Caleb Puckett

A Page from the Baedeker

       You find no suture and no sutra, discovering only a soup kitchen spoon full of stewed manure in this Stuttgart hostel where the hostile congregate to break bread with crumby stars like starved suitors confused between Aphrodite and Mars. Upon discovery of such a ruse, such a card trick or shell game under the tarot table of art and use, you are soon able to see that any assumed suture or sutra merely makes a papier-mâché moon hang amidst claustrophobic constellations; a cholesterol change of heart and a burnt tongue seem all but cardinal in the hardened arteries of carnal desire, the red sign of whiteness bluing the brochure skies beneath their black heights.

      Count yourself lucky, then, that such counting ends not with a stitch or trope but with a twitch and stroke indicative of low-grade food poisoning, spinning sparks in the train yard of hope. Count yourself out and ensure all of your patented documents of identity are still pending their various parts in the penultimate sense of this static continuum that signifies a whole, and then move on like you have an itinerary for tomorrow. Move on and mind that suture or sutra you seek in the storied streets manages not only to eke out sustenance but also to mint its speech with the local cuisine that for weeks since Eden fell has failed to find a rating beyond pale and weak.

The Assault

      The levee’s reflection swamped the stars, leaving you with no means to farm the blackened field of sorghum. Money was short. And she, bored with your ineffectual, rustic ways, sashayed wine-eyed into town again to make a little money, have a bit of fun with the glistening souls on the riverfront. So you waited with calloused hands and haggard chin, mad as a wet hen, waited white knuckled for her return, knowing in the fallow pit of your belly that they wouldn’t miss her much if she disappeared. There were thousands of them, thighs enough to satisfy every man. You knew this not so much first hand, but it was a generally accepted truth according to the mythology of urban decay that circulated amongst the spotless farming folk you associated with down at the general store. You remembered one particularly nauseating description of grunting debauchery that J.B. Slade had mentioned so casually one day as he perused a prestigious reviewer’s article on an anthology of Southern Gothic stories. Even then you feared she would leave you—simple, stupid you—for some frilly fancy man with buckles on his pointy, well-heeled shoes.

      Ah, but you loved her since childhood first brought you together in a backwoods barn. She tasted like clover then, but that had changed. You still loved her though, despite her lynx-like wandering eye, despite her mulish resentment, despite her spiteful resistance that too resembled some now elusive creature of ill repute. Nights on end you kneaded your wrists red and roared at opossums as their livid eyes beamed into your boiling brain from distant branches as if they saw right into your predicament with mocking, demonic insistence. Miserable, bone-ragged wretched with your blade scraping on hard bread, you flung the battered table away with a cinematic gesture reminiscent of high quality Westerns and began your murderer’s march, set on learning her, on slicing her apart like a juicy Georgia peach. With your Arkansas Toothpick stuffed in a ragged back pocket, you strode sharp-eyed ten and a half miles among the oil lamp-lit refuse of shacks until the town’s riot fires steamed beside bait shops full of fallen queens and spastic half-wits who stifled their screams in bottles of rot gut rum and cheap, perfumed, brothel sheets.

      You arrive, nervous, but pulsing with hot, destructive life. You creep behind the Knight’s Head tavern, listening stalk still to her wasted laughter as it trills through the rotting rafters. Bottles clink and drunkards bellow and brag between her vacuous squeaks. You wait, fingering the blade, sure of its sharp urge toward skin, until you spy her leaving with swaying hips, seducing the moon’s rays and currents, flirting against his great coat with seductive bliss. In another life you would be a fine neurologist—learned and precise. You would live a lush life in a fine ranch house attended by a buxom, bespectacled brunette most likely holding an Anthropology degree from Dartmouth and you would sip dry vermouth with measured composure, certain that poise counts, but for now this is absolutely it—a sloppy and quick approximation of passion with an edge. Her blonde hair hovers in the wind and all the gravity of the world presses you to ground her with a point of sharp steel.

      Once upon a time in a muddy black land where something as simple as a missed note on a harmonica could ruin a man’s reputation, you turned back and forgot your revenge. You had too much to lose, especially considering that you had that national surgeon’s conference to chair in the near future. Especially considering that she would soon be nothing but a broken blade of grass beneath a rusted lawn chair leg. Especially since assault, let alone murder, could lead to such dire turns on the wheel of life. Especially considering that we mark time with more than one tense, direction in more ways than left and right, and action in a number of fashions—least of which is the intention—as its wobbly spokes spin through history. Though thought may ultimately satisfy through ferocious fiction, its greatest sin seems so slight compared to an honest assault. You want no more misery, so you decide this is the part where you whistle Dixie like it is Mozart.

Caleb Puckett is a writer and visual artist living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His work is currently featured in Philament, Starfish, Dirt, Johnny America, and other fine journals and zines.

previous page     contents     next page



Blogger na said...

Wow. This made me whistle Dixie and more! Thanks for this! Wonderful introduction, for me, to a writer I'd not read before.

9:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home