Though sobering, Freeburg is also a silly, studied, heartfelt, and honest depiction of some of our most embarrassing modern mistakes. It offers a seemingly simple solution to many of America's modern woes and a path of redemption to restore its esteem in the eyes of the world.
Related collections and offers
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
WHEREAS, on this [25th day of May, REDACTED], Freeburg's voters will be called to ease their clutch on reins that have for too long steered our liberty toward apathy and fear. By doing so, we hope to forge a truly democratic path that aims us closer to society of, by and for all people, for which (almost; see Addendum A) every voice will be accounted, inclined to speak, and finally heard.
Everyone besides the corpse was voting suicide. Even those who'd only caught the gist on backyard breezes — him lying there all zapped on standard-issue VA meds, the wrists cut deep and sure, the frozen grin that spoke of sinful, painless satisfaction — even they just had to share their truth of how these things will often go: "Oh son, sometimes the end comes long before the heart is ready to believe." Of course. Of course, those privy to particulars, the little things that scream and stink, had no better explanation. All that loony talk of being watched just sealed their shame and his disgrace. Silly to think, the stares all said. Look at the facts, the smile. I did. The facts can lie or hide and do. For knowing that, at least remembering I'd known it once and should again, I'll take with pride not just the credit but the blame. My father can't.
Investigators press-released the news a few weeks into knowing all along: The coroner, with work to do and news to make that had to do with lives that didn't want to end, could see no other way. The paper was respectful, "his" paper; he "sadly took his life at home," the new obituary writer wrote of his/ her/its veteran predecessor in the notice buried deep and gray without a mugshot in the mass grave of the day's departed. The slip into subjective might have earned him/her/it a dismissive rebuke by red-penning ("SAYS WHO IT WAS SAD?!"), but it's just as likely no one even bothered to notice. Until now. Who could have known the mistake would become almost prophetic, a blind pass by a soul mate we're not ready yet to meet? I speak now, of course, in the presence of future angels, but at the time even I had no choice but to nod in agreement with every round of clichéd condolences, every histrionic gaze down at the floor, that, without peer, without question, my old man was, above anything else, one illuminating idiot of a know-it-all whack-job, one who'd grown so untrusting that he couldn't even trust himself. I should know. I'd lived there, too.
Seven years had passed. That much dust. But still he hadn't thought in that dismantled brain of his to leave the house where all his living kin – just me, my Mom, and now-famous sister — had left him to stew in the rou of his (out)rage, which, with equal parts failure and hygienic neglect, in no time had steeped to reek like all those corpses he'd buried in unreadable words. How couldn't he have killed himself? That's all anyone was trying to say. Oh, fine: I'd thought it, too: He must have done it: It's what I would have done: It's what I almost did: The hero-wuss had left behind a testament without a will: He'd die a mystery that stank of myth. I'd never loathed him more completely or blamed him for more. Such was the bleakness of my own expectations.
I even volunteered to throw the rest of him away.
My mother wouldn't do it, though I suspect she'd really wanted to and still was living close, a town away in creepy-cozy Cassadaga. It's a haven there made just so to suit her demon-swirling ilk, its portent quaint yet concentrated, supermarket-style. In nearly every creaky house can still be found a psychic with a blog and Twitter feed who's stirring souls and selling dreams. My mother's built a healthy living there. She put two children through college with the proceeds and now is sought for counsel by her peers, some barrel-bellied detectives, the occasional cold-case cable show, and a growing number of Botox experiments from my sister's set. (You'd know them if I named them, but you shouldn't, so I won't.)
Though few who know her would deny that my mother has evolved beyond the mere side-show mindfuckery of her occupation's roots, and while her aims may in fact be wholly empathetic and often eerily insightful, these types of accolades will never apply to this type of historical endeavor, not even for the yellowist of unofficial biographies. Nevertheless, with my father's unplanned-for posthumous acclaim, which she'd prefer to call his "infamy", it's been my mother's word and none other's on his "cracked egg of a rotten life" (December 2017, www. accidentalfame.com).
No historian, much less one with feelings for the subject like myself, could ever swallow a story that steeped in sour grapes; in fact, among the 64.7 percent of U.S. adults (+-0.02 percent) who recently voiced their wish to send my father off with something more than the middle finger, a mere 0.23 percent (+-0.0079 percent) have ever had anything to do with chronicling, teaching or even predicting official history. That means my family gets to make it.
Excuse the poetics of my writer-for-hire, but it's clear enough by now to be conventional wisdom and thereby subject to whimsy that the base of my father's life grew to become much broader than only his basest of ways, sprouting from notice in a cloud of fecund stank to become more aware of the weight of the world than most. My mother, who prefers to describe this metamorphosis as "bacterial," has one theory as to its origin: "the lucky fucker factor" (http://mediumlegends.com).
Maybe; maybe not. She frames the world in light or darkness, rarely both, and certainly not both at once, and I suspect it cuts for her the profile that her clients keep coming with their checkbooks to expect, but the gray between is really where we live our lives and die. And so with awe I hold the People's gift to shed a more revealing light across both sides and deep within the gnarly roots of this long-beleaguered family tree. How else to fertilize and bring to bloom the only seed my father ever planted as a man outside my mother, the one he left for me to find? But smile, you cliff-hung legions only hungry for escape. The bulk of this true tale is muddied up by silly, tragic, sad mistakes, from which my father never thought a weed much less this whole new breed of tree would grow and grow to shade us all.
* * *
It was about time. About time standing still. As it flew by too fast. I hadn't visited Cassadaga in two years, Freeburg, as I've said, in seven, but it'd started to feel more like yesterday or eons ago, neither of which felt right. Then the phone rang. I launched with the power of cat physics from the couch.
I knew it was my Mom — who else was it ever anymore? — but not with the usual why. She always waits at least a week between calls, allegedly so "we can live some life worth talking 'bout," and it's always close to midnight when she does it, purportedly so "maybe we can dream about each other's lives and shit." I picked up the cordless from the coffee table and looked at my watch. Another ring, which made me flinch despite the first ring's warning. What made me knot my brow? She'd say I had a premonition; I'd say she had some life to share that couldn't wait. It was eight-forty-something on a Monday, no more than a few days after we'd just bored each other to sleep, and no one I'd know was celebrating a birthday, childbirth, divorce, or anything but an astrologically humdrum alignment of constellations. I let it ring four times, unliving more life, before I let her tell me what it was I felt was maybe dread or finally the gift she'd given.
"Mom?" She waited, not like her. "Mom. I smell your breath." No giggle either. "Mom?"
"Honey, your father, he ..." She cut herself off, also not her way, but I'd heard enough to sit back down and smile, relieved.
"Your father, son ... he's finally done it." In her voice was concern, no doubt for me, all those unanswered questions, but there was mostly inconvenience and not a flicker of the shock I felt. I didn't ask her how. I didn't want to know. Not yet. She knew as much, so I let her fill the space with time, so many meaningless details that I could sense that she was stalling not just for me but for both of us. She'd taken an hour to call me, ending first a "big séance" with two hardy Saskatchewan women who'd flown in to Orlando, rented a Continental, and ignored all the amusement parks in a beeline for the place I think of as my childhood home, where they hoped to speak once more with their father, who'd recently died of old age without telling them how much he loved them for the millionth time. Lost in kid-listening, her shoptalk made me think to smile, which is when I realized I hadn't stopped since learning only he was gone. I started feeling as unburdened as my mother sounded. And painfully guilty. Then she told me the rest, enough.
"... and wouldn't you know that fucker was grinning ... grinning right out the window at all that world he never gave more than two squirts about." Saved for last, this seemed to be the image she most wanted and dreaded to share. A quiver in the space between the words she'd repeated that painted on his dying smile to let me pretend to hear the rasp of someone who'd been crying and stopped, or who'd stopped herself from crying, but since I haven't heard or seen or heard about my mother crying since leaving Freeburg, it's far more likely she'd just paused to swallow another bite of hoagie or gulp of smoke.
Then that gulf emerged through a clearing of quiet that's always made one of us smirk when the other was serious. As is her job, she was quick to mark her connection to the event: "I know what you're gonna say, but I just knew what that old bitch Arbuckle was gonna say as soon as I picked up the phone. I knew something sinister was coming. With him. From there." As is my job, I was resistant to the whiff of hobunk: "Sinister, you say?" I was the morgue attendant innocently making fun of all the corpses in my care just to survive another day surrounded by death. "Huh. Of course you have to consider the interference out there in the world, all that EMF effing up the ether. I mean, really: You got screams of bloody murder coming out of every shadow day and night, right? Shit. What ends up warbling down your feelers might just be what's in the neighborhood. You ever think ..."
"Don't yank my chains like that, boy. I know some things, some things you don't."
"Sorry," I told her. "I know." I did and didn't. She sniggered but didn't speak. I could think of nothing better than to keep trying to prove my point. I ruffled a nearby stack of unreturned student journals, a yearly trick I'd been taught to keep an elite few of them guessing about why I hadn't returned theirs when everyone else got theirs back before summer started. I pretended to scan the daily headlines like a newscaster getting makeup on. "Let's see here above the fold: Well, it's another bumper crop for Freeburg first-responders. Any of these get through, Mom?" She let me go. "Here's a kid got Kimbo-Sliced into the coroner's office for lampin' as an independent apothecary on the wrong corner. No? Let's see ... oh, here's some: murder-suicide ruled incest cover-up. Robbery-gone-rape still murder-one cold-case. Trailer-park cuckold turns prison-bitch snitch. Wait ..."
"Saul." Under ordinary circumstances this would be when she would have given up with enough of a laugh to concede a middle ground and I would have said something respectful to show that her mysteries, though lacking in underlying attribution, could still excite me, but we both had demons to deal with, me to suppress and her to release.
"Mom, I just don't think ..."
"Boy." This time some teacher in the tone. "Nobody's buying tickets today. I'm sorry, son. It's gonna feel better when it's all behind us."
"I'm just saying it'd be nearsighted, Mom, to ..." I told myself not to even think about trying not to cry.
"Saul. Please. It's okay. I'm not asking you to believe me and I can't tell you how I know it, but believe this: I hadn't thought of that turd for years before today. Guess I'm just a quack that managed to pinch enough pennies to set both her kids up with lives."
I listened to her breathing. It didn't sound right to be hearing it force her to stop praddling on. Had she been pacing the floors or was she just blobbed into a chair? I felt guilty for picking on her. Who did I sound like? And still I couldn't help but form the same clichéd picture in my head that was far too outlandish to be fair but was oddly comforting in times of adolescent desolation. After all she'd done to keep me loving her, all I could do was paint her into a gypsy's wagon down under a bridge by the riverside, using those fat linebacker's hands in the glinty drag of costume jewelry to tug at a sail's worth of shawl and coax another batch of minutiae from a faux-crystal ball, to point at flecks of light in ghost-tour photographs as proof of what my knowledge would never let me know for sure, beckon with the whorls of her hypnotist fingers every sideshow spectator with a gambling heart into the fold of her wandering wagon. It was only for a few formative years that she'd been talked into plying her trade in a carnival setting, but I could still hear the barker's words: "Witness Broomhilda! Our Seer of Seeecrets! Behold her third eye from its perch on the table! Fear only the unknown, your own! Leave the kids at the Fun House and your demons right here! For ten little tickets, ten monumental minutes! Your future unmasked! You, young man! Oh, it's you Saul. Would you get the hell out of here, kid!?"
"Saul!" She was back and so was I, on a level that forced me to listen as a son and not a skeptic. I wiped at my eyes and didn't feel any tears.
"True to form, huh? Selfish to the very end."
"Worst brain-damaged father ever."
"Couldn't think of anything past that chipped skull of his. Somebody else'll clean up all this shit. Fuck it all! But ain't no Oxy cleaning up that mess. That's dickwad's for all eternity."
"Yes, Mom. I'm cleaning up that mess. I think I left some T-shirts over there I gotta grab anyway."
"Wait. But. Well, I don't ..." I still am inclined to presume that all this was part of some larger plot that had finally reached its zenith and was leaving her speechless out of pure joy that it'd gone off so well. I knew, at the very least, that she'd stopped to smile, perhaps stymied by what some would guess was a welling of pride if not the tears she'd long ago emptied out.
"Tomorrow. I love you, okay?" As if she didn't know she was at that point all I had left to love. I was proud of myself, and I didn't want to ruin it by staying on the phone and potentially breaking down. As quickly as each new thought arrived, I delivered it: "I actually gotta run. I got a tennis, game. With a neighbor, a neighbor-friend. She's a she. I'm, ah, starting to actually not hate her." This kept her quiet long enough for me to hang up with a "... love ya!"
I tallied up the day's accounts, pulled my shoulders back, manufactured a chest with a painful dollop of air and looked around a living room that felt like someone else's, maybe even a guy brining people parts for head cheese in the hallway closet. I sunk back to slumping on the couch. It wasn't just the string of lies I'd just told the psychic who knew better or the unlived life they tried to gussy up. It was everything I felt before the call now sharing space with everything after. The leaning towers of overread books, mocking the order and color of bookshelves and knick-knacks, cast longer shadows now. The space around the television, already too small for its slot in the entertainment center, now gaped with darker shadows. I closed my eyes, but it didn't help. The seconds on the plastibrass wall clock left behind by the last tenant were ticking too loudly, too quickly, so I willed them quieter, slower, but then they were silent, unmoving. You play a tennis match, I told myself, hurling the cordless into pieces against the living room wall, which I had to note didn't even scratch much less dent with the contact. I lolled deeper on the couch and swooned into the same haphazard position I found myself the next afternoon when I awoke feeling overly rested and uncommonly resolute. I actually smiled then grimaced at how sinister that must have made me look to my own set of ghosts. I sat up with what was undoubtedly a purpose.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What once was Prophet Motive is now Freeburg"
Copyright © 2018 Dan Harkins.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.