Sorry About That

by George J. Bryjak

It began as just another international incident, the last item on the evening news. Ten seconds of coverage, no film: India and Pakistan having another round of border skirmishes with a handful of casualties on each side. Two weeks later war exploded across the front page as rival armies threw themselves at each other with deadly efficiency. Of course nobody thought the fighting would escalate into a nuclear conflict until New Delhi disappeared under a mushroom cloud that made dead birds fall from the sky for a thousand miles.

For a few days it looked as though the carnage would be limited to Asia. But when the Indians vaporized Islamabad, the superpowers lined up behind their respective allies. All the politicos said we had nothing to worry about. No one would dare attack us, and even if they did the Star Wars defense system was capable of "neutralizing" any threat. Who could have known they had so many,many warheads?

We bought the house from a retired Air Force general, a Cold War commander who had a spacious underground bomb-shelter buried in the backyard. The kids used it as a playhouse and my buddies and I turned our doomsday bunker into a Monday Night Football den, the "Men's Room." Over the Labor Day holiday Joan hauled the kids to her mother's place for the last long weekend of the summer.

I feigned sickness and stayed home; I'd do anything to get away from the constant squabbling associated with raising children. It was nothing more than dumb luck that I was in the shelter when the attack came, sleeping off a Black Russian hangover after a disastrous poker game and dreading the arrival of two knife wielding, low-life brothers who accused me of diddling their sister. Which I was.

I couldn't figure out why nothing was on the radio or TV. CNN had an ongoing picture of the news desk but no smiling broadcasters with shiny white teeth and I'm-from-nowhere generic accents. When I climbed out of the shelter, everything looked normal until I got to the front of the house. Cars were stopped in the middle of the street in both directions. Some had jumped the curb onto sidewalks and lawns. I ran over to a pick-up truck and saw the driver slumped over the steering wheel as if he had suffered a heart attack. I looked at every askew vehicle in the street and found the same thing. Then I saw the body of a kid about eleven or twelve crumpled next to a bicycle. The freckle-faced boy was delivering newspapers; a first baseman's glove dangling from his handlebars. I fell to my knees and thought of my own children, my wife.

The downtown area was strewn with bodies. People had dropped dead in their tracks, as if some all-powerful being had snapped its fingers and said "OK, game's over, you lose." Tiny sparrow carcasses were everywhere. Stunned into a state of shock, I waited for whatever had killed them to kill me. But nothing happened. I didn't even feel sick.

Wandering through the deserted town, I finally came upon a living human being, an attractive woman sitting on a park bench with her head buried in her heads, sobbing. She said she had been locked in the bank vault overnight. The emergency intercom didn't work and when the door automatically opened at nine in the morning she stepped into a brave new world. Her name was Rebecca.

Neither one of us had anything to eat or drink since the night before. We started with bottled water and canned food. Two days later we cooked a meal in the deserted kitchen of an upscale seafood restaurant and came up with a plan.

The idea was to load up with supplies and head out to the valley. The smell of decomposing bodies in the city was too much to take. I convinced Rebecca not to stop at her parents' house because it would be more of the same.

The next morning we drove off in a giant SUV from a car dealership fitted with a trailer hitch. I spotted a trailer at a rental yard and hooked it up.

Figuring we might return, we dragged bodies out of a supermarket for an hour, did the same thing at an outdoor store, loaded everything in the trailer and left. A few hours later I spotted the kind of farmhouse you see on calendars fostering the rural dream. There were no vehicles parked out front and no bodies inside, so we moved in.

We phoned friends and relatives across the country, then dialed random numbers all over the world. Nobody answered. We drove as far north as San Francisco and then down to Las Vegas where the neon landscape was siphoning the last juice from a giant bank of generators. We never saw a living thing, not a person, bird, cat, or dog.

The lush green pastures in the valley were covered with disintegrating livestock. Those first few weeks were somber as we grieved for our loved ones and everybody else. Rebecca was 28, single, and deeply religious. One day during our umteenth canned-food meal I was to find out how much: "Charlie," she said.

"Everybody's dead. Now it's time to stop grieving. We have to talk about the second phase of God's plan, what He wants us to do."

"Second phase of what? I didn't know there was a first phase."

Her eyes lit up with the chance to explain her new vision: "God's plan is perfectly clear."

"Not to me it," I said, finishing the last of my extra-spicy baked beans.

"Just think about it. The destruction, everyone but us ... gone. That was no accident, no war that simply got out of hand."

"It wasn't?"

"Of course not. God has cleansed the world of evil and is giving what is left of mankind ... you and me ... a second chance."

"Second chance?"

"Yes. And this time it will be different."

"How's that?" At first I thought she was joking and started to laugh, but her fierce intensity made me put a solemn expression on my face.

"This time there'll only be one religion, one race, one language. Nothing to fight and die over."

Rebecca put her hands over mine, leaned forward, and said, "Charlie, I had a dream the other night ... a vision, really. I saw us with eight children, four boys and four girls." I drew my hands back slightly, but Rebecca took hold of them. I could feel her touch, warmer, stronger. "And when our babies come of age they will 'go forth and multiply' to repopulate the earth."

"Go forth and multiply?"

"Yes. A fresh start, another chance. And this time we will live according to His teachings. Don't you see, Charlie? You and I are the new Adam and Eve."

"You can't be serious!"

Her face stiffened and she wouldn't respond. I pulled my hands from her grasp and tried to set her straight. "Listen, Rebecca. It's a beautiful thought under miserable circumstances. But we're not Adam and Eve. You and I are simply the last two people on a dead planet. And when we die, that's it." She sat there like a kid who has just learned there was no Santa Claus.

"I remember this story," I said as she pushed off the arm I tried to drape over her shoulder. "The author was talking about turtles, how slow and clumsy they were. 'Jokes of creation' she called them. But she was wrong. We're the jokes of creation. We had everything and destroyed ourselves. The joke's on us."

She stomped off and wouldn't talk to me for days. Most of the time I didn't even know where she was. Then one afternoon while wallowing in self-pity it hit me - the maddening silence of my near soundless world. Without Eve there was nothing to hear save the faint sound of an evening breeze drifting through faraway trees. I started screaming just to feel the sensation of noise rushing through my brain. After two weeks of doubting my sanity I told Eve we should talk again, discuss some of her beliefs and visions. I wasn't prepared to spend the rest of my life - "however long that might be" - alone.

The upshot was that Rebecca insisted we get married, immediately. At first I balked, then relented. We wrote our wedding vows and held a ceremony at St Michael's Church. From "this moment forth," she stated, "we will address each other as Adam and Eve." She made an Eden II sign and hung it above the front door. I half expected to see a talking snake peddling Granny Smith apples slithering across the driveway.

On our wedding night my new bride announced that she was a virgin. "Been saving yourself for the right man?" I joked. "Well, look no further." This ill-advised humor backfired: she grew more self-conscious, and insisted we undress in the dark. At my first amorous touch she stiffened, slid out of the bed, and left the room, no doubt praying for an immaculate conception. Eve didn't want to make a baby, she just wanted to be pregnant.

I knocked back three or four tall bourbons, listened to some jazz, and went back to bed. So much for our first night of marital bliss. I awoke to the sound of stones being crushed by oversize tires; the big SUV was winding up the gravel driveway toward the house. We arrived in the kitchen at the same time.

Eve plopped her shoulder bag in the middle of the table, pulled out two small bundles and tossed one to me. "Put this on" she said.

"What is it?"

"Just go to the bathroom and change clothes."

When I returned she was wearing a long, black, baggy dress, high-button shoes, a crocheted black shawl and one of those little white skull caps with the strings undone dangling on her shoulders. Her outfit looked appropriate when paired with my circa 1850 suit, also black. "Let me guess?" I asked, not waiting for a response. "Another vision?"

"Yes," she responded, "We are husband and wife now, Adam. God wants us to act properly and dress properly."

"We look like the couple in that painting. The sourpuss old guy holding a pitchfork standing next to the sourpuss old lady."

"Who are we to defy the Lord's will?"

"You might want to rethink this, Eve."

She gave me a quizzical look but didn't respond.

"You say God wants us to have eight children?"

"That's right."

"Well we won't even have one if I can't get it up. And right now you have all the sex appeal of Mother Theresa."

She seemed hurt and angry. Then the corners of her mouth curled up giving way to a wry smile. "We will see, my husband." Eve extended her right foot slightly and made a sharp pirouette; the hem of her dress slashing across my knees. Leather heels clicking across the hardwood floor, she left the room. Eve had called my bluff, and won. By now I was so damn horny I walked around with a permanent hardon. I imagine our lovemaking was normal if you were a born-again Bible thumper, although it was pretty bizarre to me. Foreplay consisted of twenty to thirty minutes of reading Bible verse followed by a round of exuberant "Hallelujahs" and hand-clapping. Then it was lights out and into bed - fully clothed. Eve had so many layers of petticoats and sweaters that I could hardly get my hands on any flesh. What really drove me crazy though was the singing. As soon as I was inside her she would fill the room with "We shall overcome someday" and didn't stop until I was spent. I prided myself on being able to perform under any and all circumstances, but this was just about the limit.

Eve said we had to make ourselves self-sufficient before the first baby came.

The grass continued to grow, so crops should flourish as well. I was sick of canned everything, so we began transforming a couple of acres behind the house into a giant vegetable garden. She had me go to the local elementary school and bring back eight desks and a portable chalkboard. Luckily I found a classroom that had been empty at the time of the attack. She polished the desks every morning and started working on lesson plans.

Eight months after we married Eve grew concerned. There was no Cain or Abel kicking in her stomach. "God is preparing us," she would repeat. "When He believes we are ready, it will happen." Four months later, preparing changed to testing. "God is testing us to see if we are worthy to be the earthly parents of His second kingdom on earth."

Eve took to reading the Bible whenever we weren't doing chores. In the evenings she walked along a low ridge in the backyard, quoting scripture as she paced off forty steps in one direction, turned sharply, and then marched back.

"Forty steps symbolized the number of years the lost tribes wandered in the desert," she would say. "That was their tribulation, we must bear ours. This is God's challenge to us."

I had a different interpretation. "You've got this all wrong, Eve. We're not making love, we're just having sex, and barely doing that. Believe me, I know the difference. There's no passion between us. Nothing. For me it's just another chore, only not as exciting.

"Adam I ...

"And I know you feel the same. You won't get pregnant, not this way. Maybe God's trying to tell us something isn't quite right. Maybe He's changed his mind about the new Adam and Eve. About humanity starting over."

She slept in another room and I didn't see her until the following evening. Mostly out of habit I assumed the designated position, seating myself on a hard, straight-back wooden chair in the bedroom. I looked at the stack of books on the nightstand. What would it be tonight?: The Old Testament? New Testament? Deuteronomy? The Book of Psalms? She entered the room wearing a long coat and a loose fitting ski hat, her hair tucked inside.

"Good evening, Adam."

I turned toward the books and asked. "Which one?"

Then it hit me, that forgotten fragrance on a woman. Could it really be perfume, I thought. I looked back at Eve. The hat was off and long chestnut color tresses stylishly curled bounced on her shoulders. Her hair had been piled high in a bun for so many months she looked like a different person. I was half out of the chair when she gently extended a hand in my direction, "Not yet," she whispered. I thought, If I'm dreaming, please don't let me wake up.

Eve unbuttoned her coat and let it fall to the floor, just like in the movies.

A low-cut, mid-thigh lingerie graced her body. I barely caught myself from screaming "God Damn."

"Just one more thing" she said, reaching into her coat pocket, then leaning toward the dressing table mirror. After what seemed to be a hundred years she turned and smiled, her lips painted a sultry red.

I flew off the chair and embraced her, burying my head into the gentle curve between her neck and shoulder.

"Adam" she said, nibbling my ear.

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Will you do something for me?

"Anything." I thought I was going to explode.

"Take your clothes off."

We spent much of the following week in bed, and over the next few months our lovemaking became more spontaneous, passionate, and enjoyable. At least once a week, first with playful anticipation then with ever growing anxiety, Eve broke out the home pregnancy test. Nothing. Time slipped by and her spirits sank. She picked at her food like a pouting child and started losing weight. We rarely spoke, our infrequent conversations little more than sporadic, emotion-laden exchanges.

"We're not living right, we're doing something wrong. We must be living in sin," she shouted one afternoon while I was pumping gas into the SUV.

"Wrong?" I snapped back. "What could we be doing wrong? There's nobody to sin with or against. We'll die of boredom long before we head down the path of evil."

"You're not trying hard enough, Adam. That's why I'm not pregnant."

"If I try any harder it's going to fall off. Haven't you noticed that some days I can barely walk?"

One night I woke up and found her in a rocking chair staring at the living room wall, gently rubbing her stomach in a circular motion. "God is punishing us," she moaned. "We are unworthy. Somehow we have displeased Him. The world is coming to an end."

Last week she started babbling about her family as if they were still alive. I had to restrain her from going back to the city. Our lovemaking, which had become infrequent, stopped: she felt it was a hollow mockery. Depression is devouring her like a starved animal, and she sleeps most of the day. She quit praying and quoting scripture. I'm terrified that the only other living person on planet earth will slip into despair and never return.

Early this morning her melancholy was interrupted by a frenzied, desperate attempt to conceive a child. I was sitting in the backyard when she rushed me from behind, knocking me onto the wet grass. Tearing off her clothes, then mine, she screamed over and over "Now, Adam. Now. It has to be done. We can't give up."

"Yes" I shouted, "yes, this time, this time." I mounted her and we made love as crudely and fervently as wild dogs. Then I collapsed on her naked flesh, my face buried in the grass. I could feel her warm breath as whispers of "done, done, done," slid past my ear.

After a few minutes she got up and slumped toward the house in a trance-like state, shaking her head and mumbling. "Yes Adam. This time it happened. I'm sure, I can feel it. Finally we've begun to enact God's plan."

But we haven't. How can I tell her she will never bear one child, much less eight? That there will be no second chance for humanity? That God's plan has one fatal flaw. That because I knocked-up some bimbo and vowed it would never happen again I made a fateful decision. How can I tell Eve that two years before the world went to hell and we met, her Adam had undergone a vasectomy?

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