Wrestling in the Metropolitan
Wrestling in the Metropolitan
My wife follows me around the dispensary to gather her food. She says, “In case you’re wondering, my black eye is a badge of honor for our lordship on high. A woman insulted our king of kings by heaping criticism upon our system of rational governance created for our benefit. We brawled and by defending the honor of our leader I earned a citizen of the month with extra trips to the food warehouse. I did it for us. Heroines of the state earn privileges such as private time with their spouses.”
Her testimony serves to demonstrate both hers and my loyalty to the master of our universe.
She says, “Did you pick a fight with a cat?”
“In a manner of speaking. The prefect of the men’s dormitory chose me as the male emissary for the annual recertification of the female civics classes. While there a young woman lambasted the architect of our society for leaving giant cracks in the foundation of our government. I defended the construction of our beautiful federation. So she laid into me with her fingernails, hence the red streaks on my face. Her girlfriend came to my rescue by neutralizing her with a bear hug around her arms. My loyalty was to us rather than the infallible logic behind the blueprint of our founding father. Perhaps in the name of patriotic diplomacy between our sexes, we would be granted a dispensation to spend days together.”
Marsha says, “Our Lordship regulates reproduction in such a way as to prevent defective children from being born. As you know they would be a burden to the state. I have the gene for Down syndrome but by the grace of our leader am still allowed to have children. But if prenatal screening detects Downs then abortion is compulsory. I am pro-choice when it comes to other women’s babies but pro-life with my own. Listen to me now. There is something you must do for me. I want you to find another woman who can have your baby. I need you to do this because I can no longer stand to see a man who would make a wonderful father denied his destiny. I die every day seeing you childless. Go now and don’t grieve.”
I reply, “Never my love. One day we will adopt a child. Problem solved. Now bathe in the waters of Lethe and wash away such thoughts.”
She says, “When you talk to me like that I can’t help but hold you forever. Please forgive my foolishness. Raising an adopted child with you would be the fulfillment of both our dreams. Now that I’m finished with my girlish nonsense let’s make a plan. The commissar of our district would surely appreciate the value of sexual diplomacy as an example of the reward for citizens who defend the reputation of the fatherland. My female condom is a must but won’t come between us and our pleasure. Good ole American ingenuity at work from whoever invented them for women. I wouldn’t want your sensitivity impaired by wearing one of those galoshes. Then it is decided. I will expedite our request. But until then I need a kiss to confirm the sincerity of your intent.”
She takes my hand and we hide behind the produce stalls. To our joy, the request is allowed without supervision which Marsha’s petition asserted would inhibit the spontaneity of our encounter which if unimpeded would be gossip to replace the indecent media of old in a way that promotes the virtues of patriotism and loyalty. And so what transpired was unrestrained love made in the forests outside the city. A pregnancy comes upon her like a gift from heaven yet to be unwrapped. But our bundle of joy turns out a rosy-cheeked girl with eyes like prisms. We name our child “Samantha” after the witch from the twentieth century TV show “Bewitched” which my wife watches religiously in reruns. My wife twitches her nose like the show’s star which is just as persuasive for being cute as it would be for any magic, real or perceived. We watch our daughter’s curiosity blossom from ABCs to algebra.
Then the calamity comes. Any semblance of world order fell apart in the ruins of cities where I roamed.
My search for Marsha takes me to a likely place to find survivors who might be in the school for ideological purity where lapsed daughters of the republic were liberated from their parents to be taught the politics of liberation and freedom. I stand still as the afternoon sunlight peeks through the shattered glass. The room is deathly quiet. All around me are chairs in a circle. I look down and spot a paper mache figurine.
In my mind, I can imagine the laughter and pain, which were shared here so many years ago. I stand in silent remembrance of those souls who have disappeared.
There is no way for me to know for sure where they went. No one has been here in years, except maybe a wandering vagrant looking for a place to sleep. I see empty cigarette packs and beer cans littering a corner. Inside the desks are records of people who are long gone.
The rumors couldn’t be verified. The government didn’t leak any info about their fate before the TV screens went static. Then there was no news to report their fate. However the final media reports, though rumors, were disturbing, to say the least. The last terrorist attack and the annihilation of Washington D.C. had destroyed the national budget. We simply didn’t have the funds to take care of people never weaned off the teat of the state who couldn’t fend for themselves in the anarchy which ensued. The number crunchers were at a loss. So the decision was made in secret.
Dr. David Kevorkian, great-grandson of Jack Kevorkian, was recruited to head the team. Those at risk suicidal patients were given the right to die. Those who hung on to life were sent to a secret place in the Rocky Mountains. They too perished. It was something incomprehensible in more civilized times. However, in the wake of a national disaster of that magnitude nobody had any answers. Should these people be allowed to starve on the streets? Or was euthanasia more humane? I will never know with any certitude what the fate of these millions was. I can only wonder. I migrate to a fallen tower.
My hawk gaze follows her in the saffron skylight of our cathedral of solitude. I have hidden for three days in the ruins of this building which once soared into the heavens. I look at her with thirsty eyes and drink in the vision of a woman. It has been months since I’ve seen a female of the species. I sometimes contemplated that I might be the last person on earth. Yet I am overjoyed that not only is there another among the fallen city but she is a female.
She breaks the crystal silence. “Fancy meeting you here. I’d begun to think there were no others. May I sit on that couch? This looks like some executive’s office.”
I reply, “Be my guest. Or should I say join me? This place is as much yours as mine.”
“Yes, this is the ultimate collectivism. Everything belongs to everyone” she says.
I move aside to give her space to sit. “Hey, I found a bottle of bourbon in the desk. Would you like to share some?”
She winks at me. “Sure would. It feels kind of odd here. I wonder who occupied this place and what happened to them?”
I hand over the bottle to her. “I’d like to think they escaped before the calamity. But I am a wishful thinker.”
She rests her head on my shoulder. “I hope you don’t mind me resting on you. Men make good firm pillows. And you’re the only man around here.”
I wrap my arm around her. “I make a handy headrest. And I’m indeed the only male here. That puts me at an advantage. I never was very good with women.”
She sprawls across the couch and rests her head on my lap. I feel her breath upon my cocooned crotch. She says, “I do apologize. I have taken liberties. Would you like me to sit up?”
I caress her flaxen hair. I said, “Heaven’s no. Please feel free with me.”
She replies, “You are a gentleman. But don’t go saying you like me because I’m the only woman around. I wouldn’t take kindly to that.”
I massage her scalp with long gentle strokes. I say, “In a room full of women you would stand out for me. You are a lovely soul.”
She looks up at me and our eyes meet. “I’m touched that my soul is beautiful to you. But am I attractive physically? My inquiring mind really wants to know.”
I begin to knead her shoulders with my questing hands dipping close to her breasts. I reply, “My darling you are the Botticelli Venus incarnate.”
She beams up at me. “You’re not just saying that to get into my pants?”
“To say just would be untrue. I confess I do fancy you in that way. But my passion for you is greater than sex. Also, you have the mannerisms of my late wife. It is uncanny.”
“Bearing a resemblance to your deceased wife is kind of creepy. But surely you loved her and if that affection is bestowed upon me then who’s to say she isn’t me? After all, reincarnation isn’t a foreign concept to me with my Hindu tendencies.”
I reply, “What are those tendencies?”
“They were limited to doing yoga in a women’s group. But surely that is enough for me to have absorbed the culture.”
“That yoga must have made you flexible.”
She says, “You men are nothing if not predictable.” She points up at a sagging beam in the ceiling and says, “We really should take our conversation elsewhere. That ceiling doesn’t look stable.”
We stroll hand in hand out under the brilliant blue sky. The ozone layer is mostly gone since the calamity. So I recommend we find shelter.
The tall buildings stand cracked and fallen in the sunlight. I lead her down the street whose skeleton ruins smolder quietly. Smoky funeral wreaths settle like winter snow across desolate streets. Awash in sacred silence she and I hold hands walking together.
Calcified relics shine in noon sunburn. Effigies of humanity haunt the daylight. Ravens are perched on steel husks. Petroleum-fed insects lie in repose. A salamander suns on the pearly marble steps. A centipede crawls cautiously over laminated tiles. We walk by the smoking embers of a fire in a vacant lot. Apparently, there is someone else somewhere. A brown paper bag cartwheels on the asphalt. A Bible is laid open to the ravages of nature. Gospel scraps whirl in the vortex. Golden words swirl playfully with wisdom strewn like confetti on oil-stained sidewalks.
She follows me like a guru in this city lost in dreams. I put my arm around her waist to comfort her. What more can I do to ease her passage down these graveyards of humanity?
She stops to look up at the façade of a once-intact library building. She leads me into the repository of books which molder under the roof of the sky. She leans down and picks up a decaying copy of the Bible. She says “I used to believe in things. When everyone disappeared I lost all faith. I guess you could say I’m an atheist now.”
“The past is dead. Religion is meaningless. Like Nietzsche said we must become our own God now.”
She weeps. “I want God to fix things. I want the world back the way it was.”
I embrace her with a bear hug. “You’ll be ok,” I tell her. “I’ll take care of you,” I say. I have no idea of how to save myself much less her.
I love this woman as if she was the wife I’d lost so long ago. I never thought I’d feel for another person so deeply again.
She says “I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier. I don’t know how stable it is. But the remnants of the paintings are a solace to me.”
I say, “That sounds perfect. Yes, let’s go there.”
Wisteria vines climb the bones of the city. “Let’s make tracks in the crematory dust with a tango.”
I say, “Yes, let’s bless the ashes with our shoeprints. But would you pick me for your dance partner if your dreamboat from the movies magically appeared?”
“Oh no, now you’re the insecure one. Let me be the only one in need of constant reassurance in our relationship. We, women, are good at playing that role.”
“My wife studied modern dance.”
“Ok, let’s play like I’m your wife come back from the dead. If I were she would you talk about your puppy love crush and how you lost your virginity with her? Or would you instead put a romantic flick on the DVD player and make out like there is no tomorrow? Let me be her for you tonight. We don’t have a movie but we can be the stars of our own production. We’ll call it ‘Deep Breathing the Uncensored Version.’”
She does her stances like a flamenco dancer under the illusion that the absence of hellfire means we have found grace. She lifts her knee to part her legs with her thighs an open book. She faces me with her freedom in an act of audacity more subversive than anarchism and more enticing than an embrace. I lift her hand and kiss her cheeks.
“Shall we go to the museum now? I hear admission is free today” she says.
“Do we really want to hang with the hoity-toity crowd?”
“Hey, I’ll be the only one with you. Are you implying that I’m a snob?”
“Honey, I’d love you even if you were.”
We cross through the entrance of the building. The halls are still passable. The light shines down from a shaft in the ceiling. She says, “The whole building is honeycombed with holes.”
I reply, “It’s a skylight.”
“Yes, I just hope the roof doesn’t cave in on us.”
I wipe my forehead. “I feel lucky today. It won’t fall.”
She says “Hey there is a ballet class by Degas. It’s just lying on the floor. When I was a wee wisp of a lass I dreamed of being a ballerina. I’m going to take this one with me when we leave. Is that stealing?”
I reply, “Who would you be robbing? Look, the art has fallen on the ground. I’ve never touched a piece in here. The paint is wet. The holes in the ceiling must let the rain through.”
She says, “I wonder why the paintings are strewn across the floor?”
I reply, “Probably vandals cut them from their frame and left them. It’s a fitting desecration of the hubris of our western world.”
“Then the people who did this could be out there.”
I reply, “If they’re still alive.”
She whispers, “Do you think humanity will ever rise from the ashes?”
I hug her to comfort her. I say, “I’d like to believe so. It depends on how many survivors are still here. Then the soil may be radioactive. We need crops to feed the children. Can people still reproduce? Or has the calamity sterilized them? There are so many questions. Time will tell.”
“Oh please don’t be pessimistic. I need hope. I beg of you to be optimistic. I need a man to lean on.”
“You have such a deep and wistful gaze with eyes which see through the hauteur of man’s vanity and beyond his veil of worldliness.”
“Such a gentleman, but these eyes see right through you. You’re courting my baser instincts.”
On her tiptoes, she kisses me on the lips. I say, “Look at all this beautiful art. Surely a species which created this can find a way to resurrect. Such genius will find a way for it to happen.”
She places a fiery kiss upon me. She presses her tongue into mine with the paprika passion of heat unbound. Soon the paintings blur in our teary eyes. She loosens her dress letting it fall as though she can read my thoughts. Our clothes are discarded under the watchful eyes depicted in the ancient paintings.
She says, “I want you on your back.”
“Now wrestle with me” she orders.
I say, “My wife used a wrestling technique when we made love.”
“If you keep drawing similarities between me and your wife, I’ll become a proper nineteen-fifties housewife and our wrestling match will be tabled along with all the other kinks you no doubt love.”
We roll and tumble on the mat of rare art pieces. Slick with sweat our bodies cling to fallen artworks and their pigments stain our skin. We are tattooed by the strokes of ancient brushwork. The palette of long-gone souls touches us with a rainbow illustration. Finally, she locks my head between her thighs. I concede the match.
She says, “My daddy named me Palaestra, after the ancient Greek girl who invented the art of wrestling for men to entertain themselves during the times of peace.”
“You did your father proud Palaestra. Being outwrestled by you was heavenly.”
She says, “Nothing like a healthy dose of girl power to prime your pump. Let’s go another round. This time I’ll give myself a handicap. We’ll start with you on top.”
“Oh but the shame if I lose.”
“Come now. Being overcome by a woman doesn’t make you a sissy.”
We tussle upon the smudged art with our skin sticky from the paint. The blurred impression of Monet’s bouquet of sunflowers is imprinted on her derriere cheeks. The blazing suns of Van Gogh swirl around her nipples. The stars float in a murky indigo sky upon her aureole.
Her valentine is coated in Renoir splatter and wriggles beneath me. She rolls onto her back and our souls fuse together. She coaxes me to stretch into a source of shame for a male during yoga class. The end is only a beginning. She lies atop me kissing me with her warm lips.
“Your behind is printed like a bridal corsage of sunray petals,” I say.
“Ah, my tush inspired such beautiful words. Well, I did catch the garter at my sister’s wedding.”
“There are plenty of vacant hotels in this city.”
“Let’s hole up in a deserted mansion. Why not move up in the world?” she accepts.
That night we sleep in the cavernous museum. The next day we will search for food. We have become foragers in a hungry world.
Morning blossoms over the blighted city. I don my clothes. She covers her nakedness with her dress. She asks, “Do you think you impregnated me?”
I hug her. “I don’t know. Would it be right to bring up a child into this world?”
Tears sparkle in her eyes. She says, “Instinct tells me so. Without children, there is no hope.” I lead her by the hand out into the blinding sunlight.
The land is pockmarked in trees ripped from their roots and tangled in clumps. If there is a future it has to be somewhere further down the wasteland of what once was America. No crops can be grown to sustain us in the plutonium tilled land which greets us ahead.
But appearances can be deceiving. I aim my pocket particle beam projector at the contorted earth and voila a beautiful lake appears. The cloaked land reveals itself as an oasis of water out here in this radioactive wasteland. The holo fields which carpet the surviving bodies of water and forest are designed to keep the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow out of reach. Hence, the deception would cause us to give up on the ark called earth. This would drive the last nail in the coffin of the extinction of the lost tribe of America.
Low and behold running up the lakeshore are two young people in blue jeans. Not only had the cloak obscured the lake but also a young man and woman who apparently had hidden in this remnant of the earth’s once verdant country. They join me and my new wife up on the hillside.
The woman’s face is that of my Marsha having tricked Charon with the ruse of her being a deliverer of souls instead of a passenger to Hades. The maiden embraces me with the words, “Daddy, father time has been good to you. You still look young.”
I replied, “God, you are your mother as a young woman. Fatherhood eluded me since your Mom and I were separated. What happened to your Mom? I am dying to know.”
“When the guardians of the state scattered Mom took me with her looking for you. She couldn’t keep pace with me and told me to go ahead. My last memory of her is that she made me promise to seek you out. Now I’ve found you. Dad your new belle wears the same clashing colors as Mom did.”
My wife says, “Give a girl a break. After the looters raided the clothing depots this was all I could find. It is hard to find a matching blouse and skirt after an apocalypse.”
I reply, “I know full well the truth of what you’re saying, my love. I wore pink slacks with a purple dress shirt until I lucked up and found this suit still on the rack.”
Samantha adds, “She even holds her hands in the same pose as Mom. Look at how she makes circles using her thumb and index fingers and holds them by her hips.”
My new wife replies, “You people are giving me a major case of déjà vu. I feel like I really knew this woman.”
I tell her, “You also button your blouse up to your collar as she did.”
My new wife says, “Please stop.”
I say, “I loved my wife’s shy nature. But now I have your witticisms which make life bearable in this wasteland.”
“Finally there is something different about me from your late wife! Praise the Lord and pass the wine.”
My new spouse and I are too old to have babies. But my daughter and her boyfriend are just the right age at the springtime of their lives.
But the couple bickers and argues like spouses in a marriage on the verge of divorce. How can they procreate with such animosity toward each other? So I put on the new hat of couple’s counselor. But my tact is to explain to them what is at stake for humanity and why they have to at least feign getting along. If there is to be a new generation they will be the progenitors. For God sake, make love, not discord. My wife and I may not survive to parent your children so you two are in it for the long haul I admonish them.
So our motley crew heads out into the ruins of a city. There I come upon the broken-down house in which I’d lived with my wife before the calamity. The photo albums from our trips are there mostly intact. There is a picture of us bathing in a hot spring in British Columbia. Then there is my LP collection. A Japanese jazz record catches my eye and excites me with nostalgia. But sadly this is the past and we have to move on to our future wherever that may lie.
We take to the open horizon and highway. We plot a course through the ruins of small-town America some of which may have been spared the fire from the sky and search for a place where the blush of my daughter’s youth can welcome her boyfriend to her bosom wherefore love to grow.