Emile heard a familiar voice but he’d already closed his eyes. He swayed from the heat. His sweaty head made little loops over his shoulders. His stomach felt flat and hollow, tough. His feet were anvils. For a moment, he panicked. That physical airiness just before keeling over stiff flooded him from bottom to top, but somehow he accepted and gave into the fainting sensation. He actually came to rally with it. He mashed his sour tongue into his lips and it got stuck. He grinned at this and what it must look like, and then he snorted, and this increased the pleasure, and finally a soft tickled growl oozed out of his throat and into the air.
A song began. Music. Some singing. That familiar voice again. But Ty and his letter entered Emile’s mind and the guilt mushroomed and subsumed him. The obligation he felt to go to him and meet him and talk to him and ask why he’s in a lunatic asylum and how’s it again that we’re related? Rescue? What a freak. Why must I do this? I don’t. Fuck him and fuck me. He’s a fraud. A huckster with a psst and a nod and sweet deal right around the corner. It’s a scam.
The last four weeks had been nothing but bamboozling concussions of dread, stories of stories and fantastical stories to support even more fantastical stories all to explain how this predicament even begin to resemble something as noble as the truth, and as this wondrous infinitely unfolding tome from within spiraled out and down and into a wholly new possible truth, but one with just enough lunacy, mind you, the maddening mix that was quickly becoming a terrifying cranial stew somehow got distilled and funneled and squeezed into a little thimble-sized thimble of hysteria and this hard metal thimble rattled about in Emile’s head like a baby rattle in a psychotic baby’s hand, and the rattling was both the obsession itself and its target, specifically the obligation he felt to allow himself to be dragooned into meeting, liking, loving, talking to and rescuing this guy Ty, Ty the magpie. Compulsion, duty, coercion. Scare tactics was what it was, and this is just like Christmas eve when the arbitrary temperature of the weather and count of the calendar force Emile out on late-night Walgreens run to buy his mother a god damned fucking gift because the story demands it. Jesus. Baby Jesus. Shoe savers. But what’s the story with unknown brothers? Loyalty? He hated Ty. Hated Ty because he hated himself for letting Ty suck him into a story not his own. Pity? Pity. Fuck. Now everybody’s singing, and Emile opened his eyes and the sun damn near killed him. He looked down and saw legs and shoes. Dressed up legs and nice shoes. He giggled and this morphed into a cackle and he looked to the person next to him and it was Sammy Davis Jr., and Sammy Davis Jr. was singing with his lips closed.
Emile took a long step back. The song was Amazing Grace, and he instinctively joined in as he took more long steps backwards. Long steps, like a clown. He stepped on a foot and heard a ‘Jesus fuck, man’ but he kept right on trucking. His elbows got into the act. He landed in the back, at the outskirts of a group of people in a vast, vast graveyard.
Lungsee was there, as comfortable as he could be. He smiled and puffed a joint the size of a boar’s tusk. He offered it up and Emile took it and hit it and the silky velvet smoky drag produced a harsh, violent coughing fit. To keep it together, to appear as if this self-flagellating fit was an unexceptional thing, Emile buttoned up his shirt in jerks and looked around in spasms, as if to try and himself locate the disturbance maker.
A calm morning, or at least Emile assumed it was morning, and he leaned against a blinding white wall. The wall was cool. His back was sore, like from surgery but it was from coughing, and the deep bass thuds bumping out from the other side of the wall massaged him.
Lungsee sat, legs crossed, belly plopped inside them, little Buddha smile up top. Smelly. His head rocked with the beat of the song and he said, I think this is a new one. Emile listened for a while and said, But Jesus got murdered, don’t forget.
I didn’t forget. He committed suicide, in case of fact. But all I’m saying is, scripturally speaking, you’re fucked.
I am not fucked. I am simply exercising free will. And that includes the privilege of being wrong.
Exercising you are not. Free you never have been, aren’t, and won’t ever be. Will? Doesn’t exist. If any of the aforementioned were true, do you really think we’d be sitting here? And wrong is orthodox, by the way. Emile had no response. He looked out to the small lot full of big cars. A new one? he said.
Sounds like it. I don’t know it, and I think I know ’em all.
The beat began to annoy Emile just when it ended. The voices cheered and clapped and yelled praise to god, a black god, Emile thought who obviously liked to get down. Am I my brother’s keeper? Huh? I don’t know. That really is a loaded question, he said.
But that’s the point, squire. Further the confusion, advance the literature, fat up the kitty. Lungsee sighed like a college professor waiting for his bright student to catch up.
It’s a choke hold is what it is.
Sleeper hold. Jerry Lawler style.
That’s right. Put you down.
A new song cranked up, muffled and heavy and unknowable. They tried and couldn’t make it out, but the voices inside did and they cheered and sang and stomped all over again, just like the last time.
Cain and Abel. Couple of assholes if you ask me, said Emile. He moved away from the wall and leaned over to his side and curled into a ball.
No more than us.
You gonna kill me?
No. But I’ll die because of you.
This alarmed Emile because the tone of Lungsee’s voice was truer than any words he’d ever heard aloud.
Lungsee looked up into the giant swaying oaks, swaying as if to the music. Ah, he said. This one’s Here I Am.
The music stopped and an hour later at the blood-red dusk, dressed-up black people paraded out of the white church and into the lot and saw them there in the short grass and some dropped some money on the ground and asked if they needed help and Emile and Lungsee just smiled and said yes but added that there was nothing to be done. Must be a long story, a sweet old lady said to her gangly good boy as they walked away.
All was silent. The water below their legs looked calm but the rage underneath was famous and muddy. The sun, a giant red ball disappeared down off to their left. In the west. Arkansas. It sizzled the fields. Hear it.
The city sat ahead of them, a smattering of buildings atop a steep bluff, archaic in its defensive pose. Cars hummed along Riverside Drive. A massive diesel engine idled not far off on the city side. Its rusted load a mile long. The old iron structure where they sat over the water would last a million years, in one form or another. And Emile thought about all this. Nature and industry. Man and vehicles. A sense of place and not. Loyalty and pity.
The canteen of rum stood between him and Lungsee. On a tie. He looked at it for a long moment, precarious from its roundness, and said, Is it all gone?
Who knows? said Lungsee. Let’s ask it.
It started slowly, but the laughter came and grew and blew into a heaving, crying fury that they couldn’t stop until they did and they’d both panted wet-faced, oohed and ahhed, and eased out of it and tried hard and on-guard not to be sucked back in. It felt real good. They sat there deep into the night, drinking the rum from a Boy Scout canteen that never ran dry. Some sot god up there must’ve loved them good. Tugs and barges churned below them. Silent. The moon rose just so. It too silent. All kinds of things to swear on. The lights inside the buildings sat somehow like snowflakes, frozen in flight. Am I a snowflake? The massive black diesel finally made his way west, rhythmic heaves, breathing like an irked Mastodon. Creeping slow, dire iron. Death. Life. Escape. Rescue. Is it possible? And if so, can I do it without being a fucking snowflake?
But what would a fish do? said Emile. Or a monkey?
Probably ask what you’d do, Lungsee said staring out at the big ripples. Or jump.
Yeah, I guess.
Hunger bushwhacked Emile and he thought he was going to perish. The pit of his stomach had a pit. And it was empty. And in its own pit. Yet he felt fine. Good, in fact. Refreshed. Alive. Exempt. Exempt from something he’d always felt and hated. But he did not know what. He stood in front of Schwab’s on Beale and fully inspected his reflection in the window. His khakis were at his knees. His underwear was grass-stained. In front. He racked his brain for the life of him to remember where he had been one minute ago and he could not do it. And this was only after his looking down. As he brought his gaze up, to the upper half of his self, there draped his grimy white oxford shirt fully unbuttoned, his chest was hot pinkish red from sunburn. But he felt fine.
A purple string necklace, however, dug in hard on his larynx and he reached up and touched its tight little bow. He didn’t know what it was until he turned to the side. Lungsee’s cape. Huh-see-go-lee, he blathered like an imbecile, looking at it the way a girl may size up a gown. He liked it.
Lungsee stood next to him. His Marilyn t-shirt had no sleeves, and her forehead now donned a handlebar eyebrow just like his own. It looked to be drawn in with charcoal. The cap of his canteen had somehow snagged onto the zipper of his Prussian Walking Trousers, and it gave the canteen a look of highly specialized armor.
Emile got down on his knees and grabbed the swinging canteen and tried to tease out a sip. But he couldn’t. Huh-see-go-lee, he repeated with a point of his finger. Lungsee swiped the canteen away, and somehow forced a drop to slide out and into his mouth. But the zipper on his Trousers now dangled at his neck and his pants fell down, producing Lungsee’s gigantic floppy member to greet Emile’s left eye. Emile’s repulsed grin produced another, Huh-see-go-lee. A few citizens stood by, watching, whispering and shaking their heads.
They hiked for hours or days, no one would ever know, to reach the bar that had deep-fried its Monte Cristo sandwiches in the exact same grease for fifty years. Heaven or hell. Fries not included. They had no money, and on the sidewalk and in complete gibberish, they hatched a devious dine and dash operation. Hand signals, bulging eyes and jerky rolling tongues formulated the specifics.
The name of the bunker-like dive was The Buccaneer, and colored Christmas lights ran zig-zag all over the place. Pin-ups on the walls had added drawings and captions. The Farrah Fawcett had a big hairy penis sketched in and it ramrodded right in her white, white teeth. Hanging from a noose off the inside of the front door was an official US Army bayonet dummy dressed as a Viet Cong hippie. Tie-dyed field pajamas. Peace necklace. It had countless stab wounds, rifle-butt strikes to the groin.
The little squeaky Marine leaned across the bar and smiled. Maybe five foot five. His forearms were tight packed sausages, his white tank top glued to his torso and the jagged scar on his shaved head ran over the top from ear to ear. A substitute Frankenstein. Yet his smile was as warm as a human’s could be.
Stories. That’s all we got. Bullshit? Bullshit, hell no! What I seen over there in the kill bush, it ain’t got no god. No beginning, middle nor end. Just destruction, plain and crystal. And then we got our assholes to make up all kinds of fancy stories to make it right, and some of ’em is pretty damned good. You know, make up a god to prop up the ignorance. Horseshit.
The little Marine looked down at the bar, at his tree print oilcloth that draped it like a picnic table. You could argue that that is nature, but I’d be hard pressed to agree with you. But you’d not be wrong. I can see it from a distance. See it as something else. Cause it is something else. Something we don’t know. Can’t know. Hell, I could kill both ya’ll right now with my jigger and julep strainer, and you’d be none the wiser. Or any less alive at that. Don’t mean you or I ain’t got no god nor a philosophy valued at a shit. Or not. It ain’t fucking science neither cause that’s just a lazy fucking coagulation of the two. God and math, you know. It’s all a goat fuck. Just like out there in the kill bush. So, what’s left? Stories as residue. Stories as attemptations. Stories that might want to come real but we’ll never know because we can only know them as fictions. Fictives, man. That a word we done made up. Me and…
The bar phone clanged its clanky bell and the mean little Marine glared it down till it stopped. He looked back to Emile, who rolled and lolled his head, grinning and drooling. Huh-see-go-lee, he slurred again.
You two is artists, ain’t yee? Grinned the sweet Marine. And broke, ain’t that right?! Two Cristos! he yelled over his shoulder to the hole in the wall that opened to the kitchen.
Huh-seefa-go-leesha! yowled Emile with a hand flutter at his crotch.
The squeaky Marine stood erect and restudied Emile’s face. He tilted his head and said, Rumbullion. You look just like the little feller that was in here about two minutes ago that taught me about The Rumbullion. And he says to me, You got that… well, that’s that. I say, yep. I reckon you’re right.