Holidays, Salad Days,
Days of Moldy Mayonnaise*
by Duane Swierczynski
(*apologies to Frank Zappa)
Can't get used to this. I'm craving Whoppers and Tastycakes, and here I am stuck with Brazil nuts and raspberries. My wife misses the real estate more. She looks at what used to be our driveway and cries, sometimes, wiping her tears with an oak leaf.
Paper is still around, if you look hard enough. I still have my Bic pen I kept in my wool coat. The ink will be gone someday, but there are enough raspberries I can smash to make more.
Maybe somebody someday will question what happened.
My wife told me last night about the story of Adam and Even. She used to be catholic, she said. She said she "used to know god."
Adam and Even were this couple this President Jesus married in the year 1776. They lived a place much like our own times now: the gardens. They were perfectly happy. I guess those two didn't know anything about the old times I like I do. No amount of foliage will make me forget.
Remember TV. Remember Hamburglar. Remember...
She told me of how much we resemble this couple, and I protest because there are other people alive and around us, unlike her catholic story. She says it's symbolic of what's happening. I don't understand what she is talking about. My head hurts a lot today.
Find the tree of knowledge, she always tells me, as she looks up the driveway of concrete that's been pushed aside by grass. That'll be our answer.
Answer to what? I ask. She shakes her head and reads more of her catholic storybook.
Funny thing. Even though I remember Matt Lauer, Al Gore, Michael Jordan, Batman, Web sites, Turkey Hills, cineplexes, Solo cups, Nintendo, White-Out, CD-ROM, heroin chic and guns, I don't know where they all went. Even though I feel like I belong with the flowers, these things keep spitting up in my head, and I miss them. Yet, the trees are all I seem to really know. I can only know what I can touch.
What happened in between? I ask my wife.
We all went to hell, she said. The word disturbed me so much that I slapped her across the face. She fell into a patch of poison ivy that punched through my backyard basketball court. I've misplaced the ball.
I saw the explosion in my nightmare. It was thick like the smoke of burning bark and bright as daisy petals. Fire smashed into fire, and whiteness was everywhere, then sudden cold. Then no color at all, the rush, the winds, the growth...
And in the blue skies I saw the words: SGI EFFECTS BY INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC.
Today my wife wandered away from what used to be our home. She first tried to find a lawyer, then remembered that he'd gone, along with the real estate man. They kind of lost interest in everything.
Before I forget: A word crept into my skull today while I was cutting grass. I'm pretty sure it's important because a shiver ran up my spine when I said it aloud. The word was "pile."
Anyway, my wife ran off with the Catholics. (It's a proper noun, I've learned.) Earlier tonight I crawled past their camp, and they were gathered around statues, struggling to cut away the greenery. One man, who was dressed in black (which, by the way, is damn foolish, considering the amount of sunlight drawn by the flowers) was visibly upset about a growth of roses around a statue of God. God, turns out, is a naked man affixed to a tree. What I couldn't understand was why they were upset about the thorns growing around God's body. He already had a band of them around his head, assuredly put into the artwork in the first place.
I cried out to my wife, for I was alone, but she ignored me. They were chanting words, some to President Jesus. I walked back to my overgrown parlor. Some berries had grown during the day, so I had supper.
I miss Domino's very terribly.
A man stumbled through my caved-in wall this morning. He wore a business suit, much like Matt Lauer wore a long time ago, except this stranger was sweaty and unshaven.
I shared my fruit and my writings with him. He said he liked my observations, and became curious about the Catholics my wife had joined. He knew of some before, and was surprised I hadn't heard of them, my wife being one and everything.
I then explained to him about my accident, my amnesia, and my bloodied skull. He said I was lucky to be alive. I agreed. He asked if I had missed "the Big One." He saw that I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Does it have to do with the pile?" I ventured. He said it did, but he didn't think I was ready for the whole story yet. I became a bit angry and demanded to know what had happened.
"The power of prayer," he said, and then left to spy on the Catholics. "They were the ones who did this."
Before he left, he gave me three paperback books -- horror novels -- which he had written. I was a bit embarrassed to have shown my feeble writings to him, but he shrugged it off, complimenting my observations again.
He put them on the tree stump next to my gutted couch. "They're nothing these days," he said. "Won't even give you a shiver, compared to the flowers."
I wonder what he means.
I've written six, because it follows five and precedes seven, but another word came to me because of it: sex.
Sex with my wife. I realize I miss it.
Two other words, in a nightmare similar to the one I had a few days ago. "New" and "clear." Something like the words I found on the rusted can of Ajax Cleanser, "new and improved," but they mean something different. Pile, new, and clear. They fit together, like my wife and I used to. Maybe she is fitting in with the Catholics. I am angry, and too ashamed to admit that my forgetting about sex may have been one of the reasons for her sudden departure.
I read of the business man's books today before falling asleep and remembering new and clear. His book was about vampires, and I couldn't remember what they were until I found a box of Count Chocula cereal beneath the wheat stalks in my kitchen. He was right. It wasn't very scary.
Perhaps my accident, which I obviously had before "the big one" and the "the power of prayer" made me forget a lot of things. Connections, like. I am an idiot in this world, a world that's jumped ahead. The children who hide in the trees seem happy, the Catholics in their hidey-hole with their statues seem happy, so why can't I? I remember where Crest toothpaste used to come from, but I don't know where all these fucking flowers came from!
The business man rushed back this afternoon, running from the Catholics. The man in black was behind him, holding a sharp blade in his hand. I stepped back into the sunlight that poured in from the broken roof just in time to see the business man get stabbed in the shoulder. But he kicked the man in black away before he could do further harm, and then reached inside his coat.
There, in his hand, was a beautiful gun! Guns, I remembered: guns from cowboys, Roy Rogers, tough men from the West, from World Wars and Cold Wars and smart bombs and planes and men in the trenches and the heroes on S.W.A.T who used big guns, machine guns. I know where they all came from!
The business man plugged the man in black. A rush of words came to me the seconds it took for the man to fall to the grass-cracked sidewalk: Priest. Sin. Jesus. Exorcist.
Then more: Blood. Kill. Double Indemnity. Weapon.
A New, Clear Weapon.
We watched the man in black die.
After the business man put the gun away, I spewed all of these words to him, and I must have convinced him to tell me his story, even though it was ambiguous at best: He said that he remembered the world before, too, like me, and he supposed that my accident made me accept both the flowers and the world before. He told me he was an atheist, a man who didn't believe.
Believe what? I asked.
He told me that people in the world before used new, clear weapons, which they kept in stockpiles, to kill everyone in the world. An evil empire caused another to react, because they'd trapped it in a corner, he said. But before that had happened, the power of prayer had somehow halted it.
I told him I didn't understand, even though vague images of flags and missiles and fire were coming to me. He suggested I get some sleep before he continued. There would be plenty of time later. All isn't that bad, I remember him saying.
"Some think this is paradise regained," he said.
I awoke the next morning to a scream. The business man was lying next to me in the grass, his blood drenching my sleeve. I turned him over, to see if he was alive, but no. His jacket fell open, and I saw that his chest had been sliced open.
The very next thing I noticed was that my novels were gone, my only real link to what used to be before the flowers.
Then I realized I was not alone.
The Catholics, dressed in a combination of green leaves covering their privates and sandals made of intertwined branches, hovered over me. My wife was in front.
"I was wrong," she said. "We must not look again for the tree of knowledge. It is evil. I was tempted and I resisted. I am here to do the same for you, to right the wrong Eve did Adam in the Garden."
I asked her if her Catholic friends had murdered my friend, ignoring her babbling about Adam and Eve.
"That man," she said, "was the serpent." The crowd drew in a collective breath. "Sweetheart, you are blind because of your accident. You didn't see the miracle happen! The trees, the plants, the flowers, everything, everything is God's work!"
NUCLEAR STOCKPILE, I thought, suddenly. What she was saying connected: An image of me, lying in bed, with the white Ace bandages covering my eyes. But my ears -- still functional, better in fact. I hear my wife screaming, and then praying, frantically. Then everything blurred...
"Are you listening to me?" she asked. "We have made it!"
"The power of prayer," said one of her Catholics. "It won us paradise again. We have fought Satan and won!"
"No," I muttered weakly, remembering Matt Lauer's words on the television. Madman with a bomb... world retaliation... teaching the Madman a lesson... unlike the world has seen since... since forever... holocaust... shelter... not like in the fifties ... no hiding under beds... no one is safe...
"This is it, sweetie!" cried my wife. "Everything back the way it should have been!"
In that instant my mind opened. I remembered it all. The Catholics, the end times with our country and others and peacekeeping forces and the renegade country who discovered the Bomb and used it and The Retaliation. Everywhere, the world over. Yes, then, the frantic prayer, all over the world by the Catholics and Jews and Protestants and Muslims and every other blessed sect. With world destruction being the motivation, all of the denominations had come together and pulled it off.
My mind had saved everything like a tape recorder, only to play it back at this moment, when I could fully understand.
Indeed, the nuclear stockpile of the world had been launched, but by some ... miracle ... no radiation had emitted from the blast. Only flowers, and nothing but. Flowers and trees and grass, pushing through man's mistakes and seeking to bury them. God saving the world? Mass telekinesis? No matter now. The end of the world had scared everyone so shitless they just willed it to stop. Simple as that.
And I was lying on the floor of a new Eden, where sin had been conquered and Eve had slit the belly of the Beast.
My hand fell on the Beast's chest, reaching inside his suit coat. The group moved forward, to take me into the garden to live and pray and do whatever else you did in paradise.
Well, that wasn't for me.
I found his gun and pulled it out. I aimed it. My finger pounded the trigger like it was the back of a long-lost friend. In a flash, I remembered that I had been a police officer before the flowers, my amnesia from a looting shoot-out in the last days. Before the power of prayer.
My aim was very good.
I walked outside my home a few minutes ago, fully surveying the land I once knew. There, a Wal-mart. The Jersey Turnpike, grassed over. Rivers everywhere, bubbling up from the beneath the earth, spraying the grass. A motel a few blocks away: now, an empty field. I remember an old science-fiction movie I used to love on TV, with Charlton Heston. Damn. I wondered what's going to be covering the Statue of Liberty now.
Soon the old world will be completely pushed away by this Eden, willed by religions. For all of the talk of nuclear evil, they'd somehow tapped into a pool of energy to make good. Perhaps good is a bad word to use.
At least I can't blame myself for this.
Found a "Weed-Wacker."
Story © copyright 1999 by Duane Swierczynski <email@example.com>
Artwork © copyright 1999 by Stefano Tartarotti <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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