Pynchon, Queen of the Desert

Once upon a midnight overcast, a white-hot mushroom cloud exploded in the desert, forcing Carlow McAllister awake from what was otherwise a spectacular dream. He dreamt that he was arriving at the house of his latest beloved, Honey 3 (it was easier to keep track by numbering them, on account of the fact that he had three Sweethearts and even a Sugar to keep him company).

She would be bouncing up and down not because of her breasts or her rear-end (like the other radioactive floozies he had dispensed himself into previously) but because of the genuine sense of excitement they had when they were around each other. Nobody had given him that nameless sense of wonder since his first wife was killed in the Desert Rebellion of five years past. He had never taken another wife and while sexual promiscuity was easy to find in an area that nobody particularly cared about, it would all be okay as long as he had Honey 3. She was the first woman who was actually closest to his age (his fifty-seven to her fifty-four). He almost trusted her enough to ask for her name.

And now she was gone.

He was thinking of her smile when he awoke from his dream, grumbling to himself.

“Not again. Third time in the last five months.”

Reluctantly, he started up the car and made haste. He knew by heart that he only had twenty minutes to get to Underground Plaza #4B before the storm swallowed him whole.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Even while speeding down the mostly abandoned highways, Carlow’s GuideLite informed him that he was still ten minutes away from his destination—a factoid that the mushroom cloud behind him didn’t seem to give a particular shit about.

Come to think of it, Carlow thought, that’s a pretty damn fitting metaphor for this whole Rebellion bullshit. He thought back to how the rural yokels all gathered together and marched and waved their bullshit flags and hooted and hollered about how we don’t need no big guv’mint, we’ll be just fine here on our own.

So the U.S. finally just said, “fuck this shit” and let them go.

But not before giving them some one last parting gift: sealing the borders completely.

Nobody in, nobody out. Official policy effective immediately.

Relatives in the rest of the States couldn’t visit nor could the denizens of the newly proclaimed Desert States of America visit them back. No resources, except for the water they had (dwindling), the U.S. dollars they were somehow allowed to keep as currency (because why not), the food they had (increasingly game-y) and themselves, roaring and hooting until they realized that not only had they gotten the raw end of the deal, they were pretty much being left to die.

The rest of the country collectively quietly came to the same collective conclusion: Good riddance.

Carlow came to a different conclusion: Honey 3 is on the other side of the border. He previously thought that he could just let it slide. After all, he thought, any well-meaning fifty-seven year old man should be focused on the golden years.

But nothing was golden here. Not anymore. Not until he was by her side.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

He arrived at Underground Plaza #4B right on schedule, parking his car and rushing towards the door, knocking it furiously.

“Hey Nash, it’s me! Let me in!”

A brief pause.

“Password.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Password, please.”

“Come on, Nash, this is bullshit with a capital B! Just let me the fuck in.”

“I will. Once you give me the password.”

“What is it again?”
“I’ll give you a hint and only one hint: What did this place represent before the rebellion?”

Carlow groaned audibly. After a brief moment of composition, he cleared his throat and reluctantly whispered into the door:
“Marco’s pizza, best pizza in the quad-county area, five slices for six bucks free with a Coke.”

“That’s more like it,” exclaimed Nash, who opened the door quickly and ushered Carlow inside, shutting and locking the door quickly.

“How much time left?” asked Nash.

“Roundabout a minute, I guess,” muttered Carlow. “Where’s the shelter again?”

“Right next to me. Watch your step.”

With a thud, the cellar door opened and Carlow ambled down the ladder-like apparatus that led into the underground shelter proper. Nash followed thereafter, shutting the door and locking it just in time for them to hear the fierce wind carry what was once a pizza place off into shreds of radioactive nothingness.

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