a life of order
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Wine Cellar Confederates by KJ Hannah Greenberg


From the treadmill, I espied elders more blubbered-out than me lifting quantities of weight that would make an empowered chimerae shudder. Without as much as a mild "pardon moi" from their trainers, those matrons heaved and hauled.

In a further corner of the gym, two mildly adolescent boys pulled a band of synthetic fabric between them. Their quads and lats bulged from their intentional strain. Those boys smiled, in bursts, when they were not otherwise singing in time to their iPods.

I looked up at my screen. Five kilometers left. I could watch the ceiling TV or think about Ralph.

Ralph was an oenophile who believed his dining pronouncements belonged on the cover of Newsweek. For good reason, his family would rather have posted those claims on the rims of field latrines. While he did not go so far as to submit his considerations to estimable editors, he did bother all comers to his table with his opinions. Colorful words were the least of his problems.

Ralph prescribed behaviors. Whole-grained cereal necessarily had to be paired with goat milk. Stir-fried mushrooms were wasted if not washed down with rice wine. A simple tuna and Swiss toast demanded a chocolate-syrup laden drink or some other type of comfort beverage.

His livingroom necessarily had to have an ottoman, an easy chair and a sofa large enough for three other conversants. His bedroom closets had a required depth and his backyard was nothing if not filled with at least two dozen specimen trees.

He woke at six, each morning, unerringly and tucked his head among the covers at ten pm, sharp. His mustache was precision-trimmed and his ear hairs were cut every alternate Tuesday.

He married his wife because she was exactly five foot six and proposed to her on the cusp of the new moon. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and three long-haired dachshunds.

His expressed affections, when uttered at all, consisted of “zip up,” or “please be quiet.” The first he gave to his wife and daughter concerning their costuming. The second was his response to any opinions offered by his son.

When Ralph prepared to file his family’s taxes, he layered neat folders of paper-clipped documents on the diningroom table. Usually, he completed that task in less than two hours.

Ralph’s vacations were spent either regrading the dirt embanking his home or trying to collect revenues from the estates of deceased relatives. His loved ones sunned on the beach or hiked through mountain glades without him.

The coroners claimed that Ralph died one minute before midnight, spot on. He was not discovered as passed until his wife woke up, next to him, the following morning.

His funeral, about which he had scripted many pages, was a more orderly affair than the assemblage of a hamburger at a takeout window. It was only when his casket was being wheeled over that densely-plied fabric known as “indoor/outdoor carpet,” that the first of many irregularities occurred. In brief, an abandoned kitten wandered into the hole ordained for Ralph and got stuck there.

Subsequently, insurance collectors made a lein on his family’s home. Afterward, those same officials paid his wife and children upwards of half of a million dollars revealed to be due when Ralph’s lawyers finished their machinations. As a comeuppance for shaming and inconveniencing Ralph’s family, the insurance firm gifted them with a holiday cottage. No lawsuits ensued.

Ralph’s daughter married a motorcycle mechanic. Their third child won a beauty pageant, but then drowned in a neighbor’s swimming pool.

Ralph’s son spent some years backpacking in small Asian countries with difficult to pronounce names and then completed a sociology degree at Harvard. Shortly thereafter, he organized a development company whose second film won many Oscars.

As for Ralph’s wife, after his demise, she, too, embraced a life of irreverence. Initially, she joined a circuit for stand-up comedians. Later, she opened a knitting shop that specialized in llama wool creations. Still later, she traveled the country in search of polka dance parties.

A climbing accident curtailed her ballroom frolicking. Her children urged her to find other pursuits. When ceramics and banjo strumming failed to fulfill her, she began training for cross-country skiing. Ralph’s wife meant to transverse a portion of Montana.

A span later, Ralph’s family’s lives began to take on a semblance of regularity. The Hollywood tycoon sold his company and bought an apartment on the Upper West Side. His sister, her husband, and their remaining two children moved into Greenwich Village, from where they hoped to cater to the two-wheeled appetites of Gotham City and to infuse their offspring with a love of mastodon skeletons, stolen European masterpieces and anorexic ballerinas. Ralph’s wife bought a midtown timeshare.

The timer rang. I calculated that if I showered quickly, I’d still be able to meet the kids for an Off Broadway matinee. I’m not so interested in mastodons.


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