Thursday, July 29, 2010

The boy picked up the crippled bird in his chubby hand. He walked a while with it. He stopped and watched the stranger dressed in black who walked down the dusty road. What the man wanted from whatever was at the end of the road. The stranger's past that beckoned him to make this walk on this forlorn dirt country road. The boy dropped the bird. The man kneeled in front of him. He touched the boy's cheek. His scruffy man-face and his voice that had the momentum of someone who could change this boy's life forever, if he wished. He asked the boy where his father was. The boy said he didn't know. The man said where is your mother. The boy looked behind him down the road. Ok, said the man, I'm gonna follow you to her. You lead the way. The man and the boy walking down the road in that country that was experienced on the long walks between its places that lay there like a new bride and waited to receive the will of such men.

The men that inhabited that country. What money means to them. Their gaze over the country on their way to the bar from work. They will spend everything they got. They spit on your ideals. They've never looked at a stranger with a welcoming eye. They are the incomplete fantasy of a young woman. See their beards, their shoulders. Their illegitimate children. Their fantastic romances and their brutal way with women. They watched the stranger walk the rode with the child.

When he got to the boy's house he and the mother spoke in that way of old acquaintances.
The boy looks fine.
Your place here in the country. You're doing well?
Yes, fine. She began to cry softly.
It took me a while to find you.
How long did it take you?
Oh, enough for that boy to be born and learn to walk I guess.
She wouldn't look the stranger in the eye. She told the boy to head on out and entertain himself.
Is that my half brother.
His father told me he found you in the street.
So he is my brother.
She insisted she thought he knew he wasn't his real father.
My father is my father. So that is my brother.
He watched her. He came closer.
She looked down at the desk that she was pushing herself against.
Your life is fine here. You could have done better. Your beauty is wasted in your life here in this town with the boy.
My life is fine here.
You must have most of the money left over.
They paid you well.
Nobody paid me.
They paid you.

In the clandestine backwoods of the country, the soldiers have passed. The boy walks in the crushed grass of their wake. He basks in their essence that radiates from the things that were in their presence and the things they touched. He dilly dallies under the canopy of the woods. In the bark of a tree, marks that the soldiers have left. Each one stuck his knife in the bark as he walked by. The boy runs his palm along the scratches. The men's pathetic boy essence left in the tree. Like the dead cats found along a dirt country road, like the mutilated frogs. Like the sadistic ghost stories the older children may tell the boy that have him shaking in his bunk all night. The boy's idea of the soldiers is romantic. He imagines them standing near and feels at ease among their legs.

When the boy came home he found his mother bent over the desk. Her stillness was peaceful. He ran his hand along her dress. He went to the cupboard and stood on his tippy toes to reach the jerky. He came back to his mother chewing. He watches her. Her gaping mouth, her hair that sticks in the drying blood on her face and her neck. He does not touch her. He sat on the chair and watched her. He began to cry.

The stranger stood with the end of his gun in his own mouth. The soldiers surrounded him in the woods. They had him up against the face of a small cliff. He got there after a long run from the soldiers in which the journey of violence and evil that lead him to this town presented itself very frankly to him. He had a chance to regret it at every fall and scratch along his hasty retreat in the woods, but he never did. In the end he knew it would end this way, and in fact he felt lucky to get this far. Lucky the soldiers were such incompetent trackers. He began to laugh. The first lieutenant drew his weapon at him, but the stranger pulled the trigger, and what could only happen did happen just how you would expect it to.

The soldiers on the march back. Their drooping eyelids, their heavy weapons. Their own personal stench that began in the armpits and other dark places that permeates all their clothing. The stench of their lives. The awkwardness of their romances back home. The things their wives will put up with. The stranger sliding down to the ground slowly, a smile on his face. The structural integrity of a man's skull compromised is an image they will never forget. They will pass the boy's house. They will perhaps raid the food stores. If they do they will look down at the boy with some sympathy. Some. They will pass many such houses on their way back to their homes, which are a considerable distance away on the Earth. This time in their lives of submission to the orders of older men. Their future lives of giving orders which they may or may not live to give.