“So, maybe you’ve heard this one before?” Terrence’s eyes swivelled, a thick layer of murkiness seemed to exist between his iris, his brain and the woman he was speaking to. “An android, a vampire and a skateboarding mutant walk into a bar. No one says anything. Right? Not the ghoul, not the crazy aunt with a cleaver as a hand. No one.
“They get closer and closer to the counter. Their boots, shoes, clacking, clicking, on the ground. Closer and closer. The bartender turns, cybernetic eyes swivelling in his head, and he says, ‘What’s crossing your genres?”
Terrence fell off his stool and onto the faux-wood floor. He cackled with delight, clutching his side as he laughed at his own joke. When the woman didn’t respond, he sat up and said, “Crossing your genres? Y’know…crossed gene–“
“I get it,” she replied, her voice sharp and edgy. It sounded tense, the way something does when it’s been stretched all the way back and held in that position for hours. She looked that way too, her neck rigid and even the parts of her that were naturally round seemed to have gotten sharper. Honed to a point, points that held up a black dress above the mid-part of her thighs. “And no, I hadn’t heard that one before. Normally they’re less…funny.”
Terrence rolled onto his stool, his six-foot frame and loose shirt almost making the action seem normal in the dancing lights of the nightclub. “You know what Susan?”
“Susange,” he burped and cleared his throat. “You would be a great author.”
“I am a great author,” she took a sip of her drink. It was in a beer mug, fat and huge. It appeared discordant against her thin rouge lips and tied-back hair. She had slim eyebrows that frowned slightly as she gulped its remaining contents down. After she wiped her mouth with the back of her left hand, Angela snapped her fingers. As if on command, the bartender spat on the floor. A small robot cleaned up the mess.
“Not as great as I used to be,” she continued, “not enough to pay the rent, but still…”
“Don’t give me that. You’re all backlist. Propped up by–” Terrence leant back and glanced at the ceiling, holding his sides as if in a pose “–the ‘man’. For a woman who’s like, ‘I despise the man,’ you sure use him a lot. His entrenched ways. His repression of the individuality. What you need’s a little wilderness man time.”
“That’s the last thing any woman ever needs.”
“Oh, come on, baby. My sci-fi operas are all about the rise of the feminine mind. They put their feet so far down the throat of the patriarchy that even the radicals blush a little at my prose.”
“Dont’ bullshit me. I’ve read your works. I’ve read all five of them.” The noise of a heavy glass mug hitting the counter interrupted Angela’s speech. The bartender reached under his tabletop and turned a knob.
The lights spun faster, the doof-doof of the music punched through the speakers louder. The blackness around Terrence and Angela stayed the same though. It was as if all that existed was two creaky stools, one bar, and them.
“I’ve poured over every single word,” she persisted. “Half-baked, second-rate, pieces of cliche that they are, spat out and thrust upon the world as if you’d vomited half of your brain into a bin before you’d started to type.”
“They love it though,” he countered. “Those repressive themes, even the women.” Terrence leaned forward, his hands grasping an imaginary circle. “It’s like an orgasm of nostalgia. Just this sticky thing that slides all over the body, and then squeezes our most sensitive areas. Once it’s there, it starts to pump them, right? Just vibrate along those pressure points a little. Sure, they know what’s coming. But it’s warm in that bossom of the past, it’s warm in that power. And even when they’re writing those empowerment tomes, they’re only trying to get it off them. A sort of half-hearted attempt to make themselves feel good. The same way we grab onto those literary novels, like they’re a bar of safety, all while I ooze down them and jiggle their hidden lusts until they tingle. They know they shouldn’t like it, right? They know it. And yet when they actually hate how I make them feel,” he turned and looked at Angela, peered into her eyes, “it’s even better.”
Terrence leant back and adjusted his package. “It’s like when you need that straight shot of dominance to justify your existence. They’re angry as all get out, and they’ve already prepared all these arguments to yell at the page. They love to tell me how much better they are when I’m down there, but I’m still down there. I’m rubbing and sliding everything I am into their hearts, into their ears and–“
Angela brought mug down on Terrence’s face. It shattered and cut, revealing pieces of metal beneath his skin. His eyes appeared to press out of his skull, they showed terror but also surprise. “What? Don’t you like my work?” He hit the ground and made a clattering sound.
Angela’s chest was heaving, her body no longer pointy but round once more. Her large breasts rose and fell as if in waves, her cheeks were red and her breaths deep. She jumped off her stool, grabbed a piece of glass and started stabbing at Terrence’s body. “I…hate…your…work!” she said.
“I hate how you treat women, how you subvert them, make them less than they always are. I despise the way you make us WHORES, make us all sex-addicted weaklings with nothing but ass and breasts.” Her fingers streamed red, but she kept going. “You think we’re objects? You think we’re little girls for your purity dreams? Damn you. Why do you even need these?” She stabbed his left eye, Terrence whimpered. “You can’t see anything.”
Quicker and quicker her thrusts went, faster and faster until…her body slumped. Her hair was tussled; her eyes roved the ceiling, unfocussed. Her breaths were less deep, more shallow and restful as she stroked her thigh, leaving red lines along it.
“Five minutes, forty-five seconds,” the bartender said, leaning over the counter. “Not bad.”
The lights went on, a white wall sat two feet from Angela. There was another a foot from where the darkness had started around the bar. “Not bad?” she asked as if she was rebuking him. “That should have been my personal best.”
“Yeah, close. Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”
Angela stood up and straightened, sniffing in the air. “I’m editing one of his books at the moment. We expect it to be accessed three-million times on launch day.”
The bartender took off his apron. “Sorry, that was personal.”
“So you do care about your customers.” She held her hands towards him.
He rubbed them with a white gooey solution. Angela winced when it made contact. “A little,” he said after he’d finished covering up to her wrists in the liquid. Slowly it merged with her skin, leaving unblemished fingers and palms behind. “First the chamber, then suicide. That’s what the data tells us.”
“I feel like I should say something witty,” she said. “But all I know are cliches. What happens when you work at a mid-list publishing house, I’m afraid.”
The bartender’s blue eyes sparkled under the light; his slim but sturdy frame and soft oval face made him look caring and strong. “Cliches I can live with, dead clients are what disturb my sleep.” He held out a small box. “It’ll be extra this time,” he said. “Rush job.”
Angela waved her left hand over it. “You never tell me your name.”
The man looked at her, his forehead crinkling slightly. He glanced at the broken android, then back at her. His gaze stayed on her face, never deviating. “Luis,” he said as he pushed the wall closest to them. A panel the size of a human slid open and the flux lights of the mall outside made the room brighter than it had been.
“Luis,” Angela repeated, her head down. “Unusual name.” She headed toward the exit, her high-heeled shoes clicking on the faux wood. “Unusual occupation, I guess.”
“Everyone says that.” He smiled, his shoulders sagging slightly, his guard seemingly down. “And good luck with your book, you’ll need it.”