I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 3

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

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“I didn’t expect to see you here man,” Jack says to me. His voice speaks with all the strength needed to talk through his smashed nose and eviscerated- ah, almost let it slip there.

The only person I’ve seen angrier is your mother.

“You gonna answer me or what?” says Jack.

Continue reading “I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 3”

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I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 2

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I made some changes to Part 1, so you might want to read here before you begin.

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Jack and OddBo, they’re next to each other, talking. Jack declares that if anyone gives him a hospital bill, he’ll push it into their eye socket. Jack said that, and he didn’t see my hand hovering over his shoulder, about to tap him. I dart my hand behind my back. I’d rather go round two with Beaver-Man than face Jack on a bad day.

Continue reading “I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 2”

I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 1

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: After making this post, I did some edits to the story’s beginning. If you want to read what I originally had (including some deleted scenes), then go here and enter in the password “errishuman” . On to the story proper!

The nurse lady says that my health insurance doesn’t cover the condition I called, “getting my ass kicked by Beaver-Man.” Unbelievable. Can you see what I’m dealing with here? I gave this woman at the desk of the emergency room my name, my ID, even a State Secret my boss told me about. I’m in trouble if my wife looks up my medical records. And this nurse won’t even give me the courtesy of trusting my henchman honor. She didn’t even mention insurance, I had to bring it up, and I’m pretty 100% sure that that’s not how it goes, okay? Our president passed a health care bill right after the Omni-Man Collateral Damage Act. Something about health care had to change. In my line of work, people my age need all the help they can get. Estoy a punto de llorar.

            Maybe you didn’t understand what I just said. Maybe you only speak English so far. Let’s keep it that way. I’d like to have some thoughts for myself, and I let you into my head as a favor, gracias.

Continue reading “I Am A Mountain (y estoy hundiendome): PART 1”

The College Station All-Male Feminist Union (Part 5- Finale)

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Ceridwen looked him over. “I don’t follow.”

“I mean,” he said, “You’re in a tough place. I want to help. What do you want me to do for you?”

Ceridwen stood like a soldier, though she couldn’t match Phil’s height.

“I want,” she said, her voice breaking, “for you guys to leave me alone. Meeting all of you has been… rather disorienting and startling, for one. I’m in a sort of do-or-die situation now, which is really embarrassing, and I’d like to find a quiet place to choose the beast or the whirlpool. So please-“

“But you don’t have to.” Phil stopped the closing door with his foot. “I mean, I’ll go if you really really wanted me to. But we can make this better for you, even if I haven’t found out how yet. I know what you’ve been-“

“Phil?”

A man walked in behind Ceridwen. An Indian man, a Clark-Kent type who looked at no one whenever he talked.

“Bala.”

Bala bared a smile for only a second.

“You told me-“

“I’m here for damage control,” said Bala. “Did you hear what Raymond did? His ‘talk’ with Emyr prompted that asshole to tell the landlord she’s refusing to pay. The landlord wants her gone tomorrow morning.”

Phil stepped inside to see the open cardboard boxes, some half-packed, some ripped into pieces. Only candles lit the room— nothing electronic was turned on. Even for Texas, this room was dry. “Can I- can I help pack?”

“I think you’ve helped enough.” Bala stepped up to him between the dusty table and the skinny door.

“Dude, calm down. I just want to give her what she wan-“

“What you want. You’ve been so entrenched in a pissing contest with those other white boys that you forgot whom you’re pissing on.”

“Oh, like you’re so much better than us-“

“I know what’s going on now. I bet you don’t even know her friends all “disappeared” when she asked for help. I bet you don’t even know how hard it was for her to ask.

“But I listened to her!” Phil began. “I-“

“You did not listen,” said Bala, both his little feet squared at him. “She said she wants to be left alone-“

“Then what the hell are you doing here?”

“I’ll tell you what I’m not doing, which is charging in and demanding a pity-fuck just because I’m there on the sidelines watching!”

“Ok!” Phil threw up his arms. His arms almost hit Alex and Raymond, who were stepping in behind him. “So maybe I don’t know anything! Maybe I am just rushing in. And I’ve made some mistakes because I’m a guy and white and middle class and I don’t know better, but-“

“Shut. Up.”

Phil’s momentum derailed and crashed in a smoking heap.

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s self-deprecating white boys,” said Bala, nostrils flaring. “As if a monkey would stop flinging shit if he realized where it came from. You’re not one of the ‘good ones,’ and if you ask me-“

“Philip has at least begun to understand his errors,” intoned Raymond.

Ceridwen began to speak, but Bala spoke first. “And that stopped him- or any of you- from acting mighty-whitey all over-“

“You do know Raymond’s Hispanic,” said Alex.

Bala swiveled to look at Raymond. The graduate student nodded. Bala then said at Alex, “You’re lying.”

“Can someone say ‘ethnic erasure?’” said Alex, the bite in his voice ripping the solidifying air. He sat down on a stool with part of a leg missing.

“You pretended to ‘get’ Ceridwen, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ‘really identified’ with-“

“Does it even fucking matter!” Phil shouted. “We’re feminists. We’re supposed to be doing feminist things-“

“Well, one of us is feminist at any rate.”

Raymond glared at Alex. “Please don’t tell me it is the individual who always uses the treadmill next to the women in yoga pants.”

“What have you done for women?”

“What have you done for women? You haven’t won us a single female member-“

“Neither have you!”

“I’m teaching my sister about feminist role models, I’m paving a road to the future while you’re all-“

“Who’s given their mother the most? Hands up anyone who gave a fortune-“

“I treat my female instructors the same as my males ones, and you’ll be damn sure-“

“I’m giving her a chance-“

Shut up!

Ceridwen screamed this, and the feminists froze. “Shut up! I don’t want your help and I don’t care who doesn’t help me first! And that goes for you too,” she said to Bala as he opened his mouth. “I just want some time alone, and if you knew where I was right now, you’d give it to me! Is that understood?”

She wasn’t louder or taller than them, but they heard every word. The fragments of the glass figurine dug into her hand.

The boys looked at each other’s feet. They were too big for the low ceiling in this medicine-smelling apartment.

Raymond spoke first. “I suppose the right thing to do now would be to leave.”

“Yeah, we may have gotten the hint,” said Alex.

“It’s about time.” Phil crossed his arms and glared at Bala. “I at least tried to dance around her heart condition.”

Ceridwen’s hair ripped back as she screamed, screamed as if she were Prometheus finally breaking the chains from the mountain, beautiful and terrible as the night storm. The cry squeezed and demolished the guts of these city and suburban men, who had never been in the wild, but held onto their inner cavemen that could smell wild tigers. They reacted fast. The feminists banged into each other sprinting to the exit. Phil blasted out last, slamming the door on the raised claw behind him. He turned and sunk low, his own heart pounding at the door to his back.

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Way Past the Due

She burned down the apartment that night. Her brother saw the smoke and called the firemen over before the blaze reached beyond her dwelling. No injuries. One of the few things that survived the blaze was Ceridwen’s driver’s license. The rest of the feminists, when Phil told each one individually about this, began sentences like, “Crazy… you know…” and “Well, it’s what they say about ‘them’ be cray.” They never finished them. Phil attended Union meetings until February, the third time no one else showed up.

Years later, and even longer since Barbara, he saw Ceridwen in his newspaper, and missed his bus to keep reading at the stop. The article described The New Amazons, an organization dedicated to uniting differing factions of feminism, with a focus on radical, socialist, cultural, and liberal feminist ideologies. They were only celebrating a decade of activity when Ceridwen joined them. Ceridwen’s organization dropped shoes in the still pond that was Texan feminism. And Ceridwen was just another member, albeit one with a more interesting backstory. In the article, Ceridwen talked about how, when she joined the New Amazons, she had lost her job and her apartment, and was on the streets looking for purpose. It was here she discovered, through the New Amazons, that she only needed herself to survive, not a superior, not even Western medicine. This was her story to live out, no one else’s.

The article never mentioned Alex, Bala, Raymond, Phil, College Station, or even Joe’s. All this came about, Ceridwen said in the interview, because she was embarrassed about and tried to hide her heart condition, something her father and brother lied to her about. Phil didn’t understand.

But he had an idea of what to say. Phil hadn’t become an elected official yet, but his internship in the Texas Senate granted him some time alone in that political coliseum, when the lights were out and the janitors had gone home. Phil would stand at the podium in the empty Senate floor and deliver the ultimate fate of all politicians: the apology speech.

“When you burned down your apartment, Ceridwen, two of our worst fears came true. We were worried that your life would fall apart without us. You didn’t have to destroy things to be heard. We could have helped. And yet, the College Station Feminist Union had another fear. We feared that your life wouldn’t fall apart without us. After you left, there were a lot of questions at the next meeting, a lot of shouting that followed them, a lot of shame. In short, it was all about us. We broke up the club because we thought we failed in creating feminists. That should have never been our goal. Being a politician means trying to help others, and being a bad politician means helping yourself. Politicians should fight, not invade. I may be the main character in my own story, but I am not the main character in the story of your liberation. The closest you can be to being the main character in someone’s life is being the villain. In the future, I’ll count myself lucky if I can be someone’s Sancho. I may not understand why you burned everything you had. But for now, Ceridwen, let me say that I am enlightened, and that I am deeply, deeply sorry.”

Whenever he delivered that speech to a roomy Senate floor, Phil satisfied something primal in himself, as deep as the need to start fires or find love. Now, siting at the bus stop and reading the paper, that primal feeling suggested that he call Ceridwen and make his speech more that just moved air in an empty coliseum.

Her headshot lay on top of the paper, and Phil grew weak in the knees. Her freckles danced on her cheeks. Her smile was the smile of an arsonist. Her lazy eyes were bigger than her dry hair. Her nose could stab the world, and she’d laugh to do so. She looked like she did when she raised her claws: like a woman on top of a mountain, throwing thunderbolts to those with lesser skills for talking to gods, even if their kneecaps had worn down to only bone.

The College Station All-Male Feminist Union (Part 4)

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

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One Day Before the Due

Phil’s finger tapped on the menu like the list of food was a speed bag. Across from him, Alex whispered to the short-skirted waitress taking notes on her skinny pad of paper. No doubt she wrote words like ‘systemic’ and ‘proletariat,’ words she’d ask the definition for, prompting Alex to snort and ask for another martini instead. Every iota of heat from Joe’s poster-covered walls pressed against Phil, cooking his trembling insides at the thought of anyone taking Alex more serious than he took the rest of the world.

In the next moment, Phil’s knees hit Alex’s table as he scooched in and sat across from him. One of Alex’s empty martini glasses fell over. “Haven’t you ruined enough women here?” Phil hissed.

“Ahh, a paragon of woman’s rights has come to save her from the big, bad socialist.”

“This isn’t about that,” said Phil. “You tried to help her. Your way failed.”

Alex held his hands up and mouthed out a little ‘wooo.’

“Someone finally grew a pair. And shut it, I get enough P.C. complaints from Raymond. You want to know the truth? None of this matters.” He talked just like he did at their first meeting. “Money earned, money won, who gives a shit? Well, Ceridwen, for starters. And I guess that means me too. It’s in my nature to do stupid things and hate myself tomorrow. So let me tell you a story and get it over with.

“I did a lot of get-rich-quick schemes when I was younger- declared myself a foreign country in need of federal aid, sold water after giving out free pretzels, a lot of economic masturbation. A regular capitalist, I was. When I was 13, my mother overhears an idea of mine regarding lottery codes. After perfecting it, she tries it out for herself out of desperation that I didn’t even know she had. She takes out a loan, she buys the right tickets, and presto, half a million in her piggy bank. And it did for her what those get-ripped infomercials do for quadriplegics. Back then, I wanted money, but I also wanted my family given the respect they craved. I thought my mom had finally earned hers. But her fellow tollboothers spat on her, and everyone said she was a dumb bitch that lucked her way into money she didn’t deserve. She had bottled spring water, pools, trips to Hawaii, and tears on her pillow. Now here I’d usually ramble about how this reflects sexist economic stereotypes and how there are no ethical consumers under capitalism and what not, but I see your eyes glazing over. I gave a woman half a million. In a broken system? Yes. But what the hell have you done for one?”

The bells above the restaurant door clanged. Raymond, with a straight back and a collared shirt buttoned all the way up, walked in. He saw the two feminists and joined their table.

“She was let go today,” he said. “She was let go after you talked to her employer, Alex. When you came with your threats, she became more trouble to him than she was worth.”

Alex tossed his hair, looking away to hide his eyes. There was quiet, at least around them.

Raymond sat down. His entire body stood in contrast to the greasy, dark atmosphere of Joe’s. “Her brother stole people’s tips too. I’m coming from her residence, and I told her— let me finish— I told her to sue for discrimination. But she refuses to make things ‘worse.’ She took a lot of pills when I was there. She said it was for ‘stress.’ If you continue to interfere, you’ll only drive her to take more.”

“I’m sure you were just a big ball of happiness to her,” said Alex.

Raymond looked as angry as he sounded when Phil called him up yesterday to find out Ceridwen’s address. Raymond carried himself like a man with all the answers. Phil shivered, because he just might have all the answers any of the men might ever get.

“I see you stopped by Alex’s work on the way back,” said Phil, pointing to a spot of red on Raymond’s breast pocket.

“I don’t follow.”

“I mean,” he continued, his stomach as low as Raymond’s voice, “I mean, you obviously like him well enough to support his business, if not your arteries. We can find common ground here.”

“Yeah, Ray,” said Alex. “Find us some common ground here.”

Raymond smelled of pizza. Phil inhaled the stench of veggies trying to hide calories from the moment Ray walked in. If Alex told true about becoming numb to grease smells after years in Burger King, Phil’s plan might work. “I stopped at Watson’s,” Raymond said. “Alex’s Burger King is approximately- it’s not en route. Still, I appreciate your attempt to bring us together again, Philip. That’s the personality I’m accustomed too.”

Alex swished the straw in his martini while focusing on the sanitized surface of his table. “Why’d you visit her?” he asked.

Raymond cupped his chin with his thumb and pointer finger. “I told you-“

“In person. I imagine you have her phone number.”

Raymond sighed. “I wished to talk to her brother as well- he’s on the ground level of the same building. I used some- choice words to describe his actions…”

“Like ‘socially challenged’?”

“I spoke of harsher things, actually…“

“I know, dude,” said Alex, with a trace of a grin. “That’s just something you would say.”

Raymond chuckled, and Phil saw the chance to save Ceridwen slip down an incline, waiting for him to fly in from above and extend a hand.

“That’s all?”

After Phil interjected those two words, he weathered the stares from both his friends and the table next to him. He regained composure. “Excuse my tone. That’s all you did? Called him some ‘nasty’ names?”

“I imagine I convinced him to-“ Raymond began.

“How does that help her at all? What is she going to do with words?”

“Words can be powerful,” said Raymond. “They harm people more than physical violence, maybe even sexual violence. I try not to harm others, but sometimes the situation calls for someone to be harmed.”

“Ceridwen can’t pay rent with words.”

“But she can get payback with them. Her brother’s the true source of all this. Fix that, and-“

“You think it’s all about her brother? Does she factor into your crusade at all? If you knew what she’s been through-“

“What she’s been through.” Now the other patrons stared at Raymond. “I will only say this once. You think I haven’t seen my teachers, every single female one, get criticized for their dress or told they’re too ‘bossy’ or asked to smile every goddamned day?” Raymond spat out all his words. “You all owe women a debt for every good aspect in your lives. You want to help. But I. Knew. Her. Before. All. Of. You. I know she walks three miles a day to get from her place to here. I know the grad student who groped her ass and left a big tip to ‘compensate.’ I know things— sit down Philip, I’m not done! — I know things about her that would shrivel up your penises into debris if you ever heard a second of them! I know-“

“No.”

“What?”

Phil had to reel out the ‘no’- that interrupting, dishonest, target painting ‘no’- out of his dry throat, and the pain grew inside him farther than it had with his previous interjection. “Alex knows more about worker’s plight than you,” he said. Then he gulped.

“Alex doesn’t know his pimples from Stonehenge,” Raymond said.

Alex stopped sipping his martini and put it down. “Oh, of course, Let’s ask the economic opinions of a man who thinks Lenin sang ‘Imagine.’”

Phil squeezed out between the table and bench. Neither of his friends noticed— their fists were too tight and their mouths too wide to see anything but their targets. Phil walked to the door, opened it, heard the ‘cling!’ and broke away like the Flash in a greyhound gate.

Three miles distance. A pizza joint on the way. Raymond took the most economic walking route possible within the law. There was only one apartment complex it could be— the four-story building that Phil almost mistook for a crashed meteorite the first time he dropped a drunk off there. Phil ran into the street, a car smacking its brakes to stop before him. Phil’s perfect hair unraveled in the wind.

He ran under a smoggy sunset. He ran past churches trying to sit as natural as the trees. He ran over weeds that grew in sidewalk cracks.

And while his body ran through College Station, his mind went to the past and ran with Barbara. He and Barbara took one last jog before he left for Texas A&M- a jog for her, at least, a shot-putter like him never had ‘light’ exercise. She said they’d meet again when she had the time. He said he would wait, he understood. And if not now, he said, I promise to understand someday. She said no, her legs bouncing her up, her breath heavy for someone who could always run another mile, she said no, you will not understand.

Phil ran harder.

Phil’s Jell-O legs pushed him up three more steps to the apartment complex entrance and its mailboxes. Two mailboxes belonged to Yates. Raymond wished to talk to her brother as well— he’s on the ground level of the same building. Phil opened the door and heaved up the stairs.

His sweat dripped on the dark hallway carpet in front of Ceridwen’s undecorated door. He knocked, snatched back his breath, and knocked again.

Ceridwen opened the door.

She opened the door as if it were made of ancient stone. Her hands were the size of jimsonweeds. She coughed a throaty cough. She carried a glass figurine of someone old and most likely famous. Her sweatpants had wet splotches on them. She spoke with a throaty voice. She waited for an answer.

And here, Phil took stock of his friends, his classes, his family skiing trips, and realized he had nothing to say to the woman who could never go skiing and never found a real friend to help her yet. Phil listened to Alex, Raymond, and Bala give solutions, and his only contribution to this point was ‘not that.’ He didn’t understand what he was supposed to do. Something inside of him told him he’d never. So with his head a mop of sweat and his blood racing towards something, he gave up.

“What do you want?” he said.

To be concluded in Part 5.

The College Station All-Male Feminist Union (Part 3)

Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.

Three Days Before The Due

To Phil, a bar was the hole every peg could fit into. Bars in College Station always occupied the same shape- a rectangular bar top with the stains drenched in too far, a rhombus dance floor below a useless arctic blast of air, a set of tables sanded off just that afternoon. And people, shuffling, arm-wrestling, chugging, stumbling, falling, then laughing, going through these motions as regular as the trains. When not bringing people to their feet or walking drunks to their dorm (he had to learn the city somehow), Phil just sat at a table and listened in on the crying, the rambling, and, best of all, the debates. He’d concentrate on the bottom of his glass if they looked his way, but otherwise the multi-point defenses of who’ll win the governor’s race and whether Spider-Man could beat Captain America gripped Phil like a snake in a basket, his mind dancing along with any tune that came from a beautiful instrument. Every time he put weight on a chair, it was weight off of his shoulders.

Tonight was one of the different nights. She was there again. Every odd numbered day, with a few exceptions, she drank four tequila shots straight up at the bar, then took to the dance floor and became a tornado. The others cheered her on, but no one dances next to a tornado, no matter how black her hair or how shapely her body was. To ask her out after she drinks, the Union explained to Phil, was demanding from a toddler all their money in a cute voice. The answer might be “yes,” but not a meaningful one— at least, that’s what Phil got out of the metaphor. So she ordered her first drink every 9:30, and Phil fought a battle in his mind, filled with stalling tactics, swelling charges, and carpet bombs to the heart before her drink arrived and Phil drained the rest of his gin and tonic.

But today, an Asian sophomore, he who ate a bag of chips during Phil’s Intro to Philosophy lecture yesterday, was there. The classmate eyed the tornado lady’s barstool, and stood up after her second drink. He approached her, and scratched himself between his legs. Phil may not get- sorry, be with– her, he decided, but neither would the man who asked why Aristotle was wrong to think women should eat half as much as men. Phil knocked over his chair as he stood up. Before he moved farther, a firm hand held his shoulder in place.

Phil turned, and Bala held him down, away from her. The forces in his mind scrambled their troops, and then reconvened on a new target.

“Bala, I really need to talk to her-“

“It’s ok,” Bala said, picking up the fallen chair with his other hand and pushing Phil down on it. “I know him- he’s shy around girls. And they won’t talk to him. Chinese women marry white men 3 times more than white women marry Chinese men. On dating sites, women respond less to Chinese men compared any other group. And there’s that awful stereotype about Asian men down there that I won’t repeat. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of chances with women. That’s who you are. He’s not you.”

Phil turned around. The tornado lady laughed as the grease-smelling sophomore held out his hand. She had a laugh like a horse running free. She took the hand. They left. All the lava in Phil’s gut and the tense grip in his hands left with a forceful sigh. His tongue dug out an ice cube and he began to chew.

“Alex told me you hang out here,” said Bala, sitting down across from him. “We’re passing out flyers for the Union tomorrow, starting at 8. Also, we need your phone number.”

Phil pulled out his phone, and the picture of Barbara flopped out onto the table.

“Who’s she?”

“It’s a long story,” Phil said.

Bala put his hands together and rested his sharp chin on them.

“Well,” said Phil, the gin sinking down his brain, “she’s the one who got me into feminism. She singlehandedly brought down the school dress code. She had this skirt that just fit the required length. If a girl failed the ruler test back then, they got hit by said ruler. Other women got in trouble for skirt length, but she didn’t. That’s because every week, she trimmed her dress a little, breaking the rule one sliver at a time. And everyone knew she could only afford one school dress. The other girls caught on, and started doing the same, until our school would’ve had to issue new dresses for everyone or throw all the girls in JUG- that’s justice under God, our version of detention. Then the boys started wearing dresses…” Phil laughed, and then moved his hand down in front of his face. “… And it goes on from there. I guess it’s not that long a story. This is us at prom. I meant to ask her out afterwards, but she got mad because we got in a political argument, and the moment got lost. And yeah, that’s not like me, I know, but you’re meeting me post-Barbara. All my friends said to wait until after the summer to talk with her again. She’s at Wellesley now.” He cleared his throat. “I, umm, still plan to meet other girls in the meantime because I don’t want to see her again while still… well…”

“A virgin,” said Bala.

“I was going to say ‘inexperienced.” Phil blushed. The next song from the speakers began a stomp-stomp beat. “Meeting girls just for sex, well, that’s wrong. But-“

“Virginity is a social construct.” Bala’s cross necklace glowed in the moth-sieged lights above. “Hymens repair themselves, and don’t always break for sex. And virginity makes even less sense for men. It’s a stupid concept. But,” he said, his voice bringing Phil’s heart back to the ground, “don’t be that guy that thinks ‘feminist’ is the bell that’ll get the dogs drooling for you. That’s… pretty douchey.”

Phil nodded. Bala stared at him, expectant. All the speech medals Phil won in high school became like medals on a corpse in moments like these. And the next medal to win might be snatched by another sophomore in Intro to Philosophy. “So when’s her rent due?”

Bala tilted his head.

“For Ceridwen.”

“Oh! Three days,” Bala responded.

Phil performed a double take.

“Look,” said Bala, crossing his arms. “She has some kind of heart condition. Stress worsens it. And she doesn’t even know who you and Alex are. If anyone would help— not that he should— it’ll be Raymond, he at least knows where she lives. She doesn’t need another male voice shouting directions like a sergeant. Don’t mansplain to her what feminism is, like she’d be independent as long as you hold her hand. Do you understand?”

Phil raised his glass. “Fine. To us losing another feminist, then.”

He drank, slowly.

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Two Days Before The Due

They only passed out flyers to the women of Texas A&M. The Student Rec Center cast a blocky shadow over them that receded with the rising sun, the grass in the sunlight springing up with color as the day grew. There was a cement circle in the middle of the park, with three pathways. Bala, Raymond, and Alex took a pathway each, and Phil moved with the shadows of the sparse trees and the dry bushes. Raymond printed out the flyers on 8×11” sheets and cut them with unsteady hands early this morning. At 10:30, he’d have to leave for a Lit midterm.

Alex cocked his hip during the first two hours, and it looked like he could hold out slips of paper all day if he so desired. Some freshmen asked for directions to the biochemistry building. Alex obliged, only after running them through some ‘tests’ to see if they really went here (Where’s the flask they give you at orientation?). He sniggered at each stammering half-answer the freshmen gave. He brushed the hair out of his eyes only when someone asked about how Engels would get along living in Texas. But that someone was a guy, so Alex moved to pass out more paper after a couple of minutes.

Bala gave a flyer to a tomboy. She reminded him of his little sister, he said- they both dyed their hair and boasted muscles as tight as the caps they wore. But, in their discussion, the tomboy said femininity was the moldy raincoat useful only for the storm of the past. Bala said that femininity’s all right, sometimes even better than masculinity, if women choose it by themselves. This debate evolved into Bala straining his voice to blast white feminism for thinking the problem with women was that they’re not like men, and the tomboy shouting at him to stop judging her. He responded by saying he’s not judging her any more than she’s judging her entire gender. She stormed off, and Bala kept his rant going as she walked away.

But nothing Bala said matched the raw wave of power that Raymond emitted every time he opened his mouth. Every time he advertised, he barked. He barked at the women, he barked at the men, he barked to the sky if there were too many people to single out. Some women asked him how many other women attended the College Station Feminist Union, and that marked the only time he looked to his feet that day. To the rest of the passersby, he might as well have looked up his words in an Old English book, for all the sense his terms made. Not that this ever stopped him from talking.

Phil, when people stopped to chat, often rambled with them on their classes, or on the game last Saturday, or on the way mosquitos orbited you like moons around here. A lady with four homemade bracelets and the smell of peanuts asked why they were teaching women to be sluts, didn’t they know that sluts got raped. Phil, his mind spinning its hamster wheels with no hamster and no abandon, mumbled something about teaching men not to rape and allowing women to wear what they like, before Raymond butted in. Whenever Bala and Alex spent a long time talking to someone, Raymond would arrive to add his own opinion. Now it was Phil’s turn to get one-upped. Raymond compared the internalized sexism of bracelet lady to a beetle in an oak, a small environmental factor bringing a mighty plant to rot. The woman’s voice rose to skyscraper heights by the time Bala arrived and asked when was the gender reassignment surgery, Raymond obviously knew so much about women. Raymond, turning his head and rolling his eyes, told him yes, go ahead and speak, India has such a great track record treating women well. I was born in America, Bala said, if you white men knew that you’re in a country of immigrants you’d learn that you were the worst immigrants of all. This concerns patriarchy, Raymond responded, what men do to women, in case your rap idols gave you the wrong idea. Some passersby went oooooooo. Alex entered at this point to say what a great job we’re all doing, Ceridwen’s brother put in a bad word for her at Joe’s yesterday and we’re putting a bad word in for feminism. The rest asked how do you know that. Ceridwen’s brother worked at Joe’s before her, Alex said, Emyr told her what the interviewer was going to say. Turns out Ceridwen’s been stealing other people’s tips to get by, and Emyr told her boss about that after he found out. We asked you how do you know that, the other feminists said. I met her during her shift, said Alex. I talked to her boss. I told him to treat his waitresses like the waiters, or I would bring it. I may have had a few. Phil shouted You fucking what? None of you should talk to her, came Bala’s response, her brother said she didn’t leave her room for days after Alex talked to her employer. Bala also said that Ceridwen told Emyr something about burning the apartment down, but only Phil heard that. Everyone else shouted at Bala at once. And as the men began to bicker about Bala talking to her brother and Alex talking to her employer and Raymond talking at all, Phil watched all the women on their way to class, with shiny hair, cross necklaces, and unrealized souls. No leaders there. No leader in Phil. It was as if the Earth crashed into Phil, cracked, and spilled its molten core all over him. Phil said I’m going to find her address and help her and be an actual ally, Bala said you’re no feminist if you take it over for her, Raymond said he’d show us all what a real feminist looks like, and Alex pushed Raymond and Bala held him back as Philip held Alex and they all split to the four corners of the park, yelling insults as they went, and the woman with the four bracelets left a long time ago.

 

To be continued in Part 4.