The Columnist



by Susan Daitch

He typed the letter, hit send, then moved on to the next question which came from a woman who used the word ‘heteronormative’. In some ways this letter resembled many that he received over the years. “Not a Deep Throat” wrote that she found herself baulking at oral sex, but specifically at her boyfriend who wanted to do this on the B train between the Newkirk Avenue and Kings Highway stops in the middle of the night, at say 3am for minimal maintenance crew interference. This didn’t give her a lot of time to do what needed to be done. He sniffed at the screen like a basset hound on the trail of pygmy marmoset. The person writing this letter might not have been a woman, could be a man, or a transgendered citizen. One thing he’d learned after his many years as a sex columnist for a weekly paper was that people were constantly pulling his leg in the gender department. Nonetheless, how much time do you have between Flatbush and Midwood at 3am? The answer to this query demanded on-site research and a volunteer or paid intern or maybe not paid if he could get away with it. Usually he could do his job in his bathrobe wheeling between a screen of emails, then slide a few feet over to his favorite first person shooter game. As suspicious as he tended to be, he answered each and every letter as if the writer were exactly how they described themselves, while he himself had zero hands on experience in the field for which he was cited as an expert. People confided in him as if he were sitting opposite them in a back booth of a noisy diner so loud, they couldn’t possibly be overheard, and his tone, the look in his eyes of deep understanding, elicited all kinds of confessions and queries of advice and reassurance that the things they imagined privately or pseudonymonously were really okay. The writers believed that in the columnist’s heart, he was reassuring them that whatever they desired was just another kind of loving, that the columnist never laughed at any of his petitioners, never judged, at least that was the impression he gave. The columnist, as his fans correctly surmised, was no puritan, but he was a spectator, not a participant, and if they believed he, in some small way, shared their proclivities, they were mistaken. Often he laughed so hard, tears ran down his cheeks, and he reached for one of the controllers that came with his gaming console, and spoke to the Call of Duty zombies, mimicking the questions that fielded a broad range of desires and insecurities. When offers came for television appearances and radio interviews, he turned these down. No-one knew what he looked like.

Out his window a swallow flew by with something glittering in her beak. She perched on a branch, and he could make out what she held so tenaciously: a piece of film stock. It was thin, maybe a ribbon of old Super-8 footage, someone’s discarded home movies or pre-digital porn, something older letter writers referenced from time to time. The shiny piece of archaic celluloid that the bird so desired could choke her while she wove it into her nest. He opened his window and yelled at her to drop the potentially lethal detritus, but she ignored him, and he returned to his work, frustrated. Heteronormative, he screamed at the screen, what is that? Who uses a word like heteronormative to talk about sex on the B train which doesn’t even run on weekends?

About the Author:

Susan Daitch is an American short story writer and novelist.