Friday, 10 December 2010

Gabriel O'Byrne

Toccopola's previous pastor is Gabriel O'Byrne.
Pastor Gabriel arrivesd in the midst of the depression.
A dustbowl howls across his trail. A hellhound chases. There are stones in his passway.
He finds a downtrodden congregation. Beaten. Hardened through economic destitution. Turned in on itself. Sceptical of outsiders. Vicious.

On the day he arrives Father O'Byrne sets up a large bonfire in his yard. Her toasts scrawny briskets and salted forequarters. He presents useful skills to the community.

He's a firestarter.
He's a provider.
He's a lightning rod.
He's a man to whom men are drawn.
Drawn they are.

They leave their damprotten railside shacks out of curiosity, or disbelief, or hostility, or defiance, or hope.
They are drawn in. They are mesmerised.
Mesmerised by the high-kicking flames.
Mesmerised by the tenderly radiating heat in the face of encroaching chill.
Mesmerised by the beautiful roar of planks ripped from his own wagon. A means of conveyance totally consumed in anarriving gesture.

Like William the Conqueror, he drills holes in his long boats.

Gabriel O'Byrne signals his honesty. Signals his earnestness. Signals his intention to stay.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The fall of man

It's October 1943. It's Halloween. The sky is a tight, brilliant blue. The air has an edge. The first cool gusts of fall chase away the sticky air of summer.

A storm gathers.

Clouds drift. Breeze kicks. Mercury dips.

Jed clears the yard for winter. The railroad runs behind: a hardening artery for a new world. In front, the old Terraplane squats by the fence. It's grown roots. It's grown rust. It's grown moss. It's grown weeds. It's sunk in the mud. The mud's ossified. The car's grown foundations: a preordained meld of earth and machine: an eternal cycle with only one outcome.

The tiger cubs mess. Jesse shins up to his crow's nest. The axe handle thrungs. The view is good.

Ray stays low. Ray commandeers the old car for play: it's a Sherman tank at El Alamein. Ray obliterates the Desert Fox. It's a P51 over the South Pacific. Ray machine-guns a diving Zero. Bandits at twelve o'clock. Ray pulls up on the stick.

Jesse sits sentinel in that Chinaberry tree. His nest overhangs the fence. His cradle is out on a limb. He's an outlaw: across the borderline; he hangs out over the creek. No-man's land. On a vertical, he's free. He scans the horizon. He watches for signs.

The view is good: there are signs aplenty. Jesse apprehends none.

Way down below, the axe handle protrudes: firm, hard and ancient: a step up to the canopy. The blade glints darkly.

From deep in the trees, beyond the rails, a rider surveils.

Clouds curdle. Wind swatches. Mercury slides. Jesse sits tight. He scans for signs.

Back on earth, Ray's Elliot Ness. He's Untouchable. He sidles low around the Terraplane. His revolver is drawn. It's a finger and thumb.

There - Ray spies a black shape in the trees. It's dense. It's big. It sucks in the light. Ray ducks low and scopes. The shape is static. It's twenty five yards back. The chinaberry tree is five.

Ray breaks cover. Ray makes the tree. He flattens himself hard. He peers around the trunk. The axe handle protrudes: almost whacks him on the beak. It's firm, hard and ancient: it's a trapdoor into a dark place. Ray flinches. The blade glints darkly, up close and personal.

Clouds amass. Winds bluster. Mercury drops. Branches stir. Jesse scans. His vantage is good: he still doesn't see what's coming.

The rider surveils. He's deep in the trees. He's beyond the pale. He's over the Rubicon.

The wind rips. The clothes line flaps. Harriet scuttles out to collect. Jed battens hatches and hollers.

The boys pay no heed.

Jesse sits tight and scans. Ray counter-surveils. He hits the deck. He re-makes the shape. It's still there: it's still static. It's well concealed. It's big: a colossus. It sucks in the light. Ray figures on a broad brimmed hat.

Jed hollers at the boys to get on inside. Thunderheads roil. Winds bluster. Mercury flat lines. Jesse sits tight.

Ray moves in on his quarry, real slow. He's Elliot Ness.

The rider surveils.

A horse whinnies, loud and close by. It snorts. It stamps. Ray hits the deck. Over the back, the twin-bladed arterial causeway of the new world hums and crackles.

Winds bluster. Ray splits and rolls; Ray recollects; Ray reconnoitres: he remakes the shape: it's static, it sucks in the light. Ray draws a bead, the tracks clatter, the noise goes quadrophonic -

And right there: the San Antone Express thunders through. A heavy metal mile of grinding steel wheels rides into the valley of death. Klaxon blares.

Forty wagons later, the tail end whips through. Lights trail behind. Ray chases the shadow: the figure is gone.

This winds whistles. The first spots arrive: a cold, hard vanguard. The rain attacks. The mercury flat lines. The branches sway. Now Jesse gets it. Now the signal transmits: it comes through loud and clear. Jesse wails. Jesse shrieks. Jesse freezes.

The wind whips. The fly screen slaps. The branches clatter, the noise grows quadrophonic, Harriet shrieks - then: a magnesium flash. A bolt from the heavens: hammer of the gods. The air reels, pungent with ozone.

Ray hits the deck.

The cradle rocks. Branches rent. Jesse shrieks. The chinaberry sheers. The angel falls: cradle and all.

Piper down: Jesse augurs in, over the fence. He falls to earth. He's across the borderline. Behind enemy lines. Out in the wasteland. Over the fence. Up the creek. Jesse shrieks.

The wind rages. The rain drives. Ray picks himself up. He makes the fence in five seconds flat. Vaults it. Hits the deck. Jesse is prone. Face down in the drink. Head swimming. Branches encircle. Jesse's face leeches down. His arms flail like branches. His energy seeps. Entropy rides.

Ray pulls at his hair. It will not come. Pulls at his arm. It will not come. Grips at his hand: Jesse's fingers go slack.

Adrenaline hits: Ray re-vaults the fence. Belts for the shed. Straight to the back. The cupboard is bare. Looks in the toolbox: there's nothing in there.

Then: the Chinaberry moans: it bows in the wind. Adrenaline jolts: Ray's not alone. Ray stiffens his back. He clocks the axe. He makes tracks.

The handle is smooth. The handle is ancient. The axe blade glints darkly. The handle is patient.

Ray pulls: the axe comes. It puts up no fight. It comes at his bidding. Releases its bite. The old tree relents. The old tree gives back. Ray dashes for the Jesse.  

Ray swings the axe.
Cleaves the branch.
Springs the trap.
Breaks the bond.
Delivers from evil.

Jesse is lifeless. His body is slack. Ray rolls him over. Ray brings him back.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The boys growing up

The babies grow up fast. They sprout like weeds. They grow up healthy. Harriet meets their needs. They're all over the place. The shack is simple and small. They scale every cupboard. They climb every wall. Money is tight, but love's on a bender. Jed is a maker; Harrier's a mender. The family is cramped. The family is squeezed. In the summers they melt. In the winters they freeze.

Raymond is light. He has eyes that shine and hair like a flock of golden angels. Raymond floats. Raymond suspends disbelief in animation and tells you he's bottled your dreams. Raymond compels you to buy. Raymond speaks easy and sings like a bird.

Jesse is dark. Black like a raven. Black like his mother. Black like the mood of unappreciated talent. Jesse anchors, grounds and brings down. Jesse is taut. He dwells. Words don't come easy, and he spends them carefully, like big bills that hit the counter hard.

The axe won't come.

Jed passes the tree. He clocks the axe. He stops. Silent moments pass. Jed contemplates.

Well, I'll be.

Jed feels the handle: worn, smooth, warm, firm; ancient.

Well, I'll be.

Harriet passes the tree. She clocks the axe. She goes white as a sheet. Silent moments pass.  Harriet genuflects. Harriet frets. She bites her lip. Harriet hesitates: she over-reaches: feels the handle; Worn, smooth, warm, firm; ancient. Strong.

If feels like it's petrified. Harriet bites her lip. She feels like she's petrified. She lets go and stumbles back to the house. She's white as a sheet.

Ray passes the tree. Ray clocks the axe. He breaks out in a sweat. The sweat is cold. The fear is primal: the fear is old. A branch snaps; Ray looks up: there - through the trees, the dappled light shifts and divides. A glint flashes. A shaft of sunlight catches the broad brim of a hat.

Ray double takes: All is still.

Ray triple takes: a dark envelope of space in the foliage.

Ray backs down. Ray backs off. Ray runs back to the house.

Jesse passes the tree. Jesse clocks the axe. It. Is stuck firm. Jesse tilts the head. Jesse looks to the heavens. Jesse sees a way up. Jesse sees a way out.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Midnight Preacher

Late October 1931

A chill autumn wind blows up the valley. A pair of scrawny crows caw in the deadwood. Dust bites in the eyes.

The San Antone overnighter grinds in at Dogtown.

A couple of minutes pass then the train pulls away. A red light and a blue light trail into the gloaming.

A solitary figure stands on the platform; nothing else remains.

The Reverend David Ignatius James stands stiff and sniffs the air.
He picks up his case.
It's battered and brown.
He pushes his flat-brimmed hat down.
It's battered and brown.
He pulls it down hard.
He makes to leave, then sees the stationmaster.
He's battered and brown.

The stationmaster clocks him. The stationmaster double-takes.

“Afternoon, Minister,” he says. The stationmaster tips his visor. The stationmaster walks on by.

The reverend stops. The reverend sets down his case. The reverend makes a half turn.

“God be with you, sir,” the reverend says. He says it slow. He bows his head.

The stationmaster stands, for a little while beguiled. He turns. He don’t see the man's eyes. He don't see the man's face.

“Ahh - and always with you,” the stationmaster mumbles, and gets on with his business, quite forgetting to check the man’s ticket.

The preacher picks up his case and stalks off the platform.

Crows take to the wing and wheel in the rancid sky.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Pushing that Rock

The tiger cubs grow. They reach double figures. They need space to run. They need space to be free. Jed works the back yard. The yard's on a hill. The yard runs up to the river bank. The river lies still. The river lies quiet. The river runs straight. The boys need their freedom.

The river awaits.

Back in the yard, Jed clears the scrub. Jed puts his back into it. Jed fears for the cubs. There's a rock. A boulder. The size of a truck. Jed hits that boulder. The boulder is stuck. The boulder obstructs. The boulder defies. Jed launches an assault. Jed surely tries.

The boulder defies.

The Chinaberry bows. It whips.

Jed pushes it the boulder. He pushes it up the hill. He gets near the top.

He busts a nut.
He busts a sweat.
He busts his back.
The rock rolls back.
It's a bust.

Jed puts his back to the rock.
He rolls it up.
It gets near the top.
It crests the rise.
Jed slips.
He slips his grip.
He slips his disc.
The rock rolls back.

The Chinaberry bows. It whips. It flays his grip.

Jed's skin is slick. Jed is bowed. He's cowed. He's bent. He's broken.

Jed puts his bent back to the rock.
He shoves.
The rock rolls.
It rolls up.
It crests the hill.
Jed slips.
Jed hits the deck.

(Note it: he's hurt. His body is broke. He's in the dirt. He's downhill from the rock.)

The rock rolls. It rolls back. It rolls back at Jed --
The axe blade whistles.
The axe blade bites.
It bites the dirt.
It grips.
It holds.
It chocks.
The rock stops.

The chinaberry bows. Tenrils whip. Sinews rip.

Jed looks up. He's prone. He's broken. Ray throws a shadow. Ray renders in silhouette. Ray stands over Jed.

Jed raises a weak smile. It's wan. Jed makes to speak -
- Ray says, "why must you fucking do this to yourself?"

Jed looks wounded. Jed looks broken. Jed looks bereft. Jed looks forsaken.

Jed says, "I'm doing this for you."  Ray stalks back to the house.

Up in that chinaberry tree, Jesse looks down. His face is dark but his mouth is shut.

The chinaberry bows. The tendrils whip.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Harriet writes doggerel. She improves. Harriet writes verse. She improves. Harriet writes poems. She's enthusiastic. She's single-minded. Harriet works at it. She keeps a notebook in her apron. A pencil stub is fastened with string.

Harriet works at it. She's single-minded. She can't be distracted. She will cut Jed off. She cuts him off midstream. Her poems are important. Her poems are personal. Her poems survive.

Harriet's poems give a view: They tell of love. They speak of loneliness. They seek deliverance. They pray for redemption.

Harriet writes one called Torn:

There ain’t no pennies from heaven
That ain’t just stones in the pathway
Rather be forgot than forgiven
And set free from this dark place
I don’t mean no aggravation
And to you sir, I wonder
If you can give me salvation
Why did you tear it asunder?

Sometimes Harriet has a tune. Sometimes she sings. Sometimes she lullabies her boys to sleep. Jesse goes out like a light.

Ray stares into the blackness.

The axe and the chinaberry tree

The axe blade is sunk deep into the wood. The axe blade glints darkly.

Moss grows fat on the handle. Rust grows deep into the blade. Oxide bleeds deep in the hardwood. Oxide bleeds into the grain. The axe sticks fast. The wood flesh binds. The wood flesh enfolds. The scar deepens.

The chinaberry tree adapts.

The young boys grow. They're like sandy-headed tiger cubs. The roll and tumble. They cuff each other and tussle. The play each other and hustle. The young tigers fight. The tigers break free. They taste their own blood. The tigers break out. They taste their own tears.

he axe blade is sunk deep into the wood. Jesse pulls the axe. It won't come. The blade bites hard. The handle thrungs. Jess moves on.

The chinaberry tree grows. It grows slowly: there'll be time enough for dances. It grows straight. The wood flesh enfolds.

Jed pulls on the axe. It won't come. The blade's bitten hard. The handle thrungs.

The chinaberry defies. Jed gets an idea.

The tiger cubs grow. They look to the sky. They look for a vantage. They look to climb. Jesse makes an attempt. Ray stays below. Jesse overweans; Ray plays it low.

Mark it: the first step up to the upper reaches: that old axe handle. Jesse ascends. Jesse aspires. Jesse gets stuck. It's too great a stretch.

Jed scratches his chin. He looks at the tree. He pulls on the axe. The axe won't come. The blade's bitten hard. The handle thrungs.

The chinaberry defies. Jed gets an idea. He makes for the shed.

Jed comes back with old screwdrivers: a route to the stars. Jed bangs them in, a step up at a time: a stairway to heaven. Jed bangs in more: a route to the heavens.

Sap runs galore. Sap runs like tears. Sap runs like rust. Rust flows into the blade. Oxide bleeds deep in the hardwood. Oxide bleeds into the grain. The old blade hold fast. It's sunk down to the handle. The wood flesh binds. The woodflesh enfolds. The scars deepen. The sap runs galore. The chinaberry weeps.

The chinaberry tree adapts.

Jesse climbs at once. He makes the low branches. He scales the upper reaches. He gets a view.

Ray stays below. Ray plays it low.

Jess makes it his home. Jesse makes it his sanctuary. Jesse spends hours at the top of that tree. Ray stays ground level. It's that axe.

Sap runs galore.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Guinns in Toccopola

There is a picture of the Guinns in Toccopola. A journalistic record. It is pre-spring, the year of our Lord, 1933. Walt Mitchell and Truman Lyon are the real deal. They are journos in the field. Mitchell takes pictures, Lyon writes words. They work freelance. They tag-team the South. They work on assignment. Their assignment is crime. They track the reportage. Reportage takes time. They call their piece Prose and Cons: Reporting Crime in America. They sell it to Millions magazine. It makes the cover, February 1933.

Mitchell and Lyon are the real deal. The real deal hits the road. They go far and wide. They come through Toccopola and run out of gas. They stop a few days. Lyon take copious notes. They leave no stone unturned. Mitchell take lots of pictures. All kinds of stuff.

Mitchell is Snap-happy, Lyon verbose. Lyon gregarious, Mitchell morose. Lyon sows wild oats, Mitch keeps his close.

Harriet sees Lyon. Lyon clocks. They hit it off. Opportunity knocks. There's repartee. Lyon sets up an interview. Lyon prepares to take notes. Mitchell prepares to take pictures. He runs out of film. He runs to the truck. He runs into Jed. He runs out of luck. The interview stops. The boys beat a retreat.

Lyon: snooped round her door. Howled at the moon. Begged her scraps. Harriet gave nothing.

Mitchell took snaps.

The writers got bored. The writers moved on. They packed up their stuff. The writers were gone.

They left a memento. They marked out their time. A sepia portrait. A record in time.

The portrait reveals: Jed is wiry. Dark-featured. Clear eyes. They're pale. They're almost hidden in sunken sockets.  Jed is naked to the waist.  Jed is filthy from the field. Jed is fully six foot, but narrow. Jed lacks heft. Jed has an abundance of bones.  Jed has an abundance of scars. Jed is stitched up from his belt buckle to his ribcage.

The portrait reveals: Harriet Guinn is tall. She's willowy. She has olive skin. She has long black hair. The ghost of a smile plays on her lips. Harriet looks down. Harriet averts her eyes. Harriet is demure. Harriet is uneasy with the camera in her house. Harriet's mother was a Cherokee beauty. Harriet's father was a redheaded brawler from County Kerry.

Harriet was gentle. Harriet was volatile. Harriet had two speeds. Harriet could blow like a volcano - hot, fast and infernal. She could be still like a deep pool - cool, clear, dark and eternal.

The portrait reveals: Harriet has her mother's looks.

The portrait does not reveal: Harriet has her father's temper.  It comes on as fast as a late summer hurricane. It is gone just as fast. Same sort of damage.

The portrait does not reveal: Harriet Guinn is pregnant.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Toccopola, Mississippi

Toccopola is a village. Toccopola is a bunch of railroad huts. Toccopola is the intersection of Church St and Route 334. Toccopola is the rural Mississippi archetype. Toccopola is the black heart of America.

Toccopola is miles from anywhere. "Anywhere" is Dogtown, Mississippi. Dogtown is to the west. Dogtown is miles from anywhere. "Anywhere" is Tupelo. Tupelo is to the east. Tupelo is somewhere.

Last time they bothered to count, the people of Toccopola numbered 189. One hundred and eighty-nine stubborn souls, spread amongst the same few clapboard sheds that lined the 334 when it was put there.

At one end of the main street stands a stark wooden building. It bears a sign. The sign is rusting. It wheezes and groans. It says “DANCE”. At the other end of the street stands the church. The church is American Gothic. The church is burned out. This church is a silhouette. The church, too, bears a sign. The sign is rusting. It wheezes and groans. It says “SALVATION”.

It’s been a good while since folks living in between felt the need for either.

Jed came from Detroit. He had a pretty girl. It was 1929. All seemed good.

Jed built Fords. Jed was not alone. Jed had sixty thousand co-workers. All seemed good. But in 1930, sales tanked. Production cut in half. In 1931, sales tanked some more. Production cut in half again. All seemed bad. Old man Ford cut them loose. All of them. Jed was not alone. Old man Ford cut them all loose. There was unrest in the city. The workers marched. Jed packed up. The workers marched by the thousand. Jed sold up. The workers threw rocks. The cops opened fire.  Jed left town. Jed set out for California. Jed took his girl. Check it: Jed headed south.

Roll forward eighty years. Toccopola gives little cause to stop.  That hasn't changed since Jed and Harriet pulled off the 334 one summer night in 1931. They needed gas. They needed to eat. They needed a room. They filled the Terraplane at Lenny Decatur’s bowser. They got food at Manny’s Hotel & Guesthouse and a bed there too.  They took a look around the next day. They went no further.

Jed found some work. Jed rented a shack by the railway line. Harriet made it homely. They bust their backs. They bust them twelve hours a day. They worked the cotton fields. Jed fixed engines in Lenny Decatur's auto workshop. They made do. They got by.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Hallowe'en Parade

Hallowe’en 1933, Jackson, Mississippi:  A storm rages. A storm blows. A quiet night in at the emergency ward at the Jackson Municipal Penitentiary.

Most nights saw the full slate of wounds. The whole gamut. Wounds from carelessly operated farm machinery. Wounds from carelessly swung sickles. Wounds from carelessly swung punches. Wounds from carelessly drunk whiskey.

"Quiet night in": a fine change to the routine.

The storm rages. Only a fool would venture out. The storm blows. The streets are busy.

Hallowe'en, 1933, Jackson Municipal Penitentiary: Sister Irene Lyons stares out the window. All is black. The storm rages. The storm blows. Tendrils whip the window. Tendrils scrape the window. Rain clatters. Rain spatters. Droplets track down the pane. Branches crash. Sister Irene watches her reflection. It distorts. The droplets track. It distends. The droplets track. The tendrils whip. Sister Irene keeps watching.

The storm rages. Only a fool would venture out. The door is battered. A man staggers in. He's wet. He's carrying a woman. She's wet. She's heavy with child. They're all wet. They both collapse on the floor. A puddle pools. A dirty pool.

The woman moans.

Sister Irene removes her spectacles from her nose and gently places them on her book.

The man groans.

Sister Irene regards the woman. Sister Irene diagnoses. Sister Irene swings into action. Sister Irene barks instructions. 

“Hester, put the kettle on. And git me some towels.” Ward Nurse Hester Ratchet bustles for the sink.

Jed lies on the floor. Jed diagnoses. “it’s her appendix, ma’am”.

Nurse Ratchet drops the kettle. Sister Irene arches her brow. “Her appendix?” 

“Yes Ma’am. O-bese Appendicitis.”

Nurse Ratchet stiffens. Nurse Ratchet is is skeptical. Nurse Ratchet picks up the kettle. Nurse Ratchet exclaims: “Whut?” Nurse Ratchet fair spits out her words.

Sister Irene soothes. Sister Irene calms. Sister Irene eyeballs Nurse Ratchet: “How you doin’ with them towels, honey?” Nurse Ratchet glares.

Harriet groans. She's on the floor. She's wet.

Sister Irene turns to Jed. “Now, what’s that you sayin’, honey? Appendicitis?”

 Harriet catches Sister Irene's eye. Harriet shakes her head. Harriet scowls. Harriet contracts. Harriet groans.

"It's a family condition," says Jed. "On my wife's side." Jed pauses. "This here's my wife." Jed pauses. "Harriet". 

Harriet catches Sister Irene's eye. Harriet shakes her head. Harriet scowls. Harriet's eyes show fear. They're big like cue balls.

Sister Irene opens her mouth. Harriet shakes her head.

Sister Irene remarks cryptically. Sister Irene alludes to some other news. Jed looks blank. Sister Irene figures she has some talking to do. Harriet figues she has more.

Harriet contracts. Harriet howls. Jed looks blank.

A muted squeal issues forth. 

Jed looks around. Jed looks blank. Jed looks at Harriet. Harriet winces. Harriet didn't say a thing.

Jed looks blank. Jed pauses. Jed cries out: "What on God’s earth was that?" 

The storm rages. The storm blows. Only a fool would venture out.

Harriet is quiet a while. Harriet ventures out. Harriet groans. "It’s the baby, honey, He’s calling to get out!" she says. Harriet is calm. Harriet is equable. Harriet contracts. Harriet howls.

"Baby?" said Jed. "But we..." Jed fumbles. "I … but it’s not…"

Sister Irene interrupts. Sister Irene understands. Sister Irene gets the gig. “The Lord moves in mysterious ways. He is a merciful God, and he loves his children”.

Nurse Ratchet stiffens. Nurse Ratchet is is skeptical. Nurse Ratchet fair spits out her words. Nurse Ratchet plays it sotto voce.

The storm rages. The storm blows. The tendrils whip and scrape.

One hour before dawn, Harriet Delores Guinn is delivered of a baby boy. He's a big size. He's a beauty. You wouldn't throw that one back. Sister Irene smiles.

The child goes puce. The child goes wild. The child howls. The child screams. The child screams as though the vengeance of the Lord is in his heart. The tempest rages.

The storm blows out. The thunderclouds clear. The child sleeps at his mother’s breast. His mother sleeps. A finger of sunlight  reaches through the window. It feels its way across the floor. Sunlight fills the room.

Sister Irene goes to the window. Sister Irene watches her reflection. It's true. It's straight. The sunlight plays.

Harriet has the name. Harriet knows what she will call him. Her son, who sang before he could speak. Her son, who sang before he could breathe. Her son, who found peace in the morning sun: Ray.

Half an hour later another child arrives. He does not cry. He does not sing. He does not whimper. This child is docile. He lies with his brother close to his mother’s breast, mute and placid, until the morning. His name will be Jesse.

Harriet sleeps. The children sleep. The sun streams in.

Jed Guinn lies silent. Jed lies next to Harriet’s bed. Jed is stretched out on the floor. Jed is on the spot where, three hours earlier, he fainted clean away.

Sister Irene watches her reflection. It's true. It's straight. The sunlight hardens.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Stormy Monday

And finally you get to put the record on the turntable, it spins in limbo for a perfect second, followed by the moment of truth, needle into groove, and finally sound. What then occurs is so often anticlimactic that it drives a rational man to the depths of despair. Bah! The whole musical world is packed with simpletons and charlatans, with few a genius or loony tune joker in between.
Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: A Tale of These Times

Three in the morning, 31 October 1933. The height of a foul Mississippi storm.

Jed Guinn lies on his cot. Jed is stiff and cold. Stiff as a board; cold as slate.

His wife, lying beside, jack-knifes double and screams. Her pain stops for a minute; she collapses like a dropped puppet. She moans, a hoarse grovel, a guttural hymn of penitence to the Lord. It is not enough. He sends down another blistering shaft.

She jack-knifes double and screams. 

Jed Guinn lies on his cot. Jed is stiff and cold. Stiff as a board; cold as slate. He has a blanket knotted around his middle, damp and dirty. He has an ancient fear in his eyes. Jed stares into the blackness.

A crack of lightning. A window bursts open. Curtains rent. Needles of rain prick his face.

Low thunder rolls. Shelterbelt thrashes. Wind slaps and kicks. Roof groans. Dripping willow tendrils, restive,  whip the door.

Harriet Guinn's pain comes back. It comes screaming in low, over the trees. She howls. She rasps. She spits blood. It drizzles the pillow.

Jed jerks. Jed spasms. Jed can't bear it. He sits up and tenderly feels her side. She flinches. 

"I'm going for help, honey."

Jed strikes a flint. Jed lights a lamp. Jed slides into his boots. Fly-screen slaps.

An old Terraplane motor car squats by the fence. It is six inches deep in mud. The rain howls in. Jed hobbles. Jed makes the car. Jed squeezes behind the wheel.

“Come on, baby,” he growls.

The midnight express thunders by. It's going to San Antone and it's hauling tail. Its horn wails; it cuts the highway. Steel wheels pound. Steel rails clatter. The rain lashes.

Cries from the house cut through. Harriet screams.

An electrical snap. Sonic boom. Lightning cracks the sky. A momentary flash of daylight. A man on a horse by the gate.

Jed double-takes: The horseman is gone.

The tail end of the express train whips past. Its horn brays. The thunder subsides. The rails clatter. The clatter dissolves. It's gone to San Antone. The hard rain beats. 

Cries from the house cut through. Harriet screams. 

The Terraplane grumbles. The Terraplane shakes. It buzzes. The wiper swats the windshield. The wiper does no good. Jed wipes at the inside with a rag. The rag makes it worse.

Deep in the tempest, a horse whinnies and stamps. Jedd double-takes. There is nothing to see. The rain gushes. The wind blasts. The mud runs. The engine dies. The horseman is gone.

Cries from the house cut through. Jed winces. Jed pleads. Jed lunges out. Jed drags his bad leg. Jed limps across the yard. Jed makes the house.

Harriet is balled up on the cot, wet and dark. She has the storm engraved on her face.

Jed brushes her cheek. Harriet flinches. Jed wipes a wisp of hair from her face. She winces.  Jed scoops her up and lunges for the door.

The rain whips. The wind drives. Dripping willow tendrils whip the door.

Jed hushes. Jed lunges. Jed limps across the glutinous yard. Jed makes the car.

The Terraplane shudders and pulls away. In the squalid light, only the twin blades of the railroad glint.

Jed re-takes: The horseman is gone.  The car moves out, the headlamps fade, the rails go black, and all that remains is thunder and rain.

The great white mare shakes its mane. Spray flies. She snorts. She stamps. Her rider watches. He pulls his hat brim low. He pulls an axe. It's double headed. The handle is short. He flexes. He brings it down. The black blade flashes. The axe blade bites. It bites hard. The axe holds fast. The rider lets go. The white horse turns. The reins cracks. The horse thunders away through the mud.

The horseman is gone.

The axe blade is sunk deep into a chinaberry tree. It glints darkly.