Storyglossia Issue 12, March 2006.

Johnny Niagara's Adventures Underground

by Corey Mesler


Shapely, blunt Pluck Nelligan weaved through the crowd like a melody. It was late, early, sometime between midnight and the Age of Aquarius, and Pluck was on a mission. She was hunting a man.

And it wasn't just any man she was hunting, no, she was pursuing Johnny Niagara, the firebrand, the gypsy, the Movement's Pyramus. Prince of Potvalor! She knew him only by sight and Johnny was quite a sight. As handsome as an obelisk, as bright as seven popes. And Pluck had set her cap for him, had fallen for him in absentia, so to speak, only hearing about him from a friend of a friend. Fell in love with an ideation of Johnny Niagara, but it's enough, it's enough.

Now this, coincidentally, if there are any dewy-eyed lovers listening who still think coincidence is coincidence, was during a downtime in Johnny's relationship with his eternal flame, Iris Morpheme. Johnny and Iris's love for each other was as lasting as the eternal rocks, but, as in any relationship, there are ups and downs, ins and outs, days and darknesses, heavens and hells, anodes and cathodes. During this time Johnny was blue and miserable because Iris wanted to sleep with Cath Danelli, the drummer for The Damn Dirty Apes. Which was normally fine. Whenever a willowy young thing passed across Johnny's viewing screen Iris was quick to grant him immunity. And, Lord knows, Johnny took advantage of this openness, this trust. He bedded women of all stripe because women of all stripe are as irresistible as a sore tooth. Reasons, God, not to reflood.

But—and here we admit to the humanness of even the most advanced, the most enlightened among us—Johnny was a tad jealous of this drummer, with his Italian name (fake?) and his smirk and his ability to twirl a drumstick, toss it into the air like a ballerina and never miss a beat. Cath Danelli never missed a beat. Johnny had the nonmusician's envy of the musician.


Now, Johnny's friend, Camel warned him about Pluck Nelligan. He called her a siren, adding, "Course there are sirens and there are sirens. As sirens go, she's a damn delicious one." Which was the way Camel thought about things, opposing ideas colliding in his head like glass and adamant.

"Thanks, friend," Johnny said.

"Women," Camel said.


"Well, hell, they're worth thinking about, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are."

"I mean, I.."

And the vacillation ended up being almost an endorsement of Pluck Nelligan and her wily wiles. Nevertheless, at least, Johnny had heard her name, had registered her game, before she came ahuntin.

So that, when she called him, he only acted as if he had no idea who she was.

"Is this Johnny Niagara?" a voice like young wine that has ceased to ferment.

"Got him," Johnny shot from the hip.

"Hi," an octave lower.

"Who's' this?"

"Name's Pluck, like a lyre's string."

"A liar?"

"You spar."

"I do."

"Ha. Pluck, like Pluck, Texas."


"So we have friends in common."

"Gotta a lot of common friends, Sweet," Johnny added the "sweet" because he felt he was deflecting too much. Why not let the woman play out her hand?

"Mr. Niagara. Let's get together."

She was quick, she was straight-talking. These, surely, are good qualities.

"You want a date, am I getting it right?"

"We can call it a date if you wish."

"Alright then."

"Alright then."

And so it was that Johnny Niagara agreed to meet our telephone temptress at an after-hours club called The Thunderbird.


Now, in those days in Memphis, a club scene sprang up that was distinct from the more hippified bistros like The Bitter Lemon. If there was a Swinging Sixties, a time of bigcity cool and playboys, if it ever existed in our backwater burg, then Ernie Barrasso was the beating heart of it.

Ernie B. opened clubs the way you or I open the newspaper. His imprint is on these times because of his entrepreneurship, his moxey. Names like The Thunderbird, Club Caesar, The FivePointSix, The Driftwood, The Nite Liter invoked Las Vegas clubs, and for a reason. Mr. B. was emulating what he thought the hippest city in the US, the city made of lights and gypsum and concrete in the middle of the Nevada desert. Club Caesar he fitted out with Roman décor blended with Aquarian iconography. With gogo dancers! The Nite Liter had the allez-allez entertainers, the requisite vulgar adornment, burlesque by way of Highway 61. And The Vapors was supper and a show, the grownups late-night playground. Let us call these clubs the bastard children of Tom Jones and Grace Slick.

It was all so foreign to our hero, Johnny. Johnny was more used to coffee and an acid blotter at The Lemon. He was more used to stoned chicks dancing naked at Beatnik Manor. This invitation to The Thunderbird, well, it may as well have been summoning him to inspect the outer stockyards of Old Scratch's Stygian farm.

But, with Iris off testing her erotogenic kata with her catamite drummer, Johnny was loaded for bear. So, dressed in his Salvation Army psychedelic panoply—he looked like Ian Anderson and Davy Crockett simultaneously—Johnny Niagara found himself one moonless, sere evening, on the top step, looking down at the entrance to The Thunderbird Club. Down the steps went and the steps went down. Johnny was painfully aware of the signification of the movement downwards. His hesitation was the leopard's before it darts into the open.

Then the fortified door swung outward. Red, eldritch light. A beefy ostiary in a t-shirt a few sizes too small for him held the entryway open with his forearm.

A couple staggered out. He was lawyerly; she was Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.

"Bub," the lawyerly one burped as he passed Johnny. Johnny almost took a swing at him just on principle. For the Movement. But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out (in).

His date squeezed past—her breasts brushing Johnny's arm, her perfume gunpowder in a pouch.

The bouncer looked up at Johnny.

He didn't speak. Of course he didn't. He was a three-headed dog.

But his expression said, you comin' in or not?

Johnny nodded his secret code nod, the one that said We Are the Oppressed and as Such we are United. The one that said Tune In Turn On Drop Out. The one that said Green Power Peace. It said Further, The Acid Test is Now, War is Good Business Invest your Son.

It said One Two Three What are We Fighting For.

It died between Johnny and the Three Headed Dog.

Johnny edged past into the fusc. His eyes refused to see, his vigilant eyes.

Then it all burst in front of him like lit collodium. It was a scene. It wasn't his scene but it was happening. Perhaps he could go with it.

To his left two college boys were seemingly being breastfed by a woman, naked to her ample waist, who held each boy's head lovingly, like a mother. They lapped at her, with dulcet sounds.

Further on dancers danced in a way Johnny had only seen on television. On American Bandstand. They did actual "dances." These gangles and tootles had names. Johnny had even heard some of them, the frug, the hully gully, the fly. It was to laugh.

And the music was a curious blend of pop and swing. Swingpop. Popswing. He had to admit it made his ankles quiver. And the women moved like Eve‹mdash;they were all beautiful. Like Etruscan vases. Beautiful and empty, he imagined.


Johnny head was swimming. It was doing the dog paddle, just trying to stay afloat. And, just about the time that Johnny's sense of self, his sense of humor and his sense of the world as a Croswaith Empyrean Puppet Happening kicked in, he felt a warm hand on his arm—it seemed to char through his backsleeve—and he spun to face a face once carved in rock in the cloudforests of Machu Picchu. Pluck Nelligan.

Pluck Nelligan had a mug that angels envy, eyes like a doe's and scythecuts in each cheek around a smile impish and sensual. Pluck wore a sheer shirt made sheerer by bodysweat, her midsize, orbicular breasts as clear as moons on a frosty night. She stood so close to Johnny he could count her lashes. She was either aggressive or wanted to be heard over the din.

Johnny stiffened in his pants. No man would not. Necromancy!

"Johnny," she said in that whiskey voice.

"Pluck Texas," Johnny said.

Pluck's eyes twinkled at the flirting. She liked him.

"Yes, where I'm from. Hence the moniker. Tex—emphasis on the ASS."

Johnny could only look as she turned for inspection. It was, all things considered, a perfect caboose.

"Well," Johnny said.

"Dance?" the siren sang.

"I dunno," Johnny dissembled.

"You don't know if you wanna dance?"

"This isn't my usual scene, you know, corporate missile heads and sweet sixteens dressed up like big sisters. Fratboys trying to look like hippies. Jarheads trying to look like hippies. Lawyers trying to look like hippies. Uh. . ."

"I get it. You're too cool for this swinging scene."

Johnny studied her as if she was a blueprint for a bomb.

"Why here?" he said, finally.

"This IS my scene," Pluck sang into his ear, her breath hot like sulphured tang.

"You a go-go dancer?" Johnny laughed.

"Yes," she came back swiftly, like a bird. "A nautch, natch."

"Oh," Johnny said.

"I dance in all Ernie's clubs."

"Ernie is—"

"Barrasso. Hell, you know Ernie Barrasso."

"I assure you I don't."




"Who's the guy drinking by himself there at the bar, the guy with the little notebook?"

Pluck turned toward the flashing strobe bathing the entire bar.

"Mr. Knott."


"Is too."

"Who is he?"

"Reporter. Made Ernie a household name."

"Not in my household."



So where did this leave our first-timers? Whither they goest?

After a while Johnny said, "I'd like to see you dance, but, me, damn, I got jimmy legs, you know?"

Pluck Nelligan laughed a sprite's laugh. It was music that laugh and it swam in Johnny's head—he was as if under a spell. Suddenly, he wanted this woman, wanted her anacreontic body, yes, but wanted to plumb her mind too, get to the root of her cunning ways, her insinuating femaleness. Johnny wanted to understand this woman named Pluck—he wanted to know the secret of the music that now racketed around inside his tabernacle. Her music. Pluck Nelligan resonated.

"This Barrasso, he owns the place?"


"Where is he?"

"Who the hell knows? Acapulco most likely."

"You his woman?"

Pluck's eyes grew catlike.

"I fuck him. Who wouldn't?"

"Ok," Johnny said.

"Listen," Pluck spoke into the antihelix of Johnny's ear. "Wanna go into a back room. They're private. You can still hear the music."

"Sure," Johnny said.

It was a slow push through the wild ridotto. Dancers bumped them at every turn. It was difficult just to keep hands locked as Pluck led her quarry onward. Just after they passed the bar—Pluck nodded to Mr. Knott—it was not the secret nod, Johnny knew that much—a commotion began behind them. A burly guy who looked like a tight end, his shoulder-length blond hair twisted with axle grease, picked up a barstool and held it over his head. Some dancers continued, seemingly cursed (or blessed) with tarantism. Some stood back to give the Olympian room to make his throw. And throw it he did—with an inventive curse like a grunt, something akin to FUCKGODPISSITALL—the barstool went flying over the bobbing heads and hit the mirrored wall with a satisfying crash.

Johnny started to place a placating hand on the brute's shoulder but decided that he should do as the Romans do. He stood and watched.

The ruffian turned in the cleared space he had made for himself. He glowered, glared, his anger the anger of the perpetually pissed, that select group of recidivists whose chips are ceaselessly developing. The world is place of malefaction to them, a place of monkeys.

"Anyone want their ass kicked?" the man spat out.

Johnny smiled. Classic.

The man turned toward Johnny.

"You find me funny, you Commie bastard?"

Johnny tried to stop smiling but, really, this guy was following the script so divinely.

Johnny's hushed calm enraged the beast. Beast reached into his pocket for a pair of knucks and just as they caught a flash from the strobe and his hand sparked like a fizgig, the fellow who had been at the door, corrected the brute with a baseball bat to his dirty pash. The brute fell like a stunned cow. The efficient door attendant grabbed his prize by the ankles and dragged him doorward.

"Huh," Johnny said, still wearing his grin.

"Dago Tiller," Pluck said.

"Huh," Johnny said again.

"He's normally at The Psycho Lounge, another of Ernie's places. Ernie tolerates him for the most part. Local color, ya dig? Must have gotten some bad rotgut tonight."

The music cranked up again. Johnny had not realized it had ever stopped. Now it was blowing out "I Fought the Law." The ropewalkers laughed and began to move again as one.

Pluck reaffixed her hand to Johnny's.

They passed under a banner. It read "Where the Girls are the Guys won't be far behind."

"What's that?" Johnny said.

"Barrasso's Law."

"Ah. And so I follow. . ."

"Yes," Pluck said, tossing a look over her shoulder that was either a warning or a battle cry.

Our couple went through a door in the back. The hallway was ill-lit, as dim as dying day.

"Steps down," Pluck said, turning quickly through a side doorway.

There were indeed steps down, further down, a stairway that tumbled downward like a helter skelter, the bottom disappearing into smoke and darkling endlessness.

Johnny stumbled forward—Pluck seemed to be floating in air rather than taking steps—their descent was rapid. Darkness surrounded them. They were moving on solid ground now, Pluck's hand the only thing concrete in the dim. She squeezed him as if to reassure him.

Soon, Johnny heard her hand connect with something metallic and she pulled him through another doorway, across another threshold, and then light bust upon them like flame. They were in a room, sparse but comfortable, two overstuffed couches, a bar, lamps of various sizes and colors. Pluck switched on one lamp with a red bulb and one with a vitelline glow. She switched off the overhead and the room took on the contours of a cave, seemingly lit by the fire of the ancients.

Pluck turned toward Johnny.

"Now," she said.

"What is this place?"

"Just a more private part of the club. There are many rooms here and even some below this."

"I wouldn't want to go any lower," Johnny said, and then was embarrassed by his unintended double meaning.

Pluck now found another switch and music entered from the ceiling.

It was Them. It was "Mystic Eyes."

Pluck pushed Johnny's sternum. "Sit," she said.

He fell back onto one of the couches.

"Scrutinize," she said.

And she proceeded to move to the music, slowly at first, finding her groove, fitting her body to the rhythm. The more comfortable she got with herself the further away she seemed to go, and the further in Johnny went. In toward this hypnotic abstraction, entranced, enchanted.

Pluck had unbuttoned her shirt. When?

Now the music was "Your Eyes May Shine," local hoodoo.

Now Pluck's breasts rolled about like sheep, dancing, mesmerizing sheep. Johnny couldn't take his eyes off them, fleecy white embodiments of desire. They were flawless, textbook tits, perfection in human form, made from the same clay that formed his limbs, his maw, his breech, his genitalia that now began a dance of their own. A familiar reel.

Pluck closed her sleepy eyes. Her blazing body was a bottle that said, "Drink Me."

She was Salomé. She was Herodias. Johnny felt along his neck, checking for a dotted line.

Pluck ran her hands over her breasts that glistened with humidity. Then she moved her ministrations down her slim solar plexus, into the front of her loose harem pants, and as the dance progressed—the music now "Come on Down to my Boat Baby"—her hands continued their descent and her harem pants were sliding, sliding over her wrists and pooling about her shapely shins.

And one hand was inside her very brief briefs, working away, miles away, working like an immaculate engine.

Now Pluck's peepers popped open wide. She was back—and she was burning Johnny with her gaze. She smiled like a slit in an apple—in the apple.

"Don't you want to air that out?" Pluck said, noting the protuberance in Niagara's midsection. And she never stopped moving, like a cobra, if a cobra could sway and masturbate at the same time.

"Open her up, buster," she continued.

Johnny moved like a zombie. Johnny was a zombie. He undid his fly and his thick slugger appeared in the stramineous light.

"Johnny's Johnny," Pluck said, as she slipped out of her panties, shedding them like a skin. "I wanna see Niagara Falls," she simpered. She moved toward Johnny slowly—her arrival was estimated but the estimates existed back on the earthly plane. Johnny was gone. He watched her approach—his eyes glued to the thatch at her lower belly, a tangle like a folktale. It shimmered as if underwater.

Then: she was kneeling before him, gently pulling his trousers off.

Then: she was standing there, Diana Ungirdled. Her body was ambergris.

Then: her mouth—oh, haven—blanketed him. Flood of warm jamjam lickitup.

Then: she moved over him, thighs astride, and—sweet petals wet with rain—lowered herself onto him.


When Johnny woke he was alone. He was in the same room. It was now clouded with obscurity—it seemed damp and fetid, an underground cavern. He himself felt befouled.

Yet, his most recent memory was of such sweet lust, such sweet coupling, his mind racketed about looking for a place secure, a place familiar. Johnny was frightened.

He sat up, his head muzzy, his crotch sticky. He felt sick.

He rose but had to sit back down immediately. Everything he'd ever eaten was in his throat.

With much difficulty he dressed and moved toward the doorway. He expected to find it locked for some reason. He felt as if, perhaps, he had been imprisoned.

But, no, the door opened and the hallway, so dark last night, so black in his imagination—no, his memory—was now lit by dim exit signs. Johnny followed their bleary directions. He stumbled down the hallway, found the stairway—as steep as a sheet of glass‹mdash;and began his ascent back into daylight.

He came out into the bar and everyone was gone. The bar was silent like a docked ship.

He found the outer door—it seemed miles away—last night, was it just last night?, the room had seemed smaller, though able to contain the multitudes, the hordes fleeing the Egyptians into a sea split like a gutted hen. Johnny shook his muddled head. It rattled. Johnny's very bones were unhinged, tendons tenuous. His insides roiled like the deep.

The outer door was ajar. A butter slice of light leaked in. It was another day. Perhaps two days hence. Who's to say how long Johnny had slept?

He opened the door cautiously as if he expected Cerberus himself. A blast of sunlight shook him, spattered him, cleansed his muddied brain. He was out again. He had returned to the surface like Verne's spelunkers.


Johnny Niagara was pixilated, if you can accept the idea that such a fleshly creature as Pluck Nelligan is a pixie. More folks said Johnny was gorgonized.

Days he worked but with a faraway gaze in his portals and whippy top in his noggin.

Nights were something else altogether. He went club-hopping.

It was inappropriate, inane, absurd, insert adjective here. Johnny Niagara, the Left's preeminent bombardier, comrade in and out of arms, went from nightspot to nightspot like a sodden social butterfly. He was looking for Pluck. He was looking for something he could not name, something glittering and ephemeral.

One night he was thrown out of Club Caesar because he would not leave the dancers alone. He kept calling them fauns and peris, grabbing one particularly callipygian dancer by the hindquarters and demanding, "Is it really fairy cake?"

He was tossed from The Crown Lounge for picking a fight with the dueling pianists.

He and Dago Tiller were both asked to leave The Vapors for continually interrupting the singer with the house band, X-Caliber, one Casper Peters, asking him to play, "How do we Solve a Problem like Maria?"

He fell asleep, a bousy sadman, on the bar at the Junket Club. He had been telling anyone who would listen, "I'm John Knott. I'm a writer. I'll make you famous."

And all this mummery was for one reason: he wanted to see Pluck Nelligan again. Her number in the phone book was a trick, hokey-pokey, the seven digits spelled NOWHERE.

He thought about calling Iris, and he would have save for one grave reservation—Iris loved to talk on the phone while flagrante delicto. Turns her on. And he didn't need to hear her pleasure—pleasure elicited by a damn paradiddler—emanating from that devil's plastic tool.

Camel came calling, worried for his friend, MIA for weeks.

Johnny let him in without a salutation. He looked like hell, Johnny did, the bags under his eyes full of marked currency.

"Damn, pal," Camel said. "Wherefore art thou?"

"I'm here, man. I'm always here," Johnny answered without conviction.

"Listen, stories are circulating. Things are happening now, happening in every city across the broad, hairy midsection of our overweight country. We're taking the streets, man. And you're needed, you know? You're our front line guy."

"Right," Johnny said, his voice a leaden knell.

"What have you been doing every night?" Camel said, lighting a jay and sucking in deeply. He handed it to Johnny. "Styx and Hushpuppy said they saw you going into The Thunderbird. I said, naw, man, Johnny wouldn't be caught dead at that square's clubhouse."

"Hmp," Johnny said.

"Niagara, man, it's Camel. Spill."

So Johnny told him where he'd been every night for two weeks. Told him he was club-hopping but he glossed over the part about Pluck. If she was perhaps only dreamstuff he didn't want to know. Not yet. He recounted his various expulsions, sadass sagas about his drinking, his new friends, about how much he liked Neil Diamond.

Camel sat stock-still. He'd been hit where he breathed.

An uneasy silence passed like a doobie between the friends.

"Look, Johnny, this is a sell-out. You dig? A sell-out. These places belong to the other side. They're wrong, man, just basically wrong, as in wrong in their basics, right? They're ugly, they're suckholes, they're Republican."

"Shit, Camel," Johnny said, emboldened by debate. "What's the other side? Huh? Who's the other side? Man, I can't see it, you know? I can't see the line. I'm comfortable where I'm comfortable. Ok? If you can tell me who's on that other side. . ."

"Shit. Shit. Shit, Johnny, you've been bodysnatched. Who's the other side? Man, you schooled me! The devil wears a three piece suit, you know he does! He dresses nice, shops at James Davis, wears Brut, goes clubbing, gets the women. Shit, Johnny. Who's the other side? Standard Oil. IBM. NBC. Oswald. Roy Cohn. Barry Vietnam Goldwater. Billy Graham. Sears and Roebuck. Bankers, parachutists, car salesmen, prodigal sons, cashiers, sons of cashiers. Freakin' GM!"

"You're gone, man," Johnny said, but he said it without buoyancy. Somewhere inside him was a committed man, a man of conscience, but this inner eidolon was suffocating.

After Camel left Johnny took the telephone into his lap. He cradled it there like a baby with the pox. He really didn't believe that on the other end of it Iris could appear. It was a jape, a hype, a conjurer's trick. Yet, what else had he?

He put the receiver to his ear. He looked at the dial. What did Iris' code numbers spell? His mind worked on the equation for a while


In the middle of his ciphering the phone began to make Outer Limits noises. He hung up.

No, damn it. He reshouldered the instrument.

One ring. Two. Three. Four. (Uh oh). On the fifth ring Iris's voice.

"I," Johnny said.

"Johnnnnnnnny,' Iris moaned. Johnny rehung up.

Weeks passed. Johnny's descent into the maelstrom took on the proportions of a sentence. He walked among the bright celebrants a wraith. His pallor was the shade of the foam at the bottom of his namesake cataract.

Then one night at The Thunderbird—they always return, etc.—he saw Pluck on the dance floor with a man whom Johnny recognized. Johnny had a 24K Nightmare in his hand. Pluck was moving with feline seductiveness, seemingly coiled around her partner. She was wearing fairy dust. That's all she was wearing.

Johnny approached. Pluck's dance partner was Norm DeGair, once comrade in arms, a man who knew his way around a petard and could argue political dialectic indefinitely. He was behind the "Pigs Off Campus" campaign out at State.

Now, DeGair was approximating the watusi on this hellfloor with HIS seductress. Johnny started to lead with his maniform cudgel but thought better of it when Pluck locked her suasive eyes on his.

"Johnny," she purred.

"Come on," he said, putting sententious fingers around her supple midarm. What was happening? Why was he so clumsy in the ways of jeopardous romance?

"I'm not going anywhere, Tarzan."

Norm opened his mouth and a bee flew out.

"Norm," Johnny said, switching gears. "Man, what are you doing here?"

"Is it Johnny?" Norm mouthed.

"Yeah, Niagara." Johnny was having a hard time being heard over Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream."

"What do you hear from Hushpuppy?" Johnny tried.

Norm looked blank. Pleasant and blank.

"You lonely, sailor," Pluck now said, Get thee hence to the Love Store. Tell Ethelbert Pluck sent you. Now, go away, Johnny," and she moved off with her grass into the swaying swarm. Johnny watched her perfect ass going away from him, forever.


Days later Camel was in a froth. He had gotten the word that Johnny had not been working, had not been seen. Had he been disappeared?

Camel thought of Nixon.

"That fiddlefucking Dick" he said.

Camel went by Johnny's house. He knocked. He rang. He prodded. He sang. He could see Johnny sitting on his couch, face gone stony, gape a million miles long. Hendrix boomed from the room, the strepitous tinpan crash of the National Anthem. Camel left deflated. At least Johnny's alive, he kept thinking.

I think he's alive.

About a week later Camel went back, under different circumstances, his gait a slog. He wore the countenance of the Ancient Mariner. As he walked the sidewalk up to Johnny's front door the air around him bristled with mala fide, collywobbles rattling his brainpan, his heart a stuck accelerator. A single tear, the color of the flag's stars, made a clear path down his furry cheek.

Camel was as grim as mire.

He knocked on Johnny's door with a six-year old's impotent fist.

Where a storm could not dislodge the man a sad, soughing breeze succeeded.

Johnny opened the door, took one look at his bedraggled and woebegone ally, and ushered him into the comforts of Casa Niagara. Camel fell backwards onto the sprung couch, dislodging album covers and splayed paperbacks as he landed.

Sometimes the best face you can present a man dispirited is that of a man dispirited. Camel's depression threatened to swallow up Johnny's.

Johnny sat across the room from Camel and studied him for a good—or bad— fifteen minutes. The old comrades were comfortable with what went on between them—they were joined at the soul, sympatico as any two men could be.

Johnny lit a joint and studiously sucked its thaumaturgical smoke into his lungs. He squinted at his friend.

Camel raised his hand only high enough to take the toke.

Another fifteen minutes passed.

"Well, we better get at it," Johnny said. This was the liveliest he had been in months.

Camel looked at Johnny, seven times seven years of sadness on his map.

"They shot four kids at Kent State," Camel intoned. It was the voice of privation.

"Who did?" Johnny asked but he already knew. He was suddenly plugged back in. He saw it all in a flash. He saw the whole country wavering like an unstable highway in an earthquake. He saw where that quake originated. He saw where it threw its detritus, its quashed mendicants. He saw the wave that was sweeping America, an ugly sirocco of tumbling, crumbling dreams and colliding ideologies. Something's happening here, he thought.

"National Guardsmen, I think," Camel said. He was now witnessing Johnny's transformation, as if he were being inflated.

"Fuck," Johnny said.

"It's awful," Camel said. "Awful."

"Camel," Johnny said. "Look at me. We do not weep when they shoot us. We do not hang our heads. We rise up. We get off our asses. Right? Bobby said, now's not the time for your tears."

Camel felt it shudder inside him like a thrum behind his sternum.

"Call Three Hushpuppy Brown. Call College and Iris and Sweetness. Fuck. Call Norm DeGair."

Camel hesitated for a moment. Johnny stopped whirling long enough to meet his gaze. They smiled at each other and Camel reached for the phone.


Copyright©2006 Corey Mesler