Saturday, November 17, 2012

Michaels - Despise your Feasts



Ian’s son collapsed in front of him with such suddenness, that Ian hadn’t gotten over the pride of watching Bryan walk across the demesne. Children grew up so quick.

Before the fall, came pride, a lesson the people in his community knew all too well.

Fumbling for his dead son's pulse, he realized Bryan still lived.

He lifted his son’s weakened form into the truck, and with a turn of the ignition, for he had no key, the diesel engine roared to life with a kind of reliability that Ian would never trade for the world. He'd bought it from his father as soon as he’d finished school.

He took the shortcut into town, intending to cross several private properties, along with that occasional piece of the mountain that challenged every generation. Boulders. A grove of trees. Immovable. Since the families in the region shared the same communal property, he could get away with it. He just hoped he didn’t ruin someone’s lawn.

His truck splashed through a creek at low level and the engine sputtered just a little when water hit under its block. He was used to the performance of this truck, so he adjusted to the hiccups by throwing the truck into a higher gear, before downshifting and moving on.


***




The road. Driveways two or three miles long. No one lived close to the unpaved stretch of road. The county government continued to threaten to pave the road and bill the residents of the area. But Ian would refuse to render unto Caesar, even if they could marshal the State Guard. Not like the State Guard would even care. None of the veterans cared one squat.

He looked at his son in the passenger seat. Heavy breathing. Breaths. A purplish color spoiled the skin where he’d been bitten. Ian might be able to extract some of the venom, but without his wive's medicinal knowledge, he was at a loss. He could have taken him to her. But time. He didn’t have much. Only the local clinic in town could help.

The town was where his money always seemed to end up.

His truck hit torn up asphalt, the road barely hinted at the sign of the town. A few buildings nearly hidden in the foliage, almost as old as the forest. There was only one place to go. He found it, a concrete and plywood box, built when the government found jobs for people in the state. He parked in front and bundled up his son, taking him out of the car. His son felt heavier than usual. Ian shook off the memories of carrying a man. His son wasn’t dead.

A dull light shone through dusty windows and half-pulled blinds. Patients sat in every seat, standing room only. Everyone wore a mask over their mouths. Coughing, wheezing, muffled talking. The waiting room was a sick place. Someone sneezed and Ian god blessed them under his breath.

All eyes turned towards him, eyes that say go away. Eyes that pleaded.

He immediately knew that he should not be here. The sickness from the cities still infected the area. Antibiotics were in short order. Every Sunday prayer had gone in their direction, but no thoughts ever went farther than that.

He walked to the front desk. At first he was patient. That lasted a second. He then pounded on the counter. Seconds later – more like a minute to him - a woman arrived. She wore a mask over her mouth too. Glass separated the two of them. She said something to him he couldn’t hear. He asked again, telling her what his son needed. Snake bite serum. He couldn’t understand her words, but he knew by the shake of her head….

My son, he pleaded. She asked him if he’d ever been here before? He said yes, yes I have. In the last six months? Her question silenced Ian. It might have been longer. A year. They have never needed to come here. The doctors of the hills could cure anything. Even snakebites. But not this one.

The nurse made a disapproving sound, and actually asked him – asked him! – to fill out a new form. She even told him to include how he’d pay for this visit.

Ian was frozen in place. He remembered why he hardly came into town. They always wanted his money.

A snake…

He showed the leg to the nurse. She recoiled as if her mask wouldn’t protect her, nor the glass, and her disinterest – it suddenly transformed into disgust. He felt it sting him.

Sir – and he felt the sting of her judgement – they didn’t have something like that. They barely have penicillin. He needed a hospital.

Everyone else in the waiting room stuck him with their eyes. For a split second Ian felt like the worst parent in the world. He felt like he wanted to slink away. But he didn’t. Not a Michaels.

While his outward demeanor was all thank you mams and have a nice day on the outside, inside be began to seethe with anger.

He had to drive to the city. The closest one…Eugene. He didn’t want to.

His son’s leg had turned purple...

He leaned over and told his son what he had to do. His son did not respond. He leaned closer, listened to his sons breathing, and became afraid. The breathing was slower, labored…

He kissed him on the forehead.

***


The I-5. A dagger through the heart of his beloved Oregon. His father had told him that once. He could’ve used his father now. He always knew what to do. But even his father couldn’t cheat time. Or death. And for once…he didn’t like the thought.

Two hours. A country highway, then the interstate. West, he had to drive. Then south.

He must save his son.

Eternity threatened him, so he turned to the AM dial. He scanned the stations. Nothing of interest. For a brief moment he listened to some Alabama Choir music. He heard the terrible Christian Revival. Popular crap. he even briefly listened to a speech by a man whose name escaped him. A free-statist leader. Montana.

Eternity returned to him.

His son was dying. Ian knew the look. His father had died in his house. Ian had once held dying men in his arms, young and taken too soon. He knew the look. Death stared at him now from the passenger seat. It no longer looked like his son.

Bright and intense flashing lights appeared in the tunnel of his rear view sight, until it filled the entire rear view mirror. A state trooper. He looked at the truck’s speedometer. 100 mph. If he’d had a friend named Cooter, he would’ve thanked him. Thanks Cooter.

The only light he cared about belonged to that of the sun, and when it disappeared, he knew Eugene was close.

More troopers caught up with him. More lights appeared behind him. Blinding. Right on his tail. He heard a voice over a loudspeaker. He would not pull over, not yet, at least. Not until they’d reached Eugene.

The troopers pulled beside him. Pointed at him. Motioned for him to pull over. They looked like nice boys. He hated to do this.

Eugene. The college town he hated so much. The forest opened up and tried to give the appearance of a town. It failed to convince him otherwise. This was the city. Country houses and dirt roads on either side. Gas stations and Filipino fast food. Then the lights burst through the cover of tall spruce and aspen, and there, just in front of the hills towards the coast, block houses and glass, and sprawling tracts of homes in different neighborhoods. Give him Portland, or give him death? He hated that city even more.

With only a vague idea of the off-ramp that took him to the city’s general hospital, he obliged the state troopers and headed off the highway. Hurry up boys.

It’d been a long time. He didn’t remember much. His only memories were unpleasant. After he was discharged from the army, he tried to go to the university here. He barely made it a month. He had found the experience alienating. He never regretted the decision to leave college. The only good thing that came out of the experience was his wife.

City police joined the state troopers. Things went by in a flash. Running a series of red lights. Minor accidents. But his son. So he pressed on.

He found his worst memory. Every detail suddenly came to life, every part seemingly lost for all time suddenly returned to him. He recalled taking his wife here when she was pregnant. That was college. She’d miscarried. He remembered the pain of that day…

…and pulled into the parking lot.

Police cars swirled around him. Officers jumped out with guns drawn. He grabbed his son and carried him out through the driver side door. He offered his only son to the police. Take him, take him. He’s dead.

***




The door of Ian’s jail cell opened and the guard – a high-school looking kid with a sidearm on his waist - told him the time had arrived. He could make his phone call. Ian followed him into the hallway, where a phone lay and a line of waiting inmates. Ian was last in line to make a call. He tried to still the anger that rose inside of him. He gave the escorting guard a withering look. Any other professional law enforcement officer would have questioned his attitude, and maybe, thrown him back in jail. Not this kid.

After a horrible ten minutes - more like an hour - he made his call home. He prayed that his wife was home - the phone continued to ring and he prepared his defense to the guard on why he should be allowed another call -when she suddenly picked up the phone.

- I love you.-

Silence. Then the shudder of his wife’s breath.

-Ian…what’s…? Where are you?-

-Bryan was bitten by a snake. Cottonmouth. It’s bad. I’m in Eugene.-

His wife’s exhalation, loud in his ear, again. For a second he thought she’d broken a the briefest of sobs. One that pulled on his heart. But she put herself back together. Not him. Upon hearing the cracks in her composure, he nearly broke down in tears. His eyes, so he’d been told, always held a note of sadness. He guessed if he could see himself in a mirror, the wetness in his eyes would’ve added a greater depth. That eternal Michaels’s sorrow. He knew he would struggle through this conversation.

- I took him to the hospital - the general hospital. He’s there now. I don’t know how he’s doing…I…

-Ian? I don’t understand…what do you mean…-

It took Ian a second to compose himself. He needed her strength now. She gave it to him, through her patience. Without her, he was nothing.

- I’m in the county jail. I don’t have time to explain.-

Ian heard breathing, felt his own heart. There was silence.

-You don’t have to. Dear lord - you got Bryan to safety. We’ll…-

-Don’t worry about bailing me out. Get the kids, go to the hospital, see…-

-The cities are a hot mess because of the elections…-

Ian realized how out of touch he’d grown through the years. The restoration of national elections - or the promise of.

His wife interrupted his thoughts.

-I’m getting Luke.-

His wife hung up the phone and Ian realized for the first time about the seriousness of the situation. It was out of his control. He felt ashamed, but another feeling rose up, one that was stronger. Righteousness was a mighty stream and Ian felt in flow within him. Mighty and rising.


***


Luke, the pastor of his community, drove the car out of the jail’s parking lot. Ian bowed his head in deep thought – and deeper humility. He knew the bail money came from the community. The hidden meaning was the money came from the church. The community's money resided in the church.

Luke looked the same as Ian remembered him. Cherubic, like the angels from some text his ancestors might have railed against, but which Ian’s community just laughed at now. The years might’ve also weathered Luke, and Ian knew of the trials and tribulations before, but with just a little more flesh added through the years, Luke also showed that he’d enjoyed the bounties of the community.

-Your son is alive, Ian. God has given him your strength.-

Ian felt a sob begin to form in his throat, but he chased it down.

-He...gets it from his mother, I swear. He only gets his crazy ideas from me.-

-He’s going to lose the leg, I’m afraid.-

Ian thought back for a second, remembered the sight of his son stumbling home.

Ian did not look at the preacher. He just thought of his son’s future. Already, Ian had begun to prepare himself – and his son – for a life with a disability.

They were silent in the car. It was an older car, one that did not fit in with the newer models, the driverless cars of the city. The flivvers. Ian saw more old models than expected in Eugene.

He realized he saw the city as he hadn’t previously, when he’d driven into Eugene in a flurry of panic, lucky that he hadn’t killed anyone. Now, at a slower pace, Luke drove him through modern thoroughfares overseen by lights that regulated the hum of automobile traffic. It was all so strange in its clustered neighborhood feel, with people walking about…going somewhere.

He heard Luke swear as only a man of the Lord could do - or get away with. The street traffic slowed to a crawl and people actually walked across the street, in throngs and masses. Busy and on their way. But where?

They carried handmade, homemade, but elaborate signs and banners. The air took on winds from their motions. Ian shook his head. He felt a smile creep across his mind.

For a second another thought pushed aside all inquiry and their calls to judgment.

As strange as Eugene might appear - and flannel decked kids with boots and long hair was strange, strange, strange - it all seemed familiar. The people, the sights of the old houses and things he never would have expected, such as the older model cars, all made him realize. This was home. There was something he felt strongly about, and strongly protective to keep things, just the way they were.

Luke swore again and Ian turned in that direction.

Throngs of people surged down the streets. For a brief second he looked down one of the straight and true main streets. Police cars and a roadblock on the edge of town. The mass of people stamped forward. Their strides unbroken. Their signs and banners unfurled in the air, and they pumped their fists upward with each bounce and step that took them on their way.

Damn, you got a thirst, Eugene.

Luke drove in the different direction. Maybe out of sight, but not out of mind. This great happening had something to do with the elections. Ian hadn’t thought about them in months. He’d swore never to vote again after the last one. Four years ago - more like four years and some change - and they’d been postponed after all that. It gave Ian great pause.

-Do you ever think what the prophet Amos would’ve done today?-

-I don’t think the prophets of Israel wanted to vote.-

-No, I know. The prophets in the Old Testament were rebels.-

Luke nodded and Ian could almost see him behind the pew.

-They rebelled against the evils of their society, how their church had strayed to the wayside.-

-And they spoke out against the evils in their kingdom.-

-The Kingdom of Israel. For their’s was a fractious time. When even the Kingdom of Israel was divided. When there were rival kings. And brothers fought brothers.-

The old federal works General Hospital loomed with its brick and its crumbling mortar and the ancient pines around it, no one quite ready to cut them down. The car pulled into the parking lot, and Ian strained to make sense of things. A group - two dozen or so - of members of his community stood on the front steps of the hospital. They waited for him. He recognized them all. 

He stepped – hopped! - out of the car and approached them. 

He called them all by name, told them thank you - thank you - that they were here. They shook his hands, hugged him, asked him if he needed anything. One offered him a cup of coffee for him. He took a sip and it hit his gut like a bomb, but something about it - the gesture - warmed him, reinvigorated him.

He saw his wife and other children from a far difference. They ran at each other and embraced, all together now. Ian kissed his wife, they looked at each other, and Ian could almost swear said the same thing. Not again. They wouldn’t lose another child again.

-What’s the news?-

Ian was almost afraid to go into the room where they kept his son. He held his wife’s shoulders, slowly massaging her back. Rebecca…

-He’s losing the leg…nothing can stop that now. But there is a possibility of toxins…-

Ian looked confused. He rubbed her back, prodding her to continue. She did.

-There might be some brain damage.-

-How is that possible?-

-The doctors said…

-Where is he? The doctor? Where is he?-

-He should be around to answer more questions. I expected him a half hour ago...-

The whole thing confused Ian. His wife was usually very succinct with information. But even she sounded confused. There was very little information to go on, in order to understand what his son faced. He felt himself grow angrier, but for the moment he put those feelings away.

His wife pressed closer to Ian. Ian knew her look. She was preparing him for something. Now it was her time to massage his back. This all put Ian on edge.

-Becky?-

-They’ve been asking for insurance information.-

Ian took a deep breath. A very exasperated one.

-Oh hell, should have expected that one. What’d you tell them?-

-Said you were a war vet, that’s all. That settled it.

Ian rubbed her back affectionately. Inside he began an inner…the mighty and rising. It rose.

-I love you, Becky, you bought us some time. Damn…-

He looked over his shoulder suspiciously. He only saw the members of his community. Still...

Ian had feared the question about insurance. He always did. He looked around him at the members of his community. This was all the insurance he had ever had his entire life, the only insurance he would ever need.

Together, feeling like his wife lifted him, they glided soundlessly into the room, with his wife, the pastor, and the rest of his community. His son was unconscious, the leg in dressing and propped up. He heard beeps and other winding sounds. Compressed air made the only breathing sound. Other than being told the opposite was true, Ian would’ve thought his son was dead. He was attached to tubes, bottles and machines. Clear fluids, ones of different colors, entered and exited his body.

He felt his wife put her hand on his hand. He clasped it. Ian was quiet. He then felt the pastor walk up beside him, and lay a hand on his shoulder. Ian looked at his son.

He made up his mind what he was going to do.


***



The lights went out in the hospital. Nothing worked. Except for the occasional flashlight-wielding hospital staff person, darkness ruled the art deco corridors. Panicked mechanics brought the old generators online to run the hospital, but Ian had long left the hospital with his son and family and community.

It did not take much for Ian to convince his wife and pastor that Bryan was no longer safe in the hospital. The violence of the protest did Ian that favor.

They drove through a city where armed mobs roamed the streets. But the mobs were not the protesters, the ones, who, with their signs and the horns and their anger had turned out to condemn the continuation of suspended elections. These kids and their pitiful hope - maybe, quick to anger and rage - but still, they’d come here peacefully.
  
The Diversionaries bore down on the protesters. Boots fell heavy on bones and skulls. Quick kicks to the heads. The skin of a child was unspoiled. Today it splattered.

Swift steel was armed justice, in the form of truncheons and tear gas and rubber bullets. Not quite low-intensity warfare, as Ian’s army commanders once called it. But close. The troubled Front was too close. Like it or not, here it was. Fought against the kids from the local college, ones who might have been the same age as the children who played in Ian’s community.

Ian drove faster, and no one stopped him.

He looked in his rearview mirror. On last time. It looked as if the MZ had invaded Oregon. Helicopters roosted on invisible perches. In mid-air, in mid-strike, ready to pounce, their search beams flicked. Steady. Aim…For the very same armed force that Ian voted for four years ago to deal with the violence in the cities...

Ian looked at his son beside him, in the arms of Rebecca.

No time to vote this year.

***


It was morning in America.

Cut from the same hundred year trees behind the Alvord Mountains, the cold stained wood shellacked with pine oil panels heated in the first of the suns rays that came with a bright and blinding light. Ians great-grandfather cut boulders to make that foundation, too. Many in the community had.

Ian carried his son into his house and put him to bed. The rest of his family followed him. They kneeled at his bedside and began to pray. Together, with the rest of his family, the pastor of the community church lead a prayer—a brief sermon from the Book of Amos, 5:21-24.


I hate, I despise your feasts.
And I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Yea, though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meal-offerings,
I will not accept them;
Neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs;
And let Me not hear the melody of the psalteries.
But let justice well up as waters,
And righteousness as a mighty stream.












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