Author's notes: I always like to do something a little different from everyone else. This story is sort of a combo TCP/Faces of Hate Challenge. It doesn't use the M word in any form. It only asks: are some types of hatred justifiable?

FONDLING HATRED

People think I'm crazy. Sometimes, very late in the questioning hours of the night, I agree with them.

I try to go somewhere different every day, since I don't exactly blend into the background in this huge electric wheelchair. Well, I do--it's a rare event when someone doesn't actively avoid meeting my eyes. But the chair silently screams 'Beware! Something strange and different has come among you! Beware!' Screams it on the sidewalks and in the business towers and all the other dens of the normal that I pass through. I worry that people will remember the chair. If anyone ever begins to notice that...someone is doing something.

I leave my apartment building early every day that my home care aide isn't scheduled. It's easier to cope if I'm off to the day's business as soon as I drag myself gasping from my bed. Easier to deal with the sick grogginess left from sleep that comes late and leaves early, if I'm on the street instead of alone in my special apartment.

I know the bus routes by heart now, despite their vast reach and tangle in this huge indifferent city. Ironically, I could afford private van transports--the insurance policies on Ken and Tony were substantial. But then my business would not remain my own, and private.

Some days I spend researching new possibilities at college libraries. Other days I am on the hunt. And nights...of course, by night there are the bars.

I can sometimes get names from the newspaper. The ones I didn't find in time. The ones who have killed at last, or worse, killed again. But if the newspapers printed all the names of all the drunk drivers every day, there wouldn't be room for anything else. Not to mention the legalities--must presume these good solid citizens are innocent until proven guilty, after all.

Our destroyer was declared by the court to be a loving father supporting a family who needed him. So was my Ken a loving father, he and tiny Tony my heart's sole support. But I was still drugged out of my agony in the hospital, and couldn't rave demands for vengeance at his trial. No. So he was given probation, again, and returned to the world almost unharmed. For a time.

I haven't memorized all the bars. There are far too many. I just find one I can access, go in, sip beer like I'm waiting for someone or killing time, maybe read the paper. No one ever bothers me--they certainly don't proposition me, lusting after the twisted body huddled in the carapace of my chair. I wait, and watch for someone who weaves a little, going out the door. And then I follow. To see if they are heading for a car.

Next comes the part I don't like. I have to speak to them, call out, ask for directions or something. I have to touch them while I smother my hate, which flares so hideously I can barely speak. It doesn't alarm them--maybe they expect a harsh croak to come from a body like mine.

I've learned I can just touch their sleeve, and it will do; it's better, even. I'm less likely to set off too rapid a response.

It needs to be slow, for if a person dropped dead at my feet, I might be asked to testify, be a witness. Once would be no problem, twice might be overlooked, but after that, I would have to move away and start all over, wasting time relearning a new city.

Instead, here where there are so many colleges and libraries, I can devote plenty of time to working out new methods. Ken would be amazed at what I can do now--if he were still alive. And if he were alive, I wouldn't have needed to learn these things at all. We would still be experimenting on the good things that might be possible for a person to do who was a universal catalyst, able to intervene in and control any chemical process. Ken dreamed, with contagious little-boy excitement, that someday I might become an entirely new kind of doctor....

Not someone who can start a cascade of arterial plaque to stop a heart within a few hours. Who can tell a crucial artery wall to begin to dissolve into a mysterious embolism. Or worse. The judge who let that killer go must by now feel the cancer ravaging his body....

I was raised to think hate was wrong, and vengeance belonged to God. What was left of my childhood faith, of my willingness to believe in a Higher Power who had a workable plan for the world, died on that highway where my son's life burbled from his throat into the dirty gravel of the roadside. Died when the body of my husband and lover and best friend was smashed to paste by a ludicrously over-sized pickup being driven by a drunken lout too egotistical to believe he could not drive under the influence of 'a few beers'.

But if there is a God, He let me live. And He must have known what I would do. So how could it be wrong?

How could it be wrong that my first mission, after the months of healing and physical therapy, was to find that man. It wasn't easy. I learned a lot about stalking--on the job training, you might say. I wasn't practiced at control yet, though, and that time I didn't care if I was caught. But as luck, or Fate, or possibly God would have it, I managed to catch him alone. He was staggering back to his now much more humble vehicle after a liquid lunch hour.

I rammed him with my wheelchair. But although it is heavy, it's also slow, and I barely brushed against him. When I stopped and extended my hand, he must have though--it's almost funny--that I wanted to apologize, because he took it unthinkingly.

Why not, though? He had no way of knowing my touch would command the calcium atoms of his bones to desert their biochemical bonds. He screamed and jerked away, but before he could take more than a few steps, his legs broke under the weight of his torso. His screams were silenced when his ribs let go, crushing the air from his lungs. But he lived for several long minutes, and I told him who I was, and why this was happening to him, before his eyes went cloudy and unknowing.

I rolled quietly away. No one saw me. No one ever asked me about his death.

I hadn't made any plans for what would come after--didn't really expect there would be an after. But there was, and it was only natural, I think, that I realized I could still do some good in the world. Save other people from the devastation I had suffered. After all, no one else was doing much about it.

I am not happy, I will never again be happy. But I am, on good days, satisfied. My missions give me a way to use my grief and daily pain, use it as fuel for the hate that keeps me going.

If I didn't have that, I think I'd go insane.

***

"I have known the joy and pain of deep friendship. I have served and been served. I have made some good enemies for which I am not a bit sorry. I have loved unselfishly, and I have fondled hatred with the red-hot tongs of hell. That's living."

Zora Neale Hurston