So, it’s been a month, and progressives and Democrats have been hearing a constant refrain–that we need to reach out to Trump supporters, to try to understand the forgotten working-class base in the heartland of America which voted for him.

That is a very good point.  We do need to do that if we want to win the next election.  There is only one problem for me:  I don’t really want to know or understand the Trump voters.

This is not the wisest attitude to have, and I guess it marks me as an elitist of some sort. But I don’t care.  I don’t want to know why people continue to support Trump and overlook all the things he’s already said and done when it comes to women, immigrants and Muslims. When I recently visited a website where the deplorables gather to chat, I saw plenty of caricatures of yarmulkas and hooked noses, and references to Reichsfuhrer Trump. Blaming the Jews for your own economic woes is an age-old tradition.  The Trumpsters clearly feel the need to scapegoat someone for their own miserable situation.  What can I possibly say to them about that?  How would I change their mind?  I could suggest changes to the political and economic system which would make their life better, but these are the same people who thought Obama was a Marxist and the ACA was a government assault on their liberty–and frequently voted against their own health insurance coverage.  What does one do when faced with such ignorance?

Not to mention that in order to reach out to the Trump voters, I would have to find them where they live.  Thing is, I love my urban bubble.  I have little interest in going too far beyond its protective shield.  I’ve lived in the rural world before and I’m grateful to have escaped it.  I have no desire to move to a place where my neighbors give me the side-eye just because I don’t attend the same church they do and behave in ways they don’t consider “normal.”

Again, this does not bode well as a political strategy.  Democrats did get the popular vote in 2016, but the Democratic electorate is clustered in a few major metropolitan areas, mainly on the two coasts, and that’s not the way the American electoral system works. Hence the idea that progressives should transplant themselves to swing states.  If only I could convince myself to be enthusiastic about a midwestern or southern swing state….

The progressive movement certainly needs ambassadors right now to take its message across the country.  Unfortunately, I’m not that person.  And I wonder how many of my fellow liberal bubble-dwellers are willing to do the difficult work of outreach.  And if that work doesn’t get done, what will 2020 look like?

I’m starting to think I need to make alternate plans in case Obama doesn’t win in 2012.  Not that I’m assuming he will lose, but I also think it’s dangerous to get too confident.  Whatever the outcome of the election, it will be sure to be a nail-biter, with lots of slander and dirty tricks.  And we all know that if Obama does lose, there will be a mood of general despair, and much gnashing of teeth and wailing will be heard in the land.  So it would be wise to prepare a Plan B for that possibility—if nothing else, to keep me from sinking into depression during the dark, post-apocalyptic election aftermath.

In my case, the plan is to get involved locally.  Thank God, no matter what else happens, Portland will remain a den of liberal iniquity.  So even if President Romney comes to pass—shudder—and starts repealing every good idea President Obama ever came up with, we can still work on building a progressive city right here.  I need to start looking at worthy local candidates and causes for 2012, get off my duff and get to work.

Tell me, am I completely off my rocker to be worried about the election?  Are all of you pretty much optimistic that Barack will win it in a landslide?  (Please say yes!)  And are any of you making preparations for what you will do in a case of a loss?  Such as leaving for a foreign country, or guiding your blue home state towards secession?  Let me know what you think.  I already have a prime spot underneath a local bridge picked out for my golden years in case Social Security gets privatized, so you can’t accuse me of not being ready for everything.

I snuck up the stairs to our apartment, sweating, dripping with shame.  I had committed the darkest possible sin:  I had voted Republican.

Never had I imagined it would come to this, but one fine day, it happened—I couldn’t handle yet another tax hike.  A new campaign was going on to increase the alcohol sales tax to help the schools, and as much as I loved schools, I loved beer more.  At this rate, I soon wouldn’t be able to afford my drinking habit.  So I voted against the tax measure and for the Republican candidate.

Even though our town was under liberal rule, it allowed the continuing existence of the local Republican party, mostly due to the smug knowledge that almost nobody would vote for them.

This was my one comfort.  No matter how guilty I felt about my vote, it would be a minority voice, to be swept away by the election winds.  None of my loved ones would be any the wiser.

Still, my conscience weighed me down.  I had nausea and panic attacks when I went to bed.  I felt as if I had, in some indirect way, raped somebody.

And then the tax measure failed.  The Republican candidate didn’t get elected, but fifty-five percent of our town residents quietly voted against the tax increase.

My friends gathered to mourn at our place, ashen-faced.  They were in shock.

“How could people be so short-sighted?  So selfish?  I mean, really?”  Nova wondered.

“I feel like burning something down,”  Julian stammered.

“Maybe the voters like to get drunk,”  I suggested.

“I guess so.  I’m glad they’ve got their priorities,”  Nova said angrily.

“I wish I knew some Republicans, so I could argue with them right now!”  Julian said.

I refrained from comment, at least until later that evening.

***

“Ah, so how does it feel to be me for once?”  RedGirl asked.

“Go ahead, you can gloat,”  I said.

“I can’t believe that you actually did vote Republican.  What happened?  What made you see the light?”

“Not so fast.  I still plan to vote Democratic in the general election.  It’s just that our local lefties are so inept.”

“Sure.  Well, being a political minority isn’t easy.  But remember, you’re strong.  You can survive being a social pariah.”

“You’re not very good at the comforting thing.”

“Would you like to come to a Whiskey Party rally with us?”

I had seen what the rallies against the local government looked like:  lots of waving of tri-cornered hats, guns and American flags.  “Er…no.”

“Okay, but you’re always welcome if you change your mind.”

***

It was when I made the fateful decision to check my Facebook that the temptation appeared.  My sister had Liked the I’m So Happy Measure 569 Didn’t Pass! page.  I knew it was a bad idea, but here was the chance to assert a different opinion for once, and it was so deadly easy—all I had to do was click.

I moved the mouse back and forth nervously.  The word Like glowed and danced before my eyes.  I felt as if I was about to climb the barricades.

I clicked Like, turned off the computer and rolled into a ball under my bedcovers.

An hour or so later, Julian came into the bedroom.  When I peeked out from under the sheets, he backed away in horror.

“Don’t do that, baby.”

“I don’t understand what you’ve changed into,” he said.  “I thought I knew who I was sleeping with.  Now it turns out I’ve been having sex with a…a conservative.”

“You haven’t.  This was only one issue, one election.”

“One issue ruins everything, Blue.  You’re not pure anymore.”

“Are you serious?  Where are you going?”

“I need to be alone so I can deal with this Like thing.”

“Will you be coming back?”

“I don’t know.”  I heard the living room door close behind him and then the sofa squeaking underneath him.

At work, all my stuff had been packed up into a box.

Leah was tense.  “It’s too bad.  We could have been sisters in the struggle…”

“Maybe I can Unlike the page.”

“No, it’s too late now.  You’ve crossed the line and you can’t go back again.”

Jobless and possibly single, I went to the only place I could think of where I could express my powerless rage.

***

A large man in a tri-cornered hat bumped into me and my cardboard box.  “Get a job, whiner!”  he bellowed before joining the rest of the shouting throng.

The Whiskey Party rally in front of City Hall.  Small but loud, with a whiff of insanity.  It fit my mood perfectly.  I strained my eyes until I found RedGirl.  She was lifting up a sign which read “Arrest The False Messiah,” referring to the President.

She wagged her sign at me in greeting.  “Hey,”  she said.  “I Liked your Like on Facebook.”

I nodded.  “Thanks.  You’re the only one who did.”  I hesitated.  “After all this time we’ve spent fighting each other, you may have been the one who was right.”

She gave a sideways glance at the protest.  “Can we walk away from here for a few minutes?”

She let her sign slump at her side as we walked.  “You’re the only person I can talk to about this…   I think I’m going to vote Democrat in the upcoming election.  I’m scared of the cuts in retirement and Medicare and everything…”

For a moment, we faced each other in silence.  “It sounds like we’ve both secretly sinned against our ideologies,”  I said.

“Ideologies can get so difficult,”  RedGirl sighed.  “So now what?  Which side am I on again?  And what are the sides?”

I pondered it.  “As horrible as the realization is, we may be on the same side.”

She shuddered.

“I know, I know.  But when it comes down to it, we’re both getting screwed.”

“Well, I am, at least…”

“Whatever.  My point is, take a look at the Squircal guys and how their approach to life works.  No matter which political group is in charge, they’re always in power.  They have no problem with being the government or a corporation, depending on which suits them better.”

“Yeah…but that’s how the world is.”

“Really?  Why is it that they get to do all the things they get to do?  Why do you have to spend your life doing what they tell you to do?”

“Fine, fine, it’s true and it’s painful, okay?  What do you want me to say?  It’s not like I can do anything about it.”

“By yourself, you can’t do very much…but what if we joined forces?”

RedGirl was quiet for a while.  Finally she said:  “You know how you could never fly, and I could?”

“Yeah, I’m kind of a lame superhero.”

“Let’s try holding hands.”

I wasn’t at all sure this was going to work.  RedGirl took off, pulling me along with her at first, but as we went on, I felt it happening—I became lighter, and then we were flying together.

We didn’t have to say anything to each other about where we were going.  We sped as one in the direction of the tallest skyscraper in town.

***

The Squircal men were none too thrilled to see me on the top floor of their building.

“Not you and your democracy crap again.  We don’t have time for this,”  one of them said.  He saw RedGirl standing next to me.  “Oh, good.  Take her away,”  he ordered.

She refused to move.  “Boo-Boo, you’ve been lying to me about the economy.  I don’t believe you anymore.”

He groaned in annoyance.  “Look, there’s a nice fat bonus in it for you…”

“No.  We’re sisters,”  she said, and took my hand again.  Now that we were united, our energy was finally strong enough to defeat Squircal.  It grew into a giant ball of purple light and shot gleaming rays into the sky, piercing the clouds.

The executives squealed like a herd of pigs.  Exposed to our light, their skin burst and the air escaped out of them, until they crumbled and there was nothing left of them except a few shriveled lumps of charcoal.

As the dust cleared, the sound of fluttering wings was heard.  The Bat briefly perched on the remains of his followers, sniffed at them with contempt and then flew away again, no doubt to search for new and better minions.

The fight was over.  The skies were clear.  My sister and I stared at each other across the empty Squircal offices.

“Yay us!”  She pumped her fists in the air.  “So, what happens now?  What kind of political system do we have now?”

“Um…I think it’s up to us,”  I said.  “We build it.”

“Oh.”  She leaned against the wall, the first traces of fear and regret in her face.

I looked down at my hands.

THE END (FOR NOW)

“Your problem is you haven’t defined yourself,”  Nova told me.

We were sitting on the balcony of somebody else’s apartment, drinking from a bottle of wine we pulled out of one of the cupboards.  As hard as it was for me to admit this to myself, I had been desperate enough to search for Nova, until I found her here, slumming with some friend, as usual.  At this time, she was the only one left I could complain to.

“You’re a leftie, but you’re not one of the liberals,”  she continued.  “You don’t agree with the power structure, but you’re not a conservative.  You have to pick one.  You can’t be neither here nor there like this.”

“What’s the point of defining myself?”  I said.  “It’s all turned out to be a bunch of hypocrisy anyway.  I might as well stay the way I am.”

“The way you are, you can’t get ahead in society, and you also don’t get the perks of being a rebel,”  Nova pointed out.  “You’re getting screwed twice over.”

“So how do I define myself?”

Nova scratched her chin.  “Well, the people in this town signal which group they belong to by how they dress.”

“Like…gangs?”

“Not exactly.”

“Okay, so which group do I belong to?”  I was wearing a flowing skirt and a ruffled top.  “Am I a hippie or something?”

“You don’t belong to anything, you’re just a relic.  Nobody dresses like this anymore.  We’ll have to fix that.”  She took another sip of wine.  “What’s your favorite color?”

“Yellow.”

“Hmmmm, that’s not an easy one…  But I think it places you more on the Republican side.  I’m picturing a countryside picnic…”

“What?  No, I don’t like the countryside.  I’m an intellectual…”

“You can’t be an intellectual who wears yellow.  If you’re going to be an intellectual, you have to wear black or gray, maybe dark brown.”

“What about a rebellious, screaming yellow?”

“You keep trying to go down these dead-end roads that don’t work.  Make it easier on yourself, please.”

***

I stepped out of the bedroom, fighting the urge to spin around.

“Ta da!”  I said to Nova, who was waiting for me out in the hallway.  “I found my blackest of black dresses.  Do I look like a more intelligent person now?”

Nova cocked her head.  “No.  It’s the wrong cut of dress, plus it’s got all that lace.  This one makes you look emo.  If you keep wearing this, you will need to do interpretive dancing and cry a lot.”

“I’ve worn it before and I haven’t cried.”

“Yeah, because you don’t understand the purpose of getting dressed.”  She thought about it.  “This may be a stretch, but if you really want to be turned back into a Socialist, we could do it with one of those little gray jacket and cap combos, kinda Lenin style.”

“What’s that gonna do, make me angrier?”

“No, it’ll make you acceptable.  You’ll fit in.”

Julian, however, seemed repelled by my new getup.  “You look like a boy…  a boy who’s about to hawk newspapers on the street.”

“According to Nova, this is very current.”

“Well, Nova does know about this sort of thing.  Huh.  I guess that should be fine, then.”

***

“That’s the worst fashion advice I’ve ever heard.”  RedGirl was aghast.  “Dressing up isn’t about politics, it’s about picking colors that go together.  What was this Nova person thinking?”

“I’m not sure.  I had no idea people cared this much about clothes.”

My sister had called for me to come over, as soon as Julian told her what I was wearing.  I was more than happy to accept her advice.  I wasn’t all that worried about Julian’s chilly reaction to the new me—I was used to that.  I was much more freaked out by the warm reception I got at work.  The minute she saw me in my newsboy cap, Leah gave me a friendly rowr, and that scared me much more than having her for a frienemy.

RedGirl rooted through her closet.  “You like yellow, right?  Perfect.  I have something here for you…”  She pulled out a pale yellow dress, so fluffy it resembled a custard.  “Wear a lilac or light pink jacket over this and you’ll be all set.  Always a classy combination.”

I watched myself in the mirror and wasn’t convinced, but I was willing to give it a try.  I couldn’t imagine Leah being attracted to the Mormon missionary look.

As I left the house, I waved at the next door neighbor, the one RedGirl liked because he was a right-winger and owned a collection of strange weapons.  He was dragging his giant lawnmower out of the garage, but he stopped to wave back.  Then, he squinted at me.

“Rowr!”  he said.

***

After that, I would have preferred to just go naked.  Not only would it have offended everybody, but I would have defined myself, in the end, exactly as I was:  the clichéd human being, defenseless and insecure.

But that wasn’t realistic, of course.  It would never happen.  I had gone way past the age for that kind of honesty.

“What’s the message you’re trying to send?”  Nova asked me the next time she saw me.  I was wearing a shapeless gown made of something that looked like sackcloth, although without the ashes.

“None.  I gave up on sending messages years ago,”  I replied.  I was perched on the edge of her friend’s balcony.

“For the time being, I will remain undefined,”  I said.

To his credit, Julian noticed that I was depressed in the days following the war, and he got me a pug to make me feel better.  I found it sitting on our kitchen counter, dressed in a little coat and hat, staring at me with its bulging eyes.  I shuffled towards it, uneasy.

“I know, I know, those eyes!”  Julian crowed.  “I took the liberty of naming him.  He totally needs to be called Buggin.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for us to get a dog right now?”

He hesitated.  “We kind of have to, Blue.  I mean, think about it, we don’t have any kids.  I don’t have anyone to carry on my family name.”

“Dogs don’t outlive people…”

“In this case, I’m not so sure.  I’m so fragile…”

I put the dog in my lap.  My political ideals were all but dead, my dreams were never going to happen.  My relationship wasn’t working.  Would this be my only legacy—a pet animal in costume?  What was I giving this world?

Buggin stuck his tongue out and rolled onto his back.

“Oh, he likes you!”  Julian said.  “Quick, scratch his belly!”

I scratched the upturned belly with difficulty, my fingers stumbling on the many fat folds.  Buggin appeared to be pleased.

“Don’t you think when he smiles he looks at least a little like me?”  Julian asked.

I figured I would be able to ignore Buggin most of the time.  Later that afternoon, I felt a sharp pain in my leg.  Buggin was biting into my calf.

“I think he’s trying to suck my blood, Julian,”  I said.

“He might just need you to feed him,”  Julian advised.

“Oh, right,”  I muttered.  “Food.”  I gave Buggin rice and beans, and watched him from my chair as he ate.

“He is almost like a real child—trying to suck my life essence away,”  I thought.

When he was done eating, he stuck his tongue out at me.

“He’s just way too cute!  You can’t be mad at that face,”  Julian said.

***

That weekend, I decided it was time to introduce Buggin Williams to the rest of his family.  I wrapped him in a blanket and took him on a trip back home with me.

“Look who I brought!”  I said.  Mother and RedGirl bent their heads over the swaddling clothes.  Buggin’s wrinkled face peered out.

“He’s beautiful!”  Mother said.

“Well, it’s good that you’ve got *something* to spend your time on,”  my sister observed, strolling off to the TV.

I followed her, handing Buggin off to Mother.

“I know I don’t have the kind of traditional family you think I should,”  I snarked.

My sister’s eyes were focused on the TV screen, but her face was drawn.  “For me, this isn’t just some game.  If Paul was still alive, maybe I could have a real baby.”

I sat down on the sofa, not sure what to say to her.  The thought of being pregnant had always filled me with terror.

When I got home I gave Buggin an extra long belly rub and let him sleep in bed with me.  He curled up on my chest, his body heavy, his claws skidding over my skin and a broad fold of a smile on his face.

***

“I want custody of Buggin,”  Julian told me a few weeks later.

“Why?”  I thought things had been going much better.  Except for him sleeping in the bed, Buggin and I had fallen into a peaceful routine of indifference to each other.

“You’re not very good at fulfilling your basic responsibilities.  Buggin has to bite you to get fed.”

“I’ve never seen you even try to feed him.”

“Isn’t that something the Mama’s supposed to do?”

“I’m not a Mama!”  I snarled.  “He’s a dog.”

“Still, I bet he likes me better,”  Julian said.

“Why would you think that?”  I felt weirdly worried.

Julian wiggled his fingers at Buggin.  “Buggie Bugs!  Tell us, Buggin, who do you love more?”

“Hey there, Buggin,”  I called out, a bit shakily.  “You like me, don’t you?”

Buggin didn’t react.  He sat looking out into space, his eyes impassive and his belly sticking out.  He probably wasn’t hungry just then.

“I don’t think he likes either one of us,”  I said.

“But you’re our baby!  Here, Buggin, come!”  Julian knelt down and stretched his arms out to him.

I couldn’t bear to watch this any longer.  “I hate to say this, but we might want to think about adopting out.”

***

It was plain to see that RedGirl was dying to tell me all about the sanctity of motherhood, but she made the wise choice and smiled at Buggin instead.  He wagged his tail slightly.

“He’s not very expressive,”  I said.

“Of course not,”  she chided me.  “He’s just a baby.”  She picked him up.  “It’ll be nice to have something to cuddle with,” she said.

“I’m glad to help.”  I was happy for her.  And I was happy for myself—I wouldn’t have to feel guilty anymore about not wanting to cuddle.

After she left with Buggin, I found Julian moping in the bedroom.

“We just never managed to win him over….  We couldn’t win a dog over,”  he repeated.  “What’s wrong with us?”

I flopped down on the bed.  “I thought when we got together you agreed that you didn’t want kids.  You don’t want to have kids, right?”

“I don’t know,”  he replied.  “It doesn’t matter.  It’s too late.  I don’t think we’re capable of raising children anymore.”

I rolled over and away from him, pressing my face into a pillow.  I wanted, more than anything, to go back to sleep.

Although he was arrested when the new government first came into power, Paul didn’t spend very much time in prison.  He beat up a few guards, dug an escape tunnel under one of the walls, and headed off into the surrounding woods, the knife he had swallowed before his arrest and hidden in his large intestine now clenched in his teeth.  He survived out there for months, fighting off wild cougars and picnickers, and then circled back into our town after the political unrest had died down a bit.

Or at least, that’s the story my sister told me.  Or the story he told her as he re-appeared in her life.  Neither one of them was angry at the other.  He brought excitement back into her world.  She stopped doing crafts.  During his wanderings in the wilderness, Paul had picked up one of those huge Hummers people used to drive back in the day.  Hardly anybody used them anymore, so you could find them along roadways and in ditches.  Paul and RedGirl raced the monster around the streets of their neighborhood.

“I’m amazed that you can keep that thing fueled up,”  I remarked.

“I know, we’re in luck.  Paul drilled an oil well in the backyard,”  she said.

“No kidding?  What does he use a Hummer for?  To go shopping?”

“That, and possibly to invade something.”  She didn’t sound certain.  “He’s been talking about blowing up that rail line they’re building out of the city…  He says he needs to disrupt any potential communications system.”

“No!”  Not my beloved light rail!  It wasn’t even there yet…  it wasn’t supposed to be finished until two years from now, but I was already excited about it, envisioning the exotic trips I would be able to take to places outside the downtown area.

RedGirl launched into her usual lecture.  “You know, they’ve done all kinds of polls, and the people of this town don’t *want* your stinking light rail.”

“But what about someone like me…?”

“Like I’ve told you a bazillion times:  buy a freaking car.”

***

“It’s time to introduce you to the new responsibilities of your position,”  Leah said, her head popping out from behind my cubicle wall like the trap of a carnivorous plant.  “Follow me—we’re going to have to discuss this in the conference room under the building.”

We took the elevator all the way down to one of the rooms underneath the parking garage.

Leah sat across from me at a small table.  “As you may or may not know, senior complaint associates are often involved in what we call extracurricular activities.  And this one should be right up your alley.  There seems to be a militia movement brewing in your corner of the suburbs.”  She never failed to remind me where I came from, even though I’d lived in the central part of the city for a couple of years by then.  “It’s a bunch of people driving very big cars, led by a guy named Paul.”  She chewed at her lip with a small smile.  “Do you think you can get us some more information about them?”

I paused for a second, then shrugged.  “Sure.”

Leah was disappointed.  “Oh?  I expected more resistance than this.  Aren’t these militia guys practically like your family?”

“It doesn’t matter if they’re family—their opinions are wrong,”  I said curtly.  “I hear that they’re planning to sabotage the light rail line, and I’m not about to allow that to happen.”

She leaned back and examined me.  “I have to say, I might be gaining a new-found respect for you.  I didn’t think you were this committed.  You are willing to choose your principles over your relationships, which is very good.”

She gave a wistful look to a little side room.  “Still, it’s almost too bad you said yes so easily.  I was looking forward to using some of those enhanced techniques we were recently trained in.”

I squirmed in my chair.

“We’ll have to leave that aside for now,”  she said.  “There’s only one thing left:  the matter of your bicycle.”

“But I don’t have a bicycle.”

“That’s a problem.  Once we’re ready to hit the militia, you’ll bring a small group of guerrilla fighters with you.  They will be on bikes, of course.”

“Why?  Can’t I just take my army on the bus with me?”

“You have to be forward thinking, Blue.  The bicycle is the tool of the future.  It is mode of transportation and weapon in one.”  She stood up.  “We will get one for you, and we expect you to use it.”

I nodded.  It wouldn’t be a big deal.  Besides, I needed to go call my sister.  I wanted to see how she was doing.  I also wanted to find out where Paul would be driving next.

***

I could believe in the future as I looked out over the battlefield.  It was a few weeks later, and from up on the West slope, I saw my city below as I loved it most.  In between the islands of greenspace, there were groups of bikers at the ready.  Behind them, three of the downtown streetcars slid slowly down the tracks, carrying reinforcements.  Buses blinked their lights in a friendly signal, scattered along the highway into the burbs.

“It’s like Paris in the Second World War or something,”  I thought, moved.

The bicyclists were starting to trickle out onto the highway.  This was the moment for my triumphant entrance.  I raised my arm in a sign to my own squad of bikers, wobbled forward on my jittery bike and instantly fell into a giant pothole.

When I finally limped back out of it, the battle had moved into suburbia, and it wasn’t going well.  From the treacherous, quiet streets and cul-de-sacs, an opposing force of vans and SUVs was knocking the bikes over and squashing them like bugs.

As Paul had once said to my sister, “It’s all about who’s in the bigger vehicle.”

I glanced back at my bicycle, tangled up at the bottom of the pothole.  “Fuck it,”  I thought.  I should have followed my instincts in the first place.  I had always trusted public transit most of all.

Fully transforming into BlueGirl for the first time in what felt like centuries, I fell down the slope until I landed at the bottom in a painful heap.  I jumped onto the roof of the nearest streetcar, propelling it with my energy until it flew off the tracks and, throwing off sparks, moved through the air over the river, the highway, the hills and came down with a grating sound right in the midst of the war.  I ducked to dodge a water bottle and tried to get an idea of my surroundings.

And then, there it was in the distance, the Hummer I had heard so many tales of.  Rolling down the hazy street, it looked more like a tank.  It had a bumper sticker which read “I Wipe My Ass With Hippies”.

I gritted my teeth.  I accelerated again and went riding the streetcar into the fray, clanging the bell.  Cars and bikes alike swerved out of my way.  The streetcar crashed into the Hummer, sending it spinning over its side.

A swarm of bicycle soldiers gathered around the overturned car and pulled Paul and RedGirl out of it.  One of them spoke on a cell phone.  “Yes, ma’am.  We got them.  Thanks.”

Paul smiled up at me.  “Well, hello.  I’m not surprised to meet you here.  I could always see through your supposed liberal values.”

“Be quiet,”  a bike activist ordered.  “We will talk to you about your crimes against the planet shortly.”

RedGirl was already being led away to a bus on standby, designated for the holding of POWs.

Paul laughed.  “You are about to learn yet another reason why cars are superior.  My Jeep has been set up for just this kind…”

His voice was drowned out by the explosive he had rigged up in his Hummer detonating.  The blast was so strong it knocked me off the roof of the streetcar and straight into the bed of a rusty pickup truck.

***

A couple of days after she was released, I called my sister to apologize.  I was having twinges of conscience, even though that went against my principles.

“Don’t feel bad for me,”  she said.  “You’re still a loser who doesn’t drive.”

“I’m just glad they let you out….”

“They know who I was friends with.  I’m part of a group they oppose, but I am part of a group.  Paul was independent—that was his biggest mistake.”

“Yes, sorry about Paul.”

“It’s okay.  He went out the way he wanted to go, like a warrior.  He will be remembered,”  she added, in a tone of voice which suggested that I didn’t understand what she meant, although I did.

***

In honor of our victory, we had a poetry contest.  I hated poetry, but as one of the heroes of the army, I was required to sit through the recitations of the contest winners.

“With two wheels and a brave spirit….”

A question clouded my mind as I listened.  I bent to whisper to one of the soldiers in the audience.

“I don’t remember Leah being at the battle.  She wasn’t there, right?”

“Well, she was one of the commanders of the war, so no, she wasn’t.  She was the one we called when we arrested the militia guy,”  he said.  “But she was watching the battle from her car.”

“Her car?”

“Yeah, she has that silver PT Cruiser.”

“But I thought our goal was to have no cars at all.  Isn’t that what we were fighting for?”

He frowned.  “I guess the way it works is that as long as the majority of us don’t have cars, then it won’t do much damage if a few of the deserving leaders have them.”

I got up and left the auditorium just as the poet bowed to thunderous applause.

***

Outside, in the rainstorm, Leah closed the door of her PT Cruiser and drove off to her house in the eastern suburbs of the city.

About the time I was having problems at work, Julian decided to rediscover his masculinity.  He started going to soccer games.

“I hope you don’t mind,”  he said to me nervously.  “We don’t do anything much.  It just gives me a chance to drink beer and chant some obscene slogans.”

“Knock yourself out,”  I said.  The Hatchets, our town’s soccer team, was a complete failure, but its fans did have some great chants.

I had to admit, it was a relief having him out of the house.  But then, he gradually turned into a Hatchet Man.  He dressed in the team colors of red and silver (“silver for the blade, red for the blood!”).  He walked around the apartment on game days waving a foam hatchet.

“You consider yourself to be an intellectual,”  I said.  “Don’t you find all of this slightly ridiculous?”

“What you have to understand is that this town is way too intellectual.  We’re so intellectual around here that we need to come down from the heights we’re on and experience flesh-and-bone existence, so to speak.  Team sports are very good for that,”  he reflected.  “I just ask that you be patient and let me run with the wolves for a little while.”

“Sure.  Get as much flesh-and-bone excitement as you can.”

“Would you by any chance be interested in going to a game with me?”

“Um…nooooo.”

“Fine, but could you at least try to catch it on TV?  I have a banner I’m going to wave.”

***

That Friday afternoon, I turned on the television.  Julian had donned his blood-soaked scarf and stocking cap about an hour earlier and had taken off for the stadium.

The voice of the local sports commentary barker filled the silence.  I had intended to ignore the game, but then an amazing sight drew me to the screen.

This match was a particularly big deal, because the opposing team was visiting from overseas.  I watched them file onto the field, hypnotized.  They were Europeans.  They were strapping and healthy with their universal health care system, obviously well rested from their many vacations.  The confident grins on their faces were those of people with good wages and pensions.  Culture was seeping from their pores, mixed with their athletic sweat.

There was instant recognition of them deep within my DNA.  They came from the ancient land where my liberal values were first born.  They were casual and comfortable about being progressive in a way I could never hope to be.

I had to talk to these men and touch them.  I knew that by the time I got to the stadium, the game would be in its second half, but I didn’t care.  I was going to get the chance to cheer for my favorite team.

***

I waited outside the stadium until it was all over and the spectators began streaming out.  Within seconds, I was surrounded by a wave of red and silver, drunken choruses singing about lumberjacks, busty Hatchet Women with foaming cups of beer.  I elbowed my way through the crowd, searching for the otherworldly visitors.

I saw the flash of their bright orange shirts.  Ah, there they were.  They were walking to their bus.

I pushed forward until I could get near them.  I ran up to one of them, a very tall blonde, and pulled at his hand.

“Hi…I’m BlueGirl!  Welcome to America!”

“Nice to meet you, BlueGirl,”  the player said sadly.  “Would you like me to sign your boobs?”

“No, but could you please tell me about your retirement system?”

“Not today, Yankee.”  He patted me on the head and shuffled on with the rest of the team, their faces long and suffering.

Could it be?  Could the gods have lost a match?  And against The Hatchets?  Now I understood why the chants were even louder and more slurred than usual.  I turned and watched the huge Hatchet Guys slam their bare bellies into each other.

“Disgusting savages,”  I thought.

Suddenly, the festive atmosphere vanished.  There was movement near the eastern entrance of the stadium.  I could hear the sounds of glass smashing and angry screams.

I climbed on one of the concrete head sculptures around the stadium so that I could see better.  A whirlwind of violence was cutting through the post-game party, and it was orange.  The overseas team had brought European soccer fans with it.  They set cars on fire, punched out old ladies , and threw beer bottles at anything in their path.  The Hatchet People dropped their foam hatchets and ran.

“Stop!  Why are you doing this?”  I called out to the Europeans from the top of the giant head.  “What’s happened to your sophistication?”

“Aw, shaddap, ya little American bitch!”  one of them shouted and hurled a bottle at me.  I slid off the back of the head and fell on the sidewalk on my hands and knees.  I still had my supernatural falling talents, so I didn’t get seriously hurt, but I found myself in the middle of a raging riot.

As I scrambled away through the smoke and the fighting, a tattered banner floated towards me.  It had a happy smiley skull on it, with the motto “Death To Our Foes” written in beautiful cursive next to it.  This one had to have been made by Julian.  And when I squinted at it once more, I realized that “I Love BlueGirl” was printed in smaller letters at the bottom of the banner.

Ahhhhh, I thought.  But where was Julian?  And was he okay?  I couldn’t picture him coming out on top in a fistfight.

I finally found him, hiding behind an overturned cotton candy stand and clutching at a black eye.

I knelt down close to him, trying to shield him from the rioting.  “How are you feeling, baby?”

He blinked at me.  “Why are you here?  I thought you didn’t like soccer.”

“Uh…”  This was one of those times when I wished I could be a better liar.  “I was watching the game…  and then I really wanted to see you…”

“Could you cut the crap?”  he croaked at me and snatched his shredded banner from my hand.  “You’re here for something else.  Who are you rescuing now?”

I looked in the direction of the European team’s bus, but my view was blocked by a belching soccer hooligan in an orange scarf.

“Nobody,”  I replied.

The hooligan spotted the banner Julian was holding.  “Check it out,”  he muttered.  “Death to our foes, eh?”

He picked up a shard of glass from the concrete and approached us.

It had been ages since I had used my blue energy as a weapon, but I pulled some out from inside myself and shot it at him.  He continued on, unaffected.

Of course—my liberal energy wouldn’t do anything to him.  He was already a liberal European.  Where he came from, he was probably on the dole.  Dammit.

He cackled at us, swaying from side to side.

So in this case I did not have the advantage of political superiority.  But I did have something else.  I was sober.  As he wavered and his eyes went blank for a moment, I jumped up and gave him a hard kick to the groin.

He collapsed and blacked out on the ground, smiling in a puddle of his own drool.

***

“Thank you for defending me today,”  Julian said quietly.

“Would you like to take me to more games sometime?”

“No…  I don’t think soccer is my thing after all.”  He curled up on the bed, pressing an ice pack to his eye.  “I think I need my sleep.  Have a good night, all right?”

“Night night.”  I stood up and went into the kitchen.  I noticed that the banner was crumpled up in the garbage can.

I leaned on the counter and wondered what was wrong with me.  The life I had was good.  Why was I wrecking it?

I pulled the scraps of Julian’s banner out of the garbage can and put them on a shelf in the dining room.  From now on, I would try harder.

When I got home from work, Julian and Nova were building a giant replica of a teddy bear.  Nova thought that this childhood toy was the source of her obsession with bear costumes.  So she was working through that.  Also, it made for a good conceptual art project.

The bear was made out of recycled newspaper and was kind of unstable.  It loomed over me as I walked into the living room.

Nova was standing on a chair, applying extra texture to the ears.

“You poor thing!”  she cooed when she saw me.  “Did you get through your day at the office?  Would you like some tea?”

“I’m doing okay.  What have you guys been doing?”

“We’ve been gluing and painting all day!”  Nova said.  Julian emerged from the belly of the bear, covered in glitter.

Nova climbed down from the chair.  She gave me a hug and I got stuck to her.  “I wish you could have spent your time with us.  You would have had so much fun.”  She was right.

For a long time, I had a feeling of guilt over being employed.  I couldn’t see how my work was helping anyone.  In fact, more often than not, I made my customers’ lives worse, delaying or denying their requests for services.

Nova created art.  That at least sounded meaningful.  Julian worked for a co-op.  I was never quite sure what it was they produced, exactly, but it seemed important.

Maybe I should try doing something creative myself, I thought.  Something that would make me feel like I wasn’t just a machine for paying the bills.  I never had much of a talent for anything except ranting, but….

RedGirl no longer performed superhero deeds, so she had become involved in endless hobbies instead.  She was always doing something, making one thing after another, embroidering, scrapbooking, carving, baking.

It had been a long time since I’d been in her bedroom.  I didn’t recognize it.  It was overflowing with her projects.  They were stuffed on her shelves and piling up at my feet.

She sized up my confused face.  “Paper sculptures,”  she decided.  “They don’t last long, but they’re very easy.  You can make animals, or you can make folk art patterns—that would fit your political issues.”

She handed me a book titled Paper Miracles.  Apparently this was a volume for the remedial crafter, with an undertone of “even you can make something pretty!”

On my way out of the house, I stopped by the kitchen, where my parents were sitting at the table.

“Have you seen what’s happened to her bedroom?”  I asked.

“I don’t ever go there anymore,”  Mother replied.  Father hid his face behind a magazine.

I spent the next few evenings swearing loudly and gluing myself to multicolored strips of paper.  It was hard for me to imagine why people would choose to torture themselves like this in their spare time.

But I was determined to finish my project.  The book contained a menagerie of paper critters, and I wanted to make the complete set, so that I could display them in a neat row for everyone to admire.

Unfortunately, all my animals looked like they were dying or severely disabled.  They were lopsided, one eye larger than the other and one leg shorter than the other, collapsing and folding in on themselves, their tails broken.  When I arranged them on the shelf, they looked like a cross between a zoo and a psychiatric ward.

I sighed as I regarded my line of crippled children.  Still, this would prove that I was more than just a cubicle monkey.

***

As I was getting ready to go to work, I found Nova in front of my paper menagerie.  Her chest was heaving.

“I know they are not very…”  I said.

“Oh, those are perfect,”  she sighed.  “They take me right to that place…all the ugliness and the sadness…”

“Well, I’ve never crafted anything before, so…”

“I love them.  I don’t need my teddy bear anymore,”  she said.  “I feel so traumatized…in a good way.”

“Thank you.”  I supposed I should accept the compliment.

“Would you like to be in an art show?”

“With paper animals…?”

“We’re setting something up in my friend’s pizza restaurant.  It’s going to be lunchtime experimental art.  It will remind the businesspeople of how miserable they are.”

“I gotta run to work, or I’ll be late.”  I moved towards the door.

Nova stretched her arm out to me.  “Call in sick.  You’re an artist.”

***

My family mocked me when they found out I was in an art show.

“A pizza restaurant, huh?”  Mother asked.  “I guess all the starving artists have to start out somewhere. Haha.”

At the opening day of the show, the artists got free pizza.  When the customers entered the restaurant, the newspaper bear wobbled over their heads, and when they sat down to eat, they were confronted with a display of my misshapen animals.

Nova and I ate our pizza and tried to pretend we weren’t eavesdropping on the reactions to our work.

“Those are so cute!  They must have been made by kids.  Look, that one’s a giraffe!”

“Ha, have you seen these fucked up animals?  They’re hilarious!”

“Hmmm, this is not what I expected,”  Nova said.  “I was hoping for something more like, I didn’t realize my life is so futile.  It’s like they think this is entertaining.”

RedGirl came too.  “I don’t understand.  You did them wrong,”  she said.  “This is not how the book says to do it.”

“I think that if you want to be artistic, you have to do things differently from what the book says,”  I offered.  “That’s what it seems like, anyway.”

“But I thought you had to have skills.  So does this mean art doesn’t have to be good anymore?”

I was already slightly embarrassed, and this wasn’t helping.  I went out of the dining room and hid in the back, in between the empty pizza boxes.

Nova came searching for me.  “Why aren’t you out there?  The question and answer session is about to start.”

I shook my head.  “Nova, we both suck at this.  What are we doing here?”

She sat down next to me.  “The art reviewer from the weekly is here.  He thinks we’re refreshing in our simplicity.  What are you talking about?”  She put her hand on my shoulder.  “Stop worrying about unimportant crap.  You could get to spend the rest of your life doing this—you’d never have to have a stupid customer service job again.”

I leaned back against the boxes.  I would have loved to give up my soul-draining job.  When I thought about it that way, I had no problem picturing myself making ugly paper toys until the end of my days.

I got up.  “All right.  I better go talk to them about what inspires me.”

***

Leah was not pleased with my activities outside of the office.  She was at my desk the morning after the show.  “Silly bourgeois hobbies,”  she said.  “What a waste of your time…  We have serious problems to deal with.”

“The reviewers liked it, and they were all progressives…”

“Reviewers,”  Leah snorted.  “Yes, I heard you were a success.  Who knows, you might have a good chance of getting an arts grant from the city.  You probably don’t need this job anymore.”

“Hold on,”  I called out after her as she left.

I felt the cold sweat on my neck.  The experts at the restaurant had hailed my new and exciting perspective, but they had not paid me.  I couldn’t afford to lose my job.

All that I had been given was a positive review—words on paper.  I tore it to pieces in a bathroom stall.

***

“Nova, I’ve got it.  I know how we can pull this off.”

“Hrrrmmmf.”  Nova stirred underneath her blanket on the sofa.  “What…do you have an idea for your next project?  Is this that midnight inspiration thing?”

“No, I have an idea for how I can be an artist and still make it financially.”

“How’s that?”

“You should get a regular job.  Then I could quit mine and make my paper animals full-time.”

“Huh…no!  Where will I find a job that fast?  And what about my art?”

“You can get a job at a coffee shop like before.  I’ve worked for a couple of years—now it’s my turn for a break.  Besides, it sounds from the weekly article like I’m the one with the destiny, if you know what I mean.”

Nova stood up, shaking.  “I’m so sorry, Blue, but I can’t do this for you.  I’m going to have to leave.”

“But I need your help…”

“I’m sorry.”  She pulled on her shirt and jeans and shoved the blanket into her backpack.  “Bye.  Tell Julian I’ll call him.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have places I can go,”  she said as she walked out.  She was going to knock on somebody’s door in the middle of the night, the way she had knocked on ours.

I sprawled out on the abandoned sofa and smiled.  I would never be an artist, and I didn’t want to fake being one.  I would stick to the familiar art of getting rid of people.

I wondered what I was going to do with the extra money I would have now that I was no longer helping support Nova.

Maybe I’d become a patron of the arts and buy myself a giant stuffed teddy bear.

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.

“What’s up?”

“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.

“Five…four…three…two…one!”

The blindfold was slipped from my eyes.

“Surpriiiise!”

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.

“Huh?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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?

“Sis…?”

“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.”

“Well…”

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.”