“The only thing pain can wring from a soul that has abandoned resistance and from a mind that has lost its hate is sorrow.”
—Yi Munyol: Han Pyongt’ae
Our Twisted Hero
The woman hands me a loaded gun, and I’m touched, instantly, as if she’s given me a bouquet of roses or the keys to a Mercedes. We’re sitting in the middle of her bed, an island surrounded by a sea of books and papers and stuff. Bracing myself for the tidal wave that doesn’t come, I close my eyes, squeezing them tight, finger on the trigger, hoping the signals don’t cross in my mind so that I’m squeezing the trigger and poking my eye with the free hand. “Please don’t fire it,” she says turgidly, and I laugh. I’ve got it now; I can do anything I want.
Which of us is more mad—the one in temporary possession or the one who handed it to her, knowing full well that we always return to the scenes of our crimes? I picture Bonny & Clyde, Badlands, Thelma & Louise, and all the other two-against-an-existential-world-of-nothingness flicks. “There’s always tomorrow,” she says, filling me with a tantalizing fear, the kind marketed by amusement park owners and drug dealers. Hefting the weight of the tiny relic a moment longer, I smile and hand it back, surmising that it’s all about trust. Telling her so, she ejects the cartridge and hands me one of the two hollow point bullets contained therein. A souvenir she calls it. I call it love. Either one can save your life or rip through your heart, but you’re luckiest just to be grazed.
She’s been unlucky several times, and now she’s dead inside. Me, I’m only unlucky now that I’m in love with her. I guess it fits, though. We’re both crazy, but I’m just crazy in love whereas she’s mad and wants revenge. Because I’m smitten, I’m gonna help her. So here we go—out to kill Cupid.
I tried explaining to her that Cupid is an imaginary construct like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but she asked me why he doesn’t appear at shopping malls with long lines of children. I thought she was joking, so I snickered, but when I noted the look on her face I quickly pretended it was just a tickle in my throat. She poured me a glass of water, and then we sat at the table where she laid out her plan.
“I figure all it will take is one good shot.”
“How do you know Cupid’s a ‘he?’” Even if he’s a boy, everybody knows Cupid’s just a child with wings.
“Because only a man would do the things he’s done,” she replies, adding “that sadistic bastard,” under her breath. She’s polishing the gun as we’re talking, which starts scaring me more than the conversation itself. She talks about a guy in her neighborhood who dresses in wings on the weekends sometimes. He’s just a rave kid, but she says “no, that’s what he wants us to think.” She proceeds to name the number of times she’s sighted him and soon after, something in her life has gone awry. “. . . and then there’s the time I saw him at Bryer’s, when I was waiting for Janelle, who was 40 minutes late. He said ‘hi’ to me and then she finally showed up—with Tara—and dumped me on the spot.” My skepticism about his involvement only makes her more adamant. To her, this guy’s no devil with horns. He’s a clever, twisted angel. As she speaks, I watch her caressing the metal and find myself wishing like hell she’d shine me up instead. “The idea is to kill him and end all this nonsense for good but seeing as how we’ve only got one bullet now, it may be alright just to scare him off.” I smile briefly, fingering the ammunition in my pocket. This is still a game to me, but it feels important to play along.
“And how are we supposed to lure this mythic creature?”
“Easy,” she utters wryly. “We set a trap.” I’m beginning to realize the girl has no sense of humor.
“You and me. We’re a team, right?”
To discover you’re just a caricature in someone else’s plot has gotta be painful to some egos. Not mine though—at least not yet. I remember reading in my high school Humanities class that we’re all actors on a stage and immediately taking it for granted that I was off-off-Broadway, which affords one certain liberties. It’s not about how to make the audience cackle or cry so much as it is about suppressing any desire to hit it big so that somebody else can play you, fucking up your lines and generally mucking up your life. If your life is destined to be fucked or mucked you may as well do it yourself. That’s liberty, Macbeth be damned.
I want this girl. No matter how illogical or odious her mind is, it’s a beautiful one. I’ll stop at nothing, I think to myself. At that moment I feel a pinch that causes me to clutch at my chest. She peers at me suspiciously. “You said you’re my friend. That makes us a team, right?” Later that night as I ready myself for bed, I notice the tiniest bead of red on my white shirt. Stripping, I scan my chest in the mirror, finding a bit of dried blood just beneath my breast, minuscule, as if I’d gotten a paper cut there.
This plan of hers has me wigged. For days I avoid her, knowing that the man she thinks is Cupid is just a man. She explained her rationale to me, but it only set me thinking about myself and how all the lovers I’ve had have been like balloons. I’m the delighted child with a fistful of string. But one by one something happens to them all. Whoops, one slipped out of the hand and another is sagging, having lost too much air, and BAM!, that one’s just exploded. Like a firearm. You lose a few and that makes the last one all the more valuable. You clutch at it, maybe even try to tie it around your wrist. You get focused on that one last balloon to the exclusion of everything else. Not even cotton candy or the promise of a bigger, better balloon can make you let go. Yet next thing you know the string entwined within the confines of your tight fist is just that—a bit of string with absolutely nothing on the end of it.
Well, I’m not letting any of that stuff get me down. I’m an adult now. I’ve got choices, and I know what comes next. Even if I have no choice in the “who,” if it’s always gotta come up empty, maybe I can at least decide the how, where, and when. It’s not like after that last merry-go-round of love I said to myself, “Next chick I fall for is gonna be crazy.” No, I never wanted that. What’s wrong with casual fun, romance, and a little affection? As I dine on last night’s leftovers, I realize my infatuation with her is like a pizza with all the wrong toppings, delivered several hours after the speedy guarantee. When you’re starved what are you most likely to do: send it back and continue eating dry cereal out the box or convince yourself it’s exactly what you ordered and tastes divine?
She rushes up to me on the street, flushed and out of breath. She wants to know where I’ve been. Frankly, I don’t know. Since the night she handed me that .22, I had realized that there might be as much wrong with me as with her. But matters of the heart are tricky.
I found myself dialing her number at random hours only to hang up before she or her voice mail picked up. I’d accidently walk 20 blocks out of my way just so I’d pass by her apartment or the corner store she frequents just so I could maybe catch a glimpse of her, but I didn’t want her to see me. Upon hearing her voice on my machine, I was torn between amorousness and horror, especially because the growing anger in her voice was astonishing.
She thought I was avoiding her and wasn’t a true friend. It wasn’t that at all. I was in love with her but wasn’t sure that killing for her was such a good idea. After all, 15-to-life is hardly much of a honeymoon. Nor would be frying in the electric chair instead of on the beach. No, this girl had a plan, and I was part of it, and she was for real. She seemed a little obsessive-compulsive in that genius sort of way. I’d hoped maybe she’d find another obsession—like me, for instance. Aside from that, my only hope was that she’d come to her senses and realize there is no Cupid we can see. He just hovers in the invisibly rarified air.
Still, here she was now, full of excitement. “You can explain yourself later,” she granted. Grabbing my hands, she peers deeply into my eyes, and I feel penetrated in every way so that my knees nearly give in. With the next word out of her mouth, I swear I almost see the beating of wings, like a hummingbird but bigger. “Babe…”
“Yes,” I shimmer.
“We’ve got him. This is it. He’s a goner.”
I come back to my senses. “He?” I am confused, my heart quickens. Maybe she is saying that she’s over it. Maybe her delirium has relinquished the notion altogether. Maybe I can be her next obsession.
“Yes, meet me in the alley just like we talked about.” She’s jazzed. If only that gleam in her eye was truly for me. “Midnight, kay? And wear something appropriate.” She smiles and laughs. What a sorry excuse for a joke. Gently shaking me she repeats, “Okay?” I’m slow to speak, causing her to deflate momentarily. “Where’ve you been anyway?” I’ve got to respond because the silence is filled with the deafening sound of flapping. But I can’t speak because I’m crushed by the decibels, so she says “Never mind,” and I’m crushed again. “Midnight?”
“‘Round ‘bout, yah.” I smile cherubically. Angels and devils are sometimes one and the same.
The witching hour. It’s raining. Dress appropriately, I get it now. A slicker. That’s what I love about her. She can predict the future. I think back to the plan we discussed what seems like a bittersweet youth ago, but I put it out of my mind. “It’s all good, though,” I repeat to myself as I look around my place for what I seem to know will be the last time for this lifetime. We’re in love. I am.
I glide down the streets smiling to myself. I know everybody isn’t going to understand this, but it’s just that the highs are so very high, and the lows don’t scare me from up here. The loosed balloon’s just a speck on the horizon; as it climbs higher I trail with it. I enter the corridor, treading carefully on the shiny, wet cobblestone. This could be very romantic. I start to weep, though I’m not sure whether it’s because of the beauty or the suffering. I lean against the cool brick at my back and bear the weight of my quixotic dreams, getting far enough lost that I don’t hear the footsteps that dead end at my own feet.
She pulls my hood off and nuzzles my neck for a moment before resheathing me. This tenderness is the first gift since the copper-plated bullet. Warm, I shiver. Her arm slips underneath mine, placing cold metal in my hand. I shudder. “It’s like those new cameras—just point and click.” I whip around, teeth chattering, chest to burst, but before I can say one word, she purrs, “shhh,” one finger over my lips. I kiss it eyes closed. At long last we are courting.
A noise midway down the alley severs us. There, a figure clutching a sodden pair of wings is fumbling with a door key. A light flashes on, and for one second I see the guy’s face illuminated. As if expelled from a cannon, “Hey, Asshole!” fires past my ears. In silhouette, he turns, and my confused mind records the next several moments in slo-mo.
Shoving me from behind, she demands, “Now!” And I just do it. Partly because she said so. And though later I try to claim there was no malice aforethought, I guess the overriding thought in my head at that moment was a questioning: Why am I in this kind of love and not another?” At that moment, I hate Cupid too.
My arm rises. I see it as if it’s someone else’s. I close my eyes, squeezing them tight, finger on the trigger, hoping the signals don’t cross in my mind. I laugh. I’ve got it now; I can do anything I want. Which of us is more mad—the one in temporary possession or the one who handed it to her, knowing full well that we always return to the scenes of our crimes. I picture Bonny & Clyde. “There’s always tomorrow,” she says. To make sure, I blow her away. Close range.
The newspapers all clamor that I got off too easy. Nobody can figure it out. They speculate some kind of squabble between the two of us, but they don’t get it. The only witness has never more than greeted us and doesn’t even know us by name. In his police report, he insisted that initially I pointed the gun at him, but the only thing that matters is where it was pointing in the end. The one thing they all agree upon is that I’m crazy.
Now begins the arduous task of trying to explain myself to the white-coats running the show. I tell them Cupid was the god of love in Roman mythology, but we put an end to it, and we should be thanked. They argue the Roman gods, though popular in poetry and art, weren’t real. I explain patiently that I wasn’t a believer—at first. A doctor who reminds me of my grandfather reads me a bit of Ovid, attempting to prove my folly:
“Cupid’s there, quiver reversed, bow broken,
Holding a burnt-out torch.
See how sadly he walks, poor child, wings drooping,
How he beats at his bared breast,
How the tears rain down on his hair, now lying all tangled
About his throat, and his mouth’s a loud O of grief.”
“And that is how she looked when I shot her.” I say. That is how she looked.