Adjustment day, p.25
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       Adjustment Day, p.25

           Chuck Palahniuk

  Felix was nobody’s fool. He knew the lay of the land, calling out, “Don’t get busted!”

  On the street, Delicious strode through the night. She relaxed in the warm air and allowed her hips to roll, pushing her skirt higher the wider she stepped. Bystanders, mannish types wolf whistled their praise. Flannel-outfitted females growled compliments in her wake. A police car pulled alongside and matched her speed, and she dared not look in its direction. Despite the wine, she knew the fear would show in her eyes. She could hear the radio chatter. A generation seemed to pass before the cruiser switched on its flashing lights. Here and now Delicious knew she was caught. Her imagination spun the scenario: The Gaysian police had staked out her apartment, they’d been monitoring her movements, she’d be deported.

  The red-and-blue lights washed over her. The car’s siren wailed. Tires barked against the pavement and the cruiser jetted off in response to another call.

  Her legs weak with terror, Delicious stumbled through a dark, unmarked doorway. It was a dive. Pre-Adjustment Day skin magazines, dog-eared, wilting in wire racks, depicted healthy all-male and all-female sex acts. The covers bore titles like Sapphic Clam Diggers and Greek Butt Pirates. No one wanted these vintage wank mags from some bygone disco era. These were set dressing. A front.

  A brooding skeleton of a man sat on a stool behind a counter. She paid him a few Talbott dollars for a handful of metal tokens. Secreted behind the magazine racks, hidden in back of the dusty glass cases displaying pink dildos and VHS tapes, there a curtained doorway opened onto a dim corridor. Delicious parted the stiff fabric and stepped through. The smell of sex was pungent, and she stood in one place while her eyes adjusted to the dark. Her footsteps on the sticky floor made peeling sounds. This place, the tawdry underbelly of Gaysia, here people indulged their illegal appetites.

  Swimming in murky black light, the numbers four and seven and thirteen seemed to hover before her eyes before she realized they were splashed on in a stroke or two of fluorescent pink paint. These and other numbers were spaced at regular intervals, each marking a peeling, splintered door. Movement caught her attention. A blond man, his teeth glowing, said, “Hey, chocolate lady . . .”

  Men and women, black seeking white, white seeking black, all heterosexuals, all illegal, they lined the dingy hallway, some exposing themselves in the hope of enticing a sex partner.

  She lifted a hand and flashed him her wedding ring.

  He flashed his own.

  She continued along in that rank, crowded space. Splintering doors opened onto closet-sized cubicles in which same-sex adult films flickered on streaked video screens. Delicious chose a door bearing the number ten in Day-Glo paint. Used condoms littered the floor. Condoms or worse stuck her heels to the floor, tugging to pull the shoes from her bare feet. A plastic chair, layered with corruption, stood in one corner, and she considered sitting before remembering she wore nothing under her skirt to protect her. She stepped inside and shut the door behind her.

  The video screen glowed with two astonishingly attractive men, one black, one white, copulating romantically beside a luxurious swimming pool outside of a regal mansion. In Gaysia race mingling was permitted. But gender mixing was not.

  A knock came at the door, and a male voice whispered, “Hey, chocolate lady . . .”

  Irked, Delicious cracked the door, ready to curse some amorous stranger.

  In the dark corridor stood a stooped figure. Not the handsome stranger who’d accosted her earlier, this man was familiar. She grabbed him around one thin, pale wrist and dragged him into the cubicle. Once they were both inside she shut the door and blocked it by wedging the filthy chair beneath the knob. Every surface she touched felt either sticky or greasy, and she wiped her hands on her skirt. Even then her mouth was seeking out the man’s. Her hips were grinding into his. His hands were roving over her, sliding up her legs to discover her wet readiness.

  Without prompting, her knees buckled and she squatted low. Her hands fought to yank his slacks down his slim hips, and her lips sought the opening in his boxer shorts. Her lush mouth didn’t give a thought to repercussions before they were committing one of the most heinous crimes known in Gaysia.

  The result should’ve been immediate, but his manhood failed to respond. She worked it with her hand so she could ask, “Gentry, baby?”

  Her husband groaned softly. “I can’t.”

  Delicious spat on her hand and kept at it. “What’s up, baby?”

  High above her, Gentry’s face was shadowed and indistinct. “We had an extra sperm drive at work today.”

  He was referring to the collection of viable sperm from all male citizens of Gaysia. It was voluntary, but not. Not really. Upstanding citizens were expected to donate massive amounts of semen toward the effort to reproduce children, the vast majority of which would be exported in order to obtain the homosexuals being retained in Caucasia and Blacktopia. The physical demands of these sperm drives had all but eradicated recreational male sex. And those men who couldn’t meet their quota or whose seed was subpar, they were compelled to donate money toward the fund for ransoming new citizens. The survival of Gaysia depended on this effort.

  Delicious grasped the dismal situation. Her Gentry had done his duty thrice today. He was spent.

  Whereas men in Gaysia were compelled to donate, the women weren’t without their own responsibilities to ensure the future of the nation. Throughout history men had been conscripted to perform military service. They’d surrendered their bodies and their lives to the state. In keeping with this precedent, now women were drafted. If selected and suitable, a female citizen of Gaysia must agree to insemination. Donated seed would be used to create a new life, and the woman would carry it. All fertile women were eligible, and nothing short of a medical emergency could excuse someone from her maternity service.

  The resulting children were largely for export, but they would be raised until the Age of Declaration. Exported or not, each would equate to a new citizen.

  That was the reason Delicious had shaved her legs. The motivation for her to risk her freedom, to sneak down to this, this wallow of degradation. Squatting there, she worked Gentry with both her hands and her mouth, but to no avail. No matter how badly she wanted to get pregnant, to bear his child, that wasn’t going to happen tonight. Resigned, she reached to where she’d set her purse on the foul floor. From it, she retrieved the letter that had arrived this same day. Gentry helped her to her feet, and she handed him the envelope. The government knew she had it. She’d been required to sign for it.

  In the faint light from the video screen, her husband unfolded the paper and squinted to read it. On the screen, in what was clearly a pre-Adjustment Day film, the two men were happily ejaculating upon each other’s smiling faces. Delicious watched this anointment, thinking, What a waste!

  Gentry looked at her, his brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s this mean?”

  Delicious tried to sound chipper. “I’ve been drafted.”

  He cocked his head. “What’s that mean, ‘drafted’?” If he didn’t understand it was because he didn’t want to.

  According to the notice, Delicious was to submit for artificial insemination within twenty-four hours. After evading the police, after she’d ventured into this sinkhole of depravity, the combination of wine and fear finally hit her. Unless she could coax her husband to love her, she’d soon be carrying a stranger’s child. Frantically weeping, she allowed her falling tears to wet her smooth palms, and Delicious redoubled her hopeless effort to arouse her beloved’s flaccid member.

  To the world they looked like two plastic packets of ketchup from any fast food restaurant. Their temperature gave the only hint of their true nature. That, and each packet, upon closer inspection, proved to be tampered with. One edge of each had been cut open and glued shut, not heat sealed as the other edges, but glued.

  The bigger giveaway was that they felt like ice. So cold Shasta had to squeeze them gently in her fists, squeezing and re
leasing them, until their thick plastic and sharp edges felt pliable.

  The great reception chambers of Charlie’s palace bustled with court life. Silks and taffetas swept the gleaming wood floors, and ruddy jewels flashed in the sunlight from tall windows. Strolling troubadours strummed lutes in an effort to lighten the general mood. The court physician had been summoned, and all waited about in bated conversation. Around Shasta milled the formidable wives of other chieftains, their public wives, adorned in the booty plundered from many a museum or gallery. None among them had any royal training beyond serving as queen of a homecoming dance or senior prom. They were the prettiest put forward by their settlements. Chieftain Brach had taken as his favorite an impoverished young lady from the ruins of Seattle. Although he owned field wives and household wives aplenty, only Charlie had yet to claim a public wife.

  A passing footman offered a tray of grilled peacock tongues. Shasta selected one. Slyly, she only pretended to put the delicious tongue between her lips. In truth she deftly dropped the tongue into her ample cleavage. In its stead, she placed one of the two ketchup packets in her mouth, tucking it secretly within her cheek. As another waiter bowed low to present an assortment of Scotch eggs arrayed in an embossed silver chafing dish, Shasta repeated her sleight-of-hand, dropping the eggs into her cleavage while hiding the second ketchup packet within her opposite cheek.

  The aroma of food rose from her bodice, and she struggled to swallow her own saliva. Her mouth must be dry when the testing took place. Her own natural saliva would betray her. If the laboratories at 23 & Me were accurate, her spit would prove her to be of fifty-four percent sub-Saharan genetic descent, making her ineligible to reside in Caucasia much less become wife to a chieftain.

  No, what she held squirreled away in her cheeks was the packaged saliva of an undeniably white girl. They’d hammered out an agreement. If Charm would help Shasta succeed in becoming Charlie’s public wife, Shasta would use her lofty position to assist Charm in some yet-to-be-named endeavor.

  At the hour appointed for the trial, the great clock struck. The minstrels fell silent, and the assembled royals fell to bended knee. A majordomo clicked his heels and announced, “The chief surgeon of the realm approaches!”

  The surgeon was among Charlie’s inner circle. Terrence his name was, some former invalid who’d been rousted from his death bed by the stirring words of Talbott. He marched from the far end of the gallery, his emerald green Tabard blazing, embroidered with thread-of-gold. Pearls the size of Spanish peanuts studded his codpiece. To guess from their buttery softness, his thigh-high boots could’ve been fashioned from nothing except the finest of pleather.

  Whatever his infirmity had been, the surgeon showed no trace of it. A fine cascade of blond ringlets fell to his shoulders. Before reaching Shasta, he paused in the center of the crowd and lowered his head while he intoned a short prayer. “O Odin, father of Thor and Baldr,” he lifted his voice toward the elaborately coffered and frescoed ceiling, “Odin, bearer of the spear Gungnir and husband of Frigg . . .”

  Listening, Shasta tried not to think of the tasty peacock tongue that was even now lodged betwixt her lovely breasts, lest she salivate. She held her jaw slack to prevent perforating the ketchup packets and prematurely filling her mouth with priceless white-girl spit.

  “O Odin,” the surgeon continued, “we pray that this woman proves pure enough to serve as our queen.” In closing, he plunged the fingers of one expert hand into his sporran. From its depths he removed something that shined like a halo in the chamber’s gloom. It was rumored he possessed fantastic healing power. And that upon reading the words of the Talbott book he’d thrown himself from his death bed and pledged his newfound vigor to serving Caucasia.

  The shining object he presented was a sterile Petri dish, and with it he approached Shasta.

  Silently, she pursed her lips and sucked her mouth dry. The Scotch egg she’d dropped into her bodice slipped lower, and she could feel its warmth against her tensed abs. She must not bite the packets until the ritual began.

  No formal medical training had Terrence, but it was widely known that his palette was so refined that with a single sip of a person’s sample he could detect one’s entire racial background. He knelt before Shasta, holding out the Petri dish like an offering.

  This, this was her moment. She bent her face over the empty vessel. Using her back teeth she gnawed a rent in one packet. The foreign taste of a strange girl’s cold drool flooded her tongue. She burst the second packet, and the sensation doubled. Her mouth was awash in the foreign tang of Charm’s bodily fluids. Cooler than Shasta expected, the fluids squirted between her molars. The slippery wetness of Charm coated Shasta’s tongue, so much so that when she bent her face to dribble a dainty sample into the glass dish, a gushing tide of girl saliva fell from her lips.

  The downpour swamped the edges of the Petri dish. Terrence, the surgeon, looked up in surprise. His extended arms trembled with the added weight.

  Shasta blushed furiously. In what she hoped was an elegant gesture, she wiped her dripping mouth with the billowing sleeve of her silk gown. Resist she did the impulse to twist her head aside and spit and spit until the flavor of Charm’s salivary glands haunted her taste buds no more.

  Round-eyed with shock was the noble company in attendance.

  The surgeon assessed the brimming dish. In a hushed, awed tone, Terrence gushed, “Milady, the hue of your expectorant shows great promise.” Whosoever’s saliva this was, it glistened in his hands. A silver glint highlighted its beauty. The froth of it showed bluish, such was its purity. Shasta said a silent prayer the spit wasn’t hers.

  The two ruptured packets still rested inside her cheeks. Discreetly so not to be noticed, she fished the fingers of one hand far down between her breasts and sought out the stashed peacock tongue and the Scotch egg. To rid her mouth of Charm’s taste, she quickly gulped down both of the rare delicacies.

  The royal surgeon lifted the sample to his nose. He sniffed at the gooey liquid. He put the brim to his lips, tipped it, and began to sip. He sloshed the sample back and forth between his cheeks. He smacked his lips.

  Dawson had never rebuilt a woman. Not to date. Like every man, he’d seen women totaled. Rolled so bad, a woman’s frame so twisted she’d never be put back into proper alignment. Fit only for the junkyard. He’d seen a fine woman so neglected that finally her chassis had rusted through. And he’d seen older women given the hotrod treatment, layered with Bondo to smooth their curves, tricked out with Hooker headers, and repainted in colors that were barely street legal.

  He inspected the gal he’d found on the road. Tuckered out as she was, she’d fallen asleep in the cab of his rig, leaned against the side door. Little more than a pile of dirty laundry. A gal with her upbringing, she figured that history only moved in one direction. The Talbott book had proved her wrong. With the price on her head, she was a dead PhD walking.

  The two-lane highway skirted fields that stretched to the horizon. As many rows of eggplants as there were ripples in the ocean. Tended by a platoon of stooped women with headscarves knotted to cover their hair. Refugees from the cities. The cities weren’t sustainable. Never mind all the recycling and wind turbine power, cities were never sustainable. They’d collapsed into pits of cannibalism with the lucky survivors streaming into the countryside. They’d gone begging to serve on the estates of the chieftains. No counterrevolution was organizing in the hills, living on hardtack and plotting to regain power with a really, really, scathingly brilliant poem.

  The thugs and gangsters had the guns so now they ruled their own nation of bondsmen and thralls. The bros and rednecks had the guns so now they reigned over the serfs of Caucasia. The right-minded progressive gun grabbers with their right-side-of-history, they had their civil-rights lawyers and Ninth Circuit Court. They’d lived their entire lives on paper. If they survived it was as grateful slaves.

  The PhD gal stirred in her sleep. Dawson tried to recall her name from the li
st. Her bounty was sixteen hundred votes, and those could be auctioned for good money. Her name escaped him. It had been something made-up.

  She blinked away.

  He didn’t break eye contact until she looked away. He didn’t need to. The roads were empty. He could feed her. Get her some milk, a big glass of buttermilk. The wedding ring deep in his pants pocket told him this wouldn’t be so easy.

  She slumped low. Hiding low. And asked, “Where are you taking me?”

  “Canada,” Dawson lied. On the horizon hovered a large white sign. Mounted atop a pole, it turned slowly. In large black letters against a white background it read: “Whites Only.”

  Dawson asked, “How does some breakfast sound?”

  She dashed tears from her eyes. “I need to feel safe somewhere.”

  Dawson knew she’d never feel safe again.

  It was just as well this calamity had befallen her, he figured. She’d risen to power by repeating the opinions of people who’d repeated the opinions of people who’d repeated the opinions of people. If that wasn’t a lineage equal to and just as corrupt as the lineages of Adjustment Day, Dawson didn’t know jack. History had saved this woman. She’d been given a chance, like Scarlett O’Hara, to be tested and develop a real power of her own making.

  The crying had cleaned her face some. Minus the crud, she wasn’t so hard on the eyes. She looked at the plowed landscape with the dazed expression of a sleepwalker who’d woken up from a long dream about universal equality and guaranteed human rights.

  Dawson remembered. Her name was Ramantha.

  He parked in the gravel lot beside the diner, and they walked in and sat at a red-topped table. Flounced gingham curtains hung in the windows. They matched the frilled apron of the waitress who asked, “What can I get you folks?” Her breath, sweet smelling from Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

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