Some Themes of the Second Bush Administration

Two items from the fall of 2001:

The radio news reported that a man drove his car into a mosque outside Cleveland, wedging it in the outer walls, where he was trapped behind the wheel, dazed, drunk, making cell phone calls to his mother, some of the tapes of which were played, pathetic, sobbing, afraid.

My girlfriend at the time was doing translation from the Sanskrit, how the demon Adi masqueraded as Parvati, consort of Shiva, and, in the graveyard, sought to kill the god through seduction and sex, placing diamond-sharp teeth along the gripping rim of his - the demon's - fake vagina. Shiva, however, discerns the threat, puts a razor tip on the head of his penis, and fucks Adi to death.

What I wanted was to drive my car into something solid, a hate crime against myself. I wanted to feel that final smash and puncture, then a clammy blackness, an end. What my girlfriend wanted - she said as much, after she read the thing aloud, her translated passage, straddling me, freshly shaven - was for me to do her that way. If I could make her blackout, that was a plus, she said, just no marks that people could see when she was wearing clothes.

October came, chap stick season, a series of burnished and blustery days, an apple festival, flags everywhere, glum faces and an excess of hugging. People talked about the end of irony, wore fleece and scarves, bought jars of preserves and bottles of Midwestern wine.

Late at night I'd watch ads for motorized wheelchairs, home gyms, and kitchen gadgets. And in the morning her eyelashes would be on the pillow, or, if she hadn't been so drunk or stoned when she finally came home, they would be somewhere higher, on the wall above the bed, stuck there with their own adhesive.

Kathryn and I had centipedes at the place we were living, which was her family's place, massive and nice enough, with views of things that we thought might get blown up next, depending. We had antique furniture, Egyptian cotton sheets, seven shower heads, and centipedes scuttling across the walls or crouched up along the tuck-pointing. We'd see their shadows scurry across the floor. Twice I found them on our bed, running across a pillow, dashing under the sheets.

She would hold me by the back of the head, even sometimes, painfully, by the ears. She would lower me, guide me, instruct me. I was to taste it, their traces, the seed of others. I was to tell her how it satisfied me.

Before the attacks, we were a studious couple. We had met in a library, after all, though once the towers fell we no longer really worked at all. Sometimes Kathryn tinkered with her translation, or used it as an excuse to spend hours at a café, posing, but I didn't write a word for months, barely picked up a book except for Camus's journals from the war years, which I carried around mainly as a prop.

We never visited the campus anymore, kept in touch with none of our old academic friends. In the aftermath of 9/11 we cared more for how we looked. Kathryn spent thousands of dollars on outfits, buying pieces for me as well, sometimes conservative, sometimes outrageous. And we started dining - not eating out, but dining - at places where one went to be seen, and clubbing, a little, though this never quite fit me and soon she was the only one clubbing, all night, every night, while I hung out and drank at bars near our place, her family's place. Somewhere along the way the other things started, for both of us. My half of it was always distinct, a separate hobby. For her, I played, still, a central role.

To what degree Al'Qaida or Bin Laden or the Taliban or the Bush regime, Rummy's assaultive press relations or Ashcroft's decision to cover the bare tits of justice with blind drapes had an effect on all this, on our lives above Michigan Avenue, infested with arthropods, we will never know.

She called last week, Kathryn, from the Keys, storm season, with the sound of hot wind and waves crashing in the background. She lives in a converted hotel, her apartment opening onto a drained pool, then the beach. She is learning the names of pelicans, but thinks - naturally enough, she says - of those days, post-everything.

Nosing foreign semen, I said. We can laugh about it now. These horrible businessmen, on business trips, with wedding rings, she said, though not really laughing so much.

Here where I am there are centipedes, too, I say, sparing us both the other details, the wadded rag of the sun, the sky smelling like gasoline.

Remember that one morning, she says, and I do, of course.

We would always be back by morning, though usually I was back hours before, insomniacal, a little afraid in too many ways. But this one morning - it was near December because the trees were draped in white lights - we arrived at our apartment building at the same time, meeting at the door to the foyer, laughing at the coincidence.

We walked down the street together, holding hands, and bought pastries and coffee drinks. Riding up in the elevator, she put her head on my shoulder, and I smelled the smoke in her hair.

It was nice sometimes, she says, from the Keys. But the other times were hard.

About the author:

Spencer Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency, a collection of short fiction from Vagabond Press, due out in early 2008. His stories have appeared in many journals and publications. He lives in Chicago and is at work on a novel.