For the 2100, June 27th, 2013
Secret Hero discovered at a young age she could make her little lavender plastic record player play just by wanting it enough. “Everything is nothing if you got no one,” she heard it play and then it stopped. Secret Hero was frightened when this happened the first time.
She decided to want it again. Long silence. Long staring. Then the record player gave a slow demon mumble, then, “You came walking in,” slow mumble, then “the real thing.” And so on.
“Oh my God,” she said. She looked down out of her window at the other kids playing across the street. It was hard to get them to do anything by wanting and this relationship with a lavender record player was so much more rewarding. The distance away from the kids felt good. The cold wood of windowpane felt good, far better than human play. She crouched in the corner so no other kid would see her and kept wanting music, wanting it and wanting it over and over until she played full records this way.
Secret Hero as an adult DJed in a lot of clubs, including a singles dance club called Guys and Dollys owned by a sentient teddy bear named Struggles. He told Secret Hero he built the club for her, but he was always saying ridiculous things like that to make her laugh.
“This club was here long before I met you,” she told him.
“I willed it into existence because I knew you needed the perfect place.”
At least it had her beloved elevated DJ booth to keep her above the terrible dancing people and their sweating hairy human bodies. She could stand back in most shadow like the entity the music turned her into.
But then Struggles did his dumb dances and made her laugh, invited her onto the floor to dance as well. She would never ever come, but Struggles might be the only one to make that happen.. Their whole friendship was this laughing denial.
Then one day while Secret Hero played her set, she saw Struggles came in with his three hulking bodyguards in fuzzy coats the deepbruisepurple of pimps. Those bodyguards were in truth all fuzzycoat and muscle from top to bottom. They had no necks or faces or any other sign of humanity but stood a head and a half taller than all other patrons. Sometimes seeing the fuzzy pimp coat heads was the only way Secret Hero knew Struggles was in the building. He was so small he drowned in the ocean of dancing people. She wondered if he started those wacky dance circles only so people could finally see him and he could be in the center. Or maybe it was only so Secret Hero could see him. One bodyguard pointed to Secret Hero, and then he pointed menacingly to the loft behind her. Struggles had never been mad at her in all the years she’d known him, but this seemed like angry pointing.
She extended her set as long as she could reasonably get away with. The uncertainty of what an angry Struggles would be made Secret Hero want to delay the experience, but soon her time ran out.
The glassed loft behind the DJ booth, built to be her lone retreat, was set up like a second bar. They sometimes used it for private parties, even a little elevated turntable for her to play, plush couches all around, now creepy in its emptiness in contrast to the crowded club. Struggles sat in a booster seat at a small table and lifted his whiskey glass with both of his tiny teddy bear paws. Since his insides were only plush, this made him wet and stinky. The khaki colored fur of his chest, dark and whiskymatted, could’ve lit on fire easily if Struggles decided to pretend to smoke. He was made of more burnable stuff than humans. “Secret Hero, come in and sit,” he said. “Want some whiskey?”
“I don’t drink.”
“I know, but boys can dream,” he said with the random creepiness of someone who imitates humanity.
“You’re not a boy.”
Struggles tapped his fuzzy paw against the table, a nervous tic or a method a tougher guy might use to make a menacing sound in the silence, but the table patting did nothing. “So…been busy lately? Still DJ down at the Mouse Factory after hours?”
“What’s this about, Struggles?”
“You think this is about something? Does it have to be about something?”
“You took me off the stand. I’m guessing it’s not to chat.”
“We used to chat. We used to have long chats. Is it so unusual I’d want one now?”
“Fine. It’s about the tapes. I sent you tape after tape after tape, and you didn’t respond.”
“And you don’t know why?”
“Of course I don’t know why.”
“You wanted me to do music for your rap career…”
“Is it so wrong to want a rap career?”
“But you called yourself St. Rapes.”
“You see, it’s like Saint Rapes and Street Rapes and Strapes, like strafes and stripes. Because I strafe over other rappers. Also, I like stripes, and I can wear stripes in my performances.”
“Yeah, but on the tapes you say stuff like ‘St. Rapes raping across the countryside.’”
“So you listened to the tapes? That’s wonderful.”
“You’re missing my point.”
“You don’t like my word play?”
“No, I don’t think rape is funny.”
“Why didn’t you go by Struggles? That’s a fine rap name.”
“Struggles is my given name. That’s awfully hypocritical of you quote unquote Secret Hero quote unquote. Nobody knows your given name.”
“It’s Erzsebet Foldi.”
“Oh…I didn’t know that.”
“You never asked.”
“Oh. I thought I knew you a long time.”
“No problem. Not a lot of people care to.”
“I don’t think you know how personae work in performance. As St. Rapes, I’m a douche. I’m arrogant and stupid because that’s hilarious. Rape is wrong, sure, whatever, but in my St. Rapes persona, I don’t know that. I act like I think it’s cool. That equals hilariousness.”
“I really can’t be friends with you if you think that’s true.”
“Oh…I didn’t realize…it was like that.” He was trembling. He liked to pretend he was drunk when he drank, but this was involuntary. “That’s not a big deal. I…I make friends so easily, I can hardly keep them all straight. I sometimes even forget we’re friends. My best friends are these three guys. They’re Cuddle Monsters. They’re only golems you buy at the store. But inanimate objects only come to life if you give them love so they must love me, right?”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
“Me and the Cuddle Monsters, we have long conversations you wouldn’t believe.”
“Cuddle Monsters have no faces and no mouths and ears.”
“I didn’t say it was two sided.”
“Look, I’ll do the music for you if you do one thing for me.” She pulled a book out of her satchel and handed it to Struggles. “It’s called Teaching Men Not to Rape.” Struggles had difficulty holding it in his little paws. He said, “Condescending title. Like all men rape and need to be taught not to.”
“We use it at the crisis center.”
“Why? For you to feel superior?”
“Write a song based on these ideas, and I’ll help you make the music.”
“That would turn St. Rapes into the wrong kind of asshole.” Secret Hero stared at him with the sort of cold severity she hoped one day could cause legitimate combustion. Struggles, in a weird sort of terror, said, “That’s…okay, I’ll do it.”
Secret Hero knew he would. She wanted to say, “After that, climb on the roof and jump off. After that, climb in a blender, push on.” He’d do it. She only wanted him to do this because it would be the most satisfying way to humiliate him.
Like the idiot he was, Struggles opened the door separating the loft and the club and shouted above the music: “Party in the Champaign room! My bff is still my friend!”
He put a record on the player in the smaller room that competed psychotically with the music in the bigger room: “Baby when I met you I found a peace unknown, I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb.”
The whole room, she suddenly realized, was amazingly the same lavender as her childhood record player.
“Stick around,” Struggles said. “We can hash out the song details and our practice schedules and all that.”
She did stick around, but she sat in a booth alone as Struggles danced with a hundred people he essentially paid to like him, nearly as humiliating as the blender image. Struggles tossed money and pretended to be drunk because he so needed others to think this meant something.
The afterparty lasted so long only sleeping people remained on couches and Struggles alone dancing with Cuddle Monsters. Secret Hero in the same spot all night found herself slipping into sleep when music got slow and quiet and dancing got repetitive.
She woke up when she felt Struggles humping her leg. She kicked him across the room.
“I’m drunk,” he mumbled in his heap.
Secret Hero stood and walked away without saying anything.
Struggles shouted after her: “Just gonna leave like that? You know what your problem is?” She stopped and waited to hear what her problem was. She didn’t know sometimes. But he had nothing. He staggered in his pretend. Or maybe she’d just kicked him that hard.
“No, seriously, you know what your problem is? You’re frightened. Too scared to be you. That’s why I’m your only friend. Because I can’t hurt you, and you’re too afraid of hurt to have any other type of friend. I’m just somebody you can stomp on and he keeps coming back for more stomping. You have to think you’re better than me to feel okay at all. When you squeeze all the evil joy out of me you can get, you drop me like a dry husk, some lonely pathetic shit you used to know. The problem is you’ll always be afraid and you’ll always think you’re too good for me or anyone like me and you’ll never feel. And you’ll never love because assholes who only care about their own fears can never know how to love!”
“Are you done?”
“I think so.”
“You can keep the book. I hope you read it.” She left. She didn’t come back to that club.
She thought about Struggles every once in a while only to laugh. He called every day for the first week, but then he stopped and never called again.
She liked to ride the elevator to the top of the tallest building in the city at a height where the sky looked lavender, stand back in the concrete corner of the observation booth, feel all the cold of it. In this way, Secret Hero was able to make things okay, at least in that moment.