Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Sulphur Selkie

Shade was seven years old when she heard the story of the Irish selkies. “They are taken from the sea and become wives and mothers to Irishmen,” said the traveling social worker in a special storytelling benefit for children. “But if someone finds her coat that she had in the sea, she’ll leave her husband and children and go back!”

The social worker was a man, which might have been why he seemed mortified that a woman would leave her husband and children, but didn’t have any problem with the idea that a man could just steal a woman out of her home and force her to get married and have children.

“Doesn’t she deserve a life?” said a still, small voice inside Shade. “Doesn’t she deserve a choice?”

But she pushed the voice aside. It was the same voice that often told her not to listen to the holy men, the same voice that told her to speak up for herself when she knew she was being wronged, even if it meant talking back to adult men. It was a voice that often got her in trouble.

“Don’t you listen to that voice inside you!” her mother often scolded, brandishing the Book in her hand. “For I swear to you, it is the devil!”

She didn’t like having the devil inside her head and she so tried not to listen. But sometimes that devil was the only one that made sense.

When she was fourteen, her village was raided and Shade was one of twenty-seven girls who were kidnapped and brought North to the City to be sold.

Shade prayed for help, but when the voice inside her offered to give her the power she needed, she shrank away from it. “No matter what the voice inside offers you,” her mother had always said, “no matter what will happen to you, do not trust it, for its power is Corruption!” So she let the men take her body, rather than giving up her Soul.

At the auction where they were sold, some of the girls seemed to know things about some of the men, which ones were particularly cruel, which ones sold drugs, which ones liked hitting. There was one man there every girl agreed, once she’d heard about him, that she would choose to be sold to, if she had the choice and not they.

(But why would you want to be sold at all? asked the Voice)

That man, the respectable one with the kind face, the one who did not beat his women, the one who campaigned for positive change, that man was the one who won the bid for Shade.

He took her home and he was kind, told the staff at his mansion to treat her as a lady, and they all spoke well of him, because of how well they were treated. And that night, when he came to her, he was gentler than she had ever been led to believe a man could be when he came to a woman.

He never beat her. Sometimes he would raise his voice in anger and she wouldn’t know why and that still-small voice would tell her “It’s not fair, you should tell him!” but she would slap it away, she would remind herself of all the terrible men who had been at that auction who she might have been sold to, and the bruises, she kept seeing on the wives of her husband’s business associates, which they didn’t even try to hide. And she would remind herself how lucky she was to have been sold to a good husband.

She gave him two children, a boy and a girl. They tried to have more, but apparently, her body failed him. (And could it not be his seed, said the Voice, failing you?) She watched her son and daughter grow up, thankful first that they had such a loving father, but also that her son was so handsome and strong and most especially relieved when her daughter did not speak about a still, small Voice inside her telling her that all she knew was wrong. She did not think she would be capable of beating her own child as she had been beaten. She did not think she could bear for her daughter to be Possessed, as she was.

But once her daughter started to come of age, thoughts started to occur to Shade. Whom would her daughter want to marry? To which of her husband’s friends (or which of their sons) would she be given? Her husband was a kind and gentle man, but he didn’t seem to know any other kind and gentle men. Only villains. She thought I should find a man for her who is as honorable as her brother, but then she thought Whom will he marry? And then she thought how.

That was when the Voice returned in full force. It should not be your husband’s decision whom your daughter marries! was one of the more ridiculous claims, but underneath it was It is up to you to protect your daughter because none of these men will! And when she tried to counter about her son and about her husband, about how they were good men, the Voice inside her took no prisoners but declared That man paid money to your kidnappers so that he could own you as property. 

There it was. The Truth she could no longer escape. Her husband was not a good man. He may be better than any man she had met since she was taken from her village, but that was not the same as goodness. And under his parentage, the Voice inside her twisted the knife, what man will your son become? 

It was all too much.

What can I do? she asked the Voice. How can I help my daughter? How can I save my son? 

I can help you, said the Voice. But there is a price. 

She had always known there would be, yet she caught her breath at what the thought implied. What must I do? she asked the Voice, desperately trying not to add, not to even think, I’ll do anything!

You must forget everything your parents taught you. You must abandon your husband, perhaps even your children. You have a Power inside you that is too great for one man to keep locked away, and you have a responsibility to wield it. Join me. Give yourself to me and I will give you the power to destroy the men who once ruined you—the men who soon will ruin your daughter, also. But in return, I expect you to continue fighting for me, to seek out and destroy any men—or women, either—who would traffic children for profit. I can give you this Power, Shade, but in return you must wield it for me. 

That night, Shade brought her daughter and son to her old village. When she returned, she murdered their father. For the next week, she worked her way through all of his friends, liberating their wives whether they (thought they) liked it or not, and then fought her way into the distance, not to rest until the evil she had always known but never heeded was wiped from the face of existence.

The Giant and the Dwarves

Once upon a time, there was a family of Dwarves who lived in the cul-de-sac at the end of Amethyst Place in Trinity’s Field. I say “Dwarves” instead of “Dwarfs” because they were not exactly like the dwarfs we are (somewhat) used to in our society. Hypoplastic dwarfs can have children of a “normal” size, but Steve Sheehan’s Dwarf genes were dominant rather than recessive, which meant that all of Linda Larchman’s children with him were about the same size they were.

People often joked about them; many of the jokes they made were cruel, enough that even the ones that were harmless stung. One of the ones that came up all too frequently even as a serious question was whether they lived in a house that was as small as they were. They did not—in fact, their house was quite large to house their seven children, and the ceilings were even somewhat higher than normal on the first floor. But in the kitchens in particular, there were steps leading up to the counters and even to the cupboards, making the entire downstairs seem to the untrained eye like an obstacle course.

All of the children, from Alexander to Zachary, were sent to school with other children who were not Dwarves, the parents priding themselves on not being intimidated by or prejudiced against “big people”.

But when Rebecca Larchman-Sheehan went to Trinity High, she came back one day talking about a boyfriend.

Talking about Clovis Schumacher wasn’t that big of a deal, of course. By then, Alexander and Melissa had already dated and Victoria was practically engaged—in and of itself, there was nothing odd about this, then.

But then Rebecca brought Clovis home with her.

After the initial encounter, which Clovis, at least, had thought was pleasant enough,, Steve sat Rebecca down on the couch to talk to her about how she had blind-sided him.

“Blind-sided?” Rebecca was offended. “I told you I had a boyfriend and you knew he wasn’t a Dwarf because we’re the only ones in town!”

“Yes, but…” Steve wasn’t quite sure how to continue, aware he was not on the solidest ground. “You didn’t say that.”

“What? That he was black?”

At this, her father turned a brighter shade of red than she had ever seen on a person—not counting her little brother Richard when he’d had the chicken-pox. He (her father, that is, not Richard) subsequently launched into a tirade about how he, of all people, scorned and ridiculed by all, his whole life, how he could not possibly be accused of such levels of bigotry!

“Then what is it?” His daughter was going to make him say it.

Fine. “The man is a GIANT!” Steve Sheehan protested. “Our ceiling is seven and a half feet tall and he was ducking in here!”

“I think that may have just been his posture,” Linda interjected.

“That only makes it worse,” said Steve. “He’s so terrifyingly tall he probably has to duck wherever he goes!”

“The poor dear,” her mother supplied.

Rebecca now turned her incredulous offense on the woman who’d bourn her. “Are you in on this, too, now?”

Her mother sighed. “I just don’t know if it’s a good idea,” she confessed. “I mean, there are things one ought to think about…”

“Mechanical issues…” Steve realized too late he wasn’t saying it under his breath.

“Well, what will people think?” Linda finally put it.

“What will they say?” Rebecca finally stood up from the couch. “They’ll think it’s cute! They’ll think it’s adorable he’s three times my size!”

“But when they…” This was Steve again. “I mean, anyone would have to wonder… how…”

Ew was Rebecca’s only thought. “Seriously, dad, ew! Why would they think that and why would I care? It’s none of their business! For that matter why are you thinking about it? Just… ew!”

Linda, meanwhile, had bourn seven children by this time and was unconcerned with this issue.

“I’m just concerned,” her father pleaded to Rebecca. “I’m concerned about… well, about why. What do you see in him?”

This was a question calculated to give his daughter pause, to make her slow down for reflection. Rebecca needed to do no such thing.

“He’s not afraid of me,” she said. “Everyone in my life tiptoes around me and expects me to act like a child because of how I look. But him? Everyone else is so small to him, he didn’t even notice I was a dwarf. Didn’t treat me any differently.

“Also, he’s really into Magic: The Gathering.”

“I think there’s more to it than that,” said her father. “I think this is you, lashing out.” Rebecca had always been the wild child of the bunch, always contrary, always quick-witted—

“By falling in love?” was her retort this time. “Gee, wouldn’t that be original?”

“Maybe we should all just take a breath,” said Linda.

“Are you going to try to forbid me from dating him?”

The operative word “try” did not escape her parents’ notice.

Clovis never noticed any awkwardness or unkindness from Rebecca’s parents—though, to be fair, this may have been beacuase he was used to cold deference from white people and just figured that was how they were.

It took Steve and Linda some time to adjust their thinking and the angle at which they held their heads, but they got there eventually.

Rebecca and Clovis are together to this day. They still play Magic: The Gathering every week.

The Room of Sheets

The morning before her first day at the new school, she had a new kind of dream. Or maybe it wasn’t new, but she didn’t remember having it before. It was like déjà-vu: everything seemed familiar, even the first time she saw it. Maybe that’s the way dreams always are. But this one felt different.

She was in a room. It wasn’t a small room, as rooms go—in fact, for a bedroom, it seemed like something straight out of a Disney castle, with blues and reds popping out from the walls and the wardrobe and furniture, and a bright purple bed in the center.

That bed.

At first, it felt like she was alone in the room, but then all at once, she felt hands circling her waist, soon followed by a nuzzling kiss on the back of her neck. She had never been touched like that, awake, yet it felt natural, and like she knew the man who did it. She turned around to greet him—

And that was when she woke up.

As dreams go, it wasn’t too elaborate, but it left an impression that lingered during breakfast and the ride on the metro with the woman trying to be her mother, and even when she joined the class that would be hers.

She couldn’t help but wonder, later on, if that dream had been what made her fall so quickly and completely in love with almost the first boy she came into contact with.

His face was soon put upon the body that called to hers in the dreams. That very night, they picked up where they’d left off in the not-so-small room, gazing into one another’s eyes and drinking deep. There was a caution in those first few nights, but it was born of excitement and played as a lingering within each other’s touch, a savoring of the company of each other’s dreams.

They didn’t speak much at school, but when they did, he smiled and she was always aware of his presence, even when she pretended not to be. But they didn’t speak much, even when their eyes found each other across rooms and the crowded courtyard.

Until they did.

“I hear you write songs,” she was bold enough to say to him after sitting down near him in the study hall.

In response, he merely lifted his eyes up at her with the shadow of a smile on his lips.

“What are you writing about?” He twirled the fountain-pen in his fingers like a tool for inspiration and the words on the page were arranged like verses.

“Everything,” he told her.

It was a megalomaniacal answer, for sure, but “Does that include love?”

He seemed taken aback by the directness of this riposte and she caught his eyes flickering up and down her frame. “Perhaps,” he confessed, and then lifted the pen to his lips like a cigarette for a long, magical drag of inspiration.

That night in the red-blue-to-purple room, they explored the bed at last, its purple majesty, tossing sheets about like waves as they dove into one another. It occurred to her that though the room was hers, this was his domain, and he played the fabric of this little world like a chef in his kitchen, like a librarian on the subject of his endless collection, like a rockstar performing for billions and then surfing their waves. All she could do was cling to him. It made her feel safe, but at the same time, excited.

The next time they spoke, he showed her one of his songs, upon request. It wasn’t a song about love (not yet) but it was lovely and it resonated: it was about a home across the sea and living in two different worlds, not sure which of them was the real one. They didn’t talk about love, but she thought she caught him gazing at her neck and wanted him to kiss her there.

Every time they spoke, no matter how many other people were nearby, there was a tension between them. They would stand next to each other. They would lean in and “accidentally” touch. But then they would back away. She wasn’t sure why. She did it because he did it, and she couldn’t help but wonder if the same was true for him.

At night, there was certainty and purpose. He would bend the world around them both and wrap her up in its sheets. He would build mountains and cities out of fabric and then wrinkle them down into dust. He would whisper her name in her ear from behind her as he pointed out their room in the palace of silk, but it wasn’t her name, not the same one she answered to, awake. This name was older.

There was a trip, with school. After driving eight hours South, they would spend a week in the wilderness, biking and hiking, an adventure, if somewhat controlled. The bus drove down at night and though they had held hands once or twice, no words had been spoken between them that mattered. But on a bus ride South with school, no one gets much sleep and what sleep they get, they get at different times. That was how she came upon him sleeping and found herself lingering a bit too long, wondering a bit too seriously what he might be dreaming about, and she heard him breathe her name.

Not her real name, mind you. Her name. That name. From the dream.

She couldn’t know before that moment it was real, but now she did. Now she knew it and the knowledge was almost too much. Could she bring it up? No, it was crazy. Even if she knew it was true, it was crazy—especially then. But how could she just let it linger, let the word fester between them. One of them had to do something!

They unloaded and climbed on their bikes far too early in the morning. She had slept only briefly and dreamed a different dream, an older dream, covered in ash, where she was smoking blue flames, chased by spiders to a door she couldn’t go through until a storm hit—it wasn’t important, she told herself. They had slept at different times, so of course their dreams had been different. But now they spread out, seventy of them, kids on bikes going up mountains, careful of cars on the roads. Now she could speak to him.

She caught him alone on the trail, and, weak in the knees, her resolve and her confidence drifted away at the sight of him. They spoke, but only as they had spoken before, in vague whispers of what they really meant and riddles disguised as jokes. She wanted to do something drastic, she wanted to talk about rooms and how big they could be if you let them, or at the very least mention sheets, to see where he’d go with it. But it wasn’t until they crested the final ridge that he started humming a song and finally crooning the soft words he had written about a lady who was dressed in blue flames.

They arrived at the camp site and she wrote him a note to meet her at the large rock over the river at sunset—

I can’t tell you the end of this story. It’s too much. It’s stupid, the heartbreak. The reasons why it happened the way it did. How could she miss this appointment. She, of all people, she who had set it and made the arrangements. Stood him up. And for what? Reasons, she had aplenty. Excuses, she had none. Not ones she could tell herself. And when the day broke and camp was unsettled, she sought him out to apologize, and saw the truth of it, how in her absence someone else had been there when she’d stood him up, and now she was on his arm, she held his gaze and he avoided the one that hadn’t been there for him.

No wonder their dream had taken such a turn that night. Instead of in bed, they were upright and the door was open and he was turned away from her, light streaming in from outside, shadows dancing across the room. She kept trying to call to him, but when she ran to him, she slammed into the invisible glass between them, keeping her out, and he didn’t hear her.
I won’t tell you the end of this story. And neither will she. It pains her still, her part in it, and the fact that even now, it still isn’t over. But every night—not for the entire night, but some portion—she finds herself locked in that room, where the man she loves takes a stranger in her bed, thinking that it’s her. Why couldn’t she have just told the truth? Even now, why can’t she just tell him?

She tells herself it was all her imagination anyway. If only she could believe it.

“People Are Strange”

Declan Murphy didn’t have any real friends when he got to Trinity High. It’s not important why—he knew some of the people, but anyone he’d been close to had moved away or gone to Cliffside or been sent to a boarding school.

His older brother was a Senior—but you know how it is. Seniors don’t talk to Freshmen. Not unless it’s to make fun of their floppy, unkempt hairstyle and purposely ratty clothes. Or, alternatively, if the freshman in question is attractive and of the appropriate gender.

It was raining that first day of school, which only made the unfamiliar faces that much stranger for not being properly seen. It set the tone.

Declan liked the rain, though. Liked it more than people, anyway, and the feeling was mutual.

“Murphy!” the Civics teacher yelled at him. “You Tommy’s brother?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Eyes over here!”

He paid better attention, though, with rain to look at.

After class, my brother Jasper caught up with him. “Hey.”

He’d been running and he was out of shape. Had Declan wondering why he would run. It made his lanky figure ungainly.

“Hey,” said Declan.

“Your name Murphy?”

“It’s Declan,” he said. “Declan Murphy. Tommy’s brother.”

Not that that would mean anything to a fellow freshman.

“I’m Jasper,” said my brother. “My sister’s Aly—I don’t know if you know her. I think I know a Tommy, though.” He did. “My other sister’s Kassandra—you probably wouldn’t know her. She just started at Cliffside Middle.”

“That’s cool,” said Declan, though it really wasn’t and he still wasn’t sure why he was talking to this guy.

“So you know uh,” Jasper stammered, “You ever heard of Murphy’s Law?”

How anyone who bore the brunt of that name could have not heard of Murphy’s Law is beyond me, but my brother was never the sharpest note in the song.

“Yeah,” said Declan.

Jasper nodded sagely, then flashed a rather gap-toothed smile. “Any relation?”

Their friendship would have been aborted in its infancy at this moment if not for a sudden encounter with Otis Ratson.

“Lunch money,” said the bored-sounding blob under the Sports Team-X baseball cap, extending an almost gelatinous hand at them. He looked more like a minimum-wage ticket checker at a movie theater than a thug.

“Are you kidding me?” said Declan.

“Nope,” said Otis, but the vowel sound took up at least three syllables.

“Aw, man,” said my brother, already reaching into his pocket.

But Declan held up his hand. “No, no, hold on,” he said, “Are you collecting for the school? Are you the official lunch-money receiver? If we give you money, will we get our lunch?”

Otis seemed to think on this a moment. “Yeah?”

“How will they know we gave you our money? Do we get, like, a voucher?”

“Could give you a black eye, [if it would] make you feel better.”

It was Otis’s cadence that made it clear several words were missing from his structure.

“So you’ll give us a black eye if we do give you the money?”

Otis was silent.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Declan Murphy.

Otis stood there a moment longer before finally stating “Dammit, Murph, this here’s why nobody likes you.” Then he walked off.

“What the hell was that?” said Jasper.

“I don’t know,” said Declan. “Been dealing with that boy for years, never know what’s going on in his head.”

My brother, who was used to having longer hair, instinctively brushed his hair through it before realizing it was cut very short. “You just made that better,” he said, and harumphed. “So much for Murphy’s Law.”

“Call me an outlaw,” said Declan.

“Man, people are weird.”

And that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

(To Be Continued…)


The Blood Father

There is a man whose blood heals any wound, cures any illness. He is called the Blood Father.

No one is quite sure where he’s from—even he isn’t, anymore, as it turns out. It’s said his mother had AIDS but was cured when she bore him—but of course, there are holes in that sotry. What is clear is that he’s never been sick himself, but that’s not what makes him special.

What makes him special is his willingness to open a vein for the sake of another person, for any person he finds who is dying or disabled or even just maimed. There are some things he can’t do, certain innate genetic ailments, and he can’t restore someone’s sight or help them grow back a limb once the loss has become a part of them. But he can still work miracles.

Which is exactly what puts him in danger.

He has been running for most of his life. While he runs, he studies and conducts research. He’s made friends and contacts who help him with this research, and no one has been able to figure out how his blood does the things that it does. It cannot be synthesized. It can not be replicated. Which means that there are only so many people that the Blood Father can help. And everyone thinks they need him.


Brett Lewis was doing well. He had a good, steady job at the construction company, a nice pile of savings from the work he’d done since he was sixteen. He got along okay with women when the fancy struck him, but he felt no great need to settle down. And he was in peak physical condition.

He first met Dr. Shukti Prajapati when his boss at the firm made him go in for a routine check-up. He never bothered with those things, figured he knew his body best. Not like he smoked, and he ate healthy enough.

“How are you feeling today, sir?” asked the doc, and he was surprised not to hear an accent, because she was definitely not from around here.

“I’m feeling just fine,” he said, “other than the big fat check I’m gonna have to write for this check-up.”

“Most insurance policies cover this,” she assured him.

“Most insurance policies,” he countered, “are scams, which is why I don’t have one.”

“I see,” said Dr. Prajapati, and continued with the examination.

She wanted to say something pithy, like “Well, then I guess you have only yourself to blame,” but that would be unbecoming, not to mention unprofessional, and she could tell from the man’s body-language he was already uncomfortable with her—whether it was her race or sex didn’t really matter—and she was already on thin ice when it came to the hospital administration. they didn’t like her meddling with her patients by recommending insurance policies. They said it was none of her business; “Doctors should be doctors,” they said, “and leave the insurance stuff to the folks who know about it.” But wasn’t her job to care for the sick? Hadn’t she taken an oath to do no harm? If a family was financially ruined paying for a treatment that she recommended, with the result they wouldn’t properly feed themselves, wasn’t that her business as a doctor?

“Hmm…” she said, in her conversation with Mr. Lewis.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“No reason to be alarmed,” she said. “I just might have to run some tests.”

“Nuh-uh, I ain’t paying for no tests.”

“But this could be important.” She explained what she’d found at the possible implications. She tries to be as simple as possible without being condescending or imprecise.

“No, no, no, no, no,” said Brett. “Nice try, Shama-lama, but you’re not getting me with all your mumbo-jumbo, I ain’t paying for no tests.”

And that was the end of it, she thought. There was a chance he had a condition. There was a chance that condition could be life-threatening, but without insurance, the test would be pricey. Not as pricey as the treatment, of course, but for this man (especially without insurance) the burden might weigh more than the risk.

So Brett Lewis got his clean bill of health (with a caveat) and returned to work, while Dr. Prajapati returned to feeling uneasy about healthcare. Maybe her medical school teachers were right. Maybe her heart was too good for America, her commitment too wide.

There were problems with Britain’s NHS, but it couldn’t be as bad as this—could it? Pharmaceutical companies creating new drugs they don’t actually need to feed money into testing them to justify driving up prices on everything else? The best equipment in the world that no one could afford to use? Food that makes people sick? Common-sense cures barred from even research to keep profits high on expensive invasive treatments that shouldn’t even be necessary? And all the while, the only way ordinary working-class citizens can afford to take care of themselves when the worst happens is to pay thousands a year to private insurance companies that take every conceivable excuse to line their own pockets by raising prices and denying claims.

“You should buy insurance now,” she said to Brett Lewis just before he walked.

“They won’t cover you with a preexisting condition and this could become a problem.”

“Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he shot back.

But then it became a problem. Six months after this check-up, after assuming that it was all bullshit, Brett Lewis started showing symptoms. They were exactly the kinds of symptoms Dr. Prajapati had described. Uncanny, even. He put off going in—“Doctors are quacks anyway”—and didn’t even tell anyone—“I ain’t no snowflake,” he would say in the mirror, “I can take care of myself”—until one day he collapsed while at work.

“You will die,” was the verdict from these new quacks, “without proper treatment. “And it was burning a hole in his pocket.

“Don’t worry,” said his boss, “we take care of our own.” But was that fair to them? Asking that kind of charity? A man takes care of himself, takes care of his family, if he has one. What kind of man lets other men pay off his debts for him?

“The kind of man who’s fallen ill,” said Dr. Prajapati. She found him when he was admitted at the hospital and remembered him. “We can’t solve every problem ourselves,” she added, “the modern world is too complicated for every single person to know every single thing well enough to surive in it unaided. And the human body? Not even doctors can be expected to know everything by now, and never make a mistake. So where does that leave you?”

“It’s a scam,” he insisted, and she didn’t disagree. “They take and they take and they take, and what do we get for it? Debts that can never be repaid. And what choice have we got?”

“You can die,” she reminded him.

“We’d be better off without all this shit.”

“No, you would be dead,” she reminded him. “And there would be no choice.”

“I could pay for all this myself.”

“Can you, though?”

Of course he couldn’t.

“The system isn’t perfect. Of course it’s not. But is the answer to get rid of it altogether? Let every man fend for himself? Where would that leave you? No, if something isn’t perfect, the last thing you do is throw it away. What we need is to fix it.”

In the end, though, the entire point was rendered moot. Brett Lewis made a miraculous recovery just before his money ran out. He gave the credit to supernatural forces and earned a fortune from the book deal and endless subsequent touring.

And Dr. Shukti Prajapati went deeper into politics, ultimately abandoning the hospital for the bigger picture because she couldn’t bear to see people like Mr. Lewis spiraling into endless debt—and taking their families and sometimes even friends with them—just on the slim chance of one day being well. 

“Help, I’m Alive”

I liked school, before. It was a place you could visit your friends, right? At the least? It was a place you were doing something, even if you were bored doing it.

What changed?

Somehow, I just didn’t feel welcome. Even before I stumbled into the building, before I met any of my old friends or any of my new friends, I just had this feeling, this queasiness beating like a hammer, coming in waves.

Do you know what I mean?

I’d been friends with Isabella Millar the year before. Now, suddenly, she was one of those doe-eyed blondes who was too good for me. Me with my glasses, my pathetic soggy brunette-ness and my way-too-skinny limbs. From the look on her face the first time we locked eyes that day, I knew she would eat me alive.

I met Lucy that first day, believe it or not. Do you? Believe it? I didn’t think we’d be friends, she seemed too… happy. At the time. For me. Like a cartoon character I’d outgrown.

It was a couple of days before Trevor made his way into my life. I didn’t mind. How could I?

But the next day, when I felt worse, the one who really made a difference was Kayla.

I don’t even know how to talk about her now. She followed me into the bathroom. Figured she knew what was going on. Asked me if I felt all right, needed anything. Midol? Tampon? Chocolate bunny? I could’ve lied, taken the out, given her the brush-off.

Instead I told her, trembling, “I think I can see the future.” And then I told her why.

“That’s weird,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, weird is good,” she assured me. No one had ever said that to me before. “I’m weird, too.”

I didn’t know at the time how true that was. I thought I was stupid.

“You mind if I sit with you?” she asked through the door of the stall.

I didn’t. I was the smartest thing I did in my life.

(To Be Continued…)

Like Day and Night Divided

DOUGLASS: Hey! Hey, you! Yeah, you! Girl, where you goin’ so fast?

LAURA: I… nowhere?

DOUGLASS: Shit, girl don’t even know how to lie right.

LAURA: I’m going home, all right? I’m going home.

DOUGLASS: Hold on, was that a hesitation? Shit, you really think I’m gonna try something, don’t you?

LAURA: I don’t know–

DOUGLASS: Man, I been sitting here twenty minutes, waiting on this damn bus to get here, and every white girl, and every white boy that’s passed me by, look at this, this is what they do, they come up here, and they see me sitting here in the bus stop and they walk–look at this!–they walk outside, off the sidewalk, out into the street ‘cause of the damn black man sitting in the bus stop. ‘Cause everybody knows, if there’s a black man sitting in a bus stop, you best watch the fuck out.

LAURA: OK, can I say something?

DOUGLASS: Girl, you want something said, say it to the newspaper–they’ll listen to you!

LAURA: What do you want from me? Huh? You want me to smile? Why? Because that’s how we do it here in the South? Trinity’s Field is not that small of a town, I’m sorry, I don’t know you, I don’t have to smile, so I don’t, and you know why?

DOUGLASS: Oh, I know why.

LAURA: Oh, you do?

DOUGLASS: Yeah, I know why.

LAURA: I don’t think you do. Is it because you’re black?

DOUGLASS: Yeah, it’s ‘cause I’m black!

LAURA: It’s not because you’re black.

DOUGLASS: Oh, it’s not?

LAURA: It’s because you’re male.

DOUGLASS: … Nuh-uhn.

LAURA: Oh, it’s not?

DOUGLASS: Nuh-uhn, I know you white girls–

LAURA: Oh, you do?

DOUGLASS: Yes, I do! Yes, I do, Miss America, conquered the damn world!

LAURA: Oh, I conquered the world?

DOUGLASS: If I was white, if I was a white dude, man, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

LAURA: I love how you know me better than I know myself, that’s, really, that’s so rare to find in a person.

DOUGLASS: If I was white, you’d already be on me, girl. Why can’t you just admit it?

LAURA: See, that right there. That right there is why I didn’t make eye contact. That, right there, is why I wanted to make it perfectly clear to you that I did not want to strike up any kind of conversation, but I guess it’s both our lucky days, because guess what? I’m on my period and I am not taking this bullshit from any man today, black, white or motherfucking purple.

DOUGLASS: See, why you gotta bring the period thing into it?

LAURA: Because apparently, that’s the only way to get across to you men that I don’t want to have sex with you! That sex is not something that I’m always thinking about. Be honest here. Are you always thinking about sex? I see you hesitating, because you think it’s a trick question, but it’s really not. Are you thinking about sex when you’re taking a dump?

DOUGLASS: Ew! What? That’s nasty!

LAURA: I bet you’re not thinking about blowjobs when you’re eating a banana, either!

DOUGLASS: Ooh! Damn, you went there!

LAURA: Oh, I’m gonna fucking go there. Shove your dick in my face one more time, I will bite it clean off. Even if I choke on it!


LAURA: That’s right.

DOUGLASS: Still a fucking racist, though.

LAURA: Jesus fuck!

DOUGLASS: No, you ain’t gonna tell me that shit’s not some micro-aggression crap. You see me, a big black man, and what is the first thing you assume? You assume I’m gonna shove my motherfucking dick in your face–you said it!

LAURA: You were the one who brought up sex!

DOUGLASS: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah–

LAURA: You were the one who said that if you were white, I would fuck you. And that is not true. That is fucking misogynist slander.

DOUGLASS: For real?

LAURA: Just because I’m a woman, doesn’t mean that I want to fuck you. It doesn’t even mean that I want to fuck! That’s why I didn’t look at you!

DOUGLASS: Oh, you didn’t look at me, because you thought I might rape you?

LAURA: That, sadly enough, is always a possibility.

DOUGLASS: You got pepper-spray on you? Mace? Rape-whistle?

LAURA: Why the fuck would you ask me that?

DOUGLASS: Hey, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Hey–whoa!

LAURA: Back the fuck off. If a woman avoids you on the street, it is not okay to come after her like this.

DOUGLASS: I’m sorry, ma’am, I apologize.

LAURA: Demanding that someone smile, accosting them when they don’t want to talk to you, that is street harassment, and it. Is. Not. Okay. OK?

DOUGLASS: I just wanted someone to talk to me. Not even that, man, I just wanted someone to acknowledge that I am a person. A person. Not… not some threat, not some walking… bomb. A rabid dog.

LAURA: I’m sorry I pulled my pepper-spray on you.

DOUGLASS: I’m sorry I–

LAURA: Hold on, I’m not sorry for pulling my pepper-spray–you were being fucking creepy!

DOUGLASS: Here we go again.

LAURA: Look, I’m not saying you’re a creep. Chances are, you’re a really nice guy. But the risk, if you’re not? It’s too much. And what the FUCK were you thinking, asking me if I have pepper-spray on me?

DOUGLASS: You obviously thought I was a threat!

LAURA: You are a threat! You’re a man, and I don’t know you! And I’m not going to apologize for committing a microaggression–which, by the way, sounds like about the whitest thing either of us has said in this entire conversation–

DOUGLASS: You were the one who threatened me–

LAURA: You have been threatening me since the minute you called out to me, and the fact that you don’t know that… I’m not sorry. You can go ahead and think whatever horrible, “racist” or whatever label you want to put on me, that’s fine. That’s fine. ‘Cause I’m labeling you, too.

DOUGLASS: I’m sorry. All right? I wasn’t trying to make you uncomfortable.

LAURA: “Uncomfortable” isn’t the same thing as “threatened”. So I guess maybe I should apologize, too. I’m sorry for overreacting.

DOUGLASS: Nah, it’s cool.

LAURA: We cool?

DOUGLASS: Yeah. Yeah, we cool.

LAURA: Can I go now?

DOUGLASS: Oh, you wanna go?

LAURA: Yeah, do I–do I have your permission?

DOUGLASS: Oh, you want my permission, now? Wow! Aw, white girl think she needs my permission! Snap, y’all.

LAURA: Don’t make me mace you.

Back to You

And then suddenly I’m standing at your door again. How did I get here? I don’t understand. One moment I was out for a walk, clearing my head in another part of the city, and now I’m back here.

Instinct tells me I should ring the bell or knock because those are the things that you do when you’re standing in front of your girlfriend’s door, on the wrong side of it, not sure if she’s even still your girlfriend. Do I want to ring the bell? Do I want to talk to you? I’m not sure why I’m even thinking about it. Hell, I don’t know how I even got here—

But then you open the door. You’re not looking, at first. You’ve got that purse I gave you slung over your shoulder like you’re going out, going out to do something. Like you’re going to a club, but you’re not dressed for the club—where are you going? Where do you happen to be going right now? I think in the split-second it takes you to see me.

And then your whole face changes—everything. For a minute, I think you think this is the part of the movie where I’ve come back and we don’t even have to talk, you’re just gonna put your hand on my lips, “Shhh,” and then kiss me.

But then I guess you remember.

“Hey,” you tell me, desperately trying to make it sound neutral.

“Hey,” I croak, desperately trying the same and failing, flailing, thinking How the hell did I even get here?

You readjust the strap of your purse so it doesn’t slide right off your shoulder. “What are you doing here?” You sound surprised, but not unpleasantly—not delighted, but not horrified.

“I don’t know,” I confess to you, and there’s something about standing here, dripping wet from the rain, saying those words, that makes me feel like the very worst thing about Hollywood movies.

“Do you…” You’re looking at me, looking at my lips, looking from my chest and shoulders to my eyes, then quickly looking away, looking back inside. “Did you want to come in?”

“No.” I don’t even want to be here, don’t know how I got here, but I don’t want to sound crazy.

“Do you want to talk about it?” You’re doing that thing now, shifting your weight, tipping your toes, like you do when you’re nervous. One of those things I always loved about y—

“No,” I say, and turn to leave.

“Wait—“ you say. You say my name. “Please!” Take my hand.

Why did you have to take my hand? “I shouldn’t even be here,” I whisper.

You hear me and say, “Shhh,” taking the opportunity to move in closer, wrapping yourself around my arm. You say my name again, quietly, not to calm me down, but tenderly, like I’m already calm and you’re trying to savor.

But I’m not calm. So I reclaim my arm from you. I force you to look me in the eyes. I look in your right eye, the one that’s on my left, but you’re doing that thing where you’re shifting back and forth, not sure which eye you want to focus on.

You’re frightened. You’re scared of me and your fear is justified.

I ask you, “Why?” and I watch your face break into a thousand million pieces I don’t want to pick up because each broken bit is a memory and I realize too late I don’t want any answers.

But you give them to me anyway. You remind me what a jerk I was, that I never did like to take responsibility, but then just as I turn to go, to leave in disgrace, you stop me again and you tell me all the wonderful things I once knew about myself but forgot after what you did, after what happened between us, stuff only you could know, only you could remind me of, and that’s when I start to think, you know, maybe whatever brought me here tonight knew what it was doing.

The Adventures of Bigtits and Stachio

Donald Radcliffe looks at himself in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees. It’s his face, you see, the lack of hair on it, particularly the lack of hair on his upper lip, just below his nose.

Since early childhood, Donald Radcliffe has associated male attributes—not just virility but honor—with the quality and grooming of a man’s mustache. He had imagined his adult self at the time with a thick growth of long mustache-hair, easily twirlible into strands. In his wildest imaginings, he could twirl the ends of his mustache into thick ropes that could be used for climbing, for fishing, or even, with the appropriate small clubs attached to the ends, as nunchucks during battles with schoolyard bullies.

But as it stands, Donald Radcliffe will never perform such heroics, as his is a face built to be cleanly shaved that could not grow so much as what is popularly known as a “child-molester” mustache, try though he might. And this is, he is convinced, why he does not have a girlfriend to this day.

Which is why he invented Stachio.

Karen Johnson-Jones does not have a boyfriend, either–a fact she, too, laments as she looks in the mirror. For her, it’s her breasts. When she takes off only her shirt to look at them, she has to strain her eyes to convince herself that she isn’t a boy, and sometimes even then she feels the need to rub her legs together just to be sure.

This is not the person she wanted to be. I’m a woman, she thinks, and I want the pectoral protrusions to prove it!

Why couldn’t she be more like her mother? Now there was a woman! Some of her earliest memories are of the various instruments and implements and affects her mother could produce from her cleavage, from money and keys and make-up pouches to CDs and small furry animals and sandwiches. Once—she was sure of it—Karen Johnson-Jones had seen her mother emerge from her chest of wonders with a bottle of 1979 Horace Landing Pinot Grigio. It was the stuff of legends!

And yet here was her daughter, unable to squeeze the two together well enough to hold a penny aloft. Disgraceful!

Which was why she invented her alter-ego, Bigtits.

These two, Bigtits and Stachio, represent what these two poor unfortunate souls wish they could look like. We haunt their dreams and taunt their memories with visions of what might have been. Are we right? Correct? Who cares? We are alive and we are having fun!

On this of all days, though, Donald Radcliffe and Karen Johnson-Jones both have laundry to do and, conveniently (for this, at least) neither have the facilities and so are forced both to make their separate ways to the local Laundromatic, where they are destined to meet each other for the first time.

Now, Donald Radcliffe and Karen Johnson-Jones would be perfect for each other. Their interests and opinions align, their quirks match up; you know it, I know it, the laundromat knows it, inasmuch as the laundromat knows anything. There’s just one thing standing in their way. Well, two: Bigtits and Stachio.

You see, he sees her and he thinks “Hot damn, that’s a fine-looking woman.” But any time Donald Radcliffe thinks “Hot damn, that’s a fine-looking woman,” he knows that she’s out of his league, because he doesn’t have a mustache. So he does his best not to even look at her. He’s not there to look anyway, right? He’s there to do laundry. Meanwhile, Karen Johnson-Jones looks at this nice-looking boy and her mind starts to work at it, chipping away, until she realizes this nice-looking boy isn’t looking at her. Why isn’t he looking at her? Oh, I know. It’s because he would rather be looking at Bigtits.

Bigtits has wiles, you see, of a feminine variety, a way of bouncing her bosom to draw the eye. And Stachio? Why, he sees a fine-looking woman like that and, hot damn, he will twirl his mustache until she throws her number at him—though, admittedly, several other things would probably have to happen as well before that.

As each of them struggles with their machines, they soon realize they are struggling with us, their deepest fears keeping them from acting, from making a move, yet all the while, they find their eyes keep seeking one another out, much as they try keeping them to themselves until finally he looks up and sees her looking at him and once he’s looking at her, she smiles.

This should be the happy ending. Their time has come now, right?

But there’s still one more step left to make.

They do their folding standing next to each other and lingered long enough looking at each other and lingered long enough looking at each other’s catchy T-shirts to warrant explanations.

“Oh, yeah,” said Karen Johnson-Jones, “I got this at an Aardvark on Toast concert a couple years back. It’s actually a boys’ shirt, but that’s great ’cause, like…” She gestured at her figure.

But he seemed confused.

“No chest,” she helped, “Nothing to see here.”

“Nothing to see?”

“My breasts. They’re kinda… not a thing…”

“Oh. I really hadn’t noticed.”

It seemed an ambiguous statement that could go either way, but something about the way he said it plunged a knife deep down between Bigtits’s breasts, past the breadcrumbs, lost freshman boys and broken dreams, and cracked her ribcage, piercing her very soul.

“Oh,” said Karen Johnson-Jones, “Well, thanks, for… um… not noticing that.”

They continued folding until Karen Johnson-Jones asked “So do you have a girlfriend?”

It took Donald Radcliffe by surprise, giving him hope and provoking Stachio to use one side to lasso his attentions to his own insecurities (all the while twirling the other). “No,” he sighed.

To which, Karen Johnson-Jones: “Oh… why not?”

And even just the fact that she asked it and smiled when he turned his clean-shaved face to her, pulled both strands of Stachio’s facial armament all the way around his head and strangled Donald Radcliffe’s insecurities with his own mustache, allowing him to reply: “I don’t know. Guess I just haven’t found the right flat-chested girl.”

This made her smile and they both lived happily ever after, leaving Bigtits and Stachio’s mangled corpses on the floor of the laundromat.