Adjustment day, p.26
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       Adjustment Day, p.26

           Chuck Palahniuk

  Dawson asked, “What’s good?” A juke box played country music at low volume.

  The waitress twiddled her pen between the fingers of one hand. “The Bull Connor White Bean Burrito is nice.” She glanced back at the kitchen pass-through window. “And the Eva Braun White Cheddar Mac ’n’ Cheese is real good.”

  Ramantha held her menu too high. She was clearly hiding behind it. Muffled, she said, “I’ll have the Klan Burger.”

  The waitress eyed her. She popped her gum and asked, “Grand Dragon or Grand Wizard?”

  Dawson translated, “She means large or small.”

  The waitress asked, “Honey, may I see some identification?”

  “What?” Ramantha looked out from behind the menu. “I’m thirty-five.”

  Dawson said, “I’ll vouch for her.” It wasn’t proof of age the waitress wanted, it was proof of ethnicity. As a chieftain of the first lineage, he knew no one would doubt his word. He ordered a cup of coffee.

  The professor ordered a Skinhead Skinless Chicken Breast Sandwich and a Woodrow Wilson Egg Salad Sandwich and a Lothrop Stoddard Vanilla Sundae with Marshmallow Sauce and Whipped Cream.

  He sipped his coffee and watched her dig into the mountain of food.

  If she stunk he’d grown used to her stink. By the look of her stringy arms she couldn’t fight off much. He could ravish her just for the effort of pushing her to the ground.

  The wedding ring felt big in his pocket.

  Dawson flagged the waitress and asked for the check, all the while telling himself that as soon as the sun set he wasn’t going to rape this half-dead woman. Nope. Positively not, no way was he raping her and strangling her skinny neck and cutting off her ear to sell so he could buy his old lady that treadle sewing machine she’d been mooning after for better than a year.

  Theirs was the grandest wedding the fledgling nation of Caucasia had ever witnessed. After the regal promenade of the royal families, each chieftain bedecked in jewels and artificial furs, leading a contingent of pregnant wives . . . after the lavish banquet of the lineages . . . after the courtiers had toasted each other with chalices of healthy urine . . . after each public wife of the realm had bestowed her best wishes upon Queen Shasta . . . as she and Charlie stood on the parapets and waved to their thousands of serfs . . . it was then a tight formation of jumbo jetliners passed directly overhead.

  His eyes following them, Charlie did say, “There. The last of the Jews are homebound for Israel. A good omen. Let us celebrate!”

  For their nuptial tour around the estate, an open carriage wrought from solid silver—a great heavy thing—was pulled by a visibly straining, enormous herd of tiny white lambs.

  Whole mutton turned slowly on spits above raging bonfires. The air redolent with meaty smells and the stink of gunpowder, the latter from the celebratory fireworks. Mead did flow, and bodices were roundly ripped to the sound of merry pipers.

  In their first wedded moment alone, Charlie did take his new wife boldly in his arms. In noble modesty he acceded to Shasta that his was a simple hard-laboring, tax-paying Caucasian penis without the dimensions or the stamina accredited to the black or the homosexual. His might not bring her the fulfillment of others, but he would strive to sow a multitude of seeds in her. Charlie would sow her and keep sowing her, relentlessly, for she would be his mate. He’d sow her anytime he desired, day or night, headache or none. And he’d sow her in any position he could imagine and sow her wearing costumes and as he compelled her to pretend to be his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Halliday, or a sexy airline stewardess, maybe, or he’d sow her all tied up because the overarching edict of Caucasia was “Progress Can Wait” and in line with the teachings of Talbott millions of men had died to create and protect the formerly united states, those men had given their lives and perished in unspeakable agony so now women should dedicate themselves to preserving the nation, and instead of landmines blasting them into screaming gore or mustard gas reaming out their lungs, this generation of women would be revered by a new nation of offspring and future generations, for perpetuating the white race.

  Shasta, Charlie extolled, held the destiny of Caucasia between her legs.

  Still attired in her wedding finery, Shasta did demurely excuse herself to make water. Charlie gave her a peck on the cheek and told her not to tarry. They had yet to cut their towering wedding cake. Nor had they danced to the traditional madrigals.

  Veiled did Shasta implement the next phase of her plan.

  The ruse with Charm’s spit had worked. As their newly crowned queen, the palace guard could deny Shasta access to no area. Quickly she scurried to Charlie’s home office. There she booted his antique computer machine. His was no great intellect, and she readily circumnavigated his crude security codes. His password was a bit cryptic: “mom&dadRIP.” The device buzzed and blinked. Its screen began to scroll the names of the living and the targeted. Those who had been relocated to other homelands. Those who remained in Caucasia and to whom they were presently indentured. Among these names she found not that of her true love.

  For Shasta did love only one man, and contrary to appearances it was not Charlie.

  And as the fireworks began to boom against the dusking sky did she activate the Search function and type in the name “Walter Baines.”

  Back in the world you still know . . . in the Before Times . . . Walter whispered to Talbott while the old man slept. He held up telephone photos of Shasta. He whispered about her wisdom and talents. About her beauty and strength and grace. And as the old man dozed and drowsed and snored, Walter held the pink foam earplug so Talbott couldn’t help but catch a whiff of its acrid perfume.

  Jamal couldn’t help but show off. Days and evenings he’d sit with the creature in the bygone glory of the parlor. The creature bragged up the men in the ancestral portraits, boasting about their acts of bravery and scientific achievements. Left unsaid was the constant drumbeat declaring the past to be a golden era and the present a swamp of failure.

  To remedy the situation Jamal summoned the housekeeper and asked her to dress Barnabas for a day’s outing. Nothing stressful. Not much more than a jaunt to a nearby city to survey the changes that had taken place since the founding of Blacktopia.

  Arabella pulled a face. “You do realize,” she said, “that soul hasn’t set foot off this farm in years.”

  Jamal assured her, “All’s the more reason.”

  Barnabas didn’t appear partial to the idea, either. It couldn’t set foot over the threshold without wanting to go back for a different shirt or to change its shoes.

  Jamal’s first point of pride was the levitator. The same electro-spiritual principles that floated the great space pyramids, this same black-based technology allowed personal transport vehicles that amounted to small floating platforms that could skim along at incredible speeds. Throughout history white men had claimed that magic carpets were a fiction simply because no white man could duplicate the achievement. Vehemently, whites had long sought to humiliate blacks by claiming the latter had never invented the wheel.

  The Barnabas creature tentatively climbed aboard the floating platform as Jamal explained. Blacks in Africa had no use for wheels because they flew. They’d no use for any written language because they combined their wisdom utilizing the technique of cognitive amalgamation. All of this wisdom had been secretly locked away when Europeans had begun to invade the continent.

  Barnabas gripped the front edge of the platform with metaphorically white knuckles. The rush of air rustled its mass of frizzed hair. The vehicle began its rise above the trees, above the house and barns. “Lawdy, massah Jamal,” the creature bawled, “Gawd ain’t nev-ah intentioned uz tah flah!”

  As they soared above the open country Jamal lectured on the state of things since Adjustment Day. Gays, who’d lived such gadabout and footloose lives, in Gaysia they were yoked to the national campaign for reproduction. Draconian sperm drives left most men with little money or energy. And women had lost all control over thei
r reproductive rights. Healthy women were required to register, and eventually to be conscripted to bear—not arms—but babies! To sustain their population via export left them with scant time for sadomasochistic antics or meth-fueled circuit parties. Jamal shouted to be heard above the wind, “Liberation has enslaved them!”

  Citizens of Caucasia were no better off. Where they’d excelled in science, they now banned it. They’d turned their focus to Jeffersonian agriculture and reinstating a white-European culture. The great metropolises of Caucasia had swiftly declined into deadly no-go zones where displaced liberal-arts majors stalked each other as food. The lucky had escaped to indenture themselves to chieftains and labor on the huge food-producing estates.

  Below the levitator, the lands of Blacktopia appeared without houses or fences. All roadways, power poles, and other signs of human civilization had been erased. In their place wild animals roamed. Sleek herds of zebras. Horned masses of wildebeests. Jamal tried to read Barnabas’s expression. The Peabody Plantation stood alone, the last survivor of the many dynastic seats that had until recently filled the region. The creature could only stare, its mouth agog.

  Like a mirage, the rainbow-colored lights, the spires and domes of a city appeared in the distance. Unlike Caucasia, the populations of Blacktopia had coalesced into its cities, transforming them into magnificence while allowing the greater landscape to revert back to an almost limitless nature preserve. The fauna of Mother Africa had been introduced and had flourished. The levitator carried them above the heads of wallowing hippos and preening lions. They dipped to better observe fierce packs of hyenas. A paradise, it amounted to, and Jamal felt justified in his pride.

  Every wonder the white man had dismissed as a fable, here it existed. The city they approached rivaled all the legends about Atlantis. Blacks had resurrected all the pyro-spiritual and electro-expressive technologies they’d long kept hidden. These, the sacred laws of soul-metrics, had never been appropriated to enrich the white man’s brutal empire.

  As a chieftain of the first lineage Jamal would be warmly welcomed into any home.

  The levitator swerved and looped between the dramatic, multicolored skyscrapers. Flowering vines cascaded down from windows and balconies like brilliant flags. The Barnabas creature craned its neck as if searching for any vestige of the previous corrupt civilization built by white people. Mere months had elapsed since Adjustment Day. “Massah Jamal,” it stammered, “how?”

  “Muse-O-Metrix,” Jamal answered. He explained that the harmonic gifts of his race had much deeper applications than the white man had ever suspected. When a sufficient population of blacks harmonized in unison, the power of their combined song would restructure physical matter. Each massive building amounted to the frozen music of a single beautiful song. Indeed, every pinnacle soared like a crescendo.

  Jamal steered the levitator toward a prominent edifice. Domed and buttressed, it dwarfed the less-imposing structures surrounding it. At the gateway a liveried robot assisted him and Barnabas to disembark. They entered through dazzling crystalline doors and crossed a plush lobby alive with blooming tropical plants and free-flying parrots and cockatiels.

  Barnabas, cowed, whispered, “Lawdy massah, hoo liv-ah hee-rah?” The whispers echoed back from the vaulted ceiling and the chamber’s trove of priceless antiquities.

  Jamal didn’t shush the creature. He took pity on the stooped freak that was shrinking itself ever smaller in fear. Barnabas was beyond the age for finding out it was full of shit.

  Past the lobby none but a single pair of doors, heavily sculpted from what appeared to be solid gold, so warm and so bright, only these doors stood. Jamal touched a discrete button and chimes sounded. The doors swung inward to reveal a robot attired in a tuxedo. In a warm cultured voice, this robot bid, “Greetings, Jamal. Is your mother expecting you?”

  The robot ushered them into a luminous chamber. It held the muffled silence of a greenhouse. Orchids were rooted in the intricately tiled walls, and their trembling blossoms scented the air with sweetness. Following the robot’s gesture, Jamal and the Barnabas creature seated themselves on expensive wicker settees. They accepted tall highly colored drinks offered by a robot dressed in a lacy apron and cap.

  Hardly were they settled before another door opened and a rush of colors and perfume swept into their presence. A swirl of iridescent silk skirt revealed two perfectly sculpted gams striding toward them. Braided hair glinted with Tahitian pearls and platinum beads. “My darling,” said the dulcet voice of a goddess. Slender and regal, she crossed to kiss Jamal lightly on both cheeks. Her eyes fell on the creature and her refined features twisted. At the sight of this stained dwarf, her smooth face shriveled with confusion and fear.

  Jamal and the Barnabas creature stood to greet her.

  Not a heartbeat passed before she’d regained her queenly composure. “Hello.” She offered a languid hand, the fingers weighted with diamond rings, the wrist loaded with emerald bracelets. “I am Jamal’s mother.” Her expression betrayed none of her earlier alarm.

  Jamal had always admired his mom. Rich or poor, she’d always been a class act. And as she accepted the withered, discolored paw of the creature, his respect grew beyond all bounds. She threw him a look of concern masked behind a serene smile, marked only because her eye contact lasted a smidgen too long. Her silent nod summoned a robot bearing a silver tray of amuse-bouches. “I hope you like nightingale tongues,” she said.

  Added the robot in a scratchy, affectless voice, “They’re bite-sized.”

  Jamal watched with mild delight as the creature picked from among the delicacies. “Eye’s be Barn-ah-bus,” it said, and popped a tidbit into its grinning mouth.

  His mother maintained her composure as the creature regaled them with tales about farm life. “Dat Mizz Jo, she be’s ah mons-tah tah works fer,” it said through a mouthful of partially masticated tongues. It went on to describe menial chores and how Miss Josephine had fled immediately following Adjustment Day. “Dat Massah Tal-bott, he be’s a troo hee-ro!”

  Jamal’s mother took this in stride. “My son has long been obsessed with living in that particular house . . .”

  The Barnabas creature cast him a puzzled look.

  Jamal gave his mother a sideways glance, one eyebrow raised to warn her. “Yes,” he added. “We have family history in the area.”

  The creature did a goggle-eyed double take. “Wuz ya’ll fambly slay-vus?”

  Jamal’s mother motioned for a robot to refresh their drinks. “Something like that . . . ,” she sighed.

  They passed a pleasant afternoon. Jamal’s mother shepherded them into her kitchen where the flesh generator provided a delicious luncheon. She explained proudly how the technology was based on HeLa cells, immortal cells that continued to reproduce themselves indefinitely. These cells had been invented by a black woman and used to alter the DNA of animals, creating masses of beef, chicken, and pork that spontaneously cloned themselves. The flesh generator itself was a huge cylinder of meat that turned slowly under heat lamps. The exterior was always a savory cooked layer ready to be carved away and eaten. At the core were the ever-replicating cells, fed by a constant stream of amino acids pumped through the spindle at the core of the cylinder. To Jamal it looked like nothing more than an old-school gyro cone grilling on a vertical rotisserie, but in this case the tapering amalgam of boneless flesh was a living thing, raw and vital at the core, but constantly dying and being cooked on the outside. The scent was intoxicating.

  They watched the meat rotate smoothly. It sweated clear grease that ran in rivulets down its appetizing flanks. “The true blessing is that we no longer need to slaughter animals,” said Jamal’s mother. The core’s genetically immortal cells were like a sourdough “starter” that perpetuated itself given the right conditions. Every household included such a generator, thus the animals of Blacktopia caroused in complete safety and freedom. Even the carnivores were fed from similar flesh generators. Fully satiated on immortal mea
t, the lions did in fact lie down with the lambs. Black technology had created Heaven on Earth.

  Barnabas recoiled at first, but a single mouth-watering bite made it a convert.

  Jamal’s mother leaned close to the creature as if sharing an intimate confidence. “I do hope you can convince my son to demolish that old farm and assume his place of prestige, here in the city.” She looked pointedly at Jamal. Her tone was prickly. “His obsession with that ancient homestead is entirely unhealthy.”

  He and his mother had debated this point many times. Instead of engaging on the topic, Jamal noted the time and insisted on taking Barnabas home.

  The creature fell silent on their trip back home. The sight of so many wonders had clearly shaken Barnabas. It glanced about with bulging, confused eyes.

  Jamal felt a huge sympathy, almost a familial affection for it.

  A heavy, inky tear washed a lighter stripe down its cheek. It spoke haltingly, “Ah ah-soom yah’ll wanz tah ee-rad-ah-kate Mizz Jo’s fambly play-s?”

  Jamal fixed the creature with a compassionate expression. “I promise,” he vowed, “that as long as you live that house will stand as your home.”

  The Barnabas creature gazed into the distance. There, the familiar barns and manor house were slowly coming into sight. In the backdrop, the sun was setting rapidly.

  Bing held the bong to his mouth, sighting down the length of it as if it were a rifle. He held a cigarette lighter to the packed bowl and flicked the lighter as if he were pulling a trigger. He inhaled so hard he went cross-eyed. With his lungs full, he shouted, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” expelling dope smoke like bursts of gun smoke.

  He jerked the bong from side to side as if firing on new targets, the peppermint schnapps inside it sloshing. He sighted a final target through the bong and puffed out a muffled, “Bang.”

  Felix clutched his heart in both hands and fell backward against a garbage can. “You got me,” he croaked, “I’m dead.”

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