Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fifty Shades of Parody (Chapter 26)

I wake with a Jolt.
     That's a high-energy soda made by the fine people at Coca Cola, and I'm not just saying that because they promised to hook me up with a lifetime supply of lard. It's highly caffeinated, and so am I. Which is why I probably dreamt...
     I was dreaming, and in my dream I was falling down an up escalator. It took me an hour and a half to reach the bottom. As I was bouncing upward off of the moving stairs, I remember thinking, "Haven't I already written this before?" But it doesn't matter, because, even if I have, I'm writing it again. When I finally hit the bottom, I bolt upright in Christian's bed. Am I a woman in Christian's bed who dreamt I was falling down an up escalator? Or am I a woman falling down an up escalator dreaming that I'm in Christian's bed?
     I start to get up. Well, isn't that odd. My panties are down around my ankles. I wonder how that happened. I look around suspiciously for Bill Cosby. When I don't see him, I pull them from the waistband back up to where they should be, up around my armpits. I get up to open the bedroom window for some fresh air. We're twenty stories up, and the view is magnificent. As I turn to walk back to bed I stop suddenly in my tracks.
     Fluffy!
     Somehow that cute little mangy cat survived being crushed by the giant penny and being smashed by the heavy mechanical foot of the gigantic robotic dinosaur in Christian's Fortress of Solitude, which is a place I know belongs to a different superhero.
     Spiderman.
     "Meow," Fluffy purrs, sitting on my bed.
     With her tiny paw, she gently pushes a little red ball toward me. I immediately recognize it from the photo shoot Kate and Jose had with Christian at the beginning of this book. Ah, good times.
     "Meow."
     "Oh, you want to play?" I ask the cat, so happy she's alive.
     "Meow," the cat answers.
     I pick up the ball and bounce it gingerly to the foot of the bed. The cat pounces and, carrying it in her mouth, brings it back to me. Oh, how cute. I've never known a cat that could play fetch. I pick up the ball again and toss it across the room. Fluffy pounces again, jumping energetically off the bed, and once again retrieves the ball for me.
     "Meow," Fluffy says, with a tone of challenge in her voice.
     "Oh, you want to play some more?" I ask her playfully, but rising to her challenge.
     "Meow."
     "Well, let's see what you can do," I say, and give the ball a hard toss. It bounces off the wall, hits the night table, and flies out the open window with Fluffy close behind.
     "FLUFFY!"
     "Me-oooooooooooooooooooow!" I hear Fluffy howl down the twenty stories to the sidewalk.
     I look guiltily around for Christian. Fortunately, he's not there. That's when I hear music playing in the distance. Someone is playing the piano and playing it beautifully, I might add. Since it's just me and Christian, I'm pretty sure it's not me.
     The music reminds me that I'm famished. Well, not really, but I am. Famished, that is. I put on my bathrobe, then wander quietly in the direction of the kitchen. To get to the kitchen I have to pass the great room, which is a name as well as an accurate description. When I first saw it, I thought to myself, "Now THAT'S a great room." Unfortunately, the great room is where the music seems to be emanating from. I take a peek around the corner and see Christian shrouded in darkness sitting in a bubble of light, which I know is impossible according to the known laws of physics.
     So he's the one tickling the ivories.
     I bet I can sneak my way past him and get to the kitchen.
     Crap!
     He saw me.
     My stomach would pick the wrong time to rumble. Traitorous digestive system. My Subconscious twitters delightedly behind her hand like a Japanese geisha.
     Caught, I have no choice but to join Christian. Malala Yousafzai has nothing on me, as I bravely sit on the piano stool next to Christian and make a musical contribution of my own.
     Whoopi cushion!
     Christian and his practical jokes.
     "Sorry," Christian says, but I don't think he is. Not really, at least.
     And then another odd thing happens. Christian gets up from the piano, but the beautiful piano music continues to play. It's The Flower Duet from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé. With a press of a button, it stops.
     "You mean, you weren't really playing the piano?" I ask him.
     "Ana," Christian tells me, taking the soundtrack from The Hunger out of his CD player, "to learn how to play the piano would take hours and hours of hard work and dedication. I've never had time for that. I've always been way too busy finding women to spank."
     I sit there. Dumbfounded.
     "I learned," Christian continues, "at a very young age, that it's easier to pretend to do something, than to actually do it. When I was a student at Hogwarts, my parents insisted I play sports, but they never went to any of my quidditch games, so I eventually quit the team and just told them that I was playing. That way, everybody was happy."
     "And all your trophies?"
     "I bought them all."
     Again, there's that vague feeling of deja vu. Still, I don't know whether to be disappointed by his deviousness or impressed with his cleverness.
     "Stick with dumbfounded," my Inner Goodness recommends, so I do.
     I shift positions, so I can get up and complete my trip to the kitchen, but Christian mistakes it for something else and scoops me into his lap.
     "Do you know what I'd like" he asks, salaciously.
     "Bacon?" I suggest.
     "No, but it does include eating. Do you know what I'd like to eat?" he teases, lasciviously.
     "Ham?"
     "No, that's not on the menu, but a kind of fatty meat is close."
     Menu? Hmm... that's my cue.
     "Speaking of menus, Christian," I tell him, menu-speakingly, "I want to get something straight."
     "You already have," he says, mischievously, gyrating his hips underneath my kind of fatty meat.
     "I'm talking about the sexual menu you want me to agree to. There are a lot of things in it that I'm uncomfortable with."
     Christian, surprisingly enough, has the menu in his hand. He offers it to me, and I notice a lot of the "items" have already been crossed out.
     "As you see," Christian tells me, "I've even taken out the Pink Sock. That one disgusts even me, if you can imagine. There's just one thing I have to stand firm on, and that's the stipulation that you must fast before every sexual encounter."
     "Fast?"
     "Yes."
     "FAST?"
     "That's right."
     "FAST?"
     "I think I've already answered in the affirmative."
     "You expect me to fast?"
     Hey, them's fighting words, and my highly-caffeinated metabolism agrees with me. I stand up suddenly and slam my two fists on top of the piano. Wood splinters everywhere and the legs shatter from the force of the blow, causing the piano to crumple to the floor like an accordion. A broken accordion.
     "FAST?"
     Christian jumps out of the way as I grab the piano stool he's sitting on and throw it against the wall. It smashes into a million little pieces, just like James Frey's writing career. The framed painting it hits falls to the floor, broken, torn, and unrecognizable, but that last one is mainly because it was a Picasso.
     Picasso?
     Picasso?
     PICASSO?
     I HATE Picasso!
     "You expect me to fast?" I scream at Christian. "To go without food? That... Makes... Hulk... MAD! And when Hulk gets mad, Hulk SMASHES!"
     I pick the couch up over my head and hurl it through the wall. It crashes into the kitchen, where it crushes the refrigerator and destroys all that beautiful ham.
     Christian raises his hands in front of his face in a protective gesture against the force of my wrath. When he sees me advance toward him, he tries to hide behind the drapes.
     "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains!" he squawks. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains!"
     I stomp over to the drapery, grab two big fistfuls of cloth and tear them down from their rods. They fall on top of Christian like the trash they've become.
     "Ana! Please!" he wails, trying to calm me down, to reason with me, but I'm beyond calming down and being reasoned with.
     I angrily clomp over to the bookshelf and start firing off the books left and right like missiles. One goes crashing through a window. Another sticks in the wall like a literary work of modern art. Christian has to duck to keep from being clobbered by a third.
     "A first edition Edgar Allen Poe?" I yell, glancing at the book in my hand. "I LOVE Edgar Allen Poe!" and immediately tear the book into confetti. "And THAT'S what I do to the things I LOVE!" I shout at Christian, who's cowering in the corner, waiting for the tempest to subside.
     Oh, my goobers!
     Have I gone too far?
     I just tore apart a priceless literary artifact. It's irreplaceable, and now it's no more. I pick up some of the torn pages from the floor and try to stick them together using a little bit of spit.
     They fall limply to the floor.
     And so do I.
     I sit there, crying.
     "I'm so hungry," I wail. "Oh, Christian, don't you understand? I'd never be able to fast."
     "There, there," Christian says, joining me on the floor. He takes me in his arms, trying to comfort me. "Well work something out. We'll find a compromise."
     "No," I say wiping away some snot with the sleeve of my robe. "Can't you see, we'll never be able to work things out. We're too different. I'm coffee, you're tea. I'm beer, and you're a fine wine. I'm rubber and you're glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you."
     I look at Christian. He looks so lost, so heartbroken. Fifty shades of sadness. The J. Geils Band was right, love stinks.
     Yeah, yeah.
     "I'll return everything you've given me," I tell him. "Everything, that is, except for that car you gave me, the Adobe SNL. It rained and now it's just a puddle of mud.
     "Surely, you're joking," he says, pleadingly.
     I shake my head.
     "No," I say, "and my name's not Shirley." I stand, straightening up, and prepare to leave. "If I don't leave now, we'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the sexual problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that."
     Christian stands up and holds me close.
     "Here's looking at you, kid," Christian tells me, and with that he gives me a hard slap on the ass.
     Ouch!
     I bet that will leave a mark.
     "You know you don't have to act with me, Christian," I tell him. "If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow."
     "I'm not into that," Christian says.
     I hug him.
     Hard.
     Reluctantly, I let him go, and walk over to the line of people who have suddenly appeared out of nowhere to wish me well. Crockett, Doobie, Mr. and Mrs. Grey. I walk down the line of well-wishers, and say goodbye to each.
     "Now I know I've got a heart," Crockett tells me, "because it's breaking."
     Little Doobie looks up at me with his big sad eyes.
     "Wanna get high?" he squeaks, offering me for a final time a wet, limp joint.
     "No, thank you," I say, quickly bypassing him and moving on to Christian's father.
     "I'm glad you found your freedom, Mr. Grey," referring to the murder he could have been arrested for.
     "Well, I would never've found it if it hadn't been for you," he tells me, giving me an enthusiastic hug.
     I re-hook my bra as I walk up to Mrs. Grey, Christian's mother.
     "I wish you weren't leaving, Ana," she tells me.
     "Do you really mean that, Grace?" I ask her.
     "No," she says.
     There's only one person left to say goodbye to, and then I'll have to leave.
     "I'll miss you most of all," I tell the Scarecrow, and reach down to pick up Toto.
     I turn to Kate, who's dressed in a beautifully fancy pink dress.
     "I just want to go home," I say.
     "You had the power all along," she tells me. "Just click your heels three times and say, 'There's no place like home. There's no place...'"
     "...like home. There's no place like home."
     The world begins to spin, and, when it stops, I'm laying in my own bed. Kate's applying a cool, wet cloth to my forehead. She's wearing her cute little baby-doll nightie with fur along the bottom to keep her neck warm. There's an old Humphrey Bogart movie playing on the television set.
     "She's awake!" says one voice.
     "Ana's awake!" says another.
     I look around. Not only is Kate there, but so is José and his cousin.
     "Oh, Ana, we were so worried," José tells me. "Weren't we, Sy?"
     "Si."
     "You were?"
     "Of course we were," Kate interjects, then adds, "You were delirious the whole time you were unconscious."
     "I was?"
     "You were."
     "Did you call a doctor?"
     "For what?"
     But before I could answer...
     "I thought I'd drop by and see how she's doing..." a familiar voice from behind me says.
     It's Christian!
     "...her head had a rather nasty bump against that lamp post in chapter 3."
     It's true. I feel my head and there's a rather large lump on it, much larger than the other ones.
     He's standing just outside of the window in my room, which is odd since my apartment is on the fourteenth floor.
     "Gravity boots," he says, but I think he means anti-gravity boots.
     "I was in a magical land, and you were there, and you and you and you," I say, pointing to Christian.
     They laugh politely. That's okay, I'm used to people laughing at me.
     "We're not laughing at you, Ana," Christian says, gently. "We're laughing with you."
     I don't know, it sure feels like they're laughing at me.
     "I'm okay," I tell them. "Can I have some privacy? I'd like to take a bath."
     They look at each other, concerned.
     "Well, at least we know her nose works," Kate says, and they all file out.
     I get up, start to undress, when...
     "I can still see you," I tell the eyeball peeking at me from the bottom corner of the window.
     "I was just leaving," Christian says, and does just that.
     I walk into the bathroom and look at myself. I'm naked in the mirror like Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, only without her paycheck.
     Could it all have just been a dream?
     I turn away from my reflected image and bend over to turn the hot water knob in the bathtub so I can have a nice long soak, when...
     Glimpsing back, something catches my eye. A red mark. On my butt. And it's in the shape of a hand.
     Christian's hand.
 
-fin-
   
     
American Chimpanzee
jimduchene.BlogSpot.com
RaisingMyFather.BlogSpot.com
@JimDuchene
 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fifty Shades of Parody (Chapter 25)

"Now can we talk, Ana?"
     "Sorry, mom," I say. "Gotta go." 
     I make my way to the bus stop, although "bus stop" is a bit of a misnomer. El Paso is building a trolley system it doesn't need for people who don't want it. Today, however, it comes in handy.
     I sit on the bench and wait for the trolley to make its stop. And I wait. And I wait. I don't know what's taking so long.
     "It's because the trolley system is still under construction, as in 'not finished yet,'" Christian informs me when I write him on my DingleBerry to complain.
     And then he writes:
 
Stay where you are. I'll send Crockett right over.
 
     And I write back:
 
But I don't know where I'm at.

 
     "Not a problem," Christian tells me, and then signs off.
     Well, I guess I'll be here for an even longer while than I've already been here already. There's no way Crockett will be able to find me in a city this large. It would be like finding the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack proverbially. My stomach rumbles. I should have eaten something. I'm in for a long wait.
     Crockett pulls up and stops right in front of me.
     "Need a ride, Miss Steele?"
     I just sit there, mouth agape.
     "How did you find me?" I ask him, stupefied.
     "Your GPS transmitter," he tells me, quite matter-of-factly.
     "My GPS transmitter? I don't have a GPS transmitter," I say.
     "Sure you do," he insists. "Christian had it inserted one night when you were... Hey! Look at that!"
     "Look at what?"
     "Oh, nothing. Now, if you'll excuse me, Miss Steele, I have to concentrate on my driving."
     "Please, Crockett. Call me Ana."
     "No."
     "Okay."
     Twenty-five minutes later, he drops me off at Christian's. Christian's back is to me and I can see that he is on an important business call.
     "Our Joe wants to know," I overhear him saying, "if your Joe will lend our Joe your Joe's banjo. If your Joe won't lend our Joe your Joe's banjo, our Joe won't lend your Joe our Joe's banjo..." Christian turns around and sees me. He smiles. "...when our Joe has a banjo."
     He pauses and listens, all the while his eyes not leaving mine.
     "Well, keep me informed!" he yells, and hangs up.
     Putting down the phone, he walks over and takes me in his arms.
     "I missed you," he tells me.
     "I missed you," I tell him.
     "I missed you more," he tells me back.
     "I missed you more," I tell him back.
     "No, I missed you more."
     "No, I missed you more."
     "No, I did."
     "No, I did."
     "I did."
     "I did."
     "No, me."
     "No, me."
     Hmm... maybe I should cut to the future by about a half hour. The thing about dating a Control Freak is that they always have to get the last word, and ding-dang-doodle if I'll let them.
      "Shower with me, Ana."
     "I haven't showered with another person since I was a toddler and my step-father was babysitting a cousin of mine. We both needed a bath, so my step-father filled up the bathtub with Mr. Bubble, sat my cousin in front of the TV set, and jumped into the tub with me. I guess that's more of a bath than a shower."
     "Is that a yes or a no?"
     "Are you saying I need a shower?"
     "I was trying not to."
     "You could have just said something."
     "I thought it would be more romantic if I asked you to shower with me."
     He undresses me, and then himself. Naked, we walk into the shower together. We get stuck in the entrance, which wasn't built to accommodate two people entering at the same time. The shower is nothing but white and stainless steel.
     "You know what I like about stainless steel?" Christian asks me.
     "What?"
     "No stains."
     "You mean like dirt and grime?"
     "Those, too."
     "You never struck me as a soap-on-a-rope kind of man, Mr. Grey," I tease him when I see a longer-than-it-is-wide soap dangling on a rope from the shower head.
     "Put your hands on the wall, Anastasia, and I'll show you what this soap-on-a-rope is for."
     I do, and he does.
     Boy, does he!
     Squeaky clean--inside and out--we exit the shower. Christian goes into his room to dress, and I go into mine. Did I tell you Christian gave me my own room in his house? If I didn't, pretend that I did.
     Once dressed, I am supposed to meet Christian in his Red Room of Pain. I have to tell you, I am very nervous. I haven't told Christian, but I'm allergic to pain. I get these red welts on my body when I'm hit.
     I go into the Red Room of Pain and kneel by the door, as instructed. My heart is in my mouth. I wonder what else I'll have in my mouth before the night is through.
     Christian comes in. He's dressed in a tuxedo. My, but he looks devilishly handsome.
     "You look lovely," he tells me.
     I blush, but, of course, he doesn't see it. Christian is not one to notice such things.
     "Stand up," he orders.
     I get shakily to my feet. I have no idea what I'm in for tonight.
     He presses a button on the stereo. I guess he likes to have music playing while he does whatever it is that he does when he does it. I wonder what will play. Bolero by Ravel? Principles of Lust by Enigma? Deep Forest by, um, Deep Forest? No, what comes on surprises the crap out of me. It's You Don't Know Me.
     Christian takes my hand in his as Ray Charles begins to sing.

You give your hand to me
And then you say hello
And I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don't know me
 
     Holding me close, we begin to dance. With a firm hand at the small of my back, he guides me from side to side, slowly, each of us melting into the other.
 
No, you don't know the one
Who dreams of you at night
And longs to kiss your lips
Longs to hold you tight
Oh, I am just a friend
That's all I've ever been
'Cause you don't know me
 
     We sway rhythmically in each other's arms. I bury my face in the nape of his neck. He smells heavenly.
 
I never knew the art of making love
No, my heart aches with love for you
Afraid and shy
I let my chance go by
The chance that you might love me, too
 
     I can feel the warmth of his body and the strength of his arms. Our movements are so in sync with each other. I wish this dance would last forever, but I know it can't.
 
You give your hand to me
And then you say goodbye
I watch you walk away
Beside the lucky guy
Oh, you will never know
The one who loves you so
Well, you don't know me
   
     The song comes to an end. We stand there, both afraid to move. He doesn't seem to want to let me go. He brings his face in close to mine.
     "Why, Ana," he whispers in my ear, "you're blushing."
 
 
American Chimpanzee
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RaisingMyFather.blogspot.com
@JimDuchene
  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fifty Shades of Parody (Chapter 24)

"But really, mom, there's a room right behind this wall," I tell my mother as I huff and puff and fail to move the false wall that Crockett so easily opened.
     "Try saying 'open sesame,'" she offers helpfully. "Or 'open, sez ME!'"
     "Oh, mother," I say, getting frustrated. "The wall slides right open, I just need to find the switch or the handle or whatever."
     "Sure, you do, honey," she answers, sympathetically. "Sure, you do."
     I finally give up and crumple sadly to the floor.
     "I should have paid more attention," I say, more to myself than to my mother.
     "In school?" my mother asks. "Or just life in general?"
     She pauses, and then her mothering instinct must kick in, because she tells me, "Ana, your boyfriend, if he really does exist, seems like a nice guy for someone I never met. He is a nice guy, isn't he? He didn't molest me while I was unconscious, did he?"
     "No," I assure her.
     "Well, I won't hold that against him. A real gentleman would have shown me the courtesy of an enthusiastic grope. Anyway, you should go after him."
     "After him?" I repeat, mulling the idea over in my mind. "You really think so, mom?"
     "Of course I do. You only live once, honey. After all, we don't want you to end up like those two old drunks over there."
     I look, but I don't see who she's talking about.
     "Which two?"
     "Those two," she says and points across the room from us.
     "That's a mirror you're looking at, mom," I tell her. "But if I go, what will you do?"
     "Don't you worry about me. If there's one thing your mother knows, it's how to take care of herself. I wonder what Harvey Weinstein is up to? Now that guy knows how to treat a lady."
     I think about the sweet time Christian and I spent in the round room, laying in each other's round arms in the round bed. Hmm... have you ever noticed how most foods are round? Round eggs, round berries, round pancakes. Waffles are round, but in a square kind of way. Cupcakes are round, muffins are round, manhole covers are round. Donuts are round.
     Mmm... donuts.
     I don't mean to make you blush, but a man's penis is long and round. Long, I guess, if you're lucky. Although I've heard that girth is more important than length. Kate told me that.
     "Girth is more important than length," she said, and then reminded me to not forget the cucumbers on my way home from the grocery store. "I want to make my special salad."
     Funny, in all the time we've been roommates, I've never seen her prepare anything in the kitchen, much less a salad.
     A woman's vagina is long and round, too, but in a different way. It's an emptiness that goes inward, rather than a fullness that goes outward.
     Hmm... fullness.
     If you're lucky, I guess.
     Just after our decadent time in the circular room of roundness, Christian fell to sleep for a few minutes. Jokingly, I took the blue ribbon I was wearing in my hair and wrapped it around his yankee doodle dandy. I tied it in a nice bow. When he woke up a few minutes later, he looked down and slyly commented, "I don't know where I've been, but it would seem I won First Place while I was there."
     "Tell me about yourself," I coaxed, and he did. He told me how his first job was at McDonald's.
     "I was in charge of putting the sesame seeds on their hamburger buns," he said. "I would take a tiny brush, and spread a glue-like substance on one side of the sesame seed and then stick it to the top of the bun. After that I tried a career in law enforcement. I was the head security guard at Jamba Juice. So you see, Ana, Mrs. Robinson really did save me from myself."
     Uhg... there's that name again. Mrs. Robinson. I don't know why he calls her that. I guess, because I do.
     I drift off, and when I come back to the surface of consciousness I hear him say, "...Pope Francis, or Frankie 'Five Fingers,' as we used to call him in the old neighborhood..."
     I drift off again.
     "...my father always told me I had rocks in my head," I hear from someplace far away, "and my mother always told me knowledge was more valuable than gold, ergo rocks must be more valuable than gold. That's how I made my first million. With rocks..."
     It's like I'm floating down a river, occasionally touching the shore of consciousness, which is a lot like the surface of consciousness, except it's on the side and not on top.
     "...I threw the football and hit the referee square in the head," Christian's words float somewhere above me.
     "Did the ref go down?" I asked, dreamily.
     "I'm not taking about his private life."
     "I mean, did it knock him to the ground?"
     "Yes, and when he woke up his pants were missing."
     "I see," I said, but I didn't. Not really. I was off once again to Slumberville. That's right next to Lidsville.
     "...it was the saddest day of my life," I heard him say in the distance and brought myself back to the conservatory of consciousness to conscientiously hear what he was saying of consequence.
     "What was?"
     "Aren't you listening to me, Ana? You're the only one I've ever told any of this to."
     "Really?"
     "Yes. Only you. You and my bodyguard Crockett. He needs to know these kind of things."
     "Just me and Crockett?"
     "Yes, just you and Crockett. And Doobie. You and Crocket and Doobie, that's all. And my receptionist, she knows too. You, Crockett, Doobie, my receptionist, and my parents. As well as my maid and cook. You and Crockett and Doobie, my receptionist, my parents, my maid, and my cook."
     "That's everyone?"
     "Yes."
     "Really?"
     "Yes, really. Donna, Jean, and Little Missy, I told them, too. That's everyone."
     "Everyone?"
     "Yes, everyone. Everyone, except for the President of the United States of America, that is. I told him back in the first chapter. That's why you saw him crying when he left my office. How sad that day was."
     "How sad what day was?"
     "That day."
     "Which day?"
     "That day."
     "That day, when I saw the President of the United States of America leaving your office?"
     "No, I'm talking about the saddest day of my life."
     "What happened?"
     "What happened what?"
     "What happened on the saddest day of your life?"
     "I thought we were talking about the President of the United States of America."
     "You were about to tell me what happened on the saddest day of your life."
     "Oh... that day. I've never told anybody about it."
     "You can tell me," I suggest softly.
     "I had a twin brother, Ana. His name was Billie Joe, and I say 'had,' because he committed suicide."
     "Oh, my goodness."
     "Goodness had nothing to do with it. It was a girl. Maybe that's why I find myself so disconnected from women and feel the need to punish them. It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day. We were out chopping cotton and her brother was baling hay. And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat. And her mama hollered out the back door, 'Y'all remember to wipe your feet.' And then she said, 'I got some news this morning from Choctaw Ridge,' but she must have decided to break the bad news more gently, because she seemed to change the subject. She said, 'Everybody who doesn't have a brother who killed himself jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, take a step forward.' As I was about to step forward, she held up a hand. 'Not so fast, Christian,' she told me."
     "Zzzzzzzzzz...ack!"
     "So, you go over the rainbow," my mother is telling me, "to Sugarcandy Mountain, or wherever it is you need to go, to find your boyfriend, Ana. You go, and, when you find him, you tell him, 'We believe in you, Carlton...'"
     "Christian."
     "...Christian. We believe in you."
     That is all the encouragement I need, and I run off to find Carlton... I mean, Christian. I catch up with him just outside, on the airport's tarmac. He's preparing to leave.
     "What the heck is that?" I ask him, my mouth agape.
     "Ana!" Christian calls out, and I can see that he's surprised and actually happy to see me. "You came after me!"
     It's a statement, but it sounds more like a question that's already been answered, which it has. I mean, I'm standing right there.
     I'm standing, because I've stopped in my tracks. He holds out his hand to me.
     I don't know. I'm not sure.
     "What the heck is that?" I say again.
     "It's a hot air balloon, Ana," he explains. "It's the only way to fly." 
     The hot air balloon is a big beautiful beast, with the words "State Fair" above the name "Omaha" emblemed on the side, if "emblem" can be used as a verb and a circular object can be said to have a side. It has an inside and outside, I guess. In which case, it's on the outside.
     Christian offers me his hand, inviting me to join him. The basket floats just above the ground by about a foot or two. I take Christian's hand and step aboard. My added weight causes the basket of the hot air balloon to touch down on the earth with a soft thud.
     Thump!
     I said "thud."
     Thud!
     I see Crockett handling the burner, which heats the air until it causes the envelope to raise heavenward. The envelope is the actual balloon part of the hot air balloon, and the basket can also be referred to as a gondola.
     That's Mister Gondola, to you.
     "Let's do it," Christian says, looking at me but talking to Crockett.
     "Okay, boss," Crockett says, and gives the burner a boost.
     Slowly, the magnificent beast defies gravity and pulls away from the earth. It lifts us higher and higher into the atmosphere. I look over the edge of the basket, and see the airport growing tinier and tinier beneath me, the people looking like ants. Ants with arms and walking on two legs, that is.
     "Do you feel reckless?" Christian asks me, with a mischievous grin on his face.
     "You bet I do, boss," Crockett answers.
     "Not you, you idiot," Christian barks at his right-hand man. "I'm talking to Ana."
     "You bet I do, Christian," I answer.
     "Not you, Ana," he tells me. "Can't you see I'm talking to Crockett? Can't anyone follow a simple conversation?"
     Neither of us say anything.
     "That's an open question," Christian enlightens us. "Either of you can answer."
     Crockett answers by goosing the burner even more.
     I answer by moving closer to him.
     "I feel reckless," I whisper seductively, feeling the warmth of his body. I had always heard about the mile-high club. I wonder if this is what Christian has in mind. With Crockett right there? Oh my, that would be naughty.
     Christian reaches down and pulls out something long and hard.
     A bungee cord.
     He secures it around his feet, opens the gate to the gondola, and dives off the side in an Olympic-quality exemplification of bungee jumping. When he reaches the end of the bungee cord's elasticity, it snaps him back, and he sticks a graceful three-point landing any Russian gymnast would be proud of.
     "Your turn," he tells me, as he removes the bungee cord from around his ankles.
     Uh, uh. No way. I'm against euthanasia, and I'm not talking about Chinese children.
     "No," I tell him
     "You won't believe how exhilarating it is..."
     "No."
     "...or how alive you'll feel..."
     "No."
     "...when you stare death in the eyes and laugh in its face."
     "How many times do I have to tell you..."
     "There will be a Hostess Twinkie waiting for you when you get back," he bribes.
     What can I say, his bribing works. If bungee jumping doesn't make me feel more alive, the Twinkie sure will. Do you know what I like most about Hostess Twinkies? There's two of them. And I'm not just saying that because of all the free Twinkies the company is paying me with for product placement.
     "I just need to know how much you weigh."
     "Er... wha?"
     "Your weight. I need to know how much you weigh so I can choose the proper length of cord."
     "Aren't they all the same?"
     "Of course not, Ana. You do understand physics, don't you?"
     If I wanted to understand physics, I wouldn't have slept through my classes in college.
     "Mumble, mumble, mumble," I mumble.
     "What, Ana? I couldn't hear you, you've got to speak up."
     I think about it. Control freak that he is, he'll never stop pestering me. So, should I tell him in pounds, in stones, or use the metric system? I decide to go with pounds. It sounds thinner.
     "Good girl," he says, and chooses the proper length of cord.
     He secures one end to my ankles, and double-checks that the other end is attached properly to the gondola. He must really care for me, if he takes the time and effort to make sure I don't die a horrible death.
     "Make me proud," he says.
     "I will, boss," Crockett answers.
     I do a graceful swan dive off the side of the basket in an attempt to impress Christian, and my body cuts through the brisk air like cold steel. I drop toward the ground faster than Bill Clinton's pants at the Miss Arkansas pageant. I feel so free as I plummet toward the earth, so... alive. Darn that Christian, it is exhilarating. I wish I could fall forever, like that Chinese girl at the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I'm not just saying that because Ang Lee promised me a part in his next movie.
     The bungee cord stretching, stretching, stretching...
     WHAM!
     My face slams into the ground.
     I shouldn't have lied about my weight, I think to myself.
     There's a pause, and then the cord snaps back up with a force so great my head hits the bottom of the basket. Which forces me to go down, and not in the fun way, again hitting the ground. I leave an imprint this time of my nose, eyes, and open mouth.
     Bo-iiiiing!
     I shoot back up. There's a dent where my head had hit before. I leave another one. I keep slamming up and down, up and down. Oh my goobers, it seems like it's never going to end.
     Basket! Ground! Basket! Ground!
     WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
     By the grace of Lord Xenu, one of Newton's Laws of Motion finally kicks in and I find myself just dangling by the bungee cord off the side of the hot air balloon.
     "Ana!" I hear Christian call from above. "Are you okay?"
     I'm too stunned to answer. Also, the chunk of grass stuffed into my mouth like a good sex act gone bad doesn't help. I feel the cord being tugged on above me, but, between Crockett and Christian, they're unable to pull me up.
     "Doobie!" Christian calls out, his voice in a panic.
     A whiff of burning herbs whooshes past me, the pungent smell lingering.
     "Yes, Harry?" a familiar voice slurs. He must pause to look around, because he says, "Talk about being high."
     I can almost picture Doobie's moist, round eyes blinking in the high altitude.
     Christian ignores Doobie's faux pas with his name, and quickly commands, "Quick, Doobie, get Ana!"
     "Yes, you  four-eyed mumble, mumble, mumble."
     There's another pause. Then I hear Doobie take a deep drag from one of his special hand-rolled cigarettes.
     "Liftus elephantus!" he exhales.
     Somehow, I find myself back in the basket. I look around and see only Crockett and Christian.
     "Are you okay, Ana?" Christian asks, concern in his eyes. With a gentlemanly swipe of his sleeve, he wipes the green gobs of concern away.
     I spit out the chunk of real estate from my mouth...
     Haaawk-patooie!
     ...and assure Christian that I am.
     There's such loving concern in his eyes, as he gently cleans the dirt from my face.
     "You've soiled yourself," he tells me, wrinkling his nose.
     "Trust me, that's not soil," I tell him back.
 
     "I'm famished," Christian declares decaratively.
     Me, too. Although you wouldn't think so, after my having just ingested a mouthful of dirt. Somehow, I had always thought dirt and grass and grubs would be more filling, but it's not. Like Chinese food, after a half hour I'm hungry again.
     "Would you like something international or something a bit more continental?" he says, giving me a choice.
     I look around. This close to the airport, I see nothing but hotels and an IHOP.
     An IHOP?
     Hmmm...
     "I'm in the mood for something continental," I tell him, remembering how, when he told me he was taking me to a world-famous restaurant, we ended up at McDonald's.
     He didn't lie, I guess.
     Immediately, he pulls off the road and into the driveway of one of those hotels.
     Did I mention we were in his car? Well, we are. For the sake of the story, just go with it.
     He finds a parking space close to the entrance, hangs his "handicap" placard on his rear-view mirror, and we exit the car and enter the hotel.
     We walk briskly through the lobby, holding hands. He's a step or two ahead of me and is anxiously pulling me along. My, but my naughty boyfriend seems to be in a hurry. A certain part of my body tingles at the thought of what he's in the mood to eat.
     "Just pretend we're staying here," he tells me.
     I'm not sure I understand what he means, until he leads me into a dining area, of sorts.
     "You're bringing me to the hotel's free continental breakfast?" I ask in surprise.
     "Hey," he says, "I didn't get rich by being a spendthrift. Besides, you're the one who said you were in the mood for something continental."
     I couldn't argue with his logic. It was irrefutable.
     His eyes were sparkling, like his skin in direct sunlight. I've never seen him this happy, this giddy, and it's a joy to behold, as opposed to beehive. My eyes are probably sparkling, too, as I see food from one end of the room to the other.
     "And it's all free," Christian agrees.
     In the middle of it all is a giant cornucopia laying on its side with fruits and vegetables and grains pouring out of it. I pick up a corn-on-the-cob and begin to eat.
     "That's plastic," Christian tells me, and he's right.
     Delicious plastic.
     "Here," he says, again taking my hand, "let me show you around. Oh, look, Ana. Eggs!"
     I've never seen anyone get so excited about eggs, unless you want to count Harry Fierstein. Christian continues.
     "What makes them continental is that they're hard-boiled. Any hack can scramble two eggs together, but to hard-boil them properly, it takes an artist. And look at how many different kinds of cereal they have. Wow! Frosted Flakes! Look, Ana, they even have high-fiber cereal, if you're into that kind of thing."
     I don't know what kind of thing he means, but I'm sure I'm not.
     "And if you're so inclined, you can make your own waffles over there, by the bagels and cream cheese. Excuse me, my dear, while I indulge help myself to some of this yogurt."
     As he starts to slurp, I look around. The dining area has a nice Pilgrim-like theme to it. A turkey here, some corn-stalks there, and pumpkins scattered all around. There's even a girl dressed as a Native American helping people at the waffle station. She looks Latina or Hispanic. It might sound racist, but I can't tell them apart.
     "She's an Indian," Christian says in his typical un-p.c.-like way.
     "No, she's not," I tell him.
     "Yes, she is."
     "No, she's not," I insist.
     "Yes, she is."
     "Indians are from India," I say, correcting him.
     "Be that as it may, she's still an Indian."
     Christian is such a control freak that I'm determined to prove him wrong. I go up to the girl.
     "Excuse me," I say, by way of introduction, "do you speak English?"
     "Si," she says.
     "And do you work here??
     "Si."
     "In the kitchen?"
     "Si."
     "Can I ask you a silly question?"
     "Si."
     "Are you supposed to be an Indian?"
     "Si."
     "Really? What kind?"
     "Sioux."
     "Sioux?"
     "Si."
     "See?" Christian tells me, and he leads me to a table where he's already served the two of us.
     My, how thoughtful he can be when he wants to be. Thoughtful, that is.
     "You are so unpredictable, Mr. Grey," I tell him.
     "That's only because I am, Miss Steele" he tells me back.
     "This has been a wonderful day," I tell him.
     "I know it has," he tells me back.
     "Thank you," I tell him,
     He looks at me intently.
     "No, Ana," he tells me back, taking my hand in his, "thank you."
 
     I don't know how he knows, but he knows.
     Under Christian's guidance, Crockett lands the hot-air balloon right in front of my mother's house.
     "Would you like to come in for a bit?" I ask Christian.
     "Yes," he answers.
     "Really?" I squeal in happiness.
     "No," he says.
     With that, the hot air balloon starts to rise, taking my boyfriend par ardua ad alta upon a hazardous and technically unexplainable journey into the outer stratosphere. Christian looks at Crockett, who looks back at Christian. Crockett raises his shoulders in the international sign of I-Don't-Know-What-Just-Happened-Boss.
     "This is a highly irregular procedure! This is absolutely unprecedented!" Christian declares, as he falls upward into the distance. "And it ruined my exit!"
     My mother and step-father run outside to see what all the hub-bub is about. Seeing Christian, they wave goodbye.
     "Who's that?" my step-father asks my mother.
     "I have no idea," my mother answers back.
     "Oh, come back!" I cry to the wind. "Don't go without me! Please come back!"
     "I can't come back!" Christian cries out, too. He looks at Crockett, who again gives him a shrug of helplessness, as opposed to a shrug of helpfulness. "I don't know how it works!"
     "Oh," I cry out in disappointment.
     Using his middle fingers, Christian gives the thumbs-up sign with both hands to my parents and the rest of those of their neighbors who've come out of their trailers to see if the government was handing out free cheese again.
     "Goodbye, folks!" Christian says, waving.
     They all wave back.
     "Goodbye! Goodbye!" they say to the man floating away in the balloon.
     "Mother?"
     "Yes, Ana?"
     "Christian won't be staying for dinner," I tell her.
     "No kidding," she says. "Well, that's okay. It gives you and me a little mother/daughter time together. What would you like?"
     "Believe it or not," I tell her, "I'd like a proper cup of coffee from a proper coffeepot. Tin coffeepots or iron coffeepots, they're of no use to me, so I'll have a proper cup of coffee in a proper coffeepot, or I'll have a cup of tea."
     "Sounds like just what the doctor ordered," she tells me. "Do you suppose when a doctor gets sick and another doctor doctors him, does the doctor doing the doctoring have to doctor the doctor the way the doctor being doctored wants to be doctored, or does the doctor doing the doctoring of the doctor doctor the doctor as he wants to do the doctoring?"
     "Some biscuits would be nice," I say, purposely ignoring her blatherings.
     "Why, isn't that a coincidence," she tells me. "I bought a bit of baking powder and baked a batch of biscuits. I brought a big basket of biscuits back to the bakery and baked a basket of big biscuits. Then I took the big basket of biscuits and the basket of big biscuits and mixed the big biscuits with the basket of biscuits that was next to the big basket and put a bunch of biscuits from the basket into a biscuit mixer and brought the basket of biscuits and the box of mixed biscuits and the biscuit mixer to the bakery, and then I made a pot of coffee in a proper coffeepot."
     I don't know what's gotten into my mother, so I say, "That's nice, mom," and get on my phone to send Christian a quick text.
     "How's the weather up there?" I type.
     He quickly types back:
 
Whether the weather be fine or whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot, I'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether I like it or not.
 
     "What's that contraption, dear?" my mother asks, looking at the rectangular object in my hand.
     "It's a phone, mom," I tell her.
     "Oh, sure it is, dearie," she says. "Sure it is. And did one of your imaginary boyfriends give it to you?"
     "As a matter of fact..." I begin, but my mother interrupts.
     "You know, it's so good you're here," she tells me. "We haven't talked in ages and have so much to catch up on. I can't wait to..."
     "In a minute, mom," I say, typing off another text to Christian.
    
Where are you now?
 
We've caught a bit of a tailwind. We're practically in India now.

    
     "Indianapolis?" I type.
     "No," Christian types back, and then continues.
 
Indianapolis isn't in India, Ana. Indians are in India and Indians are in Indiana, but the Indian Indians and the Indiana Indians aren't identical Indians. The Indians in India are Indian Indians and the Indians in Indiana are indigenous Indians.
 
     "Come sit at the table with me, Ana," my mom interrupts again. "I'm so anxious to talk with you."
     "Sure, mom," I assure her. "After this."
 
I miss you so much, Christian, I'd be with you right now, if I could.

 
     "Yes, Ana," Christian writes back, "I would be with you too, if only I hadn't dropped you off at that homeless shelter."
     "Homeless shelter?" I write back. "That was my mother's house!"
     "Of course it was, Ana," Christian writes. "Of course it was."
     "Oh, Ana," my mother interjects, "you being here is such a blessing to me."
     "What did you say, mom?" I ask, as I get right back on my phone to fire off another message to Christian.
 
You're not judging me by where my parents live, are you Christian?

 
A gentle judge judges justly, Ana. A gentle judge judges justly.

 
Grrrrr!

 
Are you growling at me, Miss Steele? I possess a cat of my own for growlers. Come to think of it, I haven't seen Fluffy lately. I wonder where she's off to?

 
Um, gotta go. I can't wait to talk with my mom.

 
     "Understood," Christian types back and signs off.
   
   
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