What happens in Paradise

Friday, February 15, 2019

MR. ED CHRONICLES - talk two with Jep




When Mr. Ed was 16 he had left school and ever since he had worked 80 hours per week. He is what is called a self-made man: when he started working he didn’t have a dime on his name and some years later he had build an empire: Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza. By working hard Mr. Ed had build something for himself, and he had been able to because the times were right. These days it seems that just working hard isn’t enough. 
Sometimes Mr. Ed refers to our current times as the time before a new Dark Age where everything will be worse and more scarce for everyone involved: no more life long jobs, health care that can only be afforded by the rich, houses that have become very expensive etc etc. Privately Mr. Ed sometimes believes that the Dark Ages might have already begun, but out of a calculated notion that he might come off as a whacko he had always kept that one to himself. 
That kid Bradley reminded him of his younger self. Was he damaged in the same way? No. Was it as tough growing up where he did? Yes. The way things are dealt with these days is different though. Instead of therapy, Mr. Ed took up boxing around the same age and it had helped him to find a way to work things through. It gave him strength and confidence, or as he tended to describe it, muscle and steel. 


1

Mr. Ed wasn’t the only one that had gotten something out of boxing.

Jep never really had to defend himself in a physical fight since the age of 12. Before that, the fighting was mostly kids stuff that had the intensity, but lacked the viciousness. After that, the friends that he had made were enough of a deterrence for other kids to not want to try much of anything, but most likely fighting just became uncool.
A friend that he had made in college once took him to a boxing training and since that day he was hooked. It was addictive on levels that he had never anticipated. It was physically exhausting, both in endurance and strength. The best fighters were doing one-hand push-ups and were jumping rope in between sets. 
There was also something about practicing man to man combat, where the trainer would yell a combination and all the men on the floor carried it out like well oiled machines. At first you needed to think about how to carry out those punches, but at some point it became automatic and the strength no longer came from the arms, but from the hips.
Then there was the mental element where you might be faced with an opponent who might be bigger and stronger. The thing was not to be intimidated, but to fling a few punches that would let the opponent feel your superior strength. Then there were the semi-professional fighters and one of them was a feather-light-weight that beat Jep every time. The guy was small, but the work that he did in construction must have given him a bull’s strength. 
Outside of the gym there were the women that liked the physique and heft that came with boxing. On a personal level it also gave Jep peace of mind, because it allowed him to re-establish the equilibrium between the mental and physical state that was subtly disturbed by working in the unnatural setting of an office. 


2

On Monday night the training had been typical: the old guy that was by now in his seventies gave a training to about forty guys: “Left direct, right hook,” next combo, “Left direct, right hook, left upper corner,” and so on, and so on. 
After half an hour the first guys started walking out, out of exhaustion, partners changed every thirty minutes. After one and a half hour the old guy called it quits, “I want you guys to be able to go to perform your duty tomorrow,” he said in his grinding voice, “And I don’t want any complaints from the missus’s either….” A few guys laughed.
Jep changed shoes and put on a training jacket and went home. There he had a glass of milk mixed with soy-protein powder and syrup. He started cooking and in thirty minutes later he had a meal of chopped zucchini, pepper, garlic in a pre-made sauce, white rice and chicken breast. He was dining on the balcony to the back of the house, while drinking red wine. The outlook was on the courtyard between apartment buildings and it was usually completely quiet, despite living in a city of a million souls. Meanwhile he had face-time with a girl named Sally: willingly, hot and good in the sack.
Sally was in a whiny mood, which usually meant that she was nice and horny. At nine he went over to her house, a few blocks away. She was still a student and lived in a small room. His premonitions were correct. 


3

At five in the am Jep sneaked out, went back to his place to get ready for work. 
That day he didn’t get much done. He could permit a day like this, since he was considered to be a good coder: his output was generally higher than most of his colleagues. Not doing too much, he always described as meta-work: he was working on a level that couldn’t be substantiated (in other words: he just fooled around and didn’t do anything).
That night no one was available for dinner. Sally needed to attend classes at the university and most of his friends were busy doing other things. It had been a few weeks and it might be a good time for another session. 


4

The setting was different this time. Before they met in a sterile office in a high rise in a city that might be just about any metropole. This time the setting was a house in the suburbs that must have been turned into an office. It looked like a private practice.
Jep takes a few minutes to walk around. The most striking thing are the miniature boats that are all over the place. He figures that it’s either a look into Mr. Ed’s world or a standard d├ęcor. Jep peeks outside and it looks like it’s somewhere up north and just like in The West it looks to be winter. It might be a little more mild though; there’s no snow and in The West it’s usually in January and February that the temperature plummets well below zero. 

Mr. Ed enters the room some minutes after.
Winter in the mid-west,” Mr. Ed says.
Indeed,” Jep says, “A lot of snow.”
Nothing like back home, huh?”
Most definitely not,” Jep says, “I was looking at your collection of boats.”
I kind of have a lot,” Mr. Ed says.
How about a real boat?”
As a matter of fact I do have that as well,” Mr. Ed says, and he walks over to the book cabinet to pick up a model of a catamaran and hands it over to Jep. 
More modern than the other models,” Jep says, “How big is this one?”
Fifty feet,” Mr. Ed says, “Enough for recreational trips, it sleeps eight at most.”
Nice.”
It is,” Mr. Ed says, “But I take it that you didn’t come here to talk about boats.”
Not so much.”

Jep takes a seat on the couch. Mr. Ed takes a seat in the sofa chair.
I didn’t see you for a few weeks,” Mr. Ed says, “I figured that you found your groove after our last talk.”
I did,” Jep says, “I have a routine, which makes it easier.”
Then why did you come back?”
Maintenance,” Jep says, “I had a slow day today, I didn’t get much work done today and I didn’t much feel like the usual either.”
What’s the usual?”
Dinner, movie, drinks,” Jep says, “That’s the thing about the city: always something fun to do.”
Then today is a day for reflection.”

Possibly,” Jep says, thinking it over, “What was on my mind is this: I’m totally happy with my life as it is and in a way I could live like this forever, but it feels like it’s all on a high note.”
What do you mean?”
You know how you can only sing a high note for a very short time,” Jep says, “That’s how I feel that my life is right now: it has been a high ever since I graduated and in a way I can’t imagine that it will stay like that forever.”
You’re what? 25?” Mr. Ed asks, “At that age you’re at your prime, physically, mentally and everyone around you digs into that. You still have that feeling of someone in his teens that the world is at your feet, but at the same time you’re one of the big boys, because you have the cash to do things that are really fun.”
I know about that one,” Jep says, “Men peak at 25, women at 36.”
Just enjoy the ride.”

Mr. Ed takes a minute to look at his notes. 
Maintenance, fellow therapist, not practicing,” Mr. Ed says, “I told you anything about my story?”
Not so much,” Jep says, “But I can imagine that you’re a hard worker and that you haven’t been a therapist for most of your life.”
I haven’t,” Mr. Ed says, “I was in business, made a name and good money, and it’s only recently that I turned to this…. My way of giving back.”

Jep thinks: what exactly? Atonement?
We’re at different ends of the candle, beginning and end,” Mr. Ed says, “When you reach my age you tend to look both back and forward. I mean, I’m old, but I’m not that old, if you catch my drift.”
“….”
How you look back at things is what it’s all about at my age,” Mr. Ed says, “Does it make you feel good, or does it tear you up on the inside…. That kind of thing.”

Now it’s Jep’s turn to sit back and deliberate.
I once read an interview with a retiring shrink and his conclusion on the distinction between sanity and insanity at the end of his career was that between being able or unable to develop and utilize effective coping mechanisms,” Jep says.
“….”
Which comes down to the same thing,” Jep continues, “Something bad has happened, do you let it tear you apart or do you find some way to deal with it.”
It’s muscle and steel, son,” Mr. Ed says, and in a grinding voice he adds, “When you face an opponent: do you let yourself be intimidated or do you let him feel not to mess with you.”

Mr. Ed pours two drinks and it’s obvious that they have broken the ice between them. Jep still sees Mr. Ed as this shady guy, but they have established a certain understanding.
That’s exactly what is meant by that notion of the narrative identity,” Jep says, “Literally a story that enables you to live with your past.”
What was this one quote again?” Mr. Ed says, “Something about how we find ourselves at a loss in this vast, cold and unloving universe – and it’s ultimately us that invest it with a meaning and an essence and all that….”
It’s an almost-quote from some movie,” Jep says, “I don’t know the title, but for some reason it makes me think of that song I drink aloneby Thorogood.”
Even if you don’t go on a bender so much, it’s a damn good song.”

---



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Friday, February 8, 2019

MR. ED CHRONICLES - talk two with Bradley

The talk with Michelle had stayed on Mr. Ed’s mind: not the talk itself, but what had happened below the surface. There they were, both of the same cloth and conviction, separated by more than a few years, but basically of the same mind. Mr. Ed went at great lengths securing the position of Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza, this girl might go the same length righting a wrong by carrying out revenge, possibly with similar means and a similar outcome. It takes one to know one– how did she know, or did she guess?
What Mr. Ed didn’t get was why they were at each others throat: there was the possibility of ratting on each other. The problem was that that one seemed too obvious. Mr. Ed figured that it was something else. For one, they weren’t stepping on each others turf, they weren’t in the same line of business and in all likelihood there was no necessity for their paths to ever cross again. Or was it simply a natural response to meeting a person that’s so much alike us that it’s unsettling, to the point of it being almost intimidating. 
Mr. Ed wasn’t sure whether she would return any time soon. It would be a while though, Mr. Ed figured that much.


1

The wicked voice that had entered Bradley’s mind had come to stay. Luckily he had only heard it on a couple of occasions. The first was that therapy session with that strange guy Mr. Ed. The second was when he was with friends late one night around a camp-fire and they were telling each other scary stories. When he was almost finished with his story, the voice had entered his mind and it had told him:don’t taunt destiny, boy.
At first he thought that it was one of his friends that was playing silly, but when they saw the scare on his face and asked him “What’s up, man?”, he realized that they hadn’t heard what he had heard just now. 

There was a girl by the name of Cassie that was into him, and she was there sitting next to him at that time. 
What happened there?” Cassie asked later on, when they were alone. 
I can’t exactly tell you,” Bradley said, thinking on his feet, “I felt a flashback of what happened all those years ago, but as soon as it came, the memory of it was gone….”
For real?”
O yes,” he said, and he thought: I’m a goner if I talk.

*

The third time was in English class when they discussed the link between historic facts, folklore and fiction. “Why do we even bother with stories?” the teacher had asked and what Bradley’s class came up with didn’t move much beyond this notion that it helps us to understand the world around us, our condition and how to deal with life at large. 
Anyone else has anything to say?” the teacher had asked, “An original thought maybe….”
Something only exists as long as stories are being told,” Bradley said, and the voice had entered: you better believe it, fucker.
Cassie had given him an admiring glance and he managed to wink at her.

The teacher said something like “Huh,” and continued with the next point on the list. The class was big, which meant that discussions were usually a bit stunted.


2

Bradley didn’t discuss any of the voice or therapy with his friends. They knew about the therapy, but it was kind of a non-topic, since it was mostly something that was considered for weak-spirited rich kids. The general notion in Martossa was more like: don’t complain, just pull through. 
They noticed that something was off though, but the guys didn’t think that much of it. In a way they had that kind of unspoken understanding that Mr. Ed had shared with Bradley: they all had their troubles. 

The only person that he sometimes talked with in more details was Cassie.
So what do you usually talk about with that shrink?” Cassie asked flat-out one time after class when they walked down the school premises.
Stuff, I guess,” he had said, and it had been after that first session with Mr. Ed when the voice had first entered, and he was thinking: if you only knew.

What exactly happened to you when you were nine?” Cassie had asked, “My mom will only tell me that it was one of the worst things that ever happened to anyone in Martossa.”
If I could remember I would tell you,” Bradley had said.
What do you mean?”
I know every little detail about my whole life,” he had said, “Except for what happened that day and the months after.”

So that’s what you talk about with your shrink?”
Kind of,” he had said, “She told me that my brain must have shut it out.”
To keep you from losing your mind,” Cassie had said, and she realized that she was still grasping at straws, “But apart from that….”
Everything is dandy,” he had said, and he had this need to open up to her, and he also realized that he needed to do this to keep her close, “The reason I started going is that I started getting nightmares.”
“….”
Not literally about what happened,” he had said, “It’s more allegorical, and it keeps me back.”
What kind of nightmares?”
You don’t want to know….” he had said, “It’s really scary stuff…. Maybe I should tell you some other time….”


3

In Martossa there usually wasn’t that much going on, so Bradley and his friends had to make their own fun. The town was small and they usually navigated it on their bikes. They had their hangouts where they would go: they had a spot for fishing (they did this once in a blue moon though), a spot to chill out in the shade in the afternoons (the old car junk yard), when the sun was about to come down they hung around the board walk, checking out girls.
On rare occasions or when competitions were running they would round up some guys to play ball. If they had enough guys they sometimes played baseball, if not they resorted to basketball and if it was four or less they played tennis. Being in the tropics, the weather was usually good and even if it was bad it was mostly a good deal of rain.

Then there was school, the third wheel. It was usually a bore and Bradley and the gang had always sailed through without too much effort. They would need the paper though to be able to move on and out of Martossa at some point in time.

*

These last few weeks Bradley spend more time than usual holed up in his room. It wasn’t so much the fear of the fear, but he wanted to find an angle to deal with his mental state. His therapist hadn’t said it in so many words, but what he had found out on his own was that a person that starts hallucinating without hallucinogens is usually diagnosed as having schizophrenia. 
Bradley had found a few videos of schizophrenics online and they were reallyout there: they were so far gone that they were either the stereotype of a crazy person, or they were so mellow that it seemed as if they were in a constant cold sweat because of smoking too much weed. 
The thing was just that this wicked voice that had entered his mind on those three occasions was so vicious and so wicked that he simply couldn’t imagine that it was produced by his own mind. Bradley was smart enough to realize that he might also be in denial, and that denial is very hard to self-diagnose. The other thing that kept him from loosing it was the fact that the onset of the voice wasn’t how it usually went for schizophrenics. 
The real schizos usually start off with some sort of meltdown that causes them to become completely dysfunctional in their daily life. They are then highly medicated, which usually leaves them a little off. With Bradley, it had come on slow, and even though the voice had been terrifying, he hadn’t had a complete meltdown and he could still function. 
Then there was one other thing that made him believe that it wasn’t just him. After the first voice a story had appeared on social media, describing a monster that’s so vicious that it can literally read a person’s fears and prey on those. For the fears to become readable, the monster enters the persons mind to juggle their emotions. In this story the voice was described as commenting on daily events, in an evil, conniving way and the sick joy that the monster felt because of that had filtered through. 

The story went viral and people wanted to know who wrote it: it sounded either like a brilliant fabrication or the work of a seriously disturbed mind. It was send from an empty account: made just to post this story anonymously on the group page. A tech savvy kid from the first form was able to identify the ip-address of the computer from which it was send: one of the 50 computers in the school library. 
With hundreds of kids circling the library daily, and the story being posted over two weeks ago, it was close to impossible to trace back to who send it out. 

There was one last resort and it would be fire proof: they had heard of special software that can create a writer’s thumbprint based on his or her writing. The thing was just that the piece was too short to establish the thumbprint with more than 70 percent accuracy. Unless another piece was published, one that was much longer, this one wasn’t much help either.


4

Bradley’s dad, Ian, knew that his son was going through some stuff, but he didn’t know much beyond the nightmares and therapy. In his opinion, holing up was one thing, since according to him a man needs his solitude from time to time, but a man may need it more than a young boy of 16. 
When I have some stuff to work through, I usually go do some sport,” Ian had said, “When I went through a rough stretch in my late twenties I can’t remember how much time I spend on the racket ball court, but I do remember that it was at that time that I perfected my back hand. I could place the ball exactly where I wanted and even give it the perfect spin.”

*

Bradley took his dad’s advise and ended up spending four days a week on the tennis court. Usually it was just him and his friend Brandon, on some days the other guys also showed up and they played doubles.
One day Cassie had showed up as well. The game had been slow, but when they were done, Brandon bumped him on the shoulder and said, “Walk her home, dude.” 
Bradley looked over at Cassie and she glanced back at him, “Yeah, I should do that.”

They kind of took it from there, but it bugged her that Bradley didn’t want to tell more about what was really going on in his mind. She wanted more, but he wasn’t giving it. 


5

Bradley didn’t go to therapy for a few weeks after that time with Mr. Ed. He didn’t much like the prospect of Mr. Ed doing more digging, but he also wasn’t sure how to talk to his regular therapist. He feared that she would put him on heavy medication if she found out what had happened and he would become one of those drooling zombies. 
After five weeks the need to talk things through became stronger than the fear and he went ahead and booked another appointment. 

You can go in,” the lady at the desk said five minutes early.
Bradley nodded and walked down the hall. The door was open, and inside wasn’t his therapist, but there he was again: Mr. Ed.
I see,” Bradley says. 
What do you see?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I expected to see Ms. West.”
Not here.”

For a moment Bradley thought about turning around, but then he didn’t for reasons that he didn’t understand himself.
Take a seat,” Mr. Ed says.

Bradley did so, reluctantly.
How were the last few weeks?” Mr. Ed asks. 
I’m not sure.”
I see,” Mr. Ed says, “And do you remember what we discussed the last time you were here?”
We made a deal.”

Always make a deal,” Mr. Ed says.
Play ball if you can.”
What else?”
You told me something about your story, how you worked two jobs and that you build something for yourself.”
Flesh and bones,” Mr. Ed says.
“….”
Everyone has a story and it makes us, us. The story that you remember and that you decide to live with needs to be something that you can feel good about. I remember that you went through something really bad – which we didn’t discuss – but the point I must have made before is this: how you look back at it is the difference between that story building you up or breaking you down. Are you with me so far?”

Bradley nods, “What if it’s something that you can’t remember?”
You mean you feel bad, but you don’t know why?”
Kind of.”
From a pure rational perspective it doesn’t make sense to fear what you don’t know,” Mr. Ed says, “But that doesn’t help you.”

For a moment Mr. Ed thinks this one over. 
You mean that it’s like an eerie feeling?” Mr. Ed asks, “And it’s not anxiety?”
My therapist told me that anxiety is aimed at the future,” Bradley says, “This feeling is about something that happened long ago, but it’s also something that’s going to happen again….”
I see,” Mr. Ed says, thinking it over, “Then it’s something that’s always there, like the hum in a plane.”

Bradley remains quiet.
Then you may need to do something to take your mind off of things,” Mr. Ed says, “In my twenties I read a book about how some prisoners kept their shit together while in concentration camps in ww 2. They focused their attention on music – playing music. By doing so they weren’t thinking about their execution, but they also pushed it away – some of them played for groups of nazis that enjoyed their music so much, that they were systematically kept from being executed. There’s a link here, I mean, you’re obviously not in one of those camps, but the most extreme that I can think of in your case is that you would loose your mind. By focusing your attention on something else you can kind of push it away until it’s no longer a threat. When the nazis were finally defeated, these prisoners were released for good, although they had been scarred for live.”
I can imagine,” Bradley says, thinking it over, “My dad advised me to spend more time on sports.”
Sport, music, literature, writing, wood work; all of those will keep you constantly challenged,” Mr. Ed says, “If I remember it correctly all those are a part of what’s called The life of the mind.”
“….”
It’s part of a triad: dignity, care and life of the mind,” Mr. Ed says, “These are like the basic needs that are required in our surroundings that will let us prosper – according to the guy that drew up that theory. Dignity is being dignified, care is being cared for and being able to care for others and the life of the mind is what I just told you about.”

Mr. Ed leans back and gives it some more thought. 
You seem like a smart kid,” Mr. Ed says, “So that’s why I told you this story: if you were as dumb as a turnip, you wouldn’t comprehend and it would only make you feel stupid. If you can utilize these kind of ideas, you can bent them a long way and become very successful in what you’re after.”
Muscle and steel,” Bradley says, joking and this time the joke cracks. 
That’s right, kiddo,” Mr. Ed says, while making a gun with his hand and winking with one eye.

That session the voice hadn’t returned.


6

Later that week Bradley took Cassie fishing. She was all girly when they caught a fish and she refused to handle it when it came out of the water. He relayed the story that Mr. Ed had told him. She thought:he’s letting me in.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

MR. ED CHRONICLES - a talk with Michelle

Over the years Mr. Ed had become blind-sighted by the cold methodology that he utilized in getting what he wanted. It was at that level that Mr. Ed had always been at his best and maybe because of that he had managed to get away with a lot of things. Manipulating people here and there was simply to make sure that there wasn’t any competition to speak of. If the manipulation didn’t work, or when it took too long, there was always intimidation and violence. 
The strategy worked: over the last decade Mr. Ed’s frozen pizza had positioned itself as one of the best frozen pizza’s out there ‘when too busy to cook, but still wanting a decent meal’. Mr Ed’s pizza was good, but it wasn’t exceptional, since any person with a two bit oven can bake a pizza, but what set Mr. Ed’s apart was that he was on top of the food chain. 
Mr. Ed’sexile in Martossa was an attemptto reconcile with a more peaceful past, but instead it had awoken old memories and old urges. The only thing that kept him in check was the fact that Martossa was a small town where he might get caught more easily.


1

Mr. Ed was early in the VR, which gave him some time to look around. He had selected the location based on the description ‘Luxury log estate’. First he walked over to the window, like Phyllis had done. Outside there was a forest and mountains in the distance. It all seemed very real. He went out of the study and into the large living room, through the back door and into the yard. He then realized that the VR had one very big flaw: it didn’t have the sense of smell. The house smelled just like his hotel room, as well as the forest. Other than that it was as real as ever: the sounds, there were birds in the distance and there was a definite cold draft. 
Mr. Ed walked around the house and unlike what he had expected it wasn’t at the end of some dirt road, but it was at the end of a paved road and the neighbors house was within sight. 
Are you Mr. Ed?” he hears a girl’s voice coming from behind of him.

Mr. Ed turns around and sees her coming down the stairs and joins him on the driveway. 
I am,” Mr. Ed says, “I was early and went out to explore the place.”
Quite real, huh?”
It is,” Mr. Ed says, “I can only think of one thing that’s missing.”
The sense of smell.”

How did you know?”
It’s a well known flaw of VR,” Michelle says, “It’s hard to mix smells like pixels orink. It just doesn’t work like that.”
How does it work?”
I couldn’t tell you,” Michelle says, “If you asked me what VR means in our current cultural context, then I could be of help.” 

Mr. Ed sizes her up. 
I’m a student of anthropology.”

She has a small wiry stature and Mr. Ed wouldn’t have expected her to study something like that: anthropology is all about what happens below the surface. At heart this takes a certain kind of cunning and an instinctive insight into the vices of human nature. The girl just doesn’t seem to be the type.

Shall we go inside?” Mr. Ed says.

*

Mr. Ed leans back and studies Michelle. There’s something about this girl that he didn’t see at first. She triggered something on an instinctive level, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it why. 
What can I do for you?”
Well,” Michelle says, “Maybe this is odd to begin with, but I have always found it difficult to just open up like that.”
It’s nod odd,” Mr. Ed says, “Not odd at all.”

Good.”
You’re a private person?”
Kind of,” Michelle says, “I usually prefer to be by myself.”

Mr. Ed thinks: there’s more below the surface.
What’s new in anthropology?”
Not so much, to be honest,” Michelle says, “Most cultures are organized around the same social structures that have been in use for hundreds ormaybe thousands of years. They are all based on some of our basic psychological needs: safety, love, food. When it comes to our psychological needs in relation to social structures, then it has to do with our willingness to obey to higher powers, to authorities and for our lives to be – at least in the social aspect – to be kind of predictable.”
Then what’s so interesting about all that?” Mr. Ed asks, “If nothing has changed?”

Michelle thinks about that one for a moment.
Our times are stranger than they ever were,” Michelle says, then she’s looking for the right words, “We have build these highly advanced societies, but there’s still a lot of bad going on around us that we can’t seem to control.”
Poverty and sickness?”
Those are two,” Michelle says, “The extent to which we see that around us is inherent to the way in which a society and a culture is organized.”

Then where democracy fails might be more interesting….” Mr. Ed says, “Like populism and how that can slide into a dictatorial regimes.”
Absolutely, because if you study it, then it makes no sense why people keep falling for that,” she says, “The rhetoric is almostsimplistic: blaming the other guy and kicking up a lot of dust, butthat’s usually where it begins and ends. The distinction works on another level: blaming the other is short term and primal, but no populist that I know of has any long term solutions for societies’ problems besides despotism.”

It sounds kind of dystopian….”
It is and it does,” she says, “But what would be more dystopian is to just sit around and lament: the word needs to get out. People need understand how these systems work in order to recognize them.”
And to stand up to them.”
Not everyone is up to it,” Michelle says, “But if enough people are of the same mind.”
Then things will change,” Mr. Ed says, finishing her thought.

Michelle sits back and thinks things over.
There’s one thing though: it’s all in the nuance,” Michelle says, “Let me explain: studying cultures of the present and the past helps us understand our current times and predicaments. To be able to pick up on nuances in our times, you need to have an intricate and profound understanding of the subtleties of cultures in the present and the past.”
Then if I understand it correctly: it’s more about acquiring a skill set that can be used in what? Politics?”
Politics is one,” Michelle says, “Another would be academics, or writingfiction.”

Mr. Ed thinks it over.
What would be your game out of those three?”
I don’t know,” Michelle says, “I sure don’t want to spend my professional life in schools, so the academics is probably out. Which leaves politics and fiction.”
Talking about two sides of different coins….”
Exactly,” Michelle says, “I would like the raw games in politics. I wouldn’t mind being in the spotlights and taking on a good fight here and there. At the same time I wouldn’t mind the quiet and predictable life that comes with writing.”

What does your gut tell you?”
Politics can be more ideological,” Michelle says, “But so can writing.”
If you talk about reach there isn’t much of a difference,” Mr. Ed says, “Politics can influence a lot of people, but so can good fiction.”
The only real distinction is that politicians are quickly forgotten, but books that have stood the test of time…. They stick around a little longer.”
You think you would be up for the games in politics.”

Michelle looks intensely at Mr. Ed and she leans forward.
Politics is all about reading the other guy: what is he up to?” Michelle says, and then she turns her full attention on Mr. Ed, “What is your game, mister?”

Mr. Ed didn’t expect that one.
That’s a good one,” Mr. Ed says.
And I’m on to something,” Michelle says in a whisper, “If I were to put myself in the shoes of a politician and I would be in your office: that’s what I would think.”
Why?”
Just a hunch,” Michelle says, “And then there’s your profession: you’re assisting people uncover there problems. I would say that makes you very adapt at keeping something hidden.”
You’regood, that’s good,” Mr. Ed says, laughing, “You proved your point, lady.”

Michelle thinks: I wasn’t joking.
Mr. Ed thinks: I let my guard down, the bitch probed me.
We aren’t so different, you and I,” Mr. Ed says, angling for a response, “Wouldn’t you say?”
Interesting,” she says: this fucker has something up his sleeve: I know it!….“You may just have proved my point.”

Mr. Ed is starting to feel agitated: if this was a business meeting it would be his cue to get his assistants to hold the guy down. Mr. Ed would then get in the guys face:“Repeat that again.”Usually that was enough to let the average guy wise up. It had happened only a few times that Mr. Ed had needed to take it even a step further. 
Talk, intimidation, violence. That was the strategy.


2

Michelle was no guy and this was no business meeting. This was all for Mr. Ed to make amends. What if Lela send this lady to torment him?
Maybe we should start over,” Mr. Ed says.
Talk about my childhood?” Michelle says, “My deepest fear?”

Let’s start with the childhood,” Mr. Ed says, “Start with your first memory.”
I can do that.”
When you’re ready….”

We’re in the park,” Michelle says, “We’re playing a game and everyone is laughing.”
What kind of game?”
With one of those large plastic balls that kids play with in pools,” she says, “I’m playing throw and catch with my dad.”
Good times,” Mr. Ed states.

Well, not really,” Michelle sighs, and for a minute she dropsher guard, “My dad wasn’t around much and at some point he just left. He would come by like once a year until I was maybe 10/11. That last time I remember that my parents had a heated discussion in the kitchen and that was the last time he said ‘so long, pumpkin’.”

You never tried to find him?”
When I was like 15/16,” she says, realizing that she’s about to reveal something that had the potential of hurting her, but at the same time, she needed to get it off her chest, “The number that my mother had was disconnected. Then I called my grandparents and told them that I wanted the number of my father. They reluctantly gave it to me and when I called I understood why: he had a new wife (she answered the phone) and there were little kids playing in the back. Judging by the reluctancy of my grandparents I figured that he hadn’t told his new wife about me, so I just asked for Al. We talked, but it was coolly and he might not have had the liberty to talk freely at that time. I told him to contact me any time and that we still had the same number. It never happened and I never reached out either.”
I can see that it still moves you,” Mr. Ed says, “You feel abandoned.”

Michelle looks up with sad eyes. 
The sad thing is that my mom never remarried,” she says, “Until this day she’s all alone.”
Looking back, do you have any idea what they argued about that last time that you saw your dad?”
I guess it was the typical grownup stuff,” she says, “Some settlement or alimony.”

There’s not much of a silver lining here, huh?” Mr. Ed says, “Sometimes that’s just it: life is just cruel sometimes.”
Like a group of hyenas or tigers jumping a prey and tearing its flesh to pieces,” she says, with a certain dark undercurrent that Mr. Ed sees in her eyes, “It makes me kind of lenient toward those who want pay it back ten fold.”

Mr. Ed saw the shift from being hurt to revengeful and it revealed a glimpse of what’s behind the mask: Michelle is a predator and the thought crosses his mind: it takes one to know one.
How is an elephant or a zebra going to pull that off?” Mr. Ed asks, attempting to get her to reveal more.
I just want to protect the ones that I love….”
How far would you go?”

The fucker is prying.
It’s all a hypothetical,” she says, and she pulls herself back together, “Like most things in my life, like my studies, for sake of the argument my whole history might be a hypothetical.”

“….”
Like you said,” Michelle says, lowering her voice, “It takes one….”

Mr. Ed turns his head towards her.
I didn’t say that.” I thought that. 
“….”

Next week same time?”
It’s a date,” Michelle says, although she doesn’t get why she’s eager to accept on the spot. 

*

Later on she realizes that it’s a two-sided coin: Mr. Ed had let her talk and vent, which was part of any healing process, but the other part of why she accepted was because she wanted to find out more about this guy. She just couldn’t resist: there was some darkness lurking.

*

That night Michelle had an unsettling dream: she ran into Mr. Ed butchering a defenseless guy that was held on against the wall by two other guys. Step backhe hissed and he beat the guy to a pulp. 
Michelle was nailed to the ground. She wanted to yell and stop what was going on, but at the same time it thrilled her. When Mr. Ed was done, he walked in her direction and she didn’t feel fear, but a deep intense kind of excitement and then she woke up. The whole episode, or more precisely: the dream, it didn’t startle her, but instead it had turned her on more than anything else hadin a good long time.

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