Excerpts from Vol. 1, Issue No. 1
September 14, 2013 Leave a comment
Aaron’s Auto Salvage and Restoration, Mackey’s Corners, Arkansas
What’s a preacher doing tending a junkyard? First, there was my own crisis of faith. Our Lord was telling me to take up the serpents to demonstrate my infinite trust in Him: Behold, I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions…and nothing by any means shall hurt you. But the snakes did hurt me: fourteen bites in all, three in that last year alone. Thirteen times I resisted the temptation to go to the hospital, screaming in pain something awful, my flock holding me down while I suffered the shakes and fevers. I lost a finger to the venom, it just rotted and fell off. Can’t feel anything in my right hand, I walk with a limp, all in the name of faith. Finally, came the last bite–a timber rattler at a revival, while we all sang “Temptations are great, but God’s love is greater.” I kept going in and out of the darkness, pain like black lightening, but I knew I was not ready for my appointment with God. Take me to the hospital I cried out in my delirium, and right then and there the parishioners of the Divine Reflection Holiness Church lost faith in me. It’s a sign from God, they said, that I resorted to the anti-venom: Preacher Aaron has lost the anointing.
Enda Wheeler stands alone, smoking a cigarette. Her back burns from hoeing tobacco since God woke her up, and now it is suppertime. She accepts hard work as her lot in life, although every now and again she can’t help but dwell on it. She has been low-down tired ever since her pa gave her over to a husband who is a two-fisted drinker and a one-fisted worker. Scanning the woods-hemmed horizon for Big Man, she rubs the hard knot over her pelvis to calm the baby who is fretting inside her. Enda coughs, and her bladder leaks onto already damp panties. Seems she spends half her day looking for her husband, the other half in the tobacco fields, and another half trying to cook and keep house. Today the pondering has brought out her temper, as it is wont to do. A rock, the size of the head of the fetus, rests in her apron pocket. Enda caresses the rock through the nearly transparent calico. It won’t hurt Big Man much, just get his attention. Do not kill, she knows, is one of the Lord’s laws. Not ever being of a mind to break His law, still Enda daily prays to outlive the sumbitch and pickle his dick in a Mason jar, preserve it in his own moonshine. When there is nothing left of the cigarette, she presses it into the ground with the blade of the hoe.
Enda wants him in the worst way, and the worst way is the only way she has ever wanted him, if you don’t count not wanting him at all.
My orthodontist committed suicide when I was ten years old. He was found slumped over the wet bar in his boxer shorts, reaching for the telephone, the empty pill bottle and a glass of ginger ale beside him. His immediate neighbors were shocked, but in the community we lived in shocks dissipated quickly. Tragedy in one cul-de-sac was often mere gossip in an older section of town. To my parents, though, Zeke Adler’s death was a fresh hurt. They and the Adlers had belonged to the same left-wing student group before the war and were two of perhaps seven couples who had reunited at the war’s end and stayed close ever since. The group of friends worked together for the causes they believed in, played together, and — amidst the McCarthy era’s bad weather — rued the future together. They shared most of their hopes and fears and the failure of any one of them was a failure of them all.
At times, we wake happy, or at least as happy as one could ever hope to be in this world. Spring has come to the darkest city. Even the streets, which glimmered icily at us all winter, have taken on a hot moist smell. Girls stalk sidewalks in slutty dresses. Teenagers get desirous on stoops. Purple clusters of flowers emerge like warts from the bark of trees. We could float a hundred miles on these vibrant sidewalks!
After the kid’s mother left us, I tried to cheer him up.“Let me paint your room,” I offered. “We’ll make it look really cool. You like the Wild West? Or outer space? What?”“I don’t care,” the kid said, so I made the initial decisions myself. I moved ahead with a Martian landscape, which I thought a nine-year-old would like. I wasn’t working from a sketch; I wanted to keep it loose, see what developed. First I painted a wisp of Martian vegetation, tall and reedy, and then I started to add a green Martian peering over the top. Together, the partial Martian and the reed looked a lot like a palm tree. I painted a large terra cotta tub for it to grow out of, and I added palm leaves. One thing led to another. Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of the café.
The kid was a little hesitant. “What happened to the Martians?” he asked.
Two sisters, Elizabeth and Sandra, either suntanned or naturally Indian sub-continent olive, are standing on a tiny square of the patchy, previously grub-chewed front lawn of a nondescript building on a nondescript street. “Previously” because the grubs are all nice and snug in their winter cocoons now, curled up with their six tiny legs tucked in under their maws. Their oversized maws. It is the sort of two-storey, semi-detached house that multiplies itself in various shades of brick and siding along the slightly seedy but about to be gentrified residential spaces of the inner city. You know the type? For decades, they served as the sanctuaries of multi-generational immigrant families raising children they could barely understand and then watching those same children fly off to sub-division monster homes and greener pastures (in some cases literally) in the distant suburbs. Then being purchased by absentee landlords to be split into odd-shaped rental units (boarding houses as the worst scenario) before the children decided that suburban pastures were often inconvenient and the commute was an expensive killer and wouldn’t it be lovely to have a house only a block or two from the subway line and open-air fruit stands, cappuccino bars, antique shops and homemade pizza parlours? Which is what is happening here (the question of the hour) with the model family about to whack away at the walls and divisions so they can restore the house to its pristine pre-tenant state, complete with central stairway with oak railings now buried and barely visible beneath a plaster wall.
Does that explain Libby and Sandy, as they are known to their friends, standing, holding each other tight, in the middle of their belongings and surrounded by the yellowing leaves of the now-naked maple?