by Seth Augenstein
My wife acted strangely after the second operation. She ate Big Macs, watched reality TV, and listened to smooth jazz with saxophones that howled like cats. This was disconcerting, coming from the committed vegan, film major, and punk rocker I had once married.
We hadn’t kissed, or even held hands, in months. A wall of pillows ran down the center of the bed.
But most distressing to me was the Ayn Rand. My wife was always a reader, but suddenly she threw over the Maupassant stories, and the beautiful arias of Chekhov. Suddenly she couldn’t get enough of the 20th century Russian refugee and her hardscrabble gospels of survival and selfishness.
I watched with an arched brow as she lay in bed, thumbing glacially through the pages of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, night after night. The operations had both been performed in February. Now it was October, and she had read both screeds at least three times, as she pored over them in bed and in doctors’ waiting rooms.
“Learning anything?” I asked her.
She turned a page. She said nothing.
Days later, she picked up the audiobook of Atlas Shrugged. I questioned her about it, since she already had two print copies. But she growled at me, saying it was none of my business how she spent her own money. I held up my hands and went back to my game of solitaire at the kitchen table.
The audiobook was read by a congressman from the Midwest, one with a great theatrical voice and an ambitious vision for America. He clearly put his heart into the performance—all sixty-three hours of the hateful, preachy Art Deco set pieces full of drama and self-importance. I hated every moment of it, sneering as I snapped the cards face-down on our kitchen table.
She even played it in bed.
One night, we reached the crucial moment deep in the book when the plot against the wretched masses reached its glorious climax. John Galt taunted the bleeding hearts of the world about their needless sacrifices.
“Are you now crying: No, this was not what you wanted? A mindless world of ruins was not your goal?” the voice nagged.
I yawned and stretched in the sheets, as that voice harangued me about every good thing I’d ever learned in Sunday school. The harsh words hammered hard in the empty dark as I drifted off.
Then Ayn Rand herself stood before me. Her black, beady eyes pierced me. She glowed. There was some kind of green all around, like a money-colored mist. She pointed a crooked finger at me.
“What were you thinking?” Rand said, shaking her head, her heavy accent blurring her words.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“What were you thinking? All this family planning, all this looking to the future, all for what? All this leaves you with what?”
I had no answer. She pressed close to me. Her face came up to my chest. Her eyes darted from mine, to my mouth, to my chin, inspecting every pore.
“You are weak,” she said. “You do not have an answer for anything you do. Was this what you wanted? You coward.”
I roared and shoved her. But she sailed backward gracefully, like she was on a string. She smiled, waving her taloned finger at me.
“You do not think. You do not reason. You just feel.” She shook her head, eyes rolling in her sockets like onyx marbles. “You are just another sacrificial animal.”
“How dare you,” I said, shoving her back again. “I’m no animal, you proto-fascist.”
Her eyes grew wide.
From somewhere behind her, she produced a chainsaw. It was a huge Stihl. The rusty chain dangled a bit off the bar.
“You say fascist? I say I have a pragmatism of reason,” she said, drawing out the last syllables.
Her clawed hand caressed the starter handle.
“My reason tells me your sniveling emotions don’t deserve your wife—or any woman, for that matter,” she said. “You are truly only half a man.”
She yanked the cord, and the Stihl roared to life. The chain rattled as the engine belched blue smoke.
“Let me show you what I mean,” she shouted over the roar.
I turned and ran. She chased me, the whining blade brandished over her head, like in the best horror movies. My feet were so slow. I looked down and saw myself sinking into the greenish muck beneath.
I could not move.
Ayn Rand stood over me, suddenly towering through the mist. She revved the 100cc engine, grinning through those horrific gapped teeth.
“You think you are fit to add to this already-crowded world?” she said. “In love, currency is the virtue. But you are bankrupt. So very bankrupt.”
The Stihl roared down. It started at my forehead and plunged, sawing deep through my heart and guts, all the way down to my crotch. It didn’t hurt—it was just this weird vibration, like I was on an old train. The chainsaw roared, then quieted.
I was severed in two. I saw two of her, one with each eye.
“I tell you,” said the Rands, both saws roaring, “You are only half a man.”
I woke, sweaty, to something buzzing between my legs. I reached down, and pulled out my cellphone. I looked over at my wife, who was still awake, staring at the ceiling. The voice of the Midwestern congressman kept preaching the Randian oeuvre. I went over to the machine, and turned it off. She roused from her trance.
“Hey! What did you do that for?” she said.
I sat down on the edge of the bed.
“We need to talk.”
“But it’s three in the morning,” she said. “It’s too late.”
Silence. We looked into each others’ eyes. I reached out for her hand.
After a moment, she squeezed mine. Her lip started to quiver. I touched her face.
That night we checked our premises until the sun rose again.