- March 2000
She watched him from the living room window. He stood there, arms down by his sides and hands clenched into fists with such force the knuckles stood out against his skin. Through the closed window, she heard him making those low, guttural noises which made the neighbours into strangers over the years.
He still had his baseball uniform on, the cap screwed up tight in his left hand, thumping it against his hip. Taylor lit another cigarette, her hands shaking enough to force a couple of tries with the lighter before she took a smooth hit of nicotine. She couldn’t risk a drink this early in the day. Paul would smell it on her when he got home, and she’d be dealing with that on top of everything else. Two long drags and then she set it down in the ashtray and stood up, smoothed down her dress and took a deep breath. Eleven years of this, and all of it giving her grey hairs and a taste for day drinking.
‘Greg, honey?’ she said.
Turning his head, his lips drew back over his teeth as he hissed at her.
Taylor closed her eyes for a second, found the strength not to rush over and start swinging at him, trying to beat the petulant, performative strangeness with him. Paul put trust in doctors and their smooth acronyms and explanations, but Taylor remembered the stories from her Irish grandmother.
Changelings, faerie children swapped out for humans, and taken away to the lands beyond. It was one of those stories which straddled awful and adorable, something she could never have read to Greg without prompting screaming and flailing.
Looking across the street, she saw Jimmy Yates, a round, snot-nosed little brat who rode his bike up and down the street all day, with a bovine expression on his face. She wanted a son like that, someone she would resent with a sense of relief. The jagged, preternaturally sensitive boy who had her eyes, and her heart, demanded an understanding she struggled to hold on to for too long and too often.
- June 2010.
Shelley received the notification as she sat in class. He had posted again, and as she snuck a glance whilst Mr Bourne was droning on about World War 2, her heart skipped a beat at the chance to see him speak and show the passion which drew her to him in the first place.
It had become an article of faith for her, how much she adored him. There had been fleeting adolescent crushes, as affecting as shooting stars and about as long in duration, but this was something which had integrated itself into every area of her life.
Smashed the like button. Subscribed. Shared.
There was a tribe like her, all over the world. A fractious, excitable yet vicious group of girls and gay guys who spoke in home-made memes and hashtags. If anyone raised an objection or insulted him, then the likes of Shelley were prepared to descend onto the accounts of anyone and insult them until they deleted the message or their account. He told his audience how much he loved them, but to Shelley, those messages were personal.
Her parents were both working, her friends were preparing to leave for better things(college, relationships, employment) but Shelley had the Onion Boy and he would always be true to her. She was the same with him, and already the urge to get out and open the video was as immediate as the urge to empty her bladder. She stuck a hand up, asked to be excused and hid her phone from scrutiny as she went to the bathroom.
She locked herself in the stall, cued it up as his royalty-free theme music and title graphics barged into her attention and consumed her.
The video was entitled BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. However as she watched, a further notification came through. A private message which intrigued her enough to open it, and then she cried out with a surprised joy as she read the single word there.
- July 2015.
Shelley is seventeen years old, and in the harsh light of the video camera, looked like an aging photocopy of the girl she used to be. A ring hung from her septum and her hair has been cropped back to stubble. The black curls which framed her face have been erased, along with the softness of her features. Three years of a vegan diet, because Onion Boy was vegan, had aged her like an inmate and she stared into the camera, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes as she answered the first question.
‘He privately messaged me,’ she said.
The host, himself quite envious of the ease with which these girls were swept up and willing to debase themselves for approval, seeing as he had lost a prime network gig over his own attempts to parlay his influence into sexual favours. This meant he had to learn a method of presentation the likes of Onion Boy were born into, shaking presentations from the street, promising explosive revelations, delivered in the smooth, authoritative tones which used to keep families sat around the television.
Smash the like button.
He smiled at Shelley, but behind his practiced expression, hoped she might start crying or get to the more salacious parts of her story. Once he had interviewed a sultan billionaire who owned most of Dubai, now he was coaxing low key abuse stories from naive teenagers. His hands were clenched into tight fists as he fought the urge to scream with the frustration and failure he felt had become his legacy. Caring was easy to fake, and Shelley was so wrapped up in herself, she wouldn’t notice how little empathy he was showing her.
- April 2020.
Taylor heard him yelling from the basement as she put the baking tray into the oven and sighed to herself. It had been soundproofed to avoid such, but he left the hatch up which meant the sounds travelled through the house and spoiled the fragile slices of contentment she had built into her life.
Her son had come home, not as a conqueror, but as a criminal. Registers held his details, search results gave you an updated litany of his crimes and any complaints made about him, yet he would rant to his mother about the falling audience figures. She knew he had made a site where he posted nude pictures of himself.
Taylor once heard a comedian say about failure as a parent being to find they’re working as a stripper, but having a failed influencer and content creator who showed his anus off for patronage was worse. Hebephilia was the arsenic casing on the shit cake which was her son’s life. She looked outside, watched Jimmy Yates mow his mother’s lawn in a pair of cut offs with his high and tight USMC haircut and tighter midsection and fought the ironic, jagged pull of desire for him.
None of her friends would ever entertain such fantasies about her son, but as she caught sight of her reflection in the kitchen window, the lines in her face and the white at her temples, she turned away and saw her son running towards her from the basement. His face was scarlet and damp from his anger as she switched off inside her head and waited for him to tell her what was wrong and why it was all another test from the universe. He had millions of subscribers, but in the end, he was back in the basement, ranting about the world which had promised him so much then reneged on the deal.
She gave up understanding her son a long time ago, but who else did he have?
Titania and Oberon found themselves in Columbus, stood outside as she watched the ripped young man mow the lawn whilst Oberon listened to the growing argument from inside the house. When he said her name, it took her a second to withdraw from the fantasy she shared with Taylor, that of riding the young man like Seabiscuit and return to the present.
‘Don’t blame me,’ she said.
Oberon grimaced and pointed towards the house.
‘I was dead set against this one, and now look, another shallow sociopath loose in the world,’ he said.
She was dressed somewhere between a haute couture model and a Renaissance Fayre obsessive, she should have stood out but no one saw Sidhe unless they wished to be seen.
‘They seldom get the better of any deal with us, my handsome king,’ she said.
He sighed under his breath as he stared at her with open contempt. Her iconoclasm had lost its novelty, reduced now to pointing out all his flaws. He had fought for her against the black armoured armies of the Unseelie, composed and performed opera for her backed up by little more than quickling drummers and a satyr string quartet, but all she could do was deny him and tell him when he had got something wrong. Admissions of wrongdoing on her part were something he had waited centuries for, but that was love when experienced on their scale.
‘Once they get fame, it often leads here,’ he said.
She tittered and shook her head.
‘That can be said of any human, Oberon,’ she said.
Oberon opened his mouth to speak when the shot rang out. Jimmy dropped the handle of the lawnmower and sprinted across the street, through Titania which was not as sensual an experience as she had hoped. What disappointed her the most was that Jimmy had his phone in his hands as he went towards the house.
The video link up was not the greatest, but then they were filming from her living room and linked up to a suite in a high security prison, so everything looking like it had been filmed on a potato was par for the course in the current year.
He had shaved his head, prison food had slapped handfuls of adipose regret onto his chiselled physique and the circles under his eyes were tattooed into the skin. Women would have crawled over broken glass to fuck him, now they would have thrown change at him and walked past him without looking.
She needed them to hate him, to distract from the blind items in the press about her executive producers treating interns like slaves and how she had been determined that the writers strike not interfere with her career plans. He smiled as they saw one another, and although she could not see it, his grin widened as he heard her say the magic words.
Titania sipped her wine as Oberon gritted his teeth, furious that she had persuaded him to watch this insipid display. He dismissed the golden page who brought his ambrosia to him, until he saw the similarity between him and the effeminate skeleton being interviewed from prison. Titania was too lost in the online spectacle to notice, so he sat and watched her, marvelling at the shallow enjoyment she took. She was as chaotic as she was beautiful, smashing all she touched, liking all that he did not and Oberon’s heart sank as he realised how subscribed he was to her, there until she dismissed him from sight.
He gestured for another drink as the host on screen asked how long he had harboured sexual desires for underage girls and realised this was going to be a long, long show to sit through.