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Monthly Archives: October 2017

“Anything but Ordinary”

No one wanted to admit that Jasper dating Lucy while she was in high school was a fucking problem.

“I don’t see what the big fucking deal is,” Lucy insisted to me. “I mean, age is just a number, right?”

“Tell me that you’re not having sex with him,” I challenged her, already knowing the answer because of who I am as a (psychic) person.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” she said. “Besides, why don’t you tell me you’re not sleeping with Trevor?”

Because I had only slept with Trevor once, but I didn’t want to talk about that.

“Look, I know this is weird for you—“

“This is weird, period,” I cut her off.

Mom wasn’t any more supportive of my heebies. “She’s a sweet girl and I think she’s good for him.”

“She’s barely sixteen. She started dating him before she turned sixteen.”

“She’s very mature for her age, Kassandra.”

“Oh my God, Mother, no, she’s not!”

“Will you stop being so dramatic?”

“Mom, he could go to jail for statutory.”

“Only if someone presses charges. And her parents won’t.”

Which was true. He had their blessing, too.

“Do you think I’m being overdramatic?” I asked Trevor.

“Almost always,” he said.

I glared.

But the problem wasn’t just the legal thing. We had two kids in the house under the age of five. Even before Lucy and Jasper actually got going, we had Lucy over a couple of times to babysit. I don’t want to say it was a disaster, but… It’s not that Lucy doesn’t like kids. It’s not. She just doesn’t really…

I don’t know. Maybe I’m still overreacting. Why should it bother me, right? My best friend—for lack of a better candidate—sleeping with my brother. And not just sleeping with him, either. Dating him. Insinuating herself, fashioning herself into Ellie’s sixteen-year-old stepmom. OK, seventeen, fine. Whatever.

What in the hell does she think that she’s doing? Is this really the life that she wants for herself?

But is it really Ellie that I’m concerned about, either? It’s not that Ellie doesn’t get good role models. Well, OK, “good” is a matter of, like, yeah, but I mean… She has lots of them. Am I concerned for Lucy? For Jasper? For her?

Or is it just that I can’t imagine ever really being happy with that kind of life for myself?

Isn’t this what ordinary people want? Isn’t this how people live their lives? We live, we grow, we fall in love at the wrong time. We stay, we love, we grow together. We work. We’re parents too young. Is there anything wrong with that? It’s really just a matter of logistics. Isn’t it? Normal people don’t travel all the way across the country to go to college, to pioneer, to find themselves and lose their homes, to invent or to break new ground. That’s not what normal people do. If it was…

I know what my path is. Not the specifics. But I know… I know what I want, I guess. My destiny, even if it isn’t my fate. I know where I’m going. Maybe realizing that could help me get away from the feeling that what Lucy wants for herself is wrong.

Even if it does remain… well… creepy.

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The Cold

“Well, I don’t feel cold,” said Saskia to Sylvie. Though it wasn’t clear how. She was dressed in tight, thin T-shirt, not even wearing a bra, and here her girlfriend was, wearing three sweaters.

“It’s like five degrees in here!” Sylvie insisted. (Celcius, that is.)

“It’s like twelve degrees,” Saskia assured her.

“That’s still too cold!”

“Well, I’m not cold, I don’t know what to tell you!”

Sylvie kept thinking there must be something wrong with the heating, but they’d had it checked by three people and nobody found anything wrong with it. “I just don’t understand how it can be so cold.”

“I’ll keep you warm,” Saskia offered early on, inviting Sylvie in for a snuggle.

“No!” Sylvie soon realized. “I get even colder touching you, I mean not that I don’t want to, but you’re not exactly a space heater.”

One of their friends had joked that it might be worth investing in a boyfriend, if only for the specific purpose of keeping them both warm. He hadn’t stayed a friend of theirs for long.

This was why Saskia had gotten in the habit of taking a very hot shower just before crawling into bed with Sylvie. It was too hot—it was uncomfortably hot, to the point that it made her pale skin unnaturally red, but with the lights off, that didn’t make much difference, really.

“That’s better,” Sylvie would apologize once Saskia curled up against her, nice and warm. “I don’t mean to be such a bitch about this. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s okay,” Saskia lied. “Whatever I can do that will make you more comfortable.”

They had been living together since they both graduated high school. They went to the KUL together and while they had each had their separate adventures there, they had emerged stronger than ever. Or so they thought. Now Sylvie was working as a speech therapist and Saskia was still studying for her doctorate in Physics and something seemed different. Off.

Sylvie sneezed. “I really should go to the doctor,” she said. “I really can’t go into work like this, what will people think?”

“Well, I do have to go into work,” said Saskia. “I promise I’ll be home for dinner.” But as she kissed her girlfriedn on the forehead, she couldn’t help but notice Sylvie flinch. It gave her pause. They had a moment, during which Sylvie looked embarrassed at what she’d involuntarily done, snorted and reached for the tissues, while Saskia did her best not to look too accusing or confrontational.

At work, Saskia was distracted, which wasn’t like her. She wasn’t used to being this person. If she was preoccupied, it was usually something external or specific to the environment that bothered her. She didn’t carry her emotional baggage along.

“You comign along to that frietkot?” asked one of her colleagues.

“Which one?”

She described it.

“I don’t know if I’ve been to that one,” Saskia said.

Going to a new frietkot on her lunchbreak wasn’t supposed to be the highlight of her day, let alone a big deal, and yet as she set out with four or five other physici to go there, she found herself reeling with the sense of anticipation. It was a feeling she hadn’t gotten since… well, her first day of university, she thought. Maybe even high school.

“It’s the cute one,” Marjolein whispered at her with a grin when they got in and it didn’t take Saskia long to realize what that was about, as her eyes found the very good-looking Moroccan young man behind the counter. It’s so rare, she mused, to find service people smiling like that. Especially immigrants. Especially the young and good-looking.

But why bring it up to her, the lesbian with a girlfriend?

Then he turned and his eyes found her and

something happened.

Something that… Had she ever?… If so, it was…

Suddenly, the young man looked familiar. He took her order and was polite enough, yet something lingered in his gaze. It shoudl have made her bristle, made her quip. Instead, it made her blush and smile.

“Wow,” said Marjolein at their table. “Even Saskia agrees!”

It was the only thing that could have possibly kept her mind off of Sylvie, but it was no more conducive to work. She wasn’t sure exactly why, or how she was going to justify it to herself, what good it would do or even what she was going to do when she got there, but she resolved to return to the frietkot in question after leaving work early.

When she got there, it was the middle of the afternoon and the place was deserted.

The young man was there and when she walked in, he looked at her. And she looked back.

A polite young service worker would have asked “Can I help you, ma’am?” or even “Did you forget something?” in Dutch only very slightly accented with Arabic, but there was none of that. Then again, a polite customer would tell him how he could help.

Did she even know?

“Do I know you?” she finally asked him.

The first thing he did was draw himself up, lift his chin a bit. But then his whole face changed—not his features, nothing quite that bizarre, but his expression was…

“Wait… I do know you.”

Suddenly, Saskia was transported back to a night several years ago—how many years?—back in high school. She was fifteen years old and out with friends and three of them were together—no, that wasn’t right, not till afterwards…

Two of her friends were being assaulted. And she had arrived with… with a boy she’d just met.

Some part of her had tried so hard to forget.

“So you do remember,” said the man, who couldn’t have been that young; not if he was the same man.

He got out from behind the counter and Saskia backed towards the door instinctively—except which instinct was she following?

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, as though it should have been obvious. “Don’t you remember that night?”

He had saved her. Her and her friends. She didn’t know from what, wouldn’t say. Nor how.

“There were three of us,” she said. “Liesbeth and Cathérine—“

“That’s not the night I mean.”

She looked at him. She wanted to be confused. She should have been, and she wished that she was.

That was when he called her by a name she hadn’t heard in centuries.

“No,” she said. “Stop.” She needed time, and answers. Which did she need more? “Who are you?”

“You know who I am.” But she didn’t want to. He moved even closer to her—

“Stop,” she said. “You say I know who you are, but do you even know who I am?”

“Of course,” he said, and she could see the breath steaming out of his mouth as he spoke.

“I don’t know who you think I am—“

He spoke that name again, a most familiar name—

“I don’t know who that is!” she insisted. “But whoever it is, I’m not her anymore.”

Now it was his turn to be confused, and he didn’t want to be.

“Goodbye,” she said, reaching for the door without realizing she’d just called him by a name she shouldn’t know.

Once she was outside, she realized the temperature was at least ten degrees higher.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Sylvie said when Saskia got back to her. “He said I have a cold, but my temperature’s fine and I felt fine while I was there.”

“We’ll figure it out,” said Saskia Van Sneeuwegem, knowing exactly what it was that was wrong.

“Maybe it’s this place,” said Sylvie. “Maybe I’m allergic to this house or something. Maybe we should just move.”

“Maybe,” Saskia lied.


Superman Is Real

One of the early Sci-Fi writers (I can’t remember if it was Doc Smith or A.E. van Vogt or whoever it was) talked about growing up thinking of Sci-Fi as a game between the reader and the writer, the writer trying to make their extravagant and outlandish inventions as scientifically grounded as possible, the readers trying to still poke holes in them.

They needn’t have bothered.

So, it’s an apocryphal story—actually not even that, more like anecdotal. All right, all right, it’s something my dad keeps talking about.

A little kid writes a letter to the editors and writers of Superman comics complaining that something or other that Superman did in Issue X violated the law of relativity or something. The editor’s response is simple: “Relativity is just a theory, son—but Superman is real.”

Right? What a douchey thing to say. Of all the self-congratulatory propaganda you could possiby—

Here’s why the editor is right.

Science is not a force of nature. I know it’s sometimes portrayed that way in Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories, as something that can “break down” like a senile mainframe. But science isn’t a physical reality, it’s an intellectual process. Science is the collective human intelligence trying to understand the world around it, to make sense of it in order to better our position within it.

If you see something happen in the actual world and you think “That can’t happen, it’s against the laws of science,” you are guilty of cognitive dissonance. Because if you are unable to accept the evidence of your senses, you cannot science. Because it wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t fit the facts.

Superman does not, as far as we know, exist in an actual world. He is a fictional character and, as such, he exists in a fictional universe which automatically operates under rules different from the science of our own.

So if you’re looking at something that Superman is doing and you go “That’s not possible!” that, too, my dear boy (or girl, or person—whatever), is cognitive dissonance. Now, it might not necessarily be your fault—it could be indicative of problems in the story’s narrative contract, but that’s a whole other thing.

The point is, the rules of a fictional reality are decided entirely by the author of said fiction. Our “science”, the laws of the forces of nature in our world, don’t apply. This doesn’t mean that science doesn’t apply because again, science is an intellectual process, rather than a set of rules. But it does mean that our world’s science cannot be used as a weapon to discredit fiction.

So instead of thinking “Superman shouldn’t be able to lift that building because it would collapse under its own weight,” I would urge you instead to accept the evidence presented as fact; and if you really must science about it, use your science to figure out how Superman could lift that building. Sci-Fi is a lot more fun if you say yes to it.


The Philosophy of Concessions

WILL: Why do you think they call it the “Concessions Stand”?

NATTIE: I don’t know. Make up for all the bad movies we show?

WILL: How does that work?

NATTIE: I don’t know. Made sense in my head, though.

WILL: I think it’s because they know working back here is the most miserable job in the theatre. But oh, well, we have to do it, right?

NATTIE: You know, we don’t make any money off the tickets.

WILL: What, none at all?

NATTIE: Not for the first, like, four or five weeks or something. And after that, it’s just an increasing percentage thing.

WILL: So you’re telling me it’s only concessions that actually makes money?

NATTIE: We’re earning not just our pay, but box and door’s, too.

WILL: Thankless twats–

NATTIE: Careful what you say about twats, there, straight boy.

WILL: Like Jeffrey up at the door–the fuck was that about this morning? He’s too good for concessions now?

NATTIE: Wasn’t willing to make concessions.

WILL: Aw, snap–so he who whines loudest gets his way, is that it?

NATTIE: Yeah, or the manager’s pets.

WILL: I thought we were the manager’s pets.

NATTIE: We were. But Logan totally has a crush on Jeffrey, now.

WILL: That’s great, except for how Logan isn’t gay.

NATTIE: Says the straight boy.

WILL: Oh, please.

NATTIE: Who thought “Rue Paul” was a street in downtown Paris?

WILL: It’s what I get for taking French in high school. Even if he is, though, he’s never gonna get anywhere with Jeffrey!

NATTIE: Oh, you’re telling me the Waltzing Belgian is straight?

WILL: He’s European. He doesn’t have to be gay. Just weird. One thing I will say for concession stand:

NATTIE: Checking out chicks?

WILL: Hell, yeah.

NATTIE: Right there with you, cuz.

WILL: So, like, when you look at a chick, do you, like, compare her in your mind to yourself, like, in the mirror? Like, sizing her up?

NATTIE: Ew. Are we doing this? Seriously?

WILL: What? I think it’s a valid question. I’m… curious.

NATTIE: About lesbians? Shock and awe.

WILL: I just feel like… we can talk about this stuff, you know. Like if we weren’t already cousins, this would be weird.

NATTIE: Funny, I think it’s weirder because we’re cousins.

WILL: You see that?

NATTIE: Guess she doesn’t have to make concessions.

WILL: I know, right?

NATTIE: Grin that wipe off your face, man. Also, drool.

WILL: What? Look, but don’t touch, that’s a thing, right?

NATTIE: How ‘bout “look, but don’t salivate”?

WILL: How can you–I mean, that girl was–

NATTIE: Totally mine.

WILL: Wait, what?

NATTIE: Lesbian. For sure.

WILL: Dressed like that? Ow! Hey!

NATTIE: Hands off.

WILL: Nuh-uh.

NATTIE: You really wanna go there? You really want to embarrass yourself like you did that time with Suzie whatserface?

WILL: Mathis, and she wasn’t gay, she just wouldn’t date me ‘cause I’m not a LaCrosse player.

NATTIE: Keep telling yourself that, breeder.

WILL: Oh, so, you wanna make this a bet?

NATTIE: No, I wanna make that girl a bet.

WILL: That’s what I meant.

NATTIE: Oh.

WILL: I say she’s straight.

NATTIE: I say I can seduce her before you can.

WILL: Wait, what?

NATTIE: Mine’s more fun. Also, even if she is “straight”, girls are easy.

WILL: I’d like to point out that, in this instance, it’s not just the girl but the avid hardcore lesbian who’s objectifying women. Treating them like sex-objects–

NATTIE: Oh, I’m sure she has a personality, too. I’m just looking forward to, you know, getting to know the whole package.

WILL: I’d also like to point out that one of us was recently in a very intense and not-so-comfortable relationship that ended… rhymes with “madly”? And it’s not the one of us who currently has a penis.

NATTIE: OK, first of all, ew. And second–

WILL: Ow!

NATTIE: I told you never to say her name.

WILL: Which I didn’t.

NATTIE: Which means: don’t ever fucking bring her up. Ever. Especially when it comes to, you know, talking about someone who could… help me get over it.

WILL: Yeah, OK. Guess I’m…

NATTIE: Being a dick?

WILL: Well, not being a gentleman, anyway.

NATTIE: You know, a real gentleman wouldn’t even make a bet.

WILL: What you talking about? Gentlemen totally make bets. they just make them on horse-races and cricket.

NATTIE: A real gentleman wouldn’t need to make a bet, because he would let the damsel in distress be the knight in shining armor to the hot chick who just walked in.

WILL: Aw, you sneaky burrito. I totally fell for it, too. Yeah, I’m not a gentleman, forget it. Man has needs.

NATTIE: Man has testicles, too. Seem to remember that from biology class a million years ago.

WILL: Bet that girl’s a biology major.

NATTIE: Yeah, still gay, though.

WILL: Yeah, whatevs.


“Faster”

They’re coming faster now. When they first started, it could be weeks between them. When they’d come, they’d come all in a row, but I’d have some reprieve. I’d get a break now and then.

Now I’m just broken.

My junior year, they’ll start coming for a while so close togetherr it’ll keep me home from school.

“Honey, are you all right?” asks my mother. Do we need to take you to a doctor? She’s waited a few days to ask, ‘cause I’m such a good kid.

“It’s okay,” I lie to my mother. “It’s just migraines, it’ll go away.”

The irony of having blinding visions of the future is, they don’t always tell you when they’re going to stop. The information is selective.

At least I know that I’ll graduate. Someday.

at first, the real problem is the future. I wake up one day and find my niece in her high-chair. It hits me—why is my niece in her high chair? She’s four!

Except she isn’t four yet, is she?

One day, I’m twenty-seven. Did I say twenty-seven? I meant twenty-five. How did I get back home? I find myself thinking. I’m supposed to be at the… at the… 

The vision does not extend to all locations.

I say the wrong thing to my mother. “Don’t you have that thing to get to?”

“What thing?”

The meeting that I’m thinking of won’t happen for another four months, hasn’t even been scheduled yet.

At first, the problem is the future, but before long, the problem is the past. I’ve had so many disorienting and almost lucid visions, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between future and past, between past and present. I overcompensate.

“Did Jasper get that promotion yet?”

“Jasper was promoted months ago!” my mother reminds me. “We talked about this!”

“Oh, right.” That much I can pass off as just my brother’s detachment from the rest of us.

But then I forget whether Trevor has come out yet. He starts talking about his love-life. Frustration that he hasn’t had sex. I get confused. Has he come out to me? Or was that just a vision that hasn’t happened yet? If I mention he needs to get a boyfriend, I might be outing him too soon. But if he has come out to me and I mention him needing a girlfriend, that might be worse off for our friendship.

This is stupid. We’ve always known Trevor was gay. Right? 

Wasn’t he?

Finally, he uses the world girlfriend and I notice that he’s looking right at me when he says it. He does that thing with his eyes where they flick down and then back up again and I realize… But that isn’t possible, is it? What does he want from me? To grow him a beard? How does Trevor come out to me? I have had a vision of this, haven’t I?

“What do you mean, ‘girlfriend’?” I ask.

He flushes. I’ve embarrassed him. But how, why?

“Trevor—“

“Look, forget it, it’s… I don’t know.”

That day, in the library, he leaves without saying another word and I am completely unprepared.

“Trevor is gay, though, isn’t he?” I ask Lucy.

“Is he?” she says. “I don’t know. I just always thought of him as, I don’t know, non-sexual? Maybe he just never did it for me.”

“So he hasn’t come out to you?”

The question troubles her deeply. “No… Why would he?”

Have we just been having this conversation? Or am I imagining having had it in the future?

Not all of my visions are crystal clear and not all of them stay with me. Sometimes I’m left with an impression, straight knowledge of a situation. Was that what happened with Trevor? Sometimes my memories of my visions of the future as as treacherous as memories of the past, have they deceived me?

“Are you gay?” I finally work up the courage to ask him.

The question hits him like a slap in the face. “No!” he insists.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” And there’s a kind of desperation in his voice. It makes me realize things, makes me feel things I’d never even really suspected…

It isn’t my first time. My first time, I’d let visions guide me to a bad part of town where there was a tagger and no cops around. I brought the condom and showed it to him. Sometimes I like to imagine my blood is still there on the wall, part of his artistic expression. I don’t want to go back there, in case I’m wrong and it’s been covered up.

With Trevor, though, it’s different. It isn’t something I’ve planned. It’s spontaneous. It makes me wonder, is this one of those soft spots in the future where I’m allowed to be free, or am I breaking all the rules?

Am I allowed to break the rules if they broke me first?

But for now, just a brief ecstatic moment, I allow myself to think maybe this is just my imagination. Maybe nothing is set in stone.

And then I stop thinking at all.


Hymn to the Gatherer

When you reach the end of your journey,
after all of your revels and trials,
whether you have found peace or the end of a sword,
The world will leave you behind in its wake,
nothing but another shard of a past it has already forgotten.

The world doesn’t care about you.
The world only lives for the moment
And yours is fleeting.
But when your body shatters,
when your spirit can find no hold,
the Gatherer will claim you.

Every moment as it passes
shatters like a pane of glass.
We try to grasp at the smoothe edges of memory,
but they slip away into the Darkness.
They belong to the Gatherer.
She scoops them up, snatches them out of thin air.
She inspects every one, looking for clues.
In Her Museum of Time, She has assembled the pieces.
Here, She keeps the past alive.
What there is of it.

The world doesn’t care about you, but she does.
Or she might.
You might have to make her.
There are jagged edges to some pieces, too.
There are bits of the world that don’t fit together
There are bits of the world that are still holding on,
Always
Until the end of time.

Make the Gatherer care about you.
Live a life so interesting that once you Fall Behind,
the Gatherer will need your help
in putting all of these interesting pieces
together.


The Passion of Hate

LILLY: So how did it go?

TOMMY: How did what go?

LILLY: Your date.

TOMMY: What date?

LILLY: Oh, don’t be coy.

TOMMY: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

LILLY: I know you had a date with that new girl, Kirstie.

TOMMY: Kirsten.

LILLY: See? You care.

TOMMY: It wasn’t a date. She came over to my house.

LILLY: To “study”?

TOMMY: Yeah.

LILLY: And?

TOMMY: Why do you care?

LILLY: I’m just curious.

TOMMY: Why?

LILLY: Because I like to keep tabs.

TOMMY: Is that supposed to not creep me out?

LILLY: No.

TOMMY: Good job, then.

LILLY: So how did it go?

TOMMY: I’m not going to tell you.

LILLY: That badly, huh?

TOMMY: How does that mean it was bad?

LILLY: If it went well, you would gloat.

TOMMY: I don’t gloat.

LILLY: You would, when it comes to me.

TOMMY: When have I ever gloated at you?

LILLY: That little league game when we were ten.

TOMMY: Seriously?

LILLY: There have been other times since, but that’s the one I remember because it hurt the most. See? Right there, I said that it hurt me and that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, didn’t it? You gloat. And you’d have gloated if she’d gone for you, too.

TOMMY: Why do you hate me so much?

LILLY: I don’t.

TOMMY: You’ve always hated me.

LILLY: You’ve always hated me.

TOMMY: Because you were always a jerk to me.

LILLY: Because you were always a jerk to me. Is this one of those things where the boy picks on the girl because he actually, secretly likes her?

TOMMY: Boys don’t do that.

LILLY: Boys totally do that.

TOMMY: Jerks do that. I don’t.

LILLY: So you do genuinely hate me.

TOMMY: You’ve never treated me with anything but contempt.

LILLY: You started it!

TOMMY: Do you…

LILLY: What?

TOMMY: Do you, like, like me or something?

LILLY: … No.

TOMMY: Then why are you doing this? If it’s not ‘cause you like me, and it’s not ‘cause you hate me.

LILLY: I never said I didn’t hate you.

TOMMY: Oh. OK, good.

LILLY: I said you hated me. Don’t you?

TOMMY: You annoy me.

LILLY: No. Nuh-unh, I’m not buying that. We have known each other too long, we have been through too much, I refuse to believe that your feelings for me are less than pure, unadulterated rage.

TOMMY: I’m so sorry to disappoint you, really.

LILLY: See? Sarcasm. Not something we get every day from Tommy Ingle. It must be hate. Say you hate me.

TOMMY: Why is this so important to you?

LILLY: Wow. You are a lot better at this than I’ve given you credit for. Kudos.

TOMMY: Why do you hate me?

LILLY: I don’t know. Is hate the kind of thing that can be defined? Do you have to know someone intimately, or even at all, to hate them?

TOMMY: Can you ever hate someone, if you truly know them?

LILLY: Oh, yeah. Oh, definitely, that’s not even a question.

TOMMY: I do hate you.

LILLY: Aw.

TOMMY: But I know the reason. It’s because you’re callous and manipulative and you always assume the worst about people. I think you’re a terrible person.

LILLY: And I think you’re self-righteous. You think you’re above it all, like this… You think that not being a terrible person gives you certain inalienable rights. But you’re not as good as you think you are. Because there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad”, and the fact that you think there is makes you absolutely insufferable.