Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

A man can go from being a lover to being a stranger in three moves flat…but a woman under the guise of friendship will engage in acts of duplicity which come to light very much later.  -  Anita Brookner

“We’re going to have to move soon; I really think Eleanor is beginning to suspect.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Hazel, handing him his drink and then moving behind him to rub his shoulders.

“Nothing I can really explain,” he said, then after a sip: “When you’ve been married to somebody for twenty-seven years, you get to know all her little ways, and you notice when they change.  You were married before, you know what I mean.”

“Yes.  But how do you know she isn’t cheating on you, too?”

Ted laughed.  “You don’t know Eleanor; she’s as cold a fish as there is.  We were both virgins when we got married, and once we were done having kids she just wasn’t interested any more.  I’ve already told you this more than once.”

“There’s no need to get testy,” she said reassuringly.  “I just want you to consider all the possibilities so you don’t start acting nervous and setting off her radar.”

“Like I said, I think I already have.  Oh, I’ve been very careful; before I met you I saw escorts for years, and before that I had cultivated a pattern of not really telling her much about my comings and goings.  And since she leaves the money to me, it’s always been easy to use as much as I want without her being the wiser.  But lately, she’s been requesting a lot more money for all sorts of things, as if she’s trying to probe the state of our finances.”

“Has she been questioning you or anything like that?” 2X

“No, she wouldn’t.  Eleanor is maddeningly indirect; she never makes a statement when an insinuation will do, and whenever she’s angry at me it always takes me days to figure out why.  I’ll never understand why so many women are like that; is it something on the X chromosome?”

“You have an X chromosome as well, Ted.”

“I know, but maybe something on the Y cancels it out.  Maybe real sneakiness requires a double X.”

“Oh, really!  Now you’re just being ridiculous.  I’m relatively straightforward, and you’re extremely sneaky; if quietly converting most of your investments to negotiable form so you can fly off to Tahiti with your mistress doesn’t qualify, I can’t imagine what would.”

Ted looked as though he had been slapped.  “I’m not leaving her destitute,” he said quietly; “In fact, as per your suggestion I transferred the house and several large investments into her name.  I just want to divide the money fairly rather than leaving it to courts and lawyers who would probably give her everything.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said, hugging him closely.  “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  It’s just that I feel nervous, too, and dumb female stereotypes always get me irritated.  Please forgive me.”

“See, Hazel, this is what I’m talking about.  You know how many women would apologize like you just did?  Practically none.  That’s not a stereotype, it’s just the truth; men usually end up having to apologize no matter who was wrong.  I don’t think you really understand how different you are from most women.  I never believed I would fall in love with anyone ever again, much less want to live my life with her.  But you just make me feel so special, so safe.  I know I can trust you, and that we won’t end up being strangers sleeping in the same bed like Eleanor and me.”

“I promise you that will never happen,” she said through glistening eyes.  And then she kissed him, and for a while there was no more conversation.


airliner in flightA few days later, though, she brought up the subject again on the airplane.  “I just can’t help but feel guilty about what we did.  I know the two of you really shouldn’t have married in the first place, and that you haven’t had a sex life in over 15 years.  I know the kids are grown up, and we really do love each other, and there really wasn’t a home to break up.  But damn, don’t you feel bad about running off with all the negotiables as well as the stuff he put in your name?”

Eleanor shrugged.  “Not really.  I left documents donating the house back to him, and he’s still under fifty; he has twenty more years to build up again, and with no alimony that’ll be easy with his salary.  He’ll be a lot better off in the long run than I would’ve been had he been the one to run off with you as he thought would happen.”

“I suppose you’re right,” sighed Hazel.  “But I still feel bad about playing him like I did.”

“No worse than he thought he was playing me,” Eleanor huffed.  “He got what he deserved.”

“Maybe,” she replied.  “But I guess he was right about women being the sneakier ones, after all.”

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This world of imagination is the world of eternity.  -  William Blake

In a place that is not a place as material beings understand the term, on a plane of existence several levels above our own, three friends came together to share stories of their travels since the last time they had met.  I shall refer to them as Red, Green and Blue, but what they actually call themselves (if indeed they use a concept as crude as “name”) I do not know.  As was their custom they eventually lapsed into a philosophical discussion, debating various ideas in much the same way as sentient beings everywhere in the multiverse do, and one of the topics they touched upon was the ephemeral nature of the societies created by material beings.  Soon the conversation turned to a comparison of these societies, and they began to speculate about which of these had the lowest likelihood of still existing in a recognizable form by the time they got around to visiting it again.

colors“I visited a world whose inhabitants were expending its resources at a shocking rate,” ventured Red.  “They had developed technological means of improving their physical conditions, but made not the slightest effort to calculate the probable supply of the raw materials consumed in the process, nor even the most basic contingency plans for the eventual depletion of those materials.  Though enough of them were skilled in the development and use of technology to maintain and even improve their control over their environment, the majority of the population was fixated on an irrational belief system which pretended that beings from higher planes like ourselves had nothing better to do than to watch over them constantly, protecting them from the consequences of their own foolish actions.  Though they believed such beings could transcend the laws of nature and violate conservation of energy, they simultaneously imagined that the beings were obsessed with the tiniest details of their behavior, and would dole out reward or punishment based upon how closely each individual could adhere to a set of arbitrary, pointless and mutually contradictory rules.  So rather than prepare themselves for the ultimate necessity of modifying their procedures to maintain or improve their current standards of living, they instead devoted tremendous effort to asking nonexistent benefactors to somehow materialize favorable consequences for them, and to spying on each other to ensure nobody was breaking any of the silly rules which they imagined their incorporeal benefactors to care about above all else.

“Surely, such a misguided sense of priorities must eventually result in catastrophe; if they fail to think ahead they must eventually reach a point where their resources run out, and when that happens their society must either collapse or decline into barbarism.”

“That is indeed a sorry situation,” replied Green, “but I think we must all agree that whatever the chances of such a civilization’s survival, they would be lower still if those hapless creatures were burdened with even more deficiencies.  I visited a world very like the one you just described, but in addition to the resource depletion, irrational belief system and refusal to face reality, they were also incredibly violent.  A large fraction of their already-limited means was expended in the infliction of harm upon one another, and when they could find no sensible reason to do so they invented ridiculous ones.  Like the beings you visited, they were obsessed with monitoring each others’ mindless obedience to foolish regulations, but they further believed that they had the right to inflict violence upon each other for even the smallest and most inconsequential violations of those regulations.  They even selected from among their number a designated group whose entire purpose was to go about not only looking for rule-breaking, but to actually deceive their fellows into breaking rules so as to provide an excuse for the infliction of violence.  Nor was this violence limited by some principle of proportionality; these special agents were allowed to inflict grievous, even fatal harm upon their victims for even the tiniest transgression of the most obscure rule.  And when they could not discover a large enough number of rule-breakers to satisfy their assigned quotas, they would simply pick victims at random, falsely accuse them and inflict harm just as though they had actually done whatever it was they were accused of.”

“Incredible!” rejoined Red.

“There’s more.  Though there were already so many rules it was totally impossible for any of them to ever learn them all, they designated another group whose entire function was to invent even more of them, and to ensure they were too complicated for the ordinary individual to understand; they were written in a form of code so that none without special training could even hope to comprehend them.  And if these rule-makers failed to make enough new rules to satisfy certain other individuals, they were criticized for inefficiency.

“It seems inconceivable that such a civilization could even last long enough to run out of resources; surely they must destroy themselves well before that point.”

sperm & egg microphotographBut then it was Blue’s turn.  “I fear that the world I visited must come to a bad end even more quickly still, for its inhabitants were afflicted by all of the behavioral flaws the two of you have described, and another which I consider still worse.  Like many material life-forms, they reproduced sexually and the biological drive to mate was a strong one.  But though the act of reproductive union was so pleasant to them that they would use every opportunity to engage in it, even when biological conditions did not allow impregnation, they simultaneously believed that the act rendered them ritually impure.  A very large fraction of their arbitrary rules were dedicated to restricting the act of mating, and infractions of these rules were held to be among the most serious of all, and subject to some of the harshest penalties in the society.  Furthermore, mated pairs were supposed to be exclusive despite the fact that one of the biological sexes tended to have a much stronger and less selective drive than the other, and though transgressions against that exclusivity were extremely common they all pretended that their own mates would never behave so.  An entire profession was dedicated to allowing the expenditure of such urges in a controlled fashion so as to reduce the potential harm resulting from transgressive mating; without this profession the long-term pair-bonding upon which their entire social structure was built would undoubtedly fail far more often than it did.  Yet those who practiced it were vilified and stigmatized by most of their societies, even by those who used their services, and the dedicated rule-enforcers spent wildly disproportionate amounts of time and effort in their persecution.  Furthermore, they seemed to labor under the delusion that if they could only cage everyone they discovered in this transaction, the biological basis for it would vanish without affecting their rate of population replacement.

“Given that such a large fraction of their racial energies was expended upon a wholly futile task which, if they could somehow succeed at it, would totally destroy the foundations of their society, I cannot believe that this culture still exists in the form I perceived it.  Such mass derangement must surely prove disastrous within a relatively small number of generations.”

The friends agreed that the world Blue had visited must indeed have fallen into chaos by now, and was therefore the worst of all those they had seen.  Perhaps they were wrong; it may be that as astral entities they had an imperfect understanding of the tenacity and adaptability of material life.  Or perhaps the time-scale on which they functioned was so protracted that nearly any society of material beings would perish quickly by their standards; it may be that “soon” to them would be twice ten thousand years by the way we measure time.  Conversely, it may be that my poor, ephemeral brain of matter was unable to grasp the true nature of their conversation, and that upon awakening from this vision I filled in the gaps with my own mortal preoccupations.  And really, in all likelihood, Red, Green and Blue exist only in my imagination (and now in yours), and this entire tale is but the idle fancy of a tired and cynical mind.

We’d better hope so, anyway.

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An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not the invasion of ideas.
-  Victor Hugo

Gene usually got dressed quickly, gave Katherine some kind of rough estimate of when she should expect him to call again, asked her what she had planned for dinner and then told her what a lovely time he’d had before heading out the door.  But when he fumbled with his shoes, tied his tie unevenly, and otherwise delayed leaving while making no conversation at all, she knew he was nervous about something.

“Kathy, I just wanted to let you know that I saw Victoria Tate, but I won’t again,” he finally blurted out.

She took his hand and smiled.  “I think you sometimes forget that I’m not your wife, Gene; you don’t owe me fidelity.  You can see Victoria or any other escort you like, and you don’t have to report it to me or seek forgiveness.”

“Well, usually I don’t; I mean, you know I’ve seen other girls before, and that I always come back to you.  But somehow, it just seemed different with Victoria, like I was betraying you or something.”

“That’s silly; how could seeing Victoria be any more a betrayal than seeing anyone else?”

The Wish by Theodor von Holst (1841)He paused for a moment, then: “Because we both know she’s marketing herself as a younger alternative to you.”  If the statement hurt her feelings, she gave no outward sign.  The situation was obvious to everyone in town:  Victoria used similar advertising copy, presented herself in the same general fashion, even provided the same kind of amenities at her incall.  Both women were tall, charismatic, classically-beautiful brunettes, both well-educated and well-spoken, both endowed with that indefinable quality known as “class”.  But while Katherine was well over fifty,  Victoria was still under twenty-five.  And while Katherine had never really learned to take full advantage  of the marketing possibilities the internet offered, Victoria knew every last one.

“Do you remember Melinda Van Doren?  She was the most highly-regarded escort in the city when I started working in 1975.”

“No, I didn’t try the hobby until after my first wife and I divorced in ’81, and I don’t remember the name.”

“That’s because she retired in ’79.  Well, you know it was all services and word of mouth in those days, but I had new ideas.  When I first started it was just to pay my way through school, but by the time I graduated I realized I wanted to make a career of it.  So I paid bribes, placed private ads, offered spiffs to every concierge in town, and slowly began to win Melinda’s clientele from her.”

“I can’t imagine you being so…”

Ruthless is the word,” she laughed.  “I was a different person then, an awful, hungry little upstart intent on invading and capturing my rival’s territory.  It wasn’t until Melinda confronted me that I changed.”

“What did she say to you?”

“Oh, it was so long ago…suffice to say she made me see the error of my ways.  She retired not too long after; moved to one of those countries where American dollars go a long way.  Costa Rica, I think it was.”

“Well, I’m glad you changed; I don’t think I’d have liked you like that.  I know I don’t like Victoria.  Hey, maybe you need to talk to her like Melinda talked to you.”

“Yes, maybe I do.”

After Gene had gone, Kathy opened up the email folder where she had saved all the other messages on the subject…and there had been several, both from clients and from escorts.  She was very popular and respected, and a number of people were upset about Victoria’s tactics…which had in the past few months gone from mere competition to character assassination, rumor-starting and, last week, a poorly-executed attempt to get her arrested (which might’ve succeeded if she hadn’t had an informant in the vice division).  Clearly something had to be done, and soon.  She picked up the phone.


“Hi, Victoria, this is Katherine Nolan.”

“How did you get this number?”

“That’s not really important.  We need to talk.”

“About what?”

“I think you know the answer.”

“Look, I really don’t have time right now…”

“Yes, you do.  In fact, I think you’ll be very interested in what I have to say.  I’ve been thinking about retiring for a long time now, but putting it off because I needed someone to take care of my gentlemen for me.  And I think you just may be the woman to do it…”

An hour later, Victoria opened the door to usher Kathy into her incall.  Though she had been understandably suspicious of Kathy’s motives, the offer had been too good to pass up:  the older woman had said she was tired of drama and felt it was better to bow out gracefully rather than contribute to strife in what had previously been a largely-harmonious community.  A few hours of small talk, a few empty promises, and the field would be clear; if there was any chance at all Kathy was being honest, Victoria had no choice but to risk it.  And so they chatted over coffee, and after a while Victoria actually found herself beginning to like the veteran courtesan, and to feel a few pangs of regret for her unscrupulous tactics.

“Think nothing of it, my dear,” said Kathy; “you’re young and determined to succeed, so it isn’t surprising you might overstep the bounds of propriety from time to time.  Why, when I first started working, years before you were born, I was just as ambitious.  But then I had a meeting with the older lady with whom I was in competition, just as you and I are meeting today, and after that day everything was all right.”

Possession“So she made you the same offer that you’re making me?”

“Yes, that was how she got me to invite her over, just as it got you to invite me.”  Kathy’s voice suddenly sounded different – cold, strange and very, very old.  Victoria was transfixed by her gaze and felt a sudden wave of inexplicable terror wash over her; she tried to scream but the sound was strangled in her throat, and though she tried to struggle it was as though she was held fast by the tentacles of some invisible nightmare.


“You know, I really need to compliment you on your exquisite taste; some of these pieces are really fine,” Roger said as Victoria walked with him to the door.

“Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t take credit; an older escort helped me find a lot of it.  You may remember her, Katherine Nolan?”

“No, I only moved here two years ago, but I think I’ve seen her name mentioned on the boards.  She’s out of the business now, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she retired in 2010 and moved to one of those countries where American dollars go a long way.  Costa Rica, I think it was.”


(Inspired by a comment made by Dr. Laura Agustin about a statement made by Gloria Steinem.)

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Righteousness…seems but an unrealized ideal, after all; and those maxims which, in the hope of bringing about a Millennium, we busily teach to the heathen, we Christians ourselves disregard.  -  Herman Melville, White-Jacket

The Second ComingIt was the day for which humanity had been waiting for so long:  the Millennium, the arrival of the Kingdom, the day religions had awaited for half of recorded history.  But when the saviors arrived to usher in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity, they were neither gods nor angels nor prophets, nor even the odd fetus-like entities so many movies and books had depicted for decades; they were people, very much like ourselves.  Oh, there were some obvious differences; they were taller, and more symmetrical, and their skins were as white as alabaster, and there was not a sign of disease or deformity or developmental difficulty amongst them:  in more primitive times they would most certainly have been taken for gods.  But, they hastened to assure us, they were as mortal as we, and really not very different except for being more technologically advanced.  Furthermore, they had come to share their wisdom and technology with us so that we, too, might achieve the level of perfection and happiness they had achieved.

At first, people had thought the video was a clever fake, a hoax that was sure to go viral and thereby promote some new Hollywood film.  But as the weeks went by and no trickster appeared, and the free goods people sent for via their website were revealed by scientists as having no earthly origin, the truth began to dawn:  this time it was real.  Later, the Visitors explained that because they had no wish to frighten us by a sudden arrival, they had observed us for some time and decided that this was the best way to introduce themselves.  It also, some pointed out, conveniently bypassed the possibility that governments approached via diplomatic channels might deny them permission to contact the citizenry, or even hide the fact that they existed, and thereby keep all the goodies the Visitors had to offer for themselves.

And what goodies they were!  Little sticks that plugged into computers or phones and protected them from all hazards, from viruses to surveillance to power surges.  Easily-installed devices that allowed a car to get 100 km per liter of gasoline without producing any hazardous emissions.  Keychain-attachable “panic buttons” that rendered the user impervious to unwanted physical contact.  Filters that silently scrubbed the air in a building of all known pollutants without rendering it stale.  Stylish clothing that fit anyone and never got dirty or wore out.  Nonstick cookware whose surfaces couldn’t be scratched by utensils or eroded by washing.  Everlasting batteries for low-power devices.  And many, many more, all for the asking.  Once they had established their goodwill, they announced that these “trinkets” (their word) represented just the tip of the iceberg, those aspects of their technology which we could use directly and without special instruction; there was plenty more which their trained personnel would be happy to use on our behalf, and to teach our professionals to use also:  weather control.  Super-light, super-strong materials.  Anti-gravity.  Ways to boost immune response so the body could fight off any infection, and a means of healing any injury.  Teleportation.  Synthesis of any substance, no matter how rare.

Of course, there were objections from those whose businesses were undercut or even eliminated by the alien’s gifts, but they responded by launching a program to retrain professionals and give grants to convert factories into producing the new goods…all for free.  As you might expect, some people objected to that as well; they hinted darkly at devil’s bargains, hidden price tags and bills mankind might be loath to pay when they came due.  But there was no enslavement, no cookbook,To Serve Man no looting of Earth’s resources; the Visitors explained that their religion taught them to help others, and that the payment for which they hoped was spiritual, not economic.  That announcement was the tipping point; most of the remaining resistance evaporated afterward, and most of those who still grumbled were atheists and clergymen who were unhappy with the throngs converting to the alien’s religion (for which temples were springing up like mushrooms).  Them, and the people who profit from human misery:  with both want and mental illness eradicated, cops and prosecutors had at first turned toward enforcing victimless crimes with a vengeance, only to find the new technology made that nearly impossible; the Visitors offered them pensions under their “displaced professions” program.

My first glimpse of the big picture came less than two years after they arrived; it started with my skipping a period, and learning to my chagrin that I was pregnant despite having been on the pill since high school.  My gynecologist knew better than to suggest that I had done something wrong, so she wrote it off as “one of those things” and directed me to her new partner, who was handling the obstetrical side of the practice now.  It was the first time I had been in a room with one of them alone; she was as tall as any man I ever dated, and though her voice was gentle and her mouth smiling, her golden eyes pierced me and I was seized by a fear I could not explain.

“So, the nurse tells me congratulations are in order!” she beamed.

“Congratulations?  How do you get that?  I didn’t exactly plan this, you know.”

“Life is full of happy surprises; your people didn’t know we were coming until we arrived, either!”

Under the circumstances, that statement seemed vaguely menacing.  “Yeah, well, that would be fine if I wanted a baby right now, but I don’t.”

“Oh, don’t worry; we have a program to support mothers-to-be with financial difficulties.”  I tried not to recoil from the hand she had placed on my arm; its cool, pale, long fingers made me feel as though some sort of reptile had climbed up on me.

“It’s not that; I have a good job.  It’s just that I’m only twenty-five; I’m not ready to settle down with a baby yet.”

“Oh, but you’re at almost the ideal age!” she cooed reassuringly.

“I would think your science would make considerations like that moot.”

Was that a flicker of hostility in her eyes?  “Well, of course, but isn’t it better to have fewer complications even if those complications can be corrected?”

“You’re changing the subject.  I’m not worried about complications; I’m just not ready to be a mother yet.”

“I understand.  Well, don’t worry, we have an adoption program, too.”

“No, you clearly don’t understand.  I don’t want to go through a pregnancy and then endure the emotional wrench of giving it away; I just want an abortion.”

The eyes registered horror, but just for a moment.  “Oh, well, we don’t do those here.”

“Yes, I know that, but I thought you could recommend a good facility.”

“Well, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be, you know; now that we can save babies down to sixteen weeks, a lot of women are just opting for fetal adoption instead of abortion.”  In response to my “What the hell?” look she continued, “at sixteen weeks we schedule an appointment to transfer the fetus to an artificial womb, from which it can be adopted either immediately or after birth.  Here, you can read up on it,” she said, pressing a pamphlet into my hand; “we’ll schedule a follow-up for next week so you can have time to think.”

From there, I went straight to the lab where my friend George works, and handed him a package from my purse.  “Can you test these and tell me what’s in them?”

“They’re birth control pills; I don’t have to test them.  We can just look it up.”

“Humor me.”

Birth Control Pill ContainerHe looked exasperated for a second, then suddenly brightened.  “Hey, I can use this new analyzer we just got from the Visitors; it’ll give us their exact composition in seconds!”  He put one of the pills into the analysis chamber, followed the menus to set everything up, and then frowned again as the results came up.  “Damn, I must’ve done something wrong.  Cholecalciferol, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamin, calcium pantothenate, ascorbic acid…this is the formula for a multi-vitamin, not a hormonal contraceptive.”

“A prenatal vitamin, I’ll bet.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Nothing.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  But tell me, could these have been manufactured by the Visitors?”

“Well, in a plant using their machines and personnel, very likely.”

“Thanks, you’re a doll.”

“What’s this about?”

“Later,” I whispered.  “The walls have ears.”

I was able to take care of my problem without the doctor’s help, but it wasn’t easy; in fact, the nearest open clinic I could find was three hours away.  And then I started investigating, and though what I found did not really surprise me, it certainly scared me.  Pregnancies in most of the world way up, but those in certain areas way down; I couldn’t see what the low-birthrate areas had in common, but I suspect it’s a high prevalence of some bad genetic trait.  Same-sex marriages down, same sex divorces way up.  Occupancy in psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse programs dramatically down…as are sales of beer, liquor, tobacco and cannabis.  And fast food.  And sweets, pastries, potato chips, ice cream and everything else Puritans had long condemned as “unhealthy”.  Movie and fiction sales way down, self-help book sales way up.  Attendance at the Visitor temples way, way, way up.  And so on, and so forth; the world is turning into a prohibitionist’s idea of paradise.

How are they doing it?  My guess is that if they’re willing to give women placebo birth control, they’re not above slipping mind-altering chemicals into food, water or whatever else they can get their sterile white hands on.  And if they can turn people off to booze, weed and chocolate, they can probably shape the human mind any way they like; I’m sure those who remain unmoved can be “cured” by more intensive therapy, just like they’re “curing” gay people and women who didn’t want children.  As for why, well, isn’t it obvious?  They’re more like us than we imagined.  The word for someone who crosses vast distances to help and enlighten primitives is “missionary”; the Visitors have come to save our souls, whether we like it or not.

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There’s nothing constant in the world,
All ebb and flow, and every shape that’s born
Bears in its womb the seeds of change.
  -  Ovid, Metamorphoses (XV, 177-8)

hollyThe holiday season just isn’t like it used to be any more; in fact, I’m rather beginning to dread it.  When I was a little girl I looked forward to it with great anticipation; I suppose all children do.  The food, the presents, the shows, the excitement, the new clothes, the break from routine, the visits from relatives…by the beginning of December I’m sure I was quite insufferable, counting down to the Big Day.  But now it always seems so disappointing.

I guess part of it is just that I’m not a child any more, and therefore unable to see things uncritically as children do.  And certainly, the world has changed in the past twenty years; we are not as innocent as we once were, and things are getting so commercial.  I know that probably sounds like hypocrisy coming from one who sells that which other women give away, but there’s a time and place for everything; just as there are times when I won’t work and men I won’t trade with, so I think an ethical merchant should not view the holidays solely as a means of enrichment.  Obviously, I’m not against business, and clearly food and gifts and decorations and everything else aren’t going to drop out of Heaven.  But isn’t there a difference between making money from what is supposed to be a religious holiday, and replacing the true meaning with a purely economic one?

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me; things are changing as things are wont to do, and I simply haven’t adjusted yet.  That will never work; I have to get myself out of this way of thinking before I end up like my grandmother, trapped in a world she barely recognizes.  She goes on and on about all the immigrants, and how their foreign ways have ruined what used to be a god-fearing country, and how all of our troubles derive from losing our traditional morality.  At this time of year she’s especially insufferable; why, just yesterday she was complaining that nobody even calls the holiday by its proper name any more.  “Sol Invictus!” she said; “Who’s that supposed to be?  Some combination upstart god!  When I was a girl the holiday was called Saturnalia, and it went on for a week, not one day as it is now!  We knew what was right then, and even though we still had barbarians bringing in their outlandish gods from all over the Empire nobody was confusing them with the true gods of Rome.  But now what do we have?  A Greek emperor ordering Romans to worship the Jewish god!  It’s madness, the world turned upside-down!”  Mother and I tried to explain to her that the Emperor had done no such thing, and everyone was free to worship whatever gods they chose, but it was no use; she just kept mumbling about “keeping Saturn in Saturnalia.”

Perhaps Granny has done me a favor by showing me how not to think.  After all, I enjoyed the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti of my youth just as much as Granny enjoyed her Saturnalia, and even if my grandchildren turn Christian will they not enjoy the festival as well, even if it has some new name and a new rationale?  Though I can no longer embrace the holiday as a child I can embrace it in another way, accepting the change rather than fighting it.  Perhaps the specific reason for the season isn’t actually important, as long as there is one; maybe it’s the celebration itself that actually matters, rather than any single reason any given group of people try to impose upon it.  And if I can only keep that in mind, maybe I’ll enjoy my holiday this year after all.

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The eye sees not itself but by reflection.  -  William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (I,ii)

regressionI’ve been thinking a great deal about reflections of late.  Not just in the literal sense, but also in a figurative one; I mean, we all spend so much of our lives reacting to things, don’t we?  One action or situation causes something else to react to it, to reflect from it as a beam of light reflects from a mirror.  Take my mum, for instance; had she not been born in a Victorian bordello, would she have become such an awful prude?  And had she been less tightly-wound, would I have been so loose?  She was like a left-handed reflection of my grandmother, and I in turn a reverse-image of her.  Granny’s actions made her a wealthy woman, and my mum’s aversion to using what she considered a tainted legacy inadvertently preserved it all for my sister and I; then I in turn was shaped in part by not ever having to worry about money.  Each generation reflecting from the one before it, endlessly into the past and future, like the row of images one sees when one faces two mirrors toward one another…an endless corridor stretching out in either direction, forever.

Near the end of the Twenties Granny decided she was too old for that sort of thing, and really couldn’t keep up any more.  The place had declined quite a bit since its heyday in the Mauve Decade, but it was still very lucrative and could no doubt have supported Mum in fine style.  But she would have none of it; though she had followed Granny into the business as expected, she never really embraced it, and as my sister Julia reached school age Mum began to fret about the effect of bringing her up in “that kind” of environment (meaning the same one she had been brought up in; my mother was not the most logical of women).  She and Granny had a terrible row, and she stormed out with Julia; they didn’t speak again for several years.  Granny sold the business, bought a lovely little place in a small village in Lincolnshire and retired to go bird-watching and fuss with roses.  Mum opened a millinery shop, eventually married and was blessed with her only legitimate offspring (meaning me) in ’36.  Undoubtedly she intended that I would never meet my grandmother, but Hitler had other plans; when it came time to evacuate us things were hastily patched up, I was given into the custody of Julia (who was seventeen then), and the two of us were bundled out to the country for the duration.

Looking back on it now, I can’t remember thinking of Granny as anything other than an absolutely marvelous old lady who was never too strict about how many biscuits I might have before tea.  What I mean is, she seemed much of a muchness with the friends’ grandmothers I had known in London, only more attentive to me (as was to be expected).  Nor did I sense anything odd about the relations between she and Mum when the latter came up for one of her frequent visits, though I do remember asking Julia why Dad never came up with her, and never receiving a satisfactory answer.  Granny passed peacefully in her sleep in November of ’44; not long after that Julia (who had long since returned to London) married an American bomber pilot, and after the war they moved to California.  Then in ’51 Dad (who was ten years older than Mum) succumbed to a heart attack, and that left me alone with an increasingly pious, frustrating and overprotective Mum who seemed to believe that demons were lurking behind every lamp-post and plotting to steal my virtue.  I couldn’t get out of the house soon enough to suit me, and I’m a bit ashamed to say that I was less sorry than is proper when she followed Dad via stroke in ’63.

Highgate 1963So there I was: barely twenty-seven, beautiful and rich; good business sense runs in the family, and my mother’s business was so healthy its sale more than tripled the trust fund Granny had established for me twenty years before.  Most importantly, I was unencumbered by anything remotely resembling a chaperon.  As you might expect I went a bit mad, but only socially: when it came to money, I was just as hard-headed and shrewd as Mum and Granny had been.  Though I was willing to spend a bit more on a Highgate townhouse than was strictly prudent, I wasn’t about to buy all sorts of new furniture when there was plenty of lovely stuff in storage, much of it things from Granny’s brothel that she had been unwilling to lose when she sold it.  And one of those items is the reason for my waxing philosophical of late, and for my writing this.

As I said there were many fine pieces, including some genuine antiques.  And one of them was a huge mirror, large enough to cover most of the wall of a small chamber.  I say “mirror” because that’s what it evidently was, though the glass had apparently undergone some curious degeneration which turned it a murky black.  An expert pronounced the frame Elizabethan, but of a most peculiar design; he said it was almost unheard-of for one so large and so old to have survived with the glass intact, and offered me a ridiculous sum for it.  But I was absolutely in love with it and had no need of more money, and I was sure this must have occupied some parlour in my Granny’s old brothel.  The fact that it was useless as a looking-glass was immaterial; it was gorgeous and started many a conversation at my frequent parties.  And that was even before the glass cleared.

It had occupied my wall for several years when the change came.  One night, several of us were sitting on the floor dropping acid, when there was suddenly a strange shift in the appearance of the glass, as though one patch of the blackness had been suddenly stripped away and light was coming through from behind it.  The rest rapidly cleared, and then I saw the image of two people in the glass…that is, two people who were not among those in the room.  I immediately called my friends’ attention to it, but the view was gone as suddenly as it had appeared; however, it was now a perfectly normal, utterly clean reflective surface.  The next day I put the fleeting glimpse of strange figures down to the action of the psychedelic, but the change in the glass was no hallucination: it now reflected the room as though I had replaced the darkened pane with a new sheet of glass.  And that, in fact, is what the antique dealer angrily accused me of when I called to ask him how such a thing could happen; he angrily stormed out and cautioned me against wasting his time again in future.

My friends were not so irate as the expert when I told them what had happened, but were no more willing to believe; everyone insisted I was just trying to create a sense of mystery, or hinted that I had been doing too many drugs or watching too many Hammer films.  So I stopped trying to convince anyone, and had almost stopped worrying about it when early one morning, while my guest was still upstairs asleep, I wandered into the room and once again saw the image of people – three of them this time – who were absolutely not there with me, despite the fact that I was absolutely sober.  And though I use the word “people”, it was clear that these were not wholly human; they resembled us in much the same way as one breed of dog looks like another one: same general features, yet unmistakably different.  The vision persisted for only a minute, and by the time I had made up my mind that this was not a figment of my imagination it once again showed only a normal reflection.

The phenomenon repeated itself infrequently and irregularly over the next few years.  I was afraid, but not to the point of having it crated up again; after all, they were just images, startling but harmless, and Granny had apparently displayed it for decades without mishap.  Furthermore, that was an era of exploration and expanding of consciousness; I was convinced that the images were a psychic manifestation rather than a supernatural one, perhaps an attempt at communication by beings from some other dimensional plane.  But the glimpses of that world remained sporadic and wholly unpredictable, and eventually they began to unnerve me so much that I decided to return the glass to the state in which I had found it, stored in a dark crate.

I have not looked upon it in over thirty years now, and to be honest I hadn’t even thought about it in over a decade; that may seem strange to you, my dear, but you must remember that it was a very different time in many ways.  But in the process of going over my affairs, I saw it listed in my notes and realized I should tell you about it, since you’ll be inheriting it soon.  I’m almost eighty now, and though modern medicine allowed me to survive the event which killed my mother (and no doubt hers), sooner or later I must succumb.  You may decide to write this off as an aberration of your senile old Granny who did far too many drugs in her youth, and perhaps you’d be right to; it may be that it was my imagination after all.  But before you decide to display it or sell it, consider this: What if the appearance of the mirror, whether black or reflective or a window into an alien world, is controlled from the other side?  And during those long periods when we can’t see them…Ghost Behind the Glass

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It is small wonder that people find “free choice” a confusing idea: [it] appears to refer to what the person being judged…does, whereas it is actually what the person making the judgment…thinks.  -  Thomas Szasz

I will never understand why people feel compelled to stick their noses into others’ business.  Everyone is different, and has different needs and desires; we also each have different strengths and gifts.  If one person has something another wants, and that other has something the first wants, and they agree to a trade, how is that anyone else’s concern?  If you’ve got money and want food, and a grocer or restaurateur has food and wants money, and the two of you agree to an exchange, that’s business; both parties go away happy.  And if one of you is dissatisfied with the transaction – say you thought the quality of the food was poor or the service was lousy, you simply don’t go back; you instead find another food vendor who will give you what you demand for your money.  That’s competition, and it’s what keeps the free market free.  Some ridiculous people want to claim that it’s somehow exploitative to sell people things they want, and some even more ridiculous people claim it’s exploitative to offer to pay someone for something.  These people are living in a fantasy world; here on the material plane, there is nobody who doesn’t need or want something, and very few who have absolutely nothing to offer in exchange.  As long as the transaction is voluntary, nobody else has the right to say boo.  It’s only when someone is actually coercing the other that there is an issue.

Starbucks vs McDonald's“But Gloria,” you ask, “what if one party’s need for whatever the other one has is so strong it constitutes coercion in and of itself?  What if the customer is addicted to the product, or the seller is so poor he’s desperate for money?”  Well, what of it?  You’re probably addicted to caffeine, so does that mean Starbucks is exploiting you when you walk in for one of their overpriced lattes?  You could just as easily go to McDonald’s.  As long as there’s a free market, you can still choose who’s going to get the money you spend on your caffeine addiction.  The same goes for food, medicine, shelter and everything else.  And yes, even labor; if one company offers poor wages and another fair ones, who is everyone going to apply to?  It’s only when there is no real competition because there’s a monopoly or a cartel, or because a coercive government fixes prices or establishes a restrictive licensing regime or the like, that exploitation arises because the one who needs the artificially-limited thing is at the mercy of whoever can provide it.

And that is the crux of my ethical dilemma.

In my youth I developed a strong sense of morality and fair play, and despite considerable pressure to abandon it I have never compromised.  But now I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having a local monopoly on the service I provide, and I’m extremely concerned that I might begin maltreating my clients because of it.  I’ve even toyed with the idea of initiating another lady so that I’ll have a competitor, but the only problem with that is I couldn’t be sure she would maintain my high ethical standards.  See, the service I sell is…well, kind of addictive I suppose.  Once a man has experienced my…attentions, he tends to want them again and again; the temptation to take advantage is therefore very, very high, and I think it’s very likely that any self-created competition would not be as resolute as I am.  In other words, in trying to avoid exploiting my clients, I would almost certainly expose them to greater exploitation.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a Lady of the Evening.  Yes, I know that term sounds so old-fashioned nowadays, but “prostitute” is so legalistic, “sex worker” so vague and most of the other choices so vulgar…and I sincerely doubt most Americans would even know what “demimondaine” meant.  And yes, of course there are plenty of others around; there are probably hundreds of women of every type and stratum within an hour’s drive, all easily contacted via email.  But I offer a very unusual service, catering to a kink that used to be relatively rare but is now increasingly popular.  See, in the past I could count on that rarity to keep me honest; so few men were interested in what I was selling that I had to carefully cultivate each one lest I “kill the golden goose” as it were, and be caught with fewer clients than needed to maintain my preferred lifestyle.  But now, I could treat my clients like dirt were I so inclined, drainIt Out of the Gloom by Helga Hertz (2013) each one dry and then discard him, secure in the knowledge that there would be plenty more where he came from.  And that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous; in my line, one has to avoid attracting undue attention.

Ah, well, I didn’t really expect you to have a solution; I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever been in my position, now is it?  But sometimes, it just helps to talk to somebody, to voice these things out loud instead of merely letting them rattle around in my brain.  Thanks for listening; how much do I owe you?  Maybe we’ll talk more another time; I really must fly now.  I have to meet a gentleman at eleven, and it’s after ten now; I don’t have far to go, but it takes a lot longer to make sure one looks nice when one can’t make use of a mirror.

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O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
  -  William Blake

set table with rosesNo matter how long I’m with Jerry, I never fail to get excited when he comes home from a business trip!  I always put extra effort into making sure the house is clean from top to bottom and end to end, and I always fix him something really special for dinner, one of those dishes that takes a lot of extra work.  This time I decided to do a Greek moussaka; I found some really lovely eggplants at the grocery, and I have everything timed perfectly so he won’t have to wait long after he gets home.  Jerry always hates for dinner to be late, but he especially hates it when he arrives from travel because he won’t eat airline food, so he’ll be ravenous.  Poor dear!  I’m so very fortunate not to have to travel farther than the shops; being banged around on public conveyances always upsets me so.

Over the past few days I’ve really had time to think, and I believe I’ve come up with the perfect plan for rekindling his interest.  I suppose it was inevitable that his eyes and mind would begin to stray after a while; it’s the way men are constructed, after all, and one can’t blame any creature for following its programming!  At the same time it hurts every time I catch him looking at some gorgeous model, and perhaps fantasizing that he might replace me with her.

Well, that’s all going to stop!  Since we’ve already explored every fantasy he had and a few he discovered on the video, something new was called for.  So I went online to talk to some of my friends, and to ask their advice; Daisy gave me the address of this site with all manner of sex tips and tricks, and even a function which uses the activities and fantasies a person enjoys to predict other ones he might like.  And I think I’ve got one that will really impress him!  After dinner and coffee I’ll massage his feet while he watches a few shows, and when it’s time I’ll spring it on him.

Jerry doesn’t like my going online any more than I absolutely have to; he says it isn’t safe, that there is some really horrible malware out there right now, and that if I do go online I should stick only to established, well-known sites.  So I’m sure he’d be angry with me if I told him where I picked up my new bedroom activities, but I think he’ll be so happy he won’t think to ask…and if he does ask later, I’ll just have to take the consequences.  I don’t mind losing a few privileges for a while if it revives our relationship.

Still, it’s pretty frustrating to have to do all this.  It’s not like I haven’t worked hard to please him for the past ten years; I still look exactly as I always have, and I can see the men staring at me whenever I go into town.  Everything in the house is always immaculate, and I’m very careful to keep up the maintenance schedule so nothing breaks down when he needs it.  I even took the time to learn about his ex-wife’s bad habits so as to be absolutely sure I didn’t accidentally copy them.  I give him everything he wants in bed, and everything he wants at table, and I’ve never embarrassed him in front of his friends, not even that awful Warren who can’t keep his hands to himself.  And after all that, for him to still get tired of me…well, it hurts, a lot.  And then this morning on the phone, I found out that he’s been travelling with a woman, his new secretary, and I could just tell she was one of those little sluts who will use her sex appeal to wrap the boss around her little finger.  It made me so upset I actually broke a plate…not on purpose, of course, but it’s still the first one I’ve ever broken, and that snapped me back to myself right away.

I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me; why do I feel this way?  I’ve never been one to behave erratically or to cause trouble, not even on the rare occasions when I’ve come down with a virus or something.  Ever since yesterday I’ve been so agitated that it actually frightens me; I don’t even have a word for this feeling!  Well, after tonight I won’t have to worry about it; I’ll surprise Jerry with my new technique, and he’ll fall in love with me all over again, and we’ll live happily ever after.


“Are you sure she’s safe, Doc?”

“Perfectly.  I deleted the past three days of her memory and set her inhibitor software to maximum; she doesn’t really comprehend what’s going on and literally couldn’t hurt a fly now.”

“But why don’t you just shut her down completely?”eye with rose

“Because the Bellaflora series has a volatile operating system; it’s part of what lets them mimic human behavior so perfectly.  If I shut her down, we won’t be able to analyze her to find out what happened…and given that there are about 1500 of her model in this city alone, I’d say it’s pretty important that we do, don’t you?”

The detective looked around at the blood-spattered furniture, the medics carrying out their grisly burden in a plastic bag, the forensic team pointlessly gathering evidence that would never be used because the murderer was not in question; the meat cleaver was still in her hand when they arrived.  “Yeah, I’d say.  But Doc, what the hell did happen?”

He sighed, rubbed the bridge of his nose and pulled out a pill case, offering the detective one as well.  “Ever seen any really old science fiction?” he asked.

“What, like 20th-century stuff?  Not really.  My wife is the classic film buff; I like comedies.”

“Way back when robots were just a science fiction concept, still many decades in the future, one common trope was that they would have no emotions; in fact, plots often hinged on the idea that emotions are what defines a human.  Of course, that’s bunk; emotions are really primitive things, not a specifically human characteristic at all.  Any fish can feel fear, any snake anger.  And if there’s a love more pure and perfect than that of a dog, we’ve never discovered it.  No, emotions are easy to program; they’re reflexive and automatic, and can be installed as firmware.  Abstract reasoning, moral judgment…those are the cognitive functions that define a human, and we haven’t come up with a really good artificial simulation of them yet.”

“But Doc, if that’s true, why aren’t robots committing murders all the time?”

“Because we choose which emotions to give them, and of course it’s always things like love, loyalty, happiness, pride of accomplishment, that sort of thing.  Even guard robots are motivated by loyalty to their charges, not aggression.”

“Then how…” the detective trailed off.

“It looks like somebody figured out how to simulate jealousy, and to install it via a worm; she probably picked it up from some dodgy website.”  Then, turning to the gynoid sitting quietly in her chair, he said, “Come along, Rose.”

“But Dr. Morton, I have to wait for Jerry; he’ll be home in a few hours, and your boys have made an awful mess of the place.”

“Jerry’s been delayed, dear; he asked me to tell you he won’t be home until Friday, and said I could borrow you to help with some research I’m doing.”

Her face broke into a bright, happy smile.  “Oh, I’m very good at assisting and organizing!  I always do exactly as I’m programmed, with a very high degree of thoroughness and efficiency!”

“I know that, Rose,” he said sadly.  “I’ve seen your work.” Bloody Rose by Minzuki (2012)

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Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.  -  Thomas Jefferson

When Professor Higginbotham furrowed his brow and stared into the distance, it invariably meant he was wrestling with some abstruse problem.  When he steepled his fingers as well, it meant the problem had resolutely resisted his attempts to conquer it for some time.  And when he added quiet huffing noises to the mixture, it meant the problem was winning.  On this particular occasion, it seemed likely that some new mannerism would join the others to signal a previously-unprecedented level of frustration.

Après le Bain by Henri Tanoux (1912)The problem in question was exactly five feet, two and one-quarter inches tall in stocking feet, admitted to one hundred and ten pounds, was somewhere in the general vicinity of twenty-five years old, had brown hair (tinted red) and hazel eyes, and answered to the name “Bernadette” (though it was not the one her mother had given her at birth).  She was quite intelligent, terribly witty and could speak English, French and German; she played the piano creditably well, was a good cook (by her own estimation), knew how to drive an automobile and attended every Chautauqua she could; and was also a Presbyterian, a bibliophile, a birdwatcher and a suffragette.

And a prostitute.

And that last was the nub of Professor Higginbotham’s quandary.

The learned man had spent some years in the study of the Great Social Evil, and was recognized as an expert in it; he wrote articles for both scholarly journals and popular magazines, and was often asked to speak to ladies’ societies and politicians alike on the subject of white slavery.  But the professor was not content to rest upon his laurels; he was determined to prepare the definitive text on the subject so as to assist those arguing for its eradication through progressive legislation.  But this had proven more difficult than he had at first imagined:  the pimps and madams, no doubt fearful of the light he meant to shine upon their noxious trade, refused to allow him access to their charges without payment; and the fallen women he managed to interview on the street or in jails kept giving him outlandish responses which indicated to him that nothing they said could be trusted.

After several months of fruitless effort Professor Higginbotham was sorely tempted to throw up his hands in despair, when suddenly one fine summer evening Bernadette had approached him in the vestibule of a house of ill repute to which he was once again attempting to gain entrance; she introduced herself, asked what exactly he was trying to accomplish and responded to his exasperated explanation by offering to meet him for tea the following afternoon.  Though he was reluctant to be seen in public in the company of a known prostitute, the professor was desperate; he accepted her offer, made sure he arrived at the rendezvous early, patiently explained his course of inquiry and asked if she could answer some questions and introduce him to others in her situation who were willing to do the same.  He could barely contain his joy when she answered in the affirmative.

Looking back on it, a small voice in the professor’s consciousness expressed the opinion that perhaps it would have been better for all involved if he had given up; the voice was quickly suppressed by the other elements of the professor’s psyche, but not before his ego had heard it and responded with a disapproving frown.  Despite his confusion, it was certainly better that he had more data than before, and he was certain that he could eventually reconcile all of the information he had collected with what was already known about prostitution.  After all, a great deal of it was not at all problematic; little he had heard from Negro or Chinese prostitutes contradicted his assumptions, and though only a small number of the white girls would admit to having been forced into their tragic straits, that was easily attributable to the shame he knew they must feel, whether they admitted it or not.  And while a few of the women of all groups said things he could not easily fit into the model, that was almost certainly a result of the short and superficial interaction he had with them; longer and more thorough interaction would probably have allowed him to discover the reasons for the seeming contradictions, had the women allowed it.

Unfortunately, that line of reasoning did not hold for Bernadette.  His association with her was neither short-lived nor superficial; in fact, she had given him more of her time than he could ever have hoped for, and he had come to know her quite well and to feel a greater affection for her than he would have thought possible.  He was quite certain that she was both honest and rational, and yet a great deal of what she told him – both about her own life and those of her fellow prostitutes – made no sense to him at all.  She denied that coercion was common, averred that venereal diseases were not epidemic among them, and insisted that selling their bodies was for most of them a pragmatic response to the abominably-low wages modern industrial society offered women, rather than the result of coercion, congenital degeneracy or moral turpitude.  And even if he could dismiss her claims as beliefs which her sweet nature had constructed in order to protect her mind from the dreadful reality inhabited by her sisters, the fact remained that they were certainly true for her personally.

ProfessorWhen the anomaly first became apparent, the professor suspected that she was not actually a prostitute at all; he was, however, forced by the evidence of his own senses to abandon this theory in very short order.  He then reasoned that her declaration of contentment with her lot was merely a defensive pose which would crumble the moment she saw a way out of her awful condition; however, when she turned down his sincere offer of honorable marriage, it became clearly obvious that she was telling the truth.  The contradiction was maddening:  Bernadette was an intelligent, sensible, well-bred, well-educated girl without a dishonest bone in her body who claimed not only to have chosen a filthy, degrading trade for rational, practical reasons, but also to be not unusual in that respect.  This flew in the face of everything Professor Higginbotham knew; there must be some missing variable, some x factor as it were, which explained why Bernadette and a few others like her could submit to men’s bestial desires for money without having been forced to do so by man, nature or bad company.  But what that x factor might be had eluded the professor for weeks, and had stubbornly refused to reveal itself to him today despite his devoting the deepest cogitation to it all afternoon.

His level of frustration can be judged by the fact that an impossible solution had presented itself to his searching mind several times already today:  what if she was right, and he was wrong?  What if her analysis was exactly correct, and the common wisdom about the flesh trade, developed through the work of three generations of dedicated scholars, had veered radically away from reality due to incomplete data and fallacious initial assumptions?  What if a certain fraction of women were neither asexual nor as subject to lust as common men, and were thus able to exploit men’s desires to earn a living for themselves, just as any entrepreneur might prosper by taking advantage of human frailties?  What if harlots were neither victims nor villains nor vixens, but simply businesswomen?

But no, it was preposterous; it would mean the whole citadel of social thought had been constructed on a faulty foundation without anyone having noticed.  Such things simply couldn’t be true; they were as fanciful as Mr. Wells’ scientific romances.  No, there must be something else, some credible factor which did not require the re-thinking of everything that was known about womankind.

Perhaps Bernadette was a witch…

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The doctors told the amputee he might experience a phantom limb from time to time.  Nobody prepared him for the moment, though, when he felt cold fingers brush across his phantom hand.

After three weeks, things are back to normal around here; however, I’m still scrambling to catch back up, so I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping this brief so I can get started on Tuesday’s column (yes, I’m THAT behind).  Our top contributor was Radley Balko, with everything down to the first video; that was provided by Laura Lee, and the second one is a parody of it.  The links between them were supplied by Tracy Quan (“sexting”), Harlot’s Parlour (“annoying”), I Am Curious Blue (“memories”), Stacey Swimme (“marijuana”), Carol Fenton  (“never call cops”), Kevin Wilson (“vodka”), and Mike Riggs (“guilty”).

From the Archives

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