Fiction: “How to Fix Men”

This…came out in a single afternoon, and it’s flawed enough that I will never bother to submit it for publication, but still there’s something there that compelled me to write it in the first place. It felt weird because it’s such broad allegory (and allegory is not my bag at all) but I didn’t actually know how it was going to end until I got there and wrote it.

Obviously it has a lot to do with being a mother to three boys. In this story there are four blessings, for three sons.

How to Fix Men

“And why haven’t we done it sooner? I mean, that’s the question, right? The thing that we’re all not saying.” Lorelei picked at the label of her beer and splashed her fish-tail in the gutter. She was blond and plump and gorgeous, though she didn’t know it: her breasts were still taut with the firmness of youth, completely overflowing those two scallop shells she insisted on using for a bra. The effect was devastatingly sexy, but it embarrassed her, so the others didn’t mention it.

“I don’t think this topic should be off-limits,” said Moira, the moderator, carefully: “but we have to be careful to avoid victim-blaming and derailment.” She said this without looking up from her knitting, which in this context constituted a move as blatantly aggressive as a knife between the teeth would’ve been for the sirens. Moira was the head bitch in charge.

“I’m just saying,” said Lorelei. “The historical subjugation of women could not have happened in the face of an organized and spirited resistance. We’re a little more than half of the population, and we’re their moms. Boys adore their moms, they get tattoos about it.”

Moira dropped, or perled, or did whatever it was she was doing. The finished end of her scarf (was it a scarf?) trailed in the gurgling run-off of the street, growing increasingly darkened and tattered. Her skein of yarn twisted down the block and disappeared around the corner. “Do we have a talking stick this time?” she asked mildly. “If there’s a talking stick, somebody pass it to Kore.”

“Kore doesn’t talk,” said Orlando tartly. She was the third woman, tall and rangy. “You’ve got me, kiddo. You’ve always had me.”

The other third woman (she would have been the fourth, except that mythic numbers of women are never allowed to cluster in groups of more than three) said: “I’ll talk.”

Lorelei stopped a twig with the trailing end of one of her fins, and handed it to the other third woman. Her fingers were made of shadow and her bones of cold wanting.

“I didn’t say no,” the shadow-girl said, spinning the twig around her bony fingers like a cheerleader’s baton. “I didn’t realize I had to. I thought that he would look at me—stiff a board, silent as a shadow, crying a little bit—and he would have cared. But he never even looked. He says he did but he didn’t.”

“That’s Eurydice,” said Moira, not unkindly. “You’re Kore today.”

The shadow-girl sniffed. “Sorry,” she said. “There’s too many of me sometimes. I can’t remember.”

“Are you sure Kore didn’t want to be carried away?” Lorelei said, and then hastily added—because the others were glaring death—“I mean, I believe you. I do! I just thought, sometimes, the leather biker-type, you know. I wouldn’t mind.”

“You would,” said Kore, her chrysanthemum eyes shedding petals, “if you were just all seized up and scared and waiting for him to notice, and he never did and then it was over. You might pretend for a while that you didn’t mind, but you would. It does a number on you.”

Moira looked up. “Why?” she said mildly. “Why should it matter so much? More than a skinned knee or any of the other crappy things that happen to us all.”

“Because you feel like you were never even a person to him. Nothing more than a shadow. Maybe nothing more than that to anybody.” Kore turned the twig over in her white-bone fingers, then held it out. “I’m sorry. I’m done. I don’t want this anymore.”

After a long moment Orlando took it, and they all tried to hide their sighs of relief.

“Moira’s right, though,” she said in her husky voice. “There’s a lot of ways of being hurt by other people.”

“And we still want men,” said Lorelei, anxiously. “Right? We’re not talking about just…” She trailed off.

“A clean slate? No,” Moira said without dropping a stitch. “No such thing. Women come from men, men come from women. Women are men sometimes, right, Orlando?”

“A person is what a person says they are.” Orlando’s voice was nothing but spun-sugar, and Moira looked discomfited. “I could tell you. I could tell you, but you wouldn’t hear.”

“So how do we fix them?” said Lorelei. “There’s got to be a way.”

Moira gave a twist of her needles, pulling her knitting out of the sewage. It dripped darkly onto her knees. “Make a wish,” she said.

They were all silent, for a moment, as the gutter-river ran on. Then Lorelei pulled out a single iridescent scale and placed it delicately on the dripping fibrous pile. “Be brave,” she said. “Ask for what you want. Protect those you love. Be manly and be brave.”

Kore leaned over and let her grave-breath stir the knitted mass. “Be wise,” she said. A single chrysanthemum petal fell from her skull, like a tear. “Listen in the silence. Look into the dark. Be manly and be wise.”

Orlando laid a long, lacquered fingernail on the pile. “Be kind,” she said, her voice deep and rich. “You are not lessened by difference, you are not threatened by change. Be manly and be kind.” When she pulled back, a flake of color remained.

And at that Moira gathered the whole ball up, twisting and wringing out the dirty water. “Be afraid,” she said briskly, “or I will come back and consume your hearts on the battlefield. You have been coddled too long. Be manly and be afraid.”

Moira,” the others said, reproachfully and almost in sync.

But Moira merely handed over the thing they’d made to Lorelei–and the gutter mermaid accepted the whole sodden, trailing mess with open arms, pressing it to her shell-clad bosom. “Beautiful one,” said Moira. “All of our hopes go in your hands. Make them worthy of you.”

Lorelei smiled, exposing row upon row of shark-white teeth. “I will,” she said. “I always have.”

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