Before McFritty had ever dreamed of such a thing as walking on water (or much less that he would do it, looking down at a Maori shark butting its snubby head against the water’s skin), he killed two farm hands with a smoothgrain garden hoe.
Of course, without any shadow of a doubt, he had been planning (quite discreetly and systematically) for some time to murder his flatulent grandmother. But this was a different sort of murder, and one which has nothing to do with the following narration concerning his childhood.
You see, when McFritty was a child, she used to bathe him in the aluminum bathbasin near the outhouse. She would crack her back and stand straight against the sun, throwing a monstrous purple shade over the crabgrass (she was seven feet, nine inches tall and had a head the size of a St. Bernard). Then, with a rattling sigh, she would slather her fat hands with pumice and viciously wrack McFritty’s frail shoulders, slapping his nubile nuque with insistent tugs, all the while emitting noxious vapors from her nether regions. Her calico dress would billow into the wind like a scarf blowing against the solid girth of a Black-bark oak, sighing, guffawing, snorting, and stamping her feet in the dust until her loam-like hair would cling to her pink scalp from sheer follicle exertion. Soaked with bathwater, Grandma Else’s dress would cling to her ample, still perky bosom, forming a plaster around her breasts, and McFritty could feel, as she bent over to wash his bald chest and thighs, her nipples sharply banging against his ears, the pain of which caused him to sandwich between his cold sheets at night and, with a silent frown, massage his tenderized lobes, crying himself to sleep while he tensed and held his bladder (for once, in a long bygone time, he had tried with velvet feet to slip outside and pee against the strangely gnarled oak in their courtyard, only for his grandmother to sneak behind him, two-finger snap him in the crotch, and whisper in his ear, “Do not do that again,”—at which point she disappeared in the dark doorway of the house, coughing loudly).
McFritty, freckled and fearful, learned to make himself limp while enduring these baths, and afterwards, he would duckwalk up to the house in his yellowstained longjohns and contrive some comfortable position to sleep in (as he was generally quite bruised from his grandmother’s buffeting.) All this of course, would have an immense effect on the events which would later unspool in McFritty’s life (the garden-hoe murders in particular).
(Here (in this paragraph) I had planned to relate how McFritty murdered the two farmhands with the garden hoe. But before getting back to the business of walking on water and the murders (all very interesting I must admit), it occurs to me (as so many things do) that McFritty’s grandmother is also very interesting, and I would like (if you will kindly permit me) to tell a little more about McFritty and his grandmother, for you, being a foreigner to this town will not know the story of her Norse heritage ( a figment of her imagination, or of perhaps the town’s imagination; she was actually of Irish descent), her old age (one hundred and nineteen years), and her obsession over toenails (even those toenails of dubious aesthetic value)). For in the sparsely populated hamlet the McFritty’s called home, P------, was its name, Else had gained quite a reputation for being eccentric—a reputation rooted (mostly) in her tendency to dress in the ancient, now-groaty garb of a Viking warrior. In the mahogany dresser situated in the far back-left corner of her bedroom (near the window she always kept open to lure songbirds into her quarters), Grandmother Else kept a dented breastplate (more concave than convex), a bronze shield (which, by some strange cosmic coincidence, had an exact engraving of the aforementioned shield in bas-relief), a chipped, slab-hilted sword and leathern sheath, and a bifurcated stone helmet (two pronged—like the devil) with a hole she herself carved out to allow her pony-tail free-space to dangle and swing unencumbered at her gargantuan, rope-girdled waist. On the first Wednesday of every month, she would tenderly extract these vestments, her great-great-great- great-great-great-grandfather’s armor (a steel-string haired man with an abundance of plum-shaded facial warts), from the top three drawers of the dresser (for that was where she kept them), and dress in the early morning light pouring through her open window where the sound of a hoarse, emphysemaed robin twittered cough-syncopated scales.
The rankling of the steel and bronze, the clanking of the sword striking the shield would awaken the rest of the McFrittys, who, after living with this behavior their whole lives, would roll back over on their sides, breathe into their pillows (which smelled rather socky--they never washed their linens) and drift sailingly back to sleep. Then, after an hour of meditation, in which Grandma Else would contemplate her stone, heavy-jowled face in the mirror, she would parade through the house smacking the hilt of her sword against the floorboards in a fast, marching rhythm. The McFritty’s would arise from their uneasy slumber, sveltely slide on shoes, and meet Else in the still-dewed frontyard. Invariably, Viking Else would be standing with her left foot planted heroically in front of her right, jowls flushed drupe-red, her shield thrust forward, and her pony tail, three feet long and flaxen, would be whipping its split-ends against her helmet. Upon seeing her family, she would hand out the sheafs (bound in jute), and return to her heroic pose, waiting for them to pin her father and mother’s hair (cut off after they had died) to her shoulders. Once this ritual pinning-of the-hair had been accomplished, Else would strike her breastplate with the sword and shout something (quite an abhorrent echo in this valley I might add) in Old Norse which none of the other McFrittys understood or cared to understand. Then, with her hair-epaulettes windstirring and furry like milkweeds, Else would give a last clang to her helmet and commence her run through the forest. Her pendulous chest would heave under the insufficient breastplate (shifting it into all sort of absurd contortions, until finally, realizing the futility of trying to sufficiently armor that mighty (yet woman-soft) chest, it (the breastplate) would live up to its name and settle for covering one lone mammary). And thus, for three days, Else, by now a familiar face (but no less unwelcome), would terrorize the local hamlets, running into churches and accosting preachers, puffing into homesteads to destroy a wealthy patriarch’s confidence, and smuggling her steel-clanking self into weddings so as to lisp nonsalutary doubts into the light-downed ears of white-vested bride-to-be’s. (Though it would be beneficial to the understanding of Else to provide some description of the methods by which she stirred up these “doubts of inevitability” (as she so liked to term it), such a description is, rather unfortunately, nearly impossible—for as in all matters of doubt, the methods, and results were multifarious yet impotent.)
At one point when McFritty had attained the anxious age of eight she, his grandmother, had been lain up in her bed, all day panting, sweating, and picking at a particularly purple and nasty scab on her elbow. She clutched a cherrycolored crucifix in her Viking hands, and when hearing footsteps creaking the sagging boards near her door, she screwed up her pink face and bellied forth wails of pain which sounded like plastic coyotes. McFritty’s parents, hoping to dispel the foul odor of Grandma Else, lit incense and paraded around the house chanting irrelevant passages from The Song of Songs, insipid nonsense about lilies of the valley and breasts of honey. This failing, they began to shake the smoking twigs like vespers and poke the glowing emoluments at their clip-tailed cat, Mosh, who merely stared at them and licked his belly with a surprisingly fat and violet tongue.
As a last resort (since no manner of coercion could convince Mosh, a magical cat who had been instructed in the black arts by Old Lady Diggens of Diggens Swamp, to heal Grandma Else), McFritty’s parents opened (after much bemoaning) crystal bottles of juniper oil on the windowsills. Then they mumbled to themselves, bit their fingernails, and went out into the garden to pick apples. But still, with remarkable tenacity, the house smelled of rancid milk and wet leather. Mosh, being naturally inclined to apathy (as is generally the case with original intellects) licked his belly to satisfaction and primly soft-footed his way down to the river basin where he had promised to meet an old friend (a former co-ed at the Diggens Witch- Assistant Institute, a.k.a. DWAI, not to be confused with DWHI, the Diggens Witch-Homunculus Institute—those guys were bastards; they all had delusions of grandeur and worshiped Napoleon). They had lunch together on a red-striped pallet, talking shop and reminiscing of student tomcatting over a bottle of cognac. Afterwards, their bellies sagging over the turpid grass and leaf-lying ladybugs, they carved their names (heart included) in the soft bark of a tree that neither Mosh nor Stirgaya knew the name of (for it was a mute tree and neither Mosh nor Stirgaya could decipher its sign language answer as to what his name was). And when the time came to take leave of each other, they exchanged a soft European-style rub of the neck and parted with only the rustle of the wind and the chirring of crickets to disturb their bubble-baubled silence.
So Grandma Else was taken, despite McFritty senior’s protests, to Klepshton Kirchnos, the local doctor. A foreign man from a country whose cuisine was based on the shankmeat of such equine banalities as the common donkey and the quarter horse, Kirchnos, had a swarthy face with sunken eyes and a dewlapped chin resembling a scrotum. He was short, yet with powerful shoulders scissoring the air he entered the dusty patient room with a degree of confidence almost unbecoming to a man of learning (much less to a man of his shoe style), and his head, which quite resembled the tip of a disabused paintbrush (hair salting at the tips of lamb curls), dipped up and down like a pelican stabbing at fiddler crabs. Reaching out his knob-knuckled hands, a sliver of furry wrist poked conspiratorially from under his immaculately white doctor’s coat. He shook hands with McFritty senior, a double handshake with the left hand pumping and the right squishily laid, tentacle-like, atop McFritty-senior’s squirming hand. Politely, and with a deep dip of his rectangular head, Kirchnos asked McFritty’s parents to leave Grandma Else, whose head was bent over so as not to touch the ceiling (incidentally endowing her dumb face with a quidditic liveliness), and wait in the reception room where there were “magazines, regularly watered plants, and a table of refreshments,” (an exact quotation I assure you, for I was perched on the outside window ledge). There, in the pastel waiting room, immune to the healthy flora, McFritty’s mother, who always had her hair in a bob, clucked her teeth (tongue doing the chewing) and stared at a pastoral painting of Dr. Kirchnos home country. Absentmindedly, she stared at the painting’s rolling hillocks (for they couldn’t be said to be anywhere near as grand as “hills”) which were softly, almost butterly, pesto-spread with glowing green and dappled pitter-pat with merds (giving one the impression that the land in Kirchnos country must look like mint-chocolate chip ice cream). A peachcream sunset lanterned the land, and by this added touch of transmogrifying chiaroscuro, the painting (which was quite mediocre) sublimated into something…something, at least above mediocre. A man with a piece of headgear resembling an emphatically phallic glengarry led a donkey into a darkened birch valley drizzle-capped with various fungi. Mrs. McFritty, not taking her eyes from the exotic landscape, grabbed, with her very small left hand, a triangle-cut cucumber sandwich from a spread, brought it to her mouth and munched with her back-sliding gums. Inside the fluorescent doctor’s office, Kirchnos struggled with English vowels pasted on Latinate words, using such cumbersome, esoteric terms as “pyometra” and “suppurative” to describe Else’s condition. Perhaps Else was truly confused, or perhaps it was simply that she was too tall and, hunched over…nevertheless she retained a certain air of “quiddity” (yes, I’ve realized this is the second time I’ve used a form of this word, but I feel, that after extended consideration of Else, you will come to realize how accurate it is). I from my perch (though I must admit the wind distracted me) had the distinct impression that she did not truly understand her condition, that it was not simply her absurd size packed into such an average room or that she did not understand the Latinate jargon, but that she did not (and simply could not) understand her own immediate physical condition.
Frustrated, Kirchnos wrote, in a cramped spidery hand, a prescription for some antibiotics, ripped it from its pad, and told her quite politely and furrily to get some rest for the next few days, stay off her feet and sleep spread-eagle. He also jocosely (a tinge of friend-familiar irony) warned her against sexual intercourse, at which point her neck stretched out and bumped her head against the ceiling, knocking a tile loose which promptly, and omnisciently, shattered on the floor.
“NO SEX!” she boomed, raising to her full height.
“Yes, I’m afraid there shall be no sex,” said Dr. Kirchnos, struggling with his tie and gathering Else’s medical chart under his armpit. “I shall not stand for this! I simply shall not!” she said.
“How old are you again?” asked Dr. Kirchnos, massaging his temples (his head ached so bad).
“I am one-hundred and twelve years old,” she said, swelling her chest and crossing her arms.
“How long has it been since you had sex?” asked Dr. Kirchnos (more as a rhetorical question).
“That is none of your business,” she said with a flippant toss of her hair.
“Well, I think you can abstain from intercourse for a few weeks. I know it might be tough, but it’s certainly worth trying.”
She began to shake (phocine face quivering) and bumbled slack-footed out the door, “I do not have to put up with this insolence, this sarcasm, this…this cynicism, this…this prejudice against one’s elders!” At that, she slammed the door, grabbed Mr. and Mrs. McFritty by their hands (still clutching pears filled with sourcream and cheese), and told them in an outraged voice, “Let’s go! This man is a destroyer, an absolute destroyer of an old woman’s hopes.”
And so Else was taken back to her room, and I, seeing her downcast eyes and her quiver-jelly chin as she plumped onto her new-perfumed bed, began to trill (oh so clearly my clarion chirrup that day!) on that splintered windowsill (which desperately needed a fresh coat of paint). I sang (with a thrice-light tap of my tri-dedoed feet) like I had never sang before, a C sharp with a glib glissando until, with velvet feet, I landed on the bare blossomed branches of a rich and full G flat, hovering plumb-edged along the sap-drip trunk of a harmony quite beyond the human ear. Alas my song must have screeched a vile vowel, a wicked twirk of a rusty-plunked string. Or, perhaps more realistically, (knowing my Orpheus-lyric abilities), she was in no mood for sotto singing (my song was for her! for her alone!) So hauling, trolling her mass up, she reached (such powerful, yet papyrus, hands) into a small calligraphied box and shoved some (rather dry and mealy) seeds at me, murmured something in a rough and tumble language, and shut the window, effectively shooing me away.
And so I flew with my head down, breast red with shame, to the gurgling birdbath, dipped my head into the water, laved my poor head, and drowned myself in the meaningless chatter of the other birds. What barbarous tongues! O how, how could they understand me like you…you my dear lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere?! How my soul thirsted then, with the silver water all to myself, all for my vibing buds, for her I thirsted, for my thrillingly totemic, grandly grandiloquent Else!
Now perhaps I should get back to the story of McFritty and tell how he gained the reputation for being the scrappiest scrapper in the schoolyard (please excuse section three’s forced outburst of lyricism). Early in his life, McFritty had been overly fond of chicken and dumplings. Night and day, he would eat his dear doughy delectable, sucking his thumbs and licking his gristled bowl when he was finished. Then, feeling spry, renewed, and bubblicious he would cartwheel his way through the gowans and mums of his backyard (so sadly crushed by his unthinking palms and feet!), to heel up, stop with irking feet, and limber-nimble his way up the trunks of the apple, quince, and lemon trees. McFritty’s mother, noticing how her progeny turned into a human noodle after eating the dumplings, fiated one morning that McFritty should not be allowed to eat his soggy treat anymore (for she feared he would grow up to be quite impotent, a limp, noodle of a man who willy-nillyed instead of walked, who sighed when he inhaled, who bloated in the rain and desiccated in the heat…of course there are too many of these matriarchal-ur fears to enumerate them all). McFritty did not know what to say. He was thunderstruck, and all the way down to the soles of his feet, he could feel a prickling sensation, a meddlesome nettle dug deep under the skin (of course when the pain became unbearable, he sat down, looked at the pads of his feet and discovered three splinters forming an isosceles triangle right at his heel spurs…but still, the pain in his heart, the void that only dumplings, so tender and heavy with nutrition, could fill, ebulliently expanded and tendered through his body).
He walked to school that day on ginger tiptoes (his heels still hurt from the extricated splinters), utterly crestfallen, and feeling so glum, that when Ariel Mammarian (a prematurely voluptuous girl who all the rakish boys in school had a crush on—including our young, sticklimbed McFritty) spoke to him, waved, and asked how he was doing, all he could do was ask her in a breathbroken voice, “Do you have any dumplings?” Her pink-rosy face, a second before so beaming and full of cheer, immediately metamorphosed into a disgusted snarl, like a loved one, perhaps a parent, had given her cheddar cheese, when they knew, they just knew that she abhorred cheddar cheese and had always, ever since the “picnic incident” (of which it is best not to refer), had a disdain for cheddar cheese which paralyzed her. (Once in the fifth grade, by the dint of a lunchroom lady’s mistake, she had been given a tomato-lettuce-onion-hold-the-mustard-cheeseburger with a juicy slab of thick cheddar instead of the halfdry blanket of American—at which point, after tasting the vile dairy square, craftily plasticene and mild, Ariel promptly, and without much effort, vomited into her mouth, kept her lips sealed tight, breathed through her nose, and walked up to the lunch lady, quite calmly, cheeks a little squirrely, and spat the vomit into the O-mouth face of the lunchlady’s hair-netted surprise.) Disgusted, Ariel said, “Screw your dumplings!” flying off into a ribbontailed rage.
But that was Ariel, and this story is not about the Mammarians, but instead, as a logical extension of the title, concerns the McFrittys. (My digression, you must forgive me. I am writing this with no real plan in mind.) Young McFritty, though not a completely lackluster student, had managed, quite unwittingly (and undeservedly), to incur the Teutonic wrath of his sparsehaired, waspwaisted teacher, and following a particularly absurd and vigorous round of Socratic questions, she (Mrs. Van something-or-other), would roundly box McFritty on the already tenderized lobes of his flushed ears. One dreg-clouded day (the sun a gelid blob of fatback, white and slowbasting the green beans and tomatoes of the Johnson farmfields), McFritty fed up with his audi-cup abuse, stood up, freckles waxing, and declared, “Rubicon is the correct answer, and I see no reason for this continued abuse of my ears!” Then, promptly sitting down with rufflecorn hair, he folded his arms and stared, glass-eyed, at Mrs. Van something-or-other with a gargoyle face. The class was stunned and sat in silence until
Mrs. Van something-or-other declared, “Mein Gott!” swiveling on her heels and
running into the hall with wild palms and broken sobs. Then the abuse began.
The young fophaired boys of the class began to shoot spitballs at his bare neck. The girls crossed their legs and passed vicious notes to one another (all the while giving McFritty sidelong, gonewrong glances). And McFritty, now a palenosed pariah, sat calm, Nirvanaed, and crossarmed, oblivious to the wet smacks of salivapaper paddying on his chin and clavicle.
At recess that day (after McFritty had morosely masticated a ham sandwich-- soggy bread, dry meat--from his lunch bag), all the children (except McFritty) gathered under the trio of trees past the swingset. Gesticulations, shouts, wicked-twitch eyes and jerk-jerk-necky heads ensued. McFritty took off his shoes and rubbed his poor splintered sole. He would try to ignore them. But then a rubber, pimple-stipped basketball whoomped against the side of his head, smack on the tender ear, and settled, genuflecting, beside his bare feet. An Arabic boy named Een Feen Ete stood at the triangle’s forepoint of the laughing gaggle of geese (that comely coxcomb of doom!), his arms folded across his blue-sweatered chest.
Alas, now, Peleus the pelear, such I must sing the rage of McFrittiles, breaker of dumplings, exile from the
! For he rose, a billowing, bilious, freckled frumpeteer
and roundly choppy-popped Een Feen Ete to the dusty-cloved ground. The shouts, swift-intaken aaaahhhsss!!, pursed-lips, hot cheeks,
all intent dumpy-plump faces on McFritty as he pommelwommeled Een Feen Ete into
a knockylipped toothless harlequin smile.
(Wheee! Heee! Clap for me as I softtime
a rhyme, and doubletrouble rolling tumble my verbalwhipping rumbles!) land of Giddyum
(From here on out, I have decided, for a reason I shall not disclose, to tell my story using that mode of narrative known popularly as “realism”. I have taken a few pointers from a certain great writer of our current period, implementing many of the words one can find in his famous trilogy, but I trust that like me, my reader has grown bored with my previous “unrealistic” narrative. I apologize for that. Certainly the events I related were true enough, but I have often been told that my manner of telling was far from truthful. Alas, “realism” it must be.)
After the thorough beating of Een Feen Ete, McFritty was hearty-hailed a schoolyard champ, a great usurper of the oppressive throne, an underdog who champed the ankles of his oppressors, gnawing them into glistle-shiny bones. But, alas McFrittiles was a myth, and I, not being concerned anymore with myth (realism remember), do not wish to inflate McFritty in your mind. Oh no, he was not a creative or a particularly vicious killer (for Een Feen Ete did not die—broken jaw, five teeth missing, quite a bathetic closing-bout if you ask me). As a matter of fact, the whole episode with Een Feen Ete was quite farcical, and (hoping that I have not built some intense expectation up in your tinder-hungry little furnaceheart, my dear reader) the episode with the garden hoe, was, in a way, equally as farcical.
(Deep breath, relax, deep breath, relax. Okay now the part you’ve been waiting for. I just hope my plaster realism does not bore you with its dry flakings and drab holewalls. So here’s how the murder went down.)
They simply stumbled in the barn door with a lazy, insouciant earlymorning saunter. The two Mexican farm hands were side by side gesticulating with garish barnlantern faces, speaking in Spanish. Juan raised his sunburnt brownrecluse hand—pink fingernails and goldlined knuckles--, nodded his pomaded head towards McFritty, said, “Hola,” and continued in uneven back-curving strides to walk towards the lowing cows. Rafael did not nod but simply followed Juan with his head down and his boots scraping the hay. They both wore matching red and black flannel shirts with the sleeves bunched at their elbows, and Rafael carried in his hand a sweatrimed, beaten Stetson which he donned only on the odd occasion (most of the time carrying it in his knotted hands, kneading the tattered bill nervously). They walked into the large stall behind the horses and the wooden halfdoor banged shut behind them, the rusty hookhasp clacking quietly into place. McFritty listened to the sound of Juan murmuring to the cows, “Te ordenare. No hay necesidad preocuparse.” (Here I will break my objectivity briefly: I saw from my bird’s eye perspective Juan and Rafael, heads bent close together, the shadows on their faces obscuring their lips, but I knew what they were talking about. All language is open to me. Rafael was whispering into Juan’s ear, “…no somos ladrones pero…” and Juan nodded his head, listened carefully (such glinting eyes), and said, “Te ordenare. No hay necessidad preocuparse,” just to trick McFritty.)
But McFritty had been outside under the scarlet dawn for two hours already, planting next year’s tomatoes in the clay and he could not be tricked. His cotton shirt was stiff with dirt and sweat, and dew clung to it in crystalline beads, and this too signified that he could not be tricked. (McFritty has blue eyes and a rash of purple-pink bumps on his neck. You should know this.) He looked at the tool in his hand, running his fingers along the shaft, and thought for a moment, turning it in his palms and bouncing it to check its weight. Then he unhasped the stall door, walked in behind Juan and Rafael, swung the garden hoe into Rafael’s neck until it had bit good and leeched on. Wrenching out the hoe bit embedded in the spine, McFritty looked up and saw Juan staring down at Rafael, his spidery hands webbed around the utter, still squirting the milk out in a tinny merengue rhythm. “Cuate,” he said, “que pasa?”, and McFritty swung the hoe and struck Juan’s stare with the blunt, splitting his scalp above the right ear. He fell down on the ground with his legs shaking, his left shoe flying across the stall. He plunged the hoe into Juan’s face. Bits of hay stuck askew in Juan’s hair. McFritty sat down on the milking stool and slapped the wooden hoe back and forth between his hands until it got up to the speed at which the wood blurred and the force of the blows hurt his palms. Then he smoked a cigarette and went inside the screendoored house for breakfast.
In the library, his father was bent over a leatherbound, family heirloom copy of Paradise Lost. He was reading aloud in a soft, mumbled voice and was wearing a thin, billowy whitecotton nightshirt V-ed low at the neck—the kind of shirt one pictures Byron and Shelley carousing in
with-- and brown drawstringed trousers made from hemp. He rose from his sitting position, uncrossing
his legs, and strode barefoot over the blank marble to the fireplace.
“Morning,” he said, bending and placing another log within the brick fireplace. The fire popped and the smell of birch filled the room. He took off his glasses and placed them, along with his book, on the mantel, adjusting the sepia-tinted photograph of Grandma Else. “You had breakfast yet?”
“No,” McFritty said
“Anna’s making biscuits and ham. Brought up some of that scuppernong jelly we made last year too. If you want some a that.” He said all this as he walked across the bluemorningtinted study and sat down noiselessly in the leather armchair behind his desk. He began to shuffle through the scattered papers with both hands until his anachronistically smooth face beetled below the brow, and he exclaimed, “I just can’t find the goddamn thing.” He threw down the papers, balled in his fists, and flung his back against the cushion of the chair, drawing in a deep breath while crossing his hands over his chest. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and slouched down into the chair. With his arms limpwristed and hanging off the arms of the chair, he spread out his legs across the floor, tousled his stillblond hair with his goldenbanded left hand, and shot a harried (but somewhat relieved) look to his son.
“What’s up?” McFritty said, rubbing his hands up and down the legs of his jeans. His palms felt wet.
“I can’t find my watch.”
“The one Grandpa gave you?”
“Yeah. That one.”
There was a pause as they both weighed the situation. “Maybe you just lost it,” said McFritty, sensing what his father was about to say.
“No,” he said with clenched teeth, “I didn’t lose it. It was one of these goddamn Mexicans we got working for us.”
On the edge of the wooden coffeetable there was an orchidstenciled vase full of roses, lilies and baby’s breath. McFritty was hunched over in his chair and fingering the roses. He took it out of the vase and pulled the rubbery astringent leaves off. His father watched in silence.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I was listening.”
“I know it’s one of them. I can just feel it in my bones.” He got up and went to the eastern window of the study and peered out at the pummelo sunrise, folding his hands behind his back and lifting his chin into the watery light. (Certainly, a normal story would have placed this conversation before Young McFritty’s murder of the two Mexican farmhands. I admit, yes, it would give some reason for McFritty’s murderous rage. But no, dear reader, this is not a normal story. And this conversation was not had before those murders. But do not blame me. Blame instead the facts I truthfully relate.)
It wasn’t until late in the afternoon when the bodies were found. The cows could be heard lowing across the wind. Vultures hovered.
A worker named Hayden laid down his scythe in the leafpacked dirt and walked towards the barn hitching his overalls above his skinny ankles so as not to step in the mud and dung around the barn. McFritty watched him from the cartesianed-porch of the house. He rolled up his sleeves and took off his shoes. A moth with wings like green leaves rustled. McFritty flicked him off the railing with his toes and crossed his feet at the ankles, propping them against the cobweb-straddled wooden porchstakes, and went to sleep.
Upon finding the gorenecked bodies, Hayden shat himself. Mosh licked himself, and I…well, realism, yes, I almost forgot.
And so McFritty went to jail for murder. But not for long. They were Mexican and he claimed they had tried to steal from him. That got him off easy. Five years. Three for good behavior.
And so he was good. Yes sir, No sir. Thank ye kindly Mister (insert name here), sir. Always obsequious and courteous, he was placed into a small cell at the far end of the west wing with an obelisk-like toilet that wasn’t half bad and a mattress (stained, but) springier than his single at home. After getting comfortable and settling into the prison routine, he walked out the adiron gates two years, ten months, and eleven days later with a bundle of toiletries wrapped in an
Oxford shirt nestled under his
already-sweating armpit. He reached into
the breast pocket of the Oxford
shirt—the shirt he’d worn into jail—and pulled out a pack of Lucky
Strikes. The packet was crumpled and the
tobacco paper a stale yellow. He sniffed
the packet, and then taking a crumplecrook cig out, smoked one of the three
year old sotweeds. It tasted exactly
like he thought it would taste like.
Like a three year old stale cigarette.
Or thick coffee which had been sitting outside for three or four days,
but after not smoking for two years, ten months and eleven days, it didn’t
taste half bad. He inhaled the smoke
deep into his lungs and his head buzzed.
He almost fell down in the dirt outside the gates. I
haven’t gotten this high off a cigarette since I was thirteen, he thought
to himself. He waved goodbye to the
guard locking the gate behind him, blue smoke crinkling out of his nostrils,
and the guard nodded his head in acknowledgement and walked, keys jingling
against his blue cotton pants, between the blue hydrangea bushes and maple
trees lining the shaded driveway of the prison.
He walked home past Joe Simpson’s quince trees, stopping there but finding only wormy and half-eaten quinces and persimmons, and took a shortcut by crossing the stony arroyo south of the Pecadillo river. At one of the breaks in the arroyo, where the water rubbed its back raw and white between the rocks, McFritty stooped, shifting the bundle, and palmed a handful of water into his pursed lips. He laved his neck and face. On the dirt road past the church he saw a man with crutches running towards him, his crutches flung out into the air like a bird’s wings. McFritty stopped in the road and watched as the man ran by, a cloud of dust billowing from his tracks. After the man disappeared in the blinding light, a one-eared dog with a concave chest and gaunt skeletal ribs padded after the man with his tongue lolling and his breath wheezing. McFritty watched, shading his eyes with his free hand, swatting at a horsefly that landed on his eyebrow. When the dog disappeared, he moved on down the road, stopping only once more to pee into the kudzu which had overtaken an old gas station.
When he came through the kneehigh grass and maypops a hundred yards from his porch he could see a man in brown suspenders reading a book in a rocking chair. The old man had a pince-nez gripped between a wrinkled forehead and rocked back and forth on his heels at a steady pace. He looked up and squinted into the sun, the corners of his mouth drawing back.
“Hi there,” he said.
“Can I help ya with sumthin?” he said, standing up to reveal his lanky height, stretching his arms and cracking his back, throwing a monstrous shade over the porch.
“Well, I reckon as I was looking for my father.”
“Your father?” the man said, lifting up the sole of his left shoe and picking off some grass.
“Well…What’s his name?”
“McFritty. He owns this here farm.”
“You must be mistaken son. I own this farm.”
Young McFritty stood twisting a blade of browned grass in his hands and shifted the balled up toiletries to his other arm. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked up at the suspendered man on the porch. The man looked him full in the face and then bent his cheek to his neck and swatted at a fly that had settled on his collar bone. “I don’t understand,” he said, and in the new serge suit the prison had given him McFritty could feel the sweat running down his back and legs.
“Well I sure as dogshit don’t understand either. I’ve owned this here farm for about as long as I can remember. And my daddy owned it before me, and his daddy afore him.” He squinted at the boy in the suit. “Say, why you wearin that suit? You ain’t from the IRS are you?”
The young man stood there in the kneehigh grass distracted by the heat and the slow wavering drone of the bumble bees. “What?”
“I said, why you got that there suit on.”
“It’s an especial occasion.”
“I’m supposed to be comin home.”
“Well this ain’t your home.”
“Sir, I been away for three years, but I member this here pretty well, if you don’t mind me saying so... This is where I grew up, and… I’d know such a place as this. This yard, these maypops is the ones I use to pluck and fling at my cousins when we was goofing off out here.”
“You don’t say?”
McFritty looked down at his hands and fingernails. Then he lifted his head and looked at the old man who was staring at him with bright granite-grey eyes.
“Are you from the nuthouse boy? Or are you pulling my leg?”
“I’m not doing neither of the two sir. I’m just trying to figure out why you’re saying you own my land and my house.” After saying this McFritty bit his lower lip and looked down again at his hands. He ran his tongue out over his cracked and now bleeding lips.
The suspendered man squinted away down the vale and put his hands on his hips. A momentary breeze came and rattled the windchimes. The air was silent except for the heat which seemed to buzz in their eardrums. He turned to young McFritty. “Son, why don’t you sit down in that chair over there and I’ll go get you some ice cold tea? You must be thirsting something awful. You just sit, and I’ll get the tea from Martha.”
McFritty began to step up the porch. “Well, I thank ye kindly sir. I am mighty thirsty, but I’m still confused about this here sitcheation.”
The man turned to go in the screen door. “I’ll just get some tea,” he said, “Then we’ll try to figure this thing out.”
McFritty sat down in the wicker chair next to the rocker and laid his bundle on the whitewashed planks of the porch. He tried to get comfortable but the chair was hard and grooved in a way that did not complement a skinny McFritty. What the hell is going on here, he thought, They all sold the place to a nut with Alzheimer’s and moved away to God’s know’s where so they wouldn’t have to see me when I got out. And what am I doing talking to him like a Southern hick. But I knew, I just knew, soon as I walked up into the yard, that I’d have to talk to him like that. All please and thank ye kindly mister humble fellow mess.
Then the man came out on the porch, stumbling over the aluminum doorsill and knocking his balding head against the screen door. Once he regained control of himself, he lifted a shotgun from behind his back and aimed it at McFritty. The veins on his yellowed forearms stood out immensely as he gripped the cherrygrain stock. “Now boy, I don’t want no trouble from crazies. And judging from that suit, you just got yourself out of jail. So you just take on outta here and get going down the road.” He waved the gun and squinted, the sun glaring off the pince-nez. “Now just get on.”
McFritty stared at him. “Sir, I did just get out of jail, but please listen to me… for just a second. Do you remember who you bought this place from and where they might’ve went?”
“You just get on outta here.” He gestured with the gun towards the old barn down the hill.
“OK,” McFritty said, gathering up his bag and standing up slowly. “Just don’t shoot.”
“I ain’t gonna shoot you if you just get your ass off my property.”
McFritty began to walk down the steps into the yard. His shoes sounded heavy and hollow in the dead air. A smell of pine seemed to come aloft on the breeze. He could feel the barrels of the gun against his back. “Sure would’ve been nice to have some tea though,” McFritty said.
“You jest shut up and walk,” he said, jabbing him in the coccyx with the double-barrels. Now would probably be a good time, McFritty thought as they neared the edge of the cornfields. He snapped his torso around, dropping his bundle, and kicked the man’s feet from under him. Light dust rose up from under the man’s body as it hit the packed dirt. His pince-nez fell off and McFritty crunched it under his heel. He snatched the gun and aimed it at the man. “Get up,” he said, surprised at his own calm speed.
In the distance, to the north of Joe Simpson’s quince and apple orchard, a train could be heard chugging through the tree canopy, ricketing along the rusty tracks with a painful smokerlunged whistlecough, caroming trunk to rotting trunk through the valley. The old man wiped his trouser legs and began to prop himself up with one arm when McFritty whipped him in the jaw with the butt of the shotgun. The train chugged. Blood and teeth spat onto the dirt and the man made a quivering highpitched sound through his lopsided jaw, clenching and unclenching his fist. A distant whistle pierced the air. For the first time, McFritty noticed that the old man was covered with moles. They were all over him, dotting his hands and face in varicolored clusters resembling the ancient, even formations of the creosote bushes which grew past the western banks of the Pecadillo. “Why you got all those moles old man?” McFritty said, and he could feel the spit in his throat drying. His voice cracked on the words “old man”. Then he stooped and jabbed at his temple with the barrel, forcing his head back into the dust. Ants carried white mounds piggyback in a scattershot conveyance. “Huh?” The old man continued his sound, a low whistle that seemed to harmonize with the train a few octaves apart. A cloud passing over obscured the sun. The ground and broken grass took on a blue, filtered cerulean tint, and McFritty thought to himself that it looked like when he was a kid and he would put 3-D glasses on and squint his right eye. “What the fuck have you done with my parents, goddammit!? This is our fucking land!” That’s not convincing, he thought to himself, Not convincing at all. Fucker can hear it. The sound of my voice. I squealed that like a little girl. He fucking knows I’m scared to shit. And he’s not going to tell me a goddamn thing.
McFritty watched the man on the ground. No answer. The man lay perfectly still. Was he breathing? Fuck, he thought. Again, he prodded him gently in the temple with the barrel of the gun. With a sudden guttural scream, the man reared up and palmslapped the shotgun away. One of the barrels discharged and smoke drifted into McFritty’s shocked nostrils. The crows in the cornfield behind the house shot into the air and flew wobbling past the line of trees. The suspendered man lunged towards McFritty’s groin with his bloody semi-castrated mouth open. McFritty kicked him in the face and leveled the gun at him and shot. His chest spanned out into space like a solar flare, the cotton of his shirt shredding. The shot echoed hollow through the valley.
Arching his back, the old man made desperate whistling noises and tried to inch his way to the porch. He looked like a turtle that had been placed on its back, and now, giving up on trying to flip itself over, was desperately trying to propel forward by pushing and flapping its tail against the ground. Three fingers on his right hand had been blown off and he pawed at the ground with it, his thumb and forefinger searching the dirt in absurd dustgrasping gropings.
Two Dalmatians ran flatfooted from behind the house panting. They ignored McFritty and began to sniff at the suspendered man. He cried out like a man with no tongue, wild and throttled, and slapped at them repeatedly until, whimpering, they loped off towards the cornfields. McFritty threw the gun on the ground, stepped back and for a brief moment was horrified at what he had done. He tried to justify it to himself. He had simply been protecting himself. The old coot was crazy. He would have led him out to the pine woods and shot him and thrown him into Ol’ Henry’s catfish pond. That’s not what he would have done and you know it. He would have been left for dead there, and then next summer Ol’ Henry’s two boys would be fishing there with cane rods and come tramping barefoot up to their house with a muddy shoe little Henry’d fished out from the muck. And then they’d say, “Daddy where’d this come from?” And during that interim when he was lost to the world, before little barefoot, towheaded Henry stared at his shoes with utter disappointment and wide-eyed bewilderment, before they dragged his scraggleskinned skeleton from the pond, the fish would eat his flesh piecemeal as he bloated purple and green, until he finally began to collapse in on himself, and then it wouldn’t matter that he was lost to the world, for he’d be dead and the only thing left of his body would be a yellow skeleton with gristlecoated wrists and knees. Shit, he thought to himself. That ain’t what woulda happened. He’d a told you to get on and shot a shell into the air to bluff you so’s you’da get on runnin down the road hoping you could get outta the range of the pellets before he shot you in the back. That’s what woulda happened. He wouldnt’ve shot you.
Ok, ha ha. I tricked you. I’m a tricky-tricky pajaro! Anyways, I just made all that bullshit realism stuff up. Well most of it (the rivers, the fauna, the flora, all my inventions). All that stuff before he got out of jail was true. Sure enough. But after that, the story went pretty much as expected. He got out of jail (
Oxford shirt, Lucky Strikes, all that prison
convention blada blada) and went home, and there on the porch, who did our
conquering hero find? None other but my thrillingly totemic, grandly
grandiloquent Else, seated (or should I say, “plopped”) on an anitmacassared
loveseat, armor strapped on, hair flowing, seal-face glistening in the heat. All of a sudden, a flashback (or should I say
a series of flashbacks) gripped McFritty and paralyzed his ambulation. A chatoyant scrim dropped in front of his
eyes, and in a thousand small, squared off sections, projections of Else,
red-cheeked, angry-faced appeared before him, subsectioned, multifarious,
phantasmagorical. In each square, Else
rose before him, shaking her fist, jowls quaking, scolding him for some minor
offense, and saying with a jam-and-toast voice, “Or else!” (ballfist
quipquipping, obviously hinting that if he did not lay off, something worse,
much worse, lay in store for him).
“I knew you’d be out,” Else said, raising to her full height, cracking her back.
“Yeah, guess so.”
“Whaddaya mean, guess so? Odin whispered it to me last night. (reverent sigh, quake of face) It was a miracle.”
McFritty stooped, took off his shoe, and shook out a pebble. “I wrote a letter two weeks ago. Mom and Dad wrote back. Guess I figured someone knew.”
“Well, I’ll be damned… (pause, wait, shake of helmet) Doesn’t matter. We’ve got work to do, so chop chop, let’s get going.”
(Here my memory, quite inexplicably, begins to fail me. The conversation which ensued is patchy at best (hence the false ring of the previous dialogue). But I can offer up a short synopsis. Grandma Else, ageless, alabaster, and agoggle was about to start a war, and McFritty was, in her terms, an “integral cog of the war machine”. Conversation ensued, two more pebbles were dumped from McFritty’s shoes, and eventually, with great reluctance, McFritty accepted the offer.)
“First let me go inside and say goodbye,” he said, shifting his weight and beginning to walk up the porch steps.
Else drew her sword (a glinty-glint sound, sharp and sibilant steel) and barred his path. “No you don’t want to go in there.” McFritty fingered the sword off his shoulder. “Yeah, I guess I wanna see pop. Be back in just a sec.” The sword once again barred his way, and Else, hair epaulettes stirring in the growing wind, the graying sky, planted her feet in front of him. “No, I mean, You don’t want to go in there. We have work to do.”
McFritty stared. “I think it can wait a few seconds. (sardonic smile, flash of teeth)”
Else took off her helmet and said with a paincrumped face, “The world does not wait for routine! Life does not! Look around you, just look. This town is atrophying into an acceptance of drudgery, of the inevitable…people live their lives completely ignorant of the beauty it could have, the possibilities which they destroy every second…”
“That is not any of my business right now,” he said, moving over the lintel. A light snow began to fall, and in the frame of the doorway a graying blue, ashen and sick, contracted around the shadowline of the dusk-calligraphied trees. A light anachronistic snow began to fall, mingling with the moirling milkweeds, and Else drew her body around the door frame and waited (so sad her eyes, how pained her features).
When McFritty came out on the porch he was silent. He had turned grey and in his eyes a play of white glinted off the protruding iris-sheath. There was a long silence as he wiped something red onto his pants, palm first, then his knuckles, scrubbing. Else rankled her hauberk and waited. The snow quickened its pace and the lightning bugs withdrew, feeling the absurdity of their situation and their climate. The wind stilled. Else’s epaulettes lay lank and loose. The black oak did not emit a shivered sigh, and the snow began to blanket the ground. Finally, McFritty sat down on the top step. He looked at his palms, inspecting them with eyes that did not inspect. “Why’d you do it?” He spoke slowly and did not turn to look at Else but instead stared out across the huesoing lawn, his index and thumb picking at his shirt.
“They had become complacent and complicit to the concept of impossibility. It had to be done. And I knew…I knew they would stand in our way when we, the warriors of this family, the nittiest of the grittiest, went to fight off the Horde of Complacents. They had to be eliminated. We are the proud progeny of McFritty, divine descendants of the virtuous Viking warriors, those brave men who first discovered
and all its glory, who did not become complacent with their home land, their
people, but sought new worlds to explore!
That is us! And you, I…we both
should be proud of our heritage!”
He sat in silence, the snow a veritable blizzard now (yet strangely without wind, without motion, a thick blanket falling steadily). “McFritty is an Irish name,” he said simply, those words carrying a weight which both Else and McFritty could feel. “Your rhetoric is a dull hammer. Your propaganda a broken sickle,” he added after a long pause, “And I will not have it.” He stood up, turned around to stare at the absurd armory of Else, and ran across the field churning the kneedeep snow. Else followed behind for a while, racing through the dissolving trees, panting, puffing, keeping up for a while. And as McFritty ran, the world began to change. These trees, he thought, they are not indigenous to here. This is where the Pecadillo river used to be…It’s not here though. (Such were his thoughts as the landscape began to morph and bears began to walk the woods, slicing dummy cardboard deer and cozy critters.)
And then, completely disoriented and out of breath McFritty stopped running and placed his elbows, head bent, against the bark of a pine. A lake, milkily sheathed in ice lay in front of him. A fox skitted red and trackless between his bent and quivering legs and a rhomboidal chunk of ice fell from the top of a distant lemon tree, bounced on the edge of the lake, and skittered across the ice which immediately gave way, the icechunk enveloped in the hookergreen water swirling below. He could hear his breath hollow in the silence of the vacuumed snow. And then a distant rankling could be heard, and shuffling, swaying, Else shadowed on the crest of a back-near hill. Her helmet dull and formless in the swirling grey. McFritty looked at Else and looked at the lake, only to find the strange snout of a Maori shark butting out of the hole in the ice (he had been obsessed with sharks in the penitentiary and read many books, by moonlight, on the subject of sharks in his room with the sturdy toilet). He knew that the Maori was not a shark that lived here, in this climate, or even in a lake for that matter. But there it was peering jack-eyed from a hole in the ice, and what could McFritty do…deny it? Deny the very fact that it was snowing in the middle of winter? Deny the fact that Else had murdered…that she was pursuing him at this very moment, and was (look McFritty! Beware!) almost thirty yards away.
He stepped onto the ice and made his way to the other side, the shark following him to the middle of the lake, peering up through the cellophane ice. Certainly McFritty could not choose or decide in that lago’s epicenter. There was Else, cresting that snowscrimmed hill, an army of forest life behind her, and there was the reality of his being on the lake (and they as the snow fell, as the shark cruised, as McFritty remained on the ice, were very much the same thing).