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No beer in a bar, much less sex in my car, but just the two of us perched on the top step outside her one-bedroom prefab townhouse with a cheese pie so succulent it rendered us speechless for minutes at a time. She had said that, lifesaver though I was, if I attempted anything wacky or even suggestively satanic, she’d go succubus on my ass—she had studied ninjutsu and Descartes and knew how one enhances the other—“so don’t get snaky,” she said—and I warmed with admiration. Here was a gal with gumption, sangfroid, with a Virginia voice that might melt wrought iron. In the driveway slept her yellow Volkswagen Beetle, the face of a whopping flower painted on the hood and testifying to goodness.

We talked and ate till midnight, the familiar chatter about childhood, siblings, and what we would buy if we won the lottery. I said, “I’d donate half the money to the children’s hospital and use the other half to build a house with no other houses in view. Privacy matters.”

She hinted that she was unmoved by my soppy wish to play Robin Hood for a hospital, and that if I was trying to win her approval with stories of sick kids, the donkey in me could forget it. She said she’d spend all the money on a curvy boat and a team of scientists and fishermen, trying to be the first-ever person to capture a giant squid, which no modern human has ever seen alive but about which tales abound. Astonishing! Gillian collected giant squid curiosa and could hold court with any ocean-loving dweeb in thick glasses.

“It lives,” she said. “I know it. Ancient seafarers have seen it and written about it. The problem is, we think it lives at such great depths it’s nearly impossible to find. Some carcasses have washed up onshore, but we need it alive. There are only a handful of scientists who have dedicated themselves to finding it. Sadly, the really big funding is scarce for the giant squid.”

“Giant squid, huh? How’d you become interested in that?”

“In childhood, Charles. Always in childhood.”

“A monster?”

“No, not a monster,” she confirmed. “A beautiful animal.”

And I thought, Yes, a beautiful animal indeed. When I drove home that night—her number already entered in my cell phone, me jittery with a teenage thrill, alive again after what seemed bubonic eons, the lunar light pulling at my water—I was certain that if I switched on the news in my living room I’d find that the cosmos had been washed of brutality and outrage. Remember the stimulating incipience of romance, the excitement of possibility, of being rescued from the abscess of lonesomeness and having someone to share your hydrogen with? Recall the glee? It meant your little life was worth something, your personality, yes, have-able. It meant sex for your now-laudable seed, and dinnertime conversation, too. Go grab your lovers, people, hold them close, feel the validation. You’re barely carbon-based without them.

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WILLIAM GIRALDI teaches at Boston University and is a senior editor for the journal AGNI. A regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, he was a finalist for a 2011 National Magazine Award in the category of Essays and Criticism. Busy Monsters is his first book.

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