John goes into a camera store on impulse, finds a pair of binoculars, aims them out the window, and sees Betty for the first time. He whispers to himself, "I belong to you," replaces the binoculars, and wanders the city in a daze the rest of the hour until time to return to the tire-burning factory.
Betty attempts to evade an evangelist on the bus, is unsuccessful, so she finally says, "All right! I believe! Go away!" The evangelist adds "one" to the tally in his pocket notebook and retreats to the back of the bus.
John discovers that Betty lives in a building opposite his YMCA. At first opportunity he approaches her, introduces himself, and asks her to dinner. She likes his looks enough to say yes. The date is fine. Although Betty makes clear that she wants no boyfriend, John thinks of Betty as his girlfriend in his heart of hearts. Betty is beautiful. John has no deformities.
Oh, and the world is on the brink of nuclear war. I say "Oh" because John and Betty couldn't care less. They don't want to die, of course, who does? But beyond a certain awareness of life being suddenly snuffed out, these futuristic lives of theirs are fairly ordinary. Ordinary in that they go through their days without falling apart.
For their second date, for their third, for every date, every day Betty likes John a little more. John's love is unending.
A friend of John's, Johnny, cowers in a dugout in Central Asia beside Foreign Legionnaire Josette. Johnny loves Josette, Josette loves Johnny, and soon they will be dead. At that moment Betty writes a poem:
OF A SHOOK DIEAnd, checking in with John, he stands on a catwalk heaving tires into a holocaust.
I am for sex
I don't know sex
Here comes super sex
I am too pure
Sex, dope, I'll never know
If I was high
If I was always fucking
I'll never know.
Betty's on the telephone:
"John, how is it that I like you?"
"It's just that you didn't hate me straight away."
"This is love?"
"Not at all. You're right to like me, you're right not to like me, Betty. I'm a safe bet."
The phone line hisses silence. Finally, Betty says, "My father died when I was little."
"Then I'm your father for now. I don't know." Not even Betty knows that she smiles in gratitude.
John can't sleep that night, so he listens to war bulletins on the radio, half-praying for an American victory, with the rest of his mind trying to picture Betty. At that moment, Betty dreams of a super-heroic suburban kid called Esther.
John sees stars when a stack of tires overturns on him. He laughs as he climbs out of the imitation of wreckage. Co-worker Josie corners him at break-time against a candy-bar machine.
"I'm into you," she purrs.
"I'm all about that," John replies, uncertainly. Josie presses her mouth against his. Now every break is about sex with Josie.
Three days later, she doesn't show. Co-workers reveal that Josie was killed in a car crash. John breaks the glass in the restroom mirror with his forehead.
Betty decides to write a novel about her dream heroine, Esther. She keeps her date with John at a drugstore lunch counter. She notices the gash in his forehead.
"So you broke up with a girl?"
John has taken to carrying a notebook since Josie's death. John notices that Betty is carrying a notebook as well and proposes that they each write a poem. Betty consents. They each bend over their pages.
SHREDDER SIMPLISTIC"I feel like my poem is all last lines," says Betty.
Launcher countdown superslide
At the end of time
For all time, my timeless
Stanzas overcome death.
I am so right, so always
Deceived, so easy
For now, for not yet
Away from the wrong
Toward more wrong.
You thought I knew.
I never knew.
The sun splashes down.
My world ends again.
COOL TO CRASH"Oh yeah, this girl I know died," says John.
Deceit of a fortune simplistic.
For a girl, for Josie, her shroud.
I wear a black carnation for a worse world
Minus a girl who gave herself to me.
One day, she's mine, next day
Is she dead?
Yes, she is dead.
Betty wins the poetry contest and pops the prize into her mouth: one perfect cherry.
On May Day, the tire-burning factory goes on strike. Instead of arguing with the workers, the mysterious owners shut the factory down for good. Soon enough, John is sleeping in the park, eating at soup kitchens. Betty quits her job and joins John in the park.
For ten days the two of them have been tracing circles around their nondescript city. At last Betty has to say it: "Let's enlist in the goddam Army."
John doesn't look forward to being shot in the head, but he knows she is right.
Six rigorous months later, John and Betty patrol a Kashmir village in Occupied India, two MPs in love. In that six months they had slept together at last, John no longer a father or even a brother to Betty, no, now he is her confessed boyfriend! John can't believe his luck.
In white helmets and MP armbands, armed with cudgels, they patrol a weird world, a world away, worlds without end, identical except for sex, automatics in holsters, two army cops in love.
At the end of their service contracts John and Betty are rotated back to Ohio and honorably discharged into post-war boom America. They enter U.S. airspace. John remembers Josie. Betty wonders what television will be like.
Back home in 2 1/2 year-old costume, the two at first sleep outdoors, walk in circles around the city, uncertain and happy. At last John calls Paul, his union rep from the tire-burning factory days.
Paul says that John and Betty could easily get hired as city cops, ride in the same cruiser and all, but John quickly nixes that idea. "Still hate cops," he explains.
Paul arranges housing at a hotel for striking workers. "Take as long as you want to decide what's next for you. Goddam war heroes."
The sun rises and sets and rises, the earth speeds through space in an elliptical orbit around the sun, millions of people are born, die, and John and Betty wait in line for fish sandwiches at a fast-food restaurant. "We won't work here," Betty whispers to John.
On a cold spring day, John calls Betty on her celly: "I can see you."
Betty stops and scans her worldview until she sights John. His heart filling with warmth, a certain heat, John runs toward her full tilt, stops short, and kisses who seems like the only friend he's ever had, namely Betty. She smiles like mad--on the radio, on the TV, over loudspeakers, at that moment Year One of One-Hundred Years of Peace is announced and our heroes want to believe it.
"Happy Century of Peace, John!"
"Fly kites, Betty!"
Soon, Paul pages John with good news: "You and Betty are to report to Supercool Pictures in Los Angeles, next Monday, 8 a.m. A thousand a week to write dialogue for the new Sex Pistols biopic!"
An eventful bus ride later, a secretary shows Betty and John to their windowed office. Two years later, the two win Academy Awards and book contracts, John with Random House, Betty with New Directions.
John travels to Texas to write his first novel, The Story of Hate.
Betty stays in Columbus to write Fake World Real.
In Texas, John walks from his hotel to the Mega-Lo Mart, to the desert, to the taco stand, to the coffee shop. Every day. He writes one page at each station.
In Columbus, Betty registers in a creative writing class at Ohio State. Her finished novel receives an "A".
Some nights John calls Betty:
"How come we're not married?" he asks.
"We're better than married. We're fated, doomed, stuck, um."
"Um is right. Let's render unto Caesar, go through with the stupid ceremony."
"Yes and yes and yes."