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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

I love you, Phoenix. I don’t know what else to say. You’re the only woman I can love, now. That’s just the way it is.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 26

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remainscan be found in full here

Our second novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on a 12-year-old girl who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her guidance counselor, can be found in full here.

Our current novel, The Flick, is the correspondence between a legendary porn star of the 90′s and the girl who got away – and kept going.  Read previous chapters here.

Letter XXVI

November 27, 1990

Dear Die:

Die, I’m going to let you in on a secret.  Before you left me in the hospital in Hightstown, that night I tried to die and you saved me, I had confessed to betraying you, a single episode of infidelity.  Over the past years, I have entertained the notion that you would not have left me if you but known the circumstances of that episode.  You see, I did not tell you the entire story, nor did I tell anyone else, and I thought no one would ever know the truth but Jay and me.

Die, would it have mattered if I cheated on you many times, for many different reasons?  If I had cheated out of weakness, or out of anger, or greed, or curiosity?  If I had cheated on you to prove I could live without you, and failed miserably?  I shouldn’t have to explain myself.  This one time, the one time I didn’t make a mistake, the one time I didn’t regret, I confessed to you and asked your forgiveness.

There was a reason I betrayed you.  Please consider the mitigating circumstances.

Jay arrived without forewarning, on the doorstep of our apartment in Hightstown, simply emerging out of the void into which he had vanished two years before.  With a flourish, he handed me a mixed bouquet of roses and orchids.  He then produced an exceptionally large bottle of Dulcet Lyre, at a time when it was in short supply.  I let him into our apartment, even though he had tried to kill us once, and was capable of trying again.  I decided to take my chances with Jay.

He had quit smoking, he claimed, which flushed his face with a veneer of health I had never seen before.  He gained weight, none of it flab.  This extra weight he displayed nicely through a tailored silk shirt.

He had attained a kind of ethereal beauty.

“You’re not afraid I might rape you?”

“So why did you come here?” I asked, “To break my heart?”

“I just wanted to find out if it was worth it, for you.  I wanted to see for myself what there is between you and Die.  I wanted to see if I might still have a chance.  Or if you have any regrets.  Or if you are happy, I want to see that too.  Up close, I wanted to see your happiness, so maybe I can stop having nightmares about it.”

There was something about having Jay in front of me, the only near rival you’ve ever had, Die, that brought all my doubts and regrets rushing to the surface.  I wanted to confide in Jay, I wanted to say, Die is fun, but self centered and lazy.  He will never amount to anything.  He is no one I would ever want to marry.  But I didn’t say that.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I love you, Phoenix.  I don’t know what else to say.  You’re the only woman I can love, now.  That’s just the way it is.”

“I love you too, Jay.”

“Do you love him more than you loved me?”

I opened Jay’s present and poured myself a glass of Dulcet Lyre.

“I can’t talk to you about Die and myself.  I want to, but I can’t.”

“I want to hear everything.  How many times you did it.  When was the best.  When was the worst.  If you cheat.  If he does.  I want it all.”  He spoke to me as if I were a trapped felon whose only hope was to turn state’s evidence.

“Oh…  God…  Fuck it!  Use your imagination.”

“You don’t think I’m entitled to the truth?”  He knew me well enough to know that I would tell him anything he wanted to know if he got me drunk enough, and he knew me well enough to know that it would not take much time to get me to that point.

He calmly announced, “You and Die destroyed me.”  These were his exact words.  He smiled.

“You should get destroyed more often.  It seems to suit you.”

Suddenly, he lost hold of his dignity, as if to demonstrate what it meant to be destroyed.  He bared the destruction that lurked beneath his cocky veneer.  It took me by surprise.  He dissolved into burbling spasms of grief, as if his body contrived to empty its toxins by ridding itself of water.  One minute he was fine, in control of the situation, and ordering me around.  The next minute, he cracked.  I didn’t what to do, so I opened my arms to him.  He shattered in my embrace.  I thought we would both die of sorrow, hugging each other.

Maybe I won’t tell you any more.  Maybe I won’t tell you the most important part.

Maybe I should trade the truth about Jay and me for the truth about Jayne Payne.

The latest issue of Cosmo arrived, and it has distracted me.  I can not help but peruse the pages, wondering which of these picture perfect women has taken my place.  Perhaps the one with the longest neck?

I recall encountering a swan the first night I arrived in Lovehollow.  Don’t you remember, Die?


With a sudden flurry of white feathers under the silver moon, a swan flies out of the night.  It perches on the hood of the Firebird.  Jay tries to shoo it away, concerned about scratches.  The swan honks at him, undaunted.  He tries to push it off, but his shoves meet with swift pecks.  When Jay’s hand retreats, the swan settles back upon the hood, lifting its head with a regal flourish.  For a moment, the bird looks bored.

Die cautiously approaches the fowl with no sudden movements.  The swan lets Die pet its head.  When treated right, the swan becomes affectionate.

“She must belong to somebody,” Jay comments.

“She is mine now,” Die says, petting the soft feathers like cat fur.

Phoenix bides her time with the gun, trying to decide how to deal with the situation now that she has control of it.  Things have become more complicated.  How can she plot an approach to Dieter without sacrificing what she already has?  She wants both birds, two in the bush.  Her natural inclination has always been to play the distance, to make it hard, to put a man to his paces to see just how much effort he is willing to expend, then push him for more.  But that won’t work in this situation.  Because of Jay, Dieter will never make the first move.  So what should she do?

Wait for a moment of privacy?  It will never happen as long as the gun is a factor.  Make her move right in front of Jay?

She can not maintain this tension much longer.

Jay searches the grounds for a rock or a stick.

Phoenix says, “Don’t get upset, Jay.  It is only a story.  I am writing a story.  It is the first story I’ve written in years.  I am writing it by living it.  Does it suit your tastes?”

“So, if this is a story, what are you trying to tell us?” asks Die.  “What kind of story are you writing with your life?  Does it have a theme?  Does it have a moral?”

“I don’t care for those kinds of stories.  I like a story that doesn’t tell you anything, that no one can figure out, something to give you an experience of nothingness, a story that acts like a drug.”

“Speaking of which, do you want to get high?”  Die conjures a joint.

Phoenix asks, “What kind of moral are you looking for?  As Jay likes to say, what counts as moral these days anyway?”

Jay lights the joint.  He takes a deep toke awaits the effects of the drug.  When the pot registers, he receives his answer.  “Love, for one.  Love.”  Jay’s pallid smoker’s face hardens to a veneer of solemnity.

Raucous drugged laughter greet his words; a spontaneous eruption of hilarity from Die and Phoenix.

“And what’s so funny?”  Jay takes a hard suck from the joint; eyes watering from heat and suffocation, a martyr in an auto-da-fe of smoke and laughter, ready to die for the truth he has just pronounced.

“I don’t know, it is just funny.”

“I don’t know either.”

“To Hell with both of you.”

Die and Phoenix stop laughing.

“Oh, its all right, its all right, all right,” she says to Jay.  She cradles her head in her hand.  “It isn’t funny, it is just the booze.  Love isn’t funny.  I am trying a new approach.  Call it Real Realism.  If I don’t live my writing, I might give into the temptation to fall into a perpetual dream instead.  I could be like Emily Dickinson, living all alone, content with nothing but poetry.  Love is as good a moral as any.  So my story will be a love story.”

Jay asks, “So if it is a love story, whom do you love?”  He hands her the joint.

She starts to puff on the joint as if it were a cigarette.  How can she phrase her confession?  How can she make a play for Die right in front of Jay?  She says, “The love I am writing about is between you two boys, and this intense bond you share when you don’t even like each other.  You don’t understand it, yet you can’t let go.  It is actually a mating strategy.  Did you know there’s a whole poetic tradition based upon certain behaviors of male swans?  It happens among geese, too, though they appeal less to poets.  Sometimes two ganders form an inseparable friendship.  When Spring stirs their mating instincts, they look to one another.  But they fail.  Neither male will counterfeit a feminine submission.  This love they share is not a stigma.  Actually, it boosts their status among the flock.  And it arouses the single females, who begin to tail them.  The boys eventually learn to consummate their bond through a surrogate.  A woman becomes a conduit between them, a wound through which they mix their blood, through which they bind their brotherhood.  They share.  They observe one another without jealousy.”

“What the hell kind of point are you trying to make, Phoenix?” asks Jay.

“Yes…  I am trying to make a point.  I am trying to make more than one point.”

“Just… just shut up about the fucking birds.”

Phoenix continues, “Sometimes, one of the ganders forms a possessive preoccupation.  He can no longer bear to watch or share.  And he dies.  Without visible cause of death, without pathology, his life simply ceases.  It is an instinctive behavior buried in our genes, an ancient secret encrypted in the myth of Candaules and Gyges.”  She improvises as she goes along, making modifications to reality to suit her needs, just as she had altered the story of Candaules and Gyges, and just as she had altered the last line of The Castle of Otranto.  There is some truth in what she says, but more fiction, as she strives to elevate her version of the story.  She changes the story from falsehood to myth to irrepressible force of nature.  Truth is unknowable.  Truth doesn’t matter to her, only what works.

Phoenix takes careful aim at the swan.  Die smiles at her, as if they share a private joke about her threats with the gun.  He smiles and pets the swan, until its head explodes.  The body of the swan goes into spasm, squirting a variety of bodily fluids from three available openings.

“Why did you do that?” Die asks, his befuddled face splattered with swan shit.

Jay has at last found a stick, and he stands at attention, holding his stick, but now he has nothing to do with it.

“I’m hungry for flesh,” Phoenix says.  “And I have never tasted swan meat before.”

“That’s not a swan.  That’s a goose.”

“Right.  This Swan is a goose.”


Stuart Hopen’s writing has been published by various comic book companies, including D.C., Marvel, Eclipse, Amazing, and Fantagraphics. His science fiction novel, Warp Angel, originally published by Tor Books, will soon be reissued by the Misenchanted Press in a newly revised edition.  Cannibals, a series of six interrelated novellas, will be available online in 2014.   


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