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The day before a great storm he sat behind the wheel of his old pickup truck before his God with his eyes closed and he considered all the necessary preparations.
He had made them.
Now he wanted to go somewhere, because men like him want a breather before they enter the realm of combat, although so much of life is conflict. He knew this war would come. It had been predicted. Other men had told him of its coming. As a man he knew the inevitability. They just made it official. They told him when and how much and where but none of that concerned him. He just knew he needed to be ready. Nobody would take care of him if he did not take care of himself and those for whom he cared or loved, for whom he would give himself. They mattered even more than himself. He would use himself to help them all he could and now before that happened he would seek a word of solace, not from his God, but from his muse, his lover. There are many kinds.
This storm would be a blizzard, white and amazing. It would begin tomorrow they said and stay for an entire day or two, maybe three if it stalled and bring snow and ice and wind and danger and zero visibility and cruel punishing requirements to maintain simple ways of life.
He knew this. He knew blizzards and he knew he had done all he could do to meet it and now all he could do was wait. He would seek her. Maybe she would be there. He rather thought she would. No one else came to see her as far as he knew and unless something had happened to her of which he had no knowledge she would be right where he left her. She would wait. They had an arrangement.
He had filled the tanks on his truck with gasoline and added treatments against moisture. He had dual tanks. They held a total of forty gallons. He could drive hundreds of miles. He’d drive them all in the city.
He placed eighty pound sand bags over the rear wheels for traction, a total of one hundred and sixty pounds and if traction failed, sand from the bags could be thrown loose underneath the snow tires. He had diamond pattern tire chains if needed and knew how to put them on without jacking up the truck and hold them secure with bungee cords. He knew how to drive on snow and ice with or without the chains. He had gas for his snow blower in an Army surplus five gallon jerry can with pour spout he fashioned from a two inch diameter black iron pipe threaded on both ends and rock salt and more sand for pavement such as sidewalks and driveways once he cleared the snow. He had a strong agile body. He stayed fit and healthy by virtue of work and wore durable clothes from lugged work boots with steel safety toes to all manner of protection from cold and exposure or material hazard. He’d been subject to them and knew their secrets and their threats. He wore goggles if necessary to protect his eyes and a cap of wool which pulled down into a hood to cover his head and neck. He had mittens for warmth or gloves for dexterity, but on this day of mild temperatures and calm birds sang from unprepossessing tree branches and eaves glistened as water yet to freeze dropped from where they fell free to puddles on the ground.
What more could he do?
Warn them of impending doom?
They probably already knew, perhaps better than he.
He followed the vision which had come to him, the one now before all hell broke loose.
He knew the route. He saw it within himself before he arrived and when he did arrive there she waited, jut as he had remembered her, imagined her and hoped.
He needed her.
He had to admit his need.
He knew that much.
Here is what he saw.
He saw the statue of a mermaid atop a pedestal. The mermaid poured water from a jug, but no water poured now and no water had poured for a long time indeed for the statue and the fountain it incorporated stood silent and derelict and abandoned this winter as in every season for however so long.
Poor mermaid, poor slow inexorable demolition of beauty and creation unmercifully neglected through time, no water no splashing sound of rivulets and streaming threads of liquid worthlessness for entertainment and appreciation of aesthetic joy, no water to reflect the clouds or sunlit sky or deep set stars and moonlight for lovers holding hands or groping for reward upon the benches here and there now only empty in the air before the storm, poor mermaid.
He wondered if she had a name.
“Hello,” said Jack Bonner.
The mermaid did not answer.
“I’ve come to see you,” he said. “It’s going to storm. A great big storm is coming and I won’t be back for a while. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, but I wanted to see you before it comes. I need to see you. I love you and I hope that’s all right, because I do even if it isn’t.”
The mermaid smiled down on Jack.
She only smiled for him..
He’s the only one who could make her happy, make her feel alive.
“I hope you’ll be all right,” Jack continued, “but you’ve weathered so much. I wouldn’t doubt you’ll be fine for one more assault upon your beauty.”
“Love me,” the mermaid said. “Don’t leave. Put your arms around me and keep me warm. I’m cold here and it’s lonely. I will make you happy if only you will love me. I will never let you feel sad or care worn. I have ways of helping you find paradise. I can keep you there. All I needed to learn I learned beneath the waves and I can show you, the soft, tender ways of tides and currents, motions only known between the surface and abyss. These are all for you. I will give them to you, because I love you,” the mermaid said.
“I love you too,” said Jack.
The mermaid smiled and returned to silence.
Once the great and overt gift of an extravagant entrepreneur who faced his last illness anguished by the many ruthless deals he cut to make the money that couldn’t save him, the mermaid and fountain now sat like some disheveled decorated cake upon the graceful slope of a public park no one attended but this man, this hero without a medal, this man without a country, not because he forsook his country, but because his country had forsaken him. He parked his truck on the street to which he now returned having said all he needed to say and heard all he needed to hear from his inspiration and his love.
The mermaid and her attendant cherub and dolphins rendered in stone around them had been vandalized repeatedly through the years and one more note he felt those who violated her violated him and he would kill them without remorse, shame or guilt, glad of killing anyone lawlessness against innocent art in a world too small for anything but love.
As he walked away his eyes beheld an object discarded on the curb. People do that. In America people who don’t want something place it on the curb. People who want things they don’t want to pay for and other people still want for themselves often break in and steal and some people who just love the very thought of making money go out and buy whatever they want without much regard for what they already have if only they can have more. This thing he saw had been there for him to see as he approached the mermaid, but then he could not be bothered. Now he saw it again as if for the first time and walked directly to it, a large heavy gauge steel filing cabinet discarded in anticipation of the city’s large item pick up every other Thursday from the curb.
The filing cabinet had six drawers.
The bottom drawer had sprung open and protruded slightly from the cabinet at a dislocated angle.
He knew what it felt like to be abandoned, adjudged worthless yet retain essential function and seek mere purpose in life. He knew anyone watching from the nearby apartment building made of red brick would assume he wanted the filing cabinet and wait for him to load it onto his truck the way people watch and wait from the safety of their own domicile, but he resisted the act of showing any interest whatsoever other than walking toward the derelict steel cabinet and coveted his pride he was no rag picker until he saw what might be considered inside the cabinet to render his pride irrelevant.
He saw papers by the thousands amid manila file folders.
It must all weigh hundreds of pounds.
One drawer alone allowed him to surmise the weight and content of the rest as a mere physical obstruction, let alone the information contained therein.
He only came to see the mermaid. Why bother with refuse?
“I can help you,” she said.
“What if it’s nothing?”
“Nothing is every nothing. You won’t find anything unless you try. You’re here for a reason. So am I. You found me. Now find the reason. Take it home. Then find out why. Look inside. You can’t decide anything if you don’t take it. Only stupid people don’t try to find out what they don’t know. Open the box.”
“It’s a cabinet.”
“Open it,” she said.
The first lines told him he held a story in his hands.
He opened two other drawers. The latches wanted to stick, but he managed to spring them. Likewise they contained typed and handwritten papers packed tightly together.
He had discovered the manuscript of a novel.
“This is my story. It is not your story. It belongs to me. I lived it. I’m writing it. I’m gone now. You’re reading it. You come after me, but I don’t want you to feel upset or excluded. I want you to read it. Whatever you find in it to your liking cannot be known to me or of any particular concern, fr I am not writing it that you should enjoy, but in writing it I have told the truth within myself, and trusting the same humanity exists within us both, I will have done my best and you will recognize the effort. That is my hope. That is my authorship. Readership belongs to you. We are partners.”
“When the phone rings, when the clock chimes and you have somewhere else to go, when the kettle boils, whatever happens to make you set aside or step away from my words, it is proof of their poor relation to your life, but let us not over dramatize. Perhaps something I attempt to communicate will linger. Perhaps it will manifest itself as true in some way in your life. Then we will be sympathetic t each other’s needs and that will be a part of the process at once mysterious and overwhelming, like love when it happens.”
“Don’t you find it so? Don’t you find the finest efforts are subject to interruption? That’s why we attend a concert, to see and hear the performance from beginning to end and applaud or withhold approval of the creative effort, to judge the work of others like gods entitled to omniscience. That is the raw, pedestrian character of it all, yet there is within n urge, a motivation, a calling to what is more and above and higher than the top of what we know as reality.”
“Our hearts beat to a rhythm. It is not a smooth hum, despite a continuous flow of blood through the muscle. It is a pumping of tension and release and innumerable halts perpetrated between contractions. So we live and when it stops we die. We die suddenly, no matter how we linger, so the episodes of our lives are held in thrall by momentary lapses which, if even one persists, usher us into the great beyond from which we will never return. We have never been here before. We will never be here again. That is why love is such a treasure, because it lets us feel the essence of eternity while keeping our place in the here and now. It is a true revelation. Any attempt to substitute what is not love for where love should be is destined to failure. That is why we are such a troubled country. We are forgetting how to love. We are forgetting what we know.”
“This is my story.”
The woods he entered had never been seen by any white man, never seen any man standing between these trees as wide as a man strong enough to see them, towering toward the sky big and bold and blue amid clouds white themselves beyond man’s divine hope of piety.
He stood momentarily and beheld creation and him the Adam with an ax and cross cut saw, each slung over opposite shoulders, the saw bending down in a bow of tempered steel with a handle at both ends, edged with teeth so sharp you could shave with them or use the ax, glistening and lethal as a guillotine for trees, chipping down the aristocracy of any forest with him the executioner wearing double fronted canvas pants reinforced with rivets and rolled in cuffs over hob nail boots, a shirt over his chest and torso of thick flannel plaid patched with leather at the elbows and tucked into the canvas pants, a pair of thick cowhide work gloves already conformed to the classic concave curve of his hands by grim work and a hat pulled down over his brow stained from sweat from a hundred jobs, ten times a hundred and so he stood, ready to destroy and lay waste for a dollar a day when he could get it and clear cut for whatever purpose men bigger than himself chose to make for the lumber grown by God Almighty in such profusion.
He never came to protect a forest such as this.
He never came to save or conserve or lay back and let some other man do the work.
He never came for anything but work and he never came to turn away from any work he could do with a beer t the end of the day and a pillow for his head, although he’d lain on the ground and slept in stalls no animal would deign without squeals or snorts of protest.
This man could do it all.
He could kill or procreate.
He never thought accessories, only necessities, never options, only obligations.
The world never taught him how to be gentle, kind or good.
Religion didn’t teach him either.
He did what he did for reasons of his own, never because others preferred them that way.
He knew right from wrong instinctively from old times, times beyond his own or anyone else’s recollection.
The time they came to the village where his great grandfather and great grandmother lived, the Lord and his men at night and held his great grandmother down while others tied his great grandfather to a tree and raped the woman for sport.
“Save room for me,” said the Lord. “She bears sons for the realm,” in a language no one in America generations later would understand or need to understand, a language gone from the earth.
“Good, my Lord,” said one as he withdrew. “She is ample. There is enough room for all,” yet she bit the animal’s face as he turned away to speak and he replied with a thrust through her belly with his blade. The Lord, though perturbed when he heard her scream and realized what had happened to spoil his fun did not punish his vassal for men were men and women bore them. The man standing now in the woods a world away and equal to them all had no knowledge nor could he have known his great uncle, a kindly man had taken the children that day earlier out into the woods and so returned to find the smoke, the ashes, the cleaved torso of one they loved with the body of his dead brother against the tree where he the dead man’s brother carved a curse against all who bore such power and committed such evil.
It would be different in America as they dreamed it without knowing a name by which it might be called. Wars came they did not understand and men who did not understand nor could they read or write were carried away at sword point or bayonet or gun point and lashed if they complained or resisted behind horses to be drawn or dragged into the king’s service, the realm’s bidding, the kingdom’s unquenchable thirst for power. It would be different in America, before they knew its name. Starvation drew the faces of children tight and their brains withered and breasts that might have given suck withered as well for lack of nutrition or mercy. Wombs miscarried and limbs creaked and bent and broke from work, healed and broke again until life stopped and death came too late or too soon in a ditch or drowned in some well reaching too far with cupped hands or a wooden cup for a sip teaming with scum and vermin dead or spawning on the surface and warnings given by toothless crones or crippled sires who never knew hope chained to church laden with superstition and sanctimonious wealth worthless to God or pleading hands and bleeding hearts of reeking humanity, but America would be different. In America freedom would be something this side of death. Freedom would be against death and in favor of life, so he stood in the woods solitary and perfect, powerful not for others as they would have him powerful only for them, but powerful for himself and others only as he chose. He never finished fourth grade and had no certain knowledge of even the past he himself came from, but knowing somehow deep, deep, deep within himself he stood for all the others who had come and gone. He could feel them inside his soul if he chose to have one, a great and powerful force he dared not comprehend. He thought it beyond him, men and women like animals through the years who had built their fires and warmed their hands and undressed in shame or dressed in haste against the cold and conceived and given birth and paradise they would never know he now beheld as he stood within it for them with ax and saw and cant hooks when they came with the mules and horses and men built like himself, the finest men who ever walked the earth, strong to a fault, funny and smelling of sweat, urine, shit and stupid pride to cut the lumber and others like themselves to build the houses of the lumber they cut for the ones who dreamed the dreams and built their lives not upon the dead past but the vibrant pulse erection of future wombs and umbilicals yet to be cut.
This man spit on the ground and found a place any place would do so he didn’t have to stoop too far down to pick up his tools so he leaned them against any place and turned away to unfasten his pants and pull out his cock and piss on the ground, the same place but a different direction than where he spit.
The fallen leaves and foliage received his stream. It steamed in the cold morning. It would get exceedingly colder. The frost would come soon and make piss freeze almost before it hit the ground. Never mind about the spit. Better get to work. He pulled himself back inside, buttoned up the fly of his pants and now began the slaughter of these trees the way his own people had been slaughtered back in the old country.
He owed it to them even if he never saw them or even knew their names. In America names and the past didn’t seem to matter much. He’d pay it back to them as these bastards paid him to put his strength against monoliths of growing wood and everlasting branches as if he stood in a temple of fluted columns and flying buttresses like Sampson blind to the beauty intent only bringing down the house and everything in it for a dollar every goddamn day.
He knew without going to church.
He never went to church.
It said, he heard, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy might. It never said anything about his mind. He didn’t need to understand. They didn’t have anything to offer his thoughts. He knew the truth. He had to work and when he worked he did whatever they told him to do or they fired him and he starved and if he starved the people he loved starved with him. That made him religious.
The rest of religion could go to hell.
He stood here in God’s house and God didn’t mind if he cut it down, because God cut everything down and raised it back up again when He willed.
This much the man understood.
This man touched the trunk of a tree with the blade of his ax at full arm’s length.
The tree seemed to quiver.
He got the measure of the swing, checked to be sure he didn’t touch so much as a twig or branch or underbrush behind his back that would throw him off and when he felt sure he swung.
The living ax of tempered steel at the end of his living arm bit into the living flesh of the forest. After the next swing at a different angle a chip the size of his fist flew away into the startled air like a bird on the wing.
This man like so many men at a dollar a day felt the edge of the ax he had sharpened with a file and a whet stone go in deep and ripple with contact and reverberation of nerve and muscle up through his arms and shoulders into his spine and he swung again. He could do this all day. He’d done it with his whole body without the ax with shipyard whores in Brooklyn. He’d done it with a shovel naked from the waist up in the sand pits of Cleveland. He could do it here. He could do it anywhere and he could do it better than any other man because he knew he could and would for a dollar a day, a dollar every goddamn day.
If they paid him.
“Oh Mary, Mary,” he sang. “You wicked girl. What are you doing in this desperate world?”
The chips flew.
This man was getting back at every prince that ever lived, every king that ever deflowered a virgin by divine right, every child that ever went hungry while adults ate their fill, every soldier that ever burned an unarmed village, ten times over for the officer who ordered it done and the filth who pretended to have the guts to declare war, but not the guts to prevent it, every low down conniving public man who took the public good and made it bad, because, all those reasons kept this man swinging in the forest until that tree would fall.
They could plant more trees.
This man would give them hell and hell would give this man more bills to pay and trees to cut and God would give trees more men until the eternal referee called time and raised one arm in absolute triumph.
This man, undeclared heavyweight champion of this or any other world.
The words appeared to have been written by a woman.
“The kingdom of God is within” the preacher said. “Don’t look for it out there beyond some broad horizon. Look within. That’s where you’ll find it. Look into the dark of your soul as it exists within your heart, as the light comes through your willingness to let it in. That’s where you’ll find the kingdom of God. Claim it as your own.”
“Do you seek for riches? Look within. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you. What better foundation to be grounded in than to be grounded within? Who can take that from you? Who can break in and steal? Who can say I own more of you than you own of yourself? How can you be found lacking if the treasure is within?”
“I’ve known such people and so have you, the quiet people, the ones with firm resolve and certain strength, with courage without braggadocio or contempt for others, the believer who believes in himself and in his God against which there can be no successful resistance, one man against one hundred.”
“One man against one thousand,” the preacher intoned.
“One man against the world, because that one man knows what he must do and that one man will win, not merely endure, he will win. He shall prevail. He will win victoriously because God wants him to win, designed him to win, ordained him to win. That resolve is imperturbable, beautiful and serene.”
“Let it be born in you. Do not delay putting your hands upon the greatest treasure available to mortal man, the gateway to immortality and eternal life. Open your mind and your heart to this enormous resource available within you. Why will do die? Why will you live merely living, hopeless and resolute to do nothing but wait out the clock until it inevitably tolls the death knell you will never hear to completion, because before the last stroke has died away you will be dead and forbidden to hear it by a God who has at last wearied of your procrastination?”
“No, faithless and afraid though you may be until this all important moment, embrace the gift God has to give you, embrace the Godliness within yourself and be born again not once for all, but all the time for your cherished life. They will look at you and ask if something is wrong. They may never have seen anyone like you before certainly not in the crypt they call a church. You will smile and tell them the truth. No, nothing is wrong. Nothing can ever be wrong again, for you are right with God. “What does that mean?” they will ask. Tell them if you can, but the best way is let your life testify to what they see and wish for themselves. You are witness to the truth, because you are the truth. You must tell them. You cannot do otherwise. Your life bears an inexorable obligation. One way or the other you will manifest what it is you have come to believe. Wreck your life. It is what you believe. Trail in the dust and be trodden down by other men and the brazen hearts of those who do not care. It is what you believe. Amass wealth until you collapse beneath the weight. It is what you believe. Give to others and find ways to help your fellow men. Love until you have no strength to love and die beloved. It is what you believe. Forgive and be forgiven. It is what you believe.”
The preacher concluded his sermon and looked down upon the congregation come to hear him.
“There is no God but the God within you now,” he said. “Whatever you conceive God to be that is indeed your God and you are the evangelist of your God so long as you both shall live. You are created to prove Him.”
“You are created to prove Her.”
“You are created to let Him rule.”
“You are created to let Her rule over Him.”
“Make your God omniscient and omnipotent. Let your God reign forever and ever and declare your God Lord of Lords and King of Kings, but if you do not serve your God to make your God as great as your God deserves to be, then you have made your God as nothing and you are nothing with your God and that my brothers and sisters is the only definition I know of hell worthy of the punishment you bring upon yourselves. You will find yourself cut off from God forever because you gave nothing to your God in life and you will be damned to hypocritical eternity, not dead but aware of your own worthlessness, self deceived and deceiving others.”
“What could be worse?”
“Be the gods God made you to be and go in peace.”
They’re tearing down a church in the neighborhood today, a church that stood for a few decades and empty for a few years more and then without a buyer for the church without a purpose and unwilling to wait or pay for unused space or accept the liability of what would happen if someone went into the empty church and caused trouble it goes down as it is going down today.
Great machines have come and with diesel voracity have begun to rip and rend like hydraulically evolved dinosaurs the flesh and body of in this case Christ.
“Vanity of vanities, said the preacher. All is vanity and a striving after wind.”
It isn’t vanity.
It appears to be justice.
Every dollar spent on construction of that church was given as a charitable contribution. No legislated tax dollars built it. No administratively imposed surcharge or license fees built it. No bond issue money built it. Money out of the pockets of the faithful built it. Or were they? Where did they place their faith, those givers of the money to purchase the land and buy the architect’s design and contract the builder and obtain all the permits required and pay the bills through the relatively brief years of its operation? What did they intend to do? What did they really believe in and why didn’t it translate into another generation determined to do the same? What kind of a church is it that gets dedicated and demolished in a single congregational lifetime?
What’s the point?
They’ve taken artifacts from the demolished church and used them as decorative features in the new building on the site.
It’s a police station, complete with holding cells and arsenal, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
The church came to the day of dedication and now swiftly to this day of crucifixion. One thinks of all the sermons, baptisms, funerals, weddings, choir rehearsals, cantatas, communions, candlelight services and quiet prayers in this yawning steel and concrete cadaver open to the sky with dangling wires and pipes exposed like desiccated ribs while a monster feeds with a maw large enough to hold a cubic yard of debris every bite, ripping away and grubbing out basement walls, shattering and exposing to public gaze the classrooms, restrooms and pastor’s study,the bride’s room and prayer chapel, library and gathering space, all in an apocalyptic heap upon the ground and sprayed with water to keep down the infernal dust. There’s a fence around the property for safety. It’s a hard hat area. There is no admittance. It is not open to the general public, but then again it was locked so securely each night for years for the same reason and to ward off evil spirits. It couldn’t have been about love, because love does not die and real love would have built a real church and real people would have loved it so much or one another within it no lesser truth could have prevailed against it, but today the gates of hell have swung wide and the church has entered in, deep down into the ground where the machines strive to find a new foundation for the new building dedicated to law and order.
There’s going to be trouble.
The new police station guarantees it, just as the church might have guaranteed something else, but the church is gone. No one wanted a church there any more.
They destroyed it.
The church is vanished.
Two words are printed on the side of the construction trailer at the demolition site. The words are Commitment and Passion. Those words might have been found embroidered on banners in the sanctuary donated by the Women’s Auxiliary or the Wednesday Quilters, but those words as they relate to spiritual life have been removed. Only demolition experts proclaim Commitment and Passion these days.
Yet there’s more.
Not so fast.
God reserves the right of first refusal.
No one escapes the wrath of One for whom a house is built and then torn down. They swore to serve Him and His needs didn’t change, the needs presented as the people all around, their hunger, their fear, their starving hearts, yet now when no one can see the point with human eyes, the edifice of devotion and faith and worship is eradicated.
Could they come with no better dedication of the place on which a church once stood?
A stone, a tree a flower bed?
But no, rather this ghastly sight, this decomposition no one wants to see but to which no one objects too strenuously, this abject failure of inspiration and vision.
God still needs all the help He can get and since no one here will help Him and give Him the credit, He will find other people, someone more adept at humility and receptive of grace.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
The name of the Lord is blessed.
God bless and for God’s sake help us all if He decides to do unto us what we have done unto Him.
There is something in me that does not want to stop anywhere, does not want to settle, wants to keep moving and moving and does not want to be bothered by anything, least of all the horizon way out ahead.
All those places on the map, they all have one thing in common. They’re all places where other people have already been and they’ve all been marked with a name like dogs on a post.
I don’t want to mark anything. Well, maybe that’s not true, but before I do I need the space to do it, just enough to leave my name on something other than a tombstone, a living signature beyond where I stopped to write it, because I don’t want to stop.
I want to keep moving.
So where shall we go and what shall we do when we get there? What means the most and how can we believe in where we’re going and where we’ve been?
I don’t know. I only know I am and that’s slender knowledge.
Home is where you rest. We’re all dead soon enough. After we die we become the very light and breath that never rests in the life of others, so why fight so hard to be alive? I don’t think I’ll ever die so long as I keep moving and leave the dying to those ho stop and say enough before their time, the sad ones who run out of life before they die and wait for death to catch up. Some of them wait for years. Death is impatient with people who wait for it. The way death works is reverse to life. If life finds you holding back, you become impatient and life makes you frustrated, but if you wait for death, death itself becomes impatient and doesn’t think you appreciate how important life really is, so death, being impatient makes you wait and wait and wait and then surprises you on a day at a moment when even momentarily you wished you could live, then exerts its authority and takes you away.
Every suicide is like that, every single one. At the last infinitesimal second divided by instants indivisible by any other fraction of time, you realize how good it would have been to be alive and you die anyway. It really is awful and you can’t come back. You can’t say how sorry or anything else you are because you aren’t any more and no matter what you think might have been wrong with life before or wrong with you in life, that instant you realize its your own damn fault for being so stupid in the first place. You didn’t have to die. All you have to do is live.
No name appeared on the pages, therefore no proof by name of authorship, but sense told him he beheld feminine words, a mystique and mystical female temperament. Notes and notions appeared scribbled in the margins. He took pages in bunches from the drawers and put them in the back of his truck for his decision had been made. He felt vaguely he performed the rescue of a woman in distress, as if he offered his hand literally across a puddle or his arm extended over a patch of ice, a mixed feeling of haste to avoid detection for he sought no notice and diligence to guard the passage.
He had no intention of relinquishing the prize held so firmly now in his possession. He resented the imaginary accusation he felt of curbside theft even from a refuse pile and took care to avoid any hesitation that might jeopardize his acquisition.
The drawers would not come out of the cabinet. Maybe he didn’t comprehend the intricacy of the mechanism. He removed all the pages by hand, piled them in the bed of his truck then manhandled the steel filing cabinet up onto the tailgate and into the bed of his truck. He closed the tailgate and drove away with frequent looks in the rear and side view mirrors to confirm no papers or folders fluttered up and out into traffic. He remonstrated to himself if this happened he would stop in the middle of the street if necessary and collect any papers that attempted to escape.
Without knowing their content, he loathed the thought of losing a single page.
“What are you doing?”
A voice asked him.
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you doing it?”
The same voice asked.
“I don’t know.”
He gave the same answer.
“You plan to read all this stuff?”
“I don’t know.”
“Watch out for that kid on the bike.”
“I see him. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried, just concerned. What are you doing later?”
“Reading through a bunch of these papers. I don’t know. There’s a storm coming.”
“Good luck. Have fun.”
He drove to his studio, a cottage he called Zion behind his home. He used a wheelbarrow to transport the papers and cabinet from the driveway in several trips and reassembled the cabinet upright in the cottage. He put all the papers back in the drawers without the slightest regard for order. There had been none. He imposed none.
Times were tough.
He sat down in a wooden captain’s chair without cushions and looked quietly at the new presence in his life, as he might look at a stranger in the room, one with whom he intended to become very good friends born of necessity. He took his time. He felt no hurry though he felt excited.
“What are you waiting for?”
“Maybe there’s something I shouldn’t see.”
“Don’t be afraid. What could possibly hurt you?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s right. You don’t know. Whoever threw it out didn’t throw anything of value.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I’m sure and so are you. Be honest with yourself.”
I am, but I’m a bit apprehensive. It’s as though I’ve already written what I’m about to read.
People throw out valuables all the time. The dumps are full of priceless heirlooms, trophies, money, documents. Why don’t you burn it all? Why bother with someone else’s mess? You’ve got a stove. Or take it back to the curb, any curb. You’ve got one right in front of your house. You wouldn’t even have to take anything back where you found it. You could scare yourself into complacency and do nothing.
“That’s right,” he thought. “Then I could be like everyone else who does what they do out of fear. It’s amazing how many that includes, how many people live their lives in fear.”
He accepted the challenge.
He put his fear in the trash can.
He put his fear in the cast iron stove.
He put his fear on the curb.
He got up from his seat and opened the top drawer now as though for the first time, as though he approached a research project in a restricted laboratory or the cage of a wild animal.
Suddenly from an increasingly cloud filled sky came the dull dissipated flash and thud of winter lightning rare and unheralded.
It began to snow.
They talked about global warming. They talked about climate change. Weathermen predicted rain after a few inches of snow from this storm. Anything could happen. He lifted the first folder out of the drawer and opened it on his desk. The studio provided a perfect setting for whatever he might discover.
The first page bore the title Introduction.
He read aloud.
“There is no going back. The road has disappeared behind us. Time has had its way with all of them. Now it is our turn. Time will have its way with us. The good ones who pierced their hands or feet accidentally on a square rusty nail and died in clench jawed agony, the wicked who never did or hoped to do an honest day’s work in their lives and inherited wealth to live off in ease and comfort, all of them are gone and their stories gone as only they could tell them or never got the chance to tell, the unassisted child births, the cruel losses in sleepless vigil and endless nights, all those stories are told and retold and forgotten and now our turn has come.”
“We cannot history,” the man said and now we hear its footsteps coming down the long corridor to our cell and we know the scaffold out there in the courtyard or the blank bullet scarred wall are ours and the only choice we have to make is whether or not we want the blindfold.”
“We will never know the virgin planet. We will never know the unperturbed horizon. Now there will be fences, poles and wires, windmills the size of three armed giants waving goodbye to the past, floating islands of debris the size of sovereign states and hideous towers of communication disguised to look like trees where trees will never grow. They try to convince us it is outer space and frontiers beyond the galaxy that hold the future, but those numbers are too big, those distances too far and the void between infinitesimal points of light too infinite for us to comprehend as the first man knew who beheld Yosemite Falls before it had a name or Niagara at night under a full moon or Kilauea in eruption from a vessel far off under sail. These things were given to others and we are left to wonder.”
“What has been given to us?”
“When we see the endless miles of automobiles stuck in motionless exasperation and we know we spend so much of our lives merely waiting it is beyond calculation yet we refuse to take the next exit. When we read the news and are horrified yet keep reading the news, when we fear annihilation at the hands of leaders who bear no relationship to leadership, what has been given to us?”
“When no one dies of measles or diphtheria or whooping cough or polio or yellow fever yet thousands die of gunshot wounds and tens of thousands die mangled every year in automobile accidents, what is left to us? What has been given to us? When there are no new worlds to conquer and only one world on which we all may live and hope to grow, what has been given to us?”
“We have all been given to one another and every one is a way to God, every one, not one or only one, not one to the exclusion of all others, but all others to the exclusion of that one who considers himself more important or more sacred than all the rest.”
“We are each that avenue to God for which the world has waited, each and every one a savior, not in the name of anyone called a savior, but in our own name, not for all time, but our own time, the brief exquisitely important temporary time of our lives, a limitless source and a constant manner of salvation ordained and designed by God in us for now, not for then or before or later, but now as we are given the doorway within ourselves to heaven if we will only throw back the bolt and throw open wide the only portal so near at hand.”
“If we will not then we have lost ourselves and lost for others the way it might have been if only we had been true to God within us as He crated us and never stops and we are moving closer to the truth whether we choose to move or not. The time within us will advance and we will be remembered in spite of ourselves or forgotten because we ourselves refused the gift, chained ourselves to the rock of our salvation and there let the vultures eat out our liver because we refused the share the fire, because we quenched the Holy Spirit, because we sat on our sorry ass and thought in that position neither God nor anyone else would dare go ahead and kick it.”
“Only people matter.
Nothing else matters.
No avenue of God opens without people yet we teach this isn’t so, that theology somehow uses people like factories use them and has a right to use them because people are miscreant and somehow minus from the moment of inception. Even the thought of procreation is subject to the taint of sin for whatever reason stunted minds can give to make it their business more than the business of even those engaged in copulation. This is good we say or at least the way it is if not the way it ought to be, but what can one do? The truth is one can do nothing, so no one so to speak all by themselves is going to prove the answer. We need each other, so any system which denigrates or diminishes the human soul, puts a cloud of guilt or shame in the way of light and then dispenses light as though it had to come from someone else and has no original home in us is false. We are helpless without one another and once we join in the process of what it means to be helpful we relate to the world in which we live. This is good and self sustaining. No system, no device, no pharmaceutical, no medium or machine or means of exchange means anything without people to whom we can relate and who may take mercy and pity on us and give us love in whatever way by whatever means and thereby enable us to live.
The only enemy is the one who hates himself and wants to impose that hatred. The only one worthy of our hatred is the one who tries to make us hate. They destroy only themselves, unless we assist them in destroying others by allowing them to seduce us into believing self hatred is the truth, the light and the way toward hating others.
Let no one deceive you. You were born to live, not die or kill or be killed. You have no right to pull death out of life and call it God’s only begotten plan for your life. Decline the invitation to enter hell. Say no to original sin. It’s not original. Somebody else made it and gave it to you like a terrorist makes a bomb and leaves it on the school play ground.
Say yes to life.
It’s already looking at you in the mirror.”
“We have never been here before, you and I. We meet for the first time. We see each other today as though we had never seen each other before. We come from different places. We know different facts. Why should we be afraid? What is the reason my world should be any more than your world or your world any less than mine? We were not born or brought together by accident. What is the reason we are here? That is the one good reason we must find. That reason alone makes us friends. That reason plus all the others makes us something more and someone more to one another. It’s a start. We must start. We must find that reason.”
“Who are you?”
The Red Man appeared at her door without a single sound whatsoever, without so much as a shadow, as if light passed through him leaving a silhouette.
“What do you want?”
Yet no words were possible.
No word passed between them.
His people killer her people.
Her people killed his.
The killing of knives and blunt instruments, rocks lashed to sticks with rawhide thongs and bones sharpened into blades, of rifle butts and bullets melted and poured at home or shipped in tiny cardboard boxes from factories in the East or crates with tin foil liners from the arsenals of government. They killed each other, but not this time. There was no time, this man and this woman faced each other across an abyss of infernal reasons and blood brought to a boil by injustice, ignorance, greed or revenge, but not this time. He stood resolute. She could never cross the distance to the mantle piece where the carbine hung in time nor could she wield the butcher knife on the table against his agility and strength. he knew it. She knew it. They stood looking at one another. Him in the light of midday. Her in the shadows of the cabin.
He liked her.
She liked him.
A fire passed between them, enemies inscribed by God to be something more, a fire of recognition they would both try to understand. It would take time. They would need to fight for the time instead of fight with one another, this woman and this man from different places in the mind of God, different creations in the creation they had come to know. Her people from old countries on the other side of the world. His from mountains and valleys no one but his people and the animals had ever seen, glacial cirques and alpine meadows named only by the sun, moon and stars. Fear made it impossible for her think. He did not want her to think. If she did she might reach for the knife. Then he would have to kill her and scalp her even though he liked her. She would stab to the heart even though she liked him, though he broke her arm and she knew her life had ended. She merely stood as the Bible taught her to stand in the firelight at night alone, having done all to stand. He moved first. He took his right hand and passed it down over his chest, inscribing a fat belly out toward her into the air and then moving his hand in that arch back in and down toward his crotch. Then he brought his hand up open in a gesture of peace, swept it swiftly to one side and she thought she understood the meaning.
“No,” she said in English and shook her head in the universal language. “I am not a mother.” He did not understand her words, but she misunderstood his gesture and he understood the shaking of her head. “No, this woman is not aware I mean her own mother, the one who bore her now lies dead on the trail.”
“Have I done the wrong thing?” the woman panicked in her mind trying to hide panic in her face. “Dear God, what does he want from me? Where is my mother? Where are the men? They should have been back now.”
They would never come back.
The Indian brave turned and sat down upon the threshold of the cabin and placed his gun so it would not pain his injured arm. He turned his back, inviting her attack by his turning of the back. She came out of the door behind him and rather than strike the blow she knew would kill him as she had killed for butchering asked a question in her English because she liked him.
Great God in Heaven in the name of Christ what am I doing I like him.
“Where do you belong?” she asked him pointlessly. “Who are your people?”
She saw he was wounded. He was bleeding.
There was a lot of blood. It had dried in places, still wet and glistening near the wound.
She liked him.
She tried to sign. He disregarded her efforts. He would not answer. He had seen her parents killed. He did not want to be a part of the killing then or telling of it now. His own war chief struck him on the arm so hard to break it in furious contempt to make him fight, but no he would not having seen this woman work all those times outside the cabin from the forest where he watched all those days unseen, as thought living a life he never imagined through her, mysterious to be so close to all she did by watching unawares and though he did not know the word in her tongue knew something within himself that sparked a warmth and no longer provoked in him the need to shed blood with the big fury that came like the little one inside a woman when they eventually lay together and unlike fighting when one got up they both arose to realize the fury and the fighting had passed.
She knew now none of this. She knew only after time her parents must be dead and he knew but had no part she could sense and so her fear gave way to grief and somehow in his quiet absolute stoic petrified presence she took great comfort, as though a rock had come to place itself at the mouth of the tomb not for protection of the dead but the living.
She began to teach him words and although he guarded his ability to learn as a man might guard his manhood, she knew he could understand and he let her know just enough to know she knew the truth.
“I am Thunder Sky,” he said when at last they understood the will of God.
“I am Jane,” she said.
They named their first born from the Bible.
They named him Isaiah.
“Is it permitted?”
“Is what permitted?”
“What you and I will do.”
“No,” she said. “I’m sure it is not.”
“Will that permit you?” he asked.
She thought a moment and corrected.
“You mean, ‘Will that prevent me?'”
“Yes,” he said. “Prevent you.”
“No,” she said.
“You are of Christian?”
“No. Not any more. I renounce it.”
“What is you say?”
“I renounce it. I make it go away.”
“Is such possible?”
“I say it t make it possible within myself. I say it to make it go away. All things are possible.”
A White Woman and a Red Man in a cabin built by her parents to which no parent of either would ever return.
“I tried the faith of my fathers,” she said. “It did not work. My mother had faith in my father. They are both dead. I’m alive. You’re alive. I want to love you. I do love you. Do you love me?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, a man of prodigious strength and silence.
“Then what we do we do in faith, because what we do we do in love. No one else is here. No one else is invited. No one else has right to what we feel between ourselves and God.”
“What is this God?” he who believed in the Great Spirit asked.
“God is love.”
“Here we stay.”
“What does he mean?”
“Hush. Quiet. No talking.”
He walked away, just away, almost aimlessly through the buffalo grass. He never looked right or left, up or down or at anything so it seemed, he walked slowly, as if following.
Then he disappeared amid a clump of trees at a distance and they stood without him for what seemed a time excessive.
“Where did he go?”
“I told you to mind and be quiet.” Then, “To find something,” then, “to find here.”
“What is here?”
“Here is where we will be if we belong.”
“How do we know?”
“We don’t know. He will know. He’s the one anointed by God to know. Wist, here he comes.”
The elderly man with the long white beard walked by them as thought he had no awareness of their presence and kept walking to the nearest wagon. The young boy would have spoken once again, but he knew better now and stayed quiet looking at the patriarch and the wagon.
The elderly man returned after he looked up into the sky, took off his hat and offered what appeared to be a prayer as was his custom, before taking an ax from the wagon sideboard where it hung lashed. He took the ax to the trees and deliberately with strokes before which he crossed himself blazed a mark upon one of the trees at a height equal with his chest. For an old man he struck the tree with the force of a giant.
“We build a house here,” he breathed beneath his breath, “by God’s grace here we prosper,” he he knew other things which made him a man. He knew death and dying and felt the encroachments of age, the aches and nagging pains that afflicted his body and grew as he knew they would until they overwhelmed him, as inexorably as the trees around the clearing for their log home would have their revenge as growing things live longer than the death which claims them. Here is whee he would willingly die God forbid, but better to say he would willfully die fighting, fighting, fighting, working and dying at work, fighting to keep, rather than willfully quit or give up what he must inevitably lose.
When that feeling overcame him, that overwhelming feeling of a circle complete within himself, then he could be owner, master, be himself among others at least for a time.
This he could know.
This is what all men must know or be nothing, be animals or slaves for all slaves are animals.
He would be willing to die now, know this, but not surrender. His age had nothing to do with it. As long as he lived he would lay with the woman and nurture the boy. They needed him and he loved them, more than he loved himself.
“God be merciful,” he prayed as he carried the ax back to the wagon. “Strengthen me and guide me by thy Holy Spirit. Curse those who curse me and bless those who bless me.”
“What happened then?”
“Ran aground. Missed her stays.”
The story of other men’s misadventure is always of passing interest to other men. Other men present themselves as judge, jury and executioner to the fate of those less fortunate than themselves, praying to God if ever they believed in Him they are not the subject of other men’s entertainment.
Missed her stays is a nautical term. It refers to the unsuccessful attempt to tack or steer against the wind by taking a zigzag course to achieve progress against adverse elements of nature such as wind or tide.
She missed her stays and piled up on the rocks, a miserable end to a gallant ship, a three masted schooner that sank in thirty feet of water, coated with ice and the next gale from the north broker her as effectively as a crew of wreckers with sledge hammers and bars.
“What happened then?”
The captain quit the Maritimes, got his crew off safe through the rigging into the trees hanging out over the cliffs, lost the cargo of lumber and spuds and spent the rest of his life in a factory working to pay back the farmers who lost their cargo.
“T’weren’t his fault. Winds came up. Rudders fail. Helmsman didn’t come about on orders, all of them, any of them together or apart enough to send her down. No one man needs shoulder all the blame, any more than one man can carry off the glory.”
“He didn’t see it that way. He worked to pay them back.”
“Yes and some with interest.”
“Buy you another round?”
“No. Time I headed home,” and on the way it puzzled him. “What does a man get out of what cost him everything?”
It came to him.
“Glory?” he thought. “No, not every man gets glory. Some get nothing.”
Then it came to him.
“Honor,” he thought. “That’s it. A man gets honor. A man like that gets honor and with honor an honorable man gets life.”