From the BEDTIME STORIES FOR ADULTS series
“Over the years you have been hunted
by the men who threw harpoons
And in the long run he will kill you
just to feed the pets we crave,
put the flowers in your vase
and keep the lipstick on your face.
Over the years you swam the ocean
Following feelings of your own
Now you are washed up on the shoreline
I can see your body lie
It’s a shame you have to die
to put the shadow on our eye
Maybe we’ll go
Maybe we’ll disappear
It’s not that we don’t know
It’s just that we don’t want to care.
Under the bridges
Over the foam
Wind on the water
Carry me home.”
“I’m not that kind of woman,” Perfidia growled, “and I won’t compete with an older woman. That’s not who I am, politically.” But, that’s exactly who she was as she strolled along the shore tossing her disintegrating cousins back into the sea. They’d been set upon by a strange malady researchers had yet to explain that left her unafflicted. Each arm of those dying starfish had cashed in its chips, deciding to leave the poker game before real trouble showed up–it was a vote for independence about a generation and 30 years of industrialization too late. From the depths had they been born, and to the depths they would return–dust to dust, ashes to ashes, drop for drop. They would greet us once again in Canaan Land when we hasten to join them soon enough. Death, even come early, was irreconcilably part of the great circle. She paused to sniff the salt air and added, “Besides, you are too old for me and there are plenty of fish in the sea–younger ones at that. I must heed what my body tells me, as its voice is powerful indeed. I’m in the prime of my life.”
He quickened his pace to keep up with her. It was no longer as easy as it had once been, his balance unsteady, his footing less sure–even with fins, she outdistanced him almost as easily on land as in water. Perfidia was also proving more slippery than he’d bargained for. Stopping to catch his breath, he recalled how Michael had cautioned him not to sleep with mermaids if he couldn’t swim. He’d immediately ignored her wisdom, of course. But now, he was beginning to regret it. The rocky shoreline seemed preordained to bring a man down or break him–especially at night. Flecks of salt spray wet his cheek. He’d left his oil skins at home in the far corner from a comfortable fire. He reckoned one as beautiful as this would have little problem attracting young Turks, yet she complained they were too hard to catch. Only the older ones seemed willing to indulge her. He’d noticed she consumed them like sardines from the occasional bone in her wake. She had a wicked smile and dulcet tones as soft as any angel’s. Yes, the scales were hard to get accustomed to, but her eyes more than made up for that. And, oh yes, she WAS slippery–there was always that, though company where that might be aired was hard to find. Still, she bristled with rebuke and boundaries more finely woven than the sheerest fishnet. Approaching her was like wading through a nest of fishhooks, a hedgehog of reproach.
Amicus had decided on the strategy of Orion–advance with a rose colored lens of his own making–a handsomely gilded mirror fashioned out of self delusions and trust a girl scout would have found fatuous. It wasn’t that he could feel the pain of stepping through the shards of that shattered glass so much as hear the crunch his numbed bare bleeding feet had whispered as he made his way. He’d mistaken them for eggshells. He hadn’t counted on the fragility of mirrors, nor had he recalled the more prudent course Orion had seized on by polishing his shield. Amicus had none. Predicating the affair on vows of friendship insisting on caring about him and not wanting to see him hurt had proven no defense at all. Guileless, he was easily digested.
“I have no mate, no partner–I’m alone and vulnerable,” she’d pleaded. “I will be your mate, your partner–I will always be your friend,” he’d reassured her, “I have other promises to keep and commitments, to be sure, but my heart is big enough to include you, if only you can accept all involved as equals–family.” But it wasn’t to be. Women were quick to recognize this beautiful, but slippery scaly creature. Divas don’t mix. When this carnivorous wasp showed up to rob the honey and make off with the grub, the hive invariably set upon her and drove her off. It was always the same, the females, the workers did the heavy lifting of excluding her, never the drones–they were besotted with her charm, her beautiful body, her sultry voice and inviting overtures…at least until the dye was cast.
“Can I pee on you?” she demurely asked one night, “It would be a big turn-on for me.” Not being wise to the mating protocols of fish, he responded obligingly, “I guess so–I mean I don’t think it would hurt me, and if it makes you happy…” The available bedding wouldn’t allow for this kind of adventure, but the thought gave rise to other pillow talk. “What’s it like to sleep with fish?” he asked. “Why do you ask?” she snipped. “I was just curious,” he parried. “Well, I read that pillow talk is just another way for men to oppress fish and control them.” Amicus pondered this weighty conjecture. He recalled again how he’d been warned about sleeping with mermaids. He also recalled other folk wisdom about fish and visitors beginning to stink after 3 days. How many mariners had ignored such sage advice when confronted with a pretty face and a slippery personality? His fate was sealed. Though he thought to preserve his catch in the cold box, the house began to reek, then the neighborhood, then his resolve and the tone of their affair.
It would have been difficult if there’d been only himself in such a tempestuous arrangement, but there were others–more than 3 not counting himself. Sometimes they were all together under one roof with her and barely enough space to sleep without disturbing one another, an ex-husband older than her father set on ‘reconsumating’ the marriage who she’d secretly married as a teen to avoid the disapproval of her parents, an artist who’d become homeless after offering to paint her in the nude, and a bicycle mechanic now once again homeless after she’d entered his inner circle. She was the ultimate femme fatale. Perfidia was also a creature of large appetites and little to no conscience. A steady diet of fish had allowed her to grow strong and ravenous. Eventually, after too much impertinence to bear for unrequited love or even unrequited friendship, he broke. “I don’t get metaphor,” she’d complained, “Be more explicit and tell me what you mean, although do remember I read somewhere there’s no such thing as constructive criticism!” He was certain she didn’t see this observation as anything to do with her own tongue.
Amicus had gently suggested that to have friends, you have to BE a friend, and that it didn’t hurt to be a lady while at it. “Well, we’ve already established I’m no ‘lady’,” she rejoined, “and I don’t want emotional abuse or constructive criticism to be the price of friendship.” She scowled, daring him to offer more. He rose and took the bait.
“I certainly want nothing to do with ’emotional abuse’. That you’re ‘in love w/someone else’ is fine. Like you’ve said, you never declared you ‘love’ me. On the other hand, the premise for a friendship was that you cared about me, and vice versa. Yes, I can be more specific, though I hesitate to go into a long litany, when it comes to MY being offended:
I was offended when you didn’t want to be SEEN having me pick you up (from Alderbrook) where you were putting on a show to a packed aquarium.
I was offended when you didn’t want to be SEEN in my company while driving you to TESC to pick up your bike, and later your fry’s.
I was offended when you told me by phone when I needed to talk, “You’ve got 5 minutes!”
I was offended when I asked if you sought a ‘contract’, as you asked me, with your next meal and you said, “Oh, no–I wouldn’t ask him for anything like that.”
I was offended when you asked me to take you and your fry to dinner after I’d explained I was poorer than you. You conveniently assumed not dressing in rags or driving a new car meant I couldn’t be taken at my word. You used me–constantly.
I was offended when you acted too good to eat what I, myself, eat in gleanings from local produce stands. You said you went dumpster diving yourself while I pointed out I hadn’t brought the produce from a dumpster. Nor would perfect produce off the grocer’s shelves have sufficed. You insisted on ONLY organic food from the COOP, no less. You weren’t willing to cook and preserve it yourself, saying you didn’t have time.
I was offended when you acted like you couldn’t trust me with the key to your home, even for a few minutes…even asking me if I was going to take anything. But, you expect others to trust you!
I was offended when you would often act fearful, like I was going to hurt you…or your daughter. You had no basis applicable to me for this overreaching assumption.
I was offended when you asked about my Netflix password after bristling when I asked for your website password for barely long enough to post a pop-up on your website in your presence.
I was offended when you asked me if all I wanted when coming over was to ‘fuck’, and on another occasion asked if I was trying to have you touch my ‘crotch’. You can ask to piss on me, but your ‘boundaries’ are beyond reproach.
I admit to some curiosity about who you are in ‘love’ with. What are they doing to help you? Ah, yes–the bike mechanic. Except now that he’s no longer as useful as you envisioned, the welcome mat for him is being rolled up as well.
Yes, you wounded me and I feel you were cavalier about it. But, I’m blessed with a safe place and someone who genuinely cares about me, though she doesn’t always sound like it. I’d hoped to create enough room for you to be safe too. I don’t compartmentalize well.
You’ve been abused by men in the past–violently so. I’m not them and didn’t like being treated like I was. I do not believe you genuinely care what happens to me or are interested in what happens in my life. I especially feel like you would throw me under the bus if others insisted you do so or you found it convenient/awkward.
So, I intend to complete my editing of your performance at TCTV and the fish music with or without your cooperation, post it, and broadcast it. I was willing to spend some time with you, if you were interested, demonstrating how to use the editing software. It doesn’t sound like your time constraints or inclination will allow for that.
I will list myself as the producer and the fishery. I will provide you and the porgy with full credit as the performing artists including contact info for those interested in hiring you. My own logo and information will also be included. This is not negotiable. I will do my best to make the two of you look and sound good. I do wish you happy spawning. I hope you find what you’re looking for and it’d be great if I knew who you were in ‘love’ with so I’m not tempted to ask others.
I do NOT want to be ‘used’ anymore.
‘Patriarch’ is a great label to affix as it allows ignoring the feelings of the man when, after all, he must be so ‘powerful’ and ‘privileged’.
I do not blame you for seeking a romantic interest w/someone more suitable for your age and lifestyle. What I do resent is your utter disdain for my feelings, focusing only on your own. You admitted, “I’m selfish.” I’d have to agree–an understatement. You’re so self absorbed, you’re blind–terminally narcissistic.
Nevertheless, you have some sympathy from both Michael and myself for being, of necessity, in ‘survival mode’. Things have to be tough in an ocean of predators. But, you’ve been needlessly and gratuitously hard on me emotionally. I don’t feel ‘safe’ at your place, or even calling you anymore. That disappoints me.
I felt insulted when you’d grouse about how much time you’d invested/spent w/me as though it was a 1-way street. I sincerely hope you treat your other fishermen friends with more consideration in the future.
Yes, I’m still your friend. I care about what happens to you, and I’m NOT a friend to everyone–far from it. But, I think you have a lot of catching up to do to BE a friend, and I’m not certain at all you’re up to it. That will have to be OK as I’m not counting on it or you.
1) Don’t use me.
2) If you don’t care about me, tell me so I can get on with my life without any illusions.
3) If I can’t count on your loyalty, tell me, as that’s the basis for any trust or friendship, so I’m not wasting my time w/you thinking otherwise.
4) Do NOT act embarrassed to be seen in public with me or to be seen having me pick you up. I have NEVER been treated like that by ANY ‘friend’ and find it intolerable!
5) Recognize I am not in a position to help you financially without my having to apologize for it.
6) Do NOT assume (as you stated so succinctly) I am an asshole!
7) Consider that any quid pro quo I may want for services you request might not involve $ or your body. I’ve given a lot of thought to your question of whether my financial relationship with Michael makes me a whore. No, it does not…because we DO care about and love each other. Whores do not. If this were not the distinction, then every relationship where one party was more successful financially would make it a form of prostitution. On the contrary, it’s prostitution when the whore USES the patron. It’s purely a business relationship and there is no emotional commitment. That sounds more like what we had going than Michael and myself except for the fact I told you I loved you. I meant that and it was unconditional without any ‘strings’ or ‘contracts’! That you would treat that as contemptuously as you did is sad, but I’ll get over it. You, however, may not because while love may make one vulnerable, sneering at it (compatmentalizing?) leaves a vacuum, even if it’s unrequited. I’m a romantic–in love with the idea of love. I’d much rather suffer the pain of that than the emptiness of the alternative. Whoever you’re in ‘love’ with, I give it 6 months. You are fickle, selfish, and don’t see men in the same league as you emotionally.”
Amicus had learned Perfidia had sufficient reason to be suspicious of men. When she had landed younger ones, she’d attracted stalkers, one who had angrily swung her body by the hair on her head and another who had swung her guitar as violently, smashing it into a wall while destroying it. Being the youngest had given her a taste for indulgence, he reasoned, but lent her nothing of how to be a lady or sensitive to the feelings of others, especially the hot blooded young Turks. She battled them toe to toe as though her life depended on it, for it did, giving no quarter and getting none in return. The sire of her fry felt especially used, like a sperm bank withdrawal and he was paying the price for his lack of foresight in the form of child support. “Perhaps I did use him,” she mused. Setting up men proved facile for her–keeping them was more difficult. Ultimately, the spirit wilts after enough of the body has been picked clean.
“Those two have issues!” exclaimed one TCTV staffer after the video shoot of their performance. “It was her ex-husband,” advised Amicus, delineating between that status and the fry’s sire. “Really? He’s SO much older than her,” marveled the staffer. “It happens,” smiled Amicus. Fish aren’t that particular. She’d also been, for her, on her best behavior.
It didn’t take long for Perfidia to break the silence after getting the online communication outlining just why their one-time affair sucked bad…the one where she’d wanted more early on, always more…until the well ran dry. “You are brilliant,” she glossed before beginning to dissect the heartfelt appeal to emotion and human decency. “What do you mean you might ask around?”, she challenged, “Is that some kind of blackmail?” “No, not at all,” he demurred. “Well, if you must know who I’m in love with,” she continued, “It’s the bike mechanic. But, who were you going to ask, my parents?” “I don’t know your parents or where they live or how to contact them,” rationalized Amicus. “You don’t know my friends,” Perfidia glowered. “Good point,” said he. “Well, don’t go talking to him–I don’t want to scare him away,” she added. “Fair enough,” he agreed, “Best of luck.”
But luck wasn’t with Perfidia. While she’d cried her heart out over the phone to Amicus only a week or so earlier, the homeless bike mechanic was now in her lair with two young minnows in tow. She made her move, inviting him to move in permanently, and he gently declined the overture. She was crushed–then angry. He’d have to move his stuff out of her space sooner than later–much sooner now that she’d been rebuffed. She’d undertaken building the Panama Canal w/her intended before even establishing a drainage ditch. Her orchestrations failed. Some guys just aren’t into sea food–especially if they’re on the menu.
Perfidia wasn’t done, she took issue with other minor discrepancies, ignoring the overall picture. “Don’t eat me,” begged Amicus. “Eat you?” exploded Perfidia, “You rip into me with your e-mail and online message and expect me NOT to eat you?
Things got worse–if that’s possible in the Maritimes. Things were getting slimy in a hurry. TCTV setup the unwary fisher of men in a bid to be even more perfidious, in their own unique fashion, than Perfidia herself. Disturbed, Amicus gave Perfidia a jingle on the phone, seeking moral support–the kind a friend might offer. Perfidia suggested mediation or therapy instead. She wouldn’t return his calls or messages asking for some commiseration, a courtesy he’d been more than generous with on her behalf. Perfidia would have none of it until her silence prompted him to query why she would not return his calls. Like a fish out of water, she finally called during the middle of a conversation with another seaman, a musical one. She said she’d call back later, then did so after a minute. She couldn’t stand curbing her ire or desire for instant gratification. The musical one excused himself from what he saw as an awkward 3-way call. Perfidia read the riot act. She lead off with, “Let’s not communicate for a couple of months. This is all just too stressful for me. I thought being a journalist would be fun/interesting, but I didn’t realize it was so fraught with difficulty and risk. I can’t handle it.” “But, you haven’t DONE anything,” he countered, “Where’s your loyalty?” “You called on a Friday night when this TCTV thing came up,” she argued, “and I can’t handle it.” “Thanks a lot!” he objected. “I should have known better than to rely on you. Forget the two months–let’s not speak to one another again EVER! By the way, would you please mail the video tape, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, to me I loaned you and your fry?”
Perfidia had spawned out for the season. She needed to regain her strength for another run, maybe next year. She was entering a “new phase” in her life, she explained.
Amicus considered it all and concluded a parting shot to underscore his disgust and narrow escape would be cheaper than a therapist and much more satisfying. It read:
Biologists report across much of North America, wasps are converting ladybugs into zombie bodyguards in backyards and empty lots, in farm fields and wildflower meadows. Nor is the spotted lady beetle unique. Scientists are finding the same is true for a vast number of host species, ranging from insects to fish to mammals. They serve their parasite even if they must literally hurl themselves to their own death to do so. Across the natural world the same question arises again and again: Why would an organism do all it can to ensure its tormentor’s survival rather than fight for its own?
In the end, love makes fools of us all. The host falls in love with its own demise, its own leech, offering its body and itself like some condemned Jesus at the Last Supper. The mind boggles. Self delusion is like that.
“If the power of a gene can extend to manipulation of the physical world,” Dawkins wondered, “could it not extend as well to the manipulation of another living creature?” Dawkins argued that it could, and he pointed to parasites as his prime example. The ability of a parasite to control the behavior of a host is encoded in its genes. If one of those genes mutated, the host’s behavior would change.