Wednesday, March 4, 2009

True Grit

My Newsweek magazine came yesterday, a thin, shadowy version of its fat former self. I almost mistook it for a supermarket throwaway. This week's issue is 62 pages and if I were to take all the actual copy and do a paste-up sans advertisements, I very much doubt there would be more than 15 pages in all. And frankly boring pages at that. The cover, an alarming green and red remindful of cheap Christmas packaging, bears some Arabic writing telling me radical Islam is a fact of life. Really? REALLY? Is there anyone with the ability to read the back of a cereal box who is not aware of this? I suppose this is meant to sell the mag--a little fear and alarm never hurt the media--and it's ridiculous. I, and everyone I know, am (are?) already alarmed. My wallet is empty, the bills are due, I can't find refinancing and no one is hiring writers these days. Who at Newsweek, I wonder, decided that we need to be a bit more alarmed?

When I first came to the States, a newspaper called Grit ran large ads in all the kids' comic books encouraging youngsters to become Grit carriers. Grit was aimed largely at the rural population and followed an editorial policy outlined by its owner, Dietrick Lamade during a banquet for employees. He told them,

"Always keep Grit from being pessimistic. Avoid printing those
things which distort the minds of readers or make them feel at odds with the world. Avoid showing the wrong side of things, or making people feel discontented. Do nothing that will encourage fear, worry, or temptation... Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. Put happy thoughts, cheer, and contentment into their hearts."
Take heed, Newsweek.

Here's installment 71 of Wasted Miracles.

Comfort hated not being given choices but it had happened enough times in his life so he knew how to react. In his mind he had already decided that the three men were assassins. They had come to kill the Zulu, a not unlikely turn of event considering his boss’ occupation. They would kill him too, because that’s how things were done in this line of work, and the thought angered him. People like that had been given plenty of opportunities earlier to kill him. Now was simply the wrong time. Home beckoned.
When he heard the distinctive click of the safety, he rose from the grass like a black egret, every gram of his being intent on escape.
In slow motion he saw the round face of the white man explode into surprise, fright, terror. Comfort’s own arms, legs and fists moved with aching deliberation but he knew this was an illusion. Another part of him could feel and appreciate the swiftness of it all. He struck the man’s face, launched an elbow to the Adam’s apple, a knee to the groin. With the cutting edge of his right hand he smashed into the gun-bearing wrist and saw the weapon drop. His two legs and one arm still moving, he scooped the gun up, brought it to where the intruder’s head should be, fired three times. The noise deafened him and he felt his face splattered with droplets of something warm and semi-liquid.
In the brief passage between life and death, Joe the Cop had a flurry of thoughts. The first carried mild surprise that his gun indeed had worked. The second was that if he had been the one using the weapon, it probably wouldn’t have, such was his luck lately. The third was that he hadn’t led a very interesting life but that he was dying sober.
Comfort wiped at his face, stuffed the gun in his pocket and scrambled over the fence. He ripped his pants doing so. He cut through the neighbor’s yard and into the alley. When he heard the first siren, he decided it couldn’t be the police yet. Nine-eleven calls from this neighborhood were put on hold. As the sirens approached, he revised this opinion and slowed his running to a purposeful walk. A block away, he carefully wiped the gun and dropped it into an open dumpster. He made his way to a house he knew was abandoned and boarded up, entered it through a gaping basement window. He sat in the dark hugging his knees for warmth and waiting for daylight.
“Now, Colin! Now!”
Mamadou shoved Colin forward. Colin stumbled, felt Josie sliding from his shoulder. Her ankles bumped hard against a doorjamb and she whimpered once.
“Get to the car, Colin! Quickly! Quickly! I’ll get Joe.”
Colin nodded, ran up the stairs, Josie’s still form bouncing lightly across his back. He stepped over Howard who lay on the floor, arms outstretched. In the front yard he looked around quickly, noticed the window shades of the next door neighbor’s house were all drawn. He opened the car’s rear door, tried as best he could to arrange Josie on the rear seat. He heard himself breathing very loudly through his mouth, felt his chest heaving. The palms of his hands were sweaty and he wiped them on the legs of his pants.
Mamadou came leaping out of the darkness an instant later, slid into the driver’s seat.
“Where’s Joe?”
Mamadou shook his head. “We can’t help him.” He turned on the ignition and the engine caught. “Wait a minute! Wait a minute, goddamit! What the hell are you saying? You can’t leave--”
“He’s gone Colin. Dead. There’s nothing we can do. We have to get out of here.” Mamadou’s hands trembled on the steering wheel. Sirens wailed in the distance.
“Mamadou, we can’t--”
Mamadou turned to face Colin. His voice was just above a whisper. “You want to stay, you stay. There are four dead people over there. Stay and explain that. Be my guest.” He reached across Colin, moved to open the passenger door. Colin stopped his hand, “Four?”
“The Zulu. Another man upstairs, Harold, I think. Howard. Your friend Joe.”
“Howard’s not dead!”
Mamadou put the car in gear, slid away from the curb. “Yes, he is.”
Colin looked back at the house just in time to see flames explode out of the upstairs window. Glass shattered and fell like pointed rain, black smoke billowed.
“Jesus, Mamadou! Did you--”
“Yes. Now be quiet. Let me drive.”

No comments:

Post a Comment