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It Kept Her Alive and Me Too

  
A Thousand and One
 
GRANPA TOLD ME
all about the genie in the lamp.
   
It’s the oldest story ever and came from the land of sand and the women
with only eyes for you. It’s in there, the genie of everything, but you have to
find him and figure out how to let him out. He seems fussy but if you keep it
simple and use your head he pops up like a daisy. Then he’s out and you have to
figure out what to do with him. Granpa says he’s some kind of wonderful but as
dumb as a stump, just like all of us. He can do anything but doesn’t know what
to do on his own. He needs guiding.
    The lamp is always hidden in plain sight
he says. Men go prospecting all over the landscape for the easy riches but
they’re generally lying right there on the ground for you to step over in your
hurry and scurry to look for them. Granpa points to the men through the door of
the grog shop and they’re playing cards and Granpa says what good would it do
for them to find the riches anyway.
    In the library Granpa takes the books down
from the high shelves that kids aren’t meant to get at because the words in
them are too dear to waste on such as us. He told me to run my hands over the
cloth on the cover to see if it was the real deal inside. They don’t waste the
real nubbly cloth on the fakers.
    The lady at the desk didn’t like it but
Granpa shushed her and we went home and opened that genie book but only so far.
A book is like a man, Granpa says. You have to hold them both in respect. You
can only bend a book or a man so far until they can’t take it no more and then
their back breaks.


    Granpa says there’s lots of men been bent
back too far nowadays. They got told the only thing they could do didn’t need
doing anymore, and it broke them open and their hearts fell right out. They try
to fill the hole with all sorts of things but nothing suits.
    People act like thieves in reverse and put
the broken books back on the shelf like nothing happened, but you can always
tell because neither a man or a book can ever stand up straight any more after
that.    
    Granpa said a body only needs a crust of
bread today, it’s true, but without at least the hope of a loaf tomorrow you’re
a goner. Scheherezade told that Sultan all those stories night after night and
it kept her alive and me too.
[From The Devil’s In the Cows. All rights reserved}

I Want The Old Testament

I WISH IT WOULD rain. No. Sleet. Sleet would finish the scene nicely. Rain is God’s mop. It washes away the dirt and corruption. I’ve got no use for snow, either; the fat flakes are too jolly. Snow makes a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.
    I’d rather pull my collar up and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless boxer were raining down on me. I don’t want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.
    Old or new – I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They’d torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija board does that, doesn’t it?
    It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn’t need to be clear-minded right now. Paul’s tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle’s birthday, not the Redeemer’s. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.
    People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.
    It was already kind of late. My foreman said for all he cared, I could bang on those machines until Satan showed up in the Ice Capades, but I didn’t feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That’s a bad time to be alone and sober.
    “I’m closing early tonight,” Paul said, and he didn’t go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.
    “You’ve made a mess of this, Paul,” I stammered out, coughing a bit, “What the hell is this?”
    “It’s ginger ale. You’re coming with me tonight.”
    I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.
    “No.” I rose to leave.
    “You’ll come, or you’ll never darken the doorstep here again.”
    Now a man finds himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn’t have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn’t so bad. They never understand that the whole thing was worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.
    I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table.
    Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn’t there – no, as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.
    I wasn’t prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It’s too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.
    “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
    He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only “good night” to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.
    “Do you want something?” he asked.
    “Ginger ale.”

(From my collection of flash fiction, The Devil’s In The Cows Merry Christmas to all that visit here, and all that don’t]

Pie Jesu

She Called It the Piazza

By: Sippican Cottage

SHE CALLED IT the piazza. I’d been to the library and it isn’t a piazza at all, but she says it just the same.

I didn’t say that, but it’s not like I know what to call it anyway. I wouldn’t say it to her face if I did know because she is so fierce. The doctors, like bad farmers, pulled babies and other things you’d think were vital out of her and all sorts of bits off of her as the calendars repeated themselves, and father says when they bury her there will be an echo inside. She carries on like the turning of the earth, and everyone loves her and fears her no matter how much of her is left.

She never went leathery; she got adamantine. She was a basilisk to a stranger and a pitted madonna to her own. We make a pilgrimage, no less, to visit her. Which one are you again is the name she uses to prove she loves us all the same amount. She presses a quarter in my hand like a card trick when we leave.

The piazza is just a rotten porch that leans drunkenly off the building and she sends me to get the food that cooled out there. It’s thirty rickety feet above the jetsam of a thousand lives gone bad, surrounded by chainlink and crime. She’s like a one-woman congress, overruling all sorts of laws of man and nature, but you can’t help feeling she can’t keep a lookout for gravity forever on your behalf, can she? Everything is only a matter of time in this world.

It’s always hot and close when you return, breathless from fear and hurry and the whip of the wind, and you notice she has only two colors: grey and the pink of her cheek. There are always things I don’t understand, boiling. Everything on the plates is grey and pink, too.

The rooms are in a parade. The triptych of the parlor windows shows the sack of a forgotten Rome through the tattered lace. No running in the hall! Her daughter lives down stairs so there was no one to bother but… the very idea!

But how could any child linger in that tunnel of a hall? You had to get past it to the kitchen table. The bedrooms branched off, dim caves that smelled of perfume bought in stores forty years closed by men thirty years dead. The indistinct whorls on the wallpaper reached out to touch your hand like a leper.

At the table, the lyre-back chair groans and shifts under even my little weight, and you sit transfixed while she spoons the sugar and dumps the milk into the tea until the saucer is a puddle, and you wondered in your head how many times the bag could take it. There’s cinnamon and laughter now and then and blessed sunlight that turned the battered battleship linoleum into a limpid pool. The cork shines through the scrim of the coating, a million footfalls revealing more and more of it over time.

And Catherine? The Cork shows through there, too.


The Dirty Dozen Best First Lines In Literature

I Just Read Death of a Salesman, and Boy, Are My Lips Tired

I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you like bad books.

It’s not your fault. You’re pummeled with bad books in school like some vicious textual version of dodgeball. You’re required to read bad books. You couldn’t help noticing that bad books are given trophies and medals and their authors sleep on velvet-ticked mattresses stuffed with the souls of good writers and banknotes. You just went with the flow. I hereby absolve you of guilt.

Absolution comes with fine print, you know: Go and sin no more. So knock it off. Stop trying to make Harry Potter happen in adult company. Stop reading books by girls that kill themselves as a career move. And in the name of all that is right and holy, stop publishing lists of the Greatest First Lines in Fiction. And stop starting sentences with and.

In the Beginning, All Books Were Great

First of all, let’s go over the greatest first line in any book, ever:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible

Now, if you got your English degree at UNLV unironically, you’re dying to put a comma in there, aren’t you? You know more about dependent clauses than Santa’s pediatrician, but your instincts are all bad. You know rules, but not enough of them to make you of any use, coming or going, writing or reading. Stop publishing lists.

Of course, The Bible is cheating. If you wear a fedora and call fat girls M’Lady, like to visit bookstores to put the Bible in the fiction section while you’re on the way to the Hobbit section, you should give lists of great books a pass.

Good Books, Not the Good Book

We’re talking fiction here, more or less. Litchah. Good books, not the Good Book. Great writers often try to concoct an opening sentence that insists upon itself. Since authors are usually running a tab at a distillery, not just a pub like you do, they desperately need you to pick up the book, open to page one, and then reach for your wallet immediately. So we’re going to judge how they did, right now.

The Twelve Greatest First Lines I Ever Read:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — James Joyce

By gad, you’re always putting Ulysses in your lists. Ulysses is like a postcard from home for a drunken Druid drudge like me, but you should admit you have no idea what’s going on in it, and learn to love his book about wetting the bed, instead.


At an age when most young Scotsmen were lifting skirts, plowing furrows
and spreading seed, Mungo Park was displaying his bare buttocks to
al-haj’ Ali Ibn Fatoudi, Emir of Ludamar.

Water Music — T. Coraghessan Boyle

It’s T.C. Boyle’s first book, I think, and the only one really worth reading. It’s the greatest picaresque novel since Fielding lost interest. They put that sentence, in big letters, on the cover of the edition I have. That publisher knows his arse from his elbow.


Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.
The Gun Seller — Hugh Laurie 

Yes, it’s that Hugh Laurie. His book is a blast. It’s better than any potboiler you could name. The Day of the Maltese Bourne Majestyk Sanction sorta thing. If you know him solely from an American television show, you should be reading Highlights magazine, not this essay. If you know him from Jeeves and Wooster…


Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel
Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty
hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk
French.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse — The Luck of the Bodkins

This one is like cheating. You can open up anything by PG and paste the first line into your WYSIWYG if you’re on deadline and your employer needs their literary listicle by close of business. The Greatest comic writer that ever lived, but one…


This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight, and broke
some arms and legs and one thing or another, and by good luck was found
by some peasants who had lost an ass, and they carried me to the nearest
habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed farm-houses,
with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch
under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright colored flowers and
cats; on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room, separated from
the milch-cattle apartment by a partition; and in the front yard rose
stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure-pile.

Christian Science — Mark Twain

I read this aloud to my eleven-year-old at dinner a month ago. He asks me to read it again every night. The second sentence in the book is just as funny, but you knew that, because you looked it up immediately, didn’t you?


Once upon a time…
Grimm’s Fairy Tales — Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Every writer knows he’s a piker compared to those two guys. They got more mileage out of those four words than Seinfeld re-runs.


Call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick –Herman Melville 

Whoops, Melville pared it down to three words. It’s useful to remember that old Herm died penniless, and no one gave a shiny shite about his book until he was room temperature. Now he’s on lists.


Marley was dead: to begin with.
A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens
 
Everyone wants to put A Tale of Two Cities on these lists, but admit it, it sounds like Chuck is foaming at the mouth halfway through that Cities sentence, and he got a deal at the Typesetter Depot on semicolons and was still trying to use them up. His one great sentence is right there. It’s got a colon in it! That’s brass.


He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
The Old Man and the Sea — Ernest Hemingway

I understand Hemingway more than I like him, but no matter. He won a Nobel Prize for that sentence, and if you ask me, no one has any idea what he was driving at in that book. I do.


Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the
Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams

I tossed this in here to satisfy people who think George RR Martin needs to be knighted while being given a handy by Sylvia Plath. Douglas Adams invented very good bad writing in the seventies, and he needs his due.


Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Richard III — William Shakespeare

Now imagine Olivier delivering that line. Shakey Bill’s Richard the Third makes Hannibal Lecter look like Mr. Green Jeans, and that sentence nails his colors to his bent mast right off.


I told that boy, I told him.
The Devil’s in the Cows — Sippican Cottage

Yeah, I went there. 


 

Traditional, Now

[Editor’s note: From 2007. Somewhat traditional.] 
{Author’s note: There is no editor. Merry Christmas}

Ginger Ale 

by: Sippican Cottage

I wish it would rain.


No; sleet. Sleet would finish the scene. Rain is cleansing. It washes away the dirt and corruption. No snow either; the fat, jolly flakes just hide it all. Snow can make a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.


I want to pull my collar up, and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless god were raining down on me. I don’t want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.


Old, or new – I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They’d torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija Board does that, doesn’t it?


It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn’t need to be clear-minded right now. Paul’s tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle’s birthday, not the Redeemer’s. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.


People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.


It was already kind of late. I could bang on those machines like a Fury until the sun winked out, but I didn’t feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That’s a bad time to be alone and sober.


“I’m closing early tonight,” Paul said, and he didn’t go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.


“You’ve made a mess of this, Paul,” I stammered out, coughing a bit, “What the hell is this?”


“It’s Ginger Ale. You’re coming with me tonight.”


I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.


“No.” I rose to leave.


“You’ll come, or you’ll never darken the doorstep here again.”


Now a man find himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn’t have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn’t so bad. They never understand that the whole thing is worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.


I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table. Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn’t there — no; as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.


I wasn’t prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It’s too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.


“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only “good night” to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.


“Do you want something?” he asked.


“Ginger Ale.”

Open Is A Time

I WISH IT WOULD rain. No. Sleet. Sleet would finish the scene nicely. Rain is God’s mop. It washes away the dirt and corruption. I’ve got no use for snow, either; the fat flakes are too jolly. Snow makes a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.
    I’d rather pull my collar up and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless boxer were raining down on me. I don’t want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.
    Old or new – I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They’d torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija board does that, doesn’t it?
    It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn’t need to be clear-minded right now. Paul’s tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle’s birthday, not the Redeemer’s. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.
    People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.

    It was already kind of late. My foreman said for all he cared, I could bang on those machines until Satan showed up in the Ice Capades, but I didn’t feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That’s a bad time to be alone and sober.
    “I’m closing early tonight,” Paul said, and he didn’t go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.
    “You’ve made a mess of this, Paul,” I stammered out, coughing a bit, “What the hell is this?”
    “It’s ginger ale. You’re coming with me tonight.”
    I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.
    “No.” I rose to leave.
    “You’ll come, or you’ll never darken the doorstep here again.”
    Now a man finds himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn’t have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn’t so bad. They never understand that the whole thing was worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.
    I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table.
    Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn’t there – no, as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.
    I wasn’t prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It’s too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.
    “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
    He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only “good night” to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.
    “Do you want something?” he asked.
    “Ginger ale.”

(From my collection of flash fiction, The Devil’s In The Cows
)

What Do You Know About Men?

I always liked Dick Cavett; or I find him an interesting version of the public intellectual, is more like it. He didn’t exude a dullard vibe like Mike Douglas or Joey Bishop or Merv Griffin or any of the panoply of guys back then with a camera and someone standing by with everyone’s agent in their rolodexes. But he’s a boneless fish, and when the real barracudas show up, he’s as powerless as the rest of them.

He should have stuck to talking to his fellow swirlie victims, endlessly exchanging pointed pointless barbs with Gore Vidal or Truman Capote or some other invertebrate, or phony tough guys like Norman Mailer or the Garp fellow (his name escapes me now). Maybe a sportswriter now and then. You could flip the channel back then and seen his polar opposite twin William F. Buckley worrying the dictionary and a functionary at the same time, and acting like owning a yawl and knowing how to fix dinner on a gimballing alcohol stove meant you were Francis fucking Drake. It was much the same. No one in that milieu knows what to do when confronted with a real, live man.

Look at Burton. Every pint is written in his face, every cigarette in his voice. His eyes are living in the ruins of his head like fires in a cave. His mouth is perfectly fixed in the shape of Shakespeare and the pony glass. He is a mountain, and Cavett is an ant trying to climb all over him that can’t even get off the ground. Burton does not listen to the questions, he just waits. There’s a moment in there, towards the end, where Burton dismisses even Cavett’s intellect, which is all he’s got; and he does it in such a way that only a man with a foot on a rail and a glass in his hand and dust in his lungs would understand.

THE GREAT MAN’S house. The daughters of the men who cracked his anthracite cracked oysters for him in there. The girls would come home and say they had a place in the great man’s house and would rub shoulders with quality, pa. The fathers knew him, though. A werewolf. A vampire. They would sit silent with their black faces and their watery eyes at the kitchen table and know what it meant to turn your children over to such men. They’d say nothing because there was nothing to say.

    They turned their sons over to the collieries. There was honor there — and shame. A man hopes for better for his children than he got. Nothing ever gets better in a mine. You come out every day like the womb. Born again. Or not. The great man would read of the little men like insects that worked in his seams, dead of the gas or the great hand of gravity. It was a story from far away, as their very daughters cracked his oysters.

    The men would see their sons fight back the plain fear that showed in their eyes as the sky passed away and the rank earth swallowed them for their labors, and feel pride, too. No man is ashamed of his son at his elbow in a mine. He is ashamed of himself, maybe.

    What is a man to do? A Welshman might as well be a black ant. He’s got the instinct to go down and up in that little hole and he can’t help himself. He knows no other thing until he knows nothing forevermore. He does what he does. And the great man did what he did. He saw the man’s weakness, and his strength, and used one to get the other.

    The great man had the other great men in his pocket. He could call out the guard on a whim. He could kill a man legal. He could kill him any which way. He could do as he pleased. He could live in the shadow of a boneyard in a palace and there were none dared to squeak. The men said we’ll vote and stick together, and the great man just put one more man in charge of them, the new black prince of the county with the thing with the letters behind him. It was organized, but not like you’d think. Things would go on behind a velvet curtain. If they drew it back you’d see the smirk of the hyena in there.

    Then there was no work. The union and the boss alike said no coal. The big machines and the kept men kept even the culm from us. The great man couldn’t mine the coal by himself, so he mined the banks and the government and the union and got his gelt just the same.

    The great man thought he knew men. But he did not know your father and his father. They knew the coal like he knew his oysters. They went into the woods where the seams lay close to the sky, and they began again. The very earth gave them what they always sought. The men sent to find them and stop them joined them instead. The trucks ran at night to the great glittering city where the coins slept in great vaults.

    The housemaids knew from where it came, for they had come from there themselves. They pressed the coins into the dingy hands at the alley gate and burned it in their own great man’s house. Their little hods filled with bootleg coal made a pyre for our great man.

    The great man’s house. Look on it.

(“Coal Breaker,” from The Devil’s In The Cows. Look on it.)

Tag: The Devils In The Cows

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