Noir: An Excerpt

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An excerpt by Edward J. Rathke. 

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Tom and Jerry were up all night but those aren’t really their names. Gomez had this huge party and just about everyone was invited, even Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry on account of one being tall and blue and the other being short and brown, blue as in sad and brown as in color, get me? Well, Gomez has this big old shindig and the whole town’s ready to show up and I think they all did.

It was to celebrate something, his daughter’s nuptials or something. Lots of champagne, anyhow. Big tents that filled the whole meadow, that one north of town where all the kids usually play till they’re too old to play but too young to drink, legally, anyway.

Yeah, I spent a lot of time in that meadow growing up. We all did. Everyone does. Nowhere else to go, if you want to know the truth. The town’s always had a lot of kids around and that’s the way we like it, little buggers running round and everyone kind of raising them together. I guess you could call it a commune in that regard. Everyone’s kids are everyone’s kids, but, no, our wives are our wives. We’re close, but not that close. Maybe some get by being less selfish, but there’s only so much a man can take. Anyhow, we all spent years down there playing tag, cops and robbers, dungeon, you name it. There’s this ancient Tree there, older than the town, older than the country. It’s about a hundred feet around if it’s an inch and it reaches up to the sky and cradles the clouds, the moon, and sometimes even the sun. People here, the old natives that we cast away and tortured in concentration camps, purebreds, they talked about that Tree as if the entire planet depended on it. If it falls or dies, the sky’s gonna come crashing down. It’s the last of an ancient breed, they say, used to have brothers and sisters in every corner of the globe, but the europeans, as is their way, burned them all down and made them into houses or forts and castles that barely last a millennium. They chopped down eternity just to leave ruins. Waste is all they know, all they’ve ever known, all they’ll likely ever learn. Me, yeah, I got some of both sides, the indigenous and the invader, the purebred and the Puritan. Sometimes, in my drunken revelries, I imagine my great grandparents met that way, she being tortured, him lashing the whip or cranking the crank, and she gives him this look and he realized that he lost, that she won, and that he loves her, will love her till he dies, whether as a traitor or hero, depending on the side he chose.

No one ever told me the story to that tale, but I imagine it was much simpler and less deranged. This place never had any of that, anyway. It was kept safe from the invasion and natives from all over the country found their way here. A kind of haven for the forgotten age. We’re surrounded by forest here but we have that big old meadow with MotherTree. Everything’s made from wood and we ask before we take and we only take what we need from the forest. We exist because of it, not the other way around. It keeps this place alive and has allowed us to remain unchanged for all this time. So, no, never had the kind of torture and all that that I sometimes imagine romantically. That’s a joke, you know? Even still, I am the King of the Mestizos.

The party, yeah, I went and it really was something else. Fireworks, drinks, gymnasts, dancers, bright colors and all that. The meadow was transformed from a grave for fireflies into this heaven of life and love and love of life. So many colors, so many faces, some masqueraded, some black tie and others just wandered in from work, from the nightshift because it really did last all night and half the next day. We don’t usually have occasion to act that way and many took exception because of it, drinking too much, eating too much, certain indecencies in the corners of the woods, other indecencies beneath the glow of the moon and the boughs of MotherTree. Such revelry, such excess.

It could’ve been our anniversary, come to think of it. The anniversary of the Tree. Oh, it’s an old thing, old as lunar calendars and tribal tattoos and spirits. She’s a holdover from the spirit world is how the story goes. When the Parents created man, They left the earth behind to live with their Brothers and Sisters on distant stars, but They still watch over us from there because They’re our parents in a way and children, even hated children, are forever loved by their parents. Anyhow, They grew these trees as a connection between the land of the Gods and the land of man, so They could help us if we asked. It’s a holy place, get me? For centuries upon centuries, people have prayed beneath its shade and sang songs for Her eternal trunk and Her infinite boughs and leaves.

Oh, She was strung up nice and extravagant, too. She glows all by Herself without moon or sun. They say that’s the Parents looking over us. It glows brightest on the moonless nights. Anyhow, it was a sight to see.

Where was I? Yeah, Tom and Jerry. They’re normal guys, working class farmers and nightshift laborers. Graveyard, actually. They’re the ones who saw him, the man from out of town. Well, we all saw him, a lot even shared a drink with him or spent some conversation on him. Hell, I think I had a beer or two with him. I mean in the morning. They saw him the next day.

Don’t remember much about his face. Kind of plain and ordinary, very european looking, but in an american kind of way. Square jaw, thick almost blond hair, and gentle eyes. Blue or brown, can’t recall. Anyhow, about the only thing I remember about him is that he was always smiling. You don’t see that kind of fellow come around here often. Mostly we get tourists or the lost or archaeologists trying to take samples of MotherTree. We don’t allow that. But this guy, Jim or John or, hell, maybe Ferdinand, no idea, I heard he came that afternoon. Just ambled on out of the mist of the outside world, get me? We’re real insular folk. Born here, live here, die here, all beneath MotherTree because you can travel the whole world and you’ll never find a place as perfect as home. We got no crime, no cops, no judges, no government of any real kind. There are people like Gomez, relative newcomers, only a few generations in town, who hold a bit more sway on account of his money. Then there are people like me who know everyone, know everyone’s birthday, their family history, and the history of this whole place. I guess, yeah, you could call me a sort of shaman or at least an elder, but I figure I’ve a lot more turns of leaves to see before I lie beneath MotherTree. Oh, yeah, we all go there when we’re done. She gives us life and when we’re ready to go, we give it back. Hasn’t been a fertile woman with a child who didn’t get the blessing of MotherTree. That’s the kind of place this is. Anyhow, he didn’t know anything about here as far as I can tell or as far as my ears have heard. He wasn’t lost, though. Everyone agrees on that because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because you don’t know where you are or where you’re going doesn’t mean you’re lost.

Yeah, I guess he did know where he was going when it comes down to it. Things like that aren’t accidents.

And him coming here wasn’t random. Live here long enough and you come to realize that existence isn’t as random as you once thought. It certainly isn’t planned, but there are ways to predict. In a sense, yeah, that’s what I do. People, everyone in the town, anyhow, comes to me for advice. King of the Mestizos! Yeah, it’s kind of like that. My family’s been here since the beginning, since the Parents left and the MotherTree grew. My position’s been passed on from father to son for as long as there have been fathers or sons. A blessing or a curse, our family only ever has one child at a go. All firstborns of firstborns. In most cases, that’s a bad sign, bad moojoo, get me? But in the case of my family, it’s the way it has to be. Oh, sure, most families have a lot of kids, but, like I sad, we’re all children of the Parents, so we all come up together. We’re all a family. Real lucky to get a seventh son. Even more lucky if you keep that trend going. We had some of those a long time, or so my grandfather used to tell me. Seventh sons marrying seventh daughters having seventh sons and seventh daughters and so on. The passing of time, the loss of the ancients, and we don’t get them anymore. Died out, in a sense. The Blacks are like that, believe it or not. Whole line of seventh sons for as long as time’s been recorded and even before then. Wars end those kinds of things and WWI ended the line, the seventh son was killed off on a shore he had never heard of fighting an enemy he didn’t hate. Such is the outside world. Anyhow, lines like that don’t just happen and I’m the keeper of all this, of all the lore and secrets of this place. Each of his gets his own kind of knack, get me? My grandfather could talk to wolves, his grandfather spoke with different birds, and his grandfather was a healer. Yeah, skips a generation, so, I got one too. No, too easy for me to just tell. Let’s leave it at the fact that I’ve yet to have a son, but there are more kids in town than there have been for years, even got a few seventh sons and daughters. There’s a system if you pay attention. Circles.

This stranger from the real world, he entered our dream and took to it like he was born into it. He was dancing, not singing because he didn’t know the words, but he was there with us, all around MotherTree. That night being what it was, it’s easy to lose track of everyone, including yourself, and, sorry to say, that’s what happened to me.

I did hear, though, that Tom and Jerry saw him come sun up. The revelers were still going strong and many gallons of wine—oh, we have the best wine and you’ll never guess how we make it, so I’ll tell you a bit about it, see, MotherTree provides all sorts of things, from life to death, but She also knows what it means for humans to celebrate, which is when we’re closest to Gods, when the right chemicals balance out and the world’s a swirl, because I imagine then that I’m experiencing everything with the clarity of true vision, the vision of our Parents and Their Brothers and Sisters, and it only comes with this kind of drunkenness, the drunkenness from our wine from the fruits of MotherTree that we harvest every autumn and ferment until they’re ready and we take the juice out and, my God, I could cry just thinking about it—drunk, and Tom says Jerry was barely able to stand, but they both swear that they saw him. See, Tom and Jerry were out trying to find food, not cognizant of the fact that everyone was in the meadow, so they prowled around town looking for any place that would feed them. Near the southernmost end, they saw him emerge from the mist of their fogged sight. They say he looked happy, well slept, and ready to meet the world. Even passed right by him and they exchanged nods and Mornings. Assuming he was heading back to the party, they let him go, thought they’d see him in a few. They did, but it was different then.

They didn’t notice at the time but recalled later, or so the whispers inform me, that, yeah, he was walking around in a suit like any normal person would, maybe a bit early owing to the hour and the day and the previous night, but the real extraordinary thing was that his tie wasn’t a tie: it was a noose. Here this stranger is just walking around with a noose round his neck and saying Good Morning to people in the street.

We get a lot of types around here, and I would know because I know them all, but that’s the first time I’ve heard something like that.

Anyhow, it’d be ten more hours till anyone realized what had happened to him. There he was, the wind blowing his hair, the sun shining on his skin, and his feet some thirty feet above the earth, dangling in the wind like a stubborn leaf.

No one knows why or how he got that high and it took us till sunset to get him down.

 

 

 

Photo By: Justin Ennis




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About Author

Edward J. Rathke wrote Ash Cinema [KUBOA Press, 2012], Twilight of the Wolves [Perfect Edge Books, 2014], and Noir: A Love Story [Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014]. He edits at The Lit Pub and Monkeybicycle. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.com.

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