Irony Feeds Divinity – Chapter 2

The Book of the Black-Eyed Sarabaites 2

Twenty minutes later Cosette is in bed, Ishmael walks down the dark streets through the falling snow to the only building in the town of Sisters that’s open. The Sisters Saloon was built in 1912 as a hotel and watering hole for people driving their livestock to sell in town. When Ishmael walks through the door, it’s as if he’s gone back in time thirty years. A half dozen racks of dusty antlers are nailed to the knotty pine walls, a large mirror behind the bar to his left reflects the old handmade wood tables and chairs and two old men play at an aged pool table in the corner opposite a pot bellied stove. 

 It’s a mountain town and the people that live here don’t need much and expect even less. At the far end of the pinewood bar, polished by a century of elbows, all of the patrons huddle around the woodstove and listen to AM radio. 

Ishmael sighs and takes a seat at the cold, empty end of the bar. The barkeep’s a short, bent man aged beyond his years. His gray hair grows wild around his ears but not on top of his head. His voice is a lot lower than his small frame would have you believe. “How are you doing, friend? What can I get for ya?”

“I’ll have a shot of your best Irish whiskey and a Sapporo,” Ishmael says. 

The bartender stares at him for a moment. “And a what?”

“Sapporo.”

“What’s that?”

“A beer. A lager.” He had started drinking in Viet Nam and that was the only beer available over there. 

“Not around here. We have Schmidt’s, Hamms, or Rainier.”

“Oly.”

“What kind of Irish? Jamesons or Bushmills?” The barkeep asks as he grabs an empty pint glass.

“Doesn’t matter, you pick.”

“Of course it matters. One’s made by Protestants and the other by Catholics.”

Ishmael looks up to see if he’s serious, and he can’t tell. “The Protestant one.”

A smile spreads across the bartender’s face as he grabs the bottle of Bushmills and a shot glass. “Do you want to sit over next to the stove? News is on. The Gooks walked out of the Peace Talks and Nixon says he’s gonna carpet bomb the fuckers if they don’t come back in seventy-two hours..”

Ishmael sighs. “No, no thanks.” He says and pulls out a Pall Mall and his silver Zippo. 

The bartender has been tending long enough to know when someone wants to be left alone and heads back to the other end.

A moment alone. These small seconds of solitude have proven bad for him and everyone concerned when they happen. They’re usually accompanied by some sort of self-destructive behavior. He vacillates between the need to feel something, anything, and fighting to not drown in a sudden and endless tidal wave of sadness or anger. Maybe he should sit by the radio with everyone else. He sighs. He would go join the others if he didn’t hate people more than he hated being alone with his thoughts. 

He digs a small aspirin bottle out of his pocket, twists it open and digs out a couple Black Beauties and a couple Yellow Jackets, pops them all in his mouth then washes it down with a shot of Protestant whiskey and gulp of beer. 

He desperately tries to think about small, trivial things. He forces his attention to the framed photos of what the place looked like years ago during some summer, the old, fat guy sinking the one ball instead of the twelve ball, the stuffed elk’s head and huge spread of antlers, or whatever he could rest his thoughts on so they don’t go to the burning straw huts in Quang Ngai. He only needs to avoid thinking until the pills kick in. 

“We need to kill all the VC,” A big man with a mass of wild brown hair yells out from the other side of the bar. He has to be two hundred and eighty pounds of solid muscle wrapped in flannel and denim. His big beard’s as wild as the hair on his head. “I would shoot every one of them in the goddamn head myself, if I could.”

“Jesus Christ, Dell, that’s the most I heard you say all year,” Another man says. Wrinkles spiderweb away from his nose across his face.

“Well he’s right,” Says a third.

Ignoring them is the best course of action and that’s what Ishmael would have done most days, but hearing about the war, being responsible for this girl and her unborn baby, and the stress of not knowing what will happen tomorrow, all weighs too heavy on him. His self discipline slips. The words come out before he realizes he’s speaking, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”

Every head in the room snaps to focus on Ishmael. 

He yells out, “All war is a crime. It’s all about killing people and blowing up their homes, their hospitals, their schools, and all their shit. Murderers and destroyers!”

The man with all the wrinkles points at him with a crooked finger and says, “I don’t know what you’re saying there mister but around here we support our country. I know that’s not popular in the cities. Them cities are packed full of peaceniks. This small town is packed full of patriots.”

The big man slams a ham-sized fist on the bar and everyone in the place goes quiet. He says, “I lost an uncle in the Korean War, and I don’t appreciate your tone, stranger.”

Ishmael, suddenly well aware of his situation, decides it’s never good to debate politics with three drunk loggers. “Look, I’m sorry. Why don’t we just forget it? I shouldn’t have said anything. You’re right. Shoot them all in the head.”

“No, sir, no I don’t think I can forget it.” A young man he didn’t see before steps forward and pushes the sleeves of his sweater up to his elbows. He has matted red hair under a ball cap. His patchy beard is just a shade lighter orange than the hair on his head. Dark stains of bar oil and gasoline splatter his denim jeans, blue sweater, and even his freckled arms. 

“Leave it be, Dagget,” the oldest man calls out.

“Leave it be?” Dagget turns with bravado to his buddies, the tone of his voice, overly hurt. He points at Uncle Ish without looking at him. “Now this man here should have left it be, but he went ahead and messed with my country, and, being a good patriot, I want to have a word with him.”

“Come on, Dagget. He doesn’t even know what he said. Here’s a beer on the house.” The bartender offers.

The worried tone in the bartender’s voice makes Ishmael think this guy is the town troublemaker. As the narrator of this story, I can tell you just about anything about any person in this story. For example, I know Dagget’s entire life from the moment his father fucked his teenage mother in the food pantry at the Elks Lodge in St. Helens, Oregon. His full name is Travis Arthur Dagget, and he just turned 21 years old. His father picked the name Travis because he thought it sounded like a real cowboy name. His mother chose his middle name, Arthur,  after Arthur Godfrey, her favorite personality from the variety show Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. Travis was born at home in LaGrande, Oregon, on December 11th, 1951. Travis faked asthma and had his mother’s brother, Doctor Walter Distoni, sign off on it to avoid the draft. He’s worked for Gustoff Brothers Lumber as a choker setter since he turned 18, and he’ll go on to be a logger for another eighteen years before having his legs and lower spine crushed when a choker slips off of a Douglas Fir, sending it down the mountain, rolling over him. 

But just because I have all the information on everyone in this book, I don’t need to tell it. I don’t want all this information to get in the way of the story. I’m sorry. So for now on, if you want to know more about anyone or thing in this sad tale, let me know, and I’ll go into more detail. 

Ishmael sighs again and gulps down the rest of his beer. “I said I was sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to offend you or your country.”

“Oh, but you did.” Dagget takes a menacing step forward then looks back over his shoulder to the others. “Hear that, boys? He said ‘your country.’ He’s a Red. A sympathizer. Stand up, hippie.”

Ishmael stands and when he does, he notices the pills have kicked in. “Okay then.”

Dagget lunges and swings with his right. Ishmael moves slightly, but doesn’t completely dodge it. The blow connects with his left cheek. When he falls back, he knocks his shot glass and it shatters on the ground. Dagget connects again. This time it’s a left to Uncle Ish’s stomach. This makes him gag and a stream of saliva and bile spill out of his mouth. 

Uncle Ish grabs the pint glass and smashes it into the left side of Travis’s head, sending him to the floor. Uncle Ish takes a second to feel the swelling in his eye, and something catches his attention. It’s the way the broken glass catches the light on the ground. 

Dagget pops up and misses with his first swing, but connects with a hey maker spitting Uncle Ish’s bottom lip. 

“Goddammit, Dagget! Quit that shit, right now!” The bartender shouts. 

“Oh, I’ll stop. I’ll stop right after I show this fag how we handle Reds around here.” Dagget charges. 

There’s not enough time or space to move out of the way this time, so instead Uncle Ishmael elects to give him one swift kick to the sack. 

Dagget drops instantly and whines, “You son of a bitch.”

Dagget struggles to get back on his feet. Uncle Ishmael backs up and readies himself but before he realizes what’s happening, a huge pair of callused hands grab him from behind. He’s been lifted off the ground, but he manages to turn his head a little and sees a big hairy face with two small angry eyes in the middle of it. Dell, a mountain of a mountain man, has him dangling in the air. Before Ishmael knows what the hell is happening, he’s carried him out the front door. 

The night is bitterly cold now and small flakes of snow float almost suspended in the black sky. Dell spins Ishmael around, and cocks back a giant fist. This mass of gnarled and calloused bone, fingers, and scarred flesh hits him at near light speed. He flies through the white flakes suspended in the black night for an impossible amount of time before he lands on his back, and skids to a stop, right smack dab in the middle of State Highway 20, the air knocked out of him, and his hatred for mankind strengthened. 

Ishmael stays like this for a while, his head inches away from where the yellow stripe should have been if an inch of snow hadn’t been covering it. The icy slush soaks through his shirt and pants as he gasps for air, but even after he catches his breath, he doesn’t make any effort to move. If a car had come at that moment he would have certainly been killed, but he feels that at this very moment in his life it’s important to take a few seconds to reflect on life. For some reason unclear to him, tears well in his eyes, overflow, and run down his cheek to pool in his ears. 

He has been so detached from everything for such a long time that tears surprise him. He’s seen so many innocent people killed, so many friends, so much death, and he couldn’t feel for them then. Not one tear. So why now? 

He lay there looking up into the sky, staring into a small break in the clouds where the pin prick lights of distant stars shine in the endless black. He’s no good for his sister. He’s no good for anyone, he thinks. He decides to go back in that bar and keep fighting until one of those hicks kills him. Or maybe he’ll just swallow all the rest of his uppers and downers, or drink himself to death. Maybe someone will just drive by, run him over right here. However it happens, however he does it, it needs to happen tonight. He doesn’t want to live to see the morning. He swallows hard and sits up. 

But it’s right then that a voice calls from the sidewalk, “Excuse me, are you Ishmael Hieronymus Shannon?”

Still seated, he turns slowly, calmly. 

Two men stand on the sidewalk in the dark. One is a short, thin man with a three-piece suit smoking a cigarette, and the other was a hulk of a man in a burnt and blood-stained cardigan sweater. A hole in the left shoulder of the sweater reveals a big infected wound surrounded in dark, dried blood, but this big man has a perfect brown flat-top haircut and black framed Buddy Holly glasses. 

“Yes, I’m Ishmael Shannon.”

“God be praised!” The hulking figure with the flat top raises his one working hand to the sky. Then he turns to the smaller man in the black three-piece suit. “You see? I told you they’d be here. The crow told me.”

“Yes… sure… very nice. Can we go now?… It’s fucking freezing out here.” The man in the black three-piece suit says in a French accent. 

The cardigan sweater-wearing giant turns back to Uncle Ishmael. “And your sister, is she slumbering nearby?” 

“Who the hell are you?”

“Tell me, please. Is Cosette nearby?”

“Yeah, who the hell are you?” 

“God be praised.” The giant says again. 

“Yeah, yeah…be praised…let’s go already.” The Frenchman echoes sarcastically. 

Ishmael stands and brushes the cold out of his clothes as he walks over to get a better look at the strangers. He stops three feet away. “Let me ask you again. Who the hell are you?”

The big man smiles like he’s been waiting for that question his entire life. “We are the ones that have been sent to take you home. To bring you to the new Holy Land.

By Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and the winner of the Legionnaire of the Year Award from the American Legion in 2015 and the recipient of the Emily Gottfried Emerging Leader, Human Rights award for 2016. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in the the Ted Talk Book The Misfit’s Manifesto (Simon and Schuster), Forest Avenue Press anthology City of Weird, Sixty Minutes, Story Corps, Flaunt Magazine, The Big Smoke, Human the movie, and much more.

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