by: Steve Passey
It’s Notre Dame vs. the Ku Klux Klan in an all out war…
“How many thousands of years of culture, think you, have rubbed and polished at our raw edges? One probably; at the best, no more than two. And that takes us back to screaming savagery, when, gross of body and deed, we drank blood from the skulls of our enemies, and hailed as highest paradise the orgies and carnage of Valhalla.”
– Jack London
We speak often of hypothetical things: What would you do if money was no issue and you didn’t have to work for a living? What five books would you take to a desert island? Ok, what ten songs? Who is the hottest celebrity – on a scale of one to ten – you would sleep with if your spouse/partner either didn’t know or was just willing to look the other way? How long could this celebrity be dead – on a scale of zero days to three days maximum (because come on, four is beyond wrong) – before you would have to pass? Things like that.
We occupy our time like this because there is nothing at stake anymore. We idle in place where we once sped and we signal politely where once we charged brazenly forward. Valhalla is emptied of us now, for we settled for a heaven.
I’m no celebrity but I’d give myself a two on that scale. At least I work out.
Valerie’s brother is over and we’re drinking beer on the porch. It’s hot out, and the beer is cold. Little drops of condensation form on the bottle and the beer tastes like manna from heaven. He’s an alright guy, Valerie’s brother. He pretends to be rough around the edges but he’s a service writer at a farm equipment dealership. Nothing rough there. He’s watched a lot of boxing but he’s never thrown a punch and he’s never taken one either. And here we are talking about imaginary circumstances again.
“Assuming you go to heaven,” he says, “assuming you have all the intangibles you can take from this world, good character, you never lied, never stole, all that bullshit, what two material possessions would you take?”
I have no idea, so I say nothing. I know he’ll have an idea.
“Money,” he said. “Even in heaven, there will be money and some will have more than others. I’m also taking a gun. A Mossberg model 500 pump action shotgun. Because those with less money will want mine. And if there are those that have more money than I do, I may want theirs. Guys talk shit about guns all the time and they go from Glocks to AK-47s to all sorts of weirdness but nothing beats a pump-action shotgun loaded with double-aught buckshot. Even God’s angels will bend over and drop their wallet when they hear that Mossberg being pumped to chamber the first round. Or maybe not, because I bet that’s what they carry just to keep order. Mossberg 500s. Quality. Let me tell you what, if there are no guns in Heaven, this is only a hypothetical question, because I don’t want to go.”
“However you put it, it is a hypothetical question” is all I can say.
Did Valerie’s brother just layer a hypothetical question on top of a hypothetical question? Logic just imploded. I think his version of heaven was formed when he was twelve and not only a virgin, but he hadn’t even learned how to masturbate yet. I wonder if he might still be a virgin. I know he had a thing for strip clubs briefly, and socialized with some of the “ladies of the pole.” I forget his hypothetical question of the day back then, but his answer was always “tits and cocaine” and he drew out the latter to sound like “cooooocaine.”
Valerie set her beer down. She was letting her hair grow long again and it fell down to her shoulders. She was what she called “dishwater blonde” and the first few silver hairs were starting to appear adding in a natural highlight. With a wave of her hand that dismissed all other women who did, Valerie told me she would never color her hair. Truthfully other women color their hair to look like Valerie. She is the standard to which other women aspire to, even if they don’t know it.
“Well,” she said to her brother, “now that I have quit smoking and won’t be bringing two cartons of Marlboro greens with me to heaven, I’m going to say the two material possessions I’d take with me would be Great-Granddad’s straight razor and his Roman boxing glove.”
“What?” her brother said.
“Yes. Do you remember his barn? He had a straight razor in there, an old one with a big wooden handle. It had a little loop of leather run through a hole in the handle where he dangled it from a peg on the wall. Beside it he hung his “Roman boxing glove.” It was a leather glove, thick and heavy, stained from who-knows-what with brass knuckles sewn into it. They are both gone now. When Great-Granddad died and Great-Grandma sold the farm both were either purchased at the estate sale or they went to the new owners…or maybe they were just lost. But those are our family’s relics, they have my Great-Granddad’s good soul in them, and I choose them.”
Valerie removed her flip-flops under the table while she talked and pushed her foot into my crotch, flexing her toes once, and then settling into a slow rhythm, up and down and up and down, and I couldn’t think of anything to take to heaven at all.
“Is that right?” her brother said. Obviously, in dreams of shotguns, cash, and stripper tits he’d never touched and cocaine he’d never snorted, he’s forgotten a great deal.
“Yes,” she said. “Mom told me that when the Klan came by train to South Bend in May of 1924, two-hundred plus Notre Dame students met them at the depot platform with clenched fists and workman’s boots. In among the students were Catholics from South Bend and surrounding towns and even from as far away as Chicago. They were bricklayers, meat cutters, and railway men with names like Sweeney, Kennedy, Shannon, and O’Shea. There were Bukowski’s, Jodorowsky’s, with Golota’s beside them. Men from mining camps with warrants for throwing rocks at the Pinkertons hired to bust their unions. First generation Americans standing shoulder to shoulder with third and fourth generation Americans. There were farm boys too, and Great-Granddad there arm-in-arm with them. None of them could send their kids to Ivy League schools, the castles of the Protestants were barred to the children of men with those surnames. They were strong with rough hands from years of hard work and they laid about the klansmen with those fists and boots, with their elbows and knees and shillelaghs too, cut from hickory and ash, wood like stone swung upon the backs, shins and wrists of those goddamned Hoosiers.
“Great-Granddad had his Roman boxing glove on his right hand and his razor tucked in his left pocket. He said he never drew the razor, never needed to, but he punched as many of those sons of bitches in their long white dresses that he could, whether they were standing up or laying down, and their blood splattered upon the train station platform and on the grass across the way like it did on the coliseum floor when the Romans ruled the world and staged their spectacles. There were all these Methodist ladies there, dressed as if for church, that came to see their husbands greet their friends in the Klan. Their men were beaten unconscious or driven off in the melee, shorn of their good shirts and lost of their best shoes. Great-Granddad said he saw a seminarian named Fee, the nicest kid you would ever want to meet, chasing off the Methodist wives with a nicked-up cudgel on a dead run shouting ‘in nomine patria’ with the wives holding their skirts up with one hand, running desperately, holding their babies in their other arm tight enough to their bosoms to nearly smother the terrified little things.”
Valerie’s foot is firm upon me now, and I have to lean back and close my eyes. There is no way I could stand up. Not in front her brother, who dreams of a twelve-year olds and a gun-ridden heaven.
“So yes,” she said, “if I’m taking two things to heaven I’m taking Great-Granddad’s Roman boxing glove, and his striaght razor for the goats. In fact, if you really want to go to heaven, you should try and find these heirlooms. Think of it as the price of your admission.”
I am seconds away from release and I try try try to fight it off. Valerie is strong, and I am weak. She can carry me off to heaven anytime she wants.
After her brother left we went and made love. We were undressed and on the kitchen floor before he’d even left our street. Valerie came, straightening her legs with the fierce strength particular to her passion and I came in one great spasm followed by many lesser. We lay together, she on top of me, both sticky with perspiration until we got up to shower.
As we dried off and dressed, making plans to go out and get something to eat, I asked her “What did you mean by ‘the razor for the goats’? I understood the whole Roman boxing glove thing, but not the razor. What’s that about?”
“Well,” she said, “Great-Granddad raised my mother and her sister, and a brother who died as a baby, on only ten acres. There is only so much you can raise on ten acres, so he kept goats. Goats for milk, goats for cheese, and occasionally, goats for meat. People would come out from here or there, looking for goat meat. Great-Granddad would take his razor down, let them pick a kid out of the pen — the young ones are the most tender, same as with veal calves — and then he’d step over it from behind, wedge it between his knees so it couldn’t run away, and with his left hand he’d pull its chin up and with his right draw the razor and slit its throat. The blood would gush forward in one great spurt followed by a few smaller ones and the goat wouldn’t even cry out. It would fall to its knees and then Granddad would lay it on its side. They’d kick feebly and briefly — in their mind they are running away, sprinting to safety as fast as they can — but they would be dead within seconds. He and the purchaser would then take the goat out to a tree stump and dress it according to the buyer’s wishes and Great-Granddad would be paid in cash. That’s the razor for the goats.”
I think of more of her brother’s binaries: You have to go to prison for life. You deserve it and that there is no doubt as to your guilt for whatever heinous crime or crimes that got you there. You are given a choice of either/or from two serial killers as a cellmate: It’s Edward Kemper or It’s Richard Speck.
Who do you choose?
You will be paid ten thousand dollars upon enduring five brutal punches to the balls, or living for a year in a one-room apartment — no lights and no windows — with rats inside the walls.
Which do you choose?
“I’ll tell you what Bucky-boy,” I wish I said to him, “I’ll give you twenty grand — but I get to choose for you.”
We drive to find a diner and neither of us says a word. We just look at each other and smile, laugh, and look away. Some people have soccer, mini-vans, yoga, and reality TV, and that’s alright. Ride your bike, run your life on ethanol and distilled water. Stand in line, kiss some rings, watch someone else’s dream and pay them their royalty for the privilege afforded thus. The planet will thank you. Not Valerie and not I. We have red meat and gasoline. Tonight, when the sun sets, we’ll smoke something by an outdoor fire, something good. Maybe we’ll throw our cell phones into a river and just forget about them and be by ourselves, unreachable. No numbers, no names, just the two of us, all alone on Earth. We have our fires like pyres, kitchen-floor-and-baby-oil extravaganzas, Mossberg 500s, maybe a Roman boxing glove, and for sure the razor for the goats, right here on Earth as it used to be on the farm.
Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collection “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books, August 2017) and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Canada, the UK, and the USA in publications such as Existere, Penny Shorts, and Bull: Men’s Fiction. You can reach him on twitter @CanadianCoyote1.