“So, this lady in Montreal. Julianne was it? Was she the only one?” I knew the question was coming but it still made me feel my pulse in my scalp, and I started wordlessly opening and closing my mouth. The therapist set down her notepad and pen and folded her hands, an unconvincing signal my answer would be somehow ‘off the record’. Heat crept up my neck and I was seized by a sudden urge to flee the room. “Don’t worry,” she said in a soft voice that reminded me of my mother, “you don’t have to answer that now if you don’t want to.”
“I never had any affairs,” I said finally as firmly as I could. This was true to the extent that my liaisons with other women, not that there had been so many, were so fleeting one had occurred in a public bathroom. Briefly intersecting with them in the tedious emotionless spaces of airport hotel bars, we continued on in our separate directions. Most openly wore wedding bands like me but, in accordance with some tacit adulterers’ rule, discussion of spouses was taboo as if temporarily erasing their existence somehow preserved their dignity, like an organ in a jar. Typically, the sex was as clinical and unsentimental as an annual physical and afterwards, after the false goodbye air kisses, there was no exchange of phone numbers or emails.
“Usually, I never even gave them my real name.”
“So they couldn’t find you?”
“So I could feel even more like it wasn’t really me but someone else.” Despite this attempted detachment I could never cum without actively fantasizing about Ally, toe-curling Ally with her tight trampoline body, and not say floppy Sharon Kane, sales rep from Boise, Idaho with lipstick on her teeth and dark red areolas mushrooming from her inverted nipples.
The therapist took up her pad again and jotted down something which, from upside-down, looked like “EVEN MORE?” She looked up and I hurriedly scratched at a non-existence itch on my craning neck. Focusing on the floor, the spiral patterns on the carpet seeming to shift under the pressure of my gaze, I said, “I have good reason to believe I was born bad.”
She raised an eyebrow, jotted something else on the pad, and said, “We’ll come back to that. What about Julianne? Did you contact her after she sent the sex tape?”
I lifted my bowed head. She had a slightly pinched face, full of fragile bird bones, inquisitive bird eyes, flat black hair with a white skunk’s tail stripe down the middle. I liked her and it seemed important at the time for her to like me too. “No,” I said. “I never contacted her again.”
The spiral staircase leading up to the second-floor entrance was steep, the uneven snow on it glazed in a layer of ice from a freakish bout of freezing rain earlier in the day. I had been barhopping on boulevard Saint-Laurent and gripped the railing with both hands as I gingerly made my way up the unsalted stairs. On the balcony, I turned and coughed wet clouds into the frosty night air. Mount Royal’s giant electronic cross was ablaze and the revolving search lights from the PVM tower raked the smattering of low-lying clouds torn apart on its dark hump. The city sparkled magically as it slid down the mountain’s southern slopes towards the black swath of the Saint Laurence river and the bright bridges spanning it.
“Not so magical anymore,” I grunted, turning back towards the door and pressing the buzzer.
“Paul!” cried Julianne, her face a mixture of surprise and joy until, after I stepped out of the shadows and into the puddle of light on the doormat, it turned to abject terror and she moved to slam the door. I blocked it with my foot and shoved her inside.
“What did you do?!” I roared pushing her deeper into the apartment. “What did you do?!” She tripped and went sprawling across the living room floor. Grabbing a fistful of hair from the back of her head, I yanked her to her feet.
“Paul!” she yelped as I twisted her arm behind her back. “Don’t! I’m Canadian!”
“Shut up. You shut up.” I frogmarched her into the kitchen and slammed her down over a chopping block countertop. Squashing the side of her face into the scarred wood, I bent over her from behind. “You destroyed my life. You. Fucking. Bitch,” I hissed down her ear.
“Paul, please,” she whimpered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Really. I was drunk. I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what happened. Please.”
I reached for one of the handles protruding from the knife block and pointed the tip of the blade at her mouth which was working away like a carp fish I had once eaten in Chinatown when I was a boy. “Say that again,” I said. “Say ‘I didn’t mean it’ again and I swear I will empty you.”
She didn’t say it again, but I realized she had started grinding her ass into my crotch and, despite my rage (or was it because of it?), I was getting hard. With her free hand, she reached back and pulled at my belt. “Just punish me instead,” she gasped. “Then fuck me whatever way you want. Any way you want…Captain Manson.”
And in a devastating whirlwind of lust and grief, that’s exactly what I did. None of it was committed to video this time around but, as I got dressed and watched Julianne spread-eagled on the bed breathing shallowly, I couldn’t shake the chilling feeling Ally was somehow watching me all over again all the way from Pittsburgh.
Julianne’s phone started vibrating on the nightstand and I picked it up. A picture of a smiling intelligent-looking woman standing on a sea cliff, gray hair standing on end in the wind, lit up the screen. The caller ID “Mom” was superimposed over it. I burned inside at the injustice of it and when “Mom” finally gave up and the screen went black, I lifted Julianne’s limp hand and pressed her thumb to the home button. It didn’t take long to find the video and attach it to a text message to “Mom”. My thumb hovered over the send button, trembling in the excitement of pure, black vengeance.
I couldn’t do it. Some terrible, unfamiliar internal brake stopped me, and I permanently deleted the video instead. I flung the phone against the wall in disgust with myself, scrawled “PIG” in bright red lipstick on the wall in disgust with myself, turned and spat on Julianne Robbins in disgust with myself, flung money at Julianne Robbins in disgust with myself, the bills drifting down through the air, through the sour odor of sex and sweat and violence, and onto Julianne Robbins’s sticky back and legs tangled in bloodied bedsheets.
“Honest,” I said as the therapist pressed me. “I never had any contact with Julianne Robbins again.”
We raced our bikes alongside the smashed and rusted train tracks, long abandoned and overgrown with thorny weeds since the airport was built decades prior. They skirted the northern perimeter of the wastes which had once, in the memories of the dead, been a bucolic patchwork of meadows and forest. Now, smack in the middle, only a single tree remained: an obstinate old weeping willow slumped against the sky. Beneath it was an antique wood and cast-iron park bench with a bashed-in brass plaque that read:
In loving memory of
who at age 42 was struck by
lightning and died here on this
her favorite spot
27 May 1921
Unimpressed, someone had spray painted “CUNT” in large green letters across the bench’s seat and back. This was curious to Harold and me since we had never once seen anyone else out in the wastes, not even other kids who opted to raise Cain in the nearby Macmillan River Gorge instead.
But hanging out on and around Mildred Stanfield’s cunt bench, sipping high-octane jungle juice pilfered from the oceanic stockpile of Harold’s lovable but suicidally alcoholic mother, had become a favorite pastime of ours. I loved watching the white, streaking contrails from the planes tearing the broad blue sky into sheets, cloud signatures of departure to faraway places. “That’s going to be me up there, one day,” I said for the millionth time.
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Harold. “You crazy and you ain’t going nowhere.” He went on to berate me about how terribly I was doing in school (which was true except for math and geography) and how I wasn’t going anywhere, anytime until I “smarten the fuck up.” But Harold was speaking more to his own fears. His father had been a gangbanger who at the age of 24, to the surprise of no one, was killed in a drive-by, three of the bullets sprayed from the Uzi catching him in the face and demanding a closed casket funeral. To ward off a similar fate, he knuckled down at school and on the basketball court, convinced it would pay off one day with a sports scholarship to college. I didn’t like his chances (I didn’t think he was tall enough) and so we both took a dim view of each other’s futures.
“Sure shorty,” I sighed, gazing at the airport in the distance, the green lenses of the control tower flashing in the sun. So close and yet so far…
“Don’t call me that motherfucker.”
“Woah check out that bug, man,” I whispered, pointing at the winged creature, great hairy tail dangling behind it, that had lazily fluttered in front of us, long crooked antennae probing the air like they were receiving signals from outer space.
“What isthat?!” Harold whispered back, staring wide-eyed over the rims of his too-dark shades. As we leaned forward, a small black bird with a bright orange beak swooped in out of nowhere and swallowed it whole, as instantaneous and arbitrary as the lightning strike that had sizzled poor Mildred Stanfield. The bird landed on a patch of scrubby grass in front of us, cocking its head back and forth, orange-rimmed eyes alert and black. I imagined the bug being slowly digested, still alive and conscious, in its stomach.
“Awesome!” I cried, startling the bird into flight, arcing up over the rustling branches and out of sight. Harold and I stayed silent until I said finally, “One day I’m going to fly away just like that. And I swear I will never, ever come back to Hillsborough again.”
“Next stop, Hillsborough,” said a weary voice over the train’s intercom.
“Really? You don’t like novels?”
“I tried a few times. Gave up after the last one. Can’t remember the name of the book now but it was about this supposedly eccentric British character going on and on about his long-lost glory days at Oxford. But he had this BIG secret, right? Only thing that kept me reading. I figured he was a spy, maybe a gay spy. You know what it was though? He liked studying plants in his spare time. Plants! He was a closet botanist! THAT was the secret!” I almost shouted, slapping my hand on the table with a thwack that caused people at nearby tables to look over. I clapped my hand over my mouth and whispered through my fingers, “I’ll take manuals and handbooks any day. The New York Times on Sunday.”
“You’ve just had bad luck,” she laughed and as she did, I was captivated once again by her off-kilter teeth; those predatory arrowhead canines… I ached to run my tongue along the bottom of them…
I realized I was staring at her in the same longing way a child stares through the glass of a closed ice cream store. “We’ll soon be reading everything off this World Wide Web thingy anyway,” I said airily, popping the last bloody hunk of steak in my mouth and gesturing to the waiter for another drink.
“Oh God! What’s that all about?” she laughed again. She had put on a light touch of makeup and wore a simple burgundy dress deliberately cut to reveal only scant clues to the landscape beneath. She was quickly discovering we had little in common and, by the end of the date, had even sketched a chart on a napkin that looked something like this:
|Skinned, decapitated frogs||✔︎|
But she didn’t find me boring and, try as she might with the demure posturing, a wolfish hunger invaded her eyes when they moved over me, scanning, appraising. “Has anyone ever told you, you look like Al Pacino?”
“No, but my best friend in high school once told me that Al Pacino is blacker than me.”
“What?” she said, her head recoiling as if the word had been fired from a canon.
“Long story,” I said, spreading out the air in front of me with the palms of my hands.
“Well, you do. A very young one. And you’ve got just the right whiff of gangster with that gold cross around your neck…” I hadn’t realized an extra button had come undone on my shirt and I closed it sheepishly… “and that gold tooth. What happened there?”
I had just turned 16 and I had just lost my virginity. Lucy was two years older than me, not a virgin, and Harold’s sister. Earlier when she had pulled off my underpants, me as frightened and wide-eyed as a newborn, rather than screaming in terror at my flaccid mouse tail, to my astonishment she put it in her mouth until it was harder than a broom handle. Lying there now with her head pressed to my sweating chest, the long buzzing songs of the summer cicadas slicing the muggy air outside, I felt I could die happily, my life complete. I was about to tell her that in the fading light when the rusty hinges on the screen door protested and Aunt Carrie came wheezing in long before she was due back from church group.
Not long after Aunt Carrie had dragged Lucy by the hair from my bedroom and shoved her down the stairs of the front porch, hollering abuse after her, I approached her on tiptoes through the candlelit gloom as she ironed her flower-patterned dresses in silent fury. A floorboard creaked just before I reached her and she swung around startled, clipping me in the mouth with the tip of the iron. As I fell, her gold crucifix came away in one hand while the knife I held in the other went skidding across the floor.
“I went over the handlebars of my bike when I was a kid,” I said.
“I see,” Ally said.
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 6), 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.