by Jennifer SpiegelZachary picks me up from campus to go hiking.
Over my office desk, I’ve written the definition of apocalypse: good overcomes evil, often with violence.
He stares at it, doesn’t say anything. ‘Did you get food?’ He looks away from my definition.
‘I’m going for the apocalypse now, ‘I say, explaining. ‘No more postmodernity.’
We drive to the mountains forty minutes from the city. The sun is hot, a shapeless light filling the sky. Before us, the mountains lose their romantic purple color and look dusty brown.Zachary begins hiking. We try to get lost. We take a path away from civilization. At the top of a mountain, we sit on a dusty rock. Zachary cups his hands around his mouth. ‘Jillian!’ The world echoes with the sound of my name: Jillian, Jillian, Jillian. ‘I thought you were fond of the postmodern thing, the absence of a fixed interpretation. Why are you switching dissertation topics? You were good at postmodernity.’
‘I’m sick of uncertainty.’ I drink water. ‘The Apocalypse is where it’s at.’
‘The Apocalypse, as far as I know, isn’t agreed upon.’
‘Well, someone is correct; everyone else is wrong. I don’t want to think it’s impossible to know. I’m not in school to be an agnostic.’
‘A caustic agnostic,’ Zachary laughs. ‘That’s what you are. Wasn’t it fun just wondering?‘
‘I want to know.’ I stand up, rubbing my hands together so dirt slips through my fingers.
‘All I know is that I know nothing.’
‘An intellectual cop out.’
‘It’s called being open-minded. I’m open-minded. You’re closed-minded. You’ve always been afraid of not being sure.’ Zachary rises.
I stare at him. He’s sweaty. He wipes his eyes and I picture him having sex with Leah in a parked car outside of Denny’s’sweating. Their sweat mingling. I wonder if he makes the same sounds in bed with her as he does with me. ‘Calling me closed-minded is always the best insult you have.’ I throw my hands in the air. ‘I can’t defend myself. I am closed-minded. You got me.’ In the parked car, he must pull himself off her, struggle to sit upright, punch the roof of the car, think’only then’of me. His fist against the roof. ‘Why bother doing this stuff’this academic stuff’if nothing is really certain? I’m switching to the Apocalypse, damn it.’
He looks at me like I’m absolutely bonkers.
‘What are you looking at?’ I put my hands on my hips.
‘You tell me.’ He mirrors me, putting his hands on his hips.
I get away from his eyes, focusing on my feet. ‘I think our marriage is heading in a particular direction.’
‘And what direction would that be?’
‘I think, eventually, my writing is going to be paralyzed. That’s the direction our marriage is headed in.’
‘Why would you say that, Jillian?’
‘You make stringing words together useless.’ I look at him. I can’t see his eyes behind sunglasses. ‘Why write if everything is uncertain? Why attempt to make meaning? Why waste my time? I’m wasting my time.’
Zachary doesn’t say anything. He turns his back on me and starts moving down the mountain.
* * *
wildebeest warthog Zulu shithead
At night, we play a card game called ‘Shithead.’ The object of the game is not to be Shithead. We drink wine outside on wooden picnic benches with mosquito repellent covering all our exposed body parts. We laugh aloud and argue about the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate.
I share a cabin with Meredith of South London. She’s saucy and she smokes and she has a raunchy mouth. She used the word cunt two times in the first three hours we were in the mini-van, which threw me. In between our two beds, there’s a lamp stand made from an impala leg. It’s a leg, a lampshade, and a bulb. Meredith and I giggle as we turn off the lights to sleep.
I’m happy. I haven’t been happy in ages.
* * *
I love Zachary.
We pick out China patterns, wedding cake. I spray perfume on my wrist in malls and pass it under his nose.
‘I don’t like to wear cologne.’ He bends to sniff my wrist.
‘I don’t want it to clash with your smell.’
How I love him.
In the afternoon, he grades papers. He uses purple ink, having read somewhere that red makes students tense. I walk by, he grabs me, holds me, keeps me at his side while he concentrates on a paper, giving a kid a ‘B.’
How I love him.
In the evening, we dress up for cocktail parties hosted by graduate students. He wears the Canterbury Tales tie I bought him for his birthday and I wear black. Zachary, always uncomfortable in such social settings and perpetually charming in them, sips white wine and discusses virtue in a corner with a bookish guy. I join them unannounced, sipping wine, eavesdropping.
‘Who determines what’s right and what’s not?’ the bookish guy asks. He’s a Medievalist.
‘I wish Jillian and I were in charge of that.’ Zachary smoothes down his Canterbury Tales tie.
How I love him.
In the car, on our way home, I rip my nylons with my engagement ring.
‘Damn it.’ I touch the run. ‘This is my Tuesday pair. Now I only have a Thursday pair.’
When we get home, he comes around my side of the car, makes me lean back in the car seat, my legs dangling out the door. He kneels in front of me, like he’s going to propose again, and he pulls the torn nylons off my legs, gently peeling them from my body’past hips, over knees, and down ankles. Cinderella in reverse.
‘There.’ Zachary holds the pair of nylons up, gauzy’the stars shining through them. ‘All gone.’
How I love him.