“Ve’ll be zerrre soon, Kyaptain,” said my relentlessly young Uber driver in a thick Russian accent. He was blinking at me nervously in the rearview, face aglow in the dashboard lights, as if I was a cop who was on to him. It was the uniform. The cheap polyester blazer with four yellow stripes inexpertly stitched above the wrists. The cheap plastic wings pinned above the breast pocket. The faux military cap emblazoned with more plastic wings, its visor lined with plastic yellow fern leaves. And all that plastic cheapness never failed to impart an unreal, almost mystical authority upon me. I found it intoxicating but, whenever I strode through airports under the glassy-eyed reverential gaze of passengers hungry to see confidence oozing from the demigod they would soon entrust their lives with, I could never quite shake the uneasy feeling I was an imposter, a fraud.
“Relax, kid. Where in Russia are you from?”
He took on the bewildered look of a child who has just been slapped and stammered, “I… I’m Polish.”
I cursed myself under my breath. Despite all the travel, I was hopeless with Slavic accents and should have known better. “Of course, you are!” I said brightly and, rather than quit while I was behind, continued, “you know, from my experience during layovers in Warsaw, you guys are far superior vodka drinkers to your Russian counterparts…” My voice trailed off as I only now noticed what it was dangling from the rearview: an AA issued sobriety coin and, judging by the intensity with which the kid was glaring back at me, I wondered vaguely if I was about to be driven to an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town and mounted on a rusting meat hook.
My phone binged. It was my wife:
Ally: Are you coming or what? (Strange. She sounds irritable.)
Paul [that’s me, that’s my name, Paul]: Got snarled in some traffic. Driver says there soon. I think he may be the youngest AA member who ever lived…
Ally: OK. (Curt and uninterested. I’ve been gone for days now. Try a heart.)
Ally: I’m waiting. (So much for that.)
Ally went offline and I stared at my phone frowning. We broke free of the traffic just then and sped breakneck across the bridge, the glittering wedge of city steadily magnifying in the windscreen, the dark river below. I checked my seatbelt and held on to it until we swung to an abrupt halt in front of my house. The driver, stony-faced, popped the trunk for me to get my things myself. The moment I closed it, he raced off as if he couldn’t put enough distance between himself and me.
The house was in total darkness but for the faint blue TV light flickering around the edges of the living room blinds.
“Ally?” I called tentatively, as the front door clicked shut behind me. “Melanie?” No response except for the grunting and groaning noises coming from behind the closed doors of the living room. I dropped my bags and walked towards them, zombie-like. Ally was sitting up ramrod straight on the couch, hands folded in her lap, staring impassively at the TV which was connected to her laptop. The girl’s face occupied most of the screen, a faux military cap perched at a lopsided angle on her head, the man behind her holding up a phone in one hand, the other resting in the curved small of her back. “Does your wife let you do this?” gurgled the girl whose scrunched-up face froze as Ally leaned forward and paused the video.
I collapsed on the couch, confused. Ally turned to me slowly, like she was being operated via remote control, and asked robotically, “did you ever give that girl a truthful answer to her question?”
“That’s not me,” I said, hearing an alien shrillness in my voice. I was pointing at the TV like the prosecutor had pointed at me during his closing arguments. My neck whiplashed sideways, and blood rushed to a burning hand shape on the side of my face.
Ally’s eyes were big and wet and wide and beautiful. “Goodbye, Paul, or whoever you are,” she said.
“…or whoever you are,” I whispered, the clouds beginning to wring themselves out again, pelting the windows with hard rain as the train gathered speed between the sleepy towns of eastern Pennsylvania. I glanced down at my watch and the needle of the second hand struggled slowly across my reflection like time was slowing down. My glass was almost empty again and I stood up to go see if the surly bartender was still alive somewhere.
“Almost got it,” I muttered emerging from the flight simulator I had had installed at grotesque expense in “Daddy’s Space”, an oversized windowless closet at the dusty end of the house which contained only the simulator and a narrow desk with nothing on it but a grotesquely expensive laptop I rarely used.
“Ah-ha!” my freckle-faced daughter shouted gleefully pouncing out of the woodwork behind me and pointing at the beer dangling from my fingertips.
“Jesus, FUCK!” I bellowed, startled half out of my wits.
“You lose! And you swore! I’m getting the clippers!”
“Beer doesn’t count, Mel!” I cried after her as she galloped from the room shaking her fists over her head, a wake of dancing ponytail disappearing around the door.
A few minutes later I was sitting shirtless in a chair in front of Ally’s floor-length mirror as thick whorls of black hair were shorn from my head, the clippers buzzing away like angry bees. I watched longingly as they slowly descended, oscillating in gentle arcs as if attached to miniature invisible parachutes, and landed softly in the cheerful lemon bars of afternoon sunlight cast across the wood flooring. I stared at Ally’s reflection in the mirror. She was simultaneously grinning and biting down on a knuckle as she observed my bovine grooming in the background.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said, ironing her slender sides with the palms of her hands. “A bet’s a bet and Melanie’s right: beer is NOT a soft drink.”
Later that night, after Melanie had gone to bed, I stood in front of the bulb-bordered mirror in the ensuite bathroom as Ally stroked the stubble on my scalp. It was so short it wouldn’t have passed for a five o’clock shadow. She kissed my cheek with her soft, full lips and said, “you know, I kind of like it. Just can’t decide if you look more like a convict or a soldier.”
This eked a smile out of me, the gold crown on my front tooth glinting malignantly. I raised an eyebrow. “Which do you like better?”
Ally pushed up her chin with her forefinger and appraised the ceiling slightly cross-eyed. “I think that’ll depend on my mood,” she concluded after a moment. Wriggling out of her nightdress, a graceful heap of collapsed satin around her ankles, she led me by the hand into the bedroom. “But I want convict tonight”.
As I followed her leonine body, gym-toned muscles shifting like pack ice under unblemished skin which had always smelled faintly of flowers to me, my mouth literally watered in anticipation.
On 25 July 2000 in Paris, supersonic passenger airliner Concorde commenced takeoff bound for New York City. Unbeknownst to anyone, a titanium alloy strip had randomly fallen out of the sky onto the runway from a previous flight. One of Concorde’s tires sped over it sending tire debris hurtling at 140 meters per second into the underside of the plane’s wing which, moments later, exploded with such intensity it began to melt. Two minutes after takeoff, all that was left of Concorde and its occupants was an angry black scar carved out of the French countryside where a hotel once stood. On 8 January 2011 in Arizona, U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords was shot through the brain at point blank range with a 9mm pistol. Three months later, she was on her feet and coherent enough to travel to Florida to watch her astronaut husband blasted into space on the final mission of the space shuttle program (which had never fully recovered after the contrails of Columbia’s flaming wreckage fanned out over clear blue Texan skies seven years prior).
“My god, Paul! What are you doing?!” shrieked my mother bursting through the door. I was holding my foreskin between the blades of a pair of scissors. My mother pried them from my hand, and they went clattering across the floor. “Why, Paul? Why?” she sobbed kneeling in front of me clutching my shoulders.
In fits and starts, I told her how my elementary school gym teacher Mr. Brennen, a pink-skinned man with twitchy bottle-green eyes and ludicrous waxed mustache, made the boys take off their swim suits before showering while he watched. How all the other boys, with their shiny little helmet knobs, hooted and howled at my wrinkly anteater snout. How they had started calling me “Smegma” [defn. smegma noun: a sebaceous secretion in the folds of the skin, especially under a man’s foreskin]. How I had to lock myself into the bathroom stall just to piss, kicking all the while at the vile leering heads poking up beneath the door. How I was sure that the girls knew too because they had started snickering and pointing when I passed them in the hallways. How different and alone I was, an outcast.
“Why am I deformed like this, mom?”
“Deformed?” she whispered, her kindly old face riven by a network of anguished lines as if the bones beneath them were slowly breaking.
I’m not sure how she managed it but the next day Mr. Brennen pulled out of the school’s parking lot, to embark on an “extended leave of absence”, in a car that looked like it had been mauled by Godzilla and I was permanently exempted from the pool. From somewhere on high, my tormentors had been issued cease and desist orders and the severity of the punishment for violating them must have been biblical because now they blanched and shuffled away whenever they saw me coming.
Not long after that, I stumbled headfirst into the dismal abyss of puberty but experienced a joyous epiphany one afternoon while poring over a hardcore porno mag I had found discarded in a deserted parking lot: an aroused uncircumcised penis is indistinguishable from its circumcised counterpart. Boom! It was suddenly a world of possibility. Up until that moment, I had imagined that at whatever obscure point in the future a girl might dare intimacy with me, she would flee screaming for the hills as if having borne witness to the genitals of the Elephant Man. No longer…
“Still, to this day I have not once returned to a swimming pool. That reek of chlorine. Those hollow water noises. The chill…” I rolled over and realized the girl had fallen back asleep during my rambling, half-conscious monologue prompted by her drowsily murmuring something about going for a swim later. Over her shoulder, as still as death, snow-blanketed Mont Royal was mistily sketched in her window, pigeons cooing contentedly on the balcony. The snow storm had stranded me in Montreal, and I ended up getting a ticket to the hockey game where I had met her, a wholesome young grad student wholesomely named Julianne Robbins who turned out to have a serious thing for middle-age pilots stranded in Montreal.
I sat up on the side of the bed, sticky head clogged with cotton and mouth as rough as sandpaper. I rubbed the sleep gunk from my eyes and appraised the clothes littered around the bed. Amongst them were empty beer bottles and two boxes containing the congealed remains of smoked meat poutine. Suddenly wracked with all too familiar guilt, the unholy slurry of French fries, gravy, smoked meat, and alcohol lurched in my outraged stomach. I need a shower. I need to wash her off me. Under scalding hot water. Once she’s off me it will have never happened. I held my head in my hands. Where do all these dark appetites come from?
Little did I know that earlier that morning, while I was still passed out, wholesome young Julianne Robbins had opened my phone with my thumbprint and sent Ally a sex tape from the night before which I had yet to remember even making.
To be continued…
*Chapter 1 of The Angle of Attack is available at: http://bit.ly/2GAO9FE
© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 2), 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.