HomeNavigation

issue 43: July - August 2004 

 | author bio

A Caricature of Faith
J. K. Mason 
      

I click on her breasts and drag them out, but not too much. Then I slim down her waist and darken her skin color. I zoom out, inspect her proportions from a distance, then zoom back in to make her breasts smaller, more in line with her hips. I set HEIGHT to 5’ 3", select BLONDE for HAIR COLOR, and choose a hairstyle called "Chante," which I drag from a box and drop onto her blank head. I pick the eyes, center them over the nose, and slide the EYE COLOR bar toward BLUE. Then I refine her breasts, firming and kneading—getting them how I remember them.
      I tug her chin a tad, sip my vermouth, and zoom out for another look. Her body seems correct, but her face just won’t jell. Finally, I give up and erase it. I dig out my yearbook and scan a color photo of the real Faith Daniels, drag it across and release it onto the head; it wraps around and sticks there. Then I highlight it and nudge the FIDELITY bar toward LESS. Slowly, her expression gets cartoonier, more in line with her body. She’s perfect now—a caricature of Faith. I play around with her breasts. Then I click SAVE.
      Faith was the girlfriend I never went all the way with. We spent hour upon hour kissing and fondling during the three years we went steady. Once, we even got naked and lay in bed together—caressing and rubbing, that was all. And to this day I get frustrated just thinking about how close we came that night. What bothers me silly is that a few months after we broke up, her best friend told me that all Faith ever did anymore was fuck her new boyfriend. Every day they did it. Every day.
      Why didn’t she do that with me?
      So now I add background to Faith: I configure her father as single, overprotective, a nervous cartoon man not quite five feet tall. I gray and grease his hair with a software pencil, slick it back. I drop a fat black mustache onto his concave face, sip my drink, and beady his eyes some. I mold him into a parody of Faith’s real father, a man who haunts my memory as a grifter poised to pitch his latest get-rich-quick scheme, cajole me into one of his myriad pyramid plans. For house I click BUNGALOW and tab down to a squarish, red-brick affairnothing at all like Faith’s true house, but I’m pretending her cartoon dad isn’t doing so well in his life. He was such a condescending jerk to me. But this is all too boring. Who cares about this periphery stuff? What I really need is to get Faith Daniels in bed again, naked, lock the door and dim the lights like we did that drunken prom night. So I delete the goofy dad and his silly house.
      I go back and highlight Faith. I dress her in a pink lacy bra, white bikini panties, and prom dress, periwinkle blue. For kicks I decorate her with high-top tennies: black Converse All-Stars with thick white soles and round rubber emblems. Then I visualize these sneakers high in the air, bobbing and jiggling at the end of her long tan legs, me grinding out slow meticulous circles down below. Satisfied with this semblance of Faith, I stand her in a bare room beside a bed.
      I arrow through the ASSORTED MALE BODIES box, select a strapping young torso, and drop on a burgundy, three-button tux with satin notch lapel and dual Besom pockets (as I wore that night). I consider scanning my senior photo from the yearbook, but here I hesitate because I don’t really trust this software program, don’t know much about it other than it’s called "The Cartoon Director" and I’m getting a free, five-day trial. Maybe I should remain anonymous, play a less prominent role in this, my first production (my Virgin Debut!). But it’s simply a cartoon, and there is certainly nothing wrong with creating cartoons, so I scan a recent photo—me at a volleyball game (I referee for the Scottsdale Girls League)—and use the scissors tool to clip away my black-and-white striped shirt, my whistle. I attach my head to my body and cartoonize myself with the FIDELITY bar. I’m very dignified as a cartoon man: my hair is much fuller, my face not so rotund and droopy. Thinking that I shouldn’t be drinking so much on a weeknight, I finish my vermouth; then I refill the glass.
      I stand myself beside Faith, highlight us, then double-click DIRECT A SCENE. In the Command box I enter "Woman remove clothes," and to a drum roll of cursor blinks, she unzips her dress . . . releasing it to the floor. As she ducks slightly to free her panties I position the camera close, filling my screen with her features—the distinctive curve in her lips, the crook in her eyebrow (Faith's crook). Her expression is ambivalent, as though she welcomes the role I am casting her in, yet resents it. She does resemble Faith. Somehow this software has captured her charisma, that fragile innocence in her photo. I enter "Man remove clothes." Then I zoom out.
      I see that I've done well shaping Faith. In the SCENE window she is standing naked beside me, this winsome tableau striking me like an old favorite song. I feel delirious, a fist clenching inside my chest, my heart pumping away. Maybe it’s because I know what’s about to happen, an event that now unlike then is a certainty, or maybe I feel a control over Faith I never enjoyed in high school. Whatever the reason, it pounds at my temples, my groin, thump thump.
      Tami opens the door and enters. I jump from my slouch with a big jerk. "Having fun?" she says (like she always does). My screen faces doorward so I quickly bring up a different window—unfortunately, the one where I was shaping Faith’s breasts. A close-up.
      "Looking at dirty pictures again?"
      "Uh, this cartoon just showed up in my e-mail box. I don’t know where it came from."
      I click the X, closing the window, and the window beneath it appears—the one in which I am naked, aroused beside Faith. I X it, fast.
      "I’m leaving now," she says with her I’m-moving-up-in-the-world smirk. Tami is attending night classes at Scottsdale Community College, struggling towards a Business Admin degree. We’ve been together fourteen years, and recently we’ve been plagued by her desire to bear children: at thirty-four, she feels the chill winds of her approaching maternal autumn. I think we’re too old for kids; it wouldn’t be fair to them. "See you at ten." She pecks my cheek and struts out.
      I’ve been sitting here three hours and it feels like twenty minutes. On the Scene Control Panel, I dim the lighting and select FOREPLAY. Forget that; instead, I toggle over to BRIGHT and click SEX. Before Faith became my steady girlfriend I had done it once with Suzie Mitchell. That was it.
      I push GO; Faith gets on the bed and we start into it.
      I roll my mouse right, swinging the viewpoint to behind them: my cartoon ass, thrusting away, fills the screen. I move the camera to in front, a reverse-angle shot. Faith’s eyes are closed and she has her familiar half-smile, slight but discernible even in this color cartoon. Above her face is my own: my mouth half open, my tongue out to the side, my eyebrows scrunched down over squinting eyes—damn intense for a cartoon man, but this is our first time going all the way. I view the scene from different angles, and in a frenzied moment it’s over. I collapse on top of Faith.
      I click SAVE, go out to the bathroom, and wash up. Back at my desk I play the cartoon movie in its entirety, this time feeling calmer. Then I play it again and masturbate once more. I’m William Candee, fifty-four years old, overweight, and double-chinned. I teach second grade at Lakeview Elementary. I was the principal there until nine years ago when I grew tired of the politics, the bickering teachers, the pampering PTA parents. Now I just teach.
      I drain my drink and log off.

***

The next morning, I’m working with Kristen, a special education student in my class who suffers from paraphrasia, a speech impediment characterized by a mixing of words. Each day while my normal kids struggle over their projects on the far side of the room, I spend thirty minutes or so forming proper sentences with Kristen. Today her mother is here as a parent teaching assistant, and when the bell rings for recess, she comes over to talk. "Kristen is doing fine," I tell her. In my mind I see Faith on her hands and knees, that half-smile on her face. "She...uh...she’s picking up her action verbs well."
      "Have you noticed she has trouble with proper nouns?"
      "Well yes, but I think we’re making headway." I want to give Faith bigger breasts, and I want to explore the various options on the POSITIONS menu.
      "Do you think she'll be able to read at level two this year?"
      I’m going to try something risqué with her. Something nasty. "I think level two is within reason if we can keep this pace until tonight."
      "Huh?"
      "I mean until the end of the school year."

***

At home I pour a vermouth and check my e-mail—forty-five new messages, most peddling pornography and other dubious diversions: clandestine memberships, deviant sex toys, get-rich-quick offers. I used to get about five a day, so I’m blaming the Cartoon Director Company. Three days ago I received my first e-mail from them, clicked it, and was transported to their website where I ran the demo and signed up for the trial. Since then, the deluge.
      "Can you do something about all this junk e-mail," I ask the support rep at my Internet service provider, "like return them to the senders?"
      "Sorry. We have no control over that," she says. "It’s called spam. You need to quit giving out your e-mail address."
      "I didn’t give it to anyone."
      "Well. Someone sure has it. I see you have a few more in your box now, Mr. Candee."
      "You can see inside my box?"
      "I could look at all the mail on your PC if I wanted to, but don’t worry. We’re too busy to waste time with that. What do you think we do here? This isn’t Microsoft," she snorts. "Jeez, I’m sure."
      I down my drink and hang up. Then I pour another.

***

For my next animation I want detail, more digital muscle on the skeleton of my fantasy, so for scene one I recreate Faith’s father and home, this time adding dialogue to the script. When I enter their house to get Faith, Mr. Daniels is standing on the stairway, looking ominous, his face collapsed into a devilish smirk. He smiles, revealing his silver tooth. "Say, Bill, would you be interested in making some extra money on the side," he says, stepping off the stairs. "I’m on the ground floor of a hot new deal. We can pick up some easy cash if you’re interested."
      "You should grow up Mr. Daniels," I tell him. "Get a real job. Face the world."
      His eyebrows scrunch down again. "Have her home by eleven," he grunts.
      "Yeah, right." I shake my head and walk out the door with my hand on Faith’s, ahem, lower back.
      Scene two jump-cuts to my Chevy. I’ve added background music: The Stones’ Gimme Shelter, the song we used to play while parked in the hills overlooking the glittery quilt of Phoenix. For a prop I’ve downloaded a picture of a wine bottle—the cheesiest wine on the Net, Boone’s Farm Strawberry, our favorite—which I’ve positioned top center on the ledge near the rear window. We are sitting in the back seat passing a joint and sipping pink wine from tall, sparkly glasses.
      Then I remember I wanted to adjust Faith’s boobs. I go into MAINTENANCE mode and give her 44 triple-Ds.
      I return to ACTION mode.
      We are facing each other, a two-shot from the chest up, wine bottle totemic behind us. "We can’t make love tonight," I have her say. "We don’t need a bun in the oven now do we?" The last part is what Faith always said whenever I tried going all the way with her, so even though she drones it now with her computer voice, it carries special meaning, and somehow it gives me pleasure to hear this chant again, to know in my heart that it doesn’t matter at all what she tells me. Not this time. I make her smile and blink.
      The camera moves in close, and I gaze into her unyielding eyes. "I have a rubber," I say, "so don’t worry, you won’t get pregnant." I kiss her on the lips and zoom out, slowly.
      I introduce conflict by having her shake her head and say, sternly, "No way, Bill, I don’t think we should do it."
      "Please."
      "I said no, so quit asking."
      "Pretty please."
      "Now stop!"
      "I love you."
      "Well, OK, but I’m a little bit sore from last night, so be gentle, OK?" (Of course I won’t be, not after so many years.)
      I slip on the rubber and we start into it.
      "Who’s your daddy?" I say.
      "You’re so," she says in her monotone voice, "you’re so, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh."
      With the action moving along, I add tension to the script by secretly removing the rubber. Then I quicken the pace.
      "Wait!" she says. "Go easy."
      "Should I stop?"
      "No. Go faster!"
      When it’s over, she says, "Hey! Where’s the rubber?"
      "Oops. It must have slipped off in all the excitement." She frowns and slugs me, then pushes me away. I consider ending it here, but the scene feels top-heavy with tension, so for resolution and denouement I have her taunt: "That’s really cute, Bill, you total pervert!" We tickle each other and laugh like we did on our many drunken dates. The scene fades to black. I breathe deeply and exhale, a warm quiver vibrating the base of my tailbone. Satisfaction. After all these years.
      I finish my drink, click SAVE, and go out to the kitchen for doughnuts and coffee. And there it strikes me. All those nights we spent together kissing and groping but never going all the way, all those frustrating trips home, alone in my car, horny, dejected. I wonder if I should have—like my cartoon man—taken the initiative when I had Faith alone, been more firm and compelling. He was hardly a wimp, and he certainly let Faith’s father know it. Maybe she needed more assertiveness around her. Maybe that’s what her next boyfriend gave her.
      Did I actually fail Faith by not being pushier?
      All day I’ve been thinking about getting kinky. I keep pushing it from my mind, but it keeps pushing back in. I return to the Cartoon Director, and while browsing the Help section for ideas, I discover that once a cartoon movie has been saved to disk, the reality level of the entire movie can be adjusted. So for fun I load up last night’s production, and in the REALISM box I slide the FIDELITY bar to FULL and click PLAY.
      I see me. And it really is me. My nose is a bit pugged and my body overly slender, but in all probability only I would notice these nuances. I’m watching an old man get nasty with a fifteen-year-old girl—me now, Faith then. I rub my crotch. The action is so real, so genuine, that I have an orgasm. I view the other movie with FIDELITY on FULL, resave them both, and log off.
      The next day, I’m talking to Kristen during recess. She says, "Mr. Candee, when I can go to outside play now?"
      "OK . . . Kristen. Say it correctly. Like this." And I speak the words slowly: "Can I go outside and play, Mr. Candee?"
      She looks up at me with two shimmering pools of blue innocence, searching. "Can you play with me, Mr. Candee?" she says.
      "Nope, that’s not right. Try again."
      She says it correctly then turns and skips out. And as I watch her bounce through the doorway, I think of Faith’s little sister, Morgan. Morgan liked to flirt and I always flirted back. Faith would say: "Just ignore her, Bill. She’s learning about boys and you’re someone she can practice on. It’s a little sister thing. You know?" Morgan wasn’t too far from us in age, and she was so damn cute. I secretly wanted to kiss her, lick her like a cherry lollipop, crunch into her soft, chewy center. There was something intriguing about her being Faith’s younger sister, something deliciously forbidden.
      At home, I scan Morgan, select a body for her, and drop her digitized face onto the head. I adjust her proportions and stand her beside the real version of me. And then the reality of what I am about to do strikes me. She’s a child, really really a child. Maybe back then we weren’t so distant in age, but now, with Morgan naked and puerile beside me, I realize the impurity of my intent. And when I think of the movies I’ve created, of me having sex with Faith—also a child—I feel ridiculous. I quickly pull down the REMOVE PROGRAMS menu and delete the Cartoon Director. On their website I cancel my account, and in the "Reason for Canceling?" box, I enter: "This is a bit beyond me. No thank you. I'll pass."
      I power down and head upstairs for dinner.

***

      At least once a week for a month I dream vividly of Faith. I have no idea what the dreams are about or what they might mean; I know only that Faith is a cartoon character in them and they leave me edgy and giddy, in a mood redolent of high school. I toy with the idea of returning to the Cartoon Director website but don’t.
      "Bill!" Tami says, excitedly, over the phone. "They took your PC and notebooks. They’re searching everywhere."
      I’m at school, standing in the main office, and as she blurts this out, I look through the big front window and see a police cruiser and a gray car (with extra antennas) pull into the main lot. Two suited men emerge from the unmarked vehicle. Steve Johnston, Lakeview principal, is standing outside on the sidewalk. He steps over to them. They exchange words and turn toward the office.
      This all seems unreal but I’m watching it happen.
      "Who did?"
      "The police. They’re here with a search warrant."
      "Hold for a minute," I set the phone down and hurry to the rest room. From my jacket I take my half-pint of Crown Royal and guzzle what’s left. Then I bury the bottle in the trash can, wishing, as I dig deep into the damp rumpled towels, that I too could easily hide in this soft, dark place. I walk to the front desk and say "Good morning" as they enter.
      "You’re under arrest, Mr. Candee," one man says. He reads my rights while the other gathers my arms and cuffs me. The workers in the office accumulate around us. I think of Faith.
      "What am I under arrest for?"
      "Possession, distribution, and production of child pornography."
      "You’re crazy."
      I’m frisked then guided to the cruiser and bent into the back seat. I see students bubbling from the classrooms, craning in the hallways.

***

      "I was just having fun with cartoons. All I did was push the fidelity bar to full. Then I erased it. I canceled my account," I tell Mr. Saxon, my attorney, from the witness stand. To his other questions I respond exactly as he directed.
      Gerald Saxon is tall, a trenchant man with a slight goatee (almost a shadow), long hair (in a ponytail), and tinny gray eyes that flicker with contingent subtleties. During a strategy session in his office, I caught what seemed like the faint scent of marijuana and patchouli oil, and when he removed his corduroy jacket I noticed his garish tattoos—a twisted star inside a crescent moon on his left forearm, a tilted Saturn encircled by mirror words on his right, and a blurred letter on each skinny finger. All of this I overlooked because he is celebrated and successful (and very expensive).
      The prosecutor is running for some public office and, according to Saxon, his platform includes a promise to curtail sex crimes by putting away sex offenders. On a big-screen TV he plays my movies featuring Faith, which they have unerased from my hard drive. And watching them in this courtroom, with its grave atmosphere and procedural pomp, for some reason makes Faith seem even younger. Then he displays my rendition of Morgan standing naked beside me. He does this to show her as a young version of Faith and that my actions constitute what he terms Female Typing, which means (according to his "expert" witness) that I am infatuated with females who share the same general appearance. Then he calls Tami to the stand, and for the first time in my life I realize that she has the same hairstyle, body structure, and facial features as Faith.
      I feel like such a pervert.
      When the prosecution finally rests, Saxon opens our defense by way of video on the courtroom big screen. "Delivering it this way will help alleviate the damage we took from those movies," he assures me, whispering.
      The video starts with Saxon sitting in a shadowy room at the head of a conference table. He looks left, toward the jury (a nice touch), and begins: "So let me ask you, respected members of the jury, am I the real Mr. Saxon, or is that me sitting there in the courtroom with Mr. Candee?" He looks toward the defense table (another nice touch). Then he continues:
      "Obviously, at the time you are viewing this, the man sitting in the courtroom is the real me, but as I film this presentation, that version of me does not yet exist."
      I notice that Saxon is off-center on the screen; behind him, hanging on the wall and slightly out of focus, is a large grisaille of Jesus Praying at Gethsemane. "And where might we ask does religion come into play in all of this? Why is it that as humans our instinct to procreate persists long after it becomes difficult to bear and raise children? Why, if God even exists, would He imbue us with such an abiding and calamitous desire in our twilight years? And isn’t it true that as death approaches, we often seek out religion with its promise of everlasting life, perpetual youth? And might we venture to say that by craving youth, we are idolizing it, and in so doing simply practicing something approaching religion, a subtle form of worship?"
      In the video, Saxon stands.
      "We all have fantasies, some darker than others; yet why is it that few of us ever act on them, let alone admit to them? Rather than engage our own dissolute desires, we preoccupy ourselves with persecuting those who do, scapegoats like Mr. Candee here."
      Saxon (in the video) nods toward me (in the courtroom).
      "We ridicule and skewer and roast them in our newspapers and on our televisions. This is how we sublimate our fantasies? Project our own guilt onto others? Waste time with proceedings such as this, when instead we should all be at home looking into the mirror?" Saxon (in the video) pauses a moment, then turns toward the jury and says: "We all masturbate."
      I scrunch down in my chair.
      The video Saxon walks to a TV screen that displays the same recording we are watching—an image within an image, myriad TVs, myriad Saxons—and knuckling the screen with a bony finger, he says, "Are any of these people, these copies of me, real?"
      My cartoon rendition of Faith, now sporting an angel’s halo, appears on the TV (inside the video)—recursive Faiths, diminishing to a pixel. The video Saxon pats the TV and says, "Does this young female, this star of Mr. Candee’s cartoons, exist in reality, or is she simply his digital goddess, a prop in his fanciful rendition of eternal life? And most importantly, did Mr. Candee actually hurt anyone by contriving his goddess? No more so than had he scratched her likeness onto a cave wall with a stick of charcoal . . . "
As Saxon argues each point in detail, my mind settles into a state of confused complacency and I actually start believing we might win. I contemplate weeknight talks in rustic settings: redeemed by this glorious process, I play the part of wounded hero, the real Bill Candee, standing at a podium in a chapel filled with forgiving eyes, open minds, and hearts accepting me as only human.
      I look around the courtroom and notice that the judge is giving me deprecating glances, as though his mind is already made up. But I’ve seen the outcomes of other high-profile cases, so I know that nothing's ever certain until the jury votes.
      The video ends with Saxon delivering a brief attack on the prosecution followed by a summary of our defense. Then he closes with the odd (but slightly humorous) carriwitchet, "And how, in all seriousness, can a fifty-four-year old man have a six-pack for a stomach?"
      The jury deliberates for less than an hour before returning a verdict of guilty on all counts. In his final statement, the judge says: "It really doesn’t matter that the movies you’ve created aren’t actually real. They do in fact depict a child in a way that is virtually indistinguishable from that of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. That’s against the law and real enough for me to give you four years in the state penitentiary, with eighteen months suspended and credit for three months already served."

***

Faith, I mean Tami, leaves me while I’m in prison, and when I get home I discover that she’s taken her property and much of what was mine. When my Internet restrictions expire, I go to the Cartoon Director website, just to browse around, see what all they offer now. And I don’t feel bad about using it again, not at all, not this time. God knows I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, looking forward to it actually. And who knows? Maybe I’ll meet someone my own age on the Net this time, or even younger.

© J. K. Mason  2004

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

JK Mason’s stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines. He is currently working on the third draft of his second novel, NEXTLIFE.
Contact the author.

navigation: 

issue 43: July - August 2004  

 
Short Fiction

Barry Gifford: Holiday from Women
Nic Kelman: girls
Brian Leung: Executing Dexter
J.K. Mason: A Caricature of Faith
Juan Bonilla: Mónica’s Letters
picks from back issues
Julie Orringer:
Care
Javier Marías:
Fewer Scruples

Interview

Nic Kelman

Quiz

The Iliad
answers to last issue’s quiz Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

Book Reviews

Do the Blind Dream? by Barry Gifford
The Little White Car by Danuta de Rhodes
girls by Nic Kelman
World Famous Love Acts by Brian Leung
Deadfolk by Charlie Williams
One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa P.
Psychoraag by Suhayl Saadi (review available August 7)

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)
Links

Home | Submission info | Spanish | Catalan | French | Audio | e-m@il www.Barcelonareview.com