“…for the Fall of Charleston is the fall of Satan’s Kingdom.”
– Asst. Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox to Admiral Samuel F. DuPont, June 3, 1862
SOLITARY UNIVERSE I:
THE SUI GENERIS
July 5th, 1876 Arizona Territory
Old age has made me idle. I’d much rather spend my twilight reading and painting. Books by Dickens. Marx. Voltaire. Painting the desert landscape. The flora. The fauna. Brushstrokes capturing flocks of white herons descending on bronze rivers. Sketchbooks filled with eolian-shaped red cliffs rising and falling in dizzying panoramas. Anatomical studies of coyote and perspective exercises of canyons descending into cavernous nooks.
That is where my heart is.
It is no longer the blood-soaked cotton fields, or that long shadow of Lincoln that defines me. Those days caught in the infinite loop of Milton’s Paradise Lost, where we the south were cast in the role of Satan and his fallen angels, are gone. I have spent enough of my life hollowing out the living with bullet or blade. So when the page or brush transfixes me, I am prone to putting off the hunt.
I am not a pacifist by any means; in my life violence has been the currency that paid for my freedom to walk this earth in peace, to dream, and to create in solitude. Art for me is not an escape, but the exaltation of all that I am.
Art is the gold separated from the ore of my life, the oil in the lamp exhumed from the carcass of the harpooned whale.
So here I am sweat soaked, hungry, and tired, lumbering back to camp with my haul: two cottontail rabbits and an old, dumpish javelina that I imagine I will make a stew from. The sun dominates all things; the sky is a tempest of light and not the cool, star-spattered night-sky that I prefer to hunt under. My sweat chronicles the sun’s movement and the passage of day. I lift my bowler hat and wipe my leathered-brow. My hair has become a hydra of greying thickets; old age has made calligraphy of my veins. The only thing that remains from those civil war days is the compass I wear around my neck. It’s made from the skeleton trigger-finger of the fellow confederate who killed my friend for deserting. From the distance it looks like a small flute pipe, worn smooth and white as a seashell. I attached a magnetic arrow to the tip and it’s guided my travels ever since.
I find my white mule Ishmael gnawing bolts of shrubbery under the shade of a eucalyptus tree. He turns his head to acknowledge me then returns to eating. Upon securing the rabbits to the pannier I notice something strange about the javelina. Separate from the bullet wounds, are rows of deep tick-gorged lacerations. In the late-morning light the javelina looks like a seed-swollen blood orange and stinks of infection. I rub my fingers down this arachnid-braille, wipe the blood on my bandana, and sigh. I am too old to risk getting sick, and besides nothing compares to the hunger of my youth.
Out there on the battlefield, an emaciated wraith in confederate grey with a dull bayonet stacking ziggurats of bodies. Going days without a meal. Frozen. Feverish. With blood rivers flowing beneath a carrion sky. I can make do with two rabbits and leave the javelina beneath the eucalyptus. I look down at its diseased body, it’s got one lazy eye, and a droop to its lip, and I realize how incredibly goofy it looks framed in deaths-photograph and I begin to laugh. Ishmael looks over at me quizzically.
I mount up and make my way back to the camp. Though nearly as stubborn as I am, Ishmael is a good animal. We’ve traveled a long way together. From the Indian Wars to my days hunched over sun-painted creek beds making my fortune as a gold prospector, we’ve had a good journey. I purchased him at a market in Philadelphia the same day I came across a copy of Herman Melville’s The Whale. That’s how I mark time. By the books read and not by the ticking of the clock or the turning of the calendar. Together we ride; quiet and steady down the path between braids of mesquite trees. My mind drifts away from memory to the physical world.
SOLITARY UNIVERSE II:
A PORTRAIT OF A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER AS AN OLD ARTIST
It’s a peaceful return to camp. A warm breeze flows across a landscape of ornate cactus laced with sunlight. Anthropomorphic clouds drift. The camp is in a secluded place at the bottom of a ravine where tiny waterfalls lead to a shallow shaded pool that Ishmael drinks from. The colossal rock formations provide cover from wind and outsiders. It isn’t much. Just a hammock stretched between two palo verde trees. A fire pit. The carriage I use to haul supplies from town. Built into the front of the carriage, where I sit and guide Ishmael, is a music stand that holds whatever book I am reading when the journey is long. Adjacent to it, two easels circled by various sizes of canvases make the camp look like Stonehenge. A cloth tarp hangs like a canopy above the drying oil paintings. Nearly a dozen of them are of the same Datura plant. The moonflower. The angel’s trumpets. Capturing its haunting vespertine bloom with brush has been an elusive process. I imagine I can work at it the remainder of my days and still not be satisfied.
Turning from the paintings I start a fire in the pit and commence to skinning the rabbits.
I can happily go months without speaking to a person. It’s how I prefer it. I stomp around my camp doing inventory as the rabbits cook and Ishmael naps in the shade. I’ve thinned my oil paints and coffee to phantoms and filled every empty space of paper with lines. My books have been reread till their pages have fallen out. My toes have worn exits in all of my socks and the needle has nothing left to repair. I forage through the carriage and find nothing. Not one tube of color. I can make do with what the desert provides for food, but the lack of paint, and coffee, and new books is what bothers me. There is no other option than to pack up and head into town. I turn the rabbits over and as they finish cooking I move the wet paintings and the majority of my books into a cave for safe keeping, and pack the carriage for the trip. I set a few books aside for the journey. Darwin’s Origin of Species, Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, and some books on dendrology, and astronomy with maps of the constellations. They each have a way of tempering my spirit on rainy days stuck in some saloon, awaiting an order at the general store to be filled surrounded by the endless nattering of town drunks. The subject of dendrology and in particular the giant redwoods of the Pacific coast especially fascinate me.
Why bother with imaginary gods when the true giants live amongst us in the ocean and rise from the earth in towering bursts of emerald foliage? No one has ever found the bones of Zeus, but I have stood before the skeleton of the great blue whale as the waves of the ancient Atlantic rolled across it.
* * *
I eat and clean up, and day passes into night and I prepare the evening fire. I listen to the coyotes howl and enjoy my final moments of comfort before the trip, cleaning my guns and rereading stories from Charles Dickens’s weekly journal, All the Year Round.
As the fire dies, I turn the last weathered page of Great Expectations and look out into the dark landscape. I light a cigarette and inhale. My thoughts scroll. Dickens has a way of making me see my connection to the greater social structure beyond being an abstraction in the wilderness. With knife I narrow the wood concealing that last fleck of lead from a pencil stump, exhale and transcribe in the blank gutter between journal sections.
Somewhere out there tired men sleep, their muscles warped from work, and with dawn’s rise, they will stitch the earth with rails of steel and westward fields of steam. As the rails continue to vine and unify the land, poleaxed tribes of natives will grow thinner in the future and disintegrate into dust. And tomorrow before the sun rises I will ride back into this civilization, back into the town of Golgotha.
July 6th, 1876
Outside of Golgotha, Arizona
As we approach town, the sun is cresting overhead and I feel an almost coffin-like pressure enveloping me. I pause to get my bearings before we go any further. The goliath Saguaros stand sentry. Birds of prey are perched on distant trees enjoying emancipation from the fevered heat of flight. It’s nearing monsoon season and the atmosphere feels dense. My skin sizzles. Sweat crackles out. There’s a slight throb in my head, a dull ache that I am not sure is from dehydration or the anticipation of being in a crowd of people. My fingers glide across my skull, thrumming the surface of an old wound. I chug water from the canteen and proceed to roll a cigarette. Before me a rattlesnake scythes towards the shade.
I notice vast dust clouds sieging up on the horizon and expanding from the edges of the town out into the desert. I light the cigarette and inhale softly. I meditate on the richness of the tobacco then exhale. For a moment it seems like a small haboob, a dust storm, is churning. But shrouded in the clouds are caravans of horse-drawn carriages exiting the town from all directions. I have never seen this much activity surrounding the place. I conceal the skeleton finger compass inside my shirt and steady forward.
THE BIRD’S EYES ARE LIKE SPIDERS EGGS
Entering the town is slow and tedious as we push against the near stagnant exiting traffic of carriages, firework stands, and gilly wagons filled with exotic animals. The dust streets are engraved with endless hoof and wagon wheel prints and stitched with animal shit. The whirl of activity is suffocating. In the center of the clog, two Chinese men are stooped by a broken wheel of a covered wagon as an older white man, their boss, yells at them.
Ishmael and I move slowly through the dense crowd like rainfall through smoke.
Before us, old crones with crucifixes haggle and part as we pass. They eye me and Ishmael with suspicion before shifting their gossip to the Chinese brothers.
To the superstitious locals, Ishmael is a strange, haunted creature; though not albino, the white mule is classed in the same hexed family. The black cat. The red-headed Negro. The albino. Witchcraft. Bad luck. And thus, to them I am like Death riding upon the pale horse.
I must confess that in previous visits I have resorted to playing up Ishmael’s hoodoo when wanting to be left alone, and go about my business in peace.
From the looks in the residents’ eyes I may not have to worry about that today. With so many out-of-towners, it seems, I am just one string in the tapestry of strange. I see familiar faces dispersed in the mass of bodies with the same tepid look they have for these outsiders they have for me. It’s hard to focus in this turbulence of voices and aberrant features. My chest tightens up as my breath grows shallow. In my panorama, vendors are yelling at each other and stray fireworks are cracking the sky; my body tenses in reflex from the explosions. I feel the old war awakening in me with every burst. Dung scented dust clouds dance and dense the lanes. Children with dirty faces and dumb eyes run past me.
I wrap the reigns around my hands until they are numb, grit my teeth, and press on.
Before I have a chance to ask what is going on I look up and see the answer. All around me red, white and blue banners are strung over stages, connecting buildings, and fluttering as flags from wagons. Families are screaming. Laughing. Half-chewed food spews out of their mouths like fungus. Tired banjo players strum warped notes. My head throbs. On the banners read Golgotha celebrates Americas Centennial 1776-1876. What wretched timing; even if I am at the tail end of it. All sense of time was lost in the wilderness. My attention slides from men scuttling about dismantling stages, taking down booths to a flicker of white between stomping hooves. In the traffic I see a white heron with a broken wing flap across the dusty ground unnoticed, its eyes like spiders eggs. I blink and it disappears beneath strikes of horse legs.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
Feeling sick, I navigate Ishmael through a hidden back-alley that connects to the loading areas of the general store and post office. It was designed to provide discretion for big order customers like traders, bootleggers, and gold prospectors like myself. Ismael’s hooves trip a string concealed in the dust and a bell at the top of the gate at the end of the alley rings. A slot slides open in the center of the gate and eyes peer at me through the hole. Then immediately clacks shut and I hear the gate creaking open. No need for a password. Ishmael is the correct symbol to the gatekeeper.
In the truest sense we are all just symbols whose meanings are malleable to their beholder. To those old hags with archaic capital punishment souvenirs dangling beneath their jowls, Ishmael and I are a symbol for death, and for dark magic. To Ernie “Big Poppa” Fontaine, the owner of the general store, ours is nothing so macabre. Ours is the alchemist’s symbol.
The gate closes behind us as we move into the shaded seclusion. I climb out of my seat, feeling dizzy, and as my feet hit the ground I stumble slightly, but catch myself before falling. I hear the cracking voice of the gatekeeper, Big Poppa Fontaine’s teenage son, Mitchell. “You okay Mr. Sullivan?” I steady myself and look up. He is gangly stalk of a boy. I start to say something about how he’s grown taller and to inquire about how his studies are going, but I have been silent in the desert to long and all that comes out is a muffled grunt that startles him before I muster, “I reckon so.”
I remove my satchel with the books, and give Mitch a few coins to keep an eye on the carriage and take care of Ishmael, then enter the backdoor of the general store. The dark is a relief, but does nothing to abate the sensory uneasiness I have been feeling since I entered the town.
Big Poppa Fontaine greets me with a big smile and extended arms. “Mr. Sullivan, so good to see you!” He is a towering monolith of man who is a good seven inches taller than my six feet. His hands and fingers are massive like a cultivar of brown plantains. His skin is dark and ruddy but rich. When he speaks, he has the deep thick rasp of a voice that I have after nights of no sleep and whiskey drinking. But his is filled with warmth. He pulls an account pad out of his dungarees. “So what shall we be helping you with today?”
I pull my list out and with my other hand motion that he won’t need the pad. I give him the list, and as he eyes it, I remove my belt pouch, and divvy out golden dust onto his scale. His eyes smile at the gold. “Well this is a big order, so be the usual few hours to get it filled. You parked out back?”
I nod my head. The routine is always the same.
“We will have your order loaded in the carriage and Ishmael fed and ready to go per your request. Oh, your books have arrived. Gilda, be a dear and bring them to Mr. Sullivan.”
His daughter pushes over a cart with the packages on it. She is the introspective type and not prone to idle chatter and that suits me fine. Big Poppa Fontaine wraps his arm around her and pulls her into his embrace. She has the empathetic eyes of someone who has spent her whole life sick. “She is doing wonderful with her singing lessons. The voice of an angel. Perhaps you will be back in town for the fall chorus concert?”
I mutter something he struggles to hear, and I look away to the books; it’s not that I wish to be rude, it’s just social interaction is not my avenue and makes me very anxious. Big Poppa Fontaine has already shifted his attention to the gold and I am left to examine my delivery. There are a good two dozen books of various sizes, separated into different stacks. Mostly science books I imagine. Each stack is wrapped in packing paper and bound with string. I remove a single wrapped book from the top and usher for Gilda to put the books in the carriage with my order when it’s filled. She says something, but the ringing in my head distorts her words. The voices of the other customers start off shrill but move through me in a warble. Everything feels dense and constricted as cold sweat trickles down my neck. I feel globular. A sloppy sort of vertigo. There is a pressure in my head like continents pulling apart. Far too many voices and the aisles are too narrow. I turn towards the clock on the wall. Perhaps a solid meal, a good bottle of whiskey and perusing this new book in the dark will set my constitution straight. I wave to Big Poppa Fontaine as he busies himself with my order and look for some open space to set myself right in. With wrapped book in hand I make my way into the less cramped post office that the general store is connected to by an open door. It makes purchasing and shipping an easier transaction. I stand there alone and feel peace as I cut the strings, and enjoy the anticipation of which book is concealed. I tear the paper back and the title reads Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau. I feel my heart steady a bit; my mind drifts from the ruckus to the thought of contemplative solitude. I have eagerly been trying to track this volume down. As I flip through the book I notice on my periphery a clerk with a furrowed look manning the telegraph. Each duh-duh-dah clanging sound feels like another root expanding in my skull. My thoughts are knotted with weeds. The operator looks as horrid as I feel. His large eyes, gaped mouth, and patina of sweat make him look like a greased salmon. I turn to see him checking the incoming message again before he rises up and the word begins to spread.
Lieutenant Colonel Custer and 261 members of his Seventh Cavalry were killed by Cheyenne and Lakota Warriors, on June 26th along the Little Big Horn River in the Montana Territory.
* * *
The change in the atmosphere is visceral and immediate. The word spreads from the post office into the general store. Whatever agitation I felt by the crowd of chipper holiday gatherers has augmented into full out sickness as the good mood shifts from shock to sadness and anger. I push towards the front entrance of the post office, hand sliding across the door frame, and tumble into the bright furious light, puking in the outside corner of the building.
I need a drink.
My head is a furnace of dark light. I push through the crowd; head slumped down, sweat beading in streaks. I hear voices, distorted as if they were made of melting wax, yelling at me as I knock through the tangle of torsos and limbs, burrowing to a clear spot away from the foot traffic. As I slump there, hands on knees, I hear the sweetest sound.
I turn to see the outline of a Mexican woman ennobled in the sunlight. Her soft copper hands extended out, the brown color of a doe reflected in a moonlit river. In them the copy of Walden I just purchased. I look up from the book’s logo and notice on each of her cheeks dark purple butterfly-shaped birthmarks. She’s beautiful. “You dropped this.” I reach shakily, grasp the book and she smiles. I tip my hat, but before I have a chance to give a proper thank-you she disappears in the current of farmers carrying crates of fruit above their heads.
A TERRESTIAL GHOST, AN EMBRYOTIC PEACE
I pivot into a side street and stumble towards a trough and dunk my head into its water. With my head immersed, and my hands clasped on the algae walls of the trough, I feel an almost embryotic peace. The sound of the outside world is distant and distorted like a whale’s song bouncing off of ocean walls,or an alien presence outside of the womb. Submerged, I open my eyes, and hear a familiar voice warping the liquid. I lift my head; water pouring down my wild, wind-thinned, ash colored locks, and see Sheriff Samuel West.
“If it isn’t Jimmy Sullivan, you old rascal!”
No one calls me Jimmy. Only he gets away with it. I rise up, with a tired grit in my eyes. His smile softens, his eyes lock on me. “Are you okay?”
I fling my wet hair back, dap my face with my bandana. “It’s just the heat. That’s all.”
He studies my words, but does not press the matter. He is good that way.
“So I imagine you know the news about Custer.” He picks my hat up from the ground and hands it to me.
Hair dripping, head swathed in sweat, with a dirty ache behind my eyes, I confirm I had. Sheriff Samuel West moves with the dramatic pomp of a stage actor playing the hero, but it’s completely sincere. As he turns a circuit before me he removes his Stetson out of respect for the dead.
“It’s a durn shame. A travesty.”
He looks like Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull.
“I am not one to beat around the bush, but I am also not too keen on pandering. This being the centennial and all, and the issues that are already propagated with the Indians outside of town, I reckon we have a right and proper problem on our hands with these crowds. I can’t have any native uprisings or retaliation killings on our part. I am a man of the peace and I aim to keep it that way.”
He pauses; his Mark Twain-esque mustache jiggles as he speaks.
“I know you have retired the gun since your service fighting the Comanche and the Apache, but I could use a gentleman of your gristle and expertise in these times.”
He is young, brazen, and a church-going Yankee. But he’s open minded for a Christian, and last winter he brought me medicine, and books to read when I was near death with fever. So yeah I would say he’s as good of a man as you are likely to find in these parts. I’ve logged many mistakes in this lifetime, my confederate youth aside; it was the days of blood-rain, and bones engraved with the screams of the Comanche Wars that scratch its way through me like gallstones. I’m done with that life. “You’ve done me many a right solid time after time, Sam, and I owe you a debt, but this battle is not a currency I have any worth to give. I am sorry, but it’s a no.”
“I figured that was the case. No harm in asking.” He smiles. “Also to put it out there, are you sure you wouldn’t want to come to church with Maybelline and I some Sunday?”
I tip my hat. He knows the answer.
And he tips his. “Till next time my friend.”
THE PARROT & THE SONG OF DEATH
I try to make my way to the bar but the flow of traffic goes stagnant again. Everyone is in a hurry to go somewhere but no one seems to know which way to go. At the center there is a series of boxcar carriages, the sort used in traveling circuses, and each one has scenes painted from the Bible on them. David killing Goliath. Jesus walking on water. With English and Portuguese scriptures scrawled beneath the images. A few of them are gilly wagons with exotic birds and I imagine animals from the Amazon. The glare of the sun reveals an under painting of the Brazilian flag beneath the American centennial star-spangled across their cages. The attention of the crowd is drawn towards a young one-legged Portuguese-accented teenager on stage, surrounded by Baptists, as he talks about how Jesus saved him. Each of the moth-eyed Baptists is holding a collection bucket.
As I look for a route through the crowd, my eyes lock onto one of the caged birds. I have seen illustrations of the breed but have never observed one up close. As I study the avian plumage I hear a voice behind me with a subtle southern twang.
“God’s creatures are beautiful.”
Startled I turn from the parrot and bump into the man. It’s the pastor.
He’s a short, sun-browned White man, with a bloat to his features. His hair is cropped short and freshly white. He is clean-shaven and has the air of money. Yet, despite the plumpness there’s nothing soft about him. He has the jaw and rigid posture of a soldier.
He extends his hand. “I am Pastor Paul Auster.”
I feel cold, the name shivers through me like Artic-spiders spinning ice webs through my veins. I’ve gone through many names in my journey. Paul Auster was my birth name that I left behind after we lost the war. I’ve had three names. Paul Auster. Oliver Hart. And L. James Sullivan. I extend my hand.
He shows no sign of my recognition, but there is something familiar about this man, his eyes like the notes of a familiar song you can’t quite place. I feel sick but curiosity takes precedence over drink.
“Blue-fronted Amazon parrot, right? Mata Atlântic, the Atlantic Forest?
I ask, pointing at the bird with plumage as bright as green volcanic glass, smooth as silk.
The pastor raises his eyebrows.
He gives me a steeled cautious look.
“Have you spent some time there?”
“No. I just read a lot.”
The pastor’s posture relaxes, he hands me a cracker and nudges for me to give it to the bird.
“Then you would be familiar with this wonderful trick.”
As I reach towards the bars, the bird meets me halfway, and bites the cracker. It chomps it up, swallows, then squawks. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The Pastor claps his hands with the glee of a child or a sadist. He gives me a packet of crackers and is distracted tending to a request from one of his workers. I feed the bird another cracker.
As I listen to the bird peck out verses, my eyes shift to the Brazilian motif muralized on the caravans. I know after the war a lot of my confederate comrades took flight to Brazil. Amongst the workers speaking in Portuguese are several well-coifed American women handing out pamphlets on Jesus Christ. The caravan is packed up and ready to leave. The stage is being dismantled. Everyone looks tired save for the women who have the energy of new faith. That energy I get when my painting is going right, and all the pieces are falling into place and I am too excited to sleep or stop. But it’s the neo-focus to keep painting when I should stop to sleep that has me waking to find the painting ruined and the paint gone. It’s always the morning after painting nonstop for two days that I have misjudged the quality of sleep-deprived work, and whatever the glory I saw before I crashed was merely a phantom of an exhausted manic consciousness.
Incongruous in the group of church workers are five men who bustle by the coffer. It’s filled dense with donations. Despite the fact all the men have crosses, those geometric torture devices around their necks, they carry themselves like cattlemen or soldiers. There are two younger men who look like brothers, and three middle-aged men, the one to the side is a brutish slab. I can’t catch what they are saying but they speak with a distinct southern drawl. If I am having a problem placing the pastor I recognize the big fat one instantly.
He is missing his trigger finger.
His hands are like slabs of mutton. The surface of his skin is covered with boil-like outbreaks that resemble half-cooling lava. I can feel the blood in my heart thunder. Without a doubt, it’s Gabe “Grimly” Greenleaf, also named Gator, known for tossing Union soldiers and slaves to the gators, alive, after shooting them in the kneecaps first. Entertainment. Instinctively I pat the necklace with his skeleton finger compass concealed beneath my shirt. They were all part of a crew that ran stealth missions massacring freed slaves and union sympathizers after we lost the war. Like a spark of fire on the wind, like locusts moving through wheat fields, they traversed the countryside, then vanished.
Their leader was a bearded, little dagger of a man. Lucius Faulkner. His gaunt features like fulgurite — dark glass forged from lightning striking sand.
There were a lot of similar groups, southern vengeance men like Manse Jolly. Many were caught and killed, others headed west, but a good number disappeared into South America. My hand slides into my coat pocket, fingers thrumming the revolver like piano keys. The pain in my head grows sharp and bright like barbwire made out of sunlight. Then the pastor’s voice.
“So how long have you been lost, my brother?”
I turn, cracker in my free hand, to see the pastor standing like a dense totem before me. He softly takes the cracker from my hand and feeds it to the bird whose beak, I realize, has been pressing between the bars, reaching for the cracker as I was staring at Grimly. “Who said I’m lost?”
“It’s okay to admit your lost, I was lost after the war, we all were, it’s hard to have a country, a path, and to lose it all, but I found Jesus Christ.” He hands me a pamphlet with Bible verses on it and places his other hand on my shoulder. “Peruse these, my brother. No soul is too lost for salvation.”
I take the paper and flip it over, scanning it for some clue of the identity of this false Paul Auster. My hand remains in my pocket, clenched to the revolver. “Interesting typeset, the same as the Diario de Pernambuco newspaper. Is that where you guys said you were from? The port of Recife?” I remember the typeset from one of the Brazilian newspapers a Portuguese gold prospector had.
His hand retracts from my shoulder.
“I didn’t say. “
His gaze grows grim.
“We have a wonderful growing ministry down in São Paulo, and God came to me in a dream and told me to bring my missionaries to Golgotha, Arizona. To deliver the gospel to the lost. His son was holding a white heron as he walked across a black river.”
I hear the wagon leader call out the pastor’s name, he turns and nods and extends his hand to me. “My time is done here; I have things to tend to back at the church. I do hope you recouncil with the lord, much wisdom can be found in these passages.” He taps his finger on the paper, then climbs up into the wagon. “Let grace be with you.”
I watch as the caravan locks into cohesion and begins its southward exodus. My eyes inspect the paper for any final clues of his identity, and finding nothing; I crumple it and drop it on the street with the rest of the litter and animal dung. It swiftly disappears like the white heron beneath the drilling rhythm of the crowd’s feet on the dust avenue. What strange tides. It seems, not even a name can die.
I push body after body back as I cut towards the saloon. In the density of it I hear the wilting sound of a woman crying in Spanish. I push towards the voice, and see two men standing over the Mexican woman with the butterfly birthmarks being taunted and spat on. “Fucking God damn Indian.” I feel the heat in my head fracture, and something overtakes me. Without thought, I plow through the horde of White women snorting and laughing. My right fist vipers right into the jaw of the man standing over her, taunting her. I can feel teeth dislodge. The clarity in his eyes goes soft and he falls to the ground. I raise the revolver and their faces go arctic before they melt into the crowd like raindrops into the river. I reach down and grasp the Mexican lady’s hand, and help her up; before she has a chance to speak I disappear into the crowd. Anonymity is paramount until I process Grimly’s return and compose my path. Nothing can be done until my order’s ready.