Saturday, September 29, 2012
The Druids (from 2009)
He'd put his finger in the spoke of the wheel and turn it like the rude machinery it was. Drove it like a plow or a trolley or something. The rattletrap Dodge almost brushed the curb as he let the wheel spin back through his fingers. He knew where everything was.
I look down from my naugahyde aerie through the dirty glass at the spot where the granite curbstone meets the spidered pavement, filled with all the dirt and corruption an old city can offer. The winking neon reflects in the little disconnected puddles left from a rainstorm weeks ago. Tonight's mist hasn't even made it down here yet; it just drifts into the spalled bricks up on the floors where gilt letters in the windows announce last generation's professional men and merchants to no one, then trickles fitfully down to join the re-pulped flyers in the gutters. The sun never shines in the canyons of an old city. The streets are too narrow. And no rain could ever wash it clean. It will be snow soon.
The radio hisses and spits like a viper. There's towers right down the street, Father says, but the signal can't fight its way into the slit trench of the road in a little town gone big. He rolls the big chrome knob back and forth until something is intelligible. Catch-as-catch-can is life, he says. The random music and the sonorous voices in the interstices make a jolly soundtrack to the scrolling scene in the passenger-side window.
There are furtive creatures in a city, like animals at the edge of a clearing when the moonlight draws them out from the woods. God knows what makes a man hang in the doorway here. Collars up; hats down. The women totter on spikes and you can make out the fishnets on their legs from across the street. There's the blaze of a match revealing eyes like raccoons at the trash cans, then the moment passes and the little glowing orange indicator light of the smoker in the dark takes its place. The sidewalk is a galaxy of butts and you wonder if everywhere that is not here is Virginia. The neon signs in the purplish windows have some teeth knocked out, but they remind a man there's some Tennessee out there, too.
Father knows the way. That's the problem. He knows every which way. It's in his bones and marrow. The city of his birth -- and mine. Everything is familiar, and so he often wanders on his way because he can always find his way everywhere from anyplace. He points out buildings gone dark, sometimes motioning at nothing but air standing in a fetid slot in the brick rows where a building once stood. He murmurs about the where and when and who of them. The buildings no longer represent their stated purpose -- a friend lived there; some ne'er-do-well here; a man who could perform some service no one wants anymore, there. Shave your neck. Hobnail a boot. Take a bet. I realize he is not speaking to me anymore. He is chanting in a church sacked by Druids.
Or we're the Druids; I don't know.