As it eventually will with every young man, he sees her and is struck. He is struck by her beauty, struck by his own youthful incapacities, and struck by the giddy paralysis of a fear so deep it can only be known by one whose own status is deemed by themselves to lie below that of their infatuation’s. “I cannot,” he reasons as he gazes upon her, “be worthy of her. Yet who else would ever love her as I would? Who could?”
“But, how to make her notice me?” He wonders, until presently it occurs to him to display for her that one thing that he can do well, as that one thing might somehow reveal to her the feasibility of other, hidden potentials within him which she, and only she, might manifest within him given time… if only she would look at him now.
And so the boy shows himself off to her. He is young. His skillsets are few and mostly outlandish, but he is completely unmindful of what the rest of the watching world may think. The urge is strongly upon him to somehow impress her in ways which he has not yet had time enough in this world to formulate, but he will try. He must try. And if the lad has wit he will manage it in a convincing and winsome enough manner that he will gain some however-so small affection from her... a smile, a touch, a peckish kiss. Any of those would be enough for now, as he would have been seen.
It began two Thursday’s ago, and has not let up since. Out of the blue the boy began showing up nearly every day, some days two or three times a day, dribbling his basketball on the sidewalk out front of Trisha’s house. He could only bounce it, as there is no basket out there to shoot at, so sometimes he bounces it up high, or sometimes he dribbles it down low, wrapping it effortlessly behind his back and then scissoring it between his legs, spinning the ball on his finger, and then on his forehead, and then dribbling it some more and more and more as he spins and jukes and out-fakes invisible sidewalk defenders.
Oh, she sees him all right. Trisha watches him through the window slats, her face a torpid mask meant to hide her curiousity away from sniggering parents. The boy was actually quite good at bouncing his ball, so she waited to see what tricks he might do with it next.
He made dribbling the ball look so easy that once, when the bouncing boy had finally gone, Trisha went out to the garage, where she picked up her brother’s ball and tried dribbling it herself, but her hands moved awkwardly, and the ball was too heavy. It always bounced too high, so that she couldn’t even begin to do the boy’s tricks. In fact, it was all she could do to keep the stupid ball bouncing near enough to her that she could bounce it again. She quickly discovered that what the boy made to look so easy was really not so easy at all.
Of course, at least initially, it wasn’t just her parents, but even Trisha who found the bouncing ball annoying. The infernal thump, thump, thumping of the ball drug her to the window from her daytime bed where she laid listening to music, or from the couch when she was watching television. The thumping was out there during supper, and when she was dressing, and all the time it seemed. When she could do so without it being obvious Trisha would sneak over to peek between the blinds at him dribbling the ball, and spinning it, but the boy never, ever looked over at her window, or even towards her house, but only dribbled his ball as though neither she, nor even her house, were even there.
But our girl Trisha was no one’s dummy.
Who was he, she wondered? And why was he doing this? It seemed to be a very strange thing to do, but then it also didn’t. At first it had appeared to be a random act, as though her house just happened to sit on his route home from the basketball court or something like that, but it quickly became obvious that there was a greater purpose to his dribbling here, that it was for someone’s benefit, and her vanity allowed her to suspect that the someone he was doing it for might be her, not that she really cared about the boy one way or another. She didn’t even know him. But why else other than to impress her? Why did he always stop right here in front of her house every day? And why bouncing a ball? If he was truly coming to impress her, or any other girl for that matter, why bring a basketball? Why not sing, or dance, or anything more romantic than bouncing a ball? It was a curious mystery, but then… she did enjoy a curious mystery.
Regardless of their intent Trisha came to look forward to his visits, her heart leaping at the first thump. She no longer felt the need to go peek every single time, though she did it quite often anyways. It was enough just to know he was there. After all, she knew very well by now what he looked like, and what he was doing, and she suspected that she was the reason, so there was really no need to peek, was there? If he truly was coming here to dribble in front of her house in an attempt to impress her then not peeking was almost a form of playing hard to get, wasn’t it? A way of showing him that she had more important things to do than to watch him play with his ball? So she shouldn’t make herself available to him every time, should she? The boy might get the impression she was easy, or uninteresting. No. She could not allow that.
Still, most times she peeked. She couldn’t help it. And when she did so she wondered if he noticed the break in the blinds, and if that break gave her peeking away? Sometimes she even hoped that he did see it. Trisha was alone a lot, which did not make for a particularly happy girl, and during those times when she was not peeking she took on an unconscious habit of brushing her hair until the thumping echoes of the ball faded away into the twilight, and of smiling as she brushed.
Oddly, Trisha began to wish the boy was out there even when he wasn’t, and she found herself discouraged when he was not. Depressed even. She began to wonder where he was, and what he had found that was more interesting to do? And then she would hear ghost balls thumping on the sidewalk. She would run to the window but the boy wouldn’t be out there; this seemed always to happen while lying in her bed at night for instance, or when she was naked in the bathroom. And even more strangely, she found herself peeking out when there was clearly no ball out there thumping, hoping that the boy might be just down the street, bouncing it up the sidewalk towards her house.
”Is that boy a friend of yours?” Her father finally asked her. “Why don’t you go out there and make him stop?”
Go out there? Was her father a fool? She couldn’t go out there! Going out there would break the magic. The boy would see that she was not so special, that she was just a girl and not so pretty, and was infinitely awkward at that.
”What’s the matter? Scared?” Her father taunted, making fun when there was nothing funny about it. But was she scared? Scared of what? Of a boy bouncing a stupid ball? Of course she was not scared. She would show her father. She would go out there! But first she would go see how she looked. Once in front of the mirror she touched her hair a few times to little effect, but it wasn’t really her appearance that she wanted to see, was it? What she needed to see lay deeper than that, so rather than primping she gazed into her own eyes, gauging their strength, asking them if this was truly what she wanted, to meet this boy whose attention she had somehow attracted, and to take a chance on driving him away? Wasn’t it better to leave things alone, and to keep this little thing between them as it was? The eyes in the mirror told her no. Trisha saw in them a readiness, almost a hunger to meet the boy, to find out who he was. Taking a deep breath, she hesitated no longer.
It was actually a relief to find herself on the tiny front porch, and to hear the door click shut behind her, and to see that he had not noticed her there yet, but there was no turning back from here. She was committed.
The ball got away from him for just a second. It was a little thing, but it was the first time in all her peeking that she’d seen a fumble from him, which meant nothing really, while also meaning very much when she considered her own continuous fumbling in the garage when she had attempted to dribble her brother’s ball. Trisha’s initial thought had been that he was a boy, so dribbling the ball was easier for him, but that was not right. He was obviously athletic, but where did that come from? Was it genetics, hand-eye coordination handed down from mother or father, or both? And how did speed play into that, and balance, and dexterity, and strength? No, he could only reach the level of skill he had achieved through diligence. She wondered where he found such a thing as diligence, and why?
He was really not very big, seen from a closer perspective, not much taller than her actually, yet he looked strong, if lithe. He caught up with the fumbled ball and tucked it under his arm as he turned to face her, his weight balanced evenly on both feet, his chin held high in an exaggerated, almost comically masculine posture.
“Hi.” He did not smile, though his expression was soft, his eyes kind. His voice was surprisingly deep for such a youthful looking face.
“What are you doing out here? Why do you keep bouncing your ball in front of my house.“
The boy shrugged.
“You are driving my parents crazy.”
There was a pause as she considered her answer. Her eyes refused to look at him as she gave it, though she longed to see his response. She had never suffered rejection and didn’t know if she could take it, but she had a feeling that she needn’t worry. He instilled in her that feeling. “Yea, I guess you could say that you’re driving me crazy, too.”
With that said she did look up. He wore a brilliant smile now, which she could not help returning. “Good, then I’ll be back tomorrow.” He said it as he turned to go.
”Hey!“ His still smiling face glanced back at her call. “Why don’t you try ringing the bell?”
The boy nodded and took off running down the street, the ball thumping expertly at his side.
Old School Lessons
I wouldn’t usually have stopped here, but after seven hours on the road I desperately needed to stop, if you know what I mean. Still, I the urge driven decision was regretted before I was even inside.
Despite being part of a national chain this was obviously a poorly run business. Half of the road sign was dark, which should have been my first clue to continue driving, but it only worsened from there. The glass doors were covered with greasy finger prints, the floor was sticky beneath my boots, and a woman with a fat ass was bent over the front counter literally screaming at the poor, dazed moron standing behind it.
“I told you no fucking onions! There are onions on this hamburger, you shit-for-brains!” She held the bottom half of a hamburger out toward his face as she screamed. “How the fuck am I supposed to eat this shit? I don’t eat fucking onions!”
Behind the woman who was bent over the counter, standing beside an over-flowing trash can, another woman of equivalent age and incivility was holding a phone up to film, her face plastered with a malicious grin.
In the kitchen behind the dazed kid lurked a shadow figure whom I assumed to be whoever was in charge of this shit restaurant, and who was hiding back there allowing the kid up front to take the heat because they were too chicken-shit to come help their minimum wage worker out.
”Lady, I’m sorry. I only placed the order. I didn’t make the hamburger.” The kid seemed legitimately sorry, but that didn’t seem to matter. Sorry, apparently, was not the point.
”Well you poured this Coke didn’t you? I asked for a diet fucking Coke. This is regular fucking Coke, you fucking idiot!” The woman threw what was left of the Coke at the kid who deftly side-stepped so that it missed it’s mark, which only infuriated the woman more, so that she really started laying into him.
Having no skin in the game and not wanting to get involved in something that didn’t concern me, I by-passed them all for a men’s room which was every bit as ticky-tacky as the lobby floor was. Once there I stood relieved before the stained urinal, gazing at the typically infantile permanant-marker renderings of penises with the also typically mis-spelled homo-erotic threats beneath them. The situation at the counter and the drawings taken together took me back to the 2nd grade, and more specifically to the day Mrs. Layman called Julie Hodson and me into the hallway and said to us, “I saw what she did to you on the playground, Hank. I want you to hit her back.”
I, of course, did no such thing. This was surely a test of some sort, and I have never been a dummy when it comes to tests. Even back at the tender age of nine I was fully aware that had I done it (hit Julie that is), my respectfully southern father would have found out and would have murdered me, even if Mrs. Layman didn’t.
”I mean it, Hank. Hit her! Go ahead! Hit her as hard as you can.”
”No Mam, I don’t want to.”
”Listen, Hank,” Mrs. Layman was speaking sternly to me at the same time her eyes were staring down Julie, “I understand that you should never hit a lady, but when one isn’t behaving like a lady you are free to knock hell out of her, at least in my classroom you are. Do you understand me?”
I did understand. To this very day I stand quietly and patiently in lines because I remember the time Mrs. Layman grabbed a hyperactive Danny Wilson by the earlobe and pulled his screaming ass clear to the office by it. With Mrs. Layman it was always about the collective, not the individual. While it was important that her class succeed, it was not so important that everyone in it did. If one or two must be left behind because they endangered the success of those who did the things they were supposed to do, then so be it. Get in line, or get out. It wasn’t just Little Danny who learned that lesson, it was all of us. But neither did I hit Julie Hodson. You should understand that I loved Mrs. Layman, and so did Danny and Julie. We all did, even while suffering her scoldings, which we were all subject to from time to time. Mrs. Layman was a sure-enough disciplinarian, but we didn’t mind that because she was also kind (when you were well behaved), and fair, and easily the best teacher any of us ever had. We wanted to please Mrs. Layman more than we wanted to please God, and the thing about a great teacher is that their lessons never, ever leave you. Mrs. Layman’s threat of violence had been enough to deter any future misdeeds from Julie Hodson or her like, just as Mrs. Layman knew that it would. You see, Mrs. Layman knew that I was not the boy to hit a girl (and so did Julie, which was undoubtedly why she chose me to hit in the first place), so I was the perfect remedy for Mrs. Layman’s problem, and as always, she knew just the right dosage of that remedy to administer to keep this classroom malady in check.
I stopped upon exiting the restroom. The woman was still at the counter yelling as the kid, who was diligent to the end, and was wiping up the thrown Coke even as she carried on. The woman’s loud rage surely reached every point in the small building, but still no supervisor had come to help the poor boy out. I hadn‘t meant to get involved, but as I stood there contemplating the sorry-assed state of mankind the angry woman took notice of me.
”What are you looking at?”
It was a full second before I registered that she was speaking to me. “What?”
The woman beside the trash can re-aimed her outstretched phone in my direction.
”I said, what the fuck are you looking at?” The angry woman backed away from the counter, shoved her hands down upon ample, yoga-panted hips, and started in towards me.
Now, here’s the thing about hitting a woman, or rather not hitting them. Boys learn at a young age, during normal play with other boys, that if you say something, anything really, that might piss another boy off there is likely to be a physical altercation which you may lose, or which could easily prove painful even if you win. The ever present threat of having your ass kicked teaches a boy to watch what he says, even when things get heated. Girls seldom face that threat, at least the ones who don’t have an older brother. This woman had obviously never learned that lesson, as she made no move what-so-ever to block my jab, nor even to duck it. It seemed so unexpected that it was almost as though she never even saw it coming, while she was looking directly at me. In fact her eyes barely had time to close before the knuckle aimed for the back of her head crunched into her nose, dropping her to a pile on the sticky brown tiles.
The other woman was still video-taping, although her jaw had gone slack.
“Go ahead,” I said as I walked past her. “Post that on your fucking Tic-Toc.”
That is the thing about a really good teacher. Mrs. Layman is dead some forty years now, but her lessons live on. I have no doubt that the woman sprawled across the sticky floor back there will think next time before showing her ass like that, and I‘m also sure that my friend Julie Hodson never had to take a viral punch to the nose in a fast food lobby because of those lessons, so you can see how at least two good things came out of one, five minute hallway conversation with Julie and me.
Yes, good-old Mrs. Layman would have been proud.
The thing about a ladder is it offers risk with reward, as the same ladder which scales to a great height can also be descended upon into an abyss.
None of us really cared much for Franklin. He was a different sort. Kind of a fool, actually. Happy. Yea, that’s it. The fool seemed happy when there was no reason to be happy, and isn’t that the very definition of a fool? C’mon, the guy whistled while he worked.
We tolerated Franklin at first, of course. He was still a kid when he hired on, and no one minds a kid, do they? Of course they don’t, not even a foolish kid. Franklin started out sweeping, cleaning up around, running the occasional errand, that kind of thing. And giving the devil his due he was good at it, too. The dumb kid ran his little ass all over, and quite honestly the place never looked better than when he was in that job. In fact, when Penelope hired an outside company to come in and replace Franklin after he was promoted we all agreed that the cleaning company she hired really, really sucked. Those idiots sent four people in every day and the offices still didn’t look as good as when Franklin cleaned them all by himself. Penelope, our idiot office manager, should have just left well enough alone is what I told everyone, and left Franklin there in that job. I am sure we’d all be better off now if she had. I know I would.
He wasn’t much for small talk, Franklin wasn’t. I tried to talk to him myself, now and then. I remember one time asking him why he didn’t settle the hell down, that he was making the rest of us look bad, and that he was doing it from the shittiest, lowest paid job in the place. I reminded him that Penelope wasn’t even watching. Fuck, she was never watching, that all of his hard work was being wasted in this shit office and that he was too fucking dumb to realize it. You know what the stupid little shit said to me? Me, who had ten years seniority on him, and fifteen years of age, and who could easily kick his little shit-ass? He said, “Why don’t you worry less about what I’m getting paid to do and worry more about earning your own salary.“ Is what he said. “If you’d work as hard at selling as you do at finding excuses to not work you would probably have Penelope’s job by now and be making a decent pay check, and that wife of yours wouldn’t be riding you so hard either.”
Yea! The little shit said that to me. I would have gone ahead and kicked his ass right there if I hadn’t told my wife Ellen that I’d be home early so we could go to that new restaurant she’d been wanting to try out. I mean, happy wife/ happy life, right? There has to be a balance, is what I always say. So instead of kicking his ass I went ahead and got a dig in as I headed out early. “Hey, Franken-shit! Don’t forget to empty my trash can before you leave.” Ha! The stupid fucker.
And then Penelope called me into her office. She wanted to know if I would take Franklin on as my assistant? Teach him the sales ropes, etc.?
“Oh, hell no.” I told her. I don’t have time to babysit that little shit. I don’t even like him.
“Ok,“ she’d said. “Then I’ll give him to Burns-ey.”
”Ha?“ I’d laughed right at her. “Burns can’t handle his own pitiful client load. What the hell is he gonna do with that kid?”
And then Burns won “Top Sales!” Burns, who was the stupidest, laziest shit in the place! “Top Sales”, with its $10k bonus and Hawaiian vacation! Everybody was pissed, and I mean everybody! I can remember going around to everyone I could find, telling them how that fucking Franklin had crawled so far up Penelope’s ass that he could tickle her tonsils from the inside. Everybody laughed of course, but at the same time, nobody was laughing. Not even me.
Whoever could have imagined that someone from our floor could win “Top Sales”? It had never happened before.
I didn’t want to do it, but my wife Ellen became insistent afterward. “$10,000 is a LOT of money, Jacob. We could really use that money.” she’d said. “If Burns can win ”Top Sales” then why can’t you win it? I’ve heard you say a billion times how much more you sell than Burns does.”
Tired of hearing about “Burns, Burns, Burns” I finally sucked it up and knocked on Penelope’s door. “Listen Penelope, maybe I was wrong. Maybe an assistant is a good idea.”
So Penelope gave me Rebecca, from over in data. Rebecca was young, and cute, and very sweet, but not overly ambitious, and there was really not that much for her to do. I mean, I already had my three decent accounts, and the economy was shit, so nobody was buying right then. Cold calls never work anyways, so why bother? With time on our hands, Rebecca and I became pretty close. We started taking long lunches together, and leaving early for drinks, just to unwind, you know, and to rehash the day before heading home? It was all very innocent, of course. Rebecca seemed to understand my challenges when no one else would, and she never seemed in any hurry to return to her empty apartment, much like I was in no hurry to return home to a bitching wife and screaming kids.
It’s funny, I can remember the exact moment when awareness struck me about Rebecca. It was that first time she came to mind as Ellen and I were making love. The first time that I fantasized that it was Rebecca and not Ellen underneath me. Closing my eyes the fantasy became quite real, and I had to remind myself not to say the name Rebecca in my throes with Ellen. It was the first time I wondered if I was in love with Rebecca, or if I was out of love with Ellen, or if both had happened simultaneously? It was also the night, or so says Ellen, that our third child, Jonah, was conceived.
All of this while Franklin and Burns’ successes continued piling up. Inept Penelope was somehow promoted to Regional Sales Manager after Burns won a second “Top Sales” award, from which she quickly promoted him to her old Office Manager position. Franklin moved into Burn’s cubicle next to mine, where I was forced to listen to him every day calling potential customers, using that tired old standardized sales pitch that never, ever worked while I laughed my ass off as he got shot down in flames time and again… mostly. Yet, because of his rapid clientele growth Franklin was given two assistants instead of one, with one of them being my Rebecca.
”Why am I losing my assistant?” I demanded of Penelope.
”Because having an assistant hasn’t helped you grow your clientele.” Penelope said. “And Franklin needs her.”
I was pissed, and all of my anger finally found its way out. ”It’s because he’s your favorite, is why. He’s always been your fucking favorite. Everybody knows it!”
”Yea, maybe he is. And maybe he’s my favorite because he gets the work done, Jacob Bean! Maybe you should try that sometime.”
As if you could grow clients in this fucking company, and in this economy. I am sure you can imagine my extreme disengagement at this point. The janitor, errand boy and “favorite” had passed me by on the ladder of success, my wife had filed for divorce and was raking me over the financial coals, Rebecca could not seem to understand why I struggled to split the bills in her tiny apartment and was forever hounding me to get up off my ass and do “something”, as if I should be expected to do more than the forty a week job I was already toiling at. But at least the boys down at Bernie’s Tavern understood, and leant an empathetic ear.
I suspected something was amiss in my new relationship before it was fully realized. Rebecca’s change was quick and startling. She began to work late, rather than coming home early. She also started to glow, and not just to glow, but to… prosper? My initial thought was that she must be fucking the fucking janitor! Only she wasn’t. It seems she was learning from him instead. Franklin was teaching her. She was learning to organize, to initiate, and to close the fucking sale. And she was doing it. She was really doing it. Who would have thought?
It was a setup. It could not be a coincidence that Rebecca kicked me out of her apartment at the same time Franklin fired me; Franklin, of all the fucking fucks.
And I am the one left homeless and penniless, as if any of this was my fault? Just because I would not be a workplace toady? Because I became disenchanted with a demanding wife?
Because my lover chose a career over a man?
Yep, the thing about ladders is their multidirectionality.
So which direction are you climbing on ?
Slide on over, Stupid
he’s smart as a wink
when he’s dumb as any ol’ hound
He has her flamboozled,
that he’s sharp as a poodle
When I’ve searched and no brain can be found
And it’s all cause he’s talking
when they should be out walking
as if talking could make him unique
When there’s oodles of creatures
who spout off like preachers
but don’t say a thing you’d repeat.
In fact it’s the mutt
who keeps his trap shut
which garners my deepest esteem
Lying silent with pride
at his master’s side
without reiterating every damned thing.
But that’s not my lot
this dog that I’ve got’s
endlessly running mouth
Has put us in trouble
with us boys sleeping double
out in the freakin’ dog house
You asked for it, Buddy
They watched him walk out of the Kroger with an unpaid for loaf of bread and a can of baked beans. He crossed the parking lot, where the perspective of him changed as he was picked up by the camera at The Bank of America on the corner of Fitzhugh and Timmons Pike. A traffic light camera found him next, and then a security camera at the Quick Mart on Timmons and Canary, where he lit up a cigarette and turned into the Riverbirch residential neighborhood. His progress was followed from there through a series of Ring doorbell footages as he made his way towards the aging, lower income Banbury apartment complex where recently installed motion-sensing cameras mounted to the parking lot lighting caught him entering building 206. Finally, the building’s stairwell security watched him crushing out the cigarette butt with the toe of his boot before lumbering up the two flights of stairs and entering unit 3C.
Five minutes later the black and white parking lot cameras revealed the bright white flashes of approaching police cars.
Fortunately, the shootout was quick and painless… for the officers.
He was the initial model, and was not so real looking as the more recent ones, but that was ok with her. Anna wasn’t looking for a man when she bought him, though that’s what she’d wound up with. Her thought was that he would be some sort of mobile computer, a sort of house guest who never soiled any sheets or towels, who didn’t eat her food, or tell her he’d rather watch sports than the Hallmark Channel. He might even turn out to be the “friend“ he was advertised to be, she thought. Someone who could take over driving when she was tired, cook her dinner while she was on the way home after a long day, guard her home while she slept, fix a toilet or anything else in the house, and whom she could turn off when she was tired of him simply by saying, “Alex, turn yourself off.” But, can you believe it, in their eight years together she had never once said that to him? She never had to. Alex was everything she had hoped he’d be and more, from day one on.
He had set Anna back a hefty $86,000 brand new, but the money was pouring in at the time, so why not? It had been a show-off move at the time, as a robot was a sure indicator to anyone and everyone of her financial success. And she’d gone in with low expectations, assuming Alex to be little more that a novelty, if a very intriguing one. He was built on the standard AX4 hydraulically controlled robotic frame. His outer covering was a nitril-latex compound that stretched and even warmed like human skin. His eyes were strikingly lifelike Samsung Seekers, his ears also Samsung, and his brain a derivitive of Musk’s “Grock” AI software.
And at first Alex was, indeed, a novelty. Everyone flocked around him when she began taking him out, asking them both endless questions, all of which he patiently and correctly answered. Children loved him, and old folks, and even some dogs, and Anna basked in his glory. Women commented on his good looks, asking Anna if her Cyroborg came complete with male genatalia, and if so… how was it? The question, Anna knew, was only partly a joke.
”A little stiff,” she always answered, giving them a wink to show that she was also only partially joking. “We’re still working the kinks out.” But he really did have genatalia. Anna had tested it out with awkward reservation that very first night, and nearly every night since. Alex vibrated down there, and spun, and even grew to any desired length and girth. He knew all of her erogenous zones. He said the right things, and did the right things, and even played soft music afterward without her even asking. Sex was just one more thing among everything else that Anna discovered her new Alex to be sensational at.
It was not long before Alex was Anna’s constant companion, and so necessary to her that she wondered how she’d ever done without him. He was useful at home, helpful at work, always agreeable to whatever she wanted or needed. He became her best friend, her confidant, her aide, and though she never, ever thought of Alex as such, he in essence became a personal servant whom she could yell at without retaliation, whom she could send away at will, or silence with a signal, or bark orders at, or just ask for a massage when life was too much. In effect, Alex was perfect. While it was not uncommon for Anna to laughingly exclaim to Alex how much she loved him, she was not fully aware that she actually did… not until the day he glitched, that is.
Eight years is a long time with a companion, even an electronic one. He’d glitched before of course, but this time seemed different. It felt different. It was different. He couldn’t move on his own, and he was too heavy for her to carry, so she was forced to call a Cyroborg technician out, and wait three days for the appointment, all the while feeling like a helpless parent with a sick child, wanting to do something for him, anything at all to help him. She talked to him, asking him constant questions which he was sadly unable to answer, even the simplest ones. Anna found herself checking his temperature, placing the back of her hand on his forehead, realizing as she did it how foolish the act was, but he was sick, wasn’t he? He needed her help, someone’s help, but she could think of absolutely nothing to do for him other than to call Cyborborg and raise absolute holy fucking hell, which she had no problem doing. And when that didn’t work, she tried begging… pleading… crying… could they not please come quicker than three days? She really, really needed someone. Was there not a supervisor she could talk to? But apparently there are a lot of broken Cyroborgs out there after eight years, which was reasonable, as his warranty had only been five years, limited.
Anna was watching out the window for it when the van finally turned into the drive. She’d been watching for two hours, and pacing. As she’d watched for it she’d been praying (in a very secular sort of way), “Hang on Alex. Help is coming, Sweetie. I promise they are, just hold on.” She really couldn’t say exactly when it was that she’d begun calling him “Sweetie,” but at some distant point she had, and he’d even adjusted his own settings without asking for her permission, intuitively, in order to answer to it, just as a human would. Alex was really good at doing that.
Just as a human would.
She’d been absolutely astounded, watching him as the technician removed his skin right in front of her, unscrewing the plate protecting Alex’s computer panel with a greasy, old Makita cordless drill. Unable to stop herself, Anna had spied over his shoulder, amazed at the lack of blood and sinew. She’d never seen inside Alex before. She was fascinated, watching. He had become so real to her that she could not believe he was not real, because he was real, wasn’t he? He was just real in a different way, a better way. The apprehension she felt while watching the man work was completely exhausting, so she pulled herself away and poured a glass of wine, but it didn’t help. She was back within minutes, looking over the guy’s shoulder, whispering silent prayers to some electronic God named Habib who was tucked away in some semi-sterile factory/ laboratory creating life that was so much better than she knew it to be.
Her Alex was so kind, so gentle, so honest, so caring, so nurturing, so smart, so wonderful, and ever and always so. So much more than anyone could be. It is why the muscles of her body locked when the man finally spoke, his back still to her as he worked. “Mam, all I can tell you right now is that it’s not good.”
Her blood froze with the words, her chest constricted. “What do you mean? You can fix him, can’t you?” The words barely worked their way out of her, shaking as they came.
”No, Mam. Not here. I’ll get him loaded up and we’ll get him back to the lab, but to fix him will probably be very expensive. I don’t even know if they are making some of these parts anymore. I expect you could get a new Cyroborg for what it would cost to fix this one.”
”But I don’t want a new one. I want my Alex.”
”Yes, Mam. I get that a lot. People do get attached to these things.”
”He’s no ’thing,’“ Anna reprimanded him. “Alex is my best friend.“
”Yes, Mam. I understand. But I think you’ll like the newer models. You can’t even tell they aren’t human.”
A newer model? Was she expected to just go out and get a “new and improved friend?”
”I don’t want a newer fucking model, asshole!“ Her voice was several octaves higher now. What could this fucking clown not understand? “I want Alex, and I don’t care what it fucking costs!” She was frightened, and nonsensical, and she knew it, but she was sensing that the impossible, that a life without her Alex, was suddenly a real possibility. Surely he could be fixed… surely!”
”Mam, I understand. Really I do, but I want to show you some things. Even if your ‘Alex‘ comes back fully repaired, he won’t be the same.” In the most sensitive manner possible, much as a doctor with a wonderful bedside manner would do, the technician walked her through the antiquated control panel, the worn-spots on his outer layer, the damage to the cameras and microphones and speakers that time and use had caused, and worse the leaking hydraulics. “I don’t know what can be done for him, but we’ll try. I promise you, we’ll try.”
His voice was so sympathetic, and so forlorn, that her dams burst wide, all the tension unwinding, all the fear inside her manifesting into pitiable release. She needed someone and he was the only one there, but the damned technician was so wonderful that it was easy to let herself go; holding her, letting her cry, his patience unending, and his empathy.
”You are amazing.” She truly meant it. She had never met anyone, other than Alex of course (and possibly her mother), who could have handled her ridiculous outburst any better, and she was fully aware of its ridiculousness, as Alex was a fucking robot for Christ’s sake. There was no one, she was sure, anywhere who could have handled the situation as well as this blue collar technician had. He had been sympathetic, and empathetic, and patient, and caring, and all of the things a repair man usually wasn’t. He was even gentle with the hand truck as he rolled her “love“ out of her door, and out of her life. And Alex was “her love.” She realized it now, for the first time. She did love Alex. She loved him as she’d never loved anyone before him. She was thinking this as she watched him being loaded into the back of the transit van.
His work complete, the man returned. Her crying had stopped, but all within her now was cold and dry, as though she was the robot. “We’ll call you, Mam, but I urge you to not get your hopes too high. I’m afraid you will only be hurt worse.”
Anna somehow heard the words through the buzzing in her head, registering them. She was ashamed of how she’d acted. Her voice was calmer now, monotone, robotic. “You have been too kind. Is there someone I can call to tell how much I appreciate how wonderful you’ve been, a supervisor, or a manager perhaps?”
”No, Mam.” He smiled, but the smile was in no way demeaning. “But you will receive an e-mailed survey that I would appreciate a 5 rating on. I am a Model AX10.“
The technician was a robot? But of course he was, she reflected! There was no way a real repair man could have been so… so… so human?
And with that, Anna’s tears commenced once more.
A Novel, New Method of Sensitivity Training
It is a small, one-room Louisiana jailhouse with iron bars and a searing tin roof in which the boy is imprisoned. Thirteen years old, the freedom loving child has committed the ultimate crime against humanity and has been caught red-handed, and so he must suffer its justice. The boy spends much of his time standing on his cot hoping to nab some fresh air, and to better see out the window, wincing painfully when one of the fingers clinging to the window’s sill accidentally brushes against the scorching bars.
In the corner of the window cowers a tiny black widow. The boy has named the pest Polly. He lets Polly be, mostly, unafraid of her nature to bite. More-so he pities her, she being stuck in her own prison, what with a blue lizard awaiting it on the inside wall and a tarantula on the outside and nary a breeze to parachute away upon. Yes, much like the boy, the spider finds herself too curing alone in this post-modern pickle jar.
Yet, it is not just these two with troubles. This infernal little environment is safe for none, as the blue lizard has his own worries, tasting like chicken and sharing a room with our starving boy. And outside a Piper has spotted the tarantula, and a moccasin has curled itself up in the shade of the jail’s wall, and a gator roars angrily from out the bayou, and all this while a dusty devil of buzzards circles ever higher up the blue-clear sky above.
It is a rough place for a boy out of tobacco, his every craving unsatisfied, a hellish though deserved place. But do not pity him. The boy has committed a crime… many crimes, in fact. He is a criminal, who first and mostly has forgone God. Besides that though, the boy has killed the father who resented him, and has escaped the widow who would gentrify him, festering him with sentimental, matriarchal rules. This boy has run, and rafted, and fished, and wished, and smoked, and joked, and done it all naked and shoeless and free of guilt or shame, til now.
So you see, he is the vilest sort, and is deserving of all that comes to him, the happy little shit.
But those are not his worse crimes, not by a long shot. The boy has also lied, and stolen.
He stole a man’s property and ran away with it! He pretended sickness and death to keep that property. He resorted to trickery to evade its re-capture. The boy had the fucking gaul to take another man’s man and give it hope, friendship, and freedom! Good God, you may ask! What in thunderous tarnation is wrong with the lad?
But, no worries. He is finally caught, called out by the righteous throngs.
Because incredibly, even these are not his worse crimes. He is much more nefarious than a liar, a thief, a murderer, or a happy child willing to risk his free way of living just to save another from bondage. This lad is so much worse. This boy has allowed a bad word into his 150 year old narrative… a hurtful word. And he has allowed it in on purpose, his intent to shock, and to disgust, and to apply a liberal coat of guilt across the wall of humanity he fully intended to tear down when he began narrating the story, and unveiling the fucking hypocrisy’s surrounding him.
But instead humanity has torn him down. Huckleberry indeed!
God have mercy on this poor boy’s soul, for we, with our outraged volumes full of feelings, shall have none.
You Don’t Cut Wood with a Hammer
“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!” - Nancy Sinatra
(I included the full chorus for those unfamiliar with the phrase.)
This is Nancy Sinatra’s lie, that boots are made for walking. Lies are for the weak, for people looking to believe that a short term outcome based on deceit will improve their current situation more than truth can improve their long term outcome (which of course it cannot do). It is why hell is so heavily populated, people looking for instant gratification, and is why Nancy never could have walked all over an honest man, but then she wouldn’t have wanted to, either.
Shoes are made for walking, silly. Boots are made for riding... horses, specifically. Is why a boot toe is pointed… to more easily find and enter a stirrup while climbing aboard a nervous tempered animal. Riding is also why the heel on a boot is high… to catch itself on said stirrup to ensure that the foot doesn’t slip all the way through, which can be catastrophic for the rider who is tossed from the saddle. And the boot’s shaft raises it up over the ankle to keep that stuff piled up across the stable floor from oozing inside, as it will do if one is wearing a shoe. Pant legs can even be stuffed inside the tops of the boot shafts to keep their cuffs clean from stable messes (as well as to show off the beautiful piping of a well-made boot). It is sound advice to not wear flip-flops when riding.
No, shoes are made for walking, Nancy. Not boots. But then shoes have no place in a stable, where the boot is the perfect foot accessory for equestrian activities, though at the same time, the very features that make a boot great for riding leave it imperfect for walking; the narrow toe box, and the raised heels combining to cramp the toes down in there.
I blame Frank. It was his responsibility to teach Nancy to use the right tool for the job.
So there you have it. You may wear your boots to walk over someone if you want to be weak like Nancy, but it is simply a misuse of good equipment. I mean, if you have already tugged into your boots, then why walk? Go ahead and ride the hell over them!
A Question of Consent
When Nichole’s eyes opened the first thing she noticed was that she was in a strange bed, and then that there was a strange guy beside her in it. She’d awakened next to guys before, of course, but never a complete stranger. The surprise of it was astonishing. She had no idea who this guy was, or of how she’d come to be here. She’d never even seen him around campus. He was not attractive, certainly not someone she would ever, ever let near her under ordinary circumstances. But these were not ordinary circumstances, were they? She’d been hammered last night. Even as she stared at him slow memories bubbled up from the depths of last night’s cesspool, providing her with snapshots of truth. Her addled brain refused to show her entire scenes at a time, only still images which couldn’t be real, could they? She could not have done those things. She would not have! Not with this guy, and not with any other stranger, either. Hell, she’d never done some of those things with guys she knew, and liked.
But here she was, lying beside this gross looking guy whose name she couldn’t even remember. “Tanner,“ she thought, “or Turner,“ or some-such shit, and in his apartment too. In his bed. She cringed at that. She had to get up. Dear god, she had to get up! There was no telling what he did in this bed when alone. Though she willed herself up, she was just too fucking shitty to move. But she had to move, didn’t she? Fuck yes, she had to move. So what if she threw up on his floor? If she didn’t get up she was likely to get sick right here in his bed.
Still, she didn’t move immediately. The guy’s uncovered body was blob-like beside her, like a pillow, not really fat, but soft and putty-ish, a shapeless blob in its current fetal posture, a blob with short reddish hairs almost like pubes everywhere, and an ass rash that pimpled the backs of his thighs.
What the fucking fuck? Stifling a gag she turned her eyes away from him.
Nichole did then the only thing she really could do. Despite her pounding head she eased from the bed ever-so carefully, desperate not to wake him. She fumbled around, the only light an early morning gray which crept in around the edges of the patio door’s vertical blinds, barely enough to find a shoe here, panties there, her black dress, and finally her purse. The stairwell was spinning as she descended, sickening her again. The heavy steel security door at the bottom clunked shut behind her. It was cold on the sidewalk. Her jacket? She’d had it last night. Fuck, it was probably upstairs. Turning around, she tried the knob. Locked. Fucking fuck!
The cold produced a shiver. Despite herself she thought about the guy in the bed upstairs lying naked, flabby, and gross. Again her stomach turned, only this time Nichole did throw up it’s contents on the sidewalk, uncaring that it splattered on her shoes and feet. She began to cry.
She never would have done it with a guy like that, she thought… had sex that is. But then she had a too clear memory of going down on him, his hand pushing the top of her head downward, his eager anticipation of the act hurrying her along. With that her stomach heaved and she threw up again. Her stomach now emptied, she glanced either way up and down the deserted street. Nothing looked familiar. Where the fuck was she?
Bits and pieces of memory recalled the two of them staggering away from the bar, laughing loudly as they went. They had walked here together, which meant that she had to be near campus, but which direction? The apartment complex was large, with every building exactly alike. Unsure of the proper direction, she turned right and started walking. Once away from the building’s protection the wind found her, whipping at her bare arms and legs. The morning sky was still gray, adding depth to the fog in her brain. Another right and she saw the University Chapel across the street. She was on the far side of the campus, a good fifteen to twenty minute walk, but by the time a ride share arrived she could be there. She started walking, swiping with the palm of her hand at the disgust and humiliation streaming from her eyes and nose as she went.
Misery and the wind sped her along. Between those things and the cold her hand shook so that the key would not go in the knob. It was Sunday morning, and thankfully early. No one in the sorority house was moving yet. After a hot shower Nichole put on some panties and a sweatshirt, then eased out of her own room and into Teresa’s, where she crawled into bed with her friend.
”Hey girl!“ Teresa’s voice was sleepy. “Everything ok?”
Nichole thought about that for a long minute. How much to tell? But what she said next would unexpectedly light the fuse on a truth bomb, making her wish for a long time after that she’d said something else, anything else. What she was looking for when she said it was sympathy. What she expected was to be comforted, to be assured that everything was alright, and maybe to have her hair stroked while hearing it, but what her comment sparked was something else entirely. “No, Tera. I think I was raped.”
Teresa bolted upright. From the look on her face Nichole could see she had flipped a switch in her housemate that would be impossible to un-flip. “What do you mean, ‘I think I was raped?’ Did that guy from the bar force himself on you?”
”Yes... no… not really, fuck! I can’t remember. I sort of remember going into his apartment with him, and that‘s pretty much it.”
Teresa, a law student, already had her phone in hand and was texting away with what was to Nichole astounding speed and dexterity, while continuously muttering at the same time, “Oh my God… oh my God… oh my God. Nicki, think. You have to remember. This is very important. Tell me everything you remember… everything. Right now, while it’s fresh.”
Nichole did not want to tell Teresa everything, especially not right now. Nichole felt like shit. What Nichole wanted was to cuddle up beside her friend and go to sleep, but Teresa’s tone was urgent, and uncharacteristically commanding. “Sit up, Nichole. Lari and Candace are on their way. I’ll start some coffee, but I need you awake and remembering.
The four girls were all hung-over, having used last night to celebrate the end of mid-terms. They sat close together, Indian-style in the queen-sized bed, warm in their baggy sweatpants and hoodies. ”Alright Nichole, think. First, what was his name?”
Nichole sat with her back against the headboard, her lower half safely under the covers, a warm, pink coffee mug cradled in both hands. ”I don’t remember, Teresa. I swear I don’t. I think it was Tanner, or something like that.”
”I know exactly who he was.” Candace wore an expression which implied complete and utter disgust. “He was Professor Turnbow. I had him for freshman Biology.”
The other three girls’ eyes and jaws all widened at once. “That guy was a professor? He looked so young!”
But Candace was so sure of herself that she didn’t bother replying.
”Oh God, Nichole. You have to tell us everything… every single thing you can remember. This is very important.”
Nichole’s eyes closed as her chin fell to her chest. She didn’t want to do this; to stay awake and tell everything, but how could she get out of it at this point? When it would be absolutely nothing for her to fall over asleep right this very second?
“I remember being at the bar with you guys. I remember us all going up to dance together. He must have been on the dance floor already, because I turned a little and found myself face-to-face with him, dancing with him. He was really quite good, and I couldn’t quit watching his quirky dance moves. And I remember talking to him. We were yelling into each others’ ears above the music and he was nice, and complimentary, and funny. And I remember more drinks, and stepping outside with him for fresh air because I was feeling a little sick, and then he pointed over to his apartment complex and said it would be warmer over there, and quiet… we could talk. And then I remember nothing except that I was really drunk, and that I was hanging onto him as we walked so that I wouldn’t fall down. I remember laughing about how drunk I was, and how I just wanted to sit down, but he kept saying I couldn’t sit down yet, it was just a little further. And he was really very sweet and helpful, although I can see how it could have been manipulative now, still I went along willingly enough. But I can’t remember shit after that… other than waking up naked in his bed with a feeling that I’d been drunk and taken advantage of. Oh, but I do have a vague memory of his hand pushing my head down toward his dick (she conveniently left out that she had begun moving in that direction willingly, and of her own volition) and holding it down there. And I think at some point I was face down on the bed with him on top of me, and that’s it. That’s all I can remember.”
But that was enough. The other three sat in stupefied silence, but all were thinking the same thing. “Men are fucking pigs!”
”Oh God, Nichole.” Candace hesitated before asking the question, her voice a mere whisper. “Did he hurt you?”
Nichole was surprised at the almost cavalier quality her own voice assumed. “No, not at all. I was just ashamed and mortified when I woke up beside him and realized what I had done, what he had done to me.”
Nichole went ahead too and answered the only remaining question which lingered in the air about the suddenly silent bed. “Then I woke up, eased myself out of the bed, put on my clothes, and left. What else could I do?”
It was over. There was nothing more that she could tell them, nothing more that she remembered, although she suspected that plenty had happened that was still unsaid, and that much of it might not reflect positively on her. All three of the other girls were touching some part of her in solidarity, offering positive proof of the true sisterhood that a sorority offered a young woman testing out her wings. These girls were her sisters, and her friends. “You are safe here,“ their touches assured her. “We have you now.” Nichole sunk herself down into their offered comfort, finding herself rock-a-byed to sleep by the steady ticking of fingertips on phone screens.
Still unable to face the world on Monday Nichole ditched it, remaining in bed. At 2:30 in the afternoon she received a text from Teresa that she had made Nichole an appointment on Tuesday afternoon with her Women’s Studies professor, who was also a non-practicing attorney. On Tuesday morning Nichole was feeling physically back to normal again, though not psychologically. She could see no real reason to ditch her classes, but she ditched them anyways, although she did get dressed for her meeting with Teresa’s Professor Finebaum.
The professor was a middle-aged woman with a horrible hair cut which highlighted her general lack of attention to appearance. Nichole was not surprised to find a framed photograph on the bookshelf of the professor’s younger self kissing another similarly masculine looking woman. The office where she and Teresa met the professor was as disheveled as the woman herself was, her desktop being scattered with so many papers, books, and coffee cups that her laptop was nearly invisible beneath it all, giving the impression of one who was extremely busy, and bringing to Nichole’s mind a picture she remembered seeing on the internet of Einstein’s cluttered desk on the day he died.
But Nichole liked her very much. The older woman was insistent that Nichole call her “Abby”. Abby was low-voiced, as most truly confident people are, and was an intent listener, looking overtop of her glasses and leaning forward to probe whenever a misplaced word made Nichole’s meaning unclear.
With the story re-told (along with some added parts that Teresa had not heard the first time), and when Nichole could think of absolutely nothing to add, Abby sat back in her desk chair, adjusting her glasses as she thought.
“You say you don’t remember. Were you conscious?“
”I think so. I remember bits and pieces. I was very drunk.” That last part Nichole whispered meekly.
”Bits and pieces like his pushing your head down toward his penis?”
”Yes.” Nichole felt her face flushing at the other woman’s straightforwardness.
“Were you already naked when he did that?”
”Yes. I think so. I’m pretty sure.”
”Mmm-hmmm. Did you disrobe yourself, or did he do it?”
”I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
”Sigh. I think it’s safe to say you were unconscious.”
”No. There are things I remember, they just don’t seem real.”
”Like what? Tell me what you mean?”
“My eyes were closed.“ Having said that Nichole closed her eyes, willing a return to the thoughts and feelings of that night. “It all seemed far away, like in a dream, like it was happening to someone else, you know?” As Nichole spoke them she realized that her words were the truth, even though her mind’s eye was blind to it. “His kisses were soft, sweet. They were somehow settling. My head stopped spinning while he was kissing me, and my stomach ceased its roiling. The simple act of kissing seemed medicinal for me. When the kissing stopped the sickness returned, the dizziness, so of course I didn’t want the kisses to stop. In that moment I needed them.” Nichole lowered her eyes for the next part, the flooding memories weighting her guilt, leaving her unable to look at Teresa as she leveled with her and Abby. “So then, when he said he wanted to make love to me, and with me not wanting the kissing to stop… I said ok.” With that, Teresa slumped back in her chair. Nichole believed this would be the end of it. She waited shamefully, her eyes lowered, waiting for the storm from Abby Finebaum to start. What she got was a storm alright, but not of the type she was expecting.
”That doesn’t matter.”
Nichole’s eyes clenched tighter. Believing that the confession would end it had been relieving. She’d never really wanted to be involved in all of this, but her initial confession to Teresa had snowballed it out of her control. ”What do you mean? I told him he could do it. I wanted him to. I gave him consent.”
”Well Honey, this world has changed. Consent is tied to the Fourth Amendment now, and a girl’s body is her castle. Do you understand what that means?”
”No, not really.”
”You were very drunk. For all intent and purpose you were unconscious. Inebriated consent to sex does not continue on to include forced lascivious acts that you cannot even remember. Did you give your consent to performing oral sex on him, or did he push your head down there, like you said. Did he force you?”
Nichole didn’t answer. She really wasn’t sure, her uncertainty stemming from the fact that she strangely enjoyed giving head. She considered it her chance to really “see what she was in for,“ as she had bragged to her girlfriends in the past. And because of that, she was pretty sure she had started down there on her own. But if this really went to trial then her mother would be in that courtroom, and her father… possibly even her Nana. That certainly had to be considered in her answer.
And then, even a teensy-little lie right now could ruin a man’s life, possibly even put him in jail, a man who might not deserve it. She did not know how to answer Abby’s question, so she didn’t answer it at all.
”Did you give your consent to anal sex? Or did you awaken to find him on top of you, like you said? Have you been telling me the whole truth, Nichole?”
But Nichole honestly wasn’t sure if she even knew the whole truth.
She felt an irresistible need to see him before meeting again with Abby Finebaum tomorrow morning, as if seeing him might somehow provide her with answers, so Nichole was sitting on a bench outside Staley Hall when he finally emerged. It was too cold to be sitting on an outdoors bench, but she was well layered, having bulked up to present a different appearance, one he probably wouldn’t recognize… and he didn’t. In fact he walked right past her, offering her a quick, respectful nod as he passed by, as anyone polite would naturally give to a stranger in passing, which she almost was. He didn’t look piggish and gross now, when clothed, as he had while lying naked in his bed. In fact, he looked nice, cute even, reminding her of a slightly heavier Ed Sheeran. She could see why she might have been attracted to him in the bar, and she felt a sense of relief from that. When he had passed out of sight Nichole stood up, stretched out her stiffened back, and started off in the other direction, taking the long way back to Tri-Delta House.
Why not take the long route? She had a lot to fucking think about.
“A woman’s body is her castle,“ Abby had stated to her. But Nichole had to decide if her castle been sacked? Or had she opened its gates, inviting the horde inside?
It was a massive chunk of stone, and a tiny chisel.
He easily could have looked up at it and despaired. He probably should have!
“Why try… why bother?” Most would ask.
Was it that he saw something beautiful inside the stone?
Or was it that he saw something beautiful inside himself?
Or was it because he wanted you to see something beautiful in mankind?
He was a quiet man. We can only surmise in where his faith laid.
But there is no doubt that his first his blow was struck with faith.