Trolling for Easter Porn

by Michael Chaney

On a tattered plain below the jagged bluffs of Shadow Mountain, a lone warrior faces three swordsmen. The dark fists of Thanalon, Destroyer of Worlds.

“Prepare for the next world, lone warrior. What sayeth thou?”

“I sayeth, where the chicks at in this dickfest? I need a maiden before work.”

Upon making this declaration, the lone warrior laughs out loud. Inexplicably, one of his opponents reports himself to be rolling on the floor laughing, though he is still just standing there… on a tattered plain below the jagged bluffs of Shadow Mountain.

The basement snaps into darkness when you close your laptop. A cone of light from your cell phone greys the edges of things: the trip of tangled clothes in the corner, furrows of abraded lint on the diamond puffs of a sheetless mattress, the crenelated inscape of balled-up wrappers. You have only ten minutes before your grandmother will call down from the kitchen. Cinnamon dulce spices the air.

Disturbing those fools in Warrior Worlds has not been enough. You need an entity self-described as female to wish you an erotic good day, someone who will prove herself female with a photo, something you can believe in, bulwarks of flesh against an inevitable lessening.

“Why not,” you mutter.

Browser open and bookmark clicked, you brace for the initial panic of the white room. You log on and into a world made real in your mind’s eye. Since your father’s death, you bury the old you, the real one (you can’t tell anymore), under an electronic pyre of chatroom Fuck yous, Suck this, and I got your moderator right here. In silicate mourning you mimic the cancer that lurks around corners, that drunk driver hot at your six o’clock. And if you are lucky enough, brusque enough, with a lingo that drops its pants in public, you win the golden ticket: a skin pic.

The next site is one of your favorites. As a cook yourself, you see it as business and pleasure, education and obsession.

A kitchen the size of a cathedral. Chefs in bulbous hats. Eggs whisk in tinny bowls. Trays clank into ovens. A figure emerges.

“The only way to separate yolks is by hand. Any trained chef will tell you that. If you want to save time by using some stupid gadget, be my guest.”

You imagine Masterchef1772 as a walrus with a grey beard in a blue chef’s coat. You are chastising a beautiful blond, Ms.AintNoYolk, who replies: “I never said I would use the separator. I was only asking if anyone has used one. I’m trying to speed up production times for a breakfast food truck.”

Another interloper, Julia’sWildChild, part chef, all cock blocker: “I’ve used them before, NoYolk, and I can tell you they work—gentle and fast.”

Finally! You finger a minor chord of insult on the keyboard.

“That’s how your mother likes it. Heh heh heh,” says WetPastriesWanted.

“You!” Your grandmother calls from the basement steps. All whisking stops. Chefs collide. Bowls of batter spill.

“You! You’ll be late for work.”

She says more about the baking she needs help with. You say little. She cannot remember the last time you said much of anything. You kiss her forehead as if you smell a memory vague in the grey of her hair and then lumber off for the restaurant. Through the window she spies you texting and crosses herself.

Even when using your cell on a city bus, you can live in discussion threads. That something simulating life can be going on in the small silence of the machine in your palm makes you remember sitting in front of the crucifix. With your grandmother’s lips kneading the Spanish of a Hail Mary in your peripheral vision, you would stare into the beatific anguish of the thorn-crowned face and you would imagine a vibrant world of relatives alive again, smiling and winged, circling your grandmother’s whisper. The alternative worlds that you enter digitally, even while riding the bus, make you believe in messianic eternities.

Erma L. from Wakusha is an old woman with long white hair. She sits on a bucket and has a watering gun in her gloved hand. She’s going on and on about winterizing roses. Soon, Sally N. from College Station will come back into the greenhouse.

Some guy runs in crawling with ants. He recites all the things he’s tried to get rid of them from cayenne pepper to boric acid. You cannot wait one more aphid-killing minute for Sally N.

The greenhouse ripples when she enters. Tulips bow as she describes the lattice she is building. It is for morning glories to grow across a dorm window. It’s made from paperclips, scotch tape, and old shoelaces. You nearly drop your hand trowel as you watch her work. Soon you will say something to get her attention. Something nasty would be best, what you want to do to her. Part of you knows it will have the opposite effect.

When she text-speaks again, she explains that she needs flowers on the window to screen others from looking in at her and her roommate.

This could be it—the two-girl prize.

A commotion on the bus causes the greenhouse to shimmer. Two young men harass an old woman who clutches her purse. With your nose in your phone, you escape, squeezing by suits and hoodies, ducking under hands hooked for dear life on ceiling rails.

Sally is still in the greenhouse. “Do other creepers grow well attached to morning glories? Also, do I need to add anything to my pots?”

In defiance of the shifting bus, your fingers move deftly on the phone. “I got just the vine for you, Sally,” you reply. “Send me a pic of you and your roommate first.”

The two girl prize will be a single photo of two hot girls that you bring to vivid life on the tiny screen in your hand the way bunched-up paper from a freshly unraveled straw will snake up and stretch out if gently touched with liquid. It’s a trick your father showed you when you were small, before the cancer that did not take him or the car crash he was never in, before that stint in Fulsome that no goody-two shoes like him ever got or that time overseas fighting for our country that no coward like him would ever go through with. He showed it to you before being sucked up into the ether like the zeros and ones, adding up to all those invisible fuck yous lurking behind every flashing Viagra ad.

Later, you and your fellow cooks are in the weeds, getting an earful from Chef.

“The food is coming out sad as hell!”

Onions and butter percolate. Chef’s face is an enormous beet with yellow teeth and a lazy eye. With all the screaming, the hiss of the grill, and the clattering of the plates, you cannot hear yourself think. Sally must still be standing there in her overalls thinking about sending you that picture you asked for. When she sends it she will be real. Moles, acne, extra pounds maybe, all vouching for the truths of her body.

The line cook elbows you out of your reverie. “Chef has the hots for Sophia.”

“Knock off the patter!” Chef growls.

During a break, Sophia interrupts your websurfing. She is short with crooked lips. Her hair is dark, a head full of blackbirds. She likes the placid way you accept everything she tells you—her plans to get an apartment, the potential everyone says she had in school, how jealous her best friend is of her. You sit quietly as she converts memory into words and cigarette smoke. She feels depths within her when you listen like that.

For your part, you do not mind Sophia. She doesn’t complain about your texting. The locust sound of it in your hands. And if you concentrate, you can sink into yourself in her presence, nearly alone with the carnal possibilities of Sally N. from College Station, who surely never slept on anyone’s couch, who probably had two rooms all to herself growing up, one just to play in; who would never in a million years anticipate that she would undress in the wee hours to snap revealing photos of herself for that foul-mouthed cretin from the gardening blog.

But she would, you think—or, at the very least, she might. This is a numbers game and you are like your Uncle Chico who is addicted to the lottery, a dreamer.

Sophia and her talking are still there. Your phone buzzes in your pocket.

The message is from Sally. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

As Sophia’s monologue floods the alley behind the restaurant, you are high and dry, dreaming of the freckles on Sally N. from College Station, a foxing on the onion skin pages of her flesh. But then you remember in a painful flash that first time you flipped a digital finger to the universe.

A dozen or more commentators tromp into the white room to discuss Catcher in the Rye. They are high school kids, probing for essays due the next day. You are here to pass a reading quiz for a class at community college so you bend the space to fit your fears and to chase them away by turns. Leather couches and wooden wainscoting, oriental rugs and a roaring fire, a terrier curled up beside it. You are not finished with the novel and wish desperately not to finish it by the sleeping dog. The kids pose and chat, idly showing off.

“Holden is a Christ figure. Down with phonies!”

“I cried at the end. But the middle was derivative.”

“Did you catch the Easter symbolism?”

You drop a few one-liners about what you’d do to them in the rye fields.

They gasp in their tweed suits. Dropped brandy snifters shatter the hardwood. One appalled little phony does a spit take so hard it knocks the toupee off the butler’s head.

Then come the inevitable diagnostics.

“Clearly, he’s a misogynist,” says one.

“I don’t hate all women, just ugly ones like you.”

“Clearly, he’s a perverted old man,” says another.

“Don’t confuse me with your dad, and tell that punk to quit texting me!”

“Clearly, he’s a repressed homosexual,” says one.

“Why? You got your tiny wiener out thinking about me?”

“Clearly, he’s a serial killer,” says another.

“I wet the bed and hurt small animals while killing that coochy!”

Then, Ms. Smartypants reminds them why they are there.

“You know that scene where Holden sees the ‘Fuck you’ graffiti where the children would see it? That’s exactly what he is. Not the guy who wrote it, but the graffiti itself. He is the graffiti.”

You open the novel to the passage, reading it over and over. Others chime in to agree. You think about the graffiti in your neighborhood. Most of these kids have only seen it from a distance, scrolling by through windows, scrolling by as if on screens.

Pat the dough, depress the form, place on tray. Pat, depress, place. You do not mind helping your grandmother, but you do not move quickly.

“It all smells so good, Mrs. Muñoz,” says Sophia icing cookies.

“Call me grandma. All of his friends used to. Now, it is only him.” Your grandmother is rolling dough. “He helps pay bills and bakes for the church.”

Finished prepping, you check messages on your phone.

“Look at what he did for me last night.” Your grandmother points to the window above the sink. “For my herbs.”

Above pots of climbing thyme and cilantro is a latticework: scotch tape, paper clips, and old shoelaces.

“He’s handy, too, I see,” Sophia says.

“My bunuelos,” gasps your grandmother. “I cooked them too long. They taste like tocino, like bacon.”

You and Sophia try them. No one admits to bacon.

“That Perez woman will talk. She or that Sanchez woman will complain.”

“Don’t worry,” Sophia says. “I’m sure they’ll love your food.”

Hours later, at the church, Sophia greets people with your grandmother. A train of judging women scrolls by to inspect the goods. Sophia uses a marker to personalize the confectioner’s boxes with a “Gracias” or a smiley face. Between customers your grandmother hints about going to live with your Uncle Chico in Texas, saying that she would not worry about you as long as you had a friend like Sophia. You nod at that and walk away. But Sophia interprets your nod. More specifically, her mind puts something in that nod and replays it with that extra something concealed as an original element. Sophia sees you beyond the crowd, alone on your chair against the wall with your nose glued to your phone, but her mind’s eye replays that nod.

A radical thought enters her mind. She fishes her own phone out of her purse and excuses herself to your grandmother. At the end of the hall, she finds the bathroom and situates herself in an empty stall, uncapping the marker she brought with her.

Elsewhere, the buzzing of old women disrupts your trolling. The one your grandmother is afraid of, Mrs. Perez, speaks so loud it is difficult for you to drift into your greenhouses, auction halls, English libraries, or cathedral kitchens.

“Did you taste those horrible bunuelos? They taste like shoes covered in grease.”

Shrill laughter. Then an incoming message. A picture. It takes a few seconds to unscroll on the screen of your phone. Smooth belly flesh. Crisp white panties. A hand pulling the elastic waistband—scrolling down—cotton panties and what lies beneath. That area is oddly visible through the panties, the way wrinkles around the knuckles show through latex gloves. A message is written on the white triangle in magic marker: “Sophia misses you”—the final “y” is punctuated with a smiley face, the same kind Sophia put on bags of sugar cookies a moment ago.

You save the pic and close your phone. You will rejoin your grandmother and Sophia—the giver of the golden ticket, an unexpected benefactress of the bulwark against the lessening. You will tell your grandmother how amazing her bunuelos are, and how people like them because of the bacon. But before that—

“Mrs. Perez?”

The women turn to face you. Some turn as white as their hair. One woman covers her mouth with a handkerchief. Perez stiffens at the sight of you.

“Fuck you,” you say cheerfully to them. “Fuck you, you ugly old bitches.” And as you walk back to your grandmother’s table, Sophia smiling devilishly, you can nearly taste the Easter graffiti like bacon on your tongue.

Michael Chaney is a lot of things: Vermonter, logophile, Virgo, absurdist. But he’s no Internet troll. He interrupts actual rather than virtual discourse communities in such esteemed venues as Hobart, apt, and NANO fiction. Visit him under his bridge at michaelalexanderchaney.com where he’ll charge you two-bits to cross.