Have some flash fiction, duckies. You may have seen this before if you know me on the Book of Faces.
Hunting Down the Gingerbread Man
“Let it go, Jed,” they say. “Quit chasin’ crumbs.” I can’t, though. Yeah, I know he’s supposed to be dead. I’m not buyin’ it. Foxes don’t eat gingerbread. They eat meat, just like the Gingerbread Man.
The story’s gone around a fair bit by now, but the way it’s told seems to leave out a few things. Like the part where the Gingerbread Man took a bite out of every animal he passed until he found somethin’ he liked. And the part where he liked my leg enough to eat up to the knee ‘fore I pried him off. They don’t want the kids to hear that; it’ll give ‘em nightmares. It gives me nightmares, that’s for sure.
Yeah, you think I’m nuts. Look here, the story goes that nobody could catch the Gingerbread Man, not a cow, nor a pig, nor even a horse. That sound right to you? Sure, Missus Begley’s pig and Sam Hardin’s cow were both too fat to run much, but that there horse was Patch Finster’s prize-winnin’ stallion Lucky. Damn good horse. Broke six speed records at the county fair. But Lucky couldn’t get a bite of the Gingerbread Man and you know why? Because it’s hard to chase a fleein’ sweet when you’ve only got three good legs. After some fresh bacon at Ellena Begley’s and beef at Sam Hardin’s, Mister Gingerbread Man took most of Lucky’s foreleg ‘fore he ran down the road to my place.
Thinkin’ about those bloody peppermint teeth gives me the shakes. What was Missus Begley thinkin’ when she baked the thing? She says the old man who sold her the decoratin’ candy didn’t say it was enchanted. She thinks he was one of the travelin’ wizards that folks talk about around the fire at night. You know, the kind that travel just to stir up trouble. He stirred up trouble all right.
Whenever I try to sleep I can feel tiny peppermint teeth gratin’ on my ankle bones, see those raisin eyes rollin’ in their doughy sockets. I can smell the minty fresh breath of a creature that shouldn’t even be breathin’. I can’t let it go. That gumdrop-buttoned bastard ate my leg, and now he’s gonna pay. I put out a bounty on him, even after they told me a fox ate him up. I know that walkin’ dessert is still out there. I know ‘cause I found his leg on the other side of the river. Never told anyone; after all, the cow, the pig, and poor old Lucky were all put down after the leg-eatin’ rampage. They won’t be lookin’ for revenge. But I am. And I’ve had some of it already. I keep that gingerbread leg in my cupboard. It’s stale now, but it still twitches some when I take it out. And it twitches a lot more when I nibble on that sweet, sweet icing. I sure hope he feels it, wherever he is.
One summer night, when you had gone I spread your letters upon the lawn. Sketches, notes, pictures and things made a pair of paper wings. I glued them tightly end to end, to help my aching heart to mend. I caught a briskly passing breeze And quickly rose above the trees. It’s winter now, and still I fly, a paper cloud in an ashen sky. Riding the wind, I’ve forgotten your name (I expect that you have done the same). I flutter, I sail, I sing, I soar; For you, my love, I bleed no more.
This is for W.B. Yeats’ wife, poor woman.
My dear, you know very well That he has never loved you. He has never even thought to pretend for you, has he? You’ve done that yourself. And the result? Two separate lives: He has politics and poetry and playwriting, And you have children and housework and Occasionally the spirits speak through you. Oh, you tell yourself that his work consumes him, that if you could become part of his Vision , He would allow you to be part of his life as well. It does not matter if the “spirits” come through you Or you merely pretend so. What does matter is that this “spirit-writing” is the only thing, aside from the children, that you share with him. And yet he still does not see you, does he? Because Maude’s idealized ghost has had her hand Clenched around the place in his heart marked “wife.” And she isn’t even his mistress; no, she had the good sense to move along. But his memories of her have crystallized into some half-loved, half-hated ghost. He won’t see anything beyond his Muse, his Betraying Helen. And where does that leave you, Georgie? He never wrote a poem about you, did he? I suppose he didn’t care to bestow Immortality on a mere wife.
So the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer is out now (leaked, “leaked,” who cares?) and I have opinions, dear ones, scattered opinions which I will commence to share. And I have learned to take screencaps! I know, thrilling stuff. If you aren’t interested in the Avengers movies, none of this will make any sense at all.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Allstate. Fuck Allstate.
Anyway, Tuesday I receive a call from Progressive. My car was totalled. The frame was bent and it was not worth the cost of fixing it. It was actually towed to Duncannon, so I didn’t even get to say goodbye. The Progressive dude was kind enough to clear out my personal effects, which he probably regretted when I screamed into his ear. It was just a damn dent. He explained, very kindly, that the car was hit in a way it was not designed to tolerate. I feel like I was probably taken for a ride but I have no way to fight it. At that point I wished I had been injured. If I were in a coma I wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.
Then, Wednesday. Through all of this I would like to point out that my mother has been incredibly depressed. She has spent most of the last month in bed and we have fought a bit over it. The furnace broke six weeks ago and it hasn’t been fixed yet because she keeps canceling the repair guy. So yeah. Context. Anyway, we tried to take the Jeep in on Wednesday night. I had a rental, so I followed her as she tried to drive to Mechanicsburg. The Jeep started right up, so it seemed doable. Towing from our driveway has always been extra-difficult, so we figured they could tow it from the side of the road if it broke on the way.
Gather ’round, children, and I shall tell thee a tale. A tale of transportation gone wrong, of bizarre coincidence, and of a wild hair-raising ride in the darkness. Sound interesting? Too bad, I’m writing it out anyway!
Our story begins on a crisp fall day. The date was Thursday, September 18. I was driving through Allentown on my way home. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I had had no food or caffeine for about six hours. So I was very tired and hungry as I attempted to find some food in Allentown, a place much like Harrisburg in that everything closes at 9 P.M. It was now getting on toward 10 and I was lost. My GPS was doing its best, but it cut out somewhere around the Lehigh airport and so I had only my fuddled wits to go by. I decided to do a quick turnaround in a side “street.”
Bad move. I pulled out too fast and the oncoming car was unable to stop. My dear, wonderful Ford Focus saved my life. It popped out the side airbag and shut off the gas. The driver of the other car, a seventeen-year-old girl, was having a slight panic attack on the side of the road. Her car, dripping wiper fluid, was straddling both lanes. My car was off to the side a bit more, but not entirely out of the way. This made the next hour or so very entertaining, since a long line of drunk or semi-drunk college students proceeded to honk and swerve around the cars.
To be brief, neither of us was hurt besides bruises and stress. Cops were called. Tow trucks came. The girl’s dad arrived. My mother was on her way, but it was nearly a two-hour drive and she had just taken two shots of NyQuil before I called. (This will be important later.) Also, for context, I should explain that the entire area was on alert. A few days prior to this, a survivalist named Eric Frein killed two policemen and escaped into the hills. He had attended colleges in the Allentown area, so those were on lockdown and the locals were edgy. (As I write this, he has not been captured.)
NB: I know and care very little about sports. There are a few stories, however, that impose themselves on my sports-free existence. The Ray Rice case is one of them, but understand that this rant does not apply solely to athletes. Although Ben Roethlisburger’s continued prosperity was certainly on my mind as I typed. God, I loathe that man.
As I write this, Twitter is going through another roiling hashtag-a-thon in response to current events. This time it’s because yet another domestic abuse case has gone very, very public. Short version: Last February in a hotel elevator, NFL player Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in the face, rendering her unconscious. He then dragged her into the lobby. All of this was captured by security cameras. The NFL suspended Rice for two games. This incident was on its way to being forgotten when the video footage from the elevator was publicly released this week. Now the NFL and a bunch of sports PR people are backpedaling as fast as they can. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s all the background necessary for ranting purposes.
What do we say when a man beats a woman? What do we say, on Twitter and in conversation and in blog comments around the Web? Why did she stay with him? Why didn’t she press charges? Of course hitting is terrible and bad and wrong, but-well, maybe she provoked him. It’s as ingrained in our culture as saying “Please” and “Thank you.” It’s her fault. It has to be her fault, always and in perpetuity. If it isn’t her fault, if people don’t deserve the things that happen to them, then what does that mean for the rest of us? What does it mean when we have the same public conversation every frigging time a famous dude beats up a woman, assuming that the media bothers to report on it?
It means that we’re assholes, that’s what it means. Assholes who are slow to learn. The words “it can’t happen to me” aren’t a magic spell to keep badness away. Right now hundreds or even thousands of people are sharing their stories in 140 words or less, explaining that the need for food, shelter, or love sometimes overrides What The Man On The Street Thinks. Most abusers aren’t amateurs. They get very good at cutting off their victims’ support, at strangling them emotionally and mentally until a physical assault becomes the next logical step in the relationship. Abusers of all stripes get to practice their craft until they’re perfect at it. This is largely because The Man (or Woman) On The Street stands there, thumb lodged in rectum, pretending it’s private and none of their business at all. (Unless either party needs healthcare. Or an abortion. Then it’s everybody’s business!)
This willful blindness is doubly enforced for the very poor or the very rich. Nobody cares if the poor kill each other out of economic frustration; we can always make more poverty. Rich people, though, are a precious commodity and therefore must be coddled. Their privacy must be maintained at all costs, and the feelings of rich abusers are paramount. My God, think of his career/money/reputation! He could lose everything because some woman couldn’t shut up and take it! Rich abusers end up being martyrs, often because they have better lawyers than their victims.
Most public abuse cases are man-on-woman, either rape or physical assault. Abuse by women is often underreported, either because it’s more subtle or because we’re all choking on our outdated gender norms. It’s 2014 and a large portion of society still believes that men are permitted to be violent, or that they must be violent in order to remain men. Of course, it follows that men could never be subjected to domestic violence or rape. Any man who allows himself to be abused is not a True Man and and can therefore be safely erased from public consciousness. It’s a convenient system, especially for entities like the NFL that gain power and profit from hyper-masculine standards. Victim-blaming keeps everybody in their place, especially those who keep quiet out of fear and don’t make anybody uncomfortable.
We don’t want to be uncomfortable, do we? Nobody wants to look stupid when they report sounds of violence that are perfectly consensual and the whole dorm finds out about someone’s spanking fetish. (Me, in college. Still don’t regret making that call.) Nobody wants to risk their own skin when some drunk dude is slapping his kid in the grocery store parking lot. It’s his kid, right? The kid probably deserved it. So we’re just going to talk ourselves in circles until Ray Rice and his now-wife fade into obscurity. Until it happens again, and an entire country can ask, “Why didn’t she leave him?” as if we don’t fucking know.