Jim Harris, '86
Jim Harris lives in O'Fallon, Missouri with his wife, Amy Call, and their two children, Molly, 8, and Sadie, 5. They have a cat named Rose.
Jim and Amy met at Eastern, went to Graduate School at Southern Illinois together, and then settled in the St. Louis area where they both teach at Jefferson College. Jim is also a Senior Project Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Due to that ever-closing space called LIFE, Jim budgets all of his creative energy to writing novels. He writes one poem a year—to Amy. His first novel, Nowhere Near the Sea of Cortez, was published by Willowgate Press in 2001.
His new novel, A Bottle of Rain, is about a clown, a Native American girl with a pacemaker, a doctor who successfully executes a New York Times Man of the Year, two FBI agents looking for a college student who may be plotting to kill Ronald Reagan, and a handful of other people in the Land of Lincoln in 1986. The novel also contains a comprehensive history of computers (with special attention given to the origin of the F key), a vast and comprehensive history of the Kickapoo Indian tribe (at least all Jim could find on the Internet) and a revisionist view of Abraham Lincoln.
The new novel is within pages of completion. The following excerpt appears here for the first time anywhere.
Turn the page…
excerpted from Bottle of Rain, a novel in progress
he bathroom was so perfectly pristine and sparkling clean and bright the pearl-tipped tongue ring gleamed like neon in the large mirror as Amanda flossed her teeth. She really liked this new dental floss. It tasted like bubble gum and contained 100 per cent of the minimum daily requirements of Ginseng (whatever that was). She stopped flossing only twice. Once to weave back and forth to the new Tori Amos CD and the other time to take a quick final puff off a Camel cigarette she had burning in an empty tin of orange Altoids. She froze for a second and then relaxed. The three vents in the bathroom were humming away. Her mother absolutely refused to allow smoking in the house. It left the drapes stiff.
She went back to flossing and let a smile crease her face as her cutie-pie new computer told her she had mail. Amanda had just yesterday told her History Professor about her awesome cute new computer and he had asked her crossed bare legs what kind it was; an IBM or an Apple?
“Um—I don’t know,” Amanda replied, then giggled. Her History Professor just nodded. This told him which one it was.
When Amanda finished flossing she got up and flinched and gasped and bent over slightly. She dug at her new blue Victoria’s Secret thong. She tried to stretch it, through her tight black slacks, past a sensitive spot. Amanda had shaved too close this morning and nicked her happy area.
This minor irritation distracted her enough that she forgot to duck and banged her forehead on the basketball-sized bamboo and baby blue dream catcher she had hung in the entryway. Annoyed, Amanda took it down and as she looked around her bedroom, finally decided to hang it on a powder white curtain rod. Maybe she shouldn’t have gotten one this big but they sold all sizes at the tattoo parlor and she certainly didn’t want to hang a little one from the mirror of her Cavalier like her friend Stacey did. That looked too tacky. Besides, she had big dreams, she told the man in the tattoo parlor.
After hanging the dream catcher in its new place she stared wide-eyed at the perfectly flat and wide computer screen. It was finished copying lots and lots of .MP3’s she had downloaded off Kazaa last night to her matching white ultra-cool cigarette pack-sized.MP3 player. Her eyes went even wider when she stared at the Mickey Mouse alarm clock on the other side of the computer screen. If she didn’t get a move on she would be late for work at her job at the Illinois State Capital where she was a Page.Amanda scooped up her .MP3 player, wrapped the tiny earplugs around it, scooped up her purse, and was out the door, accompanied by a minor litany rudely popping into her head of what one old-fart politician in particular kept saying to her in the hallways, “Turn the page, turn the page…”
The old man wore deerskin, black high-top sneakers, and a beaded headband. His hair was snow white and braided down past his waist. He was bent over and slow and appeared labored as he walked up to the podium. It took him some time to get there as he would not allow anyone to help him. He was ghostly pale and looked ancient. The General Assembly of the State of Illinois was only about three quarters full on this day, September 11th, 2002. A page helped the old man adjust the microphone to accommodate him. When he began speaking everyone grew quiet. His voice, at first, was very deliberate and very Indian-sounding.
(A huge, abrupt hush fell upon the assembly. The old man would lift his heavy old eyes from the pieces of yellow paper he had put on the podium. He stared out at his audience. After a long pause he finally began to speak again.)
When Ronald Reagan came to town Emily planned to kill him. She was kidding, of course. But she would pump this joke for all its worth. Emily, when she was healthy, was one of those people who extended jokes beyond all funniness. In a dry deadpan manner Emily would extricate the joke from any immediacy it might have had and elevate it to some redundant plateau and repeat it time and again until her surrounding circle of friends either offered to strangle her or began to believe her.
Emily was a telephone operator in a hospital. She was twenty-two years old and dressed like a bag lady. She wore army boots and several skirts and many blouses all at the same time. Her hair was thick curls, burly hair, the color of phlegm that flowed almost down to her butt, and she never wore make-up. She had little beady eyes and a pointy though little nose and almost non-existent lips. She wore floppy hats, sometimes leather, sometimes macramé, and other times of some material that may have come from another planet.
The hospital Emily worked at was just down the street from a large university. The University of Illinois. She went to this university four years ago for a semester and then quit. She would start up again sometime maybe but sometime was a ways off as she started working fulltime shortly after she had been raped and working and not school had become a more successful recovery mode for her. She caught AIDS from this rapist also and knew her days were numbered anyway.
Emily was from Iowa. Her father was a rich farmer. Her mother kept quiet on all issues and floated around their house like a small sickly helium balloon about to hit the floor. Emily had a brother who was studying to be a lawyer in Colorado and a younger sister who didn’t like her much. No one in her family knew she had been raped and certainly didn’t know she had AIDS. Emily did not plan on telling them. They thought she was very close to graduating with a degree in psychology.
“Hello, one moment, please.”
The year was 1986. Emily walked home at midnight with her gold Sony Walkman in one hand and a vial of mace in the other. She listened to Gang of Four.
Emily lived in an attic apartment in an older part of town. An elderly couple that needed a supplement to their income owned the house. His name was Larry and her name was Rose. Rose had been a vaudevillian dancer in her youth. No, not really, but Emily liked to picture this, as she would look at Rose. Emily liked to picture many things. She stopped on the broken concrete and did a little knock-kneed dance and a head bob to the gorgeously dark and dissonant Gang of Four song, “Paralyzed.”
A huge bright bone-colored moon menaced the leaves of several oak trees Emily walked by. Several college students sat on an old porch doing what college students have always done as midnight approaches during a school night: Drink. One knew Emily. He was an effeminate looking young man with one side of his head buzzed and dyed dull-red hair long enough to touch his chin draped the other side. He asked her what she was up to. She stopped. Pulled the tiny plugs out of her ears. She asked him what he said. He asked her again.
“Oh, just thickening the plot to kill Ronald Reagan when he comes to town. It won’t be easy.”
A heavier-set young man on the porch spit out a chuckle as he raised his beer to Emily. A girl with short black hair said, “What?” They offered Emily a beer. She clicked the heels of her army boots together, said nothing and walked on, the tiny plugs going back in place.
“I have a dropped uterus.”
Jacob Belmo looked around the room. Who was she talking to? There was no one else in the room. “Pick it up,” he said. She either didn’t hear him or simply chose to ignore him. He sat behind a cold gray desk in the data processing department of the same hospital Emily worked at. He worked the same shift as Emily. They were good friends, more or less. Jacob was the only person who knew Emily had AIDS. Tonight he had to stay a few minutes after midnight though and wouldn’t get to punch the time clock at the same time as Emily. Something on a large soon to be antique tape drive in the next room had to finish. On the other side of the desk sat Debbie. Debbie had just turned nineteen. She worked down the hall from the data processing department. She distributed supplies. She had very blonde hair that looked like it belonged to a middle-aged Avon Lady. It hung in ugly structured curls around her face like some sort of old failed bakery creation. Her glasses did it though. She was much too young to be wearing oversized translucent pink plastic glasses with her initials in tiny shiny gold in the lower corner of her left lens. The poor thing tried to look a hundred and fifty. She was planning on going to Beauty School (Talk about turning and facing your demons). She wanted to open a shop in a little hick town just north of here called Farmer City.
Jacob knew virtually everything about this girl. When they worked the same evenings, every break Debbie would sit and tell Jacob everything about her life. Everything. He listened. Outside of trying to look like a member of a cult of Lady Haversham worshippers, she was cute and thus, easy to look at. She had an incredible tan. He once asked her if she read anything when she lay out in the sun everyday.
“No,” she said.
Every so often he would ask her to show him her tan line. Without one change of expression she would rise up, open up the bottom of her shirt and the top of her pants, tug and separate, and show him this. He would nod, and then she would sit back down and continue to talk about her life. And she rarely asked him about his life. And when she did ask him about his life, it was usually to lead into something about her life she had to talk about.
Tonight she spoke about why she might never be able to have children because of the degree and formation of her uterus. Jacob made a little movie in his head of her life. At each stage she got heavier. Her jeans were all ready a little too snug and she would still keep bloating up, delicately stuffing in calories with each advancing year until her stomach touched an arm as she snipped at hair and told someone ten years from now why she couldn’t have children. But everything was fine with her tall, lanky husband she met in high school and came back to and married and they planned on adopting a girl and a boy when they got their bills paid off and she could get the equipment to run a shop out of her home there in Farmer City. And sex with him was just fine, too, an obligatory Sunday morning tension relieving fifteen minutes, not like the two-hour sex fest she would have later that evening with the twenty-six year old Jacob in her apartment, as he had promised and promised and promised to keep his pants on at least as he rolled her over and rubbed lotion into her nicely formed ass and inevitably he would sneak his finger in between her slightly parted legs, and by the time that happened, the sheet would all ready be soaked with her wetness, as he kept making over her flesh, every sensual nook and cranny like she was some sort of living clay, lifting and touching and squeezing, sucking her ear, thumb-drumming on her nipple, and ever so silently she would hear his underwear drop to the floor. And no, it would not happen again. Right. She knew his type. Knew what he was after. And yes it would happen a few more times because he listened to her, as that is all most women her age (or any age really) were after, someone to listen to them, and this would lead to her equating passion with love mistakenly, as men were often ruled by the former and totally incapable more times than not of understanding the latter.
And ten years later, scissors in hand, thigh unavoidably touching an elbow, Debbie would think of Jacob and sigh, but without missing a beat, she would continue to tell the stranger why she couldn’t have children.
But that tape in that air-conditioned computer nightmare in the next room did finish and Debbie and Jacob walked out together to the parking garage. The air, that summer air, was thick and hot and near suffocating and Jacob loved it. He loved hot late night air when he got off work, the streets around the hospital gray and barren, black shadows slicing with such precision, casting the entire insular world of his in a different light. He owned this town this time of night. It was his. He asked Debbie if she wanted to ride on his motorcycle. She was scared of it. No. He didn’t care. He didn’t have a helmet for her anyway. Let’s go to the Charley Horse this time, she said. He preferred not to, as there was someone there he would prefer not to see, but what the hell. So off they went; Debbie in her little tan box of a car and Jacob on his 450 Suzuki with the blue tank and orange-lit dials on the handlebars.
The Charley Horse was a sports bar ten blocks down across from another hospital. The waitresses wore skimpy orange gym shorts and tight stretch t-shirts and there was only one on tonight. The one Jacob didn’t particularly want to see. She and a handsome blonde young indifferent bartender stared at the blurry wide screen television that stood on an elevated poorly painted black platform, making this latest greatest television look like some techno Buddha in one corner of the bar. Sting was on the set, blurry with spiked hair as black lights added a stupid pall to the dry ice smoke drifting around him on stage. He wore a cape. He sang about obsession, monitoring every breath.
Jacob and Debbie found a wooden booth and sat side by side. The tables were a polished wood, with names, phone-numbers, drawings, etc carved into the soft wood. Miller Lite lamps hung over each booth.
The waitress’s name was Kris. They ordered beers. Kris leaned over and smiled at Jacob, her breasts tumbling forward out of that low-cut t-shirt like tanned white elephants lumbering on towards their burial grounds. He knew Kris. He knew her well.
Before he got kicked out of his house, before his wife left him for a nasal-voiced, whiney, forty-three year old stereo salesman, before a piece of Jacob died when he couldn’t live in the same place as his young daughter, he went home with this waitress, Kris. He drank beer with her and did coke with her, and not so carefully he tried to cut her two sizes too small Charley Horse t-shirt off of her with scissors. He nicked one of those large mounds of firmly soft flesh and as he worked hard to stop the bleeding Kris laughed and laughed, maybe even lost consciousness perhaps, came to, continued to laugh until Jacob got a band-aid on the nick. That’s how he got a nickname.
“Hi, Nick,” Kris said. She went after the beers.
“Why’d she call you Nick?”
“She called me Nick?”
Debbie had to pee and as Jacob looked at her ass and Kris’s ass move away from him he saw his wife’s ass turned as she nuzzled against the back of another man and life had to go on somehow. His impending divorce from her throbbed as a big horrible tumor inside him. His wife left him. Made him leave actually. His daughter was sleeping in her same little bed but everything would be fine. The trees of life would keep expanding upward, outward, and there he could see his daughter’s branch changing colors, changing trees, expanding, growing, mutating into something way in the distance.
Jacob’s daughter, seven years old, wasn’t sleeping. She was lying in her bed but she wasn’t sleeping. The fake leather recliner in the living room was empty. That was where her father late at night would sit when he got off work. She normally would get out of bed and quietly ask her father for a drink of water. Jacob would ease his large gray Koss headphones with the jelly linings off each ear, set his cheap, leaky fountain pen and notebook down, and then he would get her a drink of water and pick her up and kiss her and carry her back to bed, and then make a “That’s all folks!” smile and gesture before toggling the light off. It was their routine.
It was something familiar to her. She didn’t understand all the reasons why this would never happen again. She remembered a lot of yelling before. But she would never get out of bed again in this house and ask for a drink of water. There was no one to get it for her. They were moving anyway.
And as time marched on in the Charley Horse Sports Bar and Grill and the beer flowed and ridiculous talk carried on, and a waitress named Kris wiped her nose after a trip to the bathroom for an extra snort to keep from being oddly jealous of Jacob with this dumb girl, Jacob’s daughter would still be awake past the time when he normally would say “That’s all Folks!”
Her large blue eyes, frozen on the ceiling, would not close for some time.
The wooden steps ran up alongside the old house, as was common in a college town. Emily, as always, tiptoed up the gray-painted wooden steps but they still creaked. A lonesome dog barked down the alley somewhere. Storage sheds, stand alone garages, garbage cans, all cast eerie cool black and cloudy silhouettes all over the back. That moon. Those stars. Emily loved it. She stood on her little three by four deck and on tiptoes took in a huge deep breath. The air she took in turned into these magnificent vapors that magically took over her lungs and liquefied into this glorious drug that made her tingle all the way down to her sweaty tired heels. That was a very good thing about having AIDS; Emily decided awhile back, she absolutely positively appreciated every breath she took.
She tucked the mace into a pocket, pulled out her keys. Click. Turn. Inside she went.
Her cat, Greta (Greta Garbo), was there nuzzling against her. Emily said what she said religiously every night since she had gotten this little fluffy kitten six weeks ago. “Oh, honey. I thought you wanted to be alone.” She picked her cat up and kissed her nose, that familiar purring all ready regulating Emily’s heartbeat.
She put the cat down and went down immediately to the floor. Unlaced her army boots. Took off her garish skull earrings. Put her Walkman away. The night was still young for Emily. She had two movies to watch, two old movies tonight. A Charlie Chaplin and the very first Bunuel movie. In her living room was an old wood paneled color television and plugged into it was a suitcase-sized VCR and then wired to that one was another suitcase-sized VCR for making copies.
Emily would pop popcorn and drizzle a little rum in several cokes, and dressed in loose, comfortable, red flannel pajamas, she planned to unwind on her couch until the wee hours of the morning.
And then she would sleep until eleven. Emily loved second shift. Emily loved movies. Emily carefully organized and stored the copies of the movies she made. In notebooks she wrote down the stars, directors, producers, release date, etc. She had a walk-in closet in her bedroom and that’s where the movies were carefully organized and stored. She sometimes made two copies of a movie she liked in particular. One might break.
She fed Greta and got into her flannel pajamas and made herself a drink and turned the gas stove on under the metal pan she planned to make popcorn in. The TV was all ready on and the VCR ready.
Oops. She almost forgot something. With a felt tip marker she marked off another day on the MGM calendar she had taped to her refrigerator. 39 days until she planned to kill Ronald Reagan.
Emily laughed out loud and began making her popcorn.
Down on the east side of Urbana where the town started turning into cornfields and waste dumps, there was a creek, Boneyard Creek, that wound lazy then ugly behind a row of rundown houses along the same road where they built a Farm and Fleet general purpose store. On one side of Boneyard Creek there was a cemetery.
There would be a dead, decomposing body in that creek. Someone would get murdered and put there. It would not be put there until this novel is about over.
In one of the rundown houses there lived a blind gypsy fortune-teller named Abbie Nightingale. There was a wooden sign in her front yard:
BLIND GYPSY FORTUNE-TELLER
$20.00 Per Reading
(Tip not included)
Next to her house was a decrepit modular home that had very sloppily been painted pink. Pink flamingoes of all sorts, plastic, ceramic, several artsy metal kinds filled that front yard. They all had the same blank flamingo expressions on their faces. This house belonged to an old man named Doc Garrelts, who was inside Abbie’s house at the moment. He wore a white sleeveless undershirt and blue silk boxer shorts. He was drinking scotch from a shot glass that had a tiny silver gargoyle on it. He was trying to put together a brand new PC-XT computer. He had been working on it since five o’clock. Ten o’clock was two minutes away. He looked pretty damn pissed about it all. He had ordered the PC from a company in Texas. It came unassembled.
In the closet off Abbie’s living room were two old tattered threadbare yellow chairs facing each other. A solitary naked yellow light bulb hung from the ceiling of this closet. There was an astrological chart of some kind on the wall. It was turning brown around the edges. Next to the chart was a slanted white with black-lettered bumper sticker that read: Psychic Mama. It looked newer than the chart.
Abbie sat in one of the chairs and a forty-year-old college professor sat in the other. He was becoming a regular customer. He was again asking her advice on whether he should leave his wife for a twenty year old student who loved him more than-more than anyone had ever loved him before, more than life itself, she told him, more than anything, she just did.
“Uh-huh,” Abbie said. With her plastic white-rimmed sunglasses on, the man couldn’t see her watching Letterman through a slit in the curtain. Abbie had placed the TV just right in the living room. She could also see and hear Doc Garrelts occasionally cursing in the kitchen, where her new computer and a multitude of different screwdrivers, pliers, and such, were spread out on the kitchen table. The professor told the same story once again. With variations. This was twice now. Abbie planned to respond differently this time.
“I don’t know what happened really. She was in my class. She kept hanging on after class. We went out for a beer. She got too close. I kissed her. Just one long lingering delicious, salacious kiss and she had me, you know? She claimed she got my soul with that kiss; And then this gesture with this bottle. I think I could have gotten out of it except for that damn bottle. ”
Abbie knew this. He told her last time. He was again frazzled. He was again wired. He had no one else to talk to but a blind gypsy fortuneteller. Sad. No, funny.
Doc Garrelts finished off the shot of scotch, opened the refrigerator, took out a can of Schaeffer Lite, popped it open. He inserted something into a slot in the computer, gave it a hard slap, let out a curse. The professor continued talking.
“Then something else took over. All reason, reality, sensibility, morality. That one kiss, that bottle, flushed away my entire existence to that point. Wiped it all clean. Twenty years with the same woman. A daughter, my teaching job, my publications, sucked away by a cigarette-breathed twenty year old who, in the perfect quiet of an evening consultation of her 2nd experiential paper about losing her virginity, whispered ever so breathlessly into my ear, ‘I shave completely down there.’” The man almost collapsed as he tried to catch his breath.
Abbie stopped watching David Letterman, finally looked at the man. He hadn’t told her that part before. She saw his pain, his hysteria. Finally she spoke. She leaned a little towards him.
“You don’t need a psychic, Roger. You need a vacation. Go somewhere. We hit forty its like we’ve been running as fast as we can up this steep incline. Now you’re pausing, finally catching your breath, for that hopefully slower decline towards death. Sometimes at forty suicide is right there or you’re fat and tired. But look at you. You’re in the best shape you’ve ever been in. You’re as smart as you’ve ever been. As handsome as you’ve ever been. Those little touches of gray over your ears, that forty-year-old warmth emanating from those rather beady but intense black eyes. Think about it. The guys her age have pimples on their faces. They stutter, talk too fast, don’t know shit about anything. They just want to get drunk, get laid, and get home. They don’t pause to appreciate the youthful smell of a twenty-year-old girl. It smells like them! They don’t take in deep breaths of shampoo that smells like cunt and candy all at the same time. No. Those boys are more intrigued by the smell of alcohol and pot. They can get young pussy anytime they want.” Roger was staring down at his feet, his shoulders getting heavier and heavier. Abbie was shaking her head. She continued.
“And she’s intelligent, right? Ha. It’s always us smart women that get fucked by older men in our youth. There’s always that one older man who sneakily reaches inside us and rips all idealism, all concepts of love and romance and eternal commitment right out of us through our fresh, clean, unspoiled, birthing chamber.
“Who tells us everything we want to hear. Who actually talks to us, right? And what the hell do we have to say at twenty goddamn years old anyway? You should be ashamed of yourself, Roger. You’re at the pinnacle of your existence. Half way to Heaven or half way to Hell. Ha. After this one you have an inkling which direction you’re heading in, right? And now you’ve tripped. All that hard work, all that quest to get where you are, if you really are anywhere actually, is all being threatened by,” Abbie paused for dramatic affect. “A shaved pussy.”
The professor fumbled inside his shirt pocket for his twenty-dollar bill. But Abbie wasn’t done yet. She leaned even closer to him and slowly, with deliberate, almost sensual drama, eased her white-rimmed sunglasses up just above her forehead. It was the first time the man had ever seen her eyes. They were beautiful eyes. Familiar eyes. And he thought she was blind.
Abbie’s eyes were these enormous, close-set, dark eyes that sent an odd, psychic shockwave all the way to the tips of his toes and back. The closet grew unbearably warm suddenly. With her pale painted skin and large, thick, rosebud shaped lips, and those eyes, Abbie didn’t look anything like she had looked before. Then it hit him. Abbie was Darla now. Only younger. Eleven maybe. Then eighteen. Then she began to age even more, faster. The closet light dimmed, a cold breeze came from somewhere suddenly, replacing the stifling heat. Crow’s feet sprung flower-like from the corners of her eyes, then her mouth, as her smile slowly turned powdery and lifeless. She turned to dust, translucent finally. She was death. Abbie spoke and it was Darla’s voice.
“You’ll never see me like this,” the voice said, and the voice, hollow, haunting, and familiar, sounded as distant as the deep end of a pool.
The room went completely black. Click. The light bulb came back on.
Abbie stuck out her palm. “My tip?”
Roger dug into his wallet for two extra bucks and left.
New York. New York. Harry rubbed his eyes. He was heading back to the Midwest. He might even miss New York. Everything and everyone was packed tightly together here in this part of New York. Old, old New York. Old streets, broken concrete, tired people compressed together with age and history, moving around askance, horns blaring, old dirty doorways, crumbling edges. Harry lit a cigarette, leaned against a light post, thinking, thinking, thinking about where he was going and how he was going to get there and if he could do what they wanted him to and no, he couldn’t do what they wanted him to do. That’s why he called his brother, Bernard. Yes, he had called Bernard and later in the day he would meet his brother at the Champaign County airport and they would find a pawnshop in Champaign, Illinois so they could buy a gun they could use and then dispose of. Because Harry wasn’t a hit man. Bernard could kill somebody but not Harry. Harry tossed his cigarette down and walked into a tiny grocery store that was packed into a space no bigger than a large closet. An Indian couple that refused to ever say a word stood behind the counter. Harry grabbed a loaf of bread and had an epiphany. People in New York had to be creative with their space. Eighteen years removed from Muncie, Indiana and he never realized this. Here was a little space in the wall for two types of bread- wheat and white. Hanging next to this space was a drop-down package of Alka-Seltzer and next to that was a jar of peanut butter. Next to that was a bag of sugar. Concise, orderly, and packed into tight little spaces. He grabbed a loaf of white bread and remembered what he saw in St. Louis the last time he was there. Outside of that huge paper clip stuck in the ground they called the Arch, he saw rows and rows of different breads in the biggest goddamn grocery store he had ever seen. Fine-grain, multi-grain, five different rows of wheat breads. Generic, designer, odd-shaped, traditionally shaped wheat breads. Rows and rows of it. For miles.
And every different kind of peanut butter. Even one kind of peanut butter that had jelly lacing through it. Goober something. No Goober something here. Harry looked at the Indian couple. They were short and old and tense. They would like more space. They longed to run jumping and leaping, laughing down a bread aisle as long as a city block, stocking the aisle with every fucking kind of bread imaginable, tossing loaves back and forth; in total bread delight.
Harry stared at them a little too long. The Indian couple got anxious. They knew him.
“It’s all right,” Harry said, grabbing a loaf of white bread, a jar of the one kind of peanut butter. He opened the glass door carefully so as not to knock into the well-managed space of stacked bananas. He knew they wouldn’t say anything back to him. They were too busy worrying about finding some space for something else. He continued to talk to them anyway.
“I have a job. I’m not out of work. I gotta go to this wide open space in the Midwest somewhere. I just got the map in the mail!” Harry said. Harry was a private detective. He was fifty-two. His wife had just left him. He lived in a small space across the street. His wife lived in a larger space up town. He had to pay for both. It pissed him off.
Harry got a call from the government. Somebody was planning to kill the President, the call said. Harry let out a laugh and this startled the Indian couple.
There was always somebody planning to kill the President. It went with the job. The old bastard had already been plugged once. But not where Harry was going. No, they didn’t take it seriously enough to send out any real government folks to the wide-open spaces. They gave Harry a call: An aging but semi-dependable private detective. But that was okay. Harry was tired.
Off he would go to sit around and listen and collect his money. He would sit in a diner five times as big as this space. The waitress, who had room to grow large breasts and wide hips, would take five minutes to get from one customer to the next with a coffee refill. Outside the dust would have room to blow across an empty expanse of space. There would be a solitary building in the distance. A solitary dog would bark. Yes. Harry would go home with this waitress who liked old, thick-waisted, crusty men who smelled of smoke and cheap deodorant, and driving as fast as her big old Buick would go, it would take her two glorious hours to get to her space; a trailer with a bathroom bigger than this grocery. Harry blinked. In this bathroom as he pissed after pretty good sex with this corn-fed beauty this Indian couple would be standing in the shower, one holding a loaf of bread, the other a jar of peanut butter. They would be smiling finally.
Harry tried to blink this away. Harry let the door shut. He was going to the Midwest and he was almost late for his plane.
Her doctor was younger than her. Helen McFadden thought she was at that age where she found more people than she cared to find younger than her. She sat on crinkly white paper on top of a doctor’s office examining table. She was fully dressed now and waiting for the doctor to talk to her. Oddly enough she wasn’t frightened. An anomalous sort of determination had taken over her at the moment. The likelihood that she had cancer had added an odd, exciting dimension to her life suddenly. The doctor walked in.
Odd. She looked at the young doctor’s precision-cut, prematurely gray hair, his graceful thin hands, the round sparkling new oyster-shell spectacles he wore. He was handsome in a sterile Doctor easy road to the top kind of way. As he organized his response to her Helen wondered what he thought of her body, only ten pounds heavier than her high school days but oh how the distribution of that weight had shifted and changed as she aged.
As the doctor told her she might need a series of treatments at a minimum, Helen glanced at her legs crossed and poking out of a jean mini-skirt she had thought she was too old to be wearing but wore anyway.
But she still had damn nice legs. She let out a strange, spontaneous belly laugh. The doctor stopped talking and looked at this woman he was about to give rather bad news to.
Helen just smiled and continued to listen to the initial diagnosis.
The last Native American tribe to be granted citizenship was the Kickapoo. In 1983, after three hundred years of living up to their name: He who moves about. Here. Now there, and going from the Great Lakes region, relinquishing their 2/3 ownership of the State of Illinois, through Oklahoma, Missouri, and then on into Texas and straddling the Mexican border in desperate attempts at every stop to avoid acculturation, the Kickapoo finally were granted, with a signed proclamation by President Ronald Reagan, United States of America citizenship.
The Kickapoo held out longer than any other tribe. And Congress almost didn’t pass it. The proclamation was debated for forty minutes by a Democratic Legislator from Illinois who worried that granting the Kickapoo citizenship would stress the already perilous national food stamp program (History would show twenty-seven Kickapoo families in fifteen years applied for national food stamps).
After forty minutes of nonsensical debate someone finally nudged this democrat. The nudger could have talked about how utterly sad, in 1983, there was still an indigenous Native American tribe without citizenship, or she could have ridiculed this politician simply for being an idiot, but she was a smart politician in her own right.
Instead she pointed to her gold Pulsar watch with the four diamond studs on the band and said, “It’s almost lunchtime, Bill.”
Bill shut up.
So, in 1983, the Kickapoo tribe, now reduced to under 800 tribal members, was granted citizenship in the year of our Lord, September 11th, 1983.
God Bless America.
From Sea to Shining Sea.
And when Darla, who was reading a book as she sat outside the Kickapoo shanty she lived in there in the Texas desert, in 1983, first found out about this, she started running. She ran as swift and quiet as a ghost. She ran barefoot back in 1983 through hot burning sand, stepping on scorpion shit and sharp rocks. She ran to try to escape. Tried to escape the fact that her people had finally conceded. It was over now. There was nowhere else to move to. While the spirit of the Native had died for the majority in 1890 there at Wounded Knee, the last vestiges of the Kickapoo tribe, who still practiced the ghost dance, and sipped Peyote tea, it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan added the Kickapoo Nation to the United States of America that another piece of the great Native heritage died, Darla believed.
Darla ran through those Urbana woods in that same frame of mind as she ran back then. She ran through the woods and tried to run away from the fact that her enemy, the last great enemy she would ever face, she believed, was now dying of cancer.
She stopped, breathless, on the edge of the woods. An endless field of tall intensely green rows of corn sprouted from onyx-colored rows of perfect soil and seemed to stretch on for miles.
Darla sniffed and the horrid smell of artificial fertilizer burned acidic and foul deep into her nose and throat and on down into her lungs. There wasn’t a single weed amongst these perfectly-engineered, slim and trim cornstalks, just huge ears of corn cocked and ready for firing protruding on all sides of them.
Darla fully expected to see hob-nailed boots on each and every cornstalk.
She closed her eyes. At first, all she could hear and feel was the thudding of her pacemaker.
“Not fair,” she uttered. Not fair that her worst enemy might die before she could defeat her.
Darla opened her eyes. Then she heard Jacob, after he had stumbled badly in the woods, and unable to right himself, got clothes lined on a low-hanging grape vine.
He eventually landed square on his ass and flat on his back, cursing.
closed her eyes again.
How To Apply Clown Makeup
He lit another Pall Mall and, per the instructions, waited exactly one minute before applying the Clown White to the white areas outlined on his face. Then he waited another sixty seconds. He let out another rip. He had had Mexican for lunch.
Iam scratched his ass, looked around the small bathroom in the small apartment he had in downtown Urbana over the Brass Rail Tavern. He had lived in the apartment for almost three years. He paid 175 dollars a month for this apartment.
The minute was up. He brushed off any excess powder.
Now he had to remove the white from the colored areas with a Q-tip and oil. He wanted to start off his creative writing class right. He wanted a frown on his first day.
Iam began to apply color to the colored areas outlined on his face with a make-up brush and then filled in some of the finer detail with a Pro-Liner.
Then he powdered his whole face. He had to wait another minute. He carefully took another drag off his cigarette. He needed a drink. He looked at his watch. It was too early in the day for a drink. Shit.
That minute was up and Iam brushed off the excess powder again. He started outlining the colored areas with a Pro-Liner pencil. He was outlining a frown.
Now if he really wanted to make his face brighter he could splash his face with cold water and gently, carefully pat it dry but fuck that. Instead he just powdered his face as before and then considered himself done.
He looked at his watch again. The underground clown manual said he should jack off a time or two to take the edge off but he would pass on that step today. He was running a little late for his mid afternoon daycare center party.
Iam smashed his cigarette out and left the bathroom.