My friend, Arnold, is having a fight with the stewardess. “I will make you into salami!” he is screaming. I’m making believe I don’t know Arnold. I bury my face in a magazine, “Modern Maturity,” a few seats back from his. We are flying Astral Coach to Venus. Of all the planets and planetoids to which I have been, Venus is by far the finest. It is, of course, the next Earth, so-called. As the sun kept cooling, the Earth became — about 30 years after you read this — impossibly unpleasant. For a while we all wore sweaters. But even this was not enough. It got so cool that the beaches all got covered with ice caps; indeed only recently one man set the record for a non-stop ice-skate across the Atlantic.
Venus was our next stop as Earth was for our descendants from Mars, after that place got impossibly unpleasant. (No one lives on quite cold Mars now at all.)
Hoping to split from Arnold — I knew immediately that he was in a dreadful mood and sometimes Arnold’s moods do not change for years — I begin a conversation with a young lady next to me on the space craft seat, A-11-03. She is of mixed background — half Bionic and half Bulgarian. “I have a nerve-shattering position with a large corporation,” she says.
“Really,” I reply.
“Yes,” says the woman. “I am a representative for TLX, the multiplanetary conglomerate.”
“They make boxes, bombs, bottles and basketballs,” I say. (I am up on current events.)
“Yes,” says the woman, “and they lease teachers, too.”
“I,” I say, “am a roving ventriloquist. However, I have not been busy lately.”
“Before joining TLX,” says A-11-03, “I was a magician’s audience planet, before that an investigative reporter for INSECT WORLD magazine, before that controller of slush funds for Gulf Oil.”
“You are very beautiful,” I say. I am compelled to be direct with her. Other than that she only has one ear, she is stunning. She has soft red hair that swings gently, eyes, though slightly crossed, that bring up a strange hankering in me.
“Call me A,” says A-11-03. She is smiling and clearly seems to like me. “I once knew a bionic transvestite,” I was recalling, as the sign reading OVER THE RAINBOW flashed on and I knew we were about to land.
Venus Interplanetary is a fair airport. They charge you $4 to take a piss and you need a credit card to take a crap but otherwise they don’t lose your baggage most of the time. I successfully lost Arnold — he was detained on the plane by four security men sitting on his head — and A and I had no problem going through customs. However they did examine A with a spectrometer. In these times the establishment was very concerned about anybody dealing (illegally) in aromated soap.
Outside the terminal I ask A where she is going. She says, “No where in particular. I’ve been trying to find enlightenment, but that’s been a drag lately.”
I tell her I understand. A, I see, has an unbelievable ass. I really like A’s ass, tight, nicely shaped. A beautiful ass. Neither of us has much money, so we thumb out of the airport. We get a ride with a guy who keeps looking at A’s knees. A has these incredible knees. I am looking out the window, at the landscape. Venus is basically blue, the ground, the sky, the water, the mountains, the canyons, it’s a baby blue hue, all over. The buildings are white. The people are lavender. I’ve been to Venus two times before. It is a pleasant place, a little on the hot side. It is weird in the sense that mostly the people eat vanilla pudding and Coke, three times a day. You get sick of this real fast, let me tell you. Also, on Venus there are earthquakes all the time. They say you get used to this; I don’t. Indeed as we roll along in this pick-up truck there is a great thundering in the sky and rocking of the road. We are passing this batch of shopping centers they have around all the airports on Venus. In a flash, the truck is tumbling off the road which is itself tumbling. I look around and I can see whole shopping centers being sucked into gaping precipices being formed in the ground. The guy who’s driving stops looking at A’s knees, takes a glance out the front window and says: “Holy shit, another earthquake.” The truck tumbles for a long way. We end up crashing into a Venutian Pizza Parlor. A and I land in a big frying pan. The driver of the pick-up is very annoyed that his truck is all bashed up. He looks at it, spits, and says, “Fuck this jazz,” and runs off, incomprehensibly, in the direction of what appears to me to be tornado funnels. A says to me: “This excitement is getting me incredibly sexy.”
That gets my juices flowing. I inch over to her, we kiss, each tremor in the ground making her more and more passionate. She is clearly crazy. We make love in the frying pan and then later, lying there, we talk.
I tell her how I get up-tight when I’m doing too many things at once. She says the trick is to be involved in action, but not get tense. “Doing the most you can without any tension is the true mark,” she says. The earthquakes have stopped and we decide to walk. The road is all broken but already bulldozers are at work. Neither A nor I like bulldozers so we walk toward the distant forest. It is a nice forest, blue like everything else. We’re walking hand in hand. The birds are chirping. It is sunny and bright, a warm wind blowing — a beautiful day after the proverbial storm. We walk through a lovely meadow. There are spring flowers, all white. White butterflies flutter here and there. A man approaches wearing a signboard. BRAIN SURGERY IN THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN HOME, it says, but he rapidly moves off. Back into another section of forest A and I bed down for the night. We make a fire and sing camp songs. The next day we head out fairly early. It’s another great day. Other than the earthquakes, the weather on Venus is terrific. A hot sultry blast of air comes up from the south toward afternoon. We are making our way up and down a small ridge of mountains. On top of this one mountain, Mt. Snodgrass, we come upon a little cabin. We knock on the door. A man who introduces himself as Lars Finklestein appears. We shake hands all around. He invites us for lunch, for vanilla pudding. Finklestein makes good vanilla pudding. Satiated with Coke, A and I take a nap in the afternoon on the couch in Finklestein’s cabin. Later that night, after more vanilla pudding and Coke, Finklestein tells us how you can make your own eyeglasses out of Coke bottles. He said he once wrote a story on this for the MOTHER VENUS NEWS.
We sleep late the next morning. In one of those important parting talks you have with people, Finklestein tells us how he believes that when it comes to life you should “grab it while you can — you will not get a second chance.” It is getting a bit overcast as it becomes time to separate. Finklestein looks up into the sky, he is a dark shade of lavender, with piercing purple eyes, a friendly smile and laughter in his look. “Today,” says Finklestein, “is a Roll-Over-Day. Don’t do anything. Let it roll over you. Make no important decisions. Sign no agreements.”
With affectionate handshakes and tickles to the knees (an old Venutian custom when saying good-bye) we move on. That morning we pass by a splendid waterfall. For several hours A and I sit by the waterfall, which is flowing music. On Venus they’ve made revisions on the old atomic structure and have done things like changing the matter of flowing water into the energy of music. The water is mostly doing Tchaikovsky’s Francesca Da Rimini Opera 32. Several people in a field are flying big kites in the brisk wind. We passed through a little village later in the day, an old mining (for red pepper) town restored, and then made our way on a wide plain under the late Venutian afternoon sun. Things are blazing blue. Suddenly, there is dust ahead, and we see a car racing towards us, an imported car, a Land Rover. It screeches to a halt smack in front of us. Five people jump out: two women and three men, all brandishing surplus ray guns. They are Venutian cannibals, another disadvantage of Venus.
The leader introduces herself as Doris Glumpke. In a perverse way, she is very cute. They load A and me into the back of the Land Rover and we’re driven off, with gun barrels at our foreheads, onward over the plain, now and then passing a meas. Later that night, driving by headlights, we arrive at the cannibal village, a circle of mobile homes in what seems to be desert. They put us in a hole in the ground for the night. At sunrise the next day Ms. Glumpke arrives and looks down at us from the top of the hole and tells us: “You’re lunch.”
I am scared shitless. I look at A. She looks confident, though I can see her ear is quivering. They march us to two big pots on top of huge piles of wood.
They order us to strip. We do, and then a bunch of the cannibals are over us all at once, some massaging us with what smells like olive oil, some springling spices over us. I look at A and she at me. We are both coated in green spices. There are some in the group talking about how it’s a good idea to boil this time, after all the broiled people they’ve been having. “Down here, we handle people like lobsters,” Ms. Glumpke explains.
She suggests we drink some wine before we get dunked in the water, to make us “taste better.”
“We’ll keep the heat at a slow boil if you’d be so kind,” says Ms. Glumpke manipulatively.
I see it’s the old Punishment-Rewards game. But I like wine, so I slurp a lot down, taking a little pleasure knowing as I climb up the ladder they’ve pulled up for me to get into the pot, that soon I’ll be having to take a leak. I smile at A in her pot, and we blow kisses as a contingent from the local troop of Explorer Scouts lights the fire. I can hear the dry wood crackling as the fire really gets going, the water is getting warmer and warmer and then hotter, and I’m trying to tread water so I don’t have to put my bare feet on the bottom of the pot, which is scorching. I can hear the members of the cannibal tribe chattering about whether they want us rare or well done. I can’t see A through the smoke, but then I see a ladder brought up in front of her pot and Ms. Glumpke, in her robes, is climbing up. I can dimly see Ms. Glumpke, through the smoke, grabbing into the pot and picking up what looks like one of A’s arms. She brings A’s hand to her mouth and takes a bite.
I see that Ms. Glumpke has bit off one of A’s fingers as the smoke, for a second, clears.
She screams, “Feh,” and spits it out onto the ground. Others in the group inspect the partially bitten finger.
“Electronic components. Feh,” one man yells loudly.
“Feh,” says a woman, taking a bite. “Inappropriate!”
They’re all saying Feh, Feh, Feh when Ms. Glumpke orders: “Douse the fires. We can’ t waste wood on this kind of junk food.”
I look at the sky and give thanks to God as the Explorers come back with buckets of water which they splash on the fire. I feel blanched but I easily gather up the energy to lift myself from the pot and down the ladder. I can see A is annoyed about the loss of her finger, a pointer, but happy not to be cooked, as she scampers down the ladder.
Ms. Glumpke gives off a peculiar smile and says, wanly, “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
A and I still have spices all over our faces, so we wash up, get back into our clothes — which some of the Venutian cannibals had been wearing but have to give us back — and we take off at a rapid clip, figuring we’ll look for the nearest bus station and get to the nearest port where we figure we might catch a submarine. We hop a Greyhound in a town that we find after a two-day walk.
En route again, I ask A if it would be hard to get another finger. She says no.
“If you don’t go to bed with someone, there’s something about them you don’t know,” I tell A. She agrees. A says she once took a course in “How To Rip Off Children” at the Harvard Business School. We talk of our families, and look out the bus window at the landscape, a deeper blue in this part of Venus. By the water, near a submarine dock, we walk around for awhile, enjoying the fresh sea air. Holding A by the waist, I look out at the far distant horizon and think Venus is a nice place to visit.
Then right in front of us, a submarine breaks on to the surface of the water. I instantly spot on the conning tower, having oral sex, my friend Arnold, the submarine commander and a giant penguin.