Wrath of the Red-Eyed Wizard
by Kevin Maloney
Blake Griffin lunges like he’s cutting for the basket but at the last second changes his mind, pulls up and shoots from the perimeter. It goes in. Of course it does. I start to groan, then stop before anybody notices. I’m at a hipster bar on Alberta Street that projects Portland Trail Blazers games onto the wall. The place is packed with young people who don’t normally watch sports but fake excitement about the Blazers because they just moved here from L.A. and want to fit in. I’m 39, from Portland, and love sports, but pretend I’m none of those things. So far it seems to be working.
There’s a girl at the next table who looks like what a blowup doll would look like if a blowup doll went to a Ramones concert. She turns around and looks at me. Instead of making a disgusted face, she just turns back to the game. That is a big deal for me. What will we name our children? If she insists on Thor or Raven, I’m okay with that. YOLO, right? But then Chris Paul, that ratdick genius, does a crossover and breaks Damian Lillard’s ankles, and I yell, “Fuck you, Chris Paul, you ratdick genius!” Everybody in the bar turns around. I’m 39 and know the players’ names. I don’t belong here. Blowup Doll leans over and puts her tongue in her boyfriend’s mouth, and I get up to pay my bill.
As I make my way to the bar, I bump into six or seven women I would marry on the spot without knowing a single thing about them. I don’t care if they’re bipolar or say mean spirited things about my personality when I forget to clean the litter box. I’m willing to accept all personality quirks for a lifetime of physical love. They all have the same haircut, the same American Apparel tank top. They haven’t learned to think for themselves. Do you remember being a child, not knowing your phone number, asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and somebody makes you one? I want to be their sadness and their experience. Mostly I want the heroin of their shaved beaver, a minute lost in the nadir of their skinniness, and then I want to disappear and be dead forever.
When I get home, I run a bath. It’s piping hot, covers my feet, my bluish ankles, crests my penis and pubic hair and touches my droop of belly fat. Most of my life I was skinny, but now I have this ghost white meatloaf hanging down over my pecker. There’s a half-empty can of India Pale Ale next to the Head & Shoulders. I love beer. I drink one and then I want another. I don’t care if I ever have sex with one of those cow-eyed hipsters down at the bar. What would I say to her after? I’d crush her telling my life story.
The last time I had sex was with an old girlfriend from college. We made love clumsily, like fat old people. I went down on her, and partway through she stopped me and asked me to do it a different way. I didn’t mind, but she didn’t smell like anything, and afterwards she didn’t cling to me like if she let go she’d fall forever.
I decide to text her, ask her to take a picture of her beaver and send it to me. I wait. The text comes back, “Okay, but I’m at a movie with my sister. I’ll send one later.”
My God, the trembling. I crack a beer and watch NBA highlights and check my phone every 45 seconds. It gets late.
I send a follow-up text: still waiting J. I send another at 2 a.m. that says: ???? She never sends the beaver photo.
The next night I’m feeling depressed and suicidal, so I go to Kiki’s Tavern. Kiki’s is disgusting, but it’s the only place I never feel judged. Most of the patrons are alcoholics. They have the same fashion sense as their hipster brethren, but none of the self-control. If you accidentally piss yourself at the bar, the guy sitting next to you says, “That’s nothing. Two nights ago I shit myself on that stool.” If you confess that you’ve never heard of the tUnE-yArDs, some girl with a septum ring makes you feel better by confessing that she’s never learned to read. We’re all broken on some fundamental level, and so we drink, which establishes a brotherhood between us—a false and destructive brotherhood, but a brotherhood nonetheless.
Tonight, everybody’s on their cell phones checking the social media accounts of people who don’t spend their Wednesday nights in dimly lit caves of loneliness. I see tiny images of backpackers in Central America, vegetarians planting herb gardens, radiant newlyweds standing in front of recently purchased houses. Who are these healthy people out there making their dreams come true?
I don’t want to look out of place, so I pull out my iPhone and check my Facebook feed. There are 27 new notifications, messages from coworkers and people I went to high school with wishing me a happy birthday. I ask the bartender for a pen and a cocktail napkin and do some math. Facebook’s right. It’s February 26th. I’m 40 years old, halfway to death.
“Hey guess what, Megan?” I say to the bartender. “I just remembered it’s my birthday!”
“No shit,” she says.
As a present, she pours me a glass of wildly expensive scotch, then gives me the rest of the bottle to take home. From what I’ve gathered, Megan has some kind of beef with the owner. Even when it isn’t your birthday, she fills your glass right to the rim, and when you order Old Crow, she pours you Maker’s. Some nights, when she’s feeling particularly spiteful, she takes cash out of the register and uses it as cocktail napkins.
The other patrons start to fall asleep on their stools, which gives Megan and I a chance to talk. Mostly about her boyfriend, Derrick. He’s the bassist for a band called The Methamphetamine Saints. A few nights ago, they played The Tonight Show. Next month they’re going on tour with Modest Mouse. Derrick has long black hair, a lip ring, and, according to Megan, a gigantic penis shaped like a psychedelic mushroom.
I congratulate her on shacking up with such a talented, well-endowed boyfriend, but she just rolls her eyes.
“Do you know what a groupie is?” she asks. “They have boob jobs and tiny vaginas. I have saggy tits and a regular vagina.”
I say, “I’m sure your vagina is fine.”
She shakes her head. “It’s just okay.”
We talk for a while longer, mostly lies about my desk job, which I pretend is way more interesting than it really is. At one point my client list includes Wes Anderson, Tina Fey, and Björk. I lose track of how much I’m drinking. After a while, I notice that my birthday present is empty and that I have a complete lack of inhibition.
“Hey, Megan,” I say, “Ihs ma berfday. What der—fink?”
She doesn’t understand.
I try again, this time summoning all the words in my vocabulary to explain to this out-of-my-league pixie that it’s my 40th birthday, and would she be interested in cheating on her cheating boyfriend by having sex with an assistant account manager with a regular-sized penis shaped like a Gonzo nose?
She says no, but we start making out. Her mouth tastes like she hasn’t bushed her teeth in a few days, but then again neither have I. Eventually the bar begins filling up with customers, and Megan forgets all about me. She gives away free kisses with every shot, and I stumble into the miserable night.
I know what I should do: take a cab back to my place and cry myself to sleep, contemplate the long string of failures that constitute my four decades on Planet Earth. But I’m feeling celebratory and desperate, and when I notice the tattoo parlor next to the bar, I start banging on the door, begging to be let inside.
When I wake up the next morning my stomach hurts. It feels like I tried to dig the lint out of my belly button with a broken beer bottle.
I go to the bathroom mirror and pull up my shirt. They say the decisions you make in the seedy depths of an alcohol binge take a lifetime to recover from. That isn’t my case at all. The tattoo on my stomach is amazing. It’s a wizard with red-rimmed eyes who looks like he spent the entire morning smoking reefer. I imagine a man who lost hope a long time ago directing lightning bolts at a world he doesn’t care for anymore.
I’m still drunk, so I take the bus to work. For a while nobody bothers me, but then Patty, the receptionist, pops her head into my office and says it’s time for our weekly staff meeting.
We file into the conference room and take turns reading our to-do lists. As each employee rattles off the projects they’re working on, I secretly kill them one by one in my mind. “Going to be a hectic week,” they say. “Got a lot on my plate,” etc. ZOINK! Gandalf slays you with a laser beam. Shut up about your stupid plate. Nobody cares.
Afterwards we go back to our desks to play Candy Crush Saga in secret browser windows. I’m getting pretty good. Not as good as Janet Schmidgall, that rotten lady from accounting, but respectable. Here’s the secret to Candy Crush Saga: clear the jellies at the edge. They’re so fucking hard to get rid of if you don’t get on that shit right away. Gandalf, clear the jellies!
There’s a knock on my door. It’s the intern, Abby. Christ on the cross, she’s pretty. Not just hottest-girl-in-the-office pretty, but like kill-your-pregnant-wife-and-run-away-to-Mexico-with-that-doe-eyed-nymph pretty. Every time I see her, I imagine a baby deer falling out of its mother’s vagina, standing up all wobbly-legged like Bambi, those big dumb eyes looking at the world like it’s a brand new thing. I want to get down on my knees and wrap my arms around her and smell the deer vagina on her skin, the warmth of the creator’s womb like a halo radiating from her existence.
Her mouth is moving and she’s saying words, but I can’t hear a thing she says because her lips are so shiny and perfect.
“Would you mind repeating everything you just said?” I ask.
Instead of telling me to fuck off, she repeats herself. She doesn’t even seem mad. Are you kidding me? I want Abby to be my wife. Thinking about it, imagining actually having sex with this 19-year-old in various positions—missionary, from behind, in a Jacuzzi, etc.—I start crying.
“Are you okay?” asks Abby.
“Yes,” I say. “But I need some time to myself. I appreciate your input.”
She leaves my office, and I close the door behind her and punch myself repeatedly in the face and accidentally break my nose.
Shit. I just broke my nose. There’s a lot of blood. I take off my shirt and hold it against my nose, but now I’m topless and covered in blood, which I’m pretty sure is against our company’s sexual harassment policy.
There’s a knock at the door.
“Go away!” I yell.
The door opens. It’s Janet, the rotten lady from accounting. She never listens to me. Why don’t you ever listen to me, Janet?
She starts asking about some report I was supposed to send to Adam Ridge from M&R last week, the one I didn’t send because I was playing Candy Crush Saga. She goes on for a long time before she looks up from her yellow legal notepad.
“Oh my,” she says.
“I broke my nose,” I explain.
“That isn’t good.”
She tells me to lie down. I obey her because even though she’s rotten, she kind of reminds me of somebody’s mom.
From the floor, my office looks totally different. I’ve been working in this office for ten years and I had no idea. The ceiling tiles are spackled for a popcorn/textured effect. They remind me of birch trees. It’s sort of pretty, actually.
Janet comes back with an icepack. She puts it on my face, which hurts so bad I black out a little.
“You poor thing,” she says. She smiles. It’s the first time I’ve seen Janet not scowl. I try to imagine her coming out of a deer’s vagina, standing up for the first time on wobbly legs, but it doesn’t work. It’s easier to imagine her coming out of a rhinoceros or a grizzly bear.
The back of my throat is filling up with blood. I feel it hardening, turning into a clot about the size of an egg yolk. It tastes like metal, like when I had to wear a dental retainer with a stainless-steel wire running across the front.
“Hey Janet,” I say. “Did you ever have a retainer?”
“A retainer. Like after you get your braces taken off, they give you a retainer with a pink part contoured to the roof of your mouth.”
“Oh yeah,” says Janet. “I had one of those.”
“Remember how it would come loose sometimes and you’d press it back up with your tongue and it fit perfectly up there?”
“Oh yeah. I loved that feeling.”
Janet understands. Are you my one true love, Janet, trapped inside the body of a rotten accountant in a skirt suit?
“Hey, what’s that?” asks Janet, pointing at my stomach. “Is that a tattoo?”
Gandalf, I think. You’ve been summoned. Practice your dark magic.
I wait for Janet’s head to explode, or possibly for her to turn into a pretty young intern, even prettier than Abby. Instead, Janet touches my stomach. She touches Gandalf. I’m almost certain that’s an infraction of our company’s sexual harassment policy. I asked so many questions at the sexual harassment seminar, afraid that pretty much everything I do at work, i.e. walking around in love with all the women under 35, imagining them naked, looking at porn on the internet, etc., is sexual harassment, but I didn’t even think to ask about touching naked bellies.
For the first time in our ten years working together I look at Janet. How old is she? I always thought mid to late-70s, but now, looking at her up close, I realize she’s about my age. She has gray hair and wrinkles next to her eyes and a fold of skin under her chin that reminds me of the meatloaf hanging down over my pecker.
“You know, you’re kind of good looking, Janet,” I say.
She gives me a mistrustful look. “I think your nose got jammed up into your brain.”
“No,” I say. “You’re pretty.”
The rotten look on Janet’s face melts away, replaced by something I don’t recognize at first, but which later I will identify as animalistic lust. In an impressive display of gymnastics, she kicks my office door shut with a high heel, unbuckles my pants, hikes up her Nordstrom skirt, and puts me inside of her.
This is definitely a huge infraction of our company’s sexual harassment policy. I’m okay with that. Janet is more than okay. Look at her go. Wow. Who knew? Janet. No wonder she’s so good at Candy Crush Saga. That woman really does a thing when she puts her mind to it. Holy Moses. How are people not hearing us? Janet is making some kind of shrieking sound. Like an eagle, or when a car needs a new timing belt.
Something is happening to Janet. There are broken capillaries in her cheeks, red trees. It should make her ugly, but it doesn’t. Maybe I’m biased because my penis is inside of her, but I think it makes her radiant. Janet, you witch, have you been hiding beauty from me all these years?
Janet has two or three orgasms and I come inside of her vagina, and she flops onto her back and starts giggling.
“Who saw that coming?” she asks.
“Not me,” I say.
“Whoa,” she says. “The ceiling of your office looks like birch trees.”
“I know, right?”
She holds my hand and squeezes it. I squeeze back. We go back and forth for a while like we are inventing a new language.
Eventually I revert to English. “Can I take a picture of your beaver with my iPhone?”
“Why don’t you just look at it?” she says. “It’s right there.”
“I might want to look at it later,” I explain. “When I get home.”
She hikes up her skirt, opens her legs, and I take a few pictures.
“Let me see,” she says.
We scroll through the photos together and add different lighting effects. My favorite is the one where we turn up the exposure so high that it looks like her beaver is God sitting on a chair with infinity radiating from His Perfect Mind.
“I like this one,” I say.
“Me too,” says Janet. “That’s the best.”
“Teach me how to beat you at Candy Crush Saga,” I say.
“No way,” she says.
She stands up, straightens her skirt, and walks out of my office. I’ve never felt so good in my life even though I keep choking on my own blood. It’s because I’ve discovered something: middle-aged women are incredible at sex. The world is full of them. It’s like finding out that topsoil can get you as high as cocaine. I start laughing, and a geyser of blood shoots out of my nose. The world is so beautiful I can barely stand it.
Kevin Maloney is the author of Cult of Loretta (Lazy Fascist Press, 2015). His stories have appeared in Hobart, Barrelhouse, The Literary Review, and a number of other journals and anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.