What She Wants is the End of the World  

Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2003

 

 

            My lover is convinced the world will go wild at 12:00AM on New Years Eve.

It’s 1999, and certainly with all the news and spin about the end, one might eventually start to believe something bad could happen.  There’s that Prince song, for instance, which continually plays in my head because it is continually played on TV.  And there are all those survivalists making us believe angry men in camouflage quoting Jerry Falwell will riot through the tree-lined streets raping and bombing and machine gunning their way into the safety of our gated neighborhoods.  And then of course there’s Revelations, the moon turning a plutonium shade of red, the war of Armageddon, God and his face appearing only to the righteous, his fiery anger burning up everyone else.

You’ve heard all about the end of the world, and so have we.  My lover and I come from God’s country, after all, the New Zion chosen for its safe enclosure of high, jagged mountains, a western desert with sage and rattlesnakes and just enough water for the chosen, a setting nobody would want to bomb.  We have lived here many years in this city where Mormon’s wait daily for Jehovah to return and vindicate them.

“Yes, you are a peculiar people,” He will tell them.  And the people will smile because they enjoy being peculiar.  And all the animals will lie on green watered lawns together.  And all the men will have many wives.

I thought we stopped believing in these things years ago.  My lover and I both prefer to avoid procreation with men, for instance, and we like to drink, and dance sexy-close, and say bad words, and smoke legal and non-legal substances, and our hair is spiky-ferocious, and sometimes we say mean things to the local missionaries who try to convert the wayward.

“Doesn’t virginity at your age make you feel kind of pent up?” we ask.

“How can you stand to wear that much polyester?” we want to know.

We are not the kinds of girls who go around trying to please God, though our lives are rather placid, and since some people associate God-like living with placidity, you could almost say there’s something Godly in our salad-eating, educational-tv-watching, homeless-shelter-donating, Shopko-purchasing, monogamously-sleeping-warm-and-close kind of existence.

Still, the day my lover says, “Sometimes I wonder if I should go back to church,” I begin to feel a little nauseated.

It’s July, five months, seven days, and twelve hours before the end.

We’re outside.  The dog is lying on the grass panting.  I’m lying on the grass panting and trying to make my olive skin darker than it is.  The air is hot and empty.  The sky is Clorox blue.  We have been thinking about how to remodel the bathroom.  We have been planning a dinner party.  We have been making a grocery list and discussing the bills.  Church is not an issue we have recently been talking about.

“I mean, maybe they’re right, darlin’,” she says.  She hands me a beer, then sits in the chair next to me and lights a cigarette.  “What if we’re wrong?  What if I won’t see my family in the afterlife?”

I lift my sunglasses so I can see her face.  There is something like sadness in her voice.  The smoke coming out of her mouth seems a little shaky. 

My lover is not often a shaky girl.  My lover’s eyes are often wild-blue and fierce.  Her voice often speaks in intimidating single-syllable commands.

“I don’t like it.”

“No, not that one.”

“I want candy.”

“Fuck off.”

“Do me now.”

These eyes, these words, have always excited me, have always made me think my lover is a person of the snapping, breathing, never-give-in-to-stifling-authority world.  As a teenager, she would drive through farm country in an old truck smoking and throwing beer cans into the piñons, and she would have sex with teenagers and married men and buxom blondes, and then, when she wanted a change from the usual weekend brawl and back room bar fuck, she left them all behind in their Carharts and their scuffed boots, and didn’t look back through her dusty wake.

The waving sound of her uncertainty is not something I want to hear on this sunny sunny day.  I want to look up and see that she has her usual sexy-wild-but-teasing eyes. 

Her face is freckled and a little dazed and a little too red in the sun.

I’m supposed to be the shaky one.  I have always been a girl whose mouth moves crooked-nervous.  I have always been a girl who gives in.  As a teenager, I would slowly craft lacy bible covers because they told us that was a delightsome and attractive thing for a girl to do.  Other delightsome things included: trying out casserole recipes from the local Sisters and taking them to those less fortunate like the Johnson’s next door with their one-eyed cat; combing the neighborhoods once a month with the missionaries looking for the wayward in my modest-but-also-somewhat-attractive a-line skirt; attending the Sisters’ make-up seminars and letting them cover my face until sweat bubbles beaded up under the cake.  I would never look at anyone with even sideways lust, and once, when I unsuccessfully tried to masturbate on top of a bundle of newly washed sheets, I confessed to the Bishop immediately the next Sunday.

“Go and sin no more,” he told me, his face a little red.

Of course I listened to him.  I didn’t touch myself or let anyone touch me for another seven years.

I’ve always been a conformist.  My lover is not a conformist.  She is the aggressive, wild one.  I am the passive, conforming one.  This is one of our unspoken agreements.  Within this, there is supposed to be a balance.  Within this, I have had a sense of deep, swimming hope for three years.

If one of my friends said they wanted to go back to church, I would have worried for them, but talked about the pros, like additional casserole recipes, and the cons, like men with bad ties wanting eternal marriage.

But the language of lovers is often filled with hidden meaning.  When my lover says she wants to go to church, she is really saying:

1.      I would rather be a Mormon than your lover.

2.      You too should want to be a Mormon.

3.      I want to be a polygamist’s wife in heaven.

4.      You too should want to be a polygamist’s wife in heaven.

5.      I don’t love you and maybe I never did.

6.      We can’t have sex any more.

7.      The sex we’ve been having has never really been that exciting, and perhaps has always made me feel guilty and a little dirty, and I don’t mean in a good way.

8.      Our entire lives, the house, the dog, the sharing of bed and bills, have been wrong, and I might even come to the point of placing a gun to your head in the night because that’s what it could take for me to get back onto the righteous path and put you out of your evil misery.

9.      Either way, I’m leaving you.

10.  And the world is about to end.

Though I try to be an optimist because that’s what the Brethren trained me to be, I’ve always had a thin knowledge that my lover would some day leave me.  I try to ignore this, but she’s just not the kind of girl who can stay in one dry place with one conforming lover for long.  Sometimes when she’s sitting on the couch smoking and looking out at the gray-flecked sky, her eyes seem to sag, her muscles go a little liquid, but her legs look ready to leap out if only someone would open the door, and I feel scared, and I feel bad, and I watch the clock as if it could tell me something about the future of love.

I didn’t expect it be about religion.

“I feel like the world is falling apart, darlin’,” my lover says.

I look at the sky.  It is silent, crossed only by a few thin vapor trails.  It is not cracked or about to be split with bombs or God’s sudden appearance because, of course, all of that is still a few months off.  I roll my shorts up higher to avoid obvious tan lines.  I put oil on my stomach.  I say, “Honey, belief is inside us, really.  Don’t you think?”

“My brother says his life has turned around since he started going back to church,” she says.

“You’ve been talking to your brother?” I ask.  She hasn’t talked to her family in years.  “Anyway, honey, I didn’t know you needed your life turned around.”

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says.

This is true.  No one knows anything, really, but I was trained to say I knew things as a child, and it is a stance that is hard to give up.  For instance, I know that shoplifting is bad, and adultery is a sin.  I know that a diversified retirement portfolio is wise and safe.  I know that Hollywood movies always end happily.  And I know that a woman who likes pussy will not get along well in a church full of self-important penises.

“Your brother has a wife,” I say.  “A female wife.”

“I know that,” she says.

“And he’s a man,” I say.  “Religion and married men often get along quite well.”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid,” she says, her eyes going pointy.  The dog looks up.  He knows her angry voice, and I hear him growling a little, getting ready to protect.  “You need to read this,” she says.  She hands me a magazine.  MILLENIUM MADNESS shouts from the cover.  Inside, the table of contents lists titles like “Fallout and Anthrax: Your Ten-Step Guide,” and “National Grid Failure: Will Your Nights be Black?” and of course, “Have We Stopped Fearing God?”

I look at my lover, then hand back the magazine.

“No, you need to read it, darlin’,” she says, pushing it back to me.  “You need to stop burying your head in the sand.”   Her eyes are hard crystal blue, and this should be a good thing.  I like her eyes to be filled with sharp conviction, but not about this.

Her face loosens again.  She pulls in a drag of smoke.  “There has to be a way to survive, to stay safe,” she says.

I take her hand, and though I want to tell her to lie down in the sun with me, to smell the grass and watch the dragon flies because if the pundits are right and the world is going to end, we don’t have much time to know heat and bugs and the taste of each other’s lips.  I want to ignore her squinting panic.  I want to ignore the shake of the greenish smoke coming out of her.  But I have lived with her for three years, and I know what it means when her mouth gets thin.

She is about to start something I cannot stop.

That’s how her mouth got when she wanted to finish the basement all by herself because she thought she would become a general contractor and could learn on her own, and after a flood, a couple of fires, and a year of pounding and sanding, she did finish it, but the sound of hammers never left my head.  And when she took up art as a way to nurture her inner creative spirit, she filled canvas after canvas until the entire house felt slick and linseedy.  When she suddenly wanted to Xeriscape the yard because, really, we live in a desert and shouldn’t have grass or trees, we spent the entire summer digging things up, putting in drip irrigation and weed barriers and wood chips and Russian sage and buffalo grass and lavender, and eventually my hands had permanent calluses. 

I guess my lover does kind of believe in things to an extreme.  She is not a girl of gray shades.  This is why I love her.  And I’ve always gone along because it would make her smile and kiss me slowly and touch the needy skin of my back.  And, too, the dog would always watch me with one tooth exposed, ready to bark and maybe nip at me if I decided to balk.  Besides, I’m not the kind of girl who was raised to say no.

“Do you believe the men in polyester suits will help you find the straight and narrow?”

Yes.”

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the divinity of His pointy beard, and that He is the only one who can save you as long as you go through the men in polyester suits first?”

Yes.”

“Do you believe if you wear modest but feminine clothing you will attract a righteous, polyester suit-wearer of your own?”

Yes.”

I thought being with a woman would help me exit the system of obedience.  Even though I was a child in the 70’s, its feminist idealism got passed into my mind later on.  I mean, aren’t women living together supposed to embody healthy individualism as well as peaceful, utopian harmony without conflict, crime, petty jealousy, or war? 

I pat my lover’s hand, pull it close to me, then kiss the knuckles, but she stands.

“I can’t think about that kind of thing right now,” she says, walking back to the house.

That night while I’m cooking, she logs on to the Internet to find out how to live in a world about to end.

I see her typing.  I walk over and kiss her neck.  She moves a slight millimeter away from me, then clicks the mouse on a link.  The PREPARE TO MEET YOUR MAKER home page opens large and flashing in front of her.   The red of its frightened font is loud, and I pull back, a little startled.  I move slowly into the kitchen, glancing behind me.  The dog watches.  I stir the rice.  I watch my lover’s still, blond head.  I see the flashing font.  I make a salad.  Her typing clacks around the living room.  I cut up a tomato.

Granted, many people would just say, “If that’s what you need, honey-darling-sweetie-lamb, knock yourself out.”  Yes, many people would be Zen, and help their lover find the best survivalist web sites, or sit and read the latest Y2K articles from the paper with small smiles on their faces that say, “Isn’t my lover just so desperately amusing?”  But I am not a secure, Zen girl.  I am a girl who used to know things and who now knows nothing.

Naturally, then, as any threatened person would do, I suddenly feel the need to cling.  I suddenly want to drag my lover to the bed and show her what a real woman with a tongue can do for her just in case she’s forgotten.  I want to emphatically say, “Stop this bullshit right now,” and not cringe afterward.  I want to fall on the ground and writhe and say, “Ok, I’ll go to church, I’ll do whatever you need me to do, just don’t stop having sex with me, please, oh please.”  I want to spill my beer on the computer so it will hiss and spark and never come on again.  But I keep stirring the rice.  I stir and stir until the little grains begin to look like mashed potatoes.

During the week, she is focused and silent.  She comes home from a day of styling rich women’s hair and immediately logs on.  I come home from a day of calculating rich people’s investments and immediately cook.   Because I was trained to be a 50’s housewife, every day I serve my lover exotic meals of baked pesto squab and sautéed shallots, and homemade brie with freshwater crackers, and raspberry honey chicken with minced capers.  I put each plate slowly in front of her.  She nibbles.  She stirs.  I touch and kiss her hair.  She doesn’t look up.

There is something dark and blue and faintly 70’s familiar in the smell of her as she sits there searching and searching for a way to enter the future without me. 

Finally on Friday at 11:37PM , my lover speaks with her back to me.  “We’ll survive it, darlin’,” she says.  “We’ll build a supply.”  I eat my home milled manicotti in saffron cream sauce, and watch as she brings pages and pages of printouts into the kitchen.   She spreads them over the dining table, and starts making margin notes.

I put a sprig of fresh rosemary on her manicotti, and move it toward her.

“I’m not hungry,” she says.  “We don’t have much time, darlin’.”

I look at the clock.

It’s still July, five months, but now three days, five hours, and twenty one minutes before the end.

“I think all this Y2K panic is kind of misplaced, honey,” I finally say, looking at her.  I lean forward.  I look down and there’s my own cleavage, and it seems rather sexy.  I look back at my lover and suddenly want her to notice me and my beautiful eyes and my sexy mouth.  I want her to stop looking at her printouts, and as I feel the longing of this, a longing I know can’t be fulfilled when her mouth is that thin, as I let the desire for something difficult sift over me, I realize wanting is something I haven’t felt for a while. 

All our growing-up lives the Brethren told us to ignore our betraying bodies.  But when I met my lover, my long-legged, sexy-pantied, sweat-when-she-has-sex lover, my life changed, and for the first time I started looking at my body in mirrors, and feeling myself in the shower, and touching my lover’s thighs any time I wanted to.  Flesh was suddenly necessary and full of high voltage.  And then, as placidity settled over us, I forgot about it again.

That must be it.  We’ve grown complacent.  We’ve lost the spark, the romance, the physical spontaneity of mutual heat.  No wonder my lover feels a void.  This and the Millennium could make anyone a little nervous.

That night when the dog is curled up on the carpet, and my lover is in bed reading over her end-of-the-world materials, I turn toward her and say, “I’ve always loved the color of your eyes, honey.  They’re like pools in August in Phoenix .”  Then I begin kissing her biceps.

“Darlin’,” she says, moving her arm a bare millimeter away and patting my hand.  “Maybe for now, for a while, we should be a little less physical.”

My throat gets tight.  The dog moves his head.  I see his tooth.

She can feel the seething panic of me, so she says, “What I mean, darlin’, is I think we should just focus on getting the supplies we need to survive the crisis.  Look at all this.”  She hands me some papers.  They are filled with lists of items every self-sustaining Christian survivalist will need to keep their family going strong in the absence of Capitalism through the next thousand years.

I read over them.  I look at the small print.  I see a lot of things about God and bullets and food storage, but nothing about avoiding sex.

“I mean, once we get all this taken care of, I’m sure I’ll be able to relax a little, darlin’.” she tells me, taking my hand lightly in hers.  “You know I love you, girl,” she says.

Yes, my lover can control me this way.  I am a piece of sexual putty.

And because I think I am still in love with her, and because I think I have been in love with her for the last three years, and because in my placidity I have fantasized that we will live in this house and be lovers growing old and arthritic together, and I still have this fantasy even though I am aware the myth of a stable love is fleeting at best, especially with a wild country girl, and because I think if I do something grand for her she really might relax and want to have sex and maybe even want to stay with me forever, I decide to give in to her.  I begin to purchase things.

First, I buy four large blue barrels to fill with water.  I roll them out of my Subaru and into the garage.  The dog looks at me from the back corner.

“Did you get the burlap?”

“The Burlap?”

“We have to wrap them in burlap, darlin’, so they won’t freeze in January when the electricity goes off,” she says.  She is reading from a printout.

“I’ll get the burlap, honey,” I say.

I go out and buy burlap, then return and wrap the barrels with that and duct tape.  I take a hose and fill each one slowly until they overflow.  The dog watches me cap each of them carefully so as to avoid the dangerous evaporation of a miscapped barrel.  Then I back away.  They are all lined up looking like ancient A bombs ready for Hiroshima .  I smile at my lover.  The dog walks up to a barrel and sniffs carefully.

“We won’t want for water,” I say.

“We won’t want for water,” my lover says.  She kisses my cheek, and the dog barks.  I haven’t been this close to my lover for weeks, and she smells so clean, so fresh, so, well, smokeless.

“Have you stopped smoking?” I ask, trying to keep my mouth calm and not at all shaky or accusing.

She looks at me.  “Just thought I’d try to be a little healthier, darlin’.”

My lover has smoked a pack a day for decades, and nothing shy of death or God could keep her from it.  But before I can say anything, she’s already on to the next survival item on her list.

“Now we have the Anthrax problem,” she says quickly.

“Anthrax,” I say.

“It will be a definite threat,” she says.

“Don’t you just cough and die when you get it?” I ask.

“No, that’s Ebola,” she says.

“Ebola,” I say.

“You bleed to death, you drown with Ebola,” she says.  “But there’s not much we can do about that.  At least anthrax can be prevented.  All we need is a little colloidal silver.”

“Colloidal silver,” I say.

“It’s a liquid,” she says.  “It also prevents scabies, warts, and anxiety,” she says, reading off her pages.

“Yes, honey,” I say.

I go to seven health food stores looking for colloidal silver to help protect us from the inevitable white, dusty breakout.  All but the last store have sold out their supplies.

“We just can’t keep it in,” the man behind the counter says.  “You’re a lucky one to find this much.”  He hands me a small bottle with a dropper.  His fingers are rather greasy.  “You’ve got your hand generated radio, don’t you?”

“No,” I say.

“Well hurry and get you one because after the bombs go off, not even batteries will work.  Your hand generated radio will let you know when there’s a breakout in the city, and then you start putting a drop of this in every 8 ounces of water you drink.  When other folks are dropping like flies, you’ll still be shoveling snow.”

I stare at him.

He leans in close to me and I can smell his skin.  “Now, I got a little stash of black cohosh which should help with the Small Pox outbreaks too.”

I think about how surprised my lover might be that I actually anticipated a survival need.  “That would be nice,” I say.  He brings me a reused baggy full of shriveled leaves.

“Just make tea out of it like you would make any kind of tea,” he says.  “It’s a good immune booster, and it helps you with your female troubles.”

“Perfect,” I say.

I take the colloidal silver and the cohosh home to my lover, and she leaps and hugs me and even squeals.  The dog runs, looking behind him.  “This is really hard to get right now,” she says, kissing my cheek, and for a moment, I feel a little hope, a little glint that maybe something more fleshy will suddenly become real, and that night as she shuffles through her papers, I cook Spanish yams in sage butter, and shallots with oysters because maybe they, too, will help. 

She eats an oyster.  I wait.  She tastes a yam.  She circles something on one of her pages. 

“Darlin’?” she says.

“Honey?” I say.

“We need weapons,” she says.  She writes on her list.  “We need powerful weapons.”

I look at the clock.  It’s 7:23PM .

“We have my .22,” I tell her.

“A shotgun would be better,” she says.

“I kind of think if armed people are coming after us, we’ll not really do that well in a shootout, honey.”

She looks at me.

The next week I go to the gun store.

“Can I help you, lady?” the man asks.  One of his teeth is missing.

“I believe I need a shot gun,” I say.

“Doesn’t everyone,” he says.  “Great for protecting the family jewels,” he says, touching himself and laughing.  He takes a few rifles down from a rack.  I pick one up and it is heavy.

“Have you ever shot one of these puppies?” he asks.  “Got a hell of a kick for a little thing like you.”

I shake my head, so he takes me into the basement where men with beards and camouflage jump suits are shooting targets.  Some shoot paper arms off.  Some shoot paper heads off.  Some go for the fingers.  The sounds are huge and rip vibrations into my chest.  The guy hands me glasses and ear plugs, and in a moment I too am shooting.

The target’s legs disappear.

“Well, damn, you’re a good shot,” he says.  “But you should go for the chest or, if you have to, the head.”

I shoot again.  The target’s shoulder disappears.

“Well, you’re doing damage at least,” he says.

I feel a little nausea, but buy the shotgun anyway.

“You’ll need at least two months of ammo with that,” he says.

“Two months?” I ask.

“Well, if you’ve got to shoot somebody every day for two months, that’s a two month supply.”  He smiles.

“That’s a lot of shooting,” I say.

“You’ll thank me later,” he says.  “Hell, whatever you don’t use, bring it back and I’ll refund you.”  He smiles.  I can see his tongue moving behind the toothless space of his gums.  He takes the receipt out of my hands, and writes on it.  FOR REFUND, OR A GOOD TIME, ASK JAY it says.  He winks at me.

I buy the ammo.  Jay has to help me out with it.

“Thank you.  Jay.”  I keep my face very very flat.

“No, thank you,” he says, winking again.

Before I put the shotgun in the car, I look around to see if anyone is watching, if anyone is staring because I am putting a high powered rifle into my environmentally conscious Subaru, and I did wear black today, all black, and I could have a ski mask in the car, they don’t know, and I could have a dead body in the back under the little security tarp provided especially for bodies and electronics by the forward thinking makers of Subaru.  I could have fertilizer I’m about to turn into bombs, so why the hell aren’t people staring?

A woman in a cream colored skirt walks by, her legs tight, her ass juicy and round and, frankly, something I suddenly want to bite.  She smiles at me.  Perhaps she sees that I am powerful and ready for anything.  I stand a little straighter, smile a little, pausing slowly so she can see what I’m holding.  Perhaps she too has a gun, maybe a 9mm, and it’s strapped to the inside of her thigh ready at a moment’s notice to shoot rapists and religious zealots between the eyes.  I watch her walk in the warm air until she turns a corner, and for a moment I feel a slight bit of guilt because I really shouldn’t be looking at other women, guns or no guns, because I’m supposed to be placid and faithful and doing all this for love.

I drive home and as I pull into the driveway, two men in polyester suits are walking out the front door.  I stare at them until they move around a corner.

“Those pesky missionaries,” my lover says when I come in through the kitchen.

I look at her.  She smells dark and blue and the air is strange.  I sniff.  It’s that 70’s smell again, the smell of flowery soap and something else, something masculine and cheap like the smell of my father and all the other men at church with their wide ties and their scratchy fabrics and skin.

Old Spice.

It’s Old Spice I’m smelling, and it’s filling the room and my nostrils with its terrifying, penny-pinching molecules.  Those were no missionaries leaving my house, and I stand in the kitchen with a shotgun knowing this, knowing that my lover is serious, that she really is trying for a return to her Mormon roots, and this can mean only one thing.

She’s done with me.

I stand there holding the beautiful shotgun and blinking.  The rifle is heavy in my hands. 

Some people might go overboard at a moment like this and take their two month supply of ammo and shoot lots and lots of holes into their lover and into their walls and couches and beds until the police show up and the news trucks set up their cameras.   Yes, some overly dramatic people might shoot a cop or two, then awkwardly put the shotgun barrel into their own mouths and pull the trigger. 

But I am not the kind of girl who goes overboard.   I am an optimist, after all.  I am not the kind of girl who believes in “no.”

I walk in to the living room and hold out the shotgun to my lover.

“Aaahhh,” she moans.  She takes it slowly out of my hands, sits on the couch with it, puts it on her lap, strokes the anodized metal barrel.  “I haven’t shot one of these in years,” she says.  She brings it to her shoulder and aims, and for a moment I remember that she, too, could be of a mind to kill my evil, pussy-loving self, and the polyester men have probably told her how to do it, how to hide my body in a lime-filled hole under a lovely, white, eight foot Christus in the back yard.

I move slowly behind a door.  The dog follows me, but then I see my lover smiling almost seductively at me, so I come out and make my face look relaxed and even a little happy.

“Honey?” I say.

She winks at me, then looks down at her lists.  The dog jumps up on my leg and I pet him until he slobbers.  I cook baby ribs in mesquite sauce, my lover’s favorite, but she doesn’t move, she doesn’t eat.  I read a novel.  I trim my nails.  I dust.  As I walk through the house with a rag, I look at photos of the dog, of ocean vacations, of my lover’s mother, of my lover and me kissing.

There’s nothing like silence and neglect to make a girl think about what she’s really doing.

Oh, nostalgia.

But because I am who I am, I go to bed instead of having a confrontation.  As I listen to the movement of pages in the other room, to the scratching of her pen, I begin to touch myself slowly.  I pretend the woman in the skirt is touching me slowly, her body pushing with real weight and need on top of me, my hands pulling her skirted ass into my thighs, but the image is thin and blinking, and I can’t sustain it, and her skirt changes from cream silk to dark blue polyester.

“Shit.” I whip my burning hand out of the sheets, and for the next hour I stare at the light, white ceiling until I fall asleep.  In the morning I am alone in a cool bed, my hand on my breast.

For the next three days, my lover sleeps on the couch with her shotgun.  She touches and touches the smoothness of it, and the dog won’t come near her, and I stay in the kitchen cooking until the fridge is full.

I bring her a plate of antipasti, baked prosciutto on spiced polenta.  I set it down sizzling in front of her.  I watch her fingers moving slowly over the gun stock.

And in this way I begin to feel the purple pulse of jealousy for a piece of metal.

Naturally, during my lunch breaks, I begin to masturbate.  It’s best in the executive washroom, but, frankly, anywhere will do.

I also begin to make myself look at the other financial advisors in the cubicles around me, women I’ve never noticed before, women in suits, dark women and blond women, thin and short and tall and voluptuous women who seem to think the world will go on and on as long as people are procreating and making money.

One day one of them looks up and sees me staring.  She’s dark like me, and pretty, and there is something fierce in her eyes, and, of course, because I want her, I look away.

A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning, four months, three days, and seventeen hours before the end, I am inside my closet touching the cool black barrel of my old .22 trying to see what the draw of metal might be when my lover comes in.

“Mormons understand how to save food,” she says.  She looks at me.  I push my gun under some sweaters and back out of the closet.  “What are you doing?” she asks.

“Just getting ready,” I say.

“Oh,” she says.  “Good,” she says.  “I was just thinking, darlin’, that we can learn a few things from our heritage.”

“Mormons do know their food storage,” I say.

“So we need to get going,” she says.  “Time flies before you even notice it.”

I can smell her Ivory-soaped body all hot-flashing warm, so clean, so strangely not smelling of smoke, and I want so badly to burry my nose in her skin, to chew and lick and taste, and my hand begins to shake, and I begin to move toward her, and my lips are forming, and then I’m kissing her.

She looks startled.

I look startled at her startledness.

The dog growls.

My lover steps back a few centimeters.

“I didn’t mean that,” I say.  “I mean, I did, I guess, but I shouldn’t, I mean, well, I did.  Yeah.”

“Oh,” she says, her face red.  “No.  It’s ok.  It’s ok.  Let’s just stay focused.”  Her eyes are moving around kind of fast, but maybe I see a hint of more, a trace of her lips wanting something.  They move a little.  They seem so sexy to me all swollen and edible and hungry perhaps, hungry for me, for my skin and my puffy, needing lips.

For a moment I stop and notice my own, strange, 19-year-old horniness, but then I move on.

My lover’s mouth bends.  I watch.  I wait.  It says, “Food darlin’, food is what we need.”

I look at her.

“Our survival is at stake,” she says.

Capitalism has helped many marriages continue for longer than they should, and this is one of the things I know, and I give over to it because I am afraid to lose the first woman who made me feel something the Brethren would not sanction.  So, for the next two months as the leaves begin to change, as the ground begins to turn to mud, I shop at bulk food stores with a horrified epicurean twist to my mouth.  I buy cases and cases of chili and stew because we’ll need protein, and canned oranges to avoid scurvy, and canned vegetables and peas and carrots for vitamins, and Spagetti-O’s and potato soups and garbonzos and kidney beans for carbohydrates, and we fill the pantry and then my office and then half the garage with our two-year heritage, and I’m so busy buying and buying, and I’m so focused on pleasing my lover, on wanting to make her feel safe enough to believe in herself again, that during this time when we would normally begin to hate each other, the hours pass quickly and relatively tension free.

I carefully organize all of the cans alphabetically, and hope she will notice my expansive love for her.

When I bring in a case of boxed soy milk late one night, my lover is sitting in the office surrounded by cans organized G through M.  She is touching them like she touched the shotgun.  She has a blue book in her lap, a cheaply bound dark blue book that looks too familiar, too much like the Mormon bible I grew up with.  She casually moves the book behind her, behind the cans.

“I was just taking a break,” she says, smiling, her lips incredibly sexy and nervous, and I try to ignore this, the sexiness and the nervousness, and I try to ignore the book and her hiding it, and I try to ignore the often present smell of Old Spice in the room, and I try to pretend I’m perfectly ok with her reading anything she wants because this is a free country after all, and we are reasonable, placid people who theoretically enjoy a certain level of mutually satisfying independence.

But what I really want is to push her into the cans.

For a moment, I want to watch the careful stacks collapse until she’s bruised and the dog is running, and then I want to mount her and get emphatic on her ass and say, “You have to fight this, dammit, and love me, and stop reading that book all full of violence and female powerlessness because I’ve been doing what you want, and you owe me weeks and weeks of non-stop, day-long, giggling, moaning, screaming, liquid sex.”  And then I would rip her shirt off even though I know in real life I’m not strong enough for such gestures, and I would bite her everywhere, and maybe even slap her until she couldn’t stop moaning.

But then I breathe and look at her red face surrounded by pictures of garbanzos and ham and mushrooms.  Her tall body looks so small there on the floor, so frail, and, of course, I begin to feel a large rush of red guilt.

I’m not a violent or emphatic person.  Such biting, slapping thoughts can’t be coming from me.  I’m a Mormon, for God’s sake.

I look at my lover’s hair, getting long and soft and almost conventionally feminine.  I look at her large ear lobes, at her crooked front tooth.  There is something skewed in her, something I haven’t seen before.  My lover almost looks damaged, and I begin to wonder if she’s looked this way all along, and this makes me want to hug her and say, “Baby,” slowly into her ear.  I want to make her eyes focus again by slowly kissing the cells of her neck.

But she’s slipping from me with every survivalist, Mormon word she reads, with every Old Spice visit, with every tick of the clock as it leads us toward the end.

It’s 6:07PM .

“A little light reading?” I ask.

“Darlin’, I just want to cover my bases.” she says.

I stand in front of her for a moment.  She looks away, picks up a can of lima beans, reads the ingredients on the back.

My hand moves.  My lips retract.  I’m almost ready to say something.

But I’m not strong enough, and though it is completely disappointing to you and me both, it is yet another thing I know as if God said it with His own fiery lips.

I keep doing things for my lover, things that should make her happy, things that should make me happy, things, and I keep cooking elaborate dishes, and I keep organizing, and cleaning, and I know I really am a 50’s housewife who has been hard-wired into thinking her woman will love her if only she can make a perfect, survivalist home.

I buy a wood-burning stove because there will be no electricity, and January is a cold, harsh time in this desert, and I buy gas masks and chemical resistant suits, just in case things worse than Anthrax are dropped from the cold, blue, Utah sky, and I build an outhouse with a composting toilet because if there’s no water to drink, there’s no water to flush.  I deplete the last of my savings buying all the supplies, the framing wood, the shingles, the siding, and the odd bacteria for the toilet, and then one Sunday when my lover leaves the house with an angry pinch to her mouth because I have sheepily asked her where she’s going, and she doesn’t want to tell me, but I know she’s off to church, and she knows I know, and she slams the door, and I sit there for a while looking out of my large picture window, well, that’s when I decide it’s time to build her a shit house.  I go outside and into the garage.  I get the saw and the nails, and the dog follows me, but runs fast when I drop one of the nail jars.  When I bend over, there tucked into a dark corner under a shelf is something familiar, a dark blue, cheaply bound book, and it is taped to the bottom of the shelf in the most stealthy of ways.

My head begins to feel a little dizzy.

It’s one thing to be reading the Book of Mormon in front of your female lover, but it’s quite something different to be hiding it as if you were Anne Frank.

I pull the tattered, read and reread book from the shelf.   It smells of my lover, and it smells of the polyester men and their 70’s cologne.  I put the book under my shirt, and walk casually into the yard.  The wind is blowing.  The leaves are bagged.  The ground is muddy.  As I dig the outhouse foundation, I drop the violent, cheap text into the hole, then poor cement on everything, and for a while, I feel a little better.  I even smile occasionally.  I look at women walking by me on the downtown sidewalks as I go to work, their hair blowing sexy around them.  I wink at the heavy-eye-browed grocery clerk when she gives me change.  I stare unabashedly at the fierce, dark woman across from me in her cubicle, and at night I imagine her licking my clavicles.

And then a few weeks later, we have an outhouse in the middle of a city containing a million people.

A few weeks after that, I’m at work in the lunch room eating left over spinach quiche when the dark woman comes in looking darker and fiercer than I imagined she could because I am finally seeing her up close, and there is something like sandalwood incense surrounding her, and I am suddenly embarrassed at using her in my imaginings, and I try not to stare, and I try to make my not-staring seem subtle, but of course I’m not good at subtle, and I think she isn’t even noticing me, that’s she’s just here to get a soda, but she stops right in front of me and sits down.  My face gets hot.

“You’ve been watching me,” she says.  Her long fingers smooth the tabletop.

As you can imagine, I am not adept in the world of flirting.  I stare at my quiche, then say, “Huh?”

“I’ve been watching you too,” she says.  “You used to look happy.  You’re looking older lately.”

“Oh,” I say.  “Older.  Thanks.”

“You have beautiful eyes,” she says.

She takes my fork from me and cuts herself a bite of quiche.  Her wrist is thin and sweet, and she tastes the edge of my cooking and nods, and her eyes seem severe and slightly amused, and for a moment instead of lusting, I want to think there is something like kindness under all this, and the idea of a kind person suddenly makes me want to talk because I haven’t for months, haven’t said a word to another person besides my lover that didn’t involve dividends and percentages, and here is someone warm and pulsing and real sitting only a foot away, and though I know I should say things like, “Stop fucking around and kiss me,” or “I think we should take the afternoon off and get naked,” these are not things I have ever been able to say.  These are things my lover says, or used to say, and I suddenly fill with pathetic nostalgia which should have already come and gone months ago, and my eyes tear up, and I feel them tearing up, and my mouth begins to move in ways I know will only make me look pathetic and small and irritating, but I continue nonetheless.

“My lover thinks the world is going to end, and the Mormon men in polyester suits have been filling my house with their smells, and I’ve been buying and buying, buying things, and I organized the two-year-supply alphabetically, all those hideous cans, and I’ve been doing it out of love, but the Old Spice, God, the Old Spice, and the blue book, and, and God, and Anthrax, and shot guns, and the toilet, and I buried the book there, it’s setting up in the cement as we speak, and then you in your cubical with your smells and your dark hair and your short skirts, but I’m faithful, I’m supposed to be in love, and I’m a girl who can’t say no, and two months of bullets, and I’m a girl who is apparently a good shot, and three years of her strength, and now it’s colloidal silver, and the dog with his tooth, and the scratch of dark suits, and, and, and God, help me.”

I stop and blink.  I look at the fierce woman and know that somehow in these last three years I have forgotten how to talk.

Her forehead creases, and then, slowly, she puts the fork back in my hand.

“Well,” she says, looking a little disappointed as she lets her fingers rest on my palm.  “You seem to have a lot on your plate,” she says.  “Maybe we’ll talk again when you feel better.”

I smile a little.  “Of course,” I say.

She stands up.  “Sorry,” she says, and she pats my cheek, and she walks out, and it’s pity I feel from her voice and her hand, pity when I needed something more like desire, and I feel weak, like the only girl in the world who is paralyzed when everyone else is flirting and living and fucking and breathing happy.

They’re all just blinding themselves, my lover would say.

They don’t know God and His ways, the polyester men would say.

Someone needs to shoot me with an anodized shot gun, I say, and it probably should be you, the reader, because I know you want to, want to take my lover’s rifle and put it to my head so that maybe I will do something, anything, besides cook and clean and buy, and, besides, a narrative with guns in it has to have some kind of shooting, doesn’t it?

So it’s a few weeks later.  It’s December, and there’s a light snow on the ground, and it’s six hours and twenty three minutes before the end, and I am still with my lover, and instead of going out dancing, or watching fireworks downtown, or eating a fine seven course meal, we are sitting on our couch at home with guns in our laps watching the clock.

Dick Clark seems happy enough.  He’s bundled and warm.  And the band Marilyn Manson continues to play loud and heavy on this, their last day.  I know my lover is hoping for the worst, and perhaps so am I.  Like a thousand shotgun blasts to my head, a good nuclear holocaust might just jar me to my senses.

In the Marshal Islands the time changes first, and the reporters wait anxiously for it all to end, because that would be quite the story, wouldn’t it?  But things continue as always.  Clocks keep ticking.   Women in pink tights keep gambling their life savings.  Desperate men not unlike me keep fucking prostitutes against back alley walls.

Then Japan changes.  Nothing happens.

Then Paris , and London , and Brazil change.  Still, nothing besides a few million corks and a little orgasmic jiz go flying.

Then New York changes, and because everyone thinks New York is the center of the universe, we all hold our breath for just a little longer than we had been doing with the other cities, but the ball falls, and the lights go zinging into a bright 2000.  Confetti blows around Times Square , and there are a few more muggings and rapes than usual, but, still, all is relatively peaceful.

Then it’s our turn.  It’s Mountain Standard Time’s time, and we breathe heavily.

Three.  Two.  One.

We see a blinding white light and hear a loud pop.

As we both scream, I begin to wonder if my skepticism has been misplaced.

The dog jumps on the back of the couch.  Our guns fall to the floor.  My lover’s shotgun goes off, its tiny pellets moving hot through the front plate glass window.  A moment later, it shatters.

“My God,” she says, looking up.  Then she closes her eyes.  “I’m not ready for this.”

Another light and another pop.  The dog paws my head.

“Firecrackers,” I say.

Cold air comes in through the windowless window.  The jagged glass of it glitters from sparklers in people’s hands.  It’s quite beautiful.

And this is how I begin to know that I’m living at the end of love, and the brokenness of this feels ok.  It is a knowing I can finally let glide into and over me, and that’s when I pull my lover toward me because I know it will be the last time we kiss.  Tomorrow when everyone else is recovering from hangovers, I know I will be packing, but tonight I say, “Stop fucking around and kiss me,” and I force her face to mine, and for a minute, the world, and my lover’s mind, stop moving.

 

 

Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2003

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