Atlantropa

Lucas Raskin

     Patrick’s back stiffened against his club chair. Is she alright? It’s sweating balls right

now! Before proceeding his line of questioning, he mouthed at the intern to turn on the AC.

Grozdana didn’t seem to mind the heat. Beggars can’t be choosers and a standard set room

temperature is a privilege that not many climate refugees can get used to.

     “Ms. Živka, I’ll ask again; when did you first hear about the Atlantropa project?”

     “Fifty-one. Or fifty-two. Who remembers that far back anyway?” Grozdana’s accent had

amplified since the last time her mouth opened. Patrick had gathered in his fifteen years in

investigative journalism that awkward pauses are a dire technology of the journalist. It applies

pressure that exceeds that transient power of words.

     “It was fifty-one.” She pauses to salivate her mouth.

     “A week earlier, my father refused to take me out for my seventh birthday. His good suit could

not get creased before the event. Daddy and five other men were to receive the Medal of the

Crown of King Zvonimir for their heroic merits in the Italian campaign. From the King himself!”

Patrick seemed more interested in the cuff of his plaid suit jacket than the name-dropping of

someone he never knew existed, who twenty-ish years ago ruled a country that he can’t find on a

map. His mind then wandered onto how the producers were going to make Grozdana’s gaudy

voice more accessible to the average American. They certainly couldn’t dub her voice; her

underjaw was remarkably stagnant. For anything other than an Eastern European accent to come

out of there would be like anything other than smoke coming from a chimney. Aw, what the hell. 

They’ll just give her subtitles. It’s not like she knows any English with more than two syllables.

An American’s worst nightmare is an immigrant with a vocabulary better than their own. His

chuckle at this thought was met with confusion.

     “That is the expression, no? Tongue in cheek?”

     “Yes of course dear.”

     “Jokes like: Why is Switzerland still a thing? European humor.”

     “I don’t quite understand.” Slight snicker. “What’s the punchline?”

     She looked as lost as she did the first time that they met. He rephrased.

     “What is getting mocked?”

     “We were. Jokes always about our misery.”

     “Well, that’s not very-”

     “or blaming pigheaded American isolationists.”

     Pause.

     “Please, we haven’t reached the project yet. I don’t mind if you have to skip ahead.”

     “I was never told why. Some say he made a joke about Dirlewanger. My sister said it was about

the student protest in Alsace. My father said it was not the business of a little girl. We did not

know, but we did also, no? They killed him.” Patrick raised an eyebrow. Murder is always ratings

gold. Network couldn’t cut through this. He stowed his arm behind his back, neutralizing his

temptation to stare at those damn dense checkers. The last thing that he needed was for his agent

Ashley to label him an autist again and guilt-trip him about how he was throwing away all the

effort that she made to get him a spot on television.

     “Herman Sörgel was the guest now. I whispered to my sister, ‘Who is this man?’ She did same to

mother and she to father. Nobody knew. But there was much silent sadness at the thought of a

German speaking at our Croatian event...”

Later - Miami.

     “Honey you’re famous!” She had never called Patrick “honey” before. He blew it off with his

favorite faux-mad tenor;

     “What the hell is this?”

     Five stacks of the Miami Herald, two feet high each, on his kitchen counter. Courtney only got a

weak hug with a banal peck on the cheek before he broke out for the counter.

     “Five Banks Robbed in Memphis!”

     “Patrick, other side.”

     “O’Sullivan Bears Witness to News of Europe!”

     “Oh, I’m so proud of you!” Courtney squealed, “I wanna hear all about it, but I just have to pop

into the bathroom.” Even though her San Pellegrino eyes rested upon the stack of paper through

every word she said, Patrick hadn’t noticed. What would he do with sixty cubic feet of

newspaper? After breaking his three-year streak of never reading, he used a woodchipper to

answer his last question. What a waste. How could Grozdana’s intense story be only a

paragraph? The interview hadn’t even been included. All the readers knew was that some guy

named Patrick O’Sullivan had met an “enthused tourist, privileged to learn about American

culture.”

     Not a word about Atlantropa.

     He could see Courtney through the patio window. The lithium hadn’t been a turn off until now.

Her empty, almost infantile look repulsed him. He stood frozen, glued on her movements to the

glass door.

     “Let’s grab a bite. We can mail them out tomorrow morning.” They weren’t so far that they had

to yell, but Courtney took a momentary pause regardless to hint at sarcasm.

     “We’ll show your father that I’m making good use of those Hammacher Schlemmer stamps he

got me for Christmas.” Her appeal to Patrick’s Freudian father complex gave it away.

     “Honey, what time did they broadcast the show? I don’t remember.” He watched closely for any

signs of recoil.

     “Oh, me neither.” She chirps up. “Pad Tai? I’m starving.”

     “What outfit was I wearing?” His cross arms said more than his mouth, with the added bonus of

covering up that watch that he secretly despised.

     “The salmon sports jacket.” Why can’t he just drop it? “My favorite.”

     “You didn’t watch it did you. You lying bitch! They cut my broadcast, those bastards!”

     “Patrick I was busy damn it! I read about it in the paper.”

     As he closed in on Courtney, she’d never reveal it, but part of her wanted him to hit her. Not in a

masochistic or sexual manner, but a purely practical one by which she could have a casus belli to

dump the self-obsessed, manic dirtbag.

     He grabbed her naked wrist, walking her over to the discharge of the woodchipper.

     “This is what I think of your fucking newspaper. Why don’t you just take the next plane into

Berlin and ask what they have to say about the issue?”

     “Lay off Patrick. Enough with the Nazi comparisons, please. We have the first amendment for a

reason. Or did you forget that during your years as a journalist?”

     “We haven’t had free press since Lindbergh convinced the country to sit out the World War.  Everything for the past twenty years has just been one grand apology for the biggest national mistake in the history of mankind. These days, there’s no place for a beacon of truth like myself.” Courtney turned to escape, but throwing Hail Maries was his profession.

     “Everything they said about Atlantropa was a lie.” Interest piqued.

     “How so?”

...

     At this exact moment, Patrick realized that this was not just a chat with the first European

immigrant to America in twenty years. This was a century defining interview.

     “Ms. Živka, I didn’t quite get what your family was doing in Munich.”

     “The knowledge that my father had gained of the Mediterranean lands was of much service to

the doctor. Father was smart man, not clever man. Much later that we learned of what the project

was doing to our home country.”

     “Tissues, please.” Patrick could tell that her crying was walking the fine line between ratings

gold and incoherent babble. The moment didn’t have to be perfect, but her regular voice was

already challenging enough for the average American. He’d give her a breather.

     “Atlantropa has turned Europe into a desert.”

     Her crying intensified. Who would’ve thought that the blunt approach wasn’t always the best?

He had to wait. Millions of viewers would tune in to hear the crazy lady, not the average Joe in a

checkered suit. After five big hand ticks of the timepiece from Courtney with love that her dad

had paid for, Grozdana picked up on her breaking news.

     “The dams worked as planned. Gibraltar, the Suez, the Dardanelles; all closed permanently.

     Everyone rejoiced when the Mediterranian emptied. Celebrations didn’t last long. Germany seized all of the power that it promised its allies from the dams.” Her tears told Patrick that he

had hit the nail of the head.

     “And they sold them the land too! Arid pieces of desert, sold as if they were gold. Everyone

paid. Spain, Italy, Croatia, Vichy, each for a piece of shit land in the Mediterranean, a bullet in

the back of the head.”

     Grozdana didn’t say much about her departure. The aridity of the Mediterranian dessert had

begun to hit the southern border of Munich by the mid-Sixties. The German Reich could not be

saved from its own wrath. Sorgel, desperate for a turn around for the project, continued to do

lectures across Germany until Mr. Živka’s Volkswagen flattened Sorgel on a road “as straight as

a die.” He smuggled here out to America on a Danish fishing boat the next day.

     “My God, that’s horrible.” Shift to audience. “You heard it hear first America, Europe suffers

under Nazi oppression, 1968.” The teleprompter said to sign off, but Patrick couldn’t bear to

leave the air with Grozdana in tears.

     “He-hey don’t worry about it. We’re all immigrants here. You’re going to start a new life with

the rest of us in the land of the free. Do you have any plans?”

     “I want to live a quiet life. Nowhere near a dam.”

     “Oh America’s the best; don’t sweat it. We are the world’s leader in automobile technology, so

you can go anywhere that you want. Our carbon-based industry is far safer and more efficient

than the primitive dams that have made Europe an arid hellhole. We Americans know how to live

in harmony with nature.” What a beautiful note to end on.

     “Thank you for coming on Ms. Živka. I’m Patrick O’Sullivan, signing off for all of us here at

America First.”

     This was never aired.

Lucas Raskin is a rising senior at Horace Mann, NY.

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