MONDAY OF EASTER WEEK
“Right on the front page and not a word of
truth in it.” –Marvin Gardens
A tall, pale man was in the kitchen. He was sitting in one of the straight backed chairs drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. He had a moustache that was thin and well cared for—like David Niven. His hair was curly and receding. He was wearing a yarmulke that had been lovingly crocheted, like a doily on my grandmother’s end tables.
“Hey, Reed,” he said, “would you like some coffee?”
Reed told him he’d like some coffee very much. He got a cup from a big 40-cup coffee maker you would see at church socials.
Reed nodded, it seemed the appropriate response.
The man was extremely thin. His hands were bony and pale and shook a bit as he turned the pages of the paper.
“Page one,” he said, much as if it were the title of a children’s story he intended to read to a child. “Right on the front page and not a word of truth in it.”
There was a picture of Meyer at the bottom of the front page of the Globe. Two men in dark suits were holding his arms. Meyer’s hands were locked behind him with steel. He looked tired and sick. His eye patch was off-center.
“I didn’t know what was going on until the Eleven O’clock News,” he said. Same garbage. Lies. All lies. I couldn’t sleep at all after that. Imagine, I was in the house and didn’t know about it until I saw it on TV.”
Reed was standing beside the man, drinking his coffee. It was thick and strong, like melted licorice. Quietly, Reed realized he was talking with Marvin Gardens and must be in shock since he hadn’t recognized him. He looked up at Reed sadly.
“Something out of kilter about that, wouldn’t you say? Something akimbo. Imagine that—here all the time and had to see it on TV for it to be real for me….”
Reed tried to imagine, but all he could think of was how tired and sick Marvin looked, just like Meyer in the paper.
“Here,” he said, handing me the Globe, “see for yourself.”
He got up and paced the room. He seemed like a clay man.
Reed sat in his chair and fingered the newsprint. It is a feeling you never forget—even if you can’t read—that feeling of holding a paper, what it says to your fingertips.
On the back page of the first section there was an ad for Jordan Marsh. There was a clearance on furs.
Reed was half-way through the story about Meyer killing Pierce when he realized he was reading, that the words were marching along, hippity-hop, right into his mind in perfect sequence.
Marvin Gardens was leaning against the sink. His eyes were dark, almost black, beneath well-trimmed, David Nevin eyebrows. A tiny tear, no bigger than a greenbug, was crawling down his cheek.
“How the shit,” he said, “can they print lies like that?”
Here is what the newspaper story said.
There was a big headline at the top.
BRUTAL SLAYING IN CAMBRIDGE
Then a smaller headline under that.
Cult Leader Murders Undercover Officer
Then the story began.
CAMBRIDGE: David Pierce, 31, was the victim of a ritualistic murder in Cambridge on Easter Sunday. Police are holding Mayer Meyer, the leader of a Broadway Ave. commune, in connection with the slaying of the former Marine, winner of two purple hearts and a silver star in Viet Nam.
Cambridge Police Chief Herman Pissoff was quoted as saying, “this is the most horrible kind of homicide--a brutal, inhumane ritual, perhaps the sacrificial rite of some twisted cult.”
A spokesman for the District Attorney said, off the record, that the imposing wood-frame house and its occupants had been the subject of an ongoing investigation. “Neighbors,” the unnamed official said, “alerted us regarding possible illegal activities at the cult. Some minors, mostly female, may have been held there against their will.” The continuing investigation of the “Isloo Factory”, as the house is known to it’s every changing retinue, is underway. A linguist from Harvard confided to this reporter that “Isloo” may refer to a Mesopotamian god of fertility and death.
Mystery shrouds Mayer Meyer’s life. The former George Washington University law-student and part time librarian, 40, lived with no visible means of support. Yet he supplied his disciples needs and paid the enormous bills of his cult members, affording them the comforts of the middle-class lifestyle he openly crusaded against.
A self-styled spiritualist and guru, Mayer….
Reed stopped reading before they told what a hero Pierce had been and before they called Meyer “demonic” and “a madman”. But he knew they did that. The story was a parched flower leaning toward that light.
He put the newspaper down and got up.
“Where are you going?” Marvin asked.
“Upstairs to read a candle,” Reed said.
He smiled, confused. “Do you think they misspelled his first name on purpose or because they’re stupid?”
“Yes,” Reed answered.
“When you come back,” he said, “I’ll have some eggs and ham and toast and more coffee.”
“You eat ham?” Reed asked, pointing at the top of his head. He reached up and touched his skull cap.
“Of course,” he said, “it’s a by-product of lox.”
“We’ll have breakfast then,” Reed said. “That will be good.”
“It’s what we need to do, I think,” Marvin said, opening the refrigerator.
Reed went to his room and dug the Christmas candle out of the closet. He sat it lovingly on the bed and read the messages from Christmas past. They said:
god is Love
And, These are the days when birds come back
A very few,
a bird or two,
to take a backward look.
And, of course: We’re all in this thing together
SECOND LETTER FROM THE GRAVE
“Well, there you go….” –The Rev. Jerry Mann
(July 19, 1989)
Just past dawn, I was pulled from my blood-drenched dreams. Somewhere in the dream there was a huge rat, as big as me, feeding on the blood that was all over the room of my dream, chasing the sea gull around. Lots of squawking and squeaking. Then the gull was pecking at my side and the man-sized rat was eating at my throat and I was near terror. Then something pulled me back and woke me up.
“Reed, Reed, you’re having a nightmare,” Sandy said, shaking me awake. She had a quizzical look on her face, “You were flopping around like a rat was eating you,” she said.
“And a gull,” I answered, so glad to be awake.
She shook her head and smiled. “I’ve got something for you,” she said, holding up a manila envelope sealed with a clasp.
When I had finished writing about Easter and the morning after, when I became suddenly literate again, I had finished off 8 Coors, smoked half-a-pack of Marlboros, took four Bayer aspirins and gone to sleep. Little wonder I fell into a rat-infested dream. I had only been asleep an hour or two when Sandy shook me awake into the early morning of Buckhannon.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her, still thankful for her shaking me.
“I came up to spy and noticed you’ve finished writing about Pierce’s death,” she said. “Don’t worry, I didn’t read much…I’m not sure I ever want to read that part. But when I read what I read, I knew you’d need this.” She held up the envelope again.
“Jerry sent me this a couple of months ago,” she said, pulling my writing chair over to the bed like she was visiting me at Holy Ghost. “He said to give it to you now….”
At first I was sleepy and hung over and, for a brief moment, didn’t remember who ‘Jerry’ was and thought the envelope was something sinister, something that might turn into a bloody sea-gull or a man-sized rat. But then the waking reality came back and I said, “Now? What’s ‘now’?”
Sandy smiled at my confusion and when Sandy smiles, even if I am hung over and confused…when Sandy smiles, it’s all alright. Her eyes almost close from the smile wrinkles around them, giving her a faintly Asian look. Her mouth gathers itself into a shape roughly like a quarter moon on its rounded side. When Sandy smiles, her chin becomes strong, assertive, a chin that matters. When Sandy smiles, nothing else makes much of a difference. When Sandy smiles, I know how much I love her.
I was trying to open the clasp of the envelope when she spoke again. “Sometimes, late at night, when I know you’re asleep, I sneak in here and read what you’ve written.”
She held up the yellow legal pad where I’d been writing about Holy Week twenty years ago. I was having trouble opening the tab.
“I didn’t have to read much of this to know it was time to give you the letter. I haven’t read it, but Jerry says you’ll need it to close the blinds.”
Sandy took the envelope from me, opened the clasp effortlessly and handed me some more pieces of yellow legal pads. But these were obviously old and the ink on them was fading.
“Jerry says this will tell you what really happened.”
I was about to say, “what really happened when,” but I realized the words on the pages were written in Meyer’s crude handwriting. It was another letter from the grave. I wondered when people will stop doing this to me. Two post-grave letters in a life-time makes you an expert.
Wednesday in Easter Week, 1969
Jerry told me it was Wednesday in Eater Week. It seemed to matter to him so I dated it that way. It also seemed to matter to him that I write you this letter now, before my feeble mind forgets what happened on Sunday. Since my writing this letter matters to Jerry, I will write it.
No one but me knows what happened, so how can you tell the world if I don’t tell you? Jerry convinced me to write it all down for you—the Absolutely, Positively, no-shit way it happened. Which is what I’m prepared to do though it is a monumental pain in the ass. Since Jerry is going to pick it up in a day or two and sneak it past the guards, I’d guess I’d better get cracking.
I don’t write much. In the past, I signed checks Brigham’s lawyers wrote and filled out customer surveys that came in the mail and signed petitions for whatever Glorious Cause the Freaks down in Harvard Square shoved in my face. But besides a Christmas card to my Aunt Ursa back in Idaho, there’s not much writing from this white boy.
I’ve always had shit to do, you know? No time for writing.
And if I liked to write why would I have entrusted writing the history of the Factory to an illiterate like you? I rest my case.
But since it matters to Jerry and he says you’ll need to know what happened one day and since I was the only one there at the time (except for Pierce and he ain’t in a proper mood to write) I’m ‘The Source’.
That’s what our Friend of Jesus, Jerry says—‘you’re the Source, Meyer’. Then he just stares at me with that crazy gray stare that makes my head hurt. Jesus, who can stand Jerry’s stare for long? So here it is “from The Source’ (you need to hear that with echoes around it or like Walter Cronkite said it) This the absolutely, positively, no-shit Truth about Pierce’s death.
It starts a while ago. Ever since Carlton got killed, Sandy’s been chipping heroin. I’ve known it all along. Not much gets by me, Big Reed. You, on the other hand, are such a romantic, simple Midwestern asshole that you didn’t have a clue. You thought your relationship was going through a bad patch, didn’t you? Sandy could have said to you, “Oh, Reed, would you help me with this needle?” and you would have thought it was a flu shot.
Goddamn, Reed, you are the real article. Genu-fuckin’-ine, as John Henry would say. The first months you were at the Factory, I kept waiting for reality to break in, for some sign, some potent, that you knew how transparent this illiteracy scam was. I thought you were playing a ‘con’ on me, like most of the Wanderers on the Earth. But you don’t have a ‘con’, do you, Reed? You’ve been conned….
Death conned you. Your Daddy and old Lysol—Lysander, whoever—their dying fucked you up royally. And Death’s the only con you know. I’ll probably have to die to get your attention.
Death’s what it’s all about—every bit of it. The old ‘what makes us different from other animals’ quandary….It’s about Death and knowing it’s coming, unavoidable, ordained—like the Red Sox blowing a big lead in September. Just like that and no other way. Get over it.
Now that I’m writing, I’m writing to keep from writing about Pierce. Wouldn’t you know it?
At some point, I think I’ll go mute for a while—the way you went illiterate.
So: where was Sandy getting the shit, that’s what I needed to know.
But I did know, knew all along. It was Pierce. I knew it but I wouldn’t let myself ‘know’ it because I didn’t want to cut Pierce’s throat. Or any throat, for that matter. But that fucking Yataghan was under my bed with a big honkin’ Curse on it. And whoever was giving Sandy heroin needed their throat cut. So, I avoided the obvious.
I went down to Boston a lot and walked around, waiting for people to try to sell me drugs. I cruised all the right places and got offered lots of heroin. But I knew the truth all along. Every time I asked so skinny pusher, “You ever sell shit to this girl named Sandy—long, black hair, eyes to die for, weak chin. Ever sell to her?” They’d all shake their heads and say, “No way, man”—“no way, man”—over and over.
I hate to admit this, but I roughed some of them up—pushed them up against walls, twisted their arms, smacked them in the face. Pushers are usually skinny and fragile and on a lot of drugs themselves—easy to push around. I’m ashamed of it, but I pushed them around, hoping they would lie to me and tell me they sold to Sandy so I wouldn’t have to cut Pierce’s throat.
But they never did that. They never lied. May Jerry’s Jesus bless them, they never lied.
I lied. I was the Liar, lying to myself. I knew all along.
Then I met up with Jorge Martinez, a Wanderer on the Earth, who I beat within an inch of his life. It was the day Newman took Sandy away. I walked up and down Washington Street, surrounded by hookers and dealers and Freaks and Sailors. I had my hockey stick with me, don’t ask me why. But I had it with me, walking around Washington Street accosting pushers with a hockey stick. Jesus! When I met this little P.R. kid with acne who wouldn’t lie to me, I beat him with my stick. I heard a couple of ribs break and a hockey stick can do massive damage to someone’s nose and face, which I did. I was angry and crazy, wanting him to lie to me, unable to admit I was the only one lying.
I beat him so bad it made the papers--the tabloids and even the back pages of the Globe the day before Easter.. The cops interviewed him in the hospital, nearly toothless and all beat up. Jorge told the cops and the reporters that some, “huge guy, man” beat him with a stick. I’m sure he said “steek”. He told them I looked like a walrus. Can you imagine that? “This big one-eyed, white walrus, man, he beat me with a crooked ‘steek’.”
I knew they’d never trace me down. I threw the hockey stick in the pool where the swan boats glide and I stared in the mirror for hours. I don’t look anything like a walrus. Can you imagine that, Reed, someone thinking I looked like a walrus? I knew I was safe. But it made me real sick inside, what I did. I was disgusted with myself.
It took that little imp, John Henry Davidson to straighten me out. He told the Truth to damn my Lie.
“Look here, Meyer,” he told me a few days before Pierce’s death, “it’s fuckin’ Pierce. Fuckin’ Pierce is supplying Sandy.”
“Don’t say ‘fuck’,” I said. “Besides, Pierce only does grass and hash. He promised me.”
John Henry rolled those great, huge eyes and cursed something fierce under his breath. “I’ll goddamn fuckin’ show you, you mutherfuckin’ walrus.” That’s what I heard him say except the walrus part is crazy.
On Easter morning I went to Holy Ghost to visit Mrs. Merriman and Dan Counts. But they both died in the night. May Jerry’s Jesus bless them. I had about a gallon of coffee in the cafeteria with Florence before I went down to Boston, intending to beat up some junkie who wouldn’t lie to me. This was still very early. But I didn’t have the stomach for it. I hung around Park Street Station for a while. I didn’t even go upstairs. I helped a Hari Krishna sell some flowers for a while. His name was Lionel—can you imagine that, a Hari Krishna named Lionel from Duluth? Then I took the train back to Harvard Square and walked home.
The Factory was deserted. I didn’t even go to my room, just wandered around looking for people. No one home. Easter drove them all mad and into the streets, I suppose. Finally, I found Sugar, asleep in your bed.
“So where is everybody?” I asked her after I woke her up.
“Reed went to church,” she said, real sleepy-like. I noticed her face was healing well. I had this dark feeling in me, like some horrible sludge around my heart, gathering. It was gathering even though I was looking at Sugar’s healing face, happy that you’d taken her in, trusting you would keep her safe. (Oh, I know all about the punch that bastard, Pierce, gave her and about you taking her in. I know everything about the Factory, Reed. I am Asmus of the Factory—I see all and know all and just don’t say much. And the thing I saw most clearly I denied most vehemently. Just my job, I imagine.
Anyway, sitting on your bed with that little sparrow, Sugar, I knew—don’t ask me how—that the Curse of Annabaal had kicked in. Rivers crossed. Bridges burned. Nothing to be done. No turning back. Fated and cursed. Cursed.
“Reed went to church?” I asked, though saying it was weird and strange, like watching myself say it. The Curse had kicked in.
“That’s what he said,” Sugar told me, falling off into sleep. “I told him it was Easter.”
“What kind of church?” I asked her, rousing her from slumber, not caring, but knowing it mattered.
She shifted and turned, on the edge of sleep, “Jerry’s kind…their…cult.” Then she said, “the temple…in…Copley…Square….”
Oh Jesus, I thought, Anglicans!
Then I watched her sleep for a while. There’s not much better in this world than looking at Sugar, whenever possible. But watching her sleep….I swear, Reed, is like being born. You know?
Finally, when I got up to leave, she roused for a moment and said, “John Henry’s looking for your. He’s in your room. He said he was hiding...there….”
That was the snap. I snapped. John Henry-my Truth Bearer—hiding in my room. I was down the steps in three jumps, through the kitchen and into my room. Pierce was there, banging on my bathroom door. The blinds were closed but I knew he had something in his hands, I just didn’t know what.
“Yo, Pilgrim,” I said, crossing the room toward him. Then I tripped over something and was asshole over elbow on the floor. I hit my left arm when I feel—hit the ‘crazy bone’—and my whole arm was numb and stingy at the same time, you know how that feels?
Next thing I know, Pierce was standing over me and I knew in a flash he had that cursed yataghan in his hands. And I knew I must have tripped over Annabaal’s velvet lined box.
Pierce had this look on his face—terrified and humble—something I’d never seen in him before.
“Meyer,” he said, bending toward me, his eyes wide and wondering, his face like a mask of pain and fear. It was like one of those Greek masks, from the dramas. You know, except it was his face in a mask of Pain and Fear.
“Meyer,” he said again, in a whisper, like a prayer. “What’s this knife? That little fucker had it when I found him. I caught him going through my drawers. He ran down here and tried to hide. When I came in he was opening that box. I took this damn knife out of it—I was just going to scare him shitless—that’s all, I swear. But then I knew I had to cut a throat….What’s going on with this knife?”
“It’s cursed,” I told him, but I was so scared he couldn’t hear me and moved toward me.
“What did you say?” Pierce asked.
This big Marine’s standing over me with a paper-cut sharp yataghan in his hands. And he’s in the throes of a Curse. I’m scared to death.
“There’s a Curse,” I told him, trying to be audible. “It’s got a Curse on it that’s got hold of you….”
He nodded, like he understood. Then he said to me, real scared like, “I understand. You’ve got to help me here….”
“Can you drop it? Can you just let the knife go?” I asked.
His face turned red and screwed itself up like a fist. Then he relaxed and tried again. Finally, he said, “No, I can’t drop it….Help me….”
I don’t know how long we were like that—Pierce with his living Greek mask of Fear and Pain and me, my aching, throbbing, numb arm. However long it was, it was long enough for John Henry to crawl out of the bathroom and circle the room by the walls and crawl into the kitchen. His eyes were enormous—like Buckwheat—though I know that’s racist…like Eddie Cantor’s eyes, though that’s probably anti-Semitic…you can’t win. But his eyes were bursting out of their sockets and I knew in that moment that those eyes would see a lot of death, but not this one.
And I knew, Reed, I knew like it was true and had already happened, that I could have been free of Annabaal’s curse. I could have crawled away with John Henry and not looked back and the curse would have been null and void for me. The yataghan was in Pierce’s hands—it was his curse now.
I shifted on the floor from my stomach to my back, preparing to crawl like hell for the door, leaving that awful curse behind. But just then, Pierce opened his mouth and some voice came out of him I’d never heard before, not anywhere…or had always heard—excuse me for being so dramatic—but he spoke with a voice of loneliness and pain like nothing else. It was like the Voice of the only Wanderer on the Earth who ever wandered there. Like that.
“Meyer,” he said, “Help me….Oh, Jesus….Oh, God….Help me!”
I looked up at him, Reed, and it was like looking into the eyes of some dumb or domesticated animal—like a puppy or an ox. His eyes were all soft and longing. And I knew there was nothing to be done—a throat had to be cut. So I told him so.
“There is nothing left to be done,” I said, “but to cut a throat. It’s a strange curse, but a real one.”
So I leaned back and exposed my throat to him, like a wild animal who knows they have lost the fight and wills to die. I didn’t want to die, but someone had to and I was simply there. This is the last piece of advice I’ll give you, Reed: ‘don’t get too attached to things and don’t show up when a throat needs cutting.’
For a long time, we were like this .
I fully expected to feel the blade, burning cold and then hot against my neck, pushing down. I closed my eye and waited, scared shitless—literally. One of the things Mack did when he came was let me clean up. I had shit myself but didn’t know it until Mack came. By that time there was blood everywhere and Pierce was dead and John Henry, who’d been hiding in the kitchen, and I had handled the yataghan and the candle and Jerry’s Union Army cape.
Mack said, “Jesus, Meyer, you’ve got a pant load!”
I sniffed and felt and looked and knew it was true.
“I can’t face what happens next like this,” I told him. “Can I clean up first?”
“Sure,” Mack told me. “No problem. But I’ve got to call some people now. I’ll only call people I can boss around, okay?”
I didn’t understand that part but I nodded and went to clean myself. I must have already shit myself when I finally opened my eyes and saw Pierce standing stone still, pressing the yataghan into his own throat. He was standing there, like some department store dummy, like some mannequin, with a two foot knife a half-inch into his throat.
Little streams of blood were running down his neck, like tributaries of the Nile in the dry season. I got up, my arm aching, and walked over to him. He was frozen, petrified. He couldn’t move.
I took his hands in mine and tried to pull the yataghan away from his throat. He opened his mouth to speak, but blood and saliva ran out of his mouth and down his chin. His mouth kept moving and there was a gurgling noise, more like a mountain stream than a voice. I leaned real near, not even thinking of the blood and fluids that sprayed my face when Pierce tried to speak.
I can’t say for sure because it was so crazy, but I’d swear he said, gurgling and spraying me: “Meyer, help me—push the other way….” I still tried to pull the knife away from him, tried to pry his hands from the hilt and the blade, but I couldn’t. So, slowly at first, after taking a big breath, I started pushing the knife inward. Something in his eyes convinced me to push as hard as I could. And his head fell back off his body and the blood spurted out in two fountains, like ocean waves, like an artesian well, like that.
Blood everywhere—on the walls, on Sandy’s mobile, on the floor and ceiling, in my eyes—Jesus, so much blood and some of it in my eyes!
I stepped away. Pierce stood there for a few moments, his head flopping back like a hood, until the blood stopped. When the blood stopped, all gone, Pierce just crumpled and fell.
I sat beside him for a while and then John Henry crept back in. “It was him,” he said, pointing to Pierce’s crumpled, blood-soaked, half-decapitated body, but meaning the live Pierce, the bad ass one. “It was him all along. Look….”
He handed me some small plastic bags full of a white powder.
“I found them in his room, in his underwear drawer—the boy had some yellow jockey shorts….”
“I know,” I said, sick to death of death. “I’ve known all along.”
After a while, I locked my bedroom door and, in spite of the smell of all that blood and the shit in my britches that I didn’t know about, John Henry and I cleaned up. I should have sent him away since I made him an accomplice to whatever you would call what happened, but I didn’t. He told me not to worry, that no Cambridge cop would believe he was strong enough to cut Pierce’s throat. “They might think I was trying to steal his fuckin’ body,” he said.
We took one of Krista’s big candles, rolled it in some of Pierce’s blood and wrapped it in Jerry’s Union Army cape and hid it in the VW bug’s trunk. Then John Henry drove the car a block away for you to find. When he came back, I had the yataghan back in its box and tied it up with string. I made him promise that he’d never open it and he would give it to you one day. I don’t know when that will be.
Here’s the important part, the real part, the True part: when Pierce’s head snapped back the sound of severing the flesh and sinew and cartilage sounded to me just like the sound Jorge’s ribs made when I beat him with my hockey stick. Sorry to say, I regretted that more than I regretted helping Annabaal and Pierce cut his own throat. I just did. I hope Pierce’s dying fulfilled Annabaal’s Curse. And I learned this—the human throat is a fragile mix of flesh and cartilage and blood vessels and bone. The throat is meant to be the place of swallowing and talking and singing and moaning, but it won’t stand up to a knife as big and sharp as Annabaal’s was.
No one besides you—such a Midwestern innocent—could understand or appreciate that what I did for Pierce, half-dead before I touched the knife, could be construed as an act of mercy and completion. To everyone else—even Jerry, who swears on the baby Jesus he won’t read this letter, though I know he will—I am a murderer. So when the time comes, I will plead guilty. Then I’ll shut up…and ‘be’ shut up for a long time—like the rest of my stay on this planet.
But that’s okay. I deserve it. Not for helping Pierce end his life and not for fulfilling that goddamn wretched Curse. I will take my medicine for you and Sandy and John Henry and Krista and that crazy Jew in the attic and for Yodel and for Sugar and for the Wanderers on the Earth and for Jorge. Mostly for Jorge.
I think what I did to Jorge, looking for a comfortable lie, was much worse than what I did helping Pierce cut his throat. Beating up Jorge was the worst thing I’ve ever done. I have only two things to do now—atone for Jorge and make sure the Curse is finally broken. The first I can handle for myself. The second might require your help. We’ll see.
Brigham brought me some books today. One is about Morse Code. He didn’t remember buying it. “Must have gotten mixed in with the others,” he said. That book gives me an idea.
I’ll stop writing now. I was through anyway.
My only regret besides Jorge is that I didn’t cut that bastard Pierce’s throat all on my own. MEYER
That day, after I read the letter several times, I called Jerry in Boston. I called from the library but charged it to my home phone. I’m very strict on use of the library phone ever since I realized Peaches had been calling Grafton, which is long distance, and talking for over an hour three times a week. Some boyfriend, I imagined, knowing Peaches.
On the second ring, someone answered.
“Blood Ties,” he said.
“Fr. Mann, please.”
“Let me see if Fr. Mann’s available,” he said. Then, not too effectively covering the phone with his hand, I heard him say, “Jerry, it’s for you. I bet you $5 it’s Reed….” I didn’t hear if Jerry responded, but in a few moments he was on the line.
“Jerry Mann here. Blood ties is our mission.”
When he heard my voice he said he was delighted that I had called. Then he asked me to hold on for a moment—about as long as it would take to find a $5 bill in your wallet and hand it to someone who was snickering. “I’m not surprised you called,” he said. I’ve noticed that people are seldom surprised by me.
Jerry and I did Midwestern/Southern small talk for a while, like two people circling a porch looking for two rocking chairs.
“It’s about Meyer’s letter,” he said, ending chit-chat.
“Yes,” I said. “Did you read it?”
He laughed. “Of course I did, just like he knew I would, several hundred times over the years.”
“I need to know…well…you know…is it true?”
Jerry chuckled. “What is truth, Reed? The question’s been asked before. Is truth like the air under your fingernails, the gaps between your teeth? The woof and warp? The ebb and flow? What?”
“If it’s true,” I said, “he could have gotten off. He could be alive today and running the Igloo Factory.”
There was a long pause over the phone. Finally I said, “Jerry, are you there?”
“Here’s what you forget, Reed,” Jerry said, slowly and sadly, “who the fuck besides you believes a scimitar could be cursed? Let me answer that….”
“It was a yataghan, scimitars are different. A scimitar has one curve and….”
“Whatever,” Jerry said, suddenly sounding tired. “But here’s the point—this was 1969 and Meyer was already a blood-thirsty cult leader in the press, some demented guru. So how could he have convinced a ‘jury of his peers’….My God, can you even begin to imagine a jury of Meyer’s peers!...that a yataghan was ‘cursed’?
“Can you imagine any lawyer convincing anyone that it was the knife that did it? And oh, by the way, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the knife had been laying around for centuries for a throat worthy of cutting….My client was only obeying Annabaal’s orders, your honor, because she—whoever the fuck she was—decided Mr. Pierce’s throat was the next throat that needed sliced. Can you truly imagine that Brigham’s lawyers, and they were the best, would have started down that road in a court of the Commonwealth in 1969?”
I had to admit I couldn’t imagine all that, not any of it.
“If it please the court,” Jerry continued in his summation voice, “the real murderers here are a crooked, Turkish knife and Annabaal, some demon last seen on earth in 1600.”
“But if the Curse were true…,” I began.
“That’s why he decided to go mute.”
“Because he couldn’t take it?”
Jerry snorted over the phone. Snorting is what Meyer always did to alert those around him that he was ready to move on, reach resolution, end discussion. Jerry’s snort wasn’t lost on me.
“Of course he could, as you put it, ‘take it’. Meyer could ‘take’ anything,” he said. “And he did. Twenty years of prison for Christ’s sake. During which time, by the way, he was a model prisoner and turned down every opportunity for a parole hearing. He could have been out in seven years. Brigham’s lawyers finally threw up their well manicured hands over him. Whenever they told him he could get out, he told them he had ‘shit to do’. That’s how he put it: ‘shit to do’. Mostly his ‘shit’ was visiting inmates in the infirmary. He never stopped that. The last time I talked to him, a year or so ago, he said there were so many prisoners with AIDs he couldn’t keep up with them. Brigham even told me that he’d heard the governor was going to outright pardon him this year because of his service to other prisoners—though that might have been an apocryphal story.”
Jerry stopped talking but I kept listening. Phones are like that, they commandeer your ears. In the background I couldn’t hear anything but the silence of fiber optics. One a real phone line…an ‘analog’ phone line…I could have eavesdropped in on the phantom conversations of a grandmother in Pittsburgh, a salesman in Iowa, two lovers in Fort Worth. With the new technology there was noting to listen to—not even static. Meyer would have hated such progress.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what ‘apocryphal’ means?”
“No, I know what it means.”
Jerry laughed. “Meyer always told me you knew what every word in the world meant. Some things are always true.”
“Which is what I want to know about the letter,” I took a deep breath. “is it True or just apocryphal?”
“How should I know,” he said, suddenly somber. “How could anyone know but Meyer—even if he could—and he’s not talking now.”
We sat in comfortable silence for a while, like we had done so many times so long before. The fiber optics silence hummed like a cat, an Air-temp, something that hardly hums at all.
“Alright,” Jerry said, “how much of the stuff you’ve written down so far about the Factory and Meyer, how much of it is True, like you mean ‘true’ and how much is…I don’t know what to call it exactly…’filtered’, ‘altered by memory’, made poetry from prose? How much?”
I had to think, but not long. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, there your go,” Jerry said, all the way from Boston.
Then I remembered something else. “The seagull, Jerry, did I make that up?”
“The seagull in Meyer’s room on Easter, walking around in all the blood, that one?”
“No, you didn’t make that up. We all saw it—you, me, Sugar, Krista, Brigham, Mack, John Henry….”
In the background I heard someone say, “Watch whose name you take in vain.” I realized it was John Henry, all grown up. He had answered the phone. Jerry had kept his promise to Meyer.
Jerry was laughing. “Out of all this,” he said, “that’s the one I have the most difficulty understanding. I can believe a knife had a life of its own, but Christ knows what that damn seagull was about.”
“So why don’t you ask Him?” I said, too fast, too tired and irritable from lack of sleep.
Jerry didn’t say anything. I could almost picture the sad little smile on his face.
“Jerry, I didn’t mean…I was just….”
“I know. Your cynicism is just showing. Perfectly natural under the circumstances.
“I just, well….”
“Jesus did tell me you were drinking too much Coors,” he told me.
I felt like a kid in third grade who hadn’t studied for the quiz. “Ah…I know I drink a bit too much….I….”
“No, that’s not it,” Jerry said. “He objects to that Nazi who brews Coors and thinks you ought to try some Miller from time to time, or some foreign brews….”
“Jesus told you this?” I said.
“Kinda,” he said. “It’s kinda true…like the letter…like, oh, most everything.”
After that we talked about our jobs—about Blood Ties and the Buckhannon Public Library, about Sandy and Meyer Tee up in Morgantown and about John Henry, the assistant director of Blood Ties.
When it was time to stop talking, Jerry said, “See you in September…or August…whenever it is.”
As so often in my life, I didn’t read the signs correctly. I thought Jerry was just quoting an old song and couldn’t remember the words. Instead, he was telling the truth.
Truth is like that, all this has taught me in a way I’ll never forget. If it isn’t misunderstood or ignored, it’s not heard because you aren’t paying attention.