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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

I can't do it anymore. I can't write you into bed with another woman and pretend that I am she.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 30

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

December 15, 1990

Dear Die:

Your last letter upset me very much.  In the old days, when we were together, a certain mode of thought afflicted me, perhaps it was poisoning my perceptions.  I had come to law school seeking a cure for that kind of thought, seeking to cleanse myself of my proclivities for fiction, living in the realm of imagination, relating to people through impressive lies.  Instead, I would try to regain my footing in reality through combat.  A concept lies under the legal system, the prevalent notion that truth emerges from the clash of ideas.

The library functions much as a laboratory; we drain human tragedies of their force, rendering them soft and cold enough for dissection.  The process leaves these specimens as unthreatening as severed parts of anatomy, carved up into their constituent facts and law, flaccid in their decanters.  Redirecting my energies in this manner, I find my views of our Flick altered; as if I had turned on a light in a darkened room.  The Ghost vanishes.

I can no longer see any traces of Jay protruding through John Holmes’ personality.  I look back over my copies of my recent letters, and I wonder if I imagined the ghostly manifestations.  Had I transmuted some ordinary gestures by some ordinary law student into the malevolent incarnation of my own guilt and loneliness?  Have I banished my irrational fears by simply writing them out?  Have I been dealing with a spirit incarnation of Jay?  Or do these events bear the authorship of a different former lover?

Does something even more wicked than a haunting lie beneath the pattern of recent events?  I wonder.  A stranger suddenly walks into my life, well coached on my vulnerabilities and tastes.  He seems groomed to conjure associations with one of the great loves of my life.  These echoes and associations vanish after I confide them to you, Die.  You know how paranoid I can be, especially where you are concerned.  I considered certain possibilities, all of them loathsome and found myself sucked into a maelstrom of paranoia.  I imagined you trading intimate knowledge about me with your friend Iream in return for like information about your Swan.  I also imagined a plot centered around your misunderstood notions of my feelings for Jay.  I imagined myself as a chattel in one of your swapping schemes, that your old commerce with Jay continues from beyond the grave, that you have bartered away our love to a corpse.

When my thoughts are properly ordered like this, and I sit in the light of the law library, I can tell myself that whenever I feel Jay’s presence close to me, it is the product of my own mind, that I have been reaching too deeply into the past, vainly trying to connect with you, Die, grasping at butterflies in a dream.

I focused my attention on the coming confrontation with Professor Weiss.  I would define myself in argument.  I planned to use my dispute with Galen Weiss as a way to connect me to humanity, a return to the course I had undertaken before your first letter arrived.  How the law differs from the tilts of my literary inclinations.  My writing consists of rigged contests, games I play with myself.

The night slipped past me without sleep. Somehow I suffered no energy loss from this depravation.  Fear carried me.  A razored, adrenal edge bordered my consciousness; reminiscent of excessive caffeine and nicotine indulgences back in the days we lived together– though I had neither on that morning.  For the past year and a half, I have been slowly mastering a powerful new intellectual weapon.  Designed for an arena of controlled conflict, rule-governed violence, it can demolish. Or it can riddle.  Never before had I carried it into combat.  The excitement left me jittery.  My thoughts were clear and ordered, though any loss of momentum, any surrender to anxiety would have sent me crashing into a migraine.  The way my heart beat, a racing tachycardia, interrupted by frequent premature ventricular contractions, you would think I had placed myself in mortal danger, or that I was about to make love for the first time.  This confrontational thrill is an aspect of law I had not anticipated.

Armed with only a pack of note cards, I entered the classroom.  Fluorescent lights pulsed overhead, threatening to ignite my incipient headache.  I took my seat, prearranged by a grid.  My hair tied back in a tight assassin’s knot, I wore my round reading glasses, and a loose fitting blouse which fastened at the throat with a sort of a bow, an acceptable feminine alternative to the Windsor knot.  A blurred reflection of myself shined through the polished surface of the linoleum desk top, and I realized I had attired myself for an ambush in the fashions Galen Weiss usually wore.

John Holmes occupied the seat beside mine.  He was engaged in speed reading the days assignment at a pace of about 1500 words per minute, probably with full comprehension.

I lay down the note cards one by one, in logical argumentative sequence, as if they were a tarot that held my future.

Professor Galen Weiss entered, riding her clipped, authoritative stride.  Standing six foot one at the head of the class, she surmounted the room.  Her features have a hard cast of self control and personal power that at times resemble affected masculinity.  You will never hear her speak in a high pitched voice or cast a limp wristed gesture, except in mockery.  I suspect some lingering bitterness fuels her ambition; some grave unavenged injustice, some wounding personal tragedy related to sex or gender.

Professor Weiss took from her briefcase a pine gavel, oversized, just slightly, but enough to be noticeable.  She wielded this more as symbol than noisemaker.

As the gavel boomed, John Holmes threw his law book three feet into the air and yelled, “SHIT!”  A squeal came from Anna Marie Parker-Johnson, seated behind him.

“What seems to be the problem, Mr. Holmes?” queried Galen Weiss.

“There’s a cockroach back here.  Must be six inches long,” he said.

“Then I suggest you put your law book to good use.”

“What do you want me to do?  Read to it?”

Professor Weiss shot back a distinctly irritated look.  Perhaps she took the remark as an aspersion against the text.  Perhaps she would have been less piqued if she were not the author.

Then I raised my hand.  Galen Weiss granted an audience with a nod and a point of the gavel.

“I have a question before we move on.”  Then, in my best legalese, I asked, “Why does Defamatory speech merit stringent protective standards, in contradistinction to the nebulous standards applicable to sexual matters?”

“We have finished our discussion of the obscenity laws, Ms. McCullah.”

“But we didn’t discuss anything.”

“Ah!  There’s a lesson in that.”

“What, some kind form of Zen experience?”

“The point is, some things shouldn’t be discussed.”

Everyone laughed.  It gave me a minute to think.  “You believe that sex isn’t a political issue?”

Her left eyebrow raised, then she answered on automatic, as if hitting a tape recorder button:  “The materials that men use to enhance their masturbation experiences do not present political issues.  I am aware–of course– of certain misguided attempts to politicize these materials because of their demonstrated tendency to promote rape and other forms of violence against women.”  She made a gyrating, limp wristed gesture with both hands hovering like twin helicopters at the level of her head, a signal that she considered my question unworthy.  Then she gripped her gavel and pointed.  “But you have to understand this unfortunate paradox: if you want a law directed at the dangers that threaten women, you must first prove a ‘clear and present danger.’  That’s a tougher standard than the Miller test– a standard that applies to protected speech.  I commend you to American Book Sellers Association v. Hudnut, at 458 Federal Supplement 1316; affirmed at 106 Supreme Court 1172.  Like it or not, Ms. McCullah, the unpredictable Miller standard is likely to be the highest degree of protection you can hope for in this country.”

“But what if I am an artist?  What if I wish to make an explicit statement about physical love and I need to know the limits of an arbitrary law?  Is it more important to protect defamatory speech than sexual speech?  Why are lies more important than sex?”

Her eyes widened.  Her mouth hung wide and vacuous, stricken with surprise, a great open cavern that seemed the source of the ensuing pervasive silence.  My classmates stirred uncomfortably.  Gladys Lorn, to my left, giggled under her breath.  John Holmes, to my right, was staring at me as if he had never seen me before, his fingers drumming with intense concentration.  Then the gavel slipped from Galen Weiss’ fingers, ending the silence as it hit the desk.

I continued, “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that you fully understand the utter falseness of the rationale behind the current obscenity laws; the absurdity of claiming these works contain no ideas.

“The case law itself begins with a blatant lie.  In Roth, Justice Brennan wrote: ‘At the time of the adoption of the first amendment, obscenity was outside the protection intended for speech and the press.’  But he cites cases and statutes dated after the ratification of the Constitution.  He’s not that dumb.  You get the feeling he’s flaunting the untruth of his claim, with a wink and a nod, just as you were doing a minute ago.”

While I was talking, Weiss was picking at the barrette that tied back her hair.  As she started to speak, her mouse brown locks tumbled free; straight cropped, and much shorter than I expected.  On the recovery now, Weiss, suddenly aware of the nature of her adversary, responded:  “It doesn’t matter whether there were written laws or not.  We’re talking about the operation of a natural law.  Aversion to sexually explicit materials was an integral part of the nation’s character of the time.”  She slammed the barrette on the table.  Her voice rumbled; deep throaty oratory tones.  Sometimes you could almost feel orchestrated vibrations, a specter of grandiose music when she spoke.  “If you study early American folklore, you will discover self imposed censorship.  Even without government proscription, references to sex dropped from the bawdiest of folk songs as they passed from Britain to America.  Did you know that the Streets of Laredo derived from an English ballad about a trooper who dies of syphilis?  I must disagree– absolutely disagree– with your contentions that the obscenity laws spring from false premises.  It is delicately worded, because some people have a sense of propriety, Ms. McCullah.  The material targeted here incites men in certain ways.  It doesn’t incite thought.  Or discussion.  It incites self abuse.”

“And what is so terrible about masturbation?” asked Clive Tull.  His unmistakably defensive tone drew random titters.

She threw up her hands, feigning helplessness, and uncontrolled feminine disgust, as if she were confronting a worm.  “This is why I hate teaching this subject.”  Then her tone changed to hard determination and oratorical elegance; another sudden shift of persona.  “The discussion inevitably degenerates down to this level, and I am forced, by conscience, to take sides.”

Performance, as an art, consumed her.  Galen Weiss started to wag her head from side to side, affecting a dull-witted stare, mocking his question.  “I guess the problem with masturbation is like the problem with drugs.  Too much reward for too little effort.  So you start with this thing… we’ll call it a work of art, to stretch a point…  and its goal– its raison de etre — is to make a man perform a sex act upon himself.  There’s not much going on in the way of exchanging ideas.  No vigorous debate, that I can see.  I guess you could say the only political issue presented stems from the obscenity laws themselves.”  She ended her bimbo impersonation to make an emphatic point.  “To say that you have to permit display of this material in order to engage in political debate about it is like saying you have to sample heroin before you can talk about the need to outlaw it.”

Burton Wallace spoke up from the back of the room, thrusting his overweight form into the fray:  “The good book tells us not to spill seed– but I suppose I am not allowed to dwell on that because of the other part of the first amendment.  Even so, everyone and his brother… and sister… understands on way down deep in their souls that this stuff is just wrong.  You know, flat out wrong.  Anyone caught with it feels humiliated.  Probably because of the natural law principle Professor Weiss talked about.  To my way of thinking, Society got some kind of interest in maintaining the vitality of its constituency; you know, preventing an act what studies show to be addicting–in a manner of speaking– and depleting of the male hormones tied to alertness, vitality, and strength…”

“And aggression and violence,” I add.

Gladys Lorn raised her hand, “Justice Rheinquist likened the obscenity laws to ecology laws.  What’s that mean?  To maintain social ecology, are we supposed to take the barometric pressure of the prevailing testosterone levels?”

Everyone laughed, including John Holmes and Galen Weiss.

“Now wait a minute,” says John Holmes, “Why is obscenity viewed as a strictly male form of entertainment?  What about stuff that targets a female audience?  You never hear about any of that stuff getting busted.”

Anne Goldberg said, “I think things like Chippendale dancers and Playgirl magazine are more of a joke.  They’re for revenge, a kind of a joke.  No one really gets turned on by them.”

Gladys Lorn whispered to me, “Yeah, Playgirl, what a bore.  Droop, droop, droop.”  She illustrated with a floppy gesture of her forefinger, three times.

Goldberg continued, reflectively, “Yes, they’re a kind of a joke.  They have more idea content to them.  Perhaps that’s why you never hear of prosecutions.”

“Misdirected jokes,” said Galen Weiss, resuming her role of impresario to the legally unlearned.  “In trying to satirize pornography, they’re reinforcing the myths found in pornography.”

Karen Wilson played chorus to Weiss’ lead, “Phoenix, if you’re so concerned about lies– then what about the lies that pornography tells about women?  That we are mindless, sex starved bodies, that we are objects– that we are the same as men.”

“Aren’t you?” asked John Holmes.  “I mean, the same as men.”

“They ain’t,” snickered Clive Tull.  “I had to turn gay just so I could get laid.”

“Actually,” said Holmes, “I wasn’t thinking about Playgirl or Chippendales or even Candida Royale.  I was thinking more about romance novels and soap operas, and that sort of stuff.  Isn’t that more the female equivalent of male pornography?  Why doesn’t anyone bust that stuff?”

“You can’t equate the two.”

“Well, you have a pornographic formula in use.  The good males are those who are unconditionally in love with the female.  They are willing to face any danger for her, spend huge amounts of money.  They’re willing to die for her — and they’re not supposed to ask for anything back.  Specifically, he’s not supposed to ask for you know what.”

“And what is wrong with that?”

“Where is the quid pro quo?  It is all obligation.”

“Sounds like alimony,” says Arnold Lauderdale, speaking bitterly from experience.

“That’s pornography, isn’t it?”

“Do you know what the word means?” asked Professor Weiss.

I answered, “James Joyce defined pornography as any art that tries to sell an idea.  Sort of the opposite of the Miller test.  But the word itself comes from the Greek: Writing about whores.”

“Close but not quite.  It would be more accurate to say that the term means, ‘writing about captive women.’  Phoenix McCullah–have you really any concept of what you are defending?”  Then she turned to Karen Wilson and said, “Do me a favor.  Run over to my office and bring back a book titled Demeaning the First Amendment.”  She tossed her keys across the room.

John Holmes said, “I’ll cut to the chase.  I think the core of the problem lies in… drum roll…”  He beat a bongo tattoo on the linoleum desk.  “…the discrepancies between the preconditions both genders impose on intercourse.  Women object to their gender being portrayed in an unreal way, as a set of simplified attributes: compliant, sexually voracious, endowed with certain types of breasts, certain types of legs, a certain type of waist; etcetera.  The same for applies to heroes of Romance novels and movies; desirable, devoted men.  Rich men, usually, and if not rich at the outset, of the right kind of seed to become rich.  I don’t think we’ll ever get away from the proposition that certain characteristics make for desirable mating while others do not.  That’s the message whenever you talk about sex, whether you call it porno or romance or Eros or smut or advertising.  It ain’t egalitarian, not by a long shot.  Who ever doles out these desirable characteristics doles ’em out in limited supply.  But that’s natural selection at work.  That’s…” Another bongo beat.  “…evolution.”

“Yeah, it is the haves against the have nots,” whispered Clive Tull.

“I despise this topic,” said Professor Weiss.

I formed a bridge of interlocking fingers and rested my chin upon it.  “You’ve all been focused on the aspect of art that creates a vicarious experience.  And the proposition has been put forth that it is fine to outlaw vicarious sex.”

“I guess that’s one way to put it.”

“But we’re talking about Art, here.  In order to turn random sensory data into a vicarious experience, there has to be an operational system of order.  That order flows from ideas.  If a work of art provokes a response– be it disgust or arousal– it is because of the response to the ideas behind the work.  When a jury, using the Miller test, finds a work obscene, it is the message behind that work that they are condemning, despite all rhetoric to the contrary.”

“You know, I’ve never before had any student show such an interest in this particular subject.  It isn’t something people usually admit.  What is your problem, Ms. McCullah?  Are you a Die Smiling fan, or something?”

I felt a sudden coldness sweep across my face, freezing it.  It was like dying, a very familiar sensation, like my life blood pumping out through cut wrists.  Suddenly humiliated, and incapable of any response, I withdrew from the discussion, retreating as I have done in unhappy circumstances, into myself.  When I picked this fight, I knew the risks I was taking, but I had not counted on losing so quickly, and so profoundly to a time honored courtroom tactic.  If the law is on your side, argue the law.  If the facts are on your side, argue the facts.  If neither is on your side, attack the person.  I sat there wondering what perverse, self destructive instincts had brought me to this end, what misjudgment had ever convinced me that law school could be a new beginning for me.

Lack of sleep began to catch up with me.  I felt as if the battle had been taken out of my hands.  It wasn’t my fight any more.  My mind kept turning back to our flick, perhaps because erotic fantasy was suddenly more important to me than this debate, or perhaps because something in the past was trying to force itself into the present because it contained a message, a story trying to tell me something.

John put his hand on my shoulder, I think he intended to shake me out of drowsiness.  But instead, his touch put me deeper into a dream.  His touch reminded me of Jay.  It might just as well have been Jay sitting at my side, speaking to me in his voice.  I began to hallucinate, as if I were experiencing a total breakdown, or an acid flashback.  Instead of my notes on obscenity law, I found spread out before me the pages of my latest entries into our Flick.

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

Holmes said, as he looked over my shoulder. “Too heavy handed a symbol.”

“But it was real.  Not a symbol.  That’s what we found in Lovehollow.”

“But it doesn’t fit.”

I said to Holmes, “I know it sounds pompous as hell and overly didactic, but it was the truth.  At least I think so.  I used to get like that, pompous as hell and overly didactic when drugs suppressed my inhibitions.  Even my hallucinations were pompous and didactic.  It is part of a message.  Maybe it was true and maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t.”

“What you just said doesn’t mean anything.”

Then I shrugged, “Even meaningless things mean something.”

“Phoenix playing with ashes…?”

“Fuck you.”

I was roused from my daydream, and the meaning of it had become clear to me, too clear.  Then I spoke aloud, to Galen Weiss.  “Don’t you see the irony of the Miller test?  It is an artistic crime to place your ideas in plain sight.  It is a criminal crime to hide them.”

“Ms. McCullah, do you know the Jewish interpretation of the Tower of Babel?”

“I’m not Jewish.”

“The sin was not in trying to reach Heaven.  The sin was that the builders got so caught up in their enterprise, it overshadowed their values.  When a brick fell, the builders of Babel wept– but when a human being fell, no one looked up.  That is what you are doing, looking at a principle and not taking into account the toll that principle exacts on those caught in its operation.”

By this time Karen Wilson had returned.  Professor Weiss opened the book Karen had brought.

“I feel compelled to read this to you, since this discussion has gotten so far out of hand.  It speaks for itself, really.  I will only tell you that it is part of a suicide note, written by a woman who called herself Jayne Payne.”  As Galen Weiss began to read, another transformation took place.  A long repressed suffering bubbled to the surface of my professor’s face.

“‘Never liked it, never, fooled you all… well maybe liked it long ago, or thought would like it– someone I used to know, liked men… all the well hung men, not thinking about hanged men, like now, necks in a noose, their bones popping squirt juice cause their spinal cords have snapped.  That’s what I think a well hung man is now.'”  Galen Weiss lost herself in this role; every trace of confidence and assertiveness disappearing, “‘I came for the rainbows, came for the neon spotlight, came for the glamour, the dope, came for the camera, but never came, not really.  Didn’t come for the cum.  No idea would be so bad.  A good excuse to get high; like maybe I could get so stoned, I’d just sleep through it like an operation, never even feel the dicks no matter how many; the 3 dicks going in me at once; the 10 dicks sometimes don’t ask me where they all fit.  But sometimes I’d wake up, and I’d know.'”

Her voice cracked over the rambling words.  Throughout the class, the murmurs, the banter, the whispered comments ceased.  A séance hush prevailed.  “‘I’d know I wasn’t dreaming with this shower of hot cum slapping me in the face, from 10 dicks when I’d be suddenly awake, and I’d see, see what they’d be doing to me.  And the camera and the lights in my face, the damn camera watching me, trying to climb inside of me, trying to see what is going on inside of me.  Nightmare of hairy dog dicks up my pussy, squirting dogshit.'”

The class was in shock, I think.  Not just over the crude language which no one ever expected to hear from Galen Weiss, but also at the bald persuasiveness of her performance, this tincture of human suffering, this exhibitionism of pain.

“‘… time they shoved a knife up my pussy and filmed it, and Curtis Fucking Ensor screamed you like it bitch; if you don’t like it, it’ll cut you– if you don’t keep wet you’ll bleed like your worst period…heh heh heh, his laugh, and he said nothing lubes the ladies like scaring the shit out of them.  Like the time they dragged out the damn dog and I shit right there on the bed, and they left me chained in my shit in the bed and out comes Hormone Whoremoan which he says is pronounced the German way as Herman Warmachine and he’s got these little balls from shooting steroids and the rest of him looks like a great big dick and patched together regions of high blood pressure, veins bursting out everywhere and hair and a big fucking dick and little balls, cute little balls, like something to hang on a charm bracelet, and he sees the shit smeared everywhere and he says to Curtis Fucking Ensor will you clean her up for christsakes and Curtis Fucking Ensor says heheheh– nothing lubes the ladies like humiliation…'”

You should have warned me about this particular piece of writing.  I had not expected it to affect me so violently, Die.  Galen Weiss seemed to have vanished, possessed by the wandering, unmollified demon of a dead martyr to exploitation.  It was as if she were reading a Ouija intelligence rather than a book titled after a quote from Chief Justice Burger paraphrasing Richard Nixon.

“‘And the camera zooms in and Hormone is on top of me crushing dead stupid meat weight obeying Curtis Ensor, the good player and his coach, and the camera to catch it all.  It wasn’t humiliation that lubed the lady, it was the shit itself, dick and shit inside me, his dick all shit smeared.'”

For the first time I began to wonder about the tragedies I was aiding and abetting with my script.  The Flick.  The Fuck.  Whose destiny would I alter?  What woman would be conscripted into the tragedy of my own past, which I survived despite my best efforts to the contrary.  I began to feel the enormity of my sins pressing in on me; the arrogance, the selfishness, the gross indulgence of this vicarious baring of my life.  To whom was I delegating my capacity for failure?  A bolus of emotion rose up through my throat, a thick, congealed pepper broth of weeping.  I swallowed it down.  I will not cry, I thought.  I will not.  My eyes will not water despite the spice flame kindling in my sinuses.  I will not, I demanded of myself.

“‘Nothing lubes the ladies like humiliation, God damn Curtis fucking Asshole Hemorrhoid Ensor.  When he joins me in Hell, I wish I will be near enough to watch the tortures they give him, but it won’t happen because then it wouldn’t be hell for me.  The only thing that scares me about dying is that they’ll write ‘The little Tramp’ on my headstone, and every man who walks by will think that I’m easy stuff and dig up my rotting corpse and fuck the mush of my leftover pussy and think the puss and death grease there is cause I’m wet for him and I like it cause I’m the Little Tramp.  And that’s what’s going to happen to me anyway ‘cause my body is cut to parts, ass, tits, pussy, over millions of frames of film.  Me, fucked forever, trapped on film for fucking ever, with no escape.'”


I looked down at my vague and hazy reflection on the desk surface.  All of my rhetoric about art seemed spent of its ammunition.

“She was my sister,” said Galen Weiss.

You could feel the shock and disbelief spreading, the awkward, undiluted embarrassment, as if she had bared a mastectomy scar.  Then she paused for dramatic effect, banishing from her face any sign of personal pain, signaling an ambiguity, and letting it penetrate.  She added, “Not my biological sister, but my sister none the less.”

The class let out a collective sigh.  The emotional cymbal had crashed, followed by catharsis.

And then I felt furious and betrayed at having been so slickly manipulated.  Shaking, I mustered up the courage to ask, “What would protect you from prosecution for reading that?”

Without hesitation, she responded, “Jenkins v. Georgia.”

I felt light headed, emotionally friable, sleep deprived, and mad.

I began to cry, right there, in front of everyone.  Not just a tender trickle of tears, not a controlled sobbing, but a great rush of weakness, with heaving shoulders, gritted teeth and bitten lips, my otherwise pale face a deep red, a prisoner of mucus cords that veiled my face and tied my hands upright in the air, unable to touch anything.  Crying for Jayne Payne and Jay Fortunata, and you, and for Galen Weiss, for whatever suffering she felt and exploited.  But mostly crying for myself, and for the way I had so thoroughly lost this fight, and for my blind misjudgment that had led me to pick the wrong side.

John Holmes, bless him, stood up beside me, reaching into his pocket.  Professor Weiss stared at him, mystified.  John took out his wallet, brought it halfway to his mouth, then flipped it open.  Speaking into his exposed credit card niches, he said, “Mr. Sulu, we’ve got trouble down here.  Beam us up immediately!”

Mercifully, the class bell rang.

Galen Weiss turned to me and said, “You understand this wasn’t personal.”

“The hell it wasn’t,” I said.

“This is part of being a lawyer, Ms. McCullah.  Perhaps tears worked as a good defense in other situations.  They do not work in the courtroom.”

“Why Die Smiling?” I asked, “Why not Mario Kundalini, or Iream Insider, or Randy Spears, or John Dough, or Curtis Ensor himself?  Why Die Smiling?”

“It is the only name I know.”  She reached into her briefcase and pulled out an issue of Femillenium, the very one I had found in the Laundromat.  As it turned out, she had written an adjacent article about abortion protests and counter-protests.

Throughout midterm week, no less than four of my constitutional law class mates solicited my attentions– ranging in subtlety from Burton Wallace’s polite invitation to study together to Gary Strock’s “wanna’ fuck?”  Two upper classmen asked for dates, in addition to a professor who teaches Legal Ethics.  Word of my anti-censorship views has spread throughout the school and a scarlet W has been hung upon my breast.  I have suffered a terrible loss of anonymity and personal mystery that makes law school entirely unbearable.

My grades have continued their downward spiral.

Thank God Christmas is not far off.

Perhaps my spectacle of weeping in front of my constitutional law class is a sign that I have made yet another bad choice.  I pray to God for direction, and he answers in silence.  I alone must chose, without the benefit of auguries, and that is a gift.

I drove cross country alone, without sleep, racing to get home in time for Thanksgiving.  It reminded me of the trips Jay and I used to make from Princeton to California this time of year.

Somewhere outside Baton Rogue, I found myself approaching a huge tunnel.  Its walls writhed with street gang graffiti, multi-colored knots of spray painted gorgon hair.  One image dominated the others:  a huge blood red penis, at least twenty feet long; crudely rendered, fringed in drips– its angry head pointing to the tunnel entrance like an obscene directional sign.  And underneath it, a white skull, and the words, “Die Smiling.”  A news broadcast last night flashed the same words, written across the cannon of a U.S. Army tank stationed in Saudi Arabia.

I hadn’t realized how deeply you’ve penetrated the universal subconscious.

I miss you, despite everything.  But you knew that all along, didn’t you?

I am naked on my old bed, lying in front of my grandmother’s mirror which I had dragged across the length of America.  This antique, which I had hoped would give me a sense of continuity of self, has become bug fodder.

The purple trails on my left arm look like creeping vines preserved between the pages of a book.  They remind me of your last touch.

My legs are wide open.  I am looking into my sex in the mirror, this ugly, ragged, raw thing, this molten toothless, hungry mouth, surrounded by ringlets of auburn and flame.  I am trying to see my body through your eyes.  I am trying to imagine why this part of me provokes such desire in you.

Is this the mystery of sex?  The tug of discordant emotions; the objective repulsiveness of body parts and the instinct that forces us to connect in spite of disgust.  Our romance has been so compelling for much the same reasons.  I see and understand how loathsome you are, and yet I can not resist you.

I keep saying no to you, but I keep writing anyway.  It was a no that is really a yes.  When you threaten me, you ruin the game.  I must not be coerced into participation.  This is, after all, my story too, and you can not use it as a weapon against me.  I already created this story once, by living it.  Nothing you can do to me between these sheets is worse than what I have done to myself, willingly.

No.  I will not finish the script for you.

There will be no script to send with this letter.  I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t write you into bed with another woman and pretend that I am she.

If you surmise that a test is in progress, you are correct.  But you are not the one being tested.  I fully appreciated the risks involved in dealing with you.  I find myself in troubled circumstances; stoked in ways I had not anticipated; too many embers of what you had set aflame are still inside me, still smoldering.  What choices are open to me?

I feel the way I did that night in Hightstown, an antique straight razor in one hand, watching the beat of my pulse, thinking about all the futures that might be.  My scars now obscure the tracery of life that once was so visible.  All the unfulfilled potential haunted me, and will haunt me the rest of my life, like the child we aborted.  I sit debating whether I would, with a pen stroke, curettage her unconceived siblings.

Though I should be the one negotiating terms of surrender, I am delivering an ultimatum.  I sense you are especially vulnerable to me, right now, despite your Swan.

As John Holmes said, there is a way you can have me back.  You must change into someone else.

How much faith do you have in me?  Are you willing to let me change you into someone else?  Would you believe whatever I ask you to believe, no matter how ridiculous?  Would you let me unglue the atoms of your brain with my tale?  Would you plunge into depths of absurdity and terror so profoundly disorienting that you laugh and tremble at the same time, and you think you have gone mad?  Would you place yourself at the mercy of whatever lies I choose to tell, even if it leaves you dazed and wondering whether altered consciousness has been wrought by a drug slipped into your wine, or the by the chemical changes of your brain decomposing?

Are you willing to accept love as your only reality?  Are you willing to worship according to my dictates?  Are you willing to let me destroy you?




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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