G is for Go West Young Man

The name of the Jessica Chastain type was Sarah. But that wasn’t her real name; that was her alias. Her real name was Sara. But she didn’t tell John that.

“Actually Jessica Chastain is a Sarah type, not the other way around,” she said, when John described his first impression of her. She meant Sara, but John couldn’t hear that.

“I’m the real woman who went and found Osama Bin Laden. I had to. My organization had to know how sorry he was.”

“How sorry was he?”

“He was what we call not very sorry at all. That’s a technical term you’ll learn in time.”

“Frodo,” said Sara’s little rabbitman companion, who heretofore had been content to suck his juice box in the corner.

JG2 20

“That’s right. Frodo.” Sara shrugged. “He had the Lord of the Rings in his DVD collection. Osama, I mean, not Frodo. I don’t know what to think about that, personally. But I think he just wanted to know what the fuss was about. He had also directed his many children and grandchildren in many community theater productions for the compound. We know because we found all of his show t-shirts. Community theater people are suckers for t-shirts, even in the Middle East. That’s just universal.”

“What shows did he do?”

“Godspell, Nunsense, Steel Magnolias. Nothing too daring.”

“Well, give them time.”

JG2 21

“I would have, but then the Seals got involved, and they’re much less interested in being sorry. Now, I want to hear your story one more time and see if you change any of the details. If you do I’ll kill you.”

“I told you, it was all her idea.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t remember her name. She’s just this someone I went to high school with. I even, I heard her name like twenty times when I went down there, and I forgot it every time.”

“That happens.”

“Yeah. She knew my wife had left me because she got pregnant – not my wife, I mean yes my wife, not my friend: my wife is pregnant! I’m not changing details please don’t zap me again!”

The little guy had put down his juice box and approached with the cattle prod. Sara just waited.

“My wife is pregnant and I didn’t want the baby and let’s be honest I told her I didn’t want the baby, any baby, ever. And you know she used to punch holes in my condoms. I don’t mean poke. I mean punch. She used a hole punch. It wasn’t very stealthy. I think she wanted to be caught. And my money is she went off her birth control without telling me, probably without even telling herself. Anyway the gory details aren’t necessary but I don’t believe in having kids because, I don’t know, there’s nine million refugees out of Syria, how’s that for a late March morning rationale, just to pick one out of the ether.

“Now she’s gone, and I’m sorry about that. I am. Because among other things it makes me look very bad, which I am, of course, but, okay, I’m having a hard time here actually sorting out what I feel from what I have felt. What I mean is I want her to come back, but I don’t know if that’s just because I want to cling to the meaning I had in my life before – ”

“John? Where’s the Dayquil?”

Mr. Hetherington had been sprung from his chair after John proclaimed his innocence. He now shuffled back into the room, in his dad robe, and asked his question in a very stuffed up tone.

“It’s under the sink.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Then we have to go get some more.”

“Could you?”

“I’m a little tied up.”

“That’s good, John, that’s a good pun. Sara are you single?”

Mr. Hetherington could tell that she was Sara and not Sarah. Thirty years of teaching just does that to you.

Sara blushed a bit to go with her Jessica Chastain hair. “I’m not asking for John, he’s hopeless. I’m asking because I really want to see ‘Frozen’ and John won’t take me and I figured if you’re a single girl you’ve probably already gone and seen it either by yourself or with some sad lady group, but if you’ve got a boyfriend you probably haven’t been able to drag him to it so maybe you and I could go see a matinee if John gets off his ass and gets me some Dayquil.”

“I’m single, and I don’t think it’s in theaters anymore.”

Mr. Hetherington took that news hard. John couldn’t tell if the welling in the man’s eyes was from allergies or the general injustice of the world.

“That’s John Lake for you,” Mr. Hetherington said, and sneezed forcefully. He shuffled back out of the room. “I’m just going to go lie down and die!”

“Maybe you can settle something for us, Sara!” John called out so Mr. H. could hear. “And you,” he said to the little rabbitman. “Mr. Hetherington has a young gentleman caller, and so he’s trying not to be such a pain in the ass father figure. Now, sometimes we watch TV after dinner, and I notice Mr. H. nodding off. But he never admits it. He always snaps back awake and acts like he’s following the plot of The Good Wife which by the way did you see this week’s episode?”

“Crazy,” said rabbitman.

“Yeah! So my point is, if you’re trying to not be like a dad, just admit when you fall asleep! Just admit it old man! Right? Cause the denial thing is what dads do. Thoughts?”

“My dad used to be able to watch TV even in his sleep,” Sara said. “He’d be asleep and some big play would happen and he’d open his eyes and say, ‘Well they shouldn’t have put that lefthander in’ like he was watching the whole time.”

“Incredible. Is that what you do, Mr. H.? Can you see through your eyelids?”

There was no response.

“Just give him a second he’ll have some witty comeback. He’s gay.”

There was no response. Rabbitman came back into the room. He had slipped out unnoticed.

“That man is dead,” he said.

He wasn’t dead, in fact, but he had laid down to die. That hadn’t been just a witty gay punchline. When John got to him, he was very close.

“What’s going on?”

“Oh it’s the supercold,” Mr. Hetherington said, faintly. “You teach little kids for thirty years, your immune system gets stronger and stronger. But then so does the cold. Those kids are crucibles of chills and fever, little germ factories making more and more intricate seeds of sniffling.”

“But you haven’t taught in years.”

“No, but the seed was inside, morphing, growing.”

“I can get some Dayquil.”

“Dayquil only delays the inevitable, John, and I’m tired. I knew those children would be the death of me. But it’s not their fault, all the same. Do you understand that?”

“No.”

Mr. Hetherington nodded. “I know, you poor boy.”

“Do you want me to call your boyfriend?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend, John. That was something I made up to spend time with you.”

John took Mr. Hetherington’s hand.

“Why is this the crazy room, John? You never said.”

“Oh. We called it that when we were dating. You know Gladys, sometimes, sometimes her eyes turn into pebbles. I don’t know why, but they do. And when they do, when they did, she used to come in here and lie on the futon, and I would know, that she was…out of sorts. So I would come in and slip on banana peels, or play Tracy Chapman on my ukulele, or read her the unexpurgated letters of Winston Churchill, until her eyes turned back. That’s all.”

“That’s nice, John.” He looked into John’s eyes. “You know, in this story that’s being told, by you…you’re not giving yourself a fair shake. You’re like that. So I want to include, while I still can, that time you took Gladys to the city, when she’d never really been. And you did everything she wanted. You walked the big department store windows at one in the morning because she was too excited to sleep. You surprised her with those (expensive especially for a cheapskate like you) last minute tickets when the other plan failed and she said it was alright but you could see her lip tremble. You took her to that street fair where she bought the dress that got her noticed by the firemen and you didn’t even mind.”

“I did mind. It was hard, walking the streets of the city with a beautiful woman. It was hard in a way I’d never experienced before.”

“Why was it hard?”

“Because I was scared.”

“Okay.” He patted John’s hand. “Good.” He sighed. “I wish I could have seen ‘Frozen.’ Everyone’s talking about it. The new Disney renaissance.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Could you sing the song? Could you sing ‘Let it Go’?”

“I’ve never heard it, Mr. H., I don’t know how it goes.”

“I don’t either, so you can’t get it wrong.”

“What?”

“Make it up, John.”

John looked at Sara. She nodded. Rabbitman provided a beat.

“Uh. When I was just

A little girl

I would always hold so tight.

But now

I know

The end is just in sight.

So please take

My teddy bear

And all my other things.

Cause I know

I don’t need

Them where I am going

Let it go.

Let it go.

Let it go now let it go.

You did well.

For a spell.

Let it go now let it go.”

Mr. Hetherington tried to smile for John, but he knew that wasn’t nearly as good as hearing Adele Dazeem would have been.

John looked down at their hands. “I hate to bring this up right now, but…have I been exposed to the supercold?”

“Oh sure.”

“Dammit.”

“We all have, John. We’re all killed by children, one way or another.” Mr. Hetherington coughed one last time. The death rattle began to twitch.

“John,” he said, and John leaned close. “The future is in eggs.”

And then he died.

They were the only three at the funeral. This is not because his little rainbows and chickens had stopped caring about him, but only because, well, who keeps up with their kindergarten teacher? If you did, you may congratulate yourself here.

John gave the eulogy.

“Those of you who knew Mr. H., which isn’t any of you, will know that he wouldn’t want us to be happy today, or for a long time after this. He’d want us to wallow in his death. He’d want us to succumb to grief and lie on our couches and do nothing until we lost our jobs and the power company turned all the lights off and our muscles turned to fat. Because he loved life so, he’d want us to waste a bit of ours in his honor, and go around with our bodies smeared in blue paint, and roll among the empty peanut shells.”

He stepped down from the podium. Sara touched his shoulder. “There’s someone you need to meet,” she said. “It’s time.”

JG2 22

F is for Frost

“I’d rather you not go unless you must.”

The thought came to Gladys only as she burned through the center of the Earth, only after she no longer had the need to speak to herself because she became herself, and so could think again, and so remember.

Something an English teacher had said once about that line, the last in some poem, about how it contained no comma. Had there been a comma before unless, it would have been weaker. It would have been the qualification of someone backing off of her statement. This way, it was what it was. Don’t go unless you must. Unless you must go. But what is the definition of must? They never tell you these things in school.

If John had said this, she reasoned, without the comma, she would have stayed, because she didn’t know the definition of must so she couldn’t be sure she had to must go. But all he had given her was the comma itself, no sentence at all, and now here she was, tunneling through the core of things.

As she worked her way back up to the other side, her thoughts became flipped, so that the line now was

“Must you? Unless go not you: rather, would I.”

I would rather go.

And that’s when she broke through, into the air again.

In fact her momentum was such springing up out of the other side of the planet that she shot high up in the sky. Perhaps I’ll touch the moon, she thought, and felt something near to a kick inside of her, but instead she began to fall back down to the ground. The hole she had made opened wide for her, and she wondered if now she was stuck in equal and opposite reactions, and would spend the rest of her days falling through one side of the earth and then the other, but they never tell you these things in school.

Instead, the wind did what it could and knocked her off course, and instead of slingshotting back into her tunnel she landed on a Ubanian and killed him instantly.

“Did I really? All by myself?” Gladys asked when told of her victim’s fate. She sounded proud. Her thoughts were still a little turvy from the fall.

When the gravity of the situation set in, she was inconsolable, and asked to be sent straight from Ubanian Mercy Hospital (where they were icing her elbow, which she had bruised) to Ubanian Terror Prison.

“But that’s not how it works here,” the Ubanian nurse said. She was blue. Not emotionally. All Ubanians are blue.

But Gladys was insistent on due process, so they brought her to the Ubanian Emperor. “Oh la la,” he said, upon seeing her, then righted himself. “Welcome to Ubania, cradle of civilization. Here we say, paramamjambonjovi. This means, may the gods always sneeze upon your ancestors in the sky.”

“Thank you,” said Gladys.

“I have been told you are upset about having killed one of our people.”

“Yes. I fell on him.”

“Are you pregnant or just fat?”

“Pregnant. I’ve also put on a few pounds I think in addition to the pregnancy pounds. I don’t know how you count it but I haven’t been exercising much and I don’t want to blame it all on my bundle of joy.”

“Perhaps for that life to enter the world, someone had to leave first.”

“I don’t think that’s very fair.”

“Then you do not understand the word. This is fair. This is what fair looks like from here, at least, which is the same thing for all intents and purposes. What’s dead is dead. You might as well go on the best you can.”

“I think I should be punished. I believe in paying debts.”

“Very well.” The Emperor had her brought up to the throne, which was shaped like a giant squid. An attendant then pushed back Gladys’s right sleeve, exposing her forearm. The Emperor nodded, and her wrist was slapped.

“You may go.”

“That’s not enough.”

“It is more than so. You think you have taken a life. Although where you think you took it I cannot imagine. But what you have done, in fact, is taken one five thousandth of a life. Roughly speaking. We’d have to measure the dead man’s height to be sure. You see, foreign white lady, Ubanians do not hold the same amount of divine spark in their bodies as you do. When a Ubanian dies, it feels little more than a spider bite, even to his closest companions. No: in order for any effect to be had, for any punishment to be meted out, we have to be killed in droves. We have to bulldozed by giant waves. Driven to the point of extinction. And even then, nothing is guaranteed. After all, we are at this point presently.”

Just then, one of the Emperor’s attendants exploded. Gladys was splattered blue all over.

“Have dinner with me,” the Emperor said, by way of apology.

“I asked these two representatives of KEEP LIFE ALIVE to come and explain our little problem,” he said an hour later, over dinner. Two working-class Ubanians (you can tell by the shade of blue) looked on hungrily.

“Hello, madam white lady, and welcome to Through, the capital city of Ubania, the cradle of civilization,” the older one bowed deeply. “As we like to say, don’t just pass Through; stay a while!”

The younger Ubanian rolled her eyes.

“My daughter and I are indeed the sole employees of KEEP LIFE ALIVE. This is a non-profit business,” he said, “which is no surprise, as all business in Ubania is non-profit. Hee hee.”

The Emperor frowned.

“My name is Bookbaleekymadonna, which roughly translated means Ubanian Mike.”

“Hello.” Gladys performed the traditional Ubanian greeting she had learned, which is to rub your nose vigorously.

“And I am Ubanian Lisa,” the daughter said. “I do not even know my old world name as I have been corrupted by the gods of MTV and Brooke Shields blue jeans.”

“Ah ha. Are not children darling? Can I ask madam white lady, are you fat or just pregnant?”

“I’m pregnant.”

“Ah. Then you have an interest, I think in our work. The first thing you should know is, we are not blue. This is paint.”

“Oh.”

“We paint ourselves blues in order to remember that we stepped out of the water. We turned from strange fish creatures into strange walking creatures.”

An explosion is heard from the kitchen. A silence. A Ubanian maid entered. “The chef has blown up,” she said.

“Did she finish dessert first?” the Emperor asked.

“She blew up onto the dessert.”

“So…is that a yes or a no?”

Ubanians Mike and Lisa mumbled together. “What’s that?” Gladys asked.

“Ah, excuse me. We were pronouncing the word of the dead. Mainsytybonotheedge. This means, may the bright future he hopes for not be a crock of shit.”

“Mainsytybonotheedge.”

“Very good. We will now give you a brief history of the Ubanian Troubles.”

Ubanian Lisa fired up the projector.

JG2 16

“That is Loretta Lynn. She was a coal miner’s daughter. She issued forth from the black womb of the Earth, specifically Butcher Hollow aka Butcher Holler Kentucky, before becoming famous, touring to Ubania, and then going to live on the moon where she has continual sex with Neil Armstrong and controls the tides through her orgasms. From the brief period between Loretta Lynn’s visit to Ubania until late 1983, all was peaceful and tranquil in the country. The people were unified in their love for this woman who was so clearly vested with super powers. How else could she have fended off an abusive husband, rampant sexism, and Vietnam to become the celebrated duet partner of Conway Twitty?

“Then there was a film made of the life of Loretta Lynn. It came out in 1981 but did not reach Ubania until late 1983. It is called Coal Miner’s Daughter, after her autobiography which was originally written on stone tablets and is now available in paperback. Loretta Lynn was played by Sissy Spacek, even though Sissy Spacek looks more like Joni Mitchell than any other female singer songwriter. See?

JG2 17

 

“After the screening of the film at The D. W. Griffith Theater in downtown Through, there was general jubilation and glee. It was like our moon princess had returned to us in celluloid. We felt as the Jews must have felt when Moses descended from Mount Sinai with his stones to show them the way. We felt as the Muslims must have felt when their Mohammed fellow was saved by a spider. We all went across the street to Ubanian Sally’s Ice Cream Dream Station. This is where the trouble started. A small faction of the spectators began claiming that Sissy Spacek was a better Loretta Lynn than Loretta Lynn herself. They started calling themselves the Spaceks. The majority rushed to defend Loretta Lynn. They called themselves the Sissies, because they believe the Spaceks are Sissies. Which is to say gay.

JG2 18

“By gay I mean homosexual. It is our highest insult. I do not mean to offend you, but for us nothing could be worse. To be a gay man means you would not want to make the loving to Loretta Lynn, moon princess, and to be a gay woman means you would not want to get married and have children, as Loretta Lynn did at age thirteen.

“After the riot our people spent many years coming up with more and more inventive ways to kill each other. As a result there was no business or growth and we all have no money now. As a result life is very terrible. Now the Sissies and the Spaceks do not kill each other, as to die is to great a privilege. Instead, we one by one become so sad that we actually explode. This is making a really big mess. So we here at KEEP LIFE ALIVE are looking for ways to encourage people to not blow up but to find happiness in their sad dirty lives.”

JG2 19

Gladys had not touched her bloody dessert. “So this conflict all boils down to a white lady who set you all against each other?”

Ubanians Mike and Lisa looked at each other, and then made a gesture peculiar to the country.

“I am making this gesture, which my people call eekamakajagoogoo, which means, half a bucket of yes, fifty cents of no. Half a bucket she started it, fifty cents we were just looking for a good reason to hate and kill each other.”

“The point,” said the Emperor, “is that through my beneficence, KEEP LIFE ALIVE is funding a number of initiatives to raise morale. One involved bringing a circus in, a particularly unique circus, based as it were on the lives of various Catholic saints. We felt that the emphasis on the rewards of suffering might speak to our people. So far, it hasn’t. But you, I think, with you penchant for penance, might be just what the doctor ordered.”

“I don’t understand.”

The Emperor took a bite of cheesecake. “But you’re going to join the circus, of course.”

Gladys thought about this.

“Must I?” she asked. Not in a desperate or playful way, but with genuine curiosity about the word.