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Category Archives: Shories

Sappho and Phaon

She is the reason we have the word “Lesbian”.

Sappho of Lesbos is one of the most notorious poets who ever lived and it is not unreasonable to say that she invented the language of love.

But much as we might like to tout her as a same-sex icon and prop her on the rainbow throne, the only actual cohesive love stories we have about Sappho are about her relationships with men. Her most famous lover is Phaon.

If I were a storyteller from antiquity or a cheap Hollywood screen-guru, the next thing I would say is that I am about to tell you how it really happened, the true story of Sappho and Phaon. As it is, I am unfortunately too much of an academic for that. So instead, I will simply say that this is my version.

Sappho got into some trouble in her youth. She got wrapped up in a rebellion against Pittacus, who was tyrant of Lesbos, probably because she was taken with fellow-poet Alcaius, who was one of the ringleaders. When the rebellion failed, they all fled to Lydia, on the West Coast of Asia Minor, which is now Turkey. There, Sappho was eventually found by her parents (one of them, anyway—sources seem to agree that one parent died, but don’t agree which one) who forced her into a marriage with a man named Cercylas of Andros. It seems quite certain this name was a fabrication of later times, as it literally translates to “Prick from the Isle of Man”.

On the crossing back from Lydia, though, Sappho met a man named Phaon. He was not of noble birth like she was, in fact he was the lowly ferryman driving her boat, and he was old, much older than she, but the kindest man she had ever met. When her husband took her away with him to Syracuse across the Mediterranean and made her bear him a daughter (named Cleïs after Sappho’s own mother), Sappho never forgot the kindness that Phaon had showed her. Then one day, when her marriage was in its tarnished middle years, a young man—a very young man—came to her town and started to flirt with her. He introduced himself as Phaon.

“But how could that be?”

Well, he explained that he had ferried Aphrodite herself across the strait while she was disguised as an old woman and she had rewarded his legendary kindness by granting him a second youth. So now, as a young man again, he had decided to use this gift to the fullest and seek out that young woman who had stolen his heart all those years ago.

At first, Sappho thought having Aphrodite’s gift bestowed on him might have washed away all of Phaon’s kindness, but upon contrasting his behavior with that of her husband, she decided to allow herself to be seduced—though the seduction was not without its surprises.

Finally, Cercylas did catch his wife in the act with this other man, this significantly younger man. Enraged, Cercylas drew his sword and ran the boy through—only to discover that it wasn’t a boy. As it turns out, Phaon had actually died and his granddaughter Cydro had assumed his identity in order to seek out the beautiful lady from that day.

So in the end, it turns out that wasn’t a man at all for the love of whom Sappho flung herself from the white cliffs. So now, let them both rest in rainbows at last.

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“Deer Dance”

Have I ever really been able to tell the future? It’s something that’s always kind of bothered me. I keep thinking, inside each moment as it’s happening in time, as it’s breaking apart, I keep thinking… What if I’m wrong? What if I’m making it all up? What if I’m just rewriting my memories after I see something and thinking “Oh my God, I had a vision of that!” and then convincing myself that it’s real? What if I’m crazy?

As a senior in high school, I have lived with this condition for almost seven years. Most people know by now that I’m weird. A couple know why and how. No one actually knows what it feels like. Then one day, a shooter comes to school.

I’ve known for twelve days that it was going to happen. I wonder if twelve days ago was when he made the decision. I guess I could consult some kind of record, maybe track down the guns, but honestly, at this point, I’d rather wonder.

I never actually see the shooter’s face in my visions. I see what’s happening in the world through his eyes, and there are no mirrors. I see him with the guns, I feel his determination. I catch glimpses of fantasies he has, of who exactly it is he’s going to target. But I’m good enough by now to distinguish these fantasies from actual vision and the only person who’s in the vision, the only person he actually points a gun at, is me.

I should be terrified. I know from this vision that twelve days thence there will be a gun pointed at me. Why am I not freaking out?

Because I can see myself in this vision and in this vision, I am not afraid. In this vision, by the time it happens, I will know exactly what to do.

The details come in pieces. What’s happened to the boy, poor thing, how ladies jilt him, how his parents just don’t understand.

Is he bullied? Everyone is bullied. And if he knew how hard his own bullies had it, maybe they would be friends.

By the time I meet him in the hallway, I know everything that’s happened to the boy and I know everything I’m going to do to him.

I am a bit surprised by his face. When he kicks the door open, no doubt imagining himself some action hero from the latest videogame franchise, an automatic weapon in each hand, I see a boy I’ve always thought of as one of the kindest in the school. Too kind to talk to. Perhaps too… breakable.

No wonder he’s broken.

He wasn’t expecting to find the hallway so empty. He doesn’t know, of course, about the bomb threat I placed from the pay-phone. The entrance he used is out of the way, not part of their procedure. He doesn’t know there is no one here but me. He points one of his guns at me.

He’s confused that I’m not afraid. He’s upset.

“If you shoot me with that,” I say, “one-handed, are you sure you won’t break your arm?”

By the time he pulls the trigger, I’m already out of the way. He had one arm up, so I’m on the other hand with the gun. I’ve had twelve days to practice this one move with the confidence of a psychic, so I break his wrist with my palm using mostly the weight of the gun for balast and then slam my elbow up into his jaw.

“Guns are not the way to solve problems,” I tell him. “You solve them with your own two hands.”

We leave the guns in the hallway. The police will find them when they sweep the school. There will have been reports of gunfire. They’ll check, find prints. They’ll track Linus Phelps to the facility I checked him into. He isn’t violent right now. (More than anything, that’s the part that scares me.) They’ll ask and find out who checked him in. And then they’ll come for me.

“What can I say, officers? I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and I made the most of it.”

No one was hurt. No one was killed, at least. There was some destruction of school property, but we straightened all that out. Linus is getting the care that he needs.

And I’m getting attention.

Celebrity doesn’t look good on me, so I avoid the rumors from the press, their requests for interviews. I don’t need the world to know. It’s enough for me just to have validation, just to be able to say “Mom, Jasper, I was telling the truth. I really can see the future sometimes and now I’m a superhero,” and have them not be able to not believe me anymore.

But I don’t do that. Because for all I know, maybe I really was at the right place at the right time to be a hero. Maybe I just justified all that by telling myself it was visions that did it. That’d be okay, I guess. It would qualify me as crazy. But at least I’d be the right kind of crazy.


Misplaced Vagina Monologue

This is a little hard for me. I wasn’t certain–I wasn’t prepared to do this tonight, but… perhaps tonight is the right night to do it after all, unprepared, or at least not as prepared as I would like to be.

I hope you don’t mind if I read off a sheet. This is not stand-up comedy. It’s not even comedy. Not by far. But I’ll get to that.

Given the title of this piece, it might seem odd that I would be the one up here and not… well…

Let me just say that in my country, there are no homosexuals.

I know that may seem odd considering where we are, but there you have it.

I was born.

My parents were thrilled to have a son after so many daughters. My father was somewhat important and having five girls seemed it would prove both disgraceful and expensive. They were excited to have a boy.

But that boy was me.

And there were other boys…

I didn’t know what it was that I felt when I met him. I didn’t even know that boys could… well… with each other… But I wanted to. I wanted to with him.

I quickly found that I loved every part of him. I liked the look of his legs as he walked towards me. I liked the sound of his voice at my ear. I liked the feel of my hand between his shoulder-blades. I liked the feel of his hand against my face. And I liked his eyes. The way they followed me wherever I went, not… not threatening, but… protective. I loved every part of him.

Especially the parts that I wasn’t supposed to love.

My father was what they call a dignitary. I had a duty and there are no homosexuals in my country. It’s not allowed. It’s not acceptable. It’s against God and when we go against God, things must be set straight.

And so when they inevitably found us, they took him and they set him straight on God’s path.

And they made me watch.

They made me watch as they took from him all those things that I loved.

I watched his spine scream when they shattered the shins that would never again support his weight.

I watched the light in his eyes die when they stole the hands that would never again touch me.

I watched as my lover–as I finally knew him to be–was burned and ripped open and fed to the dogs. By dogs.

They made me watch as they tore him apart, one sacred piece at a time, peeling back all of my desires to render them rancid, stale and bitter. Hoping to turn my longing to disgust with the sight of sundered flesh.

But, of course, it didn’t work. And they knew it.

So then they turned to me. God’s path had to be righted, and in a country where no one is gay, we know how to fix this.

So they “fixed” me.

I was born a boy, yet now I bleed. Not very much, not all the time, but once a month, for a couple of days, I bleed where they cut me.

Because no one can stay gay in Iran.


Food that Runs Away

It can be hard work being the dominant species on a planet, but once you get it down, it can be very rewarding. The Onmed of Alabarch had, without a doubt, been the dominant life-form on Alabarch for several eons now—long enough that it could be said they had become terribly lazy.

Once, they had prowled. Long ago, they had been explorers of nature stretching their tendrils out into the world in search of new and interesting sources of nutrients. But ever since they had discovered their airborne pseudopheromone, which we will call The Drug, their entire existence had become an endlessly repetitive process of producing it.

They had laid down their roots in tight-knit groves where they lived out their lives around a dozen or so other trees. Some of the younger—or perhaps only more youthful—ones still sought  to reclaim the sense of adventure that had once been theirs by stretching their bodies and leaf-covered limbs towards the sun high overhead. But the more experienced and practical among them scoffed at the wasted effort. “Those resources,” they argued, “would be better used to help with the production process.”

“But what about the stars?” Youth would answer at times in awe-struck wonder. “What could be going on up there? What if things change? What if there are things we don’t know yet?”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” countered Age, citing their encyclopedic records of the species on their planet who could be influenced and manipulated by the Drug. It was put into effect whenever there were tremors of a particular intensity in the ground. They’d learned how to distinguish between the movements of tectonic plates and the lumbering of large animals millennia ago, which was why they didn’t build groves near fault-lines. But when a large animal came into range, the Drug was released: an airborne pathogen that put animals into a hypnotic state of obsession. Really, what it amounted to was an overwhelming perfume that drew the lumbering beasts towards it with the promise of the sweetest fruits, the juiciest, tenderest meats they could imagine. The smell would lead them to the pool in the middle of the grove, lined with slick loam that would slip on to make them tumble into the vat of enzymes. There, still happy enough to trigger their own production of serotonin and dopamine, keeping them calm and helping them go down faster, they would be dissolved, distributed and finally ingested by the Onmed in their groves.

“There, now,” the Old would then boast, satisfied, “Wasn’t that worth the effort of producing the Drug?”

But Youth was obstinate. “There just has to be more to life than this.”

When enough large animals had tumbled to their doom, the dissemination of The Drug was halted until more was needed. Animals would regain at least some of their senses, but they would stay stupid enough to stick around the area. Enough animals lived and died and pooped in their vicinity that it kept the lesser plants fertile and attracted more. Ecosystems of pasture lands developed to support them so that they never wanted. They always had everything they would need.

Until the Hard Things came.

“What are they?” asked concerned Youth who had never known a time when they weren’t surrounded by paradise, Youth whose imagination had been stifled and atrophied.

But for onc, Age couldn’t answer.

It walked on two feet, which was unusual enough. They tried to snare it with several permutations of The Drug, but the beast ignored them, until it noticed the ecstatic state that the animals were in. If the Onmed could detect radio or even soundwaves or understand language, they might have heard the young astronaut report to her supervisor that she was going to check out something strange.

So many of the surrounding cattle were now lumbering towards the Grove that the Onmed were forced to release the experimental antipheromone to repel them, while simultaneously casting the real Drug wide over their heads in a complicated procedure based almost entirely on a youthful curiosity.

The heavy bipedal beast came closer, but not because she was entranced herself. She found the pool through the row of trees—

“Lieutenant! Report back!”

“I just need to get a closer look Captain…”

But the ground around the pool was slick. She slipped and tumbled. Finally, something new, something exciting. They wondered at the texture and composition.

Something was wrong.

“Lieutenant! Report!”

The substance she’d assumed was water was far more acidic, but it still wasn’t enough to eat through the spacesuit she was wearing to protect against just this sort of situation.

“What is it?” asked the Onmed in one voice. “Why does it have no taste? Why can’t we digest it?” Worse, bits of the outer layer were starting to crumble off, but, indigestible, they clogged the receptors.

And now, her struggles with the liquid had troubled the substance enough that it was splashing up out of the pool and splattering onto nearby trees, causing damage, causing… pain.

The Onmed had made a mistake in luring the beast.

Finally, a companion of hers reached her with a rope and helped to drag her out. “Come on,” he said, “Your suit looks terrible. Let’s get you off this planet and back to safety.”

But safety was no longer an option for the Onmed of Alabarch. Strangers were coming, they were falling from the stars. Soon they would come with weapons they couldn’t even imagine and the society they’d built for themselves, their very species, would be doomed. How could they be expected to defend themselves? It had been centuries since any of them had bothered to move.


Falling Away

As far as she was concerned, she went onto the bridge that day because she wanted it to be over. She wanted to just not have to worry about any of that other bullshit again.

Other people would have their thoughts, their conclusions, their opinions and ideas. They would call her selfish. That was okay. She was okay with that. Those people were not her.

The water was calm. Gentle waves that she could barely hear over the occasional car that passed her by while she walked. She wondered what they might have thought of her. She wondered if any of them suspected.

She didn’t see anyone else on the bridge when she actually jumped. She was expecting vertigo. She was expecting the lurch and rush of air—she was counting on it. If you’re gonna go, right?

What she wasn’t expecting was for the whole world to tear open like space was being ripped apart. She wasn’t expecting the dead of night to literally turn into noon-light on the equator.

Suddenly, up was down and down was up, and that much she’d been expecting… but not like this. Now she felt herself actually falling upwards, momentum sending her into the air, then that lurch again… and then she rolled out onto the sand.

Why was there sand? She wasn’t anywhere near a beach. Where was she?

What if it wasn’t the end, like she’d hoped? What if she had to keep goddamn going down this goddamn road that pretended to be life? Couldn’t she goddamn rest already? It was a long time before she picked herself up. It wasn’t the hunger or thirst, it wasn’t even the threat of sunburn, or the desire for answers. Was it? No. She was just bored again. Incongruously.

Absently, she thought about looking for ways to kill herself.

All there was, was sand, though. Could she choke on sand? Was that a thing? She wasn’t sure it would work and even if it did, it wouldn’t be anything like the triumphant cascade through the air that she’d promised herself.

Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun, ready to clock whoever it was, whoever was responsible. But there was no one there. Just empty space and… she looked down.

A water bottle. It had a hastily-scrawled note on it: “Drink this.”

No shit, Sherlock.

She turned the note over. In parentheses: “(I promise it’s not poison).”

“You know,” she said out loud, “I’d almost prefer it if it was.”

Another tap on her shoulder. Another note. It said: “Then I promise it is. Just drink the damn thing.”

She did feel better after she drank it.

It didn’t take her long to be tired enough to fall asleep. She thought that whoever it was who was sending her notes might have molested her in her sleep. She was used to that. But when she woke up, she realized her wallet was gone. She hadn’t even realized she’d brought it along, but once she noticed it—was this some elaborate mugging? It’s not like she even kept money there…

He’s trying to get to know you, said a voice inside her.

He’s trying to help you forget who you are, said another.

She woke up in the desert, but later that day, she took a step and lurched into a different place. A forest. She was guessing… Appalachia? But it could’ve been New Zealand or the dark side of Oz for all she knew.

It took her several minutes of the cynical version of wonder before it even occurred to her to start looking around again for ways she could kill herself. A forest was a lot more conducive. Sharp, hard rocks. Running water. Tall trees. But by then… I don’t know, she thought. She was too curious.

She wondered what he must’ve put in the water.

“What are you doing to me?” she asked no one in particular.

“What are you trying to accomplish? Is it just about trying to keep me from killing myself? Why me? Why do you care? Who the fuck are you?”

Then one day (she wasn’t sure how long she’d been in the woods) she took a step and realized she was in a park. It was the park just down the street from where she’d lived.

And her dad was there with a black eye and a broken arm. She tried to feel pity for him. She really tried.

He looked up at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, baby.”

No. “Why?” she asked. “Sorry what you did to me, or sorry you got beat up?”

He looked down. Looked away.

“I don’t need your apology,” she finally said, the realization dawning on her. “I don’t need you at all.”

And she walked away without looking back.


“Sweet Child o’ Mine”

My little brother Billy is younger than Ellie, my niece. I know, I know: weirder things have happened. But it’s still one of those things that always turns heads when it comes out.

“This one-and-a-half-year-old toddling at your feet is Ellie and the infant in the crib is her uncle Billy.” It just sounds weird, doesn’t it? It sounds… off.

But from the moment Billy was born, Ellie was protective of him. I guess that’s the way older sisters are supposed to be? Mine just treated me like a doll and I wasn’t having it. And as for my brother… But Billy and Ellie were inseparable. Are inseparable. Will be.

At adoption agencies, they do their absolute best to keep siblings together. They move mountains. Siblings bond—whether we like to admit it or not—almost as much as children and parents.

“When are we gonna talk about you moving out?” Mom asks my brother one day. It’s after dinner and the kids are in the other room. My step-dad’s there, too: Billy’s father.

The question takes Jasper by storm. I actually can’t remember if I was there, too, or just saw it in a vision, but it surprised me, too. It wasn’t something that I’d ever thought about. I think Jasper had the idea, too, that this was a permanent thing. He’d converted his own bedroom into something like a Master Love Nest we all pretended Lucy wasn’t living out of, too, by the end of our senior year. The kids had Aly’s old room for a nursery, but I’d be off to college soon and one could have mine. I didn’t see what the problem was.

“We’re just looking for a time-line right now,” said our stepdad. “It doesn’t have to be now, but we just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page about our future. Your future.”

“My future’s right here,” Jasper said. “Ellie. She’s my future.”

He didn’t mention Lucy. You can imagine there are reasons for that, but that’s not important now. What mattered was her.

“We just thought you and Ellie might want some privacy,” Mom explained, still treating him with kids’ gloves.”

“Why?”

Were they talking around the subject of Lucy?

“It’s just, if you’re wanting to start a family—“

“Do you want me out of here?”

Our mother feigns surprise. It’s not that the question is unexpected, it’s just coming so early in the conversation.

“It’s not that we don’t want you—“

“Ellie is fine here,” says Jasper. “And if Ellie’s fine, I’m fine. Are you fine?”

Our parents looked at each other.

“What do you want me to do, pay rent?” Jasper said. “I already buy most of the groceries—“

“Rent would be nice, actually,” Mom mused. “That is, I mean, we could use some help with the mortgage? The Property Tax?”

I was gonna be out of there soon. I didn’t need to be a part of this conversation. But it quickly became clear this was gonna be one of those weird multigenerational households that Americans pretend are newfangled even though every society everywhere has had them. Mom with her husband; son with his girlfriend; his daughter and her son growing up together like it’s just the two of them. Just those two…

They’ll fix up the house so unrecognizable when I visit after college. They’ll grow old together—or maybe they’ll part ways when Ellie moves out. Or maybe Ellie will keep the house. This doesn’t have to be a source of stress.


The Goblin at the Twin Oaks Bank

Why do you want a loan?

I’m asking, because he’ll ask. It’s kind of his job. They need to keep track of these things, make sure that what they’re giving—sorry, lending—money to isn’t illegal; but more importantly, to try to make sure that this loan will stimulate the economy in some way.

You want to buy a home? Great. Homes bought stimulate the housing market. You want to start a business? Keep the money flowing! Employ others? Even better! Buy a car—buy a motorcycle—Here! Here’s a credit card! Go nuts!

But why do you need this loan?

I’m asking, because he won’t. I’m asking, because I want you to think.

How will you pay the loan back?

This is the question he doesn’t want you to worry about. If your trust fund, like the Nigerian Princess’s, is going to open up in another six weeks, he might not be interested. His interest won’t be high.

When you come to him the first time, he will smile and he will bow. He will tell you that you are in good hands and extoll his own beneficence and mercy.

When you come to him the second time, he will frown and he will tap his long, thin fingers on the hard, oak desk. You no longer hold his interest—or worse: you’ve been keeping up on the interest, but not the principal, and what good are interests if the principles are lost?

Maybe you’ll be lucky—maybe your business will take off. Maybe you’ll get a job worthy of all those years of study. You’ll buy your house cheap—but then again, probably not.

You probably had to sell your house cheap, and still owe his bank back interest. Your school wasn’t worth the money down and you’ve been found wanting and waiting tables for scraps of approval. Your business didn’t take off because no one can afford your services because everyone owes money to him.

And in the vault of the Twin Oaks bank, the Goblin climbs his golden mountain to the top, content to know your money’s safe with him.

Because, after all, who could ever spend that much money?