I balanced on the sidewalk curb, closed my eyes and enjoyed the dark vibrations emanating from the church in front of me. I ran my hand along the low stone wall surrounding it, centuries of cruelty seeping into me.
I remembered walking past this place before. Julian and Nova had shied away from it, not because they could feel what it was about, but because they were philosophically opposed to the church.
After everything that had happened, I’d forgotten about the Bat, the dark thing that my Mother worshipped. In our new society, the Bat wasn’t supposed to exist. Yet here it was, hidden underneath a thin layer of tradition and virtue, the essence of the Bat, the blood and sin and pain.
It was exactly what I needed to get my power back. I inhaled it greedily. I wondered how I could get even more of it. Would I have to go to Mass?
“You can’t be serious,” Julian said. “You’re going to church?”
“Don’t worry, I’m not religious or anything. I just need some emotional support…”
“So why not go to therapy?” Julian lifted his hands in amazement. “Blue, we’re trying to put things back together here. I don’t date people who go to church.”
“I’m only going there because I have to find something.” I didn’t say anything else. There was no good way to explain to him what I was looking for.
My family had never gone to church, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but I found out that as long as I imitated the other parishioners in the pews, I was okay.
I knew right away I had come to the right place. The crucified figure with the nails in its hands and feet, pictures arranged from colorful pieces of glass, saints kneeling in front of virgins and winged creatures. This place was thick with black magic.
Some of the prayers and songs were boring, and I rocked back and forth through them. But then my ears perked up.
“Take this bread, all of you, and eat it…”
This was it. This was what I wanted. My skin tingled. I stood in line for the altar, impatient. I could practically taste the body and blood. I received the wafer from the priest and then, without waiting for it to be my turn, I ran to the man who held the wine, grabbed the cup from him and drained it completely in a couple of quick swallows.
Figuring that the only interesting part of Mass was over, I stumbled out the church doors, somewhat tipsy. I imagined I would not be welcome back there again.
I was sitting on the edge of my bed, buoyed by a mixture of alcohol and Holy Spirit, when Nova crept into the bedroom.
“Hey,” she said.
“I’m here to work on your soul with you,” she explained. “Julian said you may be having problems with a spiritual void. I can help you find a spiritual path that’s not offensive. Are you okay with doing some meditation?”
“Sure.” I slid down onto the floor, and we settled into lotus positions across from each other.
“That’s good. Now, focus….breathe in and out…”
I focused on my breathing, but I wasn’t peaceful. I could swear I had wings growing out of my back… sharp fangs in my mouth…
“Ow!” Nova said, rubbing her head. “What the fuck was that?” she added in a very non-spiritual way. “It’s like something smacked me.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” I said, although I possibly did.
“You need to get your vibes under control.” Nova got up and backed away from me. “There’s this weird other being in you… It’s almost like…a devil.” She looked uncomfortable even saying that.
I didn’t care much for Nova’s opinion, but I was still disturbed. Could it be that my energies were demonic?
I decided to go to the expert on dark vibes in the family.
“Why on Earth did you get in touch with the Bat?” Mother chided me over the phone. “How do you know It wanted to hear from you? The Bat is easily angered, you know.”
“Oh, no,” I moaned. “Do you think It might be angry with me now? I’ve kind of been using Its essence. Mom…help. Can you talk to the Bat for me?”
“That will not work.”
“So what can I do?”
“Well, stay away from churches, darling, they’re bad for you.” She was silent for a moment. “Also, you should come over tomorrow night. You can contact the Bat in person.”
The following evening, I knelt in front of our homemade altar next to Mother. Placed on the altar was the sacrifice: microwaved meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
“The Bat loves stuff from Costco,” Mom said. “All right, do the wingflap, dear,” she told me. She flapped her arms gracefully. My wingflap was a bit more ungainly.
“We plead with you, Our Predator, that you bestow upon us only your Lesser and not your Greater Irritation,” Mother intoned. “We ask this in the name of your Eternal Appetite.” We both flapped our arms.
The room grew still. The winged shadow I had seen once before flitted down onto the Costco TV dinner. There were some loud crunches and then the sacrifice vanished, including the packaging.
Mother exhaled. “You’re in luck. It was in the mood for meatloaf tonight.” She peered at me closely. “So, are you feeling any different? Sometimes, when the Bat particularly enjoys a meal, It dispenses a special grace upon the person who brought the food. Anything?”
I waited for a beat before responding. “No, nothing.”
The truth was, I had been blessed by the Bat, and I was horrified by the form this blessing took. The Bat communicated Its message to me through Its emotional sonar, telling me that It knew how much my friends annoyed me, and that I was being granted the ability to bite their heads off.
Now I was in a deeper hole than before. No matter how much the people around me got on my nerves, I realized, I did not want to kill them. So I would have to reject the Bat’s gift. This meant that I would most likely end up with my head bitten off.
“Okay, so I don’t believe in evil, but you seem to be serving the side that’s maybe not as close to the Light,” one of those friends said. “I’m going to have to pull out the big guns and lay my most serious relaxation technique on you.”
Nova and I stretched out on the floor.
“Close your eyes,” she said in her most soothing radio host voice. “You’re in a beautiful meadow… a beautiful meadow with beautiful flowers… and there’s a rainbow…”
Some part of my brain that I couldn’t control was chewing on human flesh and bone… it was almost as if it wanted to bite somebody’s head off…
“And you see bunnies hopping around… fluffy little bunnies….”
Chomp, chomp, said my brain.
“And there are kittens playing… the kittens have little unicorn horns growing out of their heads…”
“Stop!” I leaped up from the floor. “Please stop! For the love of all that is Holy, I can’t handle the fucking unicorn kittens!”
“This is far worse than I thought.” Nova was close to tears. “How can you not love unicorn kittens, unless you’ve been possessed by Satan or something?”
“Well, I don’t,” I roared, tongues of fire shooting up out of my head and a pair of black wings flapping on my shoulders. “Quit with the New Age bullshit or I’ll devour your entrails.”
She instantly shifted from sympathy to irritation. “Fine, fine, I’ll leave you alone. God, you’re being so unpleasant about it.”
Julian came in, carrying a tray with two cups of chai for us. He noticed my hair going up in infernal flame. “I still think you need counseling.”
“I don’t need your advice,” I howled in the voice of a thousand devils.
“Geez, we try to tell you a couple helpful things and you turn into a demon from Hell,” Nova said, making a hasty exit from the room.
True, I had to turn satanic and spit fire in order for it to happen, but at long last, my friends were treating me with respect.
That left only the matter of the Bat to be resolved. I had frightened Julian and Nova, but I had not beheaded them, and I wasn’t going to.
I returned to my trusted old spot for inspiration—the church. I stroked the stone wall again and gazed up at the cross, that beautiful instrument of torture, seeking an answer. I said my prayers.
The priest poked his anxious face out of the window of his office, and then disappeared. This was my cue to leave.
I had been given an answer, and it didn’t have to be murder—my deity would settle for vandalism.
Nova was so concerned with my well-being that she had moved in with us. It may have also had something to do with the fact that she was jobless. She went through phases.
She was the one who now slept on the sofa. I rifled through her stuff in the living room until I found my offering.
Nova was an artist. She had made a watercolor painting of two unicorn cats dancing underneath a rainbow. It was a painting filled with love and positivity.
I tore it into tiny shreds first, then burned it. As I watched the last remaining snippets of kittens and rainbows change to ashes, I had a strong sense that the Bat was pleased with this substitute sacrifice.
My spirit was at peace. I dumped the ashes into the trashcan and went out to celebrate with a cup of divine blood.
The blindfold was slipped from my eyes.
I blinked in the darkness. In front of me, there was a crowd of people, cheering and wishing me a happy birthday. Some of them were my friends, but some of them were strangers, and some of the strangers were waving dildos at me.
Then I recognized where I was—at the Donner Party nightclub, which held an erotic costume ball every month.
“Wasn’t it a brilliant idea to have your birthday at the ball?” Julian asked.
When he told me to make sure to take my lingerie along for my surprise, I thought we might be staying at a swanky hotel. But I was nothing if not a good hostess, so I shrugged and went to change into my garter belt. Besides, the erotic balls were fun.
I scanned my group of guests. Julian was looking quite handsome in his top hat, RedGirl had wrapped herself in a very small American flag, and Julian’s friend was dressed up as a teddy bear because, as she explained, “there are people who have a fetish for them.”
Leah wasn’t dressed up at all. She was wearing her usual T-shirt and jeans. “This is the outfit of the everyday working woman,” she said, “and it should be considered the sexiest of all.”
“I’m going to get back my virginity,” RedGirl whispered to me when were sitting together.
“How?” I was alarmed.
She flashed a piece of massive bling at me. “This is my purity ring. Well, a better version of it.”
“You can’t get your virginity back once it’s gone.” I leaned forward. “Also, you’re wearing a patriotic napkin right now.”
“That’s just to attract my intended husband. I’m still going to be chaste from now on. I’m afraid that if I’m not, I’ll end up like one of your friends.” She pointed at Nova, who was rolling around on the floor in her bear costume.
I stared at Nova’s twirling, spellbound. Julian was watching her, too.
“I think you’re restricting yourself,” he said to me.
“Well…sometimes I can sense that you need more freedom. I think maybe you’re feeling trapped in the whole monogamy thing.”
“Oh, I see. *I* feel trapped.” I was feeling furious, actually.
“But the thing is, we can still be together….”
“Look, don’t give me that open relationship bullshit,” I snarled. “Either I’m going to be your only one or I’m not going to be with you at all. If you want to leave, just leave.”
“Why do you have to turn it into such an all or nothing situation? I don’t want to leave you, I…”
I didn’t listen to the rest of what he had to say. I walked off and sat down on a pile of pillows by the wall. Nova sat down beside me and put her bear paw around me.
Maybe RedGirl was right. Julian had his flaws, but one thing I thought I could count on was that he wasn’t the polyamorous type. Was there something in the air in this town that turned people slutty?
It was only then, slouching there, sunk into my anger, that I realized just how much I had grown to dislike this place, the grown up children I was surrounded by.
My first instinct was to fight something, the way I had fought so many times before. But what was I fighting? Julian? Promiscuity?
Either way, I had to resolve this. I climbed the stage in the back of the club, and took the microphone away from a surprised drag queen.
“For those who are here for my birthday…” At this, booing could be heard around the room. “…I wanted to make the official announcement that I’m breaking up with Julian. Thank you for listening.” My speech would have been longer and a lot more interesting if I’d been drunk.
After my announcement, I had a fabulous time. I had one whiskey shot after another, and shouted “Woooo!” a lot. Julian wisely avoided me.
“Romantic feelings are a distraction from the cause anyway,” Leah noted.
I didn’t reveal to Leah that I no longer believed in the cause. No, that wasn’t right. I still believed in the cause. I no longer believed in pretentious hipsters and people in bearsuits as part of the cause.
The hipsters had to be destroyed.
It wasn’t going to be that simple, though. It turned out that in order to move out of the apartment I shared with Julian, I had to get a permit for a new apartment. I was put on the waiting list for one. It could be one to two years, I was told.
“I guess I’ll have to keep living with you,” I said to Julian. “But I’m still not sleeping with you.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “As long as you don’t mind the people I bring home with me.”
I made my own corner of the living room quite cozy. I hung clotheslines with curtains around the square which contained the sofa I now slept on, a small cabinet of drawers with my clothes in it, a radio and a pile of my favorite books. Since the sofa was in use, Julian would have to take any new girlfriends straight to the bedroom, but that was his problem. He could do anything he wanted to do. In the meantime, I would be getting caught up on literary classics and plotting the demise of the hipster movement.
After a few weeks, I started noticing something unexpected. I called my sister up.
“I think you may have a point with that purity thing.”
“Yeah, it’s like the longer I abstain from sex, the stronger I become. It’s almost as if the energy I would normally expend on having sex is getting stored up inside me, and it’s growing.”
I paused, waiting for her to respond. She had the powers, too…was she experiencing the same thing?
“Um…” She sounded crestfallen. “I kind of fell off the wagon and slept with one of my boo-boos. So the second virginity didn’t work out. I don’t think I wanna try a third time.”
“No, I’d imagine not.”
“Hey, I got a nice ring out of it.”
I hung up the phone. So much for bonding over abstinence.
Then I remembered the guys RedGirl referred to as her boo-boos were the Squircal men. She must’ve gotten back in with them, somehow. A part of me had hoped against hope that she would join me in trying to overthrow this system, since it went against the conservative ideas that she claimed to stand for. But she wouldn’t. I was by myself on this one.
Julian wasn’t bringing around any girlfriends yet, but he also wasn’t at home a lot. He would often come back late at night. I would listen for him from behind my curtains, twisting my body to the side so that I could hear his footsteps. I missed my pretentious little jerk.
Each day, the pressure on my pelvis and my belly increased. I constantly had to shift positions while I slept, and I ended up sleeping on my back most of the time.
The thing I carried within me grew heavier. I couldn’t help wondering just how ugly this baby would be when it was finally born.
One afternoon in the eighth week of my pregnancy of resentment, I came home and found Nova standing in front of my curtains. A big tear was dangling from her nose.
“Is something wrong?” I asked in a tentative voice.
“I was looking at your sofa.” Her voice caught. My new bed was pitiful—that was true. She turned her tear-streaked face toward me. “I wa… I want for all of us to be friends.”
I frowned. “Are you dating Julian?”
“Yes.” She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know what it is. You’ve been so different lately. We’re still friends, right?”
What the fuck was I supposed to say? “Of course we are. Whatever is going on between you and Julian has nothing to do with us.”
She brightened. “Oh, good! Would you like to come to the strip club to celebrate our friendship? Julian and I are going.”
She gave a tiny half-sob.
“Sure,” I said.
“Yay!” She clapped her hands. Julian came out of the bedroom. “Blue is going with us, Julian!”
“That is not necessary,” he said.
“Yes, it is!” Nova insisted. “We have to show her we’re still her friends!”
“All right, fine,” Julian said. “We’ll prove our loyalty to her.”
And they did. Nova made Julian buy me drinks. I sipped at the alcohol, secretly wishing that it would finish off the squirming creature in my belly.
I was in the middle of a nightmare. Everyone around me was flirting, lusting, cheating on their partners, I suspected—it was a den of filth. I had never been this disgusted by it before. It made me feel nauseated. I bent over, clutching my stomach, my body gripped by contractions. I held on to the bar and moaned in pain.
“Are you okay?” I heard Julian ask. “Did you have too much to drink?”
A blob of pale blue light dropped to the floor beneath me. It crawled away and vanished between the tables.
“Oh, no,” I said weakly. “I think that was my baby.”
Julian moved away from me slightly.
The blob appeared again in the center of the room, stopped for a moment, and then burst into multiple shafts of light, which pierced anyone in their way.
And with that, sexy time at the club was over. The horndogs near the stage shrugged and got up from their chairs. A dancer halted her slide mid-pole, her heels pointed up in the air, her face confused. Julian stepped out of an embrace with Nova and cleared his throat, as if he’d been struck by the reverse of a Cupid’s arrow.
Well, here was an achievement to be proud of. I had managed to kill everyone’s libido.
In a couple of minutes, the strip club emptied out.
“So…are you coming over to my place tonight?” Nova asked Julian.
“Oh…no, I don’t think so…I think I’m just gonna go home.”
As Julian followed me out of the club, Nova was wearing her lost puppy expression again. I had no sympathy for little lost animals like her, so I didn’t look back or say anything.
Perhaps giving birth wasn’t always a bad idea.
Later that evening, I leaned in the bedroom doorframe, my hand on my hip. “I assume I’ll be sleeping with you tonight, Julian,” I said.
“What? I don’t really feel like sleeping with anyone right now,” he said.
“I know. I don’t mean it like that, silly,” I said. “Your balls aren’t gonna work right for a while. My apologies for that, by the way. No, I mean I’m moving back to the bed. I’m sick and tired of the fucking sofa.”
“But no sex?” he pleaded.
“We’ll be completely chaste,” I assured him. “It’ll be like you were a virgin all over again.”
Every morning, the upstairs neighbour pissed so loudly that he woke me up. My eyes would pop open, hours before it was time for me to go to work. I felt as if I could hear every individual drop. I had no idea how it was possible that some people had such amazing urine streams.
Those were the times when I actually wished I could be alone in the middle of the woods. Sure, I hated nature, but I hated people even more.
Or at least, I wished I could be back in my family home in the burbs.
But you had to pay the price for your dreams coming true. Mine had come true in a couple short months. A liberal President was elected, I got a good job downtown, and I moved in with Julian, a cool guy who lived in the cool part of the city. I had no right to complain (although no doubt I would).
I mean, our apartments were right next to a strip club—how much cooler could you get? On warm evenings, we could listen to the strippers talk to each other on their cigarette breaks, and once or twice, a used condom came flying gracefully over the fence.
As I walked alongside the club parking lot, I wrinkled my nose at the stench. The place positively reeked of coolness.
Not that any of this bothered me very much. But this was also a hip-hop strip club. That meant hip-hop customers booming loud music out of their cars late into the night.
Which was why I was so bleary this morning. The hip-hop kept me up late, and the pissing woke me up early.
In the afternoon at work, I fired off a friendly complaint e-mail to the strip club, letting them know that we were their neighbours from across the way, who very much believed in their right to free expression, but could they please control their customers a bit?
When I got home from work, Julian was in a state of inconsolable despair (this happened to him a lot).
“Some big, bulky security guy came by here today. He said we’re not welcome at the strip club anymore. He claimed somebody around here complained.”
“Well, I did. I can’t sleep at night….”
“You complained about the strip club?” Julian was aghast. “Now I’ll never be able to go back there again! Honey, you have to fix it!”
“For the love of God, apologize to the strippers.”
A few hours after this conversation, I was standing in the driveway of the old house. It was as if I had been transported into one of my mysterious dreams. Around me was a huge expanse of magical suburban sprawl. It was so green and so quiet. I loved it.
Mother gave a deep sigh when she opened the door. “My dear, you can’t keep running back here every time something goes wrong.”
But she still let me in and fed me milk and muffins.
“I have absolutely no idea how to write an apology letter to strippers,” she said. “I must confess, I have never been in a situation in which I felt the need to apologize to them.”
“Don’t forget to begin it with Dear Strippers,” my sister said, and she giggled.
RedGirl and I still had our political differences, but they were overshadowed by her envy of the fact that I was in a relationship. She wasn’t used to being by herself like this. The Squircal men now considered themselves to be left-wingers, so they no longer wanted to be seen with her.
“I’m sure there’s some rule of etiquette involved that I don’t know about,” I said.
Mother pushed another muffin in my direction. “I’m certainly not helping you with this sort of thing. You’re going to have to solve this problem yourself.”
At the apartment, there was a note from Julian which read “Upstairs Neighbour—Party!”
And so it was that I ended up at the Great Pisser’s weekend shindig.
When he first opened the door, I couldn’t help looking down at his pants, but I didn’t see anything unusual there.
“Hey, I’m glad you could make it,” he said. “Julian seems like a pretty chill guy.”
“Yeah, he is—he’s very laid back,” I lied.
“Well, enjoy the party. It’s an eighties theme,” he said, mingling away into the crowd. “Julian is over by the speakers.”
I could tell it was an eighties theme because The Cure was playing at the highest volume possible. Julian was in heaven.
I sat down and let the waves of loud wash over me. I was tired. I wanted to go and curl up under bedsheets, in a silent room. Of course, if I went downstairs I would still hear the same noise, even in my own bed. So I had no choice but to party.
“How’s that apology coming?” Julian shouted at the top of his lungs over the music.
“I don’t know how to do it! You’ll have to write it for me!” I screamed back.
He pointed at his ears and shrugged. Oh, now he’s gone deaf all of a sudden, I thought.
I shifted away from him and continued nodding to the beat, exhausted.
I would like to withdraw any noise pollution complaints made by me in regard to the Plush Gentlemens Club. They were caused by a temporary nervous breakdown I was suffering from. While your late night activity levels are occasionally high, the service you provide to our community is so invaluable….
I knew Julian would be better at writing the apology letter. He was the artistic one, not me. I was the one who was better at either threatening or using violence.
“So I have good news—I’m allowed to go to the club again,” he said to me.
I patted him on the shoulder. It was nice to see him happy. And there would be no more whining around the house.
But when I fell asleep, I was wandering the broad streets once more, streets lined with ridiculous picket fences and lawns. I found a lush spot of grass and lay down on it, my body relaxing, dissolving into the green. Nearby, a sprinkler was going…it was wasting water, I worried…or it wasn’t a sprinkler…it was a peaceful stream, trickling…trickling…
I woke up. Upstairs, the toilet flushed.
I gave Julian some dollar bills and sent him off towards the stage. “Go play.”
We were at the Plush. Both of Julian’s favorite dancers were there: the one who did synchronized twitching with her nipples, and the one who always slapped her platform heels together with a big clang.
“Sorry to hear about your nervous breakdown,” Leah said.
“Nervous breakdown? Oh, that was only…”
“One of the dancers told me about it,” she whispered. “She said that it was bad, that you had some kind of freak out in public. You sound like you may be in denial about it.”
My current thing with Leah was sort of a semi-friendship. She had mellowed out a bit these days, mostly because her political side was in control. But you never knew when she might switch from mellow back to dogmatic.
“I didn’t freak out. Which one of them told you this?”
Julian sat down next to us and put his arm around me. “Let’s go home.” The strippers had made him horny.
“You could be more supportive of Blue,” Leah said to him. “We were just talking about her emotional problems.”
“You’ve got emotional problems?” Julian looked fearful.
“Coward,” Leah sniffed.
“Hey, we’re talking about a woman who used to knock people over with fireballs of energy when she got ticked off. I don’t want to be anywhere near her emotions,” he said.
“Enough already! I’m not having issues!” I yelled. “It’s those fucking strippers talking about me behind my back!”
Some of the patrons closest to us craned their necks to see what was going on.
“Great, I’m ruining everything again,” I grumbled at Julian.
“Nah, you’re not. I’m still turned on.” He grabbed my hand. “We gotta run. Bye.”
I gave Leah a hug as we left, but the hard gleam was back in her eyes.
I wondered what it was she needed from me….or from everyone. Then I decided that tonight, I wouldn’t let anxiety pull me down into the deep.
Later on, I was lying curled up in my bed. I was grateful that things had worked out okay with the strip club, and grateful that Julian had reminded me why I was willing to put up with his insufferable ass.
Somewhere above me, a funky rhythm started playing. “Woooo! It’s seventies night!” a voice hooted.
I was not supposed to use my powers anymore. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t permitted to do so, no. The kind of society that we lived in made the need for my powers obsolete. Everything was good, so there was nothing evil left to fight.
What to do with a force which is obsolete, but is still bubbling underneath your skin and within the core of your body?
The disco drilled into my brain. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt to do just a little magic. A little bit of sinfulness would be forgiven.
I breathed in and out, and focused on the ceiling. After a moment, a grating, screeching sound was heard, and the music stopped. This was followed by a stream of curses.
I smiled and turned over onto my belly.
It was a tad annoying that the fire alarm went off when the Great Pisser’s speakers began emitting smoke, or that once the fire truck came, we had to spend half our night on the sidewalk in front of our apartment, until the building was declared safe again. The strippers waved at us over the fence as they were leaving work.
Not even a little magic would go unpunished. I made a mental note to dance along with the disco from now on.
I went out into the garden, where a gentle rain was falling, and stood on the lawn. I breathed in deeply. Something was different about the air. It smelled like the air should smell in January. Jesus had been sworn in as President, and the four seasons of the Earth had gone back to normal.
I didn’t have anyone to share my joy with, though. I couldn’t exactly talk to my sister or Mom about this. Finally, with some trepidation, I called Leah.
She seemed happy to hear from me. “I’m still amazed. In just a few years, our lives could be completely different,” she said.
“Are you quitting your job like you said you would?”
“No, I’m going to keep working.”
“Yeah, but Squircal will be under new management. All the old executives are going to be arrested.”
“Are you going to get paid more?”
“Not right now. But I think we will have so much more dignity. Would you like to come work for us?”
“Uh…in customer service?”
“Don’t miss out on your chance, Blue. We’re building a new society….you don’t wanna be left out.”
“I’ll think about it….”
“You can think, but make it quick.”
This time, when I came back to the Squircal headquarters, it was filled with stacks of bread, boxes of cheese and canned fish and oranges, and bottles of cheap wine. A banner which read “Food Distribution Center” was hanging in the lobby.
The Squircal receptionist and a few others were busy carrying in more food crates. The receptionist didn’t say anything in greeting. As I watched them, Leah walked up to me, embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks. It was as if nothing bad had ever happened between us.
“I see you made your decision right on time,” she said to me.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
“One of the Squircal execs had taken ownership of a Grocery Outlet. We’ve liberated it from him, and we’re going to be in charge of distributing the food fairly. The cool thing is, as one of my friends, you are entitled to a ration of it.” She handed me a note. “Go to the sixth floor and talk to Nina. She’s Director of Edible Materials now.”
For the most part, life continued as it had before the inauguration, quiet and unimpressive. I was employed at Squircal. There were anti-Jesus riots in town, and a couple of the troublemakers got arrested. Their names were listed in the newspaper, and they included Paul, who was apparently found in illegal possession of a large knife.
“Did you hear about Paul?” I asked my sister. We were at the kitchen table, and I was slicing up Swiss cheese for everybody.
Every Friday, I brought home a box of rations from Squircal. The amount of food I received was extremely fair and just, but I had to share it with my family, as RedGirl and Mother were not employed, and Father’s job was not one of the desired occupations, so his ration was small.
“I really don’t care. Shhhh, my dancing show is on!” At first, RedGirl was devastated when “Dancing With The Stars” was taken off the air. But now, she was a big fan of the synchronized dancing displays which had replaced it on prime time.
“It’s the little girls’ fan dance! Ohhhh, so cute!” She dissolved into gushing.
“I have to admit I think the old reality shows were more interesting,” I said.
“Eewww. They were kinda trashy, compared to this.”
I shook my head. “Whatever happened to the ‘America will be destroyed’ stuff? You were weeping about that not too long ago.”
She shrugged. “I guess I was wrong. Some things are different, but I still have food and my house, and my TV. So America didn’t get destroyed.”
“That’s good to know,” I said. “Here, have some cheese.”
To my relief, I didn’t have to take a lot of phone calls at Squircal. We were always doing other, more important things, and we mostly ignored customer complaints unless they came to us in written form, and even then they would go to the Office of Complaints, where they would disappear for months.
The arrests continued, but in very small numbers. Still, they made me uncomfortable somehow.
“I don’t understand why the receptionist was arrested,” I said to Leah.
“She would tell people to have a nice day, when the workers were having a miserable day. This behaviour was deemed to be close to deceit,” Leah explained to me.
I should have been satisfied with this answer, but wasn’t. It was ludicrous. And so, once again, I found myself taking the elevator up to the top floor of the Squircal building, where the new union committee which now ran the company was located. This time, I did not wrap myself in a protective aura. After all, I was one of them.
A grim secretary welcomed visitors to the top floor. Probably overwhelmed by all her new responsibilities, I thought. Must be difficult.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Horrible. It’s been an awful day,” she snapped. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just making conversation,” I admitted. “Hey, I’ve got a few concerns I would like to bring before the committee.”
Undaunted by the harshness in her voice, I continued. “I have questions about the arrest of the downstairs receptionist. Also, I would like to hear more about the reasoning behind the way the rations are distributed.”
“What do you mean, the reasoning? The rations are what they are. They are based on the amount of food we have. What is there to reason about?” She turned her back to me. “Thank you.”
I was taken aback at getting shut down like this. “Well…I might still have problems with this…right? Can I talk to someone, please?”
“You can submit a written complaint.”
I sighed and started filling out the form.
Leah was very agitated the next day. “I had to talk them out of arresting you.”
“What? All I wanted was to ask some questions,” I said. “Are you kidding me?”
“What the hell is wrong with you? We are finally achieving our goals. Are you going to fuck things up just because you get hung up on the details?”
I felt a sudden, crushing tiredness. “Leah, what’s the point of us having achieved anything?”
She came closer to my desk. “The only thing I ask is that you at least wait for a while. It’s too soon after the riots. They’re a bit jumpy right now.”
I slumped in my chair and nodded. “I’ll wait.”
RedGirl found me lying curled up on my bed. “And what are you crying about?”
“You were right.” I rolled over onto my back. “America has been destroyed.”
“Even if it has, you’re on the winning side. Quit whining. I need you to give me a reference for a position at Squircal.”
“Squircal?” I sat up. I wanted to shake her. “Sis, I thought I could depend on you in a moment like this. You were supposed to be the loyal opposition. Don’t you have anything for me? Not even a tea party? Or a militia?”
“A militia? Oh, Lord. Really, that kind of drama isn’t necessary.” She adjusted her cape. Our heat was low, so she had it wrapped around her neck like a scarf.
I lay back down and covered my face with my hands. Everything around me was spinning. For the first time, my sister and I were on the same political side, and it was a nightmare.
“So, who’s going to stop these people if they go too far?” I asked, when the vertigo went away and I was able to speak again.
“I dunno,” she said. “But you can always find some idiot out there who wants to be a rebel.”
So my sister wasn’t going to be any help. It turned out that for her, being conservative wasn’t about any specific set of beliefs, it was about conserving. Whoever was in authority, whoever could offer stability to her world, that was who she was going to follow.
Two weeks later, I received an e-mail letting me know I was invited to a meeting at which my productivity was going to be honored.
“I don’t want to be honored,” I thought. “Just let me work in my cubicle and leave me in peace. Don’t single me out for anything.”
But you didn’t say no to e-mails at Squircal.
I entered the conference room where the meeting was to be held and froze. There, around the table, were the old Squircal executives. They weren’t wearing suits and ties. They couldn’t wear suits and ties, of course—they were now union leaders. They smiled at me. In front of them was the contract I remembered, and a little box with a medal in it.
“It’s nice to see you here on more friendly terms,” one of them said to me. “I trust that, under the changed circumstances, you will accept this token of appreciation from us.”
“I thought you guys had been arrested,” I said.
“You will be pleased to hear that the guilty parties have, in fact, been arrested,” he said. “And now, we are at last able to lead this workplace into a brighter and more progressive future.”
I hesitated, but sat down. The feeling of exhaustion was back. No matter what happened, no matter which government was in power, I would have to keep fighting these men over and over and over again. I didn’t think I was up to it.
“Do you have a pen?” I asked.
I pulled the contract over to where I was sitting, and then stared at it, unable to make the final choice.
“Well, what else are you going to do?” the exec joked. “Are you going to commit suicide again?”
“Maybe,” I mumbled.
“You are free to do that, if you wish.” He gestured towards the window. “Keep in mind that your family will die with you.”
And so this time I wasn’t going to crash through the glass, but I was still going to kill myself, or at least kill the person I once was.
When I emerged from the conference room, the contract was signed and a medal was pinned to my chest.
“We look forward to working with you,” the exec said to me. “You’re lucky to be one of us. A lot of perks come with doing this.”
I held on to a doorframe, nauseated. Something was bubbling up inside of me. Possibly my disgust with the world. I could already tell this would be one of those embarrassing moments when I couldn’t stop it—I had to throw up.
I heaved and a small explosion took place. Two of the executives were knocked down to the floor, and almost all of them were covered with shiny blue slime.
“Not this again,” I groaned. My idealism was like an illness I couldn’t get rid of. “Erm, sorry about that,” I said to the executives. “This kind of hiccup might still happen to me once in a while.”
“Do us all a favor and try not to use your….special gifts from now on,” one of them advised me. “It will make life a lot easier for everyone, including you.”
When I went back downstairs, Leah was waiting for me.
“Congratulations,” she told me. But her eyes narrowed when she saw the medal. “I see you got through it okay. I’ll be keeping an eye on you, though,” she warned me.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” I assured her. And I didn’t. When I stepped out of the building, I was determined not to be BlueGirl any longer—just an ordinary liberal blue girl.
I called my sister to let her know we would be getting extra rations.
[To Be Continued In “BlueGirl In Paradise”]