Women in Fridges: A Cold Day in Hell Part 3 – “Cold War”

Women in Fridges: A Cold Day in Hell Part 3 – “Cold War”

When the All Points Bulletin for Captain Obvious came out over the wire, the more fortunate criminals of Los Urbanos cashed in their chips and ran for the hills. The unlucky ones who lacked money or connections went into hiding or battened down the hatches, hoping to ride out the storm. A rogue supe was never a good thing, and somebody the caliber of Obvious meant it was a bad day to be a bad guy.

Captain Obvious didn’t have an archenemy. He wasn’t that kind of hero. He didn’t hold grudges, nor did he inspire them. He had never before launched a personal vendetta. But the villains he faced off against the most, his bread and butter vanquishings, were members of the League of Disposable Criminals. The League was a group of minor league superhumans coupled with a few ambitious non-supes in the mix, most of them sporting some kind of advanced tech they’d lifted from some corporation or another. 

People who needed some havoc wreaked could hire the League to smash some windows or some kneecaps, slash a few tires or a throat, torch a business while the owner was off having himself an alibi.  

The League of Disposable Criminals, although they’d never have described themselves as such, were minions for hire; unimpressive, unorganized, and underwhelming. Sanjay thought that the chances one of them had killed Zoe were virtually nil.

But they were good for one thing, and that was information, which he desperately needed. So he went strolling in through the front door of their clubhouse, which was in an old decrepit mansion that looked like something off of an old movie. Captain Obvious walked right in, past the three security guards shooting AR-15s at him. Bullets bounced off him and ricocheted into the floor and the walls and one of the security guards.  

It was annoying, so he thought about how would be so easy to sizzle the place right off the face of the earth, to burn their clubhouse to the ground and walk away with the flames raging in the background like in a Tarantino movie. He thought about how he had nothing left to lose and considered that destroying the League could just be a gateway drug.  He fantasized about getting hundreds of scumbags off the streets permanently before they sent the Flying Brick and Nuclear Option to Los Urbanos take him out.

His eyes watered just thinking about it.

The thing about being a superhero that Sanjay hated even though he was supremely excellent at it, was that it was mostly playacting. Theater. Melodrama. Most of it was about as real as professional wrestling, as kids playing cowboys and injuns. Sure, the occasional megalomaniac came along and the heroes would have to run their asses off to bring em in, but for the most part it was just a show for the entertainment of the masses. The good guys played their parts, the bad guys played their parts, everyone was in on it with a wink and a nudge to each other, and the people at home shoveled popcorn in their mouths and watched the footage on YouTube.

It didn’t have to be that way. But too many important people made money off of a perpetual state of crime and punishment – the capitalist pigs, the bureaucrats and bean counters, the poverty pimps, Hollywood, even the cops themselves – for the authorities to ever let the capes have free rein and wipe the bad guys out permanently. 

Being a superhero was like being a soldier in Vietnam, sitting on all this firepower while horrific things happened to the right of you and to the left of you and you couldn’t engage the enemy because of decisions old rich guys made a half a world away. Sitting on the ability to not just solve crimes but prevent them, unable to do a goddamn thing to end the Cold War because you’d end up destabilizing the geopolitical balance, or the ability of the rich to get richer, or catch the attention of the social justice warriors or something. 

The latter was particularly pissing him off right then. Waaah, muh human rights, waah, due process, waah, somebody had a bad childhood, well, who the fuck DIDN’T have a bad childhood? Try being a Desi kid growing up in Dotcomicon Valley with jets of flame coming out of your eyeballs.

What about Zoe’s human rights, anyway? What about people’s rights to live in their homes and walk down the streets without having to worry about monsters lurking among them?      

It all used to make sense to him. Chaos was the enemy of society, chaos and instability, and in order to prevent chaos, you had to have rules, you had to have a reliable structure that people could count on. It was better to have a stable and imperfect world where everyone knew what to expect, than to blow it all up chasing after utopia, which was an unattainable goal. Maybe some innocent people died, but it was fewer than would have died in a world where villains and capes were at constant war with each other.

Thus superheroes could not act with impunity, they couldn’t allow themselves to, the risks were too great. They weren’t above the law, they were in service of the law, and as such they were expected to put what was good for society above all else. With great power comes great responsibility, yadda yadda yadda. And what was good for society was maintaining the status quo. Giving people the illusion of a predictable and rational world when the reality was, it was anything but.

It used to make sense to him before Zoe died but now all he could think was that if they’d been killing bad guys instead of slapping them on the wrist and letting them go, the odds were they’dve killed the guy already and Zoe would be alive.  

Eventually the guards ran out of bullets and stopped firing and he could hear them shouting and running away, except for the one who had been shot of course who was just laying in a heap moaning.

It didn’t sound fatal, which seemed like a crying shame.

Captain Obvious let them go since they didn’t matter and continued onwards towards the stairs which led to the second floor, and then he flew up there without bothering to take them.

A few guys popped out at him from various closed doors and shot bullets that of course had no effect. Just for fun he caught one of them in midair and threw it back at the guy who fired it, hitting him in the knee. His kneecap exploded in a red haze that Obvious found immensely satisfying.

The guys kinda gave up shooting at him after that happened.

Before things progressed any further a door at the far end of the hall opened up and an oily man in an expensive sharkskin suit – a costume, really, just as much as the spandex and cape of Captain Obvious was a costume – came out with his hands held up in a placating manner. “All right, all right, all right, that’s about enough of that! You’re shooting up my house, here.”

“I’m just standing here, Mook. They’re the ones shooting.”

The Mook screwed up his face as if to say “pshaw” and waved his hand dismissively. The minions took their wounded and slunk away. “Yeah, you’re the very soul of innocence, aren’t you, Cap?”

“Back at ya.”

“What is it I’m meant to have done, pray tell?”

“I couldn’t tell you, but I am fairly certain you’ve done something illegal in the last 5 minutes. Maybe I’ll bust you first, and ask questions later.”

The Mook turned a large pinky ring around on his finger. “Flat Stanley.”

“What?”

“It was Flat Stanley, who iced your girl. I’m telling you this out of friendship, Obvious.”

“Yeah, we’re such notoriously great friends, Mook, I forgot.”

“Consider it a good faith offering then. Flat Stanley.”

Captain Obvious digested this news and it felt like swallowing a sea urchin, it hurt all the way right on down and then plopped into his stomach and sat there digging in. Flat Stanley was nobody, he was nothing. Nothing. A petty thug, not even slightly formidable. Captain Obvious could’ve killed Flat Stanley with the ease of tugging off a hangnail. “He’s in jail,” he protested. “I put him there myself.”

“He got time off…” The Mook busted out into laughter. “…for good behavior!” And he started laughing even harder so Obvious lit up his eyes and sent a narrow beam about a millimeter wide alongside The Mook’s cheek which set the wallpaper on fire. Even though the flame didn’t even touch the guy, it was enough to heat up the air considerably. The Mook took a step to the side and clapped a hand to his face. “Hey, now, that’s not necessary! I didn’t let him out of jail! That was your team, Champ, not mine.”

As a thug came rushing past him with an extinguisher to put out the fire he’d started, Captain Obvious thought back, wracked his brain, tried to recall if anyone had given him a heads up that Flat Stanley was back on the streets so he could’ve watched his back a little. But the truth was, he had been so spun around with Zoe, spending all his free time with her, thinking about her when he wasn’t with her, that he hadn’t been keeping up on his correspondence as diligently as he usually did. Or at all. Being a superhero was volunteer work, done for love not money, so it was sometimes all too easy to backburner the paperwork when real life got interesting.  

Sanjay realized his handlers from the United Bureau of Superheroes could have very easily been trying to warn him and he’d missed it. His inattention to detail – the one time he wasn’t dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, the ONE GODDAMN TIME – had got Zoe killed. He felt as if someone had doused him with a bucket of despair and it rolled down him like honey – heavy, sticky, and slow. “Where is he?”

The Mook thought this over and made a big show of checking his watch. “What’s in it for me?”

“I don’t kill you.”

“You’re no killer, Obvious, everyone knows it.  You’re no Batverine.”

“Try me,” he replied, and there must have been something in his face because The Mook got all red in the face and stammered for several seconds before he was able to choke out a reply. 

“The abandoned zoo.  He’s been staying there since he got out, I guess.  The guy’s half animal, he prolly feels at home behind bars.”

“Guess they should have kept him there.”

The Mook was dismayed to see pinpoints of orange flame flickering in Cap’s eyes. He gulped, fairly certain he was about to get burned to cinders by the fricking Teen Choice Award’s Choice Superdude. “Guess so,” he agreed, and tried to get right with God.

But a moment later Obvious was gone, straight up through the roof. A bunch of shingles and wood fell down through the hole with a crash and dust rose up before settling back again. The Mook looked around at his clubhouse riddled with bulletholes and scorch mark and the roof caving in.  

But then he thought of those twin embers glowing and figured he got off light. 

He wouldn’t want to be Flat Stanley right about now, that was for sure.

*****

The first place Zoe thought to look was of course at Sanjay’s apartment. There was crime tape up around it but no one seemed to be around, so she opened the unlocked door and stepped over the tape. Even though the apartment had been pitch dark, there was a tall, slim black guy, bald and wearing a leather jacket, sitting at the table and smoking a cigarette. That irritated her since she knew Sanjay would have hated anyone smoking in his house even though everything was covered with blood and ruined. That was my blood, her brain remembered. That was my blood. She felt a flare of outrage that petered out into memories of terror and violation and repressed a shudder.  

“Can I help you,” he asked calmly, but there was a threat in his voice. He sucked on his cigarette and the tip of it glowed for a moment before dimming again. Then he flicked off the ash on the end into an empty aluminum can.

“Maybe.” To her surprise, Zoe found herself feeling fairly confident in the situation, knowing that if she was dealing with a superhuman or even just a regular one, she’d be able to defend herself now. She envisioned sinking her claws into the guy’s throat, and was stunned to realize part of her actually wanted for him to try something so she could give them a whirl. “I’m Zoe Rose, and there’s been a terrible misunderstanding.” On Milo’s car radio she had heard an Emergency Broadcast System announcement that Captain Obvious had gone rogue and that meant the cops and the National Guard were probably already out hunting him down. She just hoped they hadn’t called in the other heroes yet, because that meant that the situation had gone to Defcon 5, or maybe Defcon 1, whichever was the highest Defcon.

The man in the dark laughed. “Ma’am, let’s be real here. I know you are NOT Zoe Rose.”

“I am though, I know it’s weird but just listen…”

He gave her an appraising look which she felt offended by. “I’ll admit there’s quite a resemblance, but I saw it with my own two eyes, Zoe Rose is dead.”

“Well, that’s the thing, I didn’t die.”

“You didn’t die, right, right, right.” He stubbed out his cigarette on the top of the can and put the butt down the keyhole opening. Then he stood up with a soft groan. “Come on, out of here. I don’t want Obvious to come back and see you, I can’t account for your safety if he does.”

Zoe realized the guy was there waiting in case Sanjay came home, ostensibly to talk to him, talk him down maybe, and she felt more kindly disposed to him. “No, really, I’m Zoe Rose, I’m his girlfriend, Captain Obvious-es, I mean. I’m on KAQT News, um, I was born in Tamarack Grove, Idaho, January 27, 1989…” Her babbling was falling on deaf ears though. The guy grabbed her by her shoulder roughly and started to steer her towards the door. Her body recoiled at the touch of his hand on her body; she never wanted to be touched by a stranger again. But it did made her think of a way to convince him. “Oh, I know what, um, earlier today someone shoved me into that fridge?” 

Detective Wallace stopped short. No one knew that. That little detail hadn’t been released to the media, in order to weed out all the crazies who called in with false confessions.  “How the hell do you know that?” he asked suspiciously. Maybe she was a crazy, and she killed Zoe Rose so she could take over her life. She did look so much like her, it was spooky. Or maybe she was obsessed with Captain Obvious, the capes attracted more than their fair share of stalkers.

The girl pulled out of his grasp before he could react and threw the fridge open. “I know what you’re thinking, but no. Someone put me in here. It was a man. And when I was in here, I was still alive,” she took a glance at the fridge and saw that several of the chemical bottles had indeed fallen over and spilled, and a couple of them were broken. “This stuff, whatever it is, it spilled on me and because I was all cut up it went right into my bloodstream, I guess? It did something to me. It did something to me and I didn’t die. I got mutated. I didn’t die! I’m not dead. You guys took me to the coroner and I screamed and Dr. Bonaventure helped me.”

The man gaped at her with his mouth wide open. “Dr. Bonaventure,” he muttered. How could she possibly know that, how could she possibly know? The rest he could wave away as the ramblings of a lunatic, but that?

“Yeah, call him, he’ll explain everything. But hurry up! We have to find Sssssss….Captain Obvious because he still thinks I’m dead.”

He stared at her and blinked his eyes several times. “You do look an awful lot like Zoe Rose,” he said warily.

“That’s because I AM Zoe Rose!  Would you make the freaking phone call already?”

As he talked on the phone she learned his name was Detective Wallace and he learned she was still alive. After he hung up he smiled in shocked disbelief. “Well, I got to say, this is on a short list of my weirdest cases ever.”

“It gets weirder, but we don’t have time for that right now,” Zoe replied, repressing an urge to toss a snowball at his face and show him just how weird things could get.  “Do you have ANY idea where Captain Obvious is, any idea at all?”

“If I did I’d be there talking him down, instead of sitting alone in the dark.” He thought for a moment and raised a finger. “I actually DO know where he is, I mean, not exactly, but in general. He’s out looking for the guy who killed….well, who tried to kill you.”  Wallace knew criminals had big mouths and gossiped like old women, so he was fairly sure Cap would have no trouble finding out who had done the deed. If they could beat him to the punch maybe they could save Obvious from himself.

“Does that help?” Zoe asked, wishing she watched more detective shows on TV.

“It might. You said it was a man who did this to you Zoe, you think you could recognize him from a mugshot?”

“Yeah, totally, he was the most bizarre-looking guy I ever saw in my life!”

“How so?” 

“His body was like, I don’t even know, Detective, he was like, really wide, and really thin.” She gestured with her hands to try to describe it. “He looked like he was made out of Legos or something?”

Wallace pressed his lips together in a triumphant expression. “Flat Stanley.”

“Oh my God, you know who it is?? Just from that?”

“I’d put money on it. Cap was the one who put him away. Just got out of prison a few weeks back. It passes the smell test.”

Zoe hurried towards the door and looked back at Wallace. “What are you waiting for??”

“You’re not going, girl, come on.  After everything you been through?”

“I have to, don’t you see? Because he’s never gonna believe it otherwise.” Zoe remembered that sound Sanjay had made and just knew in her gut he would have to see her alive and well before he would accept it as the truth. Otherwise he would just think the authorities were tricking him; they’d pulled similar tricks on other rogues in the past.

“I’ll make him believe it. I’m not gonna put you into jeopardy, Miss Ro…” Before Wallace could finish his thought, something hard and cold hit him in the face. It took him a good 30 seconds to realize it was a snowball. “What the actual eff…” he said as he wiped the snow from his face.

“Believe me when I tell you, Detective, I can take care of myself now.  

“I think it’s gonna take a little more than that, Princess Elsa.”

“I’ve got more,” she said, and sliced her wrist open with her diamond fingernails.

“Have you lost your goddamn mind?” the detective scolded, but then he shut his mouth with a snap as the wound healed up before his very eyes.

 “I’m fine, ok, I’m an unstoppable killing machine or whatever, so can we GO?”

Wallace shook his head and sighed, but he followed after her.  He’d been around enough supers to know when one of them promised they could fend for themselves, they usually could.

*****

The superhuman who called himself Desire preferred to live in the shadows.  In a world obsessed with celebrity, with fame, he was quite happy to have neither.

All he wanted to do was eat. Hunger dominated his life from the moment he woke up in the morning till he went to bed at night. He slept fitfully, dreaming of eating, dreaming of someday, finally, having a full belly like he remembered from when he was a child. He dreamed of Thanksgiving dinners, of massive ice cream sundaes, of sub sandwiches 10 miles long, of gorging himself on hamburgers and Reese’s cups and tacos, even just simple foods like buttered toast and tea.

But then he would wake up and remember he couldn’t eat any of it any more, it tasted like nothing and caused stabbing pains all through him before it was forcibly dispelled in one way or another. And so his hunger just grew and grew.

Desire was always looking for his next meal ticket, so when he heard the APB come in that a hero had gone rogue he hunted down Exquisite. She was sleeping off a bender with Canyonero at a drug house out in the suburbs.

It was funny how downtown Los Urbanos used to be where the broken people hung out, but now the city was all gentrified and expensive and full of hipsters and other assholes, so the addicts had moved to the suburbs and outlying areas. He tracked Exquisite to the basement of a split level house that had once been worth a couple hundred thou, probably, but now was worth nothing. The carpet was ripped up, there was graffiti on the walls, holes punched or blasted through doors, garbage strewn everywhere, shit and piss on the floors. Hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed junkies lay wherever they’d collapsed or shuffled aimlessly in circles rambling about nonsense. But Desire didn’t hate them, not at all. He had a lot of sympathy, actually. He understood all too well what it was like to have an empty hole inside you that nothing could fill.

When Canyonero tried to stop him from taking the girl, Desire looked him in the eye and said the magic words. He drained the guy, not all the way, but enough. Canyonero fell back onto the filthy mattress he’d been laying on and started to snore.

Exquisite kicked like a wildcat, but she knew better. “What do you even want, Desire?” she asked in a whiny voice, as he dangled her in midair by the scruff of her neck.

“I gotta find Captain Obvious.”

“You’re looking for a cape??  On purpose? Are you NUTS?”

“He’s rogue.”

“OMG really? We gotta get out of town,” she said, and looked at Canyonero, his huge body sprawled out like a hibernating bear. His eyes twitched in REM sleep and drool oozed from a corner of his mouth. “How long did you put him down for?”

“You don’t need to leave town, Exquisite. You just need to tell me where Obvious is at.”

Exquisite pieced together the implications and laughed and laughed. “Remind me never to get on your bad side, Desire.”

“If I have to remind you of that, you’re dumber than you look, Exxy.  Where is he.”

The girl’s eyes went white and her face slackened. “He’s at the abandoned zoo,” she said, blinking her eyes clear. “Hunting for Flat Stanley.”

“Why?”

“Girlfriend in the fridge.”

“Really.  Heh.” Desire had realized a long time ago that when a supe went rogue and then went missing, the authorities figured they’d flown off somewhere to a distant planet or into a nuclear reactor to melt themselves or something. They didn’t look into the disappearance terribly much, assuming that the cape had shuffled off this mortal coil in some fashion. So the best time to have himself a good dinner was when there was a rogue. And a rogue the caliber of Captain Obvious was gonna be a very good dinner indeed.

Maybe he’d even feel satisfied for a while. It could happen.

Just because it hadn’t yet, didn’t mean it couldn’t. Up until now the strongest supes had eluded him so he’d never learned what it meant for him to consume one of the heavy hitters. “Thanks, kid,” he said to Exquisite and set her back down.

She pulled her tank top back down from where it had ridden up when he’d lifted her, revealing the shape of her breasts through the thin fabric. No bra. Exquisite was young and beautiful despite her gaunt frame and the ugly needle marks that marred her every available vein. Desire wished he could appreciate it, wished he still had that part of himself, but it was gone, devoured by that gnawing hunger that consumed him.

Please check out Part 4 here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2020/01/04/women-in-fridges-a-cold-day-in-hell-part-4-surprise/ 

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 2: “The Walking Dead”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 2: “The Walking Dead”

Click here to read Part 1 –  Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge

DeShawn Wallace had been a detective with the Los Urbanos PD for 12 years and during that time he’d worked with quite a few of the capes. Some of them were good people, some of them were assholes, just like everybody else.  

None of them he liked better than Captain Obvious. Obvious had a well-deserved reputation of being everyone’s favorite superhero to have a beer with. He was a chill guy, laid back and cool and funny, treated the fans good, quick with a selfie or a visit to a dying child. The authorities appreciated him since he followed the letter of the law like he was supposed to. And Detective Wallace, who had had a few beers along the way with the guy himself, even went so far as to consider the Captain a friend. And cops didn’t often befriend supes, so. 

He kept the crime scene locked down tight cause of the secret identity factor. He only sent up a few cops he trusted and told em not to get nosy and to forget the address when they were done, thinking to disrupt the Captain’s life as little as possible. But once he got a look at the inside of the apartment he knew the guy would be moving houses anyway, ain’t nobody could’ve got a good night’s sleep in that place again seeing all that even if it hadn’tve been someone he knew.

When Detective Wallace entered the apartment Captain Obvious was sitting at a table with his dark eyes molten and furious, flicking around like he was watching something pass by in the air around him. His jaw muscles spasmed as if he was grinding his molars to dust. He sat up suddenly and wrote something down on a notepad and when Wallace got close enough he could see it was a list of names. “Cap,” he prompted and the guy looked up, blowing air out of his nostrils like a mad bull and his mouth was all crunched up in the front. “You ready to talk?” 

Captain Obvious sat back sprawling with his knees jutted up like he was a gangly teenage boy, all full of attitude like the kind of punk-ass kids Wallace got in the interrogation room at times. There was something so incongruous about seeing a superhero sitting like that, especially a by-the-booker like Captain Obvious, Wallace found it mighty concerning.  

Obvious was wearing his full-on costume, even the cape, and Wallace wondered if the supes just lounged around around dressed like that, or if he’d felt like he had to go put it since a crime had been committed. He nodded just once and breathed a puff of air out of his lungs like he was clearing his throat. The detective slid into the seat across the table. As he did, Cap must have thought of another name, and wrote it down on the list he was making.

“Who’s the girl?” Wallace asked, even though he felt like he ought to offer condolences or something for the guy’s loss. Then again, for all Wallace knew, the Captain was the perp. He doubted it, but always tried to keep it in mind, the heroes could be just as guilty as anyone.

He swallowed a couple times before he spoke. “Zoe Rose.” And then he rocked in the seat a couple times like he was trying to keep his emotions under control.  

“The girl on TV? Damn.” Wallace felt mildly annoyed to hear it – Obvious and Zoe goddamn Rose. The capes could have anyone they wanted it seemed like; it didn’t seem quite fair to the regular schmoes like him. Then he wondered if it was an inappropriate thing to say, all things considered. Probably. He ran a hand over his shaved head and smothered a wince. He’d been on the job so long he sometimes forgot the niceties.

If it was inappropriate, Cap was too far gone to notice. He pulled at his ear absentmindedly and nodded. “Damn indeed.” Then he thought of another name and wrote it down. 

“What happened to your wall, there?” There was a huge scorch mark across the painted brick of the living room wall. Wallace recognized it as the result of Cap’s eye beams and wondered if it might have happened when he was fighting with the girl.  Although that wouldn’t have been much of a fight; super speed, super strength, impenetrable skin, and flamethrower eyeballs versus the ability to banter charmingly with one’s fellow co-anchors. 

“I was upset, when I…when I. I lost control.”

When he found her, Wallace filled in the blanks. Obvious had got so upset his eyeballs went off. “Jesus, bud, I didn’t even know that could happen.” Sometimes Wallace wondered how safe it was keeping these freaks around who could accidentally kill hundreds of people if they sneezed.

“It hasn’t, for a long time.” His brow furrowed and he wrote down another name.  His fingers were stained with spots of black ink.

“What you writing there?”

“Possibilities.” Wallace could see a flush of color rise in the Captain’s cheeks. His eyes glinted with anticipation and he swallowed. Not the guy, Wallace was suddenly sure.  Captain Obvious was not the guy.  

Which meant, of course, that he was gonna go after the guy at the first available opportunity. And that created a whole ‘nother set of problems for DeShawn Wallace. “You’re not thinking about anything stupid, now, are you, Cap?”

“Stupid?”  He licked his lips and wrote down another name.

“Stupid, like, maybe round some folks up and forget to bring them in for a trial by a jury of their peers?” It happened sometimes, one of the capes got fed up with the system or pissed off at the world and decided to go full vigilante. Detective Wallace did not want to have to bring in Captain Obvious, not only because he was one of the stronger capes and he’d undoubtedly put up a hell of a fight, but also because he flat out liked the guy.

Captain Obvious smiled, a big wide toothy smile that gave Wallace the creeps, and he had seen more than his fair share of creepy people over the years, just sayin. It was like watching a crocodile smile, or a wolf – the hungry smile of a predator. He shook a finger at Wallace a few times as if he’d told a really funny joke. Cap looked away and stared out into space for several seconds. But that smile, it never faded.  If anything it got wider.

Then Wallace felt a gust of wind and his ears detected a faint ripping sound.  

He was alone at the table.  

The noise he heard, he realized, was the sound of a piece of notebook paper being torn loose. Obvious had written up his kill list and took it with him wherever it was he was going.

Well, that ain’t good, Wallace thought, as he took out his phone and made a call.  “Yeah. DeShawn Wallace, LUPD? I think we got a rogue on our hands,” he said. The person on the other end of the line said something and Wallace replied, “Captain Obvious, believe it or not.” Then the person said something else and he said “Girlfriend in the ‘frigerator,” and hung up.  

He didn’t need to explain any more than that.  About the oldest story in the book, for superheroes.

*****

The weirdest part of being dead, Zoe decided, was how aware of everything she was. She hadn’t been quite dead when she’d been shoved into the fridge, but at some point she died, she knew she died because she felt her heart stop and thought welp, I’m dead now. But her awareness never faded. She just kept on knowing things and thinking things even though she was broken in two and sliced to ribbons. 

When Sanjay had found her he screamed and cried and threw up on the floor and she ached because he was in such anguish. She longed for him, longed to comfort and be comforted by him; even though she wasn’t feeling physical pain any more her non-beating heart still felt emotional pain as acutely as it ever had. She couldn’t believe how unfair it was that right when they found each other they were getting ripped apart forever but at least she was dead and didn’t have to deal with life and its cruel and unusual bullshit any more. Sanjay wasn’t so lucky.  

Zoe wanted to reassure him that she was ok now, not to worry, she didn’t hurt anymore but her voice wouldn’t work. She thought about how she had been so scared she couldn’t scream and she felt like such a moron, because maybe someone could have saved her if only she had screamed. Maybe Sanjay would have heard her if only she had screamed, even though he didn’t have super hearing.  

But she didn’t. She didn’t even scream.

After a while some people came and took her body out of the fridge and unfolded her and put her in a black plastic bag and zipped it. She went in a car and it occurred to her they were taking her to the coroner’s office and they’d probably be cutting her up to look inside her. Now that she knew people stayed aware after their deaths, autopsies seemed incredibly cruel. Even if it didn’t hurt at all, since nothing seemed to hurt her any more, getting cut up into pieces by scientists sounded intolerably awful. Then she started to worry that once they started chopping her into pieces this strange lingering sentience she seemed to possess would evaporate and she really would cease to exist forever.

People’s hands were on her again, lifting her, moving her. She felt herself being pushed into a building, down an elevator, into a chilly room. The cool air seeped through from the outside of the bag and felt delightful. That had been one nice thing about being in the fridge, at least it was cool in there. It was way too hot inside the body bag. Muggy and stifling.

The motion stopped and she knew she had arrived. She was in the morgue. They were going to chop her up, probably cut her into pieces and take parts of her out like her brain and heart. Dread swallowed her, followed by outrage.  

How could a person get sliced up two times in one day?  It was so unfair!

She tried to scream, even though it was a lost cause since she was dead; she tried to scream and scream and scream but nothing happened just like nothing had happened before, and then the bag was unzipped and some hands flopped her over onto a metal table. What kind of an idiot couldn’t even scream? 

She couldn’t see anything but she could hear, and she heard an old man’s voice say, “Gosh Milo, isn’t it cold in here?” It was, it was cold, frigid, even, but the colder it got, the better Zoe seemed to feel. The blissful refreshing coldness of the morgue made her feel almost like she was still alive, but of course that was ridiculous. “I’m gonna get my sweater. Can you begin?”   

There were footsteps and rustling and clanking metal and running water and Zoe knew that they were about to start doing the autopsy. To take her mind off her rising panic, Zoe considered the nature of screaming. She thought maybe she hadn’t been able to scream earlier that day because she was holding her breath out of fear, so when it came time to scream she had no air. And now, she couldn’t scream because she was dead, but then again she was thinking, and she was dead.

Didn’t that mean she was able to do some things she had done when she was alive? She wondered what might happen if she tried to take a breath, if she took that nice icy wonderful air into her lungs, so she did and much to her surprise she actually felt her chest rise with the effort. “Ho-lee hell,” said the younger man standing over her. She took another breath and he continued in a quavering voice. “Dr. Bonaventure? I think we got a live…”

Zoe screamed finally and the sound that came from her throat was so high pitched she could barely hear it, but Dr. Bonaventure and Milo grabbed their ears and writhed like they couldn’t stand the sound. That was how she realized her eyes were open, too, because she could see them doing it. Zoe sat up suddenly and kept screaming long past the point she should have run out of air. She kept screaming till Dr. Bonaventure struggled his way over to her and patted her on the arm gently. He had his head tilted against his shoulder trying to plug his ear with it, and he patted her soothingly with his free hand. He had a kindly face and gray hair and black-rimmed eyeglasses balanced precariously way down on the tip of his nose. He was wearing a ratty-looking Mr. Rogers cardigan sweater over his lab coat. He looked huggable, like somebody’s grandpa or something. He looked so sweet and dear and trustworthy that she stopped screaming and him and Milo, who was a plump nerdish guy with dark brown skin and a round Afro and a bow tie, unplugged their ears. “Am I a ghost?” she said once she caught her breath.

Dr. Bonaventure considered it and then shook his head. His assistant Milo stared at her with wide eyes through clear plastic safety glasses and she realized that if anything, he looked even kindlier than Dr. Bonaventure. She realized she was in good hands, whatever she was. “Are you…are you sure she’s not a ghost, Dr. Bonaventure?” Milo asked in a worried tone. “Or maybe a zombie?” he continued.

“Quite, Milo my boy, because ghosts aren’t real. And neither are zombies.”

“But I have to be a ghost though, or something, because I’m dead!” Zoe protested.

“Why are you so convinced you’re dead, Dear?”

“Because my heart stopped beating, and I died.”

Dr. Bonaventure looked her up and down and she suddenly realized she was naked.  Before she could get too shocked about that, she realized that her wounds had healed up considerably from what they had been, and surely healing wasn’t something that dead bodies did. “Can you get us a blanket, Milo?” the doctor said. “Or two?” Milo hurried to obey, going into another room attached to the morgue by a swinging Plexiglass door that kathunked noisily as he went through it. “Your heart may have stopped beating, but I don’t think you did die. I think, Miss Rose, that you’re still alive. Your heart stopped because it ran out of blood to pump, but you’re still very much in the land of the living.”

“How? How is that possible?” 

Milo, who was now wearing a parka for some reason which made no sense since Zoe thought it was the perfect temperature in the morgue even though she could see everyone’s breath except for her own, held out a blanket to her. Dr. Bonaventure took the other blanket and wrapped himself up in it. Zoe used the blanket to cover herself for modesty’s sake, but she wasn’t cold at all. If anything she was kind of too hot with the blanket on. Snow started falling and while in a corner of her mind she knew that wasn’t supposed to happen, for some reason snow felt like her best friend in the whole wide world and she was glad to see it. Dr. Bonaventure stared upwards at the snow falling out of thin air. “Miss Rose, does it often snow indoors, in your experience?”

“No, I suppose not,” Zoe admitted.

“Nor does a human being survive the kind of trauma you have just survived, not often. But occasionally, someone does. And do you know what we call those people? The people who can make it snow indoors and survive losing all the blood in their bodies?”

A superhuman. “But I’m, I’m not though?”

“Well, perhaps you weren’t, but I think you are now.”

“What? How??””

“If you would be so kind as to make it stop snowing in here, I’ll try to explain.” And even though Zoe was not at all convinced she was the one making it snow, she concentrated and it stopped. The temperature rose several degrees and it felt to Zoe like going into a sauna after having been out in the snow.  Dr. Bonaventure looked at her with an approving expression. “As I’m sure you’re already aware, 30% of all human beings have the genetic capability to become superheroes…”

“Or villains,” Zoe said emphatically.

“Or villains,” the doctor agreed. “…but only a very few ever do. That’s because the genes need some sort of catalyst to trigger a change. Have you by chance been exposed to any superhuman DNA recently? Bodily fluids, a blood transfusion, perhaps?”

“Well, yes,” she agreed, thinking of Sanjay and all the times they’d been together over the past several weeks. There were other things that she didn’t want to think about, that she would have preferred not to think about ever again, and she pushed those things away.  Stubbornly they refused to go, kept coming back again and again. Her stomach roiled and tears peppered her eyes, but her intense journalist’s curiosity kept her from breaking down. Breaking down would be something that simply had to wait for another time because for now she needed to get the story. She shoved the memories away with all her might, and this time, thankfully, they stayed gone. “…but Dr. Bonaventure, you can’t be saying that becoming a superhero is like catching an STD, can you?”

“No, no.  No no no. Not at all. If it was, we’d be swimming in superheroes by now. The superhumans, they tend to be…well.” Dr. Bonaventure realized he was going off a tangent and cleared his throat. “No. Exposure to hero DNA helps prime a human body to make the change, it’s like seeding a cloud, you might say, or perhaps giving your body a recipe to follow. But it takes something else to trigger the metamorphosis.  Hmm. It occurs to me, Miss Rose, that if you’ve been around superheroes…”

“Or villains,” she prompted.

“Or villains, you’ve been around superhero stuff. Radioactive waste, toxic chemicals, ion storms, electromagnetism, that kind of thing.  Think back, does anything jump out at you?”

Zoe wracked her brain trying to think of anything. Inside Sanjay’s fridge, she recalled, he had all sorts of chemicals stored that he used for catching bad guys in one way or another. There was a whole shelf in his fridge set aside for chemicals, like other people had ketchup and mustard and salad dressing. He had warned her to stay away from them the first time she’d stayed over, and she always had, but when she’d been violently stuffed into the fridge a lot of stuff had clinked around and fallen over, and she thought it very likely that some of it had spilled on her. And plus, fridges were pretty gross anyway, for all she knew Sanjay had left some rancid disgusting Tupperware in there or one of those million-year-old boxes of baking soda meant to absorb odors. “Maybe,” she admitted, but then she recalled that Sanjay was out there somewhere thinking she was dead. She tried to jump to her feet, but her knees buckled. Dr. Bonaventure steadied her.

“Not so fast.  You need blood, and lots of it.”  He looked her over again. “And we’ll need to stitch up the rest of these wounds as well.  It’s apparent your ability to heal has been dramatically accelerated, but it will work even faster if we assist your innate abilities.”

“Can I use a phone?” she asked, and Milo handed over his. She dialed Sanjay’s number and it just rang and rang. Then she called his other phone number and was dismayed when it went to voicemail.

He had changed his voicemail message. “You’ve reached the phone of Captain Obvious!” he said in a voice full of smarm and fake cheer that was utterly unlike him. “I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m committing suicide by cop. Please leave your message, and maybe somebody will find it eventually. Peace out.”

She left a message anyway explaining that she was possibly alive still somehow and texted both phones too, but she had the sinking feeling he had probably left them behind someplace and wouldn’t ever get her messages. She had to find him before he did anything irredeemably bad since he’d have to go to Hellgate Island if he did, which was where they put the crazy superhumans.

Dr. Bonaventure started an IV in her arm to give her some blood and Zoe didn’t feel it.  Well, she felt it, but it didn’t feel painful, just informative. The needle digging into her arm sent information to her brain, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It just, was. She explained this and Dr. Bonaventure poked and prodded at her with his medical instruments. They discovered she no longer felt pain, which seemed like a very handy ability to have especially given her recent very up close and personal experience with it.

They stitched her up without any anesthetic which she was glad of since it hurried the process along considerably. The more blood they put into her, the faster she healed, and by the time Dr. B put the last stitch into her, into a deep gash above her left eye which was ugly but not life-threatening, the first stitches in her abdomen where she’d been gutted were almost completely healed and so he and Milo pulled the stitches right back out again. By the end of it all she didn’t have a scratch on her.

Somewhere along the way her heart shuddered and then started beating again. She was alive, she was actually alive, after all. She finally started letting herself believe it.

While he sewed her up, Dr Bonaventure explained that when it came to developing powers, particularly when the change occurred in a life-threatening situation as hers had, the body seized on what it thought it needed to survive. So in her case, she needed to heal quickly, she needed to be able to survive in the cold of the refrigerator, and she needed to be able to call for help. So that’s what her body had given her – healing powers, cold powers, and the screaming – plus the ability to withstand pain as a kind of a perk.

They were good powers, if all rather defensive. She wished she had something more in-your-face. She wanted firepower. She longed for the ability to burn stuff with her eyeballs like Sanjay did; if she did she’d hunt down that brick wall guy and fry a hole right through him. What could she do now, throw snowballs?   Yell really loud? 

They found her a set of surgical scrubs to wear and Milo let her borrow his car which was nice of him since she was a total stranger and he seemed kind of scared of her. But it had all taken so long, so long, and Sanjay was out there doing God only knew what. She desperately wished she knew where to start searching.  

As she got into Milo’s car and adjusted the seat so she could reach the pedals, she looked down at her hands and realized her body had done something else for her,as well, something neither she nor Dr. Bonaventure had noticed in the harsh light of the morgue. Her fingernails sparkled, refracting the light of the full moon into glinting rainbows. She turned on the overhead for a closer look and when she held them to the light, little specks of color bounced off of them and lit up the interior of the car like a disco ball.  

Milo had discarded an empty glass bottle on the floor of his car and she picked it up.  With her index finger she drew a circle on the bottle and popped out a round of glass easily, with a merry little ‘clink’.

Diamond fingernails. I mean, they were really more like claws if you thought about it. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, a voice in the back of her mind whispered.

Her body had meant for her to fight after all.

 

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 1: “Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 1: “Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge”

As many of my readers are aware, there’s an infamous trope where a superhero’s girlfriend is killed off as a cheap plot device to create angst and/or motivation for the hero, typically sending him off on a mission of revenge (while conveniently freeing him up for a new love interest along the way). This has been called “fridging” after a Green Lantern storyline where one of the Lanterns’ girlfriends was murdered and shoved into a refrigerator for him to find. 

Over the years, the trope has grown to incorporate more than literal fridges.  It’s grown into a term that describes the sexist way that many male writers treat female characters as disposable ways to trigger a male character to take action – as if female characters exist in fiction for no other reason than to provoke men to have a reaction to them being hurt. It’s pretty gross and terribly dismissive of the many women who, you know, maybe don’t always want to see their fave female characters getting raped and murdered and tortured just to make male characters get spurred to action.

The writer Gail Simone has an excellent website where she outlays these deaths all together and it’s pretty damning: Women in Refrigerators. 

So anyway, a few weeks ago, my friend jokingly suggested I write a story about a woman fighting a refrigerator along the lines of what I did with my short story “Mom Vs. Couch” (read it here, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and I replied “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell” as a humorous potential title for such an endeavor. But alas, just like with “Mom Vs. Couch”, what started as a joke turned into an actual idea which wouldn’t leave me alone.

What if, I wondered, what if, getting shoved into a fridge could serve as a catalyst not only for a male character, but for a female one? What if women could reclaim the fridging trope for ourselves? Was it possible to actually give fridging a feminist treatment, or at the very least, not make it grossly anti-woman? 

And away I went. So, here you go, the first part of “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell.”  Be aware, I wrote this entire story (not just this part) in 3 days. Plus it’s the week before Christmas and I have about a zillion things to do so I’ve been getting up at 2am to write and keep my life going at the same time, so if there are any typos or weirdnesses or things that don’t quite add up, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fix them.

VERY IMPORTANT TRIGGER WARNING: Since the entire point of this story is a woman who ends up getting stuffed into a fridge and what happens as a result, please be aware that a woman is gonna get stuffed into a fridge at some point. While I tried not to make it too graphic and the story WILL have a happy ending I promise because I prefer happy endings, I can easily, easily see how it could be disturbing for some, so if that is you, please read “Mom Vs. Couch” instead.

“And this is Zoe Rose, for KAQT News. Good night and have a wonderful tomorrow.” Zoe smiled pleasantly into the camera and held that pleasant smile in place without wavering until the producer waved her hand signaling they were off the air. Then she yanked off the mike and stood up. While normally she was ok with hanging around and making chitchat after a broadcast, tonight she couldn’t wait to get away from these people.  

“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Zo?” asked Chuck, her co-anchor, a walking amalgam of hairspray, Botox, and Crest WhiteStrips. “I thought maybe we could go catch that drink we’ve been talking about?”  

They hadn’t been talking about a drink. Chuck had been talking about a drink. In the three months since Zoe had come to KAQT-TV, Los Urbanos’ Number One News Source, he had asked her for a drink at least once a day, sometimes more than once. Chuck was a veteran anchor, a holdover from another time, who walked around looking at every attractive woman he encountered as if they were entrees at the All-You-Can-Sex-Buffet. Everyone called him Matt Lauer, Jr. and they were only barely joking. Zoe counted her blessings because she knew that even just 5 years ago the expectation would have been for her to go have that drink and be appreciative of the opportunity to sleep her way to the top.

Thank GOD for #MeToo, she thought. “I can’t tonight, Chuck.” She forced regret into her voice although it wasn’t easy. “I have to get my computer fixed.”

“Again? Jesus, Zoe, you have to get your computer fixed at least twice a week!”

“At least twice,” she said, and laughed, even though Chuck had no idea why it was funny. “Have a good night, Chuck.” Zoe made her escape and headed back to her office.

Zoe’s office was small, but it was a corner office and it looked out over the sprawling megalopolis of Los Urbanos with these big glass windows all along both external walls. It was way bigger than what she’d had back in Cascade Falls. Everything in her life was way bigger since she moved to LU. She felt like the luckiest woman in the whole world as she swung open the door. She had worked hard, of course, very hard to get to where she was, as far back as she could remember she’d been working towards this dream coming true before her eyes, but she knew tons of other journalists who had worked just as hard and hadn’t had anything approaching the opportunities she’d had. And that didn’t even take into consideration her personal life, which was fucking spectactular and totally undeserved.

She was blessed. Incredibly blessed. Even though she knew it was a trite and borderline offensive bourgeois expression, Zoe Rose felt with every fiber of her being that she was blessed beyond belief and she was so, so very grateful for it.

Sanjay sat at her desk, fiddling with her computer. His long dark hair was pulled up into a man bun, which was his disguise. It was so funny how he could hide in plain sight just by putting his hair up in a bun and being a mild-mannered tech support guy. She told him that once, that she couldn’t believe people didn’t recognize him right away – his face was everywhere, on billboards and in TV commercials and plastered onto the side of city buses and smiling from the cover of People Magazine. He joked that the best disguise of all was being Southeast Asian, it was like he was invisible, no one even looked at him twice, and she thought that was really sad and wanted to beat up the whole world on his behalf.

Personally, Zoe wanted to look at Sanjay constantly. She wished she was invisible so she could follow him around and stare at him while he went about his day fixing computers and sitting in meetings and eating lunch; the most mundane details of his life, Zoe wanted to witness every one of them, except for the bathroom stuff. Zoe thought Sanjay was the most beautiful man she had ever seen and that was when he was just being Sanjay and not the other guy. When he was being the other guy she couldn’t even breathe when she looked at him.

He glanced at her with a sexy smirk playing on his full lips and Zoe thought she might die, literally might die in that second. “What do you even do to this thing?”

“Whatever it takes,” she replied, which was true. She would go into the settings on her computer and start clicking randomly till her computer stopped working, then she would call tech support and Sanjay would come and they could see each other during the work day. Zoe often felt she couldn’t make it through the day without seeing him, without reminding herself that he was actually real and not just a daydream.

“Well, I fixed it.” Sanjay stood up and his dark eyes traveled up and down Zoe appreciatively and she was really glad she’d wore her shortest tightest skirt. It was amazing how different it felt when Sanjay let his eyes rove than when someone like Chuck did. “Don’t let it happen again, Miss Rose,” he joked. Then he wrang his hands in front of his chest, which Zoe knew from firsthand experience was exquisitely muscled, but as usual he wore a loose-fitting shirt which covered it up.

He seemed nervous; he always seemed nervous when he asked her out, even though they’d been going out, or more accurately, staying in, for several weeks now. They couldn’t be seen in public, of course, not only because dating coworkers was frowned upon at the station, but because of the other complication.  

Supervillains.  

Staying in had its perks, anyway. Did it ever. “Thank you.” It was flabbergasting to Zoe that someone as mindblowingly phenomenal as Sanjay Biswas might have any nervousness regarding her whatsoever. Even though she knew she was successful and considered quite attractive – tall and willowy, brunette hair cut in a flattering chin-length blunt style, a made-for-TV face like a grown up version of Selina Gomez – even though she knew in an ordinary relationship it would be understandable for a man to be intimidated by her, it was still flabbergasting. Compared to what Sanjay was, she was nothing, nothing at all. 

“Meet you outside then?” he said, his hand reaching towards the man bun.

“Yep.” Zoe felt a gust of wind and when she blinked he was gone.  

She had started wearing her ID, debit card, and keys on a lanyard around her neck since carrying a purse was an enormous pain in the ass when Sanjay picked her up. Slinging the jingling mess around her neck, she rushed down the hall to the door that led to the fire escape, tucking her stuff down inside her pale pink silk shell as she did.  She cringed as the icy metal of her keys hit her skin and buttoned her suit jacket shut for warmth.

As she opened the door she realized she’d foolishly worn the wrong shoes, she’d worn slip-on mules that while comfortable for a day of work, could fall off her feet and probably kill a pedestrian, so she slipped them off and left them on the fire escape to retrieve the next day.  

Then she climbed up onto the railing of the fire escape and jumped off. She was on the 16th floor so it was quite a ways down.  

As she fell she saw him just for a moment silhouetted against the full moon, his shoulder-length black hair flowing loose in the wind, his crimson suit so tight it left absolutely nothing to Zoe’s imagination, his gold cape reflecting the moonlight. His one leg was straight, the other bent at the knee like a ballet dancer in mid-spin. In the very next moment she was in his arms. “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” she said breathlessly.

“You need to stop doing that, Zoe, what if I can’t make it in time?”

“You’ll always make it in time,” she said, and kissed him.

As she removed her tongue from his mouth he swallowed a couple times. “You ever been to Lake Geneva?” he asked with his voice all husky from desire, and Zoe laughed because he was always asking her things like that about random and unusual locations. He never took her places like Paris or Hawaii, he took her better places, peculiar places, places off the beaten path, places where villains probably wouldn’t be hanging out. He took her to Banff and the Isle of Man and Prague and Namibia. He took her to the Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota. He took her to the Bikini Atoll. One time he took her to Antarctica and they fed penguins a can of sardines. Even though he was called Captain Obvious because it was a meta joke that raised his cool factor considerably, he actually despised being obvious, at least where Zoe was concerned.  

“I’m not wearing any shoes, though,” she complained.

“I’ll carry you.  Whereever you want to go.”  

And that sounded lovely so she said no she hadn’t been to Lake Geneva, and off they flew across the Atlantic, headed for Switzerland. They were there in five minutes, even though what Sanjay would very much have preferred was to head straight back to his lair and pound the shit out of her, only tenderly and with a lot of consideration for her needs.

There were stronger superheroes than Captain Obvious – the Flying Brick, Idaho Spud, the Manatee. There were faster superheroes – the Pink Cheetah, Shelby Cobra, the Millennial Falcon. There were superheroes that had way more firepower than he did like Champagne Supernova and Black Betty. There were definitely grittier superheroes like Batverine, True Grit, and the Soiled Dove. But Captain Obvious was the absolutely coolest superhero. He didn’t just think that he was, even though he did think that he was.  He’d been officially deemed the coolest superhero by People Magazine for seven years running, stealing the crown from OK Boomer who had never bothered learning how to use social media.  

Part of being the coolest hero was that you never did what people expected. Being the coolest meant you set trends, you didn’t follow them. So while he did tend to take Zoe places where villains wouldn’t be, because DUH, it was really more about him not wanting to be, well, obvious. Inviting a girl to Paris was so fricking predictable Captain Obvious would never have let himself do it so whenever he had a minute to spare when Zoe wasn’t with him he was scrolling desperately through Atlas Obscura looking up places to take her to on dates.

Lake Geneva was pretty awesome though. Even though it was dark, the moon was full, so they had a lot of light to see by and Sanjay flew them over the water and they took in the beauty of the snowcapped Alps in the distance gleaming in the moonlight, and looked at the fancy houses and there were even castles and fortresses dating back to the Middle Ages on the shore.  

After awhile, though, Zoe started shivering. He hadn’t figured a way around that yet; she always got cold when they flew places unless it was someplace tropical. Zoe was the first woman he’d dated as Captain Obvious so he didn’t have the finer details worked out.

Since his lair was in the tropics, it was a nice excuse to get her back to his place anyway. 

The secret fortress of Captain Obvious was beneath an abandoned temple half-eaten by jungle on a small island not too far from Sri Lanka. He had an apartment in Los Urbanos of course, as Sanjay Biswas, ordinary citizen, but his lair was really his home. He kept his prize possessions there – memorabilia from the cases he’d solved, photos with celebrities, his Teen Choice Awards. And of course, since it was a lair and everything, it also housed his command center – surveillance equipment, a fully-equipped crime lab, top-of-the-line computing system, and his weapons collection, which he fortunately rarely needed, since he was a weapon himself. 

The living quarters were masculine, even a bit spartan, since the lair was where Captain Obvious came to work, not hang out. But Zoe found she felt very much at home there.

While Sanjay disappeared off into the kitchen to make her some hot tea, she snuggled into a blanket on his couch, although to be honest she hadn’t been anywhere near as cold as she pretended to be.  She was just ready, beyond ready, to be alone with him and for some reason she had a hard time just asking for what she wanted sexually, she felt like she had to trick people into it, or else she’d come off like a slut.  

Zoe had been to the lair many times; it felt safer than either of their apartments since Sanjay was so emphatic that no one know about her for her protection. Even though she thought he was being a bit silly about it, since no one knew who the secret identity of Captain Obvious even was, let alone the girlfriend of the secret identity of Captain Obvious, she loved it because it felt like they were the only two people on the face of the planet. When they came to the lair, it felt like she had Sanjay all to herself and didn’t have to share him with whatever passers-by was in trouble right that minute. Even though she understood when he had to run off and perform a rescue during a date, it was still disappointing when it happened because she wanted to be with him as many hours in the day as was possible.

The first time he’d kissed her had been at the lair. She’d done a one-on-one with him at the station, visions of Peabody Awards dancing in her head. They’d hit it off right away; Captain Obvious was as humble and down-to-earth and earnest as his reputation had led her to believe. She met a lot of arrogant assholes working in media, and it was refreshing to find that the one guy who actually had the God-given right to be self-important, wasn’t. Anyway, she found herself laughing and blushing and fawning over the guy in a way she normally didn’t during interviews; she fawned over him the way she cringed at when other female journalists fawned over celebs. But I mean seriously, he was Captain Obvious, fawning over him was different than fawning over Justin Bieber or some sportsball-playing-douche, right?  

At the end of the interview he offered to show her around his lair on one condition – no cameras. No one had ever seen the inside of the Captain’s lair before so it was a massive scoop for her to land after she’d only been in town a few weeks. She agreed and sent the cameraman home and Obvious swept her off her feet, literally. They talked for hours like they were old friends. By the end of the night she was shocked to find herself making out furiously with Los Urbanos’ resident superhero which seemed really unprofessional on both of their parts, but neither of them cared.

He came back in with the tea and set it down on the coffee table and then they forgot it was there.

Some time later, because Zoe was thirsty, Sanjay left the bedroom and got her tea and heated it back up with the fiery beams from his eyes. When he came back Zoe was sitting up in his bed with her always-perfect hair all messed up and her lips swollen from kissing so much. Mascara had smeared down below one of her eyes and the sheet slipped off her chest and she didn’t bother to pull it back up. He felt a rush of an emotion he had never experienced before and it took him a moment to pin down what it was.

His confusion must have shown on his face. “What?” she asked him, as she sipped her tea, which was turmeric and ginger, like Sanjay’s mother used to make when people caught a chill.

His long hair hung down into his face and his brown eyes were wide and intense.  He shook his head like he was surprised. “I love you,” he said. “I love you, that’s all.”  He laughed in disbelief. “It’s amazing. You’re amazing.”

Zoe was so happy she could have exploded.

The next day, Zoe took a half-day off work because she was so full of joy she didn’t think she could read the news without smiling, which would be terribly inappropriate if people had died or something. So she decided to surprise Sanjay. She got an Indian Cooking for Dummies cookbook at Barnes and Noble and went shopping at the farmer’s marketplace for ingredients. And then she bought a big bouquet of flowers even though she knew giving a man flowers was frowned upon because it made you look needy. She didn’t care, she didn’t care at all. She wanted Sanjay to know she needed him, so, so very badly. She didn’t want him to have a single doubt.  

The night before, after he had told her he loved her, he gave her a key to his place, and so she let herself in. Sanjay’s apartment was clean and spacious and airy, converted space from an industrial building. It had hardwood floors and an open floor plan, high ceilings with the beams exposed and the far walls were made of bricks painted white. There was exercise equipment in one corner; while it seemed weird since he was superhuman and everything, Sanjay still had to train hard to keep ahead of the other superhumans, she’d learned. The kitchen was in another corner and the bedroom and bathroom were through a door at the far end of the large room.  Framed posters lined the walls and a ficus plant grew against one of the windows.

She wondered if she’d move in someday or if they’d get a place together, and she knew she was counting chickens but she couldn’t help it.   

Sanjay had a friendly black cat named Midnight. As Zoe came in, Midnight rubbed against her leg. She set the bags down for a moment and locked the deadbolt behind her. Then she scratched Midnight under his chin and he purred appreciatively.

She carried the bags into the kitchen and started to unpack them. Then she heard a really weird buzzing hum like electricity arcing and turned around. The front door was glowing and then she saw a foot step through the door and then a whole body followed the foot. The glow on the door died out. Standing there was a short squat guy with a strange broad but thin body, like someone had taken a regular human head and stuck it on a brick wall or something.  

He was mutated, she realized.  Mutated. “What?” she heard herself say, even though he hadn’t said anything.

“Captain Obvious?”

“What?” she repeated, and realized her heart was beating about a million miles a second.

“I know you’re his girlfriend, or his wife, or something. Captain Obvious. Where is he?”

“I don’t…what?”  

“I can smell him on you,”  the strange man said, and sniffed through his nose as if to illustrate the point. “I been tracking him for a week. I caught his scent but when I followed it, it wasn’t him. It was you. He’s been all over you. And I mean ALL over,” he said, and then he laughed way down low in his throat.

“Oh,” she breathed and noticed she was really really dizzy all of a sudden.

“I’m guessing since he hasn’t blasted me yet, he’s not here?”

“Um,” Zoe said.  

“Well, well.” He laughed again and he started walking towards her. “Well, well, well.”

“Are, are, are, are are…are?” She paused and regrouped. “Are you gonna kill me?” It didn’t seem right that you could get killed when you’d spent the entire day dreaming about your happily ever after.

“Well,” he said, and he smiled, and Zoe was really, really sorry to see that he didn’t have teeth like a human being, they were pointy teeth like the cat had. “Not just yet.” 

She tried to scream but no sound came out at all.

When Sanjay got home that night after work he was in the best mood, like, ever. He’d gotten a text from Zoe that she’d taken the rest of the day off – normally she had to work late, since she read the evening news and everything – and that she had a surprise for him at his apartment. He hoped it involved nudity.

He’d even taken the chance of using his powers uncostumed, zipping back by 5:01 rather than taking the subway like he should have, because he just couldn’t wait any longer to be with her. He loved her so much it felt like the time he had to fly into the sun to defeat Dr. Coppertone, being burned alive and crushed by a massive gravitational pull, only good. So good. Good, like he had never even imagined what it could be. Now he understood what the people making all those sappy and cringeworthy love songs were actually singing about, even Bryan Adams.  

He stuck his key in the lock and pushed the door open.   

The lights were off and he flicked the switch on. Across the wall of his apartment it said ‘Catch me if you can’ and it was written in rusty red letters. 

In red letters. Red letters. Red. His brain dispassionately noted there was a wilted bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table.

Poor Midnight was hanging on a noose from the chandelier but as Sanjay looked around he saw blood everywhere it seemed like and it was just too much blood to come from a cat, no matter how he turned it around and around in his head he knew it couldn’t have come from a cat, not all of it and that meant only one thing. But no, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t be, please no, please, please don’t let it be that thing, he prayed to any deity who would listen; his brain even invented new deities to pray to like the God of Superheroes, there had to be one, surely, please, some higher power out there looking out for people like him who had to face so many terrible things.

Oh, my God, PLEASE.  

He darted from room to room in a tenth of a second but no one was there. Then he spotted the groceries on the floor, noticed that a bag had tipped and some vegetables and a bottle of fish sauce had broken on the floor which no one would leave broken on the floor without cleaning it up because it reeked to high heaven.

It felt like he died and came back to life again only he wished he was still dead.

The blood, he realized, wasn’t random, it was a path of blood, with drag marks and footsteps in it, and the drag marks led all across the apartment from the bedroom

the bedroom, the bedroom, oh my god

…into the kitchen. So he followed the trail and realized that there was a puddle of blood in front of the refrigerator and more blood was leaking from the bottom of the refrigerator door. He walked over and even though he didn’t want to, even though he would have rather done anything else in the whole wide world, Sanjay pulled the refrigerator door open and when he saw what was in there, he shrieked a sound that wasn’t even human and his eyes blasted fire. He squeezed them shut and didn’t dare open them again because he’d end up burning the whole building down if he did. 

He reached into the fridge and touched the terrible thing just to be sure it was what he thought it was.

And it was.

 

 

 

the incredible shrinking woman

the incredible shrinking woman

I’ve really been struggling with my writing lately.  Well, not superlately because I basically gave up writing (aside from work, which is also writing) for the past 2 months, but right before that.  Ironically, just as I celebrated my 100th piece for the online magazine Ordinary Times the bottom dropped out and I sort of had a meltdown.

Writing – at least publicly – is not easy for me.  It’s a struggle every time against various demons that descend from the woodwork to tell me how much everything I do sucks, and also against various slightly less demonic entities that constantly demand my time.  Right before I went on hiatus this last time, I wrote a few things I thought were terrible, inexcusably, irredeemably, embarrassingly terrible.  I found myself sinking into a frustrated despair because I have virtually no uninterrupted time to get my work to the level I prefer, and if what I write is lousy, I cannot justify the time I take from my family who needs me.  It’s a conundrum because I do really and truly feel I have something unique to say if only I could get everyone to shut up long enough for me to get it down on paper.

Anyway, the other day I reread the pieces I recalled being so unacceptably dreadful and found to my surprise they’re perfectly fine.  Not my bestest best work perhaps, but better than just adequate.  On Glorious Bastards is actually pretty darn good, I was pleasantly surprised to discover.  But it took me forfuckingever to write that and its sister piece Put Away Childish Things and that was time I really needed to spend doing real things in the real world.  Again, I can’t justify the time I spend on writing if the end result is anything less than my best.

Finding out my suckiest pieces didn’t totally suck in retrospect is great, but not as great as if I could have just known that all along in my gut and not lost hope, not lost the past 2 months where I did nothing but play video games and scrub toilets, and the former a lot more than the latter.   In the end, though, it wasn’t my self-doubt that did me in, it was what other people had to say about my work that killed me.

You see, I made a critical error when writing those last two posts in particular, because I wrote them for other people and not for myself.  I wrote them because in my self-doubt I was questioning the types of things I liked writing about.  In my self-doubt I thought if only I could write about something I knew people wanted to read, I’d surely stop secondguessing myself.  So I pursued a subject (the ubiquity of male ennui in recent literature) I thought people seemed intrigued by, rather than something I was truly passionate about.  What could go wrong, I thought.  People are interested in this!

Long story short, the reaction of one of these people – indeed, the person who had demanded the loudest that I elucidate upon the topic in the first place – was this:  “So you don’t like Bukowski.  Got it.”

And encapsulated in one sentence is why I haven’t written anything to speak of for the past two months.  Just that quick, a person cut me down, diminished me, reduced my innermost thoughts to complaining and hypersensitivity.

Time and again I’ve found that men online come to women in the public sphere saying things like “I really want to hear your opinion, can you explain your point of view” as a pretext to get you to open up to them so they can slam you or debunk you.  I’d originally held back on talking online with this particular person (a total stranger BTW, not a friend) for exactly that reason.  I felt that his request for communication was not legitimate and was simply a pretense to yell at me about how stupid I was for not liking the right books, but he assured me repeatedly he was merely curious about where I was coming from.  Assured.  Repeatedly.

“So you don’t like Bukowski.  Got it.”

A man read what a woman had to say about something she thought was relatively important, AFTER EXPRESSING DESIRE TO HEAR THOSE THOUGHTS, and took the opportunity to remind her that no one wants to hear what she had to say.  He took the opportunity to play the “bitchez be crazy” card by implying I was a moody harpy with a personal grudge against a writer who’s been dead for decades.  (BTW, not even true, as anyone who actually knows me is aware, I love seedy underbellies and human flaws, it’s just that I’ve gotten sick of reading about the exact same seedy underbelly again and again.) This guy looked askance at something I’d worked very hard on, expending precious time I didn’t have, that I hadn’t even WANTED to write in the first place, and shit on it.

I’m sorry to say that I took it very much to heart and it’s taken me this long to get over it, inasmuch as I have, which I probably haven’t.

Now, I’m a pretty tough cookie and people say harsh and negative things to me all day long and it mostly rolls off.  People regularly dislike things I adore, despise things I write, and are disdainful of thoughts I hold dear.  I’m not a creampuff that can’t take criticism.  But that wasn’t criticism, it was dismissal.  In its casual dismissiveness, the comment brought home with crystal clarity how pointless having an online existence is, how no one cares about what I have to say, my silly small ambitions are ridiculous distractions that keep me from providing the maid service to which my family is entitled, that all I’m good for is wiping snotty noses and scooping cat litter boxes.  It played right into that negative selftalk that I already had going on, and just happened along at a time I was already vulnerable.

The person who wrote those words so carelessly claims to be a writer himself, and I assume that means he struggles like I struggle and fully understands that this isn’t an easy endeavor on a good day.  Yet he went out of his way to put me in my place.  It would have taken him not a second longer to write an encouraging platitude and less time still to say nothing, but he chose to insult me instead.  And it wasn’t even a bad piece.  He insulted me over a piece that was good.

Big Man.

In retrospect I realize I wrote a piece (taking time away from things I would rather have been doing and writing about, boy howdy, did it ever) in no small part because I didn’t want to give this Big Man and the Big Men like him, justification to dismiss me without also giving him the greater context so he couldn’t.  It just never occurred to me that he was so invested in winning an argument I didn’t even know we were having that he didn’t actually care about the context.  He was going to dismiss me either way.  It was predestined going in.  I could have written the most genius, brilliant, stunningly insightful essay in the history of humankind and the response would have been the same.

I wrote about what it feels like to be a woman being constantly told to read literature written by men and for men where women are afterthoughts and playthings and I got “So you don’t like Bukowski?  Got it.” in return.  It’s fucking flabbergasting.

It’s been said many times before that comments online are rarely about anything than the commenter’s own self-aggrandizement.  They’re picking a fight or preaching their gospel.  They’re meeting their own needs, and I very much expect that was the case here.  Big Man probably enjoyed the game where he watched a woman write furiously about a topic upon his request, and then passive-aggressively insulted her work with just enough clueless deniability to get away with it.  Or maybe he didn’t at all and he was just so self-centered, so entitled, that he thought he had the God-given right to repeatedly demand to hear what a woman was thinking and once she gave in, to pass judgement upon her opinion as if he was some sort of a moral or artistic authority.  Regardless, it was all about him, and anything I may have experienced as a result was collateral damage.

None of that takes away from me.  I wrote a good piece – a couple of them, matter of fact – that I’m proud of.  For me to stop writing because someone acted like an asshole online is self-defeating and only completes the job he set out to do – to shut me up.  So here I am, back again, as irritating as ever, ready for more.

I’m happy to report, one of my very first pieces back, Square Peg, Round Hole: Veronica Mars Season 4 was picked up by both WordPress and Google Chrome Reader for promotion and has thus far been read by more than 10,000 people.

2698FB568E2445268930F19B74EEA393

Oh Internet, you’re such a confusing mixture of discouragement and encouragement.

A lot of men entirely aside from Charles Bukowski exist to diminish and reduce women, to keep them in their place.  They thrive on it.  Many men prefer small and quiet women, not big and noisy ones, and prefer that even in random strangers that they don’t even know because unruly women cause them discomfort.

But I don’t like being kept in my place.  I’m too big to fit there.  I just needed a couple months to remember that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Glorious Bastards

On Glorious Bastards

Should women read books about bastards?

Must they?

I started writing about this subject tangentially for Ordinary Times as a part of a different piece, and I realized that my piece was getting too far afield.  So instead of giving you one overly long and ranging piece, you, my super awesome readers (all six of you) get two slightly more focused ones. Two for the price of one, that is a bargain!  But please do dart back to read the original piece if you have the time.

Anyway, there’s an essay by Rebecca Solnit called 80 Books No Woman Should Read.    I strongly recommend reading it because she makes a lot of good points, even though I mostly disagree with it, because I do think women should read books by bastards and about bastards.*  

There are noble reasons for this and you can read Marina Manoukian writing about them here or read Elissa Strauss writing about them.  But the real reason you should read men’s books is IMO the most noble of all – self-protection. 

Because you need to be fucking warned about what men really are, ladies.  (hint – it’s bastards) 

Not all of them, not all the time, but to paraphrase Lincoln, who himself was probably a bastard I assume since his wife Mary Todd got driven nuts for SOME reason (when it comes to crazy women, cherchez l’homme, just sayin) some men are bastards all of the time, and all men are bastards some of the time, so as a woman you gotta assume that any given man has the potential to be a bastard all of the time.  Even the generally nice ones.

If you were like me, growing up you were innocent and naive and probably read a lot of fluffy girly books and even some very serious and important ones, and you likely watched movies like The Princess Bride or When Harry Met Sally and maybe you watched Days of our Lives and Moonlighting on TV.  And these delightful pursuits maybe made you think – as I did, with every fiber of my being, until life beat it out of me – that most men are looking for a special woman that suits them better than all the other ones, that he’ll love her for who she is even if she’s different from him or high maintenance and he would never expect her to change, and once he finds her he will be completely devoted to her forever and she won’t have to work slavishly at keeping him every second of the day and of the night.

And I’m so sorry (you have no idea how sorry I am) to report that this is completely bullshit.  A woman being special and unique in the eyes of any man effortlessly and forever is a line of crap that people have sold us to get us to buy romance novels and to get us to behave ourselves, because if our man thinks we’re special just the way we are, what happens if we change, so we’d probably better not. 

The truth is, most men end up in relationships not with the most superspecialawesome woman they’ve ever encountered but just with that chick that works in the building next door or that nice girl who their friend happened to know from Pilates and they stay in that relationship till they get bored or someone better – or new, at any rate – comes along.  There is no magic here. There is nothing remarkable or unique about us (well, there is, of course, but don’t count on your man friend there to see it). And a LOT of men secretly think they could probably do a lot better than you or me and are constantly on the lookout for any reason to trade up.

Aside – while men of course do get massively obsessed with women in many cases it’s women that they barely even know, like a chick they once saw on a bus, or who they lived next door to when they were 10 but she moved, or Gabrielle in Marketing.  This fantasy woman is not an actual woman, but is a fictional character who they can imagine to have all those qualities that they think the ideal woman should have in any given moment, and the nice thing about her being a fictional character is that her qualities can change with a man’s mood.  When and if they conquer said woman and realize “oh wow she’s just a regular chick after all” and they have to start putting up with her bullshit, the bloom is off the rose and the relationship often sours. 

Given all that, the good thing about reading the worst types of men’s novels is that you get a front row seat into the way men think about women.  Reading Lolita (every woman on Planet Earth should read Lolita immediately) shows you just how actually evil some men can be when it comes to getting what they want sexually, even when they know full well that what they want sexually is actually evil.  Reading Fight Club (definitely do, when you get around to it) gives you an insight into how modern society, that men themselves largely created and have benefited from hugely, can demoralize younger and less successful men who haven’t had a chance to hugely benefit from it yet, and how these young men often look around and see women standing there and think “well there’s a likely cause for my unhappiness”, especially their moms.  Reading Bukowski (I wouldn’t bother, except for the poems, many of which are online for free and will kinda give u the jist) reveals how men think women are disposable and replaceable and how some men eventually decide to “treat women like human beings” as if it’s somehow noble of them, like they’re doing us a favor, as if they’re granting women a boon that we should be eternally grateful for.

The fundamental reason women need to read men’s books is because we need to know about the existence of men other than Prince Charming and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.  Because these men are legion and in fact these men, at least certain aspects of them, are lurking inside of every man, even Prince Charming and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.  Trust me, I beg you, it’s good to have a heads up on this in advance, as there are a whole lot of women who learn these truths about men eventually and are gobsmacked by it after building their whole entire lives on the lie.  Or so I hear, like, through the grapevine, or whatever.

BUT. 

The bad thing about reading the worst types of men’s novels is that they’re fucking boring as hell after you’ve read the first few and unless you’re 22 years old you’ve probably lived this shit already up close, personal, and repeatedly.  Take it from a middle-aged woman, by the time you’re a middle-aged woman you will have had ample opportunity to observe men, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

So sure, maybe it’s desirable, indeed, necessary, to read a few important men’s novels along the way.  Some of them are worth your time for any number of reasons. But there is absolutely no need to read them all.  And there is absolutely no need to continue to read them forever, if, as in the case of Charles Bukowski, a small taste would suffice.  Because they’re all the same variation on that same damn theme, a bastard and his penis and their delightful adventures, how they struggle for recognition and adoration from their parental units and society as a whole even though women are kind of insipid and disappointing and a boy’s precious penis deserves so so much much more, like that girl they lived next door to when they were ten who was perfect, but she moved.

Screenshot 2019-08-14 at 11.52.18 AM

  

Regardless of your opinion on penises – and I got nothin’ against ‘em – IT’S BORING.

A dear friend of mine recently suggested I read the Rabbit series by John Updike (a man who David Foster Wallace, himself a dick with a dictionary, once referred to as “a penis with a thesaurus”).  I took this recommendation very much to heart since this is a dude whose judgement I trust and whose writing I greatly enjoy.

But when I looked up Updike’s books I realized could never actually read them.  The first in the series, the very famous and beloved-by-many Rabbit, Run, involves a man who gets bored with his tedious existence of like, having to have a job, and take out the trash maybe I guess, it does kinda get old, abandons his pregnant wife to have a 2 monthslong affair with a prostitute, then comes back when his wife has the baby, tries to have sex with her as soon as she has the baby, can’t because firstly that is against the medical rules and secondly anyone who has had a baby will tell you that would be incredibly painful, jacks off onto her all pissed-off-ed-ly, and leaves.  Then the next day because she was so upset about her husband being a ginormous asshat, she gets drunk and accidentally drowns the new baby in the bathtub (it was a girl, naturally, since they are disposable). But don’t worry, the prostitute is pregnant so there’s already a replacement on the way.  

I mean seriously, I don’t even know what to do with all that.  Rabbit’s wife can’t even make a terrible mistake on her own. She has to be forced into it by the actions of a man; because he’s withdrawn his affection she can no longer function.  Lack agency much, Janice?  And then God-The-Author essentially punishes the temerity of refusing her husband sex by taking her baby away from her.

This doesn’t mean my friend was in any way wrong for liking Rabbit, Run.  By all accounts it’s great and undoubtedly brilliantly written and it’s a product of its time and should be viewed thru that lens.  He’s right, I probably should read it to be the well-informed person I hope to be. It just means that for me, personally, I’ve had enough.  My father left, my stepfather left, I’ve been pressured into sexual encounters I didn’t want and have talked to thousands of women (at my regular job as a fertility counselor) who have also been pressured into sexual encounters they didn’t want and/or who were themselves abandoned by fathers and husbands.  I have been told by a variety of sources that any physical weakness I have (such as, Janice needing more than 10 minutes to recover after giving birth before getting back in the saddle again) is simply me being a pussy and I need to suck it up and not complain and keep my man happy because a man’s temporary happiness is more important than a woman’s physical pain.  I have read dozens if not hundreds of books about the subject of male ennui, and seen hundreds, if not thousands, of movies and TV shows about it.  

I. Have had.  Enough.   

I’ve had enough of it in my personal life and I’ve for sure had enough in my fictional one. The last time I checked, engaging with fiction is a voluntary endeavor and not like eating my fucking spinach.  Reading as a chore? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Please don’t get me wrong here.  I believe that men’s experiences as relayed in these sorts of novels are profound and meaningful to other men.  I believe fully that men have a different set of drivers and experiences than women starting at conception itself (don’t @ me, people, it’s really actually science, the Y chromosome makes testosterone in the womb and it does stuff to ya as your brain forms, even if as some people claim there are exceptions and I’d never dare to quibble with their lived experience, it is the general rule) and they deserve to have books written by and for them about those drivers and experiences.  I get that in many, many cases these tales are told not as recipes for happiness/success, but as cautionary tales or as commentary on brutal reality. In many, many cases there are larger points being made and a greater theme underlying the penis pity party. I do get that. I would never presume to tell anyone that novels of male indulgence are bad, or not worth reading. I believe men have the absolute right to tell their stories and humans can and should sip from lots of different fictional cups along the way.  

But do they all have to be presented as MUST READ?  Because there are SO MANY OF THEM!!!!

Seriously, women have drivers and experiences too and there are far fewer books about the female experience.  Additionally, a whole lot of books allegedly written about or including the female experience – even those written by women – are written like women ARE men or are there for men’s gratification (either the character or the reader) , such as in The Corrections where Jonathan Franzen writes a lesbian character and somehow has her act first like a seductive ingenue, then like a man’s sexual fantasy of how a lesbian would act, and finally brings it on home having her act how a man would act in a similar situation (so she sleeps around and mistreats her partner badly).  And Franzen then is somehow PRAISED by “the critics” as being good at writing women.   

Less often, but too often, women are written from the perspective of maleness as a default setting, as if women are flawed and lamer men and not some other thing entirely, or that they’re entirely some other thing and not people at all.  Or we’re regaled with a thinly veiled parable about how men have made the rules and women need to live within them in a certain way or be considered failures to be punished accordingly (Anna Karenina, looking at you here).  There are really very few great novels featuring female protagonists at all, let alone that I relate to, and barely any that I find uplifting. I walk away from most books containing a female protagonist thinking “wow, thank God I’m not her,” and I find I’m mighty tired of women-who-misbehave-will-get-beaten-down cautionary tales.

Aside from that, it’s condescending as fuck to have our heads patted and be told “here’s a list of the greatest books in human history, Hon, read them to be a learned and well-educated person” only to find out that the Greatest Story Ever Told was actually Portnoy’s Complaint

Or if you prefer a more tangible example, here: Screenshot 2019-08-16 at 9.18.11 AM

Acclaimed literature, y’all, by Updike lover, and probably really cool guy Nicholson Baker.  I think it’s meant as a joke, and Christ, I sure hope so.

There is no written law that states anybody has to read an endless stream of books that are boring, gross, 400 pages too long, and shed no light on our personal experience in order to be well-rounded people.  And we for sure don’t have to read them at the expense of other things we’d rather be doing. It isn’t a black mark on our cool-chick-ometer if we decline the invite. It isn’t a sign of a willfully ignorant person for a woman take a pass on learning more about a topic (bastards and the inner lives of bastards) she feels she is already an expert in.  There is no shortage of material out there to read and watch and listen to. Somewhere between 200,000 and 2 million books are published a year, depending on the statistics you use, and in my rough estimation 190,000-1.9 million of them are male-centric.  

And if that’s not enough, streaming is a thing now if you prefer to watch rather than read.  We don’t have to waste our lives engaging with concepts we would rather not hear about any more.

I still believe, fully, that everyone should read books about everyone.  Of course. Fiction is a lens through which we can learn to view the motives of other people with empathy, even as they do some pretty heinous things .  But once you’ve read some of them and feel, like I feel, that you’ve had enough of a bad thing, I hereby absolve you of the need to continue reading similarly themed books till you’ve crossed them all off some arrogant dude’s imaginary list of bastard-centric literature.  

I think it is absolutely fine and dandy if a person prefers to read The Hunger Games or Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables because even though they are kids’ books, kids’ books are one of the few places I recall ever seeing a true and realistic accounting of my experience as a female human – even though, or possibly BECAUSE, they are completely asexual.  This doesn’t mean I’m asexual, or that I require or desire that in my fiction, just that stories without that dynamic have been where I’ve found the truest representations of myself.  

I happen to find that interesting and worthy of reflecting upon.   I think there’s a reason why women write and read more YA novels than men tend to and it’s because it’s the only place we can be free of penis-based literature.

In closing, my fellow women, I call upon you – yes YOU –  to stop reading some man’s book list before you feel you can write your own stories.  Write your story before you spend another second reading someone else’s. 

Look, I’m just like you. I’m a mom, I’m middle-aged and haven’t accomplished much creatively speaking as of yet, but I’m out here giving it a whirl because I know I have a unique perspective just like you do.  All these men’s books of the past half- to three-quarters-of-a century are regaling us the same goddamn story about the needs of a sad penis and the dull and weak women who surround said penis and fail to live up to its like, so totally reasonable expectations.

I heard that one already.  I want to read your story, ladies!

*I enthusiastically agree with the part of this essay where Rebecca Solnit called Hemingway’s prose “Tonka Toys”.  One of my fave encounters with mansplaining in the wild was when I wrote a piece about a romance novel I enjoyed as a teen written by a woman who revolutionized the genre and pretty much singlehandedly invented “bodice rippers”.  Hey, a woman did something and I found that worthy of note. Men came winging out of the stratosphere to define “purple prose” for me as if it was a term that I’d never heard before and to explain that Hemingway was better because he wrote sparsely.  It was even suggested that the Twilight books were well written because they were sparse (How far would YOU go to prove an absolutely meaningless point?  If it’s to the point of calling Twilight well-written, I humbly submit you may have gone too far).  

Tonkas may be fine for little boys but I’m a girl and I prefer playing with my sparkly holiday Barbie, so fuck off and get trampled by a bull, why don’t you?

No More Tender Vittles

No More Tender Vittles

This piece was originally published at Ordinary Times Magazine.

Andre was running late.  

Andre couldn’t stand being late. He knew people thought of him as a bit of a slacker and because of that, he dressed with care, spoke politely, worked fast, and was punctual. But he knew that despite his best efforts, they’d notice he was late today and use it as a data point to support their original assertion that he was a slacker.

It didn’t seem fair exactly that people could make a decision about a person and then forevermore be on the lookout for evidence to support their conclusion. It didn’t seem fair exactly that nothing you said or did for the rest of your whole entire life mattered once people had made up their minds about you.

Then he caught a light and the traffic gods were with him. Andre rammed his hovercar into the closest parking hole without hitting the brakes till the last possible second. He barely managed to stop within the zone. If he’d gone any further he would have had to keep going out the exit side of the hole and come around for another try and he totally for sure would have been late if that happened. But he had no time to celebrate his superior parking ability. He sprinted into work with about 60 seconds to spare, smiling as the security camera scanned his face. Officially on time.

There was a horse in the lobby. Looked pissed, which was par for the course. It was one of those huge ones, a Clydesdale or whatever, with those big hairy hooves that could kick your skull open, probably. Andre had never drawn a horse on any of his assignments and getting a look at the sucker he was pretty glad of that.

Nova was bringing him in. Nova weighed about 45 kilograms soaking wet and Andre thought for a moment how stupid it was they didn’t take an animal control agent’s size into account when handing out assignments. He knew it was supposed to be fairer that way, but in a cosmic sense it kind of wasn’t fair at all. Nova had a split lip, a pretty bad one, and she was limping. She sent him a rueful look and he knew it had been a rough one. Poor kid. “Hey.”

The horse snarled at Andre, like an actual snarl, which was disturbing.  “Hay? Real funny, pal”.

“Shut up, Wilbur.”

“Wilbur was the man, you twat.  You mean Mr. Ed.”

“Ok, shut up, Mr. Ed.”  He gave Nova a once-over. “Are you ok?”

“Don’t aggravate him, Andre, I barely got him here as it is. And I’m fine. Cracked some ribs, probably I think.”

Mr. Ed made a sound that was somewhere between a human laugh and a whinny. “You know what they say, once you’ve had horse, you’ll walk funny.”

Nova elbowed his flank. “Shut up or I’ll trank you again.” In response Mr Ed raised his tail in the air and plopped a massive pile of moist green turds onto the lobby floor. Nova considered it with a sigh. “That’s about the last thing I need right now.” She looked like she was about to fall over from exhaustion and Andre was overcome by chivalry.

“I’ll get it.”

“Really, Dre?”

“Yeah.”

“Won’t you be late though?”

“Eh. They got me on camera, they know I’m here.  Work is work, right?”

“Oh gosh, well, thanks!” Nova led the horse into the waiting elevator and pushed the button.  

The horse looked back at Andre with a smirk. “Enjoy.” The door closed before Andre could reply.   

By the time he got up to Argonne’s office, everyone else had picked up their assignments and left. Yay, one-on-one time with the boss. Fantastic. “Late again, DeLuca?”

“There was a horse in the lobby.”

“It’s always something.” Argonne took his phone and downloaded Andre’s assignment into it. “Here, kitty, kitty.” Andre thought again about poor Nova wrangling that Clydesdale and here he was getting a cat. Didn’t seem quite fair, cosmically, but you can’t change the world, so. 

A cat seemed like such an easy retrieval he decided to bring Harry along. If Harry didn’t get out enough he got stir crazy and weird and even though it was a risky thing to do, Andre swung back by the apartment to get him.

Harry was laying sprawled on the couch, one of his freakishly long arms draped along the back of the couch, and the other buried in a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. He had orange dust in his black fur and all over his mouth, and he was naked. Andre happened to know Harry hadn’t showered for a good long time and if he hadn’t happened to know it, he would have known it anyway because of the smell. He pushed down a wave of disgust, since he couldn’t exactly judge Harry by human standards, and Harry had certainly not asked to be created that way or any way at all.

The chimp was watching one of the Game Show Networks, a rerun of that stupid old show with the people on a desert island. Andre vaguely recalled his grandma had liked it. Harry loved that show because he loved anything that seemed tropical. Said it was in his blood. “Is this when the Skipper meets Gilligan? I love that one.”

“Up yours.” Harry sat up and touched the picture to pause it and Andre was chagrined to see he left a massive Cheeto fingerprint smear on the tv screen. “What are you doing here?”

“You want to get out of here for a few? I could use some backup.” In reality, Harry was generally more of a hindrance on retrievals than a help, but Andre figured he maybe needed a reason to live, just like everybody else needed a reason. So when he could, Andre treated Harry like a sidekick, a partner maybe even. He figured maybe it helped his friend get through the long days of his confinement, having a purpose, even if it was just charity.

“Hellz yeah. What do you got?”

“Cat. You gotta wear clothes though.”  

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Since he hadn’t had time for breakfast, Andre mixed up an energy smoothie while Harry put on a striped shirt and a pair of red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. He felt bad for the guy, for his dignity, but they had to dress him adorably when they went out in public in case he had to pass. Selling a pet chimp was hard enough, so he had to look every inch of the part. Harry posed comically, a forced innocent expression on his simian face. “Ooo ooo aaa aaa?”

“Heh. You look like a chimp to me. Keep your mouth shut for a freaking change and we won’t have any trouble.” Harry nodded once and went out the windowdoor to the hovercar while Andre guzzled his breakfast and surveyed the ruins of his apartment. Since Harry moved in the place was thrashed, there was garbage everywhere, fur everywhere, the air smelled like sweat and bad breath and something worse that he didn’t want to know what it was. He didn’t dare walk around barefoot or he’d get tetanus or ringworm or something probably. He’d had to fire the cleaning lady so she didn’t rat him out for having a genetically enhanced animal on the premises. Most pressing, Andre found himself practically dying of the hornies since he couldn’tve had a girl come up in that mess even if he could have convinced Harry to hide in the closet for a few hours. And even if he could have convinced himself to bang some unsuspecting woman knowing that Harry was hiding in the closet listening in the entire time.

It sucked, and sucked hard, but what else was he supposed to do? Put the guy out onto the street? Not like he was a dog or something who could blend in if he tried; a lone chimpanzee walking unaccompanied down the streets of urban Cincinnati was not exactly inconspicuous. What was he supposed to do? Turn Harry in, walk him across that lobby and into the elevator on a one-way-trip like how Nova had taken the horse? Harry was a half-step from human, it just…it didn’t seem right. Andre guzzled the dregs of his smoothie and as he felt the rush of the epinephrine start to kick in, he wondered for the millionth time if there might possibly be a safe place in the world for Harry that wasn’t the inside of Andre’s apartment.

It was turning out to be a nice day so they put the top down on the hovercar. Since Harry didn’t get out much, he loved to feel the sun on his skin, the wind in his fur. But unfortunately the trip, while pleasant, didn’t last long. Much to Andre’s surprise, the cat wasn’t hiding out in a fancy neighborhood, it was only a few blocks away from his own place. Most of his retrievals were of course in the better neighborhoods where the rich people lived, since regular people didn’t have the spare change to waste on genetically altering their pets. This cat was in regular old low income housing, in a run down part of town Andre didn’t recall ever having visited before.

Harry played navigator, checking the GPS for directions, moving his finger across the screen of Andre’s phone as he held it securely in his foot. “Third story, round the back. Not the corner one, second one over.” Andre was glad to see there was no hovercar parked at the window dock, made things a lot easier when the perps didn’t have a way to run. He docked the hovercraft on the parking ledge. Harry looked at him drily. “You want me to come in?”

“Shut up and get in the back, would you? There could be cameras.” In the backseat of his car Andre had a cage and some retrieval gear, but he hoped he wouldn’t need it. Gloves, a loop and pole, even a trank if it came to it. But it was just a cat. Maybe it could be reasoned with. It was always better when they could be reasoned with. Harry scrambled out of sight and hid under a blanket Andre kept there in case he had to retrieve a parrot. Andre approached the windowdoor and peered through. The woman who lived in the apartment gazed warily at him through the glass. “Animal Control, ma’am.” She didn’t move, just swallowed hard. Oh yeah, she was hiding something, that was for sure. Andre tapped the screen of his phone. “I’m sending you the warrant now.” He could hear the buzz of her phone as it went through. She let it buzz five times before she answered, trying to prolong the inevitable, he figured. Her face had gone very red. Slowly she scrolled down, reading every word of the warrant. Innocent people never bothered to read the warrant, they just let him in. “You’ll see it’s all in order. Did you want to call a lawyer, maybe, before you let me in?”

She looked to the side as if someone was talking to her. “No.” She opened the windowdoor and let him in. It was a nice little place. Girls always kept such nice places, single girls anyway. Andre wondered if he should look into moving someplace like this building, maybe keep paying the rent for Harry and just find a nice little place of his own instead. It would cost a lot, but as long as he didn’t have to eat, drink, or keep the lights on it was doable. “Hey! Are you even listening to me?? I said, what do you want?”

“We’ve had reports…”

Before he could continue, he heard an unmistakable sound. Andre had grown up with pets himself, with normal pets anyway, and only one thing on earth made that sound. It was the sound of a cat jumping down from someplace high, in this case a dark wooden entertainment center that held a TV and several potted plants. “I guess you’re here for me.” The cat put his paws out in front and stuck his tail up into the air and stretched. He was a black and white cat, longhaired, with white mittens like that kind of black and white cat always seemed to have. He blinked his green eyes slowly and yawned, exposing sharp white teeth and his scratchy pink tongue curling. Then he sat and began to lick a paw.

“Tigger, no!”

“Tigger, did you say, ma’am?” The bastard wasn’t even orange. Andre made a note of the cat’s name on his phone. It was that kind of attention to detail that would get him ahead with Argonne. Eventually.

“I don’t want for you to get into any trouble, Zara, ok? If I go now you won’t get in trouble. That’s the way it works. You know as well as I do that if a human knowingly lies to Animal Control it’s a felony. This way they’ll let you off with a warning, right?” He put his paw down and looked expectantly Andre’s direction for confirmation.

“Exactly. If the owner turns the pet over when asked and is willing to testify, then the state doesn’t press charges.” The woman burst into tears. Andre was glad he was dealing with a good kitty. A fair number of enhanced pets would happily let their owners hang right alongside them, begging and pleading and guilt-tripping their humans into senseless acts of heroism and doomed last stands. “We don’t want you, Ms. Briggs, we just want the bastards who are doing this to defenseless animals.”

The cat walked over and rubbed against his owner’s leg. “Aw Zara, come on. We had fun. This day had to come someday.” She picked him up like a baby and nuzzled him, and Andre could hear the low purr from the cat’s throat. “Enough of that mushy stuff, now.” Tigger wriggled in her arms till he could get a good look at Andre. “She won’t get into trouble, though, right?  You promise? If I come peacefully, she’s in the clear?”

“As long as she’s willing to testify about whoever made you.”

“She doesn’t know, though. She didn’t have anything to do with it, she just found me.”

“Who made you?  Do you know?” Andre knew it was clutching at straws to ask, because the animals rarely retained any memory of the enhancement process, but the more information he could give the bosses, the better. 

“Couldn’t tell ya. I was a scrawny kitten living off scraps when Zara found me. I don’t have the vaguest recollection of how I got there. She didn’t even know I talked for the longest time. I scared the hell out of her when I started, heh.”

Zara started laughing through her tears.  “No more Tender Vittles.”

“Yeah, that’s right – no more Tender Vittles.” Tigger rested his forehead against Zara’s cheek for a moment. “You’ll be ok, kid. Just get yourself a real cat like God intended. ‘Cause I was never meant to be.” The cat squirmed till he dropped free from Zara’s arms and ran to the windowdoor. It was still open, just a crack. Zara wiped at her cheeks but more tears came as quick as she wiped them away. Tigger looked back at her.  “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” And he slithered out the door and was gone.

Andre saw through the glass of the windowdoor that the cat had hopped into the passenger seat of his hovercar, which was a relief, because he didn’t feel like chasing him down. As Andre filled out the forms on his phone to confirm retrieval, he tried to ignore the woman’s quiet sobs. “Sorry, Ms. Briggs, but I, uh – I need your John Hancock. Your signature?”  She stopped crying…well, mostly anyway…and glared at him. He held out the phone and she pressed her thumb onto the screen.

“How do you even sleep at night?” Andre had heard it all before and he knew better than to take the bait and get embroiled in some sort of a big philosophical argument with a grieving owner. That was for the politicians to worry about, not him. He was just doing his job and if he didn’t do it there’d be 20 other guys and gals lined up to do it inside of 5 minutes.  

He left the way he’d come in and climbed into the driver’s seat beside the cat. The furry jerk had his leg hitched up in the air and was licking his ass vigorously. “Do I need to put you in the cage?”

He didn’t even have the decency to stop licking himself.  “Does it…snarf…look like…mlerf…you need to…ffrelf…put me in the cage?”

“No.”

“Well, there ya go then.” The cat finished what he was doing and sat up. “So why d’you have a genetically enhanced chimpanzee hiding in the back of your car?”

“What?”

“Don’t insult my intelligence. The nose knows, man. Smells like he’s been eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or something, amirite?”

Andre willed Harry to stay put, stay silent so they’d have plausible deniability at the least, but he didn’t.  He popped his head out of the blanket and said, “What’re we gonna do now, Dre?”

“Goddammit, Harry, why did you talk? It was our word against his if you wouldn’t’ve talked!”

“Even you’re not that stupid, Andre. Come on! Animal Control gets accused of having an enhanced pet, whether he saw me or not, whether I stayed quiet or recited all of Roddy McDowell’s lines from Planet of the Apes, they’re gonna investigate! They’re gonna find my hair all over your apartment…and would it kill you to clean up once in a while, for Chrissake…”

“Well, Harry, maybe I could manage it if you weren’t such a freaking slob…”

“Even if I was a neat freak, they can get my DNA from a single hair!”

“Ladies, ladies.” Tigger licked his paw and wiped at his face with it. “Let’s save this lovers’ spat for another time, shall we? The question ‘what are we gonna do now, Dre?’ is sitting on the table before us, and I’ve got a suggestion, if you’d care to hear it.”

Andre sent a glare Harry’s direction, imagining his life going up in smoke for the sake of a damn dirty ape who hated showers and loved Cheetos. “I’m all ears, Tigger.”

Harry chuckled. “Tigger? His name is Tigger?  Dude, you ain’t even orange!”

The cat scrubbed his face with his paw furiously. “It’s because I’m bouncy, if you must know. Or I was, in my younger days. Now if I may continue?” Tigger shot Harry a side eye and Harry gestured at him to keep talking. “My suggestion is this. You pull over and I jump out and walk away. You tell ’em you lost me. I know you guys lose us now and then. You take your slap on the wrist, I keep my mouth shut, like, forever. No harm, no foul.”

It was a stupid idea. “They’ll just send somebody back to Zara’s place and pick you up again.”   

“I won’t go back to Zara’s.  She’s a good kid, but truth be told, the life of a housecat was getting kinda meh for me anyway.  The ennui.”

“The ennui?” Harry guffawed incredulously at the choice of words.

“It’s like French, for boredom.”  

“Oh I know very well what ennui means, you can trust me on that, Mr. Pussycat.  I could tell you about ennui for hours and hours.”

The cat considered Harry knowingly.  “Yeah, I bet you could, you poor bastard.”

Andre breathed in sharply through his nose and tried to keep his cool. The cat never looked his way, just kept washing his face. Andre looked at Harry, who shrugged, as if telling him the ball was in his court, and somehow the pitifulness of his friend’s gesture brought it home, how screwed they actually were. He hit the steering wheel a couple times in frustration, because this was a disaster, it was a complete and utter disaster, Argonne was never gonna let him hear the end of it, this would undo years of near-flawless work on his part. He groaned through his teeth and shook his head with vigor, as if he could just shake it all away. No good deed goes unpunished, ever ever ever it seemed like. “Fine. FINE! You got a preference where you want us to let you off?”

“Here is as good as anywhere.” Andre maneuvered the hovercar down to street level, past a fruit stand and some kids playing in the street. “Where do you take guys like me anyway? What do you do with us? I’ve always wondered.”

“I don’t know, believe it or not. They don’t tell us.” Andre drove the car into an alley to avoid the security cameras out on the street. There were supposed to be security cams in alleys too but they cost so much and were always getting vandalized, so most of the ones off the beaten path were fake or broken. He sure hoped the cams in this alley fell into one of those two categories. The cat stretched and leapt onto the top of the door frame where he balanced precariously for a moment. “Catch you on the flip side, gentlemen. Or not.” And he jumped onto the ground and scurried away while Andre and Harry watched.

Harry climbed into the front seat. Andre was lost in thought, trying to come up with a story he could tell Argonne so he wouldn’t get his ass completely chewed. He was so lost in thought he didn’t really pay much attention to Harry messing around with the glove box, debating as he was the merits of saying the cat had escaped versus that he had never been there to begin with and that he’d hit the wrong button on the touchscreen when he verified retrieval. But Harry was messing around with the glove box, and then IN the glove box, and when the chimp pulled out Andre’s service revolver that got his attention right quick. “What the hell are you doing? Harry, wait…”

Before Andre could even think of what to do, let alone do it, Harry had taken careful aim at the cat, who had climbed up onto a dumpster and was in midsquat, about to leap up onto a narrow ledge on a nearby building. The gun went off and Andre smothered a cry. “Problem solved.” Harry put the safety on and shoved the gun back into the glove compartment. He slammed the small door shut and Andre jumped at the sound. He realized he was shaking, shaking all over with anger, fear, sorrow, and something else underneath it all that he didn’t want to look at too closely. His stomach churned and he felt tears burn his eyes. “The cat ran, Dre. You had no choice.”

“Why did you do that for Harry, it would have been ok, I would’ve, I could’ve, I would’ve took the punishment, it was no big deal, everything was cool…” Andre realized he was babbling and forced himself to stop talking.

“Because screw him, that’s why. Screw him. Because better him than us, that’s why.”

Andre grew dimly aware that the troubling thing lurking underneath the swirl of more acceptable emotions he was experiencing was relief. “Better? Better him?”

“That’s right. Better him than us. The cat ran. Which he did, in a way, didn’t he, if you think about it? You had no choice.”

“No choice.” Andre nodded, and swallowed, and nodded again. The anger and fear and sorrow began to recede into the background and with more room to stretch its legs, the relief began to grow. It was wrong, what had happened, it felt wrong, and he knew it was wrong, but the thing was, if he was being honest the thing that just happened was really what he did anyway. It was what an animal control agent did. He took things…creatures…beings…things…that could talk and think and feel and had people that loved them across a lobby and into an elevator and then they went away somewhere and probably ended up just exactly like Tigger did and he was ok with that because he didn’t see it happen firsthand.

“All that just happened was an animal killing another animal, Andre.  It happens every day. It’s the most natural thing in the whole wide world for that to happen.”  

Natural. It was natural. It was entirely within the bounds of nature that a strong animal kills a weaker one in order to live. But what the hell did that mean anyway, natural, I mean seriously he was a guy sitting in a hovercar for Chrissake, how natural was that? He was a guy sitting in a hovercar beside a talking chimpanzee that had just wasted a talking cat. It was disturbing how quickly a person could go from thinking something was unnatural to justifying it as being natural all in the same moment. “Natural, yeah.”

Harry peered at Andre with those hooded round eyes of his for a long moment and then he leaned over and grabbed something from the back. Then he swung himself out of the hovercar with that casual ape athleticism he possessed, and scrambled up onto the dumpster where Tigger’s body lay. What he’d grabbed was the body bag that Andre always brought along in case a retrieval ever went south, like, deep south, which had never happened to him before but apparently it had now. Harry shoved the cat into the bag and then straightened up with sudden purpose just exactly how people do when their phone is set on vibrate and it rings. Andre realized with dismay that Harry had taken the phone and he knew it was because Harry hadn’t trusted him with it. Harry still thought Andre might turn him in and had taken the phone so he couldn’t call for backup. The chimp looked at the screen and touched it a few times and read something. He glanced at Andre with an amused air, tucked the phone back into the front pocket of the red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls and leapt from the edge of the dumpster into the passenger seat of the car. He landed lightly in the seat, depositing the cat’s body in the back of the hovercar at the same time. “You got a text. From Nova, Lothario.”

“Oh yeah?” For a chilling moment Andre considered how strong Harry was and how far he could jump and how fast he could move. For a moment Andre considered how tough it would be to retrieve a chimpanzee, harder than a horse probably even, then he pushed that thought away because Harry was his friend. “What’d she want?”

“Meet you for drinks.”             

“Huh.”

“Life goes on.”

Andre stepped on the pedal and the hovercar rose straight up.  Drinks with Nova sounded pretty ok to him. “Yeah, it does, I guess. Life goes on.”

After all, it was just a cat.  

 

   

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

There’s Something About Mary Sue

There’s Something About Mary Sue

This piece was originally published at Ordinary Times Magazine.

The topic of “Mary Sue” came up on Twitter the other day. A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Rod Shelley”) mentioned that he thought that people calling characters Mary Sue was sexist because they always seemed to apply it to female and not male characters. This spurred an interesting conversation.

So – is the expression “Mary Sue” sexist?

Rod was absolutely correct in his observation that “Mary Sue” is a term that is used to exclusively describe female characters. But this is because from its inception, Mary Sue is a term that depicts a certain type of always-female character. Mary Sue is not applied to dudes because it’s not a descriptor that is applicable to male characters. It’s like the term “buxom” – it’s pretty much exclusively used to describe females but it’s not because it’s a sexist term per se, it’s because it’s a word that describes a quality present in females and not males. Buxom, like Mary Sue, can certainly be used in sexist ways, but it isn’t inherently sexist and it certainly isn’t sexist to apply it exclusively to women, because it describes a quality some women have. “Mary Sue”, the expression, isn’t anti-woman any more than the word “priapic” is anti-male.

Even though it’s become ubiquitous of late, the origins of Mary Sue are humble. It’s from A Trekkie’s Tale, a very funny, very short parody story about a certain type of writing that was…and still is…common in fan fiction. In 1974, when A Trekkie’s Tale was first published, fan fiction was just starting to become an Official Thing (in those dark pre-Internet days, fanfic spread at conventions and not online). Paula Smith, the author of A Trekkie’s Tale, realized that most bad fan fiction – particularly that written by women authors (then again, most who write fan fic are female so it goes to follow that most bad fan fic would therefore be written by women)- fell into a peculiar and oddly specific category, which we now refer to as Mary Sue. In Smith’s words (and may I just say I adore how spectacularly startrekian this is), “I simply named a bug, I found a new fern. I identified a piece of humanity and put a name to it, but that’s all I did.”

The qualities of a Mary Sue:

*A female character who is pretty obviously meant to be a stand in for the author (particularly in fan fic) or the author’s perceived audience (fan service).

*She’s an original, non-canon character who comes in from seemingly out of nowhere, with little explanation. If she has a back story at all, it’s fascinating and/or heart wrenching and/or incredibly impressive – in the case of the original Mary Sue, “the youngest lieutenant in Starfleet at only 15 and a half years old”.

*She’s incredibly gorgeous (often possessing rare and unusual beauty – IMO green or violet eyes and wildly curly hair in an unusual shade are dead giveaways), is unbelievably smart, witty, charming, sweet, and is often but not always a badass.

*The regularly occurring canon characters are bizarrely, even inexplicably smitten with her. If canon characters are female, Mary Sue becomes protegé/daughter/best friend/love interest, if the canon characters are male, Mary Sue becomes apprentice/daughter/kid sister/love interest. What’s more, the regular characters want to protect and defend Mary Sue, not just coexist alongside her. An intimate relationship of some sort begins immediately, no getting-to-know-you grace period, regardless of the canon character’s personality.  Even if the main character is generally taciturn, unfriendly, or standoffish, they aren’t any of those things when it comes to Mary Sue. She is embraced by virtually all the regular characters, and if there’s a recurring character who doesn’t fall head over heels in like with Mary Sue, they’re typically portrayed as bitter or jealous of her greatness.

*Mary Sue possesses an impossibly wide array of talents that surpass the skills of all the canon characters. She’s even good at things that the regular characters do that she’s never tried before. She can hack computers, set broken bones, fight demons, bake cupcakes, and play the lute. She’s well read, well dressed, well heeled, well connected, and well rested. There is nothing Mary Sue cannot do when she sets her mind to it. She puts all the everyday characters to shame with her wonderfulness, but she doesn’t rub it in their faces, though, because she’s also totally nice. Most of these characteristics aren’t relevant to the plot, they’re just there to make Mary Sue the awesomest.

*There never seems to be any price to Mary Sue’s skillset, either in acquisition or execution. She never (well, rarely) spent years in a university learning stuff, she never spent years slaving away in a workplace to get where she is today, she’s just inherently, naturally born amazing and the world has recognized this by giving her responsibilities far beyond her years. She never has to juggle priorities or limit herself in any way, she has an endless supply of time and money and energy to be great at however many things the plot needs her to be great at, plus all the things the writer happens to think are cool. She only ever has to pay a fee in terms of physical limitations or personal sacrifices when her fragility and spirit of self-sacrifice makes her more sympathetic and endearing to the canon characters.

*Usually, she dies a tragic death in which she saves everyone on the ship/planet/police squad and the main characters are utterly transformed by it in ways that they were never transformed by previous characters’ deaths, even when they’d known the other characters for years.

*And finally, (and I think this is the surest tell) she deprotagonizes the other characters. Suddenly, a show that was an ensemble cast about people on a spaceship or two brothers fighting demons to give a couple random and meaningless examples I just spun out of thin air, becomes about this other person entirely for an episode or three (or in the pages of a fanfic) leaving the characters most of us show up to see sitting on the sidelines waving pom-poms for her. Even more so, the recurring characters act completely out of character on Mary Sue’s behalf – gushing and paying compliments and giving hugs – even though they don’t DO stuff like that, like, ever.

Now, what a Mary Sue is and isn’t beyond all that, is a matter of great debate. The term has been watered down and bastardized and is admittedly grossly mis- and overapplied. It’s been stretched to include lots of variations, most famously something called a Canon Sue. Canon Sue is mostly just like her big sister Mary Sue, but she’s a recurring character. All the same qualities apply, though – Sue’s just too good to be true and she’s just born awesome and all the boys fall in love with her and all the girls fall in love with her too and she saves the whole entire universe. Be they Canon Sue or Classic Mary Sue, Mary Sues are loved by everyone, protected by everyone, cherished by everyone, and they are there to help everyone through their sheer unadulterated awesomeness. Mary Sues are awesome without assistance from anybody else, right up till they swoon dramatically and die from an overdose of saving the world.

At first my friend Rod shrugged off my claims that Mary Sue has to be female by definition, because as he said, he sees plenty of male characters who are Chosen Ones, who are inexplicably awesome at something-or-the-other for no real reason. But if you take a closer look, while there are absolutely plenty of male heroes in fiction that are Chosen Ones, they aren’t Mary Sues.

Everybody in a galaxy far, far away, doesn’t magically fall in love with Luke Skywalker. Heck, he walks into a bar and a total stranger says “I don’t like you” and he has to be saved by a geezer. Han Solo is always busting his chops and the princess he comes to rescue insults his height. He requires the help of Han and ObiWan’s ghost to blow up the Death Star. Later he gets his ass kicked and his hand chopped off and he needs his dad to kill the Emporer for him.

Everybody at Hogwarts doesn’t magically fall in love with Harry Potter. He has to deal with a hostile press corps, tons of people who don’t like him for various reasons, and even those who like him, don’t always believe in him. He needs the help of dozens of people to defeat Voldemort, even Neville, even his archenemy Snape for Dobby’s sake!! Nobody protects him from anything, even several people who by all rights should be looking out for him.

Everybody in the Matrix doesn’t magically fall in love with Neo.  In fact, Morpheus is hard pressed to convince anyone else that Neo is the Chosen One. Neo needs help from Morpheus, Trinity, and lots of other people (including parts of the Matrix itself) to defeat Agent Smith and save Zion.

Everybody in the Jedi Order doesn’t magically fall in love with Anakin. Mace Windu and Yoda never trusted him, the Jedi Council refuses to make him a master and even his teacher ObiWan doesn’t exactly have his back. He may fly a pod racer when he’s 9 (at Qui-Gonn’s request – not exactly protecting the little bugger, was he?) but he is very far from being universally loved or good at everything.

All the other characters have to protect and love a Mary Sue. That’s the deal with a Mary Sue. She is universally loved. She is universally nurtured. She isn’t just Chosen, she’s Cared About. She doesn’t even have to be chosen at all (the original Mary Sue isn’t a Chosen One!) she just needs to be adored. Mary Sue is a vector of wish fulfillment for people who want to be loved and taken care of by everyone around them while still being seen as a brave and daring heroine, and it makes for unrealistic fiction that a dude – no matter how awesomesauce he is – will show up anywhere and be incessantly fawned over by both men and women alike. Mary Sue is already an unrealistic character on a good day.

Try to make Gary or Larry or Marty Stu show up on an established show and make a bunch of grizzled old reserved and surly dudes like Jean Luc Picard or Dean Winchester or Han Solo suddenly start gushing about how fantabulous he is and how they want to be BFF’s and protect him at all costs to themselves.  At least in any fashion that is remotely believable and doesn’t end up with you despising the smarmy little twerp and/or wanting to slap the older dudes for debasing themselves that way.

Go ahead, try it, I’ll wait.

Mary Sue is a woman for the same reason a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a woman – it’s a close enough approximation of a type of person and/or scenario that exists in real life. It’s just plain more realistic that a winsome and talented chick shows up out of the blue and wins a bunch of people over without having to try very hard. That scenario is much more plausible than having a winsome and talented guy show up and everyone gloms onto him trying to be his mommy or daddy or buddy or pal or long-lost uncle or hoping to seduce him. Even more, it is much more realistic that people will behave protectively, solicitously, towards a female character than a male one. It may not be fair, it may not be right, but it be. Writing Mary Sue as a man just doesn’t ring true, and Mary Sue doesn’t ring too true to start out with. And trying to make Mary Sue a Gary Stu (kinda sorta) yielded one of the most hated characters in all of history…Wesley Crusher.

But maybe you’re still not convinced. Rod wasn’t. And that’s because the writing of a Mary Sue is only half the equation. There is also the reading (or the watching) of a Mary Sue. Because the audience is just as important to the existence of Mary Sue as the writer is.

The thing about Mary Sue that makes her interesting despite her triteness (to me anyway) is also what makes her 100% for sure not sexist. A Mary Sue is a female conception of an ideal female character. If you’re a man reading this and you’re confused or disgusted or annoyed by the ubiquity of Mary Sueism, it’s ok, Mary Sue isn’t intended for you anyway. Believe it or not, there are things in this world that women do for ourselves and each other and not for men, and one of them is Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is what women ourselves think the ideal woman should be. How can something that is made by women, for women, be sexist?? We Internetters have fun sometimes joking about men writing ridiculously idealized female characters but Mary Sue is women writing what women secretly want to be, down deep inside ourselves where we think no one is looking.

Women writing idealized female characters is as psychologically telling and as tragically hilarious as men writing idealized female characters. Men may write women as one-dimensional (and I hope it isn’t because men think the ideal woman IS one-dimensional) but women think the ideal woman ought to be so multidimensional that she’s positively interdimensional. Women have it drummed into us since the moment we emerge from the womb that we need to be successful in every arena and if they invent a new arena we better be good in that one too even though we never practiced before. Is it really any surprise that when we concoct an ideal woman, it’s one who is effortlessly successful at everything she ever tries?

A female friend of mine pointed out, and I fully, fully concur with her brilliance, that when it comes to Mary Sue, if our lives were a narrative, we would want to be the character who is good at everything, adored by all, protected and nurtured, and so desirable that love interests are actually fighting over us. She said, “We don’t get that in the real world and so we have to invent it.” This is very very much a similar sentiment to the sentiment of “unearned specialness” I explored in my recent piece about Twilight – and Bella Swan, the main character of Twilight, is widely considered to be one of the most well-known Canon Sues.

Men like wish fulfillment just like women do, but their wish fulfillment avatars tend to be more of the Everyman variety – guys who are nothing special, even damaged goods, but circumstances thrust them into situations where they have the opportunity to excel, to succeed, without really changing much or having to work too awfully hard at it. Everymen may be Chosen Ones, but they’re really only Chosen in one arena. Neo doesn’t also become a concert pianist and a New York Times Bestselling Author in addition to being The One. Luke becomes a Jedi, but he doesn’t even get the girl. This isn’t hard for me to understand – after all, I can see that would be a wonderful fantasy – to be average, to be flawed, to not succeed at most things, and still find some way to shine.

But honestly, that doesn’t do it for me.

I need to feel deserving of success. I need to feel like I earned it. I need to feel like the people around me – my parents and bosses and friends and love interests – look at me and see some version of perfection. Even my flaws are the flaws that they would have picked out if they could have ordered me from a catalog. And unfortunately for me, I find I need that even in my fictional escapades. I’m sure that this is in no small part because I’ve never felt good enough, or right enough, or fixed enough to be worthy of success or even worthy of love. It’s like a chronic case of Imposter Syndrome and most of us women are afflicted. Deep down inside, I don’t feel I’ll ever be good enough until I am perfect, and so in order to enjoy a fantasy – even just a FANTASY – I need to incorporate that desire to be seen as perfect through someone’s eyes, since that’s the only way I feel worthy.

Hence Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is not sexist. The term has been misused, grossly at times, with sexist undertones, for sure. But it isn’t a sexist term itself. The character “Mary Sue” is something that’s made for women, by women, and it endures because there’s something about Mary Sue that speaks to women both as creators and as readers.