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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tito Perdue's THE NODE - Excerpt #4

He said it was because he no longer had access to propane that he chose to come to town. The weather had been so bad, and he could not stay warm throughout the winter without indenturing himself to hearth and dwindling hoards of hardwood. He had read his books, yes, but hadn’t laid eyes upon a woman in all those years. Having eschewed television and periodicals of every sort, he still believed the country to be what once it was. And then, too, owing to those nightly bands of stragglers and southern capitulationists migrating across his and his neighbor’s land… It was too much, as finally he admitted.
Originally it had been his intention to seek out a cylinder of propane and have it delivered to his place, a scheme that might have sufficed him until June; instead, after trekking the four miles to town and finding nothing of that kind, neither propane nor occupied cottages nor even anything else, he stepped from the edge of the forest and, treading as noiselessly as he could, began to penetrate the ruined suburbs that had washed up along the southern perimeter of Nelson County, as it was denominated in those days. Anyone watching from a moderate distance or less could have seen that he carried a knapsack on his back and was dressed in a hat of some kind that came to a point and bent over and pointed to the ground. That person could also have seen that he wore moccasins on one foot and boots on the other, and that he had accustomed himself to last year’s fashion of doing without socks.
But no one could have guessed what he carried in his knapsack, save that whatever it was, it was almost too heavy for an individual man. One waited in disappointed expectation of seeing him finally disburden himself of the thing and open it up to view. One also noticed that he was being trailed by a dog, an animal of commensurate size with a metal collar that made somewhat of a chiming noise as the little links happened to brush against each other in time with the pace adopted by the… It chimed. The animal, yes, was old, a burnt-out case really, but endowed still with good dentition.

He said he saw bats (one of them transporting a frog on its back), circling ever so slowly about the smoke stack of one of the downtown factories. It was a period of long nights and short days, a symbiotic combination that still worked out to the usual 24 hours, more or less. Next, he crossed over into a Salvadoran neighborhood where he must tread with utmost care lest he be discovered and chased down and stomped to death or inserted into one of the glowing ovens where even now at three o’clock in the morning the local bakery was readying the next day’s wares. Pressing at the glass, he spied into upon a numerous family of a burly wife in a peasant’s skirt and some four or five children suffering, apparently, from want of vitamin D. No question about it, the odor that came from that place was praiseworthy in the extreme and included new-made pastries that could be smelt if not, however, seen. Here he lingered, aware at the same time that a lamp had come on in one of the overhead apartments. Far away he heard a radio full of static and bits and pieces of Spanish spoken at exaggerated speed. And that, of course, was when the hound, impatient to be moving, began to whine in his way, a nasal sound as annoying as a child’s.
They moved past the twice life size statue of a bearded man who had been the western hemisphere’s most admired mass murderer. Never pausing, they crossed over into a Korean district where their safety was fractionally improved, as our narrator believed. But if they were awake and active, these neighborhood people, and going about their business, one could not have detected it by obvious signs. Was he being watched by Asian eyes? Probably. And might they leap out upon him as he wandered by? He thought not, no, or not at least with any effect, not so long as he carried in his vest the .357 caliber heirloom revolver handed down to him by his fathers. And this was not even to mention the some 500 rounds of ammunition that formed so integral a part of the freight that he carried on his back.
He was old and getting older, and his footwear was old, too. In younger days he had tried to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk while at the same time keeping a conscientious score of his failings. But not now, not when such matters seemed somewhat less important than more pressing projects bearing upon his prospects and very survival indeed.


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