A Walk Around Town On a Chilly Evening
by Sasha Fletcher
After the sun set and the last of its heat dissipated from the baked bricks of the buildings lining what amounted to a boulevard, the cold winds started in from the North or the East or some other place full up with trouble and nonsense, and whistled their way through the town.
Outside the bar are several drunks drunk and lonely, their secrets spilling out their mouths and on down their shirtfronts, their bile spelling out a few choice phrases like WE FIND NEW WAYS TO DEFEAT OURSELVES BETTER THAN THE WORLD EVER COULD EVERY DAY and IF I KNEW BETTER HOW TO LIVE WITH MY LONELINESS THEN MAYBE YOU’D SPEAK TO ME AGAIN, OR AT LEAST COME HOME and I WOULD SAY I AM SORRY BUT THE WORD FOR WHAT I AM FEELING IS NOT A WORD, IT IS A FEELING, AND FURTHERMORE IF I BROACHED THE SUBJECT OF MYSELF TO YOU I’D BE A DEAD MAN AND A HALF and THIS WAS NOT WHAT I MEANT TO ACCOMPLISH and WHOOPS, GUESS I REALLY MADE A MESS HERE, HUH?
Such are the feelings we spill from time to time on the shoes of strangers, our sadness a thing we choose to choke or choke on as the moment dictates, and depending of course on the price of whisky, which at the moment is on sale, and the road to the bar is wide, roughly as wide as my weaknesses, which will swallow me whole, just you watch. But before that, let us hold our heads under the water until something magical happens. Let us hold hands and walk through the fire in the manner of people in nicer clothes that we can afford, and let us do it with the gusto and commitment that we would like to be better known for.
Outside all of this is the jail, in which several men are interred for inflicting their feelings on unsuspecting citizens with varying degrees of violence. ‘Tell us something!’ they call out to the Sheriff’s father. ‘Tell you what he?’ says to them. ‘Tell us something lovely and true and only a little vicious, just enough to draw some blood, to get the scent of living in the air.’ He says ‘Fine’ and reads them the letters he has written to the ghost he loves and when he is finished they say ‘And then what?’ and he says to them ‘And then nothing.’ He says ‘And then we keep living as best we can with our hearts on fire in a way that not even death will extinguish’, and this shuts them up for the night while they sit with their thoughts which have, it turns out, sincerely let them down.
Upstairs from the jail is the Sheriff’s father’s apartment, next to the sign that says JAIL, and notes are falling from the ceiling, and have been for years, and then the wind comes and scoops them up, because the wind is a fucking asshole, and romance does not always get to win, because if it did, well, what then?
What then? is a game the children are playing that they invented earlier wherein they reinvent the wheel and by the wheel we mean history.
What then is then everyone gets the ball scores in in a more timely fashion. What then is the double play and the complete game shutout and the invention of the ground rule double, which is a thing people have got some opinions on, but fuck their opinions, because the ground rule double is a law, and you’re just an opinion with a mouth. The town paper has got some things to say about the ground rule double, but is keeping them to itself. The town paper sits alone in the dark, writing editorial after editorial. The town paper thinks for a moment about what it might be like to date, to sit across a table from a body and to risk something of their feelings, or at least maybe to sit down to a meal, for once in its life. After thinking, the town paper writes an editorial, and after that the town paper writes another editorial. In the basement of the town paper, an idea, unspoken, rustles.
Up in her room is Meg who has stopped seeing Daniel, but is unsure if she wants to see Sam. Sam on his porch down the road is decidedly sure that he would like to see Meg if she would let him, while up in her room Meg thinks of how glad she is to know Sam, of the joy knowing him has brought to her life, and the ways in which their conversations have expanded the borders of her life to encompass things she had previously only dreamed of, but how that doesn’t mean she wants to marry the guy. Meg thinks of Sam and is, for a moment, overwhelmed by a rush of blood and warmth let loose by her heart. Meg thinks of Sam and of how much more glad she would be if he would just let things be. ‘Sam’ says Meg ‘I get it. There is such stuff in my heart that you could not get over if you tried, which who even knows if you have, but that doesn’t mean things between us would work.’ ‘In another world’ says Sam to Meg from his porch ‘Wanting would be enough.’ ‘In another world ‘says Meg to Sam from her upstairs in her room ‘I’d like that very much.’
Past them is the moon, which is, in its own way, another world beyond all of us, and below the moon is the barbershop. Outside the barbershop are a group of men with large ideas and new haircuts and nobody cares about those men and if they do care about them well then that’s their mistake, and not one which we are willing to indulge. Past the barbershop is the Jail, where the Sheriff sits with a pipe as the prisoners ask him questions to which he responds ‘Well, I reckon you’ll stay there until such time as you learn to not be a shit heel. No Tom, I don’t rightly reckon I know when that would be either. Dinner’s beans in a cup with some burnt ends. Well because it’s all I know to cook, or it’s ’cause I don’t rightly feel like expending the effort to make you more than that. Also you’re drunk Tom. You pissed in your gun and thought you’d be shooting piss in Bill’s ear instead of the shell in the chamber. Yes, Bill’s dead, with an ear full of piss, too. Yes, Tom, I reckon you’ll hang. Yes it was misleading earlier. No, I don’t feel too torn up about it. Well Tom, I have known love. Well I left that love, Tom. No, no it was just. Well, Tom, she was a witch, and I was greatly terrified of her femininity, and her power, and quite frankly I just felt like I was out of my depth. Do I regret it? Sure. Some days. I mean, who doesn’t have a few regrets? I’m sure you regret leaving Bill dead with an ear full of piss. But that don’t preclude an attempt at justice and whatever subsequent punishment is decided upon for the taking of a life unjustly, which, if you’ve been following along here, tends in this town to be a handing. Yes, Tom. I too weep at the sheer fucking impossibility of it all. Practically every night.’ And then they both weep at the sheer fucking impossibility of it all, because who wouldn’t? And anyway past the jail is, fittingly enough, the graveyard, which is not so much a yard as it is the plot of land at the bottom of a hill reached by a winding staircase at the top of which is the church.
Outside the church sits an old priest and a young priest. Earlier today the old priest and young priest woke up in their rooms and they yawned and stretched and the young priest worries a bit about sleep, which is not a thing he does well at all, and the old priest cataloged his dreams so as to better distinguish them from his visions and the young priest just assumed that whatever happened inside his head was the thing he was meant to think or see, but that he should, if he could, hold those thoughts up to what light of day there is so as to compare them to the wide world and better get a grip on what plans there are that exist for him, and after al that they got dressed and met downstairs.
‘Well’ said the young priest to the old priest ‘I guess we’d better open up.’ ‘That’ said the old priest ‘Would be the thing to do’, and so they went and they opened up the doors, and no one is there. ‘There’s nobody there’ said the young priest. ‘Seems as though nobody is in need of a church at this hour’ said the old priest. ‘Coffee?’ said the young priest. ‘Oh yes, please’ said the old priest, and they retire to the back, and prepare some coffee. ‘So last night’ said the young priest ‘Oh?’ said the old priest ‘Yeah’ said the young priest. ‘Were you going to tell me about last night?’ said the old priest and the young priest said ‘I wasn’t planning on it but I could if you’d like’, and then they both sat there with their coffee, and then someone stuck their head in and said ‘Hi Hello Can you help me?’ ‘How can we help?’ they said, and the person says ‘You can die’, and then like twenty people swarm the church, guns blazing, and the priests said together and in unison ‘We’d rather you didn’t do this. God loves you, and violence is not the answer’ and this statement got answered with more gunplay, and the young priest sighed and said to the old priest ‘OK so about my dream’ and the old priest said ‘Uh huh’ and then grabbed the nearest church-swarmer by the neck and removed their head from their body and gripped the spine with both hands and whipped it around, smashing a few heads together, while the young priest shot out the eyes of the church-swarmers and said ‘Last night I could have sworn there was a mountain walking around the desert’ and shoots out a few more eyes, which are the windows to the soul, and anyone that would visit such violence upon these men, well, their soul is fucked unto death probably, and the old priest said ‘Go on’ and the young priest said ‘I mean that wasn’t what happened, really. What happened was I was a much older man’ and the old priest says ‘Like me?’ and the young priest says ‘And I was standing on the roof of a house on top of a mountain that was roaming the desert carried along upon a series of tumbleweeds, and I was standing there with my daughter, in the dream I had a daughter’ and he shot four more people through the eyes while the old priest switched out his shattered-to-shit skull on the end of the spine of his church-swarmer basher for a fresh one from the neck of a real asshole-looking fella, and the young priest said ‘I don’t know how I knew she was my daughter, but I just did’ and the old priest said ‘The world’s funny like that’ and the young priest said ‘And anyway her name was America, and it wasn’t a symbol or anything it was just her name, America Resplendent Adams, and she and I were standing there, her mother had been dead a year that morning, we stood there, and we wept, and our tears formed a waterfall, and it flooded a town, a town by the sea, and the town was swept away, and America looked up at me, and she opened her mouth, and then I woke up.’ ‘Shit’ said the old priest, breathing slowly, and stacking the bodies into a sort of mountain. ‘Yeah, well’ said the young priest, panting from the exertion. ‘Guess we should bury them.’
And so anyway that’s why they’re here in the graveyard, where the old priest, sweating, mostly out of breath, and leaning against a tombstone on which they have inscribed HERE REST SEVERAL POOR DECISIONS, he says ‘I was in love with a ghost once’ and the young priest says ‘1) Who wasn’t and 2) We can talk about that later.’ The old priest says ‘What of America?’ and the young priest says ‘That isn’t funny’ The old priest says ‘America.’ The young priest says ‘You can be a real asshole sometimes, you know that?’ The old priest says ‘I worry that America has forgotten how to love’, says ‘Brother and sisters, we are gathered here today huddled up amongst the rocks and the hard places, begging the Lord up above for guidance, because that is all we are good for, is begging. Brothers and sisters I say unto you ‘Fuck your beggary’, for it will get you nowhere. Does the lord love you more when you cry out for him to fix things? When your child ceases not with its pleas and tears, does this inspire you to love the child more? or to strike it about the face and body with your hands or some other implement of tact? This is a question put to you out there in America where we no longer know what love means.’ The young priest says ‘That was a nice start but it gets a little aggressive towards the end there.’ The old priest says ‘People respond to aggression.’ The young priest says ‘Not well’ says ‘Recall earlier, if you will.’ The old priest says ‘I thought that went well’ and the young priest says nothing. He says ‘Once upon a time in the west I was tired, and after that I went to bed, and in the morning a whole bunch of jerks sat around worrying about everything except whether they were trying to be better, more decent people, who attempted more sincerely to connect to others around them, and really grow the kind of community that would make anyone proud.’ He says ‘Let’s change the subject.’ he says ‘Some people talk about the soul and where it resides. They say that the deepest part of you is in your head, or your heart, or your blood. ‘His blood is bad’ they’ll say. ‘His heart is cold.’ ‘He has got an evil turn of mind.’ ‘There is a darkness to him’ is what they’ll say. But the worst of us, what we leave behind, what heaven never wants, is our bones.’ He says ‘Fuck.’ He says ‘I don’t really know where I’m going with all this.’ He says ‘I am not really going anywhere with this.’ The old priest says to the young priest ‘Oh yes you are’ and the young priest says ‘And where might that be?’ and the old priest says ‘Straight to hell’ and then they both die laughing. Now they’re up in heaven, and there’s God, saying ‘Stop that’, and the old priest and the young priest say ‘Make us’, they say ‘We dare you.’ They say ‘We double dare you.’ They say ‘We double dare you and stamp it with a Presidential seal from the President of Loneliness, with whom we have got a real close and personal relationship.’ God says ‘You guys know the President of Loneliness?’ The old priest and the young priest say ‘Fuck yes we do!’ And God says ‘Dang.’ And the old priest and the young priest say ‘Tell us about it’, and so that is what God does. And, in the morning when the sun comes up, there they are, the old priest and the young priest, still dead as all creation, and loving every second of it.
SASHA FLETCHER is the author of It Is Going To Be a Good Year (Big Lucks Books, 2016), several chapbooks of poetry, and an out of print novella. He has recently finished a novel, from which this piece is excerpted from.