The Latest Fashion
Valérie adopted all the cool Parisian fashions—high-heeled d’orsay pumps, micro minis, patterned stockings—and yet, she remained a farm girl. She tried to hide her origins, but, like a snore, the truth escaped. She had the habit of rising at dawn, springing from bed ready to run to the cow barn and start milking. Like all chic young Parisians, she stayed out till four a few nights a week. She and her friends hung at the fashionable boîtes, the discos, the cafés, and she dropped into sleep pressed up against the bar or leaning against a wall that throbbed with music, or she drooped over a round marble table. At first, imagining it was drugs, her friends tolerated this behavior. Soon, though, they realized that Valérie never took anything stronger than a glass of vermouth. They plied her with espresso, hectored her, told loud jokes, dragged her onto the dance floor. But Valérie snoozed. “You have to get with it,” they said. “Rev up.” One late night while fighting sleep at a trendy café, her eyes met those of a farm boy. He rested his head in his hands, fingers holding his eyes open. They went back to his place on Monmartre and slept a country sleep. In the morning, they fucked like country animals, ate a country breakfast. Valérie replaced her pointy shoes with steel-toed boots. She took to wearing dirndls and woolen hose. She and her farm boy bought a few chickens, then a goat and allowed them the run of their building’s courtyard. They raised organic lettuce on the apartment’s roof and opened a bistro that served omelets and crêpes stuffed with homemade chèvre. Her friends rolled their eyes. Some even sneered. Then, one vodka scented dawn, hungry from partying, a group of them dropped by for petit déjeuner. Over time, a few of the girls traded in their heels, the boys donned overalls. Everyone went to bed earlier, and suddenly, breakfast out, after a night of sleep, became the fashionable thing.
At first Martha drank in Ralph, who appeared at her door and, like rain ending a drought—torrential, engulfing, delicious—swept her into bed. Black skies heavy with moisture squeezed her. Clouds coddled her, chasing away any remnant of dryness. Drops purged her mind and filled it with their falling rhythm. Elbows bared, on the tenth straight day of Tropical Storm Ralph, she surfaced, flung herself from their watery nest, slipped down to the garden—dry land, got to work. Fingers wet, skin thickened, she dove in, pruning, raking. Green shoots greeted her, quickening her blood, honing her synapses.
“Honey,” Ralph called from the backdoor and padded toward her wearing only his boxers, “hadn’t we better get married?”
“Irises,” she exclaimed and wondered, Did he really just call me honey?
Juncos, preparing to nest, chattered in the shrubbery, jumped from twigs to the ground, foraging. Keeping her eyes on the birds, she reviewed her choices. Lit with imagination, she clamored into the car, revved the motor.
“Money is no object,” Ralph cried, or at least, that’s what she thought he said.
“No one asks me to marry,” she said and stepped on the gas.
Ordinarily Martha drove a ways—half a day at most—changed her mind, turned back to a tearful reunion with her love of the moment, only to resent him again, more and more, day by day. Perched on wires along the road, then by the highway, juncos—watching, perhaps guiding—reminded her of her submerged state, that sticky honey, and she kept driving. Quite by accident she found herself at a national park, not just any park, but one that featured a geyser. Reading the park literature, staring at the warm jet of water that pulsed and sprayed, she rejoiced in her freedom, but wondered if she shouldn’t call Ralph.
Supping alone, food and wine thrilled her. To eat, then drive all night, she thought, was divine. United with herself she sped west, growing light and quick. Victorious she crossed into the desert. Western skies cheered her on. Xeriscapes welcomed her, and her mind raced planning stands of cactus and agave. Yet she missed her old garden, wondered if she missed Ralph, and realized in a sudden flash that she could send for her drought hardy lavender, juniper, sedum, and thyme—yes, she would call the neighbors. Zealous to guard her whereabouts, she’d give them an address—general delivery, a distant town—have them ship her darlings with care.
Brian came up with the design in the shower after an all-nighter at the office. It was the perfect combination of ground breaking technology and the ancient art of mummification. He realized that what the ancient Egyptians had been missing was a Palm Pilot or one of those tiny Japanese laptops. All he’d have to do was place the computer, complete with a set of memories, a life history, and what have you, in the mummy’s skull and voilà—instant revivification. Brian was astounded that no one had tried this scheme already. The museums were full of mummies just waiting to be brought back to life. He envisioned the ancient Opening of the Mouth ceremony, in which a priest touches the lips of the mummy with a ritual knife to restore its sight, hearing, and breath. Now the knife could activate the computer, as well, and King Tut, Brian’s golden boy, would live again.
Back at his desk, Brian scoured the web. Arranging an internship with the archeologists at Luxor would be easy. Finding time alone with Tut in KV62, his resting place in the Valley of the Kings, would prove more difficult, but Brian was ready. He’d program his laptop and fill it with images, digitized scents, compressed audio files. He imagined that his bags were packed, his visa secured. Soon Brian and the boy-king would stroll the Theban hills, discussing philosophy, ancient literature, and love. Alone in his cubicle, half dozing over his computer, Brian envisioned his initial moments in the tomb: The frescoes of the young king and his ancient gods, preparing to fill him with new life; the twelve guardian baboons painted above the coffin; the quartizite sarcophagus. Brian saw himself leaning over Tut for the first time, raising the mask from the king’s face, brushing the boy’s golden lips with his own. He felt the mummy shiver under his hands, eyelids fluttering, and then Tut was awake, staring up at Brian. “Back off,” the boy-king said, “you are one ugly dude.” Shaken, Brian staggered from his desk. He had made a mistake. Tut was not his golden boy; he was just as bad as all the others—Mayakovsky, that Russian snob; Leonardo who may have been the genius of the Quattrocento, but still completely lacked manners. Brian snatched the confirmation of his plane reservation from the printer and ripped and ripped it again. He would not waste his talents on the ungrateful. No, he would keep all the files he had created for Tut, tweak and tailor them, and bestow them on someone wise and young and in need of new life.
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