ACT I: THE DAMSEL
The girl is a peasant, and she’s all homely but comely, because every peasant girl in every story must be homely but comely, that’s just the way it goes, but this girl here: she’s neither a peasant nor a girl. Good news is that no one cares about technicalities like truth or fact, so long as she keeps on track with her comely sweetness—How sweet is she? Homegirl over here is all swish. She’s a grandslam at the bottom of the 9th. And she’s perfect the whole time. Just in case you don’t know, fly like that doesn’t happen naturally, she has to work it hard and then calorie count mania. Far as I care, might as well just keep on calling her the peasant girl. There’s no need to change her name, or even give her a name, she’s just some peasant girl, any plain as custard peasant girl, only she’s completely different. She is something completely different.
The peasant girl is on an odyssey. Well, maybe odyssey is too strong a word, a word with all this boring history and legacy and storytelling and magic—always with the fucking magic, like some goddess has to meet her meddling quota or a fairy god mother just bombs right in or pompous prince charming, as fucking if, there’s no magic IRL, ok?—and feats that challenge both the hero’s strength and his determination. No, odyssey is too legendary for the purposes of such a humble peasant girl, one with so much humility. But self-congratulatory or not, the peasant girl is on this odyssey, and her mobility is what makes her different from all those other peasant girls—her predecessors and sisters, a matrilineage of pretty peasant girls, each one rosy-cheeked and grinning naturally, mid-laugh, like Hummels brought to life, their bellyfires making the porcelain a real hazard, all these other peasant girls are at least fifty rungs under the peasant girl in beauty and sass—not that being a peasant girl is bad or anything. They’re quaint and provincial, sure, but what’s a peasant girl need with subways or toll roads or HOV lanes? Nothing, that’s what. Better that she just hunk stay put, nest, It’s just that they almost universally stay stagnant in both station and location, stagnant in both location and station. The one who makes it past the village line—unless she’s out chasing sheep or bringing her sick granny a basket cluttered with fresh apricots and white tea and the world’s most scrumptious biscuits—the one who escapes the photocopying of mother into peasant girl into mother into peasant girl is the aberration, the unexpected mutation of some very important something during the coding of her genes creating not just a homely but comely peasant girl—as all peasant girls are!—but a homely but comely peasant girl who also controls her own mobility. See, for example: Beauty. Beauty’s homeliness is tragic—every mistake that Beauty makes can be tied directly to her homeliness. Why? Well, to be frank? I don’t know. The author is trying to establish some sort of boundaries to contain my voice or he’s just trying to be clever here, it’s not within the parameters of my pay tax bracket to understand the author’s intentions. All I have to do is present them to you in some sort of pre-packaged manner. Besides, he’s on something of a tear. I’ve been trying to withhold, to not bother, to be entirely unobtrusive about my existence, but the author has gotten too excited, and now here I am, summoned, because someone has to be responsible for telling this story!—and her comeliness is her name on loop, a reminder, an atonal change: beauty as affliction, beauty as conspicuous, as reason for discrimination and bad luck. Yo, ok, let’s just wait a few minutes here while I jigsaw a plan because this aside is moving too far off and so I’ll pause here for a moment to allow the author a brief break: his tire is evident. He would not ordinarily let me take so many steps from his outline, his plan, such as, ahem, my emergence and continued existence as the storyteller. Such refinement in that title, don’t you agree? The Storyteller. The author thought me up and put me here for you, readers out there, I’m your storyteller, let me tell you a story, but here’s a quick lesson before we depart: the story I’m about to tell you once belonged to the author. He was boisterous and passionate as he slammed it, spoke it, screamed it, gmail chatted it, with Dionysian fervor. The story I’m about to tell you no longer belongs to the author. It’s mine. It’s a matter of translation, like he gives me information and I output information and maybe they’re similar and maybe they’re not. That’s just the nature of stories. And the story I’m about to tell you, once I tell it, it’ll be yours. Every story is an adaptation, a translation not of languages or words but perspective and imagination. Besides, the author’s first go at this story was hardly even meager. Think of me as a helper. Giving him advice: for instance, he should avoid ranting about such arbitrary topics like—and he’s back in control!—Yes, peasant girls only rarely make it free of their quaint townships, and the stories glorifying their journey to freedom belong to an exclusive genre reserved for children and degenerates: the fairy tale. The peasant girl is not composed of the substance of improbable magic and the reification of fanciful dreams. The peasant girl doesn’t need this supporting cast of pixie-dusted crutches to push her along. The peasant girl is on a journey, an odyssey, and it’s taken her a lifetime of tedium to begin, and so here she is, beginning, her step is firm and confident. She strides along all like she knows that resolution is on its way, like all the trials have been hung and the tribulations ashed and the denouement is slip-n-slide into a swimming pool full of goose feathers.
Problem is that she can’t know that resolution is on its way. It’s just not possible. Because this is the end—the peasant girl beginning her odyssey is the final destination, the last stop, end of the line everyone get out, there’s no happily ever after, just a little fucking peasant girl heading off on a journey, that’s the end, there’s no more after this point—which is to say: the only option is to go back to the beginning, wherever that might be, and because I’m such a total pearl, I’ll let you go, but only if you promise not to tell the peasant girl how her story ends. Deal? And so let us commence at the beginning, where all fine stories start, with the very first word.
O, author! I sing this hymn for you, for you with all your impotent and unimportant rage. Ok, I thought the whole Greek chorus thing was a neat idea, or, at least apostrophe, but I’m going to sacrifice style for substance, because this is important and I can’t risk getting you confused. Author, listen to me. You’re helpless. You need to accept that. Come now, rest your head and let me stroke your hair. There’s no need to be ashamed. I know you didn’t mean to get all aggressive and angry at the peasant girl, I know, but here’s the issue, the peasant girl didn’t do anything to make you angry. You were writing this story and you couldn’t keep things controlled and that made you all flustered, but rather than recognize your own faults and learn from their consequences, you vented. On a character. On your character. The character you intend to make the protagonist of this story. So, good job, author, you’ve alienated your protagonist and insulted your narrator, easy as mopping a floor with two hands. What? That doesn’t make sense? Well, let’s just say the atmosphere is sparking for war, and you, my dear, are in the deficit.
The peasant girl lives in a small house between three mountains. She is almost entirely enclosed, and the mountains rise to give the impression that there is nothing beyond their horizon: anyone who defeats the travail of mastering their peaks would ascend to the apex only meet a shattering disappointment. Imagine the satisfaction you’d feel, hours of struggle, your fingers layered with chalk and dirt and cuts, your shoulders and back vibrating that acid on out, you stand tall and proud—like a conqueror!— and roll back your neck. You savor that air, victory everywhere. The air’s light and cold, like illogically cold, and you open your eyes and see: a stunning view of void. Of nothingness. Beyond the horizon of the three mountains surrounding the peasant girl, there is nothing.
Or so the mountains would like to impress on the peasant girl.
Given, of course, that mountains are animate beings with enough capacity for rational and emotional thought as to arrive not only at conspiracy—the three mountains must work in concert if such a scheme were to be successful—but also at active manipulation—that is, the mountains know there is something beyond their horizon, but they aim to make the peasant girl believe that the opposite is the case.
Regardless, the mountains, intentional or not, succeed in fooling the peasant girl. It’d be surprising if she knew a Tootsie pop’s lick about anything beyond the mountains at all. The peasant girl knows her small house and the three mountains. There’s not much more for her to know at all.
Now if you were a cunning reader, you might challenge the narrator on her reliability or even the author for his sloppy worldbuilding skills, because, yes, you say, I noticed it too: directions there are four whereas mountains there are only three. You’ve taken geology, smartypants, or geography, whatever, or maybe you just paid attention during all those itchy Boy Scouts meetings, I’m not judging. But you called me on it, fine, best I can do is draw you a diagram, otherwise you’ll get lost in the math of it: yes, there are only three mountains, but they are perpetual motion machines, constantly creeping this way and that, as ephemeral as wind, and just as capricious. Some days, if the peasant girl were to use the mountains to gauge her rough geographic location—and I’m not talking anything like the precision or technology of GPS, more like: Is she still in the United States?; or, What coast is she closer to?; very rough general location kind of gauge—the sun would likely rise in the East and set on the very same mountain that not hours before was also East. The peasant girl isn’t the same smarty-pant geographer you are. On one hand, this is a good thing, sure, because the peasant girl will never endure the heartache of recognizing that the sun rises and sets in the same location because the landscape that ought to be stationary refuses sedation. On the opposite hand, it’s a bad thing because she’s just a completely hopeless case if she can’t even orient herself using something as elementary as cardinal directions. Oy!
The mountains are always moving because there is a path—a small and treacherous one, one haunted with ellipsis, in the chasm between those points resides all the terrors that cannot be spoken, terrors so frightening that they must be stricken from sight, from the possibility of imagination—and the path is the only way the peasant girl can leave. It is the singular exit. No other possibilities exist. You might now sympathize with these overworked mountains, whose only purpose—it would seem, if my understanding of the author’s intentions are clear, which is to say, by my analysis, that he intends to strip these objects, these three monstrous mountains, that he animated with thoughts and desires and goals of those very same thoughts and desires while keeping the goals right on track, which is to say that he is reobjectifying, bizarre—is to prevent the peasant girl from escaping. It is their duty, their obligation, their charge, to use the very essence of their being—the stuff of which they are made, namely: rocks, sand, boulders—as an impenetrable barrier, green light go on extreme means of prevention as needed, between the peasant girl and whatever lay beyond their unmountable walls. The mountains have become docile bodies, o author!
The peasant girl lives in a house in the center of a valley surrounded by three mountains. In the valley, there is only the peasant girl’s house and dirt. There are no trees for leisurely shade napping. There is no grass to tickle and prick against shoeless feet. There are no bushes for peepers to hide behind, no imported flowers, cultivated prettily to line the walkways, no wildflowers either. There is only the occasional weed, the lone resilient flora in residence, and it fights through layers of airless dirt just for a flippant kiss from the sun. As quickly as the weed bypasses the plane of the surface, the sun smothers its life, not intentionally, per se, more just that the weed was weak—forging upwards against gravity without the boost water would provide and it’s been a lifetime since the weed had extended its roots to expand with water, it was dehydrated, severely—but it kept on, bullying its way towards hope, towards the warmth, towards photosynthesis and health, and the weed finally makes it, after all that turmoil and struggle, and the sun didn’t know it was coming, wasn’t expecting company or maybe he would’ve lowered the strength of his rays, asked some clouds to hop on over for a nice shower, maybe the sun would’ve positioned himself just so to make a nice little rainbow for the weed to enjoy, like a welcome-to-the-world gift. But no, the sun didn’t know that there was any weed down there—not that the sun should be blamed, come now: why would the sun care about anything happening here? Humans and their exhausting solipsism! Get it? Like the sun is the root of solipsism and oh, never mind—so he went on doing what he was supposed to be doing, what he does all the time, which is shine himself on out, and really, it was no one’s fault that the weed died. Can’t blame the sun. Can’t blame the weed. Peasant girl doesn’t even factor in here, she exists in their ecosystem but she is not integral to it. It’s just that, um, it’d be one thing if this were one weed, but it’s not just one lonesome weed that fought its way up and got annihilated, no. Every day weeds try to perk on through, and that sun is without mercy.
Nature is mighty mighty cruel in your world here, author. The financial planner who told you to buy stock in nihilism was wrong, and I’m giving the big tip—wink wink—straight: sell and sell now. Sell it all, because first thing tomorrow, nihilism is going to be nothinged. It’s going to be over, save for the scowling faces of powerful men that nihilism will squander. Ok, fine, they shouldn’t have redirected all their savings and IRAs into such an unstable stock, but when it’s fire it’s fire, and that chump financial advisor gave those scowling powerful men the very same pitch that sold you, he did it with such practiced finesse, such sophistication in argument, that they had to buy, and so did you. He said, “Buy now, while it’s cheap!” Such a simple line, and it worked. On everyone. Don’t worry, you’re not exceptional. I don’t know about you, author, but this metaphor is becoming just about as much fun as watching someone meditate, so I’ll wrap this quick: You need to up the optimism, ok? I mean, unless your goal is to convince the reader to go kill herself on page seven. You should let her get to the next chapter at least. You should let her meet another character, show her your range, your reader should be hopeful right before you sack her with all your nihilism, your there’s no reason to try moral. It seems like that’s a merciful thing to do, not that I’d describe you as merciful, just look at what you did with that poor weed.
Furthermore, this weed excursion is way worse than watching someone meditate. I unilaterally decide to move this story forward. I would prefer to have your support in this matter, but please remember that it was your decision to endow me with the role of storyteller, and I take my responsibilities as oath—oath as in sacred agreement—and I need to make this clear to you, but I can’t think of a gentler way of phrasing this: You think that because you’re the author you have all the power, but the moment you devised me as the narrator, the story teller, you super fucked yourself. It’s like you took all your authority and everything and wrapped it in vellum and silk ribbon and handed it to me with a wink. See author, this stopped being your story back when you went dissing on fairy tales. Remember that back on page one? Well, why don’t you read through everything you’ve written? Then, I want you to go to the mirror in your bathroom and look at yourself. Pay attention to every detail: if your eyes hold any emotion at all, if your pores are emitting grease, if your lips are moist with waxy shine, if your cheeks look strained, if your forehead is tense, if your jawline releases before it tightens up again. This, author, is the moment you recognize what an asshole you are, a hypocrite, a failed fraud. Yes, author, you are a writer of fairy tales. You are currently working on a fairy tale, the type of story attractive solely to children and degenerates. You’re welcome. And now that all the logistics are settled, let us forge and forge swiftly. We are barely back to the beginning, and it’s a long trek forward to arrive at the present, and somehow, we’re on this tangent about weeds and the sun and let’s just get back to the description of the peasant girl so we can finally get some story all up in here.
The peasant girl lives in a valley between three mountains in a house made of mud. Despite the seeming limitations of the composition of her house, its structure is exquisite, an instant darling of Modernist architecture at its apex. The house, to be clear, is bomb. It’s flash, it’s don-fucking-dastic, it’s boosted. And it’s all hers. No one lives with the peasant girl. No one has ever lived with the peasant girl. The peasant girl has lived in this house for ten years, alone, and she has no memory of a life before living here, but she thinks that she must’ve had a life—or something like a life, maybe life is too strong a word for what she might’ve been before, she just can’t remember—in no small part because she was already seventeen years old when she arrived here. Or, she thinks she was seventeen. She was somewhere around seventeen, arbitrarily speaking. The peasant girl is, however, certain that she has resided in her mud house for ten years. She keeps a reminder on her calendar to email her a month in advance, a week in advance, a day in advance, and one final reminder on the anniversary of the first day she existed as the peasant girl: she appeared here, materialized from who knows what, with a memory that had been methodically erased—this is obvious because she has no memory of existence before she appeared, and yet, she appeared pre-equipped with language and survival skills, not to mention a savvy ability to glide eloquent sentences on a qwerty keyboard to send through the internet to various lovers. There’s no way she could’ve just popped into the world like that. The peasant girl is logical and her logic works out to saying that she must’ve had an existence prior to this existence—external to it, at least, or separate—where she learned skills such as cooking, mending, Linux, html, reading, speaking, walking, nothing but the basics for survival. Her logic then tells her that she was removed from that other existence, her memory was selectively erased, and now here she is in banishment. She thinks that maybe she’s a criminal of some kind, and this is her sentence. It isn’t a terrible sentence, she has to admit. Gets lonely, but she’s more or less comfortable. And on some basic level, she’s even content.
Babies can’t remember the trauma of their birth, but the peasant girl has a seamless recollection—so seamless in fact that it plays back to her at forty-eight frames per second, this memory is so high tech that it exceeds the peasant girl’s plainjane human senses. Her eyes, like any other peasant girl’s eyes, like any other human’s eyes for point of fact, can only accept twenty-four frames per second, and so this memory’s impressive display of innovative technology, that is, the doubling of frames per second, artificially induces a reverie punctured with adrenaline and the taffy-stretching of time—of her first day of existence. No one recalls their birth, unless they’re making it up, which delegitimizes the whole memory thing, yep, but the peasant girl remembers the past like it’s present tense. She wakes up as she always wakes up, or how she intuits she ought to wake up, this being her first day of existence and therefore having no prior experiences. She stretches, such a simple gesture, so unnoteworthy, but her arms reach from beneath a heavy down blanket and out into the air and she feels—for the very first time ever she feels!—sensation. She suddenly has skin and so much of it, a full body’s worth, all of it exposed to fabric and air and gravity pulling her thick into the bed and the sun flipping between shadows to warm her up and her hand is still stretching and she opens her eyes for the first time and everywhere around her is vision and her eyes are learning how to read and all these colors fight—or disagree perhaps, dispense dissonance—for her attentive absorption. There’s a purity to it, the peasant girl recognizes and names it purity, this moment, her eyes functioning and knowing what to do by instinct, rods and cones pumping the beat, neurons sizzling along to deliver to the peasant girl: this beauty. And then: she understands. She has existence. She can move. She has a body she hasn’t even seen. The peasant girl contracts herself into the refuge of the comforter. Her hands grip her shins, her forehead sinks into her kneecaps, her calves touch skin with her backside of her thighs and its front side touches skin with her chest. She is nude, and skin, she decides, is just about the most sensational thing ever. She’d never put money on a statement like that, but she knows it to be true all the same. The peasant girl squirms around the bed some, discovers her ability to speak and hear and taste, and then she reaches over to the right side of the bed and unhooks a terry cloth robe, which she fans around and fastens as if she’s done this same ritual a million times before. Her feet follow a trajectory into matching terry cloth slippers, and she rises to welcome a brand new day, a special day to be remembered.
That day, the peasant girl learns about her new environment. She drafts a rough blueprint of the house, spatial awareness in any new location is paramount. She doesn’t know why, but she doesn’t really care either. She finds a killer wardrobe: scores of vintage dresses tailored to flatter her body, not to mention chromatically organized tops and bottoms by season and shoes enough that she might be considered a collector. Her kitchen is almost too much, even for her, its luxury seems to belie some core guilt—Note to Author: this last little ditty about guilt should probably be reconsidered. I’m not telling you to cut it, per se, it’s just, come on, do you want the peasant girl to be your psychiatrist too? Ok, I get it. You’ve got guilt. Who cares? Let’s giddy this story along already!—its lavishness disguises something sinister, though exactly what the peasant girl could hardly be expected to guess, especially on her first day of existence, sheesh. And, really, she doesn’t need marble countertops. Granite would’ve been plenty sufficient. Her pots and pans are the highest grade stainless steel. She thinks, “Whoever pimped this place out has admirable taste!” The refrigerator, she learns, generates whatever foods and supplies she wants. All she needs to do is want. The freezer stores rows of vanilla bean gelato and tiramisu gelato and lemon sorbetto. She walks past a bathroom, her slippered feet skating along the glossy wood. It’s cozy, nothing like the spectacle of the kitchen, but the claw foot tub pleases her. There is a bedroom, fully equipped and ready to host, the hallways have glowing mole-sized constellations, an art project either half-completed or fully abandoned, someone else’s maybe. The peasant girl can’t imagine that anyone existed here before her, because if anything, she brought this place into existence: before this place, she was nothing; therefore, before her, this place must’ve also been nothing. The peasant girl is certain that there was intention behind their pairing, she with this place, why else would they share this spontaneous existence? She finds a large office. Inside, a library. A desktop and a couple laptops. Inside those: the Internet.
She makes careful notes on the contents of every room, her little discoveries of covert alcoves and stashed compartments. Tired and unsatisfied, she opens her front door and walks outside. Over the past few hours of existence, the peasant girl has felt a life’s worth of knowledge and experience. The peasant girl has left. She has felt—emotion. She has felt—excitement and understanding and epiphany and mourning—and she was pretty sure confident that nothing else could do much of anything, her elation in overdrive for her at this point, and then she opens the door and steps outside and this thing starts expanding in her chest, pushing hard against her ribs, needing more space, and she looks at the mountains and sun setting and the color, goodness the color, the peasant girl drops herself to her knees—she is so overwhelmed with the need to fall, to allow herself to be witness to, that she makes shred out of her skin, but in this moment, it doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts. The peasant girl fixes her eyes straight with the sun, half his body already sinking into nowhere, but the color, she’s never known colors like that to be real, always assumed they’re artificial, but no, here they are and she is looking at them, seeing each moment with clarity beyond pixel measurement, and she looks at the sun and says a prayer of thanks, silently, in her head, to the creator of this world, whoever he may be, thank you.
Here, I’d put a wager on it that the author thinks the peasant girl is thanking him. I bet the author has this fetish for peasant girls, especially homely but comely ones, a unique fetish, and I bet the author is thinking maybe the peasant girl is giving him the green light go pass to make a sex object out of her, maybe throw in a couple of characters right now, a couple of manly men, the most manly, to fight it out for her hymen, and after all of them have died—after the author duals it out with them so he can be all badass badge about it. He’s such a sad story—I bet he’s going to write some version of himself into the story and shocker, he gets the girl. Except here’s the DL truth: he wouldn’t know what to do with her other than periodically peck at her with hopeful kisses, which she will refuse to accept, no matter their innocence.
All right, author, I’m feeling your impatience, I’m following my commands and introducing two male characters. One of them will be good: he will try to save the peasant girl.
The other is bad: he will be a major obstacle for the good guy to get to the peasant girl. IRL as well as in his fiction, the author thinks that it’s ok to give the bad guy a handicap, like starting a whole rook down, and it’s also ok for the good guy to exploit that handicap. If he uses categorically “bad” means, it’s ok, so long as he rids the world of the “badness” embodied in the “bad guy,” then the story will be done. This time, he is careful to make some intersecting lines, lest some critic call his work simple, and three time’s a pattern. It makes a trend. It makes its way into public consciousness, his unanticipated and pitiable simplicity. The author’s ideas are in fact simple. So, good guy versus bad guy, let’s let this rumble happen.
ACT II: THE VILLAIN
Harold is a failed villain. He wants to be evil, but the truth of it is that he’s just no good at it. Harold’s a nice guy. Anyone would testify. Ask around. Nicest guy in town. And nice guys make terrible villains, and that’s exactly what Harold is: a terrible villain.
Harold is a terrible villain because he isn’t filled with evil. He barely even gets mad. When the villains get together and shittalk and swap sagas, Harold sits amidst this fraternity of horrible men and sips at his Pabst Blue Ribbon, not for hipster irony points but because it’s gross. He likes to call it retribution, his required presence at these impromptu but mandatory get-togethers. Third year running, they make an honorary burn just for him: Nicest Bad Guy of the Year. It’s not his fault he’s so goddamn nice. It also isn’t his fault that he’s so goddamn good at his job.
Harold wasn’t always a villain. Once, long ago, Harold was just a guy. He was handsome—Hold on, hold on. Author, I’m going to be straight: I doubted you. I really did, but you’ve redeemed a few points with this move. Unless, of course, I’m giving you unearned credit, like you making Harold a handsome man was an arbitrary decision. No way, not you, you’re way smarter than that. No, making Harold handsome is a socio-cultural critique about the uglification of villains, which infected the literature of the Victorian age, e.g., The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dracula, and has been solidified into contemporary public consciousness through Disney. By making your villain attractive, you are challenging the engrained belief that evil manifests itself externally, that all bad guys are ugly on the outside because they’re ugly on the inside. Harold’s a hottie, didn’t see that one coming. Impressive work, author, not bad—of course he was the handsomest guy in town. And he was handy: exceptionally expert at odds and ends, not ends as in ending as in finishing, per se, but he certainly qualified with enough oddness to compensate for his lack of ends. Transcendentally handsome or not, and he was—imagine Adonis mixed with visceral masculinity—but what he wasn’t was the provider his family had so hoped he would be, for himself and for them.
As the only son of a man with moderate though tempered means, Harold didn’t lack. In much of anything, except the will to work. It’s not that he was lazy, more just that he didn’t get the concept of capital. He nearly failed Econ, but the possibility of impressing this one girl who sat two chairs up and one to his right inspired him to participate in class discussion. In doing so, he showed the professor that he was not a lost case at all, which brought him such delight that he passed Harold for giving him hope that he was impacting his students in a recognizable way. There wasn’t really a need for Harold to get the whole concept of capital anyways. This was all well and fine, he went along doing nothing but being beautiful, and that’s not easy work, that’s what he’d say, “It’s really not easy,” and Harold has this way of looking when he says this where his eyes focus so hard on yours that his brows fold and he squints low enough that his lashes weave and he stays there, just looking at you with ache, and then he breaks, just can’t keep it in, he lets loose this goofy charming smile that is either humble or maximalized narcissism.
This really was all well and fine, no problem, up until the day that his father up and got himself trampled by some horses. Now here’s a sad story for you. Not suicidal sad like those poor hopeless weeds, but sad like goddamn you a fool who makes dumb choices, sad like generic sympathy cards with just a signature. So Harold’s old man was out working the fields—because that’s what people had to do back in the day—when he heard the distressed cry of a distinctly, categorically, no doubt about it, equidal being. Being a man back in the day meant many things, including valor and bravery and a desire to save in heroic fashion. Such being the case, Harold’s father abandoned his labor and began the quest to find and save the damsel of the day—this was a long time ago, like once upon a time long ago, but there weren’t dragons or monsters or anything, it was just a long time ago, but even a long time ago, there were stories that taught boys to be men and girls to be women and those stories were passed on and on and on until they reached us in the contemporary, which is to say: Harold’s dad wanted to be the hero just like you did or I did or the author did when we were kids, only Harold’s dad is still playing pretend and he’s an adult and there just aren’t that many princesses in the world to save anymore—and it was a treacherous trek, there being no direct road or clearing to lead Harold’s dad to the ailing horse, but the urgency in the horse’s cry increased and his dad tackled through entire plots of wheat and corn and sunflowers, until finally, right in his front lawn, free for view to anyone nearby to witness or save, he found his prize. Harold’s dad saw two horses copulating who shouldn’t have been copulating, like at all, and Harold’s dad knew that those two horses were two horses who shouldn’t have been copulating, like at all, and so he warned, “You two stop that funnying around now,” and some witnesses say the end was swift. They say that maybe the horses had pity on him, one rear kick to the chest that rose up to hook at his chin, and down he went for the count with a broken neck. But other sources, of a more reliable nature, insist that his death was way more dramatic. For instance, the old crone from down the street said that she was there and she saw Harold’s old man jump on the back of the horse on top and he clamped his hands tight together and around the horse’s neck, twisting and squeezing, screaming, “You let go now, get on outta there,” each time warning the horse with a count of three before exercising more force. Harold’s dad didn’t want anything bad to happen to the horses—or to himself for that matter, not that it matters what he wanted or didn’t want anymore anyways—and he figured if he could separate the horses, the copulation wouldn’t be copulation, right?, he thought about if copulation meant penetration or the release of sperm to connect with egg etc. He couldn’t remember so he went with the latter, which would mean, ultimately, that all he witnessed here today was just some friendly—Inquisitive? Exploratory?—penetration. He wouldn’t need to report it even, that’s what a not big deal it would be, if only he could stop this one horse from finishing. What’s even funnier is that he’s the boss, he has no one to report anything to, unless he’s reporting to himself, and so he’s the only one who’s worked up about these horses copulating, and they’re just doing what they do when the season’s right and tonight’s the night, except in this case the night is actually the day, midafternoon to be fair, the night’s a metaphor for, oh, never mind. Harold’s dad rode that horse’s back hard, and everyone remembers how red he was in the face, how tired he became, all his strength wrapped around twisting that horse’s neck, but it was clear that the horse didn’t care about his exhaustion. The horse had no goddamn respect. Harold’s father kept on strangling and bending, but the horse refused to disconnect his large horse penis from the other horse. More people gathered to watch: they were witnesses, if not complicit for not interceding when they knew—they had to have known!—that Harold’s father wouldn’t succeed, and really, they’re just assholes preparing to watch a train wreck, like they know that wreck is going to happen in advance, but rather than prioritize the lives of other people, they just want to watch the explosions. That’s the kind of people living around Harold and his father and his family. They watched from their front porches, sipping on lemonade and whiskey. Some of them gathered right on up to the gate, potential inches away from the action, just a block of wood, actually, it was really dangerous—dumb, actually, just super dumb—but they didn’t care. They wanted to count the beads of blood as they exploded on the ground. In center stage, the horse was starting to get really uncomfortable, and that was obvious because he got to doing this cackled coughing wheeze thing. He tried to shake his neck free, but Harold’s dad was determined. Don’t forget that his huge horse penis is still mid-coitus. The specifics of his dad’s death aren’t really that important, but let’s just say he didn’t pull himself out as the hero. He did, however, succeed. The horse he was riding did not successfully compel his ejaculate into the desired location, as in, he missed. Let’s not go teasing now, because consider it from the horse’s perspective, what with the rising number of spectators and some man choking him and his enormous horse penis penetrating, he was excited. Like he was just real close. And then Harold called out, “Three,” and his arms became clam shells, that’s how hard they were, and maybe the horse heard three, maybe he didn’t, even if he heard it there’s no way he understood its significance, all the horse knew was lack of breath coupled with the crescendo to fortissimo of pleasure made for a dizzying experience, yes he was on two legs, yes he was unable to breathe, and it was all too much, something would have to drop from this equation, so he slackened the rigidity of his large horse penis and both he and Harold’s dad fell backwards, his horse sperm projectiling up with the velocity of ejaculative force and out towards the swell of onlookers by the gate with the aid of an inappropriately and unseasonably bold gust of wind. Ok, so maybe the horse sperm joke wasn’t worth all that set up, blame it on the author and his juvenile humor, or blame it on me and my obviously feminist agenda to disembody the penis, to dismember it, to render it useless. It’s clear that I have penis envy, and so I am trying to emasculate all men. And yep, you guessed it! I’m vying for the peasant girl too. Are we done playing yet? Ok, so the horse fell backwards and Harold’s dad was still all holding on and twisting the animal’s neck. The horse flattened him, some people say he died right then—I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here, author, but I’m worried you’re giving your readers the wrong message. See, I can get why it might be tempting to tell and retell this story because it’s funny, in an immature unsophisticated kind of way, but in doing so, you’re also pointing to the malleability of story, the illegitimacy of it, how changing point of view can not just modify a story but completely change core plot points. I mean, you write stories. Is this really the message you want to be sending without a return address?—but others pinky swear it wasn’t until the other horse—remember that one? The one who was getting publicly raped?—made its slow way to the first horse and, by extension, Harold’s dad. The other horse was limping. When it got to the first horse, it turned around and looking into the faces of the makeshift crowd, used its hind legs to kick dirt and grass and gravel into the exposed belly of the first horse. The other horse kicked with force and vigor that some might interpret as revenge, but no matter what that other horse felt in the moment, the ending ends the same no matter what: first horse dies when the other horse splinters a rib reinforced with a hoof aimed right at his heart; the other horse is euthanized, although torture usually isn’t involved in euthanasia, even for such a bestial animal!; and Harold’s dad dies. The point of the story is that Harold needs to generate some green and fast. It’s not like his dad left them in debt or anything, but it’s also not like he’d understood the concept of saving either. So, Harold’s forced into the role of provider. His mother is unemployable, and his sisters are inane. It’s possible they forget their own names. But duty is duty, and it is urgent that he find employment—yesterday—and that employment be lucrative enough to support them all. Harold is also well-versed in the richness of his mother’s tastes, which is trained into inheritance with all her children.
Harold revisits his resume. He lists out all the things he excels at. He lists out any career that might include all the things he excels at. That doesn’t work out. He tries any career that might include even one of the things he excels at. That doesn’t work out, either. He lists out all the things he’s good at. He examines every option, and really, it’s not that he’s lazy. It really isn’t. He just doesn’t excel at anything at all. His only good skill is his attractive face and body, which he has control over only insofar as working—and bambambam, the epiphany strikes him with combination blows: working. Working out is a form of work. It is labor, labor that should yield capital, and yes, he rushes his thoughts to maximize this epiphany before it runs out, labor should always yield capital and if he’s working out and his body is the result of the labor, then his body is his capital, yes! he applauds himself, he hadn’t believed he could come up with an answer, but he did it, all on his own. And so Harold just keeps on strutting along, pausing at the precise moment a mirror might pick up the perfect hue of sunlight to accentuate the way his skin creases along the muscle clean. By sundown, he is the one accepting applications: for a wife. He pledges to be totally numerical about it. He will wed the applicant with the largest dowry, added to the applicant’s bid during the auction for a first date with him. Between satisfying mouthfuls of cranberry juice and shaved ice, Harold explains, “It’s the only fair way. I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of discriminating against any of you lovely ladies who have derived your means independently. I admire that, independence, doesn’t it sound—liberating?” And boy, do the ladies drool, just as Harold knew they would.
The dowries are nothing impressive, certainly not enough to float their family at their current rate of expenditure for more than three years, especially not without some promise of generating more income to replace the current investments with better ones in the future. He might not describe the emotion he feels as despondent, but that’s because he’s never heard the word before, he doesn’t know what it means. It’s not his fault: he’s just some pretty boy dandy, only vacant, fully vacant, and like any other fully vacant pretty boy dandy, all Harold wants is a semi-non-ugly rich wife to support him. His standards are flexible. Harold is despondent. He is defeated. At this moment, he realizes that impromptu plan had flaws. He understands this now because it is too late. He has given his word—an oath, maybe—that he will pick a woman to wed tonight. His own rules snap their lack of insightfulness at him. He is just so fucked. And then: she appears. Simple herringbone coat, tailored, fitted leather gloves, lean fingers underneath. They work to undo her buttons. Her coat collapses to the floor, practically fainting, causing quite the to do. She is a statue. Everyone in the tavern pretends her entrance has not impacted them, but no one’s fooling anyone, not with this woman in here. The commands power with each step—entrancing. The men are proud of their erecting cocks and the women don’t withhold their immediate disdain and hatred. Then, after exhausting the embarrassment of their prolonged silent gazing, noise bombs the tavern, a synchronous agreement among all the players present, and amidst all that noise, the women do what they do best: gossip.
The woman’s name is Formica, and she is a sparkler, straight up. Having mourned sufficiently for her late husband—her very wealthy, late husband—she would like to make Harold an offer. For years, she has been watching him. From afar. Now, she is positioned to provide him every luxury, she removes her last three months’ worth of bank statements from an attaché Harold didn’t even notice she’d had when she first walked in and points to the numbers she’s highlighted in neon yellow. Harold nods to suggest he understands. Formica removes an envelop from her attaché and puts the papers in patiently, delicately, with courtesy. She says, “That paperwork is for you. Because I want us to always be honest.” And she keeps on conjuring different pieces of paper with long numbers highlighted in neon yellow. She explains each one to Harold, asks if he understands, and fills up four envelopes with her photocopied records. She asks if he has any questions. It’s not that she said the right things, more that she has an organized presentation, one that strikes Harold as persuasive and provocative. Even if he isn’t smitten, no one could best both her dowry and her bidding, which is entirely unnecessary—her dowry alone makes the mathematics impossible for anyone but her to win—but a game is a game and must have rules, so Harold dallies his way onto the auctioneer’s block. He grins and compels his head to make some slight nods to distract from his real mission: to scan the room. Last thing Harold needs is some drama appearing from smoke and mirrors to go haunting him or anything. Besides, he’s into Formica. He wants her to win. But if she could upset the game so thoroughly, anyone else could too, and Harold’s just now at this moment understanding that this was all a very bad idea. Formica is perfect. She’s rich and hot. Man, she’s so hot she’s like the core of the Earth—Seriously? I really hope he didn’t use that as a pick up line, but even more than that, I hope the author’s never used that as a pick up line. But let’s be real here, because he’s the author, and the line is still there, glaring as can be, and this guy is a careful editor, really strays from indulgence during revision, so I guess let’s assume that it’s intentional, sad—and what if the next woman is a horse? Not like a real horse but a woman with a horse face or a horse ass or feet harder than a horse hoof? The auctioneer is standing right beside him. Harold doesn’t like the guy’s smell, cheap. Like dust. A spotlight attaches right onto the auctioneer, leech. His voice is all nasal and fast and inefficient, and he points at Harold and a second spotlight erupts into existence, all bright and all around him, he thinks of entering heaven or something, and Harold just wants to make everything stop, pause, to suspend time and space and motion and emotion. He doesn’t just want it. And then there are those ridiculous leeches expanding on his arms. He watches calmly as the separate masses on his skin expand, their expanding skin, so translucent from expansion to store his blood for their use. Harold wants to drag a fingertip across their tops, because he can’t imagine what they must feel like, all full of his blood, his beingness, all full of him. He makes to raise his hand, all he needs is the bravery to reach and touch, and Harold hears the gavel mark the end, which is the beginning, of his new life with Formica.
Their engagement is perfect. Formica takes care of his family, just as she’d promised. Every day, she spoils him with expensive gifts, elaborate meals, and real conversation. Even Harold has to admit: it is perfect. And he is proud that he is involved, in some small capacity, to the creation of his own happiness.
And then he is involved in a much larger capacity. This time, towards its detriment—its collapse. Tragedy is that it isn’t even his fault. What’s responsibility anyways? Because Harold is just pattering down the street, feeling all jazz hands about how dreamy his life has become, and he’s been sent on an errand. He’s supposed to pick up the name placards for the reception from the scribe. Easy assignment, he’s just skittering and then boom boom stop: from his periphery he sees something that halts his momentum, mid-movement, frozen. This isn’t possible. No, Harold tries to look away. No, this isn’t supposed to happen. He is a betrothed man to a perfect, just perfect woman who will care for him until eternity if he asked her to, he is happy, finally happy, and somehow he stands here, immediately addicted to this nobody, this peasant girl, the words feel puerile in his head and spoken aloud they are positively gags. Harold swipes over her features, an attempt to record, and he is gone, running, back to Formica, without a single placard to redeem him.
As Harold runs, he thinks over the conversation that he will have to have with Formica. The best he could do is pretend like the previous scene didn’t happen. Just, erase it. Press delete a few times and that surface is clean, like real clean. He’d have to come up with a cover story about the placards but that shouldn’t be any challenge. Then, he thinks maybe he should just tell her, but nothing good could possibly come from that, not even trust, so he pulls that whole strain of possibilities out right at the root, lest those nasty things start troubling things up again like weeds. In his head, Harold pauses himself. He needs to slow down. His body keeps on at uniform speed through both space and time. His head needs to slow down. He needs control. He takes a deep breath. It will all be ok. He tells himself it will all be ok.
In approximately five minutes, Harold will tell Formica that he is in love with another woman. He will tell her that he’s sorry, that it was not intentional, that he still wants to marry her, if she can tolerate such ridiculousness on his part. He will giggle and there will be no relationship between the sound he emits and the sound in the room. The waves extend up and out and his mouth moves and the room’s silence stays still. Formica, as things so turn out, is a witch. She’s not horrible or anything, but she does happen to be extremely powerful. Only a fool would walk past Formica without excusing himself at least twice. She doesn’t blame Harold. It was her decision, after all, not to disclose her identity, some bullshit about how powerful she is and being all concerned that someone would only want to marry her for her magic powers, but what she wanted, what she really really wanted, was for someone who loved her for her, for who she was at her very core: not a witch, but a woman—nay, a human—who wants to purchase a lifelong companion. And whosoever she chooses should choose to be grateful. Take, for instance, Harold. She was altruistic with him, maybe she was even foolish, it’s hard for her to tell from this closeness of perspective, the immediacy of the trauma still shadowing her judgment, and then there’s the truth that she feels hurt, betrayed, wronged. Formica was a witch, bad luck for Harold, and due to certain painful events during the formative years of her early childhood, she never learned basic human skills like forgiveness and empathy, oops.
It was only out of sadness and feeling betrayed and her inability to make any logic out of her emotions that she said it. She didn’t mean it, not really, but intentionality really doesn’t matter, especially not in fairy tales. Formica said, “I hereby ban you, Harold, to an eternity of watching without touching, of desire without bodies, of an insensate body, and I bestow on you all the magic you need to ensure your perpetual suffering.” And so it became.
Harold has stopped counting years. Just another stupid marker marking something that someone else thinks is important, but whatever, wait another fifty years and that idea’s en route to ruin civilization—cue threatening chords—and just shut up already because wait another fifty years and the idea that was going to ruin civilization did ruin it, except for a few choice individuals, and fifty years after surviving that bomb that went off or the asteroid or global warming or whatever it is that was sour fifty years back is about to lead to the answer to every question we’ve ever had. Harold doesn’t give a fuck about counting years or time or any of that.
Though it isn’t apparent from this view, Harold has grown up a lot over the last two centuries or two years—he ain’t counting, why should I?—he’s developed a real method to his occupation, his job, his contribution to society. And it’s not labor and it’s not capital, though he is a tax-paying citizen and he stimulates the local economy in an acknowledged and real way.
Back in the day when Harold was just learning the limits of his magic, he came across a bereaved man. Harold, being a nice guy, asked if he needed help, and the bereaved man moaned, and from his lips, Harold understood that pain can fill someone up so full that it leaks out, dispersing the air with sickness. Again, Harold offered his assistance, and again, the man moaned, and from his lips, Harold saw pain break off in clumps and float through the air, towards him, always towards him, and before he can stop it, the bereaved man’s pain is on him, is sinking, it will be: their mutual pain. This bereaved man did not speak, but Harold felt something that felt like friendship. And he felt desperate, they felt desperate, together. Harold said, “Your wife will survive, my friend. I can assure this.” The man’s sobs still stretched but they sombered instead of screamed. Harold walked over to the man, put a hand to his shoulder, and insisted, “Let me help you. I have powers. Don’t suffer like this, you don’t have to, let me help you, let me help us all,” until Harold was the one hunched over and hysterical, until the bereaved man allowed Harold to save his wife—whose death was imminent if not already passed—and his baby daughter, his first, became his gift to Harold for saving his wife. It’s not some permanent deal or anything, Harold doesn’t have the space for it, just a few years here and a decade there. Furthermore, he wouldn’t even retrieve the girl for like seventeen years or something. Yeah, seventeen sounds good. He could keep her for as long as he wants, up to a ten year maximum. In the contract the bereaved man signed, there’s a line about how Harold can return a product he doesn’t enjoy but he’s so goddamned nice he doesn’t even require a swap or exchange. In the contract the bereaved man signed, there’s a line about how his daughter will have the majority of her memory stored, in a cloud, and when he releases her, he’ll restore all that data. In the contract, there’s a line about how he promises that he will care for them, provide them with entertainment and educational opportunities, food and shelter, obviously, and finally, though this is in very small print, not just barely legible but fully illegible, that he promises that he will never touch them. And however long it’s been—ages!—he still hasn’t touched.
And he won’t. It’s not his thing.
Harold’s a watcher. Every day, he watches the peasant girl. Sometimes, when she’s really concentrating on something and her teeth grip tight because she thinks no one is watching, his knowledge of that intimate detail about her makes him wild. He watches, more and more in love each day. This isn’t his peasant girl, but whole ages have ravaged and then bowed out and Harold’s seen them all. Turns out peasant girls are pretty much all the same. Until he encounters the rare one: like the first, like this one.
Photo By: Carol Von Canon