I always liked the saying where the only thing you could depend on was death and taxes. Guess it led to a story. Let me know what you think!
Death and Taxes
Jethro Rivers propped his stick against the big rock of his fire pit and watched the meat roast.
No, not the meat. His eyes fell to the flames, and he watched them dance. He had loved watching fires ever since he had been a little boy, and the camping trips he had taken with his parents had been among his fondest childhood memories.
Maybe his only good early memories.
He hadn’t always been Jethro Rivers. When he was born his parents had named him Lancelot. It was, without equal, an idiotic name. It might have flown in Arthur’s court, but it had no place in late twentieth century America.
And then there had been his surname. Cochrane. Yes, for much of his early life he had been Lancelot Cochrane.
His earliest friends had taken to calling him Lance for short. Yeah, sure, it sounded like an okay name. On the surface. But it carried a reputation with it. And then when highschool hit the brilliant minds of the football team–eminent poets, they–turned his name into Lance loves the Cock.
Cock, because Cochrane, get it? It’s funny. Ha ha ha. Faaaaaaaaaag…
He had decided very early in his life to change his name as soon as he was legally able to. Jethro was fine, right? Of course it was. Just look at Jethro Tull. And nobody could complain about Rivers either. Sure, he allowed, it was a little new-agey. Well, he had been going through a wiccan phase back then–something about rebelling against his staunchly fairweather Anglican parents–but he didn’t regret choosing Rivers.
And best of all, you couldn’t really change Jethro Rivers into anything stupid. Nobody had even tried, in college days.
Well, there had been Lily, but she had taken–lovingly–the first letters of each and come up with Jeri. Jerry. A little pet name, and he was fine with that.
After all, he had called her Lily, even though she was Li Li. Except not just Li and Li–each came with its own tone that he could never quite pronounce properly–but it didn’t matter in the end. Everyone called her Lily, and only Jethro called her love.
Ah, those had been the days. He slogged through accounting and she soared through nursing, and they spent their nights together in loving embrace and a haze of shitty beer and (oh my!) marijuana. He just knew she was the woman for him, the woman he would marry.
Well, one year passed in bliss, then another. Then Jethro had made the mistake of talking to a pastor about a wedding–how it all looked, what he had to do–and the son of a bitch must have talked to God. You know what they say about God. Want to make him laugh? Tell him your plans.
Before he ever had a chance to propose–seriously, even three months on his many part time salaries could scarcely have afforded one of those plastic gumball rings–she broke up with him.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” Lily had said.
Fuck you, George Costanza.
“It’s just, I think… I like girls,” she said.
Of course she did. She had to, because Jethro wasn’t a girl, and God forbid he should get a win.
Oh, he had been angry for a while. And who wouldn’t be? Two wonderful years of his life ended because. Life wasn’t fair, and that was that. Well, he reasoned, sure she might like girls. Wasn’t really a choice, was it? But come on! They had spent two years together.
“You obviously like me!” he had said. “You’re just bi, and I’m fine with that!”
Lily had rolled her eyes, and in the end Dolores had won. Dolores, who had bigger biceps than most wrestlers. Blah. She reminded him of Melony from Cider House Rules. No, not the movie, the book. She wasn’t in the movie, and anyway, Jethro hated movies.
Jethro’s nihilism started when he was a young child, but the shitty fallout of breaking up with Lily served as the fertilizer that made it truly blossom. He had even started going to nihilist meetings with some locals, but he quickly abandoned them as he couldn’t stand their whining and weird make up.
No, he suspected he wasn’t a real nihilist. He believed in some things. Life after college drove this point home for him when he got a job and discovered the wonderful world of taxes. Oh sure, he had known of taxes as an accountant, had even trained to minimize them for his clients through every loophole he could find. It was something else altogether when he had to pay them himself however. Interesting how few loopholes there were for a wage slave.
Death and taxes. These were the only constants then, the only things he could depend on.
Well, things hadn’t been quite so dismal, at least not at first. In time he got over Lily.
There were many beautiful, intelligent women in the world, after all. Women that knew what they wanted, recognized beauty when they saw it, and could hold a conversation as interesting as they were hot.
They were all out of his grasp of course, but he still enjoyed the fact they were at all.
After Lily Jethro went through dozens of shortlived and disappointing… well, he’d still call them relationships because why not. Liquor greased the wheels of love, and the drunken haze turned even the most worn out cowgirl into Athena. (And turned him into Adonis, even though to sober eyes he had let himself go, becoming a bit of a bitter and dumpy sack of sad.)
The meat on his stick sizzled and hissed, fat dripping into the fire. The flames rose higher.
One of those dismal memories rose in his mind, an image of a nymph called Charlene–Charlotte?–something with an esh anyway. A lovely middle-aged beer belly with an intoxicated laugh, a ten gallon hat, and enchanting stretch marks.
They had met in Pablo’s, a wretched little shack off the freeway frequented by welfarites and cowfolk, and probably a fair number of fake ids.
He remembered her tobacco teeth–Sharon! Her name had been Sharon! Probably. Anyway, her sour breath and dusky voice had called to him, and they had shared three of whatever shitty new Bud had been popular.
Everything was going well, she was interested in seeing his van–he wasn’t homeless at the time per se, it’s just his home was a ’97 Ford Aerostar–and then it happened. Jackass showed up and ruined it all.
Jackass was her boyfriend–or maybe her son, Jethro couldn’t remember–and he had started an argument with her. Well, big and brave man that he was, Jethro stepped in to save his fair maiden.
Words were had and fists were swung. He didn’t remember much of the night except that he had won, and it had been a good night. It had been good even though he had a busted nose and had a sleep in the drunk tank. And who cares that he never saw her again? The point was he had stood up for her honour and won, and it made him feel like a real man.
But blood was spilled–and shared–and he got some bad news from the doctor. Apparently Jackass had been HIV positive and now–surprise!–so was Jethro.
The next few months were a dark hell. Tests and drugs, drugs and tests. A cloud hung over him and followed him everywhere.
Well, what did it matter anyway. Death and taxes, right? Everyone died eventually.
Everyone, except Jethro. About half a year later he got the all clear.
“You’re cured!” the exuberant doctor–a man younger than Jethro, God, where had the time gone?–proclaimed.
It was impossible, but there it was all the same. His blood was clean after all. Did he have some super gene that made him impervious to HIV? Did his immune system do what no other human had accomplished? Or did some drunken lab tech mess up his results that first time? It didn’t matter. One way or another, Jethro Rivers had beaten HIV and cheated death.
He supposed he should have been happy, but death was one of his two constants. Having defeated it only left taxes. He was miserable.
The worst thing about it was, it wouldn’t be the only time he cheated death.
The second time was when he decided against a tuna salad at Mama’s Ol’ Fashioned greasy spoon, avoiding a fatal food poisoning epidemic that claimed fifteen other people. He had settled on pancakes in the end, the idea of breakfast for dinner making him giggle.
The third time he cheated death was when the bombs fell.
Who could say who fired first? Did it matter? All he remembered was a teary call from Lily–how many years had it been?–that she had made a huge mistake and wanted to see him. And what did he do, he the hopeless romantic idiot he was? Well, he got into his truck–he traded the van for a truck–and started down the interstate. Hmm, maybe Lancelot wasn’t such an ill chosen name after all.
Well, the bombs struck his home city, and though he hauled ass down the highway he arrived just in time to see Little Rock get wiped off the map by Big Nuke.
He stood for a while on the shoulder, just gaping at the brilliant mushrooms that had turned night into day. The whole city burned, and Lily along with it. Lucky Lily.
Apparently the whole country had been hit–maybe the whole world, who knows–and that was that. Civilization had finally fallen and Jethro Rivers had once more cheated death. He was getting good at cheating, and he regretted not having played more poker back when there were still people to play poker with.
He wandered the desolate nuclear wasteland for a while then, taking a real stock of his life and what he would do next. The bombs had shaken the very foundations of what few beliefs the faux nihilist still held. Well, he admitted that eventually death would probably take him, but it’d done a piss poor job of it so far. But with the bombs, there was no longer a government. Not even a country. Even taxes had failed him.
He sighed and pulled his stick out of the fire. The gecko he had speared earlier looked done. Charred anyway. He tested it with his fingers and found it to be very hot. He shrugged and bit into it. With any luck it would be undercooked and he would wake up dead. Probably not though.
Oh well. He could always hope, and as long as there was hope there was life.