Tuna Salad And Dill Relish On White Bread

by dschapman

It was more of the usual and it made me unusually anxious. I repeated myself and acquired a stutter. Pointing at maps, I repeated the last thing I’d read over and over, which directions the Vikings had gone, or the colonization of the Peloponnese. Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15 never even really promised forty acres, but they did get some mules. If the animals weren’t given away to the refugees, they were slaughtered on the side of the road and abandoned, too weak to keep marching, too useless to fight. “I liked that mule,” I reminisced, from my days as a drummer boy in the Union army, or was it artillery? Heavy artillery – it was loud! Thunder, and I reminisced: “I liked that mule so much it hurt to put her down, but it was orders. I walked her into the gulley where hundreds of fallen mules, horses, and oxen lied, I threw my coat over her face, and I bludgeoned her between the eyes with the butt of my rifle. She didn’t fall, though, so I hit her again, splitting right between her eyes. She didn’t fall, so I left her, and as I rejoined the column she joined it with me, walking dumbly after me, blood streaming under my coat and over her face. Me and the boys had a good laugh for it until the old mule finally collapsed after a quarter mile, and I beat her skull in with my heel to make sure she wouldn’t rise again. That’s a stubborn mule,” I said. “I said that’s a real stubborn mule.”

The last Southern boy was born gay and they killed him. The previous one was black and they hung him up by that old noose. Meanwhile the Voyager satellite craft drifted through the reaches of space, singing Blind Willie Jefferson into the endless abyss, Dark Was The Night, as below in a valley he hung in the dark, slowly creaking, spinning leftwards, then once more right. Death was in the reaches of space that night, and it went unhallowed, on ancestral earth, the sacred grounds, by the river of the drifting king, penniless and full of faith, made over in the image of the modern man, in the spirit of the existentialist christ, always floating through the head. That was the way they were made then, in his image, and the stars were admired from a distance; safe, in the center of the earth, where the bowels lay, and gurgitate, and digest, and the quivering remnants lay rotting while the angled destitutions fly, forward wedge-shaped and ancillary, hateful in their mournful descent; and then, though, just before you are exploded, you can hear the fainting song of the faithful ship, the spacecraft with its endless call, Bach’s Brandenburg No. 2, and you wonder; “What world is this? What people are these, to create this music? It must be a wonderful place! It must be such a wonderful place!”

The foreign legion had their way with the last mulatto slave girl and she gave them what they needed, one by one, until at last she was dead and the shame of her life could die with her. Her grandmother knew it but she could not help. Her brother fought back and was put into jail, where they starved him, and then shipped him away. Where did he go? They missed him. I was there, in the jail house, with my keys dangling on their ring in my pocket; and I thought to myself, have a biscuit, son, have a biscuit and some milk. But by the moonlight I slept with my wife in my house in the marshlands eating rice. That was a beautiful story and I really loved to tell it. I really just loved to tell it.

“I feel compelled to do this because everything else  in this universe frightens me,” I said, “I am frightened by everything and I don’t have any good reason not to be scared.” But my tone was not defiant. I barely wanted to say anything. Speaking is always a mistake. The only thing I could think to do was say something, then, so I spoke as I could, in those odious words, and meanwhile imagined the moon rising somewhere behind me, through the latex-painted sheetrock walls and underneath a dogwood tree, caught up in its blooming limbs. Like an angel in a garden, crowded by the warm breath of life, lush and thoughtless, I was caught up in my thoughts; and then, when they asked me what I was going to do, I almost collapsed.

Was it always like this? Couldn’t I speak? I spoke to a girl and I talked her right into doing the things that I wanted to do. I pretended to be Henry Miller. I learned how to act, like my friends did, but… That is not what I meant. “That is absolutely not what he meant,” she said, but her brain froze, and she couldn’t finish her sentence. He stripped her clothes off and threw them away. “I learned how to do this in a porno,” I said, and I gobbled her up, my thoughts elsewhere, my brain frozen up and my body out of shape. I imagined I was inside a trailer in a trailer park and I could smell cigarettes. I imagined I was microwaving a bag of buttery popcorn. I imagined I was outside in an oil field and a leaf of hay scratched against my inner thigh. I was thrown down on my back and taken advantaged of; I panicked and I became a neurotic. “It’s a goddamn piece of work, it is,” I said, repeating myself in a nervous loop. “It’s a goddamn piece of work, it is. A goddamn piece of work.”