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The Woman in White Marble

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Paris, France

Wednesday
Aug152012

Martha Goes to Paris

Rosa poured the wine. As she silently retreated to the kitchen George intertwined his fingers and bowed his head. He began to pray.

“Father, we just want to thank you for this meal and the abundance of goodness this great country gives us. We just pray you will protect us from the blasphemers, evil doers, East Coast intellectuals, West Coast homosexuals and their supporters. We and this great country need your protection now more than ever and we trust you are on our side.”

At the opposite end of the dinner table sat Martha. While George bowed his head and prayed, Martha took a sip of wine, placed the glass carefully and silently back on the table and folded her hands in her lap.

“Father I pray for my Martha…”

At this, Martha looked up and stared at George with more than a frown.

“…that she will return to church and heed the words and lessons of our Lord. Finally, I pray for our President, the Republican Party and those who serve this country in your name. Bless this meal and thank you for our  prosperity. Amen.”

At the word “Amen” Rosa appeared at the table with the soup, serving first Martha and then George. As the soup was placed on the virgin white tablecloth, Martha spoke.

“George, you sound like a fundamentalist neocon blow-up doll. When did you start talking like that? And what do you and your comrades need protection from? You own the House, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court for God’s sake. Your fundie friends are all over the media and in every government committee imaginable. They are mining every government document with word searches causing all kinds of mischief. Isn’t it about time you and your intelligent-design-really-it-isn’t-Creationism-and-really-it-is-science cronies stopped pretending you’re under assault?”

George refused to take the bait, understanding this as just another attack on his faith and patriotism.

“I started talking this way when the Lord called George W. Bush to save this great country. That’s when.”

“You mean when the Supreme Court selected George Bush. And you certainly mean when he was called to give the United States back to his friends. You know Bush’s slogan: ‘No rich person left behind.’”

“Martha don’t get started. Pastor Pound says that a meal shared together in love is a meal shared with Jesus.”

He lifted his wineglass and a took a healthy swallow.

“Hmm…Martha, this is very good. Good choice.”

He reached across the table, picked up the wine bottle and read the label.

“Rosa! Get the fuck in here!!”

Rosa rushed into the dining room and stood by George’s chair with her head lowered respectfully.

“I told you never to have this frog piss in my house!”

“George, for God’s sake. Your language. Even if I have to endure it, Rosa doesn’t. And besides, I bought the wine, for tonight. I want to talk to you about something.”

“Get this swill off my table and sterilise this wineglass.”

“George, really. Rosa, give me the bottle and go and get George a clean glass and another bottle.”

“An American wine. A good Californian.”

“I thought you hated California.”

“Martha, not everyone in California is a anti American French loving homosexual fucking deviant.”

Rosa returned and placed a bottle of Californian in front of George.

“See. This vineyard votes Republican and supports “Christians for a Return to a Decent America.” Rosa. Open it. What do you want to talk about?”

“George, I want to go to Paris.”

“For God’s sake, Martha. We’ve been through this before. We are not going to that frog fucking fagot country.”

“Rosa, bring in the main course and then you are free for the evening. Go home where you can escape this foul language.”

George and Martha ate their soup and then sat in silence waiting for their next course. George was furious, downed his glass of wine and filled it again.

The food was served and still they didn’t say a word until they heard the door close behind Rosa.

“George…”

“No, Martha. We are not going to France. Hell, all they do is sit in cafés, drink wine, fuck and go on strike. And it’s Freedom Fries in this house! Leave a note for Rosa saying I want Freedom Toast tomorrow morning.”

“You can’t see how utterly adolescent and absurd that is? A United States Congressman suggesting Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast and the Congress going along with it. My God, George. When that was reported in London, Kathy and Philip emailed saying they were humiliated. They didn’t speak in public for weeks fearing someone would recognise them as Americans. We’re the damn superpower acting like adolescent boys in the playground. At a time of crisis, we come up with Freedom Fries!”

“And there is no French Kissing in this house either.”

“Well that’s for God damn sure!”

“For God’s sake Martha, watch your language. Those French pussies only work thirty-five hours a week. How can you depend on people like that? I’m glad they didn’t support us in Iraq. It would have been a real mess.”

“And it isn’t now?! Iraq isn’t a mess, it’s a death hole.”

“Democracy will prevail.”

“George! Open your eyes. We’re helping create an Islamic theocracy in Iraq. And I’ll have you know that the French are almost as productive working their thirty-five hours a week as Americans are working more hours than your God ever intended. They actually spend time with their families, George. They have lives. You and your American family value fundie friends should go to France and learn a thing or two.”

“Our family is just fine. Don’t need some fucking fagot frog to tell me how to have a family.”

“Yea. Right. Jefferson is in jail for assault with a deadly weapon. John Quincy…”

“It was just a boyish mistake.”

“A boyish mistake! For God’s sake George, he shot the boy. He almost killed him. He was drunk – again! – and shot that boy. And John Quincy is in drug rehabilitation, for the third time. Abigail is sitting in a home pregnant.”

“Exactly. You never see God working in our lives.”

“What does that mean?”

“Abigail getting pregnant got her eating again. She was about to starve to death and the Lord gave her a reason to eat.”

“By making her pregnant? Maybe the Lord could tell us all who the damn father is.”

“Still amazes me that a girl so skinny could have so much sex.”

“She was giving them drugs in exchange for sex, George. Of course she got laid! And God knows what else.”

“Well, at least she is protecting her precious Snowflake.”

“George. Don’t start on that drivel.”

“The President has said that every embryo is precious because like a snowflake it is unique. Every Snowflake is a precious gift from God and every Snowflake should be saved and protected. Martha, I’ve been thinking we should join the adopt a Snowflake programme.”

“Not on your life, George. Besides embryos die every day. It’s a natural process.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Every Snowflake is from God.”

“Then why does God allow approximately three million embryos to die annually in the United States? And that’s the conservative estimate. Embryos washed out in menstrual blood every day. Women don’t  even know it is happening.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Where do you get this shit? And don’t talk like that. I’m trying to eat my dinner for, God’s sake.”

“I read, George. So, George,  if your President says that every embryo is something precious to be protected why isn’t he committing federal funds to research why millions of embryos are lost every year? Surely this should be of the highest concern for your Christian president.”

“Well, you can’t say a bad word about Betsy. Not my darling Betsy.”

“Betsy! She’s into fashion George. Her dream in life is to make very expensive dresses for filthy rich women who have more money than they could ever spend, in part thanks to Bush’s tax cuts. She’s a glorified seamstress. And all she does is shop. That’s her life. Her value as a human being. Shopping! She owns so much stuff she could open her own store.”

“Well, she’s not pregnant.”

“No, she’s not, and not likely to become pregnant either. But that’s another story.”

“And besides, Jefferson had every right to carry a concealed weapon in a bar. It’s the law. It’s our constitutional right to carry a gun and defend ourselves. I, for example…”

As George’s voice trailed off he took off his jacket and hung it on his chair. Over his white shirt he was wearing a shoulder holster holding a small revolver and a cell phone.

“For God’s sake, George! What is that?”

“It’s my constitutional right.”

“You wear that to work, under your suit? You have a loaded gun at the dinner table? Is it loaded?”

“Of course it’s loaded! It’s my right. And one needs to be prepared.”

“You do realize that in companies where employees bring weapons to work you have a five times greater chance of getting killed.”

“Where did you hear that nonsense?”

“I read, George. I read.”

“Well, more reason for me to have a concealed weapon.”

“George, no gun at the dinner table. Get rid of that thing.”

George did not move.

“I swear George. I swear I’ll get up in the middle of the night and log on to Al Jaseera on your laptop and your desktop. And in the morning I’ll call Homeland Security.”

“It’s a weak bluff. You won’t know how to find Al Jaseera.”

“I read it all the time, right after CNN. On your computer.”

George just stared at Martha. He couldn’t believe it but she looked dead serious.

“Jesus Christ, Martha,” George’s voice was almost a whisper. “You can’t be serious. What have you done? My God. The President is watching, and listening too.”

“The gun, George. I mean it.”

George sat for a moment and decided on a compromise, at least a compromise in his mind. He unstrapped the holster, took it off and hung it over his chair. Martha was angry, but had other things more immediate on her mind. The gun fight would have to wait until another time. 

“I didn’t say I wanted us to go to Paris. I said I wanted to go to Paris.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I don’t want to go to Paris with you. I want to go with Peggy.”

“Forget it. No wife of mine is going to Paris, or any place else for that matter.”

George emptied and refilled his glass one more time, cut into his steak and chewed furiously. He grabbed some bread from the bread basket, broke it, and dipped it in the blood seeping onto the plate from his steak.

“I can do whatever I want!”

“No, you can’t!! Martha you really need to return to Pastor Pound’s Christian Marriage with Jesus Seminars. You are losing your way, and besides, it is embarrassing for me to sit there without my wife. And the Al Jaseera thing. Well, that is blasphemy, not to mention treason. You need to see Pastor Pound by yourself as well as return to the Seminars with me. ”

Rev. Pound was the pastor of the Southern Baptist Church. He was a good premillennialist with a sweet voice, expecting Christ’s bodily return followed by his thousand year reign. He believed that feminists, intellectuals, socialists, civil liberties activists and secular humanists should not be allowed to become teachers, run for public office or even speak in public in the United States of America. He also believed wives should be subordinate to their husbands, were subordinate to their husbands unless in defiance of God’s law, as he said over and over again in the Christian Marriage with Jesus Seminars. He said it so often that Martha stopped going and began attending the God is Still Speaking church down the road, the one with the red and black banner. This was, of course, scandalous, but George kept attending the Christian Marriage with Jesus Seminars which, since Martha’s defection, included prayers for George, Martha and their marriage.

“Pastor Pound had an affair with the church secretary. What the hell does he know about marriage? He locked himself in the church office saying he wouldn’t come out until Jesus and the congregation forgave him. Since apparently only Jesus can save his soul while only the congregation can pay him his rather large salary, the mention of the congregation wasn’t an afterthought. He never did seem to care if his wife actually forgave him.”

“The Lord forgave him, Martha. And so did we. And so did Mrs. Pound. That wasn’t fair.”

“You are right. I’m sorry.”

“ And besides, his insights into Christian marriage are even more profound now.”

“I bet. Too bad the secretary had to go though. Don’t you think?”

“She moved out of state. I bet to a blue state!”

“After her husband divorced her and Pastor Pound fired her, she moved to Canada, not to a blue state.”

“Same thing. Let it go, Martha. You chose to abandon the church, Pastor Pound and me to go to that bleeding heart liberal fag loving unpatriotic church up the road. But that’s another discussion for another day. Right now I’m telling you, you are not going to Paris or anywhere else. Actually, there is no need for you to travel anywhere. You’ve got America. No one needs any more than America.”

Silence fell over the perfectly set immaculate table. George consumed more steak, dipping large cuts into his mashed potatoes. Martha sipped wine. The candles burned. Outside it was a perfect evening, not too hot and not too cool. Juan, Rosa’s husband, had tended the garden and lawn earlier so everything was in good order. From a distance they could hear the sound of bells being rung by the one armed Iraqi veteran ice cream truck man.

“What we needed with this American steak was some good old American Freedom Fries. I must talk to Rosa. Martha, a woman’s place is still in the home, regardless of what your liberal friends say, unless, of course you are Ann Coulter. Then your place is, well, everywhere. It's your calling to take care of our home.”

Martha did not respond and the silence returned. She looked at the table which had seemed large ever since the kids had left. The silver was always polished, the wineglasses always sparkled, the tablecloth was always pure white and pressed, because of Rosa, of course. The food was always excellent. Rosa again. Come to think of it, the toilets were also spotless. Rosa. She looked at George and decided this was as good a time as any.

“You travel.”

George looked at his wife for a moment then poured himself some more wine.

“I have to.”

“Why? You have America.”

“America has a mission just like the church. We’re in the world to bring freedom, democracy and prosperity to other places. It’s business.”

“Spare me, George.”

“No. Our company has a mission statement just like the church, just like President Bush’s America. OK, we are an investment firm, not a church or the government, but by the way we do business, the way we live our lives, we are an example fostering the American way of life and Christian family values.”

“What was your mission in Amsterdam?”

George stopped chewing and stared at Martha. He straightened his dessert spoon, took his cell phone from the holster hanging on his chair, pretended to check for messages, and then put it on the table.

“What’s for dessert?”

“I don’t know. Rosa has gone home. What was your mission in Amsterdam, George?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. Amsterdam was a stopover on the way to Munich.”

“Why’d you spend a few days there then?”

“Wanted to see the city.”

“Sin filled Amsterdam?”

“Well, Charles and Andrew wanted to see the city.”

 “So, George, did you do any window shopping?”

George froze.

“Why the ashen face? Did you get that zipper fixed? Must have been pretty embarrassing.”

George placed both hands on the table and hung his head. Without raising his head he spoke.

“How did you find out?”

“I read it on your laptop, in your Personal folder.”

“Impossible. My personal journal is protected.”

“George, you use “GWB1776” for all your passwords. I read everything in there. Why do you write that stuff down? Why do you guys always leave a trail?”

George had stopped over in Amsterdam with two colleagues on a business trip to Munich. While there they had done some window shopping, as Martha put it, close to St. John’s Church. The first day they simply meandered through the streets smiling at the women in the windows, slightly embarrassed but, nonetheless, feeling quite manly. The next day, however, was a different story.

They had gone to a small café where there were drinks and sandwiches on one side of the menu and marijuana and mushrooms on the other side. George settled on a Belgian beer, a cheese sandwich, and Hawaiian mushrooms. He had never before indulged in magic mushrooms and so ate only a very little, but enough to make him behave in a rather silly way while feeling rather bold. After a while, he told his colleagues he was going to explore the city, but headed straight to the area of St. John’s church and the several narrow window-lined streets.

On one particularly short street, George took his time before each window. At the first a woman sat reading a paper in her bra and panties and didn’t even bother to look up. At the second a middle aged woman with very large breasts smiled at George, but he walked on. Half way down the street he caught the profile of a woman standing near the back of her small room. She turned and saw George, smiled warmly, walked to the door and opened it. She stood in the doorway. George’s heart began to race.

“Hi.”

“Hi. How does this work? I mean, how much does it cost?”

“A twenty minute suck and fuck, one hundred Euros.”

George stood for a moment wondering if twenty minutes was long enough for both a suck and a fuck or whether it would be prudent to negotiate for a suck or a fuck only. In the end, her smile did it.

“OK. I mean I’ll do that.”

She stepped out of the doorway to let George enter. Once in, she closed the door and pulled a curtain across the display window. The room was small with a coat rack, a bed and a sink. The florescent lighting highlighted the woman’s skin in a strange way, somehow unreal yet exciting. It looked so soft. 

She turned to George and shook his hand.

“My name is Ashanti.”

“Hi. I’m…David.”

“Hi David. Money first.”

“Oh. Right.” George reached in his wallet and took out one hundred Euros and gave it to the woman. She put the money in a drawer under the sink, looked at herself in the mirror, turned to George and took off her short dress. George had to admit she was a beautiful black woman.

She went over to the bed and lay down.

“Take off  your clothes and come lie down with me.”

George began taking his clothes off, nervously.

“Have you been to Amsterdam before?”

“Yes, some twenty five years ago.”

“Most of the men I meet in this room were in Amsterdam before, before I was born actually.”

“Have you always lived in Amsterdam?”

“No, my dad was white but my mom was black and we lived for awhile in Ghana.”

George lay down next to Ashanti, he on his back and she on her side. She started making a strange clicking sound in George’s ear, which startled him, but he supposed it was sexy since she was the professional in the room. He knew not to try and kiss her having seen numerous movies and television shows.

She touched him until he became hard and then slipped on a condom. George was extremely impressed by the way she did this, with her mouth only. He had never seen that in a movie. He was also impressed with the way her pubic hair was shaved in a delicate design. These were the two abiding memories of the encounter, including the zipper, of course.

When the sucking and fucking were over, George got up and began dressing. His zipper stuck. It wouldn’t go up. He pulled and tugged and pulled again. Ashanti just stood there smiling, her teeth unnaturally white in the strange light. George was about to die of embarrassment, but finally the zipper flew up and he was safe to go.

“Thanks for letting me…get dressed.”

“Well, I wouldn’t send you out there naked.”

She laughed and George felt more than uncool. He leaned forward and hugged her as if they were old friends. It was an absurd thing to do and he knew it.

“Thank you.”

“Sure.”

He stepped out of the door and walked away looking at the ground. He refused to make eye contact with anyone. He turned out of the street, passed St. John’s and headed straight for his hotel for a shower – a cliché, yes, but that is what he wanted to do. Walking along a canal he suddenly thought, “My God, what if I have AIDS!” He began to sweat. He began to panic. He began to die. His walk slowed with the sheer weight of the terror he was feeling. He needed a story. He needed something to tell people if he was HIV positive. He came up with this: walking down the street he bumped into a couple of guys shooting up – it is Amsterdam– who accidentally pricked him with their AIDS-infested needle. That would work. The doctor would believe that. Rev. Pound would believe it. Maybe Martha would believe it, particularly given the fact that he would be dying. And they would never believe he ate Hawaiian mushrooms and lay with an Amsterdam sex worker. Never.

George had written all this down in two versions. The first was a thorough account in his personal journal folder protected by the password “GWB1776.” The second was in the form of a confession, albeit not expressing the detail and vulnerability of the first and private version. He copied the second confession into an email and sent it to Pastor Pound, not Martha, from Munich. The return email was honest, firm, but reassuring. It only took two sessions with Pastor Pound upon returning from the trip to reassure George. And while Pastor Pound was not pleased that George had used a condom, he had to admit it was probably prudent under the circumstances. The second time George paid a woman for sex, this time in London, it was much easier.

“George. I would love to read your mission statement for Amsterdam.”

George said nothing but sat straight in his chair, head down, hands on the table.

“Come on George. Did you bring your little Ghanaian prostitute to Christ? Is she moving to the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

“You shouldn’t have read my private folder. It was wrong of you. Almost evil.”

“Oh yea. I’m the evil one. For God’s sake, George. What were you thinking?”

“It was a mistake. The Devil made me do it.”

“Don’t blame the Devil or the mushrooms. Did the Devil follow you to London last month?”

George suddenly looked up as his face turned red.

“Enough of this. I don’t really care who you are fucking. I’m going to Paris with Peggy.”

“Martha. She’s defiled! Everybody knows that. Or at least that’s what my darling Betsy told me.”

“She’s not defiled George, she’s a lesbian. And Betsy should know.”

“What are you saying? Don’t push me Martha.”

“Betsy’s gay, George. She always has been gay. And she helped me find my true self.”

“Martha!” George’s face became a deeper red. His neck and face seemed to swell. He grabbed the edges of the table with both hands.

“Martha. What are you saying” It was almost a whisper.

“I’m a lesbian, George. Peggy is my lover and we’re going to Paris together.”

George looked like he was literally going to explode and suddenly he grabbed his chest and tried to stand, pushing his chair over onto the floor. He let out a short sharp shout of pain, his right hand trying to find the edge of the table to support his weight. His hand slipped off the table, pulling the table cloth. The expensive Californian wine spilled on the innocent white cloth. The cell phone fell to the floor, as did George.

Martha got up quickly and came around the table to see George lying on his side, left hand on his chest, right hand reaching for his cell phone. With her left foot she slowly pushed the phone beyond his reach. His eyes widened but he could not speak. She sat on the floor in front of him.

“George, I really did love you once. I really did. You were kind and compassionate. Idealistic and optimistic. You made mistakes and sometimes did bad things, but at heart you were good, certainly no monster. But now, George, you’ve become such a bastard with your faith-based everything and your flag waving patriotism, your brutal capitalism, your arrogance and your blindness. George you don’t love me anymore. You can’t. You don’t love anything. You’ve become bloated, a blot, a stain on the planet. Things will be cleaner without you.”

George lay on his side, on the floor, his eyes as wide open as eyes could be, saliva dripping from the corner of his mouth. Martha lay down beside him. She didn’t touch him, not even to hold his hands, but she did look him in the eyes. “You ate too many Freedom Fries, “ she said with some sadness. “George, I’m going to Paris.”

She looked into his eyes for an eternity, which in reality was only a few moments. When the life went out of his eyes, hers filled with tears.

She sat up, still on the floor, and called 911. They arrived within ten minutes and were wonderful. Martha, realising they must have been in this same situation hundreds if not thousands of times, appreciated their genuine concern and kindness. They took George away.

Martha straightened the table cloth, returned to her place and took a sip of wine. She sat for only a moment and then called Pastor Pound. He was, after all,  George’s minister and fair is fair. And if truth be told, he was as wonderful as the ambulance medics. He was honestly moved by George’s death and sounded sincere when he said he would be right over. Martha declined his invitation for a pastoral call, however, saying that George’s death was a milestone in her life and she wasn’t even sure what life would be without him. Thus, she said, it was best she was alone to be with her thoughts, and her God of course. Pastor Pound, assuming that her God was the same as his God even though she had fallen from grace by going to a United Church of Christ, graciously accepted her wish.

The next morning Martha called her travel agent and booked two tickets to Paris.

Copyright © 2010 Dale Rominger