FORTY-TWO REASONS YOUR GIRLFRIEND WORKS FOR THE FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, S.H.I.E.L.D., FRINGE DIVISION, MEN IN BLACK, OR CYLON OVERLORDS
FORTY-TWO REASONS YOUR GIRLFRIEND WORKS FOR THE FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, S.H.I.E.L.D., FRINGE DIVISION, MEN IN BLACK, OR CYLON OVERLORDS
Inkslinger Award Winner
Haris A. Durrani
Issue No. 10 – December 2015
Listen carefully. I got forty-two reasons your girlfriend works for the FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords, so drop this tapped line, find the nearest payphone, and take notes.
Reason Number One
She won’t call you Jihad.
No matter how many times you tell her, she can’t get it around her head that it doesn’t mean you’re going to strap dynamite to your balls, walk into Penn Station, and blow yourself so bad your head pops off your shoulders.
Truth is she doesn’t actually believe that bullshit, but the name does bother her. So she calls you Joe.
You don’t complain because everyone calls you Joe, including you. You don’t want to admit you’re experiencing a Black Skin/White Mask cultural inferiority complex, so you assume you’re also a spy sent to rat on your own self. You don’t know all the details yet. You’re like a character in a Philip K. Dick novel. You have no idea which you is the real you. You’re waiting for someone from the Impossible Mission Force to arrive with a secret task delivered in a knickknack that’ll self-destruct in five four three two one—BAM!—because, deep down, you really want to rock hot shades and ride fast cars and scale Burj Khalifas like Tom Cruise.
Jihad means struggle, but you’ve forgotten that.
Reason Number Two
She likes you.
For most people this is a good thing. For someone like you, it’s too good to be true. She’s out of your league. You suspect she’s dating you because you’re three birds and one stone. Three more notches on her belt. You’re her first Pakistani, her first Dominican, and her first Muslim boyfriend wrapped in one. You know that.
You know you’re her exotic boytoy.
Even that’s too good to be true. Before her, you hardly knew how to talk to a girl. You hardly knew how to look at a girl. And suddenly in comes Glory Drayer with her freckles and her short-short jeans. She’s crazy about you. Once you hadn’t seen each other for twenty-four hours, and when she caught sight of you from across the school corridor, she ran through the crowd and jumped you like Scooby-Doo.
Too good to be true. You’re a nerd, not a player.
The exotic boytoy thing must be an idea she planted in your head. You know the truth. She’s here to keep tabs on you, make sure you don’t sneak anthrax to school or plot a revolution or pray too many times a day.
The other girls in your Calculus class hit on you too. You suspect they’re all in cahoots. Maybe competing agencies. Departmental rivalry is the bane of American national security. You know that for sure.
Reason Number Three
After you make out on your first date, she puts her ear against your chest and listens. “You’re going wild,” she murmurs. You blush. She grins and says, “You’re gonna get in a whole lot of trouble with me.”
Bad girls don’t exist. There are only girls pretending to be bad girls. These girls pretending to be bad girls are usually secret agents. QED.
Reason Number Four
She builds an army of paper robots.
It’s taken three months for her to get this far with you because you’re not very good at identifying that social convention called flirting. Now that you know she’s an agent, you realize why she made those origami animals for you in Calculus. You fear they are tiny paper Transformers that will come alive and slit your throat in your sleep. They sit there, red and pink, like a collection of evil dolls from something out of Stephen King.
Foolishly, you keep them by your nightstand.
Reason Number Five
She thinks you’re paranoid.
It’s a smart move, getting you to question the depth of your insanity.
You’re not actually insane. She’s in your head. You need to shut her out.
Reason Number Six
She asks why you believe in God.
It’s an old informant’s trick. Goad people to say crazy shit.
You think about it for a while and you don’t really have an answer, not then, so you tell her something about the Qur’an being historical, that it’s lessons from history, history repeating itself.
“But do you believe it?” she repeats.
You’ll realize, later, that you can’t rationalize the conviction of your faith. At this point in time, you don’t have much conviction because you don’t know right from wrong. This is because you’re dating Glory. She’s good at her job.
Reason Number Seven
She tells you she’s okay not having sex.
This is bullshit. Of course she isn’t. Or she wouldn’t be, if she were for real.
After she helps you remove her bra for the first time—yes, she actually helps you—you tell her you don’t know how far this is going, but you’re not comfortable going all the way. She asks you if it’s a personal or religious decision, and you tell her it’s both. She says something about planning to lose her virginity the summer before college, which is now, but she’s cool with your request. She smiles and squeezes your hand. You want to tell her you love her.
You’ve got no idea she’s playing you, do you?
Reason Number Eight
You realize she’s been pursuing you since seventh grade.
About a month and a half into the relationship, you recall her Save the Tigers project in middle school. You forgot you were in the same class. You remember her years later, asking you questions about your stories in sophomore English Honors.
This is when you truly come to terms with that word. Surveillance. It freaks you out and you spend a day locked in your room. She bikes to your place, tackles you, and drowns you with kisses. You can’t help but feel light. You can’t help but reinterpret what you’ve remembered. She’s liked you all along, you tell yourself.
Reason Number Nine
In eighth grade, she traveled the world with her mom and dad.
This is a lie. She was training in Nicaragua. The family pictures are photoshopped.
By now, at the tender age of eighteen, Glory must be a pro.
Reason Number Ten
She calls herself a nerd.
Pay no heed to this ploy. She clearly has no idea what it means to be a nerd. It’s like she’s reading from a script written by a washed-up Pentagon bureaucrat who’s sole research consisted of a Lord of the Rings marathon. For her, nerd translates to novice coding, an obsession with indie films, and enrolling in all the Honors and AP science classes—which basically every self-respecting stuck-up does in your town, including you—even if she only gets Bs. She’s never read Isaac Asimov and the only Arthur C. Clarke novel she can name is Childhood’s End, not even 2001, because she had to read it for school. She doesn’t understand basic astrophysics, and quantum mechanics only gets her to tease you about being so smart, which you aren’t really. When you talk to her about black holes and parallel universes, she tunes out, waits for you to finish, says it’s cute, and smothers your lips with hers.
You find this endearing and sincere, but really? She calls herself a nerd? Definitely a spy.
Reason Number Eleven
She googles Muslim dating rules and asks, “So if you date me, what am I, a whore?”
This is another attempt to trigger a reaction. Ignore it. She probably wants you to try an honor killing, after which she’ll knock you out cold and violate you in a cell in a shithole like Gitmo or Abu Ghraib.
In fact, this is a clear violation of character. She complains to you constantly about red tape at her YMCA job, and always questions the validity of your leftist media sources, yet somehow she’ll believe the first result Google spits at her.
You don’t tell her any of this. You say, “Don’t believe everything you read online,” and lay your head against the cafeteria table. She rubs your back and asks you what’s wrong.
Reason Number Twelve
She tells you not to mumble.
“Say your mind,” she says. “Speak like you mean it.”
Is she trying to make you incriminate yourself? What crime have you committed? How do you stop yourself from saying the wrong thing?
Before you realize it, you’ve assumed your criminality.
You don’t notice this. You like what she’s told you. You like that she wants you to be you.
Reason Number Thirteen
She doesn’t think Apartheid is that bad.
You go to the MoMA and there’s an exhibit of Apartheid-era protest art. You find out her African Studies class didn’t cover Apartheid. You think this is ridiculous, and you tell her so, and she looks away, mumbling quiet apologetics.
On other occasions, she’s been an apologist for everyone from Christopher Columbus to George Bush the Second to your high school’s westerncentric curriculum. She thinks affirmative action is racist and Othello isn’t.
She probably brings up Othello to fuck with you, see if you go into a breakdown and smother her with a pillow or some shit like that, but you don’t, because you assume she’s stupid.
Of course, no one is actually this stupid. You’re the idiot. Clearly, the only possible explanation is that she’s a spy.
On the train home from the MoMA, you calm down. You lay your head on her lap and she strokes the hair from your eyes. You keep looking at her. Her eyes are grey and translucent, reminding you somehow of baby spittle. You have no other way to describe it, that look. It’s like a sedative. It’s probably hypnosis. She brushes her fingers over your eyelids and tells you, “Rest.”
Reason Number Fourteen
She asks if you think she’s dumb and racist.
You don’t have a choice. You have to reassess yourself. You have to become understanding. You have to tell her that no, it’s cool, she just doesn’t know.
You know that’s bullshit. You know that doesn’t know is no excuse, especially for a kid who grows up in a ranked school system like yours. Then again all the kids at school think like Glory.
Maybe you can’t blame her. Maybe she’s indoctrinated. Maybe she’s not a spy.
Although you suppose spies get brainwashed too.
Reason Number Fifteen
She has a dream your mom won’t let the two of you get married because she’s not Muslim.
It gets you riled up, but you bite your tongue. You know she’s trying to incite you to violence, entrap you for intent to murder. You’re not a killer.
Reason Number Sixteen
You keep dating her.
This is because you are delusional and you think you love her, which is because, again, she’s a damn good agent. She’s got tomboy charm. She’s got long, Celtic hair. She may not be your type, but she’s made you redefine what you think your type is.
Reason Number Seventeen
She says she loves you. You’ve told her the same thing about five times already.
You’re making out half-naked in the back of her car, parked on the hiking trail behind the high school, when a cop pulls up behind Glory’s Jeep and scares the shit out of you. You sit straight like a meerkat out of its hole. She takes you by the shoulders and draws you down.
“It’s nothing,” she says, pressing her hot skin against yours.
You hear a car door shut. The cop’s flashlight beam fills the space above you, thick and blue on the roof of her car like the surface of a pool seen from below. The cop screams at the two of you to open the door. He points his flashlight like a scientist peering down his microscope.
“Get out of the car!”
You both duck onto the floor. Glory covers herself.
“Fuck.” She fumbles in the dark. “My bra. My fucking bra.”
You hand it over.
“Fuck fuck fuck.”
“What do we do?” you whisper. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know.” She wraps her bra around her breasts. “Do something. Fucking do something. Do anything.”
She’s shaking. You try to rationalize her fear. You tell yourself this guy must come from a competing agency. You’ve never seen her tremble, never heard her voice falter. She’s no longer the tough girlfriend. Not the tomboy. Not the self-declared nerd in ripped short-short jeans. Not the jaded white girl. No longer wears the pants in the family. Not wearing her pants either.
“Get outta the fucking car!”
You’re both yanking your clothes on.
“Whadoido?” It rolls out as one word.
The flashlight beam is on top of you, eddies of light whirling across the dank upholstery.
“Do something, damnit!”
You reach around the front seat, grab your windbreaker, swing it around your bare torso, and launch out the door, jaw clenched. You tighten every muscle in your body, like a Jedi Knight rushing consciously into an ambush. Like Wolverine tensing, bracing himself for the pain of releasing his claws.
“Can I help you, Officer?” you ask, looking him in the eye. “Is there something wrong?”
“Park’s closed. What’re you doing here?”
“Sorry, Officer. We didn’t know.”
He takes you aside and questions you. Name, age, address, school. He flashes a light in your eyes to check if you’re tripping. Your bravery dissipates. You stutter and shiver, asking if this is going on your permanent record. The repeated answer is “No,” but you know what he really means: Shut it pretty boy.
He sends you back and calls for Glory.
She returns ten minutes later and drives the two of you off the dirt path. The cop waits behind the wheel of his car, headlights filling the Jeep. He’s watching you.
You want to know what he asked her.
“He wanted to make sure you weren’t raping me,” she says.
You listen to the crickets and the wind in the trees.
You find another secluded spot in town, where she parks her car and climbs into the back with you. She slips your finger between her legs and asks you to pleasure her. She makes sounds as if she likes it and she gives you instructions so you don’t bruise her, which you’ll do anyway. It is your first time trying anything like this. She claims it’s hers too. It isn’t sex, not strictly, but it’s close.
When you’re done, she asks you to do it again.
“Do you know why?”
“Why?” you say, looking up.
“Because I love you, Joe. I love you.”
“I love you too,” you say, believing it in the moment.
Obviously, the run-in with the cop is a setup leading to her reveal. That way you’ll believe her. Of course, you don’t believe it’s a setup. You believe you’re in love.
Reason Number Eighteen
Your English teacher hates her.
He says she has a problem with authority. Secret agents planted in high schools always have problems with authority. They know they’re better than this. She must have failed her last mission. You’re her punishment.
She is good at hiding it. If you truly knew what was going down—which you don’t—you’d decide to believe ignorance is bliss. That’s where you are now. Bliss.
Reason Number Nineteen
On her nineteenth birthday she sidles up to you, dancing to the radio. She crosses her wrists behind your neck and asks you to promise to love her forever.
This is an impossible request. It only happens in movies. It’s not genuine. It can’t be.
You find yourself compelled to say yes.
Reason Number Twenty
There’s a raccoon on the fence outside her car, watching the two of you make out.
You know it’s not a raccoon. It might be an alien. The interstellar community has some vested interest in you, and they’re competing with the government to farm your brain.
Or else it’s a mechanized drone. You can tell by the impossibly white eyes and the perfect strips of grey and black fuzz, barely distinguishable in the haze bleeding from the dim streetlamp across the road. Glory is as shocked as you are. Her eyes are large and wet. She has yet to dig up any militant dirt on you, and you bet her boss in D.C. thinks she’s doing a shitty job. He’s probably set aside a small budget so his department can send animatronic drones to keep an extra eye on Glory. Make sure she isn’t doing her job wrong.
To you, at that moment, it’s just a pervy raccoon. As far as you’re concerned, she’s doing everything right.
Reason Number Twenty-one
You love her. Again.
You’ve fallen out of love for a while. Or maybe it wasn’t real until now.
You need to go to a robotics team meeting. The freshmen under your mentorship have no idea what they’re doing. You have a competition in a few weeks, and you have to be there tonight. But Glory and your friends are going bowling. Glory begs you to come. Her friend Carrey tries to guilt you into it. Carrey’s your How-To-Date-Glory Manual, your human Siri for the labyrinth of young love. She got you to ask Glory out for the first time, after you were holding hands for a week without any real action. You suspect she’s in league with Glory’s agency.
“Joe,” Carrey says, “you need to spend time with your girlfriend. She’s my best friend. She really likes you. Forget this robotics stuff this one time. Pete’s coming with Moira. He’s not going to your robot stuff, and he’s on the team.”
Glory’s in the bathroom. You’ve just seen a movie at her place.
“I dunno,” you say, placid, “I need to make sure these kids get their act together.”
You decide on bowling. What choice do you have?
Glory doesn’t know Carrey has had a talk with you. She stopped begging before you even told her you’d decided to join their night out, and you’re in her car on the way there. You’ve done that thing you do, where you put your hand on the shift and she puts hers on top, guiding the Jeep in and out of gear, left hand on the wheel. She drives stick.
“If you really need to go to your robot thing, you should go,” she says.
Your eyes meander from the road to her. She glances at you and smiles.
“Really. I won’t mind. Do what you got to do. I’ll drop you off.”
You grin and rest your head against the window. “Thanks, Glory.” You exhale slowly.
On the shift, she massages the back of your hand with her thumb.
“No need to thank me.”
It’s as if she’s read you. She probably has read you. She’s a secret agent. They read people for a living. Except in your head you believe she understands that this small decision means something to you. That she cares.
She dials up the volume on her CD player. A song is playing. It’s cacophonous with words you can’t hear but have to pretend to understand. The kind of song YouTubers spoof with weird lip-syncs.
“Fake Palindromes,” she says.
You catch a piece of the lyrics. It’s as if you’ve popped briefly from beneath turbulent waters and caught the interrupted shriek of an onlooker before the waves take you back into muffled, fluid chaos.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Fake Palindromes?”
…Jesus, don’t you know that you coulda died, you shoulda died
with the monsters that talk, monsters that walk the earth…
“It’s a song, silly.” She squeezes your hand on the shift. “Listen. This part, here—”
All you hear is something close to white noise.
“I don’t get it. Sorry, my taste in music sucks—”
“Oh, Joe.” She dials it back. “Right…here!”
You hear it then. The words emerge from the noise somehow melodic, not beautiful but with rhythm. Like a mundane conversation, overheard, echoing down an air duct and imbued gradually with a song not its own.
…and she says, “I like long walks and sci-fi movies.”
if you’re six foot tall and east coast bred…
Glory yelps. “Just like you, Joe! Just like you.”
The song finales in a riot of disjointed sound, somehow mellow.
You think the song is silly, the science fiction reference included. It’s another thing Glory thinks will tap into your inner nerd. This time you don’t mind. She doesn’t get you, not totally, but she’s trying. She’s tried harder than anyone else you know. She gets you better than anyone else you know. No one really does understand you, including yourself, but she almost does. You hold no suspicions. No conspiracies, no qualms about aliens in your midst, no multiverse theory. None of that. If any of it is true, it’s irrelevant.
Her eyes are grey and sparkling. Headlights from the opposite side of the road circle her pupils like neon bytes of data speeding along a racetrack in Tron cyberspace.
This is when you know with conviction that you love her. You say the words in your head.
I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you Glory Abigail Drayer.
Reason Number Twenty-two
You don’t know how to make a secret agent argument anymore.
You’re tired of it. You really like this girl. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to you. For the first time, you question your doubt. Maybe she is who she says she is.
Reason Number Twenty-three
She asks if you pray five times a day.
“Yeah,” you say, as if apologizing for something.
You’re not sure if this counts as a good reason to say she’s covert ops. But it bothers you.
Reason Number Twenty-four
You have another fight, this time over what you’ll watch at your house for movie night with her friends.
Your fights are always over mindless crap like this. You know it’s deeper. You know it’s about being flexible and supportive in the little things and that guidance counselor bullshit. She admires your confidence, your adamancy. In fact, this is why she likes you. But sometimes it’s too much, she says.
You make up and make out. It seems too easy. You suspect you may have slipped from this universe into an overlapping one, where the rules of physics are subtly off-kilter. Glory could be a Fringe agent sent to retrieve you, occupying a doppelgänger as part of the extraction mission. But you can’t seem to read her signals.
Reason Number Twenty-five
She’s not convinced by socialism.
You try to convince her but it’s not her cup of tea. You don’t know if it’s yours anymore either, but you persist because it’s all you believe anymore. Railing against the system. You hate living in a town that’s ninety-six percent white. It bothers you in a way you won’t admit that your girlfriend is a stereotypical rich white chick who doesn’t think she’s a stereotypical rich white chick even though she is.
It bothers you that you’re another rich white kid like her, no matter the color of your skin. Snobby and dog-eat-dog and well-meaning and liberal and subconsciously racist.
Reason Number Twenty-six
One night when the two of you lie scrunched side by side in the backseat of her Jeep, she looks deep into your soul and asks, “Joe, what are you most afraid of?”
“I dunno,” you say.
She locks the fingers of one hand with yours.
“Really?” She laughs.
“Yeah,” you say.
But that’s a lie.
What do you really fear? Spiders? The dark? You’re kind of afraid of the dark. But no. You’re afraid you don’t know yourself. Are you your DNA, the color of your skin? Are you nurture, this hellish verisimilar utopia called the modern state and its mass production of objects and people, like you? Are you history, the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola, Italy, Germany, Corsica—Pakistan, India, the King of the Pashtuns, a nomadic Jewish tribe crossing premodern Afghanistan? Do you belong to any of these? And if you belong to no civilization, do you belong at all?
You remember playing on the beach as a kid. Mom asked if you wanted to play with your friend Andrew Chen. You said no. You wanted to play with Jon Wyce.
“He’s vanilla,” you told her.
That is what you fear most, that that kid is lurking around inside of you, whispering in your ear like a symbiotic parasite, latched to your consciousness like a leech, incapable of eradication without obliterating a part of who you are.
Reason Number Twenty-seven
You give her a box of chocolates and she tells you her family calls you “a keeper.” She says you’re the best boyfriend she’s ever had.
You believe her because you still love her.
Reason Number Twenty-eight
You think you’re unappreciative of her because you still harbor these feelings about her being in the CIA or NSA or FBI or ICE or S.H.I.E.L.D. or Fringe Division or Men in Black or Cylon Empire.
They bother you, these thoughts. They are very dark and wrought with conviction. Conspiracy theorists bear no dearth of conviction.
You are deeply troubled. You suspect this is evidence that Glory has tampered with your brain.
Reason Number Twenty-nine
She calls you baby the morning after prom, when you wake up next to her.
You rub noses and sniff each other’s halitosis. Neither of you mind. You like it like this, without ornament. She’s not the kind of girl who’s into lipstick or nail polish. You dig that. You tell her so, and she appreciates this.
In the morning sun, her dirty blonde hair is gold and her light freckles disappear.
“Do you think the freckles make me less than pretty?” she asks.
“No,” you say. “You’re perfect the way you are.”
She puts her ear against your chest and listens. She’s as quiet as your heart.
Reason Number Thirty
She stops calling you baby.
Reason Number Thirty-one
When you tell her you love her, she says, “Yeah.”
Reason Number Thirty-two
You start praying that God will end it for you.
You wonder if you can’t end the relationship yourself because you still love her or because you simply lack the balls.
Either way, if you were going to become a terrorist or a revolutionary or an enemy of the state or a telekinetic mutant emissary for Earth’s evil alien invaders or the Avengers’ next villain or whatever the feds suspected you’d become, you won’t become that thing. You’ve lost your edge.
She wins. The system wins.
Reason Number Thirty-three
She returns from a weeklong trip with Carrey and the two of you are in the back of her Jeep within the hour.
You’re making out topless when you separate your lips from hers and press your bodies together, tucking your chin over her shoulder and tracing your fingers along the chilled, bare ridge of her spine. You’ve missed her.
“Thank you,” she says.
You keep holding her. “What do you mean?”
She pulls away gently and points at the road, where two cars just sped by.
“For covering me.” She smiles.
You stare at the headlights across the trees as they decelerate near the opposite intersection.
“Oh,” you say.
You had no idea.
You suggest going one step further that night, doing something she’s wanted to do for a while. She hesitates. She knows you had no idea about the cars. It’s not like she’s an agent. It’s like she’s actually hurt. This boggles you. She’s gone so undercover that she’s gone native. She’s apparently forgotten her mission, as you never had yours. There’s a kinship in this, that you are both lost.
Reason Number Thirty-four
You’re still waiting for your assignment-declaring knickknack from the Impossible Mission Force that will self-destruct after five four three two one—BAM!
You’re hoping it will tell you who the hell you are and what your mission is, because you have no idea what you’re doing. Not that you’ve ever had any idea what you were doing. You’re spiritually dead, in a no man’s land of the soul.
She’s got to be a Cylon, a sexy cybernetic thing from deep space sent to unravel humanity’s darkest secrets from your mind. Nothing else could do this to you, take you apart not to question who you are but to make you realize you never knew who you were. Interrogation at its finest: subtle, alluring, hollow. You’re near the end. You’re a shell, a carcass, a desiccated thing.
Reason Number Thirty-five
She dumps you.
You see the signs. She doesn’t want to meet at night. When she picks you up, wearing her dark red tank top and short-cut jeans, she makes sure to say hi to Mom and Dad, like she knows it’s the last time she’ll see them. You go to Subway. She doesn’t let you pay for the two of you. She mentions her first kiss on the ride to the beach. It was during Iron Man; this makes you jealous. You eat in silence beside the shore and stare into the grey clouds.
“Joe,” she says. “We need to talk.”
You two are incompatible, she explains. You have different interests. You’re heading to college. Long-distance never works.
You nod, remembering your debates over Shakespeare, Conrad, Mandela, and Marx.
“I’ve been a jerk to you,” you admit, not sure if it’s true. “I’ve been meaning to say sorry.”
“No, it’s not that.”
You breathe. “I’ve been meaning to end it myself. I didn’t know how.”
She doesn’t have anything to say. It’s like HQ put her on pause, afraid her cover’s blown. Why would he consider the idea? HQ is probably thinking. She did such a great job wooing you, understanding you, that it’s hard to comprehend. How you could you have fathomed breaking up with her yourself unless you knew she was an agent?
The reality is you’ve forgotten your paranoia. You no longer think of her that way. You no longer think of her in any way.
Reason Number Thirty-six
Before she drives you home—yes, that happens after all this—you embrace one last time.
“I think I loved you,” you say.
“If you loved me, you’d know.”
Reason Number Thirty-seven
She wants to meet up after the breakup. Over pizza, you tell her something about Congress and the left and the right when she stops you to ask, “Wait, which one’s Republican, left-wing or right?”
It’s not possible to be that dumb, is it? She’s playing you. She’s got to be. You’re not crazy. You know you’re not crazy. She’s got to be a secret agent or an informant or something. This can’t be real.
Reason Number Thirty-eight
She shoots you in the face.
It’s a dream but you’re certain it’s real. It’s a vivid dream, the kind you won’t forget for years. You’re running through a glass tunnel that winds its way through the canopies of some forest. The town is chasing you, including the Principal. The Principal is a sleezeball, lets the rich white kids do whatever they want and lets their parents pester and sue the teachers dry and rolls around in his open-topped blue corvette like some kind of hotshot, which he is, because your high school is ranked first in the state.
You open a door and your best friends are waiting for you. Glory is standing there in front of a big white van under a vast grey dome, like a spaceship hangar in Star Trek. She’s a surprise for some reason. Dream logic indicates she’s not supposed to be there, in your head, but she is.
She brings a hot, black thing between the two of you and clicks.
You wake up terrified. If you ever had thoughts about overturning this racist piece of shit town, you forget them. You believe this is proof that inception is real.
Reason Number Thirty-nine
She gives you a call from college and says she’s changed. She thinks about life differently. You’re not sure what that means. You think she’s defected.
Reason Number Forty
She is a spy.
It’s obvious now. It’s empirical. She got in your head and shot you in the face and now she’s fallen off the grid. No one knows where she is.
This surprises you. You never believed it was true. You thought it was an elaborate game you’ve played in your own head, a fancy of your imagination. You’re bitter. You liked her. You never saw it ending.
What is it you miss? Do you miss being in love? Do you miss her?
She’s a part of you now. She’s left a piece of herself inside of you, in your convictions, your fears, your desires.
You wonder how the Pentagon decided you were such a massive security risk that they were willing to commission someone for six years to tabs on you. The national security budget dwarfs any other. You always wondered where all that money goes.
It freaks you out. You don’t trust anyone again.
Reason Number Forty-one
You look up “Fake Palindromes” and play it on loop for hours.
You believe that Glory programmed your attachment to her, a hypnosis, and that there’s a sensory trigger that will release you from the neural bond. A sensation that’ll set you free from whatever it is that makes you miss her. You’re pretty sure this trigger is somewhere in “Fake Palindromes.”
If it is, you can’t find it.
Reason Number Forty-two
You’re afraid you’ve never loved and that you never will.
At least you got to date a secret agent. Maybe that will land you a few numbers down the line. It’s like a scar. Chicks dig scars, don’t they? Or is that just a thing people say?
Don’t let the next one pretend to understand your nerdgasms or your racial confusion. Tell her you believe every word of the Qur’an and that you pray five times a day and that Apartheid is real and Shakespeare is a racist pig. Tell her your name is Jihad and it means struggle and that’s what people call you, and if she doesn’t call you that too then she can go to hell. Most importantly, make sure she doesn’t work for the government.
Haris A. Durrani (@hdernity) is an M.Phil. candidate in history and philosophy of science at University of Cambridge. He holds a B.S. in Applied Physics from Columbia University, where he co-founded the Muslim Protagonist Symposium. His debut novella, Technologies of the Self, received the Driftless Prize and is forthcoming from Brain Mill Press.