By Chris Lynch
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1999 Chris Lynch
All rights reserved.
Kiss me good-bye.
Plant the kiss like you plant
and something grows.
You think you are a poet
because you write poetry.
You think you are not
because you do not.
John Donne thought
and people didn't.
Ecclesiastes' Preacher said
find the good
enjoy your stay
but when your time comes
be on your way.
I knew a lady who loved them both
But not you. You and death
Rasputin, you are,
while I think I tried to kill you
every chance I got.
Because you have
a frightening will
That I don't share,
you would be
It was not you,
but what you knew.
and its accomplices
are much more
than we'd planned for.
And we need help,
so you held my hand
the devil's clasp
would be that warm.
Spin the barrel
pull the trigger
kiss the wrong person.
All hell breaks loose.
Get thee behind me, Satan,
and stay there.
The only thing
that never stops making sense
Do unto others.
and willowy bibliarians
and raw-boned she
who should be your sister.
grabbing for embracing
because it isn't there.
Do unto others.
It was done unto him.
His smile relieved
and we received.
He is not a gifted poet,
he is a gift.
Which we returned.
Kiss me Pauly.
We got it all wrong.
Cocked & Locked
"Tell me, Oakley," Pauly says.
"I will, Pauly," I say right back. "I'll tell you just as soon as you ask. But that's the way questions work, you have to ask me something first. Then I can tell you."
He'll do that if you don't stay on him. He'll float you a question without ever asking it, till you want to choke it out of him. He says he's a poet. Which, he says, explains everything.
I don't think it does. Nothing explains everything.
We are perched on the slope of a small green hill overlooking my buddy Pauly's most favorite of all favorite places in Whitechurch. The prison. There's some milling about going on in the yard, but since this is Thursday afternoon, it's not the prisoners doing the milling, but guards and police and prison officials practicing their fife-and-drum stuff.
They're god-awful. We never miss it.
"Okay," Pauly says. "Just a what-if. What if, if a guy wanted to pick one off. You think somebody could do that, and get away with it?"
"A cop? Pauly, you asking me if you could shoot a cop and nobody would mind?"
"Of course not," he says, sticking a sharp elbow into my side. "You think I'm a dope?"
A lot of times I do, I do think he's a dope. But I don't ever say it to him. He's heard it enough, I figure.
"No," Pauly continues. "I mean, a con. What if somebody got the idea to drop a prisoner, right down there in the yard? Would anybody really mind, do you think?"
I turn toward Pauly to see if he's joking, but there isn't a joke anywhere in him. He keeps staring down at the yard.
"Ya, Pauly. I think somebody'd mind. Probably, somebody'd mind a lot."
Pauly waits a long time, staring off, listening to the fife and drum—and bagpipe, actually—strangle some innocent song to death.
"I don't see why," Pauly says. "I really don't think people would care much."
In the yard below us, the leader of the police group is screaming and throwing his baton against the twenty-foot-high fence. Like he does every week.
"Of course you're bored," he yells at the pipers. "We only know the one goddamn song. Who the hell wants to play 'Loch Lomond' fifteen hundred times? Ya bunch a dopes."
Pauly's eyes narrow. "What about him?" he asks, pointing at the yeller.
"They might not care much," I sigh, "but they'd still notice."
"See, that's what I think about the criminals. I think maybe people would notice if you did one of them, you'd get noticed for it, but in the end, nobody'd get pissed off about it. Which would be kind of slick in the end, don't you think?"
she's LEAving me red
VIolence is blue
WHITEchurch is brown
there's a fuckin ROCK in my shoe
Pauly was always fascinated with the prison, since the first cinder block was laid for it. Matter of fact, everybody was into it, when the building was going up and it seemed like every last person in the area was either working on it or selling donuts or Coors to those who were. At that time, it was a very popular prison.
Then they went and filled it all up with criminals. Spoiled everything.
Then they went and named it.
Whitechurch Prison. Made sense to me.
"An appallingly shortsighted and insensitive decision," was what they called it on the editorial page of the Whitechurch Spire.
People, apparently, are very sensitive to words and word use and they are far more sensitive to words when they are written down. Because it never bothered anybody during the building stage or the dedication stage or the opening-up stage when officials would refer to the place as Whitechurch Prison. It only finally bothered folks when it came down in the papers, and criminals started getting directed to come spend time in our jail, and the newspaper writers started shorthanding things.
"The murderer was sentenced to life in Whitechurch."
"With time served and good behavior, the prisoner could be allowed to leave Whitechurch by the time he is ninety-seven years old."
And on like that. It was funny, really, if you could see it. Pauly went right out and had sweatshirts made up for the two of us, white stencil lettering on black: PROPERTY OF WHITECHURCH PRISON. Most locals didn't care for the humor.
"Whitechurch is, and has been for nearly three hundred years," the editorial read, "one of the most picturesque and tranquil villages in the entire Northeast. It is a fine and wonderful town, and no one has to be 'sentenced' to Whitechurch."
He was right about the picturesque part, as long as you didn't come during mud season, and as long as you didn't point your camera in the direction of the Gleasons' yard. But tranquil?
Tranquil. We'd have to chew on that one a little bit. We'd have to define our terms very specifically, wouldn't we, and make a clear distinction between what went on above the surface and what went on underneath.
"Don't you ever get angry, Oakley?"
This is Lilly, who is smiling and who is Pauly's girlfriend, even though she spends way more time with me than she does with him. She's big and dark and quite special if you pay close enough attention. She's possibly plain if you don't. We're together this March afternoon, hanging out and finding out, up on the faraway hill next to the cider-press building that wouldn't be pressing anything until the next leaf-peeping busload came by in the fall. This particular press is located on this particular hill because this is the best-looking spot for people to overspy our little kingdom while they sip their fresh juices. The view down Press Hill is what we want to look like. Cider is what we want to taste like.
Pauly hates apples so much, you'd think they were a disease. "Of course I get angry," I answer Lilly. "What kind of a question is that?"
"It's a regular question, is all. Because if you do get angry, it's angry in a way I can't see."
And Lilly likes to be able to see all. Lilly likes things in plain sight where she can see them.
"You mean, like Pauly gets angry?" I ask her. The question I'm not supposed to ask. That's why I'm special to her, because I don't usually ask.
"Don't, Oakley," she says, and starts down the hill. I start after her.
"Fine, then, I won't," I say. "Come on back up the hill with me. I'll behave and be quiet."
She comes back up the hill and sits beside me again. "I have to go in a few minutes anyway," she tells me. "Baby-sitting for the Rev."
I nod, which is my best thing. I sit, and I behave. Because there is nothing I like better than sitting on the hill doing nothing on a nice day while Lilly sits close beside me doing nothing too. Some guys—like Pauly, and a lot of the older guys at the high school—don't seem to appreciate this, doing nothing. But that's not me. I'm doing all the nothing I can while I can because I can feel it coming, the day when I have to do something.
But then, for no reason, I make the trouble again.
"So, what does he do, Lilly?" I ask. "You want to tell me what he does when he's angry with you?"
And that's that. Without speaking, she gets up, brushes old yellow grass off her seat, and heads down the hill, down straight toward the white church of Whitechurch, where the Reverend and his wife and their baby live in the shadow of the valley.
I know I've done it—exploded the good thing we have up on Press Hill—and I don't even try to make good. I just follow along behind Lilly as she breaks into a jog down the decline, and before we reach the Texaco at the foot, she will have let me catch up.
"Yo," comes the holler from back up where we just left.
Pauly, of course.
"Stop right there, you two," he yells, pointing down on us like Moses or somebody.
There has been, really, nothing between me and Lilly, and Pauly knows it. Nothing but being friends, anyway. It was just that if Pauly was your best friend like he is with me, or if he was your boyfriend like he is with her, then you'd find yourself needing somebody else to talk to on a regular basis.
I'm that for Lilly, and she's that for me. Pauly doesn't care at all, the way a lot of guys would if their best friends seemed to be bird-dogging their girls. In fact, he seems to enjoy the setup.
"You, and you, come over here to me right this minute," Pauly says, pointing at the piece of Press Hill right in front of him.
I'm staring at him, thinking of walking back up there, when Lilly grabs my hand and yanks me along, laughing like a mad thing. We speed, like a couple of boulders hurtling down the steep grade, until I'm sure I'm going to lose it and wind up with a mouth full of turf.
Pauly tries a little, screaming and chasing us a short ways, but he doesn't have a chance. Everybody is faster than Pauly.
At the Reverend's house, Lilly and I are sitting on the sofa across from the window seat in the curved alcove that looks out over the yard. The baby is sleeping. The baby is always sleeping. We are watching a movie on cable, but not really watching it. I do this thing—and I think Lilly does it too, but to ask would be to shatter it—where I watch the famous stars on the TV screen, but I don't listen to a thing they say, and I don't think at all about what's happening to them in the plot. For soundtrack, I listen to Lilly, and to myself, and we and the stars mesh all up together.
"If your life was a movie, who would star in it?" Lilly asks me as she passes the tortilla chips.
I've only thought about this a hundred thousand times, but that doesn't make the answer come any quicker. The players keep changing, most of them.
"Sean Connery would play my father," I say as I pass her my Coke.
Lilly slaps me on the arm and says, "That's not a real answer," while she laughs.
"Well they're both bald, aren't they?" I say.
"All right, Connery plays your father. Who plays you, then?"
I nod confidently. "Pierce Brosnan," I say. "It's perfect, 'cause we're already like a father-son pair of double-oh-seven action types."
Lilly snatches the chips back from me. "Interesting, when you think about it, Oakley," she says. "Maybe we should explore your family dynamics a little more."
"Maybe not," I say. "So who's in your movie?"
"Audrey Hepburn," Lilly says. "But when she was alive, of course. Like in Wait Until Dark, where she was blind."
Lilly isn't blind. Unless she really believes she looks like Audrey Hepburn. She's more like two Audrey Hepburns, but that isn't important at all. The stuff that makes her someone you want to get next to is mostly invisible, Lilly stuff.
If Violence is blue
and my lilly is pink
would move her
which Potion should I drink?
"What about him?" I ask, pointing across the room, over the window seat, through the window and out into the backyard where our Pauly dances up and down for our amusement. Pauly's forbidden to enter the Reverend's house. He's got a good soul in there somewhere, the Rev says, but he's never going to cross this threshold. Whatever that means.
"So who plays him?" I ask again.
Pauly rushes up to the window, climbs up on the woodpile, and presses his face to the glass.
"Pauly's not going to be in my movie," Lilly says seriously.
I wave to him. "Hey, Pauly," I say.
"Go ahead," he calls, muffled, through the glass. "Go on and kiss her if you want to."
"I never said I wanted to," I reply, all indignant. I'm not fooling anyone, though.
"Hey," Lilly snaps. "What do you two think you're doing? Trading at the farmers' market or something? I'm a human, Pauly-the-Pig. Get out of here."
"No, wait," he says. "I want to show you something, Lilly. Come here."
"I don't want another poem. They make me ill."
"Hey, I said I was a poet. I never said I was a gifted poet. Anyway, it's not a poem. It's something better, even."
"I don't want that, either. I especially don't want that. And if you try to show it to me again, I'll call the Reverend."
"It's not that either," Pauly says, exasperated.
I'm starting to get a little embarrassed. "Maybe I should go."
"No, you absolutely shouldn't," she says to me.
Pauly. "Just come to the window, Lilly."
Lilly. "Ignore him, Oakley."
Me. "How can you ignore Pauly? How can anyone ignore Pauly?"
Pauly. "Not anymore, it ain't. I'm going to be unignorable. C'mere."
Lilly sighs, turns up the sound on the TV with the remote.
"Well, I'm going to go look," I say. She shrugs.
When I'm almost to the window, and Pauly is reaching down into his pants, the sound of the Reverend's car on the gravel driveway pulls Pauly's attention like a scared deer listening on the wind. And like a deer, he is gone in an instant, into the trees and out of sight.
"He's been getting weirder and weirder since I told him about the college," Lilly says, shaking her head at the silent-again television. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Whitechurch by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1999 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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