They are hard little mankilling devices. I have made them myself, twenty-nine of them, that is seven and seven and seven on my belt and seven in my fist and one in the chamber. Their heads are dimpledandhollow.They are a family, my family, my only family. Once there was also my father and mother and wife, all poor souls, caught up with me, like scraps of trash in the storm. I have tried to do as my daddy taught me, I swear it, but even he was no good in the end. He had said the hollow ones were for mankilling and the round ones were just for practicing with. But even he could not bear to take his own life with the hollow ones. Because it would be too messy, I suppose, because he was a neat man. And I thanked him for it and mother thanked him for it and his friends did too that he could not bear to use the hollow-tipped ones. Though the wound was small they still felt its presence behind his sutured-shut jaw, as he lay there in the box, facing God.
My soldiers are small and heavy strapped to my body. It is the best kind of weight—dense little Christmas presents that fit in the hand, full of energy ready to burst, like sleeping vicious dogs. This I do for Dara and for myself. I do it for the millions and millions like Dara and me. I do it for myself. Yes. I do it for myself.
Of course I forgave her. How couldn’t I? This was not an option, never was an option. She is my wife and that is God’s truth. No matter where she has been to, or for how long she has been there, she is my wife. And still I love her, like I loved mother when she was still here, the poor woman, drowned in liquor as she was. So it breaks my heart to see her going the same way as mother. I do not touch the stuff myself. It is too thin, too airy, and it makes you thus. No, give me cool water. Give me the sky and the gray bodies of trees and the smell of the cracked earth and the rustle of dead leaves, my temple, my home.
It was late at night when she rang my bell after so many months, falling right there into my arms with her tense shoulders and tears. She reeked of wine. At first I did not ask about the why or the how and let her just lean up against my tired shoulder and cry.
But then I did ask why and it was like I had always known. They had done, it, those high-browed vindictive bastards of the School Board, they had taken her children from her. It was like them, to use such harsh logic, such deadly sentencing. I have met them all at dinners and festivals, all with their coiffed hair like powdered wigs and their pleated slacks like barristerial robes. I can see Doris Coen with her pastel suit, her dyed bob, her disingenuous smile as she hands my wife the pink slip. Her eyes damning. Her sin the worst of the lot. The proud bitch.
Coen had smelled the sweet toxicity on Dara’s breath and hated her, as if the blame lay on Dara’s shoulders. It seems it all turns out the same in the end. Mother’s friends all abandoned her when she started to go that way. And then they all showed up at her service wearing summer clothes and gobbling among themselves about what a damn tragedy it was, that it might have been helped if only someone had known, if one person had helped her, had stepped in to become a hedge against the tragedy, the tragedy.
I never gave up on Dara, though, in all her troubles. She was my penance. She was my wife. So I boiled water for some of the tea that I make from the woods-growing herbs and held her, saying she should stay the night, but she said no, Roland, no. The time for that has passed. She drank her tea and I mine and I slept alone.
Long had I dreamed of some antlered beast or monster out in the darkness. If I let my vision die in the grayscale moonlight I could sense it, its eyes like dimming bulbs, buzzing before they burn out. It sang my name from behind the glass.
This, at one point, was a mystery. This thing had no name. In my childhood it represented terror only. But it rears its head in books—the Red Man had, still has, a name for it, for the night-creature, and its deadly call.
Imagine the long-ago. Feel this thing sleeping in the darkness of the gray continent. It was in Aztlán. It was in the Iroqois Nation. It stirred at the fleets of Spaniards in their bladed helmets landing on its shore. It opened its eyes as this new virus encroached westward. It revealed itself to the medicine-men and the lunatics, always a symbol, a portent, of death: death by Spanish steel, by powder and ball, by disease, by the humid stench of dismemberment and heathen ritual. And then—then it chose me.
Its form in the dark was like gravity. I fell into it. Its voice. Roland. Your eyes and teeth will go gray with earth. It shook its hair-covered form and its skin creaked like dry leather. Mites fell from the ancient plumage and at their landing buried further into the ground.
Then I blinked and it winked out of form and vision, the lawn once again full of static moonlight and dry leaves.
It will happen on the coming Friday and it will unfold like this:
They will start their meeting at six p.m. and at six twenty-five I will park my truck against the school’s rear loading dock and enter through a side door. A corridor leads from there all the way to a service door in the atrium. From the atrium the main hall runs straight as a shot to the cafeteria, beyond which lies the board room, where they meet. This will be half-past, the dead-center of the hour. I will take my seat in the front and wait patiently to air my grievances. They will listen. I will draw my gun. In the ensuing silence I will demand that all except seven people leave, and these exceptions are:
Don Danovich and
(the witch and the chair of the board)
And I willdomywork.