Chapter 3: The Full-Grown Woman Next Door
Ada had not done much at work, but she was exhausted. Because her job duties at Dynamic Synergies really only included answering Summersteel’s phone, doing some light copying and collating, and sorting the Sales department’s mail, she found herself with copious amounts of free time, during which she could attend to personal business. This ‘personal business’ mainly consisted of retweeting significant tweets (such as the one from Congresswoman Heartslayer regarding abolishment of the death penalty, and the one from the actor, Miles Dreamfire, who was calling for the impeachment of President Deathlight), and contributing to fiery Facebook threads in any instance where she thought her insight might be of value (note: this was a vast majority of instances).
By the time she arrived home, she felt emotionally, intellectually, and physically spent, and was in no mood to put up with anyone’s shenanigans.
The main shenanigan-performing culprit was her brother Simon, who—in typical younger brother fashion—was seemingly hell-bent on goading his sister into committing fratricide. It was, of course, only because he admired her so much, and because he wished to be taken seriously as a fellow combatant in Ada’s ongoing battle for justice, that Simon aggravated her to such a degree. But, as with most 15-year-old boys, vulnerable expressions of honesty were hard to come by. Even when his bunny rabbit, Sniff Floppington, passed away, the extent of Simon’s emotional outpouring had consisted of a casual “it was just a rabbit,” followed by a nonchalant “I’m not gonna get all weepy about it,” followed by a detached “so when can I get another one?” It had been clear to everyone that Sniff’s unexpected departure (via UPS truck) was gutting Simon, but the boy had refused to let his humanity get the better of him. Despite his display of put-upon fortitude, however, those closest to him noticed that he rarely let his follow-up pet, Purr Clawhisser (a cat, in case it was unclear), out of his sight.
Simon loved his sister dearly, but since he was the only man of the house, he frequently felt a need to puff up his budding, hairless chest and make unwelcome and quickly dismissed exhibitions of masculine boorishness. This sort of behavior had never been fostered or encouraged at home, but enough of the outside world’s negative influences had seeped into the boy’s personality, and had succeeded in making him a bit of a pain-in-the-ass.
“Hey,” began Simon, chewing noisily on a wedge of beef jerky, a snack which he ingested as regularly as most of us consume air. “Your boyfriend called.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Ada said wearily, “so I can’t fathom who it is you’re referring to.”
“You know. The one you make out with all the time and dream about at night.”
On the surface, it never made sense for Ada to respond to her brother’s provocations with the words ‘your mom,’ because A) they had two mothers, B) being siblings, they had the same mothers, and C) Ada was not the type to resort to the use of such cliched and infantile aspersions, but she had long ago realized that this one in particular generally repulsed Simon enough to get him to leave her alone for at least a few minutes, and so it was one of the weapons most frequently discharged from her arsenal.
“Ew. You’re gross.”
“You’re gross,” Ada lowered herself to retort.
“Anyway, Toren called for you.”
With his message delivered, Simon vacated the room, still recovering from his sister’s scathingly acerbic witticism, in search of his cat.
After grabbing a hard pear cider from the fridge, Ada retired to the family room, where she deposited her body into the couch cushions, sighing loudly enough to be noticed. Her unsubtle entreaty for attention did not fly under the radar of Elise Glowthorne, one of Ada-and-Simon’s two mothers. Elise was sitting in her favorite armchair, working on one of her word searches, which she preferred to call her ‘Seek and Finds.’ She was making solid progress.
“You have a tough day at work?” Elise asked.
“The job’s easy enough,” said Ada. “But the people in this office. Yeesh.”
“Yeah. White collar zombies. Total Stepfords, right off the assembly line.”
“That’s a shame. So you don’t think you’re going to make any new friends there?”
“I don’t need any new friends. I’ve got Toren and Kira.”
“Simon’s my brother.”
“What, your brother can’t be your friend?” For the past year especially, Elise had been devoting enormous effort to the forced bonding of daughter and son. She figured they would probably grow out of their respective phases eventually, but she hated to see all the bickering and verbal sparring, behavior which was not befitting two young adults who were no longer very young. To her, Simon was perfect, and Ada was perfect, and two perfect people should be able to treat each other perfectly.
“Eh, he’s not so bad when he’s not being terrible,” Ada graciously conceded.
Elise took a short break from the conversation to circle the word MANATEE, and then reverted to an earlier subject.
“So probably no permanent position at this place?
“Not if I was penniless and desperate and being held at the business end of a sawed-off shotgun. That place is like the patriarchy’s day spa.”
Elise was perfectly happy to let her daughter make her own life decisions and forge her own journey, but the worried mother in her wished that Ada would find some occupation that she could settle into for more than two weeks at a time. It was not that she felt her daughter wasn’t living up to her potential, or that she was letting opportunities pass her by, or anything like that—Elise was merely concerned that, somewhere down the line, Ada might discover the need for a few bucks in the bank, a scenario which was not likely to transpire given her current trajectory. Ada placed little importance on an accumulation of wealth—that Elise well knew—but, in her view, it couldn’t hurt to have a modicum of financial security.
It had been Elise’s job to worry about Ada since the girl was eleven, and her brother was four. The children’s parents, Dennis and Bonnie Quarkhammer, had passed away tragically. The young couple had shown up, along with hundreds of other conscientious individuals, outside the Whitefork Cattle Ranch to protest the unethical treatment of the animals that (ephemerally) resided there. Before long, the protest had become an uproar, and the uproar had turned into a brawl, and the brawl had morphed into a riot, and Dennis and Bonnie were trampled underfoot of hundreds of fleeing protesters who were being threatened with branding irons, in an event eerily and ironically reminiscent of the Running of the Bulls.
Custody of the two Quarkhammer children had fallen to Elise, Dennis’ older sister. Together with her wife, Candyce, Elise had done her best to provide for the orphaned juveniles, and to raise them to become strong, independent, and respectfully disobedient adults. She had tried to teach them how to exist in the world their parents died wanting for them, or at least to fight for such a world.
Examples of her parenting included:
Letting Ada and Simon attend public school so that they could gain exposure to other kids their own age, and then, when they got home each day, un-and-reteaching practically everything they learned while they were there;
Encouraging them to stand up for anyone being bullied, even when the bullier was an authority figure, and even if it landed them in detention or worse;
Teaching them the ins and outs of every major world religion, and then tactfully suggesting that they be atheists;
Instructing them about the devastating power of microaggressions—how to recognize them, and how to avoid committing any themselves;
Elaborate lessons on sex and sexuality, much to Simon’s routine discomfort;
And, of course, crash courses on white privilege, hate speech, trigger warnings, rape culture, and institutional racism.
The family lived comfortably in a modest split-level in the suburb of Middling York, on the outskirts of Oceanspell. The Glowthornes had moved there—with the junior Quarkhammers in tow—shortly after the loss of Dennis and Bonnie. They felt the neighborhood was rural enough to expose the children to a sampling of middle America, yet access to Oceanspell was convenient enough that they could travel frequently into the city for a dash of art, culture, and gang violence.
Elise was more or less a housewife (a word that she was always struggling to pummel the negative connotation out of), although she did also have a popular line of raunchy baby bibs and onesies which she hand-crafted and then sold through Etsy. Her biggest sellers were ‘Being a Baby is the Tits,’ ‘Don’t Bother Me While I’m Suckling,’ ‘I’ve Got a Soft Spot For You,’ ‘I’m Teething—Bite Me,’ ‘I Haven’t Fit Into This Since the Third Trimester,’ and, of course, ‘Fuck This Shit,’ with the vulgar text embroidered on the back. The part-time work combined her three loves of babies, wordplay, and unchecked profanity, and it fit her like a snug, unisex bodysuit.
Candyce, on the other hand, commuted downtown every day. She was head curator at the National Museum of Interesting Artifacts, where her daily duties consisted of negotiating acquisitions, giving informative tours to select groups or high-profile individuals, and making sure that any new exhibits were sufficiently interesting. “This isn’t the National Museum of Uninteresting Artifacts,” she would admonish her support staff upon the inspection of any underwhelming display. It was difficult to argue with her point, as there was so much truth in it, and it generally served to up everyone’s game.
It was a genuine bummer for Candyce that she had missed out on so much of her children’s formative years, but she attempted to make up for her habitual absence when home by loving on Ada and Simon five times as hard as she might have otherwise, and acting five times as interested in anything they had to tell her. It was obvious to both of the kids what Candyce was doing, and why she was doing it, but they appreciated the effort she was putting in, and so tolerated the excessive bear-hugging and unwarranted-accolade-giving that she shoveled upon them.
Elise and Candyce had done a remarkable job with the children. Growing up, Ada and Simon were both excellent students (even if their grades didn’t always reflect this fact), and they had two of the most fully realized senses of self that two mothers could possibly hope for. The parents believed (with admitted bias) there was a better-than-fifty-percent chance that Ada and Simon were going to change the world for the better one day—maybe even save it. They just weren’t sure yet exactly how it was going to go down.
“Okay, well I’m gonna go to the garage to practice,” said Ada.
“All right, love. I’ve got an eggplant parmesan cooking, so don’t be long.”
The garage was Ada’s haven. It wasn’t that she needed sanctuary from her lovely family—it merely gave her a place to go (that wasn’t her small-ass bedroom) where she could meditate. Ruminate. Cogitate. And practice.
Hanging from the center rafter was a six-foot tall leather grappling dummy that had been dressed to look especially ridiculous. Wife-beater. Ripped jorts. Sideways-facing baseball cap. Puka shell necklace. This guy—affectionately named Brandon—was definitely a douchebag. While made of sturdy stuff, the wear and tear on Brandon was evident. His midsection and facial area were particularly banged up, and he was bursting at a few of his head seams. There was a small leak where an actual person’s left hand would ordinarily be, and short sprays of sand would issue forth from it whenever Brandon took a tough shot to the upper body. Other than that, he was hanging in there.
“Good evening, Brandon,” said Ada, eyeing her combatant suspiciously. “What brings you here? Hm. Wanted to see if I was home. Well, I’m home. Got your answer. Have a good day now.”
Ada paused, giving Brandon adequate time to vacate the premises, but the unflinching dummy remained stationary.
“Is there something else you need? My phone number? Oh, that’s cute. That’s really cute, Brandon. My number is 1-800-VAMOOSE. Read: I’d like you to leave now.”
Brandon seemed intent on forcing the issue.
“I’m giving you to the count of three to turn your white ass around and bolt. One. Two—”
Ada didn’t wait for three. She didn’t believe in ever waiting for three.
She began with a jumping scissors kick to the dummy’s gut, followed by two quick palm heel strikes to the face. Brandon was then subjected to a hopping roundhouse to the neck, a hook kick to the solar plexus, and finally two-to-three minutes of vicious free sparring. In addition to the traditional jujitsu moves that were applied, there were also several Ada originals at play, including a two-armed neck choke, a back fist sphincter strike, and a reverse twist punch/knee-to-crotch combination. Additionally, there were a couple of spits to the face, but it would be difficult to argue that this move had even the remotest affiliation with the martial arts.
She was so deeply engrossed in the task at hand that Ada didn’t even notice when Bernice Diamondblood, her next-door neighbor, appeared in the garage doorway and knocked tentatively on the siding.
Bernice, who was old enough to remember eating milk toast, chipped beef, rag soup, and lard sandwiches, was a frequent visitor to the Glowthorne-Quarkhammer residence. She had forcefully befriended the family on the day they moved into their home eleven years prior, by hobbling over to the moving truck and asking if her new neighbors needed any help, and then, when she was told thank you very much but they had it under control, helping Candyce to carry in the living room sofa. While it was true she had inserted herself, she quickly became a genuinely welcome addition to the family’s circle of friends, and the Glowthrone-Quarkhammers regularly beseeched her for advice, as Bernice was old and wise and more than eager to tell people what to do.
“What did he ever do to you?” Bernice asked, the verbal address finally waking Ada from her savage reverie.
“Oh—hi, Bernice. I didn’t see you.”
“You appear to have a lot of pent-up aggression, dear.”
“That’s why I beat the shit out of this dummy. So it isn’t pent-up.”
“Fair enough. Can I come in?”
Ada gestured for her neighbor to enter, then took a seat in a folding chair and toweled off. Bernice pulled up a folding chair of her own, and sat facing Ada.
“You must really hate men.”
“What? I don’t hate men. Some of my best friends are men.”
“I see. Then why so angry at poor Charlie over here?”
“His name’s Brandon, and he’s not every man. Just those who feel entitled, are misogynistic, and won’t take no for an answer.”
“Okay. So that’s what happens to any fella who crosses you.”
Both women glanced at Brandon, who had popped a thread in the posterior region, and looked to be shitting a thin stream of sand.
“More or less,” said Ada.
“The hate is good,” said Bernice. “You need the hate. Just be careful with it. Ideally, you want to hate without being hateful.”
“How’s that work?”
“I’m always up for a challenge.”
“All right. Well—tell me someone you hate at the moment.”
“Yes, someone besides Brandon.”
“Okay. I hate my new temporary boss. Guy by the name of Gary Summersteel.”
“And why do you hate him?”
“Because he’s a minion of the patriarchy. Calls me ‘darlin’.’ Thinks he should be able to tell women how to talk, how to act, how to dress. Has an Under Siege movie poster hanging on the wall in his office. Cuts his fingernails far too short. Interrupts. Listens to the Brad Paisley station on Pandora. And he just—has that look.”
“You know—that look.” Ada demonstrated the look.
“Oh, that look,” said Bernice. “I know it well.”
“Yeah, so he’s not my favorite. Plus there’s—something else. I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet, but it feels as if he’s mixed up in something slimy.”
“Hm, something slimy, eh? That doesn’t sound good.”
“Nope. But don’t worry—I intend to get to the bottom of it. Now, what did you mean about hating without being hateful?”
“All right, so you hate this man, yes? From what you’ve told me, he sounds deserving of animosity. But—you want to be careful to shield from him just how badly you’d like to kick him into next week.”
“Why? Because a woman’s supposed to be submissive and polite and not make any noise?”
“No. Because that’s not how you get ‘im.”
This unexpected response piqued Ada’s interest.
“You’ve piqued my interest. Go on.”
“Well, suppose this Summersteel fella is up to something vile. You want to find out what that something is, right?”
“The best way to do that is to worm your way into his confidence. He may not tell you everything, but if he’s got skeletons in his closet, a friendly rapport can only inch you closer to getting your hands on the key.”
“The key to his closet.”
“The one with the skeletons?”
“So—would that be a skeleton key?” Ada made the face she always made immediately after making a funny. Bernice didn’t get it, or didn’t appreciate it, and moved on.
“I suppose. So anyway, you need to treat this gentleman like he’s God’s gift to temporary employees. Really lay on the sugar. It will require some tongue-biting, to be sure—you might even draw blood—but I promise you it will pay dividends.”
“I don’t know. Deception isn’t my strong suit. Especially when it means not being able to get in any zingers.”
“Like the skeleton thing?”
“Right—so do what you can. I’m telling you—if you can somehow manage to treat this jerk like a bearable human being, you might just gain the information you need to really nail this fucker’s ass to the wall.”
Bernice’s concluding sentences were always on point.
Ada, grateful for her kindly neighbor’s sound guidance, thanked Bernice and then indicated that she should probably head back into the house for dinner. There was nothing she hated more than cold eggplant parmesan. Other than willful ignorance, shameless xenophobia, and male Congressmen legislating what women could do with their own bodies, of course. But cold eggplant parmesan was right up there.