The Most Everything in the World
excerpt from Elizabeth Crane, You Must Be Happy to Enter (Akashic Books, 2008).
LAST NIGHT MY HUSBAND ASKED ME, If you lived on a desert island and could only bring three things, what would you bring, and I said, I’d bring pen and paper and you. He said if he could bring only three things he’d bring pen and paper and cheese. I asked him why he wouldn’t bring me, and he said he didn’t think of me as a thing, plus he knew I was already there. I said, Well, I don’t think of you as a thing either, but I wouldn’t want to be on a desert island without you. Anyway, if you know I have pen and paper already, wouldn’t you bring something else? He said, Good point, and then said he wasn’t so sure about the pen and paper anyway, because he could probably draw in the sand, or on some bark or something. So I guess I’d bring bread and cheese and wine, he said. But we don’t drink, I said. He said, I think if we were on a desert island we might want to start. I wonder, though, if we couldn’t make cheese and wine on the desert island, I said. Well, we probably wouldn’t know in advance if there were grapes and milk available. I think I’d like to bring a lot of clothes, I said. Those people on that TV show are only there for thirty-nine days at most and they start looking really grungy by the end of the ﬁrst week. Yeah, but who cares, my husband said. We could just go naked always. I dunno, I’m not that into being naked, I said. But I’m into you being naked, he said. What if it gets cold, I said. I’ll build you a nice hut, he said. Okay, maybe I could go naked if we had bug spray. And sunscreen. I don’t think I’d look so sexy naked, sunburnt, and covered in bug bites. If you were sunburnt you might not notice the bug bites, he said. If I were sunburnt I might get melanoma, I said. Look at it this way, though, if we moved to a desert island, my husband said, we wouldn’t have to worry about health insurance. No, I said, we’d only have to worry about health. But we worry about that anyway. This way there’s one less worry, he said. Okay, but I still don’t want melanoma. You could sit in the shade. Yes, but what if I got eaten by a wild animal while I was sitting in the shade trying not to get melanoma? Some weird cross between a warthog and a mountain lion, I said. I don’t think health insurance would do us much good if that happened, he said. A doctor might, I said. But there probably wouldn’t be a doctor on the desert island, I guess. These are the chances we have to take, he said. So if I have you right, that if some warthog mountain lion eats my legs off and I don’t happen to die, what then? Then that’s what’s meant to be, he said. We can take comfort in knowing that we are not giving our money to the man. Look, I said, I don’t like giving my money to the man any more than you do, but I’m the one lying here with my legs eaten off. It’s not like I’d be immune to the warthog mountain lion, my husband said. Or rare diseases that we’ve never even heard of, he added. You could be lying there with your legs eaten off and I could be unable to help you because my arms are paralyzed from Poison Mango Syndrome. And this would be better than having health insurance how? I asked. We would lead the only truly all-natural lifestyle anywhere on the planet; we would be accepting our fate, he said. In a lot of pain, I said. That’s when the wine would come in handy, my husband said. I don’t think wine is going to do it, I said. We could bring morphine, he said. You can’t just get morphine, I said. In Mexico you can, he said. Maybe we should move to Mexico instead of a desert island, I said. But Mexico isn’t deserted, my husband said. Yes, but I never wanted to move anywhere, I said. But a deserted island would be so awesome, he said. What if it got boring, I said. Don’t you think we’d get bored after a while? On an island with warthog mountain lions? he asked. I’m thinking that after my legs get eaten off and your arms get paralyzed we may be limited in our activities. That’s when the acid comes in handy, my husband said. Acid, I said. You know, or mushrooms, he said, whichever. Okay, so let me understand. We’re half-immobile, possibly dying, and now we’re tripping? No? he asks. What about if we had a spear, my husband said. To spear snakes with. How are you going to spear snakes with no arms? I asked. Let’s say I still have arms in this scenario, he said. I don’t think I can go to a desert island with snakes, I said. Well, snakes wouldn’t be the only creepy thing on the island, I’m sure, he said. That’s right, I said. You’re the one who gets so freaked out by spiders, I said. Ugh, I do hate spiders, he said. Spiders would probably be the best of the insects on the island. The spiders would be like our pets. Oh, my husband said. You know what, though, I said, if we’re in charge of this whole desert island thing, couldn’t we design the island too? A bug-free island? Yes, he said, we can. No bugs no warthog mountain lions for us, he said. Only beautiful ﬂowers and fruit and vegetables and cotton, I said. Flora and fauna. What exactly is fauna? my husband asked. I don’t know, I picture deer, I said. Me too! he said. That’s so weird. But deer have ticks which have lyme disease, I said. And they eat your vegetables. Okay, so no fauna. Only ﬂora, he said. And sheep, I said. Are sheep fauna? I don’t know. But if we had sheep we could have milk and cheese and wool. And lamb, he said. I could never kill a sheep, I said. They’re so cute. No, he said, they have weird alien eyes. I could kill a sheep. Okay, I said, but not in the hut. Not anywhere near the hut. Or me. No sheep killing near the hut, got it. Okay, so no bugs. Fruit, vegetables, cotton, sheep. Maybe we should consider bringing a farmer. I don’t want to go to a desert island to work so hard, I said. What if it just farms itself? If it grows exactly what we need. That would be awesome, I said. And it only ever gets cold enough so that it’s nice sleeping weather, or to justify sitting by a ﬁre on the beach. Yes, he said, but a ﬁre is no good without marshmallows. If we bring marshmallows we have to bring chocolate and graham crackers, I said. That’s very true. You know what else would be great, he said, is a table saw. I could do a lot with a table saw. You could bring a table saw and I could bring a sewing machine. We are going to need some hobbies. If you bring a sewing machine, he said, wouldn’t you also have to bring a bunch of fabric? Yes, well, those would be my three things. And thread. That’s four, he said. You’re only bringing the table saw. Can you bring the thread for me? No, I just haven’t picked my other thing yet. How about if we bring four things, then. Okay, I’m bringing the table saw, the bread and the wine and the cheese and paint. That’s ﬁve. Crap. I need to rethink the sewing machine. Can I count a sewing kit as one thing? Sure, my husband said. (That’s the kind of guy he is.) Okay, then. A sewing machine, a sewing kit, some fabric, and pen and paper for me. That’s ﬁve, my husband said. But I need pen and paper, I said. Look, if no one’s going to read it, what’s the difference if you just think it? We don’t know that no one’s going to read it. Anyway, thinking isn’t the same as writing. No? he asked. I had to think about this for a while. It got me a little dizzy. Okay, well, let’s assume it is different, what if they discover our writings hundreds of years from now and we’re held up as these pioneers, able to sustain ourselves with just these few things and our unaided will? Or what if I had a column! I’ve always wanted a column. I bet if I proposed a column about desert island life someone would print it for sure. I bet it would become syndicated. And then they’d pay me, but I’d take my pay in stuff we needed and have them ship it here. Because it’d be hard not to have books, I’m thinking now. This is getting a little more complicated than I had in mind, my husband said. I was thinking that the whole point of the desert island thing was letting go of stuff. But wouldn’t you like a couple of records? I asked. Yeah, I would like a few records, he said. But then we’d have to bring something to play them on. That’s true. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we just sang to each other? That would be nice, I have to admit. You have a good voice, he said. And if we did that, couldn’t we also tell each other stories? We could make up new ones, or try to remember the stories and books we loved. That sounds great, I said, but I still think I want to bring some sewing. How about if we bring as many things as we want, I said. I’m not sure that would really enhance the desert island feeling, he said. Well, we’d still be deserted, I said. Yes, but the point is to experience life, real life. I’m not so sure about this desert island thing, I said. Maybe the woods would be a better choice, we could have electricity and all the amenities and we wouldn’t have to worry about all the shipping. I like the woods, he said. Why do people romanticize being stranded on a desert island so much, anyway, I said. Because it would be just the two of us, he said. That would be sexy. But it’s just the two of us now, I said. It’s sexy now. Yeah, except for the whole world thing, he said. Right, the world. That can be a pain, I said. What if, instead of being on a desert island, we just made the whole world go away? So, what, we’d be stranded in space instead? No, I mean, keep the world, make all the people go away. Yes! I said, That could be cool. How would we make them all go away without killing them? No, they’d just be gone. Just the same way we’d just be on the desert island. We’d just wake up and they’d be gone and we’d be like, Wow, everyone’s gone. Everything is ours. We’d be the richest, most famous people in the world. We’d be the most everything in the world. The most whatever we wanted to be, he said. That seems like maybe too much responsibility, I said. People aren’t so bad. I like a lot of them. We could make more, he said. I think the desert island seems kind of the more simple way to go, I said. It just depends what you want, he said. Would you rather have everything, or nothing?
Elizabeth Cane is a short story author.