The Country/The Country

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Chapter 2: Something Would Happen

Later he would wonder at how naive he had been, cheering the “Kill the Pig” graffiti.

How innocuous the gesture, the emotional release it provide, had seemed.

It has aged him.

Days later somebody, maybe the same graffiti scribe, maybe some new provocateur, grew bolder. Somehow the letters on the signboard outside the city’s liberal Universal-Goodness church, where the weekly update messaging that told not only the time of the service but the theme of the sermon, were rearranged, repurposed, subverted, pressed into service for a new cause.

The message board had been lettered, Keel was sure, to say something broadly spiritual in line with the church’s optimistic teaching such as “Keep Peace in Your Mind and Heart.” Or perhaps something about “great” or “goodness,” because where else would the ‘g’ have come from? Universal-Goodness churches were not fond of spelling out the word “G-o-d” on their public statements. “Give” was a better word for a Universal-Goodness church.

Nevertheless the redactor, to use an ancient word applied to those who rearranged for public consumption the teachings of ancient texts, had found sufficient letters for a new message. Not “Keep Peace in Your Heart.” Or “Give to the Needy.”

The new message bluntly stated: “Kill Mr. Pig.”

Keel thrilled to see it. Not happy, but stirred. That thrill, he would remember later, when things grew complicated, was his initial sensation. It meant that something new was happening.

The church would be badly embarrassed, he thought, spying the tampered message board on a late Saturday afternoon walk through the center of his neighborhood, the ‘village’ as some people referred to it. Not much foot traffic in this village any more. It had never been anything special in Keel’s time. A gathering of small stores at an intersection, one of the city’s larger roads running through it, dividing the neighborhood into east and west. Keel lived on one of the side streets on the west, or lower, side of the avenue, notable only for their worn, peaceful sameness. He was content with sameness. He had come to the point in life when all change was threatening. None of it more so, of course, than the anticipated accession to power of the candidate Karol Pegasso and his Cohorts of Anger. Anger was a dangerous commodity, he reflected; you could not contain it. You could not keep it all to yourself or deny any portion of it to your opponents. In fact, once you proclaimed it yours, that pronouncement -- less a declaration than a summons, an invocation -- drew the same flame from a thousand other sources.

One of those sources happened to be the seat of passion in the aging Keel, a man who for a lifetime had guided a temperate vessel of heart and mind through remarkably calm waters.

No more. The waters were stirred.

Seeing those words appear, as if etched by lightning, on a church message board loosed a power surge inside him.

The words “something will happen now” appeared in his thoughts, spoken by a voice that was not quite his own.

He walked past the church without altering his pace, as if sheltering his own neuro-physical response in a muffled layer of normality. As if the letters on the board merely spelled out the expected message: “Love is the Light within,” perhaps. Or “Listen to the Still, Small Voice.” Could some church member have posted the redacted transgressive message? Keel wondered whether it was time to question his understanding of how the world worked.

He continued down the sidewalk, consciously maintaining that forced, regulated pace out of fear that the new commandment was so blatant -- such a break with the conventions and laws of civil peace -- that all by itself it called into being a new calculation of civil threat.

Was somebody watching for a reaction?

How could some human being install so inflammatory a message in so public a place and not wish to see what effect it had?

Would shots ring out? The idea pushed itself into his thoughts with an irresistible immediacy; as if his nerves could hear them.

The old, stone-front church had been built so close to the sidewalk, its bulk consuming all available yardage, that no pleasant green space separated the message board from the public way. If the ‘village’ had ever possessed such a green, that time was long ago. It was an urban square now. Cramped parking lots. Sidewalks, curbstones, regulated parking signage. Signs and traffic lights furnishing the public way.

Someone could stand (or kneel) behind a window in a building across the street and watch who passed the church. Across the way, Keep knew without turning his head, a low apartment building bordered a short row of storefronts. A watcher could stand somewhere within that the four-story building , the lights off, and survey the traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, going past the church.

Late Saturday afternoon, the cold of the year digging its spurs into yielding flesh. The light already in its last slanting hour.

Keel glanced about furtively. No other pedestrians before him, or on the opposite sidewalk either. Nevertheless the sensation of being watched, or of the possibility of being watched, persisted. He would not allow himself to stop and scan the windows of the buildings. That gesture would tell all; reveal him. Assure anyone watching that the words of the daring, dangerous message had struck home.

Keel walked on, taking his usual route. Whether he was observed or not did not change his internal calculus. Something would happen.

Some result would follow from this blatant call for redress -- this demand for the most defined, determined, unrecallable of acts. Posted in the most public way.

Someone would do something.

He little suspected that he would be among the doers.

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