A Tisket A Tasket – A Basket of Betrayal

A-tisket, a-tasket

A green and yellow basket

I wrote a letter to my love

And on the way I dropped it

I dropped it

I dropped it

Yes, on the way I dropped it

A little boy he picked it up

and put it in his pocket.

 

Most of us having heard these lyrics might reasonably assume the narrator is no Casanova.  He or she – unspecified, but, for the sake of brevity I’m going with ‘he’ – repeats himself four times in nine lines, opens with nonsense words and random basket imagery, and goes on to convey a bumbling sequence of events that leads to him losing his correspondence.

But how does the narrator know that the little boy took it?

Did he double back on his trail once he realized what he lost, arriving at the exact place where he let it go just as a child picked it up?  The timing is unlikely, and if that were the case, why wouldn’t he just say the letter was his instead of letting the kid pocket it?  The facts, as we have them, are rather more mysterious:  our storyteller drops his document and then remains in place, helplessly watching while a child takes possession.

Ponder now, the basket.  The brightly-colored, nonsensical opening image of our raving narrator.  If at first we imagined an ordinary wicker container tucked under the poet’s arm, we should reconsider; if that had been the case, the lover surely would have tucked the letter safely inside, where it could not have fallen in the first place.

No, that basket belonged to someone else.  Someone blocking our storyteller’s way – someone our narrator was never able to pass.  Someone who wanted that letter.

Although it was written to our narrator’s love, you see, it couldn’t have been a love-letter.  The information it bore must have been both dangerous and valuable.  Otherwise, why didn’t the poet mail it?  What was it that he was too afraid to say out loud, that he had to write down and hand-deliver to the one person he trusted more than anyone in the world?

Consider the tenor of the rhyme.  Stuttering, fraught with repetition and a fixation on sensory images: the bright green and yellow of the basket, the dropping, dropping of the letter, the little boy, and then the little boy’s actions – picking the letter up and putting it into his pocket.  These aren’t the gentle musings of a love-struck fool.  These are the hyper-vigilant exclamations of a man in corporeal shock.

There is but one thing a brightly-colored basket might contain capable of causing such trauma.  Replace the word “basket” with, “bin,” “cooler,” or “thermal bag.”  Whether in a medical storage unit, or at an unforeseen rendezvous along an isolated thoroughfare, the contents are bound to be the same: Human. Innards.

Tragically, and obviously, our ditty’s dear narrator stumbled upon a ring of human-organ harvesters.   Rather than fleeing, his first thought was recording what he’d witnessed and overheard – damning details, likely, including the names of complicit community members.

He would address such a recording to his lover, and no one else, only if law enforcement were corrupt, and his lover were powerful enough to single-handedly put a stop to the gruesome stolen-organ trade.  It never enters our poet’s head to fear for his lover’s safety in possession of such knowledge.  The object of his affection seems above ordinary danger.  He is probably writing to a very highborn noble, perhaps even a royal.  Hence, he rushes to find his lover and hand-deliver the note; only in such powerful company can he be sure of his own safety.

Unfortunately, it seems he is overtaken en route by the harvesters, who promptly rip out his marketable bits and sling him into whatever shallow ditch afforded him his view of the letter dropping onto the road, where the harvesters’ young apprentice retrieves it.

In his delirious death-throes, the poet recounts the day’s events, unable to process or question whether, in fact, his lover was part of the plot.

Case regretfully closed.

The Healer

As Told By Jayson

If you call me a healer, I will punch you in the throat.

Yeah, I can heal you.  Doesn’t mean I have to.  Doesn’t mean I want to.  Doesn’t mean that’s who I am as a person.

As an example, when you have a dollar, that doesn’t make you a philanthropist.  No one thinks it’s cool to just walk up to you waving an empty wallet screaming that you’ve got to help them, you’re the only one who can help them, they really need your dollar.  And then look at you like you’re mean when you go, hey, you can live without that dollar.  Other people in the world don’t have a dollar, you can be a person without a dollar, too.

I really didn’t want to be a Superhero.  I stupidly saved some kid who got hit by a bus in public.  Somebody took a video.  Since then, I can’t walk down the street without some old coot telling me to fix his arthritis or give him back his hearing.  Like it’s my fault he lost it, right?

People always expect it to be obvious when something’s wrong with them.  It’s not that obvious.  People don’t ask you to fix their liquor-binged brain synapses, or their hand-wrinkles or their piss-poor attitude about the world.  Nobody born deaf ever asked me to fix his ears.  As long as they’re used to it, people like their issues.  It’s only when they have some big sudden change, like losing an eye, that think there’s something wrong.  So forgive me if your shit breaks and when you get all dramatic I don’t take you serious.

Now don’t go thinking I’m a jerk, with your entitled ass.  I have one friend who tells me all the time, my problem is I’m too nice.  Even though you people piss me off with all your stupid health concerns, I heal almost everyone who asks me.  I can’t even stop myself – it’s like a reflex.  And it doesn’t cost nothing to heal you.  You know that, right?  It’s hard fucking work and it never pays.  There’s always another broken person thinking that I owe him.

Amare isn’t like that.  She’s the one friend I mentioned above.  The day I met her, she was riding a high-speed bike, no helmet, no nothing, and she busted out and smashed her face against the concrete.   Teeth went flying, and she looked up at me with her broken nose puffing out two black eyes, blood everywhere.  I was getting ready to turn around and pretend I hadn’t seen anything, pumping up the volume on my music and everything to drown out her sobs.  But she saw me getting ready to leave and for some reason thought that was hysterical.  I watched her burst into laughter and stand up, her concussion making her swerve left and right as she tried to shake my hand.

“Hi!”  She shouted.  “I’m Amare!”

Then she pinched her own nose back into place, and started to heal herself, and it all made perfect sense – why she acted like she didn’t need me.  Because she didn’t.  She never will.  That’s what makes me like her.  And Amare likes me for the way I let her do her crazy things without wanting to always fix her.  We both get, more than others, that there’s no obvious right or wrong way to be.

I have one other friend besides her.  I met him the same day.  After her bicycle rode three circles around us I realized there was a guy on it.  He was her boyfriend, or something.  Thom.  Easy to get along with and never asks for help.  If he did I don’t think I’d even mind.

I don’t blame either of them for all the shit I ended up getting into.  I blame Rita.  Mumina kind of shares the blame, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s mainly Rita’s fault.

Me and my two friends were sharing this two-bedroom when Rita and Mum came to show us a video.  They always do this – one of them gets some crazy fucking idea and they have to come to our place to figure it out.  I guess they’re trying to be Thom’s friend, but they never even talk to him.  It’s basically like they come over for Rita to argue with me.  The first time I met her, without shaking my hand or anything she pointed at my face and screamed “Healer!  Magical healer!”  Mumina came up agreeing with her and said some shit about how like thunderclouds my spirit is, said I’m “fuzzy prickly ticklish and makes you feel confused until you get him, all of a sudden, like a lightning bolt.”  I’m conflicted about how much I like the sound of that, but I wouldn’t call Mumina my friend.  Mainly because she agrees with Rita all the time.

Anyways, the day they came in with the video of that naked flying man getting captured by a cloud, Mumina and Rita both were saying that we needed to go set him free.  Amare’s eyes lit up and I knew she was going.  That meant that Thom was obviously going, because he still doesn’t get that she can’t get hurt.  He knows it, he just doesn’t get it.  Rita looked at me, and smiled.  I fucking hate how she looks at you like that, like she’s right and you’re wrong, even though you didn’t even say anything.

I grunted.  Not at her, just in general.  “Yeah, fuck it, I’ll go.”

Mumina and Rita both giggled in their horsey stupid way.  Thom might have noticed, but didn’t say anything.  Amare didn’t notice shit, just shook my arm talking about how we were going to fight a cloud monster and figure out how to fly.  She loves anything that could probably get you killed.

Jesus Didn’t Care About Slavery

I told a seminarian friend that Jesus was complicit in slavery.  There was an argument lasting hours and days, via text when we parted in person, in which my friend attempted to defend the divinity of Christ.  Jesus was not (he argued) complicit with slavery, nor with child-rape and human trafficking, nor with pollution or any of the other massive failings of humanity that Christ never mentioned.  We expect with twenty-first century minds (my friend argued) that Jesus would have specifically condemned these practices, but instead Jesus provided us with such a perfect, loving example in his life that he became the inspiration for an abolitionist movement.

I don’t buy it.  An abolitionist movement inspired a thousand years after Christ doesn’t bear witness to Christ’s anti-slavery nature, any more than the KKK bears witness to Christ’s inherent preference for white American protestants.  A man who, within his own lifetime, inspired average men to give away all of their worldly possessions, who inspired rich men to go broke, and who validated the humanity of sex-workers and taxpayers, should have been able to validate the humanity of slaves as well.

The obvious truth to me is something carefully avoided:  Jesus didn’t know slavery was wrong.

He didn’t think marital rape was a thing, and he didn’t know computers or airplanes would ever exist.  According to Catholic thought, Jesus was not merely entirely divine; he was also entirely human.  Yet the majority of religious consideration fixates on Christ’s divinity.  Why should we, who are human, feel the most qualified, comfortable and familiar discussing how unlike us is God?

It must be an inability to grasp what is human and failing in ourselves that seeks to elevate the importance of Jesus’ divinity over his humanity.  If we can’t see the Jesus who walked past slaves at market, failing to see them, then who do we imagine we are when we promise to follow him?  Will we imagine futures for ourselves where we can stand before God with no guilt to confess?  Are we harboring aspirations of being, in our own ways, perfect, and worthy of paradise?

Jesus wasn’t perfect.  He didn’t see the hosts of a wedding suffering, and he didn’t think their discomfort was worth his own risk, until his mother told him so.  He tried to heal a blind man, once, and had to try again.  He told us to be perfect, as his father in heaven was perfect.  So try.  What can we do except try?  But Jesus wasn’t perfect.  God became him anyway.

Why Can’t Life Be Grand

I thought you told a story

Yarn to wrap my pretty life around

I listened

Then didn’t to

Sprawling always

The face of the monster

Was every man’s

 

I tried

Nailing down

The Who

The What

The Where

The When

The Why

 

Was the monster still there

Under ocean

Kicking up tide

 

Did I dare, on your proud ship, admit

Though we walked on the sea

We were not over it

 

And you cared not a wit

If any stray corner of any dear land

Kept its myth

Vixen and purring

 

I listened, and didn’t

 

Nothing wrong

Was a beaming thing

 

Mind that you wrapped pretty thread around

Sprawling always

Stars out of mountains wide

 

If I offer nothing

Then fall

Would they breathe me in

Searing from loving

Enduring

My pall over their shining sky

 

Was it never a question of Why

Of Who

Of What

Of When

Of Where

 

Every man was a monster

Inside

 

But I stretched out my skin

Around shadows

Each question of flesh

Could catch answers

If monsters made sense

 

And yea though you gave me that thread

And my life had got wrapped around pretty loose thread

It didn’t make sense

Not to yank

 

The secret is

Rattling death

Tearing pieces who whisper

How could you leave me

 

The secret is mere

Sprawling always

No story

Compares to that pit

 

A thread couldn’t span it

A plan can’t explain it

No story says what you mean

The face of the monster was every man’s

Who and what and where and when and

Why would they ever come clean?

The Politics of Being Pleasant

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Chris beamed and the door opened, its sensor flashing green.  This week was going to be tough.  Exams were starting in two days, and yesterday during an oral presentation he forgot to cite one of his sources.  That led to Professor Schuttman accusing him of plagiarism.  He was meeting with her in half an hour to talk about it, but there was no way to prove it was an honest mistake.  He’d have to plead his case by the sheer force of his sincerity.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this morning he finally heard back from Adele.  She said she found the date “disappointing” and had been expecting something more.  He messaged back, “More what?”  But she never responded.  He kind of wished now that she’d never messaged him at all.

He smiled, stepping into the dim café and making his way to the order station.  Three girls sat at one table, reading and drinking their tea.  At the counter, the coffee machine’s facial recognition software prompted the suggestion for his usual triple-sugar no-cream, reading his confirmation and sputtering out the brew almost before he knew what it was asking.  He reached for it slowly, still smiling, and sliding his card through the side of the register.  The words No Charge lit up the screen.

One of the girls made a sound of disgust.  Chris tried to ignore it as he took the coffee, but she caught his eye and shook her head at him.  He chuckled and shrugged as he walked away.  He was willing to bet that in public none of those girls even grinned.

All of this started a long time ago.  Chris like to think about these things.  It was once upon a time, some lady invented this device that could convert cheerfulness to power.  That’s when everything changed.  The world was saved from a climate apocalypse.  Wars all over the planet petered out as the wealthy and powerful who funded them started relying on the happiness of the masses.  People didn’t die of heat or cold when suddenly everyone could afford safe, clean energy – after all.  It cost nothing to smile.

The problem was, not everyone was good at smiling.  And the AI of most machines could tell.  Their programming kept them in check, for the most part.  They did their jobs, serving peoples’ food and cleaning and lighting up a room.  But all their sensors would pivot toward the person with the brightest smile.  They would use whatever discretion they were allowed to try and make that person look their way a little longer.  Sometimes that included freebies; money to a robot was nothing but a tool.

Chris always got free stuff.  He was a naturally sunny guy.  His smile was a thousand watts; he laughed easily and could even, if the timing was right, get a whole room cracking up with a contagious silent-shaking fit.  He was good for real little waves of ha-ha’s over terrible puns, one-note chortles of agreement, or intelligent smirks making anything an inside-joke.  People liked him.  Robots likes him.  He understood that he was lucky; not everyone could do what he could with a smile.  And there were faces that robot sensors wouldn’t recognize, even if their perkiness was powering a system.

Still, people weren’t trained rats; you didn’t smile because you were hoping to get a treat.  You smiled because if you didn’t, the robot who made your coffee might lose battery and then not work for the next guy.  People who sulked when they could help it never seemed to think about how they were mooching off of other people’s cheer.

Chris left the café and kept walking.  After what seemed a million years, he found himself outside of Professor Schuttman’s office – and then inside of the office, sitting in a chair.

“Very well, Chris.”  The Professor’s hands were folded on her desk.  Her eyes on his face were cold and reading.  “Explain.”

Chris felt his smile – his damned, lucky smile – waking up and trying to steal the corners of his mouth and eyes.  This was serious, he knew that.  He had to look like he was being serious.

“Professor,” said Chris.  “I get nervous in front of people.  I swear to God.  I practiced so much for that presentation, but I can’t even remember what I said now.  If I missed a source, I swear, it was not intentional.”

If…?”

Chris gulped.  “Well, you said I did, so I did.  I just can’t remember it at all.”

“We can remind you.”  Schuttman glared at the wall.  Her desktop popped up, with files for every class.  She pointed out the recording for yesterday’s presentation, and there was Chris, winking and nodding around the room with a giant cheesy beam.  Schuttman snorted with derision.  “He does not look ill at ease.”

“No, no he does not,” muttered Chris.  Schuttman looked at him.  “But he is!  Even though he doesn’t look it.  I mean, that’s the point of a presentation, right?  Aren’t you supposed to look comfortable, even when you’re really not?”

“You’re supposed to have done the work well enough to know what you’re talking about.  Now you tell me the reason that you misrepresented the source of a section is that you were uncomfortable, despite appearing perfectly well-put-together in video.  Yet you come to me claiming I can trust in your sincerity.  How do I know that you aren’t making a presentation to me, right now?”

“Well, because I’m not!”  Said Chris, trying desperately not to laugh.  “I’m seriously being honest!”  He tried so hard to keep his face straight, while Professor Schuttman kept up her silent staring, that a little, little tear came out.  He felt his whole face go red and he dropped his gaze to the floor.

“Perhaps if you presented less, and worked more, I wouldn’t have to fail you.”  Professor Schuttman sighed.  “There aren’t any robots in college, kid.  You won’t get a pass for your smile.”

Chris walked on wooden legs all the way to the stoplight at the corner of the North Side.  All the weight from his stomach seemed to have shifted into his feet.  The light was red, so he waited.  And waited.  The cars streamed past in an endless river.  With the tail of his eye, he saw the stoplight’s sensor fixed on him.  That greedy sonofahater, he thought.  It wasn’t going to let him walk until he smiled.

Chris peeled his lips from his teeth and waggled his head around sarcastically.  After a second or two, the light turned green.  Chris was halfway through the crosswalk when it turned back to red and oncoming traffic, not paying attention, nearly ran him over.  Three cars pulled up short and started honking while he sprinted for the other side.

“What the fuck, lights, you entitled dipshits, I hope you crack and they fucking replace you!”

Whatever, whatever, Chris told himself firmly.  This day wasn’t over.  Best not to dwell.

He could get to the South Side faster if he cut through the next parking lot, and avoid any more asshole stoplights.  He walked on and managed to work the shadow of a smile over his skin.  He noted a pair of Punishers hovering above cars, scanning plates and spitting tickets at the ones lacking proper permit.  He stepped softly as he passed, but one of the Punishers swiveled in mid-air, its sensor fixing on him.

Shit, thought Chris.  Shit, shit!

Every robot in the world knew him as a cheerful man; they shared that kind of data.  He was the first one they would turn to when their batteries were low.  He knew this.  He also knew that Punishers low on steam were fucking dangerous.  They wouldn’t ever slow down or get weak if they were dying.  Instead, their programming sent them straight into Crisis Mode, in which they lost restraints deemed non-essential.  Humans were thieves to robots in Crisis Mode – hoarding positivity they needed just to function.  Combatants deserving of take-down.

Smile, thought Chris, while the robot scanned his face.  Don’t look afraid.  Odds were the Punisher was full-battery and not going to chase him down.  If he looked afraid the robot would think he was a hater.  He wasn’t a hater.  He smiled well and helped the world to run.  He didn’t hate AI.  He shouldn’t be afraid.

The Punisher gave a whistle – low and shrill.  And started flying forward.

Chris didn’t know if he started to run or not.  It didn’t matter.  The bot bowled him over and pinned him down, its sensor shining into his eyes, its appendages opening his mouth and preventing him from blinking, all of its power focused on taking his good energy.  This was because his smile was bright.  Bots knew it and looked to him to save them every day.  This was because his smile wasn’t bright enough.  The bot was low-battery.  He couldn’t beam it out of Crisis Mode.   Hungry bots with bobby sticks and no restraint.  This was why you smiled every day.  This was why some people never smiled, and hated what you got for doing it.  Chris, on the ground, never struggled.  Professor Schuttman thought he was a plagiarist.  Adele wanted something more.  His smile wasn’t who he was, it was something else.  It blasted over his face, saving and betraying, his laughter came tumbling out and the robot hummed and sucked it up, his collapsing pitches electrically jolting, restoring the Punisher’s senses.  Chris licked his bleeding gums and waited to find out if, now that the robot was fed, he was still an enemy.  Or if he was nothing at all.

I Want to Laugh At Traumatized Women

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“They alive, dammit!”  Cheers The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s opening chorus.  “Females are strong as hell!”  Such is our introduction to Kimmy – a childhood kidnapping victim who spent 15 years buried in a bunker in Indiana.  She emerges, clueless, but smiling and apparently unscathed.

Schmidt is a pioneer beyond her fictional universe.  She represents the loud emboldening of a trope that is recent, infrequent, and classically overlooked: that of the Comically Traumatized Woman.

It started with Phoebe Buffay, of Friends.

“I remember when I first came to this city,” Phoebe tells Rachel comfortingly in the first episode.  “I was fourteen.  My mom had just killed herself and my step-dad was back in prison.  And I got here, I didn’t know anybody.  And I ended up living with this albino guy who was like, cleaning windshields outside port authority – and then he killed himself –  and then I found aromatherapy.  So believe me, I know exactly how you feel.”

Shocked glances suggest no one is comforted. But this is the recurring source of Phoebe’s humor – disturbed expressions following offhandedly tragic disclosure.  Her sunny disposition is the only thing that makes it work.  For a horror-tale survivor, she seems utterly, unreasonably, fine.

Catalina Aruca, My Name is Earl’s undocumented Bolivian refugee, carries on the trope with gusto.   “This is the sweetest, most justified kidnapping I’ve ever seen!”  She once praises our show’s namesake, calculating after that she’s seen five or so.  She likes the pop-pop-pop of bubble-wrap, because it reminds her of her childhood in bullet-riddled La Paz.  And she never has plans for Mother’s Day, because her mother is dead.  When offered condolences, she shrugs and explains, “It was either her or me.”

In every genesis of the Comically Traumatized Woman, but most of all in Nadine Velazquez’s Catalina, we hear a voice of quiet social conscience.  She reminds other characters of the vastness between their privilege and the world of strife she remembers; they can respond to her revelations uncomfortably, or not at all.  She will disturb, annoy, offend, and be ignored – but she stays within the bounds of comedy.  Because around her, no one knows what to say.

The archetype emergences next with Erin, from The Office – a pre-incarnation to Kimmy Schmidt, also played by actress Ellie Kemper.  Erin unleashes the trope’s positivity to an on-it’s-own comical degree.  “I like every person that I have ever met,” she says, smiling blissfully, as though she hadn’t just been told by her co-workers that they’ll never really like her.

It’s no secret that she’s an orphan – her frequent references to The System include practical know-how in ridding the office of lice and statements like, “In the foster home, my hair was my room.”  Everyone she meets is a likely substitute for the family she never had.  She is worshipfully gratefully to colleagues like Michael Scott and Kelly who offer her lukewarm attention in return.

“Thank God he’s my boss, because I would not have said yes to a first date if I didn’t have to,” she tells us, about one of two douchey supervisors she dates.  The very first time we’re introduced, she’s being encouraged to change her name by her regional manager’s interim replacement – who breaks decorum to tell her that she’s pretty.  And co-worker Clark convinces her to wear skimpy clothes solo to a non-existent audition at his apartment.  The date-rape of a scenario is avoided only by the intervention of her future love-interest, Pete.

Erin’s vulnerability is an overstatement, more so than a departure, from her Comically Traumatized kin.  They are all blatantly exploited by other characters; they value relationships with a heedless valor rarely or never mentioned.  Phoebe takes on the surrogate pregnancy of her brother’s triplets.  Catalina returns to stripping against clearly-stated inclination, to free chief-rival Joy from prison (after Earl collapses in a heap of fragility).  And the element of sexual violence is implied, with ever so cautious a subtlety, by each woman.

“This reminds me,” says a pregnant-and-grumpy Phoebe to a Rachel who can’t stop agonizing about Ross, “Of the time when I was living on the street and this guy offered to buy me food if I slept with him.”

After a confused pause, Rachel asks, “How is this like that?”

“Well, let’s see, it’s not really like that.”  Says Phoebe.  “Because that was an actual problem and yours is just like, y’know, a bunch of high school crap that nobody really gives, y’know…”

We later learn that she contracted hepatitis when a pimp spit in her mouth.  Neither her fiancé nor the fiancé’s rich parents, to whom she has thusly introduced herself, ever ask for specifics.

When Catalina learns that Randy is afraid of chickens, she soothingly offers, “We all have fears.  I fear snakes and rape.”  She had no male friends before fleeing Bolivia, due to her belief that they would rape her mother.  And we watch her good friend Earl slap her butt, to express his disillusionment, and earn a reprimand because she “expects better” of him than she does of other men.

And then there was Kimmy.

In episode one, Miss Schmidt’s roommate Titus Andromedon begins a question about money with the sentence, “I’m very scared to ask you this – ”

“Yes!” Kimmy cuts him off, rolling her eyes.  “There was weird sex-stuff in the bunker.”

Her admission is swallowed in swift-flowing narrative, but the second season has her date a soldier who openly recognizes her PTSD.  “If you think you don’t have triggers, then you’re in denial,” he tells her, after she reacts to his sudden movement at a party by wrestling him on the floor.  She also reflexively hits old-flame Dong with a telephone each time they kiss, until he’s in handcuffs – at which point she says her brain feels calm enough to attempt coition.

None of this happens with any sobering hint of drama.  Kimmy, and all of our Comically Traumatized Women, stay funny.

And that is a narrative revolution.

“I couldn’t stay,” says Kimmy’s hot-mess of a mom, referring to life in their small town after her child was abducted.  “Everywhere I went people were looking at me like I was a bummer, you know, with their eyes all watery, ‘I’m so sorry for your tragedy’, when I just was trying to get one minute of peace on a mechanical bull.”

“Ugh,” says Kimmy, “I hate that look!  I don’t want pity.  It’s like, I’m more than this one terrible thing that happened to me!”

“Exactly!” Says Kimmy’s mom – who, in possible homage to Phoebe, is also played by actress Lisa Kudrow.  “I’m all the terrible things that have happened to me.  And I’m not a bummer!  I’m fun.”

Drama, the near-exclusive purveyor of traumatic representation in the arts, prescribes a gingerliness in dealing with affliction – a thorough separation of survivor from what she has survived.  Here is the thing that shouldn’t have happened, and there are the things you fear and think and unhealthily love in result.  Somewhere under all that trauma is the real you, the person you were meant to be before these bad things happened.  A Comically Traumatized Woman does what may never have been done before on screen; she claims every fear, and think, and unhealthy love as her own.  She is not fun sometimes and traumatized some other times.  She is always both.  And proud.

“Don’t worry about me,” Kimmy says to Dong, grinning after insisting she’ll help him marry someone else.  “I’m like a biscotti.  People act like I’m this sweet cookie, but I’m really this super hard thing, that nobody knows what I am, or why I am.”

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gives us a Comically Traumatized Heroine who can tell her own story.  This isn’t Rachael’s or Monica’s or Ross’s New York.  We see through Kimmy’s eyes.  In her freak vision, ‘normal’ is a boring unicorn.  The world doesn’t make a ton of sense; but it’s bright, and resilient, and loudly being lived-in.  You are invited not to pity, ignore, or revere – but fully, and finally, relate.

The Untold Hillary

My grandma was the first to tell me we should never vote for women.  I was ten, or maybe twelve.  I tried, standing by her rocking chair and moving my hands a lot, to change her mind.  I failed, but took comfort in the notion that she spoke for old folks only.

I weaned on what was anti-Hillary while growing into womanhood.  Venom just a little something extra in every dose of rhetoric.  I knew, by the time I entered college, that she was approximately evil incarnate.  I had no idea why.  It was in everybody’s tone and I never asked, for fear of being ignorant.  In 2008 me and my friends sat in a common room cheering the news that she was dropping out.  Obama was our hero after Bush.

The story of Hillary began, for me, when Trump became a threat.

People didn’t like him because of how he scavenged billions from his own dying enterprises, embezzled charity money, referred to border refugees as rapists, recommended state-registration of every Muslim in America, publicly mocked a guy for his physical disability, vowed to reinstate stop-and-frisk, pledged to punish women who undergo abortion, promised to bomb the regions with ISIS into oblivion, awkwardly defended his dick size to the press, encouraged his supporters to beat up protesters and then never paid their court fees like he’d promised, called global warming a Chinese hoax, chose a running-mate who supports electro-shocking gay kids into straighthood, and got caught on tape loudly describing his preferred methods of sexual assault while awaiting several rape trials.  And people didn’t like Hillary, either.

The people who wouldn’t vote for her have all explained that this wasn’t due to racism, and it certainly wasn’t due to sexism.  They hated Clinton on a strictly personal basis. (What’s sexist about that?)  They hated her because The Crooked.  The Sneaky.  The Who’s-Pocket-is-She-in, The Bernie-Should-Have-Won, The Emails-Could-Be-Who-Knows-What.  The searing We-Don’t-Trust-Her.

All of which are feels.  Not policy.  Not statement.  Just questions about who she really is.  You can argue that it’s Clinton’s fault for smearing others instead of defining herself – that Crooked Hillary became her default shorthand.  But Crooked doesn’t define a character.  Crooked is a lack of clarity.  So no one knew, when damning her, quite what makes her tick.

I can tell you what does.  I watched her, and I get her.  See, I am what she is – a woman with ambition.

Do you remember a particularly sleazy episode in 2016’s September, when she lied about having heat exhaustion?  I do.  I wondered, then and now, by what power of God can anyone witness a 69-year-old granny shrug off pneumonia for three whole days, pass out, and get back to her feet still insisting, I’m fine, just a little too much sun – then decide the newsworthy angle is that she lied to us?

“Why would she fib?” People were asking.  Pundits asked, people on the bus asked.  Everyone asked.  Having real, sincere wonder over what dark shrew heart would harbor her deep-seated treachery.

Gee, I don’t know, people-who-are-so-different-from-Hillary-that-she-makes-no-human-sense-to-you.  I’m sure if you were an old woman who wanted to run our country, you’d never say you were fine when you weren’t.   You have morals, after all.

That’s why I don’t love you.  You’re not my people.  I love Hillary – in my guts, above reason – for that lie you couldn’t understand.

To a woman with ambition, I’m fine, I’m fine, has never meant, ‘I’m fine.’  It means, chin up, and don’t look down.  We’re getting through it, do you hear me?  Just a little sleight of hand, just a smile that they won’t believe.  There’s something weak in you, but girl, that’s locked inside.  When you pull through no one will know you almost couldn’t.

If anyone could read the subtext, they wouldn’t have felt deceived.  You might even have loved her.  But America needed subtext, in the first place, because Hillary doesn’t explain herself.  So that’s one more grudge against her.  Why couldn’t she have spent more time on the campaign trail talking about who she is and what she’s good at?  Why’d she have to spend so much time digging up dirt on other guys?  Practically all she ever said about herself is, she’s a woman.  But we already knew that.

Except that, we didn’t.  We never remembered there were things Hillary couldn’t do – things that might have worked well for men that she wasn’t allowed to consider.  We never remembered that female politicians, always, are more popular while they’re serving than while they’re campaigning.

Want to know exactly why?

Women.  Can’t.  Brag.

It’s not just that nobody likes you when you do it.  It’s that nobody believes you.  Your judging yourself good at anything, will, in fact, be cited as an ethical transgression meriting denial.  “She thinks she’s so smart,” translates directly into, “She’s not smart.”  Hillary Clinton would be damned if she defined herself too often – especially since her assets are all the things we’re taught that men have and women don’t.  She couldn’t tell you that she’s brilliant, rational, decisive, and a tank.

She couldn’t tell you that, We’re going to the moon!  Guys who look like Kennedy can boast grand plans.  People believe them, no matter the cost.  They’ll believe in a wall we haven’t built, and debate who’s going to pay.  But you can’t trumpet anything as exciting as “free college tuition,” while you’re a woman.  Elizabeth Warren pushed the envelope with a “debt-free” plan, and Hillary followed suit just to be ignored.  Then, if people did believe you and rally on the campaign trail, the punishment in office is never-ending opposition.  We saw what happened with Obama and his uppity plan for healthcare.  Only That Guy can get away with articulate ambition.

There wasn’t very much Hillary could say, and be believed.  She could say she was a woman.  So that was her one big explanation.  It served as both apology and subtext.  The rest of the time she could talk about the other guy, and what was wrong with him.

People hated her more for that – smear-campaigner, the venomous witch.  It seemed personal, when she did it.  She’d take no skeleton for prisoner.  So when we didn’t hear much impugning Bernie Sanders, people were fine just assuming no dirt could exist.  Her never bringing up his stealing-electricity-from-neighbors-while-on-unemployment-until-his-mid-thirties, his dumping-Vermont’s-nuclear-waste-into-poor-Hispanic-Texan-communities, his caught-on-tape-attendance-of-a-Sandinista-rally-where-they-chanted-death-to-Yankees wasn’t an act of personal mercy, of course.  None of it was personal.  She weathered through decades of blistering scrutiny, never complaining.  It’s politics.  It’s not about you.  Hillary didn’t trash Bernie too hard, so that one of them could win.  Bernie, likewise, warned after losing that now was not the time for protest-votes.  (Not that half his rabid sycophants could listen.)

Campaigning was never Hillary’s chief objective.  Governing was.  As much of the time as possible throughout her long career, she kept her head down and went to work.  It’s a thing about women with ambition.  We let our achievements speak for us.  Accomplishments don’t get interrupted.  They can’t get doubted, or denied.  Let your character be ripped to shreds.  Who you are is in your legacy.

So Clinton mentioned, often, smugly, her years of Washington Experience.  That, too, no one could deny.  And it worked, although we hated her because of it.  No one could disbelieve Hillary Clinton’s intelligence.  No accusation of weakness, cowardice or sloth would stick.  Trump himself, who interrupted her 51 times in one debate, admired her for being “a fighter” who “never gives up” when prompted for a compliment.

Relying on competitors to define you is a disadvantage, however.  And we never needed men to self-explain, because there are models charming and familiar that spring to mind when an old white-haired man in glasses shuffles onto stage, or when that loud guy in a sea of baseball hats swaggers his way to microphone.  Hillary had no popular female model to accommodate her merit.  She could only smile hard and hope for the best.  So it worked – but like a monkey’s paw.  Every virtue she wished you’d read in her was twisted malicious in the pantsuit’s twinless narrative.

We knew that she was smart.  But it was scary-smart, too smart to be familiar.  We got that she was rational, but couldn’t fathom how she might, at the same time, have feelings; hence her emotional appeals could only be seen as phony, her every attempt to move you just plain manipulation.  And being a fighter, while sexy in a man, reads as nasty in a woman – reads as vicious, reads as dirty.

She couldn’t be decisive without being self-serving; only leaders decide in the best interests of others.  And “leader” isn’t assumed when you look at a woman.  She has to convince you of it.  The femme fatale, historically and still, is the go-to trope for smart women wielding power.  A woman lacking explanation.  You know what she wants, but not why.  She is forever evil and a mystery.

Hillary Clinton wasn’t that to me.  She was my people.  When I could read her story I found a politician who was, in all her faults, ordinary.  I thrilled when she was leading, but I loved her when I watched her fail.  I saw where she was coming from.

Many, loath even after Trump won to forgive the myth of her mystery, assembled at his heels to condemn Hillary’s co-sponsorship of a 2005 Flag Protection Act.  Trump had tweeted that flag-burners should be jailed or stripped of citizenship.  Hillary’s act, eleven years in the past, would have similarly punished flag-burning.

But that bill was never passed or even considered by Congress.  And she knew it wouldn’t be, because Hillary plays the politics.  She put her name on hopeless legislation for the sake of republican love.  That doesn’t make her evil.  It makes her quite like you.

Every poll was wrong about who’d win 2016.  People lie, and people change alliances.  Politicians and voters alike.  You only know where they stand by watching how they use their power.  I can call you sexist if you voted for Jill Stein; a vote for a woman you know can’t win is nothing but a token.  And Hillary winning the popular vote means nothing, because in solidly-red-or-blue states those votes for her were tokens, too.  She lost the electoral, by a lot – which means that wherever people had power, they used it (or refused to) in order to make Trump win.

We know who he is; we’ve seen how he uses his power.  He buys to cannibalize, lives to get richer.  He sexually harassed women and girls on his reality shows, asking other men to join in.  Children accused him of rape.  He ordered black people off the floor at his casinos, ran corporations that failed to rent to or hire people of color, and used his weight to clamor for the deaths of 5 black teenagers accused of murder – even after DNA exoneration.  He makes decisions, reliably, in a way that hurts others and benefits himself.

Hillary’s legacy does not read this way.  She plays the politics to gain her power, and deploys it in the interests of others.  Her policies shift with the times, not ahead of them.  She pushes, steadily, for progress – never hard enough to draw backlash.  Ever tempered with awareness of political tug-and-pull.  She compromises, and she disappoints.  But the impact she leaves on the world is absolutely everything to her.  She reads like a leader.

Many who wouldn’t vote for Hillary have said they’ll miss President Obama – without reference to the fact that his policies and hers are pretty well identical.  She was among his top advisers for 5 years.  And he won twice, landslide elections; there’s no denying people liked the way he worked.

It’s been thoroughly demonstrated that Clinton would have made a good president.  By every objective measure, she was the candidate most qualified.  Only, this year – directly after our first black president, as Clinton seemed poised to become our first Madam one – our nation decided we were done with Washington.

We needed, all of a giant sudden, change.  Not in the way that Obama meant it.  Not a mere departure from last-term’s policy and routine.  No.  We needed a real Washington Outsider willing to tear the house down.  Somehow, by the end of popular Obama’s second term, everyone realized that its capital was a glimmering den of iniquity.  Not to be trusted.  Clinton was a disgrace by association (or maybe visa versa – who could tell?)  The nation chose a man who openly plans to destroy what Obama has achieved, just because he achieved it.  And Trump, far from being black, has a KKK-endorsement.

This is where Hillary’s story ends for me.  She was fine, she was fine, she was fine, while everybody watched her and nobody got her and she was the devil incarnate.  She was my people and Obama said he needed her.  Who she is was in her legacy.  And that legacy, tied at its crown to Obama’s, will be destroyed – along with every trace of black and girl still sticking to the White House.

Hillary could have saved us.  From nuclear cold war, climate apocalypse, and the systematic dismantling of civil rights.  Just her.  We shot her down in flames.

Maybe somewhere there’s a woman we don’t know and haven’t damned in narrative as a slithering femme fatale.  Not listening to anyone insisting she get lost.  If her image is sparkling like Obama’s was, she could run, and even win – given unhappy years under Trump.  But Hillary’s story has been told, on the highest platform in the world.  It will be told again; for such is the nature of stories.  We’ll see it replay in broad circles, in small towns, on boards and corporations.  We’ll see it again at the level of states and nations.  And those of us who share her anatomy can look in the mirror and see it in ourselves.  America has spoken.  We are not your hero.

Spider Sitting

As told by Spider Bitch

If I went to your house, and stood there smirking at you with my long black hair in my face and the fangs hanging out with a little trickle of blood left over from a squirrel I picked off a tree on the way in, would you confuse me with your babysitter?

I like to make it really obvious that I’m not a babysitter.  I don’t know how anyone makes that mistake.

My job for the last three days had been to watch fat Susie and her naked flying friend.  Donny helped me, in between errands they sent him away on.  Darling Diana had other work to do, in the central office.  Donny hated this, but I didn’t very much care.  She’s just one of many people I’d rather not have on my mind.

At first Susie threatened to break the lair into pieces if we didn’t let them go.  We knew she could do it.  She’s strong like a freak.  Professor W. pointed out that we were under miles of water and they’d drown, and that seemed to shut her up.  The whole time she was yelling and swearing, Skybach was floating near the ceiling with his hands behind his head, and I saw the way she looked at him.  Her anger died slowly away.  Regardless of what Professor W. had to say, I think that watching him not care would have made her stand down.

After that she spent most of her time in the dining room playing dominoes with Donny.  The naked man floated around, just looking out the windows, while I glowered at them all from my perch in the top right corner.  Every so often Susie would break something and I’d have to shoot spit across the room to glue it back together.

“So, you’re…fast?”  Susie said to Donny one day, twiddling her thumbs while waiting for his move.

“Mhm,” he said.

“That’s cool,” Susie said.  “Really cool.”

A minute passed.

“So, are you in school, or – ”

“SHUT UP!  EMERGENCY!  SHUT UP!” 

The lights flickered and dimmed while our intercom blared its automated warning and the building shook.  I tumbled out of the corner with limbs curling, stuck to a strand of web and spit fresh filaments at other walls.  Donny and Susie hit the floor, Susie making foot-and-hand-shaped dents, and Skybach hit his head on the ceiling and started swearing.  Then we were tilting, and everyone but me was scrambling and banging up against the walls.  There were crunching sounds, and a squelchy, rich bubbly-pumping.  Then we were zooming through the water, watching colors turn.  Going up, and up.  The ocean glowed white like ice when we exploded into atmosphere.

“SHUT UP!  EMERGENCY!  SHUT UP!”

Our lair slowly spinning, we crested in the air – who knows how many hundreds of feet high.  Skybach zipped from window to window with a look on his face like a dog has when you finally let it out of the trunk.

“Oh, shit!” Said Susie.

In the distance, I could see a person levitating.  She slid from one window into another and disappeared as we turned on axis.  She was sitting almost in the shape of a pretzel.

The alarm stopped blaring suddenly, and Professor W.’s voice blared over the intercom.  “Will those in the dining room PLEASE, for the love of GOD report to my office?”

Professor wanted Skybach to go talk to the hover-girl.  But she wanted me to go with him and tie him onto the lair with spiderweb so he wouldn’t escape, and since everyone but me is afraid of Susie (but can’t admit it) she had to come with us.  Skybach was supposed to carry us both.  Donny was going to stay behind as backup.

I’d been playing around with my spit a lot since the debacle in the parking-lot.  I knew now how to create filaments that could be broken, given just the right amount of pressure.  So I did, and I used those to tie us all together and tether our group to the lair.

The girl looked like she was doing some kind of meditation.  We were about a hundred yards away when her eyes opened.

“Skybach.”

I hoped whatever she was doing to levitate our lair didn’t require her undivided attention.  The naked man might make her lose focus and drop it.

“Are you hurt?”  She spoke without raising her voice at all.

“No, I’m good!”

I sighed disgustedly at the happiness in the naked man’s voice.  I and Susie sat on his back, like children riding a camel.  She was behind me, extra tied-up.  Not that it would matter if she tried to break the web, but she was scared of heights.  I saw it in her face when Professor W. told us the plan.  I thought if she was tied up good she’d panic less and not be shaking like a friendless rabbit.

“You’ve been kidnapped, though?”  The sky-woman still spoke at a normal, inside volume.

“Yes, ma’am!  You come to set us free?”

“Are all of you kidnapped?”

“All except the Spider-Bitch.  Hey, that’s her name – don’t look at me like I’m being disrespectful.  Danielle, right?”

The woman in the air smiled slowly.  “You remembered!”

“Aww,” I said sarcastically.

The floating-lady looked at me.  “You – Spider-Bitch! – release these people, now!”

She tried a fierce stare, and looked confused, and tried again.  My eyes are nice black pits, like sharks have.  I don’t get stared down often.

“Listen – Danielle.  It’s not my job to release the prisoners.  We’re here to find out why you’re doing this, and then make you go away.  Or join our side.  We’re the good guys.”

Susie laughed loudly and rudely.

“Shut up!”  I turned and spat snot in her eyes.  “As I was saying,” I tried to continue over the sound of Susie’s gagging.  “We’re the good guys.  If you fuck with us, we will – ”

A sudden backwards tug interrupted me, followed by a massive splash.  That bitch did drop our lair!  Fast as a blink, I spit web at the sky.  It opened like a parachute when we went down (dragged by my spider cords) and I yanked it to me, gluing every edge to Skybach.

“Don’t you fucking move,” I hissed in his ear.  He didn’t, and we fell hard, through the water, into the ocean.  My web held a big bubble over our heads.  Everything was dark but the round top of the web where it shone like a crystal ball.  My legs and Susie’s were dipping into the cold, freezing cold water.  The whole front of Skybach’s body was, up to his chin.  He could only keep his face inside the air pocket by craning his neck back almost as far as it could go, and he kept gasping and coughing.  Susie pushed forward and I spit web as fast as I could to keep it sealed while she reached past me, putting her arm under Skybach’s chin.  She took the blows of the rushing water better than his face could.

We stopped moving all of a fucking sudden, and I spit more web at every edge.

The lair loomed up like a moonrise and began to pass us.  A shadow darted from bright window to window, and then stayed at the closest one.  I couldn’t see him, but I knew that it was Don.  In a second, the slack between the lair and us was gone, and we were getting dragged up again.

“Take a breath,” I said, through gritted teeth.  Vibrations told me, somewhere, my web was going to break.  Skybach’s body had begun to sag, and fat Susie was gripping us both very tight.  I did not feel afraid of dying.  But I didn’t mind her strength.  The web was shredding.  It felt like angry whistles in my body, and then, suddenly, like nothing.

The part of the web that broke was what tied us to the lair.  It zoomed to the surface high above us, and went through.  But we were still rising.  The bubble wrapped in my silk was taking us up.  If I could hold it together a while longer.  The silver ceiling rippled while we moved, and I watched with my mouth at the ready.  Our air was my own precious treasure.

Fly By Might

As told by Danielle:

You shouldn’t fall in love just because somebody saves you.  But you try it.  Go get saved by Skybach, and see if you don’t catch feelings.

Everybody falls in love with him.  That’s why he’s famous.  It’s not just that he can fly.

I don’t know how he knew when I needed him.  I never asked for help.  I probably passed a dozen folks that day on my way to jump off the bridge.  Three people passed by while I was standing right on the ledge.  When I jumped, nobody screamed.  But Skybach saw me.

The really amazing thing about him is, once he flies down and saves you, he’ll fly away again.  He won’t remember that he did it.  Lots of people get confused by that.  You figure when somebody goes out of his way to save you, that he must care a lot.  But it’s not a special thing for him.  It’s a hobby.  So lots of people are out here thinking that they need him, wondering if he’ll come back.

I never wondered.  I knew he wouldn’t come.  I was lucky to meet him that once, and I think he does really like me.  He stayed in town for weeks.  We laughed at the same jokes and we loved the same feeling of night in our hair.  We never made out.  He brought me to the sky just for fun.  I promised him to take good care of myself, and he knew that I meant what I said, so I had to.  I followed him on twitter anyway, telling myself one day I would save some money, go fly out to wherever in the world people were seeing him, and take him for dinner again.

I knew he was in trouble right away.  Someone on the top floor of an apartment took the video.  Skybach was minding his own business, flying around with a fat lady whoo-hooing on his back.  Something happened to the air above him that looked almost like a tornado with a gaping hole in the middle.  Then some kind of slimy tendrils shot out of it and wrapped up him and the fat lady, and dragged them away through the middle.  The tornado-thing disappeared in a second, and he was gone.

I wasn’t the only one who cared.  The twitterverse was in an uproar.  Most people blamed the government, some blamed aliens.  I didn’t have time to think about whose fault it was.  Skybach was gone.  I had a power.

I stepped outside and took off my shoes.  It was cold, blue winter.  But I couldn’t think about that.  There’s a pulse in the crust of the earth – in, and out.  Like breath.  Skin can’t sense it.  It’s too deep.

Somebody made me full of knives.  But that doesn’t mean they’re not all mine.  They are.  My whole life since having them has been about making them mine.  It’s a natural thing, when you’re just a person trying to move, and you keep getting stabbed.  You pay attention.  You realize where it hurts, learn to move the way your bones are pointing.  You can squeeze your springs and keep in a blade, for as long as your muscle will hold.  You can twitch along the right line, and the tilt of a flat edge will move.  It’s not just mindless suffering, to hold yourself together.  It’s fine negotiation.  You move some things deep down inside before you take a step.  When you reach for something, it’s after you’ve thought up a plan to keep your arteries safe.  Your heart doesn’t beat by accident.  You repel the metal, with mostly gentle steering, and sometimes mighty strength.

It’s dangerous and keeps you fascinated.  It’s friendly and familiar.  The metal speaks, and teaches.  Some day, after years and years of listening, you make yourself magnetic.  Then you can feel both ends of the earth, by the pull, and the push, at its poles.  Sometimes after that you’ll feel the screaming, spinning pit of the world reverberate right through you, and you’ll tell yourself the knives are liars, because your skeleton is saying there’s no misery as bad as being.

The day I saw the video of Skybach in need, I knew what to do.  I’d been thinking of doing it a long time, and just felt afraid to try.  I moved my metal bits like antennae, tapping into that ferocious magnetism at the earth’s core.  It spilled through me until I felt molten and ill and brutally lost – and right then, I swiveled every pole against it.  The force shuttled me up sky-high, faster than a riptide.  I didn’t know how fast it would be.  I was ready anyway.  I diverted half my magnetism against the south pole and shot forward.  This was more success than I was used to, and I had a hard time breathing, way up in the air and going so fast.  I told myself to stay calm, and fiddled around, moving little bits of me.  It took me awhile and scared me breathless, but I got the kinks worked out.  I kept cruising at four-hundred feet.

I knew where to go.  You can’t have a mystery cloud-tunnel, like the one that stole Skybach, and not put a wrinkle in earth’s magnetic field.  It’s a Bermuda-triangle, all tipsy and irregular, with a skinny trail of pull in the middle leading somewhere.  I felt these tunnel-things before, and didn’t know what they were.  They caught my attention because they moved so fast.  You could tell how far away they were because if one passed by you, storms would come, days or hours later.  If it happened near the ground, there could be earthquakes too.

I’d googled the address of the last place Skybach was seen and picked out the closest patch of tipsy particles to follow.  The beginning of the air tunnel was faded, leaving behind the static of so many atomic poles trying to sort themselves.  I could feel the place the pull was leading to, so deep in the crust of the world it had to be under an ocean.  And other tunnels ended in the same place.  Whatever was down there, it was strong.

It was cold and it got colder as I raced along the atmosphere.  Skybach does this naked.  I got to the ocean and kept going.  Stars had come, and gone.  I drifted into sleep and out again, jerking awake, but in my iron I felt the need to stay calm.  Same as always, the wrong little twitch would kill me.  I had stayed on target, navigating in my sleep.  Now I could feel it, deep underneath me, the shifting and sliding of scattered poles.  I pushed and pulled a little at the source of all this mystery, and found the atoms happy to pivot in any direction I chose.  This was purified metal, and no mistake.  All the magnetic anomalies causing the storms and the quakes were leading to a structure made by man.  If Skybach was alive, he would be there.

Olivia Pretty

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Some people don’t believe in love at first sight.

Those people have never met me.

I’m Olivia.  I have a faery godfather, who waited for my sixteenth birthday to introduce himself.  It was my first teenaged dance; there was alcohol and music.  The faery had opinions on my drinking, but he waited till the end of the night to tell me.  The party was, after all, a handy way to meet.

He explained that my life would ever be strange, because of my christening gifts.  One of the gifts was goodness.  The other, beauty.  That magic sealed in the baby glow of my skin, the bigness and openness of my eyes.  The colors of my flesh and lips and hair, the curves of my body, and my bones, all grew in a way inviting of gazes.  Like moth to flame, I draw people in.  Love at first sight, head over heels.

Nothing was ever asked of me at home but to be good and beautiful.  I suppose being beautiful makes it easy to be good.  I never had anyone be mean to me, so being mean to others doesn’t cross my mind.  And wherever I go, people stare.  You remember to be good when people are intensely focused on you.

I don’t quite understand how I got mixed up with all this supervillain business.  I was at a bookstore that sold coffee.  I stood in line, before the scrutiny of a plump man wearing a blue suit.  I smiled at him, as pleasant people ought to do.  He, rather than smiling, responded by wrenching his eyes from my face and fastening them onto my breasts.  I stopped smiling, aware and embarrassed that my face had gotten in his way.

“Can I help you?”  Said the man behind the counter, beaming.  I smiled again, looking for the number of my coffee order on the board.

You are fat tits.

I sucked in my bottom lip and held it in place with my teeth.  The thought had come out of nowhere and replaced every word I’d planned.  It was a man’s voice – not beautiful, and not good.  Still it took up all the space in my head and held on tightly, as if it belonged.  I looked helplessly into the cashier’s eyes, feeling as though we were creatures from two different worlds.  He looked back just as helpless – maybe knowing, and maybe not, that I was alien.

“Please…can I help you?”

Big fat moving jiggly wiggly…put them in my mouth right now!

“I’ll take…I’ll take the number…”  I cleared my throat, alarmed.  I did not want to say the words in my head by mistake.

Fuck you shitless piece of ass.

More people than usual were staring.  Everyone in line, and everyone behind the counter.  Everyone sitting at the tables, and everyone standing by the spoons.  The man in blue sat by the window, his face among the rest of the faces that watched me.

“Can I…pleeaasse…help you, Miss?”  Said the man behind the counter.  “Please?  Please??”

“I’ll pay!”  Shouted several people in line and several more across the room.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I can’t make up my mind, today.”

Juicy dripping bimbo.

The manager came around the corner, looked at me and whistled.  “The lady will have a spiced pumpkin latte, on the house, Paul!”  He winked a few minutes later as he handed me the drink.  “This here’s extra Irish for you.  Don’t tell nobody.”

I gave the man his due warm smile and took a beverage that I knew to be laced with liquor.

Tig ol bitties, ta-ta.

A man grabbed the door and was punched in the head by another man, who grabbed the door, and held it wide open for me.

*             *             *

I heard the voice again later, at the supermarket.  I had a loaf of bread in each hand and was comparing the ingredients.  A man at the end of the aisle saw my plight and came rushing over.

“Too heavy,” he said, yanking both loaves out of my hands and throwing them into my cart.

That face should launch a thousand ships.

I froze.  It was the same man’s voice from before, except it sounded close to beautiful.

“You’re welcome,” said the man who’d helped me with my bread.

That face could be my purring honeypot.

“I said, you’re wel-come!”

Be a good girl.  Come with me.

“’Bye,” I remembered to say, before spinning my cart around and making a dash down the aisle.

“Tshh…”  Said the bread guy.  “Conceited!”

I left my cart of groceries in the store.  The parking lot was empty.  It wasn’t dark yet, but maybe soon.  I started walking; not toward home.  There was a little park by the police station, and I needed that kind of air.  I needed to breath it more than I needed to worry about what light was left in the day.

There was a skate park right where the trees began; some teenagers teetered up and down a ramp.  They saw me walking, stopped, and shouted.  I can’t remember what.  I kept going, eyes fixed to a stony old willow.  There were other people hundreds of feet ahead on the common, walking dogs and watching their children play.

“Lady!”  Hollered one of the skaters behind me.  “Where you going so fast?”

I ignored the yell, but soon there were wheels screeching along the pavement and I knew that some of the teens were following.  Wheels gave them speed – one boy passed me and spun around, his eyes lit up.  More boards were grinding at me from the skate park then, and suddenly I was surrounded.  Six boys made animal sounds, pressing forward, boards in arms.

Here’s your rape, doll.

I can’t remember why I screamed – if a hand moved to grab, if I saw it, or felt it.  I do remember that one set of eyes coming close, that starving coldness, and the smile, just a crookedness of mouth.  All on a face so young.  My scream carried far, and there were shouts in answer.  I was down, squeezing my neck with my knees to my chest on the ground.  The teens were running, except one.  The good people at the park had heard my cry and come to save me.  Now they surrounded that one boy who couldn’t run fast enough, yelling and pressing in.  Then fists went into his ribs and chin and the back of his neck, and he fell.

“Stop,” I said, when I could.  No one listened.  His almost-child bones were cracking under ten or fifteen livid men.  There were a few women in there, too.  I couldn’t see the boy anymore, but there were bloodied dreadlocks flying up and landing at my feet.

Love at first sight.  Head over heels for you.

The people in front of me seemed not like people, but like a single creature, wild and reptile.  It was only alive to crunch and devour.  The kid got ripped to pieces, then stomped to nothing in its maw.  I cried as I watched.  Sometimes hard.  My tears were spent and gone before the mob had lost its passion.

It was amazing to watch the thing that everyone had become die down, letting ordinary people walk away.  Some still had fury on their faces, but most looked simply ill.  Some were guilty, and some were afraid.  They didn’t look at each other or at me.  They spread out and passed by in silence, leaving behind a gore-strewn stretch of concrete.

*             *             *

Nothing made sense, so I kept staring.

“Stop,” I said.  Just to myself, to see how it sounded.  There must have been whole minutes between what happened and this odd, quiet time.  Night was nipping at the dusk above me.  Little park birds hopped around, getting close to the murdered body, without pecking.  I thought there should be sirens.  There was the cop station, right there.  Someone should come out of it and tell me what to do.

“Come away from there.”

The voice was ugly but familiar.  It spoke again, behind me.

“You don’t want to get mixed up in this.  Come away, while you have the chance.”

I turned.  It was the man in blue suit, from earlier.  He was on the road side of a gate marking the end of the park.  Not far from me – maybe yards.

“I’m already mixed up in this.”  I tried to sound calm but I couldn’t keep the pitch of my words from tilting.  “I was here.  When I screamed, everyone ran to me.  And did that.”

Blue Suit whistled.  “That’s quite a power.”

“Power?”  I choked.  Disbelieving.  “You call this…power?”

“Didn’t I tell you that your face could launch a thousand ships?”  Blue Suit leaned over the fence, looking me straight in the eyes.  “You heard me say it, didn’t you?”

“Your voice…” I gasped.  “You were in my head!  And you knew…that I would…hear you?”

“Oh, yes.  See, that’s my power.”  Blue Suit put a hand on the rail, gripping firmly, then hopped.  He landed clumsily on my side of the fence, got to his feet, and looked me in the eyes again.  “Listen, now.  You don’t feel sorry about all this.  You shouldn’t.  Do you?”

Tears came out of me to answer him.

“Don’t feel sorry.  That thug was gonna rape you.”

“You don’t…know that.”

“I do,” said the man in blue, tapping his head.  “I know all about what boys his age are thinking.”

I could have walked away then.  The thought flapped through my consciousness, lofty and unreal.  I could have gone and brought the sirens here, that no one else would bring.  It might be hours before the boys’ parents came here looking.  And there was a cop station.  Right there.  I could have brought the sirens.  And the doctors, and the parents, and the crying, and the questions only I could answer, but I couldn’t, figuring out and writing down who’s fault.

So he man in blue was wrong.  But of course, he was also right.  And he had been right along – all wrong, and still not wrong.  He was magic like the man who’d met me at sixteen and given me the reason I was always to feel strange.  Magical men were always watching, always wrong.  And always right.

“Olivia.”  Blue Suit stood looking into me.  It wasn’t magic to him.  “Olivia,” he said.  “…it wasn’t your fault.”

“Oh…” I gasped, feeling his words so hard.

He let me stand there feeling it, then stepped, by one foot, closer.  “Don’t be afraid.  And don’t be ashamed.”

“Stop,” I whispered, eyes closed tightly.  Salty tears kept falling.

“So pretty,” he said.  “And so good.  I can see what all the fuss was about.  Come away from there.  We’ll go.  You don’t want to be around this town when it comes out what happened to that boy.”

“Go where?”

“A safe place, just for people like us.  Our kind.  People with powers.”

You have a power.”  I pointed at myself.  “I don’t have anything.”

“Whatever you say, kiddo.”  Blue Suit chuckled.  “Stop crying, Olivia.  Open your eyes.”

I shook my head.

“Come on.  Let’s see that smile.”

“You go to hell.”

He came and raised my chin with his fingers.  I opened my eyes, and unsheathed tears made messes down each temple.

“Come on, Princess.  That smile is our ticket in.”

“Where?  Where is this some safe place you want me to believe in?”

“Not here.”

We both looked at the splattered body on the pavement, or at the birds that covered it.

“No one could have saved that kid.”  Blue Suit looked through me.  It was wrong, but he was right.

I didn’t want to be here.

I took clearing breaths, and then did what he wanted.  Found a smile in me.  I had to rise above a stickiness like tartar in my heart, but I found it.  It was bright as any I’d use to say thank-you for the coffee in the morning.

In the next instant, we were standing in what appeared to be a breathtakingly large aquarium.  The tank arched overhead and formed the walls on either side, forming a long corridor.  The floor looked just like gold.  A man wearing a blue bathrobe and a towel on his head clutched a toothbrush in one hand.

“Do you have to be so fucking creepy about the way you say everything, bro?”

Blue Suit smirked.  “You were thinking it.”

“You made me think it!”

“But you’re still thinking it.”

The two of them laughed and patted each other on the back.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Can I trouble either of you gentlemen to find out where I am?”

“He just told me you had a nice smile, is all,”  The man in the bathrobe answered.  “I’m Jason.  I teleport for a living.  You are beautiful.  Let’s go get you checked in, you can meet our boss.”

“Oh, no,” said Blue Suit.  “You’re not claiming credit on this one.  Olivia, come with me, we’ll get you checked in, and you can meet our boss.”

“Split the credit, then.  We’ll take her together.”

“Deal.”

The two gents helped me down the hall, and through some rooms, to an office marked “Professor W.”  I don’t know why, but when a woman opened the door, I felt more lost than before.