A Christmas Ghost Story

What do you do the night of Christmas Day? When all the presents have been unwrapped, the food eaten and the visits made? There's an old tradition, predating M.R. James and Charles Dickens, and even the author of Gawain and the Green Knight. I think we should bring it back: The telling of ghost stories.

Cantwell had never taken the time. Another version of her would have assumed that she knew what a ghost was. The present Cantwell was rarely the type to bother with abstractions. What a ghost was cost her no more concern than the question of what a friend was. Were either real? Her friends demonstrated fealty on the right apps and were present in person when circumstances required. This sat comfortably enough in place of a definition. Likewise were ghosts considered by some influential people (and what other kind existed–meaningfully existed?) to be a thing one could accept as “real.” Our alternate Cantwell would have said that a ghost was what remained when a person had otherwise died. They symbolized the inevitable loss of beauty and influence that preceeded the grave by so many years (for those who couldn’t contrive to go out on top) but were otherwise nothing more and much less than a person on this side of the ground. The thought of meeting a ghost hadn’t crossed Cantwell’s mind since she had been very, very small, and understood very, very little.

This Cantwell, the present Cantwell, got by with surface glosses in place of understanding. Understanding was a thing that lived in a stillness she simply didn’t inhabit. She felt naked without a constant crush of attention from all sides, like some deep sea chamber that would rupture if brought to the surface.

It came to pass, however, that she found herself in just such an unaccustomed stillness passing the canal opposite Christiansborg. Her devices were as silent as the unseen water below. Given their use during the day’s brief sunlit hours, this was not mysterious, though car headlights somewhere in view would have been more usual. The silence ate at her much more than the darkness and the cold. Thoughts echoed that didn’t feel like hers.

She was not precisely in her right mind, if one can ever be said to be. An unsettled mind is usually crosscrossed between past conditionals and possible futures, in Cantwell’s case none more than 48 hours in either direction, but hers was also occupied with several alternate presents where others had granted or withheld one thing or another.

Cantwell had a place and time to be, and was hating it as much as the remainder of the present void. The city could be any city of sufficient cachet to her; she didn’t speak the language and didn’t care to, for they spoke hers. Places were backdrops, set dressing. The bare black stage around her was growing intolerable. It was, in fact, the longest night of the year.

There was another, opposite her. A ghost.

Cantwell noticed her, and had the unacustomed jolt that noticing her was her first and most fatal possible mistake. In the way that one knows a greyness under a lamp is a human shape, and that a blank oval near its top is a face looking at us, Cantwell saw it out of the corner of her eye. She pretended, unconvincingly, that she hadn’t. Normally, she pretended so effortlessly and so totally that she herself believed it. Truth was, to Cantwell, what others would follow, and the strongest opening move in affecting a truth was to believe it herself. There were fallbacks, of course, on the vanishingly rare occasion of being trapped in a “lie:” crying, screaming, inversion… But belief could only take one so far. Her skills were deserting her, and would not save her.

Across the canal, behind the low railings, the figure matched Cantwell’s pace. There was a sound of footsteps on stone. She knew it was a woman, as she knew it was a ghost. The figure followed. The canal turned, and the figure didn’t. It forded the air at a calm walking pace, at an angle to meet Cantwell’s path. The silence echoed more loudly than the noise. Had it passed through the railing? Apparently. Even looking wouldn’t tell her, and Cantwell was absolutely not going to look. In another context, it could have been a school friend or a colleage from some job quickening step from across a street to trade commonplace words. Here, however, nothing could be commonplace. The grey-black mass took up more and more of Cantwell’s peripheral vision. A second set of footsteps began on the cobbles to her right, matching rhythm. The ghost walked along beside her.

“Aren’t you going to-“

“No!” Cantwell snapped, equally surprised to hear her own voice.

“You can’t know how much I hate you,” remarked the ghost, also not making eye contact. Cantwell hustled on, saying nothing. People, other people, would save her. Her silence, far from rallying strength like usual (stillness could also be used offensively as a weapon) resulted only in a gently lengthening sense that she was making herself an object of pity, drawing out the inevitable.

“I don’t need this from you,” said Cantwell, eyes set straight ahead. Her piteousness rose to something like self flaggelation.

“Tonight’s not about what you want. Tonight is about what I want.”

What was this? Was she going to be hurled–hurl herself, but not really–into the canal? Float to be found at late morning light an ugly corpse? Self-killed (so it would appear) without a mark of respectable violence?

“No,” said the ghost.

“What do you want?”

Nothing happened. She wasn’t transported, or overwhelmed with a sudden hallucination. To be truly overwhelmed with something is a rare gift in life, and this was not the night for gifts. Cantwell was no less aware of the cold air up her skirt or the trouble of negotiating each increasingly slick paving stone in her high boots. It was as if a smell from long ago triggered a sudden memory. Cantwell’s emotions were once again in a tiny room overlooking another city. Nana was baking macaroons. Some were red, some were white, and some were yellow. A bowl of blue batter remained. She had done nothing to help, just sat at the table kicking her feet and eating. It didn’t matter. The halo of something was in the air. Little her didn’t understand why everything was good, and didn’t care. Why would a child?

“Shut up!” yelled the ghost. Cantwell was startled, and almost looked over. There was no one else there, but the ghost didn’t seem to be addressing her.

She saw a window. A small, far off, lighted window, on a third floor, looking warm as the finished wood inside, all of it seeming to glow. Was this the only lighted window in view? The last one in the world? “I don’t understand,” she began, but was cut off again.

“Never! Ikke nu, ikke hver,” continued the ghost, to whom- or to whatever. Cantwell seemed to be momentarily forgotten.

“You’re not real. It isn’t real.”  Tears pricked at Cantwell’s eyes. They served no purpose. They weren’t going to move the ghost. There was no one else to help–that much was increasingly clear. Cantwell wanted to control them, but with a dropping feeling found that she absolutely couldn’t.

She still hadn’t looked at the ghost. She wouldn’t. It was the only fight she hadn’t lost. The figure seemed in appearance about her age. A woman. Dressed in something colorless, perhaps warmer, or maybe older. It could have been her doppelganger. It could have been anyone else.

“Wouldn’t you like to know where I’ve been, before I was here?” They walked on in silence for a moment. “I wasn’t an ugly corpse. I know how that matters to you.”

Cantwell couldn’t form the words, but the ghost did for her:

“What do I know about you? No, this isn’t your night for questions.” It scratched its nose. “Not even the rhetorical kind. You tell me: Why were you at your Nana’s?”

“Mom was ripping the apartment up.”

“Right.”

“She was all cut up about some man cheating on her.”

“Her moods are extreme.”

“He wasn’t even my father. It’s not like I cared.”

“I’m taking that away from you.”

“That man? I barely even remember him.” Cantwell stopped herself. It wasn’t that memory the ghost was taking. It wasn’t any memory the ghost was taking. Worst of all, it wasn’t her life either.

“What am I?” the ghost asked.

“You’re a ghost. You’re just a ghost.”

“And what is a ghost?”

“Don’t do this.”

“I thought you didn’t try to understand things. Just the surface, remember? Stay in the flow. It’s the silence that scares you. I’ll bet right about now you’re wishing you were stupider. There are things you don’t understand, but then there are things you can’t understand. That’s what I am. That’s what your ghost is.”

“Please!” Cantwell looked, but there was nothing there. “Please!” The memory was just as fresh. The moments in that kitchen. True to her word, the ghost hadn’t taken the memory. Cantwell could remember every detail with painful accuracy. Only the feeling was gone.

At some point it had begun to snow. Cantwell continued on to her appointment, in that wooden room on the third floor.

IMDB Trivia for “Hoof-Town” (2002)

One of Disney’s last traditionally animated (2-D) films, with the exception of all characters’ photorealistic CGI hands.

Ranked #5 on AFI’s 50 Most Based Movies.

A third act was completed, but cut from the final film.

Besides the nine credited screenwriters, several Disney senior managers were personally involved in rewrites well into the final week of production. This allegedly explains the otherwise incongruous exchange during the Blowhole Beach chase where Lilly and Mulligan say: “Fuck you, Brent.” “Fuck you, Christine.”

Nominated for the 2003 Best Animation or Musical Oscar, but lost to Dreamworks SKG’s “Captain Hookworm” (2002).

The first and, to date, only film produced in Disney’s proprietary 17:1 “Hyper Widescope” format. Following negative reaction in theaters, the film was heavily cropped for home video release, explaining why most action and dialogue take place offscreen.

Work on the film was fully rebooted and all prior work scrapped after one of the original directors failed to properly kowtow to chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Princess Boneable was created specifically to add a new Disney Princess to the roster. She has no lines, but to date is the only Disney Princess to kick another character in the face without apparent provocation.

The running joke about Dr. Grooventein being back to “Teabag Iz’ey’s balls” was not scripted, but the result of clever audio editing around David Ogden Stiers’ constant improvisational muttering in the recording booth, often over other actors’ lines. No one named “Iz’ey” appears in the script, nor is Ogden Steirs known to have been officially hired for the film.

Body count: 56, and one undead boat.

According to co-co-Director Sam Marshall, Lilly Pikachu is not a fox but an Antarctic explorer from the human world in an elaborate, anatomically-correct costume.

Held the record for most co-directors on any Disney film at 18. (Soon bested by “Salmon” (2004) with 93.)

Most of the artists with traditional hand drawing skills were fired as production neared completion, often forcefully while still at work. See Goofs: Sudden vertical lines/characters disappearing.

The song “Suck My Kiss” was later recorded by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Produced under the title “Tuesday I’m Eating” as a lower cost “B” project alongside the  expected box office smash then titled “Hoof Town.” When the original “Hoof Town” performed poorly, the titles were switched to the confusion of most moviegoers, in order to chalk it up as a win on quarterly financial statements. (The original “Hoof Town” was later released on home video as “Monkey Spanks: Private Eye”.) This explains why neither a single hoofed animal nor a town appear in the film.

Drew the ire of many Conservative Christian parents’ groups for being a movie.

Feature film debut of singer Sasha Turpworth. Turpworth was discovered at a dick sucking contest in Miami Beach, FL.

As a result of contractual obligations and poor timing, the requisite Broadway adaptation opened the same day as the theatrical release, resulting in an infinite recursion of royalty payments between the two Disney divisions. Still ongoing to this day, these payments make it both the highest grossing and greatest financial loss of any Disney film.

First bulimic character in a Disney animated movie. (“Herbie: Fully Loaded” was a live-action film.)

Foreign titles: “Animal Feet Amok” (France), “The Wacky Animal Village” (Germany), “Hoofs: Being an Exploration of Numerous Amusing Things That Happen to Several Anthropomorphized Animals Near a Somewhat Tasteful Bus Depot” (Brazil), “Tits” (Finland).

Howard Pauls, key animator on Spunky Sally, has not been seen by any current member of the Walt Disney animation staff. The last of Walt’s famed Nine Old Men, Pauls exchanges work through a gap under his locked office door. Some suspect he is long dead and it is the room itself producing the drawings.

“Truundelhorn” is a real brand of Hungarian truck, although they have not been sold with anti-Semitic slogans on the hood since 1993.

Similarities have been noted between the plot and that of Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” in that neither has one.

Roger Ebert admitted that he was high on mushrooms while reviewing the film, but did not feel it altered his opinion meaningfully.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers the second-longest racist tirade by a former “Seinfeld” cast member in a Disney movie, and the third longest in any animated movie. (See Trivia for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996) and “Bee Movie” (2007).)

Musician Morrissey was brought in to give the film “some indy cred,” but was replaced by Alan Menkin when it was realized Morrissey had died in Paris in 1998. He was not rehired when it was discovered that he had not died in Paris in 1998.

Reunites actresses Annie Potts and Elizabeth Perkins for the first time since “Lesbian Sorority Blood Inferno Part 5” (1982).

Hidden Mickey: Beneath the word “SEX” in the underwater rave scene.

David Schramm recorded all of the lines for Based Barry in March of 2001, before being ordered whacked by Disney management in November of that year. Reginald VelJohnson was brought in as a last-minute replacement.

George Clooney, David Thewlis, George C. Scott, William H. Macy and Linda Carter were all considered for the role of the ottoman.

Daveigh Chase, Colm Meaney, Nicolas Refn and Jaden Smith were all considered for the role of Peter Pubgoer, which eventually went to all of them.

Spaceships

If you don’t have artificial gravity, science fiction starts to look more like the age of schooners. To get from place to place in the solar system it’d be necessary to accelerate halfway, turn around and decelerate for the rest of the trip. Accelerating or decelerating at more than the equivalent rate of Earth gravity (9.8m/s) would be difficult for the crew to withstand for long. Jupiter is about 983 million km from Earth at its nearest point. If I’m doing the math right (and I’m probably not) accelerating halfway at 9.8m/s would take 158 hours — about 6½ days. The full trip would take two weeks.

Laser weapons are a must. You’d only be able to see them when they shoot through gas or dust, but when it comes to shooting from one moving platform and hitting another on a logarithmic scale you won’t get much time to aim. A projectile would deliver more energy with less expended, but a powerful lazer would be able to vaporize or nudge it out of the way. Opponents would basically joust on a split-second timeframe, trying to pass momentarily close enough for their computers to shoot. Ships would be no more than specks to one another, usually less. Forget about human combat.

Until someone tells me what exactly an “energy shield” would be, we’ll have to assume that surviving a lazer attack means thick, dense plating all over the ship. If a lazer can vaporize a few cubic meters of hull in one shot, you’d better have a lot of hull to spare. It should be shiny too. Getting hit with a lazer might lead to some pretty refractions.

One last thought: Get used to the solar system. It takes light from the sun (which doesn’t have to accelerate) eight minutes to reach Earth, four hours to reach Neptune, and four years to reach the nearest star — itself a burnt-out red dwarf, Proxima Centauri.

Blowing some of the cobwebs out of scifi tropes, fiction begins to slip into unfamiliar grooves.

“South Sea Company and Pan Am”

“Evacuate Earth! We have fucked up. Evacuate Earth! We have fucked up…” vibrated every molecule from the core to the froth.

Pan Am had been born in the molten publics ten miles below seal-evil and had worked his way up through the Swiss Ocean to one of the hands below Upafrica. On a tip, he spent a month hiking through SkyMollRestaurant to 521248t8884, arriving days after the bottom fell out and being forced to keep climbing through the magnetosfear. He emigrated up a cable with a few million others when the crane attached to a rivet on its way to the new Jupiter trane, and found work partway up the arm joining pritses in a balancing trace.

South Sea Company was from the high froth above Captured, a weeliweil with braids in her hair. How she had ended up in the arc-overs with a depressing view of Zeeland, barely 7% in debt at age 22, was an even more confusing and picaresque story involving an older man and a broken heart. About a year later, she rode a claw down the north wall of the crane, made her way across, and began digging herself back up with an almost full time job leafing tops in the neighborhood below Pan Am’s.

They made an unlikely couple, but it was an unlikely day.

By flashing the slosh tank the night before, Sears had managed to annihilate the business district. Part of the team from his shift had then cut away the remaining stays with hand explosives. As the nearby spires of Gibraltar painstakingly collapsed into the rising sea of flame, they — 29 crane ports, a winchfield and part of the vessel under construction — had become a free-floating lifeboat. They had no clippers or lift-sixes to get them to Mars, just a handful of strangers. It would be a perilous journey of several weeks, if the strangers worked at all. For some reason, everyone was still looking to Sears and his makeshift crew to decide what to do. He tried not to think about how many were dead, but he had a head for numbers: 64% of humanity already, with the chain reaction still burning its way upward into the froth. Every real ship had long since evacuated. Orbit was a snowstorm of shrapnel halfway out to the moons.

“Stress cracks are opening up everywhere,” Sears announced. “Be ready. Everyone who hasn’t, get as far inside as you can.” His plan was unlikely to succeed. Their strangers were the cheap kind used in construction. They had only been used once, and only been meant to be used once. Something exploded.

“Someone try to vent the puffers,” said Sears.

“I’m on it,” said Kalashnikov.

“Captain Sears-“

“Very funny, Temple of Athena.”

“Wasn’t me.”

“Me,” said a young woman in the doorway, holding up her hand. It was South Sea Company. Her other hand held Pan Am’s.

“Not now,” said Sears, adding up their rate of tumble. “Flip the strangers,” said Sears. The acceleration stopped. “Wait until we’re facing away, then get ready to flip them again. We’ll do something about this offcenter spin when we’re clear of the arc-overs.”

“Captain-“

“Do NOT call me that, South Sea Company.”

“That was me, actually,” said Kalashnikov. “One of the strangers just nuked Point Pleasant. Fourteen fatalities.”

“638,529 people left aboard then,” said Sears. “Left alive, rather.”

“Aboard is fine,” said Temple of Athena.

“We don’t have running lights,” said Tea Lagoon.

“What are you talking about, running lights?”

“There.” Tea Lagoon switched on a red light at one end of their bulk and a blue light at the other. “Now we’re legal.”

“Legal for what?”

“Captain Sears…” South Sea Company began again.

“Will you stop calling me that?”

“We want you to marry us,” said Pan Am.

South Sea Company smiled and nodded, squeezing his hand.

Sears turned to face them. “What is the matter with you? We’re drifting for dear life through a wreckage field-“

“With proper lights,” said Tea Lagoon.

“You should do it, captain,” said Temple of Athena, tapping her hands against her chin.

“I am not a captain! This is not a vessel!”

“Well what would you call it?” asked South Sea Company.

“Ooh, what should we call it?” said Kalashnikov.

“Just stop, everyone.”

“Somebody has to give her,” said Temple of Athena. “Hey hey, can I?”

“Does somebody have to give him too?” asked Tea Lagoon.

“Seems fair,” said Kalashnikov.

“I’ll do it then,” Tea Lagoon volunteered.

“Flip on my mark,” said Sears. “Flip!” A groan echoed through the walls as momentum began to build again.

“Shit! Cut that stranger off!” said Kalashnikov.

“What happened?”

“Strangelets everywhere. Thing went inverse, just like that.”

“Watch for gammas. They won’t all spike before they invert, but it’s the best we’ll get.”

“Roger,” said Kalashnikov. Everyone watched tensely for the next several minutes as material fatigue made itself heard. “They’re ready to flip.”

“Flip.”

Silence.

“Don’t you need a witness, too?” asked Temple of Athena.

“I don’t remember,” said Pan Am.

“Stop. Just stop…”

“I’ll witness,” said Kalashnikov. “I was waiting for something to do.”

Standard Oil and his team returned. “We’ve got Mu Mu welded down.” He looked at Pan Am and South Sea Company. “What’s going on?”

“A wedding!” said Kalashnikov. “The captain’s doing a ceremony.”

“Oh. Explains the running lights, in a roundabout sort of way.” Standard Oil turned to Pan Am. “You the guy? Good show. I thought you two were fighting.”

“It seems kind of silly now,” said South Sea Company, twining her arm around Pan Am’s.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Standard Oil looked distant for a moment. “Crew! Get in here. We’ve got a wedding!”

“Like a real wedding?” Standard Oil’s people crowded in, shaking Pan Am’s hand and kissing South Sea Company’s hair.

“Excellent. Lets get started,” said Temple of Athena.

“I don’t…” Everyone watched Captain Sears expectantly. “I don’t even know the…”

“I found them,” said Kalashnikov, passing the words to him. He read through them, stalling for time in the light of the boiling Earth.

“Fine, fuck it. ‘Dearly beloved…'”

More Fun With Mr. Noonday

Of all the challenges I thought I might face as an adult, having an invisible demon on my back weighing me down wasn’t one of them.

“Take this chalk,” he said. “Draw a line with it on the floor. Cross it. Look back.”

It was gone.

“Now do you understand?”

(Fifty word flash fiction. Previous outing: “Mr. Noonday.”)

Softball Sketch

I’m in the “husbands’ box” with a few other tired-looking guys, working late on my laptop. The game is about halfway through. We have a vulnerable lead. It’s beginning to rain. She’ll be muddy, cold and irritable when she gets off the field. I expect she’ll want to go straight home instead of soaking in the clubhouse. I happen to be looking up vaguely as Fukuyama #43 sends a line drive past the first baseman. My wife scoops it up, pops it back to first and ends the inning. I take a sip from my can of tea, feeling like a good husband.

“Nine for twelve? That’s a pretty good season!” The little girl nods shyly under her baseball cap, clutching an autographed notebook page. Local celebrity means something here. She’s an obvious pro, bobbing her head and grinning like a tv idol as she fills the girl’s head with league softball dreams. My wife’s plan is to become a history teacher when she retires from the league, preferably at a lower secondary (middle) school. I suspect she just wants to do it so she can coach a girls’ team. She’d be good at it. The late evenings away from home will continue long past her softball career, but at least she’ll be able to ditch that haircut.

We’ve made dinner, eaten, and worked down through a bottle of sake, chatting quietly on the floor. Her face is bright red. Is that what I’m laughing about? I don’t remember. Everything is good. We roll around on the carpet giggling. Soon we’re making love. She’s giving me the baby eyes. This is why I came here. Sometimes it all makes sense. She’s out by the time I put her to bed. I get her a glass of water, and down one myself. She snuggles against my hand as I lay down beside her, breathing hard in her sleep.

“What is the MATTER WITH YOU!?” she yells in Japanese, tears streaming down her face. I don’t understand this mood. She calls me stupid, shit, foreign. Hard little fists smash like fireworks against my chest and arms. She’s much too fast to block. All I can do is force myself closer and take the windup out of her punches until she cries herself down. It won’t take long. Domestic violence only became a crime here in 1997. I’ll be sore tomorrow. She’ll be distant tonight, then overly upbeat, and probably do something for me. This is deeper than me being boneheaded, and not a real couple’s fight. It just happens, once or twice a year. All I know is that her life is an elaborate comedy of manners that I’m too dense to understand, and sometimes it’s too much for her.

It’s the annual Husbands Game — actually a mishmash of husbands, boyfriends, and more than a few dads. (The qualifications are flexible.) We’re humiliating ourselves as usual along with the equally hopeless men from Himeji, but it’s all for a good cause. Mishina’s dad just huffed and puffed his way to a base hit. The local diehard fans are Queen stomping. Hyuuga’s boyfriend played college ball and he’s up after me. If I can get at least a single, we might do okay. I spot my wife in the stands and trip over a bat, to more cheers from the crowd. She does an elaborate, Kabuki-grade facepalm.

When we met, I bought her a drink, not knowing that I probably shouldn’t do that when she was out bonding with her team. We dated for about a week. I remember feeling that I’d hit a wall in getting to know her. I might have called it off. Then everything went wrong. It was the year her team failed to reach the Championships, for the first time since 1995. People were going to be fired. She was taking it hard. She needed company, couldn’t maintain a face. Two fans had committed suicide. It was the worst day of her life. She called me a little before midnight, and poured her heart out in the back of a steakhouse.

We’re home. Practice was cancelled. It’s a Tuesday evening. We’re on the lawn playing catch in the fading light. Her throws are perfect, flat and quick. I lob it back to her. The phrase “speaking with silence” comes to mind, one I’ve never understood. She watches me instead of the ball. Her eyes are smiling. There’s a weird tranquility to the moment. The lull of the neighbors’ kids bubbles over the hedges. My wife looks content.

(This is basically the same exercise as “Wives” from 2004.)

Notes on Admiral Bulletin and the Internet Elucidation

Part I: The Origins of the Admiral

First Note– In 1962, when it looked like no more Bulletin books would be written, Judd Harkins retired the characters with an engagement and an indicated Eppings on High Street wedding. When the Cerf Publishing Group relaunched Bulletin the following year, the betrothal was explained away and disposed of. (The “engagement” scene in empty Paddington Station had been staged for the eyes of the villain, although fans have pointed out some logical inconsistencies with the notion.) In Bulletin’s aired appearance on the Saturday morning cartoon series Defenders of the Earth (Episode 121, “The Lost Ship”), Bulletin was depicted raising a son with Miranda on a farm they’d improvised in the lost recesses of the Congo basin. Like fans of the other King Features Syndicate characters used in the show (Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, et al) few Bulletin fans regard the episode as canonical.

Second Note– The original lines, as written by Peter Stepford (Admiral Bulletin and the Turning Sea, First Edition, 1932. Page 214):

“There’s no time left!”

“I said bring her hard a-port!” the Admiral shouted.

“Into the minefield? Are you mad? There isn’t berth.”

“There must be!”

Part II: The Golden Age

First Note– MacRae, Jodi (Judith Mankiewicz) “Backstage at the Bulletin”, The Observer, Feb 12, 1993. Packard’s trial records refer to his mother’s house on Wentworth Street in East London. This meshes with the address given by Packard in his contract with Glencannon Press.

Second Note– The number is somewhere between 289 and 314. If you have your own copy and want to count it, page by page, please… be my guest.

Third Note– There is some debate about when exactly the Golden Age ends. Bulletin’s hiatus from novels between 1939 and 1941 is often considered its logical end. Many fans, myself included, believe that the daily strip storylines continued the best Golden Age traditions well into the 1950s, but I disagree in asserting that this makes them true Golden Age works. (Though I have some affinity for the “Silver Age” nomenclature. Don’t send letters though; I’m not going to use it in the essay.)

Part III: Admiral Bulletin and the Daily Strip

First Note– Hartley illustrated trades of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Wells’ The War of the Worlds, Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, and probably one or two others. I’ve seen a few scans of his early work, and while its not on par with the Brandywine school artists, or even Hartley’s own later Bulletin strips, it’s worth a look.

Second Note– Hartley’s tradition endured with such remarkable force that when in 1967 Marvel comics based a major plot point of revealing Miranda’s face (“Admiral Bulletin #32”) public outrage in Europe was so intense that the authors were forced to backpedal with a plotline involving a double. The later Image comic would not make the same mistake.

Third Note– Personally, I think he was trying to cover his butt. I have trouble believing that Hartley’s flair for intrigue didn’t spring from a fair dose of real-life paranoia, and Glencannon Press’s management wasn’t always one to honor its agreements.

Fourth Note– Increasingly off his leash, toward the end of his Bulletin’s run, Stackpole’s artwork began to slide into very baroque territory. Fantagraphics (who is doing an amazing job with Peanuts) is planning to release the Bulletin Strips beginning in 2007. These will be full hardcover editions, unedited, and otherwise just about everything the old ’70s trades weren’t. I haven’t figured out if Fantagraphics has the “lost” Stackpole strips, but I’m keeping my fingers painfully crossed.

Part IV: The Turbulent Years After/Colophon

First Note– I’m basing this on Silvestri’s introductory essay in issue #1. He seems to have known Bulletin by the ’70s collection of daily strips. I’m not really sure how old Silvestri is, but I’m guessing he wouldn’t remember the strip when it first ran, and he doesn’t mention the books in his intro.

Second Note– Marvel didn’t have the rights to the A. C. Vellum pseudonym, and it was not used on the Admiral Bulletin comic book series.

Third Note– I hadn’t really found a better place to put this, but a biographical sketch of Robespierre by Nigel Hartley is known to exist. It’s been floating around with fans for years. This comes courtesy of Troy Minkowsky, OfTheAtomic:

“The Tragic Tale of Robespierre”

Robespierre Cholmondeley was born in Vezelay France, the only son of a watchmaker. At three years of age Robespierre started showing inhuman skills, such as transformation and being able to read the future. He was discouraged by his deeply Catholic parents to display his talents and suppressed them. It was not until he turned sixteen when Robespierre used his powers to save his girlfriend from a burning building. This caught the eye of the French Government. 

At age seventeen Robespierre earned special agent status in the French government. He dealt with threats to France an of occult nature. A significant tool for many years, his loyalty came into question when word of his involvement with the French Communist party leaked out. The accusation was only a half truth, for it was RobespierreÕs girlfriend who was the Marxist. While no longer trusted, yet still a valuable tool, the French Government recommended him to a special tasked force formed by the Brits. The head of this taskforce was one Admiral Bulletin. 

The two soon became quick friends. Both where child prodigies, Robespeirre a high Shaman at age twenty-three and Bulletin commanding his own fleet at twenty-six. The two had a great love of sport, cinema, and the ladies. The only time the two argued was over chess and women. 

Their first mission together was a voyage to the deep heart of the Congo. A British trading post was attacked by a Snake Goddess and it was up to them to restore order. Foolhardy with a sense of invincibility that could be blamed on youth, the two rushed in. 

The Admiral lost thirty men when the fleet was attacked by giant Congo-Serpents . Robespierre was held captive by the Snake Goddess for two months before Admiral Bulletin was able to set him free. With what was left of his strength Robespierre was able to banish the Serpent Goddess into another dimension, but not without a price. His head started to fall apart, chipping away, and the chaos magic inside him began to spill out. No longer alive, yet not quite dead, he existed in Limbo. 

He fled to Tibet, wishing to spend the rest of his existence in solitude, but it was not to be. For his good friend Bulletin was organizing a group of people with extraordinary powers to save the world, a mission Robespierre could not resist.

Admiral Bulletin and the Internet Elucidation, Part IV

The Turbulent Years After

Glencannon transparently ended an era with publication of its last Bulletin book, Admiral Bulletin and the Eudoxian Delay, in January 1954. The publisher never really recovered from its losses in the war of the previous decade. Infighting and incompetent storycraft had already crippled the venerable pulpmaster, and Hartley’s killing of the daily strip sealed its fate and its doors. The book itself was a wild, disjointed cutup of much that had come before in Bulletin’s swiftly-turning planet, with far too much Space Boy for its own good. (Call it the Scrappy Doo Syndrome, or the Inevitable Gizmoducking.) Rob Cohen likely wrote it, as he’s the only name shared between Glencannon Press and Masterbooks, who bought up Bulletin and much of the wreck of the older publisher. Masterbooks continued the worst traditions of the later books, depleting the property further of its apparent value. Cerf Publishing Group itself bought Masterbooks in 1965, and after a cursory two-book relaunch pretty much left the Bulletin series to swing.

But this was not the end of Bulletin.

Bulletin returned a few short years later, in America, in the pages of a self-titled Marvel comic book. Of note is “The Return of the Hydrator,” issue #12, wherein none other than a pre-Star-Trek Harlan Ellison posed the questions of a masked marauder unleashing a net positive effect on an unsuspecting populace. (It should be noted that there is no “Hydrator #1,” though I’ve met people who swear they’ve read it.) “Admiral Bulletin” was published irregularly after the first two years, and officially cancelled in 1970.

But this was not the end of Bulletin.

A swell of interest brought back several of the Bulletin books in paperback form, in the mid seventies, as well as a three volume “Best of…” collection of Nigel Hartley and Teddy Stackpole’s comic strips. Most readers prior to 1997 remember Bulletin this way. Some think he was created in the mid seventies. Alas, like all swells, there was a trough to follow, and Bulletin fell back out of print in the United States and Great Britain for another two decades.

But this was not the end of Bulletin.

In Italy, where Bulletin still enjoyed a measure of popularity, a tv series was begun in 1979. Armando Barsotti played the Admiral, with Ingrid Soft as Miranda. The cast and setting were Italianized, and by accounts the show was campy and played mainly for comedy. It was released on VHS-PAL, in Italian, and there are no official subtitled versions. The show ran for two seasons, beginning in the spring of 1979 and ending in 1980.

But this was not the end of Bulletin.

Upstart creator-owned imprint Image Comics brought out its own, darker version of Admiral Bulletin in the fall of 1994. Marc Silvestri, a founding partner in the Image venture, was the apparent driving force behind the relaunch, although the art and story chores were passed off to Brandon Peterson and Norman Schultz, respectively. Similar in tonal change to Mark Gruenwald’s ’80s writing for Captain America, Schultz’s Bulletin had become a “contractor,” privatized under the blind Thatcherism/Reaganomics push of the previous decade, embittered, emboldened and dangerous to be on the wrong side of. Bulletin had come a long way indeed. Much like the previous Marvel attempt, and indeed the rest of the Image stable in the early years of its existence, this Admiral Bulletin was irregularly published. In 1994 it became a victim of Silvestri’s Top Cow/Image split.

But this was not the end of Bulletin.

Bulletin’s most recent sighting has been with Vintage Books, part of the behemoth Random House Group. In 1997, Vintage brought out three trade paperbacks in Great Britain:  Admiral Bulletin and the Western War,  Admiral Bulletin and the Foreign Star, and  Admiral Bulletin’s Last Exchange. Fan excitement quickly waxed, however, when the American publication failed to materialize, and a promised Admiral Bulletin and the Jungle Gods was delayed until 1999. As of this writing (October 2005), the final promised Vintage reissue,  Admiral Bulletin and the Cretin Conspiracy, has materialized on neither side of the pond, and all references to it on the Vintage web site have disappeared.

But this is not the end of Bulletin.

Colophon

Maybe the world would be just the same without Admiral Bulletin. Biggles didn’t need an older brother. Flemming didn’t have to perfect Packard’s odd little experiment in “The Quantum of Solace.” After Glencannon Press folded in 1954, no one ever made any money off the Admiral — certainly not Image or Marvel. Miranda’s obsessive filing of the strange and inexplicable in the old vault at Eppings on High Street may not have been the germ of the warehouse scene at the end of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. (He’s never claimed as much.) Who’s ever written a Bulletin novel — or even short story — to later win fame and fortune writing under his own name?

But maybe, just maybe, we do need Bulletin. Bulletin gives us something we lack. He’s certainty. He’s chance as a foe and a friend. He’s the reason we never wanted to play the bad guy at cops and robbers. To different generations, he’s been different things; ironically, it’s his inherent rigidity and stability that makes him such a foil for our preconceptions. Image made him one thing. Masterbooks another. Squabble as we will over what is and is not cannon in Bulletin’s convoluted universe (Did Robespierre die in Khartoum, the Mirage Islands, or not at all?) we will be missing the point unless we remember that neither the future nor the past of Admiral Bulletin has been written.

He is what we make.

*****

Special thanks to Isaac Salleo (Wesl.d.Amor) for corrections and additional dates, and to Troy Minkowsky (OfTheAtomic) for typing up the Robespierre bio. Dedicated to all Bulletin fans worldwide. The author of this page makes no claim of copyright over “Admiral Bulletin,” “Miranda,” “Eppings on High Street,” “Dr. Posthaste,” “Robespierre,” or other related Bulletin characters and properties. Please contact the author with any corrections, additions and the like.

Admiral Bulletin and the Internet Elucidation, Part III

Admiral Bulletin and the Daily Strip

On Christmas Day, 1937, Admiral Bulletin debuted as a three-panel daily comic strip, joining a field already crowded with established players like Chester Gould’s “Dick Tracy” and Lee Falk’s “Phantom.” The art and story were the creation of Nigel Hartley, who brought a love of intrigue and a distinctive crosshatched Art Deco style to the endeavor. The strip was an international success, launching the following Valentine’s Day in the United States under the King Features Syndicate banner and eventually appearing in twelve languages across five continents. During the war, Bulletin dutifully chased spies from one end of the Allied theatre to the other, and Hartley continued work from his family home in West Somerset, though readership declined of necessity. It was, however, Hartley’s departure in 1952 that ended Bulletin’s long afternoon in the daily funnies.

Nigel Hartley was a Guardian of Manchester op-ed cartoonist and illustrator of juvenile adventure books before joining Glencannon Press. He is the creator of Bulletin’s London headquarters, referred to only as “the old currency bank” until Tad Maplethorpe’s 1942’s Admiral Bulletin and the Shadow at Oxford. The various employees and hangers-on of Eppings on High Street grew under his tenure as well. Hartley expanded one of Turner’s characters into the Robespierre we know today. He also created a “pre-decadence” version of Space Boy. Perhaps the most enduring trademark of Hartley’s comic was its most deliberate omission: In fifteen years, the strip never once revealed Miranda’s face. The character’s low-slung felt hat usually accomplished the trick, but when the hat proved inconvenient Hartley could draw from a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks. Shading, hand position, torches, and — in one memorable scene — mistletoe were among Hartley’s many tools of evasion.

Hartley’s eventual departure was predictable, given the history of Glencannon Press. In the original launch of the Admiral Bulletin strip, the headline had read: “By A. C. Vellum. Art by Nigel Hartley.” This was, of course, something of a diminishment of Hartley’s contribution, and he likely threatened to quit. With King Features Syndicate aggressively pushing Bulletin in the United States, and sales of the Bulletin books exploding, the editors changed the headline to “By Nigel Hartley and A. C. Vellum.” Hartley also began disguising his signature in the artwork at about this time. It was a touchy arrangement that never seems to have satisfied Hartley. In addition to his byline woes, Hartley was under constant pressure to conform the strip’s storyline to that of the books. By the early ’50s the books had taken on a sci-fi slant that bore little resemblance to the slow-burning urban intrigue that Hartley excelled at. The final straw came in March 1953 when ailing Glencannon Press sent Hartley a printed comic-script for the next four months in an effort to promote Admiral Bulletin and the Eudoxian Delay. Hartley had had enough, and quit.

His assistant Theodore Stackpole continued in his style for another five months, but readership fell off. Admiral Bulletin was cancelled in August 1953, with a month of Stackpole’s strips remaining. They haven’t been published to this day. Glencannon Press itself would dissolve within the next year, throwing Admiral Bulletin into the Turbulent Years After.

Admiral Bulletin and the Internet Elucidation, Part II

The Golden Age

Though some still prefer not to accept it, there are few who could have matched George Packard’s qualifications to con A. C. Vellum’s name for 1933’s Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena. A one-time contributer to the London Weekly Traveller, he’d visited the titular island in the 1920s and been on holiday for four years preceding the book’s writing — if serving a sentence for mail fraud can be referred to as “on holiday,” that is. As Jodi McRae of the Weekly Standard proved in 1993, Packard, a convicted con man, was indeed the same George Packard contracted by Glencannon Press in 1932. Seen in this light, Packard’s colorful history meshes perfectly with his Vellum writings.

Structurally, Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena is a three-way conflict between a mysterious man obsessed with becoming the next Napoleon, Bulletin and his team, and a lovable/hateable con named Drinnian. It’s been seriously proposed that the final is a semi-autobiographical character. Drinnian’s schemes are uproariously funny, only to turn darkly bitter in his memorable final two scenes. Neither virtuous nor truly villainous, he plays the “grey center” that would become a recurring theme in many of Bulletin’s finest outings.

Packard continued to plumb the “grey center” to great effect in six successful books and thirteen short stories. The villain in 1934’s Admirable Bulletin and the Bombay Incident, while amassing the highest body count of any Bulletin foil up until then, reads like something approaching a tragic hero. In Admiral Bulletin and the Foreign Star, released in 1937, Bulletin falls victim to his own preconceptions regarding an ally from one of Stepford’s short stories. Packard’s “Admiral Bulletin and the Saipang Sting,” published in the May 1938 Cosmic Significance, runs Bulletin into some of the darkest pre-Image territory of his career, forcing Miranda herself to become essentially the hero.

Packard’s reinvigoration of Bulletin was well under way when Clifford Turner released his first Bulletin book in 1935.  Admiral Bulletin and the Desolate Rail brought Miranda squarely to the fore, forcing her to make resonant, human choices in an era of adventure writing still characterized by Lois Lane and Wilma Deering. Turner is credited with the creation of socialite occultist Lady LaChance and bush pilot Buggy Moran (both in 1936’s Admiral Bulletin and the African Rose) and the alien(?) cargo cult the Brake Men (in “Admiral Bulletin’s Lost Day,” published in the July/August 1938 Curious Tales). Turner liked to mine and cross-referencing earlier stories. He corresponded with the other Vellum authors, including Packard, to orchestrate plot and character lines that ran across multiple works, lending the Golden Age Bulletin books a sheen of saga.

Unfortunately for Bulletin, the real world was quickly encroaching on his world of cloak and destruction. The bombing of Glencannon Press’s offices in the Battle of Britain destroyed the company’s three largest printing presses, leaving them limping along with two smaller presses in Manchester. Clifford Turner entered the war as a tank mechanic, and was killed in North Africa in 1942. It’s not known exactly why Packard didn’t go to fight; after publishing “Admiral Bulletin and the Exact Timetables” stateside in January 1942’s Readers’ Digest (it was probably written earlier), he disappeared from public view until 1955, publishing two respectable detective novels and then retiring from writing altogether. Only three Bulletin novels were published between 1939 and 1945; the War had brought the Golden Age of Bulletin to a close. True fans — increasingly to be found abroad, and especially in the United States — were left to content themselves with the incomparable Nigel Hartley’s newspaper strip.

Admiral Bulletin and the Internet Elucidation, Part I

The Origins of the Admiral

The long and often contradictory history of Admiral Bulletin is indivisibly linked to one man: A.C. Vellum. There’s only one problem. He doesn’t exist.

“A.C. Vellum,” along with Franklin W. Dixon of the Hardy Boys fame, and numerous others, carries the card of that exclusive shadow club of authors who’s output — though impressive — is more real than he. The Vellum name was registered by Glencannon Press of London, UK in 1923. He first appeared as the author of a small line of “Red” pulp-detective books (Red RoverRed Sky at NightRed Lights) published between 1923 and 1925, but it was “Incursion Isle,” published in Glencannon Press’s bimonthly catalogue/digest Curious Tales, in July/August 1927 that first brought Admiral Bulletin to the wider public. Signed with the Red- books’ familiar pseudonym, “Incursion Isle” told the tale of a fast-thinking admiral of the British Navy saving the mainland of some unnamed British protectorate from a (confusingly Hindu/Muslim) cultist and his secret army. Authorship of this first story is in some dispute; most believe it was penned by one or several of the editors as a hasty, last-minute filler.

The character was expanded and retooled into a globetrotting adventurer the following year for his first novel-length outing, Grief Comes to Blastingbridge. The novel, front-heavy but engaging, tells the story of Admiral Bulletin and his encounter with a partial cave-in of the largest quap (i.e. tungsten ore) mine in Scotland, and the aggrieved fraternal order that might have been behind it. It was written by James H. Howard — under the Vellum pseudonym, of course — who penned a number of mass-market mens books for Glencannon Press between 1921 and 1940.  Grief Comes to Blastingbridge introduced several of the staples of the Bulletin milieu, including the characters of Miranda (here as a cooly competent clerk for the mining syndicate) and Bulletin’s sometimes-mentor Dr. Posthaste. Consistent with Howard’s usual style, first names were rarely given, and then only for minor characters. (Howard preferred that his readers “not get too cozy” with his protagonists.)

The book was a success for Glencannon Press, and author Howard was commissioned to write a sequel. In 1929, the publisher released Admiral Bulletin and the Cretin Conspiracy. The story of a Mafia conspiracy to overthrow the government, this second Bulletin volume sold out two printing runs, and was widely pirated in German, Dutch and of course Italian. (In fact, a surviving copy of Ammiraglio Bulletin e la Cospirazione su Crete — where Bulletin mysteriously becomes a native of Naples — fetches more than a first edition of the English.)

The editors reacted to Howard’s Bulletin success by making sure that he would never write for the series again. They were afraid, no doubt, that the author would begin to command more than they were willing to pay. As a result, Bulletin’s third novel-length appearance was penned by a newcomer. Peter Stepford, a little known playwright and occasional author for Glencannon Press’s bimonthly, donned the Vellum mask for Admiral Bulletin and the Snows of Tan-Ana, serialized between September of 1929 and February 1930 in Reading Man’s Digest, and released in book form the following month. Stepford brought a love of dialogue to his spare adventure riffs, and set in motion one of the series’ most beloved character debates: that of whether Miranda is actually Bulletin’s girlfriend. He succeeded in leaving the famous question unresolved through a series of fairly uninteresting action sequences (as it remains to this day, with some caveats). As is typical of serialized novels, the narrative of the book is fairly unfocused; the only real spine to the story consists of the playwright’s delicious character tensions. Stepford’s performance was considered lackluster, and Ira K. Samuelson was hired to ghostwrite the fourth Bulletin book, Admiral Bulletin’s Last Exchange. Stepford would eventually go on to pen three more Bulletin books. Of these, only Admiral Bulletin and the Turning Sea begs mention as it contains the very first mention of the recurring lines “There’s no time left!” / “There must be!” (The exchange takes place between Bulletin and the unnamed captain of a Royal Navy frigate, and there are actually two lines in between. The 1970s paperback reissue omits the intervening lines, although they are restored in the 1998 Vintage trade.)

Ira K. Samuelson wrote three respectable Bulletin books, but it was the arrival of George Packard with 1933’s Admiral Bulletin and the Phoenix of St. Helena that would truly usher in the Golden Age of Bulletin.

Wives

Issue 144, for the week of 8/15/2004

Toast Note: My typical strategy when I spend a few weeks tapping away at something I don’t really understand is to post it to the Space Toast Page and let posterity ridicule me. This is three seperate sketches on a theme. I’ll probably be embarrassed by this later, but there’s been worse in 145 Space Toast Pages.

It’s night, and I’m upstairs at my desk. She comes into the room and puts her arms around me, resting her chin on my head. I reach back and find her waist, never able to just accept affection. “How is it going?” she asks. Not well, I say. She hugs me a little harder and pulls me back. “Come play with me. You’re not going to solve it by staring at it.” My script has three things happening where they shouldn’t be, and they’re plugging the story before the second set of commercials. “Just come with me.” I have to write in my book, I say. I jot down my ideas, as they stand, to pick up later. She keeps wheeling my chair back. I finish fast, throw the pen down, turn around and kiss her. A compact brown face draws back, darker patches around her eyes that make them seem larger, almost glowing in the shadow from the desk lamp.

She tosses my shirt away. I feel her breasts against my inner thighs. She slowly runs her tongue up me, looking me in the eye with a playful edge of worship. Her tongue slides down, and she closes her lips over the end of my penis. Long black hair falls over her face, and she brushes it away with one hand. I touch the sides of her head, feeling the solidness, the smallness of her as she moves on me. Her head bobs gently. Her hair falls over her face again, and I fold it behind her ear. I can hear myself breathing. She redoubles her movements, and I have to shut my eyes. I push her head down and lift it back, pushing myself into her throat. She grunts a bit. I come, digging my hands into her hair. I open my eyes. She’s staring at me, lips still closed around me. Another, smaller spurt goes into her mouth. She’s so calm, her eyes looking back at mine, blinking slowly. I stroke the sides of her face again. I want to hold her. She pulls off and opens her mouth. There’s a little pool around her tongue. With a look so clear it’s almost a question, she closes her mouth and swallows. She smiles, and I need to hold her. I got a little rough back there. Did I hurt you? Lying against me, she shakes her head no, and rubs her ear against my chest.

Midnight or so, perhaps the same night, perhaps a different night. I can see the shape of the episode’s script in my head, and I’m untroubled. We’ve been fucking for so long I couldn’t come if I wanted to. She’s had her tense, shaky first orgasm, and its easier cousins. She breaths deeply and steadily, in and out with each slow thrust and retreat. Her eyes glow, half open, the only part of her face I can see. Little tears glint at the corners of her eyes. She puts her arms around me, and wants to be held.

Papers, in neat little piles, surround her at her desk. I come in and start to knead her shoulders. Her head rolls forward. “Oh that feels good,” she breaths. She rocks backward and forward, whispering encouragements, until the last knot is gone. Her back feels supple and hot. I kiss the nape of her neck and disappear again.

How is your mom? “She’s fine. She sends her love.” She puts the phone back on the charger. I’m not quite what she expected for you, am I? “No, you are! You’re good to me… but in terms of my mother’s shopping list? No.” Shopping list? “You were supposed to be Punjab, come from a specific village…” Even after your parents moved here? “Mom has connections. It’s just the shopping list. All moms do it. I’ll do it. But, see, unlike your mother, mine always had it in mind that she would end up choosing someone for me, even though she always said I could marry whoever I wanted.” I’ll assume this is an Indian thing. “That’s like saying it’s a Northern Hemisphere thing.” I’m sorry. “Don’t be.” And what did you picture? “You. Just darker.” Well, sorry, again. “We can’t all be perfect. By the way, are you going to work on your script tonight?” Yes, I have to.

* * *

I am to understand that, sexually, I had a number of bad American habits to be broken, when we first got together. I tended to hedge my bets, was concerned about things like performance and stamina — cheats to keep my sex life separate from my regular life, hence my obsession with it. The whole thing did indeed became far less stressful the more she got to me. She says she’ll tell me if I do anything wrong, but aside from “stop thinking!” (“Você está pensando!”) she’s been pretty mute so far.

That’s our girl. She’s so much like her mom. Tottering around. She’s got the same hair, brown, and always a mess. That little dress looks like it was stitched together out of whatever was left over from her mom’s outfit. Lots of earth tones. They both look a little like a shanty village. “Menina,” she scolds. Our little girl immediately changes direction away from the street. It’s all the same to her. She’s a little ship, and we’re her pylons. She runs between us, looking thrilled at the world.

Two years later. Our little girl has had a nightmare about mommy and daddy dying, and I’m rocking her to sleep. What can I say to her? Years before she was born, her grampy died unexpectedly; why couldn’t we? My wife looks at me, and I look back at her. Rocking.

Hmm. Our little girl has walked in on us four or five times without noticing anything unusual. Fortunately she’s used to mommy and daddy kissing. The bathroom door is inside our room; that’s the problem — like it was in my house growing up. I now feel sorry for my parents. Item #341 I will never bring up with my mom.

“You married a Brazilian, a sculptor, and a MassArt student — that’s three times you were warned.”

We’re below my mom’s house, dipping our feet in and watching the lake grow dark. She turns around and rests what’s left of her bun in my lap. I scratch her head absently and move our beer bottles away from her elbow. She chuckles. What? “Did you ever fantasize about a girl like me, Matthew?” I’m not that creative. “Sadistic, you mean?” Frankly, I wouldn’t have liked to get my hopes up. She stares at me until we hear a pad pad pad pad pad of little feet, closing fast.

* * *

Nordic. The irony of repainting the house in Denmark Nordic style is that Nordic comes from the U.S. The irony of us is that we both look Danish but have only been here once before. She withdraws the stencil. “Yes?” It looks great. She beams.

“Which way?” She takes my hand. I was overwhelmed, she was overwhelmed, now we’re thinking. Left. There will be a market by the train. We can eat down by the river. When does the Metro stop running? “Midnight.” She knows. She smiles, hair matted, two days without a shower, mares-tails sticking to her forehead. I have to kiss her.

The river flows by sluggishly at night. It brings up a memory. I don’t say it. She’s tucking into her bread. “I like Europe. I like these places.” She burps, putting her fist to her mouth. “I like how children here can just… be kids.” Another memory. I don’t say it again. I like being within five feet of you. She looks at me. There is a pause, then she looks away, smiling. “You want to have kids?” I nod. I’m still looking at her. I don’t think either of us was expecting that.

Copenhagen, for the first time. I’m trying to dredge phrases out of the phrasebook but I can’t stop bursting out laughing every few moments. (Poor guy at the desk.) I’m trying to say “Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen.”

We’ve got the giggles out of us. It’s late. There are snores around us in the hostel. We’re on a top bunk. I rest the hand holding a condom in her hand, and she closes her fingers around it. No movement. Barely breathing. I kiss her. Her cheeks are flushed. She puts it on me, kissing me again. I slide her to me, still trying to be as quiet as possible. Every curve, the full length of her body, bulges solidly against me. I part her shorts, kiss her again, and move against her. I’m inside her. She breathes out sharply through her nose. I feel it against my cheek. I push in again. She exhales, and immediately draws a breath. Her face screws up. She breathes raggedly through her nose, body rigid, pressed against mine. I break the kiss, raise my head and listen with one ear as she pants quietly against the other. She grabs fistfuls of my tee-shirt. I rub my hand across her bottom, squeezing her. Our mouths come together again. She’s shaking a bit. Her hips jerk. A small creak from the bed. Her jaw spasms, and she whines. 3… 2… 1… Her body relaxes against mine. Her breathing redoubles. She opens her eyes, hair stuck to her face, glistening with sweat. The sight of her is more than I can handle. I bundle her in my arms, and come.

It turns out that, when allowed to, she makes quite a bit of noise. The house smells like paint. It’s a similar moment. We’re both coming back to ourselves. “Do you love me?” Yeah. “Will you always love me?” Yeah. She searches my face, looking from eye to eye. “Look at me, and love only me?” Hai. (It’s transitioned into a bit of a movie we saw, but I know she’s being semi-serious.) She looks in my eyes. “I can’t read people like you can.” I can’t understand people like you can. “Did you ever think about… this, before we met?” Of course. There’s an odd look on her face. “Am I what you expected?” Sometimes, I answer; remember that thing I wrote about it? “Yeah.” You kind of remind me of that last girl. She frowns. “I didn’t really like her.” Why not? She was the most human. “Yeah, but you didn’t really want her, like the first girl. And she wasn’t as cool as the second one.” I didn’t say you were her, I said you kind of reminded me of her. “Then did you ever fantasize about someone more like me?” I’m sure of it. Maybe a dozen unique daydreams and fantasies a week, of varying length and complexity — I only wrote down three.