Adjustment day, p.19
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       Adjustment Day, p.19

           Chuck Palahniuk

  Delicious had dated a woman who worked in the fraud detection division of immigration policy. The woman had made it clear that immigrants caught engaging in covert heterosexual activities would be imprisoned. Due to the high number of homosexual youths in Caucasia waiting for exit visas, the queer nation was aggressively searching for closeted heterosexuals in order to trade them for the would-be gay emigrants.

  If found out, Delicious would be relocated posthaste. Gentry, too, but each to a different ethnic state. It did present a conundrum.

  They’d joked about seeking each other late at night in grimy unisex public toilets. Kisses stolen in filthy back alleys. Demeaning and degrading as those circumstances loomed, at the very least Delicious and Gentry would preserve their attachment to each other. Their love and their future child. Until the child was the age to declare his or her sexuality, until then they could be a little family. They might even share custody, handing off the child in gritty, grimy adult bookstores when they met for trysts in some unspeakably wretched, sticky-floored pornography arcades where their fellow secretive heterosexuals went to consummate their frowned-upon passions. Sordid conjugal visits in pits of sleaze.

  Considering such a tableau, Delicious couldn’t help but think of the Holy Savior born in a dirty stable. That had turned out well, more or less.

  She despised the thought of her child being used as a pawn in international politics, but that decision was eighteen years in the future. It was possible that by then laws would change. If the child chose to be gay it might even serve as an anchor baby to keep her and Gentry in the same homeland.

  One blessing about orange juice is that it gave her a constant excuse to tinkle. She dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her napkin and fixed her date with a meek smile. “Nature calls.” She rose from her chair, deliberately not glancing in the direction of Gentry and his aggressive he-man, dare she think “date”? Between the open stares regarding her transparent yellow dress, and her deliberately slow promenade across the dining room, elaborately circumnavigating it, wending her way between tables as if confused about the location of the toilets, with both those factors to her advantage she could only hope her husband would notice her and hurry to catch up.

  Shasta found the website. The banner read “Bride of Kings” and below that it listed each member of each lineage currently reviewing prospective brides. One named Brach, a former forklift operator who’d taken possession of an island estate near Seattle where he lived with his harem of team wives, the site listed him as seeking additional matches.

  Brach owned a growing chain of diners. Shasta had seen the revolving signs that towered above freeway exits. In bold black letters against a lighted background, the signs read “Whites Only.” Whether this was a boast or an ironic expression of resignation, Shasta couldn’t begin to guess. The menu offered Nazi penne pasta, a Klan burger, a Hitler veggie taco salad.

  Brach and his ilk, princes and barons they called themselves. Last month’s grease monkeys and dog groomers. An aristocracy of former steam fitters and garbage haulers. They’d picked up guns and blown the brains out of civilization. They’d read the Talbott book. They lived by it. By reading it herself she could guess how her life as a team wife would turn out. As a brood mare, popping out white babies to repopulate the new nation state. A string of babies born a year or less apart, what her own mom used to call “Irish twins.”

  In small settlements and camps people assembled to vote. They elected their most attractive young woman and pooled their resources to groom her and dress her. And equipped with an entourage of stylists and helpmates, each of these beauty queens was sent forth to the courts of men in each lineage. For to have a daughter marry into the lineage ensured a community would not be neglected. As the wife of a lineage prince she could exert her influence for the benefit of her birthplace.

  And they journeyed forth, these parties of young ladies, each was a potential queen accompanied by her handmaidens. And they streamed from court to court, funded by the hope and dreams of their hamlets. Former cheerleaders and homecoming dance royals, harvest queens and rodeo princesses.

  And as a team the group showcased their leader so she might forge a powerful alliance. And in preparation for each meeting, the ladies in waiting curled and peeled. They plucked and combed.

  Per Talbott, people needed to establish a moratorium on progress. For the next hundred years, there should be a hold on developing new technology and marvels of engineering. For too long white men had been sublimating their natural impulses through science, so from here on those energies must be channeled in their natural direction. White men needed to back off from the Industrial Revolution or the Information Age or whatever this was. Whites needed to kick back, drink beer, have some outdoor fun, and make nothing but healthy babies. “Generation Sex” was the motto.

  The dukes and earls, they loved their sports terminology. Team wives suggested wide receivers, tight ends, fullbacks. Field wives brought to mind the packed field of contenders in NASCAR. Every human endeavor from tire factories to truck farms was falling under the patronage of some local prince’s fiefdom. New money had to be earned and spent quickly. Talbott said the currency would be given a longer life once it was established. But for the present a skin had to buy bread, gasoline, toothpaste, some grapes, a movie ticket, a pair of socks, passing through that many hands in a single day.

  Shasta’s own parents’ marriage had survived because sometimes her mother would leave her wedding ring beside their bathroom sink and go out to have dinner for a few days. Other times, her father went to dinner without his ring.

  On the website, Chieftain Charlie had caught Shasta’s eye because he was one of the few who didn’t lay claim to targeting the actual president of the formerly united states.

  She’d uploaded a couple good selfies, one a face shot, one a full body. She followed the prompts. Position Sought: Lead wife. Would she consider serving as a team wife: Yes. Height: Five foot, nine inches. Weight: One hundred twenty-five pounds. Any history of hereditary physical or mental illness: None. Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Periwinkle. Race: Caucasian.

  She hit Enter. A prompt appeared. “As a condition of acceptance the applicant must submit to genetic testing to confirm overall health and racial heritage.”

  Shasta had clicked the box labeled Agree.

  In rooms of any size, sparkling crystal set on silver trays held hooch, excellent hooch, and Jamal poured himself a glass to enjoy while he toured his new domain. He surveyed the tall oil paintings that stretched almost to the ceiling. With their bad-ass swords and medals, these men had been the players of their time. They’d understand him taking this place off the hands of their soft-hearted descendants. These soldier men had taken lives in order to live here, to build these walls and mate with the women who’d dressed this place in frilled everything.

  Arabella and her kin were gone home to their place, a smaller house a ways off on the property. This house, the big house, he had to himself.

  But a house didn’t make anyone powerful.

  Jamal took up his copy of the Talbott book and his glass of good hooch, and he went to the biggest chair in front of the biggest fireplace and settled himself. To read Talbott was to enter into the pattern of his mind. To feel your own thoughts patterned after Talbott’s. That was power: To live within the minds of others. To reorganize their minds in accord with your own. To Jamal, that was the greatest power.

  He couldn’t recall the last time he’d sat awake all night, in the silent dark, absorbing the words arranged by a writer’s mind. But that’s how he read, tonight. The grand old clocks, in the hallways, on the mantel, ticked like old-time bombs.

  As Talbott put it:

  Whether it’s by breeding children or preaching, it’s what men do: This constant dissemination of self.

  To look at white men these days, something vital had been bred out of them. How had those men, the Vikings and the Norse, men who’d sailed their long boats up the Rhine, the Volga, the D
nieper, and Danube to burn and pillage and turn most of a continent blond and blue-eyed, how had they disappeared so completely? He suspected that for most white men, it was pride enough to not be black or queer. That was reason plenty for separate homelands. It would force men, all men, to earn a reason to feel superior.

  Not one of these painted men with their mutton-chop sideburns and beards and gold braid had been born great. Each had risked everything for a chance at something better, and to a man they stood triumphant atop a hundred dead enemies or a thousand dead enemies. Victors and vanquished alike, they were all dead alike and congratulating each other on the valor they had shown.

  That’s when he heard it first. That late night. Alone in the house. Jamal didn’t want to entertain the idea of spooks haunting him, but that’s what his mind seized upon. Considering the targets he’d put down, those people tallied and buried, some terror sent his thoughts down that guilt-ridden path.

  Except it wasn’t any sound usually associated with a ghost. He set his empty glass on a table. His glass on his table in his house, and he wasn’t going to be run off by a late-night noise. Especially not that particular noise.

  That thunder of water somewhere and the shudder of something through old pipes. It came again and again.

  Fast but unmistakable, it was the sound of somebody on a floor far overhead flushing a toilet.

  Delicious sat, amid the rank smells and the adjacent wet splashes, locked within the unisex toilet at the restaurant. A knock sounded at the door, followed by a whispered, “Susan?”

  She leaned forward, whispering, “Gentry?” She unlatched the door and swung it open. Her dress still clung to her curves. She waited fully clothed therein.

  The scrawny white boy who stood in the half-open doorway said, “Don’t call me that.”

  His name, before immigrating, his name had been different. He looked both ways in the passage outside the cubicle, then quickly stepped inside, pulling the door closed and locking it. His arms were instantly around her. His mouth on hers. Delicious felt his fingers inching the damp skirt up her thighs.

  His lips nuzzled the side of her neck. His erection prodded at her through his chinos.

  Delicious wondered about his burly black dinner partner. She could only hope that bulked-up, hot-blooded brother wasn’t tapping her husband’s bony white boy’s backdoor. She told herself to chill. She told herself it was harder for a brother being gay. A sister could flirt and be coy, but a dawg was expected, especially a gay dawg, to be dicking or getting dicked on a more-or-less nonstop basis. Still, as Gentry’s lips roved over her breasts, she had to ask.

  “Brian?” His name before was Brian. She asked, “Is that dawg been up in you?”

  His mouth still exploring her, his fingers pawing the dress down her shoulder and exposing her, Gentry mumbled something. He held up his hand and waved it with his fingers spread. A gold ring glittered around one finger. A wedding ring. And not the one she’d given him at their own wedding.

  Too loud for a little toilet cubicle, Delicious blasted, “You married him?”

  Granted, she knew the best way to avoid sex was to get married. Nothing killed the good times faster. But did he have to hook up with the first big he-monster? Or was Gaysia like a men’s prison, where you needed to be one inmate’s bitch or you’d be punked by everyone?

  Gentry surfaced for air. Panting, he told her, “Neither.”

  “Neither, what?” Delicious demanded.

  Yeah, he was married to the brother, Gentry explained, but they weren’t doing it.

  Delicious was confused. Gentry had dropped to his knees and was working his way up inside her dress instead of down. What looked like a pregnancy was Gentry’s big white blockhead stretching her skirt at the belly. His hot breath gargled something into her sex.

  Delicious asked, “What?” She wanted answers, but their time was limited, and she didn’t want him to stop.

  A knock came at the door. Gentry’s tongue stopped its running around between her legs.

  From outside, a voice asked, “Delicious?” It was the redhead, Ginger Prestige. She asked, “You okay?” Whispering close to the door, she asked, “You’re not having one of those toilet babies, are you?”

  Gentry started to laugh. With his mouth cupped over Delicious, he was laughing air into her. He was going to give her pussy farts. She made a fist and rapped on his head with her knuckles to stop. To the nosy redhead, she went nuclear. She hissed, “Don’t be racist.”

  It was the worst accusation you could level in Gaysia. It didn’t make complete sense in this situation, but it did the trick.

  The voice said, “My bad.” Footsteps seemed to trail away.

  His head still stretching the hell out of her damp skirt, Gentry said, “Jarvis isn’t that way.”

  The muscled-up gym rat making the big show of pushing her skinny husband’s legs apart and humiliating him as a down-right bitch right here in public, according to Gentry, the brother was heterosexual. He’d emigrated separate from his white wife and had spent the past seven months trying to find her. For the time being, he and Gentry had gotten married so each could act as the other’s beard. It was a lot to explain with his face shoved into her snatch, but he sounded sincere. The big display of sexually humiliating Gentry was an act. Other times, they’d accuse one another of cruising someone at a nearby table and launch into a screaming slap fight.

  Gentry was getting to his feet. He was gently but insistently turning her around and lifting the back of her skirt. He took himself out.

  The public cat fights and sexual hazing, this wasn’t how actual gays behaved in Gaysia. It was strictly the outsider interpretation of two heterosexuals, but it kept people from getting too close.

  Delicious wanted to ask how they’d met. She wanted to find a nice heterosexual gal and get hitched, herself. But now Gentry put himself inside her from behind so she stepped her feet as wide as the little cubical allowed. She leaned over the toilet and pushed her ass back against his thrust.

  The candles were vexing. They wouldn’t stay lit. They teetered and toppled and fell. Shasta watched a young woman navigate the sidewalk in the tiny steps a geisha might take. The girl held her head painfully erect, crowned with a wreath of scratchy holly leaves and poisonous mistletoe berries. Six tall, white candles jutted up from this crown, each tipped with a flickering flame.

  Even as Shasta watched, one of the girl’s candles tilted. It drizzled melted wax down the bodice of the girl’s heavily embroidered dirndl. The off-kilter taper fell. The girl’s hands sprang into action, beating at a small fire the flaming wick had ignited in the folds of her linen skirt. The sudden movement scattered the remaining candles from her head. Some rolled in the street. Others dropped into the gutter where they set fire to used condoms and discarded paper money from the Before Times.

  The candles, the crowns of thorns, they were as much a test of poise as they were a Caucasian fashion statement. Shasta figured as much.

  And wearing this bullshit frippery wasn’t so much a quirky trend as it was the law.

  The dirndl girl cursed quietly as she stripped off the smoking ruins of her skirts and petticoats. Shasta engaged her core muscles and held her spine ramrod straight. Years of yoga had paid off, keeping her own candles steady. Hers was the regal bearing of a monarch in training as she strolled past the unfortunate scene.

  From elsewhere, a voice called, “Chica!” A male voice. “Nice candles!”

  Turning to look took a slow eternity—always the candles to worry about—but Shasta recognized the young man walking toward her. He carried a duffle bag under one arm. In one hand he clutched a paperback book as thick as a brick. He was a brother of her friend Esteban, from school. Gay Esteban. She struggled to match a name to his face.

  “Xavier,” he offered. He was the straight brother. “Where do you get off on dressing all white girl?”

  She didn’t bother to explain about flunking her DNA test. No duh, but having two grandparents fro
m Quintana Roo had bit her in the ass. She was over-the-line Hispanic. And not one of the good kind, like from Spain, either. She asked if he’d seen Walter.

  Xavier shook his head. He said, “You have a candle out.”

  “Damn,” Shasta said as she opened her Kate Spade tote bag. Revealed inside was a squashed jumble of Danish pastries and jelly doughnuts. She grimaced as she worked her fingers into the mess of puff pastry, Bavarian cream, and powdered sugar.

  Xavier recoiled from the sight of mashed delicacies, sneering in disgust. “What are you supposed to be?”

  Lifting her gaze slowly, she looked pointedly at the various other women who carefully sipped lattes or walked dogs on leashes as they balanced a crown of blazing candles atop their heads. “It’s Scandinavian or something.” The prickly leaves and dripping wax stung her scalp. “It’s the Scandinavian version of dreadlocks.”

  Xavier rolled his eyes. “Well, it looks stupid.”

  Shasta snapped, “Well, it’s the law.” Her fingers found the object of her search, and she pulled a cigarette lighter smeared with custard from the gummy morass. She offered it, asking, “Please?”

  Xavier took the sticky lighter. He sniffed it lightly, as if he might lick it clean. At the flick of his thumb, the lighter emitted a hissing blue flame.

  Shasta stooped to bring her candles within his reach. Doing so she got him around one wrist and twisted his hand so she could read the title of the book he held. Atlas Shrugged. Dr. Brolly had taught the book last semester.

  As he put the lighter to each wick, Xavier began to sing, “Happy birthday to you . . .” Then he stopped singing and said, “We’re all self-deporting. The entire Mexican Diaspora is going Galt.” Meaning all Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos were headed south of the border. “These white people are muy loco,” he laughed. “After they all starve or wipe out each other, we’ll come pick up the pieces.”

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