The War of the Omelettes

     There was a perfectly logical reason why Vanessa and Constantine weren't in class that morning, but it will have to wait until the end of the chapter for it to be revealed.  Several hours earlier Constantine had woken up (Vanessa had let him back into the bed after a few minutes on the floor) and after getting up and stretching himself he saw Vanessa crumpled against the wall sleeping on her side.  He bent over to kiss her bare shoulders and was somewhat disappointed when Vanessa, still very much asleep, did not respond.  As he looked over her, Constantine was filled with such a feeling of love and tenderness that there was only one thing he could do:  make her breakfast.

     He took most of his clothes to the apartment bathroom, leaving his tie and two of his shirts under the bed where he had left them the night before, and tried to freshen up and wash his hair in the sink while making as little noise as possible.  As he did so he thought about Charles and Adrian.  He thought about how Adrian was so much less successful with women than he was, even though he tried so much harder.  That was true, but it was seriously misleading, since Charles was always ready to help Constantine find some woman whenever he thought his friend needed female companionship.  His first efforts was when Constantine was still in high school, vomiting up his Anglicanism; Charles procured an attractive, bright young girl from a local Catholic school who was as almost as desperate for sex as Constantine. Their meeting went off so well together that Lucian, still Lucy then, thought that everyone should know about it by holding an illegal fireworks display.  This was enough to embarrass anyone into celibacy, but Charles's second attempt was much more successful.  And as time went on, whenever Constantine was patently too lonely and depressed, Charles would introduce him to some charming young woman with whom Constantine would go out with a few dates before realizing they were not really compatible.  It was thanks to Charles for all this, which did not prevent you from sniping at him behind his back, you ungrateful bastard.  There were only two times that Constantine had managed to have sex without Charles' help.  The second time, of course, was with Vanessa.  The first time was when he accidentally encountered the young Catholic high-school student, now an ex-Catholic bisexual university student.

     Constantine finished washing his hair and winced at how badly mangled it was and how little combing corrected it.  He then went over to the refrigerator to make breakfast, but when he opened it a host of difficulties occurred to him.  There was some nice bacon there, and it might be Vanessa's, who wasn't very orthodox, but it would be embarrassing to find out the hard way.  There were a nice package of eggs, but it occurred to Constantine that they might be Elizabeth's and that they might really be for cooking something entirely different.  Besides, should he really help himself to Vanessa's refrigerator, which was also Elizabeth's refrigerator? Perhaps he could go somewhere else to get the food.  He could go back to his apartment, but the only thing he had there for breakfast were some very sombre cereals.  Clearly that was not the sort of thing one served after a night of passion, or even a half-hour in the late evening of passion.  This was a fact that Constantine knew from experience:  he had tried to serve the girl to whom he had lost his virginity to a breakfast of rice krispies.  She filled her bowl with the cereal, added too much milk, and then dumped the whole thing on Constantine's head and left.  The worst thing about it was trying to explain the milk stains in the sheets to Lucian and his aunt.  In circumstances like this he obviously could not go to Lucian for advice, but even if he could it would have been useless.  Lucian had a positive passion against eggs; the merest hint would be enough to turn her positively green, it was the only thing that could completely ruin her poise and self-possession.  When he was much smaller Constantine loved to torment his little sister by insinuating that there were eggs in her milk, her macaroni, her chocolate chip cookies, her favorite dishes (pizza and liver soufflé) and even in the perrier that their now deceased father used for his chemistry experiments.

     So the course open to Constantine was clear.  He would put on his coat and briefly go out to buy a package of eggs.  The nice thing about the campus was that there were half a dozen convenience stores within a few blocks of Chattenden Passey, though Constantine quickly realized that few of them were open at half-past seven in the morning.  There was a twenty-four hour store only a few more blocks away, which he did not particularly like because of the high prices and the aloof manner of the staff, but seeing as he had little choice he went inside.

     He went straight to the food section, but although he could find a large number of mediocre t.v. dinners, some unhealthy ways of preparing chicken, ludicrously expensive milk, large swabs of bacon dripping with fat, sweating hams, and a large number of soft drinks in a variety of expensive forms, and just ahead of him he could find the novelty erasers, the make it yourself collapsible kites, exorbitant frisbees and smaller pads of note paper, he could not find any eggs.  He looked over at the chips, whose "special" price was higher than the normal price of the year before, he went over to the pre-prepared hamburgers and hot dogs, near the bitter coffee and the cheap ice creams, and peered beside the two month old comic books, but there were no eggs to be found.  Somewhat disturbed by this, Constantine went over to the cashier.  "Excuse me, I'm looking for some eggs."

     "What sort of eggs would you like sir?"

     "Chicken eggs, of course.  What other kinds are there?"

     "Funny you should me ask that question, sir.  Do you know what a cassowary is?"

     "It's an australian bird, like an ostrich."

     "Like an ostrich, but not quite.  Imagine a homicidal ostrich, an ostrich who can kill a man with a single kick.  I've know many a good man who lost his life so that he could supply the world with cassowary eggs. They're rich in protein, and their yolk has this kind of peppery sauce that's a joy to behold, even if it makes people sneeze.  But what's even better are crocodile eggs, where there are still bones in the yolk, and when you cook it, it's like a great steak with a paprika sauce with peppercorns, and with a slight vinegar taste.  Of course, if you're looking for something sweeter, you could try the eggs of passenger pigeons.  They're very sweet, but not saccharine, they're like caramels filled with protein. Unfortunately these eggs are very rare, since the passenger pigeon has been extinct since 1912, and it costs a fortune to bribe the natural history museums to hand over a few eggs.  But once over you get over the overhead problem, the profits you can make are amazing.  Would you be interested in joining?"

     "Not really, no."

     "Smart man.  But there are turtle eggs with yolks like garlic soup, shark eggs that can make a man drunk, robin eggs that taste like jelly-beans."

     "Really?  Do you have any of these eggs?"

     "Of course not.  They're far too rare."

     "I see.  Where do you keep the real eggs then?"

     "Ah.  We'll we don't really sell them actually."

     "Why not?"

     "There's simply no demand for them.  After all there's all that terrible cholesterol which causes all those nasty heart attacks.  So people just don't want to eat it anymore, and who could blame them?"

     "But you have bacon back there that's full of cholesterol."

     "Yes, but it's a good kind of cholesterol, and it causes a good kind of heart attack."

     Seeing no future progress in these sort of chats, Constantine politely excused himself and went to the large supermarket a few blocks away.  Fortunately, it had just opened by the time Constantine reached it, and after leafing through the Friday copies of The Mail, the Citizen, and the Sun he went over to the first clerk he could find.

     "Good morning.  Where can I find some eggs?"

     "The figs are down aisle six."

     "Uh, I don't want some figs, I want some eggs."

     "Are you sure?  They're very good figs, grown in Ontario itself and they're just in season as well."

     "How can they be in season in the middle of December?"

     The clerk was struck by this.  "You know, I never thought of that. Perhaps the grocery store is being cheated by a consortium of unscrupulous fig merchants.  But regardless the figs that might be very good, that might come from Ontario, and that might be in season are down aisle six."

     "I don't want figs.  I want eggs."

     "Well sir, the eggplants are down aisle ten with the rest of the vegetables.  Hope you enjoy yourself sir."

     "I don't want eggplants.  I simply want eggs."

     "Well our bags are in the utility section, aisle seven.""

     "Uh.  Let me try to make this clear.  I don't want figs.  I don't want eggplants.  I don't even want bags.  All I want are eggs.  Not figs, not eggplants, not bags, and for that matter not pigs, not pegs, not eggnog, not eels, not maps and not even food colouring to colour the eggs that I am looking for.  All I am looking for are eggs. E-G-G-S.

     "Well, sir, I don't know if we have anything from Fiji, but if we did it would be in our exotic and really neat foods section in the store delicatessen, which should be right behind aisle three, headed by the cute redhead with the skimpy clothing."

     "All I want are some bloody eggs!"

     "We don't sell eggs with blood on them in this store.  This is a very respectful grocery.  But about Fiji..."

     "No!  I don't want anything from Fiji!"

     "Why?  Are you prejudiced against them?  That's all too typical. Prejudice and viciousness everywhere.  I can understand; the Fijians are worthless barbarians, they refuse to follow our table manners, they eat uncanadian foods, and although they aren't cannibals, I'm going to pretend they are and condemn them for it.  But there's one good thing about having sexually degenerate mongrel Fijians who will start nibbling on your arm if you don't keep it covered it polyester.  Having all this racial trash gives us Canadians the wonderful opportunity to show how perfectly tolerant and humane we all are."

     Constantine sighed.  "I don't want anything from Fiji.  All I want are some eggs.  I will tell you exactly what an egg is.  An egg is a common source of protein and fat which is very widespread in European culture.  An egg is an amniotic sac which contains a potential life form; and keeps it nourished until it is strong enough to break through the sac.  Eggs are common to almost all vertebrates with the major exception of all non-monotreme mammals and certain snakes.  I would like some to eat."

     "Certainly sir.  The caviar is down aisle three."

     "What do I want caviar for?  This is only my breakfast."

     "That's the trouble with the youth of today!  They refuse to look at new options, they refuse to do radical new things, they keep looking at things with a closed mind!"

     "But I couldn't afford caviar even if I wanted it."

     "Fortunately you came to just the right person.  I happen to have here an application form for easy and automatic credit so that you can buy caviar.  All you have to do is answer in triplicate the 107 questions about age, birth, death, marital status, employment, work experience, education, eye color, favorite flowers, religion, race, political party and size of penis, and we promise that we'll completely lose the form in the next three days."

     He handed it to Constantine, who tore it to shreds.  "All I want are some hen's eggs!"

     "How about rooster eggs?"

     "There's no such thing."

     "But you're wrong.  Every Wednesday we get a 50 kilogram shipment of the finest rooster eggs.  They're delicious, nutritious, are in fine season (just as the Ontario figs are) and have more testosterone than wimpy chicken eggs.  Also, they're a great aphrodisiac; Hugh Hefner swears by them."

     "So where can I find them?"

     "Down aisle one," pointing to a empty aisle.

     "But there's nothing there!"

     "You're right.  But there was a big huge stock of them when the store opened today.  Do you know what must have happened?  Just while I was talking to you, a wild horde of rooster eggs fans must have rushed in and took all of them.  If you hadn't kept badgering me, you could have got some for yourself."

     "How stupid of me.  I will just have to do with the second best hen's eggs.  Could you please direct me to them?"

     "What makes you think you deserve hen's eggs?  Do you know that there are millions of people starving in Africa?"

     "Yes, as I matter a fact, I do."

     "Then name one!  I knew you couldn't.  But enough of this sickly self indulgence.  The only people who deserve real hen's eggs are the brave Canadians who sacrificed themselves at Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme so that the British Empire would live another day and stab decadent Czechs, stupid Slovaks and lusty Spaniards in the back.  The men in arms who died for our country are the only people who deserve quality eggs.  Unfortunately, they're all dead, so we can't sell them."

     "Where are your bloody eggs!?"

     "We don't sell eggs with blood on them, sir.  This is a quality grocery store, after all."

     "Give me your god-damned eggs!"

     "Impossible sir.  Eggs are entities that by definition haven't been born, and even if they were, because they are not sentient beings they are incapable of damnation."

     "If you do not find me some eggs, I am going to wring your fucking neck!"

     "My neck is not capable of committing obscene gerunds."

     "All right.  Let me calm down.  Let me breath out.  Ahhh.  Now, I'm going to make you an offer.  If you do not find a package of hen's eggs for me, if they are not in my hand, if they are not checked out, and they are not with me as I rush back to Chattenden Passey within thirty seconds of my finishing this sentence, I'm going to get the manager to fire you on the spot."

     "You can't talk to the manager."

     "And why not?"

     "He's not here today."

     "Fine.  Give me his phone number."

     "It's unlisted."

     "Give me his address, then."

     "I don't know it."

     "Then I'll simply have to talk to the head of the entire conglomerate that runs your business.  Or you can tell me where the manager should be at this very moment."

     "It's quite impossible to see him."

     "And why is that?"

     "Because he's dead.  Quite dead.  Most sincerely dead.  He died last night.  His kidney exploded.  And his genitals.  And his head as well, come to think of it.  It was very tragic; he had so many bastards left to give to the world."

     "There must be someone who's taken his place."

     "Well, no there isn't.  You see, it was the manager's dying wish that his store be completely levelled within twenty-four hours of his death.  In fact, the wrecking crew and the bulldozers are coming right by in a few minutes, so you had better leave, before they crush you to death."

     Just then, a short plump man, with a happy smile, wearing a very obvious badge labeled "MANAGER" came walking by after having done inventory.   "Excuse me," said Constantine.  "But I appear to have a bit of a problem."

     "Oh dear, what would that be?"

     "This incompetent clerk positively refuses to help me find what I'm looking for."

     "Oh dear.  Clerk, you shouldn't do that.  Perhaps I can help you with your situation."

     "Fine.  I want some hen's eggs."

     "Hen's eggs, sir.  As in eggs that come from the reproductive canal of the female of the common chicken."


     "Wouldn't you like a brand new car, instead?"


     "My brother-in-law sells them.  You can get a rolls-royce for less than five thousand dollars."

     "I don't want to buy a car."

     "We could you give it to you free."

     "I don't want a car at all.  All I want are some eggs."

     "Wouldn't you prefer the secret of the problem of evil, the meaning of life, and the one guaranteed path to happiness?"

     "You're offering that?"

     "No, but wouldn't you prefer those to whining about some stupid fat-filled chicken eggs?"

     "Right now, no.  All I care about is getting some eggs."

     "You could sleep with my daughter."

     "I don't want to sleep with your daughter."

     "Why not?  She's a beautiful woman."

     "One of the best fucks I've ever had." added the clerk.

     "And he's a confirmed homosexual."

     "You can't buy those kind of compliments."

     "Well you can, if you put a hundred thousand dollars in your secret Swiss bank account."

     "But ordinarily, you can't buy compliments like that."


     "We don't sell eggs with blood on them, sir, this is a quality grocery store that we keep damned clean."

     Constantine took a deep breath and turned to the manager.  "Why does this store not sell hen's eggs?"


     "Because...because..." added the clerk.

     "Because of the Gulag, sir!  Because of the Gulag!"

     "Beg your pardon?"

     "A few months ago I received letters from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Anatoly Scharansky and Vladimir Bukovsky all poignantly describing the horrors of the Gulag, and they asked me to make some sort of gesture that would ensure that those horrors would never be forgotten.  So I decided to ban the sale of eggs."

     Constantine stared.  "Bit of a non-sequitur there, I think."

     "No there isn't.  You see Vladimir Bukovsky gave me two choices about how to commemorate the Gulag.  One, I could set up a big scary monument right in front of the banana stand, which would probably frighten customers away.  Two, I could ban the sale of eggs, because the smell of eggs gives Bukovsky asthma."

     "I refuse to believe this!"

     "Well, if you would wait a few minutes sir, just a few minutes, I could go back to my office and forge some genuine letters from real dissidents."

     "Oh this is idiotic!" and Constantine dashed out of the grocery store and frantically ran from one convenience store to another in order to find some eggs.  His quest was to prove almost completely futile, but while he ran from one store to another it would be wise to inform the reader of the real reason behind the complete absence of eggs from Ottawa grocery stores. The reader should not be surprised to learn that the Flannery O'Connor Brigade had a lot to do with this.

     For the absolute leader of the Brigade, the Shiner of the Shoes of the Fisherman, Professor Albert Hermann, the rise of moral depravity in our civilization was one of the most disturbing problems of our time.  But how could it be confronted?  Looking over history, Hermann noticed the ubiquity of such things as homosexuality, abortion, prostitution and pornography.  He also noticed that the rich have always had access to these things, and that only the most cruel and unchristian of governments had made even temporary progress in mitigating these problems.  He also realized that the church was too weak in the world as a whole to offer a powerful counter-movement that would wean humanity away from these ills.  As he summarized the problem to a group of nervous burghers in Geneva "The problem of vice in our society cannot be confronted directly.  It cannot be confronted covertly.  It must therefore be attacked laterally!"

     The nervous burghers, who included in their audience the never nervous Natasha Wilentz in cunning disguise, nervously shifted on their seats, as Hermann continued his speech.  "It is a known fact that most people engage in sex in an attempt to achieve pleasure.  It is also a fact that people engage in sex because they are under the delusion it is a sign of love.  Now, it is also a fact that most men are often quite incapable of ensuring that their wives feel pleasure in sex.  All things being equal then, most women would feel just as happy if they didn't have sex at all, and if their husbands truly loved them they would agree not to have sex with them, and if their wives truly loved them they would agree with their agreement not to have sex.  It is on these principles that I have built my worldwide chain of Catholic brothels!"  For it was true:  the Racine reading prostitutes of the Philhellenon club were merely a stepping stone, for around the world from Sierra Leone to Montevideo, from Budapest to Seoul, from Manila to Dar Es Salaam, the Flannery O'Connor Brigade had been building the finest chain of brothels the world would ever see.  The brothels were extravagant buildings: harems had not rested in such wondrous palaces since the fall of Constantinople.  And the prostitutes were exotic women:  there had not been such beautiful prostitutes since John F. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald's very vindictive accountant.  When you entered such a building you were accosted by smells that had not been smelt since the expulsion from Paradise; exotic birds of many colours flew through the air, the taste of jasmine was everywhere and in the distance through the halls of mirrors and overflowing jungle and velvet walls one could hear the sound of laughter and waterfalls.  Women of unbelievable beauty, wearing nothing but the most transparent and revealing of garments greeted you while the doorkeeper accepted the very heavy cover charge.  You were then directed to the front desk, where the clerk was relaxing pleasantly in the center of a whirlpool of luscious and lustful perfumes.  He (or she) took out a book with portraits of all the employees.  Each page was more beautiful than the last, but if by some strange reason you could not find a woman who satisfied you the Brigade would still not leave you disappointed.  They had a computer system that linked them to every other brothels; often they had the first computers in the country, and they were always the most advanced.  You gave the clerk every detail of your ideal woman:  height, weight, length of hair, size of breasts, eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, size of thighs, but not merely that.  There were other factors:  intelligence, wit, gracefulness, joyfulness, empathy, playfulness, dexterity, and much much more.  You could hear their voices singing songs of lust so beautiful you began to melt onto the counter.  And if even then no such woman could be found, the Brigade would simply put in all the data and look for women they could suborn into prostitution.  But if there was a woman that could be found, the Brigade promised you to transport her from whatever part of the globe to this very building within twenty-four hours.  Once you selected your prostitute, two other extremely fetching young women walked you to the transparent elevator that would take you to your room as you watched the artificial waterfall, the spiraling toucans and the koalas writing sad stories about little girls with nitwit fathers.  Once you reached your floor you were directed to your room, filled with complimentary champagnes of the best vintage, filled with the finest fruits and sweets and liqueurs and anything else necessary for your pleasure.  The two scantily dressed employees would open the door of your room, and introduce you to your wife, who had arrived two hours before you.  And after several sessions of making love to her naked body, then tickling her naked body, then playing strip-chess with her scantily clad body, then reading poetry in her decently clad body, and then listening to lectures by prominent Catholic theologians with her unalterably primly clad body, you stopped having sex with her completely, and spent your spare time working for Catholic charities, while the very heavy cover charges ensured that the most beautiful women in the world would be able to study algebra at the best universities, as well as marry the anti-Catholic homosexuals from America who had come to the brothel as a joke but who had instead succumbed to the whores' charms.

     But the chain of Catholic brothels was merely the beginning of the Brigade's plans.  In Ottawa the Holder of the Averroes Seal alias Senator Naipaul, set up a phone-sex line where you could talk to a lustful writing desk ("Ooo-I love the way you run your hands down my legs...oh, wait! You've got your legs caught in my drawers!"), while the Defender of St. Rose of Lima would break into video stores and replace erotic films with some of Professor Hermann's lectures.  The Legionmeister of the Signet of St. Luke would infest lingerie shops with the koala writers, but the most important duty was in the hands of the Master of the Marthas.  With the marigolds she grew in a special brine solution, the mass production of mermaid soap was now a commercial possibility.  With the easy to make formula the semen could be preserved in a dormant form for years in the bar of soap.  The special brine cancelled any form of birth control that a woman might be using.  But at the same time the special marigold ingredient would give the semen a vitality, so much vitality in fact that once the semen had been revived by hot water and made into a lather, it could make a woman pregnant if she only used it once a month, and did nothing more than simply lather her thighs. "This is our proudest achievement!" said Pr. Hermann.  "With the soap the woman will have absolute control over procreation; now every child shall be a wanted child!"

     But the particular plan that the Brigade had carried into effect that day started a few months ago as Hermann tried to find some more ways to attack sex from hitherto obscure angles.  "We must find something crucial to the act but not the act itself.  By attacking this thing we can make untold progress.  Let's look for a start at what people do after sex."

     Hermann, Ms. Van P---, and the Defender of St. Rose of Lima, all concentrated, but they realized they lacked a certain amount of experience. The Defender offered her opinion that from what she could tell from observing pornographic movies, every time people had sex they would mutter incomprehensibly in the direction of the nearest movie camera.  But what did they do before the invention of the Daguerreotype?  Hermann asked the three married members of the Brigade for their opinion.

     Madame Vovelle was first.  "Every time I finished having sex with my husband, I hit him on the head with a frying pan, so he wouldn't bother me anymore."

     "Is that typical?  It does sound a little unusual."

     Naipaul spoke up.  "As soon as I finished having sex, I went out to fight a fire."


     "Well, I was a member of the local volunteer fire brigade, and most fires happened at night, so I was always busy."

     "And that happened every time you had sex?" asked Roget.

     "Well no.  I was very busy at those times, Tanganyika had just become independent, and I would have to shuttle between Tanganyika and Zanzibar.  So I think what happens every time after sex is that you spend half the time fighting fires, and the other half shuttling to Dar es Salaam."

     "I don't really think that's applicable to most people." interrupted Roget.  "Allow me to offer a suggestion.  Every time I would go to bed with a new woman, it would be really erotic to serve her breakfast in bed."

     Hermann was non-plussed.  "What's so erotic about eating cold cereal in your bed?"

     "Uh, it usually wouldn't be cold cereal.  Usually it would be eggs, perhaps some bacon, juice, toast, and some jam.  Natasha especially liked jams.  And jellies."

     "Isn't jam too sweet to start your morning with?"

     "Not if you smear it all over your body."

     "But you'd get all sticky.  Wait a second.  I just had a brilliant idea!"  And so Pr. Hermann had.  If breakfast in bed was the key to establishing a harmonious erotic relationship, you could thwart sex by making sure that nobody had any eggs to cook.  And so the pogrom against thousands, tens of thousands of innocent chicken eggs began in earnest that very day.  It started off slowly:  eggs would be mysteriously misdirected from Ottawa food stores.  To make sure that no suspicions were raised other foods were misdirected as well:  arroz was sent to Lombardy, bohne to Liechtenstein, cavofiore to Brittany, nabos to Saxony, Schweinefleisch to Cornwall, uva to Macedonia, jamon to Holland, pilz to Sardinia, concombe to Corsica, and Fromage to Catalonia.  But after that, the Brigade became bolder:  egg trucks would be ruthlessly hijacked and its contents massacred, fellow travelers of the brigade would dress up as food inspectors and condemn all the eggs out of hand, chickens would be unionized and sent to picket recalcitrant stores.  Egg cartons were taken from recycling bins and garbage dumps and sent back supposedly containing brand new eggs inside. Sonic devices were used to crack the eggs into pieces.  And hysterical dieticians would leap out from behind the cereal department warning of the dangers of cholesterol.  In a few weeks the Brigade had completely cleared the university district of its eggs.

     Constantine Rudman did not know anything about this, just as he did not know about the itching powder the Brigade placed in raspberries jams and Trojan condoms, the mousetraps they placed in the more complicated lingeries, and the memorial to Popieluszko and Romero they placed into Playboy after they tore out the centerfold.  He also did not know about the automatic wake up call service they offered nervous mothers to give as a surprise gift to their children, usually at one o'clock in the morning, he did not know about the collapsible jacuzzi complete with free rosaries, and he did not know about the strippers who put on clothes during their act. And he did not know about the final, especially vindictive act that they performed when all else failed.  What he did know was that fourteen stores which should have some eggs didn't have any at all, and that he was running out of time.  So when a man with a scabby face and a dirty beard with a long disreputable trenchcoat whispered that he had some eggs, Constantine immediately gave the man his attention.

     "How much?"

     "Ten bucks."

     "But that's outrageous.  You can get eggs for less than a dollar at any good grocery store."

     "Have you tried?"

     With that argument Constantine had to admit the man was right.  "All right.  Here you go."  But before he could leave the tramp grabbed his arm. "A word to the wise buddy.  You should keep fucking clear out of things you don't know about."

     And then he let go, and Constantine was glad to run away and get back to Chattenden Passey.  The doors to Chattenden Passey were never really adequately locked, but as he bounded up to the apartment he realized that he didn't have a key to get back in.  So he had no choice but to try to hide the eggs and knock on the door.  "Vanessa, wake up.  It's me, Constantine."

     Vanessa was already awake and dressed, and when she opened the door she kicked Constantine in the shins, then yanked him inside by the collar.

     "Be careful.  You'll drop the eggs."

     "Where the hell were you?  You've been gone for at least forty minutes.   Do you have any idea how annoying that is?"

     "I just went out to get some eggs."

     "What for?  There are some in the refrigerator."

     "Well I couldn't just help myself to what was there."

     "Why didn't you leave a note, you moron?"

     "Well, I wanted to surprise you with breakfast in bed."

     "And because you were such a loving person you left me alone for forty minutes, while I thought you had just left me."

     "I wouldn't do that.  I only thought I would be gone a few minutes.  Besides you should have know I hadn't really left.  My shirts are still under your bed."

     "Hardly unprecedented.  How could you take forty minutes just to get some silly eggs?"

     "Apparently they've become very scarce in the city."

     "God, Constantine, you disgust me.  I was so desperate I went around to your sister to see if she knew where you were."

     "Oh no, you didn't tell Lucy did you?"

     "Don't worry, she was fast asleep when I came around to her apartment. By the way, your sister snores like an elephant."

     "What are you talking about?  My sister sleeps like a cat."

     "Well she was certainly snoring this morning."

     "Oh God, I just remembered.  The reason I came here in the first place was to prevent Lucian from flinging herself at Charles.  Good grief, I better go find her."  But before he could get very far, Vanessa yanked him once again by the collar.  "I received a call from Elizabeth a few minutes ago.  Apparently she's very desperate to talk to me, but she can't come around until much later this afternoon.  But she and Charles were home all last evening and there was no sign of Lucian."

     The two sat down on the couch, and Constantine removed his coat. Vanessa flung his two shirts and tie at him.  "Put them on."  After he did so, Vanessa took a deep breath and shook her head.  "God.  And tonight we're going to have another meeting of our counter-Brigade.  Just thinking about it makes me nervous.  So many mysteries and we are not any closer to finding the answers.  Murderers, religious fanatics, and disappearing cousins.  And the worst thing about this is the dream."

     "What dream?"

     "The dream I had last night.  It was really strange.  I dreamed that I was sleeping in my bed with you.  In my room.  Well not exactly my room, a rather better version of it.  Obviously not so cramped, and not with all of Elizabeth's silly books in the next room.  And obviously Ms. Van P--- and her silly maid weren't over us, so there wasn't any fertilizer dripping on our heads.  It was my room all right, but it was my room as if I didn't have to live in a place as pretentious as Chattenden Passey.  And in my dream I was sleeping in your arms..."

     "As you weren't sleeping last night."

     "Regardless, in my dream I was sleeping in your arms, and vaguely dreaming about something pleasant and beautiful, like lilacs.  But the main thing I could feel was the feeling that we loved each other so much, that we were so close together, that we were all the other person needed, that there was nothing else in the world that we needed.  Nothing whatsoever.  So when I woke up in my dream, after I stretched my naked body in the glow of the sunshine, I walked over sleepy headed to open the door.  Now why I would open the door of my apartment when I was naked, I can't imagine, but when I opened the door, after a night when I thought that I needed nothing else in the world except for you, I found that there was nothing else in the world except you.

     "In the world I could see nothing except the sky, and the sunlight and a white surface that covered everything except our home.  It was smooth, featureless, and when I touched it I got the feeling that it was completely frictionless, that if I took a little run on it, I would keep going on and on for ever without encountering a single thing.  It was so strange, so I went back inside.  I got dressed, and by this time you were awake, and I thought of turning on the radio or the television, but the first time I tried it, there was no sound of the radio, and the second time I tried it, there was no radio at all, and the third time the concept of the radio just floated out of my mind.  And the same thing had happened to the tapes in my tape player.  First I couldn't find them, then I couldn't remember them, and then I couldn't think about them.  And the same thing happened to the books in my bookcase.  But the worst thing was my name.  I had a name, all right. My name was Vanessa Wilentz.  Not Vanessa Naomi Wilentz, which is my full name, just Vanessa Wilentz.  But the worst thing was that the name did not mean anything.  I mean it was the reference point for my identity, but there were no relationships following it.  I didn't have a family, I didn't have a nitwit accountant for a brother, I didn't have a mother or a father who loved me very much, I didn't have an uncle who was a member of parliament and a former cabinet minister, I didn't have a long suffering aunt who lived in Israel, I didn't have a wonderfully beautiful cousin who had two husbands. I could still feel the memories, but they were not real memories, just as there was no real history.  The only other person in my life was you, who by this time had woken up and had gotten dressed as well.  And the more I thought the more everything seemed to vanish.  There was never such a place as Poland, never such a place as Europe, never even such a place as Canada, although there was still such a place as Ottawa. All the history of the Jews, from Sinai to Diaspora to Hadrian to Crusades to Renaissance to Germany, all this did not exist, it could not have ever existed, it was merely a figment of someone else's imagination, like an enormously long, badly plotted novel where you have forgotten half the characters by the time you've reached the final page.  And all outside there was nothing.  It was not as if the world had stopped existing, it was as if it had never existed, it had never been thought of, it was as if because we never had any reason to think about it, it had ceased to exist, it had never existed at all.  And by the time you were looking at me, by the time we were actually looking at each other, I realized that our wish for the rest of the world not to exist had been granted, that there was nothing of memories or histories in my mind, and I realized that there was no love there, for all the meanings and symbols and stories and precedents and poems of love no longer existed, and we had wished our love away.  And then I woke up, and you weren't there!"

     The last three words were spoken with obvious anger, and Constantine tried to comfort her.  "I'm sorry."

     "Don't touch me.  I don't need your sympathy.  What did you dream about, Constantine?"

     "I don't know.  I don't dream very often, or it seems that way.  I keep forgetting all my dreams."

     Vanessa took a deep breath, then relaxed.  "Since you've already volunteered to make breakfast, you better get started.  Pr. Chelmnickon's class is going to start in two hours."

     "Oh no!  My essay is still at my house.  I'll never get this done in time."  Notwithstanding that Constantine went up to the stove and opened the ten dollar package of eggs.  "How many eggs do you want?"

     "How many are you having?"


     "I feel lucky today.  I'll take six as well."  But before Constantine could crack a single egg there was a rattling at the door.  "Vanessa you weren't expecting someone were you?"  The door sprang open, and the tramp appeared carrying a pistol.

     "It's the man who sold me the eggs!"

     "Shut up the both of you!" said the tramp.

     "But that's not a tramp." said Vanessa.  "It's Natasha's first husband!   Philippe, what are you doing with all that makeup on your face?"

     "But what's he doing selling eggs to students?"

     "He's not, surely.  He's one of this country's most respected physicians."  And then she remembered.  "And he's also one of the members of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade."

     "I told you to shut up!"  And Roget fired the pistol into the ceiling above him.  As a result a large drip of fertilizer fell into his eye, and Constantine used this moment to rush him and try to take the pistol.  Roget had no difficulty at all in cuffing him and pushing him back towards Vanessa.

     "Are all your in-laws like this?"

     Roget cocked the pistol.  "I would like to play a little game.  It involves your mother, three children, two associates of mine, a destroyed car, another pistol and a wooded area where you can shoot people.  However, none of these things are easily available, so I'm going to rely on faith. Constantine, I'm going to pretend that the bathroom is a wooded grove. You're going to go in there, and pretend that you've been shot by an imaginary friend of mine.  And if we all pray to God, really hard and really sincerely, I'm sure that's what will happen."

     "And if we don't pray really hard?"

     "Well, that would make everything so much more difficult."

     "Philippe, why have you burst into my apartment with a loaded pistol? Do you really think this is the sort of thing that endeared you to Natasha?"

     "What Natasha Wilentz thinks is no longer important to me, dear ex-cousin in law.  But to answer your question, my presence here is simple. So, the two of you have been sleeping with each other.  How long has this been going on?"

     "About eleven hours." said Constantine.

     "Don't answer him, you idiot.  Roget, so we've spent the night together.  Big deal, why should you care?  Even granted that you are a member of a conspiracy of insane Catholics, why should you care?  It's not as if you were a virgin before you got married.  So why not just get lost?"

     "You see I've been listening to you outside.  And I cannot help but notice how spiteful and petty the two of you are.  After the shallow unity of last night, you break out into squabbles and arguments.  What could be a clearer sign of the ephemeral value of sexuality than your discord?"

     "Well, you know what they say:  everything that rises must diverge."

     In pure fury Roget rushed over to Vanessa and throttled her by the throat.  "Only I make the puns around here!"

     "Let go of her!" cried Constantine.

     "Or what?"  sneered Roget, leveling his pistol right in front of Constantine's nose, before he suddenly yelped.

     "Well I was going to say if you don't let go of her she's going to kick you in the shins."  Roget hobbled around the room, then regained his self-possession.  "Enough of these games.  There's a reason I came to this house, and it's a very important reason.  Constantine Rudman, you are going to make an omelette."

     "But I can't.  I only know how to make scrambled eggs."

     "Alright.  You're going to make some scrambled eggs, and we're going to call it an omelette.  You're going to crack the shells, add milk, butter and salt, keep stirring it until it reaches the right consistency..."

     "I know how to make scrambled eggs, thank you very much."

     "But I'm not finished.  After you have a nice pan full of scrambled eggs, you're going to divide it into three pieces."

     "Why three?" asked Vanessa.

     "Well, I'm hungry too.  I've spent the whole morning looking for someone to sell a package of eggs to."

     "Yes, at ten bucks a shot!" said Constantine.

     "Be quiet!  Anyway, you're going to put my third on a plate, which I will eat.  For the other two-thirds, the first thing you're going to do is fill up a bucket with cold water.  Then you're going to dump the eggs in it, and serve the damp mixture as cold scrambled egg soup.  Don't forget to add lots of pepper.  Vanessa, while Constantine is doing that, you're going to freshen up.  Why don't you take a shower?"

     "I've already taken one."

     "Well take another one."  He tossed her a bag of cosmetics.  "Make sure you use lots of those.  They'll make you look ten years older and much uglier besides.  Oh.  One more thing.  I want you to use this special soap."

     "I already have soap in my bathroom."

     "Yes, but you do not have this soap."  And Roget smiled a sinister smile, as he pulled out a package of mermaid soap, complete with traces of semen that he had scraped from the sheets and mixed with the soap after he had ingeniously slipped through the always ubiquitous heating ducts with the utmost quiet while Constantine and Vanessa were arguing.  "After you have washed yourself with this soap and have applied the worst leaden cosmetics that money can buy, you are going to sit down with your boyfriend and drink cold scrambled egg soup while I eat real scrambled eggs.  Then you're simply going to chat."

     "Look, we've got a class in a couple of hours."

     "You should of thought of that before you slept together.  Now you're going to talk, and I'm not going to interrupt you at all.  Won't that be wonderful?  You can talk on anything you want, as long as it's about the complete and ignominious failure of both of you to form true loving relationships with other people."

     "Why don't you join us, Philippe," added Vanessa,  "you can tell us why your marriage fell apart."

     "Shut up.  Now you two are going to do exactly what I tell you or I'm going to shoot you.  I'm not joking:  Constantine start cracking those eggs; Vanessa, get into the shower.  Make sure you use this soap and make sure you wash yourself all over!"

     "And how are you going to tell if I don't?"

     That stumped Roget, who had apparently never considered the possibility.  "Who lives across the hall from you?"

     "Aquilla Rogers.  Why do you ask?"

     "Well, I could force her into the apartment and make sure she keeps watch over you, and makes sure you wash everything.  So get moving!"

     "Don't be ridiculous.  I'll do nothing of the sort.  I refuse to believe that I am being forced at gunpoint to eat wet eggs and take a shower by one of Canada's leading physicians."

     "Why?  Do you think I haven't done this before?  Why this is the third morning this week I've broken into a house.  Granted, I'm usually not recognized by former in-laws, but still.  So, once again get moving, or your bookcase gets it!  And make sure you wash all over your body."

     "You do seem to harp on that theme." said Constantine.  "Why don't you just give her a nice brochure from the hospital you work with, and I'll make sure Vanessa washes herself quite thoroughly."  Vanessa cast him an evil look, and Constantine added "In a few years time.  After we're married.  If we ever get married.  If we never see each other again, I'll do my best to ensure that her new boyfriend follow your instructions exactly."

     "Absolutely not." said Roget.  "There's no point in using the soap before you get married.  Incidentally you weren't planning to get married in the next nine months?"

     "No." said Vanessa.  "I wasn't.  But what's so important about this bloody soap?  Is it full of acid or mind controls or something that will turn me into a gentile?"

     "No.  I will swear on the bible that this soap is perfectly skin friendly, won't attract rodents, is not poisonous, even if you try to eat it..."

     "Then you should give it to Peter.  He loves edible soap."

     "Don't interrupt me.  The soap shan't attract flies, cause rashes, or cause your hair to fall out.  It will not lead to wrinkles, allergies, or constipation.  And it will not ruin this book of profound and intelligent essays that a gunshot would.  So, for the final time, get in the damn shower!"

     What would have happened next would have been anyone's guess, had not a loud voice suddenly shouted "Hi there!"  For suddenly the big blue bouncing ball appeared.

     "What the hell is that?" screamed Roget.

     "It's a big blue bouncing ball, what do you think it is?" said Constantine.  "It belongs to Adrian actually."

     "Hi there!  Adrian was planning to visit Lucian today, so I decided I would visit her beforehand.  But she's sound asleep, when then I realized that you were here, Constantine.  And it's so nice to see you again.  But oh! look at that!  Mermaid soap!"

     The ball bounced over to Vanessa.  "Roget there is trying to force me to use this stuff."

     "What a wonderful idea!  You should consider yourself very lucky Vanessa; it's the perfect thing for children."

     "And if there were any children here, I'd love to give it to them. But as there aren't it's quite useless."

     "Oh, but it's not for giving to children.  It's for making them.  If you used this soap you would become pregnant."

     "What?!  Philippe, have you completely lost your mind?"

     Roget was somewhat shamefaced that the final sanction of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade had been revealed.  "Well, I usually don't do this to my in-laws.  It's only complete strangers whose semen I use to impregnate themselves unaware."

     "Ball, are you sure this soap would make Vanessa pregnant?"

     "Oh yes, in nine and a half-months you would have a lovely bouncing baby of indeterminate sex.  It's actually quite marvelous the way it works."

     Vanessa was livid.  "Philippe, how could you do such a thing?"

     "Well, consider it an act of mercy.  After all in the middle ages you could be executed for having a Jewish lover."

     "Which would dispose of you rather handily, wouldn't it?"

     "True, but I still believe you have to have some real nastiness in pre-marital sex.  It's part of the Christian tradition.  After all, even the great secular anthropologist Malinowski said that sex was truly dangerous:  the Flannery O'Connor Brigade is simply adjusting reality to the truth."

     "Ummm, excuse me." interrupted Constantine.  "But ball, how did you know what Vanessa's name was when you've never met her?"

     "Oh, but I've known Vanessa for years, and you're very nice to know. Just as I've known Dr. Roget for years, and I've got to say that he really can be a very pleasant and warm and loving person when he isn't trying to force women to take showers at gunpoint.  Oh, Dr. Roget, is that a bulge in your upper right-hand breast pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

     "It is a bulge, and you're not going to find out what it is.  Now for the final time, get into the shower!"

     "Why does she have to take a shower?  Couldn't she just take a bath?" And then the ball bounced over to Roget.

     "It could be either.  Just get inside, Ms. Wilentz."

     "I refuse.  I'm not doing it."

     "Get into the shower, or your bookcase gets it."

     "Go ahead.  I'm still not doing it."

     "Get inside, or I will kill you.  Or Constantine.  I could kill Constantine very easily.  And I could get others to make sure you use mermaid soap.  So the choice is very simple; you can have a child conceived out of wedlock and forced into an unhappy and miserable marriage; or you can have a child conceived out of wedlock and be forced into an unhappy and miserable single parenthood because the father was shot to death nine months before the birth.  So make your decision."

     "What prevents me from getting an abortion?"

     "You wouldn't do that.  That wouldn't be fair!  It would upset all our lovely plans!  Besides we're seriously thinking of adultering all the saline fluid in Canada.  Actually we didn't think of that until just this minute, but now that you mention it, it does occur to us that the best way of getting people's mind off sex is the constant reminder of children.  So I'm sure we'll find some way of making sure you remain pregnant.  So, get inside the shower.  Or the bathtub, whichever your prefer."

     "I am not doing it, and that is final."

     "Don't force me to kill you.  I have to do this sort of thing to show how serious I truly am.  It's a matter of faith."

     "Forget it, Philippe."

     "Then you leave me with no choice.  Well, actually you do leave me with a choice, my refusal to compromise has nothing to do with my lack of volition, though that is an interesting concept in Catholic theology, and one of the best articles I've read about it in a long time was..."  But just then the blue bouncing ball, which had spent the past minute or so happily la- la-laing its way through one of Bach's sexiest hits, suddenly bounced over to the hand where Roget was holding the soap.

     "Bouncing balls just love mermaid soap.  It's so nice and nutritious." And with that the ball ate the whole cake of soap, leaving Dr. Roget somewhat non-plussed.

     "All right.  Okay.  Hmmm.  All right.  Constantine I want those eggs. You are going to make a nice batch of eggs, some of which you are going to serve to me, and the rest of which you are going to make cold soup with. Then you and Vanessa are going to talk about your shallow lives.  Now be quick about it, and don't put too much pepper on mine."

     "Go to hell!" and with that Constantine threw an egg right into Roget's face.  "Get out of this apartment!"

     "That was very unwise Constantine.  You should never threaten a man with a loaded pistol."  And Roget began to aim, and was hit in the face with another three eggs.

     "Ball, take away the pistol!"

     "But that would be stealing.  I couldn't do that."  And the ball was so agitated by this demand that it bounced every which way right in front of Roget, so that his next shot missed Constantine entirely, who in response threw the final eight eggs at his face, giving Vanessa the opportunity to grab the pistol.

     "All right, Roget, listen closely.  First things first.  Pick up the twelve egg-shells and put them in garbage.  I don't want them all over my carpet."  This Roget did sourly and unwillingly.  "Second, give Constantine back his ten dollars."  This too Roget did.  "Third, I want to ask you some questions about the Flannery O'Connor Brigade."

     "I don't know what I can tell you."

     "Why does Ms. Van P--- plant marigolds in the carpet in the room above us?"

     "The marigolds are a crucial ingredient of mermaid soap."

     "Who leads the Flannery O'Connor Brigade?"

     "The Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata, whom you know better as Madame Catherine Jeannette Roget Vovelle."

     "How is she related to you?"

     "She is the first cousin of my dead father."

     "Why did you have this apartment bugged?"

     "In order to keep watch on Elizabeth Concrete.  And to answer your next question we are watching Ms. Concrete because she was born from a virgin."

     Constantine and Vanessa stared at each other, then shrugged their shoulders.  "Do you know where Natasha is?"

     "I have no idea."  Meanwhile the ball was singing the song that had been played at Roget's wedding.

     "What about the conspiracy to kill someone who is already dead?"

     "Nothing.  All I know is that Pr. Hermann was warned about it before he died."

     "So you're not planning to kill anyone?"

     "Certainly not.  We have entirely different plans.  I wasn't even especially serious about shooting Constantine."

     "Why are you so interested in Vivian Chelmnickon?"

     "Just a second," interrupted Constantine.  "I remember Adrian telling me that you were the doctor on the scene when Mrs. Chelmnickon died.  Were you following her and her husband?"

     "I refuse to answer any more questions."

     "What's so important about Vivian Chelmnickon?"

     "I refuse to tell you anything more!"

     "What do you know about an angel flying around Ottawa?"

     "This conversation is over."  And with that Roget shook a package of flash powder that he had hidden up his sleeve and cast it to the ground. There was a burst of light and smoke and then there was nothing.  "Ooo.  No more Roget." said the ball.  "That really is a pity, he could be such a charming person, at least when you kept him away from pendulums.  Well, goodbye"  And the ball blipped away as well.

     Constantine and Vanessa blinked and looked around the apartment. "Well I suppose we should get back to making breakfast."   Since the package of eggs was gone, Vanessa had to open the refrigerator to see what else they had.  As she did so, she noticed Constantine staring at her.

     "Is there something wrong?"

     "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?"

     "Yes, I know exactly how beautiful I am, which is why it's most unusual for men to stare at me for any length of time."

     "You're so beautiful.  I wish I had a camera so I could take a picture of you.  I also wish I knew how to use a camera in the first place."

     And then he fainted.

next: The Wilentz Family History

previous: The Dreams of Louis Dramsheet

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