On the way home, I fought a bag lady.
I’m still not entirely clear how this came about. I remember that I’d been driving with Martha in the passenger seat and had stopped at a Qwickie Mart for some extra deodorant. Then when I got out of the store, the bag lady was pestering me for change. I probably told her no because I suspected she’d use the money for drugs and I didn’t want to be a party to her self-destruction. I remember the scent of her body as runny and used, with the old musk of pot emerging from the folds of her clothes, or skin. And there was something weird about her movement – tic-like and severe. I think I must have been afraid, and turned from her as fast as I could to seek the shelter of the store, but something happened to her then, and she lunged. I could feel her yank me back by my pant legs, toward the parking lot, and I was astounded by her ferocity. Then her hands were raking my pockets and something happened to me that made me turn into another thing than a worried person with a rescue dog waiting in my passenger seat.
I don’t remember how I got the bag lady into the space behind my car. I don’t remember, either, when I realized that she wasn’t old. I’d thought she was, but her rage was forcing spirit up out of her depths and flooding her face and I could clearly see for the first time she was only in her thirties, maybe even younger. She wasn’t even frail, like I expected – she was sinewy, and her arms and legs when they moved were as fast as though they were propelled by springs. Her knuckles were conspicuous barbs hooking over her skinny fists. I don’t know why she was a bag lady.
She ended up knocking me down once more when I tried to stand and wrapping her hands around my throat; that’s when I noticed how sinewy she was, and that Martha had her head through the half-open window and was growling – not in the way of anger, or even warning, but in the way you’d route for a favorite boxer knocked down. That’s how it sounded to me. Then it was the growl of my own blood in my ears blocking all the other sounds and I had to break free, I just didn’t know how to get my hands out of the way of her crowding torso with her pinched-up shoulders over me, or how to get my eyes out of her eyes, suddenly, quietly deft, as she watched the struggle of my life clogging up my face. My vision pulled itself backward and I let my eyes roll up, fooling her. Then when her hands shook, for a second believing me dead and regretting it (that’s what it felt like), I bashed my forehead right into her nose.
I saw stars, then sucked in brand-new air and for a second, we both were reeling and struggling to right ourselves. Then our eyes, groping for anchors, met suddenly and clung together. I was reading her the way she’d been reading me, seeing the angry confusion up at the surface and behind it depths of numbness serving as buffer to something exquisitely boiling. There was a breathless understanding there between us – an intimate knowledge of an animal struggle, not flesh to flesh but flesh to soul. All of this between us, and then we both knew the moment had lasted too long. When we tried to extricate our visions it was with a sense of physical unbalance; I felt my body give and crumple. With a final, inexplicable rush the animal in me gave up its juice, and the smell of my toasty undoing couldn’t be evaded, no matter where we turned.
The bag-lady wobbled back against the wall, then slapped my face. It had to have been the best that she could do, but the pulse between my legs had barely stopped, and before I could reason out the why’s I lunged again, and bit her breast. It was a mouthful of greasy clothing, actually, and she slammed me so swiftly back into the alley wall I wasn’t sure she’d recognized it as a violation. I hadn’t intended it, but I knew it happened, and the knowledge weighed something and kept me stumbling, until she’d pressed the side of my face against the cold cobbled building and my nostrils were filled with smell of old pennies and I could feel the senseless surging of creature in me screaming and then washing itself right out, in glorious torrents.
I spun against the wall, clammy and ashamed, but wanting to keep moving though I could feel the motion driving me toward other shattering crests. I couldn’t get on the offense for feeling so good and even if I’d planned to, I couldn’t lay a hand on this woman for how fast she was; blocking her blows only worked about half the time but my body wove around hers in an insane awareness I’ve never felt before, where nothing could happen except what was happening. I knew what she would do in the next second and what drove her and where the brink of her extinction lay, a boundary we noted but stepped over as nimbly as though it were the crack in a sidewalk. I wasn’t quick enough to close the distance between us once; still, I saw every opening of her body’s defenses, every flash of her eyes with a surreal exhilaration that couldn’t be contained. I knew it was going to happen and couldn’t help it – I was fighting in an unsupervised alley with a crazy bitch after blood, I couldn’t afford to think away from the intensity of the moment, blocking and rushing and ducking and lunging but it happened again and again that ecstasies bubbled up out of me, drenching my panties and staining the air.
I would have gone on all night, fighting and coming, endlessly messy and exhilarated, but at some point the bag lady must have realized she was getting me off because we stopped. She just wandered away in the middle of the action, as simply as if excusing herself from a game of dominoes. It was the graceful option, and I let her go jealously, feeling as if I’d re-animated a Velociraptor to have a battle and had the Velociraptor remember halfway through that it wanted to be a flamingo.
I stumbled back to my car, sticky and wet with the milk of my body’s rapture. Martha’s nose started twitching delicately but she fixed her great head toward the road and I knew when I started to drive that she wasn’t looking at me at all. I noted her silent judgment, making no attempt to convince her that normal humans did such things. I must have been in shock. I’d circled the block two or three times before it registered that I wasn’t going anywhere and headed back home, trying to work out what had just happened.
All I remembered of my feelings at this point were about that crazy lady; somehow, we’d reached a point beyond fear. Something primal, like a lust, but not the same – a drive to hurt, to maim, to kill, that brought with it accidental understandings of who each other were. This wasn’t a thing that people did, in the real world. Fighting was a thing from high school and ghettos – places with magical bubbles attached, that worked by different sets of rules. Was this an indication of my commitment to begin behaving strangely, or was it a singular event, there and gone, like being drunk, or dreaming?
And then, my bag-lady ran away. Did that mean I won?
I began as I drove to imagine my future differently, setting up times like this over and over in a neat and logical sequence. Maybe I could start walking more, alone at night and looking frightened, which would be a trick to lure out the bad guys, and then I could fight them like a superhero. Only it would be a creepy superhero, who was only using justice as a means of achieving sexual gratification. Real bad guys couldn’t walk off in the middle of the fight, since they’d be after rapesex instead of pocket-change and not in a position to judge me for having combat-related orgasm. I imagined assailants growing more envious and ornery the harder that I came while beating them up, having hurt feelings from being left out and unable to complain due to irony. I’d have to think carefully and find a safe word that Martha would remember; in case I got too tired from coming to fight, that’s when she’d swoop in and save me by being a giant dog with lots of teeth.
I got Martha home and fed and walked her. On the walk I tried to teach her how to growl on command, but I couldn’t make up my mind what codeword to use, and when I thought I did I still got mixed up and kept using reject codewords. She gave me that skeptical look three times, but one time she showed me her teeth. I gave her a treat for that, although I didn’t know positively she was doing it in obedience.
I wasn’t planning on becoming a freak; I want to make this clear. I was just following up my shocking one-time street affair with some idle daydreams, and using a dog as a prop to make the fantasy more lifelike. When I paused to look at my expression in passing storefronts, intent on mastering the irresistible-to-foes frightened look of my imagination, my torso started twitching with pleasure. When my reflection was joined by that of a burly man, I nearly lost it right there, but fortunately I kept all my pleasures in long enough to spin on my heels in anticipation of doing battle. The burly man had dark curly hair and brown, sensitive eyes. He didn’t look lecherous – only alarmed.
“Hi,” I said, to cover my strangeness in wildly spinning to face him like that.
“Hey,” he said, slowly, feeling me out. “What’s new?”
“Well, I just met you,” I snorted. “You’re new. And that’s it.”
“You’re not from around here,” my stranger observed. “You moved in recently.”
“How did you know that?” My fingers were coiling reflexively. How did he know that about me? Was he a stalker? Maybe this would turn into a fight, after all. I gave Martha’s leash a tug to put her on alert; she looked over her shoulder lazily then went back to sniffing the sidewalk. She clearly didn’t care about my safety. Either she was a terrible dog, or she had ruled out the curly-haired stranger as being any threat. Or, she had been paying attention to what I was trying to teach her even though she hadn’t seemed to, and now she was just pretending not to care, to let me play out my superhero fantasies. The inside of my palms were sweaty now. What stupid fantasies. Why had I attempted to teach my dog to wait till the last moment possible to ward off aggressors? Fighting wasn’t sexy and I didn’t want to do it.
“What?” I asked. The curly-haired man had said something, but I wasn’t listening, and now he was looking at me strangely.
“It was your accent,” he said. “I can tell you’re not from here. People don’t walk dogs down the sidewalk who are just passing through. Plus, the fact that I live right around the corner and I’ve never seen you or your dog before. She’s fully-grown, so you must have had her a long time, and if you’d lived around here before recently I’d have seen you walking her. So you must have moved in around here sometime recently, with your dog.”
“Where around the corner?” I asked. “Which corner?”
“That corner.” He pointed.
“Hum,” I said. That was the corner my house was around. “How far around the corner?”
“I don’t know – the middle of the street, practically. It’s a pink house. It’s magenta. It’s the only one that shade.”
“Huh,” I said. That house was two down from mine.
“You gonna tell me which one is yours, or you just gonna leave me feeling insecure about the fact that you know exactly where I live and we still don’t know each other’s names?”
“Knowing my name or home can hardly protect you, in the event that I should try to take advantage of my knowledge of your whereabouts.” I sniffed. “Any disclosure of mine would have a placebo effect only on your feelings. Seems to me a pretty flimsy basis for any kind of relationship, be it friendship or enmity.”
“Shouldn’t enmity be based on lies and deceit, though?”
“No!” I said sharply. Not the good kind of enmity, anyway. “People who lie aren’t scary. The people who are openly evil are the ones with the powers. That’s why the bond villains always spill their devious plans before walking away; they’re not stupid, they’re like cats playing with mice. When you’ve already won the game and no one is as powerful as you, isn’t it always somewhat sucky – don’t you just wish you could be equals with your enemy long enough to have a run for your money? Don’t you just wish someone could match you, for once? The bad guys are always the stronger, smarter, better people. They have to go way out of their way to even get the good guys’ attention, then they have to find ways to handicap themselves to make it an even fight. I feel sorry for them.”
“You’ve thought about this a lot.”
“Not really. You just now made me realize how unfair the world is for bad guys. Good bad guys, anyway. They’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder and found there’s no one to match them or sharpen their claws against. It’s a Darwinian tragedy – they can’t find mates and socialize normally without diluting their perfect genes. Without normal stressors they’re facing the agonizing waste of talent to decay. If they didn’t turn to evil they’d go stir-crazy. I guess what I’m saying is, bad guys are better than good guys, overall. Now given what you know of how able I am to come to rational conclusions in the blink of an eye, and the fact that I have a big dog as an accomplice and have declared my allegiance to evil – aren’t you nervous that I know just exactly where you live? Doesn’t it disturb you that I refuse to coddle your insecurity with lies and deception, or level the playing field for you by offering for free any personal information of mine at all?”
“I’m not scared of you, or your lazy dog. Even if I weren’t super-strong and agile like a cat, I study karate. I have a brown belt. I could protect you and your dog, by myself, with one foot tied behind my back. If you’re ever having an emergency, you go right to my bright magenta house and seek the shelter of my manly strength.”
“Is that sexism you’re doing?”
“Yes.” The curly-haired fellow flashed a wink at me. “See, I know to be politically correct I should just admit that you terrify me and walk away. But I also prefer the supervillains to the heroes, and I also prefer the truth to lies. And the unspoken truth behind a pair of powerful, healthy young people who insist on being enemies is that neither of them want to be. From a Darwinian standpoint, it’s best if the supervillain tries to procreate – even if the efforts are not successful in re-creating or out-matching the glory of the present. But a cat-woman versus a batman – there’s no contest. Regardless of who has the stronger fighting skills, we know the woman lacks the biological incentive to commit to having a powerful man as a full-blown nemesis. She can produce offspring but one at a time, and only for a short window in her life – and producing offspring requires that she cease and desist with her enmity. Her body knows she’s not fully committed to having children, and it torments her increasingly, relentlessly. Batman does not have to pursue her – in time, her biology will drive her to him. The seed of the truce is hardwired into her.”
“That explanation ignores that there are lesbians.”
“Are you a lesbian?”
“That’s more personal information you don’t deserve to have.”
“Because knowledge is power, and you’re not willing to be less powerful for the sake of my comfort?” I nodded.
“I suppose, if you were as powerful as I am, you wouldn’t have to hesitate. I’m Carlos, by the way. You already know where I live. I will also share with you that I am not a lesbian. Also, that I happen to be single – that’s just to make you remember your biological struggle to resist procreation. And, I mean it about having the ability to protect you with my manly strength. I can even prove it – see?” The curly-haired bastard then tucked one leg behind his back, like he said he would, and started flexing his pecs and stretching out his arms on either side and also flexed his biceps and forearms, and it was funny and lame and I came a little bit. Martha was sniffing at a puddle, looking bored.
“You…have a good day,” I told him, and tugged Martha back toward the corner where I lived.