The Sin of America

Content Note: Child Death and Violence Against Women


There’s a woman outside of a town called Sheridan, where the sky comes so near to earth it has to use the crosswalk just like everybody else.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan, sitting in the sun-yellow booth in the far back corner of the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe under a busted wagon wheel and a pair of wall-mounted commemorative plates. One’s from the moon landing. The other’s from old Barnum Brown discovering the first T-Rex skeleton up at Hell Creek.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan and she is eating the sin of America.

The woman sits quietly with her hands in her lap. Her hair slumps over her shoulder in a long fat braid the color of tarnished quarters, but she isn’t old. She isn’t young, either. Her name is Ruby-Rose Martineau and her parents run a butterfly farm just over the Montana line in a tight corner pocket of the Shoshone river. Mainly rare swallowtails: spicebrush, emerald peacock, Queen Alexandras. Some red lacewings and whatnot. You remember it. So do the other seven or eight customers seated carefully far from her, silent as buttes, pantomiming how hard they aren’t staring while staring for all they’re worth. You all grew up seeing the giant faded highway signs with Dale Martineau’s big Frenchy face grinning down the plains with a huge black trogonoptera trojana perched on the tip of his self-satisfied thumbs-up.

Just 100 miles to Bigwing Ranch, Home of the Ultimate Butterfly Experience!

50 Miles! Tell Your Dad to Pull Over Cuz It’s Only $10!

You’ve Almost Made It To the Best Day of Your Life! Just 25 Little Ol’ Miles To Go!

Ruby-Rose got named for two perfect red things and she ran away from the Ultimate Butterfly Experience as soon as she could chain one dollar to the next. But the distances out west make it so hard to get far. Majored in dance at Colorado State. Ruined her feet before she was old enough to rent a car. Got married. Got unmarried. Had a baby born with only half a heart that died in her arms at 4:37 am one frost-cauled January morning. Did what broken dancers do: opened a school for ballet/modern over in Provo. Slept with one of the much-bescarved producers who descend like monarchs for Sundance every year, who never did hire her to choreograph his next flick but did saddle her with a kiddo who’s about five now and can say all the geological periods of the earth in order from the Precambrian to the Quaternary. Closed the school and everything else round about the big crash when people stopped caring whether little Kaylee could do a decent goddamned pas de chat for quite a good whack of time. Crested the wave of her generation as they crashed down back home in their childhood bedrooms with nothing, even though she’s been afraid to death of butterflies since she was big enough to say why she was crying all over her pretty new dress.

Her name is Ruby-Rose Martineau and she is eating the sin of America.

The waitress’s nametag says Emmeline. An old flatscreen drones out a soft ribbon of white noise over the big picture window. One of the yelly conservative news troughs Ruby-Rose hates. The chyron crawls silently across the primary-colored frame, projecting faintly on her skin: Independent Inquiry Determines Christopher Salazar Behind Hedge Fund Ponzi Scheme. A photo goes up over the name: a nice-looking man with a fresh haircut who looks far too young to get caught up in any of that sort of thing. The block black C in Christopher flutters faintly on Emmeline’s forehead. She’s an owl-eyed wisp of a thing, wearing a royal blue dress with Disney princess cap sleeves and a frilly white apron that’s got a big blue bison chomping blue prairie grass embroidered on it.

This is the uniform designed by Linda Gage, who opened the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe in 1981 and got T-boned by the biggest horse-trailer you ever saw in 1982. Nothing left but hooves and hair and Linda and all her dear little plans smeared up and down I-90 for half a mile in each direction.

Herb Gage’s kept it all like she wanted, down to the fancy -pe stapled on the back end of Shoppe, which he personally thought was about as stupid as whipped cream on steak and told her so at the time. But now? If God himself came down and told him to spell it right Herb Gage would tell the old man to get the fuck out. Linnie picked out those moon landing and T-Rex plates and nailed up their display stands herself. And the busted wagon wheels, the bluebell-patterned cushions on the extruded plastic booths, the interstate highway maps and her very own watercolors of the official bird and fish and flower of the Equality State, still with their original $15 price tags affixed, as Herb could more easily sell his own brain out of his skull than one lousy pastel western meadowlark in a plastic frame. It was Linnie who hung up all those felt NFL champion pennants in chronological order, starting with the Cleveland Browns in the year of her birth dangling over the revolving pie display case and terminating abruptly in the 1982 Washington Redskins, whose solemn mascot frowns down on the cash register. She insisted on crayons and paper tablecloths for the kiddies to draw on while they waited for their ice creams. Why, her deadbeat brother shot and stuffed that taxidermy elk-head with tie-dyed antlers himself. And it surely never was Herb who put up those black and white framed photos of all the famous people Linda Gage dreamed would one day visit and order up her World Famous Daily Deep-Fry Surprise and stretch their belts and tell her you just couldn’t get food like this back in LA, no sir, you could not.

The Blue Bison Diner is a ghost’s living room and it is serving the sin of America.

But for all that, Emmeline’s uniform is seven months stretched out with Herb Gage’s kid. She’s told her parents it was a boy from another school but it wasn’t. She’s told Herb it’s a boy but it isn’t. Emmeline puts a protective hand on her belly, to shield her baby from…what? Ruby-Rose in her pretentious tight black clothes like she was fooling anyone, the rain coming on outside, her family’s disgust and disappointment, the Daily Deep-Fry, her part in the great and frightening thing happening right now today in her place of business, the gravitational pull of Herb’s grief and need.

“How do you…how do you want it?” Emmeline says. She tries to put on her usual shit-eating cheerful bell-in-the-door voice but her mouth dries out on her and it comes out a crow-y rasp.

Ruby-Rose looks over the menu. She isn’t in the least hungry. But it cannot be a small meal. They told her that when they came for her, and all the delicate endangered emerald swallowtails circled their heads like green rings around terrible planets. It cannot be small and it cannot be short. It takes as long as it takes. You can’t do this thing halfway.

We’re counting on you.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan who remembers the pure calm of knowing that someday, she was gonna be so amazing she’d sheerly glow.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan sitting on a threadbare bluebell-patterned cushion a dead lady once thought was so classy and beautiful it would turn her into a better person so she bought the whole bolt of fabric without even looking at the price.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan and she is ordering the sin of America off a plastic menu with a turquoise buffalo on the cover whose peeled and blistered thought bubble faintly complains: Hurry up, I’m STARVING!

Emmeline cracks her pinky knuckle nervously. “Maybe something to drink first?” she suggests.

Ruby-Rose Martineau takes three short, sharp breaths and crushes the heels of her hands into her eye sockets until she stops shaking. “Am I allowed to drink?” she whispers, still hiding like a child in the dark behind her hands. “I don’t know how this works.”

“Me neither, but…” Her voice drops to a whisper, like she’s getting away with something lovely and wicked. “I say you should treat yourself, Ruby.”

“Okay,” Ruby sniffles like a kid. She wipes her nose with the back of her wrist. She’s wearing a white agate ring on her middle finger, given to her by the long-gone Sundance man. “Red wine? Pinot Noir if you have it.”

They did not have it. Nor, in fact, did the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe have a liquor license from the great state of Wyoming, although Herb’ll spot you a glug of whiskey in your milkshake out of his back pocket flask for two bucks. Alcohol always gave Linda a headache. But when Mr. Herbert James Gage was duly informed by certified mail that it was all gonna go down on his doorstep this time he said: right is right. The old man called up the Thrifty Foods and put in an order for the good stuff with the pipsqueak on the deli phone. Look, son, I don’t know. How ’bout this: if you don’t think I could spell it, just put it in a box, write my name on the box, and I’ll settle up with Curtis end of the month.

Never once occurred to him, or the teenager manning the turkey grinder at Thrifty Foods, that the lady’d want something as soft as wine today.

A man in a Navy vet hat grumbles for the flatscreen remote. Turn the damned game on instead. Those talking heads shake up his blood pressure like a Coke bottle. The Broncos are playing the Steelers, you know. Come on, man. The TV floods the joint with emerald green as the field fills up the frame. After a minute or two, the stats graphics flip to a breaking news bulletin: Grand Jury Returns Indictment Against Salazar in Brutal Police Slaying.

“Can you believe that guy?” Navy Hat whispers to the college boy plonked down on the stool next to his, home for the holiday and sawing into a short stack with extra butter. “Every day it’s something.”

“I know,” College Boy answers just as quiet, like they’re swapping notes in a library. “It just never ends. No point in watching the news these days, honestly.”

There’s a little league coach with a shaved head bellied up to the bar at the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe who sees Miss Emmeline pour straight Stolichnaya into a novelty wine glass with all the lyrics of the state song engraved on it and starts working himself into a serious fume as he already asked three times for something better than Sprite and got turned down flat.

There’s a real estate agent pretending to pick at a salad that’s mostly croutons at a four-top by the door of the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe whose therapist was always telling her how important it was to practice self-care and do things just for Tracey sometimes, so she drove her sleek new hybrid all the way up from Phoenix for this and now that it’s almost time she’s getting so excited she can barely keep still in her seat.

There’s a woman with her back to the glass partition that separates the Blue Bison Diner from the Souvenir Shoppe wrapping her long fingers around her booze while a repurposed drugstore paperback rack of little plush bighorn sheep glare down her spine with flat lifeless plastic eyes and when the kitchen gets going and the smells start drifting past the swinging steel doors she finds she is so hungry after all that her mouth waters for the sin of America.

The appetizers come out first, onion rings and queso and sweet ’n smoky chipotle hot wings. The way sweet Emmeline confidently pronounces chipotle chipottlee fills up the heart of Ruby-Rose Martineau with so much love and softness she can’t barely breathe. She isn’t hardly anything more than a baby and it’s not her fault. Nobody should have let Herb Gage’s grasping old hands come within a county of her. Someone should have protected her and even if they didn’t, he shouldn’t have the poor girl working when her time’s so close.

The game dissolves into news alerts as regular as heartbeats: Salazar Evicts Millions. Christopher Salazar at the Bottom of Massive Waterway Pollution, Experts Say. C. Salazar Named in Racial Discrimination Lawsuit. Christopher S. Exposed as Architect of Social Media Pipeline Algorithm. New Educational Standards to Highlight Salazar Family’s Role in Atrocities.

Emmeline backs out of the double kitchen doors, wobbling under the weight of so many plates. She just sets them down with a little grunt of effort and heads back in for more. The dishes keep coming and coming.

A bowl of tomato soup with saltines.

18 oz ribeye, rare, with baked potato and sour cream.

Patty melt on rye (extra mushrooms).

Denver omelet.

Chicken tenders with honey mustard.

Belgian waffle with strawberries and ice cream, not whipped cream.

Side of bacon, sweet potato fries, chili mac and cheese.

Peppermint milkshake.

Peach rhubarb pie with a scoop of vanilla.

And a serving of the World Famous Daily Deep-Fry Surprise, which the Emmeline-drawn letterboard outside announces in cute pink chalk with hearts and angels is Beer-Battered PB & J.

Rainclouds roll up on the horizon like big grey boulders, one of those high-country storms that stomps open the sky and then half an hour later it’s like it never happened at all. The air outside the Blue Bison Diner is full of ozone and brush and jaundiced yellow half-light and the table in front of Ruby-Rose Martineau is so full of the sin of America you can’t even see one single spiky stick figure on the tablecloth, scribbled by some child long grown and gone.

Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds watch her expectantly from their black and white photos on the wall. Redford peers over his actual signature, the only one of the dozens who actually did visit once, years and years ago. He ordered an ice water.

It’s too much. She’ll never be able to finish it. It’ll never fit inside her. It’s too big and too heavy and too rich. She could eat all day and into the night and there would still be more waiting for her. More and more and more.

She sips the peppermint milkshake and it is good. It’s really good. Not too thick or too runny, just the right consistency to bloom up through the striped, wide-bore straw without sticking. Little chunks of candy cane popping in her mouth. It tastes like Christmas and for a moment Ruby-Rose Martineau just savors it, the sweetness and the sharpness and the memory of all the milkshakes she’s drunk so thoughtlessly, so carelessly, like they meant nothing. Swinging her little chubby legs in the air on the bumper of her Dad’s truck at the drive-in while he tells her to just hide her face with his coat if it gets too scary. Begging for a mix of every flavor with her high school friends even though it would probably be, and was, disgusting. Walking down twinkling streets in Utah with a man she’d never see again, stealing sips of his salted caramel shake after she’d finished her own.

Simple scenes, without resonance, without connection, gone as fast as thunder. Like everything.

Ruby plunges her spoon into the tomato soup, half sucked up already into an undifferentiated mass of saltines, just the way she likes it. The game goes into overtime. During the ad break, a politician looks directly to camera and speaks with down-home long-faced concern about his opponent’s association with Christopher Salazar and what that means for good God-fearing voters like you.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau is helping a school group prepare for the Ultimate Butterfly Experience at Bigwing Ranch and you would never guess how revolting she finds the creatures by the warmth of her voice as she tells the little ones that a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope, and they eat nectar from the flowers they grow in those big fields out there, and yes of course you can take a sunflower home, sweetheart, the butterflies won’t miss one silly old flower out of thousands.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau is wrapping a fourth-grade boy in long strips of red fabric her mother rubbed all over with nectar the night before and explaining what a chrysalis really is. She whispers like it’s a big secret even though it isn’t, you can read about it in any serious textbook. Most people think a caterpillar turns into a butterfly the way a child turns into an adult, but that’s not true at all. What really happens is that the caterpillar completely dissolves right down to its DNA. It bubbles down into a kind of soup of itself and then the soup reassembles itself into a completely different thing. The caterpillar dies and the butterfly gets born. It’s not a metamorphosis at all, it’s a sacrifice. The kids start looking pretty upset and Ruby moves quickly on to other interesting butterfly facts like how they taste with their feet, hoping her father didn’t overhear her doing it again. Explaining to children what fucking horrifying nightmare creatures butterflies actually are, that they eat shit and drink tears and if they didn’t look so pretty and nice from far away we’d think they were monsters from the deeps of hell, each and every one of them, at which point her father’s rough, gorgeous, booming voice usually interrupts to shut her up for the thousandth time and hiss goddammit, Ruby, we’re trying to sell a beautiful family-friendly memory, what the hell?

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau guides the completely mummified child in his polyester “chrysalis” into the butterfly house while behind her, a long red car pulls up the winding drive. It somehow looks freshly-washed even through all the dust and pollen and road-grime everyone else collects on their way up there. Daddy makes himself immediately scarce. Bigwing Ranch is home not only to the Ultimate Butterfly Experience but, less boldly advertised, to the biggest marijuana grow in three states, so he’s not too fond of government visitors.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau asks how she can help the two men who get out of the car, but she already knows. There’s only one official kind of car that’s red instead of black.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau asks the simplest question possible: why me? What did I do wrong?

It is yesterday and they don’t even bother answering because it doesn’t matter. There was a lottery. Every state, every county. The odds are astronomical, but intimate enough, in the end. It’s her turn. It could have been anyone but it wasn’t. It could have been anywhere but it was here. Thank God it’s not them, they laugh nervously. Thank you for your service.

It’s voluntary, of course. But it isn’t.

You coming?

It is yesterday and Ruby’s baby girl is napping in the big house, dreaming about geology and triceratops and sunflowers and maybe it will be okay because she will never see any of this, she’ll never cry or call out for her mother or try to bargain miserably with the men in the long red car. She’ll sleep straight through. They homeschool and don’t let her watch TV so she’ll never know, not really, she’ll dance around the funnel cake stand and the ticket booth trying to catch lacewings like she always does and she’ll grow up to be a paleontologist like Barnum Brown and choose not to have any babies because it’s nothing but grief and this will be an unhealed wound—but no deeper or more infected than the others she’ll earn all on her own, the way everybody does.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau is getting into the long red car and driving away. They leave a wake of thick dust blanketing the glass greenhouse where a fourth-grade boy’s homemade chrysalis is slowly being unwrapped by his giggling classmates and thousands of green and blue and gold and scarlet butterflies, drawn to the nectar-soaked fabric, descend to cover his little delighted body in their brilliant wings. He looks up in utter rapture as they swarm hungrily over him, caring nothing for who he is or where he has been or what he will do when this is over, only seeking sugar and moisture.

The boy doesn’t know the trick. He thinks they love him. He thinks this means something. The Ultimate Butterfly Experience. He will never in all his long life feel this special again, this chosen, this real.

It is yesterday and Ruby-Rose Martineau has been chosen to eat the sin of America just as Herbert James Gage has been chosen to serve it. She sits in the buttery leather backseat of the car and asks what will happen when it’s over. When she’s done.

We’ll be happy, they say. We’ll be better. We’ll all be happy forever and everything will be okay.

It is today and Ruby cries as she eats. She cries into the soup and the patty melt and the steak and the waffles. She doesn’t want it and she can’t stop. She shovels it into her mouth until her jaws ache and it all tastes good, because it has been good, it has tasted right and filling and satisfying all her life while she paid it so little mind, a girl sitting in a theater the size of a nation with a denim coat draped over her head to spare her the sight of the red and the dark.

You can see now, as the empty plates pile up, the crayon-marks of decades of children like the drawings on the caves of Lascaux in France, achingly clear and simple and alien and human.

Ruby stares at the steak, red juice and melted butter pooling on a plate with a cowboy on it. She feels them watching her, their eyes pressing on her flesh like cigarette stumps. Go on, Ruby, the burn of their silent witness urges her, You’ve almost made it to the best day of your life! Just 25 little ol’ miles to go!

They watch her, barely daring to interrupt with a breath or a cough or a top-up on their sodas. They watch her. They see her. All they see is her. Ruby-Rose tries not to panic. She thinks of the sunflowers. Of the geological periods of the Earth.

The ribeye is so rare it just tastes like blood, like biting somehow into blood as solid as stone. It is horrible and it is delicious. She cries and eats and cries and eats and her stomach screams out for her to stop but she can’t, she can’t, she is eating the sin of America and it is hers now. It was always hers; she lived on it and breathed it and slept with it and benefited from it and let it nurture her and grow her like a hothouse plant.

But now it is only hers.

It belongs to her and no one else. Not the man in the Navy hat or the Arizona real estate agent or the college boy in his fresh starched baby blue button-down. Not the Broncos or the Steelers or the little league coach who wants a goddamned drink or the producer with big kind brown eyes who swore up and down he was doing a musical next and he’d take her to California and the wide, promising sea. Not poor Emmeline with her big unignorable belly under her pretty blue uniform or Herb guiltily working the grill like he never touched her or awful little Kaylee with her shitty pas de chat that would never get less shitty now or millions of broke thirty-somethings staring hopelessly at the popcorn ceiling from a bed that still has their stupid baby blanket on it. Not the fourth-grader covered in iridescent butterflies or Ruby’s gentle soft lost baby born with half a heart or Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds or the gangly kid slicing ham at the Thrifty Foods or Christopher Salazar or poor Linda Gage obliterating herself into a red mist of horses forty years ago.

The sin of America drips down her chin. The bones crack between her teeth. Everyone is watching her, everyone is watching as she gags and sobs and swallows and reaches for more and washes it down whatever her hand finds when it falls. It cannot be short and it cannot be small.

We’re counting on you.

And so she takes it in for them, as those chosen have always done, for them, always, so they don’t even have to think of it, don’t ever have to feel a drop of the stuff fall from their heart to their soul. So they can ignore it, for a while longer. So they can say it was never anything to do with them personally, and besides, it was so long ago and they’re better now.

It’s Ruby’s turn, that’s all.

She takes it in and in and in. There is nothing but her and it. There is nothing between her and it. She consumes it, and it fuels every cell of her being, each unseen atom of the whole.

And then—Ruby-Rose Martineau slowly reaches past her tongue to pick a long strand that once belonged to a rough woolen blanket out of her teeth. The thread changes color along its impossible length, part of an old unguessable pattern. The thread is wet and it is coarse and it comes spooling out of her crooked and cold and reeking.

She looks down and there are bullets in the steak and rough-hewn knives in the soup and teeth in the ice cream and screams in the strawberries as red as the end of a chase.

No one sees it but Ruby. To be honest, some of the other diners are getting a bit bored, shifting in their seats, their gaze drifting back toward the TV.

No one feels the eggs turn to radioactive sand and hot shards of gold and silver in her mouth.

No one but her can smell that her wine glass with the state song written on it is full of terrified human sweat, sloshing over like an ocean wave and trickling down past On the breast of this great land where the massive Rockies stand…

No one but her sees the bowls fill with fire and brick and charred wood, the fruit rot inside the pastry, the bread cry out for its mother.

No one sees the peeling turquoise buffalo on the menu turn away from his funny thought bubble and look into the eyes of Ruby-Rose Martineau and no one else hears it lowing: You climbed a throne of corpses and you were proud to reach the top.

And no one else sees the Daily Deep-Fry Surprise when she cuts into it and it is so thick, it is so full, it is so dense and heavy she can barely get her fork through it.

But she does.

Of course she does.

And out spools frayed, massive ship-ropes, sodden with rum and bile and sea-salt, their heft thudding dully against Linda Gage’s chipped pink plate.

No one sees it, no one hears it, no one even imagines it, because it belongs to Ruby alone and she eats it all, every bite, every drop, even her own tears swimming on the surface of the meat like food for butterflies.

There is no check. Emmeline, without quite knowing why, leans over and kisses Ruby’s forehead. She puts a plush bighorn sheep down on the table next to the last empty plate. It has a red ribbon around its neck and the ribbon says: Wyoming Loves U!

Big loose raindrops spatter against the windows. It’s the color of twilight out there even though it’s barely past the lunch hour. Ruby-Rose gets up slowly, every joint groaning.

She takes the little sheep with her when she goes.

A bell rings as she shuts the door behind her and steps shakily out into the storm clouds and the ozone and the wind full of sagebrush and dust.

There’s a woman outside of a town called Sheridan, where the sky is there only to witness, not to intervene.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan walking toward the road with a toy bighorn clutched tight in her hand. She isn’t crying anymore. She’s thinking about her parents and her daughter and the big idiot sunflowers growing out into infinity in the back field, about emerald swallowtails and T-Rex bones and the power of independent cinema.

There’s a woman outside of Sheridan who has eaten the sin of America.

She doesn’t really even feel the first blow across the back of her head. But the second one lands hard and she cries out into the long empty distance. The third crunches into the backs of her thighs and she stumbles to the unyielding earth.

The little league coach swings a bat into her ribs and jumps up and down in the rain, whooping and hollering. The college kid just uses his hands, grabbing her by the hair and smashing her face into the pebbly high desert soil over and over. The Navy vet is far too old to pack much of a punch anymore, but he swings his cane over his head and brings it down as best he can over her shoulder blades. Her white agate ring cracks in half as the busboy stomps it under the heel of his foot. Tracey finally does something just for herself and smashes a fire extinguisher into the small of Ruby’s back, shattering her vertebrae. She squeals and giggles and goes again. And again. Herb Gage thinks of his wife as he slashes her tendons with his best knife so she can’t get away, thinks of all Linda’s little plans for the diner, all her little ways of laughing, all her ways of looking at him so he knew, he knew he was worth a damn.

They all swarm hungrily over her, caring nothing for who she is or where she has been or where they will go when this is over.

There are good God-fearing people outside of Sheridan and they are killing the sin of America, a place born with half a heart that demands to be made whole, year in and year out. They are crushing the sin of America into a paste. They are releasing themselves from it. They are ridding themselves of it forever. It’s not their fault. Nothing’s their fault. It never has been. It never will be.

They are so innocent, innocent as the sky.

A car pulls off of I-90 and slowly grinds toward the diner. A late lunch straggler, hankering after a steak and a Coke and maybe something to remember his trip by. He parks and gets out and sees, sees it all, sees the broken mass on the ground with someone’s coat thrown over its head, sees the letterboard with the chalk hearts and chalk angels, sees the toy sheep trampled into a white smear against the sparse yellow grass, sees the people outside of Sheridan.

Emmeline realizes they have a customer. She wipes her hands off on her apron with the little embroidered blue bison on it and waves cheerfully. Blood and rain sheet down the front her dress, her arms, her pregnant belly, the embroidered bison drenched black.

The straggler’s face falls. His feet go a bit unsteady on him. His mouth opens in shock and his white teeth shine in the stormlight.

“It’s okay!” hollers Emmeline with a brilliant, beautiful, fecund smile. Her teeth shine crimson where she bit into Ruby’s cold throat. “It’s all good! Better than good!” Blood swells on the tip of her chin and drips to the thirsty earth. “Haven’t you heard? It’s the beginning of a new era. We’re all better now.”

She takes his hand in hers and leans up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek and there’s blood on his suit now too, big red fingerprints on his chest.

“Don’t you worry, Mister. It’s all gonna be okay.”

They walk him toward the Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe, half-dazed, half-soaked. Herb throws his arms out, expansive, magnanimous, and announces that whatever’s left in the Thrifty Foods booze box is fair game for all. He tugs Emmeline tight against him, acknowledging her, claiming her, daring the sky to question him. Her shoulder squelches against his blood-soaked workshirt as she rattles off the specials between bouts of helpless laughter.

On the other side of the glass the old flatscreen flickers as they approach. The straggler squints between the raindrops. He likes to keep up on current events. Be a good citizen and all that. The chyron gravely reports: Independent Inquiry Determines Ruby-Rose Martineau Behind Hedge Fund Ponzi Scheme.

And the straggler nods along as Emmeline brings him a stiff coffee that, to be honest, is mostly whiskey.

Herb Gage clicks off the TV and fires up the cooling griddle once more.

No point watching the news these days, honestly. It just never ends.


(Editors’ Note: “The Sin of America” is read by Heath Miller on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 39A.)


Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of forty works of speculative fiction and poetry, including Space Opera, The Refrigerator Monologues, Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, Radiance, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (and the four books that followed it). She is the winner of the Andre Norton, Tiptree, Sturgeon, Prix Imaginales, Eugie Foster Memorial, Mythopoeic, Rhysling, Lambda, Locus, Romantic Times’ Critics Choice, and Hugo awards. She has been a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with a small but growing menagerie of beasts, some of which are human.

One Response to “The Sin of America”

  1. Chudi

    This was beautiful, so glad I got introduced to your work and I can’t wait to read more.

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