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Edju - Staves 20 and 21


by RW Spryszak


20.

On the other side of the bridge the yellow man under the red umbrella sells buckets of grease. Somehow I have money to buy one. I must have forgotten which pocket it was in before. Or the haze that clouded my mind on the other side made me forget. I can't recall. But in any case I buy one.

I buy one and I sit beside a woman with short dark hair and a severe mouth. She is stunning and beautiful and stern and lithe. I can tell from the first moment she hates me, or the smell of my bucket of grease. Or maybe she is jealous of Alice. I imagine that her name is Assyria. She moves away and sits under a tree that is lit by a harsh light from a bulb I cannot see. I think she mumbles something.

If I had the energy I would explain that I have been a responsible person. That I offer women the equality they seek. That I do not use plastic or paper towels. I wash my own dishes and cups. But what good would it do? She has hard brown shoes that tie. Smaller versions of the kind a man would wear at an informal gallery. And white socks like a man. She is so beautiful.

I eat from the bucket with my fingers. Alice sighing beside me on the curb. The buildings behind me, across the sidewalk, are trim and well kept. Though I have never seen them before they are familiar. Familiar as I am back on my side of the river. Never before this did I realize the great differences between that side and this. It had always been the same city to me before. Now… I doubt I will ever think of my city the same. It is a frightening world over there. Here it is only expensive.

Children holding their father's hands walk down the sidewalk. Returning from the game. Life is normal here. My meal tastes like good meat but fools me. There is no meat in it at all. But it is what we like and I am so hungry.

There are cars honking at each other up toward the intersection. A hundred lit windows spot the sky like sperm diamonds. Funny, a passer-by says, how the river doesn't stink as much in this part of the city. I swallow and lick the glorious savory from my fingers. Perhaps, I tell my fingers, it is because there are no remnants here. There are no young men in uniforms rubbing themselves on worn stones. No mass meetings. No shouting, angry little men contorting themselves in front of the beasts in the crowd. The killers to be. The wild eyed youths, smug in their strength. Maybe that's why the river doesn't stink here. They are not here to pollute it. And there is no ticket booth on this side. Only a little yellow man beneath a red umbrella selling buckets of gray and brown grease. Like the color of Alice's sack, depending on how the sun hits it.

When I finish, I set the bucket down inside a convenient wire trash barrel. There is one on every corner and there are asters and coneflowers beneath every coiffed tree. The woman with the shoes is long gone. I will never know her name. I lift my sack to my shoulder. I turn my back on the seven evil winds that once plagued me across that river, and make my way home. Amid the crowd returning from the game. People sitting on the steps in front of their flats taking in the fresh summer night air. Through a window someone laughs. The small front yards are all in order. There is not so much as a wayward scrap of paper blowing across my path. The houses are not black with soot. There are children. There is music. Conversation. There is a tap on my shoulder. 

 

21.

The kind looking little gentleman in the gray tweed hat. A gray tweed hat and a little red bow tie. A little tie on a little man wearing a red hat. A tweed tie. He changes before my eyes. and he's smiling. He means no harm. Or the smile is a disguise for the murder he is about to commit. I finger my gun. Ready to blow his little head out from under his red gray hat.

He points out to me in a feeble, tremulous voice a pertinent fact. It's an important thing to know. Something I must know before I go any further. Before I take another step. It could all be over if I don't. He points out that there is an arm poking out of the sack. Oh Mister, sir mister, he trilled, there's an arm coming out of your bag.

It was true. Alice's arm found or created  a weak spot in the fabric. Somehow it was unwound. Wet and weakened. In any case, by whatever means, it was wide enough for her gray, withered arm to poke out. Her hand pointing East.

Mister, oh sir. I think your body is trying to escape your bag. He tipped his hat.

I thank you, said I. And ran into a narrow gangway between two close houses. Until that moment I never thought I looked strange this way. Bag with a clumsy body stuck inside. Walking around in the dark with it over my shoulder, bouncing against my back as I walked. The things you do are never embarrassing when no one sees them. It's only when you get caught in the act. To see yourself with the eyes of someone else.

I ran from him down that gangway. And he was old. And kind. And must have seen all the million possible things that could go on in the world. Nothing surprised him. Nothing took him aback. he tipped his hat and disappeared. He disappeared so as not to embarrass me further. Because he knew how it was. There were things he'd been hiding for decades too. Making no judgment of me was an act of a wise man. An older man. The kind children throw snowballs at and he turns like Frankenstein's monster. waving his helpless hands in front of his face. And the children laugh and flee. He knew better. He sensed by discomfort. He made no issue out of it. Just, mister oh sir, you've an arm sticking out of your bag. And good day to you, sir. I'll be going now. Tip my hat. Pleasant dreams. Disappear.

I put the sack down on the cold concrete walk between the long buildings with the idea of re-positioning her. But I flew into a paralysis. The prospect never presented itself to me before. I never had the occasion to open the sack before this. The last time it was open was when I loaded her into it. When I lifted her from the pavement that night in the rain, dead. Killed. The night I found her. She was still beautiful as I remembered. Older than when last I saw her, we are all older now. But still toxic. As toxic as she was when we were children together in the golden age of heroes. When I put her in the sack there was still a luster about her. A sheen. A glow. As brutalized as she was. Her green eyes staring out at the garbage cans in the alley. I remembered that night. There was thunder and beer. Paper in the wet wind. Someone walking. Little gravels under their soles. The clock and click of hard heels. Uncomfortable shoes. The way her body felt in my hands. Still soft. Just warm. Thin and lithe like a gazelle.

It was an understandable impulse. The lowlifes do things to dead women they find in the street. Horrible things. Disgusting things. I couldn't let her go through that. I still had feelings for her, all these winding years later.

Things decay, I told myself in the gangway, staring at her thin warped arm. I accept this. I put her in this bag for good reasons. No one can blame me for that. Inside. She is inside. Inside this bag. Trying to get out from inside. Her golden hair. Her green eyes. Green yes with silver diamonds exploding in symmetrical patterns near the black centers. I opened the bag. I pulled the drawstring free and opened the bag. We mustn't have your poor arm exposed to the weather, I explained. I was trying to be gentle. The moment I pulled the tied rim of the sack open, her face stared straight up through the mist. The eyes were open. Not green anymore. All black. Black as the worst night of your life. Dark and open. Gaping. Hypnotic. They pulled me in. I reached in and held her head and stared into her dead eyes. She was so beautiful still. But gray. Her maize colored hair matted and dry. And the black eyes.

There were pictures inside. Things just visible. If I strained. If I squinted and stared inside her head. Moving pictures in her head in miniature. Full color pictures. Things I hadn't seen in ages. The night we sat in the basement. The time we walked down the street. I was in those pictures, playing deep in the black holes that used to be her emerald eyes. Sitting in her parlor. Seeing her cry when I broke into her soul and ransacked that hopeful terrain into the stain of the Visigoths. I saw her running to the first open arms. A beer drinking fascist. Just like the scarecrow in my rooms. The night they brought him there, running from the law. Changing cars. When she cried she ran to the scarecrow.

I had him in my hands. On my furniture. In my rooms. I could have killed him then. I should have. Or I should have killed him thirty years before. When we were children. Then none of this would have happened.

I let her head go. It fell back and bent at the neck. Grotesque. No neck bones left. All disconnected. A doll's head. A doll's head with no sinew or string holding it upright. Folded like an elbow, neck sticking into the air. I thought I heard a bone crack. Her eyes closed.

I reached in and tucked her arm back inside the sack. Set it so that it rested against the weight of her body and would not come loose again. The drawstring tightened again, I looked out to the street. No one there. So I put the sack over my shoulder and ran out of the gangway.

Running. Running like a miserable thief. Running so no one would see. Or if they saw they would say I'm running and too busy to talk to. I did not see the cars. I looked into no faces. The path before me was a narrow lane. I knew my way back from here. Running past the dark storefronts. Under the dripping viaducts. And, just as it began to rain, up the stairs two at a time to my door.

Inside and safe. I returned Alice to her favorite spot by the front window. I should rest. I should have said, my mission completed, I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have her home again. I should be happy. Or at least contented. 

But I wasn't.

I have a dead body in a sack inside my rooms and the whole place smells like sour melons. For the first time since I found her dead on the street I realized the truth. All this was, everything I granted to her power, meant nothing.

There was a dead body in a burlap sack by the radiator under my front window. The smell of rotten fruit. The buzzing of unsatisfied flies. Vermin scratching at the woodwork in all corners. A Nagant M1895 in my belt. For a brief moment I could not remember why. And neither the imperative of memory or the persistence of habit could save me.

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