Late October

Francis Bacon, Innocent X avec viande

It was late October. The season of dying. At least for trees and animals. I was sick. I was walking home and sweat poured from my forehead. It was my fever, or maybe my coat. It was too heavy for this time of year and I didn’t have the sense to take it off. No, I fear it was my fever and whether I removed the coat or not my forehead would still be wet. No matter.

I was trying to cross the road. My legs were stiff. I have bad circulation. A van slowed down and stopped. He rolled down the window and said he wanted me to take a look at some of his work. Get in, he said. No, I said. I will not take no for an answer, he said. No, I said. He said, There’s a meal in it for you, and whisky. All right, I said. I got in. I had never been this close to him before. He was long, dark, and evil with gray hair full to the middle of his back. He wore silver-rimmed glasses that rested on the tip of his nose. He had on a heavy tweed coat like I did. He said his name was Jack.

It was a long ride. He lived out in the country. My work is in my country house, he said. Good, I said. We passed an exotic animal farm. He pointed out a giraffe and antelope. I was not impressed. My fever was growing worse. You look sick, he said. I am sick, I said. You should take something for that, he said. I don’t know what to take, I said. He reached under his seat and handed me a pistol. It was huge and silver or maybe nickel. I can’t tell the difference. Hold it, he said. I held it and stuck it out of the window to shoot. No, he said. Why not? I said. Because you have to be careful, he said. I gave the pistol back to him. He put it on the dashboard. A man’s gun is his soul, he said. I agree, I said. Then there was a long silence. Silence between two people makes me nervous. I began to talk about Sartre. You are an intellectual, he said. I don’t care, I said. Why not? he said. Because I’ve forgotten how to care, I said. He grinned. I noticed something. I noticed he had wire protruding from each side of his upper gums. Your fangs, I said. Explosion, look at my face, he said. I looked at his face. A scar ran from his left eye out wide just below his left ear, down below his jaw line and back up by his nose. One half is silicone, he said. Or maybe he said mostly plastic. The important point here is that this guy Jack in reality had only half of a face. In the technical sense of blood and skin. Your arm, he said. I’d rather not go into it, I said. He noticed I had only one arm. You’re too complicated, he said. I can’t help it, I said. You’re an intellectual because you have only one good arm, he said. Perhaps, I said. I like you, he said. Good, I said.

We arrived at his house a little before dark. His country house, as he referred to it. It was on about ten acres of land. There was a large pond. There were no trees. On the porch his Catahoula was chewing on some kind of meat. Maybe bone. I followed him in and sat at a small table. That meal, I said. Have a drink first, he said. He handed me a bottle of whisky. Then he handed me some manuscripts. Short stories and poems. Read, he said. He cooked while I read. I read and drank the whisky. His style reminded me of John Hawkes’s earlier stuff. Particularly, The Beetle Leg, or, perhaps, The Cannibal. Ever read any John Hawkes? I said. No, he said. He’d never heard of him. Meat sizzled. Outside the wind blew, and the dog barked. No, the wind did not blow, nor did the dog bark. In any case, I was reading one of his stories called “World of Silent Ashes,” and came to this line that read. . . and the dark fish enjoy these human remains. I remembered the pond. I looked up. He stood with his back against the stove and held a butcher knife. He was staring straight at me. He grinned, and I could see his metal fangs. I nearly shat on myself. However, I stared back at him with equal, or almost equal, strength. He waved the butcher knife and said, Control, Lucas, it’s all about control. I said, Right, Jack, control. He seemed impressed. He hissed and put down the knife. I continued to read his work.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the inside of the house. For, you see, my eyes were constantly downcast. I was reading one of his stories called “Everyday a Burial.” In a particular passage he described a room. I looked up from the story and noticed two swords glistening in a far corner of the den. If you take off the “s” from “sword” you get “word.” Then I noticed three rifles standing against a window. There were also several pistols lying on a huge mahogany table in the middle of the kitchen. Some of these pistols had silencers attached to them. I knew they were silencers for I had seen silencers in the movies. But these silencers seemed homemade because they were roughhewed and didn’t match well with the color and size of the pistols. Sweat poured from my face, because of the fever. I sweated through his story. He walked in from the kitchen and placed a steamy bowl in front of me. Eat, he said. He sat in a chair and watched me. I spooned the stew. It was all meat, no vegetables. I didn’t like the look of the meat. I need the bathroom, I said. He pointed and I went. In the bathroom was a small closet with no door. In this closet was a pile of filthy and mangled clothes. These clothes appeared to fit either a child or small woman. Around the toilet were strands of red and blond hair. My sweat was now mixed with tears because of an increasing pounding in my head that now accompanied my fever. I thought for certain this pulse would shatter my forehead. Are you all right in there? he said. Just fine, I said. Hurry-up and come finish your stew, he said. In a minute, I said. Just checking, he said. Thanks, I said. Then he slowly walked away from the door.

When I returned from the bathroom he was gone. The front door was open. I walked out on the porch. It was now dark. On the porch was an old sofa. On the sofa was an open leather briefcase. I looked into the briefcase. In it were two pairs of handcuffs, a long and thin broken chain, and a dirty welding glove. Do you like my briefcase? he said from behind me. What do you mean? I said. Just joking around, he said. He took the briefcase and closed it. Go finish your stew, he said. I can’t eat, I said. You must eat, you’re sick, he said. I’m not hungry, I said. You want to go feed the fish? he said. The fever was wiping me out and my knees were slightly, but only slightly, knocking. I need to go home, I said. Sure, he said. He grinned, and I could see his fangs.

On the way home he asked me about his work. I don’t know why he thought I knew anything. I told him I’d seen much worse. He seemed to like this answer. His headlights caught something dead in the road. You like raw meat? he said, somewhat jokingly. By now, my fever had grown such that I was indifferent to any perilous circumstance. I said, Human or the normal kind? He looked as if he did not know how to respond to this question. Then he said, quite seriously, I’m a killer, Lucas, pure and simple. I like you, and would murder for you. You’re a cripple, so I can tell you anything and it doesn’t matter. You remind me of a priest. You can do anything and go anywhere but you’ll never be fully here, on Earth. There’s not much of a difference between a murderer and a priest.

And with my body on fire I fell asleep that night thinking of Mother, God, Apple Pie, and Patria. . . .

Louis E. Bourgeois teaches writing at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. His memoir, The Gar Diaries, will be released in January 2008 by Community Press. Bourgeois is also editor of VOX PRESS and the recently founded WOLF TABLE PRESS.

© 2007 Underground Voices