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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

It doesn't matter what is true, only what works. It should be the intellectual motto for the 21st Century.

Serialization Sunday: The Flick – Chapter 14

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

October 5, 1990

Dear Die,

I am wet and I am cold.

For hours in my apartment, I sank into paranoia and depression, trying desperately to puzzle out what I am doing with my life, or rather, what you are doing with it.  I feel as if I am letting you manipulate me.  I feel exploited.  Somehow you have made me responsible for you again.  I still haven’t figured out how I acquired this obligation to secure your future in your chosen profession.  Nor do I understand how that obligation has compounded to include your future happiness, your ability to love, and perhaps your very life itself.  It reminds me of the days I supported both of us, waitressing with my Princeton degree while you stayed home to write.

If this is a trick, Die… if this is one of your confidence schemes… I swear, I will destroy you.

I went walking in the rain.  I wandered aimlessly for hours, trying to shock myself back to my senses, trying to shake off the suspicions that consume me.

The sky was varicose with lightning.  I wantonly stayed out in the open anyway, just one of the many irrational risks I have enjoyed of late.

I don’t fully understand why your thinly disguised misogyny has ceased to be irritating.  Perhaps because it implies a lack of emotional attachment to the harem that replaced me.  I wish I didn’t draw some private satisfaction from knowing you’re as lonely in your own way as I am in mine.  In between the lines, you are asking to get back together.  The answer is no.  It will always be no.  It nearly killed me when I made love to you the very first time.  I think it will kill me for certain if we get back together.  I am not as angry at you as I once was.  But I am vindictive enough to enjoy being asked, and to enjoy saying no.

Curiosity about Jayne Payne drove me to cultivate library skills far in excess of what was required for legal research.  So far I’ve found nothing but scratched out entries and torn out pages.  Who the hell is Jayne Payne?

My grades have already suffered as a result of the distraction you caused.

I feel guilty every time I stray from my studies to indulge in this intercourse; but this pornography project, as impulsive, foolish, and dangerous as it is for me, provides some measure of release for otherwise repressed emotions.  It is a hedge against loneliness, and a compromise with my impulsive, artistic nature.  Don’t take that as a sign of approval of the film making process you’ve described.  This lifestyle suits you, despite your ironic protestations; it is so funny and sad and repulsive and arresting.  Your letters console me when the study of law oppresses with its tedium.  Your letters console me when I find myself craving the companionship of fellow artists, and when I get distracted by unfulfilled yearnings.  Your letters console me.  They give me a glimpse of how low I might sink if I were to surrender to my old inclinations.


“Reel the damn fish in.”

“It is too strong.  I have to play with it until it is all tired out.”

“It is a big one,” says Phoenix.

Jay and Grace watch while Die and Phoenix share a prolonged embrace, the pole quivering between them.

“Resistance is all but depleted,” says Phoenix wearily.

Finally, a splash rips the waters as Dieter extracts a blue and silvery prize.  It was his toils that landed this fish; Phoenix had merely traveled on his brawn.  And yet she feels the catch is hers, if by no other right than its attachment to her line.

“God Damn!” yells Jay.  “Will you look at the size of that thing!”

The fish dangled above the waves.  Later, it would weigh in at over a hundred pounds.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” says Dieter.  “It isn’t a swordfish or a tarpon or a wahoo.  Maybe it is what they call a Bone Fish.”

“Bone Fish?  I’m not talking about the fucking fish, Die.  Karen always used to complain about your being too big– but damn!”

Dieter blushes, a great torrent of maroon beating upon his cheeks, visible even under his golden tan, as he realizes how obvious he is in his wet cut-offs.  “I’m sorry… I can’t help it…”

Jay gives Dieter the gaff.  He gaffs the fish.  While the fish flips around and struggles to breathe, Jay searches through his tackle box for a pair of pliers so he can pry the hook loose.  After a half a minute, he abandons the search, leaves the hook in place and cuts his line with a Swiss army knife.  Using the line, he hangs the fish over the side of the boat, as if it were Hemingway’s marlin.

Grace says, “It is perfectly obvious to everyone, even Jay and I, what is going on between you and Phoenix.  It doesn’t bother me, Die.”

“You are pissed off, Grace, for no reason.”

“I’m not pissed off.  Why should I be?  I love you, Die.  I love you a lot, but you know, there are two kinds of loves in the world.”  Her eyes narrow.  “Those you want to only want to marry and those you only want to want to fuck.  Yours is not the kind of love any woman would want to marry.”

Dieter tries to act cool, though he is visibly upset and embarrassed.  “Marriage, who needs it, when you’re in love?”

Jay says, “There is a lot of heat going on between the four of us.  What happens if you start out with a good pairing and then meet its match?  All it takes is for someone to be straight up.”

Dieter says, “It’s a pretty speech.  As you might have guessed, girls, it isn’t new.  That’s the pitch we used to use, in the old days.  What are you after, Jay?”

Jay shrugs.  “I feel like I’m watching this scene from a remote place.  It plays like a movie I’ve seen many times before.  I see what’s coming.”

“Is it a porno movie?”

“Things will not go well for any of us if we are not totally honest right now.”

Jay gambles his love for Phoenix, and ultimately, his very life on the next question.  “Are you in love with me, Grace?”

“Oh, God, yes, yes, it was love at first sight.  But yours is not the kind of love any woman would only want for fucking,” says Grace.  Everyone laughs, except Jay.

Phoenix looks away, out toward the sea, where the sun has scattered its glare over the choppy waves, a path of golden tiles leading to the end of sight.  Almost absently, she added, “So what trick will you boys try now, since this attempt at a swap has failed?”


Eventually I found my way to the law library, where I should be studying instead of writing to you.  I am still very wet, shivering, dripping onto this letter, watching my words dissolve into watercolor washes as I write them.

The storm continues its rages.  Thunder makes the books tremble.  Lightning strobes through the windows, overwhelming the fluorescent lights inside.  The law library has turned a flaming blue.  The air is so charged, I can’t touch anything without provoking a spark.

I wonder if you will be able to read this letter, given the smeared and running ink, and the quaver of my trembling cursive.  Forgive me.  I am wet and I am cold.

Now I am surrounded by books about obscenity, in contrast to my apartment, where I am surrounded by obscenity itself.  These law books are as dull as the material in my apartment is repulsive, but the law books seem to provide an antidote for the strange mental states I’ve fallen into of late.

I have an answer to one of the first questions which you posed in connection with this project.  How do we insulate it from the criminal law process?  It probably can’t be done.  At least, not with any assurances.

In my constitutional law class, the topic of Obscenity arose last week.

The current body of law seems to have evolved from Justice Potter Steward’s oft quoted concurrence in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio.  He was probably being snide when he said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kind of material I understand to be obscene, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so… but I know it when I see it.”

In 1973, the case of Miller v. Arizona dressed Potter Steward’s methodology in formal attire and made it the law of the land by announcing the following tripartite standard:

“a.  Whether the work taken as a whole appeals to prurient interests; and

B.  Whether the work, taken as a whole, depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and

C.  Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, or scientific value.”

Juries must apply this standard on a case by case basis.

How am I to write around such guidelines, riddled as they are with subjectivity?

My professor, Galen Weiss, presented the Miller Test in its black letter form, without opportunity for discussion.  She treated Miller as the mere predicate for the zoning cases, which she then examined in great detail, and with relish.  Pre-Miller cases were ignored.  Post Miller cases were skimmed and summarized under the general rule that efforts to limit the application of the Miller Test have not passed constitutional muster.  She stifled debate with intimidating attacks that went far beyond her usual pedantic brutality.

You must understand, the process of making attorneys has little to do with learning specific laws, for these can change at any moment.  The real purpose of law school is to train students to think like lawyers.  The experience more closely resembles behavior modification than learning.  Teachers regard students in an adversarial manner — treating them as ruthlessly as any future opponent will in the court room.  It is a kind of academic boot camp.  Like fraternity hazing, law school invokes rituals of humiliation and ego destruction that bond the one in control to the one being controlled, while priming a pattern certain to repeat.  They bully away one’s sense of individuality; subverting the self to a greater design.

The object of this conditioning is nothing less than the erosion of one’s sense of morality.

I am quite serious about this.  I said to my Jurisprudence professor, “I get the feeling that lawyers don’t care what’s true, only what works.  Now that’s an approach I understood and accepted back in the days when I was an artist– but it is unexpected and disconcerting as hell in the context of law.”

He laughed.  “It doesn’t matter what’s true, only what works.  Oh, I like that.  Get used to it, Ms. McCullah– because you’re going to find it in every academic discipline, from Psychology to Physics, from Linguistics to Medicine, from Anthropology to Law.  It doesn’t matter what is true, only what works.  It should be the intellectual motto for the 21st Century.”

They play games with the law called legal fictions, blatant fabrications that substitute for reality.  Law can be a synonym for untruth.  Someone legally dead may be alive.  Someone legally blind may be able to see.  What is a mother-in-law?  Not one’s mother.

Lies that are true.

Like art, Law requires the willing suspension of disbelief.  Law transforms reality through a series of incantations, a form of mask, a form of magic.

Instead of being seekers of truth, we are supposed to end up as advocates for our clients.  Morality flows from the operation of the system, and our respective roles within the system, and not from personal bias, according to the party line.  Lawyers then, are a kind of whore.  Our respective careers have something in common after all.  This is not to suggest some flaw or turpitude on the part of the legal profession through the use of a sexist metaphor.  Bear in mind that the moral neutrality of legal training serves a broader purpose in a democratic society, ensuring that there will be a champion for any cause, no matter how unpopular.  Otherwise, there would be no one to defend murderers, rapists, and pornographers.

You see, after a year of conditioning, I defend the system on reflex.  Cold and wet.  My hand won’t stop shaking, which is why my scrawl is starting to look like the tracks of a polygraph test.

I am far more temperate in discussing my attitudes toward the legal system and lawyers in general when I am talking to anyone but you.  You alone know me well enough, and all my secret hidden selves, to understand why I have trouble relating to my fellow law students.  Or do you?  Perhaps you think I should fit right in, now that you know this is a training ground for whores.

The law library cools my emotions, clarifies my thoughts.  This was why I came to law school, to change my view of the world, to bury the person I had been.  Ashes to ashes.  I can distance myself from our Flick.  I can watch.  The past rolls past.

I find, to my dismay, that my involvement in this film may subject me to prosecution for a wide variety of state and federal crimes.  Any conviction would have a disastrous result on my intended law career.  Even a well-publicized trial that ended with an acquittal would yield the same effect.  Who would want to be represented by a pornographer?

For some reason, the risks make the project more compelling.  As  always, I test the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and as always, I do not stop until I have gone too far.

There was no mistaking the haste in which Professor Weiss turned away from Obscenity to the subject of Flag Burning.  I know what I have to do.  I will have to challenge Professor Weiss in open class for this omission.  You have no idea how dangerous this challenge will be.  Professor Weiss is formidable, and intimidating, no older than myself.  While I was wasting my time writing trashy, unsalable screenplays and novels with you, Galen Weiss was clerking for Sandra Day O’Connor.  While I was out trying to prove to myself that you were easily replaceable, and finding, to my dismay, that you were not, she was writing a horn book on the commerce clause.  While I was undergoing compulsory treatment, and stoned out of my senses on psychotropic medications, she was arguing capital cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would never think to attack her on a point of law.  But this is different.  To a certain extent, we will be fighting on my turf.  Of the two of us, I am sure I possess the greater knowledge of art and aesthetic issues.  But she will be absolutely merciless.

I have work to do now, a lot of work, if I am going to confront Galen Weiss.  My handwriting is no longer legible in any event.  I can’t stop shaking.

Soon I will have leave this light, and go back out to the dark and the wet, to my apartment filled with obscenity and mementoes, my displaced Lovehollow.

I am wet and cold.



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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