A piece from Raw Footage: The Adventures of Lucky Pierre

The Wedding of Lucky Pierre
Robert Coover


By luck, the movie showing today at the Frivoli as he passes, lost and far from the little honeymoon cottage that he has abandoned, is his wife Constance's most famous home movie, Our Wedding. The one he's always wanted to see! When it was sent out on first release, it was retitled by the producers Here Cums the Bride: The Wedding of Lucky Pierre, but after its spectacular success, she was able to insist on its proper name and it's been known by it ever since. The Greatest Story Ever Told! it says over the doors. Your Life Will Be Changed Forever! He's broke, but there's no one in the ticket booth so he goes on in, passing through the famous circular lobby with its crimson and gold decorations, now looking tattered and abandoned, drawn by the muffled strains of the wedding march which explode exuberantly upon him when he opens the inner double doors and enters the darkened theater. 

The opening titles and credits are already rolling as he takes his seat. He sees himself up on the big screen dressed in scarlet top hat and tails riding in a bright green convertible with a carload of women, sisters of the bride, down sunny city streets-yes, sunny: old Sol is out for the first time in recent memory, everything is thawing out, even the old silted-up and frozen canals seem to be running again! It's a kind of tickertape parade-the glowing city canyons are filled with millions of strands of chopped-up audio and video tape and old 8mm film, fluttering down upon him and his companions (Connie is not among them, nor are there, for once, any film crews) like a kind of anointing, glittering like ribbons of gold in the amazing sunlight. Oh, he knows he's going to like this movie! Happily ever after: that's his future! And it's about time! The crowds are out and cheering, parading musicians are blowing shell trumpets and reed flutes and playing tambourines and kettledrums, dancing girls in wispy chemises are throwing flowers at the multitudes, the polished convertible is sliding along, bright as an emerald, and everybody's smiling. It's a great day! The camera holds its fixed position as he rolls into the frame and out of it again, waving at the crowds, then cuts to another vantage point. Though he drifts in and out of focus as the convertible enters and exits the picture at different angles and distances, one can see in the expression on his face-he seems to have just woken up-a conflict of joy and terror, which causes a nervous twitching of the eyes and mouth and suggests he might not know whether he's on his way to a party or his execution. Evidently it's a surprise wedding.

The procession pulls up in front of the High Church of Hard Core as the illuminated marquee over the faux-Gothic doors declares it to be. Massive crowds have gathered. He stands on the seat of the convertible to peer out over their heads, looking around in some amazement, or alarm, and discovers, as does the viewer, that he's dressed in only the top half of the scarlet tuxedo. He sits back down hastily but the convertible door is already open and he is being bumped out onto the pavement. An aisle forms between car and church, lined by tonsured monks and wimpled nuns, dressed in black and white costumes honoring one of his most famous movies from the monochrome era, and, glancing uneasily back over his shoulder, he proceeds up it, still trailing streamers of tape and film, prodded along by the women whenever he hesitates, his progress watched from the rear by the camera until, still glancing back, he disappears through the gaping doors into the darkness beyond.

Abruptly, there is a view of the interior of the church as seen from the back of the auditorium. Nothing has begun yet. The wedding guests, studying the numbers on their ticket stubs, are entering and locating their seats in front of the static camera. The effect is of someone dozing in the back row with her eyes open. There is a hum of low friendly chatter under a sound composition made from grunts and groans and shrieks of orgasmic pleasure which is either playing overhead on the church's public address system or is part of the film's soundtrack. The room is filled with plaster of Paris gods and goddesses, saints, martyrs and prophets, all displaying their aroused private parts, as they were called in the old days when religion was still a force in the city, or engaged in pious fornicative and bestial acts. The stained glass windows depict classic images, now colorized by the glass, from the days of the eight-page comics. With the bright light behind them, they look like giant magic lantern slides. There are large fringed mandalas oozing pearls, confessionals for sacramental fellatio and cunnilingus, holy water fountains with fat squatting gods emitting endless sprays of jism from their laps and seven-branched flesh-colored candelabra spurting gouts of blue fire. There is time to observe all this from the back of the church while waiting for people to take their seats and things to begin. In fact there is not much else to do. Now and then the image is shaken by someone bumping the camera while squeezing past, giving the viewer an authentic sense of being present at a real moment in time. Some of the wedding guests wear sequined Fuck Me! skullcaps, winged phalli dangling from gold necklaces, and mantillas woven from pubic hair, and there are cum-stained prayer rugs unfurled in front of the bloodstained altar, which is in the shape of a four-poster bed with stirrups. Standing there before it, tall and haughty, is the High Priestess herself, dressed in traditional body-tight black leather canonicals, gold ornaments, and the ancient black velvet scapular of her office embroidered with the seven sacred erotic tortures, as defined by the Holy Script, which she holds in her hands. On the screen behind her, pale anonymous bare bodies fuck one another endlessly in looped overlapped montages, imitating the quiet turmoil of the cosmos.

The camera continues to run on and now the guests have settled into their seats at last and the principals are coming down the aisle, the groom on one side in red hat and tails and the bride in white organdy and lace on the other, stepping in sprightly fashion to the syncopated rhythm of ancient bump-and-grind hymeneals as provided by the bride's sisters, all accomplished musicians. Though the bride's apparel is complete with jeweled crown, white veil, precious pearls woven into the bodice, and a pale silken train so light it floats on the air like fog, her gown too only goes down to the waist, and one can catch brief glimpses of her little bottom as it passes between the heads of the wedding guests which mostly obscure it. It is a beautiful bottom, tight and pink, he'd forgotten how beautiful it was, and he wishes he were there and had control of the zoom lens on the camera if it even has one. They are greeted at the altar by the High Priestess, who, facing the camera and towering above them, reaches down and apparently takes each by his and her genitals and, agitating them as though insisting upon their undivided attention, pronounces over them incantatory words taken from the Script held up by one of the bridesmaids. These are seemingly instructions on the proper use of these holy parts, as best can be intuited from the few fragments reaching the back of the church·

² · And do you promise, Peter Prick (in this film he is the young Peter Prick), one can hear the Priestess say distantly at one point, his hat and his bride's crown bouncing lightly on their heads as she speaks, to suck Constance's clitoris with the utmost devotion and delicacy, lapping beneath its resilient flesh and drawing it deep into your mouth, then forcing it to the roof of your hard palate, tonguing it vigorously back and forth there between the medial and lateral side of your palatine ridge until she screams for mercy?

² I do!

² And you, Constance Cunt, do you, my dear, promise to stroke Peter's penis from tip to root with your warm wet tongue, laving it generously in your copious saliva, being ever wary not to snag or nip it with your incisors, and then, whilst fingering his testicles as one might knead a kitten's ears and inserting a finger, bathed in your own secretions, deep into the inner recesses of his rectum, to take his penis entire into your mouth, yea, until it reacheth your very epiglottis, and there to draw lovingly forth upon it until·!

The rest is lost, but he does seem to see Connie's head bob shyly in affirmation when the Priestess's lips stop moving, and he is thrilled by that. Then the High Priestess, licking at her hands before drying them on her velvet scapular, asks them to kneel so as not to block the view and announces that it is time in the ceremony for something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: to wit, a newly digitized version of the bride's old blue movie, The Girl Next Door, checked out on this occasion from the city archives. The church darkens, the copulating bodies disappear from the large screen behind the altar, and a dim water-spotted image emerges there of two children in a hayloft, peeking in each other's clothes. A variety of fragmentary incomplete scenes follow, everything from watching grownups through knotholes do what they do to playing doctor, learning naughty words, and going to the toilet, most of it rather crudely spliced together and poorly filmed-the digitizing hasn't helped it much. Hardly worth looking at, but one sequence captures his attention. The two children, he and Connie when little presumably, are having a picnic in a meadow somewhere with bread-and-butter sandwiches and lemonade. She is wearing a gaily colored cotton dress with a stiff crinoline lining that causes her skirt to rise up whenever she bends over or sits down, and he is trying to see her underpants beneath it. She often sits carelessly on the picnic blanket with her knees up, but her skinny legs are somehow always in the way of a good view. Then, just as he catches a glimpse at last of the precious little band of white cotton between her childish thighs, she asks: Peter? What happens when we die?

² Oh, I don't know, he says as his exciting view vanishes. Nothing, I guess.  He changes position on the blanket, hoping for a better angle. He does remember her now, though. As little Peter Prick, he had a terrific crush on her, still has now as a man, in fact he can't really tell the two states apart. She was and is the cutest thing he's ever seen. And he wants so much to see and touch her private places. He'd forgotten how much it meant to him, means to him. I mean, that is what happens, I think: nothing. You know, the end of the reel. It just runs out of the projector and that's it.

² Does that scare you?

He shrugs, trying to appear manly. Sure, a little. In fact, any time he thinks about it, which he tries not to, he feels like number-twoing himself, but he doesn't say this. She has turned so very serious and he wants to get back to the tickling games they were playing earlier.

² Will you hold my hand when I am dying, Peter?

² Yeah, sure, Connie, if you'll hold this for me, he replies mischievously, unbuttoning the fly of his short pants. It's hard to find his thing, even stiff as it is, but he manages at last to spring it out of there into the light of day.

She takes it in her soft childish hand and bends it this way and that as if trying to see where it came from. It's so tiny! she exclaims.

² Well, I'm still just a little boy.

² But it's very pretty. It looks like a little rubbery clothes peg. She thumbs the head of it test its resilience, making him jump and giggle. May I kiss it?

² Gosh! Sure! He rather hopes she'll do a great deal more than that, but she bends over, her skirt rising up behind (he's on the wrong side of her, darn it), and gives it a dry puckery little peck on the tip, as one might kiss the cheek of a grandmother, then sits back again, still holding it but her mind elsewhere. Anyway, Connie, we won't die, he says, trying to cheer her up and get her back to the clothes peg. We're in the movies. We're immortal.

She looks away as if considering this, but she doesn't seem to believe it. Neither does he. It's just a line. Nothing lasts forever. He knows there are some early films of his for which there are no longer any projectors on which they can be run. In fact, this might be one of them, he thinks, and that scares him a little. Her little hand goes on squeezing and relaxing its grip absently, as though in rhythm with her sad thoughts, and he can feel something starting inside that he's never felt before, something frightening but very nice at the same time. He can't tell where the feeling is located exactly, somewhere between his tummy and his bottomhole, though also somehow between his ears, and he only hopes it isn't some terrible fatal disease that he has brought on himself by his frivolous remarks.

² Do you really promise, Peter? Cross your heart and hope to die?

² Promise-?

² I mean, to hold my hand when I am dying or any time I'm afraid of dying.

² Sure, Connie. I promise.

² Okay. You can look then·

She lets go of what she's been toying with and lies back on the picnic blanket with her limbs loosely spread, the crinoline lifting the front of her skirt. His heart is pounding wildly and that feeling down below is more intense than ever. He hopes he won't get so excited he goes blind and won't be able to see anything. He kneels between her knees and pushes up her skirt, watched by her with such a serious expression he's at a loss to know what to say or do, so he just smiles weakly and says: You're so much prettier than me! And she is. Her little body is almost straight up and down with only the hint of a narrowing waist and little hips beginning to take shape, but it is exquisitely soft and beautiful. He immediately wants to be an artist and look at bodies like this for the rest of his life. Her cotton panties fit tightly and he can see, molded by them, the shape of the hard little mound between her legs. It is completely smooth and cleft in the middle where the panties dig in a bit. He reaches for it tentatively but she says: Don't touch! Just look! Okay, he thinks. Sure. Looking's a kind of touching, too, a kind of having. And right now, it's good enough. In fact, it's great. The actual sliding movement of the waistband of her underpants as he tugs them down, his fingertips trailing down her flat pale tummy as if sledding down it, is like the most exciting movie he ever saw, and he is dizzied by the sweet milky fragrance that is rising from below it. Her navel has come into view, and though he has seen navels before, he has never seen anything quite like this marvelous little dent in her perfect flesh and he wants desperately to kiss it, though he knows, even as he leans toward it, he dare not. She has never stopped watching him with that searching look. The underpants are stuck where she's lying on them, so he has to reach under to pull them down past her bottom. She lifts up slightly to help him. As his fingers trace those curved velvety surfaces, his whole body feels like it's throbbing, and there's an ache in his chest and in his marbles, his stiff little thing all aquiver and tingling at the tip. Oh wow-!

² Peter? He hesitates, his fingers trembling: he's so close! She has relaxed her weight and his trapped fingers are, in effect, holding her bare bottom. Peter, will you always be with me and never ever go away? she asks, her little girl voice quavering slightly as though she might be about to cry.

² Oh yes! I promise, Connie! I promise! I do!

² Okay. Then, she says, lifting her bottom up again, if you want to· you can· But he can't hear the rest. The film is fading away.

² No, wait! he cries, but to no avail. The lights are coming up in the church auditorium. There's shuffling, chuckling, throat clearing, the rattling of programs. He tries to rise, but his neck is caught on something.

The High Priestess is glowering down on him with her finger at her lips. Shush! she whispers sternly, wagging admonishingly in front of his nose an enormous dildo she's strapped on, a bright orange one with a brightly spotted head that looks like the cap of some lethal mushroom. We've come to the main part of the ceremony!

He glances at Connie, eager to see what's showing below the waist but her bridal gown now reaches to the toes of her shoes, and he too is fully dressed in the complete red tuxedo, though it still feels quite airy at the rear, indeed all the way up to the back of his neck. What's odd is they are both now child-sized. Then he realizes that they are on their knees still, handcuffed into a carnival photo board with small bride and groom images painted on the front and holes for their heads and hands. Connie's train has been tossed over the top of the board like a raised tail and is hanging down mistily in front of her terrified face. Her hand holding the wedding bouquet is trembling. Tourist cameras are flashing fore and aft and he supposes the camera at the back of the church is also recording it all.

Meanwhile the monks and nuns and other wedding guests are pulling on rubber gloves and dildos and, following the lead of the swaggering High Priestess, dipping them or their penises, if they have one, in pots of perfumed lubricants and lining up behind the photo board. Whereupon, at last, the traditional wedding march resumes. Or begins. Connie emits a little yelp beside him and her head bobs forward, her shoulders banging against the back of the photo board. She sinks back, clearly in shock, tears coming to her eyes, and then, crying out softly, she pounds forward again, and she goes on doing this, more or less in synch with the heavy thump of the wedding march. Oh! Oh! Oh oh! she cries, the flowers flying from her hand, her crown dipping over her nose. He tries to see what they're doing, but his view is blocked by the board. Peter? she gasps tremulously, looking up at him from under the tipped crown with a heartrending expression of fear, love, trust, pain-You can't do this! She's my wife! he cries out, or supposes he does, he can't hear a thing, and-Not yet!-someone chuckles behind him. They're oiling up his anus back there and-the High Priestess? where is she?-oh oh! He tries with all his might to free his head, but the hole is too tight. They must have stuck his head in there when he was still little, he thinks, beginning to panic and lose his reason. He screams out curses, rattles his cuffs, kicks out at those crowding around him at the rear, but to no avail. Connie is still banging the photo board rhythmically, but she seems to have passed out. Her head bounces loosely above the painted wedding gown, her jaw agape, and spittle dribbles down her little chin. He feels hands all over him, some of them trying to pry apart his greased buttocks which he is squeezing tight in a desperate effort to keep out whatever it is that's trying to get in. His unconscious bride, meanwhile, is released from her handcuffs, dragged from the board, lifted high overhead by half a dozen wedding guests (was that blood on her bridal train, dangling between her legs?), and carried limply to the altar where they prepare to fasten her ankles in the stirrups. He has lost the battle to the rear but they have freed him up front, his handcuffs dropping away and the photo board splitting in half and disappearing like theater flats, and now, brutally impaled and feet dangling, dressed only in his top hat, he is posted, so to speak, by the High Priestess to the altar. Next time, he thinks, as he hovers painfully there above his bride, spread before him upon the altar, but covered at present by a multitude of humping bodies, heads, and hands, we'll just elope.

For a moment, the world recedes and he feels as remote from it as a stylite in the desert, gazing down from his painful perch upon an irredeemable world, all his sorrows, desires, regrets as nothing more than the shifting dunes of sand far, far below. He is, however, as has often been remarked, and not always to his credit, a man of action more than meditation, of deeds not words or thoughts, a man who, if impulsive and frequently misguided, is also decisive and, but for certain quirks of vanity, uninhibited and ultimately irrepressible. And so it is now, after only a moment's hesitation, a moment not unlike being snagged briefly in projector sprockets and then released, he doubles the High Priestess over with a swift ferocious elbow to her midriff and slides off her slick dildo as it dips, strips it from her while she's still getting her wind back, and wields it like a club against the feckless ravagers of his bride. Heads, in short, are opened and her assailants fall back, bloodied and quailing. He releases his lifeless love from her stirrups, flops her over his shoulder (for some reason, someone's tied tin cans to her ankles and there's a tag taped over her behind), and, teeth bared and still vehemently swinging the dildo, charges up the aisle, her cans rattling. He expects resistance, but the wedding guests only laugh and applaud and throw rice as at any wedding.

He rather hopes the green convertible will be waiting at the curb for a quick getaway, but instead he finds his way blocked by thousands of unticketed spectators who have been watching the ceremony on giant screens outside the church and who appear collectively aroused by what they've seen. Tearing off their clothes and chanting dully, The bride! The bride!, they come staggering toward him, red-eyed and drooling. He has no choice but to drop the dildo and run, handicapped by the dead weight he carries, but counting on his intimate knowledge of the urban maze to outmaneuver if not outpace them. He seems to see an overview of that maze in his head as if filmed from high above the city, he a lone naked red-hatted figure sprinting through it with another naked person slung over his shoulder, butt-high (a zoom reveals the tag on it to read: Just Married!), chased by an indiscriminate flood of humanity spreading through the city streets like flowing lava. He is seen to escape them now and then for a moment, but what they lack in velocity and direction is offset by sheer volume, their eruptive flow threatening to inundate the entire city from all sides and wall him in. He avoids broad avenues and open spaces, darting instead down narrow passageways, over low fences, in and out of warehouses and tenement cellars, through tight underpasses, all of which clog up sooner or later with the thick fleshy mass of his pursuers and become momentarily impassable. Block by block their shouts and grunts and pounding feet grow more and more distant until at last, when he feels he cannot run another step, he reaches an alley in a rundown tenement district at the very heart of the urban maze, and their ugly noises vanish altogether, or he persuades himself that they do, and he throws his bride and himself down behind some trashcans to hide until he can breathe again.

This heart of the maze, if it is the heart, is, like all hearts, a cul-de-sac, and so a fatal trap if found. And they will be. Should keep moving. May not have much time. But it's the first moment he's been alone with his newlywed in recent memory, if that's the word for his peculiar disability, and moreover they're both naked, or mostly naked, that's completely new, so it's time, he feels, even if she is somewhat comatose, in fact out cold, for a quick conjugal cuddle. Besides, his ass is numb, teeth hammering, feet frozen, and she also seems pretty stiffened up, they could both use a little warmth. No sign of that earlier sun, must have been a false thaw, or more likely just another bit of movie magic. He hadn't meant to consummate his marriage in a dark cold alley, chambered by trashcans and bedded in rotting vegetables and old newspapers, but it may be the only chance he gets. She's still wearing her little bridal crown over her nose, but only tatters of the train and bodice remain, and her bared breasts, he sees, are not only childlike in size, they are nippleless. Her navel has gone missing too, though she seems otherwise flawless, smooth-skinned and exquisitely proportioned. Her knees are stuck in the up position, the way he was carrying her, so he turns her over, her tin cans rattling (there's a distinct rumble inside somewhere, too, and it does not sound like indigestion), propping her up on her locked knees, to feast his eyes on that firm little bottom he so admires, and, peeling away the Just Married! label, discovers it is also, beautiful as it is (though even firmer than he might have hoped), missing an important functional element. Her legs are articulated, he sees now, at the juncture of buttocks and thighs, the shiny pink surface between them as smooth as an egg. Nothing on it except for a little printed instruction below a red dot that reads: Open Here. He knocks on it, gets a hollow echo in reply, the raised ass above it as solid and immobile as a cleft cliff face. A tough one. He'll need a tool, a jimmy of some kind.

He pokes through the trashcans, wishing now he hadn't thrown away the High Priestess's powerful dildo. All he finds here are broken umbrellas, old turret lenses and hypo needles (he tries one, it breaks off), bobbins, rollers, and processor pins, gnawed bones of uncertain provenance, butts and roaches, a dirty old herringbone overcoat, smeared with garbage and bloodied down the front (he puts it on), a plastic squeegee handle, punctured diaphragms, one old cast-off shoe (that too: left foot), rolling spiders, a dead cat, broken crane jibs, moldy jock straps, nothing at all he can use for breaking in and much of it pretty sickening. He can hear running feet, not far away, approaching snorts and cries: they'll be here soon. No time for niceties. He grabs up an empty beer bottle, smashes the neck off, and rams it in, shattering the bottom and sending the whole works clattering headfirst into the trashcans. Damn! They'll hear that. He only has a few seconds. He thrusts his fist inside her and fishes around: hollow but for the thing that's been rattling around in it. A kind of egg. Not golden, as one might have hoped, but black with little red pimples all over like a rash. Still, it has a certain offbeat quality, it might be worth something or have something valuable inside. Her dowry. He can hear them now, only a few blocks away, a lusty multivoiced bellowing, thousands of bare feet slapping the icy pavement. But they don't want him, they want her. So he goes limping out to meet them in his hat, coat, and shoe, posting himself at the mouth of the cul-de-sac to aim them down it. The other thing they might lust after is the egg. Only one safe place to hide it and he shoves it up there just as they come roaring down the dark narrow street in a full-voiced lather. He bows and swoops his red top hat toward the mess in the alley, then hastily backs away as they thunder past. There she is! Hunh! Hunh! Does he hear screams, cries, even his name? Maybe. Can't think about it. Might be his turn next. He's on the move.

Though not so nimbly as before. Not so young Peter Prickly. It has been a hard day. Must have taken something out of him. He hobbles along, one shoe off and one shoe on, the old tweed coat weighing him down and the egg hurting him with every step, knocking against his prostate or something. When he feels he's put enough distance between himself and the mob to risk a pause, he slips into a shadowy shop doorway out of the bitter weather and digs for the egg. Can't quite reach it. It has slid further up and got lodged somehow. Never mind. Sooner or later he'll pass it. Just have to remember to keep watching for it. The frayed woolen overcoat stinks and scratches his bare skin, but it's better than nothing; the icy wind has started up again and there are flurries in the air. The shop sells sex pets but there's a sign on the door: Closed for the Winter. Nevertheless, an old lady comes out of it, calling him a filthy old bum, and starts beating him with a broom to chase him off. He'd take the broom away from her and show her what to do with it, but he's suddenly feeling rather woozy and figures it's best just to shuffle on down the street and look for shelter until he's over it. Only hungry maybe. When was the last time he ate? Wasn't he in a restaurant awhile ago? Must have left too soon.

By the time he's found another protected doorway a few blocks down the street, he feels worse than ever. Hot flushes now alternate with the bone-shaking chills. His gut aches and he feels gassy and nauseous. Maybe it's the stinking coat that's making him sick. But it's snowing harder and too cold to take it off. He has to pee and does so and gets chased off again. He can hardly move, his legs feel leaden and it's harder to breathe for some reason, as though he might be suffering some massive indigestion, and that also slows him down. At the same time, he has a terrible craving for gooseberries and coddled eggs. He's hardly gone a block when he has to pee again. His stomach is so bloated it sticks out of the coat now. He can't stop farting. His back hurts. And five minutes later, he's peeing again. What's wrong? The head of his penis is puffy and discolored and the little purple veins running down it are more prominent than usual. The prim little smirk of the urethra's slit looks more like a gaping scream for help. His testicles are swollen, too. Oh no. Must be some fucking venereal disease. Best he can recall, though, he hasn't had much chance lately to catch anything. There are fine little cracks appearing now on his inflated belly, which looks like it's about to burst. Feels like it, too. Weighs a ton and seems to want to ride up under his chin and close off his windpipe. Looking at it, he feels enraged and tearful at the same time. Everything seems to be shifting about inside like something's alive in there. A deadly parasite maybe. That garbage he was lying in! Oh my god. He needs a doctor! He belches and smells something nitrous. He's dying! Help! He lumbers agonizingly on down the street through the blowing snow, terrified by what's happening to him, stopping every few minutes to dribble again against a wall. Maybe it's that damned egg. He tries fishing for it again, but his ass is plugged up and he can't get his finger in. Feels flabby, his ass, and spreading. His prick hurts. He pees again. It doesn't help. Hurts worse. His pubic cradle seems to have split and given way to the weight above, making him feel bowlegged. His limbs have shriveled and are knobby and swollen at the joints. He looks like shit, he knows, and he just can't bear it. No one had ever told him it would be like this! He bursts into tears.

Then he sees it. His honeymoon cottage. It's beautiful! It's paradise! He staggers, one-shoed, through the green snow toward it, past all the cardboard cows and fake flowers, carrying his belly with both hands, weeping openly. He's home! He'll never leave it again! He can breathe more easily now that everything's dropped lower, but his balls feel like they're holding up the world. There's a sign on the rose-red door: For Sale by City. It opens and Connie appears, looking haggard and ill-fed, dressed in colorless rags, surrounded by half a dozen small children and holding another in her arms. She still looks young, but there are worry lines on her face and her body has gone slack as though giving up and sinking earthward. She does not seem happy to see him again. He falls to his knees. His aching bony knees. In supplication. In contrition. In pain: the muscles in his gut have started grabbing at him periodically like iron fists, and everything is sinking like a boulder into his throbbing scrotum. Connie! he sobs. Let me· let me explain!

² It had better be good, she replies flatly.

² It's terrible, I-I'm-oh boo hoo! he bawls. He can hardly talk. He feels so helpless, so vulnerable. And so utterly at her mercy. Help me, Connie! Can't you see-?! I'm pregnant!

She stares down at him, wearily taking in his condition. All right, come on in then, she says finally, stepping aside. I'll call the doctor and put some hot water on.