politics, short fiction, women

Grift

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

James Baldwin.

 

1.

One of her students was the daughter of an old friend, and when I’d been in the area, over dinner and a good single malt, he had told me about the problems it had caused them. She had become hostile, which was fine because she was a young woman and they tested their parents as part of growing up, but Harrison, who’d had my back searching the houses of suspected jihadists,where every pair of eyes was a threat, looked pained as he poured himself another scotch and shook his head in pain and confusion.

 

I smiled and tossed back my hair.

 

‘Want me to look into it? Another woman’s easier to talk to.’

 

My therapist, for example. If I would talk about what happened during my career with the CIA, it was easier to do so with another woman.

 

There were nuances of horror only another woman understands.

 

Anger, too.

 

Harrison smiled and lowered his eyes before he nodded.

 

‘If this is about a threat to your white, male privilege -‘ I said.

 

He chuckled and shook his head. His smile decayed like autumn leaves into a pensive frown as he took another drink. He sipped his whisky and set it down on the desk as he sighed and bit his lower lip.

 

‘Do you ever think we did any good out there?’ he said.

 

I’d never have children. He had nightmares every night. We read the news, watched television and bore the resentment of people so desperate to be charitable, they gave their money and time to fill the pockets and egos of people who would never be satisfied. I reached out, touched his hand and said I would check it out for him.

 

2.

 

‘The reason you have nice stuff is that you stole it from me. Your people robbed, raped and degraded me and my people.’

 

I watched her give a clownish sneer as she stood before the podium, breathing in the light, constant rhythm of someone carrying too much weight. The microphone amplified her breath more than her words, and it sounded like Darth Vader at an AA meeting.

 

Professor Rachel Madureira looked across the hall before continuing. She had rehearsed this, saw the pained frowns and uneasy shifting from certain members of the audience. They displayed the appropriate amount of guilt, which she acknowledged with a nod, before continuing. She narrowed her eyes and glanced down at her notes, and I slipped from my seat, having heard enough to know how the rest of the talk would go.

 

It’s all your fault. Give me stuff.

 

She had accepted stuff as reparations.

 

Tenure at the university and a column on Slate where she told millions of people how they were rapists and thieves who should give their money to her to assuage their collective and individual guilt. A link to her Patreon was at the bottom of each article as livid as a paper cut and had given her a stipend of eighty thousand dollars.

 

Oppression was good for business.

 

The adipose march of time had slapped handfuls on her in uneven amounts, around the belly to where the skin of her stomach pressed through the front of her dress in folds and the material stretched at her hips and thighs. The wobbling jowls and chins enhanced the solid perpetual anger she emanated in waves of refined hostility. She wore it well.

 

Like her lies.

 

Her people were Scandinavian immigrants, who came to the country in the late 1950’s with the surname Larsson.The surname of Madureira came from a short lived marriage just after she graduated with her first in gender and racial studies, and she made allusions to ‘her people’ in her articles and speeches without specifying how her people were. This information was hidden, but available. Today was the first time I had been in the same room as her, but I knew her and what she did for a living.

 

There are stages to a confidence trick, and they are the same, no matter how large the scale:

 

She’d achieved this trick through her academic position, and there were lawsuits where she had sued universities based on perceptions of their hiring practices. They settled, and it would fund the next round of applications and lawsuits. I admired the elegance, even as I swallowed a distaste for how it put her in touch with young people.

 

She encouraged their guilt and compassion through confrontation. Her classes were her platform and she berated students to the point of tears. It was behaviour we would have drawn up a report on, but I knew where the Agency’s focus laid. The reward for the mark would be the sense of activism, ideology was identity and I realised I was looking at something more interesting than I had first imagined.

.These were calls to action, or public events seized on for a column or even a social media post. She made herself the victim when it suited her, posting unsubstantiated incidents of racial or gender abuse. Tearful, defiant videos and tears, then the comments below.

 

I put together a report, looked at her professor’s academic record, read her papers and found them wanting. She spent more energy on social media than her field of study. She defended herself on the most illogical positions without being called on them. The current President left her frightened, but after a dismal evening’s review, she had always been frightened.

 

It was late and I made an assumption. It was never something I did in the field because it could kill you, but I was curious, and it hadn’t led me to anything other than she was a shitty professor and a professional provocateur. I told Harrison that, and he had spoken to his daughter about changing classes but she was passionate about it enough to stand up to him, which he respected. It was their last conversation.

 

Rachel had promoted a counter protest against a talk by a conservative author. She had spoken about it in her lectures and on her social media accounts. It spoke of Nazis and stunk of insincere outrage, but it drew students to attend. It was a hot afternoon when the groups gathered, shouting and throwing missiles at one another. The air shimmered with violence and the heat brought out the worst in everyone.

 

It was a grapefruit can fill with concrete, shot from a catapult rigged in the back of a van. Someone had downloaded the design from the internet and printed the parts over a week before putting it together and used it on nazis like a tactical ambush.

 

Their mathematics had been flawed and the first shot went higher than expected, then it crashed down into the skull of Harrison’s daughter. It would have been quick, I consoled myself, as I watched him crumple after her death. There was video and I could lie and tell you I didn’t watch it but I did.

 

Rachel wasn’t there. It would be silly to direct a play and stand onstage.  Harrison had been careless in the way men are when they go about suicide, his head reconstructed with care but little success. A shotgun does that.

 

She lived in a gated community. Alone, which was convenient. There were cats, but they weren’t an issue for me and stared at me with indifference as I sat in her office and waited.

 

She came in without switching the lights on and went into the bedroom. She stayed there until dawn, then went out to teach. She did not eat lunch unless it was a faculty event and even then she would eat the barest amount of food. Her size led me to believe she suffered from an eating disorder.

 

The cupboards were empty. Her refrigerator was a stale, warm piece of performance art.

 

There were no photographs, no papers to show she even existed. There were transcripts and her presence online, but there was nothing I found to back it up. I put a call into someone who knew things, and she was not on their radar before the protests. After two visits and three phone calls, I sat in the bedroom, looking at the bed which had no sheets to spare me the sight and smell of the fetid, wet mattress as I sat in the corner of the bedroom and waited for her to come home.

 

She looked at the gun in my right hand then straight into my eyes with a reptilian interest.

 

‘What is that?’ she said.

 

I told her to close the door and come inside. She was perspiring, but not from fear and even in the twilight, I saw a pulse fluttering in her cheek.

 

‘You do something now, don’t you?’ I said.

 

She sighed, told me in a small voice, she needed to undress. I gestured with the device and she peeled off the dress, her flesh undulating like soured milk. It danced against her frame and I blinked twice as I hooked my finger on the trigger. My mind was a single screaming pitch of disbelief as she crawled onto the bed and opened her jaw wide, like a snake swallowing a pig and retched as the excess flesh dripped from her in smoking blobs and strings onto the mattress where they evaporated into the thick, ammoniac smell which permeated the mattress.

 

She sat up and stared at me from across the room. Rachel smiled with a grim unease.

 

‘I am from Scandinavia, but I am not one of their people.’ she said.

 

It took forever, but the words came out of me.

 

‘What are you?’ I said.

 

3′

 

I followed my people here, but I was never one of them.

 

I hid in their stories and their dreams. When I was hungry, I crept on top of them and sucked their dreams down like meat and mead, before I moved on. America was a land rich with promise, but it frightened me.

 

There were other people and their gods here, and how we clashed, unable or unwilling to compete for the faith of men in any terms less than war.

 

This mare was smart. I hid amongst the people, safe in a warm belly then a body for a lifetime and kept my feeding down to the bare minimum. Hunger is a good teacher, necessity is even better, so I learned to expand my appetites to strong emotions.

 

Anxieties. Fears. Guilt. Virtues.

 

After centuries, it amused me to pretend to be something I am not. I was strident in challenging anyone who questioned me, careful to remain mediocre in capability but not ambition. When you have lived through cycles of civilisation, it is no effort to find where a man’s guilt lies.

 

There is truth in the anger, I am part of an oppressed people, not indigenous but still separate from men, and dying as the distance grows. I have so much food to harvest, I have to store it all on my body, transmute it or I would explode, I’m sure.

 

My talent for provocation is amoral, an adaptation afforded to an apex predator, as your scientists would say, and it is what I must do to survive.

 

They have been good lives.

 

4.

 

I shot her twice in the chest and walked up to put another two rounds into her forehead.

 

A third phone call. Dennis would arrive with his crew and clean everything up. We had been exchanging cards at Christmas since before Burma, and his work kept him young. I cannot say the same, but I put the phone away and went outside, eager to be away from the stink.

 

Her disappearance warranted speculation but there was someone else eager to take up the slack. Left or right, it didn’t matter because nothing ever changed and I watched a country I’d endured horrible things for, die by degrees.

 

Rachel’s story stayed with me, and the rest of my life was flavoured with dashes of paranoia at every eccentric I passed, or everything I saw which couldn’t be explained straight away. It made sense more than the dismal crimes I hoped had been committed instead.

 

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men, politics, Uncategorized, writing

Incel

I don’t write this from an elevated perspective nor in judgement. My relationships speak to the good and bad we

I don’t write this from an elevated perspective nor in judgement. My relationships speak to the good and bad we all face, and I’m informed by my failures as much as my successes. I’ve rejected and been rejected, it’s the latter which informs this train of thought.

Most people weren’t aware of incels until today if they are at all. It is short for involuntary celibate, a designation made by men who haven’t been able to form romantic or sexual attachments at all. They congregate online, Reddit and there’s a lot of resentment expressed there. Hatred, in a lot of cases, and it leads to expressions and calls for violence. That’s a surface level interpretation of a subculture so infused with irony and sarcasm but there’s one of them who’s made it happen. I won’t write his name down because he’s a symbol now, an apogee for a situation where everyone has been throwing opinions around. There’s been a consistent narrative of mockery and emasculation to push and it comes from left wing/liberals (which I’ve considered myself to be albeit with some concerns) Is it any wonder they developed into an ideology which leads to murder?

Rejection is not an excuse for acts which impinge on the lives of others. Rejection hurts but it teaches by it being a painful experience. When lobsters lose mating competition battles with other lobsters, they shrink in size and experience depression (they have similar nervous systems as human beings) and slip down the hierarchy until they win again.

What if they never win? I wonder if it is something there, but it denies their humanity, and these days it is easy to forget we’re talking and commenting on the words and actions of other human beings. I feel disappointment because anger won’t solve this, and neither will love. There are winners and losers in everything, and perhaps they brought into the illusion of equity our culture espouses in terms of love.

Is it entitlement? If some cultural expectations and tenets of love are an illusion, then the idea might seek to plant roots in the soil of young minds and create an expectation of sex, or love by the virtue of approaching with it in mind.

There are illusions which kill people.

These are boys grown older, but not up. No one starts them into manhood, so they try to figure it out on their own and on the nights when it difficult to breathe when you’re nursing the bitter sting of loss, these ideas, these other people come to you like a fairy tale and they lure you in.

I wrote about this because things like this happen and you see blame but not understanding, and it given under the auspices of grief but its politicized and used to berate men. People die and we use it to hurt one another.

Rejection hurts but love hurts too. They are beautiful and painful kinds of hurt, and to use them as a means to make other people suffer betrays what happened.

Ten people won’t get to feel love or rejected again.

Fourteen are suffering more than most of us will ever know.

There’s lots to go around but at least we should be kind to one another.
face, and I’m informed by my failures as much as my successes. I’ve rejected and been rejected, it’s the latter which informs this train of thought.

Most people weren’t aware of incels until today if they are at all. It is short for involuntary celibate, a designation made by men who haven’t been able to form romantic or sexual attachments at all. They congregate online, mostly Reddit and there’s a lot of resentment expressed there. Hatred, in a lot of cases, and it leads to expressions and calls for violence. That’s a surface level interpretation of a subculture so infused with irony and sarcasm but there’s one of them who’s  made it happen. I won’t write his name down because he’s a symbol now, an apogee for a situation where everyone has been throwing opinions around. There’s been a consistent narrative of mockery and emasculation to push and it comes from left wing/liberals(which I’ve considered myself to be albeit with some concerns) Is it any wonder they developed into an ideology which leads to murder?

Rejection is not an excuse for acts which impinge on the lives of others. Rejection hurts but it teaches by it being a painful experience. When lobsters lose mating competition battles with other lobsters, they shrink in size and experience depression (they have similar nervous systems as human beings) and slip down the hierarchy until they win again.

What if they never win? I wonder if it is something there, but it denies their humanity, and these days it is easy to forget we’re talking and commenting on the words and actions of other human beings. I feel disappointment because anger won’t solve this, and neither will love. There are winners and losers in everything, and perhaps they brought into the illusion of equity our culture espouses in terms of love.

Is it entitlement? If some of the cultural expectations and tenets of love are an illusion then the idea might seek to plant roots in the soil of young minds and create an expectation of sex, or love simply by the virtue of approaching with it in mind.

There are illusions which kill people.

These are boys grown older, but not up. No one initiates them into manhood, so they try to figure it out on their own and on the nights when its difficult to breathe when you’re nursing the bitter sting of loss, these ideas, these other people come to you like a fairy tale and they lure you in.

I wrote about this because things like this happen and you see blame but not understanding, and its given under the auspices of grief but its politicised and used to berate men. People die and we use it to hurt one another.

Rejection hurts but love hurts too. They are beautiful and painful kinds of hurt, and to use them as means to make other people suffer betrays what happened.

Ten people won’t get to feel love or rejected again.

Fourteen are suffering more than most of us will ever know.

There’s lots of it to go around but at least we should be kind to one another.

 

 

 

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compassion, love, politics, women

On politics and kindness

Does anyone else feel disconnected from politics and political debate at the moment?

I don’t write overt political fiction. I used to be an activist and it’s a condition akin to a long term illness, periods of remission and infection but I’m much better at the latter, in so far I’ve focused on improving my self and making my art, but I still care. I was a socialist after a fashion, campaigned locally and was quite outspoken online, which is as pathetic as it sounds now. Self righteous and outraged, which hits the brain in the same way cocaine does and yet the stories aren’t as good.

I used to be a true believer, that if we instituted equality of outcome, then people’s innate goodness would bloom like flowers in spring. History tells us otherwise, and I was guilty of the sin in believing if ‘my version’ of socialism was implemented, it would be perfect. I used to consider myself a feminist, and wondered why I was anxious and angry, all the time, made to believe being a man was somehow a broken path through identity.

It’s not true, but it’s a controversial statement to say it aloud, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with being a man, any more than there is being a woman. It’s the individual choices we make, whether they come from nature or nurture and whether we accept the responsibility of their outcome. That is a subject for another time, because I have a lot to say in that regard and probably won’t because it riles people up, and I prefer to think out loud without it being seen as a provocation.

I don’t consider myself to be any one thing politically. I get why people believe what they do, even the worst things make sense to us, if we sit down and really look into ourselves. It’s part of why I write, because in the dirt of ourselves, we find the real treasure. What gets me about politics now is it is insular, with the same sins on both sides – the left have gone all in on intersectionality, where they’ve stopped empowering people to be anything other than victims whereas the right don’t come out and say ‘fuck you, I’ve got mine.’ I think the truth is somewhere between the two, but the debate is getting insular and shrill, and I watch it the same way I watch sumo. Two fat guys trying to slap one another of the ring whilst we all suffer, regardless of the outcome.

I got approached to run as a candidate once, and rejected it wholly which was the beginning of my move away from political activism towards art and working on being a better person. There are those who will say I have a long way to go in the latter, but I keep working towards it through my actions and art.

My politics, such as it is, is sourced in common sense and kindness and evidence. I don’t think someone’s origin defines who they are, but I can see how it hurts or helps. I think both sides ignore class and economic disparities because telling someone the colour of their skin or who they sleep with means they’re hobbled before the race starts is easier than trying to look at how resources get allocated and what opportunities are available. Poverty is corrosive and the scars run deep, but the left focus on nurturing a hierarchy of oppression hurts more people than it helps. I don’t believe a white male has anything close to inherent privilege. If you disagree, look at the homeless population and the suicide statistics. I think virtue signalling hides flaws which are better addressed through contemplation and therapy.

On the right, they could benefit from more empathy and listen to everything Jesus said, and I mean everything. I don’t think bombing everyone helps although the left governments are as excited about war as the right wing ones.

You get the idea, I like freedom of speech for everyone, because if someone puts an idea out there, we can talk about it. We debate or have dialectics because we are civilised and don’t have force of arms, but we hurt one another emotionally instead and wonder why nothing appears to get better.

I don’t have the answers, I used to think I did but I can do is think about how and why I behave, why I feel about certain things and issues, and vote. In this country, it’s a dismal set of choices to make come election time.

The writer Michelle McNamara, late wife of the comedian Patton Oswalt said something which makes sense to me. It applies to all points on the political spectrum.

‘It’s chaos out there, be kind.’

Raam Dass said something which I quote a lot.

‘We’re all just walking one another home.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pacifist or passive, but I prefer civilised discourse over violence and direct action. I loathe antifa as much as neo-Nazi activity because all it does is hurt and frighten people. An adolescence of comic books and mythology has taught me we are capable of being better, without a power ring or a radioactive spider bite, there are millions of good people doing good things to improve the world. Shit, Mr Rogers said something which I will end on, because it’s beautiful and it sums up how I feel better than another few paragraphs.

‘Look to the helpers.’

We’re all in this together, surrounded by miracles and horror. I write stories and poems which qualifies me towards nothing and I read a lot of books, trying to synthesize together all the information into some form of knowledge. I mispronounce words I’ve read but not exclaimed aloud, but I laugh at myself about it because it reminds me I’m human and as flawed as the rest of you. We make our own heaven or hell, and sometimes I can’t choose between horns or the halo, so I have fur and friends instead.

We all want to love and to be loved. It’s an elegant idea but difficult to express in action but we try.

Thank you for reading.

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politics, short fiction

The Man Who Sold The World

The town I grew up in died slow. Large stretches of land where people used to live and work, made their dreams, small as they were, into something you could reach out and touch. Each boarded up window was a headstone for a dream and soon we were experiencing the acute joy of adolescence in a dying town.

 

Places which make you angry as you grow older.

 

My mum would rather suffer in silence before asking for help. There were days she didn’t eat so I could. She pretended she wasn’t hungry, but it was the same day every week and I was not a stupid child.

 

She worked two jobs and fasted one day each week so I had a hot meal every day.

 

Does that sound like an economy which works for you?

 

This is the point in the story where I tell you a goofy anecdote about an early science project which caused widespread panic, like an electromagnet which kills the electricity to everyone on the street, something like that.

 

It would illustrate I am smart and also human. Everyone relates to a child, don’t they? I mean, there’s the Macaulay Culkin movie, where he is an evil kid and even when he dies, you’re led to feel upset about it, aren’t you?

 

It also establishes my credentials as a scientist. The mad variety, which if you’ve read a book or two, you might learn is more common than you think.

 

Harry Harlow raised rhesus monkeys in isolation chambers and made surrogate mothers out of wire to test maternal separation and dependence needs.

 

Sidney Gottlieb slipped LSD into people’s drinks without their knowledge and recorded the results.

 

Giovanni Aldini electrified corpses for large crowds via a metal rod inserted in a place you never want a metal rod.

 

Well, some of you anyway, I’m in no position to judge.

 

I did nothing like it.

 

You’re welcome.

 

If you say the s-word again, I will have you killed.

 

Not socialist.

 

I’m not anything you can quantify. I am, post-political, not post-modern. I grew up looking at these people who got into power and did nothing but get elected, get rich and leave office. They started wars to be fought by people I grew up with. Jeff Gulliver lost his leg in Fallujah and he couldn’t tell you what he was fighting for. He shot himself last year and I went back for his funeral.

 

Anyway, I’m qualifying myself.

 

My girlfriend says I do it when I am nervous.

 

Plus if you built crazy giant shit, you had people come after you.

 

I’ve never been to The Sphere. It is a prison designed to use people like me. It is seldom at maximum occupancy because the mortality rate for our kind is high. You don’t get the luxury of due process when an eighteen-year-old who can phase through walls traps your head inside a metal railing.

 

That was the fate of Mickey Francis also known as Proton.

 

When you’re exposed to a blast of two thousand degree celsius from the eyes of a thirty three old failed actor and your head melts in a pink and black torrent down your shoulders.

 

Adios, Lady Death. Poor choice of name.

 

They got sponsorship deals, spoke at the united nations and got television shows. We got murdered, crippled or sent down for life. I decided I would not go down either path.

 

The s-word I hate is super villain.

 

I could breed giant lizards or build death rays but it changes nothing.

 

I rigged an election so things could be better. I didn’t corrupt democracy.. I came from the places it fucked over repeatedly.

 

Free will is a measure of incalculable value.  I did not want to invent a cure for cancer or develop free energy. I wanted more opportunities for those things to happen regularly. There was no such thing as a free lunch in any capacity, everything had to be paid for and I knew my efforts in those directions would change nothing for the people I grew up amongst and the town I lived in.

 

I studied the great engines of our society.

 

Ah, you thought I would say physics or chemistry. The latter would have been smart. I watched Breaking Bad, figured out the recipe from what they left out in the cooking scenes in five minutes.

 

Marketing.

 

Advertising.

 

Social Media.

 

Business.

 

I stole identities and gathered intelligence., Hired people to run departments,  with legitimate jobs and established places of business where they worked on the project. I achieved more tracking social media metrics than I ever could with a death ray. They had health insurance, performance bonuses, generous vacation packages and college funds set up for their kid.These things made their lives comfortable and when you looked at Julian Assange living in a cleaner’s cupboard in the embassy or Edward Snowden hiding in Russia, comfortable is a good reason to keep your head down and not ask questions.

 

I made groups on Facebook. Muslims For America. U.S Pride. The South Will Rise.

 

In one room, I had groups of people having arguments with each other across the internet as they talked about their plans for the weekend. Real people joined in and we put our messages across.

 

I bought space on US servers, installed VPNs and studied the metrics like they told the future. We learned what content causes people to react, the semiotics and images which provoked the responses we needed to generate.

 

You saw our advertisements and sponsored content, read the stories and posted something insulting to a comment one people made. We hid in a haystack of LLCs, moving the money between them and spending it where we needed it to go.

 

I put adverts online for actors to stage protests and got footage online within minutes. Above my head, men with capes and bulletproof skin punched one another whilst I sat in a massage chair and watched the country bend to my will.

 

My strategy came from the one game Mom and I played all the time.

 

Even when she would fall asleep during the games.

 

Go was a game invented by the Chinese. It’s been played for two and a half thousand years on a continued basis. We played on a 9 x 9 board but my mom taught me the same principles I used now to build a world where she wouldn’t have had to work herself to exhaustion.

 

She nodded off at the wheel driving home from her third job. She wouldn’t take my money because she figured out where it came from and it felt worthless if I couldn’t make her comfortable.

Go has several strategies available to it. The opening one is the hardest for professional players which is why I spent time on it and then let the tao of the internet do the rest. I nudged them along.

My achievement was in using what was already there.

I didn’t weaken your press so everything they said was mocked over being investigated.

I didn’t make you dependent on marketing and advertising.

I didn’t make you derive validation and identity from social media.

Our democracy was corrupt and money-serving long before I was born. The big crimes they committed were nothing compared to what I did.

I was Jesus kicking the moneylenders out of the fucking temple.

 

Except people were paying me for advertising space on the social media pages.

 

I had people fighting in the streets over the opinions I gave them.

 

I chose the presidential candidates. Eliminating the ones I had no interest in was easy enough People can be talked out of their vote, and third party candidates were sinkholes  people poured their votes into.

 

I chose the president.

 

I’ve never met her. It would be pointless when she knows what her agenda is for the next four years.

 

Eight, if she can get Universal Basic Income in before the Christmas break. Weed is the next one after it because I’ve got plans to establish farms for it back home. I can generate jobs and rejuvenate the economy in six months. It was too late for my Mom and Jeff, but I decided it was worth trying to get someone in charge who would do what they promised to do.

 

Ecbert the first King of England united all the kingdoms in twenty five years. I did it in twenty five months.

 

I’ve seeded both House and Senate with enough votes to ensure the bills pass with enough resistance to look plausible.

 

The Mighty Tiger can’t fight legislation which requires mandatory training or face incarceration. I’ve established a new market for superhero insurance which is why Proton and Lady Death’s families are living well. The CDOs on it were unpleasant but there are people doing serious time for it now so that’s good. There’s only room for one bastard here and it’s me.

 

I built a house on a large stretch of land. I have room for animals, my own water supply and grow vegetables, keep some livestock. I have a converted barn where I run everything although these days it is more massaging than running. My girlfriend isn’t ready to move out here yet, so it’s me and the dog as I point my country to a finer world on the horizon.

 

They blamed the Russians which is a change from the usual targets when things go wrong, immigrants and poor people. I grew up one of the latter and for once; I wanted to give the fuckers a reason for it.

 

Just once.

 

Up in the sky, I see figures flying towards me. I pet my dog and send it back to the house as the black helicopters emerge behind them. I hear the vehicles driving down the dirt track and put my hands behind my head as the end game begins.

 

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politics, short fiction, women

A Walk In Winter

dark_winter_by_baxiaart-dc0llaj.jpg

 

https://baxiaart.deviantart.com/art/Dark-Winter-726601483

 

They watched her through the glass.

 

Her eyes were red from the gas and a livid bruise had spread across the bridge of her pert nose, but she sat with a quiet smile on her face, as she slipped her spectacles onto her nose. The minute ghosts of old piercings around her nose and lips lent her face a ruined grandeur but Newman and Peterson paid more attention to her wide shoulders and posture. A predator posing as a housepet, Newman thought as she looked at the file on the tablet.

 

‘Thank god for the Matriarch Act. She’s here until we decide otherwise.’ she said.

 

Peterson pinched the bridge of her nose and straightened her back. Her green eyes were dull with fatigue as she stared at the woman. She muttered something under her breath. Newman asked her to repeat herself.

 

‘I don’t like it. Too convenient.’ she said.

 

Newman, with her blonde curls and chipper, can do smile resented Peterson’s inability to see a good thing when it happened. Activists seldom lasted without psychological damage or, as in this case, arrogance, both of which ended in someone’s ass in a chair, blubbering and naming names. Why should this one be any different?, Newman thought as she considered how to respond.

 

‘She got sloppy, they always do. Look, the law backs us up, all we have to do is get her to talk.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson sighed and shook her head.

 

‘Sedition got tossed out of common law, back when I was in school. Do you think that’s a good thing?’ she said.

 

Newman grimaced, hiding her concern at Peterson’s rhetorical questions. Their cases were made easier by the Matriarch Act, and women were safer for it,but all Peterson could do was pick at the loose threads of things and pull them apart. It made her a great agent but prickly company, which was why they never spent time together outside of work. Newman wondered if Peterson went home and hung herself on a hanger in a cupboard, waiting to be called into service. She had been active in SocJus for decades and her reputation was impeccable, but Newman noticed the tea stains on the sleeves of her blouse and the lipstick on her mouth more than she used to. Peterson brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and peered at Newman.

 

‘Let her stew for a minute, I could murder a cuppa.’ she said.

 

Newman prickled with an indignant surprise.

 

‘We’re going to have her sit there?’ she said.

 

Peterson pouted and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘She’s not going anywhere. Plus you need to read the file before we go in there.’ she said.

 

Newman turned to hide the blood rising in her cheeks. She admired Peterson but could not say she liked her, all the observations had begun to overwhelm her respect the way carbon monoxide overwhelmed oxygen, and the inconsistency of her approach riled Newman in ways she could not quantify.

 

‘OK, but I’ve read the file. Some of us do our homework.’ she said.

 

Peterson sniffed as she reached into her jacket for her cigarettes.

 

‘Some of us don’t need to, dear. You’ll learn that once you’ve been around.’ she said.

 

Newman walked behind Peterson, glaring daggers at the back of her head as they left their prisoner in the room.

 

Peterson smoked to offend, and Newman stood in the doorway, leaning out to talk to her partner but unable to bear the acidic tang of the cigarettes. She had left leaflets on Peterson’s desk about stopping, but they had gone in the bin and so Newman endured this as part of the price of Peterson’s mentorship.

 

A few months and she could apply for Debate Enforcement, with a corner office and a driverless car. Peterson would stay in SocJus, a wizened, nostalgic fish in a small pond.

 

‘Look, she’s clever, but who gives a shit? I remember the antifa professor who twatted someone with a bike lock, this is just the other side of that, isn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson puffed on her cigarette and shook her head.

 

‘Read it again. It’s not a series of qualifications, look at the gestalt of it.’

 

Newman read through it again.

 

‘So she was into the holistics, big deal. Meant she had another source of income.’ she said.

 

Peterson inhaled, fought the cough which seemed more common as the years went on and exhaled smoke in two grey plumes through her nostrils.

 

‘Hypnotherapy? Clinical psychology? Did you see anything related to gender studies in there at all?’ she said.

 

Newman shook her head.

 

‘Wasn’t it mandatory back then?’ she said.

 

Peterson chuckled and shook her head. Newman returned her attention to the file rather than confront her on the perceived slight.

 

‘Ah, no it wasn’t. Bet it was like the stone age.’ she said

 

Peterson glanced across at Newman and felt her chest well up with a piquant nostalgia, grateful for Newman’s capacity to take umbrage and return insult at every opportunity to hide what she felt.

 

‘No, I always thought we’d figure it out. We’d follow the evidence and make things fairer.’ she said.

 

Newman looked up and stared at Peterson. The balance of power tilted towards zealotry now, and everyone was cautious of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Newman tolerated Peterson’s cynicism like her smoking, because she had to but things like this had a way of getting misinterpreted.

 

‘Things are fairer, and that’s a conversation for another time.’ Newman said.

 

The twelfth of never, eleventeen o’clock, Peterson thought as she ground the cigarette out under the toe of her shoe. Her back hurt and Newman’s enthusiasm had worn into belligerence and arrogance like a callus on her soul, inflexible to the nuances which made cases stick outside of heavy-handed legislation.

 

‘Let’s go see what she’s about, shall we?’ she said.

 

Newman backed up to allow Peterson inside as she studied the file again.

 

‘Funny.’ Newman said.

 

Peterson asked her what she meant. Newman chewed the inside of her cheek before she looked up.

 

‘Says she’s a black belt in a couple of martial arts, but Cradle Team swooped her up whilst she was sloshing milk all over her face for the gas. Thought she’d have put up more of a fight, wouldn’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson winked at Newman and grinned.

 

‘See, few more years and you’ll be handling cases on your own. None of that Debate Enforcement bollocks for you, my dear, I think.’ she said.

 

Newman smiled but it did not reach her eyes.

 

A few fucking years, she thought as they went to start their interview.

 

3.

 

She knew the qualifications would arouse suspicion. They were genuine, and had been a source of great pride for her but she trusted to the suspicious nature of her gender to tease the covert nature and placement.

 

It had been a simple act of will.

 

Noor Inayat Khan had studied child psychology at the Sorbonne but she had also served as one of the few wireless operators in occupied Paris.

 

Nancy Wake had been a nurse before being recruited to the SoE. So had Sarah Emmons.

 

Mary Bowe had been a slave.

 

What united them was a decision to set themselves apart.

 

She had done the same thing ten years ago, after watching the queues of broken men receiving their implants in return for receiving basic income.

 

They thought her name was Catherine De Sauve and she would maintain it under pain of torture. It was no more representative of her than the knitted pink sweater and the leather jacket she had worn to the protest.

 

She smiled as the two agents entered the room. One of them had the faint diesel perfume of cigarettes clinging to her, and the worn, papery skin of a career in SocJus. Her eyes were green but dull, stained with too many sights for them to sparkle. The other was petite, blonde and held her zealotry behind an air of professional enthusiasm which verged on the indecorous. She had a tablet in her hands, loaded with Catherine’s file.

 

Catherine sat back in the chair

 

‘Any chance of tea at this juncture?’ she said.

 

The elder woman sat down and shook her head.

 

‘All in good time.’ she said.

 

Catherine guffawed and folded her arms, enjoying the differing levels of irritation her bonhomie evoked in the pair of them.

 

‘Look, I know you can keep me here, and you’re both itching to kick ten bells of shit out of me, but we’re still British, aren’t we?’ she said.

 

The elder woman tried to hide her smile but the younger woman leaned forwards, shining with a professional zeal which told Catherine everything she needed to know.

 

Catherine focused her attention on the older woman, turning to face her with a degree of theatre which prompted a snarl from the younger agent.

 

‘In a minute, Catherine, let’s talk about today for a bit first then we’ll sort you out a cup of tea.’ she said.

 

Catherine shivered, restrained herself from wiping a stray snowflake from her cheek as she made eye contact with the older woman.

 

The woman shivered and repeated the gesture. Peterson, Catherine thought with a quiet sense of triumph. Yvonne.

 

‘I can’t place your accent. Not local, are you?’ Catherine said.

 

The agents exchanged a questioning look before the younger woman slid the tablet across the table.

 

‘Don’t pull the hocus pocus shit here. I’ll give you something which will make the stun gas feel like a spa day.’ she said.

 

Catherine felt the vibration of the bottle breaking against the bricks travelling down her hand. The group holding the man down, giggling as they pulled his trousers down and an ophidian uncurling of resentment and fear tasting like a stolen kiss on her lips.

 

Newman, Erika.

 

‘What hocus pocus, Agent Newman?’ she said.

 

Catherine revolted at Newman’s disgusted snarl before it was slipped back behind the cheerful mask of authority again. She returned her attention to Yvonne Peterson. Her synapses hummed with recognition as she smiled and rested her chin in her hand.

 

Peterson coughed into her hand and rested her forearms on the table.

 

‘No, I was born in Burnley. You’re clever, Catherine, we all know it.’ she said.

 

Catherine heard the change in her accent and wondered if she noticed the drifting vowels coming to her words.

 

‘You got some weather up there, didn’t you? When it snows, it really fucking snows, doesn’t it?’ she said.

 

Peterson shivered and sat back, her face was pale and taut with unresolved tension.

 

‘Stop it. Cold reading is one of the first things you spot. It’s something people use to grant themselves unearned status, and it doesn’t intimidate me.’ she said.

 

Newman swallowed and tapped the table.

 

‘Drone footage shows you directing a group towards the Cradle Team, and passing them harmonic batons. On that alone, you’ll be on a zimmer frame before you get out.’ she said.

 

Catherine glanced at the footage with a smirk and returned her attention to Peterson.

 

‘You look like you get your best ideas when you go walking, would you agree?’ she said.

 

Newman smacked her fist against the table. Catherine turned her attention back to her.

 

‘I bet you were part of a Grrl Squad, weren’t you? You look the type.’ she said.

 

Newman scowled as her cheeks reddened and she sat back.

 

‘Grrl Squads were a legitimate expression against patriarchal misogyny.  There were a lot of scare stories, but most people know they were bollocks.’ she said.

 

Catherine ran the tip of her tongue over her lips and smiled.

 

‘Bollocks.’ she said.

 

‘What was it like slicing open his scrotum?’ she said.

 

Newman narrowed her eyes and slid the tablet back into her hands as she looked at Peterson.

 

‘You called it. Fake scares and attitude.’ she said.

 

Catherine rolled her eyes and chuckled.

 

‘Yes, that’s me. I bet, if you tell anyone, you say you were surprised by the amount of blood but really you were delighted, weren’t you?’ she said.

 

Peterson coughed into her fist.

 

‘Tea sounds good, Newman.’ she said.

 

Newman pushed her chair back and stood up, passed the tablet to her and left the room, not before she glared at Catherine with loathing.

 

‘Everything’s recorded anyway, so talk all you want. You’re fucking done.’ she said.

 

She strode out of the room and Peterson shook her head.

 

‘She’s not wrong, you know. I’m disappointed, if I’m honest.’ she said.

 

Catherine folded her hands over one another.

 

‘Me too. Not with her, though. She was born to this.’ she said.

 

Catherine turned and stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You weren’t though.’ she said.

 

Peterson shuddered and brushed something from her cheek again.

 

‘You can stop. It’s pathetic without an audience.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared into Peterson’s eyes.

 

‘You would walk for hours, out in the snow so you could think. All those ideas and they kept you warm.’ she said.

 

Peterson brought her right hand up and smacked Catherine across the face. She wiped her nose and sniffed.

 

‘All those ideas and what did you do with them?’ she said.

 

Peterson swallowed as her stomach churned with discomfort.

 

‘Fuck off. The next time, I’ll use my fist.’ she said.

 

Catherine stared at her, and Peterson was mesmerised by how her pupils shifted colour and size, in perfect synchronicity with the pounding in her temples.

 

The pounding grew in volume and substance. Peterson tried to stand up, but her legs would not respond and all the world was reduced to Catherine’s gaze.

 

She had treasured the walks. Her lumpen father had no inner life, and her mother was a grey, exhausted ghost long before she took ill so she would take to nature and think about the world around her. The cough, she realised, had started there but it used to be a badge of honour, a feeling she had put herself out there, even if it was into herself.

 

Her thoughts slid away as the edges of her vision went black.

 

4.

 

Newman was holding the chipped SocJus mug in her hand, as the kettle boiled, wondering how it would feel to crack it into the middle of the smug bitch’s face. The alien nature of the thought did not shock her at all.

 

The alarm did.

 

She tossed the mug down and ran back, shoving past colleagues and security as she barrelled into the room.

 

Peterson was stood up, her hands covered in blood as Catherine laid across the table, staring out at nothing with a final smile on her face. They pulled Peterson from the room and shouted for medical but Newman gauged the horrible angle of Catherine’s neck and knew it was too late. She envied Peterson, but the atavistic thought was stored away. She was too close, too shaken by Catherine’s conceit, and despite her warnings, Peterson had been taken by it too.

 

Newman wondered how this would impact on her career as she stared at the body.

 

  1.  

 

Yvonne sat in the holding cell. They had taken her clothes and given her a unitard to wear as she sat in the corner and looked at her feet.

 

It had gone well, she told herself. She had adored Catherine De Sauve, but she had been a cartoon, useful to a point but neutered by position and reputation. It was a suit through which to encounter the world and discarding it was a bittersweet experience.

 

A death in custody was an inconvenience when filtered through the Matriarch Act. The crime of sedition was pinned to a corpse and held no consequence. Yvonne Peterson would undergo a psychiatric assessment and a board review, both of which had been accounted for when she had sat with Matt all those years ago, watching what was happening and deciding to go to war over it.

 

A year later they were in Tibet, sat in an ancient temple learning things which were inconvenient to the world which was being built.

 

Yvonne Peterson had been recruited into a war being fought on a scale her previous personality had begun to contemplate on her long winter walks. It was enough for Catherine to force a connection then a transfer. In the dark of the cell, she smiled to herself.

 

She was looking forward to getting back to work.

 

(https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett if you enjoyed this, and are feeling generous.)

 

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fiction, politics, short stories

A Thanksgiving Guest

Paul sat on the kerb, staring out at nothing, shuddering despite the blanket wrapped around him.The African medallion hung from his neck. There was a single drop of blood splattered across it. Detective Harris stood across from him as she kept an eye on the CSUs processing the scene. He glanced up, brown eyes watering and bulging in their sockets before he ran his tongue over his lips.

 

‘You got a cigarette?’he said.

 

She handed him a soft pack of Marlboro Lights. He took one but his hands shook too much to light it. Harris lit it for him and he inhaled with a junkie enthusiasm. When he thanked her, his voice was soft and mannered.

 

He told her what happened.

 

He put it as a joke tweet. A list of priced services to provoke reactions. Running up on your creepy uncle cost twenty dollars. Mentioning Black Lives Matter and giving hard stares at anyone who challenged him was ten dollars. He said he would bring a plate and microwave it. He referenced Ving Rhames in ‘Baby Boy’ over Sidney Poitier in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’.

 

Erin Mayhew sent him a direct message and a few messages later, dropped a chunk of change in his bank account. A photo of her made the prospect appealing. Paul thought she was pretty with curled blonde hair and a full, soft build running to fat although her social media feeds were a little confrontational, even for him.

 

Harris noted how he paused afterwards before she asked him to continue.

 

He picked her up from her dorm, driving an SUV and she kept touching his knee on the drive down. Paul looked away and Harris asked him what happened.

They had fucked in the back seat, and Paul felt a little objectified even as she came three times. It was, he admitted, the only time she stopped talking about how awful her family were.

He took the sealed plate of ribs, chitlins, collared greens and cornbread in and adopted a rolling, beligierent swagger as Erin giggled and whispered how he should go all in on Trump. The money was good and it would be a good story to share online later, he told himself.

 

The table was heaving with food and a centrepiece which was a clamshell draped with twigs and dried flowers sprayed silver and gold. Erin’s parents, David and Maria were soft, polite people who struggled to make eye contact and when Paul passed his plate, his stomach soured with distaste as he stared out David without speaking.

Erin grinned with an awful mania as they sat down. Paul told the detective how her uncle wore a MAGA hat at the table, and spoke to Paul about the last Kendrick Lamar album. They were polite to him and every cent he earned came up to haunt him. It was awkward and his nerves made his performance halting and inconstant but he believed things would pan out for the best.

 

Which was when the jar of vicodin came out. Erin’s aunt Laura had a back injury and good insurance, dished out the pills from her purse and Paul shook his head when she offered. Erin took two and frowned at Paul before she said something to her uncle Eddie about Roy Moore.

 

Paul cringed at Erin’s zeal before he noted how much it was reflected in her uncle and father’s arguments. They repeated talking points gleaned from the internet, their voices rising and falling as they scored points off one another. Paul saw sympathetic glances thrown his way from Laura and mother but he kept moving his stale cornbread around the plate and kept silent.

 

The hairs went up on the nape of his neck when he heard three words which haunted him.

 

Black lives matter.

 

All lives matter.

 

He studied his plate like a midterm and wished he had been anywhere else than at the Mayhew Thanksgiving dinner.

He asked Harris for another cigarette before he carried on. His hands shook harder and tears ran down his cheeks as he continued.

What broke the moment was Erin mentioning the Trump admission recorded by Billy Bush, which was cue for Laura to defend Kevin Spacey and her sister turned, indignant and spraying flecks of turkey and sweet potato as she stated how her sister always resented her theatrical talent.

Paul said he was relieved when the argument became personal rather than political but the observation lasted as long as it took for Laura to reach into her purse and take out something other than pain medicine.

Just pain, he said.

The Walther had a lady grip and it looked small in her hands as she lowered the barrel at her sister’s chest and pulled the trigger.

Mrs Mayhew’s mouth formed into a perfect oh as she fell backwards, clutching her chest. Paul flew back from the table as Laura turned and fired at her husband, his red MAGA hat popped off his head with the force of the bullet.

Erin smiled as her aunt shot her in the forehead.

Mr Mayhew wrestled with her, his thick hands dwarfed hers before she fired into the rounded bulk of his midsection and he slumped forwards, making choking sounds as he bled over the table.

‘Did you like the centrepiece?’ Laura said.

Her voice was a rasping screech as she pointed the gun at him. He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his terror allowed him. She had borrowed it from a picture Ivanka posted before she turned the gun on herself.

 

He butted the cigarette out and looked up at the detective. The best ideas start as jokes, and so do some of the worst.

Harris sat down on the kerb and asked about his family. He said they argued and loved with the same volume and his father had voted for Trump but he had his reasons.

‘Families are fucking weird.’ he said.

 

Harris smiled and nodded. She’d left her house after her husband had let their daughter pull down a tray of brownies from the kitchen table whilst he was playing with his phone and she had read him the riot act. She gave him the rest of the pack of cigarettes and gestured for the paramedics to come back to him.

‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ she said.

Paul wept as she walked away.

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love, politics, women

a good soldier

John had put the no phones rule in place from the start. It was odd at first, like a missing limb and feeling a strange obligation to be present with people. The drinking helped and when he passed a thick joint, his staff smiled and they relaxed.

 

It was useful to talk off the record. He listened more than he spoke, but all the staff enjoyed the warm purity of his attention. When he spoke, his voice was low and cultured. Cassie, the speech writer enjoyed how he spoke like that all the time. She told him too, and he chuckled as he lifted the tumbler of scotch to his lips.

 

‘I curse like a sailor, Cassie, just not in public.’

 

She giggled and leaned forward, squeezing her thighs together beneath her pencil skirt as she blushed, aware of the blood rising in her throat.

 

‘What’s your favourite swear word?’ she said.

 

Harry glanced around the room, nervous. There was always the fear of someone recording.

 

He raised his hand and nodded.

 

‘Cunt.’

 

The room fell silent before Cassie giggled and put her hand over her mouth. The laughter was like crystal being rung. She giggled so hard it became difficult to breathe. It wasn’t made any easier when he leaned forward and put his hand on her forearm. He had big, strong hands and she stared at them before another ripple of giggles bubbled up in her.

 

‘Cassie, are you okay?’

 

She nodded, took deep breaths and took the bottle of water, turning her head.

 

He sat back, but she held onto the contact for a second. He gazed into her eyes and smiled at her before returning to a conversation about Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and the room thrived like a fire being lit.

 

Harry came over to her as she stood by the window, a tumbler of scotch in his hands.

 

‘This is where I remind you you work for him.’ he said.

 

Cassie curled her upper lip and pulled away from him, shaking her head.

 

‘I’m not stupid.’

 

Harry, with perpetual shadows underneath his eyes and a permanent scrub of beard smiled and shook his head.

 

‘It’s why I’m saying it. You’re not stupid, he is.’

 

Cassie sneered and raised an eyebrow

 

‘That’s disgusting Harry, on so many fucking levels. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation at all.’

 

Harry passed her the scotch.

 

‘We’ve got a tough six months left out here. We’re fighting against a lunatic fringe pumped up by internet tough guys and actual fucking nazis being listened to. He’s not the one, but he’s a one, do you agree?’

 

She nodded. Despite everything she’d felt the swell of admiration when he spoke. His policies were solid, innovative in ways endorsed by smart and popular people.

 

‘Harry, I will not fuck my boss.’

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘I’m your boss but no, that’s not good for anyone. We need to be going in hungry for the next round and I can’t have attachments to bring us into question.’

 

She took a good gulp of the scotch. It stung, but she liked the sharp sting of it in her sinuses and the warm bubble of intoxication as it blew up in her like a slow explosion. Her eyes watered as she handed back the glass.

 

‘I’m a good soldier Harry.’ she said.

 

He smiled and walked off. She looked after him, reaching in her jacket for her cigarettes before she felt his hand on the upper part of her arm. The shiver passed, brief and sharp like a sweet cramp.

 

Harry was two weeks too late. She had gone to him. They had been working on a speech about their economic policy. She put out her terms. He sat back, furrowed his forehead and laid his palms on the arms of the couch. He smiled.

 

‘Come here.’ he said.

 

Cassie was 5’7″, threw weights around and punched out her neuroses into other people who were doing the same thing in return. She launched herself at him and snarling with a want as bright as flame.

 

They took great pains to be stupid in controlled doses, the hunger building between them until he pinned her to the wall of his suite, fingers on her throat and hand in her panties. Cassie had seen the king in him, but behind closed doors, she knew the lover and the warrior.

 

She wanted him to succeed. If it took him away, she would decide what she wanted. This was not a job to her, and it had not been for sometime.

 

It was a mission. Cassie was not in this for the prestige of being seen with him. What she possessed was unique to her, a quiet surrender stroked and cajoled in moments of prolonged ecstasy.

 

‘Thirty minutes.’ she said.

 

He liked her to sleep over. They had exquisite slices of time before she would wake up, go back to her room and shower the musk of his sweat away. Cassie carried the delicious ache with her in her hips through the long days which followed. It waned, replaced by the anticipation of when they would be alone again.

 

Harry was a good general but Cassie could not explain it to him. It was a state of feeling, a primacy she could not contain. If he had turned her away, she would have continued to work for him. She had articulated it to him, willing to risk rejection but offering an arrangement which would suit them both.

 

She counted the time down, her heart racing in anticipation as she waited.

 

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