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  • Trickster
  • Kate Rutledge Jaffe (bio)

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[End Page 139]

I met the trickster in a chat room when I was sixteen. Turned out he was in high school with a friend of mine. She didn’t know him, she said. But she’d seen him pack himself inside a locker once, said he’d laughed for an hour straight in class until the teacher made him leave, and then he’d walked outside and stood on the other side of the classroom window, still laughing, his face pale, his hair pulled up and split by the wind and rain.

“I heard he caught a squirrel with his bare hands,” she said. “I heard the whole girls’ lacrosse team gave him blow jobs on a dare.” She blew smoke out of her nostrils and winced.

“Right,” I said. “Sure. Cool.” I tried to imagine what a squirrel would feel like in my hands, squirming. How long it would take him to calm down, give up, be still and breathing slow, papery breaths.

I lived with my mom mostly then, where my little brother spent the dog days of his Asperger’s spying on me from a cardboard box. Mom liked to tell us she’d sworn off men, then murmur, “Not you, baby,” and pat my flinching brother on the shoulder.

My dad was caught up in an arduous stage of domesticity, having recently married a dentist (“A dentist! The horror.”—Mom) and created a breastfed baby girl. He shepherded his wife between school events and doctor appointments at which she’d invariably wield her long, wrinkled nipple like an engagement ring for all to coo over. My brother would tuck his head inside his T-shirt, and I would pinch the collar closed and feel his warm, fast breath against the seam. So awfully, so painfully, so irredeemably normal. I imagined the word normal chanted and nasal, high-pitched, something that might be shouted at the kid eating an egg-salad sandwich at the back of the lunchroom. Normal, normal, normal.

The trickster was something else. He chatted me every day. He told me he liked to read, that he was way into drugs, that he’d “fucked” people. We exchanged photos, me posed next to a cardboard cutout of a buxom girl selling antacids, him in front of his computer with his shirt off. He was small, ginger, attempting a beard, but also muscular like a fuck-up—broad shouldered, thick-knuckled and poised. A typical conversation of ours: [End Page 140]


learning an adagio by schubert


die schone mullerin


right yea. he’s smart. wish i could compose like him


smart? sure. only if you forget about the syphilis




what r u reading now?


just snt u something. check yer email




heds up - its my cock


oh ok haha

I couldn’t get a read on him. He had a gigantic dick, which I found exciting and awful. When we finally agreed to meet, I brought my best friend with me. We smoked cigarettes at a Denny’s across the street from Butch’s Gun Shop. Outside, a pregnant woman paced the street in stockings, her sandals in a puddle under the streetlight. The trickster was twenty minutes late and jogged through the door wearing a tight white T-shirt and jeans, turning to look behind him again and again until he sat across from me and pulled a baseball cap down to his eyebrows.

“Hey.” He smiled at me, and then kept sneaking looks. “Hey, hey, wow, it’s really you.”

“In the flesh,” I said and then got stuck on the word flesh, the meat of it filling my mouth. I remembered my crayons, the shift from “flesh” to “peach.” Those waxy crayons melting in a closet somewhere. The trickster looked out the window at a speeding car and took off his hat. He ran his stubby fingers through his stiff red hair. My friend pinched me in the leg, but I didn’t look up from my coffee. I didn’t have to.

The trickster was twitchy...


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