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Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 34 « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

Make love to me in her presence.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 34

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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

March 20, 1991

Dear Phoenix:

Swan and I had been using her place in Martha’s Vineyard as home base.  Dodging scut work I didn’t feel like doing.  Playing.  Delaying.

I made arrangements to lease Lovehollow.  After months of what my lawyer called the title search from Hell.  I can’t figure out what the fuck was so complicated and expensive.  Maybe someday you can explain it to me.

Every time I asked to so-called owners about the story behind the place, they changed the subject.  Acting like the truth involved some embarrassing family secret.  Like they were afraid that the truth would put me off their overpriced lease.  But after awhile I got the feeling they had no idea about the history of the place.  The mystery act was a cover-up.  Maybe they have no more claim on Lovehollow than you and I did when we lived there.

The Lotus was packed and ready for the trip to the Pan Handle to check the place out when the postman showed up.  We almost didn’t get your letter in time.  We had planned to hit the road much earlier, but our good intentions got way-laid.

On the road, on our way to Lovehollow, Swan sorted through our mail.

Swan asked, “What does all this mean for us, Die?  What’s gonna’ happen when you have to deal with Phoenix?”

I said to Swan, “You and I blend like a vodka martini, while the only cocktail Phoenix and I approximate is a Molotov.”

“There are similar ex’s in my past.  Well– only one.  No, two.  Three.  Maybe three.  Guys I can’t face without fireworks.”

“Phoenix and I have that history.”

She reached into her handbag and brought out a pack of Balkan Sobranies.  “Have us both.”  One gold tipped cigarette came to her lips.  Then she thought better of it, and pitched it into the night.

“Cloning is beyond my budget.  Bigamy isn’t doable against the backdrop of what some might call a high profile media event and others would call a scandal.  Besides, I doubt I could handle you and Phoenix both.  Not even I could do it.”

“I meant that I could be her sometimes.”

An awkward silence followed.  Occasionally the engine would cough, forcefully, deliberately, like it was being tested for an inguinal hernia.

Swan said, “Iream taught me some of his secret ways of turning into someone else.  I can push the right buttons to run the personality program.  He taught me some of his secrets.  I could be Phoenix, sometimes.”

Pliny once said there can only be one Phoenix on Earth at a time.  It was one of your favorite quotes, but I didn’t tell Swan.

That’s when Swan zeroed in on your letter.

She assigned herself the task of reading aloud, doing her very best Phoenix imitation.  I let her.  I was functioning on no sleep.  I didn’t care anymore.  Almost.

I didn’t know what surprises lurked inside the perfumed envelope.

The Lotus went topless.  Swan had to shout sometimes so I could hear over the roar of the wind and the drone of the tires.

When she was done, she looked at me, shaken.  “Oh Shit, Die.  What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.  You can never tell with Phoenix.”

“Do you think it is true?”

She sounded pissed off and threatened.  Still shuffling through the pages of the perfumed letter.  Rereading key passages to herself.  Muttering.  I had a bad feeling about the tunnels that had swallowed Swan’s train of thought.

Her question caught me off guard.  Was it true?  The word was starting to get up my crack like a wedgie.

“No.  I don’t think it is true.  Sounds more like one of her wet daydreams.  A posh setting.  Littered with personal symbols.  A touch of romance.  A touch of danger.  A touch of surreal absurdity.  A violent climax.  A rape fantasy doesn’t surprise me.  Exactly the kind of stories she always used to pawn off as true.”

“But part of it is true, isn’t it, Die?  I recognize the house.  You do, too.  This is Iream’s place.  Phoenix has been seeing Iream.  Oh God… do you think she killed him?”

“No.  I don’t think so.  I don’t.  But then… I don’t know for sure.”

“What a letter.  What a crazy thing.  What a mess…”

I said to Swan, “The time has come for me to come clean. I have something to tell you.  Iream and I had this whole thing planned.  Yeah, it was sort of a swap meat.  Awhile back, I said Iream Insider wanted to use his real name in Porno, but couldn’t.  He couldn’t because his real name is John Holmes.”

“I knew that.  How are you going to tell Phoenix?”

I shrugged.  “This way, right here.  In Dialogue.  In this letter.  Besides, it’s something she already guessed.”

Swan shook her head sadly, just as you are probably doing as you read this letter.

Bear in mind, Phoenix, I thought I lost you.  Forever.  You told me many many many times we would never get back together.  Otherwise, I would have not done this.

Johh a/k/a Iream and I have been swapping women much the same way me and Jay used to back in the old days.  Of course, Iream is much better at this than Jay ever was.

I wouldn’t have attempted this swap meat if I didn’t think John would be good for you.  I told you, I love John.  If I can’t have you, I would rather you be with someone good.  There were times, when we improvised scenes from The Flick just to see how they played, John sounded so much like Jay it made me feel I owed him something, a long unpaid debt.  When I was writing our Flick, I mixed up old banter I had with Jay years ago with banter I was having with Iream while I plotted this swap.  Some of Jay’s lines got put in my mouth and vice versa.  Iream’s lines weren’t always Jay’s.  My lines weren’t always mine.  Right now, I couldn’t say for sure who said what or when.  I reported the truth, but in disguise.  Here’s the bottom line.  I agreed to a swap.  You for Swan.

What went wrong?  Beats the fuck out of me.  I don’t know if Iream got carried away with his role, or if his role carried away Iream.

I said to Swan, “I think Phoenix figured out my swapping scheme and now she’s trying to fuck with my head.”

Phoenix, please tell me you you’re scamming me back to fuck with my head.  Phoenix, tell me you didn’t really shoot John.

There was nothing but the roar of the wind and the drone of the tires.  And the radio.  Noticeable for the first time because it wasn’t being overshadowed by Swan’s sultry voice.   The radio played soft and inconspicuous.  Endless combinations of public domain riffs oozed out.  Beat to beat.  Turning the moment to nebulosity.  Love as the gist of background music interrupted every now and then by love as the gist of commercials.

“How are you going to deal with this?”

“I don’t know what to do.  Not call the cops, I think.  Face it together, whatever, with you.  I feel stuck to you.  Superglued, so close, so tight I can’t pull myself away without ripping off my skin.  We have to deal with it together.”

She looked at the highway whizzing by like she was being forced to decide how to land on it.  “Are you talking about obligation?  Are you trying to avoid using the L-word.”

“Of course I love you.  I love you more than anyone, from the very first moment, that whole love at first sight routine with multicolor floating valentines and cupid arrows and whole string sections of cosmopolitan orchestras exploding with syrupy refrains, and minstrels spouting hallmark doggerel, the kind of happening I used to put down as chick porno.  Yeah, I love you.  You are the one, the only absolute one, like what physicists call a singularity, a black hole that sucks up my life and swallows everything.”

“Are you talking to me, or Phoenix?”

The same tourist checkpoints have been laid all over the continent in a way that lets you ramble over hundreds of miles and never leave home.  The road back to Lovehollow offered faltering neon signs.  Truck stops.  Motels equipped with cable and satellite dishes where no one sleeps.  And nudie bars so full that you would think every idle penis in the land had taken to the interstate that night.  A roadkill aesthetic graces the architecture.

“Should we turn back?  Call the cops?”

“No. No cops. Not yet.  Something about this story rubs me the wrong way.”

“You believe Phoenix no matter what she says.  Even when you know she’s lying.”

I shut up.

“We’ll find Phoenix and find out what really happened, maybe, if we can do some looking around and get some source of information other than what she tells us.  Better not to call the cops.  Not yet.”

I kept telling myself that with you, no one can ever tell what’s real and what’s not.

We passed drive-thru restaurants that promote chicken with a reverence once reserved for burgers.  The same kind of venerable jingles and logos.  The shift in the appetites of American meat eaters has caused whole new towns to spring up along the southern roads you and I used to travel.  All the commerce centers around chicken abattoirs.

Migrant hordes of non-union, minimum-wage chicken workers choked the freeways going from town to town.   Gypsies riding Harlies.  Or their extended thumbs.  Chicks hunting for paychecks to blow.  Itinerant torch girls and peelers by night, who slaughter a different kind of cock by day.

White feathers floated thick in my headlights.  Made me feel like I was driving through a Christmas ad or a pillow fight.  The smog left a greasy film of burnt poultry fat on the windshield.

Swan said, “You need to pull into the next service plaza.  You’re on E.”

“You’d be surprised how far I can go on E.”

We passed a string of service plazas, their gas pumps impotent, bone dry as we say in the biz.  No one presented to offer assistance, no matter how cool I acted or presented that big tipper image.  Each place had a veneer of regulated neglect. Tincture of the look that gives trailer parks and diners their sameness, their style, their aura of timelessness.  Tincture of Oldsmobiles on cinder blocks, looking like totems of a lost romance.  It took a while for me to register the fact that these patterns of disrepair, these abandoned service stations, were not mere symptoms of highway entropy.  These were monuments to the void.  Lovehollows of the road.

“But what about Iream?” asked Swan.  “What if he’s hurt and needs help?”

“Do you even know where that house is?”

“No.  Don ‘t you?”

“I don’t even know what state it’s in.  Iream always made sure I was drunk, or stoned as hell, whenever he took me there.  Blindfolded with chemicals.  He keeps the location secret.  His fortress of solitude.”

“What if he’s hurt?  What if he’s dying?”

“This whole thing is one of his tricks.  It has gotten too weird to be real.  I’m sure of it.  All stage magic.  Or Phoenix fabulation.”

“I hope so.  I really hope so.  Because if Phoenix has told us the truth, Iream’s dead.  Most likely.”

“Yeah.  If Phoenix told the truth…  If!”

“Yeah.  She could be lying.  Or crazy.”

The idea seemed to make her feel better.  “I’m going to let you decide what’s best.  You do whatever.  We can deal with it.  What ever comes.  The 3 of us will deal with it.  Or maybe the 4.  Oh, God, I hope it’s the 4.  I trust you, Die.  I trust you to take good care of Phoenix, and to take good care of me, too.”

And it didn’t dawn on me until much later that whatever Swan did to help you, Phoenix, had nothing to do with trust.  Or letting me call the shots.  She did what was best for Phoenix because she was forgetting who she was.

Bitter past experience taught me not try the adjacent country dirt mazes.  I stuck to the turnpike.  Swan fell asleep, which meant I didn’t have to court her illusions anymore.  Your letter would make Swan alternately challenged, pissed off, and horny over the days to follow.  I debated whether to tell her what was going on in my head.  There are those who say that keeping sexual secrets makes them fester into obsessions, that couples should discuss flirtations, even attractions.  Turn them into something shared rather than something private.  Which makes perfect sense if you want your electrify your romance.  Some couples get a charge out of jealousy.  And some use the charge of jealousy like it’s a credit card.  Charging their romance into bankruptcy.  So I just ruminated, with nothing to distract me but the swaying of the gas gauge.

When I hit Willoughby County, I left the turnpike.  The sight of familiar ground relaxed me.  Filled with memories and old associations, I no longer felt any concern at all about the residue of prehistory sloshing around in the gas tank.  Or the lack of it.

On past the witch tree.  Past the fields of stud horses sleeping upright.  Swan slept.  Not even the jarring rumble of the dirt roads could wake her.

When we arrived at Lovehollow, the gas gauge suddenly shot upright, fully erect.  Something had endowed me with new reserves.

The place had been fixed up.  Sort of.  A single coat of lurid pink, a color usually associated with trim, had been slapped over the whole place.

I got out of the car.  Went up the creaking porch steps.  I opened the front door.  Pockets of old, waiting air broke loose and the strong smell of sex breathed in my face.  Fresh and potent.  The shock of returning hit me.  Along with the toxic buzz of sleep deprivation.

All the furniture had been removed.  So had the trinkets, the toys, the mementoes.  Without its ornaments, Lovehollow seemed like a frame for petrified emptiness.  A museum of vacuums I could fill with my waning memories.  My penis stirred like a divining rod every time I approached a place where you and I had made love.  Almost everywhere.  The foyer where we broke the couch.  The dining room where you used to prop your left foot up on the heavy oak table and raise your ass to me.  The master bedroom where you once challenged me to keep you in a state of non-stop orgasm for a full hour, and I gave you two, or at least it seemed that way to me.  The staircase where we made our own wet and sloppy fireworks on the 4th of July.  You can still see the stains.  Especially the one shaped like an explosion.  The big bang.

And then I saw the blood.  Maroon and rust colored splatters in what used to be the living room.  Bare footprints, deep brown, placed like a dance lesson for someone learning how to stumble.

The footprints led to the kitchen.

The place was empty.  With the notable exception of a refrigerator that hadn’t been there before.  It was a big thing.  Old.   With a bloody handprint on the white enamel door.  Rust colored, like the other stains, only this stain was cracked and caked like the surface of an old oil painting.

Who the fuck had been bleeding in Lovehollow?

The refrigerator dominated the otherwise vacant kitchen.  It was running on no apparent power source.  Like it ran on will and stubbornness.  A quick inventory told me that the previous house guest, maybe the one who lost so much blood, had left behind  many lobsters, all of them rotten, a salami that still seemed edible, bananas, ditto, mayo, several sweaty bottles of Dulcet Lyre, assorted vegetables, wrapped and rotting, and one box of Arm and Hammer baking soda.  The shelves were moist and rusty.  I helped myself to a bottle, and carried a second back to the car.

Armed with booze, I risked waking Swan.  This is a woman who hates to have her sleep disturbed, no matter what the circumstances.

Her green eyes slit open.  It took her a few minutes to realize where she was.

“So this is the big deal?”

I nodded.

We went in together, and surveyed the place room by room.  First the big, stripped living room.  Some modest effort had been made to buff the termite frescoed floors, but it only filled the grids with a lighter, dustier shade of their own raw matter.     We continued through the strange corridors.  Up the teetering staircase that flaunted its risks like an old hooker who knows she’s got no charm left but sleaze.  Swan’s bone hard heels echoed with unexpected hollowness.  It gave a sense of how fragile the house had become.  Like it was being held together by nothing more than its new coat of pink paint.  Old disasters had embedded themselves.  Waiting to form the basis of disasters yet to be.  The obvious dangers, like the possibility of the roof falling in or the floors giving way didn’t seem to bother Swan too much.  She got off on the way the house was crumbling in her wake.

On the top story, she started to strip, old peacock feathers flying around her.  When she was naked, except for stiletto heeled boots, I searched her for some trace of the alleged reformed loser.  You never saw such musculature on such slender legs, like an anorectic bodybuilder.  She was strutting around, spindly as a new born foal, yet with a sense of balance that mocked every law of physics, except for the one no one has figured out yet.  The one you think is God.

“I feel Phoenix out here.  Her presence feels threatening and angry.”  She trembled for a second, in a kind of put on way.  I wondered if she was picking up on the sex smell.  “I can feel her watching us.”

I yelled, “PHOENIX!”  I looked around.  Shrugged.  But I also felt something.

So who was out there, lingering?  I don’t want to use the word ghost.  Maybe just my past.  Coming back at me.  With a vengeance.  But there is a resonance in Lovehollow I can’t describe.  An imprint.  Old events preserved, like whatever it was that used to happen to the past back in the days before they could digitalize it.  I think I got used the house’s creepy sensations after living with them for so long.  I didn’t notice them until I left and stayed away and came back.  Something in the air felt heavy and overbearing.

I said, “Phoenix isn’t here.”

“This is where she was coming.”

So where were you?  Just in my head?  Or hiding somewhere in our old haunt.  I could imagine your showing up here.  Finding the emptiness.  Facing the memories.  Slashing your wrists, not because you felt like ending it all, but to piss me off.  A typical Phoenix-like indulgence.  All overstatement.  Tasting the edge.  The blade.  Raising red plumes while you danced out the fire of your life.  A great pumping.  Liquid inferno.  Splattering your rage.

Yeah, I could see you pulling a stunt like that.

But I could just as easily see you splattering the place with paint or chicken blood.  And hiding somewhere so you could watch me react.

To see what I would do.

I looked around.  Scoping out the shadows.  I saw nothing.  But I felt eyes on me.  Someone watching.  An invisible audience.  Like the feeling I get when I’m in the studio and the cameramen have hidden themselves well.

I said to Swan.  “It feels like she is here.  I does.  I know what you mean.  But for me, I could just be memories.”

“It feels like she has been soaked into the place.  Past, present, future.  It’s all a fraud.  Everything that happens makes a mark that never fades.  All here, forever.”  She was off on some wild tangent I couldn’t follow.  Trying to imitate something told to her by a famous self-improvement guru on the prowl.  Only it came out in Swan language.  A kind of nonsense.  But it got me thinking about the months that lay ahead.  Old events would be recreated.  Right here.  Where they occurred.  Recreated in a way that would endure.  But she was talking about something else, whatever it was.

Swan composed herself on the floor, against a backdrop of stain.  Maybe she thought it was just paint.  Or maybe she sensed it might be something vital that leaked out of her rival.

Swan said, “Make love to me in her presence.”

—–

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.   His critical writing for Rain Taxi Review of Books can be found at:
www.raintaxi.com/online/2011summer/secretserviceoperator.shtml‎

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