The Third World War… The subject is rather dear to me, and has been exhaustively and astutely chronicled by others, so let’s just say the Third World War came and went and is mostly incidental to our tale, only mentioned here because of its role in Rita’s gradual reawakening after she was presumed dead or on vacation for many years. It was shortly after the war that the bereaved and grieving public, looking for someone or something to blame, turned their firebrands and tossed their bricks on museums, art-house theaters, and libraries. It was the biggest bonfire since Alexandria smoldered, except this purge was perpetrated with a wonderful sense of cheery benevolence, and it’s said the ashes of books and paintings and so on were properly mulched, the earth being a popular cause at the time. Purportedly, camp fire songs were sung.
It was in the heaps of rubble that Rita was found, but she looked so comfortable in her coma that she earned the crowd’s sympathy and was left in a state of sublime slumber, and when, in short time, a mini-mall was constructed over the ruins of the former culture, the foremen were kind enough to build around her and pave over her. The mini-mall was built complete with a multiplex, but mankind learned from its apparent mistake, and made certain the films were of the most derivative and shallow quality, certain not to place an idea in the viewer’s mind that was not already there. Authors were prescribed the same aesthetic, and so began the era of Innocuous Realism.
Luckily for our heroine, the mini-mall was as well composed as the chintzy and flashy goods it hawked, and wasn’t built to last or even sustain human life for more than a few seasons, but was surprisingly accommodating to the comatose. The floor collapsed like the end of an empire and history was put into a rare state of flux. In the gathering dust and confusion, as a dozen broken bottles of perfume wafted into the air, Rita was stirred awake from her hundred-year catnap feeling nothing worse than an ice-cream headache.
“I don’t think I’ve been in this store before,” she said as she stood up on wobbly pins and dusted herself off. Surveying the absurd scene, she caught sight of a group of people milling about the store in different stages of undress, and not the sexy or marketable stages either. They wore tattered and stained jeans that weren’t fashionably tattered or stained by the factory. They wore crummy flannel and not the chic variety of crummy flannel. Worse, their shoes didn’t match the outfits, but then, steel toed hiking boots didn’t match much of anything. One man was in a shaggy bath robe standing beside an infant in nothing but a diaper held together by painter’s tape and safety pins, waddling about, blissfully ignorant of his own fashion faux pas. The shelves and glass display cases were cluttered with bric-a-brac, aged appliances, dusty books, and the clothes on the racks were as offensive to her senses as what the customers had on. “What is this,” she gasped in fright, “an outlet store?”
A thin woman in oversized maternity pajamas stared at Rita a moment before hollering to her husband in the robe, “Dear, if you are going to invite company over, at least exercise discretion in mentioning it to me so I may prepare appetizers and aperitifs. I swear, my love, you sometimes exhibit the mental acuity of a child first introduced to Hegel’s phenomenological musings.”
Rita stared, alternating between states of awe and blankness, as if she were hearing another language for the first time. The future, for her, was byzantine.
“Oh come now, Martha,” he replied, shrugging. “You and I both know I caused such a controversy by dismissing Hegel on the grounds that he overlooked the central tenets of cultural relativity in his critique of history. I objected to how he contrived an idea of progress appealing to men of his social set, but not applying to the heterogeneous forms of mankind.”
“Dada,” the infant gurgled in a cute high voice as it tried to stand up, “I thought we satisfactorily concluded your refusal of Hegel part and parcel was, how shall I put this? Passé, rooted inextricably in your salad days as a glossy-eyed secular humanist.”
“Junior!” His mother scolded him.
“Besides,” the father said, “I didn’t invite her. The floor gave in and out popped this waifish girl, sleep in her eyes, like a regular Rip Van Winkle.”
The woman replied in Rita’s defense, “Just because she’s dressed so old-fashioned doesn’t mean you must compare her to Rip. Women don’t like being compared to grizzled and bearded men in trousers. Call her, umm, Sleeping Beauty.”
“My name,” she blurted, “is Rita.”
“Or Rita Van Winkle.”
Before they had the chance to sauté the salmon they set aside for special occasions, Rita bolted out the automatic sliding doors, barefoot in stockings, holding her pastel heels behind her like dim children.
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