Just get me to Limbo
I'll be satisfied
Relieved of my doubts

about Hell and Heaven

Just get me to Limbo

I'm well qualified

too bad to be Blessed

too good for Damnation

So few of my virtues have been

listed for You

Whereas my sins, alas, are known

and well-recorded

I lack the credentials

to be saved or condemned

bereft of belief

in Man's Redemption

Just get me to Limbo

I'll be satisfied

Relieved of my doubts

about Hell and Heaven

Just get me to Limbo

I'm well qualified

too bad to be Blessed

too good for Damnation

Hear tell the Almighty's Face

from Limbo

is obscured

Which matters to me

not one iota

My only concern is

that the End of Life

once reached

might offer us more

than mere cessation

Just get me to Limbo

I'll be satisfied

Relieved of my doubts

about Hell and Heaven

Just get me to Limbo

I'm well qualified

too bad to be Blessed

too good for Damnation

Don't care if it's scenic

ugly

hostile

or serene

As long as my mind

proceeds to function

Won't care if it's wholesome

loathsome

tense

or fancy-free

Regardless the state therein

I'm queued

Just get me to Limbo

I'll be satisfied

Relieved of my doubts

about Hell and Heaven

Just get me to Limbo

I'm well qualified

too bad to be Blessed

too good for Damnation

I seldom subscribe

to prayer

my knees are numb

to worship

Whenever I've sung

the choir tolled one

My Faith is in Self

my Self's suspended

in between

Death's making me cringe

with apprehension

Just get me to Limbo

I'll be satisfied

Relieved of my doubts

about Hell and Heaven

Just get me to Limbo

I'm well qualified

too bad to be Blessed

too good for Damnation 

 

 

 

 

I'm writing this with my left hand. If you are reading its printed version, you cannot fully appreciate the painstaking effort required by a 'righty'—reverting to a 'lefty' after decades—to achieve legibility. I say "reverting" because, when I first betrayed a preference, I was reprogrammed by my mother, who was trying to spare me and our family the expense of an impending 'wrong' handedness. I think she had in mind sports equipment that my older brothers, both righties, would be precluded from handing down. She may also have been foreshadowing the enmity destined to fester between her and my left-handed father. Though years away from divorce, my parents had sensed theirs lurking like an intravenous air bubble, wending its lethal way through their connubial bloodstream. Meanwhile, I would learn to cope with whatever psychological trauma was being inflicted by repetitive slaps to "Mister Bad Hand" so "Mister Good Hand" would preempt all dexterous tasks.

This actual, physical book—again not the version you're reading—is one I found on the street, its covers spread like wings of a fallen bird, its numberless pages blank, initially, yet etched with 'ghosts' of words that might have been erased, over time, or that, given time, might appear. Either palimpsest or augury, did this content preexist? Remembered or invented was its untold story empirical, with observations literal or yet to be contrived? To you who have the option of perusing front, back, and middle, the text herein is finished, as in cover-to-cover done. To me, however, nothing past my pen point's present blotch can be seen as verifiable, much less guaranteed. Intentions to Reality are vows with fingers crossed.

Which is not meant to indict myself for irresoluteness; once I start a work of fiction, I always see it through. In that regard (and perhaps in others?) this book is a fait accompli. I, like you, perceive it as a whole—albeit incomplete for my part and for yours unread past here*

 

 *unless you've skipped ahead.

 

A 'former' friend of mine was in the habit of reading the first then the last line of any given book before deciding it was worthwhile. To an author, this is an outrage tantamount to hecklers shouting out punch lines before comics finish jokes. Do I know this novel's culminating sentence, is the question I now ask? Skipping ahead myself confronts me with empty pages only. Lots of empty pages. A daunting majority.

Experience would advise me 'not to worry'; letters, words, phrases, paragraphs, unto chapters accumulate. Books aren't born in toto; they 'gather' themselves page by plodding page. Conception onto delivery, for me, is a piecemeal gestation.

Do I know this novel's 'inaugural' sentence is the question I ought to ask. "I'm writing this with my left hand" does not count, being more of a preamble. Nor does the poem or song lyric represent line number one; it was composed as an overture; heralding themes to come?

Which reminds me, I have yet to mention the Pope and his 21st Century 'rectification' of Roman Catholic teaching with respect to Limbo—long considered the repository for unbaptized babies, a consequence deemed by Pope Benedict XVI as perhaps unduly harsh. For though Limbo is described, by those who profess to know, as "a place of perfect natural happiness," the souls who call it Home (for all Eternity) ne'er behold their Creator. And that, to a Catholic (and to numerous other denominations) constitutes punishment—moderate to severe, depending upon ones devoutness.

In my view, the argument, at base, is moot; there is no Afterlife. Furthermore, God does not exist except as Mankind's mirror. Seymour Starkey's viewpoint, however, is another story, is this story, come to think of it—when I think of it—waiting for you to read and for me to tell, essentially free of biases, yours notwithstanding.

How can I contend that an author's protagonist has an independent psyche? The same way God is said to have fashioned Adam and then his errant sidekick Eve, endowing each post-Eden with an attribute dubbed "Free Will." What Seymour does, feels, and thinks henceforward will be up to him alone. I shall merely serve as chronicler—impartial and objective—in recording his account.

 

 

He missed his cue...

 

Seymour was supposed to have introduced himself... to have spoken up... to have let his voice be heard... to have overcome his sniveling inhibitions, demonstrated some backbone, and conquered unfounded fears about being misrepresented; by me, that is, despite my solemn reassurances. Wary of my vocabulary (admittedly superior), suspicious of my motives (noble to a fault), and mortally apprehensive about my knack for manipulation (guiltless though I am of harboring an agenda), my 'star' remains imploded.

"Come on, Seymour, speak, venture out an inch from your shock-proof shell."

Like a hermit crab, he appropriates safe havens lest confront the world at large. Defamation of character? Well, isn't that my prerogative? Especially when his-nibs is gesturing 'mum's the word,' expecting me to keep his filthy secrets secret, in craven contradiction of our a priori bargain. To wit: I retain all rights; he gains 'absolution'; fame and fortune are mine in exchange for his 'sins redressed.' Not that I have any confidence in Seymour's spin amending society's condemnation. Crimes like his engender nothing but disdain. And don't deserve the time and effort I've already wasted waiting for him to bare his burdened breast.

"Will you get on with it! Start wherever you please, but hazard, please, a start. 'We,' meaning I and the public, wait with bated breath."

 

I am a shy person. Not because I am ashamed of certain things. I mean, I am ashamed, but even before the really bad stuff happened I was pretty shy. Jack wants me to talk about the bad stuff...

 

 "Stop! "Jack"? You've namedropped "Jack"? Number one: "Jack" does not exist. Number two: the nonexistent "Jack" wants nothing to do with Seymour Starkey. And number three (for some reason dramatic structure relies on triads): everything you say "can and will be used against you" irrespective "Jack's" noninvolvement. Is that clear? I'm giving you the chance to tell your sordid little tale. Tell it. Any way you like—provided you leave me out."

Sorry... I am a shy person.

"You said that."

When I was small I used to have a hat. It was leather and was lined with fleece and had earflaps. Whenever we got company—you know, people coming over (?)—I would put my hat on backwards and hide under Momma's bed. It was dusty, I remember; clumps would stick all over me after I came out. But that's what I would do: breathe inside the fleece, which made it wet; stay upstairs alone till the coast was clear. That's one example. Another is that I blush. Not so often lately but I still turn red. Kids could make me do it, back in school, without hardly trying; they'd get my face so hot I'd start to sweat. It felt as if I glowed, which only made matters worse. It's hard to stop the stares when your cheeks are flush as fireballs. Blushing is a handicap; if you blush, you know for sure.

 

 

 I'm suspending Seymour's narrative to interject his portrait. If I fail to paint a clear picture, access his mug shot; it appears, with his peers', online—allegedly worth a thousand of these black-on-white alternatives, 'words' I'm choosing carefully, nonetheless, to do their subject 'Justice.' Building Seymour inside out: his bones are lightweight-slight, protruding in places like chicken leg spurs (in his case a bantam). Puny is his skeleton. Short is his stature. Wan is his meager skin, stretched as if unduly taxed to reach the limits of his sizeable extremities—Seymour's feet and hands having outgrown all else. I haven't seen the former unshod but the latter are almost beautiful, hands you'd expect of a conductor flourishing his baton—an allusion instantly ruined when picturing Seymour's paws in action, committing numbered offenses ranked and posted on the Attorney General's website.

 

 

Believe you me, I'm not making up excuses for what I done.

"Did."

Did. Thank you. Hey, you put down 'done.'

"Because that's the way you phrased it."

But you promised not to make me look uneducated.

"You are uneducated."

I know, but you promised.

"Okay, okay, I'll resume correcting your atrocious grammar."

 

NOTE: At this stage I'm unwilling to do Seymour any special favors. To know what he's been in jail for is to hold him in contempt. 'Hearing' him out is one thing; 'helping' him out is quite another; masking his deficiencies I stoop to grudgingly.

 

 

The three story walkup where Seymour Starkey lived (prior to his arrest, conviction, and incarceration) housed singles on its top floor, beneath which several families struggled to contend with accommodations cramped, with fixtures practically ancient, and with rents liable to rise based on dubious pretenses. Classified "low income," the premises were grim, but did include a small playground replete with sandbox, seesaw, and swing, visible through the fire escapes that courtside units shared, Seymour's third floor apartment numbering among them. His was a bird's-eye view—a pigeon's-eye view, given the urban locale (plastic owls unavailing)—which rarely oversaw children, the playground seldom used. Corridors dark and dingy led to stairwells darker still; graffiti covered their walls with the thickness of impasto. Echoey in the predawn stillness—traffic noise adjourned, residents sound asleep save for two souls working graveyard shifts—Foyers A, B, and C betrayed not a peep. From Foyer D, however, at Seymour's end of the building, came intermittent...  semi-muffled... sobs (?)... self-absorbed yet restrained lest someone overhear... feminine, judging by their pitch... fragile as a chime... wounding Seymour's ears with the timbre of their poignancy... tugging him from bed by sentimental heartstrings... drawing him to the threshold of his 19D door... urging him to open it a crack—his grimace ineffectual in suppressing the deadbolt's CLUNK... causing him to pause, allowing silence to reconvene, then verifying that sobs indeed still were audible, softer yet pronounced now that grief passed unobstructed from the bottom floor through the top to the place where Seymour crept, hovered from on high like an empathetic gargoyle, leaned against the guardrail to brave a cautious look, confirmed it was a child who had taken refuge in the stairwell—all but drowned by the darkness and her tears of unnamed woe, doubled up as with a tummy ache, rocking to and fro, elbows cupped by palms, forearms crisscrossed, brows eclipsed by bangs, nose emitting a dewdrop of elongated mucous, dangling, swinging pendulum-fashion while completing its slow descent... details lost on him who watched unnoticed then silently vanished.

 

Minutes passed....

 

 The foyer felt abandoned save for her who had sought its solace, crying with frustration? Anger? Love in a tug-of-war with hate? Parents, teachers, schoolmates ill-equipped to plumb the depths of an adolescent angst (though she who wept so bitterly was only nine)?

Violetta Violent, Violetta Vindictive, Violetta Vendetta were names she had inscribed, ballpoint pen and Sharpie her tattoo artist tools, fingertips to biceps her 'authorized' palette; designs were spreading elsewhere, though, as need for them arose and incited her to defy adult ultimatums by illustrating nom de guerres wherever she saw fit—Violetta Vehement her pseudonym, of late, outlined in bold block letters on the flesh of either thigh, either 'inner' thigh perchance to avoid detection, forestall the usual spankings such transgressions reaped, beatings Phil (her stepfather) all too eagerly administered, insisting she expose her bare bum first. Pervert! She had looked that term up, too, while rummaging for V-words—not on her computer; it and her cell phone were under lock and key, forfeited thanks to her most egregious breach of 5th Grader etiquette, her remonstrating, to the vice-principal no less, "GO FUCK YOURSELF!"

Cheating was the offense of which she had stood accused. On a spelling test, of all things. Patently ridiculous! No one in her class had a better vocabulary—Mrs. Grimes included, casualty of 'THE LIKE DISEASE' (before it grew epidemic), superfluous likes, sort-ofs, kind-ofs, and whatevers infecting the teacher's speech, symptoms Violetta (sotto voce) had impoliticly spoofed, earning her the charge of scribbling a crib sheet on her decorated forearm: Violetta Ventriloquist containing the evidential test-word.

Mrs. Grimes would pay for imposing said injustice; Violetta would see to that! Vigilant, Vengeful, Victorious were nom de plumes in store!

Meanwhile, Vindication would not be won by whimpering, though better done in private; wallowing in self-pity was grossly unattractive. Not to mention damaging to a person's self-esteem. Toughen up or join the simpering ranks of pompom girls and beauty queens.

Bolstered by her own gruff counsel, Violetta sniffled, wrist-wiped her snot, countermanded her tears—only to have her resurgent self-confidence suddenly eroded upon sensing an intrusion. There, on the stairs, scarcely three steps up from hers, sat a plate chockfull of cookies—their banality completed by a glass of milk adjacent.

This gesture's stealthy kindness felt more like a violation. Mortified by the certainty that her throes had been observed, embarrassed to the point of plotting retaliation, Violetta bristled with target-less animosity, for whoever left the token had done so sight-unseen. Her own tippy-toe reconnaissance confirmed the stairs were empty. Who? The question nagged... as Violetta munched on the succor-coated offering, then rashly washed it down; "never take gifts from strangers" was advice she failed to heed.

 

 

"And suffered no ill effects? The snack wasn't drugged? Laced with Spanish fly?"

No!... What's Spanish fly?

"Ground up beetles; never mind. So this is how you lured prospective innocents to your pedophilic lair, with nothing more original than humdrum milk and cookies?"

That's just how we met. She knew it was I (sic).

 

NOTE: This is a reverse "sic." Seymour, of course, said me. I'm honoring my promise, but henceforth I will refrain from calling attention to constant corrections.

                             

We sometimes passed in the hallway, but Violetta never took much notice. After I left the food, though, I think she returned my nod. She also returned my glass and plate; lay them on my doormat, then rang the buzzer twice; but she did it from downstairs. 'In case she'd made a mistake,' she told me later. But she didn't; first guess, she got it right. "How," I asked? "It absolutely figured," was the only thing she'd say.

 

It had to have been The Retard, Violetta coolly reasoned, her nine (going on twenty year-old perceptiveness uniquely keen, deducing that people who take pity on people were often pitiable themselves, and nobody in their 'compound' fit that description better than "Seymour Starkey," initials SS, she noted on the mailbox registry, curious as to who in 'Cellblock D' might have tendered such a ploy. Silly, Stupid, Simplemindedly Sweet were S-words she applied—weighing whether to ridicule her meddler or appreciate his choice; Chips Ahoy was her favorite brand of cookie and what's more the milk had been chocolate!

Then again, he might be a closet pervert like her clammy-palmed Stepdad. One man looking for excuses to feel her up was already one too many. Simple Simon, harmless though he seemed, was probably a creep. At best a nerd. In any case, she'd given back his dishes; no need to encourage any further their passing non-acquaintanceship.

 

Pardon the interruption; "Jack" wants to speak—Jack, this novel's author and omnipotent narrator; what I, the writer, write does dictate what you, the Reader, read. Am I, likewise, omniscient, in-the-know—always—with regard to what comes next? The truth is I know what comes next when next it comes. This is not a tautology, though I've mentioned it before. Call it a 'preoccupation.' Does this book exist? I believe I said I found it. Whether literal or metaphorical, that fact's established. I also said its unnumbered pages were blank. But now that some bear script, are those that follow scored, like a symphony with its first few stanzas hummed? If the melody is in my head, are not the notes inevitable, in some sense predetermined, hence ipso facto real? As in tangible? As in scrawled before they are scrawled; here and not here simultaneously? Poised between what is, what was, and what will be, as is Life itself while lived?

Seymour Starkey couldn't care less. You, too, may plead indifference. Violetta 'Victim,' on the other hand, shares my flair for words. She might prove an ally in sanctioning such 'digressions.'

 

Happiness is...

... a shower. I take two almost every day. I used to take two baths but they make you sit in dirty water. Showers get you cleaner and are more economical. You can prove this by putting in the tub plug and comparing how much water collects by the time you are through. Unless you wash for a really long time, showers use less. (65) They also can be quick, in case you are in a hurry. In the morning, I take mine after Mom goes to work. She leaves early and sometimes I sleep late because I hate to hear alarms. But even if I am maybe going to be tardy, showers are too important for me to skip. (120) At night I take mine any old time. The key is having privacy. Our apartment is tiny, with only one bathroom for three people, so the rule we have is no one locks the door. I do not mind when Mom comes in , but Phil, her husband, makes me nervous. If I can see him shaving through the curtain then he can see me showering. Phil shaves twice a day because his whiskers grow like chia. (196)

Anyway, showers make me happy. They are adjustable. They can run at any temperature, scalding to freezing. They can spew as soft as mist or as hard as heavy rain. Best of all they can wash away your troubles until you feel they are gone for good. (243)

Violetta tallied for the fourth and final time. Safely past two hundred, her essay's length would do. What a royal pain it was not to have Word Count; her computer (ditto her cell phone) was still in protective custody—which meant that she was barred from running Spell Check, too. Recourse to a dictionary—of the offline variety—seemed so anachronistic it made her want to puke. Luddites, likewise, turned her Tech-Tyke stomach—foremost of that ilk being Stepdad Phil, a carpenter by trade, a redneck by disposition. Why her mother dumped Violetta's refined father in exchange for a hardhat bigot, pheromones might explain but reason pronounced "imponderable."

As for Mrs. Grimes and her comeuppance, lack of PC access was hindering VV's progress. To accomplish what the injured party schemed, Photoshop and a printer would be minimally required. Whose could be enlisted? Borrowed or appropriated? Used in such a manner as to leave behind no trail? Violetta, (homework finished) checked her Betty Boop clock. One half hour to curfew. Time enough, she reckoned, to think, to close her loose-leaf notebook, slip a smock on, don her Nikes, leave her room (a walk-in closet Phil had recently refurbished to atone for his stepdaughter's ouster once the newlyweds had determined they could ill-afford to move), traverse the hallway (reminiscent of Polanski's "Repulsion") wherein asymmetry lent the walls a fun house warp unfunny (day from night indistinguishable; each and every passage gave VV the creeps), escape the indoor gloom for the outdoor twilit squalor (trash cans girding the courtyard like vagrants around a campfire), enter the fenced off playground with its derelict apparatus, cross to the rusty swing set, fit her fanny to its U-shaped seat, and launch metronomic CREAKS apace with vengeful cogitations.

Irritating racket or song of a snub-nosed Siren?

Seymour, seated at his courtyard-facing window, profile rendered bluish by an out-of-sight monitor, turned his under-lit, ghoulish, demoniacal features in order to shift focus downward; disconcertingly to her who looked up, squinted, grimaced, blanched, until distinguishing the light source from its sinister effect, identifying each as fortuitous and familiar, while recognizing both as a means to her vengeful end.

 

 

"I hope you're not expecting "us"—defined again as me and my readership—to believe your violating statutes of the California Penal Code was anyone else's fault, especially Violetta's. Villains hardly merit sympathy by blaming victims for their villainy. Possession of Child Pornography is only one rung up from producing it. You pled guilty to both—compounded by felony counts much worse. On the Ladder of Criminality, Seymour Starkey, you're at cesspool-bottom—and justifiably so. Not that I'm here to judge; I'm here to transcribe. But do make an effort to tell us the truth—or I'll paint your portrait black."

 

                         

What Violetta wanted (though I got it wrong, at first) was to put her teacher's head on a naughty person's body—one of those women on the internet who have pictures posted nude. I said that was mean. She said, "Serves her right." I had lots of practice, on account of my collection. So I taught her what I knew, and she taught me what she knew, and mostly we had fun. Believe you me, I didn't think it was illegal.

 

Framed at Seymour's threshold like a sawed-off femme fatale, one hand on her hip, the other hand toying with an ornamental knocker (a Cyclops cast in pewter, its inset eye a peephole), Violetta waited for The Retard to open his door. Instead, the eye went dark, its lens eclipsed by an indecisive scrutiny.

"Who is it?" Seymour called with reclusive apprehensiveness, concomitantly worried and thrilled about her whom he beheld. Impromptu or premeditated (?), her presence gave him pause... extending to his guest an ill-received delay... occasioning her to wonder if the appellation "Retard" meant her host, in every sense of the term, was sluggish... slow of speech... and slower still to discern the obvious and open his goddamn door.

Pulling a face as gruesome as the Gothic-era Cyclops, Violetta leaned, zoomed in on the animated pupil, and stuck out her tongue. Seymour, taken aback, recoiled, then fumbled with the deadbolt—CLUNK—which hastily freed the door, its hinges rattling on impact as jamb with baseboard collided. Blushing, cheeks turned crimson, the miscreant croaked, "Come in."

 

NOTE: As much as I would like to liken Seymour to a vulture, at the very least a raptor, he resembles more a finch: his beak pronounced not hooked, his fingers thin not talon-like, his physique decidedly scrawny, ribcage jutting, cowlick stiff, his overall appearance that of a passive passerine.

 

"Pretty fancy PC. You a hacker?"

Seymour blushed again. Never had he known a child to be so forward. Mischievous, yes; their complex had its share of toughs and rowdies, teenagers acting-out, one or two vandals, and a bona fide delinquent. But resident children, for the most part, were well-behaved.

Seymour shook his head, by way of an answer, slow to find his tongue.

Meanwhile, VV made herself at home, conducting a glib surveillance, details prompting her to pause at, examine, sometimes handle, noteworthy artifacts:

a model airplane, of Gulf War vintage possibly, the kind you must assemble that comes in a kit;

a liquor bottle frosted by its life afloat at sea, corked as if to keep some inner message dry;

gumballs in a glass globe with a coin slot underneath, mimicking a dispenser but in fact an ersatz piggybank;

comic books stacked by trademark (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse); from super heroes to Conan, the selection was extensive—and maybe symptomatic of Seymour's 'limitations'? He wasn't dubbed "The Retard" for demonstrating smarts. Though who, among her neighbors, had first referred to him as such, VV could not recall. Nor had she confirmed that Seymour lacked intelligence. She only knew, thus far, that he was awkward, reticent, bashful, and ILL-AT-EASE unto APPALLED by VV having parked herself in front of his prized computer, loathe to have her see the website from which he had been distracted—responding to the knock (as opposed to the downstairs buzzer) right outside his door (Maintenance or Pest Control? God forbid their landlord who was ever on the lookout for pretexts to hike tenants' rent); minimized though it was, Triple X dot com indicted him.

"May I?" VV asked with pseudo-prim politeness, like a child who minded her manners whenever it suited her, a mix of genuine respectfulness and calculated courtesy, charming to a fault until she encountered "no," or "don't," or any number of terms employed to thwart her headstrong machinations. Where other children pleaded, Violetta plotted. What she wanted she got (or failed to get) by virtue of her guile. Seymour's seeming guile-less-ness struck her as... opportune.

Noting his discomfort, she clicked the URL. Jackpot! Instant lever with which to work her will—Seymour's shame so palpable she nearly felt its heat, his ears and cheeks as flushed as sun-ripened tomatoes.

Of more concern capability-wise than the full-screen streaming video (its prurience eliciting an apathetic shrug from the incidental visitor) were programs hopefully installed that could be bent to her payback-seeking purpose. Jackpot again! Not only Photoshop but its most elaborate version greeted VV's glance at the desktop's menu. Checking the Control Panel, she located Seymour's printer—an inkjet not a laser; it nonetheless would serve. Next step: tap The Retard as her accomplice or her silly-putty dupe.

"My name's... "

"Seymour Starkey."

"Hey, that's right. How... "

"Do I know? Looked you up on the list of current occupants downstairs by the mailboxes."

"Smart."

"'Elementary, my dear Watson.'"

"Hey! That's from Sherlock Holmes. I got his comics. Want to see some?"

"I'll take a rain check."

Slightly disappointed, Seymour watched with apprehension as his unexpected drop-in reinstated Triple X, its lurid content serving to rekindle his flush of humiliation.

"Mind if I close this, Mr. Starkey?"

Flattered by her choosing to address him by his surname, while relieved, beyond all measure, by her query's offhand tone, Seymour nodded heartily, gratefully, glad to see the porn site blink into oblivion... aghast to see another one pop up in its place.

"This site has a section of sleazy schoolmarms, if you're into it. I need one for a project." She scanned quickly through a page of bawdy thumbs—Seymour looking on as if he beheld some underage mobster. "Independent Study," VV added for good measure, presently undecided if she should tell the truth or fib, the latter taxing memory, the former less a shoo-in for winning cooperation.

Stopping at a likely prospect, VV clicked ENLARGE; the monitor framed a full-length shot of an under-clad 'teacher,' context more than costume signifying her vocation, wire-rimmed spectacles the stereotype employed to symbolize 'scholarship'—an attribute the model's bust enormously belied, bursting through the gap of a topmost-buttoned cardigan, loins in a similar state of wanton dishabille, genitalia exposed and probed by a plug-in device.

Right click / Save Picture As... /
VV typed in: "Mrs. Grimes 1"

A copy of the image occupied Seymour's desktop. Thus was his computer summarily requisitioned.

 

 

"You mean to tell us she not thee initiated access to an adults-only website? She, at age nine? Please; I've heard of children being precocious; Violetta does sound bright, but even if she were 'mentally' advanced her maturation 'physically' would like as not rule out any interest in the kind of smut you crave. "Lusty Lactating Ladies" wasn't it; the category you were ogling when Miss Violetta Vickers paid her first of many 'allegedly unsolicited' visits?"

I was real surprised myself. Little kids like her need grown-up supervision.

 

NOTE: I had to bite my tongue so hard it bled when he said that. "Grown-up supervision"? Prescribed by Seymour Starkey? When, under his, the morals of a minor were grievously corrupted?

 

Next she ran a search on Hawthorne Elementary School:

Home / Staff Directory / 5th Grade / Mrs. Grimes

zeroing in on another full-length shot, this of a thirty-something educator, head angle roughly that of her wire-rimmed namesake.

Right click / Save Picture As... /
She typed in: "Mrs. Grimes 2"

With raw materials gathered and dragged into a New Folder presumptuously labeled "VV's Stuff"...

"That's me, by the way—pleased to meet you—short for Violetta Vickers."

... she lifted her hand from the mouse and offered it to shake.

Once more taken aback by such unprecedented boldness, Seymour nearly missed his chance to clasp the youngster's hand, sensing, when at last he did, that a deal was thereby struck, a gentleman's agreement (no matter how unspecified) that both henceforth must honor, come whatever may.

"Cuckoo" chirped the clock on Seymour's bedroom/living room wall (his apartment one large room plus bath and kitchenette).

"Gotta go... I'm late, I'm screwed... My mom's already grounded me... PC, cell phone iced... For one whole month... You believe that shit...? All because I 'cussed' at our Principal of Vice."

These parting phrases kept pace with the cuckoo's Swiss-works cadence, most tossed over her shoulder as VV hustled out the door, then down the grimy hallway—their listener left dumfounded (and a little bit forlorn).

 

 

No one ever visited Seymour, not since he had moved, sold his trailer in Columbus and travelled by Greyhound to foggy San Francisco, "Baghdad By The Bay" as it sometimes was called, especially down on the docks where he had landed a job (thank goodness) in Security, guarding dilapidated buildings, by and large, until they underwent renovation, the city's waterfront too lucrative for long-term neglect, every square foot of Fisherman's Wharf, for instance, a retail opportunity few were inclined to squander. Thus, pier by pier and year by year, rank commercialism spread... relegating Seymour to his currently threatened tract at Hunters Point shipyards.

 

 

Somebody I'm not supposed to mention says my job back then was "ironic." I was a guard for Protective Services Unlimited, PSU for short, and I had to keep things safe—people but mostly property. What makes that "ironic," I guess, is account of how I failed.

Guarding is not as easy as most people probably think. You have to stand for hours and hours without hardly moving, or walk for miles and miles checking stuff out that always looks the same: locks and chains and barbed wire fences, etcetera. Either way your feet hurt, even in hundred dollar shoes. Worse than that, except for Dispatch, there's nobody you can talk to. Talking is restricted, because it's distracting. Guards are trained to concentrate. Also to notice things. Conversations get in the way; they're like obstacles.

Where I used to guard, before they arrested me, was extra difficult. Buildings owned by the Navy got sold then rented out to artists. All types: painters, sculptors, printmakers, potters; you name it. Rent, I guess, was cheap because most of the tenants looked poor. What made it hard for me was some of them loved to talk. At all hours. I worked the graveyard shift, like usual, but folks would be there anyway.

"Seymour, come have a cup of coffee, or tea, or a glass of wine." Sometimes they'd smoke dope, which of course was illegal, but I never once reported it. Guards are not Police—not even guards that carry guns. Besides which, almost everyone was friendly. Artists are odd but none of them ever looked down on me.

 

 

With VV's "Independent Study" parked on his desktop unexplained, and three whole hours remaining before he had to leave for work, Seymour tried to deduce what the youngster wanted done. The jpegs being labeled "Mrs. Grimes 1" and "Mrs. Grimes 2" certainly suggested that they were related. Except 2 was really a teacher in an honest-to-goodness classroom, whereas 1 was only pretending in a make-believe set. 1 was pronouncedly prettier, eyeglasses notwithstanding. In truth, her specs were a prop; there weren't any lenses in the wire-rimmed frames. 2 was dressed more respectably, of course, though she and 1 had on sweaters—empty-sleeved, buttoned once at the neck, and functioning more as capes... under which Mrs. Grimes 1 conspicuously wore nothing.

    

Surely Violetta chose the floozy for her face. Seymour cut and pasted it onto that of the genuine teacher's. Probably a practical joke is what the student had in mind. He matched the layers' colors, sizes, lined them up exactly, then went about the business of exchanging head for head, with a surgical precision shaming Doctor Frankenstein's—nary a stitch detectable or a pixel out of place. For all intents and purposes (be they inconclusively known), Mrs. Grimes had undergone an Adrien-Arpel-style makeover (at least above the neck); she was pretty as a rose.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Seymour flattened, applied the image, and saved it as "Mrs. Grimes 3" into VV's designated folder, just in time to groom, change into his uniform, and bus off to work.

 

That night Violetta once more sulked in the gloomy stairwell, tearlessly this time; pissed-off was all, her penalty re-extended. "Two fucking minutes late" had earned her an extra week of techno-deprivation. Phil, it seemed, would never give back her cell and PC. After Mrs. Grimes got her comeuppance, Phil would suffer his! Though something more definitive was due the interloper cum live-in lecher. Child Protective Services might very well get involved. Groundwork must be laid, though, before she placed such a call. Otherwise Mom was likely to contradict her—smitten as the woman was by her hubby's touted 'charm,' mesmerized by his tool belt, VV conjectured, with its dangling ball peen hammer.

 

I can't emphasize enough this novel's seeming to 'reveal' itself. Like steppingstones submerged until one's foot is poised to plunk, words emerge to give each stride foundation, and do so of their own accord, I contend. The chicken or her egg; which comes first? The Author or his Muse; which one is the original? If each exists solely in the moment, how can either claim a particular place in time—Past and Future always incidental to our everlasting Now? In what sense might one 'anticipate' the already-happened and 'remember' the yet-to-occur? This is the conundrum faced by your humble narrator—which is neither here nor there, no doubt, to those of you impatiently awaiting the story's recommencement.

 

 

Unlike Friday's fit of ignominious blubbering, VV's anguish Saturday owed its impetus less to chagrin than to her mounting discontentment with anatomy—namely hers—a recent growth-spurt fertilizing doubts that she would ever boast of breasts. Sight of Seymour's shamefaced taste in buxom bimbos irked her, reminding Violetta that boys, by bosoms, were chronically beset, and girls deficient in that department could expect to turn few heads. Not that she was interested much. The maelstrom stirred by hormones sat offshore, in VV's cosmos; her sexual shallows tranquil, not yet tugged by carnal tides, menses unresponsive to the maiden moon's allure, maturation a long way off—its physiological harbingers, alas, unpromising.

"Beanpole," Phil had snickered when he trespassed last on her privacy. Always barging in, he was, "accidentally." Yeah, sure, right, as if the closet wherein she had been ensconced still housed his wardrobe—Ben Davis polyester overalls, Ben Davis T-shirts, and BVD briefs; a regular fashion plate was her voyeuristic Stepdad. Mom wore a C-cup bra, daughter mulled with guarded optimism. Nature might yet relent and raise the desirous bumps. Still the glimpse of fluid she'd caught spewing from nipples pert with passion (the website strumpet flaunting boobs like udders as a vibrator buzzed her lap), prompted Violetta to examine her significantly less developed glands, ruing their lack of an infinitesimal hint they would amount to more than flapjacks.

Half expecting milk and cookies to appear on the steps above, VV wondered whether her surreptitious 'sponsor' would support, conspire with, or ultimately betray her. Grownups were a treacherous lot. They lied and seldom felt guilty. They cheated and thought it was sexy. And even the ones who had kids got divorces in a blink. Grownups, therefore, were fuck-ups, no two ways about it.

VV took out her Sharpies to record said observation. Dressed in a flannel pajama top and slipper socks only, access to her ankles, calves, and thighs was virtually unfettered. Finding a vacant spot, however, presented a problem. VV, in response to the week's events, had been quite prolific. Disobeying dictums, she had plied her markers widely, straying from 'authorized' tracts (the length of either arm) to decorate both her legs with slogans and manifestoes. CHILDREN ARE NOT CHATTEL one such shouted from her kneecap. STEPDADS DELVE IN DEVIANCE charged her left foot, heel to toe. I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG OF COUNTRIES THAT PLAY FAIR forswore her instep. SPELL-CHECK SPELLERS UNITE proclaimed her shin in letters big and bold.

ALL... GROWN... UPS... ARE... Out of space, she faltered. Dare she use her crotch to keep the string of words intact? Mom, if she uncovered such a breach, would go berserk, even though the ink washed off (with rigorous scrubbing) leaving only tinges that time and twice-daily showers gradually effaced. The issue, then, wasn't permanence so much as recalcitrance. Why must Violetta forever defy authority? Because grownups were, indeed... she finished lettering—FUCK - UPS—onto her prepubescent privates, hyphen bridging the cleft of her smooth-as-a-duck-egg mons.

 

 

Sometimes when a thing isn't where it should be you keep looking for it, like a wallet when it's gone from your right hip pocket. You check. It isn't there. But you keep looking in the same place anyway, just in case you missed it. That's what I was doing when I looked for VV's name on our building's list of tenants. I must have read through three, four times before it sank in I hadn't missed it; "Vickers" wasn't there. I even thought I knew the number of her apartment; I was sure I knew the floor. But the name next to Unit 3D was definitely McNulty. The goof I made was to think that Violetta lied.

 

 

"Vickers is my mother's other name; my 'founding father's.' McNulty is my stepfather, my mother's second mate. If she ever marries a third, who knows what I should call him; 'Step-step Father'? Meaning two giant steps removed from the genuine article?"

The bitterness in VV's voice was unmistakable. Seymour flinched. He often flinched upon sensing another person's hardship—empathy being Seymour Starkey's solitary virtue (a dubious compensation for his prosecuted vice)... "stupid" the term most used to describe his worst deficiency... yet not severely enough to be classified "mentally disabled" (hence the Court's harsh sentence)... nor so severely as to impair his basic ability to discriminate right from wrong (a mitigating circumstance his attorney 'might' have raised had not her client's guilty plea made everyone's job so effortless)... his excuses equaled none; therefore he was culpable for behavior deemed repugnant and morally unforgivable... starting with his initially innocent interest in VV's new tattoos... having somehow overlooked the stains of their predecessors... a long-sleeved smock, at the time, concealing most from view... in contrast to the tank top worn on this her subsequent visit... eager to proceed with her "Independent Study"... drop-jaw shocked to see it had been done with remarkable facility yet roll-eyed incredulous about its execution ass-backwards... her disbelief converted, of a sudden, to derogatory mirth.

"What's so funny?" Seymour asked, his dashed self-concept evident. Laughter rivaled mockery as the scorn-form he most dreaded; VV's, in effect, nullified his good-faith accomplishment.

"You made Mrs. Grimes 'pretty.' 'Slutty' was what I had in mind. Why else would I search for stand-ins on a website full of trollops?"

Seymour felt this question called for serious reflection (as well as definition), causing him to forget what he was about to ask—though his eyes, the while he pondered how he had misconstrued VV's wishes, never strayed from the skin of her illustrated arms.

"But... isn't she your teacher?"

"Meaning worthy of respect?"

"Uh huh."

"Teachers earn respect; they're not entitled automatically. This one said I cheated when I didn't."

"That's not good."

"Damn right!"

"'Thou shalt not bear false witness.' That's a Commandment."

"If you say so."

"'Seymour' doesn't say so; those are the words of God Himself. Breaking any Commandment is a mortal sin."

VV leveled a look expressing withering disdain for what she haughtily dismissed as a spoon-fed platitude. Phil, an Irish Catholic, had insisted she attend church. "Every fucking Sunday?" had been her flip objection, earning her a slap in the face (prelude to the spanking which confirmed that Stepdad's motives were somewhat less than pious; the lap, over which he had bent her, betrayed a shameless bulge).

"They're not real."

Was she referring to the Ten Commandments? Seymour looked confused.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What you're gawking at; they're fake, not true tattoos. Mom would ground me for a decade if these were permanent. Fact is they keep changing with my 'temperamental' moods. I have 'an attitude problem,' in case you hadn't noticed."

Seymour studied the intricate designs, doodles mixed with expletives mixed with battle cries mixed with quotes, nary an empty space from fingertips to shoulders, right and left sides rendered with coequal skill (suggesting ambidexterity, not to mention talent).

"They're really beautiful."

 

NOTE: Seymour said "They's really beautiful," which I, per our agreement, had to amend. I'm only adding this comment so the reader can make sense of VV's snide retort.

 

"That's a 'scholarly' appraisal."

"No; I really mean it."

And, indeed, she believed he did; the care he took in reading her words, admiring her finely-drawn lines, encouraged VV to exhibit both arms, affording an inspection that adults heretofore had conducted with unanimous disapproval (tacit and overt) their censure either implicit or resolutely punitive.

"How'd you do your armpits; in a mirror?"

"No. Mirrors are tricky. Everything's reversed. Like your jpeg of Mrs. Grimes."

"Sorry I did it wrong."

"You did it perfectly, almost. Professionally. True, we'll have to do it over. But the detail—wow—you're good! The only flaw is that you flipped the image horizontally to make the layers match, then forgot to flip it back after the layers were flattened."

"Whoops; you're right."

"No problem. That's a simple one-click fix. Not so simple will be swapping body for body once we give Grimes back her head. You did keep the original?"

Seymour nodded in earnest. Gratified by the praise bestowed, he welcomed the extra work, savored it like a man who is resigned to a meal of mush abruptly being served Coquille St Jacques.

With VV at the helm, Seymour by her side, a pair of kitchen chairs repositioned to accommodate their efforts, protégé with protégé traded expertise, neither one a know-it-all, both of them eager learners (disparity in pace their only source of friction), their enterprise collaborative...

 

 

Their enterprise ignominious! A nine-year-old and a thirty-year-old—yes, Seymour Starkey is thirty; or he was when he seduced, suborned, and sodomized Violetta Vickers—splicing photos of some top-heavy 'Toots' and an unsuspecting teacher to impugn the latter's character, to besmirch her reputation, to defile her public image in a most detestable manner, incognito, like a pair of hoodlums posting their lewd pictorial on a raid they soon would conduct under cover of pitch-black night—is less collaboration than out-and-out connivance.

 

 

... the duo duly labored, losing track of who and where they were, the task at hand hypnotic, losing track of VV's curfew, which had passed and-then-some; time had become a non-factor, a background layer locked, a cuckoo clock struck dumb—or imprudently ignored, its measured chirps announcing eight... then nine—still disregarded. On its third intrusion of chirps, an alarm finally sounded.

"Can you shut that... SHIT, I'M SCREWED!"

VV leapt from her chair as if it had been hot-wired. On the fly, she hollered, "SAVE IT. PRINT IT. I'LL BE BACK." Out the door and down the hall she sped shouting, "WHENEVER I CAN." Her wake, like smoke at a drag race start line, hovered in a cloud... grew thin... then dissipated—mourned by him who sat transfixed, nay abandoned.

 

 

VV was a special little person. Smart, believe you me. Lots of problems, true, but being stupid wasn't one of them. "Stupid" can mean "mentally slow or dull or senselessly foolish." It can also mean "uninteresting." Of those, the first one is me. But I would have to say all four sometimes apply.

What we did to Mrs. Grimes was stupid; well, on my part. VV had an ax to grind; on her part it was understandable. But even so the whole thing qualified as "foolish," defined as "lacking common sense" and especially as "lacking good judgment." Instead of talking her out of it, I was glad to help. Truth is I enjoyed it; we worked together like buddies. I was slower, naturally. That made VV yell. "Hurry up, you 'Sluggard,'" she would call me, or you "Moron" or you "Cretin" or you "Dweeb." Funny thing was, it didn't hurt my feelings when she'd call me names I've heard my entire life. VV used some new ones, too, like "Mongoloid" and "Ignoramus." Mostly I would laugh. Even when she'd 'thump' me—which happened a little later; I better back up...

 

 

Mrs. Grimes had a touch of acne that her morning make-up covered, albeit pockmarks caught the light, as did the pimples on her chin—an outcrop due to suppurate as soon as she reached school. This year's class had come indubitably from Hell, comprised of pranksters, gangsters, misfits, and assorted nerdy freaks. She almost longed for the usual mediocrity that the public sent to be educated (in hopes each tribe of little savages might become civilized at some stage during the process). Ordinarily the good kids outnumbered the bad. However this semester's troublemakers had spread their misbehavior. Like measles, mumps, or chicken pox, misconduct proved contagious, with most kids showing symptoms if not the full-blown diseases—all afflicting their teacher, magnet for infection. Even the best and the brightest had a foul-mouthed infirmity. One Violetta Vickers—nicknamed VV—was a blessing truly mixed. Highest IQ on record, officially "gifted," vocabulary vast (if all-too-often vulgar), Violetta was saddled with a psyche so acutely troubled that her straight-As offered paltry compensation, in the eyes of all concerned.

Patty Grimes rebuked herself for fretting prematurely. Campus loomed a dozen miles distant. Drive, indulge her latte, nurse it slowly from the thermos Jeff, her 'hubby,' bought her as a please-forgive-me gift for having hurt her. Lovely pain! Did Jeffrey know, she wondered—listening to her IPod's next selection from the set she had labeled "Sappy Songs," as the morning traffic thinned—that pain was like the sugar she stirred into every drink she drank; the hot ones; the ones wherein each melted granule triggered pleasures deep-dark-primal? Sweet as chocolate (bittersweet chocolate with the highest cocoa content), pain released such hordes of the most delicious, dangerous endorphins that Patty found their onrush positively frightening. And unexampled; never had she felt—prior to this 'kink' in their recent sex play—raptures spurred by pangs, much less by outright agonies. Yet here she sat, reliving certain recherché sensations, squirming on the car seat, memories moistening her lap, captive to a newfound facet of her character—while thrilled by having discovered it within the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

Ugh! The faculty parking lot lay straight ahead, its spaces numbered, tree trunks, lining the aisles between each curbstone row... festooned? A 'leafleteer' had overdone it, evidently. Flocks of flyers flapped their folded sheets like seagull wings affixed, thumbtacks holding them in place against an early morning zephyr.

And what did every eight and a half by eleven inch posting splay (come one, come all) to those arrived already, to those arriving currently, and to those whose arrival was imminent?
Photocopies of Mrs. Grimes (3), in context; there was no denying the setting; lettered on the blackboard—further confirmation—was Patty's name, the chalk she had used still clutched in her one free hand, the desk beside her littered with props uniquely hers (including a picture of 'Jeff' in an ornate frame), her other hand plying a dildo to private parts exposed (shaven, oiled, and partially engulfing the sex toy's lifelike shaft), cord of the pseudo-phallus dangling like an eel to the overshadowed floor—Omni highlight serving to focus attention on the teacher's naked torso, anchored from below by the electrical contraption, roofed-in from above by a pair of massive mammae, their lit-up undersides diffusing beams of brightness toward an unassuming face, its every feature identical to hers who gaped in horror at the mortifying slander.

Who—rather what kind of monster—would commit an act so base?

 

 

The unequivocal answer: Seymour Starkey. Given my druthers, I would have spared the Reader that description of propagative porn. But how else to impress upon you his and VV's crime? Not that I hold her as responsible as him. Grownups need to counsel overzealous youths, not abet their excesses or cater to their childish whims—though VV's were, admittedly, 'adultish' in nature; or, phrased more analytically, 'unnaturally mature.' Which does not beg the question: who here was at fault? Bear in mind the age of our wayward conspirator—nine—and her cohort's guilt is clear.

 

 

With Violetta's Vindication through Vivisection Verified, by Mrs. Grimes being granted (effective immediately) a leave of absence (suspicion cast on many, proof imputing none), school became a game of wearing out substitutes. First to test her stamina against the skills of VV's ilk—classmates cum confederates deemed notorious thanks to 'the incident' (no one taking the fall, the 'credit' claimed by many)—was a fresh-out-of-college novice with the unpropitious name of Pamela Everlast (a moniker contradicted by her short-lived tenure).

Pamela Punching-bag, Pamela Pummeled, VV penned on either forearm; Substitute One presented a wealth of possibilities for persecution—or for 'chronicling' persecution doled out by predatory classmates; VV mostly refrained; the prey was too easy; and provided scant provocation. Though absolutely tenacious when avenging wrongs done to her, Violetta rarely engaged in gratuitous acts of malice. Her hostility was a reaction, stimulus-specific, the prod she most consistently despised being Stepdad Phil, whose unrelenting abuse, of late, had metastasized. Predicated on curfew violations, paltry to legitimate (VV's overstay at The Retard's admittedly prosecutable—not that she confessed her errant whereabouts to either parent), persecution by Phil had taken a 'leaner' turn, starvation added to his repertoire of corrective castigations.

Enter Seymour Starkey to the 'starve-ling's' mealtime rescue.

 

"Liver. 'Love it or leave it,' that sadistic asshole whispered when I told him I would vomit if he forced me to eat one bite. The smell alone got me so sick I turned gray. Every night this week he's ordered dinners I detest. All on purpose, too, as part of his diabolical plan to make me 'behave.'"

"What does 'diabolical' mean?"

"'Devilish. Cooked-up by Satan.' What he means by 'behave,' though, is to jump through hoops for him. 'VV get my paper. Now! VV pour my coffee.' VV this and VV that; I'm not a goddamn slave. When he asked me to rub his back I told him he could shove it. Very next day I'm facing NO NUTRITION as a 'penance for my sins.'"

"'Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.'"

"Don't you start, Dingbat. Spread that peanut butter thicker; I'm about to faint from hunger."

Working graveyard shift meant that Seymour slept most days 9 to 5. The night he first met Violetta was a Friday, one of his two nights off. Realigning himself to sleep only twice per week after sundown proved to be more trouble than normalcy seemed worth. Instead he switched Day for Night; VV's 'dietary supplements' were therefore not that disruptive. Nor would he have been averse to feeding her any time she liked. Lunch she ate at school—on a cut-back allowance; breakfast she typically skipped; supper, then, was the meal she needed to sneak (on any pretense plausible).

"Where are you supposed to be?"

"Fetching mail. Like a retriever. If I'm not back any minute, it won't be my head he'll try to pat. 'Drop trou' and bend over,' is his prologue to chastisement."

"What does…?"

"'Punishment,' Chowderhead. Don't you read those comics, or ever look up words?"

"Sure I look words up. I just don't remember what the hard ones mean. You really ought to chew before you swallow; otherwise you'll choke."

Seymour's sound advice drew VV's middle finger. 'Flipping him the bird' was a gesture she flashed often, totally unconcerned if he took offense or not.

"Drink some milk, at least, why don't you?"

VV took a swig.

"Gotta run. You're a sweetheart."

She pecked him on the cheek. Seymour's blush, if slow to kindle, burned long-past her departure.

 

 

"I'll bet. You haven't had much to do with females, have you Seymour; sexually? Has it ever crossed your mind you might be gay? A lot of priests are gay, you know—or pray to God they're not. Didn't you have an interest once in the priesthood? Come on, Starkey, open up; stop pussyfooting around! All this talk about playing 'Mister Nice-Guy' to 'Miss Outspoken-Nymph' strikes me—us—as bullshit; furthermore it's misleading. Why not tell our Readers about your precious so-called "collection," the folder labeled "TOT TARTs" that officers seized in evidence? Give that piece of inexcusable deviance a Mister Nice-Guy spin."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any obscene photograph found in any student's possession is grounds for disciplinary action: detention, suspension, or expulsion should an offender also prove to have been a perpetrator.

 

This edict, of course, made Mrs. Grimes 3 such an infamous commodity its Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube dissemination was guaranteed—though subsequently censored. Ultimate expungement, however, could hardly undo the damage. "Doctored by a pro," authorities had determined. A pupil's work? "Unlikely." Unless some child got help from a parent or an older sibling. In any case, further investigation ostensibly was dropped. The District deemed it expedient to let time make memory fade—in deference to Mrs. Grimes 2 (aka Patty) whose leave had been extended.

 

What more could be done, the Grimes couple asked, beyond allowing the whole sordid incident to blow over? Pasts were best left past. Patty, in her heart of hearts, was relieved; she hated teaching. Jeff, if truth be told, found Mrs. Grimes 3 a turn-on; he had fucked his scandalized wife with accentuated zeal since the photo's posting... channeling anger at the unidentified malefactor(s) to enhance what was becoming a worrisome obsession... pulling Patty's hair as he entered her from the rear... yanking it so sadistically it made her sphincter squeeze... her anus like a cock ring that kept him huge and rigid... her grunts, groans, squeals, and shrieks unleashing verve he would have judged out-of-character... yet every step the couple took accelerated momentum into a dark, erogenous realm that threatened 'no return'...

 

… nudged in this direction by an inconspicuous detail, yet one which Seymour might have 'corrected' had his accomplice not insisted that the slight discoloration stay as it was on Mrs. Grimes 3, a bruise appearing to have darkened her left breast's puffy nipple, suggesting ever so subtly it perhaps had sustained a bite. No big deal, from VV's viewpoint, other than 'flaws' were acceptable—preferable, if they added to the image's overall obscenity. Whereas Seymour, left to his own devices, purged perceived imperfections. Moles, to him, were never beauty marks; treated like blemishes, he stamp-tooled them out. Any extraneous hair met with similar expurgation—pubic hair most tellingly. Models chosen for his 'unorthodox' collection invariably were shaved. Stubble was anathema. If it couldn't be expunged, the model, no matter how perfect otherwise, would have to be replaced. Bodies were abundant; scarce were suitable heads—children's heads, perversely. Seymour's search for small fry, tykes, and toddlers occupied hours-on-end, laws barring child pornography having cleansed the internet of underage delectables. Hence his recourse to 'manufacturing' objects-of-desire (with felonious intent), girls given grown-up anatomies being Starkey's stock-and-trade—if not actually traded (which got one count dismissed from those his guilty plea later enumerated).

What did Seymour look for on each surfing 'expedition'?

 

 

Surfing 'safari' better describes his nefarious activity. Starkey tracked down innocents, captured them as jpegs, and then slaughtered them in Photoshop. Chopping the heads off 'tots,' he glued them onto 'tarts,' blending each combination with extraordinary prowess. The resultant album proved to be so incriminating, so incensing to the judge (on record as having seven granddaughters) that Seymour's incarceration was a done-deal-case-closed. No amount of extenuating ANYTHING would have served to save his hide—which the State might well have peeled from the defendant to hoist as a flag of warning, the better to deter future deviants from assaults on Public Decency—though you, not I, will be the arbiter of whether "SS" got off lightly.

 

 

It's true I haven't had much to do with females, but I wouldn't say I'm gay. A person knows if he likes girls or he likes boys without another person telling him. How I know is simple; when I see naked girls my you-know-what gets big. Naked women I ought to say; it's their privates I like most. Why I enjoy putting heads of children on grownups is a little more complicated. It wasn't even clear to me until the prison's Staff Psychologist helped me sort it out. She said I'm "a rather peculiar case of arrested development." Which is funny, if you think about it. I mean, I sure did get arrested, and that sure stopped my development. But what she meant was arrested before I got arrested, locked up in my head when I was still a little boy. She explained it gooder...

"Better."

... than I can. Hey, you did it again.

"Did what, Seymour?"

Put down the wrong word.

"Do you have any idea how tedious it is to correct your goofy grammar? Why not let me write it like you say it? It would make you sound more honest."

Children don't tell lies as much as grownups do; they're open. Even when poking fun they do it face to face. That's how come I liked so much Violetta. She'd say real mean things but never behind my back. How can a person know if someone is talking about them in secret? I can't say, exactly, but somehow you can tell. That's how come I watch while 'you-know-who' is writing stuff down.

 

Chosen for their facial features, Seymour's TOT TARTs glimmered, lit as from within by an ethereal source of light, angelic and demonic in alternating bursts, like haloes set on fire by attributes inimical, each endowed with innocence and jailbait allure.

 

NOTE: Taboo; the word itself evokes rebuke and titillation. Province of the primitive, practices sacred to profane, taboo is culture's closet for harboring things prohibited. Taboo is fruit forbidden. Taboo is untold truth. Taboo is all that tantalizes through want of ready access: urges to be suppressed, desires to be concealed, sins left uncommitted, un-admitted like impure thoughts denied. And none incurs more outrage (when confessed) than pedophilia. How condone any upstanding adult's acknowledging sexual arousal in response to an unclad infant, toddler, or juvenile? The very thought, to parents in particular, repulses so instinctively that discourse is avoided, or, if introduced, reviled—typically with such vehemence that denouncements overrule, attempts to comprehend shouted down posthaste, as if failure to condemn—condemn unequivocally—were almost to condone, as if reason were by righteousness legitimately preempted, as if minds were allowed to close in a climate of moral certitude, leaving controversial topics circumspectly dodged—little of which contributes, I concede, when trying to understand...

 

What motivated Seymour, alone in his apartment, curtains drawn, pajamas shed, his monitor aglow in the artificial light, hard at work on an a la mode addition to his odious collection; aesthetics or iniquity, as he mismatched maid and minx? The schoolgirl he had chosen from United Colors of Benetton (subsection "Kid & Young") was a delicate brunette (age 6 to 12), her open mouth exposing buckteeth noticeably larger than would have been the case were her pale pink lips full-grown. Un-plucked eyebrows, make-up so professional that it mimicked mother nature's brush in painting cheek and chin, complexion flawless in its youthful sheen, expression half-expectant, gazing out while holding in her breathless immaturity... were features juxtaposed to an XNXX harlot's: forearms crossed to elevate "Big Naturals" in a sleazy cheesecake posture, kneeling, thighs widespread to accentuate exaggerated labia—their silhouette protuberant in the flip-flopped V beneath, liquidly libidinous with glistening beads of body oil.

Satisfied that the layers matched: colors, highlights, mid-tones, Seymour chose those attributes he wanted to enhance—just enough to magnify their intimate attractiveness; could aureoles really be that big, a mons so cleanly shorn, a clitoris peek so far from the folds of protective labia, and could those folds extend, reach down, agape like jaws of a steam shovel? Seymour thought the metaphor apt; weren't genitals—girls'—called "snatches." Having never felt a female's sex in the flesh he long imagined that its grip was firm as a handshake. He had watched—online—how it worked, wondering at its strength, its capaciousness, and its marvelous flexibility. What must it be like for an organ such as hers (he stared at the maximized pubes, their pixels filling the monitor) to seize, engulf, and masticate an organ such as his? With one hand on the mouse, the other on his erection, Seymour sought to relieve his loins' God-awful stress... an autoerotic exercise rudely interrupted by raps (knock knock-a-knock-knock, knock knock; VV's code) at his dead-bolted door. Panic abating passion like a puncture deflates an inner tube, Seymour sprang from his chair, donned a threadbare robe, and hastened to admit the unexpected visitor.

 

 

"Let's get something clear, before I forget it; these TOT TARTs of yours were all concoctions? You never imported, downloaded, purchased, posted, or shared your fabricated smut? Then why did you plead guilty to Possession of Child Pornography? I mean, technically, legally speaking, it would seem your Public Defender might have gotten that charge dropped. Not that I'm excusing your depravity; 'making' indecent images is as reprehensible as 'procuring' them. But insofar as none of your 'recruits' were actually exploited or personally harmed... Never mind—get on with it—you got what you deserved."

 

 

Both suppertime and the hour of VV's curfew (readjusted from 8 to 9pm in deference to daylight savings and recent good behavior) having passed, an explanation was in order for her late-night appearance—inopportune on two scores: hand-job interruptus, and Seymour's needing to leave (within thirty minutes) for work. Neither seemed important the instant he saw her face.

PHIL DID THIS! had been lettered in quavery lines across her freckled forehead, the exclamation mark anchored by an arrow that extended to her lip—so puffed up it gave her mouth a pout that few would dub "beguiling."

"Why would anybody hit a helpless little girl!?"

Thinking his had been an unvoiced exclamation, Seymour flinched upon hearing a stentorian reply.

"BECAUSE HE'S A FUCKING CRIMINAL WHOSE ASS BELONGS IN JAIL!"

Seymour flinched again; the incendiary timbre of this outburst nearly singed his eyebrows—level with the wound (in front of which he had squatted to get a better look). Cradling VV's upturned chin (crinkled from her effort to keep tears in check), he felt it quiver, despite his tender handling.

"Bet that hurts a lot. Want me to fix it?"

She nodded solemnly.

"You go into the kitchen. I'll be right in."

Atypically compliant in deference to The Retard (said appellation in vogue, still, if losing validation), Violetta parked herself in one of the two-only chairs and awaited medical attention, plus, she trusted, a sympathetic audience.

First Aid Kit at the ready, 'Dr. Spock' returned.

"Looks like there's a cut; a teeny-weeny one. This stuff's called Merthiolate. Get ready; it probably will sting."

VV winced shut her eyes, clenched her teeth, and braced herself for the worst, as Seymour dabbed with the applicator, staining the damaged tissue a bright burnt-orange.

"Mostly it's just swollen, like a snake that swallowed a hamster."

Opening one eye to execute a cryptic double take (while envisioning her lip as an over-nourished serpent), VV cracked a smile. The upshot proved grotesque (and utterly disarmingly).

"Can I stay here with you tonight? I promise not to tell. Mom and Phil, I'm sure, believe I've run away. I did run away; out the door and down the block until I finally doubled back to sneak up here. No one saw—I'm certain, Seymour, and no one will see me leave. Tomorrow. After Mom and Phil have both gone to work; I'll scoot downstairs, collect some things, and split. For good. To Seattle. That's where Dad—my real Dad—lives with his girlfriend Blue."

Seymour then took note of the fugitive's attire; slipper socks and Wile E. Coyote pajamas did not a getaway getup make. Even were she to elude the neighborhood's less-than-savory denizens—dope dealers, pimps, and prostitutes plus their shady clientele—officers of the law were bound to apprehend her. Police, no doubt, had been called, their search underway.

"You haven't said what happened. How come you got thumped?"

"'Thumped'? I didn't get 'thumped,' Idiot." She leaned forward and landed a flat-fingered tap in the middle of Seymour's forehead. "That's getting 'thumped'; I got slugged. For nothing. For calling Phil 'a steaming piece of excrement' because I caught him reading Mom's off-limits journal. No one's supposed to snoop into somebody's private property. Phil said, 'Keep your trap shut.' I said, 'Only a steaming piece of excrement would stoop to such skullduggery—a word he didn't know, I'll wager—so he hauled off and backhanded me. 'Believe you me' it hurt. When Mom got home he must have told a whopper; she sided with him! And was pissed at me for scribbling 'falsehoods' on my face. 'Falsehoods'? Bastard nearly breaks my jaw and mother accuses daughter of fighting again at school?"

"Parents ought to listen when their children say what's so."

"Goddamn right! You may be a halfwit, but you still know foul from fair. Phil's a moral moron, by comparison. Can I stay overnight or not?"

"I have to go to work."

"When?"

"Now."

"Perfect! That gives you deniability."

"Deny-a-what?"

"In case they track me here. I mean they won't; we're still top secret since the Mrs. Grimes affair. Not a soul found out about that because you and I can be trusted. Furthermore we are careful. And one of us is smart."

She gave him another 'thump' to emphasize their camaraderie.

 

 

"Isn't that convenient; the predator gulls his prey, fools her into thinking he's granting her safe harbor, then circles round to ravage the trusting imp as soon as she's off guard."

I did not! I let her stay; that's true, but I went off to work. When I got back next morning VV was up-and-gone.

 

 

All that night he had thought about her, worried about her, wondered if she would be there when he got home, hoped that he could cook waffles for her or French toast or pancakes and sausage, hoped that she could eat, that her injured lip had healed, watched, with more and more impatience, the hours creep by, forgot her, then remembered; memories (most) were fond, how she had curled up on his Murphy, reluctant then willing, after all, to let him tuck her in; how she had asked him if he, please, would leave on a light; how she seemed to like the towel and washcloth with an unwrapped bar of soap that he had taken fresh from the linen closet and designated as hers, regardless her demur when he offered her a shower; best of all how she had come to him in the first place, relied on him for help; worst of all was the fact that 'Phil' had physically harmed her, hit a little girl—his own stepdaughter—so hard in the mouth it had broken the skin; "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me"; Seymour had recited this often while growing up, an adage difficult to practice but one that had served him well. Would that 'Phil' had learned to shrug off insults—though words could often hurt. Deeply. Words like "Dummy," "Dumbass," "Dope," "Dullard," and "Dimwit" to mention only the ds had drawn their share of psychological blood. Sometimes sticks and stones might have done less damage. Still, slowness had its pluses… Or minuses in disguise? Did each and every sluggish tortoise not envy the speedy hare? Were plodding thinkers nobler by dint of deliberation, or were they justly slighted for putting in their two-cent's-worth late? What kind of credit was due to wits forever beaten to the repartee punch?

Rounds; Seymour did rounds, guarding empty lots, vacant warehouses, abandoned buildings, nothing nearly so precious as her who he had left behind unguarded at home in bed, wounded and defenseless, violated and vulnerable, the injury to her mouth like lost virginity, innocence torn, a tiny rip that aimed to sully un-ripened youth, bruise its fruit, and leave the casualty cowed, wary, and evermore mistrustful. VV was defiant but nonetheless impressionable. Thumbprints in her clay had already left their mark, threatening to set, to harden characteristics into unhappy permanence, misused as she was too soon—by an adult's anger fired; her attitude toward Phil apt to remain antagonistic. Or to mutate from the hatred she bore him into something more malicious (as formerly displayed when dealing with Mrs. Grimes). Violetta Vickers was a hellcat, a terrorist-in-the-making, who had chosen Seymour Starkey as her partner-in-crime, her confidante sworn to secrecy by an unuttered oath, their understanding tacit but no less inviolable, their connection such that 'SS' sensed 'VV's' flight from his apartment before it was confirmed, due to an incident—possibly a break-in—delaying his release from work, requiring him to file a report of something amiss (shards from a shattered window incontestably qualifying), thus Seymour returned later than usual (from his uneventful shift; a stone, as opposed to an intruder, had been responsible for the breakage) only to find what he anticipated and frankly feared the most: his status quo restored, the hole in his life, so fleetingly filled, once more vacuous. Not a trace, neither a note nor depression in the remade bed, greeted the occupant's look of crestfallen sorrow.

 

 

To predict that Phil would rank his job above concern for an AWOL 'tween' (overlooking a lawful-husband's duty to console his worry-sick wife) was certainly plausible (5th grader 'logic' hardly being infallible); to predict that Mom would be similarly indifferent (despite her penchant for the antiquated maxim "Father Knows Best") was indicative of a child who felt unloved. When VV quietly fitted her key to the lock of door 3D (expecting to enter, pack a bag, eat a snack, write a note, take some cash— along with the household's backup credit card—then hitchhike to Seattle), both her parents lay-in-wait just inside the threshold (with "real Dad" Wayne and his "lady-friend" Blue tuned-in on Skype). The beating VV therefore anticipated (and richly deserved, if Phil's look askance was any indication) never transpired. Instead—following heartfelt hugs and kisses Mom bestowed interminably (a display of affection forborne by the recipient irrespective its duration—surprise eclipsing embarrassment, discomfort trumped by relief)—VV's cell phone and PC privileges were miraculously restored!

Grownups; who could figure them out? All their questions with regard to where she had spent the night, how she had managed to stay warm, clean, and safe, whether anybody had scared her or treated her unkindly were deflected. "I'd rather not discuss it" sufficed to end their prying. Phil's 'assault and battery' likewise went un-probed. Further looks, from spouse to spouse, suggested that words had been exchanged. Harsh words. Ultimatums, possibly. Whatever had been said, Phil henceforth behaved—at least in terms of raising his hand to deliver blows. His eyes continued to manhandle, leer, and slyly extort—guessing VV had holed up somewhere in the complex, suspecting a confederate, and pressuring her via dark, subliminal threats to divulge this Samaritan's identity.

Back in business technologically,  VV let her interest in Seymour lapse. Whereas Seymour veritably pined for VV's perky company, smitten as he was like a lovesick swain—though friendship overshadowed romance in The Retard's emotions. His were sandbox longings for the playmate gone missing, the presence filling the absence that isolation wreaks, the other whose otherness fools a solitaire into thinking life is shareable; or that it 'could' be, given the right circumstances, the right approach, and most importantly the right partner... though any partner might do, in some situations, depending on one's loneliness (and its level of severity). "To have loved and lost," the saying goes, "is better than to have loved not at all." But to have been 'reminded' that love exists without actually expressing or fulfilling it, was to add a new level of bricks to the wall of isolation, the wall surrounding Seymour having grown immeasurably high.

Until, at last, he got an email, its subject line reading:

 

Hey Chucklehead...

Sorry I haven't been in touch. Thanks for the hospitality. "Believe you me" it saved my ass in a lot more ways than one. I didn't get spanked, for starters. No one laid a hand on me. In particular you-know-who, Mom's Salacious Spouse (look words up, if you're clueless). And far from getting grounded—like FOREVER—they gave me back my stuff. Which is partly why I've been incommunicado. With you, I mean. With my other friends, I've been a Twitter and text-message chatterbox. Too much communication is almost like none at all; most of what I send and receive is absolute twaddle.

I'll bet you're wondering how I got your email address. You left it open (by mistake, I assume) the night we posted my "Independent Study" in "Hawthorne Forrest." Verstehen Sie? ("Do you understand," auf Deutsch—in German, Dingdong). Which reminds me; guess who's back in class? Correct; Mrs. Grimes. She was supposed to be out-for-the-count, not due to return until next semester, meaning the Fall, meaning after I've moved on, inshaAllah ("God willing," in Arabic) to the 6th grade. Unless I skip again and go directly into 7th. Mom and the Satyr are mulling over my options. Personally, I'm ambivalent (LOOK IT UP!). On the one hand, I'd have to leave behind my chums. On the other hand, school's so goddamn BORING maybe doing another leapfrog would keep me "more engaged" (to quote my new Guidance Counselor, Mr. Middleton—"George" I'm allowed to call him because he wants us to be pals). What do you think, Seymour? 7th grade girls all have tits, whereas mine are practically concave. They're also into boys; boys, in my book, are one step up from grubs—if a little less sanitary. No offense.

Anyway, "let's get together for lunch." Just kidding. Grownups always invite one another to lunch. Or for 'cocktails.' How did "a chilled mixed drink of liquor and juice or other flavorings" get named after a rooster's butt-feathers? See? I look words up. Constantly. Not only is it 'educational,' it's fun to flabbergast adults with multisyllabic utterances. You'd be surprised how differently people would treat you if you spoke properly, with more than a comic book vocabulary. Even someone slow-of-speech can sound intelligent when what he says and how he phrases it is worth waiting for.

Blah, blah, blah; "Violetta Verbose," I'm lettering across my tummy after I click "send." By mutual agreement, I curtail my body art, they (Mom and Whatshisface) double my allowance. Not bad, eh? All I have to do is put tattoos in places that don't show. (Erasing PHIL DID THIS!, by the way, rubbed my forehead raw.) You should see my torso; it looks like a pirate's map, Xs marking the treasure spots over surfaces easy to draw on—my only consolation for being flat-chested.

Thanks  for caring,

VV


 

Seymour was ecstatic about several telling sentences, the one that began "With all my other friends" most gratifying of all. He qualified. In spite of the long hiatus—a period marked by fleeting glimpses only: three passes in the hall when VV was accompanied by either or both parents so avoided making eye contact with "that weirdo from upstairs"; an almost-encounter at the mailboxes, scuttled by other tenants' ill-timed convergence; and catching sight of VV's short-lived session, of an afternoon, on the playground's rusty swing—he, the "Stooge," the "Numskull," the "Booby," aka the "Neanderthal" was numbered among Violetta's friends! Next came her advice about reforming his woeful English. Seymour, there and then, resolved to improve. Surely there were library books he could borrow, or courses he could take at City College that might beef up his word-power and rectify his misusage. The fact that VV was concerned enough to make a constructive criticism meant the world to him. Finally, she, in turn, had asked for his advice. "What do you think, Seymour?" Seymour, not "Birdbrain," or "Simpleton," or "Imbecile." Should she skip a grade? He would do his level best to tender a reply. He would Spell-Check, Grammar-Check, track down definitions for every single word and try to use some new ones, then remember what each one meant. A project, he would make of it, a glorious endeavor, an "Independent Study" of his very own!

 

Dear Violetta,

If you are only nine years old and normal regular 5th graders is are ten and you already skipped once and still made friends then maybe it would be okay to skip again. Friends are numero uno (that means "number one" in Spanish) so if you can make friends easy easily then that is a good reason not to worry. Another good reason not to worry is that slow learners feel real bad when they keep fast learners from learning fast. They sometimes learn even slower because they get nervous when the fast children are waiting. Imagine an airplane with lots and lots of passengers going to Disneyland and one person is late who maybe looks like he can walk fine without crutches or a limp or anything but it takes him forever to get onboard. That slow person, believe you me, gets so self-conscious he would rather see the airplane leave without him than have all those passengers wait while he inches along.

The next issue is who will be your teacher if you do or do not skip? Mrs. Grimes and you, this year, have not been getting along. Once, when I was in school, my second grade teacher was also my third grade teacher, not because I flunked but because she switched. If Mrs. Grimes does that, you probably definitely should skip.

 

Seymour checked his work; so far so good. He was especially pleased about using the compound term "self-conscious" (though he had misspelled it; a host of words, alas, had been underlined in red). Also a source of satisfaction was his example about the plane. Mindful of school years when he had been "held back," each was humiliating, but also a relief. His classmates, for the most part, advanced; his new classmates sometimes would mock him; but the work was a little easier second time around. And never, K through 12, had he repeated any grade twice.

 

Lastly, is the subject of you and boys. "Grubs" is what you called us them, which wasn't very nice. I maybe don't remember what I felt about girls at your age, but I think I mostly avoided them and wanted them to do the same. As far as how your body looks right now, for sure it's gonna going to change. It will probably get prettier. I doubt that you'll get fat. If you want, I can make a picture of how you'll look as a grownup.

 

 

And with that piece of boastful degeneracy, Seymour's penitentiary fate was sealed. Lest you muster sympathy, dear Reader, or consider any of Starkey's circumstances 'extenuating,' imagine him perusing nudes on pornographic websites for the aforementioned purpose! Disregard Violetta's giving our 'hero' the green light (pardon my 'prediction'). The age of consent and nine-year-olds are divided by a far-flung chasm. Permission granted or not, the statutes are clear. Children don't know any better; the timeworn saw holds true. Youth can be readily misguided, exploited, and mercilessly corrupted, hence the need for laws to protect them. Nothing thus far spun, in Seymour's account, serves to forgive, much less to excuse him for conduct thoroughly detestable… which I interject as an opinion-in-progress rather than as a foregone conclusion, reiterating my role of chronicler, abjuring the role of judge. Some things simply push my buttons more fiercely than others. Sorry for the interruption.

  

Seymour, for the umpteenth time, reviewed his mechanics. "Spelling and grammar check are complete" the popup read, yet he hesitated to click "send," insecure about the wisdom of his words and the prudence of his offer—though, if VV took him up on it, he would make her TOT TART tasteful (unfledged doubts concerning criminal implications failing to make a flap.)

 

 

"Good morning, class. All rise for our Pledge of Allegiance."

The smile with which Mrs. Grimes surveyed her satanic rank-and-file was like a ghost-print pulled to incorporate leftover ink; the original—cast so luminously, her coloration vivid, livid (her throat, concealed by a turtleneck, still bore bruises from Jeffrey's tie, which he had cinched, at Patty's insistence, around her palpitating jugular)—fortified her spunk in dealing with rebelliousness; one of the thirty-seven hellions, she took note, lingered in her seat... refusing to stand (?).

"Ms. Vickers, would you join us, please?"

A request or a cloaked command? Pretending it was the former, VV deigned to answer.

"I elect not to."

As usual, she had chosen her words with care, "elect" alluding to democracy wherein patriotic rituals were (ostensibly) optional.

And, as usual, subtlety was wasted on the figure of authority who identified dissent as clear-cut belligerence.

"Would you like to stand in the Vice Principal's office, instead?"

Pretending again that her teacher's dictum was actually a suggestion, VV declined.

"Our Principal of Vice has hardly proven to be a champion of students' civil liberties. You all go ahead; I'll sit here quietly."

Since Mrs. Grimes had returned, "Ms. Vickers" had maintained a remarkably low profile—attributable to improvements, the teacher surmised, in her pupil's problematic home life; whereas VV chalked it up pragmatically to 'laying low'— the score having been settled, letting bygones be bygones (one party still in the dark) representing the wisest course. Why, then, had she drawn this line in the sand?

Arm extended horizontally, stiff as a yardstick, index finger pointing toward the classroom's open door, Patty Grimes ejected the brainy Lilliputian, disinclined to spar with an ultra-precocious whelp whose intellect (prematurely developed like some sort of prodigy's) was definitely ABNORMAL, not to mention bent on spoiling this morning's hum, echoes of which resounded in Patty's sodomized nether parts, hubby's lingual gymnastics stirring wet reverberations, strangulation heightening their rapturous effect, causing her to gush, upon climax, like some G-spot-tickled geyser that left a viscose slick upon sheet and jowl alike, shocking her who had ejaculated and him who had guzzled the overabundant discharge...

"... and to the republic for which it stands..."

... almost losing consciousness in the masochistic process, in the sadistic process, Patty turning purple in the polka dot necktie's grip, Jeffrey too busy lapping up goop like a milk-parched puppy; only when his captive keened did he prevent her certain death, by loosening the noose that had intensified their ecstasy.

"... with liberty and justice for all."

 

"And what have we done this time, young lady?"

The VP's condescending tone was perfectly suited to make VV wretch. Why must grownups use upper-register voices whenever addressing children? Furthermore, why use "we" (as if 'he' shared the shit she was in) when what he really meant was 'you'?

"Flexing my fundamental right to dissent, if you want to know the truth."

"Oh? And what form did this 'civil disobedience' take?"

"I chose to sit while my classmates stood like robots to salute the fucking flag."

The VP waged his finger.

"I thought we agreed to refrain from using profanity."

"I said 'fucking'; you didn't. Okay, 'frigging' flag. You do get my drift?"

"So yours was a protest, of sorts? Against what, pray tell?"

"Against programming as distinguished from educating. It's bad enough that everything we do here is triggered by a bell, from start of school to end of school, with recess, lunch hour, and another recess sandwiched in between, which makes this place like a kennel full of Pavlov's drooling mutts."

"And you want things to be different."

"Damn right I do."

"Having problems at home again, Violetta?"

VV arched her brow, then scowled with utter frustration at the VP's vapid change of subject.

"How could that have anything to do with my basic civil rights? Home is fine, if you must know. Do I get detention or not?"

Unsettling as it was to hear a youngster talk like an adult, Mr. Cunningham managed to take the anomaly in stride. Interviews with Violetta Vickers had been frequent throughout his tenure. Seldom—strike that—never had he met a more articulate (if deeply troubled) child.

"No, I think you were well within your rights; I'll square it with Mrs. Grimes."

Anxious to escape before Mr. Cunningham snapped back into character and resumed his role as Hawthorne Elementary's number one hard-ass, VV rose to leave.

"Good to have her back, n'est-ce pas? You were chewing up our substitutes, spitting out one or two per week until, with some encouragement, you all simmered down."

What happened to "we," VV wondered but held her tongue? The "encouragement" to which Mr. Cunningham referred had been a heavy-handed threat: "Shape up, kids, or one by one you'll be shipped out to schools a lot less tolerant." Everybody knew the schools he meant—deeper in the crime-ridden Mission District. Hawthorne, by comparison, was a Bastion of Benevolence.

"A curious way to demonstrate how much you all have missed her."

He wasn't going to let it go. Resigned to yet another third degree, VV sat back down.

"Very unfortunate mischief, that pin-up of Mrs. Grimes. You had nothing to do with it, I trust, but maybe you know who did? At this point, I mean? Now that the dust has settled? A name or two that might have popped up, in passing? Someone bragging, after the fact, secure she had gotten away with it?"

He was fishing. But the word that struck true terror in VV's otherwise tranquil heart, the tipoff that his bait concealed a gnarly hook, was the pronoun "she"; "secure she had gotten away with it." Worry—next-of-kin to blame—encroached on Violetta's calm...

 

… which recommended (once home from school, no further confrontations logged, and Mrs. Grimes apprised of her country's Bill of Rights) a quick-change into play clothes for some therapeutic swinging...

... the pump and whoosh of each rusty "CREAK" tantamount to a mantra; the rush that tickled her midriff, tousled her hair, and goosed her loins, instilling a state of mind conducive to working out problems—how she might have roused the VP's suspicion foremost among them. Bingo; the program for this year's Drama Club play, which VV had designed, a comedy "rather specious in its middleclass morality," she critiqued, also having reviewed the production for Hawthorne's monthly newsletter. The playbill's cover, done in Photoshop (what else?) had been a nifty piece of work. "Impressively accomplished," the Drama Coach had praised. "Did you do this by yourself or did Mister Wizard help?" Mister Wizard aka Mr. M. Rangel, Hawthorne's Computer Science teacher, was the go-to guy for all things technological. But VV had a 'private' resource whom she tapped for expertise. Not wanting to appear immodest she acknowledged "a little assistance," but left 'who from' unspecified. STUPIDLY! She should have credited Rangel, who must have been approached and subsequently asked (doubtless by Mr. Cunningham) whether Violetta Vickers had petitioned his support. 'No,' would have been his answer, the question arising, 'If not him, then who?'

 

Seymour, drawn to his window by accelerated "CREAKS" (whoever it was on the swing must be working up a sweat), watched with galvanized interest once recognizing VV. He could see the swing's foundation jiggle under strain from her energetic pumps, every flex of her clamped-together knees striving toward the courtyard's square of sky, fists on the parallel chains white-knuckled from the pressure they applied, hips compressed by the U-shaped rubber seat—tenuous in its hold as jolts at either to-and-fro extreme dislodged their load and threatened to send it airborne. Forgetting, momentarily, that his email had been sent and its recipient, there below, was tardy with her reply, Seymour waved a warning…

... which VV failed to notice, focused as she was on crafting a disclaimer that would throw the dogged VP off her scent.

Afraid lest VV fall and break her neck, Seymour risked her displeasure by opening the window, sticking out his head, and doing his best to yell in the manner of a stage-whisper.

"PSST! THAT THING'S NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO HOLD YOU; BETTER SLOW DOWN!"

(Who the Hell…? Oh; speak of the devil; my alibi or accessory is about to blow 'our' cover.)

"STUFF IT, MORON," VV spat with convincing animosity, shooting Seymour the finger to punctuate her pique. She and he were never to communicate in public—a hedge against discovery to which both had agreed; their relationship was covert and honor-bound to stay that way.

Seymour blanched, then flushed an apologetic red. Still, his caution triumphed; VV slowed her pace... then bailed like a paratrooper.

 

knock knock-a-knock-knock, knock knock

VV's signature rap felt like a summons being served to him who thought, for a retrogressive instant, of hiding under the bed. Instead, he hustled to the door, peered through its peephole (out of habit), verified it was Violetta (who flipped him another bird), turned the deadbolt—CLUNK—and let the minor in.

"What could you have been thinking, Numskull, 'caterwauling' from your window when you know our 'association' is supposed to be clandestine!?"

"You're mad at me, huh?"

"Oh, no; I'm tickled pink you've announced TO THE WHOLE FUCKING COMPLEX that you and I converse."

With that, she reached up and gave Seymour's forehead a reprimanding 'thump.'

Chastened, Seymour grinned—relieved—happy to have suffered so nominal a penalty. VV maybe was vindictive, had a black and white sense of fairness, was stalwart when it came to justice due and justice served, but once her hatchet fell she was lightning-quick to bury it. Which is not to say she was ready, not quite yet, to let herself wind down. A restless ramble through Seymour's premises emphasized her distress—the source of which was much less Seymour's gaff than Mr. Cunningham's dragnet.

"Remember when I asked you for some tips about that playbill?"

Seymour's sloth-like gape made it look like he did not.

"When you were feeding me? When Philistine Phil was rationing my rations, making sure my meals were all inedible?"

"'Mr. Frog Meets Mrs. Squirrel.'"

"You do remember."

"We made children look like animals."

"That's the one. Well, it has maybe 'done me in.'"

"It was good, though, wasn't it?"

"Too good. Accomplished "with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.'"

"Hey, that's from Superman! I've got lots..."

"I know. Pay attention."

Wary of getting 'thumped' again, Seymour sealed his lips. VV still was pacing the apartment, pausing now and then to fondle this and that, searching (in her mind) for some ass-saving scheme should Seymour (perish the thought) be confronted by authorities.

"If I were ever in trouble, Seymour—deep shit, hardcore trouble—and people came to you and asked about me, what would you tell them?"

Pacing halted, handling things suspended, VV stood stock-still, intent upon hearing an answer with which she could be satisfied, fixing Seymour, eye-to-eye, where he sat on his Murphy bed.

Aware he was on the spot, that whatever he said would be binding, while equally aware he was expected to answer acceptably, Seymour flinched (suggesting Violetta's anxiety had overlapped his own). If loyalty was at issue, his would prove unshakeable. With a gesture that said more than had he 'voiced' a solemn oath, Seymour covered his mouth with crisscrossed hands.

 

 

"See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil; cute. What's all this about "Mr. Frog Meets Mrs. Squirrel," I'd like to know?

One: Why did you leave that out?

Two: When did it happen?

Three: What do you think you're trying to hide?

Remember, Seymour, I'm not a cop, a warden, or a parole officer; I'm your Father Confessor. You are to tell me 'everything' or... thou shalt not be absolved."

 

 

VV came with another project after we did the Mrs. Grimes one. It was even funner (sic).

Why'd you write down "sic"?

"Because "funner" is not a word."

Funner is too a word; it means more fun.

"Okay, if you say so; I'll take out the 'sic.'"

 

NOTE: Perhaps you, the Reader, think me duplicitous for telling Seymour one thing then doing the opposite. That 'sic,' Seymour's objection to it, my 'white lie' about it, and this annotation do not appear in the original book. Or they do, but they're heavily redacted like some FOIA request grudgingly honored by the NSA. And here we revisit the topic of 'predetermination.' Am I 'anticipating' editorial changes or do they preexist? Unlike earlier novels I've authored, this one is writing itself. It really seems as if the words are composed already, in the blank book I found—this book, for me; this book's published incarnation, for you. Again, which one is the chicken, which one her egg? With respect to Seymour Starkey (not that he merits any), expurgating the text deprives his version of authenticity—which I, via manifold devices, am hoping to recreate.

 

The reason it was funner is that we turned actors into animals for characters in the show. On stage, they had to wear costumes, which VV said looked silly. The boy who played Mr. Frog had to hop around in flippers, and the girl who played Mrs. Squirrel wore a feather duster tail. But VV borrowed my digital camera and took their pictures—just their faces—which we opened up in Photoshop. Then we did an image search for frogs and another one for squirrels…

"Spare us the technical details, if you would. Was this, by any chance, the occasion when you first molested her?"

 

 

Seymour's covering his mouth with crisscrossed hands was not unprecedented. He had made the identical gesture once before, when VV had appealed for help with an overdue assignment that required advanced techniques in the realm of illustration. Prior to the evening she had run away from home and a fortnight after Mrs. Grimes took her infamous leave of absence, Violetta had sneaked upstairs, rapped on her neighbor's door, and worked her tweenish wiles on the all-too-willing patsy.

"If you help me this time, Seymour, you can see my new tattoos."

None were immediately apparent, despite her somewhat skimpy outfit: sandals, shorts, and T-shirt all that she was wearing—the T-shirt half tucked in or half pulled out, in either case haphazardly.

His curiosity split between the task and its reward, Seymour gave them both an enthusiastic nod, pleased as punch to be of use whatever the specifications. First they fiddled with frog boy, laughing at their efforts, superimposing amphibians on a high-resolution face, until a close-enough match was made to create a likely morph. Next came Mrs. Squirrel, whose morph was made more handily. It was then an easy process to plop them onto the playbill, whose format VV had done all by herself.

"I can take it from here," VV said as she copied and pasted the folder into a Flash Drive. "Now, turn your chair toward me, close your eyes, and don't you dare to open them, until I say so."

Seymour did exactly what he was told, hands folded in his lap, knees abutting VV's as she likewise turned her chair so both sat opposite. Hoisting her T-shirt, in one smooth motion, pulling its hem above her head to loop behind her neck, VV exposed her pictographic torso, belly button to collarbone.

Dumbstruck for the first few seconds, eyes bugged, round as saucers, Seymour did a slow-mo scan of the intricate iconography. In addition to the slogans VV typically penned, there were symbols. Hieroglyphic-like they appeared to tell a story. Left to right? A dog was represented and a vehicle (a smallish truck) and then another dog (or the same one?) followed by a starburst, then some people (drawn stick-figure fashion) who multiplied, formed a crowd around another dog, then a line of stick-figure people in zigzag (a procession?), leading to more in a circle, around whom there were crosses like markers over graves.

Suddenly Seymour got it—or gleaned the general drift. Pointing with his index finger, he read the signs inscribed, touching each one lightly as he found, at last, his voice.

"You were walking here," he tapped a 'smiley-face' labeled "WITNESS" that bore itsy-bitsy dots (standing for VV's freckles) on either side of its nose. "And then a pooch got hit by a mailman's truck" (U.S.P.S. identifying the vehicle). "It got killed; here's you looking sad." A 'frowny-face' hovered like an isolated moon, above a starburst (indicating IMPACT) with dots, formerly freckles, turned into tiny vertical droplets. "Then people came here, here, and here. I think they pick up Pooch to carry him down to there." Tracing the zigzag (like a switchback) on its path over VV's tummy, Seymour stopped inside the circle formed by... "Mourners? They bury Pooch in here?" So saying, Seymour brought his fingertip to the rim of VV's navel (R.I.P. the caption), then left its oval depression respectfully undisturbed.

 

 

"In deference to the dearly departed dog? You must be kidding! You're a sex offender, Starkey, you confessed. Now, as a convicted pedophile, you expect us to believe this child exposed herself to you, and suffered nothing more invasive than the fiction you've described? Bullshit. Admittedly, VV's no angel. But even devilish children know nude is nude and don't display themselves to full-grown adults."

 

 

"Was he yours?"

The fact that Seymour had interpreted her 'tattoos' with utter sincerity (reinforced by perceptiveness; what he read was mostly accurate, if not in literal terms, at least in terms of how an event had affected VV emotionally), made him worthy of her trust, she decided, and undeserving of ridicule—which meant, instead of sparing him, she would be ruthless in poking fun, honesty being the hallmark of her newfound affection.

"No," she said with a wistful sigh, her naked ribcage shrinking. With a modest motion, VV pulled her T-shirt back into place. "I used to pet him sometimes, through a fence, on my way to school. He'd wag his tail and lick my hand. I guess that meant we were friends. Someone must have let him out; he got run over yesterday."

"You saw?"

VV nodded.

Not since they first met had Seymour seen the youngster's tears. Tears, however, leaked from VV's plaintive eyes. She leaned; he leaned. Forehead pressed against forehead, they shared the sad event.

 

 

We are experiencing a let-us-hope brief hiatus in our exposé, narrative, novel, biography—whatever you choose to call it—because our protagonist is on strike. That's right; the 'estimable' Seymour Starkey is refusing to utter another word. Until I apologize, it would appear, for remarks I made debunking the previous tableau. "You can't make a Hallmark greeting card out of child molestation," I told him. Seymour, nevertheless, insists he's giving us the straight scoop. And, for him, that may be true; objectivity is not his strong suit. It is, however, mine, and I think I've done a remarkable job, to date, of imparting Seymour's viewpoint...

"Without getting 'maudlin'—as Violetta might articulate, adding 'Look it up, Lunkhead.' 'Sentimental,' Seymour; maudlin means 'tearfully emotional,' which is how you make me sound when I'm transcribing your mush. "Forehead pressed to forehead"; give us a frigging break! Did your bodies form a heart, in silhouette, while you mutually mourned the murdered-by-a-mailman mongrel? Enough alliteration for you?"

Seymour loves alliteration (once I defined it for him), which works for VV's character; she's into words. But Seymour's 'gift' for language has only been lent so he can at least 'sound' intelligent. Without my nonstop editing "believe you me" he'd read like the oaf he is—computer skills the singular exception to abilities best denoted LIMITED.

"And it is precisely your limitations, Genius, that are preventing you from realizing I'm your best bet for getting out the word, for setting straight the record, for telling it like it is (or was) from the horse's mouth—that is to say yours—unless you continue to act like a horse's ass.

No? Still pissed off about me pointing out you poked a nine-year-old's nipples? Your finger did traverse a minor's naked chest? And it didn't make your "you-know-what" get hard?

Okay, okay; maybe not on that particular occasion. Pardon me, please, for doubting that a proven sex offender could countermand his boner. There must have been other opportunities to warrant the court's sentencing.

Proceed.

I'm sorry.

Can we get on with it?"

 

VV really was worried about skipping from 5th to 7th grade. The school gave her some tests and I guess they showed that her brain was way ahead. Mr. Middleton, VV's guidance counselor, said she was "a little high-strung" but probably could handle it. Nobody, except for VV herself, fretted over breasts. I thought, if she could see what she'd look like in the future, it would maybe boost her confidence.

 

 

Extrapolating Violetta's age-eighteen physique was not so easy. Seymour searched for candidates well into the night. Finding a likely category, among the types most porn sites featured, was a taxing task in itself when the prerequisite was 'tasteful.' VV being a redhead didn't help. Coloring would be crucial for creating the right illusion. Fair skinned females with a faded sprinkling of freckles were far and few between. Fair skinned freckled females built as VV was destined to be built were nowhere to be found, i.e. none fit Seymour's exacting visualization. VV's body would be 'pleasantly proportioned,' he predicted, but not the least bit smutty—this latter trait endemic to the prospects he perused, ruling out alternative websites due to lack of nudes from which he might select. Why was he intent on projecting VV-in-the-buff? Vanity was a factor. Seymour had perfected matching headless "Tarts" with "Tots" and wanted VV to appreciate his facility. Enjoyment was another factor. Seymour relished the process of capturing little girls in poses unassailably innocent, arranging them in albums by the color of their hair, lining up a jpeg row comprised of severed heads—beneath which bodies could be positioned (post appropriation) their attributes compared, and combinations saved en route to finished products, refining every detail of the merged amalgamations, images pixel-perfect where disparate parts were joined, halves (or thirds or quarters, when the mixes got complex) totally undetectable in their fabricated wholeness, which sometimes he embellished with lewd exaggerations—a final step forgone in VIOLETTA LADY, the name this work-in-progress was suitably assigned.

Finally, there she was, in some respects a lookalike, "Desiree's" hair identical (Seymour took a color sample and checked it against the headshot VV let him snap in exchange for borrowing his camera—"Only one, Doofus, and don't you dare do a 'Mrs. Grimes 3' with it, either"). Noticeably dissimilar was Desiree's intellect, evident in her not-quite-stupid face, its expression patently coquettish, its subtext plainly lewd, its eyes reflecting cleverness but scarcely outright intelligence—which ought to have been irrelevant but somehow was not—though sufficient smarts extended below her neck to render Desiree acceptable. Next, in order of importance, were her prepossessing breasts, prominent enough to dissipate VV's childish doubts, modest enough to keep open a full range of options (from scholarship to Triple-A Baseball aspirations), rounded, high on the chest, endowed with upturned nipples—a lighter shade of pink than VV's, but that could be adjusted (provided he remembered hers correctly), and poised with just a hint of unaffected chastity. Last, in terms of erogenous zones, was Desiree's dimpled lap, its "mound of Venus" (a vintage appellation that appealed to Seymour's 'chivalrous' penchant for euphemism) plucked as cleanly as the bifurcated bosom of a freshly slaughtered quail, its pucker so provocative it might need toning down, lest VV's main concern be (genitally) upstaged.

A labor of love, it was, from Seymour Starkey's standpoint. Prurient unto perdition, from the Law's unbending stance, scrutinizing evidence—exhibits A through Z (and more)—examining them out of context the better to view each critically, un-persuaded that motives for such depravity could be anything but felonious.

 

 

"Balk!"

"It was not a balk; his foot was off the rubber."

"His toe was still in contact."

"Nah; the umpire would have called it."

"Ha! The ump did; didn't you see him waggle his red-tipped cane?"

Fans were having fun, as were their progeny: the at-bat Mission Bull Dogs 3, Capp Street Cracker Jacks 5, bottom of the sixth, 2 outs, runner at third, full count on the batter who had fouled off the last three pitches, damned if he was going to let this Cracker Jack pitcher strike him out, the same pitcher accused of but not charged with a balk, who had overheard the parents' good-humored wrangling and extracted from it pride, not because they argued, got the call right or got it wrong, but rather because they both had been mistaken when referring to the pitcher's gender.

"Strike three," called the umpire.

VV had retired the side. Her teammates high-fived congratulations. Top of the seventh, Cracker Jacks in the lead, one more chance to extend it before the Bull Dogs got last-ups, in this the clubs' first meeting since their season began, the Inner City Youth Baseball League offering 'disadvantaged' youngsters equal opportunity to spit and grope their crotches, actions deemed traditional by most of the volunteer coaches, actions deemed disgusting by VV's disapproving Mom, who nonetheless signed the consent form over Sexist Phil's objection: "Girls could maybe play softball, but keep them out of the Majors," construing co-ed sports as 'a slippery slope' of sorts that would ruin, if left unchecked, America's Favorite Past-time—yet another incentive for VV to make the team, though her games were mostly missed by Mom (due to conflicts with work) and boycotted by Misogynist McNulty (on 'broadminded' principle). Stepdad not only refused to drive her to practices, to buy her a decent glove, to chip in for her uniform, or to attend a single game, he actively disparaged every mention of her on-the-field exploits. Whereas Mom could be forgiven—not knowing a base-on-balls from a bouillabaisse—Phil had actually played; his alma mater drew scouts, and, though he never made the draft, his infield prowess had been reasonably sufficient for a career in the Minors, had he not messed up his knee, a spill on his Harley-Davidson having crippled any chance for a livelihood from athletics.

As the lead-off batter grounded out, VV waited on deck. Hitting was her weakness; she most often whiffed. How she could 'throw' strikes but seldom make contact with any was a mystery, one Coach Boileau had tried to help her solve. But no amount of extra batting practice had made her a slugger, let alone relieved her of the 'sure out' pressure she felt inside a batter's box.

"Ball."

Glad she hadn't swung at that one.

"Ball."

Or at that one, either.

"Strike."

The bat, glued to her shoulder, hadn't so much as twitched.

"Strike."

At the very least she could go down swinging…

"Ball."

… instead of standing like a petrified stump. Hardballs, even if one hit you, hurt less than a called third strike.

"Foul ball!"

Did he hold it? No; her tip bounced in and out of the catcher's mitt. One more chance to be a 'hitter,' not a 'looker.' One more chance to redeem her odious 0 for 4 on-base percentage.

"Strike three," called.

(Goddamnit!)

The umpire rang her up.

 

 

Being mistaken for a boy had a Catch 22, with respect to earning credit. VV, on the mound, was proud to be a girl; VV, at the plate, was loathe to admit it, or to have her poor performance excused by her ‘inferior’ gender. Equality was the status she hankered to achieve. Girls would have to prove they could play as well as boys, on the same playing field. She hated the fact that professional sports were segregated. Women competed as pros in greater numbers, in more and more events, but only against themselves. To VV, this reality was a concession, an admission that boys were better, and that girls, in head-to-head competition, would forever be second-class. "Separate but equal" was the concept, and, in many respects, the goal. But wasn’t that like ‘apartheid,’ which she was learning about at school?

 

"Take the world record for running 100 meters, for example. Whoever sets that record is the world’s fastest human, right?"

Seymour thought that VV had come to see VIOLETTA LADY, completion of which he had announced in a carefully worded email. Instead, she arrived in uniform and wanted to talk about sports. Disconsolately, he nodded.

"That particular human, at the moment, is a man. But what would happen if his record got broken by me? I wouldn’t want the ‘women’s’ gold medal; I’d want his. And that’s what I’m saying; girls are never going to be equal with boys until we run faster, jump higher, sink more three-point hoops, and out-slug Barry Bonds without resorting to steroids."

As usual, VV paced while venting her frustration. The Cracker Jacks had won, but that was beside the point. The point was made when VV had unpinned her hair for the Bull Dogs’ final half-inning. That the Cracker Jacks’ closer was a female came as no surprise to her teammates or to most of the opponents, but it did widen the eyes of several spectators, whose reappraisal irked Violetta no end: "Wow, that kid pitches pretty good, for a girl"—the last three words an affront to her accomplishing the last three outs.

"What position do you play for the Cracker Jacks, VV?"

Seymour pointed his finger at the lettering across VV’s un-tucked jersey.

"Haven’t you been listening, Knucklehead?"

"Sure; you lost."

"We beat them, 5 to 3."

"Then how come you’re complaining?"

VV stopped pacing, cocked her head at an angle, and studied Seymour steadily, with a hypercritical eye. Having barged in unannounced sans salutation—not a hi, how are you, nice to see you—before she launched into her rant, Violetta finally considered her jaundiced-looking host.

"Are you sick or something?"

In point of fact, he was, and had been for a week. A cold had settled into Seymour's birdcage chest after laying waste to his sinuses. The robe he typically wore was currently supplemented, a green woolen army blanket enveloping his scrawny frame like a tailor-made tent and held in place by his disproportionately large hands that served as flesh-and-blood clasps, trapping body heat inside—this despite the top floor apartment's late-spring warmth. Chills were contradicted by tiny beads of perspiration on the invalid's upper lip. His sallow cheeks bore stubble, his hair formed multiple cowlicks, circles black-and-bluish made his eyes resemble goggles, and a mangy-doglike aroma confirmed that Seymour had not bathed. Or brushed his teeth, VV noted, when his grateful grin acknowledged her belated concern. Reaching up, she 'thumped' him.

"That's for being a martyr. You could have emailed or texted me. I'd have brought you some soup."

Seymour's brows, raised in upside-down U's, suggested that he had emailed, albeit not to disclose his pathetic infirmity. VV shrugged off contrition; if she had been remiss, what of it? Most, if not all, of her numerous social contracts were customarily kept waiting. VV ignored friends indiscriminately, yet never lost any because of it. Her popularity was neither cultivated nor solicited; she was liked as a matter of course. Yet something private in her nature maintained an arm's-length distance from those who wished to be closer. Like a pigeon, VV's friendship tolerated proximity but always eluded capture.

"Why don't you lie down; I'll brew us some tea."

Touched to the point of having a lump in his throat barely swallow-able, Seymour humbly did as he was bid, as VV crossed to the cluttered kitchenette and rummaged around for teabags.

"Earl Grey suit you, Seymour? Shame you don't have chamomile. Mom always makes me chamomile, with lemon, when I'm fighting off the flu."

'Momma,' Seymour called to mind, with a pang of bittersweet nostalgia. What had Momma fixed for him whenever childhood maladies struck? His bout with encephalitis had been the most severe, the most damaging. Weeks, or had it been months (?), of intensive care had left him bereft of his formerly bright-eyed self. By all accounts (save for Mrs. Starkey's), Seymour's lights had dimmed. From a boy who showed great promise to a man who remained a boy, the Starkey family's 'retard' was a source of disillusionment. More so for his siblings and shamefaced father than for Momma who loved him irrespective his so-called 'disability'—which she conceded to no one, least of all to herself. Slow, moreover, did not mean 'stupid'—a word she forbade at home. Let others, not kin, cast aspersions on her unassertive child: on him whose basic gentleness, simple honesty, and genuine compassion far outweighed his 'challenges.'

 

 

Of course a mother thinks highly of and is predisposed to shield a 'mentally disabled' son; of course she sees his virtues and none of his nasty little vices; if judges ruled on evidence presented by 'Mom,' our prisons would be empty.

"We're not buying it, Seymour. Granted, encephalitis (heretofore unmentioned) can have tragic effects on a child's developing brain. If that explains your 'slowness of study,' we commiserate. If that's your excuse, however, for depraved criminality, cry on shoulders elsewhere.

And remember, I'm cross-referencing everything you say; whatever 'facts' you impart will be rigorously confirmed. As far as 'interpretation' goes, shovel your shit at will, but I wouldn't be too surprised if, in the end, your slant and ours don't jibe."

 

 

A kettle's high-pitched whistle summoned VV from the edge of Seymour's sickbed, on which she laid the comic book he had chosen for her to read aloud, his happiness about this offer (and the gusto with which she fulfilled it) almost overruling the misery of his symptoms. Yet something far less wholesome tainted his agitation. To save her place in the book, VV had spread it on the comforter facedown, and inadvertently covered the ill person's lap. Light though the publication was, Seymour nonetheless felt its weight, and likewise felt a stir in the region underneath, which, pulse by pulse, caused the glossy pages to lift, the organ below to swell, and him (who was aghast at this involuntary response) to blush so hotly it reversed his unwell pallor.

By the time 'Nurse Vickers' returned, teacups in hand, her patient had absconded—the sound of a flushing toilet attesting as to where. Subsequent sounds: water spritzing from a showerhead... a curtain being drawn... runoff gurgling down a drain... humming-in-the-plumbing... alerted VV to the process and its progress by which Seymour doused his shame.

 

 

"At long last we get an unequivocal admission of the twisted sexuality that landed you in jail! Sick as a dog and you manifest a hard-on? Crudely phrased, I confess, but who is more reprehensible, the convict or his chronicler? Starkey, you are warped. The sight of you makes my skin crawl. The thought of what you pled to would move a pacifist to take up arms. A machete, for instance, to hack off that which you deserve to lose, you and your fellow perverts, instead of belling you all like cats with that useless GPS 'de-vice.' What does it matter where you are; it's what you're doing that counts. That gizmo fixed to your ankle deters only socks."

 

 

I was really worried Violetta might get scared if she believed that I would do things grownups aren't supposed to. With children, I mean. VV talked about sex but not the adult kind. Boys and girls for her were all about equality. The time when I got sick and she came to visit was to tell me she saw red because some fans at a baseball game—where VV was pitching (!)—said how good she threw then spoiled it by adding "for a girl." I didn't even know that she played ball. Anyway, she got mad at them but madder at herself because she wanted people to mistake her for a boy whenever she struck out. VV said she could throw and catch and field but couldn't hit "worth shit." Sorry. VV liked to cuss, which 'looks' bad when it's written but when she talked it 'sounded' natural. Or maybe I got used to it; VV cussed a lot.

I'm not changing the subject, though. The subject is my you-know-what and how come it got big when VV was playacting nurse. The prison's Staff Psychologist said that people sick in bed often get erections and that mine was not abnormal necessarily. What had I been thinking or imagining was what she wanted to know? Nothing in particular, I said, which must have disappointed her. Doctor (don't use her real name) Turnip (don't use a stupid one, either) Summerville used to shake her head whenever I'd tell her stuff. She'd say, "Seymour, after you, they must've broken the mold." I guess she meant I didn't answer questions the way she expected.

 

The shower Seymour took helped clear his head and made him feel half human. Should he go to work or call in sick again were the choices he pondered; VV's serving him tea, reading him Batman, sitting now in a chair she had positioned next to his freshly plumped up pillow, posed such a cozy convalescence he was powerless to resist. Crossing to the closet with a bath towel around his loins, another draping his torso (thus modestly concealed), Seymour put on pajamas then climbed back into bed, content beyond his capacity to express it... save to close his eyes and sigh—an exhalation pregnant with consummate serenity.

Sleep was quick to follow; Seymour's spawned a dream:

 

We were at the seashore, VV and I, dressed in our altogether on account of it being so warm. Even the water was warm, so it couldn't have been near San Francisco. Except it looked like Red Rock, which is just up the coast. Pelicans flew over the waves in tight formation like the Blue Angels without the noise. It seemed like they were skimming the way their wings almost touched the surf. Seagulls flapped around, also, but they went every which-way. People were playing Frisbee; they were naked, too. Nobody felt embarrassed, I guess, so we didn't either. I said, "Let's make a sandcastle," but VV said no; she wanted to make a dragon. "Who ever heard of a sand-dragon," I asked? VV answered, "Precisely." That's how come I thought it might be real; VV talked like VV. Even when we did it, sculpted a dragon out of driftwood, rocks, shells, and sand, things looked pretty normal. But then came the flying part; that's when things got strange.

 It started off when VV wanted to ride me like an elephant. We were both sweaty and sandy so first we washed off, then I got down on all fours and VV straddled my neck. She's real little but I'm not very big so it wasn't too comfortable. Especially when she grabbed a hold of my ears and used them to steer. "Ungawa," she kept shouting, pretending to be Tarzan. Suddenly it was just the two of us; the beach was totally empty. The ocean went calm as a lake but there were storm clouds overhead; it stopped being sunny.

My hands and knees were getting sore and my neck was killing me so VV said I could be a lion, instead. She shifted to my back, squeezing my ribs between her legs and using my hair, this time, to steer. We weren't going anywhere, really, just following the water's edge, with VV calling me "Simba," and yanking on my so-called 'mane.' The sky turned purple at this point and it got windy. Breakers began to form.

"Pegasus," VV yelled, "You're now a horse!" And I was! I was a horse with wings. My hands didn't feel like hands anymore, and I was taller, not down on my knees. In fact, I couldn't see my hands and feet at all; I had hooves, instead.. And my backside felt something swishy, which must have been a tail. "Up," cried VV, "Up, up and away!" like I was Silver and she was the Lone Ranger, but instead of galloping on the beach we were soaring toward the clouds, thunder and lightning and hailstones all around us. CRASH, BANG, BOOM, the sound was deafening, really exciting but also scary. VV was hollering something but the gale drowned it out. Then, like a whisper underneath all the noise, VV's voice came clear.

"Seymour, I have to go now."

She smooched me on the cheek.

I missed work, which got me into trouble, but it sure was worth it. Believe you me, I'd never, ever had such an action-packed snooze!

 

 

His cold having run its course, his memory of Violetta's visit gone hazy—her tending him, his hasty shamefaced shower, and the strange tempestuous dream commingling in his mind like a based-on-a-true-story fairytale, Seymour waited for his email (and reiterative prompt: "jpeg finished") to incite VV's answer. Of course, he could have attached VIOLETTA LADY, forgoing the recipient's in-person response, but that would have left him guessing, and, worst of all, worrying lest VV take offence. The more he looked at his handiwork, the thicker grew his doubts. Perhaps the projection's nakedness was too risqué, thus inappropriate for a minor. Except that VV had bared her breasts in front of him, with nary a bashful twinge. He hadn't 'enhanced' the image, as was his wont, but maybe the perky nipples and dumpling-esque pubes were improperly provocative. Adding underpants and a bra somehow seemed perverse. Seymour liked the candor of full frontal nudity; it fit both VV's personality and the purpose of the piece, which was, after all, to provide a sneak-peek preview of Violetta's bosom. It wouldn't suit to clothe it, yet what would people think? Seymour, for the very first time, anticipated trouble.

 

 

Rather late, wouldn't you say? Not that any intimate behavior fares well in court. Imagine, for a moment, how play-by-play accounts—of acts that two consenting adults might engage in—would sound to a magistrate, Jeff and Patty Grimes a good case in point. Legal sex—yours, mine, Starkey's alone in his shower—reads raw in transcript. Which is not to exonerate illegal sex and its twisted practitioners. Submit for psychoanalysis Seymour's documented dream and dollars to doughnuts PEDOPHILE pops up in typeface underscored BOLD. He neglected to mention the feel of that little girl's spread-legged 'cunt'—a word he wouldn't use because he's such a 'goody-two-shoes.' Thankfully you, dear Reader, like the judge who passed Starkey's sentence, recognize what a threat to society our 'antihero' posed. And poses still, I'll wager you'll decide, once you've read this 'true confession' to its controversial end.

How can I 'divine' this book ends controversially? The same way it is written before it is composed, or read before it is legible. The same way we are dead the instant we are born as a foregone conclusion. Cycles predetermine cycles. The serpent eats its tail.

 

 

"I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before Me."

Like most believers, Seymour's concept of Divinity had been implanted early, therefore deeply. All he knew about God was what he had been told when young, illiterate, and impressionable. Once he was older, able to read and write, and had learned that gullibility led to being made the butt of many a cruel joke, 'all he knew about God was what he had been told when young, illiterate, and impressionable'—albeit further embellished by lessons taught in Catechism class, wherein question and answer exercises were designed to impart religious dogma (and pass it off as truth), with memorization the centerpiece of an orbital process whereby prayers, commandments, hymns, liturgies et.al. ensured that the faithful maintained obedience, their critical faculties excluded or functionally put on hold. Apply not Reason to the tenets of one's Faith lest Reason refute God's very existence (and thus undermine the power of those who rule by fiat). Again, like most believers, Seymour's faith was dominated by notions never challenged; hence they looked childish when subjected to grownup scrutiny. What is an angel? Ask this of almost any adult (insist upon a comprehensive description) and the fairytale nature of his or her conception will become ludicrously clear—embarrassingly clear to those who live their secular lives perspicaciously. Ask this of Seymour Starkey and reap the following:

 

Angels live with God up in Heaven. They have wings that really work because angels can fly. That's how they got to Heaven in the first place; they flew. Satan and all his angels got their wings clipped for committing mortal sins. That's how come they fell and have to live forever down in Hell. Purgatory is a place in between where sinners have to wait—sometimes for an awfully long time—before they get forgiven and God let's them "ascend"; that means rise. Limbo is the place where babies go if they don't get baptized before they die. They float on clouds way up high. It's a lot nicer than Purgatory but not as nice as Heaven on account of God's not there. I wouldn't mind going to Limbo but I'll probably end up in Purgatory where it's almost as hot as Hell and you can only stand it because it's temporary. I've made Acts of Contrition, of course, to get my sins erased, but "Satan is forever busy," as the saying goes, and I still do bad things.

 

No; not the ones I said I did.

 

Maybe; if you'll write it exactly the way I tell it.

 

 

Contrary to what she told the "Principal of Vice," Violetta's home-life was far from "fine." True, Phil had ceased his most egregious assaults on his stepdaughter's person, having not laid a finger on her since landing that backhand to "the brat's" upper lip. Assaults on her psyche, however, had persisted, and, of late, grown perverse, due in part to the family's tight living quarters wherein walls were thin and sightlines unobstructed through doors left ajar—'their' bedroom door, in particular, affording VV the spectacle of Mom and Stepdad in flagrante delicto, the latter facing outward and catching the curious onlooker's disapproving glare; grinning, Phil was, as if gratified by the circumstance of his virility on display, winking when VV wanted to turn away but had forced herself to look, fascinated and repulsed by the reproductive coupling, hating him who was penetrating her mother like a boar impales a sow, grunts and squeals constrained but nonetheless audible (given the threshold's careless gape), souring the spectator's stomach with such severity as to make her truly nauseous, while Phil, with soundless enunciation, mouthed "Want some?" then climaxed—his subsequent lip-sync "You're next" cutting VV to the quick; whether actual or imagined, Stepdad's menace sent Violetta packing...

... out of the frying pan, into the fire of Seymour Starkey's lair.

 

knock knock-a-knock-knock, knock knock

Seymour (just to confirm) peered through the peephole and recognized VV's middle finger. With apprehensive haste—CLUNK—he opened his dead-bolted door, through which VV entered (witnessed by the top floor's nosiest tenant, a Guatemalan midwife who ducked-in down the hall: single, fortyish, matronly, immigration status undisclosed—who Seymour noticed; Violetta missed, bent as she was on pacing). CLUNK—the resounding deadbolt secured their not-so-secure collusion.

Once again it was evident that VIOLETTA LADY was not on her namesake's mind. Agitated-verging-on-hostile, the visitor fidgeted, all the while making a cage of her host's cramped environs.

"Can't you wear those pants like a normal human being?" Eying Seymour's trousers (hitched halfway to his armpits), VV paused long enough to redirect her rage. "You look like a skinny Tweedledom or Tweedledee in that reject of a uniform. They make you wear a 'bowtie' when you're guarding? What exactly do you guard in such a one-size-fits-none suit?"

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee

Wearing a tie was regulation; wearing a bowtie was acceptable, if a tad anachronistic; wearing pants well above the waist was merely for want of a belt, which Seymour had misplaced and for which he had been searching when VV's rap interrupted him—happily, despite her hypercritical mood, her 'manic' mood, if fitful pacing was symptomatic. 'Finding fault with others,' his Momma always said, 'was to hide faults of one's own.' This had been his shield. It often took a battering. Violetta's onslaught proceeded without quarter.

"Don't you ever clean this dump? The dust is inches thick. Yuck, and sticky, too! It coats this crap like lacquer." VV plowed a path through an assemblage of action hero toys, their poses fixed in place by a patina of gunk. "And what's with all this kid's stuff; clowns and puppets and masks and trolls? It's like some retard's romper room. Why don't you grow up?"

Unlike previous salvos, this one hit its mark. Seymour's happiness drained like blood from a ruptured artery. 'Retard' was the term that caused his heart to hemorrhage, squirm, shrink, and deplete his features of the flush instilled by VV's erstwhile comments, leaving him hollow, robbed of all vitality, ashen as a stillborn.

Self-concerned, Violetta kept up her siege, lashing, aiming at Seymour specifically, if plagued by another spur.

"I suppose you did a porn job on my portrait—yes, I got your emails—made me into a slut from one of your favorite websites. Well, I don't care about tits anymore. If mine don't grow, I'm glad. Who needs boys for ANYTHING! Boys are vulgar! They all turn into men! And men are filthy rotten assholes! Men like you! Who just want sex! I'm only nine years old, you Cretin, you Feebleminded Perv'! You don't like baseball; you don't like looking up words; you don't like reading books except your stupid comics. Why don't you just die here, all alone! I'll bet not a single person would care! I'll bet your mother wouldn't come to her Pinhead's fucking funeral!"

If neighbors left and right 'maybe' overheard this uproar, neighbors downstairs 'assuredly' did, and might have dialed 911 had the tirade lasted any longer, or had every sentence shouted been absolutely clear. Neither being the case, no one got involved.

Meanwhile, cowed by VV's ferocity while ignorant of its impetus, Seymour stammered a humble but earnest repudiation.

"I do too like baseball."

That did it, snapped Violetta out of her misdirected tantrum and made her blink into recognition the difference between Seymour and Phil, between the man she had befriended and the man she gravely feared—Phil, whose gross libido had sabotaged her mother, Phil whose innuendo and veiled an unchaste threat, and Phil whose subsequent denials would doom a true-blue confidante while depriving VV (as a broken-marriage casualty and troubled only-child) of him with whom she yearned to be reunited.

 

"Wayne, what can I do? She hates her father's guts… No, not yours; Phil's. The man has bent over backwards trying to engage her. You know how aloof Violetta tends to be. But everything Phil does or says or 'thinks' she takes the wrong way; on top of which she distorts or tells outright lies… No, I know; that's new; up until recently she was honest as a saint. After she disappeared, though… No he didn't; not on purpose. They were wrestling. She got hurt… Okay, he shouldn't have said it happened at school; VV rarely fights. With a tongue as sharp as hers, a few turns of phrase hurt worse than punches—though she's resorting more and more to some pretty crude profanity. We're wondering who she's emulating; Phil and I don't swear… Since founding our relationship on mutual respect… Oh? You'd be surprised how chivalrous 'blue collar types' can be. Let's not get into it; I've called because I'm worried about our maladjusted daughter. Someone, some adult I fear, is having an evil influence."

 

Seymour's wounded feelings were healed by a simple heartfelt hug, as Violetta buried her freckled face in his elevated waistline, arms around his middle, tears of pure contriteness dampening his fly (hoisted to navel level). At a loss when considering where to put his hands, Seymour laid them lightly over VV's bony scapulae, the place he imagined angels sprouted wings, and further imagined that VV's were daintily palpable. Having never had a younger sibling or a child to call his own, Seymour felt sensations from this caress that were altogether novel. A hum pervaded his arms, ribs, loins, and spine, spreading out like sound waves from an ultrasonic epicenter, VV's pulse perhaps the stimuli's tranquilizing source, for it served to imbue his anatomy with a remarkable surge of calm, both seductive and protective, as if filaments formed between them,  limbs contiguous with their torsos, weaving individual nerves into a cat's cradle network.

"Sorry, Seymour," Violetta murmured into the polyester pleats of his hiked up drawers, then felt the pressure increase, ever so gently, where his palms conjointly pressed. "I didn't mean it; any of it. The problem's not you, it's Phil."

 

"I think she saw us going at it."

"Who?"

"Who else; your daughter. Stood right there at the door..."

"We left it open!?"

"... like watching a DVD."

"You didn't think to cover us up, or to pause, or maybe cease?"

"I suppose I could have pulled out; wouldn't that have been worse? She caught us as I climaxed."

"Up my ass?!"

"All she saw was you with your back arched, me bringing up the rear."

"Good grief! Did she react; was she upset?"

"Violetta? Cold as ice. Or 'cool as a cucumber'—mine erupting 'wherever' it may or may not have been planted."

"This isn't funny, Phil. She maybe acts and talks like an adult, but she's a child and a none-too-stable one. Seeing things she shouldn't could have serious repercussions."

"Chances are she's seen much more than the peepshow we provided. Ever check her hard drive for sites that youngster surfs?"

"No; I trust she's prudent."

"As opposed to prudish (?), which she is not! Trust me; your girl-genius has no doubt seen it all."

 

"Wow! I'll really look like this by the time I turn eighteen?"

VV stared with wonderment at the jpeg on display, its resolution high, outlines crisp, mid-tones subtle, shadows dense, every technical aspect accomplished to perfection, inviting her to focus on the forecast in and of itself, flattering yet conceivable, 'almost' beautiful therefore real, fostering no illusions about supermodel attractiveness; Seymour, uncharacteristically, had included sundry 'flaws': freckles had been 'culled' but nonetheless were evident, alongside those superimposed on grownup fair-skinned extremities, in patterns mirroring VV's with awe-inspiring accuracy. Nothing short of wizardry could explain the details that transformed traits in-the-bud, as it were, into traits in-full-bloom. The mole near her left breast's nipple was an eerie example, retaining its dimension while proportions around it swelled, the fact of its inclusion ostensibly inexplicable, until VV recollected baring, once, her chest—though she might have been less brazen had its contours rivaled these, laudable less for bulk than for their bouncy brand of pertness that matched her disposition... if not her expectations. How could she play Triple A ball, share a locker room with her teammates, with boobs more akin to cupcakes than to the crepes she sported now? Suddenly Seymour's 'idyllic prognostication' was not so ideal.

"What if I took testosterone; could I keep my 'bean-pole' figure?"

"I thought you were worried that…"

"My tits would never sprout; I was. But now I'm worried about Fuckface Phil and his incestuous designs?"

"What does in...?"

"'Sex between relatives.' Cousins with cousins, brothers with sisters, mothers with sons, and fathers…"

"With daughters?"

"Very good, Dumbbell; you're finally keeping pace."

"But isn't Phil your stepfather?"

"Quite right; nix 'incestuous,' substitute 'lascivious,' meaning lustful—and, in his case, to excess. What I need is a reliable deterrent while I plot that Scumbag's downfall."

VV cocked her head and took a long dispassionate look at VIOLETTA LADY. How could it be used to facilitate her goal?

 

 

I think it might be apt to interject a caution. Seymour may be guileless but he has a rationale. I'm penning his narration, after all, for everyone's edification—meaning yours, mine, and his, yet Starkey is the only one of us who knows how the story goes. And something about its direction, at this stage, is making me ill-at-ease; the vilification of Phil strikes me as suspicious. Children typically mistrust stepfathers, especially if they're fond of the daddies they displace. VV's love for Wayne, though scarcely mentioned, presupposes prejudice with regard to the denigrated "Scumbag." I, for one, am inclined to cut McNulty a modicum of slack. It wasn't Phil on whom the State of California clamped a Global Positioning System.

 

 

VV sure was wowed when she saw herself growed (sic) up. Grown up...

(Stop that, Jack. I'm trying extra-special hard to say things properly. Please don't try to spoil it by making me sound dumb. I'd do as much for you—I promise I would—if you stood in my shoes.)

... Except she thinks that having to wear a bra might keep her off a team. VV loves to play baseball almost as much as using big words. She wants me to make a print—a really good one—which means "suitable for framing." I said, sure, but, if she showed it to her parents, they'd maybe get upset. She said, not to worry, just do it "discreetly," and she'd do the same. Believe you me, I was proud she wanted a copy. And I can have one, too, so long as there's—"deniability," VV calls it—wherever I get them made.

 

 

Even to the casual observer, Violetta Vickers' full-length nude morph would have spurred a double-take. Not because it looked like a child's head stitched to a grownup's body (regardless how imperceptible were its sutures) but rather because the figure, as a whole, was unsettlingly convincing. It either depicted a young woman with a remarkably immature face or a young child with a remarkably mature physique. And it flip-flopped in the manner of a line-drawn cube: one view hollow, one view solid; a girl, a maiden alternating—both providing a turn-on for the clerk at Giclee Prints.

"Dude... Dude... DUDE!"

"What?"

"Come and take a look at this."

"At what? I'm busy."

"No, you really have to look."

"I'm busy!"

"She's got a real sweet pussy. Just a wisp of hair. Orange; up top, as well. No kidding; she's a redhead."

"This better be good."

"See?"

"It's a fake."

"What do you mean 'It's a fake'? I blew it up; not a pixel misaligned. Isn't she hot?"

"If you're into fucking kindergartners."

"When have you ever seen a kindergartner with a pair of tits like that? If those were plums, I'd chew them, right off her 'speckled' chest; freckles, Dude! I'm a sucker for leopard-skinned ladies; give me a girl with spots."

"To each his own. Can I go back to work now?"

"Fine. Leave her to me. Guy ordered two. I've got dibs on engineering both."

 

 

What weighed most heavily on Seymour Starkey (alias Victor Vanderhoff, for the purpose of picking up the prepaid-in-cash prints) was how dull his life appeared to be whenever VV wasn't in it. Which was the vast majority of his regimental time. Having spent the greater portion of thirty odd years avoiding people prone to making fun of him, Seymour was contrarily enamored of VV's playful pestering, barging in at all hours, taxing him with idiosyncratic projects, intermittent traumas, and bizarre requests. By comparison, eating dinner, lunch, and breakfast (in that reverse order), brushing and flossing his teeth, showering every other day, shaving five days out of seven, the same five days he bussed to and from work where he guarded vacant buildings, for the most part, while circumventing a clique of Chatty-Cathy artists, were activities so routine they constituted anesthesia, a comatose state of ho-hum repetitiousness that numbed his world like Novocain. VV was the antidote, an injection of uncut adrenaline to which Seymour grew addicted, hence suffered serious withdrawal whenever her doing homework, playing baseball, hanging out with peers, or merely forgetting The Retard's marginal existence kept him from enjoying, savoring, and coveting the precocious youngster's company. Indifference—hers toward him—became the bane of Seymour's existence, loneliness serving to magnify his mental limitations. How could anyone so stupid hope to interest anyone so smart?

 

 

"Are you any good at drawing stuff, Nitwit? Other than with a mouse?"

Seymour had the day off—the night, that is—so whatever free time was designated 'his' was VV's by default. Another spanking administered by Phil had brought its recipient rapping. Huffing, puffing, snarling, snorting, and snickering, VV goose-stepped in, claiming "Adolf" was at it again, meaning "up to his filthy tricks," punishing her for "a pittance," she declared, paltry sums she had "deducted" from his wallet to "supplement" her "insufficient" income i.e. the allowance (still at double) she was hoarding to buy a next-generation I-Phone. "Mom," of course, had capitulated to the reinstated "mauling," deigning not to look (or to intercede) while Stepdad flailed away, "a good old-fashioned whupping" the only cure for such underhanded larceny, the beating fair enough but when he pried apart her cheeks—making sure, the Hardhat Chauvinist carped, that her "cherry" had stayed intact—Violetta vowed to repel him ever after. And, to this end, she intended to recruit her accommodating dupe."

"I can color. And I can stay inside the lines. Would that be any help for...?"

"What I have in mind? Possibly. Maybe we could make a stencil. Ever see those warning signs they put on hazardous materials?"

"Like triangles?"

"Yup, like triangles. Know what a coccyx is?"

He shrugged.

She turned.

"Here's mine." She pulled down her shorts. "This is where we're going to post our 'BETTER WATCH OUT' placard."

Seymour gaped at the tender spot and the twin half-moons beneath it.

"Is that what you want written: 'better watch out'?"

She hitched back up her drawers.

"Words to that effect. You with me or against me?"

 

 

Seymour, of course, acquiesced, and thereby turned the key of his San Quentin prison cell, his future home (once transferred from SF County Jail)—though acts not yet committed would determine 'for what duration,' and whether that key, in the Interest of Public Safety, should have been thrown away.

 

 

"VV, hold still."

The design upon which they had settled was an amber colored triangle with a black border, a three-blade propeller-like symbol, likewise black, centered inside, with the letters C.P.S., one letter per blade, superimposed in white—this latter feature a variation that Violetta reckoned would give her tormentor pause, and, just in case he needed the caution spelled out, Seymour was to write, in a rainbow arc, above: CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES plus the agency's REPORT-AN-ABUSE phone number.

To realize this 'tattoo,' with hard-edged precision, meaning 'clear-cut legibility,' VV lay face-down across Seymour's kitchenette table, her toes at one end, her head (supported by a pillow) at the other, her T-shirt rolled up to her ribs, her shorts and panties pulled down past her bum—atop which Seymour rested his wrist and forearm to steady his drawing-hand.

"Can't you go any faster, Slowpoke?"

"Not if you keep wiggling. We're using ink; it won't erase; I've got to be extra-special careful."

"Well, move that lamp up, will you? It's toasting my behind."

Seymour's arm was even hotter under the light he had rigged to shed one-hundred watts on the bare-skinned subject—its hue a trifle pink. Upon his hoisting the lamp a little higher, Violetta farted.

"Serves you right," she scoffed as Seymour fanned away the fumes. "You're lettering a 'sign,' not creating your magnum opus."

"My magnum what?"

"Your 'prime achievement as an artist,' Slughead; your 'masterpiece.'"

Seymour let this definition sink in.

"That was awfully smelly; what did you eat for lunch?"

"I 'skipped' lunch, Picasso, so you could autograph my ass. How's about you finish before I vent another stinker?"

What Seymour could not know, unless his taskmaster chose to tell him, was how his ministrations were making VV feel: ticklish, at first; tattoos self-inscribed versus those rendered by someone else triggered a fit of giggles she had been hard-pressed to restrain, until a new sensation overtook her. Deeper, much less giddy stimulation, sent a drone throughout her loins—not unlike the type induced by energetic swinging, yet subtler, demanding scarcely any effort from her (beyond keeping it to herself), its passive nature, in fact, intensifying the pleasure as it toyed with her perception of responses linked to sex, a connection immaturity still held at bay, details vague, yet one that tapped a root in VV's outstretched body, inciting rhythmic quivers at a source she could not name—sustained the while her flesh and each Sharpie pen point shared confidential contact.

"There. Finished."

"Finally! Show me in the mirror."

Seymour had transported a full-length mirror from his bathroom door and leaned it against the kitchenette's sink for periodic checks, Violetta insistent upon proctoring his progress—while issuing commands by way of encouragement. Looking over her shoulder, she now appraised their work (accounting for its reflection, which displayed the icon backwards). Pleased with the result, VV was reluctant to see the tattoo draped.

"It's a shame that no one will see this... other than Filthy-minded Phil, the person I want least to be ogling my posterior. Do you think it'll do the trick, put a damper on his sex drive?"

Seymour studied the sign, then VV's naked fanny—struck for the second time by its compact, half-pint charm, her exposing it initially to exhibit the so-called "coccyx" (a term as unfamiliar as its arm's-length proximity) had excited a reaction of which he felt ashamed, one that now revisited (in the guise of a guilty hard-on), advising him to be led not into temptation, to ask the Lord's forgiveness, and henceforth to 'avoid the near occasions of sin.'

 

 

"Amen. You touched her, right? Her panties were down? You admit to getting a boner? And now you expect us to believe that nothing 'worse' took place? She gathered up her pens and toddled off home downstairs?

Listen, Starkey, cut the crap. 'Oral sex performed on a minor under the age of ten.' Ring a bell? Wasn't that a charge to which you plead 'no contest'? When did that despicable act take place? I don't mean to rush you; tell us what you did in your own sweet time; but do include the x-rated truth whenever applicable—which must have been more often than you've deigned to divulge thus far. You're either stalling or sanitizing. Neither suits my purposes. Readers want an exposé, a glimpse at the mind of a pedophile—with all the lurid particulars such a prurient peep affords. Most of what you've told us could be classified as 'quaint,' and 'quaint' does not a child-molester's inside-story sell."

 

 

I'm supposed to hurry up and talk about the bad stuff. That's what happened with the judge when my case was heard in court but not in front of a jury. You only get a jury trial if you plead innocent. Then witnesses get called, sometimes lots, and that takes time and costs money. Lawyers like it better when their clients say, 'I did it,' so they can decide 'did what' and how long you spend in jail. I 'almost' got sentenced to twenty years, the amount I 'could' have served if a jury had found me guilty, but I got mine reduced on account of I cooperated. I also got out sooner because of 'good behavior' and because Doctor Summerville determined I was 'no longer a threat to society.' I never felt like a threat to society but I was glad she thought I'd improved. Prison isn't a place that makes many people better.

Anyway, this is not about punishment; it's only about certain crimes, the ones I said I did but never got the chance to tell about.

 

 

Intrigued by the structure Phil had likened to a cherry, VV did some research, starting with definitions: 3a: HYMEN  b: VIRGINITY, and ending with a thorough self-examination, to uncover "a fold of mucous membrane partly closing the orifice" of her vagina, disturbing, in this process, another point of interest, which took but a superficial touch to agreeably arouse. More research, additional definitions, and a concentrated course of intimate trial and error, rewarded Violetta with a replay of sensations that awakened her eroticism fully, culminating—presto—in the most ecstatic yet... which advocated further (and frequent) variations, PLEASURE the end pursued and consistently achieved, all endeavors 'other' left wanting for attention (with one indulgent episode secretly observed).

Using her Cabbage Patch doll's head for a fulcrum, VV lay atop it, face downward, elbows tucked along her ribs, knees apart only slightly and poised as if to flex, her posture that of an inchworm disinterested in progress, but very much bent on going through the motions at a palpitating pace: respiration breathy, pulse pronounced, pores percolating sweat, focus so transfixed she failed to notice her bedroom door crack open, or the sliver of light that illumined her concentrated shenanigans; and she surely didn't notice him who squinted through the fissure with an unbecoming eye, rapt by the titillating sight of a masturbating pre-teen, tempted, were the youngster less of a tattletale, to offer her some help, substitute his tongue for whatever she was grinding, or introduce his prick to her undeveloped twat...

Too late; the brazen bitch had climaxed with a shudder and a yelp. So much for the myth that 'tweens' were pre-orgasmic. Phil had reconnoitered that his spouse's smartass daughter was a nymphet-in-the-making who, with a mentor's patient intercession, could slake the fiercest thirst for dewdrop sexuality; his, for instance, which VV had detected before their first imbroglio, when Phil hit on his stepchild; later he merely hit her, as in spanked her, as in showed her who was boss; if she didn't want to be 'allies,' she'd regret their being enemies… not that he would ever act on any of his impulses. Men who victimized children, Phil considered to be wimps. Yet 'perceiving' kids as sexy was a far cry from 'molesting' them. 'Thinking' was not 'doing.' Manly thoughts were coarse. Manly men who were civilized, however, managed to behave. Especially in the presence of a cultivated-wife—a single-mother-cultivated-wife, in Sophie's case. She and Wayne (the faggot) conceived VV out-of-wedlock. Never told her, either, or bothered to tie the knot. Legally, then, Phil was Sophie's first husband. Yet Violetta 'inherited' her genetic father's surname. Sophie had used it, too, while 'pretending' to be legitimate; "for appearances sake," she explained. The truth was she had hedged. As had Wayne Paul Vickers, though eventually he proposed. Sophie turned him down. Which must have pissed him off royally; big shot architect, rolling in dough at the time, condo in Bermuda or some such pretentious place, Menses Society member… Big fucking deal; if the queer was such a genius, how come he lost his job? Bightboy merely 'conceptualized' houses; Phil actually built them. Brightboy was unemployed (living on savings, while sponging off some orthopedic surgeon he'd met up in Seattle); whereas Phil was holding his own, bringing home 'half' the bacon (Sophie, working her ass off as an underpaid paralegal, earning the remainder) and still they lived like paupers in one of the city's 'funkiest' neighborhoods. Because children (one or a litter) were prohibitively expensive! And Sophie's baggage, Violetta, was costlier than most—if not in actual dollars, in 'fatherly' frustration. Imagine courting an incredibly sultry redhead while coping with her 'prodigy'—a nine-year-old, with a mind like George Bernard Shaw's, who looked askance at any and every suitor, accepted none, mean-mouthed most, and leveled her green-eyed glare with ultra-snide malevolence at the only man among them willing to take her on, willing to suffer the daughter to screw her horny mom, willing to marry the unwed down-to-earth coppertop and endure her stuck-up minx… whose post-orgasmic languor was begging to be invaded, whose little bunched-up rump (though fully clothed) still trembled in the aftermath; whatever fueled the sexpot's self-abuse hovered like a dialog bubble that Stepdad could not read, its text perhaps too cryptic or its language so abstruse that Phil felt both excluded and mildly intimidated, emotions he experienced often in the brainy bastard's space, Violetta's wit as off-putting as her tush was provocative. Would he act on impulse, claim her hymen for himself, warp her to his will by dint of a Stepdad's authority? With the question unresolved and the stripe of light extinguished, Phil, having reclosed the door, skulked away muttering.

 

 

"Absolutely not!"

"How come?"

"I can't afford to be seen with you."

Seymour took this badly, sadly, his hangdog look betraying an on-the-inside wound.

"Not because you're a retard, Thickwit. It's Mr. Cunningham's cunning that's put me on my guard."

"But what has Mr. Cunningham got to do you playing with baseball?"

Seymour wanted to watch while VV pitched a game. And not just any old game, for despite her dismal batting average, Violetta Vickers had been named to the Inner City Youth Baseball League All-Stars—an honor further meritorious by the fact that she would 'start.' Mom would "try to be there"; Phil would "give it a pass"; that left Seymour Starkey as her solo sure-show fan, if and only if

·         he pretended not to know her.

"Check."

·         sat on the opposition's side.

"Check."

·                        dressed in neutral clothing that would not draw undue attention.

"Check."

·                        and covered his goofy hair and super-goofy eyes—which meant crossing his heart and hoping to die if he failed to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses.

"Check, check."

·         and kept them on throughout.

"I promise!"

"Okay, you can come. 1pm next Saturday, Silver Terrace Sport Park, Diamond Number One."

 

 

VV's stepped-up studies cum extracurricular activities added to her word-stock a plethora of terms. From Autoerotic to Zygote, she memorized definitions. Aureole, Buttocks, Clitoris; each body-part had a name, and most had capabilities she was eager to investigate, given the just desserts of erstwhile explorations. Benefits recorded and pleasure pathways mapped, a crop of new tattoos appeared on her anatomy, rendering Violetta a 3-D Technicolor diagram (as far as she could reach), her privates serving as palette and erogenous playground both—jeopardized and enhanced by twice-daily showers, meaning soap was as much a lubricant as it was a liability.

Exiting from one such masturbatory cleansing, VV patted-dry, and though this action left no ink on her towel it did suggest that outlines ought to be renewed, a time-consuming operation she was happy to perform when neither Mom nor Nemesis clamored for the bathroom. Unannounced (and of course uninvited) the latter now barged in.

"Whoa; what have we here?"

Her move to cover up, though quick, had not been quick enough to prevent Phil's getting an eyeful. Shocked by his very presence (home from work early, evidently) and frightened by the smell of liquor she detected on his close-quarters breath, VV made a beeline for the sanctuary of her room, a survival strategy as futile as it was inopportune, affording Phil a glimpse at her backside in retreat, which prompted him to lumber, in a none-too-straight pursuit, and to disregard her insubstantial effort to bar forced entry.

 

 

The big day arrived to find Seymour in the stands, in disguise, and in a state of heightened excitation about seeing Violetta under normal, natural circumstances. A better day for baseball could not have been contrived. Sun had won its 'am' battle with San Francisco's fog, an aftermath of briskness keeping cool the air, backs and shoulders grateful for the 'pm' rays of warmth. A sweatshirt—ready to be shed but not quite yet—was the best attire; for spectators, that is. Players were comfortable in their various uniforms (no single team permitted to field more than three All-Stars each), with little worry that hands, due to cold, would suffer painful shocks at cracks of the bat—or "pings" of the bat, Louisville Sluggers converted from wooden to aluminum.

A Giants cap pulled low by its brim, Ray-Bans shielding his eyes, generic jeans and T-shirt, nondescript belt, Converse sneakers, white cotton socks, and a navy-blue un-zippered jacket (sans decals) labeled Seymour Starkey "Mister Anonymous." He would go unnoticed. Provided he behaved. Meaning no spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm for VV or her team—fans of which were seated beyond the opposite All-Stars' dugout (a bench half-caged by an open-ended section of chain-link fence). Turf, at Silver Terrace Sport Park, was artificial. Markings therefore were clearly drawn and permanent, delineating batter's box, foul lines, on-deck circles, coaches' boxes, and pitcher's plate—all painted flush onto a slightly spongy surface that shed tiny rubber pellets. The pitcher's 'mound' was flat. Home plate, too, was integral to the diamond, but bases were traditional 3-D canvas squares that sat (for safety reasons) unattached.

With players amassed and asked to arrange themselves on the field, introductions were made for each team's starting line-up, Violetta Vickers, inexplicably, not among those named. Nor was she an alternate. Nor a bystander. Nor anywhere to be seen. Seymour scanned the faces of everyone in attendance. Then he scanned the grounds, then the bordering street. As far as he could see, through his disappointment's shroud, the Capp Street Cracker Jacks' ace was absent-without-leave. Missed by anyone else? Had he gotten the date wrong, the time, the venue? No; three Cracker Jacks were represented—though none was announced as the starting pitcher. True, he had not seen Violetta since she had given him 'the go.' True, she had not emailed, texted, or cell-phoned. Maybe she was ill or injured? Or couldn't get a ride? Concern overcrowded Seymour's exaggerated letdown. Then, as covertly as he had come, he left the crowd behind.

 

 

Instead of swinging a bat, Violetta sat swinging. Instead of pitching a ball, she pitched back and forth, then twisted the chains above her… braiding them… When she let them go she spun… unwinding with a jolt… her legs like a ragdoll's. Twisting the chains again, in the other direction, she wound them even tighter… let them go… and spun… the jolt more wrenching this time when the chains reverted to parallel… momentum insufficient for them to wind themselves… her incentive unapparent… her disposition glum… her downcast features deadpan—if expressive in their abject expressionless-ness—the fact of their being fixed indicative of some void, that left an echo where glee once dwelt, cast a shadow over brightness, and drained indomitable vigor to its desiccated dregs. Robbed by what, by whom, her gloom kept undisclosed.

 

Mrs. Grimes was quick to note the change in her smartest pupil. Physically speaking, VV's arms and legs were devoid of 'graffiti.' No slogan, epithet, or pictograph marred the youngster's pasty skin—pallid irrespective its surfeit of freckles. In fact, her freckles looked faded, like she had tried to scrub them off. Yet the flesh that showed, far from appearing cleansed, bore a waterlogged paleness, as if it had soaked overlong in the confines of a tub. Another visible alteration was the lipstick VV wore. Make-up was discouraged, at school, but not per se forbidden. Mrs. Grimes could not recall Violetta ever having worn any. Today, however, in vivid contrast to her colorless complexion, VV's lips were scarlet.

Psychologically speaking, the redhead seemed depressed. This was more pronounced than her meretricious mouth (which uttered only uncommunicative monosyllables). The aura encircling VV had gone from spirited to bleak. Like a star when it expires, her luminosity had contracted, flickering now and then, yet on the verge of dying out.

Instead of welcoming one less source of classroom aggravation (Violetta's funk, if that's what it was, having tranquilized her contentiousness), Patty Grimes regretted her student's impassivity. It reminded her of a famous prizefight stopped when one of its contestants cried "No mas, no mas" and his corner man threw in the towel. Patty loved a good scrap—between worthy adversaries (recent scuffles with Jeff having tweaked her taste for combat, hand-to-hand, fist-to-fist skirmishes wherein anal rings had undergone mutual infiltration, abusive and erotic, as sphincter muscles strained, struggling to contain either party's 'punch,' tender tissues stretched then lustily contracted with colonic fervor, hers, compared to his, elastically capacious, his, compared to hers, inflating an erection that Patty bade him force past the glottis of her throat, where spastic peristalsis swallowed his spurting cum).

Inappropriate subtext though the teacher's might be deemed (a classroom is not a bedroom and neither should overlap), how find fault with a person's private thoughts if actions fail to follow? Patty Grimes, regardless her raunchy sex life, noticed her student's depression, wanted to remediate, and to that end asked VV to "stay, please" after school. "No, you're not being punished"; compliance would be "voluntary."

But when the final bell rang and class en masse was dismissed—her peers filing out with nary a backward glance—VV rose, gathered her books, wedged them under her arm, and mimed the words 'No thank you' upon making her somber exit...

 

... proceeding home to the solace of her solitary swing... setting aside her schoolwork... buttocks hugged by the seat... she twisted the chains above her… braiding them… When she let them go she spun… unwinding with a jolt… her legs like a ragdoll's. Twisting the chains again, in the other direction, she wound them even tighter… let them go… and spun… the jolt more wrenching this time when the chains reverted to parallel… momentum insufficient for them to wind themselves… every repetition like a trance-inducing mantra... numbing dread emotions (?) disengaging hateful thoughts (?) separating spirit from bodily desecration (?) twisting... spinning... twisting... spinning... lost in a dizzy vortex wherein memories fond and foul released disruptive sway and lulled their liberated captive into self-subscribed forgetfulness.

Thus it was that Seymour happened upon his friend.

 

"VV, you alright?" He knew she was not. He took a step, then froze... wary lest she scold him for approaching her in public. Nobody else was about, but windows equaled eyes, and drapes like lids were open throughout the surrounding complex. Better wait for the go-ahead than to hazard getting thumped. Perhaps she hadn't heard him; except he knew she had. The world was closing in on her, he sensed, like a winding sheet of mesh, porously un-protective, insecurely snug, promising insulation while delivering frigid solitude—happenstances Seymour felt he knew too well.

"I looked for you at the baseball game."

She dangled—no response—her toes in contact with a section of cement directly under the swing, just enough to anchor her apathetic motion, former spins reduced to a sluggish side to side, her list resembling a lifebuoy when the surrounding sea has lapsed into temporary doldrums.

Seymour took another step closer, like a man draws near a squirrel, conscious he had nothing with which to feed it but making the gesture anyway, perchance to narrow the gap between himself and something wild, wild and possibly wounded, potentially dangerous (?); DO NOT TOUCH was manifest as emphatically as one of VV's signs (though no 'tattoos' were visible), warning one-and-all that distance had best be kept. Getting 'thumped' was likely to be the least a transgressor might expect. Seymour, scared that VV was mad at him, exercised ultra caution.

"Want some soup? I'll go heat it up. It's chilly here in the shade. 'The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.' That's what Mark Twain said once. Ever read Huckleberry Finn? I did. In the original, not just the comic book. I could lend you a copy. Or we could read it together? Anyway, I'm going in, now, to eat some chicken noodle soup. Come on up, if you're hungry. Whenever you like."

Enacting his retreat as might a rebuffed stranger—Violetta's body language hardly suggesting otherwise—Seymour left the playground for his overlooking perch...

 

... from which he surveyed (having set the soup to simmer, its surface no more animated than...) the brooder down below, whose molecules (too) might be moving, heating, as memories reconvened, soon to bubble up in fiery agitation.

 

 

Chances are Phil only made her bathe. The man was tipsy, but he wasn't incapacitated. Stepdads get short shrift when it comes to understanding pressures certain situations foster. We have yet to learn the details; Seymour wasn't there, and Violetta's objectivity is doubtless unreliable. Charges she might level (bear in mind her sworn objective) could be slanted or exaggerated or altogether false. Which is not to say I'm taking sides; I'm neutral, demonstrably impartial. If Phil did more than discipline his stepchild, it shall be revealed. Truth, whether garnered or extrapolated, is an author's raison d'être.

That said, I think it's becoming obvious what Starkey is up to. Phil is Satan incarnate; Seymour's the Angel Gabriel. 'Chicken noodle soup,' 'milk and cookies'? The next thing you know he'll be plying Violetta with homemade apple pie. Maybe Seymour's not as dumb as he looks—or I'm not nearly as shrewd as I'd like to take credit for. It was I who had to talk Starkey into spilling his guilty guts; I hooked him. But it's feeling more and more like the fish is playing the angler. In my back-bending effort to be fair, I may have overdone it, by letting Seymour prejudice the Reader with his simpleminded schmaltz.

And having said that, how to square it with my underlying assertion that this book already 'is,' that I found it fully written, despite its pages' 'seeming' blankness, and that I know (as surely as you know—being free to skip ahead) everything that happens unto the story's finale? It could be argued, I suppose, that once conceiving a cast of characters, an author merely records how they 'inevitably' behave; set the scene, and actors will, on cue, perform their given roles. Invention or precognition? Does a writer 'imagine' the prose, or does it proceed of itself, once the seed has been planted? And, like a chestnut does not a maple tree grow, does each seed predetermine the ultimate offshoot, bringing into fruition only features of a kind?

One more 'aside,' if the Reader will forbear, is that I continue to write left-handed while 'composing' or 'transcribing' this a priori work-in-progress. If nothing else, my dexterity has improved (speed, alas, still lags) but something more significant may have been 'emancipated'—a psychosomatic phenomenon in reverse, whereby emotions are being influenced by a physical 'aberration' with 'Mister Bad Hand,' at long last, flexing his stunted 'inner child.'

 

 

"All I did was toss her in the tub and scour off her nonsense. I might have been a little rough; she fought like a shrew. This constant moping around of hers, though, is strictly VV pouting. I'm the villain always; she's always in the right—which I'm frankly sick and tired of. Why not ship her off to Wayne, for a while, let Brightboy cope with his 'brainchild'?"

"Wayne is not a fit father."

"So you've told me, many times before. But Deadbeat Dad is getting off too easily; he doesn't pay a nickel of child support. Meanwhile, we stay poor, constantly having to 'update' your daughter—who's worth her weight in software."

"Most of what she asks for..."

"Is crap she doesn't need. Gadgets have undermined know-how, in this culture. Kids can't make, or, Heaven forbid, fix a single thing they own. They're all thumbs, figuratively and literally, competent to text-message and test-message only. Ask them how stuff works and all they can say is 'Huh(?).'"

"What did she 'tattoo' that got you so upset?"

"The usual; foul language and stick-figure hieroglyphics. Why we—you—let her deface herself is why she treats you so smugly and me like… What's her favorite slur; 'A steaming piece of excrement'? I laid down the law; ALL TATTOOING STOPS. What we're seeing now is her retaliatory sulk. Trust me, Sophie, she'll get over it. Let the spoiled brat stew."

 

 

knock knock-a-knock-knock, knock knock

The child awaiting Seymour's customary "Who's there?" was not VV; smaller almost shrunken, liveliness subdued (not unlike a colt prematurely broken) the child outside was VV's incarnation as a refugee of herself, who neither flipped him the bird nor prowled like a cooped-up cougar, upon entering, but rather sat on a pillow she placed carefully on the floor, her back supported by one dusty corner's junction where the brick walls met, from which she could see as much of the premises as any site allowed.

Seymour, glancing down the corridor, apprehended no one. Reassured, he closed and bolted his door—CLUNK—the sound, though certainly familiar, making Violetta flinch. Sensing that soup was not his visitor's foremost goal, Seymour crossed to the kitchenette's stove and turned off its burner, then rejoined his less-than-sociable guest, sitting alongside. For several minutes both observed an undeclared hiatus… sympathetically shared if silently self-contained… each eventually giving voice to personal concerns.

"How come you decided not to pitch but didn't let me know?"

"Do you believe in Santa Claus, Seymour?"

Thrown by Violetta's question in lieu of an answer (the statements were unrelated, as far as he could tell), Seymour dropped his query to concentrate on hers.

"I used to, when I was little."

"Not anymore, though?"

He paused, reluctant to be the source of a child's disillusionment. If VV had her doubts, far be it from him to add confirmation. Following her example, he answered with a question.

"Do you believe in Ol' St. Nick?"

"Not since I was three. That's when I did the computation. Too many chimneys divided by insufficient time equaled someone wasn't telling me the truth. I stopped asking Santa Claus for things and started asking God."

"God's a better listener."

"But gives no better odds for getting what you want."

Seymour had no ready explanation for what he, too, had experienced, every time he petitioned the Lord Almighty for even humble favors, let alone praying, with absolute solemnity, for Jesus to make him smart. Not as smart as VV was, of course, but smart enough to pass, smart enough to 'think on his feet' and not get left behind.

"Maybe, what you’re asking for, God doesn’t want to give."

This had been Seymour's conclusion after countless prayers unanswered; intelligence, as a gift, would forever be denied. This was not a conclusion Violetta would accept—though she, perhaps, was praying for something less ennobling. Whatever the specifics, Seymour dared not pry. Violetta ‘Volatile’ might well have been a sobriquet (had he looked the adjective up) that described her present aspect ('sedate,' 'morose,' and 'rueful' might equally apply), for under her despondency, VV’s rage was smoldering. Poke it and beware; the threat was dark and dire. Seymour, seated in close proximity, winced, then winced again. Murderous was the mood that VV’s mien projected. Woe be unto anyone on whom it might be trained.

"Is there really a Hell, or is that a fable, too?"

Once again, Seymour balked at VV's blunt question. Like toddlers playing in a sandbox, he and she, though sharing space, appeared to be absorbed in parallel cogitations.

"God is not a fable. There’s a Heaven and there’s a Hell; there’s even a place called Purgatory, and a stranger one called Limbo."

"So where do children go if they do filthy dirty things because they’re forced to?"

Seymour’s sidelong glance got arrested by VV’s level gaze—her eyes at once expectant and guardedly hostile, anxious to hear an answer yet liable to dispute it.

"If someone has to do bad stuff on account of being forced to, it’s almost like they didn’t do bad stuff at all."

"So where do they get sent?"

Seymour, feeling on the hotspot, was afraid to get it wrong. Who was he to judge what The Lord Thy God might do? But without at least a notion about Divine response to sin, how conduct oneself in a manner deemed commendable, and thereby stave off punishment and reap one's just reward? Given his understanding of an Afterlife and its Realms (programmed rather than learned via dogma, tall-tales, and aphorisms), Seymour struggled to intuit how God Himself would rule.

"Limbo," he asserted with a pretense of authority—braced for VV’s predictably terse reply.

"Why?"

"Limbo’s where the babies go, the ones that don’t get baptized. They can’t go up to Heaven but it’s mean to make them suffer. Instead they stay in a beautiful place, except it’s missing God, where everybody lives in peace, happily ever after."

"Sounds like elves at the North Pole."

"Huh?"

Considering the source, VV took this description with a heavy grain of salt, yet she nonetheless reasoned: if stupid people believed in God, did that cast doubt on God's existence? If stupid people believed in gravity, did the ground give up its hold? VV's answer to both was a perspicacious 'no.' And Limbo did sound attractive. Not that she liked babies. But 'happy' babies were a lot less apt to cry or poop and pee their pants; Limbo babies might not even need diapers. Implausible as the prospect seemed, inane as were the particulars, VV wanted there really to be a place where every wrong got righted, where good deeds got rewarded, and where wholesome kindness reigned. She also wanted there to be a place where evil-doers roasted—nonstop—especially those who overpowered the weak and imposed their wicked will, then threatened to do unspeakable things if their victims ever tattled.

"Just get me to limbo."

Seymour raised his brows, lips drawn into a noncommittal line with corners upturned comically.

"You bet I would, but it isn't up to me. Where a soul gets sent is up to…"

"Ol' St. Nick?"

Seymour changed expressions, affecting a pseudo-scowl, well aware that VV's flip irreverence was a ploy to get his goat, glad to see her cynical sense of humor partially revive.

"You look awfully pale. How's about that soup?"

 

Were Phil to acknowledge any deep-seated yen for subjecting immature privates to acts adjudged 'obscene,' it might be admitting his delight in performing cunnilingus, enhanced tenfold when his partner's pliant pubes had been waxed or closely shaved. Thus all the more rhapsodic if there were no hair to begin with?

To nuzzle such a nubile organ, to engulf it with his mouth, to insinuate his tongue and lap at zones erogenous, savoring the sap, once tapped, encouraging its flow, gratified by the undeniable fact that a nine-year-old could climax, could ooze in contradiction to her disingenuous protests, could squirm with spastic quivers irrespective fear embedded by a merciless depiction of adverse consequences should she:

A. keep resisting,

B. disallow future trysts, and

C. tell a solitary soul about what was done to her or how she must reciprocate

was behavior Phil forbore, when push came to shove.

Amazing, though, how the body could overrule (or try to) restrictions placed by conscience, shutting out shame and scruple when genitalia got involved...

bent on pure sensation like the breakthrough gasp of tissue that admitted, with delicious tightness, skin turned livid, flesh turned hard, throbbing with a pounding pulse so thoroughly invasive that the pain induced intensified both the penetrator's pleasure and the 'penetratee's' alarm, filled the former with unprecedented lust and the latter with viral semen that infected when injected, that despoiled what had been chaste, and left a slippery-slimy legacy of innocence-corrupted…

or would have, Phil conceded, had he gratified his urge, an allegation none, to date, had avowed.

 

 

Okay, okay; it doesn't look good, I admit, for Phil McNulty. But thoughts, I repeat, are not actions. Words don't constitute deeds. Fantasies are merely figments to which everyone is entitled—though Phil's subconscious maybe steps across some fundamental line that separates 'normalcy' from 'psychosis,' and therefore makes us cringe. And clamor for his arrest. And insist that he be jailed. And maybe advocate castration as the only deterrent that would keep our children safe. Or maybe we should execute the fucker and call it one less problem! Sex offenders are pernicious, prone to recidivism, and never to be trusted. Sex offenders are anathema, walking libido-bombs villainously ticking. Defuse them, chop off their balls, and don't be overly squeamish about making a few mistakes. Collateral damage, in their case, is perfectly acceptable—provided we eradicate the worst of the worst. Whether Phil or Seymour or both abused Violetta, may your gavel fall decisively!

 

Patty and Jeffrey Grimes had matriculated, that is moved from belts and neckties to harnesses and whips. Owing to their respective work schedules (Jeffrey often stayed late and came home exhausted; Patty nightly graded papers and labored over lesson plans, neither task conducive to being 'in the mood') 'sessions,' as the couple called them, typically were initiated shortly after dawn, when Jeff awoke with a reliable piss-proud hard-on that Patty craved to soothe... slowly... sometimes excruciatingly slowly... preserving it with a cock ring... cutting off the exit route for its pent-up store of pee, which likewise shut off ejaculate, both emissions competing, with alternating urgency, for immediate release... anywhere and everywhere... depending upon the orifice Patty's bindings might display... mouth or cunt or ass, it really didn't matter; yes, it did, so long as one got the job done, and got it done fast... except 'fast' was not the object of these elaborate forms of intercourse, that both participants wished to prolong, to sustain, to make excitement tremble on a teeter-totter edge... and then to pass, at last, onto points of no return for each imminent orgasm... climaxes cresting, breaking simultaneously, two become one... just in time for a riptide to drag the pair offshore, lift them onto a wave, and send them crashing in separate directions: Jeff to his real estate office; Patty to her classroom...

 

...wherein she confronted thirty-odd results of similarly 'unsafe sex,' each fifth-grader the upshot and the offshoot of unsung copulation. None of which the students or their satiated teacher thought it prudent to declaim. Except in sanitized language sanctioned by the Board of Education, notorious for taking out the fun, replacing oos and ahs with cross-section diagrams, limiting scores of voluptuous variations to a single dreary theme, stressing function over flexible use of forms that fit together in common-to-shocking combinations. Mrs. Grimes, surveying her devil's spawn, could not help but wonder 'what act bred each' (?)—suspecting most of the misbegotten lot had been sired by Mephistopheles... with Violetta Vickers leading the Archangel's throng.

Lately, after a remarkably sedate period, followed by a week of taciturnity as grim as it was mute, VV had reemerged as Problem-Child Number One, rallying the allegiance of every boy in class. Heretofore, it had been the girls who held Violetta in high esteem, prizing her superior wit and feminist sensibilities—qualities lost on the males, who gave to her a wide berth, indifferently or charily. With the advent of VV in lipstick, however, all that transformed. Boys now turned, eyeballs following noses—lids and nostrils flared—gawking, sniffing, their prepubescence wooed like bumblebees by honeysuckle, positively hovering wherever VV sat, or stood, or strolled, or mysteriously disappeared in a vacant lot off campus where truants were known to congregate, biding their time until school let out, joined then by those bold enough to defy the NO TRESPASSING signs, to smoke, sniff glue, or drink vodka under cover of a broken-down 'service station'—worthy of retaining that sex-suggestive name as amorous neophytes frequented its dilapidated toilets.

Popularity aside, the antics demonstrated recently (that rankled Mrs. Grimes most) was a CLICK VV made on the roof of her mouth whenever she detected a superfluous 'like' (a word that veritably peppered the hapless schoolmarm's everyday speech).

"VV, would you stop that, please?"

"I will if you will, Mrs. Grimes."

"You will in any case, Miss Violetta Vickers."

Using VV's full name was a warning; it usually meant 'comply or visit the Vice Principal' (whose inquests Violetta would just as soon avoid).

"'If Columbus thought he was like sailing straight for like the Indies and ran smack dab into land like in between, wouldn't it be like natural for him to sort of believe he'd reached his goal?'" VV quoted. "I think I CLICKED you four times during that like, like, like, like sentence, Mrs. Grimes, and I should have CLUCKED you for a 'sort of' but my tongue got tuckered out. Those words don't contribute to the meaning. Why not leave them out and spare us all my editing?"

Glib was VV's verbatim example and off-the-cuff critique, further fueling her teacher's slow-burn ire; the fact that, from a usage standpoint, faults found were legitimate, merely served to deepen the guilty party's pique.

"Why don't you go straight to Mr. Cunningham and spare us all your sauciness?"

Finger pointing North-Northeast, namely out of the classroom door, Patty Grimes ejected Violetta for the umpteenth time—to the boos (suppressed) and bright-eyed admiration (widely evident) of her venerating peers.

 

"Ah, Ms. Vickers, how are we today? Nice of you to pay your respects so often. Would that each occasion were less vexingly inspired. What have you done, this time, to earn my intervention?"

If truth be told, Mr. Cunningham relished VV's repartee. The few times she sat repentantly submissive had sorely disappointed him. Dull were most of his exchanges with students needing to be disciplined. VV's caustic sarcasm was a relative delight—though tempered by his concern about her moodiness of late. Children altered quickly in response to psychic traumas. One such, he felt sure, had afflicted VV not long past. Changes had ensued, psychological and physical. It crossed the VP's mind that Violetta, despite her tender age, might be sexually active, a prospect not only distressing but criminal, depending upon the circumstances—about which the articulate child, most likely, would not speak. Still, he had a legal obligation to ascertain the facts.

"Cat got your tongue?"

VV leveled a scornful look at her idiom-prone inquisitor, weighing whether to talk or to mope in cryptic silence (and thereby test the VP's mindreading skills—snickering, to herself, whenever he read her wrongly).

"Interviews are like dancing; it takes two to tango."

VV added a twist to her unvoiced disdain, wetting her mouth's circumference with a slow-motion lick, deepening her lipstick's fire-engine red, while fixing the VP's calm, bespectacled eyes with a mixed-message glint that struck him as confrontational and pointedly coquettish.

"Very provocative shade; clashes rather charmingly with your pumpkin-orange coif."

VV rewarded this more original phrase with a deferential grin; perhaps the 'Principal of Vice' would understand her objection to 'Mrs. Like-Like Whatever.'

"I was merely trying to help Mrs. Grimes overcome her speech impediment."

"Oh? I'm unaware that Mrs. Grimes suffers from..."

"You mean like you've like never like noticed how she sort of interjects words that like don't like belong in her irritating sentences?"

VV's impersonation was so exaggeratingly artful, Mr. Cunningham likewise grinned deferentially.

"Oh, that."

"Yes, that."

"And what was the form this benevolent assistance, on your part, assumed?"

"I was CLICKING her."

"Meaning?"

VV made an oval with her lips, tongue pressed against the roof of her loudly-colored mouth, and produced the sound she had utilized in class to count extraneous verbiage.

"I can appreciate how a teacher might find that annoying."

"Any more annoying than her incessant 'like, like, like'? Not to mention her constant use of 'sort of,' 'kind of,' and 'whatever.' Shouldn't teachers be exemplary, not abuse their captive audiences with substandard usage?"

"Point well taken."

Marveling at the word-power this mere nine-year-old possessed, while worried about the gap between her intellect and physical maturity, Mr. Cunningham censured his selfish savoring of their 'nimble-witted' discourse and sought to redirect it into VV's 'troubled waters,' determined to discover the cause of their turbidity.

"Meaning you'll back me up, Mr. Cunningham?"

"I'll restate your case. The CLICKS will discontinue; two disruptive behaviors do not a problem solve. Now, there's something else I think we need to discuss."

VV winced at what she felt was coming next. Just when it looked like the VP's dogged enquiry finally lay dead and buried (since last the subject was broached, not a soul had been 'called in for questioning'), Mrs. Grimes 3, it appeared, was about to be exhumed.

"Reports of your excursions to an area off limits have come to my attention."

VV flashed on Seymour Starkey's apartment. If somehow the offending image had been traced to there, to him, surely the jig was up; denials would prove unavailing. For if Seymour (the Simpleminded Schmoe) were ever to be interrogated, he would no doubt sing like a canary. 'Stonewall,' was the strategy to which VV now resorted. Lapsing into silence, she waited for the worst.

Regretting that he had put Violetta back on the defensive, Mr. Cunningham hedged his unintended threat.

"Lots of students hang out at that service station, VV. All of them know it's forbidden; I don't mean to single you out. I'm simply asking, what's the big attraction; why do you want to join them—apart from it being fun to disobey adults?"

Whew! The jig was not up. VV sighed in 'brief' relief; then realized acts performed, at the derelict gas station, might spell serious trouble—as opposed to escapades with Seymour, which she thought of as benign, or at least justified. Schoolboys queued outside an abandoned restroom stall, waiting to be 'serviced' by an underage coquette, were liable to incite a veritable uproar—should oaths of secrecy be broken and hush-money disavowed.

A shrug was the only answer Violetta offered.

"Things we put in our mouths should be edible and/or wholesome."

Oh, oh; what was he insinuating, VV wondered?

"Excluding a clarinet?"

"Touché. Okay, add 'playable.' I believe you know what I'm alluding to. Habits can form quickly; bad habits form even faster. A practice that seems bold and daring, or cool because older kids do it, might become an obsession; instead of you controlling it, it controls you."

Giving blow-jobs was addictive (?), VV almost quipped, unsure what the VP was advising her to avoid, or to refrain from, or to cease doing altogether; why be so oblique? Was he trying to entrap her? Was he really talking about one thing by pretending to talk about another? She hated grownups for their use of underhanded tactics, for preying on childhood fears while entertaining grownup fantasies…

... the way Phil had done to ensure she wouldn't squeal, by telling her what might happen to a 'certain person' once she fell asleep and a pair of pliers (stashed under this person's mattress) was applied, first to ears because they had listened to Violetta's lies about how Stepdad forced apart her legs, then punched her in the stomach, how the air went out of her lungs, and stayed out, all while she got tied, a belt employed to bind her wrists, a pair of jump ropes lassoing either ankle, yarn affixing pigtails to bedposts keeping her head stock-still—if allowing glimpses downward, bearing witness to an infiltrating tongue turning pain into nasty titillation at the very place Phil threatened to clamp his tool in order to "make a mess"—his words exactly—after slobbering in VV's lap, then slithering up her trunk to suck on her undeveloped breasts, making them stink, making her want to bathe and bathe and bathe to scrub his smelly spit off, to erase the stench of liquor from her body, to expunge his oily sweat, and finally to flush what he had squirted into her crotch with his ball-peen-hammer penis; as VV further imagined what metallic jaws would do to that 'certain person's' privates, someone waking up too late to save the most important part, the little rosebud she herself had discovered (via inchworm masturbation) that swelled with ecstatic palpitations then drowned in gobs of gunk when he who entered uninvited tore away her hymen, his member much too big—compared to immature erections she had diddled at the off-campus station, with her hand, for the most part, though sometimes with her mouth; Mr. Cunningham was correct...

... unless he was referring to some other habit-forming practice like…

"Smoking cigarettes is hazardous to your health, not to mention the ill effect it has on those around you. Whether smoke is second-hand or first-hand, nicotine products kill. Read the warning label, VV. Why would the U.S. Surgeon General misinform the public?"

Grounds for another sigh of relief? Or sucker-punched by a man whose methods were unconscionably devious? VV's deep mistrust made it difficult to decide.

"If you're gunning for the Marlboro man, Mr. Cunningham, I'm not your hombre. I will, however, consider your advice about boycotting Shell."

Pleased with herself for addressing the matter in code, VV got up to leave. As usual, she had been seated 'at the pupil's disadvantage,' in a chair to the VP's left significantly lower than his, designed, she felt, to reinforce their roles of subordinate versus authority. Mr. Middleton, aka 'George,' always sat beside her... on the few occasions he was available... his time divided (due to budget cuts) among several schools... his caseload such that he often needed reminding (by the students themselves) of who was who... his very position in jeopardy (and slated to be discontinued). Truth be told, Mr. Cunningham (more and more) would be taking up George's slack.

"You're always in such a hurry; are you really so eager to get back to class? Sit, Violetta. Relax. Honor me with your presence. Share what's going on, in your 'complicated' life."

At which point, a fire drill opportunely commenced; VV made her exit, saved by the bell.

 

When 'Victor Vanderhoff' went to collect the prints he had ordered (BARTing his way to Berkeley), something was amiss. Despite his showing up a week beyond their pick-up date, Seymour found neither print ready—or so he was informed by a clerk who went to "double-check" then kept the customer waiting... long enough for Seymour to take fright and pell-mell flight when he sensed impending peril... escaping the police but caught by Giclee Prints' surveillance camera, recording his disguise, the clothing he had worn to VV's All-Star game re-donned, mindful of his pledge to operate 'discreetly'... his trip back to the city fraught with paranoiac glances at anyone in uniform... his Giants cap and Ray-Bans ditched in a dumpster at 16th and Mission Streets... his jacket in a trashcan outside of Walgreens... his path from there to home a veritable goose chase should officers (sight unseen) be hounding the gander's gait.

Once secure in his apartment, deadbolt thrown—CLUNK—and curtains drawn, Seymour activated his computer to delete incriminating files, opening first the high resolution prototype named VIOLETTA LADY, its comely attributes impressing him anew with their flawless realization, every freckle, every pubic hair meticulously depicted—details he had forecast from the photo VV sat for, sanctioned him to take in exchange for her borrowing his camera. Yet prized as both of these images were, it was the one that he had fabricated that proved to be the dearest, and, like any artist mesmerized by his own "magnum opus," Seymour could not part with it—nor, in the end, with the snapshot from which it had been derived. In point of fact, he kept his entire TOT TART collection, reasoning that punishment for one or for a dozen amounted to the same, were he ultimately convicted—a likelihood verging on a certainty, given his mistake. How could he have been so blind to the furor kiddy porn roused in those for whom the innocence of childhood was sacrosanct? How could he have been so naïve to expect a commercial enterprise would overlook the apparent illegality of VIOLETTA LADY—tasteful though he had rendered her, un-enhanced as were her parts? How could VV's provocative expression have left him so oblivious to its overall salaciousness? Seymour did not get it; not really. He surely recognized the trouble he was facing, but not in the sense of acknowledging he had done something 'criminally' wrong. Only as others reflected him, did he look to be a fiend. Only when he accepted their condemnatory view, was he guilty as charged.

Investing in a laser printer, matt-finish photographic paper, and cartridges of very pricy ink, Seymour produced the high-end print he had promised (plus a duplicate for himself), and awaited VV to tender her request for the designated 'contraband.'

 

Meanwhile Phil denied succumbing to appetites reprehensible. Sure, he had drunk the equivalent of a six-pack at the bar that day. Sure, he had caught the kid stark-naked, in the bathroom, covered with 'tattoos.' And sure, he had found himself 'tempted' by her soap-bubble butt, a replica, in miniature, of her super-sexy mom's, whose ass stuck out like a Hottentots', not as huge, but, in its tilt, as buoyantly inviting, affording easy access to either randy nook—only one of which had been broken-in by Wayne (the Wimp). Phil had staked his claim, so to speak, on the other, reamed it like a piston tube till its gape was a perfect fit, snugger than Sophie's less-discriminating orifice. A man who married a woman earned the right to fuck her first, or such was Phil's old-fashioned, admittedly sexist attitude. The double standard implicit in his position he regarded as counteracted by affirming he was a virgin, in one respect, too, when it came to sodomy; Sophie's was the only rump his cock had ever plumbed. Somehow this was important when his conscience called for equity, because Phil had a sense, like any person "brought up right," that fair was fair, no two ways about it. And his becoming a "backdoor man" was eminently fair—so long as Sophie reserved her rearward hatch for Phil and Phil alone.

Similarly, it was fair for him to discipline his stepdaughter. The roof above her head, the clothes on her back, the food inside her belly were all bought by him, or supplemented by the bucks his labor brought home. Where was Wayne when rent came due, when wardrobes needed replenished, and when groceries, every day, had to be provided? Sponging off some over-educated snob with the snooty nickname "Blue"—short for blue blood, undoubtedly—on an island outside Seattle; that's where. Living The Life of Riley, after burying his folks. Okay, so they both died of cancer; tough luck; one right after the other. They were Wayne's excuse for chucking his six-figure job: dutiful son returns to hold his dying parents' hands. Commendable, on the face of it, but he also ditched his child—while claiming "irreconcilable differences" to explain his rift with Sophie. The Limp-wrist couldn't get it up, was a primary factor, "being overwrought," he whined, "about the tragic news up North." Phil believed that Wayne was an in-the-closet homo; weren't brainy types 'philosophically' bisexual, same difference? There was no disputing the Deadbeat, like his daughter, was a nerdy intellectual. Magna Cum Laude, bollocks! To be street-smart better served; the Dipshit might have noticed the guy who built their condo was fucking his woman cross-eyed. Just as well, for everyone involved, that he suffered a nervous breakdown. Except his brat was mimicking her father's mental instability. Because her stepfather had done exactly what? Indulged in a harmless fantasy about plucking the sexpot's cherry? Ravished her, in truth, only by means of a wet dream? Several, come to think of it. Vivid wet dreams, too, the bulk of them mere catnaps while Sophie was away at work, and Phil, whose hours were irregular of late, stopped by the apartment for a shower and/or a nap, timed, coincidentally, to the middle or late afternoon when VV got back from school.

 

 

At the risk of alienating Readers who are superstitious (or religious, "same difference," to cop a phrase from Phil), let me offer an author's explanation of the Creative Process. Think of Divine Intervention whereby The Word is miraculously revealed. That's how I've been writing this book—with 'Mister Bad Hand,' remember. If it doth offend thee, should I venture to lop it off? Am I to blame for Phil's nocturnal (by day) emissions? Did I know about them prior? Did Seymour, who is generating the bulk of this story's grist? Should content, due to pornographic excess, be expurgated? I'm as outraged as you are by Starkey and his ilk—Phil McNulty included, if thoughts engender actions. Patty and Jeffrey Grimes are none too wholesome, either. Even Violetta appears to be engaging in some pretty raw behavior—little wonder, given her surrounding influences. Maybe the problem is describing anybody's sex life. You'd think the most basic Creative Process, the one that spawned each and every one of us, would be less fraught with bug-a-boos. Nobody gets begotten without begetting, yet look at all the to-do we make about the practice itself.

I've interrupted—again—to recant previous statements that may have left an impression of bias, on my part, as though I'd taken sides, and also to confess how and why that happened. If you haven't already guessed, let me divulge that I, at the age of nine, was sexually abused—though any similarity between my story and this one ends with that admission. Suffice it to say the topic, for me, is emotionally charged. And though a novelist, unlike a journalist, is under no ethical obligation to relate facts evenhandedly, an 'accomplished' novelist absents himself/herself from characters portrayed, favoring none by empathizing with all, expressing the humanity of each, while allowing the Reader to identify, pass judgment, and aesthetically enjoy—which entails more than providing an escape into page-turner entertainment. A bestseller this is not; sage pre-assessment or foregone postmortem? Popularity has never been an upshot of my work, so it doesn't require clairvoyance to assert that this is no exception. You the Reader, therefore, must be atypical, your taste in books unique, or idiosyncratic enough for me to project that you have precious few imitators. More's the pity.

Anyway, from here on out, I resolve to curb my prejudices and to dispassionately relate Seymour Starkey's tale (replete with idioms and florid alliteration), allowing the chips to fall wherever they merrily may.

 

 

Wet dream #1: the Brain was at her favorite pastime, humping her Cabbage Patch doll head, in the privacy of her room, butt-action like a swimmer's swimming the butterfly without getting anywhere except 'off' on the clit-friction, suddenly all upset to find her skirt hiked inside-out, exposing her panties-less behind and its pair of puckered niches, one unused to what the other would be getting used to, if someone had his druthers, he who skewered the former, niceties swept aside as his member muscled in, aided and abetted by a vulva indisposed to accommodate full-grown manhood but slicker than an oil spill from the climax just achieved, furthermore youthfully elastic and gratified (granted grudgingly) by an overwhelming surge thanks to thorough penetration, every inch inserted stuffing every inch available, 'a frankfurter in its bun,' Phil rhapsodized, relishing the image with a serves-the-bitch-right zeal for her trespass on America's favorite pastime, pulling her toward the bed's end and suspending her, forklift-fashion, by his stiff-as-a-mainstay schlong.

 

A recent change in my life is...

... I have started to wear dresses. Before now, I associated dresses and skirts with housewives. Housewives, like the term suggests, are women married to their homes. They are domestic, which can mean "devoted to family," "tame," or "a hired household servant," or all three, like my mother, even though she works. I want to be independent. But guess what? Dresses are much more independent for the body than pants. (76) Here is how. Number one, dresses are easy to get in and out of. There is no hopping around on one foot because a pant leg gets stuck. Number two, they make it much, much easier to poop and pee. Plus, if you have to go badly and you are out-of-doors, a dress can hide what you are doing. Number three, dresses let your legs breathe. This is important when it is hot out. When it is cold out, just put on knee socks, which can be warmer than jeans. (166 or 168)

Violetta trapped her tongue thoughtfully, its pink tip pressed against her crimson upper lip, her head cocked sideways at a contemplative angle, her eyes, unseeing, cast vaguely toward the blackboard, blind to all save the essay she must finish within the test-time allotted.

Those are functional* advantages of wearing what the British call "frocks." There are others that deal with 'aesthetics,' which means the philosophy* of beauty. Dresses represent an endless variety of colors, patterns, and fashions. They are wonderful for expressing a person's different moods. I like wearing black a lot because lately I have been in mourning, but even when a person is sad, dresses offer lots of choices. And black is not only depressing; it can also be sexy. Men like girls in dresses for obvious* reasons. I have mentioned one already; they come off easily. Dresses expose girls' bare legs. Men like that, too. Dresses let girls' smell out when they walk or tuck them under to sit. Sometimes girls really stink but men react anyway. I used to think it was breasts that made men pay attention. Now I know it is really what is under our skirts that gets them hot and bothered. (322 or 324)

 

VV glanced at the clock. There were ten minutes left. Papers had to be finished by 3pm sharp. Introduction, development, and conclusion, a minimum of 400 words, with extra credit for using vocabulary from this week's lists (*), were the requirements, bonus points to be awarded for originality—which VV hoped to win by implicating Stepdad in a revamped plot to rid herself of his menace once and for all (without her Mom incurring Phil's pliers-pinching retribution).

Finally, dresses are psychologically liberating*. Children often are blocked by silly inhibitions*, like feeling guilty about touching our own bodies or feeling dirty after a grownup has. Certain acts are natural and girls should learn to stay relaxed. Even stuff that hurts at first feels nice when you get used to it and you are taught to trust sensations and that nothing is really bad. Dresses are reminders of open-mindedness. I have begun to like them as my views on growing-up shift. Shift, by the way, is another word for dress, one that is "loose-fitting." Dresses turn girls loose, is my conclusion. Dresses make us free. (400+)

 

VV folded her essay to protect its inflammatory content, fairly sure that it would earn not only an A but the scrutiny of authorities; from Grimes, to Middleton, to Cunningham, to SFPD was her expectation, and once the police were involved, Phil's days would be numbered. She had merely to plant a bit more evidence—physical proof—and the scoundrel's ship was sunk.

 

 

knock knock-a-knock-knock, knock knock

"Who's there?"

"Who do you think, Bozo?"

"Are you alone?"

"No, I've brought along the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Of course I'm alone—open up—you don't think I want our association witnessed."

Seymour threw the deadbolt—CLUNK—to admit his insolent caller, craning his neck beyond the threshold to scope out the corridor. Satisfied VV had come sans pursuers—CLUNK—he nervously locked her in.

"What's up, Meathead? Wanted dead or alive for first degree stupidity?"

Glad to see that Violetta was back to her wisecracking self—though she still was wearing lipstick and a mid-thigh-length skirt—Seymour backtracked to the kitchenette where he was roasting marshmallows.

"Want one?"

He held out a golden brown sample at the tip of a long-handled fork, retrieved from the cobalt-blue flame that ringed his gas stove's front burner.

"Cool."

"Careful; it's hot."

VV plucked the offering from its two-pronged skewer and ate it, or rather popped it into her mouth, then panted around it to bring down the temperature...

"Told ya."

... burning her tongue only slightly when her teeth rashly chewed.

"More."

She opened her mouth post-swallow like a grub-hungry chick.

Seymour twisted the fork, keeping it well above the heat, patiently roasting another powdery-white morsel to yellowish, to beige, to wrinkled umber. Pulling it from the prongs with his thumb and index finger, he blew on the marshmallow gently before dropping it into VV's wide-open crop. This procedure was repeated until the 'nestling' scarfed her fill.

Sugar-sated, VV prowled the premises, alert for signs of change, spotting almost immediately the new laser printer.

"This must have cost you a fortune. How did I turn out?"

Presuming rightly that Seymour's hefty purchase was in deference to her, VV waited for VIOLETTA LADY to be unveiled. One print framed and the second in a plastic dustcover were perched side-by-side, draped by a pillowcase, and propped upon a ledge over Seymour's Murphy at viewing height—VV's, that is, should she stand atop the bed and face its wall-wedged niche, the position she assumed without a moment's hesitation. Seymour, leaning sideways, lifted the makeshift curtain, then stepped back to admire the admirer of his 'pornographic' work, unprepared for the look it brought to VV's beady eyes... ill-equipped to interpret their enigmatic glare.

"Men; I hate their dirty-minded filthy-rotten guts!"

This remark, uttered sotto voce, served to humble him who heard it, who suffered it like a barb jabbed underneath the skin, poisonous and befitting in its blistering indictment, making him regret his gender-based vulgarity. Abruptly, Seymour's TOT TARTs, even this genteel one, made him feel ashamed.

"I'm not going to blubber."

"Okay, VV."

"He's not going to make me cry. This one is yours?"

She indicated the framed print. She lifted it from the ledge. She turned and squatted, seating herself cross-legged while holding the image at arm's length for balance, then bringing it closer, resting both wrists on either inner thigh. Seymour sat on the floor, his forearms flush with the counterpane, his outsize overlapped hands supporting his chin, his eyes on a level (inadvertently) with Violetta's crotch.

"I'm never going to look like this, Seymour; I'm stuck; I'm permanently puny. Phil has seen to that; I'm "Daddy's little girl" now. Every time he fucks me his semen stunts my growth."

The shock on Seymour's horrified face was utterly sincere. Had his jaw not been bolstered by the counterpane, it literally would have dropped. Speechless, he met VV's icy stare with wide-eyed confusion.

"Sorry to be so blunt, but I wanted you to know. You mustn't tell a soul. Cross your heart and hope to die?"

Not knowing how else to answer, Seymour nodded numbly.

"I'm handling it. He's threatened to hurt my Mom, so I have to be extra careful. If he finds out I've told anyone, he'll take it out on her. And he would, too; he's not bluffing. Now that I'm his sperm spittoon, Mom, he says, is 'expendable.' If I don't do the things he wants, exactly the way he likes them, he'll mutilate Mom with this nasty pair of pliers he's hidden under their mattress. He even showed me how and where he intended to use them."

Seymour involuntarily flinched, aghast at this revelation of scare-tactics blackmail, afraid, on VV's behalf, of the culprit it impeached, and abashed by the stir (irrepressible in his pants) upon noticing VV's nudity under her outspread skirt—initially obscured by the frame's cast shadow, accidentally conspicuous with her setting aside the print, and 'conscience-strickenly' tempting given the sober situation, with VV's confidence shatter-able were Seymour's yen betrayed. Wincing shut both eyelids, he forbade himself to peek, praying that his transgression (Please, God!) had gone undetected.

 

 

Mr. Middleton's analysis of the phrases that were underlined in red:

"lately I have been in mourning"

"they come off easily"

"it is really what is under our skirts that gets them hot and bothered"

"touching our own bodies or feeling dirty after a grownup has"

convinced him that Violetta Vickers had been sexually assaulted, and equally convinced that her conduct at the service station (word had gotten around) was consistent with a victim 'acting out'; feeling cheapened by her experience with an adult, she was giving-away sex to children.

"Dresses make us free"

was a double entendre; it meant she did not charge, owing to her diminished self-esteem. How could he have missed such elementary indicators? Not that he was wholly to blame for letting VV down. Bouncing among so many schools, George felt like a pinball; his caseload was unmanageable, unforgiveable for fostering neglect. Too many kids were in crisis, too few were getting counseled, thus California schools were graduating convicts in lieu of citizens. Disregard a child and watch a hoodlum come-of-age instead. Fail to educate all and watch failures undermine the system. Shirk protective vigilance and watch children be abused—in Violetta's instance, the question remained: by whom? A conference with her parents, by all means, was advised.

 

"They made it sound important, Phil, asked both of us to be here."

"Who's 'they'; it was a conference call?"

"In effect. They're all supposed to attend: her teacher, her guidance counselor, and..."

"The 'Principal of Vice.' Your daughter told me."

"Oh?"

"What I couldn't strangle out of her was what she must have done to rate the attention. Are they suspending her, or expelling her, or what?"

The white shirt and striped tie Phil had donned (against his better judgment) made this powwow like an interview; he felt garroted, as though the focal point were Stepdad rather than Little Miss Incorrigible. Blue was the color of the collar he preferred; casual was the dress style he had adopted. Disguising himself in corporate garb (at Sophie's insistence) cast him as an interloper, trapped behind the lines of an enemy encampment. In response to his predicament (or how he perceived it), Phil began to sweat.

 

"Ah, the McNultys. Thank you both for coming. Sorry about the wait; Mr. Middleton was delayed. I believe we're all assembled now. Please step this way."

Mr. Cunningham ushered the couple into a room reserved for "FACULTY," the term reviving memories, in both, of episodes at school, each assailed by emotions common to their respective childhoods, Sophie's mostly positive (she had been a model student), Phil's a good-and-bad mix (his social skills adjudged "lacking" for solving problems with his fists). George Middleton and Patty Grimes already sat inside. Introductions were made—for Phil's benefit; Sophie knew the triumvirate. Mr. Cunningham (Bruce), it was apparent, would preside.

"It has come to our attention that VV may be suffering the effects of sexual abuse. I know, as a parent myself, this is news hard to hear. We haven't had her 'physically' examined, though we strongly recommend she sees a physician. But 'psychologically speaking,' the signs are quite clear. Before we spell them out, we'd like for you to share your initial reactions."

Few preliminary statements could have spurred any worse distress for a mother and father caught totally off their guard—or such read their expressions, each looking one to the other, both evidently flabbergasted. Sophie was the first to find her voice.

"You're sure? I mean, have you asked her? It's..." She looked to Phil for corroboration. "...outrageous. She's only nine years old. But even so, she's articulate, talkative..."

"Sometimes obnoxiously," Phil interjected. Patty Grimes quashed a smirk.

"... and candid to a fault."

"Children, if I may..." Mr. Middleton offered, "typically feel ashamed when they've been molested. They—erroneously—believe they're somehow to blame, so they tend to disavow that any such thing has happened. In other words, they clam up. Only their behavior gives the truth away. You two haven't noticed any telltale changes in Violetta lately?"

The lipstick, the skirts, the moping, the irregular return-times after school, were changes, certainly. But were they symptomatic of something unspeakable, something so traumatic that VV would conceal or deny the fact itself? Neither Phil nor Sophie seemed prepared to give this notion credence. Both seemed indignantly skeptical about the school staff's contention. Phil spoke next, measuredly, his anger held in check by a clenched-fist restraint.

"Who do you suspect of committing this abuse? Did it happen here on campus? Can you assure us it has stopped?"

Phil aimed each of his questions pointedly, the first at George, the second at Bruce, and the third at Patty, his steady gaze unblinking, his undertone accusatory.

Mr. Cunningham, sensing that the McNultys were primed to 'shoot the messengers,' sought to soothe their misdirected choler.

"Based on clues in an essay VV wrote during class…" he handed out photocopies, one to each parent"…a grownup is probably responsible. Background checks are run on all school personnel: teachers, administrators, crossing guards, playground monitors, cafeteria workers, everyone. We're fairly sure the perpetrator is not among us. Possible suspects off campus are beyond our jurisdiction and will have to be investigated by the SFPD."

"You've call the police!?" Phil's attempt to maintain equanimity underwent a lapse.

"Without our permission?" Sophie seconded her husband's alarm.

Once again Mr. Cunningham spoke on the school's behalf.

"We are required by law to report such incidents to the proper authorities. There's more of this to tell, if you'll hear us out."

Sophie closed her eyes and would have shut her ears, if they, too, had lids, granting herself a momentary respite from a circumstance already sending guilt pangs throughout her shell-shocked conscience. If these allegations were true, what did they say about her motherhood? How could the flesh-of-her-flesh have undergone… rape (?)... without Mom somehow sensing it? Had mother and daughter grown so far apart that their connection had grown tenuous, faulty, nonexistent? Whatever had befallen Violetta, Sophie took the blame. Reopening her eyes, she likewise            addressed questions to the three staff members, except hers was the same for each, and was asked without a sound: Please forgive me!

Having paused to let the couple regain composure, the VP continued.

"Your daughter, in an effort, we believe, to denigrate herself, has been granting sexual favors to a group of little boys, and the parents of two are considering punitive action, which may involve filing charges."

"WHAT!" Phil lost his temper. "She's a minor! What does a nine-year-old know about California statutes? Criminal charges? For what; playing Doctor, or Who Shows Whose First?"

"Considering punitive action; neither couple, as far as we know, has gone to that extreme. All of us here agree that VV is not the corrupting influence. She's merely acting out as a way to underscore her shame. Whoever assaulted her originally is the one who should be prosecuted."

Phil ran his hands through his hair, then folded them on the conference table.

"What do you advise?"

Sophie, still reluctant to believe her daughter capable of whatever acts she thus far stood accused, suspended judgment (except upon herself) until VV could be confronted, could answer in person, could admit things or deny them. VV would not lie. She might 'withhold' the truth, but honesty would prevail.

While options were deliberated, Sophie sat aloof, cross-examining herself—mother versus wife—to ascertain which role was the one she had failed at worse.

Wayne had been so bright, so kind, so talented, and so fucked up that a saint could not have lived with him. Sophie somehow had managed for seven exacting years, the birth of their "love child" (translation: "out-of-wedlock") the point of demarcation as parenthood generated pressures for which both were unprepared. The quirky balance they, as male-and-female had achieved, was abruptly tipped off kilter as father-and-mother. Sophie coped. Violetta struggled. Wayne collapsed then fled. Simple were the broad-strokes, intricate was the brushwork that painted their portraits in common, in crisis, and in mutual isolation. Colors, initially complimentary, ultimately clashed. One definitive example, of scores that any of them might cite (though VV's developmental stage would have precluded her remembering this particular incident) was Wayne's near-fatal attempt to give their ten-month-old a bath:

... barring those arising in his dissolute subconscious:

 

Wet dream #2: exhorting her to 'masticate' (if the bitch liked fancy words, he would give her one to chew on) just below the juncture of penal shaft and head where the foreskin was bunched, gnawing at it (lustily, please) while fondling balls and scrotum with her KY-jellied hand, squeezing then releasing, squeezing tighter, harder (quit) then greasing the entire length, all the way to its tip (that's it; keep nibbling) palming the s-curve orifice, massaging the throbbing hood, rubbing, biting, rubbing, biting, priming the pump to spurt (DON'T STOP!) until the last big gobs had jettisoned (now, milk that lizard dry).

 

 

When Seymour finally reopened his eyes he saw that VV had barely budged; her crotch, if anything, was more blatantly exposed. He looked from it to her eyes and found himself confronted with an earnest supplication. 'You, too, Seymour?' she seemed to ask despairingly, waiting for his hunger to consume her fleeting hope that males, when it came to sex, were not all alike, that one, at least, might overcome lust, resist illicit temptation, and value friendship more dearly than oral copulation

(the act she knew her lap could make a man perform, a man like Phil, for instance, who she could picture abrading her with his whiskers, invading her with his tongue, seducing her with his skill to induce fibrillation, supplanting her repugnance for the cause with the bliss of its effect, against her will but not against her vulva's double-crossing raptures, more intense than those she could instigate by herself, those in which she had lost interest since being introduced to gratification featured on a certain website, where appetites kin to Stepdad's informed, insulted, and inflamed her... making her own mouth water for a taste of callow cock, the starchy sap extracted (for real not vicariously) more and more to her liking, the little shivers incited often bringing on fits of laughter as prepubescent tensions were eagerly alleviated; which made her glad so long as giggles turned not into snickers, so long as older, bigger brothers were kept from butting in and from using disparaging terms like slut, whore, tramp, and prostitute, none of which applied, innocence reinforced by servicing strictly peers, child upon child, girl upon boy, grownups disallowed because their minds made sex disgusting, sullied everything playful and turned it into spoils, transformed love itself, when expressed erotically, into superficial pandering).

 

"I'm a little sleepy, Seymour. Mind if I take a nap?"

Handing him the print, she flopped straight backward across the bed, her legs, unfolding lazily, extending from her skirt like stamens from a flower, their junction (no less visible, underneath the ruffled hem) hairless, oval-shaped, and definitively cleft...

...like a change purse, Seymour mused, the kind you have to squeeze for its aperture to open, VV's slightly puffy as if many coins inside were pressuring the slit to widen, to glisten, like the money was maybe wet, with something poking through at the top that looked just like an 'outty'—which Seymour wanted to smooch; it looked so moist and sweet. Yet risen qualms demurred; a grownup should not betray the trust of a helpless little child; everybody knew that much. How could Phil, her own stepfather, treat his daughter like those women you could watch doing sex-stuff on the internet? Try as he might to fathom Phil's behavior, Seymour thought it vile. "Every time he fucks me his semen stunts my growth"? Had VV actually said that, experienced it, been subjected to repeated intercourse with her clueless mother's husband? How could Mrs. McNulty be so unaware? Why hadn't VV told her, regardless Phil's cruel threats? Unless she truly believed he would ply that pair of pliers; "He even showed me how and where he intended to use them." No matter if she was scared, the person to tell was Mom. That's what Seymour would advocate, whether VV asked or not. "I'm handling it," she had asserted. Seymour thought, 'Not well.'

 

Not if it was happening over and over, like VV said it was. Believe you me, I wanted to go and sock him, punch him right on the jaw. But I guess I'm just a coward; I didn't do a thing.

VV then woke up—or pretended to; she wasn't really sleeping. I was being tested, is what she told me. I guess I must have passed.

Phil got off scot-free, though; I never laid a hand on him.

 

Wet dream #3: instructing her to straddle him, facing backwards, to impale her tight tween twat on his billy-club erection, then fasten to her clitoris the accoutrement he provided, with its battery pack and dial in close proximity to his autocratic hand so he could activate and control the strength of its vibration, turning up and down the juice to match her buttocks' bounce, more when he was in her, less when almost out, off if she got careless and lost her slippery clasp, buzzing her into a frenzy as his climax built, reached peak, and erupted into her lubricated loins like a submarine volcano, molten lava spewing into viscose saline sea, boiling from its own internal temperature, mutual mucous fusing their mismatched cock and cunt.

 

 

"Your defending VV against those three was wonderful, Phil. I'm proud of you."

Sophie was incensed about the staff's 'ill-founded allegations.' An essay was not an affidavit. Accounts by horny schoolboys did not a strong case make. Violetta would no more conceal being ravaged than she would stoop to perform fellatio. Charges to the contrary were leveled by the envious, by those for whom VV's intelligence was a threat, her wit an aberration that challenged self-styled 'experts' drunk on their petty authority. 'We' recommend this, 'we' recommend that, 'we' think it best to do or best not to do the following. Sophie had not listened, beyond making sure that Phil committed them to nothing until their misjudged daughter could answer for herself.

As Phil drove home, Sophie stewed. In retrospect, she felt humiliated. How dare they think a mother could be oblivious to sins so reprehensible—the ones perpetrated against her child more sinister than those her child may have 'innocently' committed. Children fondled one another; it was natural. Why make such a fuss? The "grownup" VV wrote about 'probably' was Phil, written out of anger at his use of corporal punishment—Violetta's way of getting even. Wayne, by contrast, had never so much as raised his voice to her, let alone his hand—which had spoiled their daughter rotten, according to Phil, for whom discipline meant a beating. And though Sophie disapproved, she looked the other way. For all she knew, a spanking, to Violetta, was tantamount to abuse. If that fact proved to be apt, perhaps this 'trauma' had been grossly overblown.

By the time Mom and Stepdad found a parking place back in the neighborhood and walked to their apartment (individual subtexts mostly unexpressed), Sophie had convinced herself that neither she nor Phil was seriously at fault and that Violetta (hopefully) had been neither victim nor victimizer.

 

Phil, on the other hand, seethed with uncorked malevolence:

hypocrites all, for tsk-a-tsking practices that strayed from their unstated norm.

 

Though two out of Phil's three conjectures were considerably off the mark (and even Mr. Middleton's breast fetish rarely found him inseminating décolletage), Phil's point was well taken; those who condemned the appetites of others ought to pass judgment first on whatever made them salivate sensually; everyone's sexual hunger, when examined out-of-context, could appear 'untoward.' Hence 'polite' conversation about matters-of-the-flesh entailed euphemism, innuendo, or outright obfuscation, none of which was Phil McNulty's style. When he had sex, the language used throughout was colloquial, candid, crude, and by common standards 'dirty.' That's how women liked it, in his experience. That's how he liked it. Maybe, in public, he would lower his voice when propositioning a partner, but privately she would know exactly what he intended to do to her, and what he wanted done to him in return; carnality, with Phil, was graphically instructive. Not that he was overly chatty; actions outnumbered words. But whatever permutation of sex he-and-his engaged in, both, upon completion, were thoroughly schooled.

Therefore Violetta's 'prowess' (now widely touted) owed a debt to Phil? Or were her antics staged, her aptitude limited to mimicking actions watched? Irrespective, Stepdad was incensed by VV's reported behavior; he rankled at the thought. Picturing her with dicks in her mouth (and/or elsewhere) turned his complexion green—a shade both unbecoming and ominously vengeful, as Violetta (when next he got a hold of her) was likely to affirm. Except he must be cautious, clever; suspicions already aroused about 'abuse' must not be cast upon him. Damn that little minx for pointing her accusatory stink-finger! Lies, all lies; it was not he who had broken-in her box; he had merely dreamt about it. How fend off such slander, though, with circumscribed denials? Justice craved a wrongdoer; one must be delivered.

 

 

VV took the print I gave her. Mine stayed behind my bed. The only time you could see it was when I pulled down the Murphy—which was every day I went to sleep, of course. I used to have a cross up there in that niche. I used to pray. But, after I moved Jesus, I only prayed to VV. That sounds bad, I know; and God eventually punished me. For a while, though, I was happy to look at VV's picture and treat it like a 'relic' (I looked that up; it means something you hold sacred). I didn't ask for stuff the way you would from the Virgin Mary. Mostly I just stared and imagined we were pals. Which we were; VV said so. After she pretended to be asleep and had her dress pulled up so I could see her naked you-know-what, she told me we were 'best friends' on account of I could be trusted. Believe you me, that made me feel good and guilty both. Good because it's better to be trusted by somebody than just about anything. Guilty because I wanted to give her lap a smooch, a big wet one, the kind you sometimes see in videos on the internet. I wish I'd told her right then and there that I wasn't truly 'noble' (I looked that up, too; it means "of an exalted moral excellence"). I wish that things had turned out differently, especially for me.

 

 

Fortunately, Sophie was the parent who waylaid Violetta first, for a let's-talk, heart-to-heart across the family's kitchen table. Phil, impatient and restless, had gone to run surveillance on the now-notorious service station. As he conducted drive-bys, his wife conducted a 'chat,' VV and her 'licentiousness' the focus of each.

"Your father and I..."

"You mean Phil?"

"Phil and I have been speaking with staff at your school. They told us you've..."

"Which 'staff'? No, let me guess: George, Mrs. Like-Like Grimes, and the Principal of Vice"

"Mr. Cunningham is much too kind for that unkind designation."

VV rolled her eyes but otherwise let this lame defense pass.

"You were saying?"

"They're concerned. They think you may be 'acting out' as a way of trying to cope with some heavyhearted problem."

VV, cautiously optimistic that her strategy may have worked, judged it well-advised to let details be 'extracted,' lest Mom, as usual, champion him whose ouster was her pertinacious goal. She answered with a deep breath only, letting the air out slowly, analogous to a sigh.

"Is that true, Sweetie; has something been bothering you? Someone?"

VV shook her head 'no.' Mom would have to 'drag' it out of her. Too bad Phil was not on hand to witness this performance. Though he might misconstrue her reluctance to expose him as allegiance to debauchery (real or imagined), instead of as anxiety about him carrying out his threat (real or imagined)—the chance of which, though 'logically' remote, 'psychologically' held some sway; nine-year-olds, high IQs notwithstanding, were prone to being spooked. Had Phil not applied his pliers (by way of a demonstration) to one of VV's nipples?

Had the sight not rendered it easy-to-imagine what a fiercer pinch might wreak? Was not reason, by sensation, thereby overruled? Physical harm to Mom, at all costs, must be averted. (This was VV's cover story—having first convinced herself).

Sophie next produced the copy of VV's essay.

"Recognize this?" She held it up. "Do you really think of me as 'a hired household servant'?"

Of all the 'hints' provided, VV thought, for her Mom to mention none, focusing instead on something so incidental, struck her as incredible. Nonplussed, she merely blinked, whereupon incredulity flared into red-hot resentment at Sophie's failing to protect her, at her discarding a gentleman husband and replacing him with a stud, exchanging a loving father for a filthy-minded 'Stepfuck' (VV's latest tag for her concupiscent parent), and at Mom's systematically siding with said sex-fiend against her 'defenseless' child. Physical harm to Mom, at all costs, must be what? Facilitated, Violetta screamed soundlessly, bristling with disdain and righteous indignation, seeing, of a sudden, that Mom was so self-centered she had sacrificed everything: her home, her congenial partner, her refined social set, and, least forgivable of all, the innocence of her only offspring! In order to wallow with a swine whose sole redeeming asset was inducing, in his conquests, rapid-fire orgasms (big fucking deal)—Mom's, of late overheard (and secretly begrudged) spurring VV's self-abuse while fantasizing (disgustedly) that Phil might prove more enamored of youth's indefatigability; for VV, once excited, could climax in quick succession, a trait inherited from Sophie yet augmented by preteen resiliency (in cahoots with a hypertrophic clitoris, which Mom did not possess), though self-induced responses paled compared to those inspired by him (who Violetta hated for his overrated knack).

As mother sought (circuitously) to ferret out the truth, daughter (straightaway) hatched a surreptitious plot—angling for some foolproof form of double indemnity.

 

Meanwhile, Stepdad, abandoning drive-bys for a stakeout, scanned the derelict structure wherein VV, it was alleged, had been siphoning spunk from 'peepees,' visions of which refreshed Phil's out-and-out vexation. Why consort with neophytes when a pro was readily available? How risk who-knew-what from intimate contact with contagious little boys? Who did 'Daddy's Little Girl' think she was, cheating on him who would willingly teach her, introduce her to raptures well in advance of her puerile autoeroticism? He could be her mentor, her seducer, her instructor, and her Realm of the Senses guide... not that he really would; recalling himself to himself, Phil shook off his vagary. 'Men who victimized children,' he still maintained, 'were namby-pamby wimps.' Although children who victimized men were more accurately at issue. Violetta knew that he had been watching while she masturbated, had intended to arouse him, to inflame his imagination, which in turn had given rise to wet dreams chronicling raw temptation, channeling latent urges into guiltless inaction. Yet if she falsely accused him...? May as well be hanged for a lamb as for a sheep? Or had Phil, in effect, fucked ewe and suckling both?

 

Sophie was struck momentarily dumb by VV's glib confession; her daughter had, indeed, been jerking off classmates (!), her rationale as upsetting as the wanton acts themselves; she wanted to be "foremost in their thoughts when they harkened back to firsts," was Violetta's verbiage, her use of highfalutin language all the more shocking coming from a nine-year-old. Sophie sometimes had to remind herself that her child was still a child, years away from adolescence (not to mention menstruation). Except for the pitch of her voice, VV sounded like an adult—a literate, loquacious, often eloquent adult, compounding the illusion that a grownup had somehow gotten trapped inside the body of a munchkin. Now this... further affectation, taking on an air of sexual sophistication. "I do it rather well," had been the brazen hussy's boast. And what else had she performed on this troupe of randy cub scouts?

"That's for me to know and for you to find out."

Sophie wanted to slap her, right across the face. Or to watch while Phil spanked the cheeks of VV's bottom a penitential fuchsia. AGGRAVATING was the supercilious smugness of Violetta's tone... as if she knew something that gave her an advantage—putting Sophie at a commensurate disadvantage, their heart-to-heart turned tête-á-tête turned adverse tooth-and-nail. Whatever information Daughter was withholding, Mother's need to know was compromised by foreboding. Sophie sensed competition. Her reaction, as if anticipating a camera's illuminating flash, was to shut, despite compunction, her see-no-evil eyes.

Only after school let out did Phil's reconnaissance yield the slightest indication of who (Mr. Cunningham had named no names) might be recipients of his stepdaughter's 'generosity,' as three boys 'loitered' by the cordon of chain-link fence erected to discourage further 'assignations.' With VV out of action (for all intents and purposes), 'suspended' in lieu of 'expelled' (pending the results of a thorough investigation), restricted to her room while her parents went to hear the administration's case (so why was she not there, Phil itched to know, when he and Sophie returned?), the prepubescent threesome lacked sufficient motivation to ignore decrees and climb. They did cast 'longing looks,' Phil would have sworn, at the dilapidated building, but suchlike speculation, even from an irate parent, was dubiously actionable. In truth, Phil's seeking out the 'crime scene' was doomed to ineffectiveness. Stymied by frustration, he U-turned toward home...

 

... arriving well past Sophie's termination of her 'shouting match' with VV (who had disappeared again as a parting-shot 'up yours'), leaving both parental antagonists to rue the bitter outcome.

"Still not here?"

"Came and went."

"'Went'? Went where? Went when?"

Phil, once more infuriated, charged off in pursuit!

 

 

With calls for "VIOLETTA" ricocheting up and down corridors—floor one, floor two, floor three, through foyers A, B. C, and D—everyone home in the complex was intrusively aware that someone thusly named was:

As the racket waxed and waned, only two of these tenants took more than a passing interest: the fugitive herself, and he who gave her refuge, the former leaning backward, spine against the door, as if her fifty-two pounds could bolster the flimsy clapboard barricade, her heartbeat fast as a bunny's, her lipstick chewed half-off, her green eyes glistening with ambiguous agitation—frightened, angry, impish, droll, defiant in mercurial combination, virtually unreadable to the latter, who had been (urgently) interrupted (knock knock-a-knock-knock, the last two knocks preempted by "Seymour, it's me!") from fitting the final border piece into a gigantic jigsaw puzzle covering nearly two-thirds of the available floor space (its subject indecipherable, the box-top picture lying face down and housing a mountain of yet-to-be-placed pieces). Not waiting for an invitation, VV joined her (inadvertent) rescuer (taken unawares by Stepdad's one-man task force) and proceeded to sort through the pile, separating bits of sky. For a while, neither spoke—Seymour accepting the help, VV leaving her SOS-visit unexplained. Both enjoyed an introspective interlude of parallel companionship.

 

VV, all out of breath, barged in after rapping on my door like a king-size woodpecker. I thought she was fooling, maybe, trying to have some fun by make-believing someone, or something, was after her. Turned out it was Phil, her Stepdad, and, boy, did he sound mad! We heard him hollering in and out of the building and all around the grounds. No wonder VV ran to hide; Phil McNulty's mean. At least he was back then when awful things were happening. Worst was stuff that VV blamed herself for, on account of she couldn't stop. But how could somebody nine years old be at fault for sins of her elders? Thou shalt nots are guideposts for adults more than for misled children. Breaking God's commandments has to be on purpose for the punishment to be fair. VV didn't realize that she was misbehaving. 'How come what felt good was seen by others as being naughty?' Believe you me, that was really hard to explain to someone way more smarter (sic).

See? I got another "sic," meaning Seymour is a dunce. Okay, I'm uneducated; I don't care anymore who knows. The thing that's more important is understanding VV and how a little kid got all tangled up when grownups didn't act right. Having sex with children when you're lots older is a harmful thing to do. I know that's why I went to prison and why I have to wear this anklet and why the public hates me; I would, too—I'm as hard a judge as the next person. Harder, maybe. But never mind that. The truth is what I have to tell, and just like I told VV, the truth is not as simple as people make it look.

 

The speed at which VV found and fitted puzzle pieces astonished Seymour. She scarcely glanced at the shapes before making her selections, pressing each into position as if it bore a number and directional arrows to facilitate placement. Rarely were her choices incorrect; never did she apply force. For every one piece Seymour managed to locate, VV assembled a dozen. Keeping pace was promptly out of the question; it was better just to watch, to marvel, and to admire this graphic demonstration of 'unwitting' superiority; VV had no desire to out-perform her host or to show him up in some petty, mean-spirited way. Though capable of such one-upmanship, she saved it for 'the deserving,' for those who 'presumed' they were more proficient, more eloquent, or more intellectually agile. Seymour was devoid of presumption, pretension, and disingenuousness. He was simpleminded, yes, but in his simplicity there was something almost pure. A saint, of course, he was not; evidence his collection of manufactured kiddy porn (though VIOLETTA LADY was the sole example shown to VV). Nor was he, by any stretch of the imagination, discerning. And yet the advice he gave with respect to matters like Phil, and her extracurricular activities, and her attitude toward authority, was markedly unselfish and therefore worthy of consideration. Seymour had no agenda, no motive that qualified as ulterior, unless it was his understated wish to become her closest friend—but not if that meant tailoring his responses to suit VV's vanity.

"Just because something feels good doesn't always make it good for you."

"How about masturbation? I'll bet you jerk off constantly. What's the difference if you're doing it alone or someone helps you out?"

Seymour thought about his answer long and hard, overcoming shyness and noticeable embarrassment (though VV's focus on the puzzle made her miss his full-blown blush), resisting the temptation to peddle religious maxims (VV, as far as he could tell, disbelieved in a moralistic God), and mindful of the significance her initial question held (relations with her Stepfather, no doubt, plaguing VV's conscience).

 

PHIL

Listen, Kid. You're a live wire sexually. Hotter than your mother, maybe, and that's saying something. Go ahead and snitch, if you think it'll do any good. Odds against, it won't. And the reason is? You love hearing it, thinking about what I could do to you. I'll wager it makes you wet, makes you wish I'd finish what you started with your Cabbage Patch dildo. Good luck explaining that to your understanding mom, if and when you decide to blab about my offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHIL

Forget the goddamn pliers; I said that to scare you. Why would I want to mutilate your mother's private parts? The reason you're considering my proposal is the promise of nonstop sex. Kid, when it comes to potential, yours is unlimited. I could make you climax in a thousand different ways. A thousand and one, if you'd let me, orgasms so intense I'm sure you can't imagine them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEYMOUR

Sex, unless it's only done for money, means a caring person with another caring person, so if either of those persons doesn't truly care, then the stuff they do is naughty. It might feel okay at the time, but afterward it gets yucky on account of the uncared-for person usually ends up hurt. I pretend that somebody watches over all the things I do. Whenever I'm self-conscious, I'm probably doing bad. It's true that your bad and my bad and other people's bad aren't always the same. But pretty much they are. The times they aren't you'll have to figure out yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEYMOUR

Grownups can't be trusted all of the time, true; it's smart to ask some questions. But if you get good answers, it can save you from mistakes. I've made lots, which maybe I wouldn't have, if I'd listened to my elders. Elders have experience, and sharing it can help. Maybe, when you cuss at grownups, VV, it only makes things worse because instead of good advice you mostly get punishment. Think of all the times that you've been grounded.

 

Input speculative and genuine toyed with VV's consciousness, her brain like a ball of yarn batted between extremes: Phil's inferred enticements versus Seymour's chaste banalities, Miscreant versus Moron, Profligate versus Monk—with VV's unripe sagacity hovering in between? One thing that a surfeit of sex may have taught Violetta already (beyond a premature grasp of venereal techniques) was that sex, as a be-all and end-all, might well be overrated.

As a species, VV reasoned, human beings reproduced; sex felt good to encourage that biological imperative. Mankind bred prolifically; the survival strategy worked. But human beings were capable of more than humdrum procreation. The sciences, the humanities were testaments of a much greater scope, ventures superseding simple multiplication. And yet, she couldn't help noticing, people kept on propagating. Even at the risk of overpopulation and all the strains it placed on other living things. Sex felt good but not that good. Or did it?

"Why do couples keep having babies, Seymour, when A. the world has more than enough already, B. doesn't childbirth hurt (?), and C. when there are vastly more adventurous ways to spend ones time and energy?"

Seymour had resumed making humble contributions to their 'joint' endeavor (cloud edges interspersed an expansive deep blue sky that framed the entire jigsaw), but unlike VV, who could think and talk and plop in pieces simultaneously, Seymour had to stop. Such a complex question obliged an answer he struggled to formulate; heretofore, he had never heard her pose such a three-part stumper. The overload seemed to induce a virtual trance, as if the task had caused his neurons to short-circuit. For the first time in their relationship—having looked up with impatience after getting no response—VV witnessed what struck her as a harebrained disability; Seymour sat stock-still, his eyes glazed over, his jaw an inch unhinged, his slightly open mouth on the verge of drooling… averted by a well-placed 'thump' that brought him to his senses.

"Hey, how come you thumped me?"

"Because you spaced out, Blockhead; totally. I'll rephrase my question. Why is fucking still an all-time favorite pastime for a species supposedly smarter than a chimpanzee's?"

Demanding no less effort to impart an apt reply, VV's query—revised—was at least a consolidation—her trinity reduced to a manageable one—which Seymour weighed deliberately (not interminably) in hopes of sounding wise (though more than willing to settle for anything short of stupid).

"Maybe we keep doing like the animals on account of we think they're happy."

This, in turn, gave VV pause; she studied one of the puzzle pieces—which depicted part of an infant and a cloud that served as its bed—holding it with her fingers prior to fitting it in, its little pink portion of face reminiscent of her own... when she was simpler than Seymour, certainly, simpler than an ape, struggling to make her powerless appendages move as they were charged, blinking to focus eyes frustratingly nearsighted, straining to generate sounds less jejune than gurgles, burbles, and burps, dependent on Mom's intuition to anticipate every need; even bodily functions were beyond her vain control back then. Happy? Marginally, VV remembered—or 'imagined' she remembered. Was babyhood accessible to memory's clumsy reach? Or did uncoordinated limbs betoken uncoordinated thoughts, rendering recall fickle, unreliable, or humanly impossible? In any case, simplicity did not equate with happiness. Seymour must be miserable, was Violetta's hunch. Once again, for the first time in their relationship, VV bore witness...

... to Seymour's cockeyed features pathetically composed, hanging on her retort, wary lest it be critical or casually dismissive of an opinion that, by commonplace standards, should not even count, coming from a Retard who prized a pintsize girl for her disproportionate smarts—gigantic and oh so enviable—able to say how she felt with such precision that it let emotions out instead of trapping them inside a thick post-encephalitic skull whose resident wit was blunter than a croquet mallet.

"But are they really?"

"Huh?"

"We call animals 'dumb.' Would you say dumb means happy?"

The wariness lodged in Seymour's look dissolved, then trickled down his cheeks—set on fire by embarrassment, wounded pride, and sheer humiliation; mistaking VV's question for an insult unduly sharp, resenting her comparing him to God's lesser creatures, expecting him to speak on behalf of the lowly, not as might Saint Francis, but rather as a beast himself. Straightening his shoulders, arching his back, and lifting his quivering chin, Seymour snapped a rejoinder that gave them both a start.

"I'm no monkey's uncle; answer for yourself!"

"Wow!" was VV's instant acknowledgment, patently impressed, understanding clearly how her words had been misinterpreted. "Here," she handed him the puzzle piece.

Without a moment's hesitation, Seymour plopped it in—a stroke of luck, for sure, but nonetheless effective.

VV grinned ear to ear.

Seymour likewise smiled, then reached across to Violetta's forehead and gave it a tit-for-tat 'thump.'

Friends again, they contentedly resumed their picture-puzzle enterprise.

 

 

It was a shock. It raised a swarm of questions. It offended. It enraged. And it bemused. It mesmerized with a curious prurient mix of what was natural and unnatural, familiar and unfamiliar, decent and indecent. It had been hidden yet not so securely as to escape discovery. It had to have been concocted but did not betray by whom; the 'for' whom element was obvious and maddeningly inescapable. Its implications ranged from scurrilous to outright abominable. Its utter corruption of innocence censored all except the filthiest connotations. Its brazen qualities affronted; their ill-effects were visceral. Sophie felt a double-breasted rash of personal degradation that overlapped and itched, that chafed parental conscience and rubbed marital mores raw, for surely he who commissioned such an icon, who had stashed it none-too-subtly underneath his briefs, and who had used it as an aphrodisiac (?), she conjectured, to whet his furtive appetite for ravaging 'her' daughter, 'his' stepdaughter, 'their' solo dependent, doubtless was the culprit, both adulterer and incest-craving profligate rolled into one deceitful, disgustingly duplicitous, son-of-a-bitch and bastard! The longer Sophie stared at VIOLETTA LADY the angrier she became, first and foremost at herself for gross imperceptiveness (even Wayne had cautioned her about marrying a "jock"; sour grapes, she had smugly diagnosed, her body eagerly making up for wasted, ungratified time, her mind infused with endorphins, her child not at risk), secondly at Phil for proving to be a monster (shamming fatherly concern while plotting twofold treachery, violating vows and Violetta both, sullying everything sacred about parenthood and matrimony), thirdly at her child for concealing the atrocity (enduring what, how often, where and when, she shuddered to think), knowing Phil's proclivities, ignorant of Violetta's yearnings—if a nine-year-old could be said to yearn for sex per se at all, unless led astray, introduced too soon but no less consequentially by a man whose carnal knowledge was second to none, and who might indeed get off on indoctrinating a schoolgirl, irrespective her age, so long as it was he who staked his claim first; Phil, if anything, was possessive, and 'took' possession greedily.

Such were Sophie's thoughts upon uncovering VV's evidence, wife-with-mother-with-self at odds, at all-out war, incredulity her only haven, should denials by Phil be forthcoming, convincing, and, if God hath mercy, true.

 

"I knew that kid of yours was hanging out with a nogoodnik. This is proof positive she's under some pervert's influence. Incredible!" Phil looked again at Seymour Starkey's handiwork, converting id-triggered Eros into irate-Dad solicitude, his outrage at the print's obscenity less genuine than his vouchsafed ignorance about its existence. "You found this where; in 'our' dresser, under 'my' underwear? That's a low blow, if you'll forgive the pun. By process of elimination, there's only one person who could have put it there. Would you care to speculate why? I know Violetta 'dislikes' me, but this is malevolent. Child pornography plus molestation-of-a-minor equals jail-time, big-time." Again he examined the print, ostensibly to deduce its origin, covertly to absorb its pristine licentiousness. "Is it possible she's protecting her real seducer by pointing the finger at me?"

Sophie, so relieved that Phil, in lieu of a confession, was positing an alternative to her precipitous condemnation, balked before accepting what was too good to believe, reluctant to suffer a replay of her abject anguish, if Phil, despite this reprieve, ultimately proved guilty. Hating herself for doubting her beloved husband, weighed against hating herself far worse for doubting her only begotten child (who had not, in point of fact, accused Phil, or anyone for that matter, of seducing her, but had admitted seducing others), Sophie fought off the urge to be persuaded outright. Sensing this, Phil reinforced his defense's plausibility.

"Remember that time she ran away, spent the entire night 'out,' and came home no-worse-for-wear—or so we assumed—still dressed in her pajamas? We never did drag out of her where it was she went. My guess is, someone in this building has been offering VV refuge, exacting God-knows-what as payment in return. I don't suppose she told you anything specific before she hightailed it out of here?"

Putting Sophie on the defensive let Phil rest his case. While he indulged in one more lingering look at VIOLETTA LADY, Violetta's mother connected the damning dots.

 

 

The long-anticipated visit by Child Protective Services took place in accordance with Hawthorne School Board's plan to "act in everyone's best interests," VV's expulsion having appeased the litigious-leaning parents of her (happily) sodomized peers, an approved transfer for the coming year (to a middle school within the same district but outside their immediate neighborhood) putting VV beyond reach, it was hoped, of her "unfortunate reputation," and a thorough medical examination scheduled (with a Psychologist/Pediatrician appointed by the State) to determine whether mental and/or physical damage from sexual abuse indeed had been sustained—an examination VV, for reasons unknown, stubbornly resisted and managed to get postponed pending the results of CPR's preliminary twofold interview:

EVALUATION

CHILD:  Violetta Vickers  (age 9)

MOTHER:  Sophia McNulty  (age 30)

STEPFATHER:  Phillip Lawrence McNulty  (age 40)

SIBLINGS:  none

BIOLOGICAL FATHER:  Wayne Paul Vickers  (age 37) resides out-of-state

Neither parent reported being aware of subject's possible sexual abuse until notified by school authorities who observed behavioral shifts that include:

·          applying lipstick (red shades exclusively)

·          wearing skirts and dresses (pants had been typical prior)

·          exhibiting marked interest in opposite gender (reciprocated)

·       erratic application of body illustrations (subject known for decorating limbs with ink-drawn doodles and witticisms)

·          composing an essay in class about recent life changes that suggest illicit intimacy (with an adult)

·          performing oral sex on several male classmates at a site off campus (recounted after-the-fact by boys involved).

Both parents describe subject's attitude toward stepfather as hostile. Mother expressly concerned about subject plotting revenge for spankings administered by husband. In support of this likelihood, parents produced a photographic print hidden by subject in stepfather's underclothes that depicts her in the nude with a fully-developed physique. Parents suspect whoever created this image is the grownup molesting their daughter and further suspect the subject is protecting this person's identity. Neither ventured to speculate why such might be the case. Subject, by all accounts, is remarkably articulate, with a genius-level IQ, hence equally adept at evasiveness and candor.

 

"So, Violetta; or do prefer VV? Which of us would you like to talk to? Your choice; him or me? My name is April. This is Seth. We work at Child Protective Services, meaning what our job entails is protecting kids like you. If they need protection, of course. If everything is safe, we don't intervene. The way we find out whether we can be useful is by having a little chat."

VV sat in the living room armchair, Seth and April on the rug, their heads intentionally lower than the interviewee's—who tilted hers to the left then to the right in a dumb show of deciding. When, at length, it appeared she might be stymied, Violetta chose.

"Both."

Predicting that their subject would be more at ease with a female, Seth and April registered joint surprise—April mildly disappointed; she was good at getting children to open up, girls and boys alike, better at it than Seth, who was too intellectual, always eager to engage in a 'meeting of the minds.' His smiling eyes, when VV's mutely met them, read 'diplomatic choice.' April, anxious to begin (and to prove her superiority), introduced next a pair of dolls, each equipped with anatomical features specific to its gender; tactfully explicit, their genitals ranked as 'cute,' replete with sufficient detail to gainsay ambiguity.

"These are our assistants, who, unfortunately, have no names. We were hoping you would suggest a couple? What should we call this one?"

He and She 

April held up the she-doll for VV's consideration. Anticipating its purpose, 'the subject' thought it droll. She took it from April's hand to examine it more closely.

"Sarah."

"Sarah she is." April held up the he-doll. "And this one?"

VV eyed it analytically.

"Elmer."

"Elmer he is. Because?"

"His face is like Elmer Fudd's."

"And Sarah?"

VV shrugged.

"First girl's name I could think of."

"Do you know any Elmers or  Sarahs?"

"Nope. Except for the old cartoon." With her free hand VV took "Elmer," swiveling him by the waist to inspect his genitalia juxtaposed to "Sarah's," tickled by the user-friendly nature of the pair's sewn-in parts—similarly fashioned from sculpted nylon stockings.

"Cool."

She moved to hand them back but April gestured otherwise.

"Keep them while we talk, why don't you? Maybe they can help? You know, by showing us, through them, how people have behaved? People in your life who are making you sad or happy?"

"Which?"

"Which people?"

"No, which effect?"

April's use of inflection, lifting her voice at every statement's end, turning each into a question, was getting on VV's nerves. Perhaps she should have chosen Seth as her confidante cum confessor. Men were easier to handle, she was learning, prone to being charmed. Even Phil betrayed a weakness for succumbing to feminine wiles—without understanding them, as if an inclination to take a thing by force precluded comprehension, the victor rendered blind to all save subliminal cravings... though Phil, to be strictly fair, grasped female anatomy, VV extrapolated, knowing where to touch, how roughly or how tenderly, what to hurry or what to prolong, and somehow always sensing when an orgasm—Sophie's, in actuality—was (audibly) imminent. Selfishly unselfish, her stepfather's sex drive drove (in episodes VV observed, therefore strictly vicarious) a woman's body crazy. Though below the age of consent, VV felt 'informed,' her carnal knowledge expanding on each (conjectured) occasion that posited Phil's skilled influence on VV's private practices—her loss of innocence blamed less on McNulty, of a sudden, than on his undiscerning spouse, VV's mother Sophie bearing the brunt of her daughter's fickle enmity, gratified undeniably while exposing her only child to being sinned against and soiled; Violetta reassessed her (supposed) violation's origin. Phil, neither kith nor kin, could be excused; his crime was opportunism. Whereas Sophie, as flesh-and-blood, could never be absolved; hers was a crime of woeful lack of taste and ruinous denial causing VV's vengeance to refocus: sicking CPS on Phil might be ill-advised. Stealing him from 'Mom' might serve Sophie right. Crosshairs suddenly shifted, VV's wrath re-aimed.

EVALUATION (continued)

Subject admits openly to having an avid interest in sex. When asked about actual experience, however, answers were evasive.

"Has anyone, other than you, ever touched your peepee?"

"My what? Are we talking about my urethra, my vagina, or my euphemistic 'cleft of Venus'?"

Though subject demonstrates a remarkable vocabulary and appears to know the basics and-then-some about human sexuality, she betrays no sense of shame about conduct divulged.

"Oh, that. Only the kids who wash. Boys my age are filthy, especially their so-called 'peepees.' Scrub-a-dub-dub beforehand or please do not apply."

Subject's disarming precociousness may double as a defense mechanism.                                                                                         

"How would you describe your relationship with Mom and Dad?"

"Snugly uncommunicative and distantly affectionate."

"Really? Your mother seems to think you bear your father some sort of grudge?"

"True; my father left and I hate his guts for that. Otherwise, I regard him rather fondly... Oh, you mean Phil. Do I bear my stepfather a grudge? Safe to say, I can't bear Phil at all."

Anyone in authority is viewed by subject with hostility. This may stem from resentment about parents' separation or indicate an adult, at some point, has been abusive.

"George? Well, George is being 'phased out,' so to speak, due to a 'budgetary crunch,' is what I was told. That makes Mr. Cunningham, our Principal of Vice, my default guidance counselor, who's not much good as a psychologist but listens when I speak. Like most adults, however, power has fucked him up."

Supporting parents' suspicion that subject may have befriended the person molesting her, an inadvertent mention may have been made.

"Grownups with half a brain can figure out what's fair. Children know instinctively. Yet the only grownup I've ever met who acts fair happens to be a dolt."

Subject's placement and wording of 'tattoos' would appear to be self-defacement; one such, unrevealed, was nonetheless described.

"I copped it from a vintage flick in whatshisname's VCR collection, starring some actress who drowned—though Wood is supposed to float. Sorry; bad joke. In lettering fitted into a cheese wedge shape, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED is how it reads upside-down."

When asked, pointblank, if subject required our services, assistance was declined.                                                                          

"I changed my mind, is all. Sometimes kids feel overwhelmed when confronted by icky problems. Mine aren't that unsolvable, I've decided; I can handle them myself. Thanks, but no thanks, is what I'm saying, if you're really asking me."

 

 

"My say-so regardless, they'll do whatever they want. April was the cagey one. Seth was more straightforward (though he hardly said boo). Neither thinks that 'Dad' is double-dicking, which may be just as well. The print I planted evidently backfired; instead of incriminating Phil, it gave him grounds for convincing my own mother that I was trying to frame her hairy-handed spouse, her super-stud-of-a-husband, her two-timing 'backdoor man'—I saw them, Seymour, going at it, Phil's 'you-know-what' inserted like an inverse turd. Don't look 'inverse' up; it'll gross you out tout de suite."

The puzzle, all but finished, still lay spread across Seymour's floor, one piece left unplaced awaiting VV's return to execute that honor—accomplished incidentally, as she deconstructed her meeting with the "Governmental Agents," hirelings of the State whose mission made life miserable for one side, the other, or both, custody issues seldom settled equitably as viewed by those involved.

"Mom cut up your print, by the way, and flushed it down our toilet. Over the objections of April, Seth, and Phil. A stroke of luck that saved me the trouble, and you the remote possibility that fingertips I wiped clean might still have been retrievable. So much for Plan A; Plan B is 'in development,' specifics T.B.D."

Seymour looked perplexed.

"To Be Decided, Puddenhead. How'd you assemble this without me?" VV studied the jigsaw. "And what are we looking at anyway; airborne cherubs? Weird. Where'd you buy it?"

"I ordered it special from a Jigsaw Puzzler online. I sent in a CMYK jpeg; they sent it back as a puzzle."

"Cool. So this is one-of-a-kind? An original Seymour Starkey? What's it of."

"Limbo, of course."

"Babies floating around on clouds?"

"These babies are unbaptized and it's on account of that they're here... 'in a state of perfect natural happiness.' I told you this before. Don't you remember?"

"Vaguely."

"You said you wanted to go there."

Seymour pondered the finished skyscape, every piece in place, residents each aloft, sedate, and seemingly self-satisfied—or as satisfied as possible in the absence of God Almighty, who ought to reconsider the wisdom, Seymour dared to advocate, of punishing infants for sins committed by adults. Adam and Eve were grownups, after all, when they disobeyed God's order. And though every soul thenceforward was required to be cleansed of Original Sin, it seemed a bit unfair to include itty-bitty babies. It seemed unfair, by Seymour's simple reasoning, to punish innocents at all; leastways not for all Eternity—which struck him as an unreasonably long sentence for just about any crime, let alone one inherited by unwitting newborns. Since Seymour had taken down his crucifix, putting VIOLETTA LADY in its place, God's laws seemed too strict and unforgiving in a world that needed fairness more than it did piety. The Ten Commandments, with their dos and don'ts, were important, but The Golden Rule was simpler: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," was easy to understand, could always be applied, and it helped no matter who or what a person prayed to. Religion caused too many fights; The Golden Rule struck nothing but truces. Not that a Retard's musings were worth anyone's consideration. Seymour knew too well the cost of his limitations. Insights, brainstorms, breakthroughs, and the like, at his level, admittedly were jokes. Still, he could only do his best with the head atop his shoulders, and Limbo, as he envisioned it, was rendered to a T, with a place reserved for VV—lower right-hand corner on the puzzle's foremost cloud.

"Hey, is this one supposed to be me?"

Seymour grinned.

VV struck a semblance of the coppertop's comfy pose, bent legs crossed at the ankles, one hand resting on her chest, the other behind her head, an elbow flush with her temple, forearm pressed to her cheek, eyes closed miming slumber... until she peek-a-booed a look, catching Seymour with his mug so melancholic it made her want to cry.

"You created this puzzle for me, huh? And you saved me the last piece to place? And you've had to step around it for who knows how long until I came to see it?"

As VV asked these questions she resumed a seated posture, folding her legs politely under the hem of a vintage skirt, her scabby knees protruding like a two-headed tortoise.

Seymour, sitting opposite, noted the abrasions—rug burns, possibly. From sliding into bases on artificial turf? Or caused by an activity considerably less wholesome? Conjecturing the latter had overcast Seymour's brow, saddened by yet another manifestation of his visitor's troubled character, VV's youth misled but no longer unawares. An element of collusion had compromised her status and lent to her flirtatiousness an almost venial look... unless hers was a bluff that some callous grownup called, taking foul; advantage in lieu of taking her to task...

 

... Phil, perchance, confident 'Daddy's little girl' had weighed the pros and cons and chosen not to indict him, her change-of-heart rewarded by mutual magnanimity; he would overlook her injudicious dalliance with that coterie of boys; she henceforth would avoid them—the rug burns incidental to this godforsaken pact, or proof that Sophie's place indeed had been usurped?

 

Seymour, none too sure about this superficial evidence, nonetheless intuited VV's squirmy conscience, incurring first her solicitude then the fickle youngster's wrath. 'Who was he to judge? To pronounce her unfit for Paradise? To maroon her in his airhead's notion of an Afterlife so implausible it was as stupid as a Loony-Tunes cartoon?' Affection swapped for animus, Violetta bristled. Pertinent to nothing said, she scrambled to her feet. Seymour, taken aback, looked on in horror as the hothead lifted her skirt (THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED nakedly revealed) squatted over the jigsaw puzzle and peed—uric acid blistering, on contact, the splashed and splattered image, which VV, stepping to the door—CLUNK—left in her spiteful wake!

 

 

Violetta didn't mean to do that. It was my fault she got angry. It was my fault she got in trouble with the police. And it was my fault she got abducted. Most of what took place from this point on I could and should have prevented. But maybe I better start with what came next when she stormed from my apartment and ran smack-dab into—guess who (?)—Phil, who was waiting down the hall.

 

 

VV left the door ajar upon exiting 19D, a happenstance of which Phil took headlong advantage; "I'll settle with you shortly" was his over-the-shoulder threat as he shoved past Violetta's guard, her outstretched arm ineffectual in impeding the madman's momentum, which thrust him into Seymour's startled presence with mayhem-minded fury:

unappeased by finding 'the weirdo' on his knees mopping up urine with a sponge,

unsympathetic upon seeing The Retard drop his jaw in frightened anticipation, and

undeterred from damning 'the pervert' outright for high crimes and misdemeanors

thus unrepentant when delivering a sanctimonious kick,

and then another,

and then another,

to a man already down,

already clutching the broken rib inflicted by his attacker,

by him whose upright onslaught brewed adrenaline out of guilt or jealous indignation, then managed to suspend further abuse lest he be cast as villain when the authorities pressed 'several' charges, among them (as Phil spotted Seymour's PC, modem, and printer) production, possession, and doubtless distribution of felonious child pornography, its most egregious example—VIOLETTA LADY—hidden by the Murphy bed:

(indecent-exposure framed,

niche-in-the-wall enshrined,

imagery geared to prey upon best-suppressed 'inclinations')...

 

... 'tendencies' were all that Phil admitted to under oath—and that was done to none save his parish priest...

 

... whereas Seymour Starkey pled 'no contest' to every accusation, guilty as he was of thought, word, and deed, imagining VIOLETTA LADY come to life, as he did often, asking her to be his girl, his sweetheart, his wedded wife, and touching her—yes, all over—on her 'coccyx' and her crotch, the Vs of VV's body like his heart's pathetic vortex, throbbing unrequitedly, doubly starved for love, for fondling rather than groping, for desire that transformed lust into tenderness unto passionate compassion in communion with delight at having, holding, and cherishing someone above all others,

thought, word, deed condemning him,

guilty, guilty, guilty

of every crime as charged,

if not on counts in court, nonetheless deserving of ridicule and chastisement, the former for pretending that a person as dumb as he could woo and win a person as smart as VV (once she turned eighteen), the latter for his woeful (current) failure to offer her protection; of what use was a security guard who left his post unmanned, who left a child unsafe, and who left her plight to a pedophile (?)…

 

... alleged, alleged, alleged;

"bless me Father for I have sinned; it has been several weeks since my last confession, and here are my offenses," yet Phil spoke not the words required for absolution. Why were thoughts considered sins when they did not rank as crimes? Profanity, he understood, could be hurtful therefore sinful. Actions were, of course, either laudable or deplorable. But why should he confess to 'thinking' about having sex with a minor? Even if that minor read his mind and behaved as if he had, made accusations behind his back, impugned his reputation, as if he could and would indulge in acts immoral and/or illegal—though both terms were relative:

Not that his recent 'wet dreams' qualified as incestuous; he and his hot-pants stepchild (as 'step' implied) were blood-wise unrelated, his attraction to both mom and daughter not only conceivable but blamelessly natural, VV a youthful incarnation of her super-sexy mother—Phil's object of desire, the apple of his eye, with reference again to Eve, and Adam's predisposition to mate with any and all lookalikes (albeit never mentioned in the Book of Genesis); surely sex with a nine-year-old had pardonable precedents, if merely serving as practice for when a child could a child conceive, VV's being premenstrual an ideal state for prefacing procreation with impeccant play, as other mammals mimicked adult behavior during the maturation process, fumbling with their siblings, more often than not, until they learned how to couple, instinct tutored by experience, by repeated trial and error; why not learn from an expert? Should grownups educate children in everything 'other' than reproduction, leave that one significant area for children to school themselves, even when a child awakened early to the rhapsodies of sex, hungered for its turbulence, thirsted for its thrills, bounced with greedy enthusiasm when impaled on a full-grown member (?)—or so Phil had 'hypothesized' while hearing about VV's exploits with that raunchy band of boys, or while watching her masturbate, or while coping with her brazen trick of baring her buns for spankings; it was she, not he, who fanned the flames of iniquitous sensuality, her coquettishness a weapon, her standoffishness a ploy, her very innocence anything-but...

 

... as he slapped her buttocks pink, then splotchy rose, then candy-apple red, having dealt with her confederate...

 

(Seymour left in a heap, sputtering blood bubbles, further defacing the puzzle over which he huddled dejectedly).

 

... Phil having then given chase out the door and along the corridor, catching the misbegotten imp mid-foyer, hauling her (howling like a banshee) down the stairs and into their apartment, where Sophie, this time, watched her wayward daughter's well-earned chastening, saw how VV managed to flaunt her lack of panties by grasping fistfuls of fabric, hiking up her skirt, and exposing herself plus icons, her indiscreet 'tattoos'—more elaborate than ever, with pictographs and words documenting the trials and tribulations of a vacillating tween gung-ho and reluctant to shed her childhood trappings, frightened and emboldened by her enigmatic intellect, prematurely ripe and loving-hating every minute of it, seized not only by Phil (hell-bent on ousting his and her demons, as if they could be purged via pain from palm prints plied) but likewise seized by a spasm of vulvar excitation; her hypertrophic clitoris rubbed against Phil's obliging thigh, denim darkened on contact with Violetta's discharge, indigo bruised to purple like her black-and-blue behind...

 

... nursed alone in her room after Stepdad left off walloping (satisfied he had hurt her, if perturbed by his pant-leg's stain), tender to the touch, almost mushy, like a pulverized roast of rump, antipathy come full circle, brute force besting wit, neutralizing guile, and curbing disobedience; adults (!), how VV loathed them; how she knew she must become one, yet resisted it; how her brain outstripped physique, which set her senses in a whirl, churning up such dust as to obscure her true identity—reduced to an insubstantial shadow, to a self in silhouette, to a character sketched in outline antipathetic to its gradual filling-in, aware that grownups lurked to render her like 'them,' with colors from their box of commonplace Crayolas.

 

 

Pardon this interruption but I'm a little bit confused about who did what to whom and why nobody has gone to jail yet. Is Phil McNulty in denial or has he been molesting Violetta Vickers? Is Violetta Vickers a victim or a pathological liar? Is Seymour Starkey a dimwitted sexual predator or a dimwitted dupe? One of the liabilities of telling a tale through an idiot is that much of that idiot's story fails make sense. My job is to record but also to extrapolate. Seymour couldn't have known countless details that already have been related—'intuited,' if you will, by yours truly—during the process of recreating them. He feeds me the facts (those he recollects, limited as they are given their source's limitations) and I endeavor to 'fabricate' an account that weaves a woof of truth. Not "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me" Santa Claus (liar or not, VV won my heart with her skeptic's take on Jehovah), rather the truth as it might dawn, say, on members of a jury as they weigh the facts communally but construe them individually as they are instructed. Seymour was a fool to opt for a plea bargain. Once you admit to the State that you are guilty of a crime, you're at a judge's mercy. On the other hand, claim your right to a jury trial by entering the plea not guilty and you have a twelvefold chance of getting off. If only a single Reader, at this stage, has doubts about Seymour's culpability, you understand my point; people empathize with people.  And though judges, lawyers, bailiffs are (ostensibly) people, too, they tend to develop calluses on their humanity that jury members don't; not in court, where laymen typically feel guilty themselves, are relieved that somebody else is on the stand, and are reluctant to sit in judgment lest they be judged in turn. Seymour, I repeat, was a fool to cop a plea of guilty.

Unless what we've been told is some elaborate rationalized whopper. The thought has occurred to me. Yet, ironically, of the characters thus far introduced, Starkey seems the least likely to spin deliberate falsehoods. He may be pathetic (curled up in a pool of blood and pee, the place where I'll resume, once taking you on this detour), but honesty rivals stupidity as one of our Retard's unfailing traits. As much as I hate to admit it, he may not be such a reprobate—though I still have my doubts. As well should any Reader who shares my confusion about the aforementioned 'ambiguities.'

Fiction, unlike 'real life,' is 'contrived' to make it appear plausible... in the finale, at least... when every mystery gets solved, every question gets answered, and every loose end gets tied. This book, if pre-existent as I have maintained, should prove no exception. Though frankly, I've begun to worry; it continues to write itself, but has contradictory elements; expectations (mine, for example) are straying far afield, and issues crystal clear (again to me) have gotten rather murky. 'Pedophiles Unite' is not the clarion call I want this work to sound. 'Hang 'em from the yardarm, by the balls' is still my sentiment; whereas split-hair qualms to the contrary disregard what every abused child feels when trust in a trusted grownup gets 'Violetta Violated.

 

 

Adhering to his piss-moist cheek when Seymour tried to rise, to overrule the lethargy that had commandeered his pride and left him indisposed to do much of anything, was a jigsaw puzzle piece of discolored cloud and sky... which stuck all the while he propped himself on an elbow, grimaced at the paralyzing pain that shot through his injured side, forced his gone-to-sleep feet to bear his weight, albeit buzzingly, circulation slow to help him gain his bearings and support his shaky steps to shut the left-ajar door, its deadbolt—CLUNK—resounding in his wake en route to the bathroom, where the puzzle piece lost its grip, at last, and fell into the sink... over which, in the medicine chest mirror, Seymour raked his features, distorting them grotesquely with his fingers' downward trawl, his expression reminiscent of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch.

Sadness seeped from every pore. His skin appeared to be jaundiced, as if tinged by the sickening certainty he would see Violetta no more, her Stepdad's withering condemnation fiercer than the kicks it reinforced, inflicting damage to his psyche far exceeding that done to his ribcage; it put him in his place with the same tenacity of the judge who eventually passed sentence, both entirely justified to hold him in contempt, awkward, useless, and stupid as Seymour felt he was, scrawny, scruffy, and goofy as he knew, too well, he looked, undeserving of sympathy, mercy, or anyone's forgiveness, much less his own, for doting upon a nine-year-old, imagining she might marry him—once her little body caught up with her ultra-grownup smarts and she resembled VIOLETTA LADY in all her unclad glory... ignominious icon as that graven image proved when entered (Exhibit A) into evidence against him, a memento even then with which he parted grudgingly, cleaving to his pipedream with pitiful devotion, heartened by its promise (no matter false), by its winsomeness sustained, ideals somehow more durable than everyday reality, hope, like faith, a boon irrespective any semblance to the truth.

Such were Seymour's reflections upon his reflection as framed by the bathroom's gilt-edged glass, its imitation gold befitting an artificial virtue that the 'Scatterbrain' now confessed, lack of wit a poor excuse for dubious moral conduct, in his humble estimation—seconded by the court, in a case that never went to trial; Seymour Starkey's confession sufficed to remove him as a menace to society.

 

 

I'm not supposed to skip stuff, I was told by you-know-who, like how I got arrested—which I didn't want to mention on account of who turned me in—but something happened before that, something connected but way more important; the night Phil beat me up, VV disappeared. I know because the landlord claimed Phil made him open my apartment to check if his "missing-person stepdaughter" had been kidnapped and was "bound-and-gagged inside." Phil was making such a racket banging on my door, hollering "VV," and calling me bad names that a neighbor phoned our landlord on his cell and he came straight over. I was away at work, thank goodness, or Phil might have hurt me worse. Our landlord figured 'better him than the police' so he let himself in. As soon as he reported that my place was totally empty, Phil went looking elsewhere, mad as a hornet.

Funny thing is I wasn't all that worried when I found out VV left. What Phil called "an abduction" wasn't really. He just said so to cause trouble when he guessed where it was VV went. And sure enough she made it, all the way up to Seattle. Got there almost faster than she would have if she'd flown. Wayne—Wayne Vickers, VV's biological father—phoned to tell her mom that their daughter was safe and sound. That's when Phil insisted she must have been abducted; who ever heard of a nine-year-old hitchhiking from San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington, alone, overnight, and finding an address where she'd never ever been on an off-shore island? The FBI also was suspicious. They got involved on account of VV crossing not one but two state lines. So Blue—Wayne Vickers' girlfriend, who he lives with—hired a lawyer. Phil got even madder because he couldn't afford one. And Wayne not only was protecting himself from possible criminal charges, he was maybe going to sue for custody of Violetta. Believe you me, things got complicated quick. But I was happy—happy for VV—who was better off away. What she needed most was a brand new start.

 

Kindness was the virtue that delivered Violetta Vickers into the arms of her dumbstruck father on Orcas Island; kindness aided and abetted by sheer luck and the runaway's little white lies:

"You're running away from home?"

"I was."

"Meaning what; you've changed your mind?"

"Uh huh."

"So now you're going back? Where do you live?"

"On one of the San Juan islands."

"Off the coast of Seattle?! You got all the way here from there?!"

And that was how the Good Samaritan came to be 'schnookered' into taking Violetta "home"—an act of softhearted selflessness nonetheless, considering he, an auto mechanic from Tacoma, was only going that far yet agreed to "take a little detour" in the spirit of reuniting a brave if delinquent daughter with her no doubt desperate dad, whose "second wife" (another fib the returnee confided), "wasn't all that bad."

 

Meanwhile, justice came a-knocking on Seymour Starkey's door, its Cyclops peephole unable to ward off the warrant for his arrest, while eyes espying from without could not detect if those within were scared, looking for an escape route, or presently not therein. Advised that the suspect worked nights, the officers had come mid-morning, timed to find him home and, with any luck, asleep. The element of surprise was generally useful for minimizing resistance—though experience taught, in cases such as these, that suspects surrendered passively, many of them grateful, even eager, to be apprehended at last, agreeing with the public's characterization that they were, indeed, pariahs, and wishing for some means by which they might atone, in some sense already imprisoned by the social stigma damning them for crimes admittedly base but beyond their self-control.

Joining the pair of officers, passkey in hand, was Seymour's shifty landlord.

"Like I told you, he works graveyard; normally he'd be in."

"Open the door, please."

"You fellas know there are rules about entering a unit when the occupant…"

"We have a felony warrant."

"Of course, of course."

The landlord, sorry to be involved, complied with the request. Stepping aside, he let the policemen in, then made as if to leave.

"We may need you to sign for items taken into evidence."

"Of course, of course. You want me to…"

"Wait in the hall, if you would, please."

Resigned to his role as adjunct, the landlord assumed his post.

 

"Looks more like a kid's room, with all these action-hero comics."

"Candy-wrapper type."

"You think?"

"They make me sick; use this stuff as lures. 'Come play with my toys, little girl.' Next thing you know, she's screwed; physically, psychologically; these assholes do a number. Kids end up in therapy, fucked up for life. Look at this crap; everything's geared toward mesmerizing a minor."

From a prosecutorial viewpoint, Seymour's collective curios were circumstantial fodder. CUCKOO chimed the wall-clock eleven times in succession, underscoring the Romper Room impression such 'kinder-clutter' made—interpreted as degenerate by one of the two policemen, both predicting the high-end PC and printer would yield more conclusive proof. Though why risk rousing suspicion at a commercial establishment when owning such sophisticated equipment? The kiddy porn reported by clerks at Giclee Prints might have been done as professionally on apparatus here.

"Better let the lab-nerds work their wiles on this. Seal it."

"Wow."

"'Wow' what?"

"Check out the Murphy bed. Haven't seen one of these since the old I Hotel."

"That's a bed?"

"Yeah, watch. You pull it down, like so."

And that was how the police found VIOLETTA LADY, in all her 'incriminating' glory, a near-identical match with the order left uncollected in Berkeley, the little girl downstairs, as both parents vouchsafed, depicted in each, the perpetrator clearly him whose as-yet-unexplained absence merely delayed his imminent and overdue apprehension.

 

 

They caught me at work; the police did. Walked right up and cuffed me. Then they read me my rights, which meant I didn't have to talk to them. Not without a lawyer; which I didn't have yet, so, in the meantime, we just chatted. Everything I said, though, "could and would be used against me." And sure enough it was. They were good at remembering; I got quoted word for word, just like a celebrity. The public defender they lent me said I'd "let the cat out of the bag," meaning stuff I blabbed while talking with the detectives "cooked my goose." I thought that was funny. He thought it was bad, and the best thing we could do, under the circumstances, was to plead guilty and ask for the judge's mercy. One thing I was careful not to blab was stuff I'm telling you. In this book, I mean. About VV. Every time they asked about her I played dumb. They asked and asked and asked. But I did like I promised. They said VV was in trouble, and it was up to me to help. I thought that was maybe a trap so I kept my trap shut. They also told me it was VV who turned me in. I didn't want to believe it—us being friends, and all—but if what they said was true, then VV must have had her reasons. She was up there on that island with her father, like she wanted, so I figured she was happy, and I didn't want to spoil things. I wished I could have said goodbye or called or sent an email, but all my stuff was 'confiscated' the day they arrested me, the same day I got a tooth pulled then took myself to lunch then fell asleep on a pew at Old St. Mary's Cathedral in Chinatown. Luckily (sort of), I had my uniform on, or I would have been late for work. "Son, observe the time and fly from evil," it says on that church, right outside on the steeple: Ecclesiastes IV, verse 23. That's what's called 'ironic' on account of I flew into evil, rushing to my job where I got handcuffed and hauled off to jail, then to the penitentiary, a nasty place that made me think of Purgatory all while I was there.

 

 

Seymour inhaled deeply, held it a moment, then let his breath out slowly... an unvoiced sigh seeming to punctuate his lengthy exhalation, his hands, eclipsing antimacassars at armrests' end, relaxed, fingers spread like full-sized pinions attached to stunted wings; he looked small, in the old-fashioned armchair, almost shrunken in its overstuffed midst, toes scarcely reaching the floor in front of an unemployed footrest, its panel flush with Naugahide upholstery that wheezed with every shift of weight grown less substantial during the course of this marathon interview...

... recorded for posterity by the author seated opposite, whose scrutiny flared like an atheist's eying an errant priest, whose overriding attitude seemed angrily hypercritical, whose left hand twitched disaffectedly as if it had betrayed him by failing to avenge some underreported travesty, one mentioned only in passing but neither probed nor amply analyzed, dismissed, thereby, as a motive for undertaking an exposé that left the guilt of its pivotal villain too much in doubt and cast a shadow of uncertainty where conclusiveness had been anticipated; black and white, yielding to ambiguity and the fuzziness of gray; good guys with bad guys disgracefully interchangeable to the detriment of closure...

                     

 

 

... unless retaliation was my understated goal, Seymour Starkey the whipping boy for wounds—of mine—redressed, which might be why I feel this sense of unfulfilled vindictiveness, taking out on Starkey, here, what my mind's eye aimed at her, who crept into my bed when I was nine, who gave me untold orgasms, who shamed me into silence with a string of bribes and threats that kept our sins a secret for three, no, four long years, who had me half-convinced that what we did was 'natural,' who likened it to wet dreams that all boys my age had, though few could boast of having them so often, or with such benign intensity, for who could better siphon seed from a child than his trusty maiden aunt aka babysitter, sister of the mother who gave him life, then suck, then commended him to the mercy of her sybaritic sibling who devoured in a long-drawn wealth of hungrily wickedly ways, consumption that consumed, obsessed, corrupted, and converted him into something he was not, a boy become a man, then taxed, as an awkward adolescent, to cope with an avaricious legacy wherein Auntie Maisy Jean left a rouge-red mark, mouth perpetually painted with incendiary shades, lipstick that lent Technicolor impressions in the wake of her fellatio, lipstick she applied to her nether parts, as well, that fed with an appetite rapacious on the nights she duly 'sat,' all the while professing love incarnadine, love long-lasting, love professed even now, proud of novels Mr. Good Hand has written. But what of Mr. Bad Hand's? How will Maisy Jean react to seeing her crime in print, erupting like some pus-distended blister from underneath thin skin? Incest was the impetus for this 'pre-existent' work, 'found' as much as fashioned, fragmented yet intact, finished before completed like an act of divination, future, past, and present in a single tense combined, will be, was, and is simultaneous, synchronous to a fault, with you, Dear Reader, made privy to dislocations in a fiction writer's spine, gathered, as is this volume, by a crosshatch binding stitched, pages sewn onto empty pages filled with paragraphs bold and blind.

What is this author ranting about; finish the goddamn story!

 

 

"So here you sit with this device around your ankle that pinpoints where you are but not what it is you're doing, after having spent... how many years in jail?"

Eight.

"Eight years in confinement, for crimes that you confessed but, in spirit, did not commit? You have to register, yearly, as a sex offender? Your mug shot is published on the internet—alongside the offenses that label you as warped? You lost your job? You have no home—save this dismal, cheap motel? From which you have to move because it's too near a school? And all because you befriended a precocious little brat?"

VV 's not a brat! You shouldn't say that, Jack. When kids get abused they change. Phil is maybe the one they should have put in jail. But VV got away from him. And stayed away.

"You're sure of that?"

I'm sure.

"Who told you?"

You did.

"When? How? I didn't even know. You're the guy who is up on the cold, hard facts. All I do..."

Is make stuff up.

"Is 'report.'"

Okay, the facts:

 

 

A month after VV got to Orcas she sent an 'urgent' email that Seymour never read. His password had been changed. Hotmail, by court order, had frozen his account. Its cache had been subpoenaed. VV's message bounced back, much to her consternation. Calls, too, went unanswered—"service disconnected"—leaving her the only other option: antiquated snail mail.

 

Hey Dumdum,

Sorry for the radio silence; I've been a tad busy. Living on an island is cool. Living on this one is... well, dull, frankly, but a whole lot better 'situationally' (look it up) than life with mega-turd Phil. I hope he didn't hurt you. The Perv sure manhandled me. After he went Postal and stormed into your place, he waylaid me in the stairwell and dragged me into ours, where, under the approving eye of my traitorous mother, he beat me to a pulp. That did it: I split, hightailed it here, and I'M NEVER GOING BACK! And guess what; I don't have to! Dad and Blue won custody; Mom and Phil cut a deal: either I stay put on Orcas, or Phil defends himself in court against a slew of heavy-duty charges—most of them 'invented,' I admit, but 'substantiated' enough to make him worry that some might just stick. Dad 's got a really sharp attorney, whereas Cheapskate Phil refused to spring for one, so rather than risk my tall tales swaying a judge, the McNultys 'capitulated' ('gave in,' Ninny), setting the stage for everyone to live "happily ever after." Yeah, sure, right. Problems may change settings and personnel but life as a ten-year-old (no kidding; just turned) sucks when most grownups and nearly all of one's peers are relative nincompoops. Speaking of which, you are maybe the smartest dumbest person I'll probably ever meet. I miss you, Peabrain; truly. More than I miss my mom. More than I miss just about anything you could name back in San Francisco. Funny, huh, how you and I turned out to have so much in common, with me having too many marbles and you, alas, too few? Which taught me something important; intelligence isn't everything. It can make a person devious—my brand especially, and that's as bad as ignorance , which can make a person mean. Goodness, though, shows up at both ends of the spectrum (as well as in between) which is my 'convoluted' (LOOK IT UP!) way of paying you a compliment. And of thanking you for being decent, and honest, and loyal, and maybe the best friend I'll ever have.

Okay; enough Hallmark sentimentality. You remain a lamebrain and I your wiseacre pal. Why I'm writing this letter is to give you a (late) heads up. Fuckface Phil is gunning for you. That's right; watch out! He maybe didn't do half the sleazy things I claimed, but rest assured he wanted to. You could see it in his leer. Phil had a way of 'looking' at a person that felt like being 'licked.' Stuff I said he 'committed' was stuff in his filthy-dirty mind. He's capable of just about anything in the realm of unsafe sex. Chances are he'll shift the blame to you for evil deeds he contemplated. So you'd better burn a certain picture; and after that you'd better trash  a certain person's files, and after that leave town, if you haven't split already. At least till Phil cools down.

Lastly, if anybody asks you about me, you have my unalloyed permission to tell them I'm a fib factory.

Sincerely yours,

VV

ps. I'm really, REALLY sorry I peed on your jigsaw puzzle. Please forgive me? Sometimes I behave badly; that was me at my worst. You're a kind person, Seymour, way, way kinder than most, and "believe you me" that's better than being smart.

 

Okay, okay; this didn't work out in the manner that I forecast. Blame the Creative Process; I just took the ball and ran, the ball being Seymour Starkey with his 'controversial' scoop. The problem is I pitched this dud of an exposé to a 'pal' at St. Martin's Press, sent him a rough draft Monday. It's Friday, now. He already passed. Did he even read it, I can't help wondering? Awfully quick decision. Or did he see straight off I'd misrepresented the material? So much for my illusions—make that 'delusions'—of fame and fortune. So much for my assurances to Seymour that his account would make a splash. I can't so much as deliver on my promise of publication. Unless I go the Vanity Press route; perish the thought. CreateSpace, an offshoot of Amazon, will put an author's title into print for virtually nothing up front; they produce a respectable product and pay a decent royalty. The drawback is publicity; their contract offers none. At least there'd be an artifact—albeit printed-on-demand—a 'single' artifact, therefore (after the author's proof) which makes more sense (and saves on trees) than mass-producing zillions then having to eat them if your 'tome' fails to sell. Seymour would get his copy. I'd send him a dozen;  he could share them with his friends, if the schmuck has any left; known sex offenders are persona non gratae here, there, and everywhere. Justifiably so; I haven't changed my opinion much on that score. Starkey is an exception who doesn't dispute the rule. I have to concede, however, I was rash in misjudging him—failing to overcome my self-acknowledged biases... which, I trust, intruded minimally on the narrative as a whole. Writers have no place inside their fiction, if they're wise. My excuse for 'trespassing' stems from this work's 'blank book found' aspect—lo, so many pages and over fifty-thousand words ago—which now bears all these progressively legible scribbles by my liberated hand... "Mr. Bad Hand" striking back, martyr to my cause, if choosing rather poorly the 'Vehicle for Vengeance.' I can't speak for you, but for me, Seymour is off the hook. Even Phil, given VV's belated 'testimonial,' might deserve a break. Let any of those among us who has never transgressed 'in thought' cast the first stone at McNulty. As for the sexual behavior of others herein described, tact, it would appear, recommends restraint that I crassly disregarded, offending, no doubt, everyone (sans those who skipped ahead and bailed). Let me extend a 'qualified' apology. To wit, write down what you like to do with, and have done unto you by, your all-time favorite sex partner, then read it to an audience of strangers and measure their and your discomfiture. If you pull it off with nary an interactive blush, then I'm sorry for upsetting you. Otherwise, please appreciate that sex is as it is, with equal potential for turning us off as for turning us on. This rendition is faithful (pardon the expression) to events as they transpired (allowing for poetic license invoked to fill in sundry gaps) and as such represents the in-depth, retrospective plea of a court-convicted pedophile.

 

 

EPILOGUE

Do the math. Shorty after Seymour Starkey was released from the penitentiary, Violetta Vickers turned eighteen. Shortly after Seymour completed an in-depth interview with yours truly, Jack, he detached his GPS (illegally) and left California. And shortly after bussing his way to Seattle, taking the ferry to Orcas Island, arriving in time for VV's graduation party (graduation from college not from high school), he re-introduced himself and asked her to marry him. As of this writing—or so I have been informed—Violetta is giving Seymour's proposal serious consideration. Based on a true-life story? No; this is a true-life story. Only the names were changed, "believe you me."

 

*     *     *


currydoglit