The Manchurian Feminist

Bob Hogewood greeted his daughter’s future in-laws then eased into the empty leather chair next to the one his wife occupied. Jane Hogewood shot her husband a disapproving look.

“Well it certainly looks as if we might enjoy very tall grandchildren!” Glenn Baker said as he sized-up Bob and smiled broadly. “You must be six-foot-two.”

“Six-four, actually,” Bob said. “But please, don’t let my lateness interrupt the festivities.”

“As I was saying, Molly was raised to be a very traditional girl,” Jane explained to Glenn, his wife Millicent, and their son, Breck, who was sitting odd-man-out on the love seat watching the older couples interact. “Yes, we are a very traditional family,” Jane continued. She raised her hand slightly keeping it close to her shoulder. “Guilty as charged, haha. Very traditional. Some in the community have had a problem with that. Even some from our church. As a very active real estate agent and member of the Million Dollar Club, I end up hearing simply everything through the grapevine. You’d be surprised.”

“Yes, well, I’m not at all surprised,” said Glenn as he clapped his son on the back. “Times have certainly changed and Breck, well, let’s just say he has not always been so circumspect in his choice of female companions. Have you Old Sport? In this case, however, we could not be more delighted by his choice. Molly is a wonderful girl and we just think the world of her.”

“Thank you, Glenn. That means a lot,” said Bob just as Molly returned and began handing out glasses of iced tea and small napkins to help them hold the sweating glasses.

“Oh my aren’t these just lovely,” Millicent said. “Crystal?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “Antique. Passed down three generations of Bob’s family. We are the fourth, and Molly’s family will become the fifth.”

“Someday,” Bob said.

Brief chuckles all around.

“The etching is beautiful,” said Millicent. “Just lovely. We’ve traveled, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Thank you, Millicent,” said Bob. “All of my brothers and sisters wanted it, but since I was the oldest sibling, it passed directly to Jane and I.”

“What a great story,” Millicent said. “And please, call me Millie.”

Bob smiled and raised his glass. “Well then, cheers Millie.”

“So what did I miss while I was in the kitchen?” Molly asked.

“Just that your prospective in-laws think very highly of you, as we do of their son,” said Bob.

Molly beamed. “The feeling is quite mutual.”

“You know,” said Jane, “since Molly is our only child we have always supported her dreams and fancies, and were thrilled when she said she intended to go to medical school and work with missionaries and Doctors Without Datelines. We felt it is such a noble calling.”

“We have decided that plan is not consistent with what we envision going forward,” Breck said. “We both think that Molly is of far more value to our domestic future. She will be a fine wife and great mother for me and our children.”

“Children, eventually, right,” Bob said. “Surely you’re going to give it time. Make sure you’re stable financially. Make sure things, well, work out.”

“We understand your concern,” Breck said. “But we believe in each other.”

Bob looked at them and paused noticeably before replying. “Molly’s mother and I are a bit surprised thought that things seem to be moving along so fast. Won’t things be a bit challenging with both of you having almost two years of college to finish?”

“Oh, that won’t be an issue, sir,” Breck said. “College was never for me. I never matriculated and Molly will be quitting in order to get the homestead in order.”

Jane Hogewood perked up at this. “Homestead?” she asked. “But what about your degree, dear? And we were under the impression that you both were in school pursuing degrees.”

“No ma’am. Molly will be putting what she’s learned to good use managing the kitchen and the garden,” Breck said as Molly crossed the room and sat next to him on the loveseat.

Jane’s face brightened. “You could always join me in the real estate biz,” she said. “I’ll teach you everything I know.”

“Mama, I don’t think you understand–“

“We appreciate that offer, Mrs. Hogewood,” Breck said. “We will let you know if that becomes a favorable option for us.”

Bob gazed at Breck as though he were an animal he’d never seen before. He shook himself as Glenn began to speak.

“Well it certainly sounds like you kids have this all figured out,” Glenn said. “We wish you all the best. Just all the best.” He turned and saluted Bob with his highball glass. “Don’t we, old man?”

“We certainly do,” Bob said, “But I do have some questions. We’ve already invested two years in Molly’s degree. We have always viewed this as an important investment in Molly’s future so that she’s not too dependent on a husband. I mean, we’re thrilled at her choice, but life being what it is…And don’t you think it would be wise for someone in the family to finish college?”

“Now see here,” Glenn Baker said. He began rising slightly until Millicent put her hand on his thigh.

Breck smiled. “Please, Dad, allow me to address this. I will take good care of your daughter, sir,” he said. “Like no one ever has or will.”

“I’m sure you fully intend to, young man. But…” Bob said, his face becoming blotchy, flushed. Jane slipped her hand on the back of his neck and stroked it with her fingers as Bob addressed his daughter. “Is this really what you want, sweetheart?”

“I defer to Breck,” she said.

Everyone shifted in their seats and reached for their sweating tea glasses. Everyone except Breck. “I have more to say to the family,” he said, “whilst you all drink this magnificent tea, lovingly prepared.”

Bob perked up at this and said, “You’ve set a date already, haven’t you. Haven’t you.”

Breck smiled. “No sir. Not exactly,” he said with what appeared to be genuine warmth. He then stood and addressed the group with his back very straight, his head very high. “We’ve married. Several weeks ago. Allow me to present the beautiful Mrs. Breck Baker. My forever wife, and, I’m delighted to finally announce, soon-to-be mother of the first child in our families’ continuing lineage.”

Molly turned to each set of parents, smiling. “I’m so proud to finally tell you,” she said.

“We understand this is sudden,” Breck continued. “But my little kitten here and I just, well, decided it was time.”

All four parents went somewhat stiff at this. Their eyes darted back and forth among their respective child’s prospective in-laws and each other. Jane wept openly. Millicent took deep breaths. Bob slumped against the sofa back with a sunken chest.

Glenn broke the silence. “So, when is this little blessing due?” he asked.

“Seven months,” Breck said. “And no, so far we don’t want to know what it is. We’re just happy to be blessed with the first of seven or eight children, and to be able to get started right away.”

Preoccupied as they all were, no one noticed Bob’s red face, the twitch in his eye, the prominent veins on his neck like steel cables binding cord wood under tension.

Bob looked down and shook his head. “This is not the plan,” he said under his breath. “This was never the plan. It’s not too late to–to do something about it!”

The Bakers turned towards Bob, their eyes wide in horror.

“Daddy!” shouted Molly.

No one noticed that his large hand, wrapped around the glass of tea, was shaking. Before anyone addressed his comment, Bob yelled “Motherfucker!” and leapt to his feet. In one smooth, violent gesture, his left arm whipped forward sending one antique fourth-generation crystal highball glass against the stone fireplace where it exploded in a shower of jagged shards and bursts of sweet tea. Shocked out of their respective reveries, everyone’s eyes widened as Bob launched himself across the coffee table. “Motherfucker!” he yelled again as he fell against Breck knocking him back onto the loveseat as Molly scrambled out of the way. Then Bob Hogewood, father of Molly, husband of Jane, deacon of his church and five-time salesman of the year began swinging his massive fists in loose, wide arcs like an enraged lesser primate at his son-in-law’s head.

Glenn pounced on Bob and attempted to pry the much bigger man off of his boy whose right eye was already swelling shut above the flap of skin that had been opened just below his cheekbone. Blood gushed first from Breck’s cheek and eventually from his swollen, broken nose.

“Daddy!” Molly shouted as the three men fell across the coffee table and she kicked at their legs to try and separate them as Millie Baker ran from the room. “Mother!”

Jane held a highball glass loosely in each hand as she stared at the shimmering destruction about the fireplace.

“They really are such lovely glasses,” she said.

###

The Clit Cam

Callie spread her legs and lay back in the chair watching the widescreen monitor high on the opposite wall. When the doctor said “Voila” from somewhere beneath the canopy of her exam gown stretched over her knees, the empty screen on the wall filled with random pulsating pixels until the face of Dr. Goncalves, squatting between her thighs, smiled and waved at her from the screen across the room.

She shivered as his thumb brushed her clitoris.

“Sorry about that,” came the muffled voice below the gown and between her legs. “Need a few more drops of silicone on your eye. Er, camera eye.”

Callie could see by his concerned expression as he stood up and stretched that the doctor was sincere.

“Some awkwardness is the price of progress,” Goncalves said.

“No pain, no gain,” Callie said. “I understand.”

Goncalves produced a small, thin device and handed it to Callie.

“This is your remote,” he said, “and there’s a duplicate in your information packet. The battery life of the bio-mechanical implant is about five years. As discussed, this device actually recharges from energy generated by your body. Eventually, though, you will have to come in for a full recharge or replacement.”

“How will I know that the battery is going out?”

“An excellent question, to be sure. The battery light on the face of that remote will light up. That means that with minimal use, you have about three weeks before it dies. But as I said, it’s all very imprecise when it comes to batteries and how the device harnesses energy from the body to maintain the charge. And I’m just a lowly surgeon, not a technology geek,” he said.

They chuckled together as equals.

“What kind of mobile device do you own?” the doctor asked.

“Apple,” she said. “iPhone.”

“The manufacturer does offer an app that you can download which will also control the unit and make it easier to send pictures or video directly to you phone. But again–“

“You’re not a nerd! I get it,” Callie said. “How about the camera? Anything special I should know?”

“Not really,” Goncalves said. “It’s some kind of wide view fiber optic that protrudes just under your clitoral hood.”

“Will men–will my boyfriend feel it when he penetrates me?”

“It is certainly possible,” the doctor said. “And I am unfamiliar with the laws of your country so you must investigate if recording someone during such activities is against your laws.”

“I think I’m well within my rights. A girl can’t be too careful these days. And besides, I’ll just tell th–him that it’s a new piercing.”

“Yes, well, we must certainly crack some eggs if we are to make the omelette, no?”

“What about my eggs?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

She then looked up at Dr. Goncalves the way she looked at every man she wanted something from. “Well I sure do wish my boyfriend had come with me,” she said. “I’m dying to give this a try, even if it were just with his finger.”

“That is truly, truly a shame,” the doctor said as he felt an erection coming on. “Please check with our business office about final payment, and accept my warmest wishes for safe travels back to America.”

He left the room so fast it was as though he’d never been there.

***

Months later, Dr. Goncalves sat in a conference room with his business partners drinking coffee and smoking Cohibas. A monitor on the wall was tuned to an American news channel where his former patient Callie announced she was bringing suit against a South American healthcare electronics company, and investigating a classmate. “He hacked my clit’s live feed and streamed it to a website called CalliesClitCam.us” where the engorged penises of at least twenty different men were all timestamped entering her within a six week span.

“Are we vulnerable on this, Raul?” a gray-haired man standing near the monitor asked.

“Not at all,” Raul said. “Not even if they find the kid who did this and figure it all out. Our tech is solid. No tech is, shall we say…impenetrable.”

The men laughed.

“You said you had a promising startup seeking investment or acquisition,” the gray-haired man said. “What of that?”

“His name is Anderssen. A Mr. Tomas Anderssen,” Raul said. “He claims to have developed a condom with a tiny fiber optic camera in the base which can be paired with mobile devices to record simultaneous audio. He assures us it will greatly reduce false rape accusations and will revolutionize the industry.

“Yes,” Goncalves said, clearly impressed. “That would sell billions of units. Market penetration would be…deep. Very deep.”

They all laughed again as Goncalves opened a decanter of scotch.

###

Metamorphosis 2020

Lester’s wife, Elvira, left that year on Valentine’s Day when lockdown appeared imminent.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t be quarantined with you. I still have my youth. I have still have time to be happy.”

“You’re forty-eight,” Lester said. “Almost forty-nine.”

“Exactly,” said Elvira.

He never saw her again.

Lester thought about being sad, but three people in his county had a cough so he didn’t have time. As soon as Elivra’s car left the driveway, he made for the garage, hitched his small wagon to Ol’ Blue Betty, his pet burro, and skinned out for The Everything Store.

Lester already had a spare bedroom filled with paper towels and toilet paper. He’d been using the cardboard rolls in his folk art for years so he quietly thanked Providence for being so providential. This also made his shopping list a slam dunk: Sports drink, 20 cases; instant mac and cheese, 20 cases; cheese curlz, 20 bags; vienna sausages: 20 cases; glycerin suppositories: 20 boxes; and one jar of adult gummy multivitamins.

Lester lived forty-five miles from The Everything Store so when he got back home with his supplies five days later, he piled them in the bedroom his wife had been sleeping in. So much had happened already that he couldn’t remember her name anymore and he was beginning to feel funny but he knew how to make himself feel better. His job required everyone to work from home until further notice so he called the cable company to upgrade to the full digital package that included seven porn channels and over three thousand other channels that he was pretty sure didn’t exist.

That first day and night had been glorious. He let his phone battery die on purpose and didn’t recharge it. He didn’t pay the internet bill either which meant he couldn’t receive emails. He was pretty sure that viruses affect computer systems, too, so it wasn’t his fault and Anna Karenina or whatever his boss’s name was could suck it. He ate three large New York style pizzas and watched porn all night then finally fell asleep at dawn.

He did not sleep well.

He woke often with the worst headache he’d ever had. What light there was in the room blinded him. It was as if the room were full of massive Klieg lights every time he tossed and turned, woke up in a haze, and opened his eyes. Nothing but blinding light and double, triple, even quadruple vision. He started thinking he might have the virus and began worrying about Ol’ Blue Betty because he had forgotten to buy her the gummy bears and tinned kippers she loved.

When he awoke for the twentieth time and couldn’t get back to sleep, he kept his eyes shut and walked around the den turning off all the lamps and overhead lights. Once he was pretty sure the room was dark he opened his eyes.

The glow of the fifty-two inch widescreen tv was painful but bearable. He found the remote and dimmed the screen. He was hungry and was pretty sure he’d been asleep for a few months. Walking was difficult. Why were his legs so stiff? This could be a problem as there were steps up to the kitchen from the sunken living room. His skin was becoming very tender all over. Surely he didn’t have bedsores? It was difficult to tell in the dark but he seems to have developed some kind mild lesions. He wondered if this were a symptom of the worst virus in the history of mankind and decided to look it up on the internet but when he tried was confronted with the error page since he hadn’t paid the bill. But because he had forgotten he hadn’t paid the bill, he called customer service and yelled at someone who spoke a language that he was pretty sure was Canadian and which he didn’t understand and who he was pretty sure didn’t understand him. He then realized he didn’t understand himself, either. Did he really sound like that?

It was then he realized his phone was dead and he’d been yelling at himself. He didn’t remember letting the phone battery die and couldn’t find the charging cord in the dark and didn’t really care to look.

The next thing he did to make things easier on himself was to bring the microwave into the den and set it up on an end table at one end of the sofa. He fought through the increasing pain and stiffening joints and brought his Everything Store food supplies into the den and stacked them on the love seat. He was pretty sure the pain and stiff joints were from ejaculating too much that first night watching porn. He remembered almost nothing, but the front of his gym shorts were crusty and stiff. He was starting to feel bloated and noticed his belly was distended and getting somewhat round. He was either getting constipated or gassy, or both, and made a mental note to cut back on gluten in a couple of years or maybe next week.

For now it was nothing a couple glycerin suppositories couldn’t fix. He congratulated himself on his forward thinking about his diet and gluten, and headed for the bathroom.

As that first week wore on, he stayed on the couch as much as possible. Moving had become painful and the bloating continued. He hadn’t urinated or moved his bowels in days. Maybe a couple of years. He couldn’t be sure. Measuring time was beginning to confuse him and he just looked at the window curtains to see if it were day or night. The rest of the time was determined by the tv schedule. He was beginning to realize that calendars were a scam.

By the fifth or maybe the twenty-seventh day he had everything he needed surrounding him on the couch. The microwave at one end, the food at the other. Salt, pepper, and a few condiments were arranged neatly on his coffee table along with several boxes full of individually-wrapped anti-bacterial wipes he used to wipe down his fork and spoon after eating. He also used them for sponge baths, but the lesions all over his body had gotten worse and every time he gave himself a sponge bath with the antibacterial wipes they burned like fire, so he eventually stopped doing that.

He wasn’t sure how long it had been. A few weeks or it could have been a year and a half or may just a couple of hours–he couldn’t tell anymore–but he awoke one night and could just see in the dim glow of the television that had been on since that first day that he had become fat. He must weigh a hundred pounds! he thought. Or is that a thousand?

The lesions had opened up completely and were highly sensitive. The double-vision had gotten so bad he couldn’t walk straight, and his joints were so stiff he couldn’t have if he wanted to. Even the dimly lit tv that was now running constant infomercials with honeymoon footage or some such caused him a lot of pain. He was getting a little worried because he hadn’t heard a peep out of Ol’ Blue Betty for a few years or it could’ve been seven minutes he didn’t know. He couldn’t be sure at this point that was even her name because who would name a hamster Ol’ Blue Betty? He couldn’t smell anything like death or even body odor, just occasionally a faint earthy smell and was pretty sure that was a sign of the virus. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d used the bathroom, he only knew he never had to go. The sunlight shining  through the curtains the next morning intensified the headache that never went away so he pulled the large soft comforter over his entire body and went back to sleep.

When he awoke he was pretty sure it was the future although for some reason he kept thinking it was 1869. His arms didn’t work anymore; he couldn’t even feel them and getting up was too much of a hassle and he practically had to roll. himself off the couch if he wanted to get up anyway. He answered his dead phone that wasn’t ringing by rolling over so that it lay pressed beneath that side of his face. He had a long conversation with someone from Hawaii. The call either lasted fifteen minutes or seven months.

“Say now, who is this?” he asked. “I need to keep this line clear.”

“This is Ol’ Blue Betty,” the voice said.

“That’s a lie,” Lester said. “Betty is a hamster and I’m pretty sure she’s dead. I haven’t fed her in eleven minutes or fourteen months. I can’t be certain.”

“I’m a burro and I’m not dead. I’m in Hawaii,” the voice said.

“How did you get there?” he asked.

“Travel agent,” said the voice.

“But why?” Lester asked.

“You really don’t know?” the voice asked.

“You shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Lester said.

“You’re a potato,” the voice said.

“Who’s a potato?” Lester asked.

But the line on the phone with the dead battery suddenly went dead. He rolled back away from the phone. There was enough light in the room that he could see a number of eyes reflected in the dark screen blinking back at him from the dead phone.

It was the craziest YouTube video he’d ever seen.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benny

Benny Lundgren could not believe it was 2019 already. “Ten years of marriage,” he thought while changing the oil in his wife Joanie’s new Mercedes, “and I still get horny whenever I see her. Hell, whenever I even think of her. The anti-marriage guys just don’t know what they’re missing.”

Just thinking about the look on her face when he had surprised her on Mother’s Day with the car made him smile.

“What is THAT?” she had asked, looking past the Mercedes at the beat-up Corolla in the garage.

“I had to trade in my truck,” he had told her, ” and that is all I could afford. I had to roll the truck balance into the loan for the Mercedes.”

He could feel himself growing hard imagining the rush of love she must have been feeling about his sacrifices for her.

“Aww, aren’t you sweet?” she had said as she gave him a light peck on the forehead. “But keep it in the garage. Don’t ever park it on the street or in the driveway.”

“Of course,” he had said, then encircled her waist with his arm as he pressed his growing hard-on into her ass. He loved it when she wore her lululemons. “If you follow me upstairs, I have another present for you.”

She pressed the lock on the key fob and slipped free of his arm. “Oh, not now. I’m going to be late for Pure Barre.”

“Oh,” he had said.

“Now don’t be sad, sweet boy,” she lightly scolded. “Don’t you want mommy to show off her new present to all the girls at yoga class? Show them what a wonderful husband she has? Let’s turn that frown upside down.” She had laid her hand on his cheek for emphasis.

He grinned a little. “Yeah I am pretty awesome.”

“I’ll say,” she had said as she turned and skipped into the house.

He remembered it like it was yesterday because that night they fought about sex.

“It just seems like you would want to, you know, be intimate with your husband, especially after all the trouble I’ve gone through to buy you your dream car.

Upon hearing this her anger matured from hate to rage. “Oh so I’m just supposed to fuck you because you spent some money on me? Is that how this works? I’m just some kind of domesticated whore?”

“Well, no, I–”

“Sure sounds that way to me,” Joanie said as the she ripped her bathrobe open to reveal her naked body and lay back on the bed, spreading her legs. “Have at it, big boy. Come fuck me like the whore I am.”

He just stood there with a rock-hard erection. “I…come on, don’t talk like that,” he said. “That’s not it. Not what I meant at all. I–” But he had not seen her naked in three months and it was more than he could stand. He pushed his sweatpants down and stepped toward the bed.

“OH MY GOD!” she screamed. “This is really what you want? What kind of sick fucking rapist are you, anyway?”

“What, no, I’m not. What?” he stammered.

Joanie jumped up and pulled her robe shut. “Asshole!” she yelled, then ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. When he heard the lock click, he went downstairs to make a sandwich which he wrapped in a paper towel and took to his man cave, the small storage closet off the garage that had just enough space for a small recliner, a dorm room refrigerator that pulled double-duty as a side table for the chair, and a small television set. He sat in the chair and opened the fridge. “At least I have plenty of beer,” he thought.

***

When Joanie shook him the next morning, he awoke with a headache and a hard-on. The smell of her perfume and her soft hand on the back of his head only made him harder. He looked around. He was still in his chair in the closet.

“I guess you’re not going to make it to church. Again,” she said.

“Sorry, yeah, no,” he said. “Not feeling it today.”

Joanie said nothing and walked out. He listened to her heels clicking on the smooth concrete floor and didn’t get up until she was backing down the driveway.

He went inside and saw that she’d turned the coffee maker off even though the pot was still half-full. He poured a cup of lukewarm coffee and heated it in the microwave, then put some Pop Tarts in the toaster. While the Pop Tarts were toasting he fed the dog and walked outside to get the paper down at the end of the driveway. On his way back up to the house he looked up and down the street, wondering what it would be like to live three houses down, at 1434 where Jackson’s wife was plump but seemed happy driving a minivan and sometimes cut the grass. Or 1401 on the other side, at the end of the street, where Liebler’s wife was older than him and wore long skirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses that were a little too tight and was always waiting on the porch for him and seemed happy to see him when he got home from work.

Back in the kitchen, he saw that his Pop Tarts had popped. He wrapped them in a paper towel and grabbed his coffee and walked back out to his man cave. He felt better out there than in the living room. He would probably drop some Pop Tart crumbs on the couch or inadvertently leave a ring on the coffee table and didn’t want to upset her.

He settled into his recliner and switched the television on to The Joan Lundgren Hour of Ministry. She wore a tight-fitting white business shirt and navy slacks that were thin and stretchy just like her yoga pants. He grew hard, and harder, watching her prance on stage, her heels adding prominence to her ass. His heart sank at the shame washing over him as he imagined fucking her doggystyle in the elevated baptismal tub while congregation packed in the pews gasped but watched anyway.

“Do you really want to burn in Hell?” his wife asked as she walked back and forth across the thick maroon carpet like a panther prowling in front of a cave that contained her next meal. “For eternity?” she continued. “E-Ter-Ni-Ty? Cause that’s a mighty long time.”

The congregation laughed. Benny sat entranced, ignoring the crumbs on his shirt, the erection straining at his sweatpants.

“I can feel many of you watching out there, can feel your pain and your sin and the self-imposed hell you’re in right now! You’re in prison! Prisons of lust! Prisons of greed! Prisons of selfishness. Self-centeredness! But you don’t have to remain a pathetic wretch! If you’ve been helped by our ministry and want to demonstrate your support with a financial contribution, or if you just need someone to talk to, our phone lines are open…”

Benny picked up his phone and dialed.

###

 

 

 

 

Closure

The shutdowns had impacted society like never before.

“Stay home” orders spread across the globe and economies ground to a halt. Most people obeyed and did their part although it was rumored–and at times confirmed–that members of so-called elite classes continued throwing parties and holding other social gatherings quietly, behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the obedient classes who were out of work waited in food lines and hoped for government checks.

‪Everywhere politicians, business moguls, and scientists argued about the most effective course of action, but one group actually rose up to make a difference. ‬

It started slowly. First one state, then another. As abortion clinics were forced to close their doors to help reduce human contact and in so doing reduce risk of transmission of this most deadly of viruses that could not only pose a threat to our very way of life but to humanity in general, a strong, independent woman rose up to challenge the status quo and speak truth to power.

The woman’s name was Bouleshine Fledermaus Gotterdammerung, or “Boulie” as she was known to friends and family and, in no time at all, to the world as well.

Boulie, an obscure performance artist, sat on the board of directors for the state chapter of a feminist organization whose motto was “Women, Now More Than Ever.”

It had been Boulie who rallied to the aid of abortion clinics. The speeches she began recording at home and broadcasting over the internet on social media reached hundreds, then thousands, then millions, and the image of her stomping back and forth, barefoot in her kitchen–where, she joked, she belonged because the acoustics were better and her floor was heated–soon became iconic and beloved by feminists and social justice warriors worldwide.

“This is not caution!” she exclaimed, her big blue eyes on fire, her pale alabaster skin flushed, her long blond dreadlocks whipping back and forth as she shouted and gestured. “This is not prudence! This is certainly not healthy!” she continued, gesturing quotation marks with her fingers for emphasis.

“This is madness!” she shouted. “This is oppression! This is injustice! And this will not stand! This aggression will not stand!”

In a matter of weeks she was pulling in over eight thousand dollars a month via advertising revenue on her social media accounts, and her GoFundMe account was over five hundred thousand dollars and still growing.

She used the money to retain lawyers and private security, and secretly organized what was later called “the bravest thing any woman had ever done”: mass civil disobedience in concert with abortion clinic operators to contact women who had been turned away in the name of pandemic safety and re-open for business.

And re-open they did.

She personally stood in the doorway at one clinic that was closest to the local television station and invited a camera crew to meet her there, and they got the entire spectacle on film. Boulie in the doorway, letting women and staff in and announcing no one, not even the police, had a right to enter “her” doorway.

Of course the police were called. By the time they arrived, Boulie had locked herself in the clinic with around twenty women seeking “medication abortions” by pill, and perhaps ten staff members.

Similar scenes played out at the other seventeen clinics with which Boulie had coordinated the “re-openings of womens’ lives” as she called it.

It turned out to be the single match that burned the forest down. Soon, women everywhere were falling in line behind her. Boulie’s t-shirt sales skyrocketed, and where just days prior women were yelling at joggers and throwing rotten eggs at people out driving around in their cars in presumed violation of stay-at-home orders, the same women and quite a few men were now organizing, demonstrating, and in some cases marching in small towns and big cities around the country. Law enforcement, already stretched thin, eventually became unable to provide effective disbursement and settled for hanging back and just making sure nobody got hurt.

The movement grew and elected officials, powerless to stop it without declaring martial law and calling out the national guard, eventually began rescinding the stay-at-home orders. Placating a suspended workforce numbering in the millions with no end in sight had been one thing. Very few politicians had the fortitude to begin locking up thousands of women protesting the closure of abortion clinics worldwide in blatant disregard for standing stay-at-home orders.

The pandemic blinked. Abortion won the day.

As abortion clinics opened their doors across the western hemisphere, health officials of every major government held press conferences announcing that some treatments being used successfully in various parts of the world were effective in minimizing the effects of the virus, allowing most people to rest and recover without significant risk to their lives or the lives of their fellow man. It was really just a nasty flu after all, they said.

And just like that, the pandemic was over.

By the time the virus became commonly known as “that nasty, weird flu”, media outlets around the world were covering Boulie’s press conferences at abortion clinics around the United States and, eventually, around the world.

It was at one such conference she held at a town fair in Duluth, Minnesota where she confirmed growing speculation amongst the media and the rumors spreading online by publicly announcing her candidacy for President of the United States.

###

The Samurai: Social Distance Doomsday

The bungalows on both sides of the street near Birmingham’s southside sat high atop well-landscaped properties that all sloped gently downward to the sidewalks below. At one particularly large house and property on the corner overlooking the intersection, a woman in a sunhat and sunglasses sat on a gently swaying porch swing sipping lemonade while her husband stood on a step-stool and sprayed a section of the large picture window with organic, all-natural glass cleaner and wiped at it with a paper towel.

Suddenly, all was not well. The woman cocked her head at the high-pitched whine of an engine. As the sound grew louder she set her lemonade glass on a flower petal-shaped coaster on a side table, walked quickly to the other side of the porch, and grabbed the handle of a small wicker basket containing eggs. The man also heard the engine and looked back over his shoulder when he saw his wife heading down the steps with the basket, he turned around and shouted, “Karen! No!” just as she burst into a fast jog heading straight for their corner of the intersection.

“Stay at home, Jeremy!” she yelled as she ran down and across their yard. “Just stay the fuck at home!” She reached the intersection at the same time as the mystery rider known popularly as The Samurai cruising down the street on his red and black Kawasaki racing bike throttled down in advance of the stop sign.

“Karen!” shouted her husband.

Two eggs in hand, Karen cocked her arm back but before she could fling them at The Samurai, he jumped the curb and circled behind her, already gripping his well-lacquered bamboo practice katana he quickly smashed the eggs in her cupped hand and used the tip to knock her sunhat into the street. He then executed a perfect skid stop and caught the egg basket under the handle with the katana, pulling it out of the shrieking woman’s grip. As he spun the motorcycle on its front tire with the rear wheel high in the air, he flipped the basket up and over with the katana causing all of the eggs to fall on the now crying woman’s head and shoulders.

“THROW LIKE GIRL!” The Samurai shouted as her husband ran up with a roll of paper towels. He swung the katana backhanded and knocked the roll of paper towels into their gnome garden.

“GAY HUSBAND!” observed The Samurai as he gunned the engine and sped off leaving Karen weeping and choking on the smell of rotten eggs while Jeremy retrieved the paper towels from where they had rolled into an ivy bed.

Jeremy ran to the curb and began wiping at the rotten yolks and whites soaking Karen’s short, curly hair. “You’ve got to stop this, Karen,” Jeremy said calmly. “Just look at yourself.”

“Get a fucking life!” Karen shouted back.

They both stared down the long road away from the city and watched The Samurai’s
shape grow smaller as he disappeared from view riding westward towards the
setting sun.

Karen did not approach the street again for the remainder of the quarantine but still yelled at cars and joggers from the porch while Jeremy sat beside her reading motocross magazines.

Months later, when the stay-at-home order was finally lifted, she and Jeremy divorced. Despite many false alarms and continuing cases of mistaken identity, The Samurai was never seen near Birmingham again.

The Humanity

The tall, gangly customer with graying hair was holding a trade paperback over his head and shaking it like a revival preacher.

“What did you say?” the bookstore clerk asked him.

“I said someone in this store is putting the price labels over the authors’ pictures on these books!” He pushed the book toward the clerk. “On every book!”

“That is one book,” the clerk said.

“But it’s not the only book,” the customer replied. “It’s every book in the store!”

“You’re saying you looked at every book in the store?” the clerk asked.

“I looked at enough,” the customer said, “so I drew some conclusions.”

“I think you jumped to conclusions. You are mistaken,” the clerk said. “That is not our policy.”

“Come to the shelves!” the customer insisted. “I’ll show you!”

“I can’t leave the register,” the clerk said.

“This is important,” the customer said. “It is a matter of credit. A matter of identity.”

The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a fucking sticker!” he exclaimed. “And you, sir, are an enthusiast.”

“Don’t talk down to me,” the customer replied. “I have credentials!”

“And I have customers,” the clerk said. “Please step aside.”

“This isn’t over! You have a job to do!” the customer shouted as he stepped off line, making a big show of scratching the price tag off the back cover of the book he was holding. The label peeled easily off of the photo of the author which turned out to be the customer himself. He dropped the book on the counter near the register.

“See that, shitass?” the author asked.

The clerk saw that. “You have committed blatant vandalism!” he exclaimed.

“Your grandma undressed for sailors,” the author replied.

By now the customers lining up at the register observed the back-and-forth as though it were a spirited tennis match.

“My grandmother,” the clerk shouted, “was a suffragette!”

“She was a whore,” the author said. “A communist whore.”

“Bastard!” the clerk screamed and leapt from behind the counter. His knee caught on the edge and he fell straight down hitting the floor head first. A security guard ran over to help the clerk up and also restrain him.

“Let’s break this up,” said the security guard. “Manager called the cops.”

“Mind your business, Albert!” the clerk said to him before turning back to the author. “You piece of shit! I’ll have you arrested!”

“Please do. My name is Wells,” the author answered. “And I will come back here every day and remove every goddamned label on every goddamned book that is covering every goddamned author’s picture. You’re not going to get away with this.”

“You’re crazy!” the clerk said, straining against the much larger security guard’s hold on him.

“The authorities will no doubt be interested in the identity theft going on in here,” Wells said loudly.

“I will have you compelled!” the clerk yelled.

“Quit talking like a faggot,” the author said as he turned toward the exit. “This isn’t Europe.”

 

 

Interview with a Samurai

To my surprise, the man known popularly as The Samurai responded to the full-page ad this reporter took out in various newspapers and online discussion forums about his mysterious appearances and violent behavior. Through the use of anonymous email addresses and burner phones I agreed to fly to a meeting place specified by him. I can only say that it was in the continental United States per our agreement to keep the location undisclosed.

The dark, empty warehouse smelled of metal and oil and was nearly the length of a football field as near as I could tell. I sat on a folding chair at a card table at one end of the building facing the other end as instructed. Daylight peeked in under various-sized doors at the far end. Two battery-powered desk lamps on the table top provided the only other light, barely illuminating my two pens and notebook that occupied the space between them.

The sound which I first assumed was wind funneled through a crack in the building causing some loose metal or weatherstripping to vibrate grew louder until I recognized it was the high-pitched hum of a well-tuned motorcycle engine drawing closer. The sound of the automatic loading door replaced the increasingly infamous Kawasaki engine and as the door raised it revealed the man astride his motorcycle just outside the door, facing me, the daylight at his back and the darkness inside the warehouse cloaking him in shadows from the front.

The Samurai had arrived.

I could barely make out the sound of the engine idling. Once his head cleared the clanking door, the engine whined a little louder and he began rolling toward me, covering the long distance quickly. He maneuvered the motorcycle so that it was facing me broadside, then removed his helmet and swung his leg over the seat in order to turn and sit facing me. In the weak glow of the desk lamps I could see that he was taller than I expected, with minimal but precise dark facial hair of some indistinguishable style and a strong jawline. He smelled like french fries.

What follows is a literal transcription of our dialogue.

Samurai (S): QUICKLY. MUST PICKUP AT CARPOOL.

Interviewer (I): Seriously?

S: QUESTIONS!

I: Why a Samurai?

S: NOT SAMURAI! MOTOCROSS! STUPID!

I: But your outfit. Your katanas.

S: FUCKTARD! MOTOCROSS!

I: What is your first name?

S: SAM.

I: Well that doesn’t help much, does it?

S: PEOPLE SUNNING ASSHOLES! PEOPLE LOSING SPIRIT OF THE MONKEY!

I: What does that even mean?

S: LIVE IN THE TREETOPS! FIGHT ON THE GROUND!

Ed. Note: He laughed for some time as though this were a private joke.

I: What kind of accent is that? It doesn’t sound Asian.

S: MY ACCENT? YOU HAVE THE ACCENT.

I: You were first spotted in Austin, Texas. Are you from Texas?

S: NO.

I: Then may I ask where you are from?

Ed. note: Sam hesitated for several seconds here.

S: EAST.

I: Asia?

S: ASIA? HATTERAS. RETARD!

I: You are very skilled on a motorcycle.

S: DISCIPLINE. HONOR. COURAGE.

I: Have you ever competed in motocross or X Games, anything like that?

S: NEXT QUESTIONS!

I: So, if I may ask, people have called you a menace, a bully, and a threat to public safety because of all of these unprovoked assaults. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you sending a message?

S: ALL PROVOKED. JUSTICE!

I: Well these were people, including women, you sought out and attacked and–

S: JUSTICE!

I: Well who made you judge and jury over the rest of us?

S: INTERVIEW IS OVER. FLIGHT TO CATCH.

I: Didn’t you say you had to pickup at a carpool?

S: NO CARPOOL! DOCTOR APPOINTMENT.

I: You have to fly to a doctor’s appointment?

Ed. Note: At this point, my cell phone in my jacket pocket began ringing. I had honestly forgot it was there, and leaving the phone in the car had been one of the terms of our interview.

S: VIOLATION!

I: I am very sorry. I forgo–

S: CONSEQUENCES.

I: But–

S: CONSEQUENCES!

The last thing this reporter remembers is the smell of linseed oil as he pulled a wooden sword from behind him and swung it across the table with smooth, deliberate force, knocking the lamps to the floor. At that point, everything went black. I awoke on the floor minutes later, alone in the empty warehouse, a bruise on the side of my head. Whether he struck me after the lamps, or whether I got the bruise by falling over or some other way, I still don’t know.

While his sudden appearances across the country continued, he never responded to my numerous requests for an interview again.

###

Kids Are Resilient

“But I don’t want to go see Daddy,” the 6-year-old girl in pigtails and Hello Kitty swimsuit said to her mother. “I’m scared.”

“I know sweetie,” her mother, a woman named Amy, told her. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, and daddy still loves you. He’ll be waiting for you at his pool. Now go back to the girl’s locker room and get dressed for the trip.”

The girl turned and walked back toward the pool clubhouse, sobbing.

“Poor dear,” said one of the other women sunning herself.

“Tell me about it,” said Amy. “He’s such an idiot. I don’t blame her for not wanting to see him. Not like this one,” she said, indicating a tall muscular man walking toward the fence as she picked up one of several glass pitchers full of iced tea and began pouring some into a red plastic cup.

The group of women in their thirties and forties sat around a large table under an umbrella at the neighborhood pool talking and laughing while selected songs popular in the early 2000s played softly over the pool’s sound system. Most of the women were fit and wearing flattering bikinis with sheer wraps around their waists and large white and pink hats with wide, floppy brims. They occasionally answered questions shouted by the kids in the pool or shouted instructions to them. They also frequently turned to look out on the playground outside the pool’s safety fence where their husbands and boyfriends surrounded by open toolboxes worked on some kind of large see-saw on the playground. Occasionally, one of the men would break off and walk over to the fence where one of the women would pour him some tea.

“Got any beer in there?” the man asked with a smile as he waited for Amy to finish pouring.

“Oh you just hush, Jack Allenby!” his wife scolded as she passed him the cup over the fence. “You know the pool rules.”

“Then how about taking your top off?” he said with a playful leer.

“You’re horrible!” she said, laughing in mock outrage.

“Newlyweds!” one of the other women said. “Sickening!” she continued with mock disgust.

“Hey, watch this!” a young boy shouted from the diving board. Amy, Jack, and all of the adults turned to look as he took a few steps and bounced hard on the end of the board which flexed deeply under his weight before tossing him high the air over the deep end of the pool. The boy successfully performed a full if somewhat awkward flip and entered the water feet-first.

“Nice!”, “Atta boy” came shouts from the playground. The women all clapped enthusiastically.

“That was awesome, Joey,” his mother shouted. “Your best yet. Keep practicing for when it really counts!”

The young boy beamed and gave a thumbs up sign before diving under the water. The women laughed uneasily.

“What a great kid,” one of the other moms said. “I sure wish my Zane had his work ethic.”

Jack tilted the cup and swallowed the last of the tea. He handed the cup back over the fence to his wife as the moms grew silent.

“How is Zane doing, Janelle?” Jack asked. “I guess I need to get back up to Children’s Hospital to see him.”

“Oh he’d love that,” Janelle replied. “He’s got a few more days in traction, then on to physical therapy. But at least he’ll get to come home.”

Jack smiled and nodded before walking back to work on the playground equipment.

The moms likewise agreed amongst themselves that that was a good thing, and they all smiled reassuringly. All but one, that is. That mother wore a lacy green one-pice swimsuit and had her natural Auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail under a large straw sunhat sporting a pink hibiscus flower. She stared at the children in the pool uneasily and sipped from a plastic tube protruding from a large insulated bottle. Everyone knew there was white wine in the bottle. They knew because each of them had often used the same trick.

“It’s going to be fine, Miranda,” Amy called to her.

Miranda’s head rolled slightly from side to side as she nodded silently.

Just then the cell phone on the faux-thatch lounge chair lit up and began vibrating. Miranda’s hand trembled as she picked it up and accepted the call. She held the phone to her ear.

She turned toward the other women. The men on the playground had stopped working and were looking in her direction. “It’s Jimmy’s dad,” she said, her face ashen and devoid of expression. “Jimmy’s coming home.”

“Out of the pool, kids!” Amy yelled. “Jimmy’s coming home! Let’s get ready!”

The kids climbed out of the pool and ran into the clubhouse where they all lined up shoulder to shoulder at the glass wall overlooking the pool and looked up in the direction their parents and parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends were looking.

The children began shouting and cheering as the object came into view, descending quickly from the air, a gray bundle that suddenly dropped and skidded across the diving board, slamming into the fence. Miranda screamed and vomited in her chair, her body shaking. The women rushed to her as the children poured out of the clubhouse racing for the pool area where the men were also rushing to the motionless bundle.

The boy lay crumpled against the fence, the helmet and full face mask he was wearing cracked in several places, and the thick, padded suit torn and bloody.

“He’s unconscious,” one of the men announced. “Broken leg, possibly wrist. Looks like he lost a couple of teeth.”

The women consoled Miranda. “It could have been much worse,” Amy said reassuringly, but Miranda couldn’t hear her. She had picked up the phone and was screaming at her ex-husband. Amy tried to take the phone away from her when Jack walked over and put his arms around his wife and pulled her to the side.

“Catapult’s ready,” he told her. “It’s time for Hailey to go see her dad.”

Amy stiffened. She watched the men carry the little girl to the catapult as the men took turns cranking the tension wheel. Wrapped in what they were calling the “travel outfit”, the little girl’s sobs were muffled by the thick helmet. A small trickle of urine trickled from under the thickly padded pants leg onto the dirt under the catapult.

“Hey, the cuff isn’t tucked,” one of the men pointed out when he saw the drops of urine hitting the dirt. The oversight was quickly corrected and they positioned the trembling girl in the thickly padded suit carefully on the seat. It was an unspoken relief that the suit was so thick that it muffled the sounds the kids made from inside and similarly made it difficult to detect the children’s movements.

Quickly and silently, Jack Allenby nodded to the other men, and when they all looked down at the girl he struck the tension lock with a sledgehammer. The arm snapped forward flinging the girl in a high arc in the direction of her father’s house nearby, her muffled screaming decreasing as she gained elevation. Her mother, Amy, buried her face in her hands and sobbed for as much as a minute until her own phone began to ring.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Reunion

When Rod arrived at the country club where his twenty-fifth high school reunion was taking place, the party was on the verge of winding down. His showing up more than fashionably late with a woman just ten years older than they had been when they graduated in 1984 seemed to focus everyone’s attention on the attractive couple. That–combined with the fact that no one had really seen or heard from him since then–drew many pairs of bloodshot eyes framed with drooping lids above and loose, sagging bags below in his direction.

“Rex returns!” shouted a portly man in blue seersucker jacket and pants paired with a  pink golf shirt. He rushed over to greet Rod and his date.

Rod smiled down at him and shook his hand. “Indeed,” he said. “How are you, Chas?”

“You know me,” Chas replied, drunkenly mumbling and slurring his words. “Chash-tashtic as always!”

Rod smiled warmly at his old friend. Chas was sweating so hard it had soaked his shirt and was even coming through the thin seersucker. “This is Lara,” he said, introducing his companion who exchanged a handshake and pleasantries Chas.

“So what’s with this ‘Rex’ business?” Lara, a petite, girlish blonde with vivid blue eyes asked. “Something I should know about?”

“Oh I’m sure you know!” Chas exclaimed. He winked at the couple. “I gave him that nickname even though hish real name shays it all.” He winked again although it may have been an involuntary reaction to the sweat dripping off his brow and running into his eyes. “King of all swordsmen with the king of swords, Rex. How is ol’ Rex these days, podna?”

“Easy there, bud,” Rod said, followed by a stern chuckle. “Time and place was never your forté.”

Lara giggled just as a short, stocky brunette woman walked up, seemingly mesmerized by Rod’s presence.

“You remember my wife, Shally, right, Rod?” he asked in a more threatening and demanding tone. “I’m sure you do.”

“Of course,” replied Rod. “Although I didn’t know you two were married. Congratulations.”

Sally stared at Rob and seemed to say “Hello” shyly, but he didn’t see her mouth move.

Lara noticed it, too. “How did you do that?” she asked, but Sally just stared and smiled. Suddenly a stream of words, much louder now, began pouring forth from Sally’s direction yet her mouth remained closed and still.

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…”

“Great!” shouted Chas as a crowd began to form. “Just fucking great!”

“That’s the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales!” someone shouted. “We had to memorize it in tenth grade!”

“…and bathed every veyne in swich licour…” continued the recitation from between Sally’s legs.

“Is that coming from her, her…nether regions?” a thin woman with leathery skin asked politely.

“Oh yeah,” Chas exclaimed. “King over there gave her a ride home one night in tenth grade when I had to go help pull my brother’s truck out of a mud hole.”

“Bethany? Bethany Summerlin?” Rod asked the thin woman. “That you?”

She smiled. “Hello, Rodney,” she said. “It’s Taylor now. You remember Seth Taylor?”

“Sure I do,” Rod replied. “I–”

But he stopped in mid-sentence as Bethany shuddered. Her body shook as they all began hearing a loud and energetic rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” coming from below Bethany.’s waistline As with Sally, she was just smiling and staring.

What seemed at first like random murmurs spreading across the banquet hall slowly grew louder. Rod and Lara looked around the room. Most of the men in the room–who also happened to be married to most of the women–stood speechless, their mouths ajar and jaws dropping as their wives smiled at Rod while their vaginas delivered performances of fight songs, school assignments, and what sounded like the emphatic observations and exclamations of NASCAR commentators.

“That’s the 1984 Iron Bowl! Our senior year!” one man shouted at his wife, a fit, fake redhead with large plastic tits. “We started dating when we were juniors!”

Another man heard “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Cleveland blaring loudly from his wife’s genitalia and simply wept. “That was our song,” he said to her plaintively, mournfully, his face twisted in abject misery. “My God! We played that at our wedding!”

A few men, sobbing deeply, walked over to the bar and started drinking, tossing back shots of whatever was close, their shoulders slumped, heads down as they poured one shot after another. Enraged, the rest screamed at their wives before turning en masse like a school of fish or a flock of birds and advancing on Rod and Lara.

Running for their lives, Rod and Lara squeezed past the ornately furnished tables and pushed through the double doors of the grand entryway and sprinted for Rod’s Audi, running for their lives with the mob of his former classmates, wild-eyed and howling like coyotes, just steps away. Rod hit the ignition and stomped the gas pedal as the back window was smashed and chunks of safety glass the size of pea gravel tumbled into the back seat. Rod steered the car directly across the flower bed in front of him and over the curb, taking the quickest route directly up the street quickly increasing the distance between them and the crazed pack of screaming cuckolds.

“You fucked them all in high school then?” Lara asked as gunshots echoed far behind them. “All those women? All of them?”

Rod checked the rearview mirror and shrugged. “The pussy never forgets,” he said as they sped away into the night.

###