|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
|The Dreaming Fire|
The Intelligent Man
I turned away and surveyed the scene. The lights were blurred with passing avatars, and I was curious to see if any of my friends were around, but we weren’t wearing goggles because, according to my fiancé, I was here to meet someone special. Certainly attending in person was better than dropping in on-line. Zhean’s firm had a couple of tables reserved at the club for impressing their clients, but when they weren’t busy, we picked up the comps. We had come a long way together, Zhean and I.
Still, the evening was not starting off well. When a guy I’ve just met asks me, in public, in front of my boyfriend, why I wear so much mascara, I probably shouldn’t answer, “Because I can.” And I really shouldn’t have said, “So, why do you wear your jeans so tight?”
He diddn’t get it---but by the dirty look Zhean shot me,
I knew he got what I was saying, and he was taking offense on Joey’s behalf. After all, Joey was Zhean’s best old chum, going back to primary school, and even if Joey’s mind hadn’t advanced much since then, the chances were slim to next to null that my boyfriend would change his mind about keeping the guy as a friend. With only a few well-chosen words, I had put myself in the enemy camp. Women vs. Men.
As a woman you have two choices: trade in your man, or take the one you’ve got as he is. I mean there are definitely a limited number of times you can ask him to choose between a mental habit and you. Suppose you find a subtle sexy new perfume and your boyfriend doesn’t like it on first sniff---you might as well give up. It doesn’t matter if the reason is because he’s got garlic up his nose at the time.
I wish bio-geneticists would decide once and for all which one of us was exo-engineered by a little preprogrammed space traveling virus, and we could resign ourselves to doing something effective to fix the gender gap. I mean it’s like 20th C. science not being able to cure the common cold. This same old incompatibility of the senses has been dragging on toujours. Women have androgynous identities as well as feminine ones, why can’t men?
I suspect seriously that Zhean has kept up his friendship with this anachronism of a personality as a gauge of his success in maintaining his own macho inviolability. Anyhow, I couldn’t stare off into space forever, but, now, when I looked, to make matters worse, Joey was so thick that he was preening himself (the old run the fingers through the hair, lean back in his chair and spread his thighs a little wider routine) as if I’d paid him a compliment. So I noticed that he wears tight jeans---what I was trying to tell him was that tight jeans equals small package---he’s proud because he thinks I was sneaking crotch shots at him. Gimme a lazar! I’d noticed he was wearing cowboy boots too, just so I didn’t have to sit and look at his naïve movie star imitation face every time he spoke. He was somewhat over six feet tall, blonde and showed all his teeth when he smiled. Plus, he had a mustache that he stroked like it was a cat---guess he’d never figured out that permanent hair removal was de rigueur. His hand would go for the mustache every time he could tear his eyes away from me to check out the passing pomps. If he had not been so crudely obvious,
I would have forgiven him, for I am certainly cognizant that I happen to have naturally good genes. My father’s Nordic side made me leaner and taller than my mother, but her Punjabi side of the family has gifted me with full curves in all the right places. Since we were going out clubbing, I’d laced myself up and my cleavage was charmingly displayed while sparkling discretely. We are such a generous sex, giving men so much of what they long for, just for the looking.
Joey’s gaze was so unsubtle, however, that he no longer had a private life. I shuddered to think that he’d probably be happy to tell me what porn flicks he watched last week without even realizing that he’d reveal everything about the weakness of his libido. Right now he was looking at me like a dog wagging his tail and staring at his dinner bowl. Excuse me!
Zhean’s first act of revenge was to invite the guy to a game of billiards, just the two of them, just like old times he said, knowing full well I’d be left sitting all by myself. To further humiliate me, he picks the only pool table with a clear view of our seats so he can keep track of my every move.
My first thought, as I leaned back in my chaise lounge and inhaled deeply, was that a little neurotransmitter enhancer in a house special would make Joey slightly more bearable. I could do it the next time Zhean invited him out with us. But it wouldn’t last long, and it would only help him realize when he was being insulted; it wouldn’t solve his problem. And it’s something Zhean would never let himself, or me, do, even if he admitted to himself that he’d thought of it. I work in Special Ed, and I have access to these things, even nano smart pills, because I work both ends, the geniuses and the synaptically speed challenged. I know, better than most, the need for a controlled and monitored environment to effect long term changes. Being smartened up real fast is a shock to the system. So I began to think I was wiling to make a sacrifice---have Joey as a house guest for a couple of weeks and get him started on the right road.
He was new back to the city; that’s why I hadn’t met him before, he’d been out collecting elephant spore for wildlife habitat research in Africa. I mean, really, this was not the guy’s alter ego; he was making his living as a shit collector. Alors, he really did need someone to do him a merciful favour.
When the song ended, I realized I’d been sitting there for half my drink; better move soon, or Zhean would guess I was up to something. The plan I was trying to form wasn’t so much for my sake, as Joey’s. I could’ve just stayed home any time Zhean mentioned he was meeting Joey---and earned credit for being a good sport about his night out with the boys (boy was certainly accurate in this case), but I wouldn’t be in the line of work I’m in, if I didn’t sympathize with those who have a tough time merely because their genes have made them less than intelligent. Joey would probably never get approved for mental enhancement, at his age, especially since he was economically viable. The government hoards their stash like a nepotistic tyrant. And I despise them for it.
I stood up, swirled my drink ‘til it glowed like sunset, and headed over to hover near the band, with all the singles. I eyed the regulars spinning hoops; the guy in the reptile jumpsuit spinning with the spike on his head was someone I hadn’t met, but he was definitely not my type. I figured I’d take it easy; I’ve never needed gimmicks to get a dance, and I wouldn’t want to take the blame if Zhean was distracted from his game.
Then I spied a group of guys who’d gone for sartorial style, but weren’t dancing yet, and I figured it must be their first time at the club. When I allowed the sweet looking brown guy in silver blue to make eye contact with me, he managed to make his away over without tripping over anyone, so I offered to teach him a few moves. His name was Deepak; he was cute about his clumsy lambada freeze and made me giggle. I hoped Joey could handle his stick well enough to call for a best two out of three match.
When I noticed the guys were back in their seats, I remembered that step number one of my plan required getting Zhean alone for a few minutes. So, a little later, I gave Deepak my regrets, and I slid up beside my moody Zhoody and whispered for his ears only, “I’ll ask our friend, Joey, later, if you remember that you promised to dance at least one dance with me.” He glowered, not only was he still mad at me, but apparently his pool shot was out of practice. Joey had won.
Luckily, we had a slow number and I quickly said, “ Zhean,
I am sorry about what I said; I shouldn’t insult someone whose intelligence is not equal to mine.” His facial muscles didn’t soften a bit. “And I should know better than to insult a friend of yours, but from a woman’s p.o.v. that was a rude question he asked me. You don’t want me to get eyelash implants, do you?” That got him; sometimes I think his conservative streak is kind of sweet. “C’mon Zhe-zhe, I’ll make it up to you. No, not what you’re thinking, but if your friend Joey needs a place to stay, it’s O.K. with me.” He was actually surprised enough to betray it by giving me a wide-eyed look. “But you’ll have to promise it’ll only be a week or two, absolutely.”
It turned out Joey had already been hinting (I’ll bet he straight out asked) and all of sudden I had a grateful boyfriend on my hands. For tonight, at least, I knew he’d make sure I didn’t regret my kindness.
Unfortunately, I was really looking forward to passing out in bed by the time we got home. Zhean went to plug in our Mini in the public lot, neither of us makes enough money to waste it on fines, and I was left with the task of showing Joey around the house. That included demonstrating how to find the amenities of our guest room. He looked like he would have been quite happy to sleep on the carpet for the night, and I would rather have introduced bees to honey, however… We have a convertible in half of the salon. After the extra walls and door slid into place, I demonstrated the control panel for him, just in case. He chose neo-western for his wall screens; I wasn’t surprised, even though it clashed loudly with the neo-classical furniture. I just smiled and mumbled, “Oh well, boys will be boys.”
It must have been more audible than I thought because he turned and winked at me, then said, “And girls just want to have fun, hey Leeshie.”
I hate being called Leeshie, and the only way Joey could know about this old nickname was from Zhean. I backed away from him, and, speaking in a language I figured he could comprehend, I said, “Lenore just wants to snore, pardner, see you tomorrow.” Then I rushed upstairs for a soothing swirl in the bath, and locked the door.
I was rational again in the morning, dammit. I woke up and moaned. I had an unwanted houseguest for two weeks, and short of risking a serious assault charge, and a sudden career loss, there was no way I was going to be able to give the guy a hypo. Definitely not the sort of thing where you can bump into him and say oops, sorry, afterwards.
In between tutoring sessions that day, I had to promise myself I’d go shopping for a new dress. It was only the second night of fourteen and already I had to bribe myself into going home. Before I left my office, I called Zhean, in case he needed reminding that it was his turn to fix dinner. Cell phone calls from on the street, blurting out your business to the world over the sound of tooting and yelling from the cyclists, were tres gauche. Then, I was already to leave for the night, but I couldn’t make myself go until I had slipped the latest edition multi-syntactic promoter, with a hypo, into my briefcase. I took them just for the comfort of knowing they were there. I knew it was highly unlikely, but there was always the possibility that Joey would ask me about the line of work I was in, and beg me for the chance to upgrade his I.Q.
Fortunately, most dress designers have bodies like mine in mind for their creations, so le voila! I wanted to wear the dress home to surprise Zhean, but I would hate to have surprised our houseguest. It was a little black silk fur dress with high sheen. The faux fur was finer and softer than mink, and each strand shimmered when I moved. The occasion for the dress’s launch would be Zhean’s birthday at the end of the month; we always had house parties for our fetes. Au secours, Zhean was sure to invite Joey. I’d have to face the embarrassment of introducing the boar to all my closest friends. Why me, and why was it easier to kill someone than to make them smart?
I could probably even afford a black market virus that would mimic one that was still viable in Africa. If you make someone smart, they quickly figure out what happened, but if they’re dead---they don’t talk. How unfortunate that I’ve never developed my psychopathic tendencies. Due to my training in psychology, I know that everyone has passing thoughts like this from time to time; they’re nothing to worry about.
After dinner, Zhean insisted that I model the dress; if I said no it would make me look like I thought I was inadequate, so I agreed. Zhean’s reaction was restrained and dignified. Then, when he left to go make us some decafs, Joey had to let loose with what a great ass I had, for someone who sat at a desk all day, and then he reached over and pinched me. Pinched my bum. I mean I’d seen this before, in a seventies sitcom, something a creepy boss did to the secretary, but this was real life. Joey wasn’t even a dinosaur, he was prehistoric slime. So, I turned around and patted his head as condescendingly as I could, while I said that he didn’t have to worry, all the women I knew thought that there were other things more important than asses. Fortunately, he didn’t have time to ask me to explain, before Zhean returned.
I hadn’t suspected that the situation could get worse, but mid-week Zhean brought home a bouquet of roses. Then he told me that he had to replace his boss as a speaker at an out-of-town conference. He explained that he knew I’d understand that he couldn’t miss an opportunity this good. I nearly dropped our dinner on the floor.
That night, when Zhean was gone and I couldn’t get to sleep, I wondered if Joey would be stupid enough to agree to a game of po-mo Russian roulette that was played with a loaded hypo. Regretfully, I realized the only solution would be to give him a knockout nightcap and slip him the hypo while he slept. But what if he noticed the needle mark when he woke up? Stupid yourself, I told myself, you can experiment with a new route of entry. Maybe I could locate a vein in the back of his thick-skinned neck?
The next morning, for the first time since he arrived, Joey was up in time to have breakfast before I left for work. And I really couldn’t help that I kept finding myself standing behind him, surreptitiously inspecting his neck. It was his fault; any intelligent person would have been polite enough to stay out of the way so I could make my breakfast first and not be late for work. But not Joey, he insisted on making breakfast for both of us.
After work, I stopped for a double mocha, with real Blue Mountain, to get myself ready for a serious shopping trip, in a different kind of market. I arrived home with a beautiful knockout pill. I could have run away, stayed in a hotel, but how would I explain that to Zhean? I could have stayed at a friend’s, but did I really want to let this idiot run me out of my own residence? No, dammit, I was not going to let him win, let him take over my home. However, the knockout pill was only to make me feel better; just because a woman has a gun in her purse doesn’t mean she has to use it, or even wants to. It simply lets her act with more confidence, and, psychologically, this is healthy. It’s just knowing it’s there, like wearing sexy underwear; sometimes it’s good to have a little secret on your side. Especially when things are not going your way.
I brought home dinner, so I didn’t have to put up with him bumbling around me in the kitchen, again. I was hoping we could keep our distance from each other, and this would perhaps make the night more bearable, since having to make a conversation made the guy sweat.
Joey stood up to greet me as soon as I walked in the door. “Zhean told me to take it easy on you while he was gone, Lenore. Said you’ve been over-stressed. You sit down pretty lady, and let me look after you.”
He’d preprogrammed the music for the evening; the first piece sounded like a classical horse gallop, slowed down. The after dinner treat he had planned was an interactive bootleg, which, he assured me, was so rare that I’d never get to see it if it wasn’t for him. He’d changed all the salon’s wall screens to African safari, and, even though he was drinking beer, for me, he’d bought a bottle of white wine. He was smiling, and twitching slightly, like he was waiting to be given his reward. I couldn’t help worrying that the interactive might feature the mating habits of African elephants. I set the dinner down on the table and told him I had to go upstairs and rest; I’d be down later.
I closed the door to my room, sat down on my bed, and thought, trapped, I’m trapped. And thought, what can I do--I’m not going to let this bastard win.
By ten p.m, Joey was in bed, knocked out and sleeping like a baby. I had dissolved the pill into his dessert; it was crème de menthe parfait, and he’d gulped it down like a hungry puppy. Then, when he got woozy, I helped him to bed.
I went upstairs and sat down to take a few deep breaths. Somehow I had managed so far to avoid thinking about what Joey would remember in the morning--would he suspect that I’d deliberately knocked him out? Should I stop now while there was no evidence that I’d done anything untoward--he wouldn’t insist on a urine test, would he? If I kept my cool, he would probably get over it. I thought of one more thing I could do. I went back downstairs, grabbed three more bottles of beer, emptied them down the sink, and set the empties on the end table next to where he had been occupying the sofa. I had already made sure that he joined me in drinking his half of the bottle of wine, and I’d offered him a scotch after dinner. By his reaction, I could see that he didn’t like scotch, but he was too ‘manly’ to say no.
I surveyed the scene, while I sat in my favourite chair, a recreation of a William Morris masterpiece. Calmly, I thought to myself, all I have to do now is decide whether to kill him, or leave home, at least until Zhean returns.
I didn’t mean really kill him, of course, just shoot him.
I was so nervous that my mind was making silly jokes.
And then I started thinking about Zhean, how we’ve been together for four years now, all documented, and in one more year we’d be able to get married and have children, with no extra red tape, no lawyers, no head doctors and psych exams. We were going to do it the old-fashioned way, and that is exactly what Zhean and I both want. Just to be normal, intelligent human beings who are capable of making decisions and implementing those decisions on our own.
I should go to bed now; I am a patient woman---I have to be for my work. I can wait until this fiasco is over and everything will be fine--except for one little thing. Joey will still be a part of our lives. Of course, he’ll get his own place, sooner or later, and we’ll only see him from time to time. I’d have to make a choice though; I could plan to be meek and keep my mouth shut no matter what he said--and that wasn’t fair---or I could just resign myself to Zhean being pissed off every time I made a smart remark. Yeah, a smart remark. At this point, I started laughing, then, I started crying, and then I stood up and decided to take control of my life. It’s always been hard for me to make decisions that affect other people, but with my job I have to. Furthermore, I realized that I had only been thinking of myself. This might be Joey’s only chance.
I went for my purse. I had ruled out giving Joey a pain in the neck (like he was giving me.) An injection that close to the brain would carry higher risk factors. I’d have to settle for the back of the knee, still a lot less conspicuous than the inside of his elbow or the back of his hand. But what if he somehow came to while I was doing it? I’d have three choices: a new life and a new identity; a conviction, no marriage, and no job; or I could count on him being groggy long enough for me to hide the hypo and pretend I was seducing him. Maybe, if I acted drunk, he wouldn’t even rat me out to Zhean. But, I felt a bit of a tremble, could I do it? Yes, dammit, I shoot up people and that’s my job. I wasn’t getting paid for it, but I knew this was still my profession. It was the work I had chosen--- to make people smart, and they thank me for it afterwards.
I slipped into the convertible, and hardly daring to breathe, I pulled down Joey’s jeans. I saw that I had misjudged him somewhat, but that was irrelevant. Gently, I helped him roll over onto his stomach, then waited to make sure he was still out cold. My shot was perfect; I cleaned up a couple drops of blood and applied pressure to the wound while I counted out the minutes. I let myself linger long enough to ease his pants off over his feet and pull up the coverlet. Then I fled because I was nearly suffocating with the effort of not breathing out loud. I went out and dropped the syringe into the neighbourhood dispose all where I could be sure it would be compacted into fragments in the morning. Finally, I went to bed, exhausted, and slept soundly for the first time in days.
My last thought was that I wasn’t even drunk when I did it. It had been a purely rational act. Sure, I’d had half the bottle of wine, earlier, just to put Joey at ease, and I didn’t normally drink alcohol, then one little crème de menthe parfait, but this was certainly not enough to make a person drunk.
Breakfast was peaceful, as I savoured the silence and a little time to myself. By dinnertime, Joey was already more alert and aware of the delicacy of interpersonal relationships, exactly as he should be. From then on, he continued to improve.
There was only one little thing I hadn’t thought of. Joey was happy; when Zhean came home, Joey made sure to tell him he was feeling better than ever. Probably, deep down inside, he had known that he didn’t have the smarts to get a good job in the city, but, as he had confided in me, he was sick and tired of the lonely jobs he’d been able to get (he’d also worked in Antarctica.)
It was Zhean who insisted that I make the big confession to Joey. Until Zhean made a scene, Joey had been content to let it coast. Zhean even went so far as to suggest that Joey should lay charges. I tried to put it down to a bad fit of temper. Fortunately, Joey pointed out that he couldn’t lay charges without making his change public and that would be embarrassing for him.
The next day, however, Zhean said that he would never forgive me. He said he could never again trust a woman as sneaky as me. It was jealousy, I guess, because now Joey was as smart as he was, and better looking. Besides Zhean’s brains, and the fact that he had a decent job, I don’t know what I ever saw in him.
Joey showed up at my school that day, looking charmingly au courant in a Nehru suit, and asked me out for lunch. I felt sorely in need of consolation, but I wasn’t expecting anything more. He ordered champagne, took my hands in his, and said that only true love could have moved me to take the risk I took for him. He said I could prove it by agreeing to marry him.
I didn’t really have to accept Joey’s marriage proposal: it wasn’t like it was blackmail or any such thing. He was tres gentil. The truth is simply that I like the idea of living with a man who will change his mind for me, every now and then.
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Interesting character development and surprising ending-is she fickle or just allowed to change her mind and life around? HughW
Not a great story. Were you smacking gum and jangling your earings when you wrote it? I kept expecting to hear "and he went like..." Way too much telling the story and now where near enough showing the story with details and activity.
It was a cute story; I laughed. I thought the writing style was a little weak to begin with, but I think it got stronger towards the end, and that's definitely better than those cases where the reverse is true.
I wasn't surprised by the ending. I figured from the start that that's where the story was going. I don't think the main character was motivated, at the time, by "true love", as Joey claimed. I do think, however, that she was sexually attracted to him on some level from the start, despite his insensitive comments.
I am a woman and I would never -- especially in front of my boyfriend! -- comment about a guy's tight pants. It only proves that, yes, you were looking. I'd probably say something more along the lines of, "Oh, honey, spill. When you dress up as a woman, how much mascara do *you* wear?"
Of course, I personally wouldn't say such things. I'd probably just tell him I didn't think I was wearing a lot of mascara and that that was a rude question anyway.
As for the boyfriend, when he didn't stick up for his girlfriend, I knew that relationship was dead in the water. He just didn't know it yet.
Last point: I found it interetsing that the story equated intelligence with good manners. In real life, nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, you can have two very bright people who have a clash of manners because of upbringing, etc. Also, some of the smartest people have zero manners and zero sensitivity and are just plain rude. Sometimes it's because the mores of social politeness go over their heads, sometimes they do get it but they just don't care.
The thing is, one really has nothing to do with the other. The woman in the story should have, by rights, shot him full of empathy juice, not IQ points.
Still and all, nice story. Good work.
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