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Mark Budman

The Greatest Tale of Woe
on the Western Side of the Atlantic

Binary by Rachel Renaudin

Ronnie, the only son of his House’s Prince, once was googling porn, but instead found a painting of a girl floating face up in a lily pond, with her hands up as if she were stoned or trying to catch a ball, and it looked so peaceful. Her name was Ophelia, which sounded Italian to him. He loved all things Italian, especially the meatballs. He printed the pic, hung it above his bed, and fell in love. Like all the members of his House, he forswore sex before marriage, so he had to marry her.

Ever since he graduated from high school, Ronnie lived in the red-painted basement of his parents’ castle. He always wore the same cargo shorts and a “Full Time Slacker” T-shirt, and was perpetually stoned unless he ran out of weed, and then he lay on his cot, staring at the ceiling and muttering, “My mind’s gone, but it’ll come back.” He considered himself an optimist.

In the beginning of the second fifty years of Ronnie’s life, a friend named William took Ronnie to a party in the castle of the Prince of the Robin-Gooders, the enemy House.

The Robin-Gooders disagreed with the Ronnie’s Con-Servers on the definition “All men are created equal,” especially on the word ‘all.’ The Con-Servers said ‘all’ meant ‘everyone,’ but the Robin-Gooders said that it meant “everyone and his brother and her sister.”

The walls of the enemy’s castle were painted blue, and the bouncers asked the guests to check their privileges at the gate. Ronnie had to check so many that he needed two tickets.

And then Ronnie saw her. Ophelia. From the painting. Only instead of a gown she wore white pants and a t-shirt that said “She/Her/Hers.”

“Hi, Ophelia,” he said. “Do you speak English? Capisce?”

“I’m Julie,” she said. She had such striking blue eyes, even if a bit faded.

“So you are not Italian?”

“Are you from the Con-Server House?” she asked, piercing him with her eyes.

“How do you know?”  She pierced him so deeply that he fought for breath, sweated, and felt pain in his heart that radiated under his shoulder blade and into his left elbow.

“You wear cargo shorts, a red tie over a T-shirt, and carry a gun and ammo belt.”

“And you have such striking blue eyes.”

She took him to her den in the basement. She told him she was writing a script for an all-female remake of 300 Spartans. She was an elitist.

He tried to undress her, but didn’t know how to unhook the bra, so she undressed herself, and him, too, as a bonus.

In the next hour or so they tried five Kamasutra positions among the discarded condoms, black bandanas, gas masks, Molotov cocktails, empty booze bottles and meme drafts.  He knew three of the positions from watching porn, but the other two were new to him: The Laser Beam in the Muddy Waters, and The T Rex Whirring among the Lilies.

Ronnie was ashamed of breaking his vow of chastity before marriage. Until The Laser Beam, he had been a virgin, but not an incel, because his celibacy was by choice.

So he said, “Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet, and I am proof against their enmity.”  He didn’t know he had it in him. He was, like, drunk. “Let’s get married.”

She rolled her eyes but he dropped on his knees, took her hand, and she said, “OK. My brothers will go nuts. I love it when they do. You gonna love it, too.”

But he passed out right after her OK.

The following day, during a breakfast of cheeseburgers, butter, fried bacon strips, Coke, pop-tarts and French fries, Ronnie realized he really liked Julie. It was young love, without end, without margins and without limits.

That day, he ordered a ring (3-stone Princess Cut) for Julie for $49.95 from The product description read “Every woman wants a stunning engagement ring.”

Upon learning about the couple’s plans, Julie’s evil brothers decided to murder Ronnie. They couldn’t allow their sister to marry this deplorable dude in cargo shorts. They drowned him in a barrel of wine. It was French or at least European, and it smelled sour and somehow garlicky. They would have called it “honor killing,” but that would’ve been an ethnic slur and cultural appropriation.

Before dying, Ronnie said this: “I loved Ophelia, err, Julie, forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?”

Some of their weirdness evidently rubbed off on him. And he wilted, and they pried his gun out of his cold, dead, wet hands.

When Julie learned about his demise, she overdosed and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital where her private room was already decorated for her with Welcome Back balloons.

William wrote a play about the lovers, but the producers said that it was too derivative of the Games of Thrones, since everyone died in a weird way, and all the women younger than sixty were naked. Then he wrote a series of tweets, which went viral.

A non-profit built the lovers a monument and painted it purple because the paint was on sale that day at Wal-Mart. They ran out of funds, and the monument was only the height of a fire-hydrant. It was frequented by lovers from all over the world as well as dogs.

Like a man said, “For never was a story of more woe than this of Julie and her Ronnie-o.” As if young and foolish love across the political and cultural divide conquers all. And ‘all’ means everything without the end and without the margins.


About the writer:
Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union, and English is a second language for him. His writing appeared in Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press.

Image: Binary by Rachel Renaudin (contemporary). No medium specified. No size specified. By 2019. By permission.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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