, we stared into each other’s eyes.
“Honestly, David,” she said, “it’s really not sex . . . it’s being close to another person again, feeling their skin, and the tactile sensations . . .”
“You set out knowing what you were looking for,” she said. “You wrote very specific criteria on your profile. I’m none of those things.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I chuckled.
“I just don’t want you to look back on this and regret spending time with me when you could have been with someone else . . .”
Yeah, I thought sarcastically, just look at all the women lined up to be with me. I sighed, then placed my hand on her and stroked her lightly.
“I didn’t have any illusions,” I said.
We laid there together for a while, in silence. Eventually, I spoke:
“Do you want to see that computer game I was talking about on the way here?” I said.
Around midnight I’d printed out the directions from MapQuest (I knew how to get to Fall River before, but needed better directions for the trip back), while Lolly went outside for a cigarette. We stopped for gas and snacks, during which Lolly insisted on paying for some of it, even though I didn’t want her to. She’d just left one of her jobs (she said she still had Lizzie’s and Logan to pull her through), and explained when I’d asked her on the way to my home that although she was separated from her husband and hadn’t seen him in five years, filing for divorce was too expensive for her. I almost wondered if I could have helped her out in any way. I needed to pay tuition in a few months, but couldn’t I spare a little every now and then?
I found the Dunkin’ Donuts easier this time, taking the exit I should have taken on the way in, and with the streets barren of traffic, I was able to correct my most egregious mistakes in ways I couldn’t have four hours ago. I made it back home without difficulty, though I was tired. I slept in the basement. It stayed dark all day long, so I often slept well into the afternoon. Emerging from this place each day after an indefinite period of time having no one to talk to. I felt like the narrator of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider. The next morning I not only slept longer than I’d planned, I had the curious feeling that something within me had died. The days and nights were blending into each other, and any time felt like any other. Time was moving too fast for me.
“So what is our verdict?” asked the Brain. Lolly’s file was open in his hands, but he was glancing across the table. The Heart was shaking involuntarily in his wheelchair, looking sicker than usual. Even the Penis looked depressed.
“I feel strange,” said the Heart. “Empty, somehow. Not angry, not sad, not disgusted, not frustrated, not even calm . . . just strange.”
“OK, so she wasn’t Selena Steele,” the Penis grumbled. “I still would have fared much better if it weren’t for that damned Trojan. How can people use those things?”
“Well at least we won’t be conflicted in concluding that we shouldn’t try something like this again,” said the Brain.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with Lolly, though,” said the Heart, “I don’t have any complaints about her. Really. I’m grateful we met her. But it just . . . didn’t feel right. I don’t know why.”
“I already told you why,” said the Penis, “it was the Trojan.”
“I should have known better. I just can’t do anything half-assed. I can’t start something I already know can’t come to fruition. Never again. I’m really sorry, guys.”
“Don’t be,” said the Brain, “At least we’re learning. This was an experiment that failed, but now we know.”
“So what now?” sighed the Penis, gesturing toward the Heart. “Defer to his every command?”
“No,” said the Brain, “Reaffirm his place as the central arbiter of this Council.”
“In other words, defer to his every command.”
“W-we’ve already given you a say here!” whimpered the Heart, “Y-you ungrateful . . .”
The Heart wheezed and coughed before he could enunciate any further, engorging the veins in his forehead and swallowing nausea. He rested his huge head against the right arm of the wheelchair, unwilling to sit up again.
“Dick?” said the Penis.
“Please, let’s not do this again!” sighed the Brain.
The Brain tilted his head back slightly, and adjusted his tie accordingly. Then, glancing at the file in his hands, he placed it back into the blue crate. The Penis folded his arms. The Heart whimpered pathetically and closed his eyes. He wept silently.
“I miss Losang . . .”
David Mitchell welcomes your comments on “Lolly” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.
Photo by Mar Estrama.
by Leah O’Dooley
Come to me in the afternoon—
air heavy with heat and the light unflinchingly honest. Taste me
with your eyes.
Flesh out the marrow of my bones and bear witness to the softest of skin.
If you come to me—
come with a breath warm and lingering.
Come to me in the early evening—
sweet perfumed air will list to the rhythm of amethyst dripping Mark me
with silvered wet fingertips.
If you come to me—
come thirsty for my scent.
And if you stay until the morning light—
II will whisper to your flesh that the sun is jealous of our heat.
A cool breeze with sigh as my lips graze along your body—
our hands lost in time.
When you come—
Leah O’Dooley welcomes your comments at colourgirldesign[at]gmail.com.
photo by EdenWanderLust.