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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

For the longest time, I refused to be tested for HIV. I was certain I would test positive.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 28

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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.


December 1, 1990

Dear Die:

I have always resisted revealing the full circumstances of my betrayal to you because I felt entitled to forgiveness.  This entitlement is of the unconditional variety.  I am going to tell you the whole story now.  You have been after this story all along, haven’t you?  You used this screenplay venture as a ruse, to coax me into divulging the secret I have kept for all these years.  It has been your purpose, I suspect, to learn what went wrong between us, with the intention, I have hoped, to set things right.  Sorry to say, this forced revelation depletes the value of any forgiveness you or I might be inclined to grant hereafter.

I thought I might hold out for one more letter, to give you one last opportunity to puzzle it out on your own, but I have run out of patience.

On that night in Hightstown, when Jay returned, I said  to him, “What you did to Die and me, that was terrible.  We nearly died, you know.  You nearly killed us.  But what I did to you… that was even worse.  I wish I could make it up to you somehow.”

“You can tell me everything about you and Die, like I asked.  I want it all.”

He kept probing, kept insisting.  He seemed to have a unhealthy interest in my feelings toward you, a voyeuristic curiosity.

We talked and I drank.  We reminisced.  And before I knew it, I was telling him everything.

He listened, taking in my pornographic confessions with bemused interest.

“Okay, Phoenix.  That’s what I wanted to hear.  That’s what I came for.  Now I can tell you how I feel about you.  I don’t need to say my love is like a burning flame.  I don’t need to say my love for you is a lit fart that cooks my ass and won’t be extinguished until the methane runs out, and all that over bloated crap that you lay on everybody.  Nothing you just said changed anything for me.  I still love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“There is one thing you can do to make it up to me.  One last favor.”

At this point I was very drunk.  “Anything, Jay.  Anything at all.”

“One last time, to last me for the rest of his life.”


“For the last two years, my life has been empty, it is like I’ve been dead, Phoenix.  I need you, even if it is for only one time.  Bring me back to life.”


They were inside the old house, in Lovehollow.

In the foyer, Die finds an old whale oil lamp, now filled with stale kerosene.  He kindles the lamp, creating a circle of light in the darkness.  The circle floats with him as he walks.

The three of them roll through the darkness to a spiral staircase.

The walls are shedding two centuries worth of wall paper.  Layer after layer, the elegant designs peel from the wall, each one more promising, like the veils of harem dancer.

Somewhere in the course of its history, the house had served as a shelter for drug lords or their victims.  Bullet holes peppered the wall paper.  Needles and broken syringes lay scattered across the stairs.

Suddenly, a draft blows out the light.


Then forms begin to curdle out of the void, umber on ebony.  Her pupils widen as rods in her eyes become dark-adapted.    Under the vaguest hint of light, she believes that the boys can almost see– almost, just barely see– her standing on the teetering stair case, lifting her t-shirt to bare her breasts.  She has been aroused by the way two men are competing for her.

“Take my lighter,” says the voice of Phoenix.  Dimly etched in starlight, Die’s hand explores the darkness.

Die’s hand touches her face, then pulls away.  She bares her breasts again, wanting to feel the wind.  Die’s hand hangs in the darkness in front of her, waiting for her gift.

This time in the darkness, she lowers her shorts.  A pulse of blue flickers from distant, cross reflected lightning.  Subtly lit pubic hair looks like the smoldering ruins of a flame devastated forest.  A distant portion of the staircase shines, very briefly in blue.  Did the men see her naked between them?  She can’t tell.  She hopes they did, but she also hopes they have the propriety not to say anything about it.  She has always had an instinct for exhibitionism, which she’s rationalized away as a kind of reciprocal response to all the men who like to look at her.

What is Phoenix trying to provoke?  She is much too drunk to decide.  What would be more thrilling: a savage fist to fist combat and a wet surrender to the victor?  Or both men taking her at once?

She hands off the fire.

By the time Die reignites the lamp, her t-shirt is back in place.

He’s inciting her.  He doesn’t seem to care if the gun goes off.  The conflict has become a stark entertainment.

The rainfall patters.  Water begins to stream down the walls, and the narrow, winding stairwell became soaked.  The steps were slippery with revitalized fungus.

Various curios lay scattered along the stairs, delicately wrapped as if awaiting the return of a meticulous owner.  But the wrapping is not of tissue, as would first appear, but rather of cobweb.  Jay plucks up an opera cane, its golden brightwork crowned by the bust of a bow-tied toff wearing a top hat; the shaft barbed was with embedded hypodermic needles.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to find a stiff lying around here someplace.  Some of this stuff would be valuable if it were in better condition.”  He looks the bust in the eye.  “I can’t think of a reason –short of someone croaking suddenly– for leaving this place like this.  So much valuable shit.”

“Once I found a funeral urn upstairs,” says Die.

Jay says “I’ll bet it belongs to whoever is haunting this place.  You can feel a ghost’s eyes on you.  Hanging out.  Watching everything we do.”

With each step, the stair case moans.  The lamp stays lit.  The moans come faster and faster as the climbers approach the peak.


John Holmes helped me with the enclosed sequences.  He really helped me, supplying the male parts.  He managed to produce a somewhat clumsy, but recognizable approximation of your voice, Die, which he listened to over the course of countless films.  He made me laugh.  But then, he began to imitate Jay’s voice, with chilling accuracy.  We were surrounded by the very furniture from this scene, which I had confiscated from Lovehollow and reupholstered.  I reached for the gun, the very gun that Jay used to own.  It was still in the glove compartment when I inherited the Firebird, and I have started keeping it in my apartment.

I trained the gun on John.

“Is it loaded?” he asked.

“It has to be loaded.  If it isn’t loaded, it won’t make an effective prop.  It helps me to remember.”


In Lovehollow, three lives converge around a circle of wavering light, their orbit centered by a gun gripped in fingers with silver nails.

Phoenix says, “Don’t bother asking for the gun.  I am into it, for the moment, getting off on the control it gives.  Though I’m not in control of myself, it’s good enough to be in control of you.”

Then she mused, “I always used to hate guns, maybe because of the way my father obsesses about his collection.  Perhaps some hereditary predisposition is finally squeezing to the surface of my life, a new puberty, a violent coming of age.  Yeah, I could be a bang freak.”

Jay says, “This is your fault, Die, you and your stupid heroics.”

“You tried to push her around.”

“I have made the boys fight.  Aren’t I the bad one.”

Phoenix has the clearest sense of a story repeating itself, a kind of haunted moment, of someone sitting on the same couch, holding the same gun, hearing the same words in a different mouth.  It had happened before.  It would happen again.

She drinks Dulcet Lyre from an old ceramic mug.  She drains the mug, and hands it to Jay.  Running her finger around an epic mural design which encircles the mug’s rim, she says, “Get me another drink.  And this time serve it in a glass that doesn’t tell the story of the hunt for the Caledonian boar.”


Halfway through this recollection, acting out from rough notes, I confronted John.  He scarcely glanced at the rough notes I had handed him, seeming to pluck accurate strands of dialogue from his own mind.

“How the hell do you know so much about me?”

“I remind you of Jay.  I think you like that about me.  You like my being Jay.  Say the word, and I will slide into his slot.”

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

He said, “We think of ourselves as individuals, but that is not reality.”

“I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”

“You see, it’s true.”

“I’ve been hearing it too often.  It makes me wonder about the kind of company you’ve been keeping.”

“People change identities all the time.  If your old boyfriend really wanted you back, he would change into someone else.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You changed, didn’t you?  Aren’t you a different person from the one you used to be.”

He sat back, expecting me to be impressed.

I said to him, “You fail to appreciate the risks you’re taking.  I have been in a lunatic asylum.  I have a loaded gun in my hand.  And right now, I feel very threatened.”


When lightning flares, their horizons expand; the shower of blue electrons provides a brief glimpse of the full depth of the long unlived-in living room.  Clusters of hypodermic needles had been poked into the wood and twinkle like false stars in the fifteen foot vaulted ceiling.   The room creates the immediate impression of luxuriously wasted space– an indulgence of a less populated time.  A heavy rain pours through a broken window.  The rain soaks the cadmium velvets of an arm chair more lush with fungus than upholstery.  Floor planks of oak curl like exposed ribs.  Crippled furniture leans at odd angles, with the notable exception of a Shaker rocking chair, which holds in its upright, formal posture.  There is also a broken hookah and a scorched coke pipe.

The skewered body of the goose is roasting in the bedroom fireplace.

The lightning glare fades long before the lumbering roll of thunder catches up to it, and the room’s depth closes back around the pale yellow circle of light.

After awhile, Jay returns with a new glass, full.

Phoenix holds up a half peeled banana, as if to make an announcement.  A large lit candle has been mashed into the banana’s top.

“The symbolism is too obscure for my tastes,” says Jay.

“It is the closest fucking thing I could find to a birthday cake out in this wilderness,” Phoenix says.

Jay smacks his own forehead.  “I can’t believe I forgot.  After all these years.  I am truly sorry.  I haven’t brought a present or anything.”

Die breaks into a grin.  “You always forget my birthday.  You never buy me a present.  It doesn’t matter anymore.  At least Phoenix remembered.”

“It is an easy date.”

Phoenix takes a hard gulp of her drink, finishing it.  At the bottom of the glass lies a picture of a boar, a spear stuck in its throat.  She throws the glass at Jay, and says “You never listen to me.”

He picks up the glass, prepared to throw it back at her, but she raises the gun.

Phoenix stares into the fire, and the rotating goose above it, sweating out its fats.  “I know a good present you could give Dieter…”

She puts down the gun, as if surrender has been offered as a present.  But the truth of the matter is that she requires both hands to pull off her shirt.

“Me,” she says.

Dieter looks at her bared breasts.  Then he looks at the bird.   He tests its crisp skin with a large fork.  “Our goose is cooked,” he says.


I thought that if I could grant Jay’s one request, as terrible as it was, that if we made love for a final time that it would heal him.  And that it would heal me as well, for I found myself consumed with self loathing every time I thought about what I had done to him, of the accusation, and the lie.  I needed absolution.

So I gave in to him, surrendering my body to satisfy a deep and long standing debt.  I did it to atone.  I offered up myself on the sacrificial altar, not only for the wrongs I had done to Jay, but for the wrongs you had done as well.  I gave myself to Jay to purchase some repentance, for both of us.

I am not going to lie about the way it was between Jay and me on that afternoon.  Perhaps you would think more highly of me if I said it was a loathsome experience, that his show of weakness made my skin crawl, or that I was so in love with you my body was incapable of rapture with a different male.  But that would be a lie.  I promised you honesty in this letter, even though it is a habit I have been strained to cultivate.

Perhaps because I approached Jay selflessly, motivated by charity, my body responded in unexpected ways.  To my surprise, Jay had acquired new skills as a lover.

I found myself spread and impaled upon a rack of ecstasy.  Even though I had been forced into this circumstance, I did not want to let go of him.


Jay takes a step backward, grabbing the lamp, and with it, the circle of light.

Phoenix bares her breasts and waves her gun, unable to decide which gives her a greater feeling of power.

Jay turns away from Phoenix, trying to hide his tears.  Then he breaks into a run, crashing wildly into the corridor.

Phoenix rises and follows, resuming her hold on the gun, but also snatching up the banana with the candle.  She needs something to light her way.  Die starts to trail after her, but she waves him back, and he retreats into the darkness of Lovehollow.

By the flickering light of the candle wobbling in its banana sconce, Phoenix sees that the corridor was flooded.  She sloshes through the stream, immersed up to her knees, calling for Jay.  Light flashes reflect off the waves; indigo stripes undulate over her skin.

Around the mouth of a new passage, in the flow of current, algae sways like a grass skirt on a hula dancer.  The course is narrow, the passage tight, but greased by slime.  She squirts through.

Throbbing rivulets vein the surrounding interior walls.  Scattered bullet holes admit flashes of lightning, thin tubes of illumination intermittently transecting the corridor.

Phoenix follows the sound of weeping to another bedroom, this one filled by a pool of stagnant water.  In the center of the flooded room, like the bull’s-eye of a wet target, bobs a huge pump organ.  Sucking, vorticular waves circumscribe the organ’s length.  Years in the water has wrought a sea-change.  The Rosewood frame writhes in driftwood patterns; the cracked keys have a mother-of-pearl sheen.

Another flash of lightning brightens three tinted wine goblets, depression crystal, which had been set upon the organ.  The vibrato of electricity shakes the crystal; a brief illusion of trembling.  Indigo depths warn of a heavy lead content.  Each goblet one is one third full of an amber fluid and each holds three cigarette butts.  The butts float like swans.

Phoenix wades over to the keyboard, and sets aside her gun.  She balances the flaming banana.  After using the flame to light a dampened cigarette, then she tests the keyboard’s action.  Music fills the flooded chambers.  She tries to call out to Jay with her music, tries to lure him out of hiding with her untuned and atonal siren’s lament.  The music echoes through halls, through the house, exotic and watery as the warble of micturition.  A musty scent wheezes out from the pipes.

Jay glides into the room with the stealth of a water moccasin.  He has pulled off his wet shirt and has wrapped it around his neck.  A cigarette hangs from his lips.

Phoenix says to him, “I honestly was not expecting you to be upset.  I thought you two traded women all the time.”

“I wanted you to be different.”  He sniffles.

More water streams into the room, eclipsing the doorway with wetness.  A churning underwater suction tugs at their loins.  Phoenix plays on.  The notes gurgle in the room’s weird acoustics.  She plays drowning music.

She says, “I used to share a man with my best friend, Sonja.  I found it a warm and lovely experience.”  She sucks on her cigarette and it hisses.

“Who the fuck is Sonja?  How come I never heard of Sonja before?”

“She stopped talking to me.”

She gets tired of the cigarette, which is wet and dying anyway, and she drops it into the third goblet, which makes it the forth butt floating in the third goblet.  Jay responds by sweeping away all three goblets with an angry gesture.

“I hate asymmetry,” he says.

She plays.  Her music rumbles wetly, more vibration than anything else, the swan song of a soprano descending the maelstrom.  A new rush of water cascades over the door frame; only a slice of opening remained.

She says to him, “I haven’t heard anything like a proposal from you.”

“You’re not likely to hear one now.”  Jay shakes his head, a betrayed grimace twisting his lips.

Flotsam clogged the eddies; dirty needles knitted together with spider webs and half filled syringes bobbing like lost buoys.

Phoenix kept on playing watery music, banging it out, indifferent to the flooding chambers, seemingly intent on dragging down anything male that came near her.

“Dieter Smith is not even remotely the kind of man I would ever want to marry.  But once, just once, fucking him would be fun,so that it won’t be an issue anymore.  I am attracted to him to the extent of one night.  I want to put it behind me.”

“I guess that’s one way to put it.”

“God damn it, Jay!” She shouts, “You are months past the point where you should have committed yourself.  I am God damn past tired of waiting.  I thought it would be kind of fun for you to give me some space with Die for just one night, just one.  I thought it would be good for a laugh.  You can watch if you want.”

“I think that would kill me.”

“The trouble is, you know, I think that is exactly what is going to happen.  I think I am going to end with Die, and I think it is going to kill you.  Maybe I knew that is exactly what has been in the making all along; the story predates my involvement, its structure preempts my authorship.  I’m just a character in this story, whether I’m writing it down or someone else is.  The foreshadowing is all in place.  You can see what’s going to happen.”

“I don’t get it, Phoenix.  What is going to happen?  Just one night, or more than that?  What are you trying to tell me?”

A round silver object floats past the organ.  The object resembles a trophy of some kind, a small sculpture.  It carrousels through the currents, seeming somehow very important, its sudden appearance bearing a message among the buoyant needles and hash pipes.  A single word has been engraved upon its silvery surface:  “Truth.”

A halo of tarnished cherubim spin along the top rim of the silver object.  It is decorated with a confusion of wings and expressionless babies.  A trio of saints with outstretched arms strike poses shamelessly patterned from figures on Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

Truth spins in circles.

Phoenix tries to grab the object alleged to be Truth, but it eludes her.  For a moment it doubles back toward her, teasingly, caught in a trick of eddies.  She jumps up from her wet seat, and begins to chase it.  Jay follows her into the flooded hall.

The stream sluices into another corridor.  The silver object bounces down another set of stairs.

They chase the silver object into a dry bedroom.  The silver object rolls past a row of chairs that had been covered with sheets.  The chairs stoop like crippled ghosts.  The sheets, originally lace, have acquired a layer of haze.  The same sort of haze clings to mahogany shelves behind the chairs, and blurs the repository of new broken treasures:  a full set of depression crystal, goblets full of old Methedrine capsules that had congealed into slag, and one half of a Chinese dish, its gilded trim scratched and scarred by razor blades; a can wrapped in the moldy remnants of a Georgia O’Keefe fruit label and filled with the cemented remains of what was once resinous hashish.  A platoon of hand crafted tin soldiers guard an alabaster cameo set upon a backdrop of shimmering butterfly wings.  Dressed in historically accurate French uniforms from the Napoleonic era, each soldier has been fastidiously painted with miniature medals and individuated faces.  Some carried needle thin bayonets, but others, whose rifles had been removed, carried small silver spoons.

The light of the flaming banana sweeps across a collection of ivory statuettes, sensuous heathen gods and goddesses: Zeus, Athena, Venus, and Pluto, heroic nudes six inches tall.  Hermes sports an erection, in keeping with a certain classical tradition.

Jay bends over to pick up the object labeled as Truth.  He brings it over to Phoenix.  On closer inspection, she sees that it is a funeral urn.  She contemplates the significance of the engraved word.  What Truth?  This was their message, truth, but an incomprehensible truth that could be a name or an epitaph.

“Don’t mess with it,” Jay says.

“What should you do when find Truth?  Leave it where it lies?”

She tries to pry the urn open, but it is hopelessly jammed, or perhaps welded shut.

“Leave it alone.”

“I want to see what kind of truth it contains.”  But it won’t open.

She aims the gun at the urn.  She cocks the hammer.

“Don’t do it,” says Jay.

She shoots.  A great explosion of grey dust fills the room, and forms a grey cloud which drifts slowly through the air, a fine grey mist.  The particulate finally settles on the bed, a waiting magnificent antique four-poster, crowned by a canopy of stained lace.

As the dust settles on the bed, it clings to something coiling and sticky, something like sheets of smoke trapped under the great canopy.  The smoke harbors a ravenous female appetite, which Phoenix can sense.  It calls to her, a sisterhood of death within the smoke.

“It’s over,” she says to Jay.

He forces her onto the bed.  The pressure of their weight raises clouds of dust from the bed.  They roll together, engulfed in cumulus.

Their flesh collides.  A different man would be using his fists, breaking her bones– but he expresses his rage by trying to force her into ecstasy, trying to devastate her with rapture and regret.  He has run the scales of her passion many times in the past, a virtuoso among the drenched chambers where notes of pleasure lie concealed.  He tries to play a familiar theme– but fails.

The force of their struggle rocks the room.

An ivory god leaps from his mahogany Olympus.  A goddess follows.

“Stop,” she cries.

But he does not stop; he is too aroused and enraged, and engorged to stop, even though another god falls.

He crashes into her, harder and faster.  The bed timbers beat out a steady drum roll; the thick dust whirling and billowing in visual rhythm.  The bed boils forth a dense congealing mist.

“Stop, oh please…”

Tremors continue to shake the room.  The depression crystal begins to tumble down, shattering on impact.  Vibrations start the tin soldiers marching.  They march off the shelves like lemmings.  Buttons fall, pattering as they hit.

A chipped goddess falls.

For a moment, their struggles cease as they both look upward, and both see, together in the same instant, a constellation of small red shapes, red hourglasses, hanging on smoky webs.  Hundreds of black widow spiders nest in the canopy above them.

“DIE!” she screams.  She rolls off the bed, and Jay rolls with her.  As they strike the floor, the rotten oak beams cracked.  Streams of termites pour from the lightning shaped rift.

“Die!” she yells, but Jay will not relent, even as the floor boards snap around them.  She wonders how Die will respond to her cries this time around.  Will he hear the genuine panic in her voice?  Or will he think this is another one of her traps?

There is only a cloud of dust, the shuddering floor, the trinkets and treasures falling and breaking.

Phoenix screams, “DIE!! DIE!!  DIE!!”

Die appears in the hallway.  She has been dying for him to play the hero all night.  He tried once, without success.  Now his time has come.

“He raped me,” says Phoenix.

Die erupts in a rage.  He grabs Jay, naked and struggling.  He lifts Jay into the air, and turns to throw him onto the bed.

“Not the bed…” screams Jay.

Die flexes his arms, preparing to throw despite the pleas.  But just before he launches his naked friend, he sees something.  The dust clears enough, just in time, or his eyes adjust to the darkness, just in time, and he sees the swarm of black widow spiders rolling through the lace.

Die turns suddenly and alters the trajectory of his toss.  Jay hurtles into the cabinets.

Jay lies still in a litter of broken gods.  Then he moans and pulls himself up on one arm.

Jay says, “I never raped her.”

The light of the burning banana reveals new ornaments studding Jay’s flesh. He had landed in a different nest, filled with a different kind of poison.  Countless old syringe needles bristled in his naked flesh.  He wore an expression of pained betrayal, bleeding and penetrated by shafts like St. Sebastian.  And then, as a final gesture of surrender, Jay abandons to Die what will be both prize and punishment, reward and revenge.

He says, “This has been a swapping scheme, all along.  Whether you realize it or not.  But this time it isn’t our scheme.  It’s Phoenix’s doing.  Something she orchestrated and conned you into. Stay with her long enough, and you’ll find out about the way she lies.”

Jay stumbles out of the room, heading down the corridor, pulling needles out of his flesh.

Naked except for dust, Phoenix lies on the ground.

The front door slams.

The Firebird growls.


That day in Hightstown, Jay turned to me when we were finished making love, a self satisfied grin bloating across his face; you know the grin, that peculiar grin, Jay’s grin.  I thought he was gloating over having brought me to rapture again and again during what had started out as a penance, a half hearted pity-fuck.

“This doesn’t mean we’re getting back together,” I said and covered myself with the sheet.

“You’re fucked.  Totally fucked.”

It was a moment of crystalline insight, Die, as though this betrayal had been ordained by grand purpose, for it not only offered a full and complete absolution from the sins I had committed against Jay, it also freed some faculty of my will from the restraints that made me doubt my future with you, Die.  It was as if I could think clearly at that moment, without being stunned into submission by you.  My decision, my commitment could be made, and not as the product of craving.  Jay had sated me, and I could think clearly enough to know who I wanted to be with, at that moment, and forever.  And then it all poured out of me, parts of poems, parts of love letters, parts of confessions I had said to you so many times they had become clichés between us.

I blurted out to Jay, “You want it all, you want the truth?  I am in love with Die.  Love.  And more than Love.  Some force links us.  An adamantine umbilicus I can not sever no matter how hard I try.  This love is the focal point of my being, the absolute pivotal event.  It takes me outside of time, as if I am dying and being remade every moment I am with him.”

“You are fucked.  Totally fucked.”

“I’m not going to lie about this, Jay.  You can tell Die, if you want.  I will deal with it.  He’ll be mad.  It may take him awhile to get over it.  But he will get over it.  And he will forgive me.  I know it in my heart, because Die and I don’t have a choice in the matter.  We have to forgive each other, for everything, and for always.”

He smiled, “You are fucked.”

“This, I think, is the point at which you walk out of my life, forever.”

Suddenly he had changed, and was wearing the same sallow, sweaty, poisoned look that he had the last time I saw him, the night he fled Lovehollow.

Jay spoke with a stammer that had never been there before, and a new punctuation to his discourse, a rhythmic sniffle, a cough crustier than his usual smoker’s hack.  “You are fucked because I have a terrible disease.”  He said it as it was a point of pride.  “I am infected with a virus.  I caught it from the needles that night in Lovehollow.  You know, you killed me when you lied that night.  You and Die both killed me.”

He seemed to have lost weight just in the course of our lovemaking.  All semblance of health seemed to have been sweated out of him.

“You destroyed me, Phoenix.  I mean, really destroyed me.  And now I have destroyed you.  This virus, you’ve caught it now.  That’s how it spreads, through sex.  It’ll kill you.  And if you ever fuck Die again, it’ll kill him too.”

I couldn’t speak.  It was as if his hand were on my throat.  But his hands were calmly fastening the buttons on his shirt.

“I’m glad it turned out this way, Phoenix.  It’s much better this way.”

“Better?  Better than what?”

“One way or the other, I was going to infect you.  If I had to, I would have raped you, Phoenix.”

Now do you understand why I took a razor to my wrist on that night in Hightstown?  Now do you understand?

You might not understand why I forgave Jay, or why I visited him day after day in the Hospital, or why I offered what ever solace I could while he was dying.  Let me explain it, or at least try.  Part of my motivation sprang from my own guilt, my sense of having caused Jay’s death indirectly.  But more than that, I was driven to forgive for the sake of forgiveness itself, unconditionally, no matter how deeply I had been wronged.  I forgave Jay, as I hoped to be forgiven.

For the longest time, I refused to be tested for HIV.  I was certain I would test positive.

Every itch I felt in my loins threatened the onset of intractable Candida.  When the sheets were overly damp in the mornings, I called it night sweats.  Every pimple, every mole, every blemish signaled the emergence of Kaposi Sarcoma.  If fruit juice tasted slightly tart, it was the beginning of thrush causing fermentation in my mouth.  Not surprisingly, I began to lose weight.  Hypochondria now offered a new, procrastinating form of suicide; slow and incremental, to replace the cigarettes I had recently given up.

I was shocked, absolutely shocked, almost to point of being disappointed, when the test came back negative.

Six months later, the retest shocked me again.

The next retest brought the realization that I had somehow escaped infection.  I can not say whether it was the fear of death, or the attaining of mercy, that brought about my religious transformation.  It didn’t happen suddenly; none of the heraldic revelations that you would expect from me, as many times as I have been guilty of over using epiphany as a dramatic device.  The reality of God slowly impressed itself through subtle signals:  the music of a beer can rolling with the wind; the cloud patterns of my own breath on a winter night; the rustling of moon-painted leaves, the warmth of intertwining fingers, the halos around stars when they shine through vapor — things that emerge from the darkness and remind you that not all of life is hideous.

Do you remember the night we lay naked on the termite eaten floors of Lovehollow, wrapped in each others arms, watching the wedding feast of a black widow spider?  The female began to chew the male’s head before his hind quarters finished rutting; a vision of competition and cooperation which characterizes the course of all life.  And I said to you that I believed there was some basic tendency in nature, some thermodynamic or mathematic principle that opposes entropy in its operation and explains life and evolution without resort to religion.  What I failed to understand, wrapped in your arms, is that this basic tendency in nature, this undiscovered physical or mathematic law, is God.

I was convinced, when giving in to Jay on that afternoon, that I was doing the right thing.  As I undressed for Jay, preparing to suffer for your sins as well as my own, I thought, I will not try to hide this from Die, and I will never regret this, even if Die leaves me for confessing the truth.  Even if Die never forgives me and I lose him forever.  It was something that I had to do, that afternoon.  It was a debt I owed.

When I found that I had been spared, I believed that I had done the right thing with Jay on that afternoon, just as I came to believe that losing you was part of a pattern of sacrifice which God expected of me.

I lost myself somewhere in the old days.  The more pretenses I used to put on, the more pretenses I was forced to make, to keep my stories consistent.  The process became too complicated for me, too unbelievable.  I have been trying to make sense out of the story that has become my life, trying to find meaning in the interface between the real and the false, and the friction between.  But I became lost in there someplace, and everything I said seemed pointless, incomprehensible.  In the old days, I kept trying to act as if I were in control, as if I really understood the events of my life, but I was bluffing.  I was trying to lie my way out.

Now that I have confessed my deepest secret, I will give you the rest of the truth.  None of my feelings for you have changed.  My love for you defines my life and disparages all other attractions.  Every cell in my body yearns to be infused and intermingled with your substance.  Every subatomic particle of my soul yearns for the same sort of fusion.  Every action I take, every verb encompassed in my being, inclines toward conjugation with you.  And yet, the closer we move toward connection, the more our enterprise portends of dread results, a threat, a warning, like the horrible thing that happened to us the first time we made love.  Nightmarish manifestations of our past stain the present you give me.  I want to reach out to you.  I want to be with you, Die, but something is going on that bewilders and terrifies me.  Warning signs surround me, though I cannot comprehend their meaning.

I want to see you Die.




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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