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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

I figure if one side or the other has to be destroyed in order to make a romance work, it should be the female side. That has been history. But I am tired of destroying women.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 31

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

December 27, 1990

Dear Phoenix,

So now you know something about Jayne Payne?  What you don’t know is that the story carries a curse.  It has touched you.  Her story of a rite of passage.  Jizz Biz insiders know that her name is to be used among insiders only.  Otherwise, it brings bad luck.  It is an initiation rite, like the initiation rites you told me that law students go through, only this is what’s rite for what I’m up to.  The part about bad luck and superstition is part of the rite.  I’ll lay it on you.

The time has come for you to be among the initiated.

In a Playboy interview in 1973, Curtis Ensor made the mistake of referring to “A harmless bonding ceremony meant to ensure a lifetime of friendship… something on the order of fraternity hazing.”  For a time, when anti-porn feminists and right wing politicians wanted to play up the evilness of the industry, they would run the Ensor comment in tandem with the first hand account of those rituals taken from Jayne Payne’s suicide note, written three years later.

And so for a time, Jayne Payne, one of our own, belonged to the Feminists and right wing politicians.  Like she was their personal property.  A martyr of exploitation.  A porno Joan of Arc.  Burned at the stake.

But the industry found a way to appropriate her back.  Mostly through predatory use of copyright and trademark laws.  The industry made it impossible to tap any info at all about Jayne Payne.  We wiped her out of the memory of man.  We are the keepers of her story.  It is for us alone.  We have her ashes, too.

Your teacher read from a rare book.  Some porno collectors might pay a lot for it.

Jayne was one of the industry’s high profile tragedies.  Her’s was hardly an isolated case.  Starlets flame out all the time in this business.  Not so many with Jayne’s panache.  She had huge, waif eyes that seemed wet all the time.  But she would never be caught crying.  She hated the industry.  Hated fucking for the cameras.  Her old films look like acts of martyrdom.  And yet, she made a great show of accepting her fate.  She posed as someone with enough inner strength to shoulder any sorrow.  Blessed with a victim’s charm.  You couldn’t help but love her.

She specialized in bittersweet comedies.  Maybe they hadn’t been written to be bittersweet, but that was the way they played after she got a hold of them.  Her doleful, deadpan delivery set a different slant on otherwise crude jokes.  The critics likened her to Chaplin.  They called her the Little Tramp.  She died in 1976.  The stories I’ve heard from the people who knew her could break your heart. I genuinely repent of all the times I ogled her pictures when I was in high school.

Jayne experimented with every drug on the controlled substances list.  In deference to her upper class roots, she cultivated a snobbish appetite for very expensive dope, which she consumed in very expensive quantities.  Her friends think she wanted to waste herself.  At least to the point where men would no longer be turned on by the way she inspired pity.

Pregnant, with no way to prove paternity, apart from proof on film of 27 contenders, broke in more than one sense of the word, going through withdrawal rather than risking the depletion of a stash she knew was large enough to be fatal, Jayne spent the last four days of her life writing a confession about her career.

The short version runs like this:  On Jayne’s first day on the set, the director chained her splay legged to a bed and told her to wait for her co-star.  So she waited.  An hour went by.  She started to wonder if the crew went off and got high somewhere and forgot about her.  This was, after all, not the most reliable crowd.

She was wondering.  Starting to get worried.  A full grown Great Dane ambled onto the set.  Jayne screamed, suddenly afraid that her co-star was the dog.  She had been warned of such kink.  The animal started sniffing her.  Licking her thighs, as he had been trained to do.

She struggled to get free of the chains.  The dog jumped up on the bed, happily wagging a huge doggie bone.  The whole crew was watched from a distance.  Snickering.

Jayne went completely out of her mind with terror, thinking that the dog was actually going to fuck her.  At the last minute, a rescue was staged.  Her real co-star stormed onto the scene.  Armed only with his bare fists and a pointy weapon.  He seemed very brave.  A naked knight against a dragon.

After this set-up, Jayne was more than happy to do her first scene.  Anything was better than being fucked by the damn dog, and the rescue added a touch of romance.

For the most part, these rituals are gone — though I’ve heard rumors they persist in some of the darker regions of the industry, of which there are many.  For the most part, the ritual has been replaced by the story of the ritual, which is a ritual in its telling.

So now you have been initiated.

Like it or not, you are one of us.

It is like the commitment you were always looking for.

There’s a way for you and me to be together without destroying The Flick.  We have to act quick.  Time grows short.  I tried to call your parents to get your new phone number.  They saw through my disguised voice.  They hung up.  So call me.  I need to talk to you.  Time is of the essence.  As you lawyers say.

You haven’t really changed.  Everything you do is elegant. Purposeful.  Veers toward disaster.

You hit me with a maybe.  A calculated ambiguity.   A tactic.  Like the three years we didn’t talk to each other.  Sort of a test.  This is not the first time you’ve pulled the old come back to me routine.  With the tears and the helplessness act.  I fell for it many times.  I’m falling for it again.

Can I change into someone else?  Would I let you destroy me?  Fuck, no.  I’m not into domination.  You are not into submissive men.

You and me always figured we were temporary.  We kept stalling.  Dragging out the temporariness.  So what does it take for you to call it that great, once-in-a-lifetime-love that enjoys such a fine reputation (though I’ll be damned if I ever knew anyone who ever made it work)?  Is it a function of seasoning?  You find it when you reach the season in your life when too much of a good thing has worn you out.  You meet someone not totally awful.  Not bad looking either.  You just plop down.  Like when you’re dog-tired at the end of the day.  The television is on.  Doesn’t matter what’s playing.  It becomes a routine.

Or are there special combinations?  Powerful.   Crazy.  Irresistible.  Magic.  You can’t let go.  No choice in the matter.  You’re stuck.  Like characters caught in a formula romance.

You want me to get religion?  Be a lawyer’s husband?  Give up making porno movies?  Behave?  Like, stop looking down dresses?   Not tell dirty jokes at the Bar Association cocktails and church socials?

If I let you push me around that much, you would hate me.

I think you would like me better if I am myself.

And you should be yourself, too.

There are many different women who could make me happy. By being many and being different.  There is only one who could be the only one.

If you haven’t figured it out, that’s a proposal.  The one I never got around to making that night in Hightstown.  I should be more explicit.  Will you marry me, Phoenix?

Think what it would be like to hold each other again.  After so long.  It would be like the first time all over again.  We could preserve our love.  We could film it.  When we get back together, we can turn it into our first time.  Would you be ashamed to show the world what we do to each other?

This is NOT what I was up to all along.  Really, it is not.  I had something else in mind.  But this… this has that kind of inevitable feel to it.  Like what we should do.  How we should end.

All you have to do is be yourself.  You can take Swan’s place the way she would take yours.  You don’t have it in you right now.  But you have that potential.  Do you want to have it in you?

I hate to do this to you.  I truly do.  It must be done.  I have to play the Swan card so that you understand how little time is left, and how high the ante has been raised.  If you will forgive the poker metaphor.  I have to lay this card on the table.  My strong points are not what you would call tactfulness.  Or being responsible.  Or being considerate.  What I am missing in the way of tact, responsibility, and consideration, I try to make up with being frank.  My sense is that right now you are as much motivated by jealousy as you are by lust or nostalgia or romance or altruism, or what ever it is that motivates you every time we try to get back together.  You probably don’t realize how horny you used to get every time you caught another woman flirting with me.  You could never figure out what you wanted to do to my wandering eyes afterward.  Claw them out.  Or fuck them out.  So bringing up Swan might hurt my cause.  Or help it.

I figure if one side or the other has to be destroyed in order to make a romance work, it should be the female side.  That has been history.  But I am tired of destroying women. I am especially tired of destroying you.  How about if I promise never to destroy you again?  Let that be our compromise.  Don’t ask me to be the girl.

Now, Swan trusts me enough to let me destroy her.

In one week, Swan and I are bound for the Bram Stroker Award Ceremony.  This will be our first public appearance together.  Many photographers will be present.  From that point on, her life will change.  Lovely as she is, she will never sell another bar of facial soap.  Nor lingerie.  Nor jewelry.  Not even douches.  Not even toilet paper.  If she makes that kind of sacrifice for me, I won’t leave her for anything.  Not even for you.  Maybe I’m getting a conscience at this late stage in my life.  Or maybe I am really in love.  I will not destroy her.

One week, that’s all we have.  Up to that point, there’s no permanent damage.  Swan has broken lots of hearts.  So have I.  Until the end of the week, it is just another romance.  An ordinary romance.  Any ordinary romance can crash.  Until the end of the week, it is no big deal if this is just another love that died.  After the week’s end, I am hers.  Forever.

You and I know.  Down deep.  As deep as we both go.  We belong together.  We fight it.  We flirt around it.  We try to deny it.  But it is there in our souls.  Like a brand.  We tried to escape it.  We tried not talking to each other for three full years, and that didn’t work.  We can’t escape belonging to each other.  But if Swan does this thing for me, you will lose me, Phoenix.  Really lose me.  Really, really, for true and real forever lose me.  And it will not be like the night you got engaged to Bill West and I got engaged to June Whateverhernamewas for spite, and I came back to our place to get my stuff and ended up stuffing you instead.  This will be it, the butt, the cessation, the stop, the crown, the finis, the termination, conclusion, bottom, finale, the wind-up, the boundary, the limit, the posterior, the tail, the consummation.  The climax.  The end.  The last of Die and Phoenix.

The Swan song.

I can’t change for you.  I can’t be someone else.  I have to be myself.

Are you willing to be yourself?




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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