I splash water onto my face and pass my hand over it, gripping the wavy hairs of my beard. Then I stare into the mirror just to see if I can still do it for any length of time�and it seems that I can�all the while I run through the speech over and over in my head. I don�t know why I tend to do that just before a speech. I know them by heart. I�ve given them all so many times at these conferences. Yes my friends, then I pause and look out to the mostly female audience, we can win the war on rape. That�s when the women get to clapping and hollering and I stand there a true fraud and think, I�ve now become one of those idiots who wages war on things: intangibles, concepts, inanimate objects and forces of nature.
And a line of women will position themselves to talk to me, saying things like my speech restored their faith in men or that my writings are so profound and I nod and say something that seems thoughtful, but is really canned and trite. Something like: Well, it�s about having faith that the male of our species will turn away from Rage And Passion that Eradicates and instead Rise And Power Everyone. My boss wrote that. He writes just about everything I say or is credited to me. He�s big on acrostics. That�s our slogan: Rise And Power Everyone.
Really, I get tired of being trite, but I must admit, as much as I hate this job, the fringe benefits are amazing. My position has allowed me to meet plenty of interested women. Though many of them, I must say, are fragile, cracked or thoroughly broken.
Looking into the mirror, I realize that my weariness is showing in the bunches of dark, rough skin beneath my eyes. I wonder if this makes me look more or less sincere.
A pretty middle-aged woman approached me this morning in the conference hall and said I looked tired. I told her I was and hoped I would be able to remember my speech, which was an empty thing to say since that speech is seared into my thoughts as if it were a great horror. It all starts to come together for her and she says with amazement, You�re Warren Traveler? I nod and say, That�s what�s on my driver�s license.
She invites me to breakfast and as we eat she starts asking me all these questions. Says the War on Rape is brilliant and asks how I came up with it. I tell her me and my boss brainstormed it one day while looking for an effective concept. That�s what I always tell them. The truth is he walked out of his office and handed me a speech. Said that the phrase is going to make the money pour in. It�s always about the money.
Before I can finish my eggs, she�s deep into her story. They all have one. She tenses up and speaks robotically as if she�s talking about someone else. Says she�s only telling me this because she knows I can understand. I nod, knowing what�s going to come next. This has happened to me hundreds of times. She says I have a familiar feeling, like we�ve been friends since we were kids.
She says it happened to her while she was in college. A friend of her boyfriend�well�ex boyfriend. A guy she knew since elementary school. She got sick at work and asked for a ride home, but in the car it became clear that her stomach would have never made it, so he suggests his house. He even held her hair while she vomited and brought her ginger ale.
I�ve heard this story before. The details change, but it really is always the same. My face gets slack and I nod at times, shake my head at others. It�s my empathetic pose. Somewhere in her story I zone out and think about a movie I used to watch on cable when I was a kid. I only remember one scene. It�s the one where this morbidly obese guy, a magician, with breasts that run into his stomach is lying on his back and a beautiful young girl is naked on top of him. She has blonde hair and her tits are bobbing up and down. Her eyes are glassy and there is a knock on the door. The magician stands up, wraps a sheet around his waist and goes to answer it. Before he gets to the door, he remembers the woman. He turns to her and says, When I snap my fingers, you will put on your clothes and remember none of this. And then he snaps his fingers and she shakes her head and gathers her clothes and leaves the room as if nothing happened.
As a kid I used to think that was really funny, but I felt weird laughing at it too. I kept thinking about that girl having flashbacks that she couldn�t explain and piecing it all together and feeling anger and shame and helplessness. But every time it was on I watched and laughed. That�s how I feel sometimes in these conferences and listening to these women. Everything horrible is just a little bit ridiculous and vice versa.
And this woman, she's a bit ridiculous. While I�m zoning out she squeezes my hand and tells me I�m doing God�s work and I know right then that we�re going to have sex and I feel like that magician in the soft porn movie or what my boss calls a rare and powerful employee.
BIO: Rion Amilcar Scott grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has stories published or forthcoming at Unlikely 2.0, sfwp.org, solnoirpublishing.com, and other publications. His stories have won awards from the Pan African Literary Forum, the Indiana Review, Glimmer Train, the Santa Fe Writers Project, and George Mason University, where he received an MFA in fiction. He teaches English at Bowie State University.