1. 71. Peanut Butter and Bananas (Tuesday, November 2)

    November 2, 2016 by Daniel

    71. Peanut Butter and Bananas (Tuesday, November 2)

    “Darvon?” Garrett asks.
    “No, thanks. I’m going to make a sandwich instead.”

    The refrigerator is stuffed with leftover loaves of Sunbeam bread that Cindy’s been bringing home from Grundy’s.

    “What’s with all this damn bread?” I ask. “It looks like Jesus dropped in to fix lunch.”

    Garrett lifts the prescription bottle from the kitchen table and shakes it to make a sound like a castanet.

    “You scored Darvon?”

    “Oh, that. I told Dr. Michaels that I was in severe pain from the cat scratches. I thought my roomy might like them.”

    “Aww, you did that just for me?”

    “I don’t like ‘em. The buzz sucks. They just make me sleepy and constipated. My choice of drugs has never included the ones that make it so I can’t wake up and I can’t crap.”

    “Maybe, but watching television’s a trip on these things. Here’s a plan: I’ll ask Rose over to watch Hawaii Five-0 tonight. All those big waves. She’ll freak.”

    “Is that show really still on the air?” I slather peanut butter on a slice of the most recently rescued bread and take my seat at the table facing Garrett.

    “We have bananas,” Garrett mentions. “You could slice one up on that.”

    “Peanut butter and bananas? That sounds disgusting.”

    “It’s Elvis’ favorite sandwich.”

    “You read that in a fan magazine?”

    “No. He told me.”

    “Elvis told you he likes peanut butter and banana sandwiches?”

    “Yeah, up at Skeeter’s Bar in Holly Springs. He likes to hang out there, incognito.”

    “Elvis is in Las Vegas.”

    “Uh-uh. Elvis retired from show business last year – he’s tired of all the fame and crap. Colonel Parker hired a bunch of impersonators to cover the Vegas shows. The real Elvis is living at Graceland, and he likes to hang around honky-tonks like Skeeter’s. He always wears an old Quaker State cap and pretends to be a trucker named Virgil. Everybody knows who he really is, of course, but they’re too polite to go up to him and say, ‘Hey, you’re Elvis!’”

    “I find this very hard to believe.”

    “Suit yourself. You should still slice a banana on that sandwich.”

    “I might just do that.”


  2. 70. Not for Your Good Looks (Monday, November 1)

    November 1, 2016 by Daniel

    70. Not for Your Good Looks (Monday, November 1)

    Dr. Goodleigh insists on examining my injuries again. “You’ve got to have that looked at,” she declares. “Today.”

    “I think it’s getting better. I’ll give it a few more days.”

    “Listen to me,” she says. “I don’t keep you around here for your good looks.”

    “I never once thought you did.”

    “And I don’t have any use for a one-armed typist. What are you afraid of?”

    “Nothing good comes from doctors.”

    “So you’d rather be an amputee, and be called Stumpy for the rest of your life.”

    So I head to Guyton Hall, where the Infirmary nurse sticks a thermometer in my mouth, straps the cup around my outstretched arm and checks my blood pressure. She watches the meter with routine boredom, then with a glimmer of curiosity.

    The cup deflates, and she pumps it back up to check a second time. Then a third. She takes the thermometer out of my mouth, reads it, and asks, “How long have you been unconscious?”

    Dr. Michaels checks the infection, injects some antibiotic in my arm, and studies my chart.

    “Do you suffer from dizziness?”

    “Sometimes.”

    “Blackouts?”

    “Frequently.”

    “I’m not surprised. Your blood pressure is only 60 over 40. From a medical perspective, you shouldn’t even be able to carry on this conversation we’re having right now.”

    “Well, I’ve always thought you were very easy to talk to.”

    “Have you … uh, have you considered psychotherapy?” he asks, delicately.

    “The doctors in Charlottesville had me see someone on the university staff.”

    “How did that work?”

    “She and I started sleeping together.”

    Dr. Michaels lifts an eyebrow. “That’s highly unprofessional. She should be disbarred.”

    “A very bad psychologist,” I agree. “But a lovely person, all the same.”


  3. 69. A Law and Order Man

    October 31, 2016 by Daniel

    Odom Hall

    69. A Law and Order Man – Sunday, October 31

    Ashley has just pulled away in her ’65 Mustang. I wave from the curb and return sadly to the house, where I find Garrett at the kitchen table with his morning bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a copy of the Commercial Appeal.

    One of their reporters apparently had a tip about Sheriff Claprood’s plans and managed to get a full report of the bust into this morning’s edition.

    The illegal substance: beer. The targets: three fraternity houses, the Oxford country club, and a hippie commune.

    No arrests at the fraternities – those boys are seasoned escape artists who know exactly what to do when the cops arrive. The upper classes of Oxford, however, are less adept at concealing their transgressions.

    The news story recounts a state of panic at the country club, well-heeled patrons fleeing into the night, absconding in golf carts, rolling pell mell across the links, abandoning them at the sixth or ninth of twelfth hole and striking out into the woods – ladies in sun dresses and high heels, men in seersucker suits pursued by the law under the harsh illumination of a nearly full moon.
        
    I’ve never met the new sheriff, but I’m in awe of his balls. Oxford’s private clubs, no less so than the frat houses, have brazenly defied Lafayette County’s beer ordinance for decades, through the terms of a half dozen of his predecessors. For Claprood to start enforcing it amounts to a declaration of war on the city’s leaders.
        
    “You weren’t here for the election,” Garrett explains when I express my admiration. “Claprood ran on a law-and-order platform. He’s enforcing the laws on the books, just like he was elected to do. It’s just that the godly citizens of Oxford didn’t think he’d enforce any of the laws they’re accustomed to breaking.”
        
    “Incredible.”
        
    “He’s an honest man. Smart, too. All he has to do is take a hard line on the county’s beer prohibition, and it will be repealed by next year.”
        
    “And then?”
        
    “And then,” Garrett says, cheerfully, “he’ll probably come after us. But we’ll worry about that when the time comes.”
        
    I rise from the table to leave, then notice another handbill, face-down beside Garrett’s elbow.
        
    “Today’s verse?”
        
    “No, something altogether different.”
        
    He hands it to me: “Keep the Square American.”
        
    “What does that mean?” I ask.
        
    “No idea, but suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”


  4. 68. Bust at the Halloween Ball

    October 30, 2016 by Daniel

    Lafayette County police

    68. Bust at the Halloween Ball  – Saturday, October 30

    “You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself,” Cindy remarks as I pass her the car keys to drive to the Jitney Jungle for party food. “Maybe now you understand why I keep telling you to get a real bed.”
        
    Dr. Hirsch is the first guest to arrive for our Halloween Ball, followed by Clamor, and then by Rose, who’s brought three of her sorority sisters with her, doubtless to witness the authentic bohemian squalor that exists just across the railroad tracks from their old money splendor. They can’t stay long. They’ll be off in a bit to one of tonight’s blowouts on Fraternity Row.
        
    “Look, they’re not even wearing costumes,” I hear one of the sisters whispers.
        
    This isn’t exactly true – Garrett’s wearing a Richard Nixon mask.
        
    “They’re poor,” Rose explains, acting as tour guide to the lower classes. “Most of these people can barely afford regular clothes. That one,” she adds, pointing to me, “doesn’t even own a winter coat.”
        
    “And it’s going to be a cooooold winter!” I add, using my Old Prospector accent.
        
    Ashley steps up and wraps her arms around me. She’s decided she can stay until morning and still make her Monday rendezvous in Dallas. “That’s okay, baby. I’ve got something right here to keep you warm.”
        
    With Garrett’s paycheck for the week, Cindy’s been able to buy lots of food and Wild Irish Rose, and somehow Garrett himself managed to score four bottles of Jack Daniels. It’s a good party, but a little more raucous and sharper-edged than our usual. Blame the absence of grass for that.
        
    Ashley has her eye on Clamor.
        
    “What a fascinating girl.”
        
    “That’s Clamor. And we’re not sure whether she’s a girl or a boy.”
        
    “Oh, come on. That’s definitely a girl, can’t you tell? And she’s lovely.”
        
    I make the introductions and stand idly by as they chat for a few minutes.
        
    “Who was that man I saw you meditating with the other day?” I finally ask.
        
    “That was no man. That was the sheriff.”
        
    “What?”
        
    “That was the sheriff.”
        
    “Why are you meditating with the sheriff?”
        
    “Because we haven’t gotten around to astral projection yet.”
        
    “Oh, I’ve done that,” Ashley says. “It’s amazing.”
        
    At this moment, Joan steps through the crowd, radiantly perfect with a plastic cup of Wild Irish Rose in her hand. She begins to speak, notices Ashley’s arm around my waist, smiles, and vanishes back into the hubbub of the room.
        
    “Come to bed,” Ashley whispers in my ear a little while later.
        
    We retreat once more to the bedroll in my room and listen to the party below. Music and voices. Voices, music and laughter. Music loud, voices loud. Music softer, voices lowered. Then suddenly a loud voice. No more music. Other voices – angry, alarmed. Footsteps ascending the stairs. Voices complaining.

    I leap from the floor, switch on my lamp and have barely managed to clamber back into my jeans when the bedroom door flies open and Deputy Hacker storms in.

    “Shut it! I’ve got a warrant,” he shouts before I’ve managed to utter a squawk of protest.

    “Allow the young lady to cover up,” I say.

    Hacker – to his credit – acts the gentleman and turns his back while I pass Ashley’s t-shirt to her. When he faces us again, I detect an expression that I’ve never seen him wear before. The man’s embarrassed. It’s an angry embarrassment, but embarrassment nonetheless.

    A second cop steps into the room behind him. They perform a visual of the room that lasts no more than 10 seconds.

    “Nothing here,” the cop says.

    “I knew it’d be a goose chase,” Hacker complains. “Let’s move on.”

    They turn to leave. They haven’t checked my pockets, looked into our shoes, opened the closet door, rummaged through my pile of dirty clothes, unscrewed the lid of my jar of Tasters Choice, nothing I’d expect from a routine search.

    Hacker and his buddy are already out the door. I follow them to the steps. Below, a small army of lawmen are exiting the front door. This is good news, and I know I shouldn’t jinx it by engaging Hacker in any further discussion. But I have to ask.

    “What were you guys looking for?”

    “Beer,” Hacker barks back at me. “Just plain old goddamn beer!”


  5. 67. The Bedroll

    October 29, 2016 by Daniel

     

    Bishop Hall

    67. The Bedroll – Friday, October 29

    I’m just returned from applying the primer coat to Mrs. Sutherland’s new dining room. Somebody knocks on the door at Tyler: a chick in bell bottom Levis, a broad-brimmed hat and a poncho. She looks like she ought to be wearing a gun belt and have a cheroot in her mouth.
        
    “You must be Daniel,” she says. “The skinny one.”
        
    I nod, and she offers a hand. Calloused palm, firm grip, cool skin.
        
    “Ashley. I’m a friend of James. We met on the road. He said I could crash here if I was ever in town.”
        
    “James is away.”
        
    “I know.” She drops a canvas backpack on the parlor floor. “I saw him day before yesterday up in Indianapolis.” She rummages in her backpack for a plastic baggie of grass. “Do you have any papers? I’ve run out.”
        
    Cindy appears, curious about our guest.
        
    “You must be Andrew’s girl. Love his accent. I’m Ashley.”
        
    Cindy brightens at the sight of the baggie. “I’ve got some banana-flavored Zig-Zags upstairs. Wait right here.”
        
    “How did you meet James and Andrew?”
        
    She takes off the hat to reveal a head of long, frizzy blondish hair. Under the poncho, she’s got on a red Mao t-shirt. No bra.
        
    “Looking for Tamburlaine, what else? I know – James told me you guys don’t believe he exists. I don’t believe everything that’s said about him, either, especially not the werewolf shit. But there’s a real person in there somewhere that I’d like to meet some day.”
        
    After we finish the joint, I walk to Colemans and return with a bag of barbecue. It’s after 11:00 when we’ve finished eating.
        
    “I’ll fetch my bedroll from the car,” Ashley says.
        
    “James invited you. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you crashed in his bed.”
        
    “Well . . . if you’re offering me a bed, I’d rather sleep with you.”
        
    “He doesn’t have a bed,” Cindy says. “Just an old sheet and a pillow.”
        
    “Bedroll it is, then,” Ashley concludes.

    The screen door shuts behind her, then opens and shuts again a minute later. I toss the Colemans bag and the sandwich wrapper in the trash, wipe the kitchen table clean, turn off the lights, and walk upstairs to my room.

    Ashley’s bedroll has been spread across my floor, and Ashley herself is in it, bare shouldered.

    “It’s comfortable,” she says, patting the cushioned quilts of the roll, “and plenty big enough for both of us. Don’t be shy.”

    “We just met a few hours ago.”

    “Right. And I’m leaving tomorrow. We don’t have time for a long courtship. Can you think of a quicker way to get to know me?”

     


  6. 66. Very Reliable Sources

    October 28, 2016 by Daniel

    The Lyceum

    66. Very Reliable Sources – Thursday, October 28

    Cindy and Garrett want a Halloween party Saturday night. The idea worries me.
        
    “Word is the bust is coming down this weekend. Even though we’ve cleaned out the house, anybody could come walking in with drugs. That narc who keeps showing up, for example. He could sneak in and plant something.”
        
    “You really need to relax,” Garrett says. “We’re not going to get busted. We’re not the target – at least not this time around.”
        
    “How can you be so confident?”
        
    “I have very reliable sources.”


  7. 65. Infection

    October 27, 2016 by Daniel

    Window in the old Art School

    65. Infection  – Wednesday, October 27

    “Let me take a look.”
        
    “No, it’s fine.”
        
    “It isn’t, though. It’s infected.”
        
    “Just a little red and swollen.”
        
    “That’s what an infection looks like. You need an antibiotic. Take the day off. Go to the infirmary.”
        
    “I’ll be fine. Give it a day or two.”


  8. 64. Mussolini’s Air Force

    October 26, 2016 by Daniel

    Old Student Union

    64. Mussolini’s Air Force  – Tuesday, October 26

    The sky has emptied itself of rain. I wake early, with no one else about, to cool crisp air and a sunrise that dons a shade of blue only seen in the fall.
        
    I leave the house without coffee and follow Van Buren to its dead-end at the train tracks, only to discover that I am not, after all, the earliest riser in Oxford this morning.
        
    I spy an unlikely pair sitting zazen on the platform of the old train depot – Clamor, and the man in khaki who asked me about meditation that evening in the cemetery. It’s tempting to join them, but I head for fresh coffee at the Grill instead. I’ve never been able to focus on my breathing very effectively while managing a hangover.
        
    Amy Madigan is sitting alone at her usual table, no protégés in sight, pondering a blank page in a journal.
        
    “I got mauled by one of Dr. Goodleigh’s cats, and then drank half a fifth of her Scotch,” I say, to explain my appearance after Amy squints a critical eye in my direction. “Dr. Goodleigh’s Scotch, I mean. Not the cat’s. I don’t think she lets her cats have alcohol. If she does, she shouldn’t.”
        
    “Did you see Harold in the lobby?”
        
    “No.”
        
    “He’s talking to somebody in one of the phones booths. Probably Mrs. Giordano. I really don’t understand what the fascination is.”
        
    “I’ve heard she’s young and sexy.”
        
    “She’s not that young. Supposedly she was a child bride when Giordano married her, but that’s been a while ago. She’s not a kid anymore.”
        
    “Still, she’s younger than Dr. Evans. Younger than Giordano, too.”
        
    “There must be 30 years between them. He flew in Mussolini’s air force.”

    “I wonder if he includes that on his curriculum vitae. How does it come to pass that you know so much about everybody else’s business?”

    She gives me her best patronizing frown. “I’m a writer, Daniel. And unlike some of us I can mention, I’m dedicated to my craft.”

    “And your craft is meddling?”

    “Do you suppose Faulkner wrote Absalom! Absalom! by minding his own business?” she sniffs.

    “I always imagined he wrote it by dropping acid.”

    “Take a look at the girl over at the back table,” Amy prompts.

    I do. A wild-haired brunette in a peasant blouse and a blue scarf spangled with yellow stars. She’s dealing cards from a worn deck onto the tabletop.

    “She’s a witch,” Amy tells me. “From down near Thibidoux. An Ole Miss boy named Blake had a fling with her one weekend in New Orleans. She followed him up here, moved into his trailer without his asking. They say she’s insane, and dangerous. Now, her coven’s joined her. People say they run with packs of feral dogs out in the woods.”

    “If you weren’t talking about Oxford, I’d know you were making this up,” I say.

    “This town is like some weird story that’s writing itself,” Amy agrees.


  9. 63. Meeting Melpomene

    October 25, 2016 by Daniel

    8th Street ravine

    63. Meeting Melpomene – Monday, October 25

    Rain all day. Lacking an umbrella or a coat, I decide to take the car to school and am thus available to offer Dr. Goodleigh a ride home from the Museum.
        
    As we pass the tennis courts, I point out the site of the flasher’s most recent appearance, earlier today.
        
    “Out in weather like this,” Goodleigh marvels. “You certainly have to give him credit for dedication. But he’s going to have to move inside before long.”
        
    “A sure sign of the seasonal change, when the flasher goes indoors. Sort of a groundhog in reverse.”
        
    “We should make October 25 a holiday. If the flasher exposes himself outside, it means we’ll have six more weeks of autumn.”
        
    As we reach her house at the dead end of 8th Avenue, overlooking the ravine, Goodleigh invites me in. “Don’t pay any attention to the cats,” she advises.
        
    Her house is much like I’ve always pictured it – a few large, open rooms, sharp contrasts of light and dark tones, meticulously tidy, modern art everywhere.
        
    “I’m told young people still drink beer,” she says, “so I always keep some on hand. Since I don’t drive, it’s difficult for me to get to Holly Springs to renew my supply, so I’m very choosy about whom I offer one to. Or would you prefer wine?”
        
    I begin to answer but am interrupted by an animal shriek to my right. As I turn toward the sound, a sinewy streak of motion passes by, barely grazing the tip of my nose. I turn my head left and encounter a large Siamese coiled beside me on the couch, claws extended and teeth bared in a hiss.
        
    “That’s Melpomene,” Goodleigh says. “Ignore her.”
        
    The cat fixes me with a terrible glare of spite and produces guttural noises from somewhere in the back of her throat. Something even larger than Melpomene lands beside my head on the backrest, and echoes her unnatural caterwaul.
        
    “That’s Linus. After Linus Pauling, not the Peanuts character. They’re brother and sister.”
        
    I sip the beer and battle my flight-or-fight instinct as the corners and baseboards of the room seethe with additional presences, fluid movements of fur, teeth and claws all around me on the couch.
        
    “How many cats do you have?” I ask.
        
    “Seven. I’m a living stereotype, I know: crazy old maid and her cats. Still, here we all are. I realize they’re a little intimidating.”
        
    Another slithers around the corner of the couch, sits by my feet and gazes at me.
        
    “Are they all Siamese?” I ask.
        
    A cat fight has started in the kitchen, a chorus of banshees howling and hissing. Melpomene and Linus leap from the couch to join in, but this one remains at my feet, appraising me with ancient, cold eyes. I reach out to touch her sleek head, between the prongs of her sharp, dun-colored ears.
        
    My hand comes back with the cat attached to it. Her fangs sink into the web of flesh between my thumb and forefinger, her front claws dig into my forearm, and her back feet thrash against my elbow.
        
    I scream like a little girl.

    The attack ends as suddenly as it began. The cat leaps into the air with a howl and vanishes into the kitchen. Blood is everywhere. Goodleigh rushes me into the bathroom, and after a few minutes of running water and pressure, I’m able to staunch the worst of the bleeding. Goodleigh produces antiseptic and gauze from her medicine closet, binds the wounds, and offers me three fingers of Scotch in a cut-glass tumbler.
        
    “Ice?” she asks.
        
    I nod.
        
    By the time I return to Tyler Avenue, I am haggard, bandaged like the walking wounded, and quite drunk.
        
    Cindy turns off the television when she notices my condition. “What happened?”
        
    “Can’t you tell? I petted a kitty.”


  10. 62. Reassuring Words

    October 24, 2016 by Daniel

    The Lyceum

    62. Reassuring Words – Sunday, October 24

    James, when he calls, refuses to say where he and Andrew are. He also refuses to explain what the mysterious “it” is that his dealers are searching for.
        
    “Don’t worry,” he tells Garrett, “I don’t think they’d actually hurt any of you.”
        
    “Bastard,” I say when Garrett reports the conversation to me. “I hope you gave him another fake verse.”