1. 4

    August 27, 2016 by Daniel

    4. The Monastery of Horses – Friday, August 27

    Cindy, it turns out, is Andrew’s girl. They’re sharing the room next to mine. Andrew nailed a parachute to the ceiling so that the silk drapes down all four walls like a tent. Andrew and James have been away on some secret trip for the past month. They’re away a lot, Cindy tells me as we share a pillow on the floor and stare at Andrew’s interior decorating scheme. The effect is oddly soothing, like a womb of silk.

    It’s time for me to unpack the car. Cindy offers to help, and seems surprised by how little there is to move – one box for my clothes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and whatnot; one box with my sheets and towel, a coffee cup, a saucepan, two plates, two spoons, two forks, one knife, a plastic juice glass, and a can opener; two boxes of records; my typewriter; and, of course, my stereo.

    She critiques my record collection as I unpack the boxes and determine the best placement for the speakers.

    “You’re going to need to get a mattress, or a sleeping bag,” she points out. This is the one room without a bed.

    “I’m used to sleeping on the floor. I did all last year in Virginia.”

    “I bet your girlfriends didn’t like that.”

    “I didn’t do much entertaining there. My friends thought it was a sty.”

    Not at all like where I’m living now. The house that Garrett’s found is beautiful, even stripped bare of all its furnishings and redecorated in hippie poverty. I’m admiring the woodwork in one of the first floor rooms when it strikes me that I’ve been here before, at the reception Mrs. Hirsch hosted for Phi Beta Kappa inductees back in ’69. I’ve sipped sherry in this very room and made polite conversation with the Dean of Students.

    Cindy, when I ask, has never heard of Mrs. Hirsch. She’s seen Dr. Hirsch around campus, of course, “the funny little man who spits a lot when he talks.”

    I set off, in search of information.

    The campus is practically deserted, as you’d expect on a Friday during break. Still, the first person I see turns out to be Amy Madigan, writing in her notebook on a bench in the Grove. Except for the fact that her hair seems to be longer now, she might have been sitting here in suspended animation since we last spoke that day after graduation.

    She’s absorbed with the notebook, so I spot her well before she sees me. She seems, in fact, to sense my presence as I approach from the sidewalk behind her. She lifts her head from the page, and sniffs the air. I always suspected she’s got a touch of bloodhound in her. She’s built like one, all skinny and tensed-up.

    “Harold told me you’d be coming back,” she says.

    So it’s “Harold” now. Interesting. She doesn’t invite me to sit.

    “You’ll be working under Dr. Goodleigh?” she asks. “Teaching aide?”

    “Assistant curator. She’s expanding the hours for the classics museum.”

    “You and Goodleigh alone with those pots. Every day. Weekends, too, probably. My my. How do you think that’s going to work for you? I mean, you’ve always had the most fatuous crush on that woman.”

    “Congratulations on the book,” I say. “I always knew you’d get published before me. Prestigious reviews, too, I hear. Including the New York Times?”

    “It was flattering to be critiqued in an international publication, even if the reviewer wasn’t exactly kind. Or fair. Have you read it?”

    “I never read the Times.”

    “I meant, have you read my novel?”

    “Oh. No. Bought it, haven’t read it. Waiting for the mood to hit me. I’ve never been a big fan of equestrian stories –Black Beauty, National Velvet. Seems more like a chick thing.”

    Amy sighs. “Monastery of Horses is just the title, Daniel. That doesn’t mean it’s about horses. The theme of the novel….”

    “No! Don’t spoil it for me. I want to be surprised. Hey, do you know if something’s happened to Mrs. Hirsch?”

    “She passed last April. Poor thing. I visited her every week, until the end. I think knowing that one of her protégés was about to be published brought her great comfort. We have no patron of the arts in Oxford now. Everything went to Dr. Hirsch, and I doubt he’ll be as generous with us.”

    “The reason I ask, I think I’m living in her house.”

    “Please don’t tell me you’re staying at the new hippie house with Garrett and James and all those adolescents pretending to be revolutionaries. For the love of God, Daniel, grow up.”

    “But they always speak very highly of you.”

    “Well, have fun playing your little boy games. Enjoy it while you can. I hear the Baptists are trying to buy that house.”

    “It’s true,” Garrett confirms between mouthfuls at Colemans. “The Baptists are trying to buy the whole town. We’re wondering what their plan might be.”

    Garrett’s ordered two barbecue sandwiches and a Hostess lemon fruit pie for dessert.

    “Hirsch won’t sell, though. He hates the Baptists, he doesn’t need the money – everything in his mother’s estate went to him – and he’s in love with James. That’s the reason he’s renting to us, to have James under his roof.”


  2. 3

    August 26, 2016 by Daniel

    3. There’s No Place Like Ohm – Thursday, August 26

    I’m sorry to leave my little room in Huntsville. It feels like a place where I could be comfortable for the rest of my life. I linger here until the 10:30 checkout time, find a little restaurant serving eggs and grits, read Herodotus in a booth, and don’t hit the road until a little past noon.

    Not as hot a day, but the radio selection is a little worse, mostly ministers and local call-ins. I raise a little victory cheer upon crossing the state border. By the time I reach Tupelo, the road starts looking familiar again.

    What passes for rush hour in Oxford has begun when I reached the Square around 4:30. The benches by the Confederate statue are strangely empty, no old men to be seen, so I take one facing South Lamar and commune with the traffic flowing widdershins around the courthouse. Within a few minutes, I’m meditating, zazen, comfortably at home again.

    For the second time in 24 hours, a shadow passes over me and stays there. When I open my eyes, instead of it being a cute Alabama momma in a checkered swimsuit, it’s Deputy Hacker, glaring down at me.

    “Good afternoon, officer.”

    “Thought we were rid of you.”

    “You’re looking well.”

    “You’re looking like a turd. I suppose you’d complain I’m violating your religious liberties if I asked you to move along?”

    “Not at all, officer. I was just about to leave.”

    “Watch yourself, boy. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “It means the town elected a new sheriff, stupid. Special election, last month.”

    As Hacker struts off, I noticed somebody waving to me from the second floor balcony above the Carroll Brothers appliance store. It’s Garrett, who is now clerking for the Carrolls. They’ve branched out their refrigerator and washing machine franchises with a record store run by their mother and this second-floor head shop, called There’s No Place Like Ohm, that they’ve put under Garrett’s management. Joss sticks, incense burners, tie-dyed shirts, Buddha statues, ankhs, beads, a big waterbed in the center of the room, and an inordinate quantity of leather bags with fringe, leather belts, leather headbands, leather key rings, leather bookmarks. The place smells like a sofa in some law firm’s lobby.

    Garrett’s grown a blonde beard, and his hair’s down to his shoulders. He looks like a Norwegian leprechaun running a stagecoach stop for potheads.

    He welcomes me with a big hug. “Uncle Daniel! As I live and breathe. Well, just imagine my surprise – we heard you were dead.”

    “Only for a minute.”

    The “we” Garrett refers to turn out to be almost everybody who was here when I went away to Virginia. Nobody’s left Oxford. I put name after name to him, like cards – Nick, Suzie, Andrew, Amy, James, Joan – until I have only one left to play. The big one.

    “Melissa?” I ask.

    “Haven’t seen her this summer. Dr. Reuning might know.”

    “Can you give me a place to crash for a few days?”

    “I can give you a room of your own, if you want. Just like Virginia Wolfe. Andrew, James and I have a house on Tyler. We’re forming a new commune. Big place, couple of rooms we’re subletting. Everybody’s pitching in $25 a month.”

    “Andrew and James moved out of the Earth?”

    “Brace yourself. There is no Earth, anymore. The Baptists bought the place. It’s headquarters for Campus Crusade for Christ now.”

    “That’s blasphemy.”

    “It’s a sacrilege, is what it is.”

    We meet again later for dinner at Colemans. I treat Garrett to three barbecues and we share a joint on the back porch of the house on Tyler with a freckled redhead named Cindy. Garrett’s amazed that I’ve given up the idea of a doctorate in English, and have defected to the Classics department instead.

    “Well, I’d guess Goodleigh and Sutherland will be glad to have you. As long as the department has students, the university has to let them keep their graduate program. Maybe Sutherland will cheer up for a few minutes and forget to try killing himself.”

    “He’s no better?” I ask.

    “Three attempts last year, two months in the hospital. Poor Mrs. Sutherland finally had to leave him.”

    A thought occurs to me. “Why are you still in town? I thought you had a job on the Atlanta Constitution.

    “That fell through. Long story.”

    Later, even though I thought I’d retired to my new room, I find myself back on the porch with my head in Cindy’s lap, her asleep. Other people are talking. Somebody’s plucking a guitar, tunelessly.

    “Who’s the new guy?” a slurred voice asks.

    “That’s Daniel Medway.”

    “I thought he was dead.”

    “No, he just looks that way.”


  3. 2

    August 25, 2016 by Daniel

    2. Appalachia on the AM Dial – Wednesday, August 25

    I’m 15 miles outside Chattanooga, fiddling with the radio, when I pick up the first rock station since North Carolina. Everything has been country, gospel, or preachers.

    I like this station. The deejay is playing “Riders on the Storm” as I tune in, followed by “Wild Horses,” “Sweet City Woman,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Mercy Mercy Me,” “Peace Train,” “Get It On,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Proud Mary,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Sweet Hitch Hiker,” “Power to the People,” and “Maggie May” – all without a commercial break.

    The deejay’s voice finally comes on to announce that this is the seventh hour of his insurrection against station management. He’s barricaded himself in the booth and will continue broadcasting, commercial free, until the owners agree to his demands.

    He doesn’t mention what those are.

    I listen all the way through Chattanooga, and on into northern Georgia, where his signal finally dies out.

    The last thing I hear him say is, “The next block of 30 commercial-free songs goes out to Tamburlaine, wherever he may be. We’re counting on you, man!”

    In Huntsville, I pull over for gas, stand gulping at the water fountain for a few minutes, and realize I’m severely dehydrated, and a little nauseated from the heat of the car.

    I won’t reach Oxford today. I know my limits.

    The $7.50 motel room I rent turns out to be the cleanest place I’ve stayed in months. The sheets smell of Clorox, and are almost painfully white. The bathroom is immaculate. I buy a six-pack of Cokes from the 7-11 next door, sit on the shower floor under cool water, and drink three of them.

    Still wet, I put on a pair of shorts, gather my copy of Herodotus, and sit by the pool to read. I have the pool to myself, until two mothers with five grammar-school aged kids (three girls, two boys) come out for a swim.

    A shadow falls over my book, and I look up. It’s the prettier of the two mothers – loose brown hair, a checkerboard print one-piece, good teeth, Alabama accent, trying to sound sweet as the situation allows.

    “I’m so sorry to bother you, but would you mind very much putting a shirt on? Please forgive my asking. It’s just that your bones are frightening the children.”


  4. 1

    August 24, 2016 by Daniel

    1. Farewell to Charlottesville – Tuesday, August 24, 1971

    I’m at the Charlottesville Greyhound station, shipping the seven boxes of books I packed last night. The little man behind the counter charges me $7.25 for 104 pounds of freight, to Oxford. While he’s not looking, I step on his scale and discover that I also weigh 104 pounds.

    No coincidence, I think. Those seven boxes hold everything I’ve read over the past year. My mass is equal to theirs.

    I am what I have read.

    Valerie would probably detect some flaw in my reasoning, and remind me that this habit of trying to find meaning in everyday random events gotten me into nothing but trouble.

    I order a grilled cheese at the Virginian, then amble onto campus for one last look around. The English offices in Wilson Hall are mostly empty, but I find Eileen and Dr. Shandy chatting in the mailroom.

    “Dr. Arnold tells me you’re leaving,” Eileen remarks.

    “All packed and ready to go. Just waiting for dark, when it’ll be cool enough to drive.”

    Dr. Shandy hasn’t heard of my departure. “I thought you were staying on for the doctorate.”

    “Decided to go back to Mississippi instead.”

    He looks doubtful. “Can’t be much future for you there.”

    “My father runs a faith healing show. He’s asked me to rejoin the act. I play the poor afflicted kid in the audience that he heals every night. Sometimes I’m blind, or lame, or deaf, or spastic. I’m really good at spastic. I wear different disguises. We do pretty well.”

    One thing I’ve learned, living away from home: people who aren’t actually from the South will believe any damn lie you tell them about it.

    “What are you really going to do?” Eileen asks after he leaves.

    “Cut the soles out of the bottom of my shoes, rest my feet on the porch rail, spit watermelon seeds into the front yard, and watch the kudzu grow.”

    “Interesting career move.”

    I say farewell to the Rotunda and Tom’s statue out front, then sit zazen on the hill by Madison Bowl until an uptake in traffic signals the end of the work day. Murphy’s is crowded when I stop in for happy hour, but I manage to squeeze into a space at the bar.

    After my third shot, on my way out the door, I drop all my pocket change into the jukebox and punch it to play “Knock Three Times on the Ceiling” five times in a row.

    The moment has come for me to put Virginia behind me, but when I get back to the apartment there’s a note from Valerie taped to the door. She’s back, early, from her conference in St. Louis. I carry the last boxes to the car, along with my typewriter and my stereo, and decide to leave a farewell note to Mr. Jonas.

    “Dear Mr. Jonas,

    “You’ll be disappointed to learn that I’m still alive. Nevertheless, I’ve admired  your persistence in trying to kill me. The gas leak in the range was a clever ploy. So were the bats, the rats, the sewer backups, the loose ceiling tiles, the exploding water heater, the rotted porch steps, and the electrical shorts.

    “Best of luck murdering your next tenant.

    “Your friend, Daniel.”

     

    Only a few units in the faculty housing complex on Mimosa have lights on. Most teachers are out of town for the break, and Valerie should be, too.

    “Everybody in the hotel was getting sick,” she explains. “Some kind of virus. So the organizers cancelled the conference, sent us all home.”

    “Are you sure you didn’t come back early just to see me off?”

    “You’ve always been off.”

    We go to bed, for old time’s sake, because there’s no way we can do each other more damage than we already have. I set Valerie’s alarm clock for 3:00 so I can still get a few hours of night driving in.

    “Find a skinny blonde hippie chick down in Mississippi,” she says to me, in the dark, while I dress. “Forget about me. Forget about this whole damn year.”

    “Only if you promise to forget about turning yourself in.”

    “I promise.”

    “Liar.”


  5. 366

    August 23, 2016 by Daniel

    366. The End (Wednesday, August 23)

    Tomorrow night, the moon will be full. Tonight, it’s casting enough light to help me see my way up the path from the bottom of the ravine to the hedge at the boundary of Dr. Goodleigh’s property.

    The house is dark, of course. All the houses are dark. As far as I’ve been able to tell, most of the city is without power and will likely stay that way at least for a few days. The storm brought lots of trees down, and the power lines with them.

    I pause at the edge of the yard to listen for any sound of conversation or music from a portable radio, but the hippie camp is totally still. I pass quietly through a little maze of kids in sleeping bags outside the big tent. My plan is to find Garrett without disturbing anyone else.

    “Who’s there?” a girl’s voice asks as I approach the open flap of the tent. “Daniel? What are you doing?” It’s Claire. I can make out her features in the moonlight, and the face of Harley beside her in the sleeping bag.

    “Shhhh. I just need to talk to Garrett. Don’t wake anyone.”

    I step into the tent, careful not to bump into any of the army surplus cots that a few of the kids have set up. Garrett’s is closest to the flap. I touch his shoulder to wake him.

    “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape,” he mutters in his sleep. “What?” He sits up. “What? Daniel? What?”

    “Shhhh. Come with me. We need to talk.”

    “What time is it?”

    “I don’t know. Around 2:00, I’d guess. Get up.”

    I lead back down the path, to the clearing in the ravine where we shared the joint with Melissa and Joan a few days ago. Claire follows us.

    “Tamburlaine is gone,” I announce. “Maybe dead.”

    I give them a moment to let the news sink in before narrating the events of yesterday afternoon and evening, how I heard the tornado pass over University Avenue, how I borrowed a handsaw from one of the neighbors to free my car, and then how I started back to the trailer, having failed to find the Ranger for Eccles.

    That in itself was quite a journey, through fallen trees, fallen power lines, debris and wreckage on every stretch of road.

    “The whole town’s a mess,” Garrett confirms. “We did some recon after the all-clear.”

    Campground Road, when I finally reached it, was impassable, pines strewn everywhere. So I stopped in the parking lot of the snow cone shop – which is gone now, nothing left but the foundations – and went the rest of the way on foot, only to discover that most of the trailer park had been wiped out. Only the Widow’s trailer and the Duck’s old place remained standing.

    “At the spot where mine had stood, there was . . . well, there was nothing. Cleared space. From the looks of the place, that trailer might never even have existed. Everything I owned – which, I admit, wasn’t much – is gone.”

    Except for one thing. As I was poking around the nearby debris, I detected a particular odor, one I’ve grown accustomed to. I lifted up a chunk of drywall that was leaning against a toppled refrigerator and found Flop lying underneath it. She hissed at me. I carried her to the Widow’s trailer and closed her in for safety.

    A short while passed with me exploring the wreckage, and then I heard voices in the woods. Orders being shouted, and responses repeatedly using the word “sir!” Troops. I ducked under cover, somehow managed to evade them, and headed back through the thickets to my car, leaving their shouts behind as they converged on the empty spot of Tamburlaine’s last suspected hideout.

    “But there being no sign of him doesn’t mean he’s dead,” Garrett says. “Maybe he wasn’t inside when the storm hit. Maybe he’d already left. Maybe the Ranger had come for him while you were away.”

    “Wait. There’s more. I was headed back into town when I saw him. The Ranger. Standing by the side of the road just shy of the overpass to highway 7, like he was waiting for me, like he somehow knew I’d be passing by.”

    “Did you talk to him?” Claire asks.

    “Indeed. I reported what I’d found – which was nothing – at the trailer. The Ranger seemed not the least bit perturbed by the news, as if he already knew where things stood . . . though I got the distinct impression that he hadn’t already seen it with his own eyes, that he hadn’t been there ahead of me.”

    He’d then informed me that he was on his way out of town, but that he guessed he’d be back in spring. I wished him a safe journey and said I’d see him then. That’s when he gave me a look and said, “No, you won’t. It’s time for you to leave, too.”

    “That’s all he said,” I tell Garrett and Claire now. “He turned and started walking away, but at that instant I knew he was right. I have to leave. There’s something waiting for me out on the road . . . some experience I’m supposed to have. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s big. And for that moment when I was looking into those eyes, I kept thinking the word ‘ancient, ancient, ancient.’ And I remembered something that he said to me once in the Grove.”

    “What?”

    “We were talking about Citizen.”

    “Your imaginary dog.”

    “The Ranger could see him, even said that he’d been seeing Citizen for as long as he’d been paying visits to Oxford, upwards of 25 years. I said it couldn’t be the same dog, but he told me that some things in nature aren’t subject to the laws of time, and that Citizen was one of them.”

    “And you think the Ranger is one, too,” Claire says. “You know, I’ve always had that feeling about him, too, that he’s impossibly old. And that I’ve seen him somewhere before, in a book I read when I was a kid.”

    “Same here,” I agree. “I have exactly the same feeling. There are mysteries out there, big mysteries that a body isn’t going to encounter by staying in one place. That’s why I have to leave. Hell, I’m dead. I have no identity. What’s keeping me here? Nothing. And besides, I think my leaving now might help somebody.”

    “Who’s that?”

    “Tamburlaine.”

    “Thought you said Tamburlaine was dead.”

    “He might be. Or he might have escaped during the chaos of the storm. Maybe that had been the Ranger’s plan all along. Maybe he even created the storm. Sounds far-fetched, I know.”

    “Sounds crazy,” Garrett says. “Are you sure something didn’t knock you upside the head when the tornado came?”

    “But he’s gone. No body. The feds aren’t going to assume he died. They’ll keep looking for him. Everybody will. And if he’s alive, don’t you think he’s suffered enough from being a legend? Don’t you think he could use some help?”

    “What kind of help are you suggesting?”

    “A decoy. Me. Someone who should have been in that trailer when the tornado took it away. Somebody who left town in the dark hours of the following morning. Somebody who’s out there moving from place to place. Me.”

    “A decoy,” Garrett repeats. “Intriguing.”

    “That’s the end of your story for the first issue of the Free Press. Your final interview with Tamburlaine after he eluded them under cover of a storm, spoke to you, and was last seen headed east. I’ll be Tamburlaine for a while. I have nothing better to do. And maybe some day in the future, when I get tired of it, I’ll find someone else willing to take the identity on.”

    “But where will you go, Tommy?” Garrett asks. Why is he calling me ‘Tommy’?

    “I’m thinking Tatyana’s farm. She’d let me stay as long as I need. I’d have a chance to rest up, and plot my next move.”

    Garrett’s voice has taken on the wavering tone of a querulous old woman. “But how am I gonna’ know about you, Tommy? Why, they could kill you and I’d never know. They could hurt you. How am I gonna’ know?”

    I recognize it. That’s a line delivered by Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.

    Garrett and I watched it with bunch of guys one night in Garland Hall, a late movie on one of the Memphis channels. John Ford directed. 1940. 20th Century Fox. Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine.

    I answer in the closest impersonation of Henry Fonda I can muster: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. And when the people are eating the stuff they raise and living in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.”

    “I have no idea what you boys are talking about.” Claire steps forward and gives me a rough hug. “Come back and see us sometimes. Come back safe. Do you want us to tell anyone where you’ve gone?”

    “Keep it among friends. Dr. Goodleigh. Joan and Blake. Cindy, Andrew, Nick, Suzie. Melissa, if anyone happens to write. Becky when she gets back. The people who need to know. But no bastards. You can tell your new boyfriend, though.”

    She pushes me away with a grunt and a laugh. Garrett and I shake hands. There’s nothing more needs to be said. I walk away, on a path that leads back to where I left my car parked on Old Taylor Road. But a sudden impulse makes me turn around. They’re still in the clearing, watching me leave.

    “Just once more,” I say to Garrett. “For old time’s sake.”

    Garrett obliges. He falls to his knees, pounds the ground and shouts, “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
    ……………………………………………………………………….

    I remember the frequency from my last trip through this part of the country. I set the radio dial upon crossing the Georgia border, relieved to put Alabama behind me. I’ll be snipping through a little northwest corner of the state. Chattanooga lies ahead.

    The signal is weak at first, a few lyrics from “Heart of Gold” and “It’s Your Thing” sandwiched between layers of static. Then a voice I recognize even through the disruption: the Mad Deejay coming through stronger now, talking about dinosaur tracks being found in the Amazon rainforests, the kidnapping of Aimee Semple McPherson, toxic tomatoes being shipped to American markets from Canada, the Freemasons’ involvement in the deliberate sinking of the Titanic, green M&Ms, the Rapture, using Coke during sex as a spermicide, and a Nazi-era moon base discovered by the Apollo 14 astronauts.

    “Enough talk! More music!” he declares.

    “Whole Lotta Love,” begins, followed by “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Can’t Get Next to You,” “Spirit in the Sky,” “So Far Away,” “Sylvia’s Mother,” “Lola,” “War,” “Hey, Jude,” “Bang a Gong,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Dock of the Bay,” “Horse with No Name,” “Levon,” “Space Oddity,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Fire and Rain,” “Touch Me,” “Time of the Season,” “Everyday People,” “Piece of My Heart,” “The Weight,”  “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Ohio,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

    “This is day 367 of my takeover of these airwaves, loyal listeners,” the Mad DeeJay says. “Listen up, all you freaks and revolutionaries! All you hippies, heads, pot heads, acid heads, and coke heads. All you peaceniks, beatniks, flower children, artful dodgers, radicals, dropouts, kooks, loners, and weirdoes. All you heretics, infidels, dissenters, agitators, instigators, provocateurs, rabble rousers, hotheads, fanatics, firebrands, propagandists, pushers, anarchists, troublemakers, malcontents, zealots, demonstrators, guerillas, queers, and rebels.  The day is not lost. The struggle continues. And as always, that last block of songs goes out to Tamburlaine. Where are you, man? We need you!”

    “Right here,” I answer. “Just keep the faith, man, and keep on rocking.”

    The End

     


  6. 365

    August 22, 2016 by Daniel

    365. Lights Out (Tuesday, August 22)

    I have to take another look at the clock when Blake saunters in from the oven outside, Glad bag over his shoulder, returned from New Orleans. It’s not even 7:30 in the morning yet.

    “I left Tulane at midnight to avoid driving in the heat of the day,” he explains.

    “I used to do that, too,” I say.

    “Drove straight through, except for a stop at a little all-night place outside Jackson for coffee. I’m beat. Thought I’d get some sleep, shower and head over to see Joan. Is your friend still here?”

    “In your old room, I’m afraid.”

    “Doesn’t matter. I’ll crash in yours.”

    I have the place to myself for the entire morning. Eccles emerges around 1:00, looking not a jot less haggard for the many hours of sleep he’s managed to get. I fetch him coffee and we resume our wonted diversion of the past few days: staring at each other.

    “I wish I could do something, find something for you to read or whatnot, to help you pass the time,” I say.

    “I’m okay, man. One thing I’ve learned to do all this time on the road is to wait, be patient, stay alert. He did say ‘soon,’ right?”

    Eccles refers to my reported conversation with the Ranger. Actually, he didn’t say “soon.” I added that detail to bolster Eccles’ spirits. “Yeah. Soon.”

    I put John Wesley Harding on the stereo, low so as not to disturb Blake, and re-immerse myself in Herodotus. Blake finds a deck of cards somewhere. He lays out a hand of solitaire. A little later, I change the record to the Eagles album. Blake proposes a game of gin, playing for 100 points. He’s beating me 62 to 48. The lights flicker. The air conditioner dies with a shudder. “Take the Devil” on the stereo moans to a stop on a long, slow vowel of some sort.

    Power outage. “Hot day like this, so much demand on the lines, blackouts are bound to happen,” I assure Eccles before going outside to investigate.

    The window units in all the trailers are silent, and each trailer appears dark inside. Septic System Man is the first to join me in the yard. “Your power out, too?” he asks.

    The Widow emerges from her trailer, looking pissed. And glum. “Wonder how widespread this is.”

    I offer to drive up to the snow cone shop to check, and return with news that power is on up the road, and there’s evidence of lights among the few houses between us and highway 30. These tidings make the Widow look even grimmer.

    “Boys, I don’t think this is an outage. I suspect our power’s out for good. Either our landlord has failed to pay the bill, or the county has cut it off as an incentive for us to leave.”

    Without electricity, the park’s pump isn’t providing water. Blake, when he wakes, is annoyed over not getting to shower.

    “The boys from the commune have set up a hobo’s camp in Dr. Goodleigh’s back yard,” I tell him. “They’ve probably devised some kind of bathing facility. You’re on your way there anyhow.”

    But water is the least concern for me. My trailer, like most of the others, sits in full sun. Without air conditioning, the interior will grow pretty uncomfortable in a short time. Then it will become uninhabitable.

    Eccles can’t stay here. He knows it, too. The Ranger has got to make a move soon.

    “I’ll drive into town to find him. We’ve got Coke and beer in the fridge. Stay hydrated until I get back.”

    It’s a frantic trip. I’m so focused on the emergency ahead that I don’t even turn the radio on, just drive. I spot an accident ahead just as I approach the intersection of highways 7 and 6: a 16-wheeler collided with a rusty pickup truck and blocking the southbound lanes. A dozen other cars are already stopped in front of me. I swerve into the left lane, hit the brakes and bounce off the pavement and onto the median.

    Weeds and brush make a jarring, scraping, scratching noise on the undercarriage of the car, but it makes a way down the slope to the low-point of the median and climbs the opposite slope without complaint. Another big bounce onto the northbound lane. I’ll have to reach campus by the longer route, across 30 and down Lamar.

    As I’m stopped at the traffic light at Lamar and Douglas, waiting for it to turn, I glance at the sky over the shopping center and spot a cloud wall to the west.  We haven’t seen clouds for almost a week. These are the big ones, the cumulonimbus variety that stack all the way up into the stratosphere. Moving fast. By the time I’ve reached the Square, a shadow is falling across all of Oxford as they cross the line of the sun.

    The Grove, when I finally reach it, is deserted. I drive around the loop keeping an eye out for the Ranger. I park and sprint through the various levels of the Law building, Bryant Hall and Fulton Chapel, supposing he might have taken refuge from the heat in one of them. No sign of him. Shit. The clock at the rear of Fulton reads 3:46.

    The Ranger isn’t in the Lyceum, the Library or the Student Union. He’s not at the old train depot. I run fifty yards of tracks in both directions, shouting into thick curtains of kudzu to hail him. My lungs ache. My legs are weak. Sweat soaks my t-shirt. I crumple onto the platform of the depot, lying with my face turned to the sky – which, I now see, has taken on a distinctly nasty cast. A scattering of rain cools me for a moment, but ceases as I trudge back to the car. A breeze picks up.

    I’ve never seen the Ranger in town, only here on the east end of the campus. I’m sitting in the car, debating whether to head toward the Square or expand my search in this vicinity. A squad car pulls alongside.

    “I’ve been sent to escort you off college property,” the campus cop calls to me through his open window.

    “I’m a student.”

    “No, you’re not. We know who you are, and you’re trespassing. Follow me.”

    “I’m looking for somebody. It’s very important.”

    “I don’t give a shit. These are Dean Moriarty’s orders.”

    Well, then, town it is. But a curtain of rain descends on University Avenue moments after my escort and I cross the bridge and he doubles back.

    Thick, dark, drenching, pounding rain, too much for my wipers to take care of. Visibility suddenly contracts to a few yards ahead of me. A heavy wind picks up. I can feel and hear – but not see – trees along the side of the row thrashing about in the gale.

    A far-off siren wails. Tornado warning. A limb from a massive tree falls across the road, just ahead. The car slides sideways into a stop. The rear end crashes into it. I’m jolted forward. My face strikes the steering wheel. Searing pain across the bridge of my nose. My hand comes away bloody when I try to assess the damage by touch.

    A second siren joins the first, this one much closer. I try to pull away from the collision, but at first the car doesn’t respond. I press the accelerator, give it some more gas, and it sort of lunges forward with a wail and a crunch of metal.

    I clamber out into the torrent on University Avenue to see what’s the matter. The back bumper is tangled in branches covered in thick leaves. The rain is so hard that I can’t even tell what kind of tree this is, only that it’s holding my car captive. I’m going to need a tool to cut it free with — an axe, a saw, something. Nothing that I happen to have.

    The sirens continue to shriek their warnings. Take cover! Take cover! But I have nowhere to go, no place to hide. I climb back inside, shut the door behind me, and wait. Wind rocks the car and blood is everywhere. The sound of a locomotive passes overhead.


  7. 364

    August 21, 2016 by Daniel

    364. The Lights Are Going Out (Monday, August 21)

    “Take any of ‘em you want,” Dottie tells me. “Take them all.”

    The Nickelodeon’s inventory has been winnowed to a stack of nine albums – L.A.Woman, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin IV, Eat a Peach, School’s Out, Ziggy Stardust, Exile on Main Street and Aqualung – most of which I already own. The others don’t appeal to me.

    She sets the stack just outside the front door of the shop and pauses momentarily on the threshold to take a last look at the empty, darkened Nickelodeon.

    “Well, it’s been fun. All good things must come to an end.”

    “I feel the lights are going out all across Oxford,” I say. Odd that I’m the only one here to witness this historic closing. “A dark age comes creeping upon us.”

    “A good time to get the hell out of town,” she agrees. “I’m lucky to have a place to get away to, far from the grasp of Sheriff Lott and the Baptist mafia that’s running things now.”

    “Have you thought about a place to live in Memphis?” I ask

    Garrett has recruited her to advise as business manager for the free press, and to manage the rock reviews, concert coverage, and interviews that will comprise a large part of every issue. He’s decided that nobody knows rock better than a 72-year-old grandmother.

    “Time enough for that later,” she answers. “I’ve got to come up with a good name for my monthly column.”

    “Ask Garrett for help on that. He created some interesting names for the student magazine, none of which we got to use. ‘Interstate Orgasm’ was my favorite.”

    “Hmmm. It doesn’t really have a rock feel to it, does it?”

    “Just a suggestion.”

    I’ve walked her to her car in the Episcopal parking lot. She gives me a hug. “Keep an eye on the town for me. Come visit and bring me news as often as you like.”

    The sun is brutal out in the open. I keep in shade as much as I can on my way back to the Square. The quick glance of the weather map I caught earlier from today’s Commercial Appeal showed a high pressure dome sitting right atop Memphis and north Mississippi, with a cold front trying to descend from the northwest, the two opposing fronts wreaking havoc with late afternoon and early evening storms across much of Arkansas and southern Missouri.

    Having forgotten my hat back in the trailer, I’m bareheaded today, and I can feel the sun putting its weight on the top of my scalp. Only a few people are out and about at this hour. The few ladies I’ve seen have had the good sense to carry a parasol, including the one who’s approaching me from the other end of the sidewalk.

    Her parasol is dark red, decorated with black polka dots, a little like a ladybug. She’s holding it titled to block the oncoming sunlight as she walks, at an angle that prevents me from seeing her face until we start to cross paths. Lo and behold, it’s Mrs. Foster.

    I tell her that I’m now available full-time for painting jobs, and ask her to recommend me to all her friends.

    “My goodness, that comes as a shock. You’re no longer with the museum?” She immediately corrects herself. “I’m sorry. That’s really none of my business.”

    “It’s okay. I didn’t get fired or anything. Just some glitch in my personnel file that’s listed me as dead.”

    “I’ll bet a computer is to blame. I hate those machines. They’re forever making mistakes, but they’re turning up in everything these days. But may I ask you . . . ?” She trails off, uncertain about something.

    “You may ask me anything at all.”

    “Have you . . . have you seen Nathan since he’s been hospitalized? Do you have any news of him? Eve Sutherland told me that you helped Harold Evans with the transportation.”

    “No, ma’am. I’m sorry.”

    She gives a rueful shake of her charming head. “I’ve been praying for him, poor man. It’s the most I’m permitted to do. Under other circumstances, I’d call on him in the hospital, but I’ve been advised against paying a visit.” She pauses. “Because apparently I’m the cause of his problem.”

    “No, ma’am,” I contradict, taken aback by my own sudden vehemence. “Professor Poole is the cause of his own problem. Don’t you take any blame. None at all. This is on him. He’s a man, and men are idiots.”

    Mrs. Foster tries to protest. “Oh, now . . . .”

    “Idiots. I mean it. Cowards, too. We’re flawed and helpless creatures who can’t stand being flawed and helpless, so we have to invent something that’s bigger than we could ever possibly be and then claim ownership of it so we can climb on top of its shoulders and finally stand proud. That’s what we men do. For some, that ideal thing is God. For others, it’s a hero, like a football star or a Confederate general or a warrior or an itinerant revolutionary. For most of us – Professor Poole and me included – it’s a woman. Whatever he’s standing on the shoulders of, though, a man is bound eventually to fall back to his true level, and when he does, he puts the blame on the thing he idealized. But don’t take that blame. Truly. Push it away from you right now.”

    Her eyes have grown wide during my tirade about the follies of men. If so few people didn’t happen to be out in the Square at this juncture, because of the heat, I probably would have drawn a crowd of curious spectators.

    “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what possessed me. Must be the sun making me loony. You have a good rest of the day, ma’am.” I start to walk past.

    “I read Nathan’s book,” she says, stopping me. “The one he tells me he wrote in the hospital, after I married.”

    “Under the Yellow Arch.”

    “I read those poems and I had to ask myself, ‘Who is this woman Nathan keeps going on and on about?’ Because I couldn’t see how she bore even the slightest resemblance to me. It wasn’t really me he was writing about, was it?”

    “No, ma’am. It was his idea of you.”

    She nods. “Thank you, Daniel. You have a blessed day.”

    “You do the same, ma’am.”

    I proceed to my car, parked at the base of the hill off Nielsen’s and drive over to campus. The Ranger, as I expected, is under an oak in the Grove.

    I deliver the news I’ve learned in town, that Oral Begley has been released on bond and is now at liberty to hire a team of influential lawyers who’ll beat the charges against him. The Ranger displays no visible reaction.

    “This means that it’s more urgent now to get Eccles away from here. Begley’s got to have deduced who exposed his operation. He’ll be looking, and Eccles is sitting right there on his property.”

    “He’ll be all right. The time hasn’t come yet.”

    “Well listen, I didn’t want to mention this because it sounds paranoid. But I think the Feds may already be closing in on the trailer. There are troops in civilian clothes hanging out at the end of the road. This morning, as I was climbing into my car, I thought I saw some figures in the woods along the roadside. You really have to get him out. Now.”

    The Ranger merely shrugs. “The time hasn’t come yet. There’s nothing to do now, except to have faith.”


  8. 363

    August 20, 2016 by Daniel

    363. Macaw in a Murder of Crows (Sunday, August 20)

    “What about the reliquary of Saint Agustollus?” Garrett asks Eccles.

    Their interview has gone on for almost two hours now. I’ve served fried eggs, orange juice, a package of cinnamon rolls from the Jitney, coffee. Eccles has eaten everything placed before him, but Garrett’s scarcely touched his breakfast. Too preoccupied taking notes. The true history of Tamburlaine will be the lead story of the first issue of the Memphis Free Press.

    “Another invention by the guys who created the comic book,” Eccles says. “Those boys were on some righteous acid.”

    “We both happen to know a head who thinks he’s in possession of it,” I say.

    “Really?” Garrett asks. “Who’s that?”

    “Alfalfa. That’s why he thinks the devil is chasing him.”

    “I don’t know anyone named Alfalfa,” Eccles says, “but if you’re talking about a goofy kid with big ears and a cowlick, then yeah . . . he was pestering me in a diner one night in Montana, wanted to be my sidekick. I handed him an old pressure cooker I found behind the building when I went out to take a leak and told him it was the reliquary, said I needed him to keep it safe for me.”

    “Poor bastard’s been guarding it with his life, man. And he thinks the devil has been chasing him across the country.”

    “The devil might be,” Eccles says. “He’s not terribly smart. He follows all of his press, and probably believes most of what he reads.”

    “You’re saying you’ve met the devil?”

    “Who hasn’t?”

    One final question from Garrett, not to be included in the story: “When are you hitting the road again?”

    “Soon as Chapman says it’s safe.”

    “Who’s Chapman?”

    “I think some people call him the Ranger.”

    I step out with Garrett when he’s finished the interview. Standing on the doorstep is like standing in the mouth of a blast furnace. It’s as hot a day as I can ever remember, the sun merciless in a sky clear of even a hint of cloud, and the locusts drumming loud in that way they do only on days when the temperature’s topped 100. And it’s not even noon yet.

    This is Eccles’ second day of confinement, and the stress of having nothing to do except hide and wait is starting to tell on him. He alternates between spells of jittery excitement and depressed lassitude, with intervals of jittery lassitude and depressed excitement.

    I sort of regret never having gotten that television set I’d promised the demons. It’s Sunday, so there’s got to be a game on that might provide some diversion for him. There’s always a game on Sunday . . . but don’t expect me to know what. Baseball or football or stickball or bowling or golf or fishing or pole climbing. Curling. Ping-pong. Hog wrestling. Something that normal American males find captivating.

    All I have are books and records, neither of which seem to interest him. If he were only permitted to leave the trailer, I’d suggest a movie or a trip to Skeeter’s. Instead, we sit inside and listen to the air conditioner groan under the demands of trying to keep the space cool.

    Flop occasionally rolls over and farts.

    “I haven’t seen that cat budge from that spot the whole time I’ve been here,” Eccles remarks. “What do you have her for?”

    “At first, we got her because of mice.”

    “Oh. Well, I guess I haven’t seen any mice, have I? Well done, cat.”

    “She doesn’t catch them, though. We have visiting cat who pops in every few weeks to exterminate them. Flop’s just decorative. She sort of pulls the room together.”

    When 4:00 rolls around, I offer to drive up to the snow cone shop and bring us each back one. “What flavor would you like?”

    “What do they have?”

    “They have everything. And more. Eighty-something varieties. It may be the greatest snow cone shop in America. I mean that. It’s the culinary highlight of the entire state of Mississippi. Name a flavor, any flavor.”

    Eccles begins guessing the standards — cherry, apple, lemon, lime, lemon-lime, orange, pineapple. Yes, yes, yes, they have all those. Strawberry? Blueberry? Blackberry? Boysenberry?

    “You can just skip the berries,” I tell him. “In fact, skip all the fruits. And the blends, too. You already know they have cherry and banana, so of course they offer cherry-banana. Be more creative.”

    Still he persists naming a few out-of-the-way fruits (pomegranate, mango, guava, kiwi), before he gets down to business. Coffee, butterscotch and spearmint. Yes, yes, yes. As well as mai tai, cotton candy, chocolate, daiquiri, and root beer. Bubble gum, cinnamon, and pina colada.

    He’s running out of choices. “Red wine!” he says. “Cucumber! Avocado! Peanut butter! Red Hots! Tapioca!” He produces each triumphantly, certain he’s hit upon a flavor not on the menu. Each time, he’s disappointed. His eyes shift, take on a cunning cast. He thinks he has me: “Dill pickle.”

    “Specialty of the house,” I tell him. “We southerners do love our pickles.”

    “Then bring me back one of those. It’ll be something to remember this place by.”

    The car’s interior is blistering hot. I curse myself for lacking the foresight to lower the windows earlier. I have to use my t-shirt like an oven mitt even to touch the steering wheel, and drive to the snow cone shop shirtless, like a genuine redneck.

    I cover back up when I arrive at the shop, which has a long line of waiting customers, more than I’ve ever seen gathered here before. Something odd about the group. They’re all men. All in their 20s and 30s. All with extremely good posture and clean, new clothing. All with military-style crew cuts.

    Troops, probably off those helicopters, attempting without much success to pass themselves off as locals, infiltrate the countryside in their search for Tamburlaine.

    I stand out among them like a macaw in a murder of crows. My instincts tell me to bolt and run, but my better judgment advises me to take my place in line and brazen my way through.

    When my turn at the window arrives, I order one black cherry and one dill pickle cone, pay the man and hurry back to my car. The soldiers, who are loitering about to eat their cones in the parking lot, regard me with mild curiosity: one boy with two cones, and no passenger to share with.

    The 90-second drive back home deals a major blow to the structural integrity of the snow cones, which have largely melted by the time I close the trailer door behind me. I hand Eccles his cone, and decide against mentioning the scene at the shop.

    “What in the hell is this?” he asks of the off-green mound of ice before him.

    “Dill pickle.”

    “What? You really got dill pickle for me? I thought you were lying about a pickle cone. I thought I was calling your bluff.”

    I extend my black cherry to him in an offer of exchange. “Trade. I like the pickle. And I don’t know how to bluff.”


  9. 362

    August 19, 2016 by Daniel

    362. Cardinal Acts of Mercy (Saturday, August 19)

    “I obviously,” Dr. Goodleigh observes, “cannot leave town for extended stays.”

    She’s back from Turkey, and she looks wonderful, all tan from a summer in the sun among the ruins of Hisarlik. Her hair has been cropped, and no longer falls between her shoulder blades to the small of her back. The cut makes her look five years younger.

    “I find my home turned into a sorority house – how many girls were bunking here? four? five? – and my back yard is the site of a hippie jamboree.”

    Garrett and the other boys from Tyler Avenue, it seems, borrowed a big tent from someone, pitched it out back, and have been camped out since the start of the week. Their refugee camp, they assure her, is temporary. They’ll be out by Wednesday, when a new place they’re renting on Madison Avenue will come available, though Garrett won’t be moving with them, departing instead for Memphis.

    “Perry Claprood’s been voted out of office. Poole is back in the sanitarium. The Ohm has collapsed. Dottie’s shop has nothing left to sell. And now you announce that you’ve been declared dead. Dead! So how is that supposed to work? Are you still enrolled in the program? Are you still working at the museum?”

    “Moriarty seems to believe he’s licked me this time. Maybe he has. If I insist that I’m who I am and that I’m still alive, it might trigger new inquiries from the FBI. I’m sure the Lyceum would be glad to call them back in. And then where would I be?”

    We’re sitting together at her kitchen table. Everyone else is out back, although I can’t understand how they can bear to be in this heat. The thermometer on the porch reads 101. Still the boys are throwing a barbecue – hot dogs, hamburgers, store-bought potato salad, chips – as a welcome home party, to thank Dr. Goodleigh for her hospitality.

    She leans back in her chair, crosses her arms and gives me one of her steady, critical looks. “Where will you be?” she asks. “Where are you now? Not in a good place. It may feel like a relief to be nobody for a while, but you can’t live for very long without an identity.”

    “I’m thinking maybe identities are overrated. I could manage without one, just hang around town, pick up painting and typing jobs, maybe deliver some pizzas, always ask for payment in cash. My needs are simple. I could make enough to get by, and use my spare hours on Herodotus, maybe even get some writing done. Oxford already has a town drunk and a village idiot. I’d be the town monk.”

    “That’s the most depressing plan I’ve ever heard.”

    “Not depressing,” I counter. “Challenging. I’d just have to live by my wits. How many years did old Odysseus manage it?”

    “Old Odysseus had old Athena to help him out. You happen to know any goddesses?”

    “A few. Sometimes I think too many.”

    “In any case, that was a story. This isn’t. Your life is real.”

    “Why doesn’t if feel that way?”

    She sighs, frustrated. “You need a man to talk some sense into you. Bill and Eve Sutherland are on their way over. Ask him what you ought to do.”

    The boys have filled a galvanized steel tub with ice and beer out back, inside their tent. Harley hales me as his old cellmate when I come outside to check the progress of the barbecue, and offers me a can of Budweiser.

    “Aren’t you guys worried about a bust?”

    “No more beer busts, brother,” he assures me. “Claprood’s out.”

    “Still sheriff for a few more days,” I say, “before Lott’s sworn in.”

    I accept the beer, nevertheless. It helps with the heat, and goes down smoothly. I’m fishing in the frigid tub for a second when passes by with a bag of Fritos she snagged from the picnic supplies.

    “Put that away,” she says. “What are you doing up here anyway? The grownup party is in the ravine.”

    I follow her past the hedge that borders Goodleigh’s yard and along a narrow path that snakes down the steep hillside to the bottom of the ravine. The air is surprisingly cool here in the dense shade. Joan leads me to a clearing where I discover Melissa and Garrett lighting a fresh joint of Rebel Red on a plaid picnic blanket.

    “Munchies!” Garrett exclaims upon catching sight of the Fritos. “You are indeed an angel.”

    I take a seat opposite them, with Joan beside me. Melissa graces me with her trademark Attic smile. “Nice to see you at liberty,” she says.

    “Thank you for the visit. Melissa’s astral body joined me in the cell, while the rest of you were kept out in the waiting room,” I explain to Joan and Garrett.

    “It was one of the cardinal acts of mercy, darling. Visit the imprisoned. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. I forget what the others are, but I’m determined to practice them all as a way to atone for past sins.”

    Another fleet of helicopters passes overhead. We can’t see them through the trees, but they make enough noise to make further conversation impossible for a minute. Garrett lights the joint, takes a hit and passes it to Melissa. She continues to smile at me as she inhales. We seem to be sharing some private joke, but I can’t imagine what it might be.

    I reach into my back pocket for Skoll’s envelope as the noise of the rotors finally dies away in the distance. I hand it to Garrett. “This is for you and Miss Fairchild.”

    His eyes widen when he discovers what’s inside. “Aren’t you going to need it?”

    “Probably. But I don’t want it.”

    “I don’t know how to repay you.”

    “Come to breakfast in the morning at my trailer,” I say. “There’s someone I want you to meet. Maybe you’ll publish his story in your first issue.”

    Joan’s been holding her breath after the last toke. She exhales. “All right, we’re all thinking the same thing. If none of you is willing to say it, I will.”

    “Don’t say it,” Melissa urges her.

    “I have to. How many times have the four of us sat around like this, sharing a joint or a bottle of wine?”

    “Or both at the same time,” Garrett adds.

    “But now’s probably the last time we’ll do this. Everyone’s headed off in a different direction. To different places.”

    “And I,” Melissa says, “refuse to indulge in the sentimentality of goodbyes. I plan to pay visits to each one of you whenever the mood strikes me, no matter where you are.”

    “She means it,” I affirm. “She knows some kind of trick.”

    “The ‘trick,’ darling, is realizing that space — and time, incidentally — is an illusion. Nothing can keep us separate. You’re always one thought away from me. I’m forever one thought away from you.”

    Garrett giggles. Melissa shoots him a look of disapproval.

    “We’re all thoughts in the mind of God,” she adds. Then she tilts her head, considering what she just said, and giggles too.

    Garrett falls backward to the ground with one of his cackles of laughter. “You’re stoned! Two hits off that joint and you’re already stoned!”

    Actually, I believe I’m stoned, too. This is some powerful grass. If it’s any indication of this season’s crop, Rebel Red is going to have a banner year.

    “I’m a million years old and I can remember dinosaurs,” Garrett claims.

    “I believe you,” Melissa says.

    “May you be stoned ceaselessly.”

    The two of them giggle in harmony. Joan begins to giggle. I join them. We all lie down on the blanket in the clearing of Dr. Goodleigh’s ravine, head to head in a human + sign. The joint passes from hand to hand. The trees rise above us all the way to the sky, and capture it in an embrace with their canopy. Our laughter fills the woods.


  10. 361

    August 18, 2016 by Daniel

    361. Live Free or Die (Friday, August 18)

    Blake takes a long look at Aaron Eccles, asleep on the couch of the trailer.

    Eccles arrived sometime after midnight, woke me up. We didn’t talk for more than a few minutes, but I gathered that Claprood and the Ranger had advised him to crash here after another troop movement swept across highway 6 during the early hours of Thursday morning, while I was still in jail. Their thought was the trailer park would be the last place anyone would look for him, following last weekend’s bust of the place, as well as being an ideal point of departure when the time came for his escape.

    “He looks haggard,” Blake remarks now.

    “He’s had a rough couple of years,” I say.

    “Who is he?”

    “Tamburlaine.”

    “No, really.”

    “Really,” I reply.

    “If you say so. I’m off.” Blake steps over Flop and hefts a Glad trash bag packed with belonging over his shoulder. He’s headed to New Orleans to search for an apartment. “Wish me luck finding a place.”

    “Make sure there are no demons in it,” I advise. “Is Joan going with you?”

    “I asked her to. I’d feel better not having to pick a place using my own judgment, but she wants to have a few more days with her friend Melissa, who I understand is flying out to join her husband on Sunday.”

    This comes as news to me. I shower, get dressed, and leave a note to Eccles telling him he’s welcome to anything in the fridge or the cupboards, adding that I’ll be back around 6:00 with more supplies.

    The Widow is sitting on a lawn chair outside her trailer. She raises a percolator that she’s warming on a little Coleman stove beside her by way of invitation, so I join her for a cup of coffee.

    “How does it feel to be a free man?” she asks.

    “I’ve been pondering that,” I say. “Which state has the motto ‘Live Free or Die’?”

    “New Hampshire,” the Widow answers. “The Granite State. Capital is Concord, but Manchester is its largest city. It contains 9,351 square miles. The purple finch is the state bird, and its major products are textiles and lumber. Geography was my favorite subject back in school,” she adds as I gaze in wonder at her erudition.

    “Right, New Hampshire. Live free or die. Well, it occurred to me sometime last night as Blake and I were finishing his 108.4 proof bottle of Wild Turkey that I may be the only man alive who doesn’t have to make that choice. Live free or die is a false dilemma to me. I can do both.”

    “I suppose you’re right,” the Widow says. “Which would also make you an ideal husband for me. Since you’re already dead, marrying me wouldn’t be able to kill you.”

    “Is that an offer?”

    She salutes me with her coffee cup. “You could do a hell of a lot worse.”

    “And you could do a hell of a lot better,” I add.

    “Think it over, boy. If you want to come courting, you ought to know that I’m partial to carnations and never met a Whitman’s Sampler I didn’t like.”

    We fall into a reverie with this exchange, but it doesn’t last long. My ears pick up a distant thudding noise from off to the north of us. It quickly grows louder. It just as quickly becomes almost deafening. We both set down our coffee cups and turn our faces to the sky just before a fleet of helicopters passes overhead, no more than a hundred feet above us. I feel a shock wave from their rotors and lose count of them at 15.

    “Goddamn army,” she says after they’ve passed by. “Why do they have to choose the worst heat spell of the year to invade us again?”

    “They’re all Yankees, and therefore don’t have the good sense that God gave ‘em to stay in the shade during weather like this.”

    On my drive into campus, the weather report on the radio announces a current temperature of 89 with a high of 102 expected. I decide against opening the museum. The space will stay cooler, and the air conditioners won’t need as much juice, if the doors stay closed.

    I roll a fresh stencil into Dr. Goodleigh’s office typewriter and am almost done with the first page of her Greek Mythology syllabus. So focused on the task am I that I apparently do not hear the sound of several footsteps approaching, and only become aware of my visitors when one taps on the door jamb and clears his throat.

    I glance up. Dean Moriarty gazes down at me with a stern expression. I catch sight of Dr. French trailing behind him, and a campus cop bringing up the rea.

    “Good morning, sir,” I say pleasantly, hopeful for the best. “You’re here to see Dr. Goodleigh? She’s scheduled to return to town tomorrow, and will likely be back in the office Monday.”

    “I don’t understand you,” he replies.

    “Sorry. I said she’ll be back Monday,” I repeat.

    “I really don’t understand you at all.”

    “You don’t?”

    “I do not.”

    “Wow.”

    “I don’t understand how anyone could be so wantonly cruel. So transparently self aggrandizing. So criminally disrespectful.”

    It occurs to me that Moriarty appears to be accusing me of something. I decide not to answer, in hopes that what he says next will clarify his intentions. It does.

    “I didn’t know Jason Medway as a student,” he continues.

    “I was in your Botany 150 class,” I say.

    “But I understand he was a fine young man, as well as being a scholar and a writer of some promise. For you to come to this campus impersonating him, bringing disgrace on his name and grief to his family . . . well, I just don’t understand it.”

    Aha, I see the nature of the misunderstanding. “Excuse me, sir, but I’m only technically dead. I can still do my job. I’m Jason Medway, though I go by my middle name, Daniel. Dr. French can identify me.”

    “I cannot, sir,” French says.

    “What do you mean? I majored in your department. I had you for Advanced Composition, British Survey 1, Shakespeare and Victorian Novels.”

    “I can’t be expected to remember every damn student who’s ever claimed to take one of my classes. In any case, I don’t know you.”

    “Neither of us knows you,” Moriarty adds. He’s not a very effective at telling lies. His eyes get all piggy and his neck turns red when he tries. “You are an impostor and a trespasser. This officer will conduct you off campus. You are forbidden to return, under penalty of law.”

    “Not so fast. I can prove who I am. Here’s my drivers license.”

    “Forged document. You’ve managed to weave quite the intricate web of lies.”

    “Eyewitness, then. Call Dr. Evans in. Call Dr. Sutherland. They’ll identify me.”

    “I will do no such thing. Officer,” Moriarty directs, “escort this impostor off campus.”

    I rise, lift my hands palms out, and yield to superior force. “I’m going,” I say. “But I will be back.”

    “I don’t think so,” Moriarty replies.