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There’s plenty of time now to account for the losses, like watching ice cubes search out their liquidity in the shade. But that gets you only a drink of warm water, and there’s a good deal of the cool stuff on hand here. I had a new car, a nice little house, and a wife, but I had a neighbor too, a traveling salesman who came over often while I was at the track. This was after the hat fiasco, and I should have expected something like that, but I was bewildered at the time. My wife left a note. The house was in her name now and she was claiming it. I should pack up and get out. They were taking the car. I thought about this on the bus, traveling to where I knew they’d be, and that made it premeditation, although still a crime of passion, and twenty-five to life. I shot him first, in the chest, then got her between the eyes. She was sitting on the king size bed. It was not at all like the bed on which the willing young man knelt in his dream, my dick in his ass. And thinking about this accounting, I lost heart for the act and withdrew.
Most of the men here speak of the warden behind his back as sissy-girl Rod, but Andrew says he’s a decent enough chap, and I tend to agree. Andrew is English, and the men call him Sir Andrew, though he was a gardener in Leeds before coming state-side. He’s thick through the chest and his arms are tattooed, but his speech is formal and elegant to our ears, here in this foreign country. His downfall came at the races too, a disagreement about the quality of Manchester United. Imagine. Two Englishmen at odds over soccer at a race track in America. There would have been a joke in that, had not his interlocutor fallen on his head from the second tier. The poor chap returned home horizontal to a final resting in the soil of England’s groin and pleasant gland. Another joke, were it not for manslaughter and fifteen to twenty. Andrew says the warden, Rod Wizard, while he might have his own agenda, does look out for the men in his paternalistic way. He cites what he calls the Greensward as an example, and I agree with him about that too.
I never cared much for nature on the outside, but the Greensward teaches me what it could have been like had I stayed there. Six years ago, Wizard brought in the trees—pine, juniper and oak—and had the new arrivals plant them. We thought it was part of our orientation in the hard life, but he set us to work in the afternoons only, after the heat had died away, and for just a few hours at a time. He brought in machines to dig out the clay and dump the top soil in, and only the sod was laid by hand. The site is at the corner of the yard, a good size glen, meandering paths lined with narrow beds of flowers, a half dozen sturdy benches, each out of sight of the others, and a few wrought iron tables. Being there is like being in a place in a park. Birds have come to nest over the years, and in the fall the ground is covered with yellow oak leaves. During inspection tours, when the higher-ups come in for evaluation and Rod has us in our costumes of stripes and chains and breaking rocks, he uses the place himself, even serves drinks and little sandwiches. At all other times, the place is reserved for us. We rotate. There are only fifty souls on our side. On the other is where the Stone Killers reside. We never see them.
From time to time, the warden invites one of the men out for a night on the town, and of course all accept. He prefers the ones with the massive chests and arms who pump iron in the gym and yard, but he isn’t overly selective. Andrew says there’s no coercion. He himself was invited once, and though after dinner they wound up at a gay bar and even danced a couple of slow tunes together, nothing happened. I’d be awaiting my turn, I guess, but the food is quite good in this place, and I don’t feel I’m missing out on much. There’s dancing here too.
I admit my wife stays on my mind and I regret having killed her, though not so much my neighbor, and one evening, when it was our turn in the Greensward, I told Andrew the story of the hat fiasco, knowing full well it had played a part in those events that got me to this place. It was one of those peaceful evenings that can come at the end of spring, a faint breeze in the oaks and junipers, pine candles dipping in the fairy lights the warden had us install for our comfort and enchantment, and we were both mellow after a day of light work in the laundry. We smoked cigarettes, sipped from a Thermos of coffee, and I reminisced.
I’d been working as a carpenter. That’s what I was. And on weekends I’d work at repairs and renovations around the house, which was small, but a nice little place. In the evenings, I’d talk to my wife, who was a beautiful woman, and would read books, which was my hobby. Things were going along well, and if we’d had goals for the future, they would have been reasonable ones and easy to reach.
Then one Friday on the job, an acquaintance in the electrical trade invited me to Saratoga for the races the next day. I’d never been to the races, so I agreed. My wife didn’t mind. Losing that one Saturday together, I mean. And so I went there with him. We gambled a bit, something else I’d never done before, and by the end of the day, after a loss of about twenty dollars, I found myself thrilled and hooked up on the experience of gambling, something that could bring me considerable sums of money, which I didn’t really need.
So for the next year or so I went to Saratoga almost every Saturday, sometimes with this acquaintance, sometimes alone. In the first few months, my wife voiced some objection, and then she seemed to get used to the idea. We still had our Sundays together, and after a while that seemed enough for her. I gambled in increasing amounts, winning a bit, but mostly losing, and by the end of the year I’d gone through our savings and had borrowed against the house to the tune of two hundred thousand and had lost that too. I was down to the car, thinking I could sell it and buy a junker, get a few more dollars, bet and recoup some of my losses. My wife had grown unhappy with these shenanigans, but still she urged me away each Saturday, which seemed contradictory. Then one Friday night, after an unpleasant discussion over dinner, I went to bed both depressed and nervous, and I had a dream. The bell sounded softly, disturbing the birds nesting in the high oak branches, and Andrew touched me lightly on the shoulder. It was time for the band and the dancing. The theme was the Civil War that evening, and the warden had arranged for elaborate costumes, being a military uniform buff. We left the Greensward and headed together to our cells, where clothing was laid out on our cots.
It was a great evening. The band was a good one, and it played some Yankee tunes from the period, Dixieland for the South, and even a few klezmer numbers for the orthodox Jewish contingent the warden had ferreted out in his research. I was one of those, in my buttoned up gaberdine and the skull cap I now know the name of, curls attached at the rim and hanging and flying around my face during the fast numbers I reserved for Andrew. The southerners among us were outfitted as the Confederacy, and on both sides the uniforms ran from those of the lowly foot soldier all the way up to the top command. The warden himself was a fife player, the better to control his instrument during waltzes, which he took with the hard Iron Pumpers, one of which I danced with too. I didn’t like the feel of his cut chest against my own, but he was one hell of a dancer, light on his feet even in that bulky body. The willing young man, now a stretcher bearer, approached me at the start of a slow, romantic number. I turned him away with what grace I was able to muster. There had really been nothing between us, and I wasn’t interested. After that night, sissy-girl Ron became known simply as The Wizard. Not a bad chap at all, said Andrew.
In the next few months we set to work on the croquet pitch. I’m not sure if that’s what you call it, but we did. And in the lazy mornings and evenings I read the paper. Our work in the laundry had lessened considerably. We now had a mangle for the sheets and pillow cases The Wizard insisted be ironed. There was plenty of time for leisure there, but Andrew and I agreed there seemed no time at all for that kind of thing on the outside, where there was war now and natural disaster.
One of the disasters, an unnatural one, was the current administration. They seemed to us like a bunch of half-assed idealists, though their leader, the President, seemed no more than a transparent dick-head. In crisis, they ran around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off, calling out from their bloody maws. This one and that one was a hero. They were proud of them. There were enough heroes to go around among those who still had life in their bodies, since this baggy-assed crew had put a good number into circumstances in which heroic acts were possible. It seemed to us a madhouse out there.
The Wizard insisted the pitch be perfectly level, and this took considerable calculation and work, but since there were many of us and we put in only a few hours a day, the work was easy and enjoyable. Working together in harmony, Andrew said. We had raked to the edge of the rectangle where the lines were carefully strung up, then had laid in the sod and waited for it to settle. Then it was our time again in the Greensward, another perfect summer evening, and I told Andrew about the dream.
In the dream I was sleeping, then awakened to the sounds of laughter and talking that had disturbed my slumber. I was in my bed, my wife absent from it, and I recognized that people were in the house. I was unconcerned, and dressed only in my robe and slippers, I went out into our small living room to find there was a party in progress. My neighbor was there, as well as my electrician acquaintance and many others. There was a bar set up in the room’s corner, a fine looking glass and metal thing with a uniformed tender behind it. I made my way through the crowd and ordered a gin and tonic. The bartender wore a party hat, one of those silly little paper things, and when I had drink in hand I turned to discover that everyone in the room was wearing a hat, hats of various kinds and shapes. I went to a chair to sit down, but couldn’t, for there on the seat was a cowboy hat. Then I noticed there were hats everywhere, on tables and couches, even on the counter in the kitchen when I went in there. Just before I awakened, I opened the refrigerator, only to find not food or drink, but a couple of hats sitting on the shelves.
The next morning I showered and shaved as usual, taking my time with these ablutions because it was Saturday. Then I went in for coffee and our routine morning talk, which had devolved into clipped sentences of mundane information since my obsession with gambling, and I told my wife about the dream. She wasn’t interested, not until I told her I thought it might be a sign of some sort, an omen, and that I was once again going to the races at Saratoga. We had a brief argument about money and the car, which she said she needed. I told her I’d take only twenty dollars and enough for cab fair home should I lose it. Finally, somewhat unhappily, she agreed. There was only a little time left before lights out, so I postponed the rest of the story.
In the next few weeks the papers were full of storms and floods in the south, raging fires on the west coast, and a number of coordinated terror attacks in the larger cities throughout the country. The floods and fires were God’s work, proclaimed the lame-assed ministers, retribution for only God knew what. There was a good deal of confusion about that. The attacks had nothing at all to do with the distant war, said the administration lackeys, carefully keeping the dull witted president outside the discussion. Fuel prices were rising, and the market was getting a little shaky. There were going to be severe budgetary cuts, but Andrew had heard through the grapevine, one that could be counted on for accuracy in lockup, that Rod Wizard was unconcerned. He was an independently wealthy man and his money was not in questionable investments. He’d been spending a good deal in his time as warden, supplementing the government allotment. The prison was for him a labor of love.
A few days later, The Wizard called us all together at the croquet pitch, which was now finished. Even a little shed had been constructed at the edge of it for holding the balls, wickets, and mallets. We gathered around him where he stood on the low wooden box he used for such occasions, to get himself high enough. He was a small man, thin and wiry. We didn’t tread on the new sod, but gathered off to the side. He told us there would be refugees coming in a few days up from the storms and floods in the south. He didn’t like the word refugees, he said. That made them coming from another country, and though most were poor in this one and might feel that way, they were full fledged citizens and had all the rights available to them that we had. Well, not we exactly, he said, since we were prisoners and had lost some. Which wasn’t really the point. The point being that the authorities knew we had room. We were only half full, and they were sending up around fifty of them, these displaced persons, and now we had to divide the yard down the middle and construct a chain link fence to keep us separated. The government specified a high wooden fence, so neither side could be seen from the other, but The Wizard wasn’t having any of that. There’s nothing wrong with seeing, he said. He’d arranged for the delivery of the fencing and metal posts. They were here now, and we’d have to get to work right away. Not a big job, but a necessary one. The posts had to be sunk in concrete.
I was in my cell pulling on the work boots, when Andrew arrived to inform me we’d been transferred from the laundry temporarily. Being a carpenter and a gardener, the warden had other work for us. He’d arranged for the delivery of twenty large wooden planters and we were to elevate the bottoms so that there’d been an eight inch space between them and the rim that would rest on the ground. Once this was done, I was to help Andrew with the planting. Stone, soil, and twenty saplings were ready and waiting. The fence was in place and the planters altered, the young trees mulched and planted in them, by the time the refugees arrived. We watched them as they made their slow way from the busses to the building now separated from us by the new fence, and we were discrete in our watching, avoiding any gawking.
There were men, women, and children, all lugging battered suitcases and backpacks and plastic bags. They were a sorry and mixed crew, black, white, and Asian, and from their clothing we surmised they ran down the scale from the well off to the very poor. A few young men were in wheelchairs and on crutches, and one had lost an arm. They must have returned from this recent war of liberation. All seemed completely exhausted as well as bewildered as they stumbled along. Andrew touched me on the shoulder, and when I turned to him he shook his head. I’ll bet the president is proud of every one, he said.
Back at work in the laundry, Andrew and I unpacked the new linens, then washed and dried them and ran them through the mangle. The warden had seen to the purchase of various looks, cartoon figures for the smaller children, lush designer patterns for the adults. Everyone worked hard on the day of their arrival, so the warden gave us the next day off, one of those free days as he called them. We could rise when we felt like it. There was cold food set up in the cafeteria, and we could eat at will. For the rest, we could linger in the yard or stay in our cells, which remained open as usual, read books or the newspapers that were delivered to the prison daily, or visit each other. At first the guards didn’t like these days. They said it was too hard to keep track of everyone, but since nothing untoward had ever happened, only a little lazy afternoon sex, they got used to the idea and in a while didn’t seem to mind at all.
Two days after the arrival of the Southern Folk, a few came tentatively into their side of the divided yard. It was women and children at first, come to avail themselves of the swing set, teeter-totter, and sand box The Wizard had provided. He’d also had a few tables set up, circular metal ones with broad umbrellas at their centers, and a few smaller tables for card playing, checkers, and chess. The children went about their business, but soon tired of it and came to hook their fingers in the separating fence, in order to watch us on our morning and afternoon breaks. They seemed to especially like watching the Iron Pumpers lifting their weights, and they watched the croquet pitch, on which a little initial practice was going on now that the sod was settled and ready for use, in anticipation of games that might be played there. Then the rest of the folk were coming out, their soiled clothing freshly laundered and in order now, and before long the fence was lined with people on both sides, all in lazy and animated conversation. Andrew touched my arm and lifted his chin, and I saw the warden looking down on the gathering from the walkway high up on the stone wall. I could tell by his posture, wrists hanging loose over the pipe railing, that he was pleased and had things in mind, and I was right.
It was mid-morning, and we were sitting in Andrew’s cell, those vivid posters depicting flowers, vegetables, and crops on the walls. I was in the chair and he was perched at the bunk’s edge. I asked him where I had left off, and he reminded me of the hat dream and that I was now on my way to Saratoga race track. I could start again there.
It was a beautiful sunny day in mid-August and the track was crowded, many having come out for the races on a day like that, and after buying my ticket I went in and worked my way through the crowd and picked up a scratch sheet listing all of the nine races, then found a seat, lucky to find a good single available half way up in the stands above the finish line. Then I checked the first race, and sure enough there was a hat horse there. It was called Fedora and was the favorite. The sheet promised a tightly contested running, so the odds were good, two to one, and I went to the window a put down the twenty dollars, all that I had with me. Fedora closed late, but finished a length ahead. In the next race I put the forty dollars on the nose of Derby, a mid-level chance at seven to one. It edged out by a nose only. Then in the third I was faced with Topper, a long shot. I knew topper could mean other things, but I’d come there with just the twenty, and I felt I might be on a roll, so I put the whole two hundred and eighty down on the horse to win. It went ahead at the gate and it stayed there and cruised in with little apparent effort. At fifteen to one, I had forty two hundred dollars. Then I checked the next four races, noticing as I marked the scratch sheet that shadows were now falling across the pages. The sun had gone behind a cloud, and when I looked up I could see more coming in from the south.
There were appropriate horses in all of the upcoming races, and though the odds were mixed, I was growing certain that the dream was a real omen. I put all my winnings down on the nose of Stove Pipe, then again on Coon Skin, Easter Bonnet, and Stetson. All came in, and I found myself in possession of three hundred thousand dollars and a horse in the eighth race, running as the favorite at two to one, named Gloria’s Snood.
I had no clear idea of what a snood might be, something to keep a woman’s hair in place I thought. I knew my wife had never worn one, at least as far as I could determine. She had beautiful hair, but I hadn’t kept a close lookout for such things, which was one of my problems as I now see it. Still the horse was the favorite, and there was nothing else in the race that might be an alternative. And on top of that, I was now thoroughly hooked up on the dream and the racing, so before I went any further with considerations that might interrupt the jazz, I went to the window and put the whole three hundred down on Gloria’s Snood to win.
The horse came in first. I now had six hundred thousand. Then the clouds covered the sky completely, and it began to rain. The Wizard’s voice came over the speaker system, gently, so as not to shock anyone. We were instructed to go out to the yard, where he would be waiting for us. His voice had that curious anticipatory tone we were familiar with. Something surprising was in the air.
By the time Andrew and I reached the yard, the fence was half down and we saw a few men lugging the planters we’d adjusted. The saplings looked healthy as they waved in the air above the carriers. At the back of the yard, up against the building, others were setting up a row of long picnic tables, and we saw a few civilians carrying instruments coming in at the gate. It seemed the warden had arranged for the fence poles to be cut off close to the ground, then bolted together again, leaving a few inches of pipe sticking up from the concrete when they were unattached, as they were now. The planters were being used to sit above these protrusions, thereby preventing injury to anyone moving by. A few men continued work on the removal of the fence and the placement of the planters, and the rest of us gathered around The Wizard, where he stood once again on his box beside the croquet pitch.
He spoke briefly of his trust in us and of the recently learned fact that the Southern Folk would be here for quite a while. There’d been more storms and flooding and there’d been more bombings too, ones engendered by the administration and its faraway war. They couldn’t resettle, since there was no safe place for that. Because of all this, he said, we’d be living together now, and as far as he was concerned it was time for a mixer, a term I remembered from high school long ago, some kind of dance or other. And if we were going to mix, everybody was going to mix. It seemed only right. He said he’d have guards with weapons posted along the high walls, but he was absolutely certain there would be no need for them. Then he handed out handcuffs to the Iron Pumpers and they headed off toward the metal door at the yard’s far corner, where a couple of guards were waiting. He pointed that way, saying that was the first thing, then climbed down from his box and walked around a planter on his way to the gate. We stood there watching, still in a tight group, as the metal door opened and the Stone Killers began to come out. Each was cuffed to an Iron Pumper as they emerged, white skinned and squinting in the sun. Their quarters and the small exercise yard on the other side of the prison were perpetually in shadow, and they must have been stunned to find themselves in the healthy light of this new day.
Well, then of course came forth the Southern Folk, the food carried in by caterers, and the romantic, classical strains played by the string quartet, and though everyone was at first tentative, that didn’t last long, and in only a few minutes those at the mixer began to mix.
The Iron Pumpers were generally gently with the Stone Killers, raising their arms from their sides and into the air at times to give them a modicum of free range, and the children, then the adults moved in to talk with them first, which was not surprising after all, since in their white skin and seeming exhaustion they were familiar and seemed very much like them. That whiteness didn’t last long. Their faces flushed up early on, both because of the sun and the thrill of being in it, as well as the pleasure of conversations with those who had come here from an outside they’d lost all hope for. Early on, we saw a group gathering around a thin man in a rumbled suit and felt a moment of concern, but it was no matter. He was a lawyer and was giving out free advice. Just before the food was ready, The Wizard called down from his perch, and the guards moved through the gathering and freed the Stone Killers from their tethers. A few moved off to the Greensward, together with a few inmates from our side. A guard set off to follow them, but the warden called out softly and waved him away. It was inconceivable that anything untoward might happen. It was a perfect summer day, the food was excellent, as was the music, and we were a gathering of the privileged, there in our safe dwelling, beyond war, politics, and its attendant self interest and what the deluded might call the wrath of God.
Andrew and I strolled among the gathering, spoke to a few women and took in their sweet smell, touched the children’s arms and shoulders, discussed the recent past with a few of the older men. The young men in wheelchairs and on crutches, and the ones variously maimed in the upper body, stayed close together, just old enough to be a Boy Scout troupe it seemed, though when we approached them we could see the quick aging war had imprinted in their faces and eyes. Occasionally we glanced up at The Wizard, who was smiling, his wrists limp where they hung over the railing. Once again, he’s pulled it off, Andrew said. A fine chap indeed. It’s clear he’s got some answers. I reminded him that it couldn’t last. Nothing can, he answered. But it’s here now. And as we watched him and the gentle, though watchful, guards, and the newly bright eyed children and the Stone Killers and all the others, we stopped talking and held our own thoughts about our presence here in the slow race of time. Outside the race seemed circular, that greed for power constantly repeated, like some crazed meteor spinning through the galaxy. Here, though, it was measured more reasonably, in flesh falling into wrinkles, in joint creaks and the slow loss of breath. Only oases, like this one, seemed truly healthy, respite on the journey that gave the journey quality. I slept like a log that night.
Once again in the Greensward, a few weeks later, a little surprised that things had remained on an even keel, The Wizard back to his evening invitations for dinner and dancing, the Stone Killers now members of the larger population, the Southern Folk settled into routines that, while necessarily temporary, were plugged into life here and not part of some waiting game. It was the end of summer, and the oak leaves had begun to fall into a yellow wash that covered the walkways and the green grass beyond. The papers that day had been full of disaster, rain, mud slides, and forest fires in the west, an increase in bombings in the major cities, another hurricane in the south. The politicians were going insane with their befuddled accusations. The President had retreated to his home, where he was barbecuing and clearing brush. The ministers were blaming the homosexuals, pregnant women going in for abortions, and the Godless media. We were drinking coffee again, Andrew and I, a fine Columbian Supremo, cream and a little sugar. He’d gotten hold of a couple of good cigars, and we were puffing away at them. Night birds were softly singing. So, he said, the last race? It had begun to rain?
It had been a beautiful day, so I’d not worn a coat or a hat, and the rain was falling hard, a chill in it, and I was cold and getting soaked. Just as I got up to move back under the overhang behind me, the announcer’s voice came over the PA system. There would be a delay before the last race. I found a dry chair and counted my money carefully, six hundred thousand.
I could go home now. The money would solve everything. I could redeem the house and have plenty left over for a better car, needed repairs, maybe even a trip to the islands come winter. And I might not have to make any decision anyway. The track was getting muddy and the rain had not let up. They might cancel the last race, though I’d selected my horse for that one and it had good bones and was running at three to one, which would give me a million, eight hundred thousand should it come in first. But it was not the money or even the gambling that seemed at issue. Really, there was no issue, because of the omen of the dream. Clearly it had been real as an omen, eight straight races, each one a hat, and I had won them all. Then, as suddenly as it began, the rain stopped and the sun came back strongly to shine down on the muddy race track and the announcer said that the last race would be run in fifteen minutes. I didn’t give it another thought, but went to the window, checked the odds on the tote board, and put down the whole six hundred thousand on the nose of Chateau. The horse lost of course, came in fourth, the whole field beaten by a long shot.
I was numb and still soaked through by the recent rain, and I found a taxi to take me home, using the few dollars I had held back for that purpose. My wife was there when I arrived, standing at the kitchen counter working at dinner, and without hesitation I told her what had happened. When I got to the end of my story, she turned round in her apron, put her hands on her hips and scowled at me. It’s Chapeau, Chapeau, you fool, not Chateau!
Of course I knew that. Any fool would. It must have been the thrill of the successful omen, it’s down side, that had caused me to misread the scratch sheet, to see Chapeau there and to make the crucial and deflating error. Then my wife, still with a chill in her voice, asked me who had won the God damned race anyway, and I told her it was an old horse that turned out to be a very good mudder. It went off at eighteen to one. Some Japanese nag called Yarmulke.
Andrew coughed and laughed lightly through the cigar smoke, there in the Greensward, and perhaps it was still a good joke, hearing it for the first time anyway, but for me there was no longer anything funny in it. My wife had been Jewish, and even among the secular, yarmulke was a common enough yiddish term. How could I not know this? How could I have confused it with Japanese? It came to me then, only to come to me more fleshed out as the days went by, that I really didn’t know my wife well at all and had never given much time in coming to understand her. It was not so much the yiddish business, though that counted strongly as a marker. It was that, in my egocentricity, I’d been satisfied by the look of her, that beautiful hair and those features, and had not come to see her as a separate individual, one with her own history and thoughts and dreams. And yet I loved what I had come to know, which was almost nothing. And so when she took up with my neighbor, the traveling salesman, who was not Jewish either, I found the loss of her unbearable and so, to remove the lost object from the rage of my longing, I killed her. The killing of my neighbor was no more than a perfunctory gesture, though it cleared away the imagined drama of their life together apart from me.
It’s ironic, I guess, that the killing of my dear wife, Rebeka, had the opposite effect. I think now that I could have come to live with the loss of her. She’d be in a new life, finally an individual apart from me, and that would have been healthy for both of us. And then, too, she might have come back, but I put an end to that possibility before there was any time at all for it to transpire. And so I miss her all the time, on and on, a dull ache that rises into a certain burning sensation whenever I rehearse the story of the Saratoga races. And when that happens, as it did there in the Greensward with Andrew, who has become my dear and loving friend, I work away from it by thinking of another, finally adolescent, fantasy, one that seems to have an ongoing relevance as the world beyond this place drips with the blood of the innocent, killed as my wife was out of the tortured and uncaring egocentricity of politicians.
In this fantasy, the President, the Vice President, members of the cabinet, and the close advisors have all been found out and consigned to this place for crimes against humanity. It’s evening, at the end of a beautiful summer day, and The Wizard, whose head has always been in the right place, arranges for a get together to welcome them all, a meeting in the cafeteria, which is large enough to accommodate the entire population. We’re all there, even the Iron Pumpers and the Stone Killers, as well as the Southern Folk. The administration members, against their expressed wishes, are invited to bend over and drop their pants.
Then we all form into lines. The maimed and disabled vets and the women, who have been provided with proper instruments, are given pride of place. Next come the Iron Pumpers and the Stone Killer and the rest of the population. Then we partake of the kind of violations that these new arrivals have been so good at with the vulnerable on the outside.
When I arrived at this point in the story, which was for me the end of it, Andrew provided a coda. I’ll bet the President, he said, in his new found pain and humiliation, would call us all heroes then and tell us how proud he was of us.
Toby Olson’s most recent novel is Tampico (University of Texas Press). Currently, he’s at work on a collection of short stories.
This story is included in issue #42: The Artist in Wartime. Copyright © 2009 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.
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