- The Golden Age
Historically we use man for people of any gender because men win. So it’s useful to do that when cornered.—Anne Carson
1. Noms de Guerre
Do you know what time it is?” A white woman, mid-thirties, wearing a silky-blue shift and Blundstones, sat down next to Madeline on the bench outside The Common coffee shop.
Madeline didn’t want to reckon with time or another person, but she had seen the clock inside and figured about three minutes had passed. “8:37.” Her own voice was low and surprising to her—a growl that betrayed that she hadn’t spoken to anyone in a week.
The woman tipped her cortado from side to side, reading the pocked lunar surface of the milk-foam. “Hmm. We will know each other a long time.” She looked sideways at Madeline. “And it’s going to rain today.”
She stretched a long arm up toward the cloudless blue monochrome above, her shoulder strap sliding down, breast almost slipping out.
She pointed to Madeline’s cup. “Let me see what yours says.”
Madeline finished her latte—a fast scald along her digestive track—ruining the potential for any assignation of meaning.
“Now who knows what your destiny will be.” The woman planted her feet wide and stood, the blue silk watering over her knees. Then she was gone, a paperback book left behind—a volcano on the cover. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. There was a name on the inside flap. Elizabeth. A very wrong name, mistaken taxonomy.
Elizabeth slid onto the seat at the Communist’s Daughter, sloshed Madeline’s beer, and snatched up The Autobiography of Red to save it. “Sorry I’m late.”
The bartender brought a pint to Elizabeth and a cloth to wipe up. “Whoa. Are you two sisters?”
“Yes.” Madeline had a habit of lying when asked a direct question: Do you take milk in your coffee? Is work going well? Do you want to have sex? Her best tactic was to say yes and figure out the truth later.
They talked about the book on the table between them, a modern romance [End Page 148] inspired by Herakles’s tenth labor, to kill the red-winged monster, Geryon. The little red monster is an outsider, and he and Herakles fall in love or lust, travel through South America, come apart and together, and question the nature of immortality, genius, and lava.
A second beer and the two talked about the specific nature of female genius, about the reasons Carson left Canada, and wondered if it still might be altogether simpler to be male. Elizabeth ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. Then they moved on to the sorts of things that everyone in intentionally dingy bars moves onto: the absurdity of still being an emerging artist at thirty-eight (Elizabeth) or even thirty (Madeline) and whether it would be possible ever to leave serving jobs behind. They talked about time, about art, about the desire to catch an authentic moment on film and the problematic nature of the word “authentic.” They talked about underwhelming texts received at three in the morning, which led to underwhelming romances. Their laid-bare processing turned to their own desire to be genius, the need for something, everything, to change—in art, in the world. Madeline stole the candles from other tables as their own burned out. Her stomach growled though she’d said she wasn’t hungry (she was broke), and Elizabeth, reading the signs and licking her ketchup-bloodied fingers, left her the last bite of the grilled cheese. They talked about how they wished Anne Carson were in Toronto, were the head of an artistic movement, held weekly salons down the street.
Elizabeth finished her beer. “Do you want to start a revolution?”
Madeline looked around the room—the jukebox, which under-lit the faces of black-clad twenty-somethings, the scabbed plastic-red covering on the booths, and the forty-something musician-bartender. A revolution. It wasn’t so much her destiny as her habit. Say yes and find out the truth later...