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In a convertible black Mercedes, roughly one hour before sunset, along the road from Constanţa to Mamaia, having had caroused through Ovid Square and sampled mămăligă, my wife and I looked up at the horizon on the coast and saw three harpies flying towards us at the speed of sound. Boom! I cranked the wheel. Fuck, I thought. The bitches of Electra! Swerving off the highway, we rolled down a road that ran parallel with a boggy ravine, then ended up in an grassy field. I then turned to my wife and said: “This is what we get for not understanding history! Romanians! Fascists, communists! Everything is backwards. Who cares how gypsies beg? Remind me to never take a trip with you again!”
Ironically enough, I had studied harpies as a student. I recalled how Phineas, king of Thrace, son of Poseidon—blinded, punished by the gods, because he mistreated his own children and revealed too much of the gods’ plans to humankind—left Iris, a goddess, no choice but to send the harpies down to snatch free food out of his hands (every time he tried to feed himself), on the coast of the Black Sea.
Their chattering teeth were like sharpened shards of iron. Their feathered bellies had been tended to by their own spit. I thought of Kentucky Fried Chicken as the plump three of them each perched on the hood of our Mercedes, glaring at us, hissing, through the windshield.
“So,” said my wife, who slid a loosely-knotted scarf off her neck, then turned to me in sunglasses. “Do you have a clue? No, you have quite a bit of nothing.”
I hit the dashboard several times like some angry American. “Get the fuck away! We’re Dutch! We’re cartoonists!” Such shrieking I have never heard before. I turned to my wife: “Maybe those cabbage rolls had chemicals in them and this is a hallucination.”
“They’re foaming at the mouth like drunken whores!”
“They’re not whores,” I said. “They’re harpies! Oh, why did we come?!”
“Because you wanted to see the Black Sea and needed inspiration.”
“And how much work did you complete last month? None.”
“Make me feel ashamed?” My wife laughed. “Oh, you and your little whore, believe me, I know it’s part of some conspiracy to lead me to an early grave. Stop flustering my mind!”
I glared at my wife. “I fucked up—yes, this I want to tell you—but she—.”
“I loved you more than life itself—I. . . .”
“I need a legacy! Don’t you know I’m fifty and I’m sonless?”
“This all comes back to me,” said my wife. “You and your sons.”
“What?” I said.
“Nothing,” she said.
I looked at my wife, who had her eyes forward, staring at the harpies.
I did not know if my wife, behind those sunglasses, was a fallen woman. I married her because she was talented, married her because she understood my sexual proclivities and because she, too, was a cartoonist. Never did I think would it come to this—to this moment in our relationship. I looked at the harpies through the windshield, studied their faces. The one on the left corner of the hood was plump with the face of a chubby teenager. The harpy perched on the hood ornament—the Mercedes sign directly before us—had the face of a girl infant, eyes-closed, pink-faced, with scanty patches of hair on her head, yet had the body of an oily fowl. So disturbed was I by that harpy with an infant-head, that I looked at the third harpy, who had the face of a crone with moss and bits of human flesh betwixt her iron teeth.
I had a dream just like this, I thought; I was prepared for our dismemberment.
My wife shook her head, opened up and reached into the glove box for her blue package of Gauloises, then extracted a short cigarette. She lit it with a lighter that had a dolphin on it. Annoyed, she began to smoke with her right elbow cradled in her cupped left palm.
She, too, was vicious, yet she was beautiful.
I remembered how I met her in the outskirts of Amsterdam.
I had rented a bicycle and took a ride down a trail and saw a busty girl in a tight pink shorts leaning down to pump her back bicycle tire. I stopped to look at her, and she peered up at me quickly, frustrated with the pump, threw her hands up, then looked at me directly.
“Excuse me, sir, can you please help? I can’t seem to do this right.”
I smiled and crossed the road, looked down at her bicycle and then up at her and saw she was doing everything right. Amused, we then talked. I asked her what she did for a living: she said that she was an artist; I asked her “What kind?” She said she drew political cartoons which poked fun at famous people, that although she enjoyed writing the captions more than drawing, she did not think she was a natural comedian.
We talked for a while, standing there on the outskirts of Amsterdam, watching the cars scroll by us as the sun was setting. Holding a purple cap, I asked her to meet me at a café the following week, so I could show her my portfolio and so she could show me hers.
I was a decent cartoonist, she said, thumbing through the prints, at the table.
“Yes, in fact, I like the purple feathers here and here….and with this tinge of aqua.”
I had just graduated from Oxford, returned to Amsterdam, unsure of what do with my life, which was difficult because I once had my head buried in books, as a Classics major, and I dabbled in Greek and knew Latin. For a year, I read nothing but Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the original. I had also read about Jason and the Argonauts and I was taken back by the sheer wonder of what it meant for him to acquire that Golden Fleece.
I sketched them in my textbook—all those creatures, sins. I once considered myself a Protestant, I explained to my future wife.
She seemed to like my pluck and smile. I liked her lips, her gravitas.
Even late into the night, after many joints and cups of coffee—I somehow knew I would marry this girl. I would take a liking to simpler things: like cartoon doodling, which I had done ever since I was a child. Never did I think my number would come. That as a ghost, I would hover above my convertible, black Mercedes, my beautiful, busty wife and I melting into each another, converging into a great, gelatinous blanket, high above the scene, in the sky, above the convertible top, while harpies, with angers freshly lit, mauled through our entrails, after they each delivered two blows of death.
I looked down at the scene, thinking about the sons I never had, about my two mistresses in Romania who never knew of, nor met my wife, how rarely I colored inside the lines in my last few years of work—while the harpies snatched up our flesh with their beaks and talons, yanked out our veins, roosted through us, gnawed on our lacerated husks, hopping about in the front seat of a Mercedes, parked in a grassy field, that had no living passenger.
More Paul Rogov’s stories: http://paulrogov.wordpress.com/