Alvin Happens Upon the Greatest Line Ever

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Alvin Happens Upon the Greatest Line Ever by Robert Olen Butler

There must be a God. Now that all those nations that got together — who knows which ones? — I’ve never been any good in Mr. Frank’s geography class — Russia’s one of them and Korea’s one, I think, some Korea or other — now that they’ve launched their nuclear missiles and we’ve launched ours and all the old geezer anchormen are crying at the same time — zap, zap, zap with the remote in my hand and Tom and Peter and Dan are weeping like babies right there before us, one after the other — now that all this end-of-the-world stuff everybody’s been talking about till you just want to go, “Oh shut up, you people,” now that it’s finally suddenly happening, here I find myself sitting on a couch right beside the hottest girl in school, right here in the church teen center, and nobody else is around but her and me. Like, I’ve got these parents who are probably taking the trash out now, cleaning the toilets or something, determined not to let a thing like this upset their routine. They had to drop me off for the Youths for Jesus meeting half an hour early so I wouldn’t be late no matter how bad things sounded on the TV. And Jennifer Platt is sitting here right next to me, her own parents out of town somewhere, and she walked over from her house, not even knowing how things were going in the world, her being the silliest, hottest, sweetest girl God ever created. And now she sits beside me, me of all people, with my face breaking out and my hair geeking around on my head, and her long daisy-blond hair is rippling down her back and her big blue eyes are wide with terror, turned up to the TV watching Dan Rather mopping at his eyes with a handkerchief, and she’s making a little choking sound in her throat.
      “Is this, like, for real?” she finally manages to say.
      “Yes,” I say. “It’s all over, Jennifer. Life on planet Earth.”
      “Aren’t there supposed to be horsemen or whatever?” she says.
      “Like in the Book of Revelations?”
      She’s looking at me now in a way she never has. She’s got nobody else. Her eyes are as blue as the sky that’s about to disappear for a year or so in the nuclear winter and they are still wide with how wonked-out she is. These eyes are turning to me for guidance, but I never have listened very close to the prophecies and stuff that Pastor Lynch has been trying to explain. I’ve been too busy watching Jennifer Platt and thinking I didn’t have a shot in the world at her and praying that I was wrong. God does answer prayer. I can finally testify to that.
      I say, “Nobody ever knew what that horsemen stuff meant. Now it’s clear. God’s brought us together to cleave unto each other.” I like that, “cleave.” I think I’ve absorbed more in this place than I realize.
      Her eyes widen a little bit more. “What are you saying, Alvin?”
      “I’m like the horseman.”
      “Pardon me?”
      “To carry you away.”
      “You can’t run from the bomb, Alvin,” she says, and her voice is faint.
      “I’m talking, like, in metaphors, Jen. Carry you away in the passion that God has put between a man and a woman when they, uh, cleave. Like, aren’t we Adam and Eve here? Only in reverse? Like we’re the last two left? See, God arranged this.”
      She’s getting confused, but I figure that’s okay. She’s not saying “no” right off. I’m plugging into a thing she’s been looking forward to. Maybe not with me. But I’m in the ballpark. I say, “The missiles are going to hit real soon. There’s nowhere else to go. But here we are, you and me. God realizes that neither one of us wants to die a virgin.”
      Jennifer suddenly looks away and clamps down with her teeth on the knuckle of her right forefinger.
      I can hear myself. I’m impressed. Here it is, what’s going on outside, and with the White House about twenty miles from where I’m sitting — Jennifer and I are pretty much on ground zero — and I’m being cool as Harrison Ford or somebody.
      Jennifer stops biting her knuckle and looks back at me. Her eyes aren’t wide anymore. They’re narrow. She’s suddenly pretty cool herself. I know she’s considering my geekhood. This is the moment when I’m vulnerable. I’m sitting here wishing I knew more about the Bible. I maybe could find just the right passage. Something like, “Give thou to the plain man and thou shalt have riches in Heaven.” Which isn’t bad, really. I’m thinking about quoting that and pretending it’s real. But Jennifer lasers her eyes up and down my body and then she looks at the television.
      Just as she does, Dan Rather stares straight at the camera and says, in a quavery voice, “Speaking simply for this reporter, I’d suggest you go as quickly as you can to someone you love and hold them close.”
      Jennifer’s face swings back to me. I figure Dan has given me a real boost here. This should be it. But Jennifer seems to have simply gone back to checking me out, critically. I know there’s not much time.
      And suddenly I have words. I cry, “Jennifer Platt, the world’s coming to an end! We must have sex!”
      Her face softens. Well, not softens exactly, because it’s still not, like, soft. But the criticism is gone. The hard eyes are no longer hard. She nods very faintly and she stands up and puts her thumbs in the elastic waistband of her skirt and I can feel my Little Mister Man rising in my pants like a mushroom cloud. I can even set aside the hatred I have for my mother giving such a name as that to my dick and making it stick in my head, like, forever. All that vanishes from me. There is only Jennifer Platt, her skirt down at her ankles now and her legs long and smooth rising to her panties where her thumbs are now poised in the waistband and the very tip of me, the tip of, yes, Little Mister Man, is throbbing like crazy and I say a quick thank you to God, who is definitely in his Heaven.
      And now the panties descend and a sweet golden plume rises from the center of her and it is a color darker than the hair that is cascading around her face now, this gold, it is not the color of daisies but of sunlight on a white wall at the end of the day. A stopping happens inside me. I cannot breathe from the beauty of it. The beauty of the hair of her loins and also the beauty of sunlight on the wall.
      She is moving, lying down on the other end of the couch, and she opens her legs and I am still struggling to draw a breath, and something else is going on inside me. The sunlight will not show itself in this world like Jennifer Platt’s pubic hair ever again, not with anyone alive to see it. Jennifer’s legs are open and I look at this secret place on her body and it is as pretty as her face, it is the pink of my mother’s azaleas and it is pouting like a spoiled child and I love this soft place as it draws me to it, asks me to enter, and it whispers to me now of all that there is to destroy in this world, my mother’s flowers and her hands that tend them and the spoiled children and the good children, and I cannot move, I feel the warmth of my tears and I am afraid.


For more Robert Olen Butler, read:

Stars and Stripes Forever
Liquor License
Alvin Happens Upon the Greatest Line Ever
Deep Green Sea (a preview)

©2000 Robert Olen Butler and