Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

The Beginning Of The End In Little Aleppo

Cannot Swim awoke before sunrise. He knew it was not raining because the horse was dry. He didn’t know why the horse was there, but it was dry and so he knew it wasn’t raining any more. That was good, at least. He had slept tucked into a shallow depression in the rock that would, in a million years, be a cave; just a bare dimple into the muddy cliff, but it sheltered him from the drops that had let up in the middle of the night. It was not morning now, not yet, not for an hour: just a rumor of light behind the hills in the east and the world was grainy and faded and everything was misty. Was the horse a dream?

It turned headlong towards him and shook its mane and said,

“Herfpbpbpbpb.”

The horse was not a dream.

“Hey, buddy.”

“Pluff.”

Easy Life wandered off into the morning fog; there was, he remembered, a particularly tasty bush that grew in the foothills. Little purple berries that grew in clusters, just rip the whole thing off in your teeth, so yummy. He had also noticed a lot of chipmunks, and he was absolutely gagging for one. Salty and good, he liked to stomp on ’em real quick and sneaky-like, then he’d slurp the gooey mess up. And grass. Easy Life loved him some grass: it was a classic for a reason, he thought. Couldn’t improve on it.

Cannot Swim decided to wonder about the horse after he had taken a piss. He slipped his feet into his moccasins and walked south from the cave about ten feet and pulled aside his breachcloth. Steam issued from the junction of the stream and the tree. He was bare-chested, and the chill had miniaturized his nipples. His hair was loose, and touched his collarbone. There was a leather bracelet on each of his wrists, green-and-yellow beading. He shook his dick, pulled the breachcloth back, stretched. Mouth tasted like a dead fish’s asshole, so he kept going south to the small stream a few hundred yards off.

There were finches and sparrows and rails and coots. There were aspen and pine and nutmeg and oak, and above them the redwood asserting its prerogative. Jackrabbit 50 feet off, twitching and staring, and Cannot Swim picked up a rock and swiveled to throw it but remembered that he had not built a fire and chucked the rock high. The rabbit skittered off into the fog.

He would have nailed it, too. The Pulaski had only recently been introduced to rifles and metal knives, and the tribe’s hunters still practiced the old ways. Just in case. Bullets were finite, but there’s always the old ways. Up to around 10 pounds? Rock would do it. Trick is not missing. The Pulaski threw sidearm, because that is the natural way of throwing, and thus no Pulaski at all ever required Tommy John surgery. They had the sling. Not a slingshot with a boingy rubber carriage–the Pulaski did not have rubber–but a sling made from one long string of braided dogsbane. In the middle was a rectangle of deerhide, slightly depressed to cradle a stone, and the thrower would gather both ends in his hand and whirl once, twice, and then release one end of the cord. It was easier to take a deer with a bow than with a sling, but only because you had more target: an arrow could hit the brain or the lungs or the heart for a kill shot, but the rock had to hit skull. And it usually wouldn’t kill the deer outright, just massively concuss it, so sometimes you’d have to follow the staggering animal for a few miles until it dropped. The Pulaski had several ways to fish; the women did the fishing. Hooks made from bone, and spears topped with flint. They only took from the lake, not from the harbor with its steep dropoffs into the water and deep draw.

And the bear.

The last California grizzly died in 1922. Bird-watcher said he spotted one in 1924, but there was no scat or hair or other evidence. The Whites shot them indiscriminately. Set traps for them and bashed their heads in with the butts of their rifles. Poisoned the bears, regardless of whether they were boar or sow or baby, and sold the pelts without eating the meat, or carving the bones into jewelry and fishhooks, or cooking with the fat. The Pulaski were exterminated long before the grizzly was extirpated; the bears still walked the hills around the village and the rolling fields and forests to the south. Cannot Swim had been on several bear hunts.

The dogs did the work. Black Eyes was the lead. Gray and over a hundred pounds with a patch of dark fur across her eyes like a burglar’s mask. Three others, just as big but not as smart. Nine Pulaski men and women and children following the dogs. Long wooden spears with sharpened points. The whole party wandered around the woods until Black Eyes got the scent, and then her shoulders edged downwards and her ass stuck up with her tail straight towards the sky, and the other dogs would mimic her, and the humans crouched, and then there was a trail that the humans could not see but it was there that led to the grizzly. The dogs would harry it but the grizzly would not climb a tree like the black bear. The grizzly would fight, and that is what the dogs were for. They would work as a team, circling the bear, snapping at it and dodging and biting and exhausting it. Then came the spears.

Cannot Swim had no spear, and he had no knife, and he had no rock in hand. Just a taste of shit in his mouth and a bare chest and loose hair. He knelt at the stream and put his head down to drink. The water was frigid and fast, and he swirled it around in his mouth, spat, swirled, spat, scooped it up and splashed it on his face. When he opened his eyes, there was a man on the other side of the stream, he was on a horse that was bones with the skin draped over and the man was similarly emaciated, but with a wild beard and eyes the color of cannibalism, and both the man and the horse were on fire.

He blinked and then they weren’t there at all.

“Goddammit.”

“I was so ready.”

“I was psyched,” Harry Gardner said.

“You look psyched, baby,” Capolina Gardner told him. He didn’t; Harry was pale and sweat had stained the armpits and neck of his burgundy tee-shirt. He was not good with confrontation, and Harry and Capolina had come to Harcourt Place to do some confronting, but there was a CLOSED sign hanging in the window of the Kinderfleisch butcher shop, even though it was getting on to noon and all around them was commerce. The two of them deflated in the doorway, peered into the darkened shop with its long, glass case and heavy, metal scales and hanging, tubular meats. They had come to speak to Sidney Shines. Harry and Capolina had seen Sidney, spherical with a flat cap and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, out of the corners of their eyes: he was across the street, but then gone; in the booth across the dining room at the Victory Diner, facing the opposite direction but sneaking peaks via the mirrors. He owned the shop, and had been stalking Harry for a few weeks and also had plastered the neighborhood with scary flyers about werewolfs.

Harry was a werewolf.

So they had come down to Harcourt Place to engage in direct action, which is the best kind of action and the most efficacious kind of action and also occasionally leads to everyone in the country starving to death. Petitions, protests, pamphleteering: all worthwhile and something to do on long afternoons, but for best results? Direct action is your choice. When the people practice direct action, it’s called a movement; when just a few people do, it’s called terrorism or a surgical strike, depending on who’s telling the story. All the editorials and sermons in Boston didn’t affect the British as much as a dozen drunk assholes in Indian costumes hucking beverages into the harbor.

But Harry and Capolina weren’t particularly skilled in, or suited for, direct action. She was a nurse, which meant she was a reactor by nature, and he enjoyed staying inside and drawing happy goats. They were neither Machiavellians, nor Leninists. They had not read the Melian Dialogues. They were not schooled in power, and so had not come up with much of a plan for confronting Sidney Shines besides walking into his shop and saying “What the fuck, man?”

They had argued about whether or not to bring a gun.

“What if we need it?”

“We’re not gonna need a gun,” Capolina said.

“But what if we do?”

“We don’t have a gun.”

“We’ll get one,”

“We won’t, baby.”

“He’ll have a knife. It’s a butcher shop.”

“No gun. Drop it.”

He was sprawled on the couch in the living room of their cottage on Bailey Street staring at the ceiling; he was barefoot and shirtless, and his left arm draped over the back of the sofa, and Harry said very softly,

“Maybe we just get out of town for the full moon.”

Capolina was getting ready for work, and everything she needed was everywhere. She was going to be an organized person, she really was, and it was going to happen any minute. Until then, her wallet was in the kitchen for some reason, and her shoes were in the bedroom, and her backpack was in the living room, so she was wandering around the house picking up after herself when Harry said that. She said,

“Baby.”

And she walked to the living room where the couch was, where Harry was, and laid on top of him in her scrubs. The belly of her top rode up and the skin of her stomach was pressed against his, and she stuck her face right in his, kissed him, pulled back, said,

“We run this month, we run next month.”

Kissed him again, and he didn’t mind.

“And forever. Fuck that.”

Lips.

“Fuck him. We live here. We’re not running.”

“Okay.”

Harry kissed her back, a greedy kiss, and she said,

“And we don’t have the money to go way every month.”

He sat up, throwing his arms around her, and then they were both upright on the couch and he said,

“We could go camping. That’s cheap.”

Capolina pushed herself away from him and snorted and said,

“First of all, you don’t even like going outside. Second of all, I do not camp. When have you ever heard me talk about camping in any sort of positive manner? I don’t wanna sleep in the woods, baby. Third, camping stuff is expensive. For the money it would cost to buy camping stuff, we could stay in a hotel.”

“Motel.”

“Yeah, probably. Still better than sleeping in the woods.”

“I’ve actually never been camping.”

“Me either. But I know it sucks,” Capolina said. “So we’re too poor for hotels, and too civilized for the forest. I guess–”

She kissed him.

“–we gotta stay here.”

And they stayed there for a little while, loitering in the doorway of the shop, knocking on the glass and rattling the door handle, until they began to feel self-conscious of the pedestrians’ assay and walked north on Harcourt Place until they hit Ataturk Street, where they began holding hands, and headed west for two blocks until they hit the Main Drag.

“Should we go back later?”

“I gotta work, baby,” Capolina said.

“I don’t wanna go alone.”

“No.”

She was sure that the butcher would walk Harry into the freezer and chain him up if he went alone. Harry had been talked into time-shares and multi-level marketing schemes and couldn’t resist a good three-card monty game, which is why Capolina did not tell him where the checkbook was. She loved him, but he was suggestible.

“I think he’s coming for me tomorrow,” Harry said.

“Yeah.”

“Tomorrow night.”

“Yeah.”

They walked around an impromptu wrestling match between two women, both named Angela. Greco-Roman rules were in effect, and there was wagering; no one on the Downside had enough room in their apartments to get up to serious bullshit, and so they took it to the street.

“How do you think werewolf tastes?”

“Like werechicken,” Capolina answered, and he kissed her because he loved her, and then Harry said,

“I want ice cream,” because he wanted ice cream, and she thought that was a terrific idea and said,

“That’s a terrific idea,” and kissed him back.

Little Earl Callaway opened up the Grande Marquis in 1962 on the junction of the Upside and the Downside: the place was real clean, but also took food stamps. The Grande Marquis–no one had the balls to tell Little Earl that “Grande Marquis” did not mean “Supermarket” in French–was Jet Set-era convenience: all your food at once. In the old days, you went to the butcher’s, and the baker’s, and the dry goods place, and then got kicked in the head by a horse or scalped by a Comanche. Leave the old days in the old days, Little Earl used to bellow. An American should be able to get all the components of a sandwich in one trip, he would further bellow. Fresh meat, and seafood. The produce was misted with water once an hour to make it look delicious and new, and there were signs next to the produce explaining where it was from and the voyage it had taken to get to the neighborhood. There was a pharmacy that no one ever thought to rob. Occasionally, old folks would entomb themselves in the freezers in hope of achieving some sort of cut–rate cryogenesis, but only occasionally.

Little Earl employed a small but fiercesome army of bounty hunters to retrieve purloined shopping carts.

Harry Gardner opened the freezer door and reached in: there was tutti-frutti, and cookies-and-cream, and rocky road, but beyond that was peach, which is what he wanted, and the pint slid past the others and on the label was a man and his horse, drawn and deathly the both of them, and flames all around them which would not consume them no matter how long they burned, and the man held a pike and the horse held the man, and the fire did no damage but belonged to them entirely, and he said,

“Cap?”

But she was in the cereal aisle, and did not hear him.

“Assure me that I have your complete attention.”

“You want me to jerk off while I stare in your eyes?”

“I’ve never told you how much I appreciate your sense of humor,” Mr. Leopard said.

“You haven’t.”

He looked at The Purveyor, said nothing, scratched at an imperceptible imperfection on the blotter of his empty desk. Mr. Leopard’s office in the restaurant with no name was just as barren and impersonal as his office at Town Hall, but there wasn’t even a window. Desk with a chair behind it. Chair in front of the desk. Pad, empty. Phone. Calendar on the wall. File cabinet.

“So. You will deliver tomorrow night.”

“Maybe.”

Under the desk, Mr. Leopard’s feet were bare, and his toes flexed.

“Maybe?”

“The deal is fucked,” The Purveyor said.

“The deal is the deal.”

“That’s reductionist.”

Above the desk, Mr. Leopard engaged in no motion. He was still in his black suit, and his back did not touch the chair; he had proper posture.

“I don’t know anything about philosophy,” Mr. Leopard said. “I’m just a simple restaurateur.”

“I want more money,” The Purveyor said.

“Don’t we all?”

“I followed them to my shop this morning. They’re on to me. They’re gonna be fucking careful and it’s gonna be more difficult.

The full moon was the following evening and The Purveyor was not letting his quary out of his site until then, so he had closed up his shop.

“This is not my problem.”

“Fuck whose problem it is. It’s your responsibility.”

Outside, the kitchen was spotless and quiet, the most junior cook doing the prep: carrots and potatoes and radishes, all chopped in very particular ways. The dining room was waiting and still.

Mr. Leopard tented his fingers in front of him. Each one had an extra knuckle.

“I’m getting the message that you are incapable of the task.”

“Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

“How did you know about my horse?”

“I want more fucking money.”

“Sidney–”

“The Purveyor!”

“–you’ll just waste it.”

The Purveyor unscrewed the cigarette from the corner of his mouth and ashed–tap tap tap–on the carpet and said,

“I know you’ve already sold the meat. You got a big party coming in expecting werewolf. Your reputation’s on the line.

He screwed the cigarette back in.

“I want more fucking money.”

Cannot Swim was on his ass. The stream was in front of him and his hands were behind him, holding him up; he searched around for the starved man and horse, and the fire that belonged to them, but there were just squirrels and maples and jackdaws and jays and thrashers fighting for space in the branches of the wood; the fog was burning off and he could see for miles through the brown trunks of the trees and the green afros of the shrubs, and there was no one there at all.

“Pluff.”

There was a horse.

“You see that?”

“Herfpbpbpbpb.”

Cannot Swim stood up and brushed himself off, and then he walked over to Easy Life and scratched his neck. In the small depression where he had slept were his satchel and his tunic, and Cannot Swim fetched them and dressed himself while praying to the Turtle That Was And Will Be Once More, and then he began walking up what would be called Mt. Chastity. Easy Life followed him.

“You’re coming?”

“Pluff.”

“Okay.”

The boy and the horse went up the mountain, one of seven that would one day be called the Segovian Hills, and form a natural barrier against the rest of the world for a place called Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

1 Comment

  1. Luther Von Baconson

    January 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    ♫ Say could I have some of your Purple Berries?
    No, I’ve been eating Chipmunks
    For 6 or 7 weeks now
    Don’t wanna have Coloured Turds
    Probably keep us both Regular♫

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