Those Men She Made Kings
Gary Cadwallader

“I was sent to schools abroad,” she says in an English accent a bit too perfect, as perfect as a lie. Her voice is so feminine you wonder if she can care for herself, but of course she can. She might even brag, if she bragged to men. No one knows how much money she has. Maybe the lawyers. Not the two ex-husbands—those men she made kings. You’ve studied the husbands. They were nothing, trivial men who became gods and left half their fortunes, as if in tribute, when they moved on.

What creature makes a king? This woman who can never find her keys or shoes and often forgets the mail and who lives alone in this huge house? You touch Pennsylvania oak, Brazilian mahogany, and Irish lace. The bed is wide as a river. She entertains her sisters’ husbands there.

“I can’t be alone,” she says while you frown.

It's not your job to judge her. Maybe in the beginning when you thought it might get you a byline in Newsweek or Time but not now, not since you crossed the line. “Tell me your stories,” she said and you sent her your most intimate fictions, the erotic ones done when you thought you were Henry Miller.

“You’re wonderful, a genius!” she wrote back.

One day in an instant message, you typed, “Take your panties off.” “Just sit back,” you said and what followed was almost like sex—you performing, her receiving until she typed “Stop! I can’t take anymore.”

“Did you?” you ask as if you’re talking about orgasm, but you really mean, Will you praise me always?

And the quiet reply, “...Yes.”

Then the obligatory exchange of pictures. The life stories shared. Hot phone sex. A plane ticket that she paid for. Your byline hopes replaced by fantasies of book awards and dinners where tuxedoed men said you were cool. She would watch and smile—your ticket with great legs.

Now, standing in a place you could never afford, she gives you a look that says, If only we were a couple. You’ve courted that look, worked hard for it. But you say, “No,” living up to the new image she’s creating. That’s your lie. Her lie is more magical. It comes from her voice too small, her eyes too big, and the way her hands brush against you like butterflies.

It’s all a con you think—the way she makes men greater than themselves—a great con, because it works. “Your husbands?” you ask, licking your lips. “I know it was you. How is it done?”

She isn’t startled. “Long ago,” she says, “I wanted to be homecoming queen. I was new, no friends. For some reason, I started sewing the dress I’d wear. And then it all just happened because I wanted it.”

She looks out the window and flinches at a passing bird. She shivers. “I’m afraid of birds,” she says in a stage whisper and you think that’s stupid. That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard.

“Birds! How can you be afraid of birds?” You’re angry. You want to slap her. You sense the trade-off, the cost of greatness. She hunkers down like a child when you yell and it makes you lower your voice. “Sorry. It’s your business.”

“Aren’t you afraid of anything?” she asks. Blonde hair falls into her eyes as if on cue.

You reach around her to touch a photograph on the table and she curls into your arm just like you wanted. She is tiny and fits against your body and you are so hard and she whispers into your chest, “Do I please you?”

You can see what's happening. It doesn’t matter. You touch her face. She is a goddess and a phony. She has made men into heroes and she can do the same for you, but you must give in, do her bidding, let her win. “Use me,” you say, “and I'll protect you from the birds.”

She smiles. “And everything that crawls or flies or walks?”

My editor suspects I knew this woman. Let me tell you something—all good women have a bit of her in them. The ones who don’t aren’t worth knowing. A woman who can’t mold her man is asking to be kicked in the head. And, of course, a man who lets himself be molded will be dumped if he doesn’t live up to expectations. Pretty much a catch-22. All you can do is keep your head low and your ideals high. If you come through the storm and are still proud of yourself, then you’ve won. That’s it. Don’t expect much more.

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