An Excerpt From the Novel
The Coach Mazz Project
by John Philapavage
“Elektra was bat shit crazy. It was all image. Matt Murdock fell for the gimmick, which is so ironic being that he himself was a gimmick.” I feel proud of my depth of thought on this subject.
“All gimmick? She was all substance. Granted, they met in college, which I think we can both attest to as being a tumultuous time, but it’s also where you find yourself, and she was a well-defined woman from that time on.” Amanda is yelling because all the windows are down and she’s driving 60 MPH down a four lane throughway.
“Well-defined as in crazy. Karen Page was the love of his life. They went through hell together. It was the purest Marvel love story since Peter Parker and Mary Jane.”
“She sold him out for H.” She pauses as if she’s made a salient point.
“Electra tried to kill him!”
We laugh as we fly through the empty intersection. That’s another one they won’t get back from us. Fourth in five minutes. New world record for lights blown off. I kiss my pointer and middle fingers and touch the passenger-side sun visor. Superstition.
“She was a contracted killer. She had a dedication and drive for her job. A liberated women.”
“You’re threatened by her, aren’t you? You’re used to that Karen Page cutesy-type who pulls crap like selling out your secret identity to the Kingpin when they get all temperamental? Ugh. Electra handled men like the Kingpin.”
Elektra or Karen Page. Who was the Daredevil character’s greatest love in his comic book life? I like to think I’m winning the debate.
“Karen was his first true love. She died in his arms. He took her death the hardest. Bam. Uno. I’m out.”
Amanda’s hair flies in the wind as she looks at me. “It was the second time it happened. Who does that happen to twice? Even then she copied Elektra. Elektra was his passion. His muse.”
I smirk. I discover she doesn’t like smirks.
“Listen, Jughead,” she says, “its Betty to Veronica, and Veronica’s got sex appeal. Who are you going home with at the end of the night?” I get a told-you-so look in my direction. I’m two lines, three Oxycodones, countless swigs of a flask, and some acid into a most interesting day.
“Crash this thing. You may as well. You just handed the argument to me.” I sort of mean that. “Electra was his passion, not his love. Karen was his true, pure love.”
I soak in the hot sun and the cool breeze. A lazy river. I don’t feel sick or tired or hot or uncomfortable. I feel like I’m adrift, a happy vagrant stretching for the first time in my life. Yawning in color.
Amanda told me a few minutes ago what GHB actually is. Sometimes it’s prescribed for insomniacs. It makes you sleep. I’m so glad I didn’t drink that glass.
“What’s your girlfriend like, Stevie?”
“I don’t think I can have this conversation with you.”
“Odd answer. Not a particularly passionate response either.” Semantics.
“Well, I pick my moments.”
She shakes her head. “So you’re more passionate about comic books than your girlfriend? That’s functionality for the new millennium.” Her last comment is meant to be funny. I don’t laugh.
“Sure. Whatever you feel passionate about.” She looks away, smirking. I don’t like smirks either.
Police car behind us.
“Christ. Pull over. No, wait. Don’t do that.” I’m done for. There will be jail time and weeping.
Amanda doesn’t share my hysteria. “I can outrun them.” Outrun them?
“What?” Perhaps I misheard. The windows. The wind. It happens.
“Hold on. I’ll cut through campus.”
I open my mouth to speak but we accelerate and I’m shot back into my seat. How can such a little car move so quickly? Everything looks blurry and red. Bright red. The chemicals make reds pop, she’s told me.
My lazy river becomes a river rapid. Every anxiety and drug in my body is reaching its apex as we blow two stop signs in short order. It’s the weekend, so not many people are on the campus streets, but the streets themselves are narrow. The lights behind us keep flashing. The siren keeps going.
Amanda takes a corner at about 50 MPH, slows up slightly to turn into a cluster of buildings, and before I know it we’re in a parking spot in front of a large brick building. Reserved parking.
“Get out and act normal,” she tells me, grabbing a parking tag out of the center cup holder and hanging it from the rearview mirror. I’m not sure what’s funnier: acting normal at this moment, or the need for a parking pass when the cops show up, guns drawn.
I get out just as the cruiser pulls up behind us to block any escape. I think to lie on my stomach, like I’ve seen in police chase videos, and then decide to act casual like Amanda. An officer darts out of the car and I put my hands up in the air in a half-committed awkward pose.
“Officer,” Amanda starts in, “is there a problem?”
The male officer laces into her, but I soon realize its campus security. Using his walkie-talkie he calls off any real police presence.
“…Professor Oliver…” I hear her say while motioning to the car. The guy seems exasperated by how hard she’s working him over without admitting guilt, but she’s doing it. He knows it, and yet she’s still moving him back.
Finally, he writes her up and then she hands him something.
“You drive safe next time, okay Miss, uh, Amanda?” The officer says as he goes back to his car. She waves and nods, not even trying to conceal her victorious grin as he pulls away.
“Well, that’s that,” she says, and we walk to the front entrance of the building.
“What did you say to him?” We should be in cuffs right now.
“I told him I had to get here as soon as possible for an appointment with Professor Oliver. I showed him the parking passes the professor gave me. Then I promised to be good.”
“How did you get staff parking passes?”
“Well, obviously I slept with Professor Oliver.” She smirks at me and pulls my hand towards the building. “This is the student art museum. All kinds of trippy stuff in here. I’ve got a piece hanging. You’ll dig it.”
Not another word is said about the officer, the faculty parking pass, or the chase. Somehow I start walking on water as we enter the building, and then not even walking.
A whale comes out of the wall at me with an airplane in hot pursuit. An area of dark space near an exit sign starts to swirl into a loose funnel cloud. When I look at it again it’s dispersed down the hall. I focus.
“You’re an art lover?” I ask.
“Depends what you mean. I like everything they’ve got in this place, but I like the Oberstein stuff on my wall better. I’m a huge fan of comic book stuff.” She reaches out, her eyes wide, and touches a picture, caressing the canvas with a pleased look.
“I don’t like ‘high art’,” she says, still patting at the picture. “How pretentious to praise an art house film and exclude a trade paperback. Art is being ruined by definition and categories.”
Blue. Red. Yellow. Spotlights on sculptures create enough intensity I find myself having trouble continuing to listen.
“What did you give the officer to get out of the ticket?”
“Presumably I gave him my number and told him to call me. In actuality I gave him the number on your arm. I assume its Zack’s.”
I’m hallucinating that I’m kissing her. I remind myself that the entire scene might be set up for my benefit by Zack and Amanda. I’m not crazy.
“And I didn’t sleep with my professor. That was a joke,” Amanda concludes, holding my arm just above my elbow.
I blink my eyes and hope I’m clear. “You shouldn’t fuck with Zack like—”
She lets go of my arm as I speak.
“Why? Why is this guy the golden goose?” She carries on loud enough to echo in the new room we’ve entered.
“I don’t know—I mean, he—” It’s not a loyalty. It’s a fascination, isn’t it? “—what about you and Kerri?”
“Kerri’s not a close friend. She’s a friend, but there’s a line, and that’s where her and I are.”
“So who’s on the other side of that line?”
The room is glowing with a million lit candles from above my head, hot wax pouring like waterfalls.
“Just me here.”
She turns away, looking at the wall. “Here it is.” She grabs my arm and pulls me to a painting. It’s mostly grey-colored, with some use of black and the white of the paper. It looks like a funeral, with two tombstones, some trees, a moon, and a few people around the tombstones. In the foreground are two people—they look like children or teenagers—weeping and leaving the funeral. It’s snowing around them. The image is surrounded by multiple frames. There’s the actual wooden frame, and then a brown drawn sketch frame, and within that a dream bubble-like frame. I’m in love with it. It’s complex and ruthlessly sad.
“I’m sorry, did your parents die?”
“The what?” she says, smiling at her canvas.
“That’s you and your brother, right? The teenagers at the funeral?”
Amanda squints at me, then smiles.
“My God, you’re so literal with all your interpretations. That’s devilish.”
“I just thought that maybe—I don’t know. It seemed like it had some real inspiration. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all about metaphor, Stevie. I like metaphor.”
I begin to apologize in my head, and then say out loud, “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.” That makes me laugh hysterically.
“Cake? Cake, right? The song. Sheep go—” Amanda begins to hum. I’m glad she knows the song.
She gives me a side squeezing hug halfway through the laugh and I feel myself become aroused. She turns to me, small smile, and says:
”Black Widow.” I have no context for this. “How about that for a compromise? Elektra and Karen Page? Fuck’em. We’ll say Natasha—the Black Widow—and we’ll call it a day.” She has her arms around my waist, our faces close enough together I feel my heart beating again. Sobering moments. But unlike in her apartment, this isn’t seduction and manipulation. It feels genuine. I kiss her.
I can see metallic fireworks above us in purple and red streaks that swirl around and leave traces before burning out. Two school of diamond-fish arch over our heads, passing each other as they sparkle from painting to painting, splashing air in slow motion. I see myself and Amanda in an angled framed shot. This is real. Is this real? My… she doesn’t kiss me like this.
No TV. Not now. Not ever. That’s how Amanda lives. She owns a TV, sure, but it’s got no cable. It’s just for show.
I’m obsessing over the idea of a TV as decoration while I sit on her bed and contemplate sleep. I’ll bet Zack and the rest of the group have slept by now; probably have their skydiving plans all mapped out.
Amanda’s phone has gone off continuously today without an answer. I’m not imagining that. It sits on a bed next to me, ringing every fifteen minutes.
We both know who it is. We know what Zack, Kerri, and Adam want. It makes me feel closer to Amanda that we don’t answer it. So does lying in her bed while she showers.
The bathroom door must have opened. The muffled music is now blasting through the large apartment. I wonder how she affords such a nice place by herself.
“This place must cost you a—Christ, what is that noise?” I hear a female singing, if that’s what you call it, and a lot of guitar smooshing.
“Chick rock.” She looks at me as if I know what that means. I’m transfixed by the fact she gives her towel over to fate. It stays on as she moves around.
“I’m an angry young girl. I’m supposed to listen to this and terrorize cheerleaders, right?”
“I just mean it’s too loud.”
“It’s good. Trust me.”
“And why don’t you trust me?” she asks.
“You and Zack. Conspiracy against the small town kid—me. Fucking with my head for God knows why. Some sort of mind expanding life lesson. A test.”
“A test? Sure. It’s all a test. ‘God’ is testing us, right?” She quotes the word God with her fingers in such a way I know my mother would smack her. “Are you serious?”
Amanda has a lot of furnishings in the apartment, and yet no book case for the dozens of books that line her wall in peculiar stacks and arrangements. The Hero’s Journey. Magical Thinking. The Sexual Politics of Meat. Ophelia Speaks. She couldn’t possibly have read all these books. I’m embarrassed by my rationale which is: she’s pretty—and while she can be smart at the same time—I imagine she’s too popular to find the time to read. Given my theory, I have read a lot more books.
“The thing about Zack is I know Zack. I know guys like Zack like I know myself.”
“What does that mean?”
I look away from the book piles as they turn into small birds and scatter across the room. Amanda handles this well. She’s rubbing her scalp, wet hair flying everywhere, leaving me to stare at that towel again.
“It means I know that he isn’t this larger-than-life character you project him to be. He had a childhood. He once got laughed at.”
“How does his childhood have anything to do with anything?”
“He needs the empowerment you give him to have that air of coolness. He needs you to perpetuate his persona.”
She turns to her mirror and drops the towel, exposing her perfect butt to me. No, I think her back is more perfect. I notice a tattoo as she pulls her hair up to reveal her neck. I avert my eyes, a product of my upbringing.
My gaze fixates on a picture of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers sitting on her nightstand. The idea of three rivers combining becomes a transcendent moment as I see the photo come out to meet me in 3-D.
“I need to see Pittsburgh. I never go see things. I never do anything. Could I visit you there sometime?”
“Sure.” She’s playing with her hair in the mirror. Her naked body is the envy of every girl I’ve met from high school on. “Here.” She throws a towel at me, perhaps because I’m staring. “Go get a shower.”
I look over to the towel and realize she’s knocked over my beer. The beer is splattered against her books and they begin melting into her wall. She’s in front of me cleaning it up. She turns, almost head-butting me by accident. We both smile, our faces near each other. I grab Amanda, my hand around her head, and kiss her. Maybe a second goes by, maybe an hour. I don’t know.
I push her away, a perplexed but self-satisfied look on her face. Or maybe that expression is shock and disbelief. I’m embarrassed and half-aroused as I reach behind her to get the towel. I rush off to the bathroom, my tail between my legs.
The soft tan-colored floor of the shower houses a small puddle of cold water. I can see myself in the water as I shut the sliding door. I’m stopped by what I think is my own face, before I realize it’s a face I’ve never seen before. It’s the inviting appearance of a kind, old claymation man. I communicate with him telepathically. I look to the cream tile walls and find a knob that looks like a medieval ornament. I don’t know how but I’m aware that I have made a fantastic discovery. I’ve unearthed the secret handle that, when moved, leads to a mysterious chamber. But when I turn the ancient device, I find that a fresh spring comes pouring out instead. Amanda should not have left me alone.
Water cascades down onto me in the most remarkable four dimensional shapes. The feeling as it hits me is akin to transferring energy from one object to another. Water gets in my eyes but I bleed it back out in awakening tears.
I see a singular ant crawling on the bottom of the shower wall. He slides near the drain as the crystal-clear water splashes off my body and engulfs him. Except the ant does not perish drowning in the drain, he instead multiplies numerous times and is now an army of ants.
These new ants have an aura of red glowing light, but they are not fire ants. Rather they are well organized travelers, come to do a sacred dance at my feet. The ants move in formation like a high school marching band in a halftime show. The design and sharpness of their routine is flawless. I stand, staring down at them in warm webs of refreshing water, watching in awe.
“You might need soap at some point,” comes a far off voice. I snap back to the reality where heavenly sun is not raining down through a small window simply for my Aztec Ants and ancient ruins to be spotlighted. Amanda has tracked me through the jungle to my private waterfall. My eyes barely open, a silly smile on my face, I try to speak.
I see the outline of her wet hair, the sides of her breasts, perfect hips, and fine formed legs through the frosted shower doors. But the water is too much of a distraction for me. I fade back into my own world, blocking out sounds from the outside. I’m alerted again when I see the sliding door move in my periphery.
Amanda has entered my secret haven. She shares the stream of water flowing down onto me as I become aware that I am in fact in a shower inside of her apartment. She reaches up around my neck and pulls me in. We kiss. I am awake in reality again.
I kiss her back, thinking of how I got here. I’m in a strange bathroom with a strange girl in a strange valley. I am on my vision quest. Zack has put me here.
Amanda pulls me closer and pushes her hips into my mine. I do the same. The kisses become more passionate. More forceful. I cannot escape to some secluded place and all at once I am confused as to where I am supposed to be. I flash to my fantasy but my fantasy includes my guest.
“Don’t push this out,” I say to myself in a whisper.
“What?” Amanda stops for a moment and looks into my eyes. So close, she sees down into me and lingers there. “Are you okay?”
“I am here with you right now, right?” Before she can answer—puzzled look on her face—I answer for her. “I am right where I’m supposed to be.”
I feel her touch me and I’m compelled to touch her in the same ways. I’ve never dreamed of being with such a sexual being in my life. She moans something into my ear that I don’t understand. I’m lost in my head. I’m with her. I have no way of controlling which gets my attention from flash to flash.
“Slow down,” she tells me as I fly back out of my head and into the shower. I have her propped up against the back wall. Her hands grasp onto the windowsill up above and the handle of the sliding door to stay sturdy.
I feel like I might devour her. I have this overwhelming need to consume and take control of her in this vulnerable moment. It’s the only time I’ll have control. She’s become a sacrificial lamb.
I’m having sex with a stranger. My mother. GOD. Marie. What would they say? What will they say? How can I ever look them in the face again? They’ll hate me for who I’ve become.
An odd thought sneaks into my mind as I thrust: Why would I ever want to hear them speak again? What could they say to me that would convince me to be a prisoner in that life again?
Again? As if I am free and clear. As though the decision is already clear and present.
I gasp for breath and I hear Amanda do the same. She’s let go of the windowsill and the door, a short staccato laugh as she slumps down into the corner of the shower. She’s pleased, or at least her face looks satisfied with what we’ve done. My knees tremble. My head feels light. God didn’t strike me down. My mother was wrong and this young lady was right—at least for now. After all, he can’t see any of us in Happy Valley.
John Philapavage resides in Allentown, Pa, where he spends most of his time with his nephews and their dog, Strawberry. When he’s not doing that, he writes novels. Philapavage studied at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he fell in love with fiction. He believes in dialogue with a naturalistic flare, plots that err toward realism, and protagonists who need to learn something. He would one day like to take his nephews to a bookstore and point out one of his books, (assuming book stores and publishers still exist). The Coach Mazz Project is his first completed novel, with several others in various stages of production.