For a moment River allowed their statement to linger, their gravitas settling like dust across the community center meeting room, dust the band wouldn’t dare disturb or breathe in lest the weight bring them down with it.
“But first, do you know why I got into rap music?”
As evidenced by the universal nervous glancing—sans Jazz, that is, who was vibing with the San Myshuno Zoo’s lizard cam—the remainder of ViR, plus leadership, was sure this was a use of hypophora and so the delay following the setup was more confusing than dramatic. This seemed reminiscent to Chantel of a number of European fairytales where a monarch ties ridiculous stakes to an odd riddle, where the accepted solution is some total bullshit like candles or sleep. No one was going to guess unless the narrative dictated it.
Chantel gave a theatrical shrug and switched to a comedic, but not ill-spirited, voice. “I dunno, River. Why’d you get into rap music?”
“Because it’s accessible.”
It was clear to anyone what properties River’s self-chosen name was meant to evoke. The frequent pausing to collect their thoughts gave them a stillness that drew attention to the enveloping atmosphere, their meditative stare peeking through thin-rimmed spectacles like mottled sunlight through stained glass. Sleeplessness tugged at their inner eyes, a symptom of a body held captive by a turbulent mind; forever churning, inwardly grasping for itself before being swept away in the current—the here-and-now—plucking at its verdant banks for remarks that hadn’t quite solidified.
“Ideas can change lives. But sometimes they’re hidden. Inaccessible. Tucked away in religious texts written in another language. Peeking out through scholarly articles where they’re layered in years of jargon. Coming from the mouth of some modern-day Cassandra who says what no one wants to hear.” They shook their head. “That’s no good.”
Juliet waved to get River’s attention. “So we’re trying to take ideas from old books, and scientific papers, and annoying people, and stuff, and put those ideas in a form people want to interact with.”
“Yes, and rap is information dense. Like it or not, there are a whole lot of words.”
“And there’s value in re-interpreting these things for a modern audience,” Neala said, extending a single finger. It wasn’t the naughty finger.
“Right you are. And it happens often that meshing two concepts and fully exploring them—such as a story that’s been around forever and what we see now as modernity—shines our light just a bit further. That’s what we want: to get whoever keeps saying all the good ideas have been taken to look in a different place. No way has humanity figured its shit out enough for that. There’s plenty of new ground to cover. And for me, at least, it comes down to one thing.”
“Memento mori,” said Thora.
“Neurotransmitters. Effects of neurotransmitters,” Chantel offered.
“Math.” Again with the pausing, here. “I’m not talking about what we think of as math in the academic sense, where stuffy caffeine addicts tweak and knead at imaginary objects. What I mean is the process that lets us distinguish truth from untruth.”
Rhiannon had heard this pitch too many times to not chime in. “Why you believe what you believe.”
“Get people to question the status quo in an environment where they have nothing to lose.”
Not even River had predicted the outburst, and they paused, hopeful that another member of the band would chime in. But after a brief glance out at the crowd, their attention turned decisively back to their notes.
“Speaking of everything having been done, I’m ashamed to admit this, but the first two ideas I have to present are reactionary. Does anyone else take issue with the ‘queen’ thing?”
“What’s wrong with the queen thing?” Juliet asked, with some trepidation. Like back in high school, one wrong move and she’d be identified as the weak link, the ‘stupid one,’ so to speak, and so she was wary of presenting anything adjacent to criticism. The best defense against this behavior being—of course—to get the drop on whomever comprised your ideological opposite, getting the jump on them before they could do the same to you. In this case Juliet’s qualm was with the negative word she’d picked up on, ‘wrong,’ because, as she’d learned from venting in public, negative words got you a ticket straight to cafeteria gulag.
Aries chimed in. “Yeah, I feel like of all the things we can talk about, I at least have clout in this one area.” With a regal flourish, he flipped an imaginary scarf behind his back. “Speak for yourselves, but I don’t mind being called a queen.”
“And what does it have to do with math?” continued Juliet.
“The way kingdoms work,” Thora said, “there can be at most two of them. Unless we’re talking a polyamorous puddle of queens—well, the number of queens is limited, at least. But that’s straight-up counting, more arithmetic than what River was saying. Right?”
“No, you’re good.” To everyone’s relief, River didn’t go on a 20-minute rant about how they weren’t trying to shame anyone who identified with the terminology. “That’s what I was thinking. A queen has subjects. She can only exist inside a hierarchy.”
Nods broke out across the room along with some inspired ‘ah’s. Though to be sure, it wasn’t necessarily a tacit sign of universal agreement, and a couple people may have been nodding to indicate they realized something had been said and they needed time to process it. Not Gorman, though. He was on board.
“There are all times when we have to be told we’re worth it, but in this day and age I’d rather define power as our ability to make the world a better place, rather than power as compared to other people. It’s like the ‘if everyone is super, no one is’ line that everyone takes as sacrosanct. But in the case of The Incredibles, everyone having superpowers doesn’t guarantee they’ll have the same superpower, and so there are situations where, for example, super speed would be more useful than invisibility, leading to a universe where people are still valued for their individual abilities; and here, however many billion queens are all going to have the same privileges and responsibilities. Room full of leaders, they’re not going to rely on one person.”
Aries sharpened the peaks of his mustache with his right hand, a gesture he often did while thinking. “That’s interesting. I always thought it was a fake-it-till-you-make-it deal.”
“Like feelings of power cancel out feelings of hopelessness,” Rhiannon said, pushing her hands together as if to lengthen a clay vase on a potter’s wheel. “You can take the morale boost without needing to be elevated above others.”
“Yes, exactly. There’s nothing wrong with it. We’re just trying to take that energy and remove the implicit competition.”
“But with the same power!” Rhiannon whooped and held up an imaginary drink.
“I don’t need a man!” Aries yelled.
“Oh, hell yeah!” Thora expected a response from her left side, and upon receiving none, turned to her pastel counterpart.
“Chantel? Female empowerment?”
Deadpan as was befitting of a San Myshuno native, Chantel tossed this one out. “I have twice as many boobs as the average Sim.”
Jazz raised their hand. “Wait, is that really true? Are the numbers of sims exactly equal like that, so they cancel?”
“Hell if I know.” Chantel shrugged. Of all the people Chantel’d met, no one confused her more than Jazz, whose straightforward nature left the san Myshuno native at a loss for quips. The kid must’ve thought ‘deadpan’ referred to a skillet with a hole in the middle.
Some semaphore-like flailing on River’s part brought the band’s attention back to the topic at hand. “Boob stats aside, I’ve only recorded a demo of the hook. I’ll need your help to fill in the gaps and produce it.”
For those who haven’t noticed or don’t remember that there’s a mixing station off to the side of the community center meeting room, don’t stress, because River’s gesturing at it right now. Operating the station required River to leave the comfort of their folding chair and hook up their phone using a real-ass cable. Like in the ’90s. Taking two steps away from the machine, they pulled out a universal remote and started the demo.
Cyan swirlies emanated from the mixing station along with some less-visible waves representing tones: six in all, with a MIDI timbre that feels like blue raspberry to the ears, and arranged in a pattern musicians would subconsciously attribute numbers to. Somewhere between beats three and four was when Rhiannon started dancing. The beats gave way to chords, barebones but less artificial, and rich, sultry vocals. Another person with River’s voice may have had it likened to all manner of viscous fluids but with them having misgivings about people being compared to food, many of those were off the table. One magazine called them non-Newtonian—thixotropic—which they loved.
But anyway, the song:
I don't wanna be a queen Throw the crown away Monarchy don't work for me There's a better way Everywhere I look, I see Someone special Can't be just one, since we become Stronger together
Another click from the universal remote ensured the song ended before autoplay could kick in. “Bit overt, but we can make it work.”
This isn’t worth mentioning but the band’s consensus was universally positive. What else are they supposed to do? Say they don’t like it? Aries aww-ed and declared it cute.
“What I need from you is help making it sound like an anthem. Uplifting but—Aries and Gorman—for much of it I’m thinking heavy drums, march-like. ” River pointed at their target without looking. “Juliet, I want you on the bridge. You’d be great as a soft, angelic contrast.”
Of course this prompted a smile from the band’s most angelic member—that is, not the biblical eye-and-wing monstrosities who’d instantly cure anyone’s constipation, but the folksy type sweet old ladies collect until there’s no space in the house. She looked up, ready to see sweet, sweet unquestionable approval and acceptance in the face of an authority figure. That’s not what she found. River wasn’t looking at her, and didn’t seem to be in the moment at all. Frowning, even. She asked, “Is something wrong?”
Allow River a moment to pick up scattered thoughts. “It’s missing half the message. You don’t just lecture someone, you break them down so you can build them back up. What this song doesn’t have is a way out.”
“Not just ‘don’t do this’ but ‘do this instead,'” Rhiannon said. Not because she’d heard it already: she’s just used to translating River.
“That’s it. But I’m not sure what would work as an alternative.”
“Give them options.”
The sole advocate for options was the sim in the corner, face partly buried in the frankly delicious-looking laptop and hands pressed to their temples to obscure all other Simlish speakers from their line of sight. Especially the Scary Ladies, the blonde one, if they’re being honest: the sobriquet was too right-on-the-nose for the joke to land, Jazz felt.
“Different things speak to everyone. ‘Queen’ speaks to Juliet and Aries, but not to River.” Finding eye contact so intense that it affected their thinking, Jazz’s visual focus was on a mobile-game ad that bore as much resemblance to the actual game as a Victoria’s Secret catalog. “Why not give people something to choose from? Doesn’t have to be a person. Just a word that makes someone feel empowered.”
“What speaks to you, Jazz?” asked Juliet.
With this, Jazz lowered their shoulders a little, leaned back in their chair to face the addresser somewhat. “I don’t like to think of myself as anything in particular”—a trace of joy plucked at the corners of their lips—“but I like to think of the universe as my grandma.”
River rested a hand on the table and tilted their head sideways at nothing in particular. “So you’re thinking like a list song that relies on metaphor.”
“Shakespeare did it,” Chantel threw out. But upon seeing a flash of fear in Jazz’s eyes, the kind she wouldn’t admit to ignoring on her sister, she added, “That’s not criticism. You’re being very helpful right now.”
“She’s right, it’s a great direction to go in.” And, like the Bird, River said, “Thanks, Jazz.”
Again Jazz felt some hard- to-identify vibration starting in their core, more energizing than their usual nervousness. No. If anything, it was a branching of roads, tree-like and fascinating in their disorganization. Jazz said something—something good! And people would hear it! If the universe got more grandchildren and it was their doing? That would be cool as hell.
“Let’s move on to the next song.” Back in the real present, River regarded their notes with their usual uncertainty, as if whatever they said was supposed to come with error bars but neither the plotting software nor the units were playing nice.
“What’s the problem with WAP?”
“What isn’t the problem with WAP?” Thora asked.
“There’s a problem with WAP?!” said Aries.
Despite the band being of voting age, none of them were immune to the rule of threes, and the repetition was proving enough to send them all into fits of laughter. The exception, of course, being Jazz. River waited for the giggle attack to subside before continuing. “She’s presenting herself as something to be consumed by a man. Gagging? Choking? Brag about whatever you want, but she’s still offering herself up for a man to enjoy.”
Chantel placed her hands to her temples and slowly moved them outward so as to demonstrate the bits of her brain that were moving away in slow motion. Grey-matter shrapnel everywhere, absolutely everywhere. Whoever was in charge of cleaning the community center had to strap in for a weird night.
Thora brushed part of Chantel’s amygdala off her sleeve, a gesture that would have pushed the flesh deeper into the poly-knit fiber and necessitated an extra dollop of sodium percarbonate in the fortnightly wash, had the bits been real. “Yes! The, uh, moisture is presented as something pleasurable for him, not for her.”
“You can say it’s a step forward that they get to act as sexual agents. But they just use their agency to present themselves as objects. You get what I’m saying? It’s safe. Except for the really conservative ones, men aren’t gonna criticize that because it promotes women acting in a way that benefits them.” They shook their head. “You can’t put something in front of me that centers men and call it feminism.”
“Aw, but that’s the socially acceptable kind,” Thora said.
Using the bits of her brain that were still intact, Chantel said, “Yeah, it’s the kind you’re not going to catch flak for promoting.”
Hesitant to weigh in on what the older women were talking about, Juliet asked, “So what are you gonna do instead?”
“This one started as a response to WAP, and then it evolved from there. At first it was about how your body isn’t here for anyone’s pleasure but your own. But as I worked it out, I wanted to write about how to recognize red flags—where WAP promotes the sex-positive stuff that plays well with men, this is meant to empower nieces, nephews, & niblings to escape dangerous situations, as told from my perspective.”
Bracelets clinked as Rhiannon flicked her thinking hand. “Didn’t Meghan Trainor do something like that already?”
“She did! But our focus is more on street harassment rather than unwanted attention in a bar setting. We’re also going more in depth about manipulation strategies: forced teaming, typecasting, all that.”
“Now the hard part is convincing people it’s not anti-men,” Neala muttered, prompting sympathetic groans from the older women.
“There’s no pleasing people who think anti-predator is anti-men,” River said. “All we can do is teach people of all genders to recognize predatory behavior, and get those who don’t want these tactics exposed to tell on themselves.”
Thora crossed her right leg over her left, hooking onto her knee with the shit-kicking end of her boot. “Mm-hmm, they’re not great with anything that doesn’t pull punches to placate them.”
“Thing not—for me?” Chantel asked, bringing her arms into a chicken-wing position and looking, inexplicably, at her armpits. “Thing for someone else?! How?!”
“But I do like that approach, putting emphasis on the sketchy actions.” Thora pointed behind her. “Obviously we’re not here to shade an entire gender. Gorman can hang.”
Gorman nodded. “Lit.”
“Alright, alright.” River started clapping—disorganized and casual, like if you remember the rhythmic stuff your elementary-school gym teacher would do if they’re just now realizing the scooter boards were a mistake and the auditorium’s three minutes from juvenile mutiny, it wasn’t anywhere near that cohesive. Let’s also take a moment to commend the band’s nonverbal communication skills. For as River had intended, all five other sims correctly interpreted the gesture as ‘gather around the mixing station.’
“I present: ‘Dead and Polite.'”
An algorithm counted River in again before the rapper’s sultry yet decisive voice started the track with a loose bit of spoken-word poetry:
Men who never let go Choose women who never say no
There’s no melody, some might say, there’s nothing to dance to here. None of these people are Rhiannon.
A sparse backing track continued for four measures, and the first verse started:
Rolling on the fast track Jacked black Outback Got new kicks, looking baller in your snapback One free seat and you're stalling where it's jampacked See a fine piece and you thought her rack was all that Act fast, hammer like Mjolnir and the earth cracks Trash pack telling you to call her 'cause they lack tact Laugh track, getting you to honk and yell you'd mack that Wisecracked, if she didn't want it, then don't be stacked That's fact, they hear it all the time, it's not harassment Roll down the window and you holler "shake that ass fat" And all I did was stop to snap the straps on my backpack
The instrumentals fell out on the last line to general laudatory cacophony.
Mama's not surprised, that's what guys do She told me, stay wise and keep your eyes out behind you She said, in fact, realize there's a silver lining too They're not gon' attack, they're just doing it to get a rise out of you Been dealing with this shit since grade 3, lucky me 'Cause that's the kind of female that these creeps wanna see And that's just one thing that keeps me up all night I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite Yeah, that's right I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite
River paused the recording. “That’s it for the first verse. Thoughts?”
“Holy shit!” Thora yelled. “This is going to cause more whining than ‘Fresh Meat.'”
“What’s ‘Fresh Meat’?” asked Juliet.
“One of my songs. It’s about a Santanic cult cutting pregnant women open and eating the fetuses.” She tilted her head, adding, “That’s what the magazines said, anyway. It was actually a satirical piece about how urban legends spread during the Satanic Panic took focus away from real atrocities.”
No one seemed willing to talk after that—least of all Chantel, stifling laughter—so River started the second verse.
So there was one time where these two guys Snuck in my building inside, close by Take out my keys, they're on me, I know why I told them it was no dice, don't try They said they wanted no strings, no ties I shake my head, it's no deal, it's all lies They let me know it's no fair, they're both nice I tell them that I don't care and push by Then they say: "That looks like it weighs a lot. You should let us handle that." (May not hit the weights a lot but I can carry plastic bags) "We should get up on this, you see what the time is And girl, I'm being honest, no violence, I promise" Hold up. You say it's gonna be painless? Why is that where your brain is? Unless you're trying to get famous for crimes especially heinous Thinking of picking a victim, and you think you can blame us Can't stick 'em if you can't trick 'em, you don't know what my name is And confidence is just part of what sells You know what else? Fuck 'we.' Who's 'we'? Last I checked, it's just me Go step off the doormat I'm expected to be Now I don't believe that you two hid in my building In order to be good Samaritans and carry things Fuck off, piss off, get out and shut your mouth 'Cause I'm a giant bitch who won't let strangers in my house Mm-hmm, that's right I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite I'm a bad motherfucker who gon' put up a fight I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite
Aries scoffed, and to everyone’s delight, his mustache hairs caught the updraft and wriggled. “What losers.”
As time marches on, I unwind and I'm finding The world is much wider when we come out of hiding Y'all know there are too many stories like mine And I try and chime in to keep the crime rate declining Profiling creeps so we know who to watch Call out the guys who send pics of their crotch Give 'em a place they can rest and recharge Say it's okay to get the fuck out of dodge Top-notch legal rep, pro bono, Title IX Posts from old-timers who are doing just fine Compiling and filing guidelines past 5 AM Then I go online and my timeline's full of whining When you're a big creator word is getting round These haters look me up and track me down They're butthurt and they're mad as hell at what they found Scream until they shut me up and drown me out And the salt around assault is who's at fault They default to dodging blame and claim NAMALT Until the court, assume that all reports are false But every situation has the same result Misery, more like trickery---disagree and it's misandry Mystery without victory, no inquiry into history Say I'm the villain for hurting your feelings Fear for your image while they're out there killing Say they don't buy it and say to keep quiet Stay in denial and pray that we hide it (Alright jackass, let's break it down) Say you're dense on purpose, don't know who the perp is Keep track of what surfaces, see what alerts us Odds are real low that the new girl is lying When he beat his first wife and she ended up dying Or why's it outrageous he fucked up her face When he jokes about us bitches knowing our place? Sadistic statistics pile up, true to form This shit isn't rare, man, this shit is the norm What we fear, it's a lot. Is that clear? No it's not Since you stand for nothing, there's nothing you're taught Your only adversity's these verses, so curse me And I'll get worse, roasting the perps mercilessly In other words: idiot redditors, be better And better not be defending predators Social contract don't mean jack when it comes to attacks Problem is, your feelings don't erase our facts 'Cause you can never be wrong, and it hurts when we're right I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite Get out of my sight I'd rather be a live bitch than dead and polite.
There was no long outro for the band to stare at each other during; the last ‘dead and polite’ had been a cappella. A final electrical signal from River’s universal remote signified that the song was, indeed, over.
“And that’s what I got so far.”
The group allowed a pause as each member processed not only the song’s contents, but their role in improving it. The sparse chorus, for example, was begging for a metal-inspired guitar solo—or a jazz-inspired keyboard solo, or, fine, some compromise decided in a manner we’ll all hope is legal. Progressing to the one with the best ‘stache, his mind was on the library of backing tracks he’d composed with his brother, and how suitable they’d be.
Aries pointed to the mixing station. “Can I use this to play something?”
“Let’s take it to the practice room.”
“Race ya,” Aries said, addressing one sim in particular, knowing full well Gorman wasn’t going to do that and would be strolling at his own eternal pace.
“Brilliant,” Neala said to her phone clock, “it’s not even 6:30 yet. You have time to get settled.” Though presumably the phone clock already knew what time it was.
Rhiannon pulled a sheer, plastic holographic bolero over her shoulders. Lord knows why, it was summer and that thing looked like a sweat trap. “Hey River, we’re heading out.” Then, “Look! I can predict the future.” With one hand, she gathered her loose locks on top of her head. “‘Be out of the practice room by 9.'”
She could have easily disproved her sister’s clairvoyance by staying silent, but instead, Neala repeated, “Be out of the practice room by 9,” this time ramping up the mocking tone.
One member had stayed seated in favor of giving the reptiles some love: as we all know, animals are sensitive about their social media presence, and it’s rude to ignore them. Whenever a lizard stuck out their tongue, Jazz did as well.
It was then River decided nothing was going to get their attention short of saying their name out loud. “Jazz, you can head out too.”
“Sounds good.” Closing the laptop, they realized what was at stake. “I can go home and start working on the list of ‘queen’ alternatives.”
If Juliet had been paying attention, she may have found the exchange between the two adorable—it ended with a granola-bar handoff—but presently she was pacing in a deformed kind of circle, pretending her cuticles needed to be examined right the F immediately. In the background, green and grey blobs talked too loudly about a topic she couldn’t place, and River’s face appeared in the panoptic white haze. Her name whispered at the back of her mind.
The heel of Juliet’s sandals scraped the floor mid crappy circle. It didn’t settle her that River continued to smile. Criticism, in her experience, didn’t come from a gentle mentor, and she wished to have erased from history what she’d done to unsettle someone so good-willed.
“I was hoping we could talk alone before heading off to the practice room.”
Rather than returning to her previous seat, Juliet threw caution aside and chose the closest folding chair—a decision she’d regretted when her bare thighs came into contact with Chantel’s residual warmth. Heat backwash. At least it wasn’t a public toilet. The implications of everyone being in their summer wear in shared spaces just now hit her at full force, and although her conscious mind begged for mercy, she pictured how many bare hands and legs had oozed their sweaty imprints into the couch outside.
And then River sat in Thora’s leg heat like it was nothing. “So, Juliet, about these lyrics.”
“I know.” Did she? “Or, I mean, I can guess, at least. I don’t really know.”
Reaching their hand near where a pocket would be if this damn jumpsuit had any damn pockets, River materialized Juliet’s penguin folder from their inventory. Because there was such artistic variety in the portrayal of these penguins, it interested Juliet to remember where they came from: WWE fundraising campaign, make-your-own-sticker kit of the type that comes out at birthday parties, a polychromatic hugging couple whose design marked the bearer as late-eighties-to-nineties hip. One penguin was holding a lollipop; they weren’t supposed to have those. But back to River. As Juliet had suspected, the sheet music they took out was titled ‘Die, TERFs.’
“I know this is validating to some people, but it’s not what we’re about here.”
“Oh.” Juliet wasn’t prepared to hear the words out loud. As her voice shrank and her focus shifted to her hands resting on her knees, she could sense River responding to the change in energy, bringing out their nurturing side in full force.
“I get what you’re trying to do. But if people are on the fence and see us making threats, it doesn’t make us look good.”
“Even if they’re bigots?”
“Yes, and for the reasons I mentioned earlier.” As if Juliet should be expected to remember something said while she was processing the eight-hundred-ish events going on, with the lyrics, and the monologuing on River’s part, and whether she’d see Thora and Chantel’s faces when she went to lock her door that night, shark outbursts; that crap. It may as well have happened last year. “You know what it’s about. If we’re on the right side, we should be able to defend it using solid reasoning. Stray from that and it gives transphobes a foothold.”
“Yeah, but just like you’re calling out predators, I want to call out hate. And it seems like this is a group with a spine.”
“Oh, we absolutely can call out bigots. We just have to have solid reasoning.” We haven’t yet created a word for the pointing equivalent to a pimp slap—and ‘pimp point’ isn’t self-evident, since the key bit is the backhandedness—but that’s what River was doing now, while indicating the second half of the song’s title. “See this? This places the importance on the label. ‘TERF.’ It’s gonna be more effective if we call out specific behaviors and explain why they’re harmful.”
“Like when people say ‘I’m not racist, but.'”
“Exactly!” Not that Juliet expected River’s take to diverge from hers, but she wouldn’t turn up her nose at a minor win. “They agree with ‘racism is bad’ as a statement, but only with respect to the word ‘racist’ and not what it refers to.”
Juliet nodded with trepidation, raising an eyebrow. “I think I see what you’re getting at.”
“You know what else I wanna hear?”
“More stuff that encourages trans and gender non-conforming people to be comfortable in their own bodies. That’s what I needed when I was starting out, anyway.” River’s right hand traced their opposite bicep, trailing up to the shoulder. “It’s like, there will always be naysayers. You know? But at the end of the day, you do it because you want someone you care about to be able to stand up for themself.”
“I guess, but”—Juliet’s fingers twitched, and she found herself yearning for Jazz’s modular origami book, with its repetitive shapes and sharp creases. Much more comforting than the eyes of a disapproving mentor—“I want to take my friend’s lead, because she knows more about the issues, and that’s the kind of stuff she posts.”
“You don’t have to go against your friend. You can even record this song with her if you want to.”
“She also plays the flute.”
“Ah, wind-section sisters! But what I mean is like, ‘Die, TERF’ doesn’t fit the spirit of this particular group, even if you feel that strategy works better elsewhere. You get what I’m saying?”
“Good. I’m glad we had this talk. And I hope you don’t feel too discouraged now, I know you’re trying. You have a lot of potential.” Amazing: River got up and walked away like the conversation hadn’t done any emotional damage, and when they turned back to Juliet, their smile was genuine. “Let’s go practice.”
“Alright.” Juliet became aware of the baby hairs standing up on her thighs. Though she wasn’t outwardly cold—for real, what’s the circulation in Chantel’s legs like that she could leave her mark on a conductive material for this long?—the doubt began to sting. Doubt, and betrayal, burning and tasting of frostbite. And it twisted its ice-cold fingers into her as she stared at the back of someone she thought she looked up to.
Was River a TERF?
Neala’s second warning text had come at ten minutes shy of 9, sharp. Welcome to the time hotline, River had thought. For all other inquiries, please press 3.
As River returned the phone to their pocket, they spoke over their shoulder so they weren’t making an announcement to the mixing station. “We’re at the point where we have to think about wrapping it up.”
“Felt like it,” Aries said. “I have a pretty good sense of time.” Of the group of people who think they can predict, with any accuracy, when their food is going to come out at a restaurant, and the group that accuses the other of confirmation bias, it’s clear which Aries belonged to.
Guided by a firm hand, Thora’s guitar found its sweet way back into the parallel universe where objects live. As a consequence of this plane’s existence, Sims are less likely than people in our old, boring universe to ask questions like where the Pokémon go when they’re not cockfighting, etc., even less so since certain pets can live in there indefinitely without food. Scratch, also, any speculation on the ethics of trading sentient critters—frogs, we’re talking frogs—if legacies have taught us anything. Questions such as where this frog black market is and who’s buying them? Those never come up.
First out the door was Gorman, who preceded Aries, the latter of whom was rolling like a Boomer punchline: face inches from phone, in a crowded area with people to have a real conversation or collide with, relying on hitbox detection and pathfinding rather than sight. The hitbox behind him belonged to Juliet. Her, and also the trusty old Nalgene, the contents of which she gulped down to nurse her strained vocal cords. Stragglers Thora and Chantel swapped finger stretches, and after River’s shepherding got more aggressive, they made it over the threshold, Chantel baa-ing.
No one having made it yet to the entrance—they were down a good ways away—the band was baffled when the front door swung open.
With Rhiannon, you can surmise how the ‘R’ was dropped over decades of birthday parties worth of evolution, and having her sister beside her meant she wasn’t aware she was dropping it in a place no one else had context for. Steam trickled through the small hole on the no-nonsense disposable cup Neala was holding: if that was a twelve-hours-earlier drink like they suspected, her night was just beginning. Rhiannon’s cup was taller, clear, topped with a Whipped Cream Mountain snowglobe, and was a flavor someone who drinks coffee to live rather than for enjoyment would describe as ‘sprinkles sprinkles sprinkles sprinkles.’
“Who pressed 3?” River asked.
The way River was looking at Neala made her feel like she was supposed to know something, but she couldn’t imagine what.
“Never mind, it’s nothing.”
To convince the others she wasn’t a nervous wreck about the time, Neala kept it super caj, putting one hand on her hip and not talking like she’s drinking coffee at 9 P.M. “I’m glad we made it out in time.”
Rhiannon elbowed her sister like she was standing in front of the subway doors. “Don’t spoil it!”
“I hesitate to ask the obvious,” River said, “but I have some idea of what you’re planning.”
So it was no surprise to River when Aries asked, “Did everyone remember to eat dinner before rehearsal?”
Thora and Chantel exchanged glances, as did River and Juliet, each searching for recognition in the other, and grinning upon their success.
“So,” Aries said, “who’s up for Patton’s?”
SIM CREDITS (and the relevant forum discussion):
Neala and Rhiannon Avery — IrishSong
Juliet Harrison — CitySimmer
Thora Shinigami (and her cat Lemmy) — VanPelt81
Jazz Deon/Jenny Trevalyn — Cathy Tea (Jazz has their own story here; this is parallel-universe Jazz)
Gorman and Aries Bellingham — also VanPelt81
Chantel Lucas and River Indigo — de moi
4 thoughts on “Unacknowledged Legislators, Remixed (Pt. II)”
I bet the seated scene was so hard to do! I adore both songs. I needed the second song when I was 13-15. Sadly, one of the joys of getting older is disappearing so one doesn’t have to be bothered by all that. But that’s pretty twisted in so many ways. I love the way you write Jaz. You just get her. And it’s so cool how each character is so unique and well defined. I love this story.
Woohoo—glad I can do Jazz justice, according to the creator herself! I was p. excited to figure out how they’d contribute to the band.
As for getting older—yeah, I can believe that. For me, the harassment started at 8 (or 6? can’t remember), peaked at 15, and by the time I turned 18, they’d calmed down somewhat…
Oh my goodness. How painful to have that start so young. Glad it’s calmed down a bit now.
Ah, good ol’ accessibility. It’s interesting you had River start with “accessibility” in this chapter, because with someone like River—who obviously wants to make waves—that’s not what I would have expected. Perhaps this is just my preconceived notions of the word, and how it has become a sort of substitute for “quality” in a day and age where we all must CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME, because from what I’ve observed you can pretty much guarantee that if something is described first and foremost as “accessible” it probably sucks. (Reminds me of the first time I’d ever heard about Squid Game—and yeah I’m totally aware that this makes me sound both old and profoundly uncool—but anyway I was listening to NPR one morning and the first word they used to describe Squid Game was “accessible,” which meant I decided then and there, old and profoundly uncool and hearing about this new wildly popular Netflix show for the first time on NPR, that I would never ever watch it. Lo and behold, everyone I know told me not to watch it; it sucks!) But anyway, I took my knee-jerk reaction to the word “accessible” and threw it away while reading this one. When River speaks, I listen. I’m going with the flow here. And they’re right: rap is information dense.
Now, you definitely don’t have to expand on this, but I noticed River goes by gender-neutral pronouns (they/them), but in all their songs they talk about distinctly gendered experiences and are fine referring to themself (in the context of male harassment) as “female” or “bitch.” Maybe it’s just the perspective of the song, though. But I do wonder what’s going through River’s mind re: what gender-neutrality means for them. Le gasp. Is River a TERF? I noticed you didn’t define that, either. Intentional?
Really, really appreciated their voice being described as non-Newtonian. BLESS. And the zero-chillness of “Aww, that’s the socially acceptable kind!” AND how goddamn-facking WEIRD Chantel is. Am I just now noticing how weird she is? Because she’s weird and I like her, and not just because she has a lot in common with a character I’m writing or because she looks like someone who harassed me in high school for wearing cargo shorts but is actually not at all like the type of person who would harass me for wearing cargo shorts, because Chantel’s pretty awk and I don’t think she’d make fun of my shorts.