Crosses the Carpenters
So, we got this order for this big honkin’ wooden hanging post. They wanted it big and heavy and hard to carry; bigger than any we’d made for them before. We brought it from the shop and the prison guard with the pinched in face who worked every Friday helping out with the condemnations said give it to that guy over there, the small one of the three. Those three are on the checklist to be hung up today
What? I said—that skinny beat up guy who looks about ready to drop dead already? He can’t carry this thing—but the guard said well, if you don’t give it to him we won’t pay the bill. And we thought that would never do, so we said all right, and dragged the big thing to the guy. There were three of us, and it was a struggle. And it was no fun; it was rough wood all full of splinters and stuff. They’d ordered it to be that way. When we got to the guy we said hey pal, look. We were told to give you this thing. We don’t think you are up to carrying it, but—we need to give it the old college try. Okay? Here. Take it.
He looked at us with very mild eyes and said, That’s okay. I can do it. I can do it. Just give me a minute to catch my breath.
Oh sure, no problem.
We stood by him. I believe in being extra nice to any guy who is down on his luck. Plus this guy was all beat up—there was blood all down his clothes and on his face and in his hair. What a mess! The prison guys were all getting antsy as we waited a minute for the poor guy to be ready, but I figured, if they weren’t antsy about this they’d be antsy about something. They aren’t very happy people, the ones with those jobs. You know. They got more and more antsy, and were about to come force the poor guy to take it from us, when an old lady started yelling from the window up on the house by the street and everybody looked up and there she was, all yelling and screaming and tearing out her hair.
Help me, you! Help me, help me, help me, help me—
Though there was glass in the window, we could hear every word; in panic it seems, she yelled out the window, Please help me find my son! He is gone, he is lost—I beg and pray on this windowsill that you will bring him to me! Does he even exist anymore—did he ever really exist at all—I am going insane all my memories of him are beginning to look false and phony like I never had a son at all I need help please come help me please somebody come and help me—
She went on and on like that—something about her son that never was and that she never really had and all that; and as she went on, the prison guards ignored her and turned their attention to the poor bloody beat up skinny guy and took the big fat post we brought from us and started forcing the guy to grab it. It took three of them to handle it too. How the hell was this skinny guy all worn out half dead going to carry it? I stopped one of the correctional guys—I stopped him and he looked and I pointed up to the screaming old woman in the window up on the wall.
You—why don’t you let this thing you’re doing go awhile and give this guy a break, and call some cops to go up inside there and see what help that old woman needs—look she’s pounding on the glass, it’s going to break and she’s gonna be cut real bad! These three guys are still going to die later, I’m not saying don’t kill them, but help that poor old lady up there right now!
My son! Lord, my son my son my son—please come help me before I forget him entirely—before it gets that I never had a son at all!
The corrections officer pulled away and said listen, pal, you and your buddies brought us this great big thing, and we’re not crazy about standing here holding it while your pal here catches his breath—so why don’t you go back home and let us take care our job? It’s already one in the afternoon—the old lady will live through it. She’s nuts is all. All old people are half nuts any more.
My son! My son! Oh my God, my Lord, my son—
She’s going to hurt herself bad if she keeps that up, I said. You got to go in there!
We don’t have to do anything, sir! You want your neck snapped, keep it up! I have certain skills, so be really careful! Don’t piss me off. It’s too hot.
The two naked condemned hairy sweaty thugs across the street laughed and yelled over to us, Yeah, go on, snap his neck—just like that, right here and now—just go on and snap it! We need to see one last show like that before we go! Here, grab my dick, pal! This is for you!
Shut up, you bastards, said the other officer across the road next to them, and he slapped one of the criminals hard as he could right across the crotch with his billy club. The damned guy winced and doubled over with pain and the officer turned and pointed the club toward us, and yelled, for you, pal, it won’t be just one little tap—it’ll be a long rough beating if you don’t take your money and go home—want a beating, here, come on—I’ll give you a beating!
All this time the window kept throwing the old lady’s voice out like some glass speaker.
My son, oh, oh, my son never was. I never had a son I think I think I never should have lived, maybe I should go die—Lord say something to keep me from going in to find a way to die—I’m not sure, Lord please tell me did I ever even have a son.
Do you hear that? I said to the oficers—that’s a citizen up there, she’s talking about suicide now—you got to go help her—I’ll go tell the police chief, that’s what I’ll go—I’ll take my guys and we’ll go to the chief and tell him you guys let an innocent citizen go nuts and kill herself while you putzed around with three guys who’ll be dead this time tomorrow anyway—and you just watched the whole thing and did nothing—what are your badge numbers, here, I want all your badge numbers! Here! Tell me now, and then I’ll leave with my guys and go right to the police chief!
I took the paperwork for the damned torture pole they hired us to make for them out of my pocket and a little miniature pencil and got ready, and said, Go on. Badge numbers! All of you! Now!
And the big guard nearest me pulled his club and pounded it right across my face and I went down like a stone. Saw stars and all. The nerve of these pigs. Me and my guys and our business pay their salaries like we do, and what does he do but give me his club that my taxes paid for, and just about knocked me out! And he yelled down at me, You aren’t the boss. You did your job. You should just go now. You should just go now while we still let you!
My Lord, hear me! Hear me! Hear—
Then the officer kicked me in the side and I didn’t know you could see stars when you’re hit someplace else but your face, but you can.
Get up you bastard and get away while you can!
My Lord, my Lord, tell me I have a son—
And take your buddies with you or all three of you will be hung up on that hill up there by sundown today too! Get the hell out! Now!
So, as soon as he mentioned hanging us like that, I had enough. I’d shut up and go because when these guys talk beating and hanging and all, they’re really getting pissed—much too pissed to handle. I got up and looked around and I said to myself, damn—the bloody skinny guy was standing there with the big rough splintery extra heavy death pole up on his shoulder. And just as I saw that, he raised his face toward the window where the old lady was up going crazy behind, and shouted up to her.
Woman! You! Your son does exist, has existed, and will continue to exist, because of me!
Nothing came down from the window. Something about that shut her up. But I didn’t get it—I never get what people say after I been hit and kicked a few times. I’m kind of blank. Getting older I guess—I looked at that skinny guy holding that fat post like it was made of feathers and all at once I got really ashamed because it took three of us to lift the damned thing but there he stood, like it weighed nothing. And he said nothing else and started shuffling down the street carrying that huge thing, and the other two prisoners to be hung today followed after carrying similar posts the guards had tied onto their backs. As they left, we stood there, and I noticed; the little window in the building by the road wasn’t there any more.
Now how the hell could this be? I know I got knocked really hard upside the head, and I guessed I was just seeing things now. I guessed the window was still there and I wasn’t seeing it because the knock in the head had done something to my brain. Never mind.
Guys, I said to my two men—guys, I’m a little pissed. I mean you know. About this whole thing. This whole thing has been done all wrong. Let’s go to the Mayor’s offices and tell them about this. My damned head hurts—and where the hell is our money?
No. There’s no money!
That’s it, that’s got me pissed. Let’s go to the Mayor, tell him about his asshole corrections guys, and also—we need to get fucking paid.
I’m with you.
We went to the Mayor’s offices and the place was just like everything in town; all brown, made of mud, all melting away, and no people in sight. We went in and walked straight up to the town clerk’s stone desk and he tilted back his Yankees cap and asked why we were there. We told him about the guards, the old woman, and the big honking post they were making this little skinny guy drag behind. The desk guy raised a hand and shook his head.
No, no, no, that’s nothing. It’s just—it happens every Friday. Actually it almost happens every single day. The window that popped up? We get those all the time. The screaming old lady? There used to be a name for this phenomenon. But everybody forgot the name a long, long time again. How can you have a name for something that you don’t know what it is?
Listen pal. I’d like a straight answer. Have you been smoking something today? Is that it?
No, no, no, don’t I wish. Listen. Here it is. There’s people out there from someplace in outer space or something, and they make these little windows come up, whenever we walk that guy you saw down the street, and there’s a big commotion. It every time ruins it for everybody and we got to start again from the very beginning—its like we’re a story in some book that something out there reads a few pages in and every time they go a few more pages in further, and when somehow one of these windows things happens, whoever’s reading flips us back to the first page and starts reading us right from the beginning again. And the whole thing starts again and every time they read a little farther into the book—like to the next what they call it—the next window, is all we call it. The Old Crazy Lady’s Window. Funny shit, huh? You know what I mean, pal—do you fucking know what I mean? This all started way before me. It goes on and on and every time it happens the world gets changed a little closer to the end. And everybody’s afraid what will happen to us when the reading thing gets to the end of the book and slams shut the covers. Some people say it’ll happen just as the sun dies and expands and balloons out and swallows the world and everybody in it. None of what we do any more doesn’t matter one bit. It’s all the same over and over again and in the end, everybody dies anyway, so who really gives a shit? You know? Who?
I looked at my buddies and we all had the same look that seemed to scream, What the hell is this guy talking about? He shouldn’t be in this Mayor gatekeeper job. He’s too crazy. If the Mayor knew what this guy was saying, he’d be scared to death. A lunatic. I spoke.
You know, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere talking to you. We need to see your boss. Your boss, the governor.
Why not—we’re the biggest maker of execution equipment in town and we pay a lot of taxes. Why can’t we see him?
Because whenever the skinny guy you saw is on that street, carrying that cross, with all these weird old lady windows popping up from these lunatics from someplace outside, and they talk their shit, the Mayor, well—I’ll say it plan. The Mayor does not exist and never exists after they take the skinny guy all the way down the street. He’ll exist I’m sure, again, after they finally kill the three guys again—but we’ve been trying to get there for two thousand years. It seems to never happen. So that’s your story guys. Anything else?
Ah, uh—I don’t think I get it. Again and again, the same skinny guy over and over dies and comes back and you need to start all over again, well, I don’t really get it. But I really don’t have to. Just give us a check to pay for the thing we made and throw in a little more, because when we got there looking like idiots.
The clerk pulled out a bag from his desk drawer. He got a bundle of money out and put it on the desk.
Here’s your money. You did your work. Everything we do is like—on the up and up. We government guys are nothing but honest. Go on, count the money, there—there’s one, there’s two. You know, he said, pausing holding the second fat bill in his hand—You should put this second one aside, because two has much anatomical significance. Two hands; two nostrils, two eyes, two arms; two legs—think about it think about two. It takes two people to make a child—it takes—a lot of those identical skinny guys to kill one after the other and the other to keep the world going, to keep it in one piece. You know, I—
We looked at each other. This guy had slipped into some kind of babbling trance and so I reached and gently pulled away the bag of money, and we left. These kinds of things have happened, are happening now, and will happen again and again and over and over again. We took the money. We went to our shop. Beams and poles and racks and wheels in every stage of construction lay all around. I counted out the money and we all went home. Dog tired we were. But we had got our money, and I went home and switched on my flat screen. The end of awake time had come again, the TV was everything, and after a while it passed me a little pill that slid down in me and conked me out for the night like I was some kind of prizefighter who just got all beat up half dead.