A Modern Romance
Jacob thinks Martha is cute.
Tonight is their big date and he wants it to be the most romantic date Martha has ever had. It is morning and he is thinking of buying her a card to declare his love for her.
In a forest near Camas, Washington, a chainsaw cuts down a fine pine tree. It violently crashes on the forest floor, harshly evicting a family of squirrels. A truck spewing carbon dioxide into the air drags the tree to the local mill. A young boy chokes on the rotten-egg odor vomited into the air by the process of turning a tree into paper while he sits in the backseat of his mom’s Buick, traveling past the mill.
The paper, thin, without grain and lifeless, goes to a factory where it is colored and pressed. A staff writer at the greeting card company creates a cute sentence using words like heart, kiss, and love. He could write something deeper, but the value of his words is in direct proportion to the pay check he receives. The unmanned printing press embosses a golden heart, the unreal kind, on the card along with the writer’s words in a beautiful fourteen-point French Script font. Now the machines will do their work and create the card. At the end of the line, the Hallmark stamps its trademark on the card and envelope. Above the bar code, the Hallmark Corporation reminds all would-be-lovers that it owns the content of the card and will sue anyone who misuses it for copyright infringement.
Jacob walks toward the Wal-Mart exit with a white plastic bag containing socks, canned corn, breath mints, soap, aspirin, latex condoms, bottled water, Cheetos and one Hallmark card. An elderly employee stops him at the door and checks Jacob’s receipt. Jacob tells the old man to keep his eye out for those damned condom thieves.
Martha likes chocolate, so Jacob travels across town to a shop that sells the finest German chocolate in the area. He selects a small unreal-heart-shaped box that has been sealed in non- biodegradable plastic. He pays extra for gift wrapping and a bright pink bow. It looks beautiful, he thinks to himself. The chocolates will be quickly eaten, but the packaging, like his love for Martha, will endure forever.
Next on the list: roses. Jacob travels to the florist and asks for a dozen red roses, the benchmark standard for true love. The florist explains that there used to be a time when roses could bloom only in season. Now, however, the hot house allows them to be produced year around. Mother Nature, he explains, had rules about these things. “We, the florists, are Mother Nature’s apostates,” he says. He goes to a bed of roses in the hot house and hacks them from their roots and wraps the stems in shiny red plastic. “Be sure to put them in a vase with water or they will dry out. They are dead already, but you can slow down the decay. They will maintain the illusion of life and that is all that matters,” the florist says as he hands Jacob the roses.
The date is getting close. There is but one more item on Jacob’s list, a diamond. He travels to the mall and walks into Corporate Monopoly Jewelers. Jacob sees a beautiful diamond sitting upon an altar of gold. He asks the jeweler for a closer look at the ring. “This ring is special,” says the jeweler. “It was brought out of a mine in Zaire along with the body of an eleven-year-old boy who found it while working in the mine,” continues the jeweler. “The boy worked for pennies a day and died to prove your love to your girl.” He continues to speak, holding the diamond ring under a light. “You see, a diamond is not a true sign of love unless someone dies in order to get it to you. Fortunately, the life of a little black boy in Zaire is nothing compared to the beauty of this stone, sitting on its little golden altar.”
Jacob tells the jeweler that he will buy the ring.
“This diamond was once a rough stone in the ground,” says the jeweler as he packages the ring in a little box. “It has been cut, polished, and, most importantly, cleansed.”
Jacob pulls out a plastic card branded as the “Consumer’s Cache” and hands it to the jeweler. The best things in life are not free, Jacob thinks, they are financed.
It is dusk and Jacob drives to Martha’s apartment. He approaches the door, card, chocolate, and flowers in hand. Martha is dressed in her finest dress. Her blonde hair is in perfect submission to her will to be beautiful. Jacob gives her the card. Martha opens it and glances at the back. Papyrus would have been better, but Hallmark will do. She takes the chocolates removes the plastic wrapping, discarding it in a little green trash basket by the door. She takes the red roses. “My favorite,” she says. “I love pretty dead things.”
They get into Jacob’s car and drive to Benjamin’s, the finest restaurant in the city. Jacob decides tonight is special and drives up to the valet parking. He gives a young man his keys in exchange for a ticket. The attendant takes the car to section B19. Two years ago, there was the sound of birds singing from the trees that once ruled this piece of land. Now there is nothing but asphalt with white lines painted on it. The sound of car engines, horns, doors shutting, and swearing parking attendants fill the air. The parking attendant sits in Jacob’s car, checking the car for spare change or anything else of value. Beneath the asphalt lie the bones of a family of rabbits who did not escape the diesel-fueled wrath of progress.
Inside, the hostess leads to couple to their table. They sit down, talking to each other over the warm glow of candlelight. The waiter, a young dark-haired man, asks Jacob and Martha what they would like for dinner.
“I will have the genetically-modified steak,” says Jacob, thinking of the hard-working men in lab coats and blue latex gloves who created this fine steak.
Martha looks at the waiter and asks, “Is the swordfish fresh?”
“Of course,” responds the waiter. “It was brought in this morning. A young man from Brockton lost his hand catching the very swordfish we are serving tonight.”
“Then I will definitely have the swordfish.”
“You have made an excellent choice madam. If you will excuse me, I will get the two of you some soup while the chef makes your meals.” He walks off and enters the kitchen.
Soon the couple enjoys its French onion soup, fortified with the urine of a minimum-wage waiter. They drink wine, eat dinner, and talk about the mundane details of their lives. The desserts arrive and Jacob stands up and approaches Martha. He kneels in front of her and talks about how much she means to him. He reaches into his pocket, fingering an unopened condom before pulling out a small jewelry case with a black bow on it. He opens it, allowing the warm light of the candle to reflect the ring’s beauty. “Will you marry me?”
Martha looks at the ring. It is a good-enough diamond, worth at least the lives of two or three little black boys in Zaire. She takes it and a tear rolls down her face.
“Of course I will marry you Jacob. This is the most romantic evening of my life.”
Copyright 2011 Paul George. "The Unreal Kind" artwork copyright 2011 Paul George