Isaac Goodchrist, Esq. reviewed the 48-hour letter.
…therefore, in the strictly professional opinion of this author, the nation’s military bodies are adequately licensed, according to the language of law and the precedent of 2001’s AUMF (Authorisation for Use of Military Force), to employ all appropriate means — including deadly persuasion — against those foreign entities (or, if necessary, non-entities) as enumerated supra, including by proxy all persons, organisations, or nations abetting those entities/non-entities, age being no object, gender being no object, race being no object, citizenship being no object, faculty of mind being no object.
In sum, should lethal force be applied, the powers that be should sleep swimmingly, in terms of, at least, the language of law and the facts of precedent, soporifically perfumed by the atomised skull matter of those foreign foes (of any potential age, colour, shape, or content).
Goodchrist signed the letter.
His signature had the aspect of a string of bulbous grapes on the vine. The page was fat stock, flecked with colour, with a smell a little bleachy and audible flap. Against the dark grained wood of Goodchrist’s kitchen table, its handsome ivory popped. Goodchrist recapped his pen, which he’d stolen from a Blockbusters, circa 1992, and he watched the ink sink, stain, barely bleed, and set; then, with plain horror, he looked forward and came to slow terms with the breakfast before him. He thought, So food has come to this.
Breakfast, Goodchrist was discovering, was stale cereal, served to him — by him — in the bile-green, becrusted dog bowl. He found he had already conceded a lump to his mouth. He chewed, wondered. How he had arrived at supping from this lowly vessel was mystery, as were most of his other domestic movements for the past two feverish days, during which time he’d composed the letter. As was lately usual, the composition period had been spent in fugue. The stress of his job was wrenching the fingertips of his senses off their ledge with increasing spur. In the pit below, mind was cloaca, but for the legalese flushing through.
Goodchrist was a war lawyer. It was his duty to determine how his country might administer carnage without flouting international accord; he hopscotched profitably along the line dividing heroism and war crime. In his narrow industry, he was widely known for what was even more widely known as ‘Goodchrist’s Fuckery’. Meaning: his deployment of language that was poignant, but not strictly of jargon widely used or, really, understood. The Fuckery had become an unofficial term of art, and, like most lubricants of violence, its reputation preceded that of its creator. Who engineered the first switchblade? The inaugural AK-47? (1. Who knows; 2. Mikhail Kalashnikov became most acclaimed for how in late life he wrote letters of penance.) Regardless, Goodchrist’s powers had earned him senior senior partnership at his firm, and he was granted extraordinary clearance by those government agencies he invoiced as clients.
Clients whose punctual deposits were surely sufficient to afford proper cutlery, dignified dishware. A life composed of such brillo discoveries. He rolled to his right glute and leaned off his chair so he could see down the hall and into the living room. All that room’s furniture had been stacked ceiling-high, atop the central coffee table. Beyond, a Z was gouached upon the bathroom door, drooling viscous stalactites to the tiles below. More immediately, in addition to the unorthodox bowl, Goodchrist was alarmed to note that he was wearing his father’s high school ring, a ring that had supposedly been lost for years. An emblem of enigma in itself. These days, Goodchrist devoted a decent amount of time to Dad, but knew about his father’s past only in piecemeal. In terms of the basics, he knew that Dad had grown up in Tacoma, Washington, and Goodchrist had heard several times how one morning, in home room at Stadium High, the school from which the ring had been issued, Dad had heard an apocalyptic crash: the sound of the ill-founded Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge becoming unsuspended, blown off its fixtures by aeroelastic flutter, plummeting in a single stretch to the strait below. Dad had graduated in 1942, as the ring read in gold. He had then gone to ‘Watch fireworks in Guadalcanal’, he liked to darkly say. Goodchrist knew all that, and then there was a gulch, time-wise. Dad had sold furniture. Years had been stuffed into that furniture — and then sold at The Best Discount in the Greater SeaTac Metropolitan Area!
In the early 90s, Dad had retired and taken a vacation to France, alone — his first and only trip to Europe. He felt he’d been deprived of a cultural education back during the war, when he’d been sent to the Pacific theatre instead of to the continent of his fathers, his mothers, his people (and, as he’d learn post-bellum, his people’s near-extinction). The only part of the France trip he ever mentioned, however, was a gas station on a sideroad, somewhere off the highway between Lyon and Avignon. It had offered pumps that had pumped, when he’d tried them, no gas. Frustrated, he’d then gone inside the station to at least use the restroom, but — hark! — had found no toilets in the Men’s, a chamber about whose function he had no doubt, as it was clearly delineated in the universally understood emblem of a stickman. Instead: he was faced with nothing but a row of inhumanly round Glory Holes, each bored into the wall as a little disc of oblivion with artisanal exactitude, the stainless steel lips that lined the portals so buffed with polish they looked wet. Pulling up to the station, he’d seen a half dozen cars parked around the lot, but since, not one patron, nor employee. A beam of light flicked on then off through one of the mouths. The room was immaculately clean. Dad swore a tinny soprano could be heard chirping from the wall’s far side. And at last, the upside-down arachnoid of a chandelier swayed almost imperceptibly from the ceiling, long crystals-on-string strewn across, like webbing. ‘But I really had to shit!’ he’d now dramatically lament when reciting the pitstop. The brief story always, stubbornly, ended there, Dad’s tall American frame shadowing the doorway of that dreamsome, Gallic burrow, both bowels and balls piqued and peaking….
About Dad’s present life, Goodchrist knew that of all his senses, strangely, smell had gone first (possibly because of a ‘pencil-sniffing’ accident when Dad was a kid); that he took more pills per day than bites of food, only half of them prescription; that he resided twenty minutes away in a single room, on the sixth floor of a building advertised as ‘assisted living’, but that he rejected the assistance, that he threatened to reject that other part too.
And finally, of course, Goodchrist knew that ‘Goodchrist’ was not Goodchrist’s father’s name: Dad was named Seth Rose. Once, Isaac Goodchrist had been a Rose as well. But years back, during Isaac’s ascendancy among his law firm’s ranks, his aforementioned flair had often elicited the phrase ‘Good fucking Christ’, from copyediting co-workers — superiors and underlings both — along with headshakes that communicated in equal measure both shock and thrill; the phrase dropped its central vulgarity and mutated obligingly, speedily, into Isaac’s epithet. He’d then had the name change made legal, promoted, to assist him make his name as a legal pro. Really, Goodchrist was a Jew. Jews and their surnames surely hold good clout amidst law firms — but ‘Goodchrist’? For a man advising 5-star epauletted and buzz-cutted centurions — who worked weekends baking fudge for their local Episcopalian ‘Brownie Baptism Blowouts’ — about toward whom in distant UnAmerica they ought direct lethal lead spray, ‘Goodchrist’ was a name that soothed, a name that said, Coo coo, darling, heaven is here, heaven is kingdom, pull the trigger, coo.
Now the rest of the fugue fell off in shades. New revelations. And thank God: despite the disgrace that was breakfast, his little boy seemed to be faring okay. Hello, Goodchrist said to Martin, who sat across the table, sharing his father’s Cocoa-Puffs-à-l’eau from the same bowl. The boy smiled an inverted arch of chocolate mush: Daddy, at last, coming home to some mental centre. Three blinks. Taking stock. The dog, who had selflessly leant one of its five worldly possessions (collar, leash, bowl, ball (fungible), humpable one-eyed tiger plushie (priceless)), was not in his wonted corner. When Goodchrist asked where he might be, the boy said Daddy had sent him out for milk at midnight.
The memory came back vague but true.
Tap water rafting the cocoa evinced Brigadier Woof to be MIA. Sunday dawn in the house of Goodchrist.
Martin was wearing a getup meant to look like a South American Crowned Hairstreak, the bottom wings of whom had draping pinnas like tuxedo tails. He announced that he would like to see the butterfly conservatory exhibit, currently at the Petaluma Natural History Museum, and then he ran figures of eight in the living room, taking advantage of that new open space, the furniture stacked, yelling out the sound he imagined the bugs made. Goodchrist said sure, his monthly weekend with the kid having been spent in the utterly unfatherly void of Authorisation for Force. He knew Martin had fun when Daddy acted ‘a goof’, but the museum was a venture they could both feel good about.
Goodchrist found that the house had been shifted variously throughout, but all appeared intact, recoverable. There was a new whistling through the walls, the source of which evaded discovery, and he could smell french fries in every room except for the kitchen, and a desk lamp he had never seen before had appeared in the fridge. He checked his bank account online (unaffected, save the usual token donation to the Red Cross, which he could remember making not at all) and he put his sheets in the wash, just to be safe. He knew it would still be hours before he could sleep, though he thought maybe he should, as he believed he felt an arrhythmia, as sometimes surfaced following the most stressful compositions. But Goodchrist ignored it. He made plans to deliver the letter on the way back from the museum in Petaluma, well ahead of its midnight deadline.
Goodchrist scrubbed the dog bowl of its toxic chocolate and put it on the front porch, filled brimming with rabbit jerky kibble, just in case the old pooch came home. A mopey deer was in the yard. Open-throated, Goodchrist sang to it the difficult tenor entrance from Verdi’s Triumphal March, aiming to rouse all spirits in range, but mostly, really, his own. From inside, Goodchrist heard Martin scream, which is what Martin did whenever he heard Goodchrist solo. The deer tongued a puddle; there were dozens of cratered puddles. It had rained.
If someone implies the boy is anything less than spectacular, Goodchrist reflected as he drove, looking at Martin seated behind him, who edged vibrantly in and out of the rectangle of the rearview mirror, costumed fruitily, Goodchrist thought, I’ll gut them with his wire wings. But Goodchrist knew the wire would not hold through an evisceration — its whole point was frailty, wingliness. In the parking lot, Goodchrist formulated a preemptive strike and told his son that he would don the wings himself. He was in a ludlow suit, waxy from two days of continuous wear. The boy was unsure. The boy voiced counterpoint.
‘I am worried you will be too beautiful,’ Martin said.
‘It’s just my Brooks Brothers; a couple pieces of cellophane strapped to the back won’t improve the cut. Besides, is it really gonna be a big tragedy or something if I out-glamour a few house flies?”
‘You will be too beautiful and they will make you part of the exhibit and won’t let you leave the hot house.’
Goodchrist, against what he knew to be his superior, well-salaried judgment, felt himself share the fear. Still shaky, his hands were still shaky. The wings stayed in the car. Martin sported, therefore, only his mask, an over-the-head affair with compound eyes and corkscrewed antennae. The young lady selling tickets thought he was a Martian from the asteroid belt.
‘He wouldn’t be a fucking Martian then, would he?’ Goodchrist said, upset at the way he held his wallet in tremors when prompted to withdraw a twenty.
‘But my name is “Martian”,’ Martin said.
‘No, it is certainly not,’ Goodchrist said to the woman. He ordered one child and one adult for ‘the science museum’. His hand steadied long enough to palm her pen, a retractable mauve Paper Mate.
Five minutes into the lepidoptera zoo, on loan from Kentucky, a butterfly flew into Martin’s mouth, and he cried until Goodchrist bought him an Ohlone arrowhead from the gift shop. It was still half-sharp and could put a white dimple in the pulp of your thumb, if you pressed. Down a dark hall, they could hear a woman’s voice recording from the World of Psychedelic Physics exhibit, enhanced with much reverb: ‘Odds are, as a human being, you’re really just a microscopic mite on the periphery of a continuously exploding universe, or you’re just a brain in a jar. The jury’s still out!’ In the aquarium, they studied a cross-sectioned jellyfish. Martin observed that it looked like marmalade.
‘You don’t say!’ Goodchrist said with an accidental sarcasm so bitter even a child should wilt. Martin was quiet. Goodchrist felt evil. He offered to buy his boy Dippin’ Dots ice cream, from the future, or space, or the cafeteria. Martin said, No, Daddy, I got what I came for.
In the car, Goodchrist put on the wings. Martin smiled, looking only at his arrowhead, but Goodchrist didn’t know what the smile meant. Noon. Goodchrist watched the puddles on the road glow into smelting iron, and from time to precise time it occurred to him to steer.
These drives of the blank mind on a glittering day, in the land one calls home, are a delicacy. Watching the world pass, one remembers the way in which the world is spinning, is indifferent. A placard at the museum had said, The Earth is rotating on its axis at 1,040 miles per hour. If the Earth were to stop on a dime, the entirety of its surface would be bucked, stripped off like a skin.
Goodchrist was singing an old-century opus again, and so Martin was screaming, laughing, screaming, when they turned into their driveway. Goodchrist conspired to scream too, finding the open major third above Martin’s pitch, then the minor one, and going back and forth until his son was charmed, giggling now without reprieve, and split to hilarity. The father harmonised a show-off-y cadence as conclusion. They sat in the car, in the closed, lightless garage. This was a treaty of love, underwritten by common quirk.
The boy chattered incoherently: Martin couldn’t shut up, and in a stark 180 from the museum, Goodchrist felt, for once, that he’d earned the right to be awake during daylight. He re-opened the garage door and stepped from it and into the yard. There were yellowjackets hovering in the muzzles of his acres’ honeysuckle. The temperature was high, but the light passed through several hundred thousand leaves, who showed their veins, and the heat was smelling green. The wet grass and remaining puddles sucked on Goodchrist’s shoes, and all that foliage made it feel like being in a dome. On the porch, the dog bowl brimmed still.
But then it struck Goodchrist like a slug: The letter! Goodchrist remembered the letter, remembered that he’d not remembered to deliver it, had not even put it in its envelope. He looked into the kitchen window; it was still cream-coloured on the table, curling up at its top and its bottom. His chest felt hollow, but beating weirdly. Goodchrist surveyed the yard once more. He found himself compelled to imagine the desert, but discovered it was impossible. The closest he had ever been was one night alone in Vegas on business, when he’d watched eleven college boys divert a livery of local girls into the back of a plum-coloured limo, while Goodchrist was waiting for the Luxor’s valet to bring him his rental. On a whim, he’d approached the posse just as the last girl swooped in, her hand pressing up the bottom of her sequined skirt, and before the door shut Goodchrist flashed a scroll of layered paper green. He was allowed entry to the car, on the basis of swagger. They drove northwest out of the Strip and toward the distant Red Rocks, invisible in the present night, with thirty magnums of Prosecco passed back and forth, via rolling, open, sloshing the length of the limo’s floorboard. The electric presence of the city now held barely and distantly to the horizon; constellations became oppressive, and Goodchrist could name none. When their longitude was sufficiently desolate, the boys and girls called the car to halt, opened their doors, paired up, and sprinted out into the night, each couple swift toward its own private bearing. Goodchrist waited, alone with only the driver. The night passed. ‘Goddamn exhausted,’ the driver finally said. Goodchrist agreed. The driver eased his flamboyant taxi back to the road from the shoulder on which he’d parked and in no time was going 90, due Vegas. ‘You’ll get the kids later?’ Goodchrist asked, though actually indifferent, feeling unflattered in his role as alcoholic granddad, imagining he knew where he gestured when he nodded out the window. He saw the driver shrug as the partition buzzed up. Back at the Luxor, 6 a. m., Goodchrist realized that hours earlier he had already turned in his valet receipt, and the guy he’d given it to — dressed as a Pharaoh’s Warrior like all the others, armed with the sickle sword of Khopesh — had ended his shift long ago. Goodchrist had left in the limo, his car had arrived, its owner wasn’t found, and then it had been parked in the lot once more: now it was irretrievable. At the airport, however, the Alamo rental desk exercised saint-like sympathy when Goodchrist explained that his charge, a slate Impala, was lost somewhere deep in the guts of the Luxor garage. The creed of Vegas. He’d accepted a fine. He had stolen an Alamo pen.
Goodchrist nuked three frozen personal pizzas and put them out on the counter for lunch. They were sliced, but Martin folded one in its entirety onto his tongue. ‘Hot,’ he garbled, then chewed, then ran away.
Goodchrist approached the table, the 48-hour letter. He could not bring himself to read it again. He was about to fold the pages and put them in their envelope, when he sneezed. A streak of mucous appeared in a margin. It was spotted with red accents of blood. The phrase ‘good tannins’ came to mind, but Goodchrist couldn’t explain why. He considered cleaning it, went so far as to tear a sheet off the Bounty roll, but instead resolved to smear the goo into the page with a thumb. Martin materialised in the doorway just in time to bear witness. He asked to snot on it too. Yes, of course.
Discrete blurs in certain corners. There was pleasure in imagining the Secretary of State brought face to face with the actual protein evidence of one’s genetic imperative. Goodchrist now creased the letter into thirds and put it into the designated envelope with which he’d been provided, intended for a destination so restricted that the special ‘Classified’ stamp inked in its top-center was itself classified, and it had been redacted as soon as it had been infixed. The envelope’s face was a galaxy of opaque black boxes. It looked like a high-tech barcode. And yet, still, Goodchrist was obliged to lick glue.
He left the envelope on the kitchen table, to be delivered in the evening. For now, he decided, he would nap, teary eyed, at last. The bed sheets had completed their wash, but hadn’t dried, so Goodchrist dismounted the living-room armchair from the living-room couch, which he dismounted in turn from the living-room table, and he lay down to sleep on any one of those; he was not choosy. ‘Be good for an hour,’ he called toward the exterior rooms, hoping the son, wherever he was, might hear.
The phone rang.
‘Well I guess a 2 p. m. meal isn’t much different from a 1 p. m. meal, unless you’re so old you might be dead by 3, like me,’ shouted Seth Rose, Goodchrist’s father.
Goodchrist took Martin next door to Mrs. Bong’s and asked if she could put Martin inside to play with her kids for a while, because he’d forgotten he had lunch plans with his Dad. He was running late.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Have a nice flight.’ Martin bolted inside her house and immediately tripped on a rug.
Goodchrist walked home across the property line, baffled, baffled by what Bong had said, baffled until he went to open his Audi’s door and saw in its tinted reflection that upon his back he still modeled the iridescent, azure wings of the elegant Crowned Hairstreak, Panamanian in extraction.
Seth Rose introduced Frieda Vasquez — ‘Who’s starving, look at her tight little waist, you piss’ — and Gary Vasquez — ‘Who has a business call to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, then Rome, Georgia, early.’ They were the Chilean-American daughter and son-in-law of semi-senile Ms. Neruda-Cadillac, the matriarch who lived on Seth’s floor, of waist-length, spider-strand hair — ‘Who once had a son show up so late that she drowned him in the bathtub.’ Yes, the old woman confirmed.
‘Isaac Goodchrist,’ Goodchrist said. ‘So where we going?’
‘Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,’ said Frieda. ‘Are you religious? We have a reservation at this Brazilian steakhouse, I don’t know how they prepare.’
‘Ignore the name. Not kosher or anything, but I am Jewish.’
‘You’re nothing!’ Seth Rose said.
‘Such a lovely people, wearing an Old God’s colours,’ said Neruda-Cadillac. ‘Did you know that Jews can’t be racist?’
‘That, Isabelle,’ Gary said, ‘is an insane thing to believe.’
‘Damn straight, beaner!’ Seth said, laughing.
Lunch was a whole herd. Their plates developed pools of red juices, topped with ovals of oil. Neruda-Cadillac sipped hers like a soup. Her bracelets jiggled frequently in the plash. The servers brought kebabs of many tan flaking kilograms, which they carved on the spot, leaning over the diners and construing piles on their plates like, Goodchrist thought, a delicious mass grave. A piano player went unusually slow through a whole fake book of Astrud Gilberto standards. A pretty girl came out and turned Ipanema into a knell. Around that time, Seth Rose spotted his ancient gold ring on the hand of his son. He said nothing but went thick and young in the eyes. Goodchrist noticed. They were sitting on an outdoor patio. Goodchrist had one foot in a puddle but could feel the back of his neck start to burn.
Halfway through, he became sick of hearing about Bingo and life after Pinochet; he surrendered to himself and, without asking the others, ordered the third most expensive bottle from the sommelier. When Frieda overheard the order she looked at Gary; they had been planning to pay. Goodchrist took out two hundred-dollar bills and slipped them under his bread plate, like a promise. Frieda smiled, but Gary was lanced through.
When the wine arrived, the group went around the table each taking a turn to describe how it tasted in their own, highly-esteemed words. Goodchrist said it was grapey. Seth Rose was next; only his son knew he couldn’t smell, couldn’t taste the rich ambrosia. He panicked, was embarrassed. He said to come back to him. The others announced their flavors, got creative: Sierra pinewood, berries from Mama’s hill, a Cabernet I once had in first-class at 31,000 feet. Fine Danish Mary Jane, said Gary, smartly. He was punched in the bicep by his wife.
The round came back to Seth. He fidgeted until he almost wept. Ms. Neruda-Cadillac said, ‘Oh. You remind me of the slow son who drowned.’ He stared into his glass until he felt struck by genius.
‘Such good tannins!’ he said, looking at the residue spiralled on the crystal’s slope. ‘Such beautiful tannins! Such good, good, very good tannins.’ He looked around the table and the Chilean-Americans each smiled and looked lushfully into their own drink.
Goodchrist was incised by the coincidence and did not know what it meant. His father was thrilled with himself and kept repeating the phrase. He said it to the waiter, the sommelier, a baby rolled pinkly by in her stroller. Goodchrist broke. ‘It’s dirt, dad,’ he said quietly, leaning in. ‘It’s nothing but dirt. Shut up about it.’ Seth smiled back. ‘Great tannins! Good order!’
Goodchrist abandoned the pretense of aplomb and tact. ‘It’s dirt, you fool,’ he said aloud, pretty much shouting, on purpose. ‘It is dirt. Expensive dirt, sure, but that’s the word for it.’ Seth shrugged. Goodchrist took off the ring, displayed it up: ‘You.’ He pointed at the garden plot beside their table: ‘Dirt.’ He made a slow-motion gesture of leaning from his seat and pushing the ring into the soggy topsoil: ‘Six months from now. Dirt. Get used to it.’
Seth Rose looked at his ring in the ground very briefly. He finished his wine. He reached down and exhumed it from the flowerbed and used his mouth to suck the mud off its 10 carats, tasting zilch. He tongued it clean. He put it in Goodchrist’s shirt pocket, still wet.
Goodchrist went to the restroom shaken, walked a lap around the parking lot, and then came back renewed. Ring on finger. By the end of the meal, he had started saying ‘Good tannins’ himself, trading the phrase back and forth with his father. They put their hands on each other’s arms. All agreed, it was a spectacular lunch. It was evening. They watched six planes fly across the start of the sunset before the check came. On the way out, Goodchrist selected a pen from the hostess station, and an argosy of pinstriped peppermints. Goodchrist walked Seth up to his room. He remembered once again that he’d forgotten the letter.
‘Night, Dad. Love you.’
Seth Rose nodded at the goodbye, a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and continued nodding several hundred times once the door was closed.
Goodchrist’s dog was at Mrs. Bong’s house when he came to pick up Martin. A lady had found him wandering near the I-80 overpass. A note on his collar had read, This DOG needs MILK. She’d bought a pint and then brought both animal and beverage to the address on his tag. Nobody had been home, so she’d prodded next door at Bong’s.
In the Goodchrist front yard Martin had a craft project to exhibit for Dad. He had taken two sticks, a rubber band, tape, and his arrowhead. The rubber band had been snipped, so it formed a single long elastic thread; with the tape he’d fastened each end to the tips of the longer limb. He’d stuck the arrowhead to the end of the shorter. Goodchrist was impressed with his little boy’s ingenuity, and with how steady the whole thing seemed. It can shoot all the way over there, Martin said. He hadn’t tried an actual volley yet, but he was sure it would work. He’d been waiting for Dad. Okay, Goodchrist said, still a little drunk, let’s see.
He told the dog to sit. B. Woof erect at attention. Martin tensed, held.
‘When you’re ready, son,’ Goodchrist said, ‘loose it.’
Father and boy assumed a ten-yard stare to see where the missile might go. Day’s last light.
They saw nothing but heard a damp thunk. “I’m stung!” Martin cried.
‘Good fucking Christ,’ said his father.
Martin had shot himself in the wrist, the one holding the bow. The arrowhead had broken in half, embedded now in a puddle, so here it would sink then wait entombed another five-hundred years to be brought back up. The boy’s skin beneath the meat of his palm had split into a pair of flaps. There was too much blood to see the bone, but Goodchrist assumed he saw the bone.
‘It doesn’t hurt,’ the boy offered, wailing. ‘I don’t understand!’ Goodchrist ignored him and picked him up and held him to his chest and ran them into the house. He didn’t notice saying several times, under his breath, ‘Tannins.’ The dog loped back to the woods. A kitchen towel was applied to the bleeding, Martin was told to press down, and at this point the boy felt privileged for being such a trooper and so wounded. Before fleeing for the ER, Goodchrist remembered the letter, and he tucked it into his jacket’s inner pocket. He then drove, for the sake of his son, with the potent pairing of most focus and irregular pulse since he’d affixed his signature that morning.
A light on the dashboard turned on. It said they were out of gas.
If I squeeze the trigger and this pump pumps nothing, Goodchrist thought, I will go inside the bathroom and find no toilet but a nunnery of holes, and I will give up my life as I live it, and pitch monkish camp in the alley over there, and worship the Men’s as a shrine three times each day when called to holey prayer. He looked at his son, who watched him in return huge-eyed and destitute from inside the car, bleeding, compressing the towel against his arm. Goodchrist pulled the trigger. There was gas.
The hospital was across the street from Seth Rose’s assisted living, and Goodchrist did not look to see if his father’s window was lit. In the ER, the intake nurse performed triage and determined that Martin’s wound was not vitally urgent and that they would have to hold on a while to have him sutured; there was a long line ahead of them; they waited.
Goodchrist slept slumped in a gashed up waiting room chair, in an array of a dozen gashed up waiting room chairs.
Late night happened. Martin sat beside Goodchrist and the now stiff towel had gotten stuck to his arm by the coagulated blood. Cartoons were playing in the corner. There were singing bears reflected in the room’s front-lit windows. Martin crossed the floor to get a better bead on TV.
‘Hiya, stranger. What brings you here?’ Frieda Vasquez was standing primly before Goodchrist. He opened his eyes in time to see her look suddenly crease. ‘Oh, I hope it’s not serious,’ she said as she noted the viscera caked on his lapel, shirt sleeve, ear lobe.
‘My son hoisted himself by his own retárd.’ Goodchrist pointed to where the boy sat. The look she returned was disapproving. ‘Bow accident. Arrow. He’ll be fine, though now more educated, after a fashion.’
‘A bow and arrow? Really?’
‘Is everything okay with you? ER is not the favourite place to see a friend.’
‘Mom called to say she was feeling a little dizzy, and wanted me personally to take her to the doctor. You know how they like to be indulged. So I brought her across the street on a trolley. She’s okay but staying the night. I think it was the wine.’ Frieda Vasquez waited for something. ‘I’m on my way out, myself.’
Goodchrist nodded, shut his eyes to sleep once more, but then sat up with an alertness that was electric and, he knew, insane. But already he was almost ecstatic with relief: He withdrew the letter from his inner pocket. ‘Can you be trusted?’ he said with inspired, theatrical jest. Yes, she indicated, mirthless. Goodchrist explained, with vast histrionics, that the letter had to be dropped off by midnight, forty-five minutes hence. There was a sneaky mail slot in the wall of a building downtown, around the corner from this intersection, at this address. He wrote it on the back of one of the ER’s insurance forms, with a pen he’d taken from a rival firm’s office, and which had been floating for months in this suit’s pants pocket. He understood that this was the day’s exact minute for which he’d been in suspension. Now, in the waiting room, it had appeared. Would she take the letter over right now, while Goodchrist stayed with his injured son?
The automatic doors opened when bid. She stepped out of Emergency with the 48-hour letter in fist. It is not in my hands, Goodchrist thought.
His body beat in unhealthy, stuttered steps, spasm. The automatic doors shut. She walked through the floodlights outside. Thank God, he thought. What happens now is not in the hands of me. She walked through the floodlights and out of sight. It is not, Goodchrist thought.
Martin tried to sing the march of the carmine bear, but switched midway to the gregorian lull of the catalina blue.
It is not.
Four days later a drone strike near Erbil killed sixteen people. Among them, Jane Doe was eleven years old and believed to be the daughter of a known high-ranking insurgent from Fallujah, a mass-murderer and the strike’s primary target — successfully eliminated — wanted in particular for a recent spate of beheadings of local female students, and for his signature infliction of blinding any family members of his enemies taken alive, with a long whetted black cone of obsidian. In the strike, a five-inch feather of shrapnel had flicked through Jane Doe’s common carotid artery just above the third vertebra and was later found lodged in the wall behind her. It is medical fact that she was beyond resuscitation no more than 5-10 seconds after the instant she was cut. When her body was recovered, it was discovered to have fallen draped across the back of a tan suede sofa, partially propped on one knee, the other leg extending behind her as in a runner’s pose, a budding olympian in quality. Her blood had tapped from her throat down the sofa’s rear cushions and onto its seat, where the seams diverted it into rectangular canals of gelatin. There were photos of her alongside her presumed father throughout the compound’s living quarters — the entirety of which were later ransacked for intel and then abandoned, blood still on the light fixtures — but no identifying documents. Her name would remain unknown. The earbuds in her ears still played music to her corpse. The Zune’s battery was at 6 per cent. Within an hour before the strike, she had drawn with a ballpoint pen bold zig zags up and down her arms.
Her little sister survived. She was imported by bureaucracy to Virginia. She could remember the strike but nothing before it. A cruelty that cannot be attributed to any singular soul determined to situate her adoption on a street where hourly flybys by Langley aircraft dispatched roars regularly out and down into the surrounding troposphere… to the ground… to the suburban gables and gutters and the households beneath, and the enforced meditation brought on by the girl’s resultant debilitating and paralytic fear, which she bore out with huddled shakes in the cubby beneath the lowest Tostitos shelf of her new parents’ kitchen pantry, eventually superseded. She attained a state of placidity through which no pin, of human source or in-, could pierce.
By puberty, she was a mute. She liked ice cream with fudge. The scarring on her face prevented strangers from speaking spontaneously to her in public. She studied math in Chicago. She had a friend. She braved through insomnia with a wide-optic cassegrain astronomy telescope, and the charts she drew were intricate and precise. She died at 29 from cardiac arrest, eating a bagel while seated in a deli, surely due to damage wrought by early-life anxiety. Otherwise she was calm, during the days she lived in America.