Saturday, July 07, 2007

From: The Soundcheck & The Fury

The Brittle Hymn

This is my blog. This is my blog on the Fourth of July. This is a short story about America, set in Kentucky in the long ago.

The soldier was three days gone from the war when he came upon the small river. Pleasant Means was his name. He was spent and weary with bones pleading and his uniform hung dank and muddy from him like some other self. He thought he might see them both in reflection on the small river, but shadows played hell upon the water with what little light of day remained.

Pleasant was a fresh twenty-one and not a fighting man. He was a poet, by nature if nothing else, and out of that poetic nature he sat and watched the water flow. The bend of the river, the crook of the thing. He had been deserting from the Southern side for those three days and some twenty miles and his bones were nearing some riotous brink. His feet were tombstones and he liked to have died but he hadn’t the vigor dying would demand.

It had rained through this day and the better part of the day before and so with each trudge through the woods his boots had picked up more mud and muck and he tried not to think too awfully hard about this in any symbolic way, the mud and muck and this other self dank and heavy upon him.

Pleasant couldn’t help but wonder if the war was coming home with him.

* * *

He rested at the river. His mind cleared and so was at clutter’s mercy. His mind drifted, as minds do. Hearts are heavy and this uniform is deadweight, Pleasant thought, but the mind is a weightless thing; it grows wings and goes to town.

He thought of home and the big river. He thought of a tavern, a taste of whiskey, a fiddle tune about the last flood or the next one. Mostly, he thought of a woman, her sad eyes looking out from under black hair, her salty mouth.

He thought of the folly of the moment, dropped to one knee, sank an inch, it may have been two. He thought the earth ought to just swallow him whole. Anyway, he wouldn’t be welcome at home as a deserter, a coward, a failure at the fine art of shooting strangers where they stood for what they wore, and the woman in question was otherwise engaged.

Can we please, he pleaded, get a little poetic justice here? But the earth wouldn’t have him, just soaked and muddied the knee of his dank, heavy grays.

He lowered his head, clasped his hands; he was in a handy position to pray if he had any praying to do. He closed his eyes and thought about that, gave it a good going-over in his mind, but in the end decided against waking Your Lord.

Pleasant Means was a poet, a heathen, a deserter, a coward, a mother’s son. His bones pleaded and his mind heard tell. He raised his head without opening his eyes, cried out without opening his mouth, heard a twig snap across the way but paid it no mind.

Pleasant was a drinker, a rounder, carouser, a little bit of a fiddle player. He was a weary traveler, something of a sage pilgrim, had an element of damn fool about him, too. He was a man out of time; early or late, he did not know which.

He opened his eyes to the river and the river moved on him. The river was a cracked whip. It was vengeance stretched taut and then gone slack.

He whiled away the day watching it. He aged a decade, became a small child. He blinked and became an old man looking back with aged wisdom too late in coming, a voice to faint to heed. Time was scattered, history strewn. America was a book held by its spine and shook; words leapt from the pages and fell as proclamations and rallying cries, sermons and psalms.

He blinked again and then sat for the longest thinking nothing whatsoever, but the sheer bulk of all that nothingness was too much for him and so he set it aside. He pondered madness and peace of mind and wondered were there three silver coins of difference between the two.

He sighed and it settled him. Time fell in line. Time took to its paces. Time marched like a good soldier. It was dusk, and now came another snap of twig and a crack of knuckles, and from across that small river came a voice.

“Well, if it ain’t my little brother, deserting from the Southern side.”

Jacob Means wore a bemused frown that didn’t clash all that much with his soldier’s blues.

Pleasant raised his head ever so slightly. He nodded. “How you, big brother?” he said.

“Been getting by,” Jacob said. “And you?”

“Just about barely.”

Family pleasantries thus exchanged, gun barrels were raised and aimed.

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