“Heroine” by Joe Quigley

02Feb09

It started when I was little, watching reruns of old Batman and Robin shows before school. I’d sit at my kitchen table, spooning cornflakes into my mouth without looking at my bowl. Eyes on the TV—the old kind with the dials—on the kitchen counter, next to the toaster, in the old apartment before mom moved away. My focus was always on Robin. I identified with him. He’d been played by a nineteen-year-old actor named Burt Ward, now a fat old man. But he seemed like a little girl to me. A little girl just like me. His little shorts, so similar to the undies I wore underneath the long, baggy T-shirt that read: #1 DAD. His short black hair, similar to my pixie cut that led the old Italian man at the deli to call me a good boy when he gave me free slices of ham.

Under his green short-sleeved shirt and red vest—with the yellow R in a tiny black circle—his torso looked flat. No muscle. No fat. Just flat, like mine. His arms were skinny. His bare legs, hairless. His little shoes, like my ballet slippers. He seemed so much like me that it seemed funny. It was funny to see someone so much like me fight in a yellow cape and flimsy domino mask alongside the crusader of justice.

 I remember every time he and Batman were tied together over a vat of acid—I don’t remember the show that well to be honest—but I recall it was always Batman who saved them and it seemed that if left to his own devices, Robin would be killed. There was this one episode—or maybe I just created it in my mind—where Batman and Robin were fighting these thugs. Like a dozen of ‘em. Big, burly, fat guys in black jumpsuits. And one of ‘em wraps his hands around Robin’s neck and chokes him. And Robin grabs the man’s wrists and tries to pull him off, but he’s too weak. He clenches his eyes tight, arches his back, bares his teeth, and tries his best to save himself. And then Batman comes to save him with a POW! But as I sat there, milk dripping from my lips to my chin, I knew I wanted Robin to die. I wanted him to die like that. Slowly choked. Fighting, but not strong enough. Falling to his knees. Tears in his eyes. And then nothing. No build up, but in an instant his body goes limp. His head tilted to the side, his eyes closed, an arm swaying. Then the thug lets go and he falls face first into the cement of the warehouse. His arms sprawled out, his cape still. Batman comes rushing up, but he’s too late.

 In my head, it’s not Burt Ward, or Dick Grayson, or any boy who’s Robin. It’s me. And I must have been seven when I decided that I wanted to be choked to death, wearing a Robin costume. 

    

Before puberty, it remained a silent thing that only came up in the back of my head, at night. Staring at the cracks in the ceiling in my bedroom that was really a narrow and open hallway between the living room and the kitchen.

 When I was thirteen, we moved to the big house in the burbs with the tire swing in the back. I’d discovered writing. I kept a black and white marble notebook under my socks in the bottom left drawer of my dresser. I filled it with the same death, the same spandex, over and over.  I knew dad would never find it. I was more afraid of Deb, my step-mother, who was always snooping around.

 But it got boring after awhile, so I began filling the notebooks with crude, boxy, sharpie drawings. Problem was, I didn’t look like Robin anymore. Deb was fat and she was always asking me if I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich, or she bought me crumb cake from the bakery, or gave me paper bags full of soda or Twinkies before I left for school. It was okay for her to be fat. She had a special store to buy clothes and had my dad, and most importantly, she had curves. I was twelve and was shaped like a potato.

 Soon there was masturbation. It seemed wrong at first, but it was the only time I could be Robin. On my bed, knees bent, underpants twisted and stretched between my ankles. Reaching down in between, ignoring the light sloshes of my sex. Ignoring my long hair that Deb had encouraged me to grow because it looked oh, so cute. And the dangling earrings from my birthday that are just so me. And the little white bra with the little red hearts because I was a little darling becoming a big darling. I forgot it all, my toes tightening and lifting off the bed. My thumb and index finger massaging my neck. Eyes tight. Baring my teeth. And then—

 Eventually, I stopped looking like a potato. I had unfortunate curves, but not many. I played basketball, but wasn’t very good. Got high with a circle of friends around a fire pit. Snuck into bars and frat parties. Was good in lit classes and was fluent in French. I was known for being funny because my guy friends would tell me so, say that I had a nice ass, which was rare. I had a boyfriend named Jake. Lost my virginity. First time he made me cum, as I tightened around his dick and clutched the sheets, he had this goonish grin and wheezed, Yeah. If only he knew that at the moment I was pretending to be a naked and deceased seven-year-old girl wearing a yellow cape.

 

I had tried the Internet. Gone to chat rooms and even posted an ad, but all I got were man-babies. Calling me babe, asking for pics of my ass, listing what chains and whips they got. How big their dicks were. Whiney and pathetic losers who wanted to prove something by pretending to dominate a woman. Or pansies with longwinded and nervous e-mails about the benefits of auto-asphyxiation. Not what I wanted.

 Then there was Seth, my college boyfriend. We were lying in his dorm room, on his twin bed, on our stomachs, looking out the window. The quad was overtaken by a snowstorm, everything was white.

 Hey, can I ask you something? he said. He was this compact guy with short brown hair, kind of like Robin to tell you the truth. He was pretty good looking, but shaky. He must have been really nervous then because when I turned to answer him, his head was facing away from me. 

What is it?

He took a long breath. He rolled over and sat up, cross-legged and smiled. He had his hands out like he was offering me something. His hands; thin, long fingers, pale, skinny black hairs over each knuckle. Can I choke you? I mean not like choke-you-choke-you, not like ggaah, he said with his hands on his throat, rocking his head, sticking out his tongue, and crossing his eyes. But like… you know like I’m good at it, I mean like I’ve done it before. I mean like only with my old girlfriend… and I don’t know, like it’s not just a fetish or something. It’s supposed to help with… he pointed at my crotch, but I scooted over to him, took his hands and nodded. He smiled and leaned in to kiss me, but missed and got my chin. He tried again, but I ended up laughing into his mouth.

We ended up making out a bit and then cuddling. As he spooned me, his arms around my body, his leg feeling like one of my own, I said, Um, I actually have my own favor to ask.

 The week leading to the choking was thrilling. All my friends would ask me, Why’re you so giddy? And I’d smile and throw up my hands feigning ignorance. Rinska—my main girl—would grab my arm and throw her hair back, I know what’s going on… Seth? with a chuckle. I’d suck my teeth and look away, kind of embarrassed and go, Yeaaaaah. And the girls would laugh, one adding, Fucking nerdy guys, always eager to please. And it made me feel guilty, like I was pretending to be someone else, someone normal, someone who actually liked Seth as much as everyone—including him. But I guess I was always pretending, just like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

 Still, I was excited. My pixie cut stayed at boy length. I was barely over five feet. I inspected my pits and legs and patch, daily. Smooth and clean. God, I hated that Brazilian wax. Jogged everyday, body was lean, breasts stayed small. Hips getting wider and my ass rounded, but that was okay.  I made sure that I was in nice shape—that I was fit to be Robin.

 The first disappointment was the costume shop. They had Robin costumes for little boys that I figured would fit, but they weren’t what I wanted. They were crimson and black and covered the whole legs, didn’t come with the tiny green shorts. They also came with these padded muscle torso pieces. What the hell is that? I searched around, I asked someone for a Robin costume from the old Adam West Batman show, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. Finally, I settled on something I found next to the erotic costumes. It was like a Robin costume, but more of a polyester dress with a low cut that had the same color scheme. The top stitching had yellow Xs and another X where the big yellow R should’ve been. I settled on a fat Zorro mask. At least it had a cape.

 The night was even more disappointing. For one thing, I didn’t know that Seth wanted to have sex while he choked me. It was good sex, mind you, but the way he erotically stroked his index finger around my neck beforehand—what the fuck was that? I didn’t want foreplay over choking.

 For a few moments, it was good though. He had allowed me to keep the costume on. He pressed his thumb down on my windpipe, his fingers digging around it. He was good. My eyes tight. Baring my teeth. I tried my best to ignore his dick. Ignore that he was still allowing some air to move in and out. I could pretend. I writhed under his body. I could feel my chest moving up and down, my legs involuntarily wrapping around his ass. My eyes moistened. My lips quivering. Oh my. Yes. So close and then—

 Are you okay? he asked his hand slipping from my throat, the head of his dick slowly exiting.

 Yea, just keep going.

 Are you sure? He was on his knees in front of me. His dick half dead and laying on his lap, You looked like…

 I propped myself up and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back to my throat. Yes, yes just choke me, my voice was high. I felt like I was going to cry.

He pointed at his dick. But I’m…

I let out a pissed off grunt and got on my knees. I pulled him to my throat with one hand and jerked off his limp dick in the other, the baggy condom still hanging off of it.

He pulled himself away and got off the bed and asked me what the hell was wrong with me and I asked him why he had to ruin it and he told me that he didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. I went to the bathroom to pee and cry and came back and we lay next to each other till both of us apologized. We had normal sex without the Robin costume. He spooned me again and said he was sorry and that he loved me.

 I broke up with him about three days later.

 

Graduated college. Moved back to the city. Got a job as a secretary. I started dating this graphic designer—West—and didn’t think of  any choking with him, just enjoyed the sex and the handholding and the Thai restaurants and the new friends and the paychecks and the tired nights eating a cup of noodles and watching shitty romantic comedies.  Enjoying my secret identity.

 In the meantime, I had been on a mission to create it. The real thing. The Internet was my main tool for recruiting people to custom make stuff. I went on eBay to get a lot of it and when I was twenty-seven, it was complete. A real Robin costume—NO!—a real Robin uniform. Everything from the show, from the green gloves to the thin belt. Cotton and leather and rubber and silk and perfection.  I had kept the pixie cut. I had kept jogging and waxing and slathering myself with lotions and potions after each shower. I had stayed thin. My breasts had stayed small and I was ready. I was fit. I was Robin.

 The night came. I told West that I was visiting my dad in the burbs. Really, I had taken a bus to the bad side of town. To the tall projects and boarded up corner stores. I brought a duffle bag with my supplies and checked in under a false name at the nicest seedy motel.

 I went to the streets, searching for something, late at night. A brown overcoat that covered my true self, but you could still see my bare legs and green booties.

 I found them on the playground, shooting a ball back and forth under a hoop. It was nearly two in the morning. Three tall black guys. One in a wife-beater, one in a Bulls jersey, and the other in a white T-shirt that said Hilfiger on it. Obviously up to no good. They were my thugs! I didn’t really consider my intent—if I really wanted them to kill me. I don’t know. I just had to do this.

 I reached into my pocket and pulled out my mask and wrapped it around my eyes. I dropped the coat and marched towards them. My cape blowing in the air, goose bumps on my arms and legs. They already saw me heading across the blacktop and just stared ahead, murder clearly in their eyes.

 I stopped a few yards in front of them, placed my fists at my waist, and brought my chin up, facing the full moon, Hello, CRIMINALS! I am the GIRRRL-WONDER! And I’m here to bring you in!

 They looked at me, Hilfiger with the ball tucked under his arm. Um, okay, said the Wife-Beater, nodding his head, Uh, you all right?

 Oooooh! I’m just fine! It’s you thugs that are going to suffer! I said turning my head to them and raising an eyebrow.

 Hey, c’mon, said Hilfiger.

 Come on, what?

 That’s a little offensive, said the Bull.

 Seriously, lady, we were just heading home.

 The Wife-Beater walked up to me, and tried to grab my arm. He gave a half-smile, Listen, this ain’t a good place to be dressed up like that this late. You live near here?

 I quickly pulled my arm away from him, Think I’ll give away where the ol’ cave is, do you villain?

 What cave? asked the Bull as I threw a karate chop at the Wife-Beater’s neck.

 AGH! he cried. Backing away, holding his wound, What the fuck was that?

 Hilfiger whipped out a cell phone from his baggy shorts and began dialing. I strutted over to him, What? Calling for more fiends?

 NO! I’m calling the fucking police, ya crazy ass crazy!

 HA! Like they’d help you! I said charging at him with my fist out, but the Bull quickly jumped in front of him and the Wife-Beater pulled me back, wrapping his arms around my stomach. HELP! I screamed, BATMAN! HELP ME!

 Yeah, she’s like a fucking Wonder Woman or something. I don’t know. She’s like calling us thugs and she karate chopped my friend. Yeah, karate chopped, said Hilfiger into his cell phone.

 I struggled hard against the fiend holding my stomach tight trying to pull his arms away, but he was too strong. Stronger than me. His cupped hands digging into my gut, oh, so close. So close to it. Please, I begged, a shudder in my voice, Batman will stop you!

 WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? He released, pushing me forward, Let’s just get out of here, he said, fed up.

 Yeah, she’s still here, said Hilfiger into the cell phone, pacing a few steps ahead of us.

 We can’t just leave her, said the Bull.

 Son, she fuck’n karate chopped me.

 She’s not well, look at her, he said pointing at me as I now stood between the two men, like a tiny and scared child, realizing they weren’t going to choke me at all. She’s like my Aunt, I’m used to this. Let’s just wait till the police come.

 I was standing rigid now, my hands in front of my lap, feeling silly and naked, no longer Robin. Hey, what’s your name?

 But I couldn’t have this. Death was one thing, but humiliation? I ran off across the blacktop as fast as I could, leaving the overcoat behind me. I looked behind to see them just standing there, staring at me, not moving.

 I ducked into an alleyway and sat beside a dumpster, curled into a ball. I tried covering myself with my cape, but it was too short. I cried into my knees rocking back and forth, Stupid criminals, I said, Stupid Deb, I snarled, Fucking Batman, and I did that for a very long time before walking back to the blacktop. The thugs were gone, and I searched for my over coat, but it was nowhere. As I looked down at the empty square of cement where it once laid, I thought briefly how nice it would be to see the thug who stole it because maybe he’d be willing to strangle me.

 It was a long walk back to the motel. I had taken the bus down to the park and left all my money and stuff in the overcoat. As I walked along, I looked in dark corners, hoping something would come out. Something would understand. Something would give me what I wanted.

 But nothing came. And I went back to the motel and explained to the night manager that I had just returned from a costume party. But she still looked at me strangely, sucking in her lips and squinting as she gave me a new key.

 

I was still in costume, on the bed in the motel. The room smelled liked cheese. I stared ahead at the painting of a sailboat that hung over the T.V. The old kind with dials. I wondered if I had any money in my blue duffle bag I left next to the bathroom door. I knew I had a change of clothes. I wondered about writing to prisons, ex-serial killers up for parole. One of them would probably want to strangle me. They’d probably love it.  Just change your clothes, get home, regroup, I told myself. I didn’t even want to be strangled at the moment. I wanted to be with West. I wanted to feel the warm flab of his body and cry and feel his beard brush against me. But he’d ask what I was crying about and what would I say? Blame it on fat old Deb.

 Then I heard the commotion.

 My room was on the first floor. Next to the door was a big window with white vertical blinds that looked yellow from the morning sun and I could see the outlines of people standing behind it and heard them talking rather loudly and someone yelling something.

 I crept over to the blinds and pulled it over a bit and saw about four people—including the manager, the maid, a woman, and a ten-year-old girl shaped like a potato—all circled around an old man with thin gray hair and high slacks pulled over his flannel shirt. He lay so still, sprawled over a blue handicapped parking spot.  Then there was a heavy knock on my door and I could hear someone yell, HELLO?

 And I knew why he was knocking on my door because an ambulance may be coming, but not fast enough and nobody out there knows CPR. And the man knocking on my door wants to know if I do. And I do.

 So, I go to the door and swing it open. He takes a few steps back, shocked by my uniform, forgetting his question. I nod to him with a stiff lip. I walk to the old man and throw my hands up high signaling for everyone to give him some room. They all move away.

 I kneel down next to him. Tilt his head back and put my ear to his chest and feel nothing. I put my hand to his mouth and feel nothing. So, I cup my mouth over his and breathe. Then I plant my gloved hands in the center of his sternum and I push up and down. And breathe. And count, And push. And breathe. And count. My breasts shifting under the vest. And push. My shorts-covered bottom going up and down. My cape hitting his neck. With everyone staring at me. I have to save this man, my body feels like it will shatter if I don’t. And I do it over and over again and the sound of sirens is getting closer, but his eyes open before they get there. And he coughs and writhes on the ground and I stand up like a Goddess. Like a heroine.

 The people part around me. I go back to my room and get my duffle bag and walk out as the ambulance pulls into the parking lot. Everyone’s clapping for me and hooting and punching the air and I smile, but my lip goes stiff again and I know what I’m supposed to do now. I run. My yellow cape flowing behind me as I charge out of the parking lot and down the street towards the bright new morning.

 

A year went by. West and I moved into a nice apartment with a real bedroom and our own king-size bed. I picked out the sheets. He had a tiny office where he paints and does his music. He called me in one day, sounding kind of angry, his gruff voice, WOMAN!

 I squealed, WHAT?

 He shouted, GET YOUR FINE ASS IN HERE NOW!

 I walked in shaking my head, What the fuck is wrong with you? I found him on his knee, a smile almost hidden by his beard, that diamond, that band, that box. I cried. Yes.

 Got a new job, I work with mentally challenged kids. I got into it after that night. They’re a handful sometimes. You got to spend ten minutes to get this one kid to read a sentence, but it’s so worth it when he does. I visit my dad more often, a lot. He’s not doing very well, and it’s tough to keep him on his prescribed diet. Deb and I do a good job though. She’s lost a lot of weight and I come over to watch reality shows with her. I like my step-mom.

 Her and Rinska took care of my bridal shower. As I sat in the back room of Nora’s in a toilet paper dress, counting down the days and months till October. All those women looking up at me. My friends, Deb, my co-workers. I knew I belonged. 

 As for my true identity, someone took a photo of me with their phone at the motel. It’s a blurry image, but the news picked it up. Not just local, CNN! I became something of an urban legend. And well, some nights, I go out in the ol’ costume. Maybe there’s a rape or mugging I can stop, but I rarely find anything. Scared away some kids doing graffiti, or I tried to scare them. I ended up signing autographs and having them pledge to never deface private property again.

 I’ve promised myself that I’ll let Robin go after the wedding. I’ll have kids, a real life, I can’t do this stuff anymore. I let my tummy get wider and fatter. My tits droop. My thighs are thick and I have light black fuzz between my legs.

 Maybe I can just go public. I’ve considered that. Let my celebrity take hold. Volunteer at a children’s hospital or something like that. Maybe West could dress up as Batman if he shaved his beard.  How funny the choking seems. Something I know must have been true, but seems so odd and disconnected from who I am.

 West doesn’t even choke me during sex, anymore. It got boring and stale, something I forced myself to do with him. Now, it’s just sex and beejays and kisses and fingers and nice things.  

 

I took a drive in the green sedan that me and West bought. I was wearing the costume. I figured I might see some people in need of help on the road and it seemed a lot less dangerous than patrolling the streets. It was the middle of the afternoon anyway. I didn’t see anyone though. Brushed it off with a shrug and took the scenic route home. Few cars around me, mostly tall trees.  Then I saw him. Skinny guy in jeans and a T-shirt standing by this old beat up, gray thing, his hood up, raising his arms to signal me to stop.

 I parked behind him on the shoulder and got out. Chin high, fists on hips. He laughed, The Girl-Wonder! Heard about you on T.V. You’re gonna help me with my car troubles?

 I laughed too, dropping my stoic pose and nodding. I sort of knew then that I had totally outgrown the uniform. Robin just wasn’t who I was. This would be my last mission, Sure. What do you need?

 I dunno. I think just a boost.

 Got jumper cables?

 Nah, you?

 I smiled, Yep! I moved to the driver’s side of my car and popped the trunk. There were a few sweaters and papers from work and the spare tire and a football and a bike pump and damn I didn’t see the jumper cables. And I was just about to turn to tell him when BAM! Back of my head. A tire iron? I don’t know. It was hard though. Not just a bump, I could feel my skull crack as I fell to the ground, my mind leaking onto the pavement. My eyes twitching, still awake as he approached me and sat hard on my stomach. He was breathing heavily. The same goonish grin that Jake had. Yeah, he wheezed. He wrapped his hands around me. His thumb pressing hard on my windpipe, his fingers wrapping around it like he was going to rip it right out of me. I opened my mouth and made this gargling noise. And I clenched my eyes tight. Bared my teeth, and I think I pulled at his arms, but I wasn’t strong enough. And all I could think was no, not now, not now. I was good now. I don’t want this now. I’m not this. Please. Batman! BATMAN SAVE ME! I’M THE GIRL-WOND—

 And then it seemed so funny.

 

 

Joe Quigley was born and raised in a middle class family in Brooklyn, New York. He is an award winning playwright and graduate of the Columbia College Fiction Writing program in Chicago. He is currently living in Brooklyn again, searching for employment and finishing his first children’s novel.

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Notes from the desk of K. Anne Unger, Editor

This story was hard to resist. It’s provocative, engaging and hilarious at times, making you sometimes forget how deeply disturbed our protagonist really is. We feel her struggle as she searches for who she is, wrestling with who she thinks she should be and who she wants to be. Joe Quigley captures something we’ve all faced at one point or another, or will be sure to when we take a good hard look in the mirror searching for that ubiquitous truth and how we are connected to it, only to discover that our truth lives with us, in the ways we act, in the things we do.

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Comments on this story by Rich Mallery, author of “Tomorrow We Release The Dogs”

The sexual frustration leaps off the page. I love how the fantasy changes from one thing to something completely different. But what does the heroine want? Is it to save the day? Or is it to meet her demise? I’m choosing the second option. Dark characters like that are definitely enticing and the heroine in this story carries the self-destructive urges of a masochist, which is fitting to the times we live in. This story is about more than sex, it is about the sick, twisted desires everyone feels but doesn’t admit.

Heroine is a dangerous story and takes chances. While the ending is slightly predictable, it is fitting and satisfying and leaves you with the question, “Did the heroine’s wish come true?” The simple answer is yes. If this story were safe, it would end with the main character getting what she wanted but not enjoying it. It would end with her cursing herself for desiring such things. But this story isn’t safe and that’s what makes it good. The heroine doesn’t learn any lesson or repent. She gets what she wants and smiles even though what she wants is clearly something horrific. The sadist in me appreciates the honesty.




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