White Knight, God of Dreams by David Sorensen

The truth is, though, that I actually am quite a popular guy. Case in point: last month, I went down to Strappy’s, a gentlemen’s club off the turnpike near my mother’s house. It’s mainly a social experience. So anyway, I’m at the club, enjoying my Roy Rogers, and a girl comes up to me and just starts flirting.

No joke. She could have walked up to any guy in the room—they weren’t all stunners, but that’s irrelevant—and she picked me. She was pretty cute too, I’d say.

We start chatting, you know, small talk and whatnot, and she gets this dusky look on her face and starts talking about going back to the VIP room. I’m not a VIP at Strappy's, but she drags me back there anyway.

I sit down and we square up and she just climbs up on top of me and starts her lap dance. I could tell she was really getting into it, too, because she just kept moaning and grabbing my thighs, much more than the girls do down at The Beaver Dam. Not the best dance, I’ll admit, but I can appreciate a girl’s needs, so I just sit back and try to enjoy it.

She wraps it up and I think, well, maybe I should give her a bit extra, you know. I said to her—very smooth of course—“Here’s a little something, m’lady, for your troubles.” Women like it when you’re polite and suave like that. So I reach into my pants, where I keep my cash—pickpockets love dives like this—and she just jumps up, and starts shaking her head saying, “No, no, don’t worry about it.” Can you believe that? She didn’t even want a tip. That’s how I know how much she was digging me.

###

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hello Ian.”

Ian lives with his mother in the apartment adjacent to mine, she cleans the bathrooms down at the dog tracks where I used to sell concessions. I don’t come out to the back porch often but whenever I do Ian’s eager, gold-flecked eyes invariably pop up over the divider. I wonder whether she locks the boy out here all day long.

“Did you watch Batman last night, Gerry?”

“I don’t have a T.V., Ian. I know I told you that before.”

“Did you watch it on your computer then?”

“No.”

The sun had just dipped below the awning and now shone irritatingly into my eyes.

“Batman and Catwoman had to go and ask Poison Ivy for help, even though she’s a bad guy, because Killer Croc got out of Arkham Asylum and went to the botanical gardens and nobody could catch him.” Ian leaned in against the divider and twisted his hips as he said this.

“I thought Catwoman was one of the bad guys.”

“Kind of. Catwoman’s kind of a, um, a loose cannon,” he said with tempered relish.

“So why did they need Ivy, then?”

“Huh?”

“Ivy. Why did Batman need Ivy?”

“Oh! Um, well, Poison Ivy, she was the only one who could, um, who knew how to harvest the chemical from the cactus plant to make the serum that could put Killer Croc to sleep so they could catch him and bring him back to Arkham.” The strain of recollection was written on Ian’s dimpled forehead, he clearly hadn’t practiced this segment as much.

“Why didn’t they use just regular tranquilizers?”

Ian stared.

“Right,” I said, “the serum. And I suppose things didn’t go according to plan?”

Ian’s eyes widened at the mention of disaster: “Nope, Ivy used the serum to knock out Batman and Catwoman, and Killer Croc got away again!”

“So what happened when they all woke up?”

“I don’t know. It’s To Be Continued.” He enunciated, glumly, every syllable of the phrase.

“You’ll have to keep me up on what happens next.”

“I will, I promise.” His scatter-toothed grin widened.

“Oh, you promise, do you?”

Ian smiled, his chest out and his eyes half shut, and declared: “Yup. A superhero always keeps his promises.”

“Is that true?”

“Uh huh, even, um, even when it could cost him everything, even when it could cost them their lives.” He seemed to be reciting something from memory.

“You know, Ian,” I began, leaning back and looking askance to appear more philosophical, “you shouldn’t be so quick to promise things. It could get you into trouble sometime.”

“How?”

“Well, what if Poison Ivy captured Catwoman and poisoned her, right? And was going to kill her unless Batman promised to blow up the Batcave and all his equipment and never fight crime again?”

Ian was stunned.

“Would he have to keep that promise?” I asked him.

Ian chewed his thumbnail as he pondered the weight of Batman’s dilemma. “No,” he said, half-questioningly.

“No? Why not?”

“Because he only said it to save Catwoman.”

“But he did have a choice. He could have let Catwoman die.”

Ian relaxed his shoulders and appeared to reflect momentarily on the significance of a hero who would simply let his compatriot die rather than fib a little. “But Poison Ivy wouldn’t have kept a promise like that to Batman,” he posited.

“That’s what makes her the villain. Look, if Batman didn’t keep his promise, then nobody would ever really believe him again. If he broke his promise to, say, Alfred, they might just forget about it and move on. But if he broke his promise to Ivy,” I continued in a lower voice as I leaned even further forward, “then you can bet your last batarang that every gutter rat in Gotham would hear about it. Then what would separate the hero from a villain? It’s your promises to your villains that are the most important to keep.”

“Oh,” he said.

“So,” I said, “Batman should keep his promise then?”

“Yes,” he said confidently.

“Right, because what about all those citizens of Gotham who rely on Batman to keep them safe from Freeze and Penguin and Riddler? He’s worked and trained his entire life to protect them, and now he’s just going to turn his back on them? That doesn’t sound very heroic, does it.”

“No.”

A murder of crows cackled and reorganized itself just beyond the tree line. Ian lowered his head and thought deeply for a moment of a world without Batman, where heroes lay impotent, their hands shackled by useless ethics, while villains and madmen run free as jackals through the streets. I could almost hear his predictably idealistic worldview collapsing.

“Bruce Wayne!” he erupted.

“What?”

“Bruce Wayne could save Catwoman.”

“But...”

I was dumbfounded by the idiocy of it all.

Ian stood up several inches taller than usual. His eyes narrowed as he grinned that smug and stupid grin.

###

I am fat. Overweight, some will say. Not horrifyingly so, but enough so that most people will pretend not to notice. My boss, when I worked at Outback Steakhouse, called me into his office once and explained it:

“Look, Gerry, I’ll tell you what I think. No offense, all right? You see a fat person. How did they get fat? I know there are problems with hyperthyroidism and all that, but most fat people are fat because they overeat. What I mean is, they’re fat because they lack self-control. If they could control themselves, they wouldn’t eat so much, and they wouldn’t be so unbelievably fat. People dislike fat people, because people don’t like people who have no self-control. That’s all it is. No offense.”

###

Yesterday I was driving back home from the courthouse, listening idly to the banter of radio deejays, unable to summon up the energy to switch the station; it was a typical late-December Florida day, shadowy rainclouds sagging in the hazy sky.

As I eased onto the off ramp, I noticed a woman, slim and graceful and wearing fishnet pantyhose, walking along the side of the turnpike. There was no path. I wanted to stop and offer her a ride, in case, you know, it started to rain or whatever, and just to make sure she was safe, since I know there are a lot of creeps out there.

I ended up following her for a while, just behind her, watching the clouds and trying to figure out what exactly I should say. First impressions are very important, you know. As I was planning my opening lines, she picked up her pace a little, until the heel of her shoe snapped abruptly and she fell, slamming her knee into the pavement. Immediately and without thinking, I pulled up alongside her and rolled down my window.

“Are you all right, Miss?” I nearly shouted.

She stood up slowly, then just as slowly turned to look at me, staring at me with her mouth partially open for several seconds. “I’m fine,” she said, “thanks.” She shut her mouth sternly. Her voice was magnificent: it was lower than most women’s, more matriarchal, with a slight whispery drawl. I wanted to close my eyes and play it over in my head a thousand times.

Had I left then, I would have left complete.

“Can I offer you a ride, perchance? It might rain, you know,” I said, pointing to the horizon.

“I’m fine, really,” she said.

She had a fresh gash where her knee hit the pavement. A silver chain, at the end of which was a silver ring, dangled in front of her blouse. I looked through it, at her cleavage, then immediately bounced my eyes back to the dashboard. At that moment it hit me that she was the dancer at Strappy’s, the one who gave me the lap dance and refused my tip. I had to make sure that she didn’t notice that I recognized her.

“You, um, ah... you’re bleeding,” I said.

She looked at the wound, unsurprised, and hovered a hand over it. She looked up at the rainclouds then at the long, blank highway in front of her, clenching her jaw.

“I'm going home,” I said, “but I can take you wherever you want to go.”

She stared for a moment at my front hubcap, and then said, “Okay.”

###

I knew that it was me, that I was the one driving the car, but it felt like I was just an observer, that somehow I had gained control of this body and was manipulating it, like I was typing the words instead of speaking them.

We introduced ourselves: her real name was Amber. I said, “I enjoy hiking, soccer, outdoor activities, reading, fine dining, things like that.” I sounded like a bad personals ad. She asked what I liked to read. “Philosophy, mostly. Foucault, Heidegger, all those guys”—names I had heard in my semester at community college. She nodded and continued to stare straight ahead.

“Nice car,” she said when the silence began to threaten intimacy.

“Thanks. It’s six-cylinder, V8 under the hood.” I tried to stretch my chest out a little.

“Uh huh.” She furrowed her brow. “Horsepower?”

“Yup. All that.” I was more nervous than I thought I’d be.

Decades passed. Eventually a few soft raindrops fell on the windshield, though not enough to warrant flipping on the wipers. I watched as they quivered and ascended like children’s balloons lost at a carnival.

“Your necklace, your ring... are you married?” I asked, terrified.

“Oh,” she said, bringing up her left hand to brush the bottom edge of it with her forefinger. “I was. I guess I still am technically.”

“What, um, what happened?”

She sighed and crumpled her chin. After a few moments she began: “We married out of high school. Everything was great. I mean really great. Then one day, like three years ago, he goes out on a delivery and never comes back.” She turned to me, squinted her eyes, “You kind of look like him, you know,” she said.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said, holding back a dumb smile.

We sat in silence for some time. I tried my best but I couldn’t keep my eyes from constantly glancing over her. She was a tall girl, and in heels I imagine would have easily reached six-foot-two. Her dry brunette hair, blonde at the roots, fell easily on her oily, muscular shoulders. Above a mellow chin was a small mouth, curt and formal, the corners of which naturally curved upwards into her very dignified cheeks, and as I peeked at her I couldn’t help but feel as though I were looking upon some weatherworn Grecian statue.

“You ever do any modeling?”

She winced.

“Well, you should,” I said. “You’ve got a, um, a great face for it. Beautiful eyes. I’ll bet you could sell thousands of, you know, things.”

“Sure,” she said.

“I mean it. Like... like that girl in the Verizon commercials? I never bought a cell phone because I just can’t stand that girl. So pretentious. Not humble like you. If you were selling those phones I’d buy one for sure, though.

“Uh huh.”

“I would. I’d buy like ten. Then I’d call up my brother and tell him to buy one.” I shifted in my seat. “Then I’d sell my apartment and buy like a thousand of them. I’d bet you a lot of people would do that too if you were selling them.”

“You have an apartment?” she asked.

“Sure do. Technically it’s my brother’s place, I guess. He’s in real estate, he couldn’t find a buyer for it, and it’s cheaper in terms of insurance to have someone living there. So I’m basically watching it for him. Favors for favors, you know?”

“So it’s not really yours to sell, then,” she said.

“He’s a T.V. producer, too, you know. I could probably talk to him and get you an audition for a commercial or something. I’m sure they’d give you the part. He and I are twins, you know. Fraternal, that is.”

She nodded once in acknowledgment, like she was listening to some child spinning fantasies. When I said nothing, she asked, “So what do you do then?”

“I’m actually a writer. Well, I do a lot of things, but I’m going to be a writer full time. I’d been working in food service, but I decided to take some time off from that. Right now I’m working on my manuscript, but I’m thinking of getting another part-time job or something. Not that I’m poor, I’m basically independent. But, really I don’t like to think of myself as any one thing. Self-improvement is my vocation, you could say. I’m also in a leadership position for a pretty big and successful guild in this online game I play, which, if you’ve ever played one of these types of games, you’ll know how much like work it can be. It’s good leadership experience. Some people actually support themselves that way, you know. I thought about doing that, but I’d rather just keep it as a hobby, you know?”

“What’s your manuscript about?”

I merged into the left lane just as we passed a silver SUV that had been pulled over by a cruiser. The officer wore a wide-brimmed hat, and he put his hand on his belt and tracked us with a vindictive look as we drove by. “It’s a screenplay, actually. I’m still in the early stages, though, you know. Fleshing out the universe and all.”

Amber looked over at me. “Oh yeah?”

“I’m still getting everything hammered out before I start on the actual plot,” I said, “so I can make sure it’s consistent. All the best stories have a really well-thought out world behind them.” I could feel my heart rate pick up.

“It’s different from this world?”

“Of course. I mean, it’s a fantasy novel. I mean movie. I mean it will be. I actually haven’t decided if it would be best to make the novel first and then have it adapted to the screen, or to just go straight to the movie and write the book after. Anyway, it’s sort of an alternate reality to our world. It’s just like our world, except there’s this secret underworld of ancient, mythical creatures, that we can’t see but are really in control of everything.” I took a deep breath. “And they take the form of humans, when they want to, so they could be anyone, like Lady Gaga or the UPS driver or the president of the U.N.”

Amber didn’t seem as impressed as I felt she should be so, “They’re extremely powerful,” I said. “Most of them, anyway. Like some can fly or control people’s minds to make them do whatever they want.”

She shifted in her seat and brought her purse in closer. “Are you cold?” I asked. “I can turn on the heat.”

“No, I’m fine,” she said. “So who’s your main character, then?”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I kind of have a couple of main characters that I’m thinking about, but it might change.”

“Who are they?”

I hesitated for a moment, and then decided that if she genuinely wanted to know, then I’d respect her questions and tell her: “Okay, so there’s Cort. He’s sort of what you would think of when you think of the main character, I guess. His parents… well, his father was one of the Sha’Khin, the ancient mythical species I told you about, but his mother was human, so he’s sort of like a hybrid, you know? There’s going to be a lot of backstory about these hybrids, but the long and short of it is that they, the Sha’Khano, the hybrids, are pretty much excommunicated by the Sha’Khin, and since they behave differently they have a hard time fitting into the normal world too. Cort has some powers, but they’re pretty weak, so he has to use his wit to get out of a lot of situations. Then there’s Jaklyn. She’s one of the Sha’Khin, but she befriended Cort and doesn’t shun and despise and humiliate him like everyone else does. But, because she’s shown kindness to Cort, one of the hybrid Sha’Khano, she’s been cast out from the Sha’khin community as well. And the Primordial Council—they’re like the top Sha’Khin—they put a hex on her, so she lost her powers, like completely, so that she’s like any other human girl; weaker even, since she hasn’t grown up that way, so there’s this interesting dynamic between her and Cort there too. And lastly there’s Grale. He’s also a Sha’Khin, and he’s helping Cort and Jaklyn, only the Council hasn’t found out that he’s helping them. So he still has his powers. He’s sort of like, the brains of the operation and also the comic relief. And he carries around a Blitzer, which is kind of like an electric broadsword.”

Amber opened her mouth for a moment, as if to say something, then closed it again. Finally she said, “So, a light saber?”

“Uh, kinda, I guess, but it’s different. It doesn’t collapse, it’s stronger and bigger. Anyway, Grale, he belongs to the Ura’Khule bloodline, which is the purest and oldest and most powerful bloodline, only he doesn’t know it.”

“Wait, Grail, as in the Holy Grail?”

“No, G-R-A-L-E.”

“Oh, okay,” she said.

“I’m also thinking about calling him Halcyon, and then Hal for short.”

Amber squinted and cocked her head a little. “Halcyon, like the myth?”

“What myth?”

She began slowly. “Well, in Greek mythology, Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus. She married Ceyx, the son of Eosphorus, who was also known as the Morning Star. They lived in Trachis, near Thermopylae.”

“Oh,” I said.

She continued with the story, “Alcyone and Ceyx were deeply in love with one another. They would call each other Zeus and Hera, which offended the actual Zeus and Hera. One day Zeus sends a lightning bolt out of the clear blue sky to Ceyx’s ship, killing him and his crew instantly.”

“Bummer.”

“So Morpheus, the god of dreams, appears to Alcyone disguised as the spirit of Ceyx to tell her what had happened, and when she hears this she drowns herself in the sea. The gods took pity on them and transformed them both into halcyon birds.”

“You get a lot of Greeks then, I suppose?”

“I studied Greek history at FSU.”

“So, Morpheus. That’s a cool name.”

She nodded. A long low rumble of thunder brushed over us, announcing a gentle rain that would last until dawn. As a gust of wind turned the leaves on the maples upside down, the sun behind us reflected off of them so brightly that I had to squint.

###

I pulled up in front of her apartment building. A group of Indian boys wearing tracksuits and high-tops smoked cigarettes out front. They all looked at me.

“Thanks,” she said, and looked out the car window at the cold, grimy marble arches of the once-magnificent apartment complex.

“Listen, uh, what are you eating?”

She opened her mouth and took in a breath but said nothing.


“Tonight, I mean. For dinner.” I felt the blood swell up my face, my entire body tingled with nervous euphoria like I was floating in hot seawater.

“Oh, I don’t—”

“Because my brother’s coming over for dinner. To my place, I mean. He’s bringing steaks, and we’re going to grill them up. You could come. I mean, if you wanted. Plus, you could talk to him, or I could talk to him, about getting you that audition or whatever.”

Amber leaned back in the seat and pulled her lips in. She fiddled with the strap on her purse.

“Plus, his wife, Crystel, she’s a nurse: she can clean out that cut for you. I’d hate to see it get infected, you know.”

She looked down at her knee and then at the clock on the dashboard. I wanted to say more, to make clearer my case, but no more words came to me.

“Okay,” she said.

I clenched my sweaty palms around the steering wheel and inwardly shouted praises to myself; I was too happy to smile.

###

It’s not easy being an overweight, eventually balding, thirty-one year old feminist virgin in today’s world. Because I’m not like the rest of these meathead, Cro-Magnon bullshit-artists who see women as trophies or playthings and mentally mark them conquered or unconquered. I know a woman deserves to be treated like a queen.

Let me give you an example. I found myself enjoying a nice latte down at Starbucks a few days ago, or more like a month now that I think about it, watching the crowds pass in and out, when two clearly hungover frat-jocks wandered in. Now, normally I have better things to do than eavesdrop on the meaningless egocentric banter of the uneducated, but their barbaric loudness made it impossible for any of us in the place to ignore them. They were of the typical country-club ilk, one of them sporting an unapologetically popped collar and a pair of gold-rimmed aviators, the other with a rather insulting orange cardigan.

Aviators begins describing to Cardigan his latest sexual escapade, complete with a rather staggering array of “like”s and “totally”s, and what appeared to be a regularly scheduled crotch-grab. I wanted to jump out of my chair, grab him by the sideburns, and shout into his wretched face, Who the hell do you think you are?! This woman has given to you her trust and her affections, and what do you do with it but just throw it away! When a girl puts herself out there and is willing to sacrifice for you, to stay loyal to you, you just don’t throw that away. You treat her like a queen. But you are a fool, and like a dog returning to its vomit you eke out every worthless moment of your deplorable life, never once considering any nobler path.

Out of respect for the other patrons of the shop, I managed to restrain myself. I wonder, though, whether it wouldn’t have been best to publicly chastise him, to show everyone what real courage looks like. I will next time.

###

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t he just tell us like two minutes ago how often he goes to gentlemen’s clubs? The whole stigma attached to gentlemen’s clubs is absurd. First off, you wouldn’t sneer at someone who told you they like to go to art museums, would you? There are plenty of nudes there. How about ballet? A gentlemen’s club is simply a venue for performers to hone their art in front of a live audience, to share with humanity the joy of their bodies, to create and play and love and remember.

After all, what is a feminist ideology that restricts the actions of women? It is self-defeating, doomed. I support a feminism that acknowledges the rights of women to express themselves in whatever way they desire. It is the only moral and rational stance.

###

I tried four different keys before I found one that fit the door to my apartment.

“Sorry,” I said. “I have a lot of keys.” It’s important to keep a lot of keys on your keychain: not only does it make it easier to find, but people see it and think you’re responsible.

Inside I threw my jacket over the back of the couch then picked it up and put it on a hanger in the closet. I offered to take hers, but she was cold and wanted to keep it on. I watched her from across the room as she looked around, at my computer. When I stepped towards her, she pressed her knees together and reached her hand up to grasp her necklace.

I stood sidelong to her, staring at my computer screen. “I hope I’m not too... I mean, look, I know he left you, or whatever, but you have to just accept that he probably isn’t coming back. I mean it’s been three years. People just don’t come back after that long.”

“You got a shower I can use?” she asked.

I pointed up the stairs. I didn’t say anything else, and she took off upstairs. I heard the door gently close, and I stood and stared at the windowsill. I had heard of situations like this. In fact, as I tried to remember I realized this was the first time I’d ever had anyone in my apartment except my brother and his wife. Not even an electrician; my brother had set up the cable Internet and everything himself.

The shower kicked on with a metallic clang. I walked over to my phone and dialed my brother. It rang.

“Hey, Gerald. What’s up?”

Here’s the thing about Patrick, my fraternal twin brother. He is a big guy, like me, but by some genetic fluke wound up taller and more muscular. He holds himself differently, too, because of it. His head seems always tilted backwards slightly, his eyes half-squinted; his lips are perpetually on the cusp of a smirk. He speaks in dim, whispery tones and never articulately, so that his listeners have to strain to understand him, which I think he likes. He’s rarely seen without khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.

“Hey, Patrick. It’s me, Gerald. What are you up to tonight?”

“Nothing. Why, what is it?”

“You want to come over for steaks?”

“What?”

“Is Crystel there?”

I heard the scraping of his breath against the phone’s receiver as he sighed. He told me that she’d had a long day, and asked what was going on. “I just want to know if you guys want to come over for steaks. That’s all. Can’t a guy just ask his brother over for steaks? Is that such a big deal?”

“What’s going on, Gerald?”

“I really need you to just come over and bring some steaks because I have, um, I have a... lady here and she’s in the shower right now and I told her that you were coming over for steaks and I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Just put Crystel on, okay?”

“What? Why do you... ” He paused for several moments; I could hear Crystel’s voice, muffled and distant, but I couldn’t make out anything they said. “I don’t know, Gerald. It’s really short—”

“Don’t do this to me, Patrick. Please, I’m begging you.”

“I can’t tonight, Gerald. We have plans.”

“I know, but... please, Patrick. Just do this one thing for me, and I promise I’ll make it up to you. Please. As my brother, just do this one thing for me.”

“I can’t. Crystel—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Patrick.”

He hung up.

###

I’ve been in love before. Many times, actually. Unfortunately, what inevitably happens with the women I fall in love with is, they turn out to be completely different from the image of themselves they put on display. It’s infuriating.

There was one lady, Pam, who worked down at Kroger. She seemed like an honest person. We flirted, like people do, as she rung up my frozen dinners. Being the charmer that I am, it all came very naturally. I almost asked her out to dinner one day. The problem was, I didn’t have planned out what I would say. Because so many of the conversations I had had with her in my head flowed so effortlessly, I thought I could just wing it, and so when I got up to the register, I froze. Rookie mistake, and I don’t make them anymore.

She looked away awkwardly and mentioned a boyfriend, and still I wonder whether he ever existed.

###

Amber had been in the shower for almost an hour, and I sat completely immobilized on my futon nearly the entire time. It was seven o’clock. I could hear Ian’s mom yelling at him through the wall.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. I’ve rescued this woman, and she hasn’t even the basic decency to engage me in simple conversation. What right did she have to treat other people this way? She thinks just because she’s beautiful, because, when she dances, men just fawn over her every move, that she can take advantage of whomever she likes whenever it suits her? That she can just treat us like assets, means to a prosperous end? It’s outrageous. Despicable, really. It’s girls like her who give women a bad name. They say nice guys finish last, and now I know why: because women like Amber put us last.

A quiet knock came on the door, followed by a louder one. I got up and answered the door: it was Patrick and Crystel.

Patrick held the door and Crystel stepped inside. “Patrick told me you weren’t feeling well,” she said.

“Amber is upstairs,” I said. “She’s taking a shower.”

Patrick stretched and looked around the apartment. “So you managed to peel yourself off that computer?” He flung his leather jacket over the back of the sofa and smoothed out the hem of his bright and flowery Hawaiian shirt.

“This is a watershed moment for you, man.” He bumbled past me into the kitchen and plopped the wispy plastic bags onto the countertop. “All they had left was flank steaks, and they cost us a fortune.” I walked over to my couch and rested my hand on it. Patrick began to rifle through my cabinets. Crystel stood with me in the living room. “Is everything okay, Gerald?” she asked.

“I had a dream about you last night.”

“About me?” asked Crystel.

I stood and looked at her like I was at a museum and she was on display. She had droopy, folded eyes; she was extremely petite, not more than a hundred pounds. Her thin black hair never left its bun, always affixed with a flower of some type, either real or plastic or made of feathers. Her thin, bony fingers seemed almost too long in proportion to the rest of her. She had a habit of clenching them in fists or hiding them by crossing her arms, like she did now.

“Yes. Well, sort of. It was you, but it wasn’t you. It was you, but you had blonde hair, and tattoos of waterfalls all over your arms, and huge feet, like a clown’s.”

“Oh,” she said, rubbing her elbow and trying to smile.

“I remember it was... I was Spider-Man, and I was swinging through the city. But it wasn’t the city, it was on vines in the forest, like Tarzan.” I looked into the kitchen at the steaks.

“Are you often Spider-Man in your dreams?” Patrick asked from the kitchen.

“Batman, generally,” I said. “I remember I was chasing you, Crystel, and I had to save you. But the waterfalls on your arms kept pushing me back.”

“Save me from what?” she asked.

“Uh, Gary Sinise, actually,” I said. “But it wasn’t him. I was chasing you and I almost caught you, but you turned around and told me to put my mask back on, only I hadn’t taken it off. I remember scratching at my face, and falling... and then I woke up.”

“Well that is quite an interesting dream, Gerald,” said Patrick. “Thank you for sharing it with us. How do you want your steak cooked, Crystel? Gerry, Is your girlfriend almost ready? Crystel and I can start to get everything ready.”

I kept looking at Crystel. “Can I ask you a question?”

She glanced at Patrick, then back at me.

“It’s kind of a personal one.”

“Okay.”

“What’s it like to kiss someone?”

Crystel inhaled quickly and licked her bottom lip when she couldn’t think of an immediate answer. “Oh, you mean you’ve—”

“No,” I said.

“Oh. Oh, it’s nice. It’s real nice.”

“Nice like how?”

“It’s a beautiful expression of love, Gerry,” Patrick broke in, “between two people who love each other very dearly.”

“Is it always that nice?” I asked.

“Sure, Gerry,” he said.

“What about sex?” I said.

“Huh?” said Crystel, shocked.

“What’s it like?”

Patrick stepped in, halfway towards Crystel and halfway towards me. “Gerry—”

“Look, if you guys can’t explain this to me, then where am I supposed to look for answers? The Internet, maybe? I can’t ask mom, and who knows where dad is.”

Patrick dropped his head and scratched his temple. “It’s a sacred bond, between a man and a woman. You know that.”

“But it’s different for everyone, right?”

“Sure.”

“Have you ever had an affair?”

“Gerald!” said Crystel.

“I mean, how would you know? How would you know that sex is different with different people unless you’ve had sex with different people? And I know you guys hadn’t had sex before you were married, because you kept telling everyone after your honeymoon that you were so happy and thankful that you had waited until that wonderful day, remember? That is, unless you lied.”

“Stop it, Gerald,” Patrick demanded.

“You stop it. You’re not dad.”

“That’s right. But I—”

“Fuck you,” I said.

“We’re leaving.” He went, and took Crystel and the steaks with him.

###

Our father left us when we were nine. He was a hard and stupid man, who looked down on the handicapped and demanded immediate answers to rhetorical questions. He never hit any of us. Sometimes I wish he had, so that we would have had a definite reason to hate him. Instead he bullied us, as though it were our fault that he no longer fit in anywhere; we had stolen from him his glory days, when he had no responsibilities.

He had been raised to believe that a woman’s place was in the home, and that women were naturally more sensitive and trustworthy than men, so that it was a woman’s responsibility to tend to the romance and relationship. When she cheated on him with someone from work, he understandably lost it. Nothing made sense to him anymore, so he became nonsensical, until one day he simply vanished.

###

I stood listening to the water beat against the bottom of the shower, watching the steam roll out the edges of the door. I knocked on a number of occasions, but got no response. So finally decided to just open the door and look in.

Amber was gone. After I turned off the shower, no sign of her ever having existed remained, except the condensation on the mirror, and her necklace, which lay clumped together in the bathtub. Nothing was missing. I still can’t figure out how she escaped without any of us noticing.

For all I know she might have sprouted wings and flown out the window.

The next morning Ian found me asleep in my chair on the back porch. He didn’t say anything when I woke up, and didn’t look away or try to hide either. Children have no shame.

“Huh... oh. Hi, Ian,” I mumbled.

He stared at me. “Aren’t you cold? It rained all night.”

I looked at my watch. It was almost ten. “Shouldn’t you be in school? Isn’t it... what is it? Wednesday?”

“It’s Thursday. I got suspended.”

I sat up and rubbed my eyes.

“I wrote my name on Emma’s skirt with permanent marker when she wasn’t looking.”

“What on Earth could have possessed you to do something like that?”

“The only reason I got in trouble was because a teacher saw me do it. And I was only joking when I did it.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“It’s true. She even laughed.”

“That’s not the point, Ian.”

Ian shrugged. “But I was only joking when I did it. And I only did it because...” He trailed off as he realized he had strayed too close to the truth.

I sat up and leaned back into my chair. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.”

Ian picked at the stucco on the divider. “Well,” he said, still unsure of himself, “I mean, she’s always mean to me, but... I guess I still like being around her. I just wanted to... I was just angry because whenever I try to be nice to her she says something mean to me in front of everyone.”

“Maybe she just does that because she likes you.”

“No,” Ian said, emphatically, but his intonation implied a trace of a question and he looked up at me cautiously. He frowned, and like an actor said, “Girls are weird.”

Ian stared out at the emergent clouds. It looked like it might storm soon.

“So whatever happened to Batman and Catwoman?” I asked him.

“Right!” He perked up immediately, as if Emma and his mother and the teacher who got him in trouble had ceased to exist and I envied this power of his.

“Catwoman picked the lock and got away. She even got the serum and stopped Killer Croc herself.”

“So she didn’t even need Batman’s help after all,” I said.

“Nope,” he said, looking at me for a moment and then up at the clouds, which had begun to break open.


David Sorensen lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he spends his time convincing himself that his waste of a life is not a complete waste. He enjoys avoiding political “conversation” and getting stuck in traffic, provided he has no immediate and impending plans. He is twenty-nine years old and plans to remain so for the foreseeable future.