1

She took three years to learn to walk. Patti is a patient girl.

When Chelsea got her out to a basketball game to watch Katie play, helped her up into the stands, she observed movement her body would never manage, even in dreams. Katie outmaneuvers, outplays, and out-and-out terrifies the girls on the other team. "Like perfect code," says Chelsea.

Katie wasn’t Chelsea's first, but Brad Kwan was Tech Club and Cassandra Rose, something momentary, and Chelsea remained by Patti's side, assisting with stairways and rocky places. But now Chelsea's all about Katie, and Chelsea's vivacious nature allows her to pass breezily through that crowd. They like Katie too much to call her on Chelsea, because knowing would change things. Nice town, but if Patti swings her cane, odds are strong she'll strike redneck. She doesn't need the cane, really; she got along most of her life without one. She likes it though; it has a weathered look, a wizard look.

So maybe Chelsea has herself a real girlfriend this time; Patti will make time with her Magus.

She sits on her bed with one of the school's Notebooks, temporarily liberated, and logs into the wireless down the street, routes through a virtual private network, and signs into the site. Magus has posted three new images:

The photo of a charred soldier, face blackened, smile skeletal, captioned: Improper or repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation in this tanning bed may cause damage to skin.

The second photo exposes four girls sharing a hot tub. One is less attractive than the others; maybe it's just the face she's making. The text: Buy three and we’ll throw in a fugly ABSOLUTELY FREE!

The girl in the third photo might be fourteen. She stands a few feet back, her pants down, and her hands on her hips. The top of her crotch is in plain view: She thinks only her boyfriend has seen this. Other posters call for more!

Patti grimaces. She doubts it could be a selfie; the lens gazes down at the girl from somewhere, and she seems oblivious to it. Patti studies the image awhile, and wonders if there's more. A memory strikes her and she clicks around the site. She finds the photo Magus posted earlier to disgusted praise and mock arousal: an old woman in a grey washroom, her dress, a blue cultic robe sort of thing, raised, underpants around her ankles, wrinkled legs showing, hand reaching for paper.

She compares Smiling Crotch Girl with Drop-Drawer Lady. The girl obscures the background, but both shots look like they've been captured in the same locale. She's guessing a public washroom. Patti looks from the screen to the golden Lucky Cat on her dresser, bobbing its paw to rhythms she cannot hear—distant music, perhaps.

Tonight, Chelsea and Katie are hitting a party, where they will be just friends until they find a reason to leave. And Patti will ponder these latest developments online. She imagines her Magus’s life in nights alone, posting from a room filled with empty cans and crumpled fast-food bags.


2

Kirt returns to St. LARP's on a Saturday night in October, when they hold their fundraiser on the stage in the rectory basement. Someone has tried to disguise the drabness with orange streamers and a harvest display, pumpkins and ears of polychromatic corn. It's his yearly sacrifice, part of the give-and-take that keeps his ma smiling and inviting him over for Sunday dinner.

Aging women like his mother need hope, and she really believes his father lives on somewhere, his scruffy face and the sage smell of his aftershave, the extra helpings of home fries Sunday morning with frequent sprinklings of salt. Otherwise her church has few real beliefs, as far as he can tell. They're more like a live-action roleplaying game and so he has dubbed them ST. LARP's, though not to his mother's face. Their events do, he admits, serve better food than the average gaming party.

They have a choir reputed to be the best in Lambton County, and a new minister who brought with him a flat screen and the ringmaster style of a big box church. Some of the other old fogies find the colour and noise disconcerting but, his ma insists over Sunday dinner, this new minister has drawn a few more young people. Kirt cocks one eyebrow, asks her to go on.

"They had three girls go up, right in front of the altar. Lovely young girls. They did an upbeat sort of a song with gestures. Just at the age where we often lose them, you know. Now, the one girl's shorts were too short for my taste. For church, I mean. Maybe just doesn’t realize she’s gotten, you know, too old to dress that way." Kirt smirks. He doubts that very much. He takes another slice of roast breast, and draws with his teeth and tongue the fat beneath the skin.

And so he accompanies her to the rectory basement in his dark brown mock-turtleneck and dark brown pants and, dragged from the back of his closet, the brown sports jacket she bought for him. Gray heads abound, peppered by a few younger choir members with younger children. He looks to the kitchen; he knows they will have baked goods at intermission. He will simply have to deal with two interminable hours of what passes here for entertainment.

A young boy plays the violin. He plays it well, but it's still a violin. The M.C. rehashes a joke that must have been old when she was young, and then introduces the next performer, the youngest member of their choir. "Oh," his ma whispers. "That was the girl who sang in the summer."

The girl wears a minidress, white with delicate blue flowers and leaves, like bone china. Beneath the dress, her young legs show implausible fishnet stockings. She gives a studied, awkward introduction and then sings something from Mozart in crystal tones. Her voice sounds a little like whoever sang for Brit Ekland in The Wicker Man, de-aged some years. When she gestures with her hands at the end, her minidress raises, ever so slightly. Kirt shifts a little in his seat.

At intermission his ma patters about how lovely the first half has been. He grabs a marshmallow square with chocolate on top, and his eyes scan the crowd for the Mozart Girl. He catches sight of her teacup dress as she steps out into the hallway.

"I have to go to the washroom," he says to his ma. He licks melted chocolate from his thumb and index finger.

He heads down the dark hall, around the corner. Pipes run along the ceiling. The door to the women's washroom is closed. He steps into the men’s, a single use affair with drab floors. She flushes, a few moments later, and he lets himself breath awhile after she walks away.

Kirt stands alone in the hall. He quickly peeks into the grey room: mirror, sink, garbage, tampon dispenser. He looks at the vent, over the sink, directly across from the toilet. It has wide vertical slots.


3

Magus: Hai! Liking your captions, sweetiepet! If your really a girl, nice to meet one with a sense of humor.

sweetiepet: I's a girl. With boobs and everything. Yeah, lots of girls are bitches who don't understand humour. Or computers. High school sucks. Hey, your some kinda bigsht here, aren't you?

Magus: You could say that. So what about a photo?

sweetiepet: I'm shy.

Magus: Shoot some of your cheerleaders.

sweetiepet: With a camera or a .22?

Magus: Kek. You have cheerleaders then?

sweetiepet: We have cheerleaders. Many of them are total bitches.

Magus: Colour me shocked. Don't suppose you'd sneak a camera into the changeroom for an old guy? For teh lulz?

sweetiepet: LOL. Anyway, funny site.

Magus: Thx. Welcome aboard! Ever find any of the pics hot?

sweetiepet: No. I don't know. You take some of these?

Magus: If they're going to make it so easy, they have to expect to get captured.

sweetiepet: True dat.


NEXT

Also:

Troll Bridge: A note from the writer

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