Nice Knowing You
by Zachary Houle

Dear Ms. Leslie Sodium:                 

I'm a dick. This is something you already know, but something I have just only obviously just found out. I’m so sorry. I know I am now a dick because here I am, tossed out on the street, with the few clothes and possessions you managed to throw out the window at me as I left. (A cliché right out of a Whitesnake video, sure, but I think we both realize that creativity has never exactly been your strong suit.)


Dearest Leslie, I am so sorry for the things I have done wrong, all the names I’ve called you, all the things I’ve criticized about you. As you tossed me out of your apartment and, you believed, your life, I heard and registered and filed away all the things you said. You know, all of those insane things you accused me of. Being dramatic. Hyper. Paranoid. Abusive. Crazy with a capital K. I have all the things you’ve said catalogued in my head, and placed them in my heart – a heart now broken and shattered into a million, billion tiny little pieces at the loss of a jewel like yourself. I don’t know how I could go on without you. I know I haven’t been the best boyfriend, but you must give me another chance. I am your one and only. Even that dumb waiter you’ve been hoping to score a rebound from over at that restaurant on Kathleen Street is not your true, kindred spirit, Leslie.


I am.


I know you know this. Deep down, in the tiniest recesses of your pretty little heart.


I also know this for at least one very good reason. Yes, and a very good reason it is, of which I will get to in a moment.


I do wish to say though, Leslie, I am not begging on my hands and knees here. Oh, I know this is a letter expressing my desire to reconcile with you, and I suppose it is tradition, it is custom, to be a little more regretful and remorseful that I’m currently expressing to you right now.


You see, dearest Ms. Sodium, I don’t need to apologize to you. Not now, nor ever. Not even after the misery of being humiliated in front of your neighbours in your apartment building. Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT angry or anything – even though that old witch who lives across the hall called me a scumbag as she chased after me with that broom of hers. Getting poked near the eye with the business end of her broom was no fun, either; I can assure you that. You’re lucky I’m not angry enough to go back over there and break her arms from her sockets – but then I’d truly be remorseless, and I don’t need you to confirm that all the things you say about me are, indeed, true. Anyhow. This is all beside the point.


I don’t need to say I’m sorry, because … well … remember that special power you said I had? That special power to be a dick at every inopportune moment? I think you were only half-right. I do have a special power, but I have been keeping it from you.


I know you’ve suspected that there was something about me that was mysterious and enigmatic – this is what attracted you to me in the first place, though you perhaps didn’t know it. Well, I do have a power I’ve been hiding form you. It is kind of like a “super power,” not unlike how we described the United States or Russia during the ‘80s or the ability of a comic book hero to see through women’s clothing. I’ve been keeping it from you, since I always knew that you wouldn’t be able to handle the truth, that the events that just happened in the recent past would have happened a lot sooner if you knew. I couldn’t take it that early into our relationship – I’m barely dealing with our separation as it is right now. This is why I didn’t tell you.


But, now … now things are clearly different. I can see it so vividly. Yes, I can see how it is all going to play out, like someone showing me their cards in a poker game, and it is something that excites me terribly. The clarity of this vision is, in fact, startling. This is why I'm going to tell you something I haven't even told members of my own family. I feel I can tell you this now without any remorse or fear whatsoever. Yes, babe, it is finally true. The wait is over. I just have to say that …, well … :


I have the powers of extra-sensory perception.  This is commonly known as ESP.


No, really. I'm dead serious.


I have ESP.


I know you're laughing as you read this and think that I'm a kook – but that's an easy one to dispel. Here, I'll prove it to you a number of ways.


This morning, you burned your hands while making a ham and cheese omelet on the stove. It was your right hand. It came down on the side of the frying pan when you were about to flip the omelet over. At this precise moment, I awoke with a dazed start in the men’s homeless shelter where I now spend my days and lonely nights. It flared like Christ Almighty, that pain, let me tell you. I realized rather quickly, however, that it was your pain from a stovetop many miles away, halfway across town. It was so hurtful that I yelped, and had to kiss my own palm to make it feel better. How humiliating! In front of all those other men!


At first I was mad at you for making me feel this pain. Then I was happy that you were feeling any sort of pain at all. After the stinging abated and my pride felt somehow regained, though, I felt something I can only describe as being akin to sorrow. It was a rather odd sensation. You see, I now knew you had experienced something awful and horrible, and I was sorry that I couldn’t be there by your side to save you from yourself. I felt guilty, and ashamed. I knew that the kiss to my hand was pathetic because it was non-transferable. I couldn’t kiss away both my pain and your pain at the same time.


This was selfish of me.


As you can see, I now realize that I am a dick. This is what I’ve inflicted on you, the pain of my presence. This I now know. That said, I know you carry a pain of your own. A burden, a kind of guilt from your past you cannot part with.


Remember when you told me that I'd never find out the deep dark secret of the Sodium family? Well, I knew what your little secret was from the moment I met you. I have another super power, something I also didn’t tell you before.


I can read minds. Including yours.


Shush now, Leslie. I can hear you thinking. I know you think I’m a psycho, even more so than before. I can assure you, however, that I can really read your mind. We should probably get onto better things than arguing about the truth of my assertions. As you will see in a matter of moments, I’m telling the truth.


Now, let me tell you first and foremost that this secret has not inhibited my love for you in the least little bit. I will still follow you to whatever end of the earth you may find yourself, and be your beacon in the fog. But that is all beside the point by now. What is done is done, and what has yet to be done will – I am hopeful – play out exactly the way I intend it to.


I know that immediately after you finish reading this the first time, out of seventeen times in total, you'll think that I must have gotten a private eye to follow you or your relatives around. You'll think that I'm a creep, that I'm no good. You'll think that I'm only out to embarrass you and the good members of the Sodium family. You will also briefly entertain the thought of strangling me. You will be in near tears.


I can only tell you, babe, my intentions are entirely noble in re-telling you this deep, dark secret you still cannot bear to tell even little ol’ pathetic me. You will know, eventually, that I love you just the way you and your mixed-up family are. How do I know this?


I think you already know, you know.


Anyhow, it is here that I must begin the painful process of relaying to you the awful story of your deep dark hidden family secret, one that you are obviously already well aware of having lived it. It begins in a child's bedroom during an overcast Saturday about 30 years ago, back in the age of the Cold War, when the MX missiles could start flying at any moment's notice. To be more specific about the bedroom, it was your brother's.


Yes, your brother's. Oh, I know you will shake your head and protest at this point that you don't have a brother, but let's pretend for a while, shall we? There's no point in keeping up this charade any longer.


Your “brother's” friend Jeremy had been over that day to watch a WrestleMania video on the TV in the living room. (Well, watch being a rather loose term. Most of the time, he was practicing wrestling moves on your sibling. To be more precise, Jeremy was playing Andre the Giant to your brother's Hulk Hogan. This I know with absolute, exact certainty. One thing young Jeremy didn't know at the time, but something you found out much later on: he was gay. Granted, perhaps the incident leading up to the rather sad event that happened on this not-so-innocent afternoon also put some ideas his head about which gender he would be attracted to. However, since you don't know, then I don't know, and this last sentiment would become mere speculation on my part anyway.)


I believe your father was off playing rec-league baseball and your mother was doing the wash at a nearby laundry because the dryer was on the fritz. You were in your bedroom upstairs in the house, reading a book. Your favourite book. Bridge to Terabitha, that melodramatic four-hanky weepie. God, I’ve always hated that book, even as a kid. Always forced to read it by teachers in grade school, it seems. Anyhow, you were directly disobeying your mother, who told you to look after your brother and Jeremy, who were prone to knocking over pictures and, worse, the lamp in the living room while they practiced body-slams on each other. (Thank God nothing got broken there, or you would have been practically filleted by your mom and dad, considering what happened later on.) You hated watching your brother, who was older than you by a couple of years and should have known better than to be hyper. But, at least, you figured they'd be less of a bother now that they'd gotten all their pent-up male aggression out on each other.


You were precisely 47 pages deep into the novel when you heard it: the slam of a dresser drawer followed by a giggle emanating from your brother's room where he and his friend were now playing the board game known as Trouble – or so you'd believed.


Remember Trouble? It was that game with dice in the popper in the center of the game board and those little pegs that you move around, kinda like a children's version of Bridge without the cards. I always liked it myself ... uh, when I was a kid. Yes. As a child.


Anyhow, when you yelled at your brother from your bed, "What on earth are you two doing in there?" and they didn't answer not only that time but the next three times that you asked, you flung your book aside and tromped over to your brother's room. You uttered death threats, as I recall.


Then, when you threw open the door to their room, you saw something that ... well .. I know you haven't exactly forgotten. Obviously.


In this room, there were two young boys looking at you in a sudden state of shock. Your brother, however, was leaning his lower body into an open drawer, the one he normally kept his pajamas in – pajamas featuring superheros like Batman and Superman that were now on the bed. An uncapped jar of Vaseline was on top of this dresser drawer, which, as you recall in your memories, was made of faux cherry wood. The edge of the open drawer was smeared in it. The room smelled of Aloe Vera.


And then you said:


"What is your ... your thing doing in that drawer?"


At the sound of your voice, your brother finally reacted. He accidentally pushed forward on the drawer with his pelvis.


And then slammed the drawer completely shut on … .


On himself.


I know that you will never forget the surprise on your brother's face. You will never forget the huge O-ring his mouth made, how his eyes bugled and how pale he suddenly looked. You remember that no sound – nothing at all – came out of his mouth. At least, not in the beginning. When a sound did finally emit from his tender vocal cords mere moments later, it sounded like a mournful hound dog dying a very painful death. And that's when you looked to Jeremy, who was waving his hands frantically at you, frantically already trying to distance himself from this sudden, unexpected turn of events.


"Look, I had nothing to do with this," he said. "This was totally your brother's idea."


You were skeptical. The slant of your eyes and your crossed arms betrayed this, as they always tend to do. (Don’t deny it, Leslie! I know you oh far too well!)


"Your brother said he wanted to show me something that'd feel good," Jeremy said.


Obviously, what had happened to your brother caused him to feel anything but good. He started banging his fists on the top of the dresser, enough so to make a plastic Transformer fall off the dresser. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was Starscream was it not?


"Oh, God!" he cried, tears now gushing from his all too young eyes like a fountain. "Call an ambulance! Puh-please! It. fuckin'. HURTS!"


You looked at Jeremy. "What the hell are we supposed to do?" you asked.


Jeremy shrugged.


"Maybe open the drawer, first of all," he offered, cracking a sly grin.


Now, at this point you'd decided you’d pretty much seen all you wanted to see as a young girl. You certainly did not want to hang around long enough to see your brother delicately pull his now-puffy and swollen lack of manhood that had, unknown to anyone in the room, turned purple and was hanging by a single thread. You were quite mortified. You also didn't know what to do. This was, how should we say, beyond your capabilities as not only a babysitter, but as a sister.


Leslie, I know how you handled this situation, and there is no need to be ashamed. You ran out of the room, back into your room and closed the door. You returned to your book. It was an easy escape.

You began reading your book again, trying and failing to concentrate. (Granted, it was hard considering all the screaming and yelling going on down the hall thanks to your brother's torment.) You were trying hard not to laugh, even though the situation was probably quite dire. Naturally, you eventually started wondering what the hell you were going to do. Should you call the Laundromat, and tell them to tell your mom there'd been an accident involving your pathetic brother? Should you call the hospital and report a medical emergency? Or should you lay low and pretend you hadn't seen anything?


Part of you really wanted tattle on your brother, obviously, but getting him into trouble meant that you'd be in trouble too. You, after all, had been put in charge by your mother and had been supposed to look after him. But, now, there was the delicate issue of how you'd go about telling an adult that your brother was currently in crippling pain because he managed to slam his penis into a drawer. Would you not be somehow held responsible?


I know this was what you were now thinking: How could you get yourself out of the corner you’d painted yourself into? If you told, you’d be exposed as a moron. If you did nothing, you’d be labeled insensitive for not feeling your brother’s pain, and doing something to help him. But, at the same time, how could you truly, completely, feel his pain? You were but a burgeoning young woman, without any knowledge or hint of how painful physical damage to a male’s more tender regions could be.


I also know – thanks to my incredible ESP powers – that you believed that if you did nothing, you, too, would suffer at some undetermined point down the road. Perhaps you'd fall off a log in the bush some day and die, just like your namesake in Bridge? God only knows the thought crossed you mind. (Well … OK, that’s not true. I certainly knew, but I don’t want to appear too cocky here.)


Despite all of the pent-up guilt churning away inside you, you did nothing. You didn’t act. You couldn’t have cared less about your brother, at least not that day.


But you weren’t allowed to not care for long. Jeremy knocked at your door.


"What is it?" you screamed.


"Your brother," Jeremy began behind the door. "I think your brother's pretty messed up."



"You know where the bandages are?" asked Jeremy, totally ignoring you. At the same time, you could detect that he wasn’t exactly being charitable in his quest for Band-aids. You sensed that Jeremy was secretly getting a kick out of the situation, your brother’s throbbing pain. Was it the way he now talked to you, the slight boyish giggles he was barely trying to suppress behind the door? There was something there, something that now suggested to you that your brother’s friend now seemingly had a real good story to tell around school, in the locker room.


"I mean, the ones like mummy wrap,” continued Jeremy. “Tension bandages, or whatever they’re called."


"We have none," you said, lying.


There was a silence at the other end of the door for a second. You weren’t sure if it were laughter, or something else altogether. You then heard Jeremy ask in a muffled voice if there were any bandages to another person in the hall – naturally, your brother. Your brother said something under his breath about you that wasn’t all that nice, in fact it was a curse. Being the decent guy that I am – you will come to know this someday, I swear – I won’t repeat the things he said. You already know, anyhow.


"I don’t think your bro finds this all that funny," suggested Jeremy, still trying to suppress his laughter, as he now opened your bedroom door wide open. Just behind Jeremy, you could see your brother on the landing of the stairwell leading to the main floor. His corduroys were still around his thighs, his hands covering his aching you-know-what.


"C'mon, Leslie," said Jeremy. "I think this is pretty serious."


“JESUS CHRIST!” your brother yelped down the hall. “P-PHONE THE GODDAMN DOCTOR!”


Faker!” you yelled back, trying not to break out into giggles. Then, you turned to Jeremy, all serious-like, “Look, I’m not doing anything until Mom comes home. You can explain this whole mess to her. I’m just not getting involved.”


Funny how coincidence sometimes bites you on the ass, huh? As soon as you said this, a car slid into the driveway outside your window, followed by the honk of a car horn. That was your mom’s signal to help her unload groceries – or, on this day, laundry – out of the car. It was as though just saying her name had conjured her up out of thin air somehow to come in and save the day. Later, you’d reflect upon this incident and wonder, Christ, how did she know there was tomfoolery going on? She must have known, after all. It was like a sixth sense or something, the timing of her arrival.


For a split second, Jeremy froze at the sound of the horn as you yourself reeled at the sound and wondered how the hell you were going to get out of this one.


“That’s your mom, isn’t it?” said Jeremy.


You didn’t answer. You didn’t have to. He knew. He could just tell. He could smell the sudden whiff of fear, a certain lack of confidence, radiating off you now that you were no longer the boss of the situation.


“Uh, I think I should probably go now,” he said.


And that was that. He shot off, racing downstairs and out the front door, leaving your brother to cope with his pain on his own. You huffed and threw down your book, then raced after him towards the door. Jeremy raced outside, and then down the street in the opposite direction from the driveway. By the time you got to the sidewalk, two things had happened. A) Your mother had seen you and B) Jeremy, being a boy and a better runner (I hate to say), was practically halfway to the corner by that point. You called after him, but it was no use.


“Leslie, quit chasing your brother’s friends and come help me with the clothes,” your mother yelled.


You were about to yell back that you weren’t, that you were running to somehow bring Jeremy back to the scene of the crime and make him claim responsibility – or at least tell the truth – about the horrible things your mom was about to find out for herself. But then, out of the corner of your eye, you saw your mother drop the laundry basket full of fresh linens that she was carrying and turned your head in time to watch it roll over onto the ground in the grass.


It was too late.


Your mother already knew.


Your mom screamed loud enough to make the pit of your stomach disappear. This was it, you thought. This was the part of the story where you were about to be exposed as a fraud. A fraud who couldn’t look after your brother properly.


“Sheldon, what happened to your … !” your mother cried, unable to finish the sentence.


You looked behind you, dear Leslie, only to see your brother as he hobbled outside of the house, pants still around his knees, as he clutched his tender spot. He then collapsed, just like the folded laundry now sprawled over the lawn. A moment seared on your memory like a Polaroid photograph that has yet to fade, even with the space of years, decades even, between then and now. Even today, when you smell fabric softener in the laundry room of the apartment building we both lived in together (and will live in together yet again), you think of your brother lying there, hands red with blood, face cramping with pain, eyes closed, as he moaned like a hound dog and rocked back and forth on the ground.


A lot of events happened immediately after this freeze-frame, but I think it would be redundant to go over them in the tiniest, precise details. I think we’d be better off skipping past much of the interrogation (which would be merely a retelling of everything that has just occurred, anyhow) to the truly important bit. Let’s now proceed to an image of you sitting in the hospital waiting alongside your mother and, now, your father, waiting for word of your brother’s impending fate.


You sat on a bench firmly wedged between your parents, unable to move your head for fear that it might accidentally catch your father’s or your mother’s stern, anxious gaze. None of you spoke, and as the minutes ticked into hours, you had to swallow your spit precisely twenty-two times in an effort to prevent yourself from clearing your throat, and thus calling attention to yourself. It was as though you all were afraid to be seen, as though make a single squeak would start you down the slippery slope to explaining this perverse and strange sequence of unfortunate events to your folks once again inside an echo chamber where all of the orderlies, patients, doctors and nurses in this particular wing of the building could hear. Having this incredulous story claimed by someone other than yourself and then retold again and again to other people exponentially, even at your tender young age, was something you didn’t want to happen. It was already too embarrassing! So you kept shut like a clam, and did your best to refuse to be seen, as though you were an invisible woman, as though you had your own “super power”.


Eventually, after a wait as long as it was painful, a doctor came up to great the three of you.


“I’m afraid I have bad news,” he told you, your father and your mother, looking the three of you straight in the eye.


As it would turn out, it was pretty bad news indeed.


“There is no hope,” said the doctor, as though he were reading from cue cards. Your mother gulped. Your father squeezed your hand suddenly, and much too hard. You, on the other hand, barely noticed. You became to sweat and wished you could become a ghost, a person who could float above this looming situation and out the main doors, away from all this madness and personal responsibility. The doctor, presently having your collective attention, paused for dramatic effect, flipped a few pages in his flipchart then stared all the members of your family individually in the eye and said:


“I think we’re going to have to amputate.”


Oh, I know your shame, Leslie. I know your deep, dark, grave secret – the turning point in your life. The place where normality became the ‘new normal’ and your so-called life was yanked right out from underneath you. I know that after the gender switch, after your little brother Sheldon officially became your little sister Shelley, life in the Sodium household was never the same. You could no longer bear to have dinner, seated across the table from the hideous monstrosity wanting your mother to pass the peas, please, because it was like looking into a mirror. You were forced to see your failure directly across from you, the live you’d managed to screw up because you hadn’t been responsible enough to keep your brother (he, she, it?) from fooling around with your yet-to-discover-his-true-sexual-identity best friend one weekend afternoon. This is where you discovered your attention for trashy late-afternoon soap operas and dinners on the TV tray in the basement, where you could hide from the monster you’d created upstairs. Oh, how I know the pain. I see it in all of your 320 pounds, you poor sweet thing!


Your aunts and uncles and nephews and nieces would, naturally, all be paraded into the household at various times throughout the days, weeks, months and years following the strange and vicious accident. You remember these occasions all too well: all the cakes, ice cream, sodas, and gifts to celebrate your brother’s new manhood, to celebrate the fact that even though things were bad, they somehow weren’t even worse. You stayed alone, up in your bedroom, your cave, your dungeon, re-reading Bridge to Terabithia, trying to piece together a fantasy world in which the events which led to your brother’s castration never happened.


In your room, the book’s female character never died – you stopped reading before you could get to that part. Instead, you’d go back and re-reading from the start, creating your own narrative in doing so, a continuous feedback loop in which disaster never loomed large, where everything wound up being perfectly normal. It was a distraction from what was going on around you, including all the things that were going on at home and at school.


Ah, school. I dearly know, boo-bear, that your sister was treated like a God (or, perhaps, a Goddess) at school. People took pity on her for the horrible disfiguring accident he/she’d endured rather than treat her as the freak of nature you felt he/she really was. In fact, Shelley became the subject of everyone’s conservation from the moment of the emergency surgery. She became an instant celebrity. The boys crowded around her at the lunch table, wanting to know what it was like to suddenly lose a penis. And when that topic of fascination had run its course, well they began to treat her as though she were just one of them, didn’t they? (Which, in a way, she kind of already was, if it wasn’t for the girly skirts she occasionally wore, if only to just to piss you off.) Not only would she gradually become the hottest date in town, she was the type of girl who didn’t think twice about joining in the occasional game of scrimmage. She was everything that a man wanted, and you resented her for that, didn’t you?


Meanwhile, all the girls at school – even the stinky ones who lived in all of the weirdest places in town – took to her like flies to maple syrup, all wanting to be the first to show her, educate her, in the ways of being a woman. For whatever reason, they all ganged up and formed a new clique, the “Everyone Against Leslie, That Mean Bitch” group. They shunned you from the process of showing your own brother the ropes of becoming a woman, Leslie, and I know how painful that must have been. While they were busy demonstrating to your new sister how to apply foundation in the girls’ bathroom, they made sure that you were barred from entering on the grounds that you weren’t “healthy” for Shelley, despite the fact that the two of you already shared a home under the same roof. I know that they made her a pair of breasts out of paper mache to wear under her shirt so that your sister could complete her transformation fully, well before the hormonal drugs had their opportunity to kick in. I know how that humiliated you. Hell, even Eva Klumb, the school’s brace face, wanted nothing to do with you.


How unfair, Leslie! How unfair! Nobody had ever lashed out this badly at you before. (Well, until I came along at least!). Oh, how awful those years immediately after your sister was “born” must have been!


Still, I don’t feel too much sympathy for you, either, you horrible, wretched woman. After all, you did absolutely nothing to stick up and defend yourself during such moments. Whenever you walked home from school – alone, stinking and very afraid – you usually passed old ladies on the sidewalk. What pains me is that you would do nothing but cringe whenever you heard them whisper to each other stuff as they passed you by like, “There’s that Sodium girl who made her brother lose his penis.” (Its almost universal reply was deeply as cutting: “She should walk as though she were more ashamed!”) You always shirked like a precious wallflower away from such a puny threat. I know that you really should have decked them Leslie, then clobbered them with their own purses, and spat on them, and kicked their heads against the curb. I know I would have. And I know that you know I would have. You know?


Despite being called names on the street and despite all the affection dished out upon your newfound sister at your expense, a sister you felt you had a personal role in creating, I know it was hardest for you to be alone, without your book, Bridge To Terabithia. This book is still quite dear to you, as I know, as it is the only book you’ve owned or read since the terrible, unfortunate accident. It’s a book you place yourself in again and again to find solace, some comfort over your dramatic, unfortunate situation. (Well, the first two-thirds at least.) In some ways, my lovey-dovey, you have not grown up since that fateful day, the day your brother lost his manhood in your presence. In another way, that book is your connection to the past in the same way that this letter is my connection to you.


In any event, I think I’m starting to ramble and I probably should just get to the damn point. Here's what I know about you, dearest Leslie: I know that you think that if anyone you know as an adult knew of your brother/sister's shame, and your accidental and completely innocent role in it, that it would be impossible for you to take you seriously. To put it another way, you feel that you would be written off as a cruel and malicious man-hater for your lack of action in helping your brother/sister lose his identity. I don't know who puts such ideas in your head, but there it is.


I also know that this is precisely what has prevented you from getting too close to anyone of the opposite and not-so-fairer sex in the past. In fact, I know that the only reason you've let me get this close to you by allowing me to move in with you is because of my natural aura of mystery. (Without my ESP powers, I know I would be nothing to you. I’d be a mere babble you’d cast away because I was simply too easy to figure out, no?)


Anyhow, babe, despite the fact that you're now entertaining the notion of getting a restraining order slapped on me, to prevent me from moving even closer to your heart and to enable you to spend more time with your precious book, I can tell you that your little willy-worries are all for naught. You see, my sincere, sweet Leslie, I love you completely and unconditionally. My love for you is so pure, that it illuminates whatever room the two of us may find ourselves in.


And this is precisely what really freaks you out about me – my unwavering loyalty, admiration and affection for you. Tell me the truth, Leslie. That’s what it is, isn’t it? (Don’t forget that I know your final answer, so be sure to answer very, very carefully.) Even though it may hurt, I know deep down that that whole story you concocted about me being a tyrant, a complete fascist dictator who humiliates you in public is but a means to get me out of your life before things really get much too serious. You don't need to say another word out loud in denial – even though I know you are doing exactly this as you read this. I can already see your lips move and your tongue wag as you read over the contents of this missive. (Sometimes, my ESP and mind-reading powers are more of a curse than a blessing, as I already know all of the nasty things that you will say about me here. By the way, darling, you should know by now that it hurts me very dearly to be called a bastard, and I know when and where you’ve called me that.)


So there it is: the awful truth revealed. I know it stings, darling, but I also know that getting this out into the open now will speed along the process of reconciliation. You needed to hear the truth you were keeping from others, from yourself, hideously cooped in a bottle all of these years. Accepting your past is the only way you will defeat it, darling.


However, having said this, I must also now bid adieu. I must say it was nice knowing you. Not because I am some kind of tyrant, as you obviously and painfully say I am. Oh no. It is because my extra-sensory talents are now telling me that the only way you will want me back is if I wash my hands clean of this whole sordid affair.


I know this will sound so ironic, Leslie, but it is so completely obvious that the moment any man seeking any sort of natural bonding with you pursues you too greatly, you flip out and completely extract yourself from his life. (OK, this is where I got a little extra outside information from a private dick about your few ex-boyfriends – and I know you have had so few in your life that I can count them on half of one hand.) But ... please Leslie! ... do not think any ill of me for doing so, as I know you are so wretchedly RIGHT NOW! I only wrote this letter because I care about you, because I want to remain by your side. I wouldn't want you to break my heart for real by doing something stupid like … well … it would be foolish for me to say and plant a silly idea into your head that you very likely would follow.


Anyhow, above all else that I have written here, do know this:


I know your dirty secret, and have found it to not be so dirty after all. I still love you from the bottomless well of emotion that is my heart. My love is all around you like surround sound in a home theatre system.  I wish it upon you, Leslie, that one day you will know this to be true. So true, in fact, that you will feel compelled to throw it up on a theatre marquee and display it to the world: that you’ve let me back into your heart. This day will come very, very soon – but not too soon (as I wouldn’t want you to leave me for real because I got too close to you in this fragile, vulnerable state you’re in!)


When this day finally arrives, it will be a very special day indeed. I can only say that I think you will agree, and will be pleasantly surprised. And I guess that’s all I can say, even though I wish I could tell you more.


Well, sweet Leslie, I think it is nearly time to go. I’m getting the rather uneasy sense that one of the men here wants his pen back so he can use it to barter some Listerine on the street. Just remember: follow your heart, take it were it leads you, and, if all goes according to plan, you will arrive here at 453 Paterson Place some time within the next week or so to reconcile our love and renew our commensurate relationship. Believe me, I can hardly wait. And, if I know you like I have already demonstrated I have, so will you, babe. So will you!



Always and forever,

Now until the end of time,


Jess Pepper,

Your past, present and future omnipotent and omnipresent sweetheart

Zachary Houle is a Pushcart Prize nominee for my fiction and the recipient of a $4,000 arts grant from the City of Ottawa for emerging artists. His fiction and poetry has been published in Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure, Thieves Jargon, the Danforth Review, Broken Pencil, Midnight Mind, Kiss Machine, and others. He is also the associate editor in the music reviews section of, a web site that receives one million unique visitors a month. He also writes music and book reviews, and the occasional feature, for said site.