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Edju - 27 and 28


by RW Spryszak


27.

When the man said he was a lawyer from Beijing I knew he was lying. He didn't know the way. I left him standing near the bowling pins on the green that day.

I pulled the sack with all my simple possessions behind me. Meanwhile the sack containing Alice was slung across my shoulders like a dead deer. Alice was a deer I just killed. She played her part well. A deer with a steel helmet shaped like something from a dream men had of Mars when the Panama Canal was not yet built. A gaudy helmet with arrow wings so that no one would bother us.

I stopped in a simple diner to have coffee and prosciutto for no clear reason. Sitting at the counter with Alice across the top of my shoulders like a dead deer seemed to earn me some respect. People looked at me as if I were somebody. A face they'd seen on TV. Someone they met at a party once. I once thought my trek to find this little country church would be terrible. The idea of the state changing my job, where I live, everything. Then not telling me how to get to St. Bibiana. It is an outrage. But somehow I looked at the horizons all around me and felt the fresh wind and ate an apple and everything was fine. It was a great adventure.

Still, look what the wall rubbers have done to us. They'd come a long way, these boys from down at the stinking river. Now they were responsible men of order and they killed all their enemies. And I sat at the counter ordering an extra piece of pie and everyone watched me. All because of them. They changed the world and the minds in it.

They've given me a job. A place in the line. A bowl in the hand. I have a greater project now. A soldier of the realm in my own right, whether the pie was rhubarb or not. Couples sitting in booths hid their dogs from me. The old regulars slurping coffee were stony quiet.

When I finished I dipped my napkin in my glass of water and started cleaning my plate. Nonchalant like. As if this is what I always do. This is what I do. See me do it? I clean my things. A simple man. You should be this way. Everyone watched.

Tell me, I swaggered my head a little as I spoke and wiped. Tell me. Do you know where I may find the church of St. Bibiana? Confident my manner would garner a respectful reply, I dipped my napkin in my water glass and went on scrubbing. No one answered at first.

The idea came to me that the men at the little green tables did not look like much as I was standing in line. But I remembered that as they began barking orders we all obeyed. You will work as a barber. You will be a mason. It was a lesson learned. So I stood on the counter and raised my voice. Tell me where the church of St. Bibiana is. Now.

Just outside Farkeep sir, said a meek waitress.

Yes, just south of the Dune Road.

Farkeep is that little village in Chester County.

Yes sir. Go ten miles down this road and make a left at Route 17. When you see the intersection with Dune Road start looking for a white clap church on your left.

Yes. It will stick out of the weeds like anything. You can't miss it.

They blurted this out all at once. Like toothpaste coming out of a hard pressed tube. I returned to the floor and lit a cigarette. I did not say thank you. My method was flawless like water. All it took was to raise my voice.

You see the times we were living in.

 

28.

The rings that once spun on a clean mahogany table sang as they twirled. It was a memory I couldn't erase. Everyone back in the diner was glad to see me go. They hated me. There was a time this kind of thing mattered to me. It didn't anymore. I moved on.

Those people don't know what they're talking about, an old woman told me by the water spigot. The pipe stuck out of the wooden sidewalk and wasn't connected to anything. It was just a pipe in the middle of a walkway. I  couldn't help but wonder where the water came from. She bent over and twisted her mouth toward the sky to drink from it. 

Presumably you are drinking ground water, I asked.

Yes of course, she told me, dipping and swallowing after every fourth word. But all ground is dirt. And dirt is the result of total decay and decomposition. Isn't that right?  That all makes the quality of this water questionable, doesn't it? So next is you wondering why I keep drinking it.

I think I nodded. Three or four times. I think that was a good choice.

She stopped drinking long enough to point to a road overgrown with weeds. That's the road to the church you want.

I'm to go down here for several miles, I began. 

But she waved me off and put her head under the spigot again, turning her face up with an open mouth to take in more water. The water was a browning yellow. The color of filth. Her mouth, toothless, caressed the water with her hard, ugly lips. Up straight again, she wiped her mouth with her sleeve and started to scream at me. Do what you want. What are you asking my opinion for if you're just going to ignore it. The church you seek they made for the patron saint of headaches. Do you think it's going to be some pleasant, white clapboard country house with tulips and fat women?  

Her screaming attracted the soldiers. My impulse was to run. But I bit into my last biscuit instead and chatted with the sergeant at arms as she unwound string from her finger. 

Perhaps her advice was reasonable. This I could not tell. But the string she was unwinding seemed to have no end. So it occurred to me she must be right about that road. My fear of drawing the attention of the soldiers was all for nothing. One look at my orders and they slapped my back. They treated me as if I were one of them. A fellow traveler. A brother doing his bit for the realm. Part of the new way. 

They spoke of dialectics and angora. One wanted to show me his rifle. I made believe I understood them, for it came to me that if they realized I was a phony they might arrest me. I nodded at the mention of the Scarecrow. Yes, he is a great man. The only hope of the country. Brilliant. And his choice of cologne is impeccable. Yes.

At some point I became aware of a thick blue cloud that stunk of sulfur and hazelnuts.  The old woman had twirled like a dervish and kicked up the dust. Then, with a snap of her fingers, disappeared in a cloud of blue smoke. 

I hate when she does that, the youngest soldier said.

Well, I tried to smile as I hitched up my sacks. I have to get going. New World Order and all.

Yes, yes of course. Good work my man. There's a champion fellow. They saluted and waved as I made my way through the weeds growing straight out of the broken concrete. This was the road she sent me on. Why I took it, instead of the advice from everyone in the diner, I will never know.

The afternoon was a swelter of hornets and the beer was too warm to drink. I could smell the melanoma growing on my shoulders. This always bothered me, ever since I was a boy collecting bottles to sell at the fair. But so far nothing had killed me, so I never thought too long about it. There were pretty purple flowers on the roadside and somewhere far off the sound of workmen.

I was a boy, lost in the confines of suburban dry heat. Fruitless and scared. I cried as loud as I could Mister Oh Mister. Please help me. Mister. Help. The men kept hammering and tried to ignore me But I kept screaming at the top of my powers. I did this until one came down and gave me water. he gave me water. And I would be forever grateful. I wondered if it came from the spigot, just then. I hate passing memories of childhood where I did something stupid. 

But now the workmen built something else. Something much different than a house. they were mixing cement and lugging squared stone. This was the rebuilding of the maze. The Ancient Walls. The glory of our past. The Scarecrow had kept his promise. Now that he'd crushed the opposition the only fighting was deep in the lost countryside. Scattered groups shooting at tax collectors in zebra pants. Nothing to trouble over. Mop up all that remained. They set to work on the walls of the Maze again.

Everywhere I went from that moment on, regardless of the fields and farms I passed, you could see them. If they weren't building it they were surveying the ground or trying to find the old foundations. Archeology from the mouths of seven international experts. They headed the project. Hidden cameras kept everyone on task - though we didn't know it at that time. My eyes grew heavy thinking about it. But soon enough I saw a structure that was as miserable as the old woman suggested.

No church named for the patron of disgusting pain would ever be white clapboard and ladies who made pie. No apple cakes. No happy canines ripping squirrels apart in the shade of the blossoming spring trees. No.

The church of St. Bibiana was like nothing I had ever seen before. I would sigh and say - home - in the lingering, longing voice of a hungry child. But it was not that kind of place. 

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