The Advent of Wynona Berthoud

Wynona BerthoudWhen the dust cleared, she approached. The rattling of the carriage speeding away, the tick tick tick sound of horse hooves on formica cobblestones, the high whine of the deaf coachman singing his a-tonal version of The Bolero — this cacophony might have grated lesser nerves. Not mine. I have the best nerves money can buy. Why shouldn’t I?

I immediately noticed her fine figure. Not in a leering way, like some jackal eyeing up another jackal (male jackal eyeing up female jackal; not a gay jackal) in the lawless plains of sub-Saharan Africa. I observed and catalogued her figure with the calm repose of a jackal dressed in a smoking jacket, offering off-hand criticism of a humane foie gras for lacking the acid tang of cruelty, when — fate — he notices another (female) jackal step out onto the veranda of the lakeside hotel, and the other occupants stop, mid sip of their meaningless coffees, attune to some electric current in the air, mistaken as they may be, for with a placid disdain he turns his attention back to the intelligent phone in his paw, taps into an application, sketches a brief picture of the jackal(ess) with deft strokes, and then rates her appearance — he gives her a five out of ten, so jaded is he against the pleasures, and the incumbent wiles, of females. We have much in common, this fictional jackal and I. We are as alike as “handsaw” is to “hernshaw,” at least in the broad phonetic strokes of those words.

I assumed that she had come for one of two reasons: she was either here to pursue a paternity suit, or to request that I sire a child for her. I have never lost a paternity suit, owing to the constant re-modification of my DNA via the Emerson Dormir, a sleep chamber which exposes me to constant radiation during my nightly rest, subtly shifting my genetic structure. If you cannot afford a Dormir, you cannot afford such blatant philandering as I enjoy.

The downside of the Dormir is that it has left me completely sterile. I have been unable to sire a child for three years. The paternity suits have begun to peter out. My private doctors flounder for explanations. This has left me incapable of fulfilling the government mandate that wildly successful, wealthy, incomparably erudite men, such as myself, must receive and honor all requests for child-getting. Not only is this an embarrassment (obvious), it also exposes me to extensive tax-liability. I have thus far avoided these financial reprisals by finding surrogate fathers, but, of the many burdens my station piles upon me, this mandatory child-getting really is one of the more pleasant. The mandatory publication of nude photos of myself squatting—a conciliatory requirement, the price of ponderous wealth and fame, published in a yearly They’re Just Like You issue of TIME—runs a very distant second, even though I have mastered the art of the aristocratic squat.

The dust had now settled completely. The woman, lithe, in the bloom of youth, approached me. She did not move me. I took a sharp, disdainful slurp of my tea, then put on a pleasant mask.

“Hello, fräulein,” I called down to her, using the only German word I knew, on the off-chance that she might be German. She narrowed her left eye slightly. A tick? Suspicion? Only God knew for sure. Germans are notoriously hard to read, I thought.

“Hello, Magnus,” she said, employing my first name. A tone of perhaps over-familiarity? No trace of German accent. Perhaps an accomplished German mimic, capable of flawless American English?

“You seem to know my name,” I said, still smiling, as it unsettles the Germans, “but I’m afraid I don’t have the pleasure of knowing yours.”

She laughed prettily.

“Magnus, you can call me Miss Berthoud. But that’s not important. What’s important is that I’m a doctor, and that I’m about to tell you the truth.”

I laughed. A woman doctor! Then I stifled my laugh, suddenly realizing that women had been doctors for centuries and that there was nothing funny about a woman doctor. A woman telling the truth! That was the funny part. I laughed raucously, I laughed hideously. I ranged up and down the porch, stomping and laughing. Then in the space of a moment I felt a sudden insecurity about my bladder control in the midst of so much laughter and stopped. I flopped, archly, into my seat again, pants almost entirely unwetted.

Let us suppose there is an aboriginal man. He knows nothing of anything. Every time the local volcano erupts he meets a tiger in the jungle the next day. This happens time after time. Again and again. Exceedingly repetitively. He develops a theory: the volcano births the tiger. Has not Blake said as much? Through whatever mechanism of coincidence, the volcano and tiger exist in a chain of causality for this aborigine. We cannot fault for him his belief that volcanos cause tigers. For him, they do. Thus it is for me and women and lying. Every woman I’ve known has lied to me. I’ve earned my prejudice.

“Magnus,” said the woman again, using my name again, and frankly beginning to irritate me, ”you have cancer. You have cancer of the prostate.”

I’m used to this, being often beset by enemies. I fear no evil. I saw through this woman’s clever doctor disguise. (I had just realized that it was a doctor disguise and not some pseudo middle-east fashion.) Her impeccable accent.

“Your cadre of private doctors,” she said, “are terrified to tell you the truth.”

Through my pants I fingered a button embedded on the top of my right thigh. It’s expensive (and allegedly dangerous) to get a wireless remote control surgically inserted into your body. But I find it essential for home security.

“It’s probably why you haven’t successfully sired a child in some time. It’s probably because of all the insane modifications you’ve made to your body, genetic and otherwise.”

“Doctor Berthoud,” I said, “you’re very beautiful. What’s your first name?”

“Wynona. Like Judd or Ryder.”

“I see,” I said. Finger on the button. “Is it cold out here?”

“It seems fine to me,” she said.

“Hmmm . . . Are you quite sure you couldn’t use a bit more sun?”

With this I tapped the button three times. My chest opened and a fully-functioning (nuclear equipped) replica of the earth’s closest star emerged. It’s an expensive modification, some (names forgotten, flesh and bones charcoal and dust) would say an extravagant one. Doctor Berthoud was vaporized instantly.

I do not know her exact aim or purpose. The Germans and women are mysterious above all. I think about her often, as I make valiant efforts to urinate.

The Advent of Wynona Berthoud

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