The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

by Steven Sherrill
The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

by Steven Sherrill


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"Sherrill gives his Minotaur a ­forlorn Buster Keaton dignity. M has a silent film’s starring role in the midst of a ­country-and-western talkie. Precisely by limiting the beast to deeds, not speech, the writer eventually creates—against all odds—a living hybridized contradiction. M, if stuck in the quicksand of our ­ticky-tack present, somehow still participates in the silent scale of myth." —New York Times

The Minotaur of Greek mythology now lives in central PA in an old motel and works as Civil War re-enactor.

Sixteen years have passed since Steven Sherrill first introduced us to “M,” the selfsame Minotaur from Greek mythology, transplanted to the modern American South, in the critically acclaimed The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. M has moved north now, from a life of kitchens and trailer parks, to that of Civil War re-enactor at a run-down living history park in the dying blue-collar rustbelt of central Pennsylvania. Though he dies now, in uniform, on a regular basis, M's world, his daily struggles, remain unchanged. Isolation. Loneliness. Other-ness. Shepherded, cared for by the Guptas (the immigrant family who runs the motel where he lives, outsiders in their own right) and tolerated by his neighbors, by most of his coworkers at Old Scald Village, but tormented by a few, M wants only to find love and understanding. The serendipitous arrival of Holly and her damaged brother, halted on their own journey of loss, stirs hope in the Minotaur’s life. As their paths overlap we find ourselves rooting for the old bull as he stumbles toward a real live human relationship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781958888162
Publisher: Blair
Publication date: 09/26/2023
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Steven Sherrill is a graduate of UNC Charlotte and holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The recipient of a NEA Fellowship for Fiction, he has published four novels and one book of poetry. His debut novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, was published in the UK and translated into eight languages. Neil Gaiman selected it as one of six audio books to launch “Neil Gaiman Presents” for A prolific painter and nascent musician, Sherrill is now a professor of English & Integrative Arts at Penn State Altoona.

Read an Excerpt

The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time

By Steven Sherrill

John F. Blair

Copyright © 2016 Steven Sherrill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89587-673-7


THE MINOTAUR FALLS DEAD in the Pennsylvania mud. Belly up. Bang. It is April. Mud season. Dying season. The mud is black. The sky is blue. The Minotaur is dead. The black mud pulls hard. So, too, the blue sky. The Minotaur succumbs. The Minotaur falls dead belly up. Maybe one thick horn tip gouges the earth. Maybe it doesn't. Either way the Minotaur falls dead. Belly up. As planned. A gut full of grapeshot. Or maybe a musket ball. Doesn't matter. It is dying season. Mud season. Late April, maybe. The Minotaur's calendar is imprecise. Doesn't matter. The Minotaur falls dead, as planned.

"Pour it into 'em, boys!"

"For God and country, boys!"

"This war will be over by Christmas, boys!"

Cannon fodder. The Minotaur takes the hit, snorts through his bullish nostrils, and goes down in black muck. The black muck splatters across his gray wool jacket. The regiment clanks and rattles through the field, toward noon. Lunch break. The Minotaur is among the first to die. Doesn't matter to him. The battlefield looks better with bodies. Always. He waits for the first volley of rifle shots — insipid, arrhythmic little bursts of smoke from the opposing side. From the Union. Then he dies. Like a good Confederate. A good Rebel. He dies.

The rest of the regiment bumbles ahead — the hardcore, the starry-eyed dilettantes, history piddlers, triflers, all stumble toward their own deaths. Or victories. Doesn't matter.

"Rally round the flag, boys!"

"Give 'em hell!"

The Minotaur falls dead, belly up. Welcomes death. The sweet release. The absence of unending life. Bang. The end. Gravity's unrelenting grip on his snout, his horns, finally, once and for all, conquering. Falls dead, the Minotaur, belly up. Willing and able to let it all go. The wars, and the humans who make them, will rage on with or without him. Clamor and clang. The battlefield looks better with bodies. They all do. Always. The Minotaur falls dead on this battlefield, belly up. Belly up, because he wants to see. Wants, in death, to watch. The Minotaur grunts when he falls.

"Unngh," he says, falls dead.


THAT VERY MORNING, NOT DEAD YET but getting ready to die, the Minotaur, in his motel room, dressed with care. He put on the rough trousers, the wide and supple belt, and its bulky cartridge box. He wet a paper towel in the tiny sink and dabbed the mud from an earlier death off the woolen jacket. He licked a fingertip and rubbed each brass button so that, even in the wan fluorescent light of his cramped bathroom, even in that light, the buttons glinted. The Minotaur shrugged his big shoulders into the coat, straightened his side knife on the belt, and stepped out into the cool dawn. The blue-black passage. He paused there, remembered something, and looked toward the motel office, the dark of the windows fractured intermittently by the flashing Vacancy sign.

The Minotaur returned to his room, sat on the edge of the narrow bed, rifled through the nightstand drawer to retrieve a nearly empty pad and a pen. He cocked his big head and made a short list. A handful of necessary things. The old bull is graceful when he needs to be. He walked quietly to the office door. They were asleep. He didn't want to wake them. The Minotaur knelt on the walk and thumbed open the mail slot's thin brass door. The hinge protested loudly. The Minotaur poked the note through and closed the slot. But before he could rise, the brass flap slammed back open. Topple, Minotaur. A giggle brought him back to his knees. The Minotaur peered, as much as one with such a cumbersome noggin can peer, into the mail slot. Saw her face, those wide eyes holding all of the night's fiery black. She wrinkled her nose, stuck out her tongue. The Minotaur nudged his big snout up to the opening and gave a snort. She ran away into the dark room. It's called pitter-patter. The Minotaur arose, started down the walk toward the road, toward this day's inevitability.

* * *

Alive and dead. The Minotaur takes the hit — a belly full of grapeshot, or a musket ball. Falls dead to the Pennsylvania earth. Finds himself on a battlefield, yet another battlefield, feigning death. The gut shot make-believe. The bloodlust real enough. The black mud real. Too, the sky's hard blue and its burning eye. He contorts a little, this way or that, to suggest suffering and pain. But really he's positioning his horns to block the midday sun. The Minotaur wants to see. To watch, from his cockamamie angle, the boots and legs of the other soldiers march over the ersatz battlefield. To let the black disks of his eyes scan the visible plain, crisply defined in the span between his horn tips, less so beyond. The Minotaur's wide snout is sometimes a problem. It blocks the view.

The Minotaur doesn't wear a soldier's kepi hat. It won't stay on. He keeps the cap tucked in the waist belt and wedged behind his canteen and side knife. The Minotaur drops his rifle. He's dropped it so often it surely wouldn't fire.


The Minotaur grunts when he falls to the Pennsylvania mud. The gray wool frockcoat wicks the damp to his skin. The Minotaur welcomes the cool. He cocks his head one final time and begins the long wait for the battle's end. It's Friday. The Union always wins on Friday. Nobody is in a hurry. The Minotaur likes the dying season, its rituals, its leisure.

The Minotaur can see a pale blue swath of the April sky. It is cloudless. All of it. From where he lies, the Minotaur sees more. Sees the rusted water tower's legs rising over the tree line, sees the moonlike tank. He's seen the looping lime green graffiti often enough to know what it says: Boo-Dah!

Dead or alive, the Minotaur finds himself neck deep in a new millennium. Dead or alive, the Minotaur struggles for the moment in some place called the Rust Belt, the metaphor cinched tight at the waist of a waning empire. The Minotaur knows none of this to speak of, but lives and dies the central Pennsylvania reality day in and day out. The Keystone State. Humans, he knows, like to name things. The Minotaur finds himself, a willing Confederate, above the Mason-Dixon line. The Minotaur understands divide, division. Rebellion. He finds himself on yet another battlefield.

Cannon fire. Three thunderous blasts from the Union battery. From behind the earthwork. The Minotaur feels the percussive wallops rise up through the black earth and stir in the crevices of his spine. Feels them before he hears them. No matter. The Minotaur always trusts the tactile over the aural. Though he couldn't say so, or why.

On the periphery of the battlefield, just at the edge of his vision, the Minotaur sees the chain-link fence surrounding the electrical station. As if power is so easily contained. Through the fence, sees the massive transformers and their impenetrable green, the crisscross skeletal towers that carry the charge into and out of the station, the heavy atrial lines that split the narrow valley, that run right up and over Scald Mountain.

The skirmish line ebbs. The skirmish line flows. It is Friday. The fortifications will hold. The Minotaur smells the gunpowder. Everybody smells the gunpowder. Though the Minotaur doesn't see it, blocked no doubt by his thick snout, he knows there are bleachers — a pair of them, old pipe-and-plank things, likely scavenged from a junior-high sports field — on the opposite edge of the battleground. It is April, and warm enough. The bleachers are full. A ragged canvas lean-to shelters the fifer, the drummer, and the pimply horn player whose sputtering ditty will signify the battle's closure. Nobody is in a hurry.

The Minotaur snorts through his bullish nostrils. Softly. He's been watching a bluebottle fly circle. The fly lands on the bridge of the Minotaur's nose. Paces the bony expanse. Circles again and comes to rest inside the Minotaur's nostril.


The bluebottle fly thrives on decay. On death. The Minotaur thinks we all do. It's not the fly's fault. It has been deceived. Trickery is afoot. This death is, alas, a ruse. The Minotaur snorts the fly back into flight, watches it plot its next move. It's nobody's fault.


The Minotaur is happy enough in his ersatz death. Make do. Make do. Comes back again and again, to die over and over. The Minotaur dies Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

A crow swoops in from up the mountain, cocks the black wings back to slow its descent. The bird is on its way to pluck bits of potato chips and cheese puffs from beneath the bleachers. The Minotaur knows it for a fact. Facts are sometimes important. The bluebottle fly lights briefly on the Minotaur's tarnished belt plate, walks the rim of the embossed lettering, the C and the S, takes flight, then hovers over the Minotaur's wellish nostrils.



Somewhere in the preplanned distance, sabers rattle. Bayonets clink. A hearty surge of overly sincere grunts, yips, and growls. Watered-down bloodlust, and out of sight, but bloodlust nonetheless. Farther off, the steady traffic on Business 220 lulls the afternoon toward drowsiness.



It's a girl's voice, maybe. Nearby, surely. The Minotaur can tell that much. But he can't see the source without moving his head, and the Minotaur isn't quite ready to break the role of Confederate dead yet.


Closer this time. She pokes him with something. The Minotaur can't see what it is without moving his head. So he does. Yes, a girl. The second of the day. The Minotaur ponders this welling theme.

"Hey," she says. "Hey."

The Minotaur is on the earth. Grounded. She looms over him, though her looming is tiny. It might be a girl. It might be. But there's a single horn and a glittery mane. What rough beast is this? What? Few things surprise the Minotaur. He is hopeful this time. But when he finds focus, when he sees from his upside-down perspective the unicorn on the girl's T-shirt, it is disappointment the Minotaur feels. He looks again. Scrutinizes. Longs. The girl herself, a little thing with translucent and chestnut-colored skin and a head of tight brown curls, a mashup of race and lineage, could easily be part unicorn. Easily.

The Minotaur's lament is brief.

"Hey," she says again, wagging a half-eaten corndog in his direction. "Want a bite?"

The Minotaur cannot smile. He's tried, but the result is usually terrifying. He does not want to frighten this girl, even though she has disappointed him. Nor does the Minotaur want a bite of her corndog.

"Mmmnn, no," he manages.

The girl smiles. A battle is ending somewhere out of sight. Rage abates. No matter. Other battles will follow. Always. The girl smiles. There is more than meets the eye here. The Minotaur thinks it but keeps his hopes at bay. The black mud. The blue sky.

"Hey?" she says again.

No, it's a bigger voice. More insistent.

"Hey! Braylynn! Get away from there!"

The father's brief command betrays much: Get away from there, not Get away from that. But certainly not Get away from him. Braylynn. The unicorn-cum-girl.

Braylynn sticks out her tongue, wiggles it at the Minotaur, then turns and runs toward her father. As she gallops across the field, the Minotaur watches the red and white lights in the soles of her shoes fire with each step. Magical. She'll take flight any minute. He has no doubt. Look, there she goes, up over the treetops. Glorious in flight. Peeling back the veil of the here and now. To reveal what? The Minotaur's wishful thinking. The Minotaur lets his fat tongue loll out just a bit, just over the tops of his tarter-caked teeth, just between the rubbery black lips.

"Mmmnn," he says.

Nobody is in a hurry. Especially the Minotaur. The spectators head back down the gravel drive to Old Scald Village. Some will stick around and hammer moon and star designs at the Tin Punch Cottage, or maybe dip rows of dangling candlewicks into a vat of beeswax. Most will just go home, their souvenirs more intangible.

The Minotaur lingers, there at the end of this day's death. The Minotaur dawdles. The Minotaur takes his own sweet time. He finds himself in a moment of stasis, of relative calm. But moment itself is a relative word. The Minotaur's time is endless, and as such potentially meaningless, empty at its ticking core.

This day marched into being like hundreds of other recent days. He's been here for a while. But niggling there in the murky sloughs of the Minotaur's awareness is the sense of impending change. That girl. That little corndog-wielding unicorn girl. A portent. Something is coming down the pike.

The Minotaur takes his own sweet time getting up but eventually rises to his knees, orients himself between the horn tips. The Minotaur gathers his rifle and empty haversack. The April sky over Scald Mountain is a deep azure blue. All of it. Tomorrow is Saturday. The Confederates win on Saturday. Always. The Minotaur takes his time, brushes the twigs and dust from his gray wool trousers, and joins the uniformed stragglers, the other risen dead.

* * *

March he does, back into life. And remembering the list of necessary things and his obligations back at the motel, the old bull picks up his pace. Time is a fickle beast; its ticky-tocky heart hammers on with utter disregard for any and all in its path. The Minotaur recalls his list and what he has to do this afternoon, now that the dying is done. Breaking from his normal post-dying routine, he skirts the mishmash of period-correct hoopla in Old Scald Village and hurries past the crowd of soldiers and spectators. Hurries along dirt streets full of living history. Through the parking lot that contains a herd of dirty yellow school buses, the kids, shepherded by harried teachers, fresh from the killing. Hurries through the covered bridge, hurries up the road, up Business 220, toward the Judy-Lou Motor Lodge. Home. It is Friday. It is dying season. Tomorrow brings a new death. Tomorrow the Minotaur will linger, will wallow in his role as casualty. Today other things occupy his mind.

He keeps his snout down, his black eyes cocked on the road. Looks only where his boots land. Tomorrow is a different day. Today the Minotaur can be of use. Today the Minotaur reins in his focus, keeps it tight all the way back to Room #3, his room, where he finds, arranged neatly on his crisply made bed, the spackling paste, the shelves and necessary hardware, a new light fixture, and everything else on the morning's list. There is a key ring with a peacock-feather fob, and a single key. Room #7. Too, the Guptas left a small foil-covered plate, a snack for the Minotaur, and a note explaining that they will be home in late afternoon, that they are off to the outlet mall to get some pillows and curtains for the room, nice things, that they are grateful, deeply grateful, for his help. The Guptas, Ramneek and Rambabu, are the proprietors of the Judy-Lou Motor Lodge. Their daughter takes classes at Allegheny Community College. Bavishya is rarely home. Bavishya answers only to Becky.

"Our Bavishya is coming home to live, Mr. M," Ramneek said earlier in the week.

"We must ready her room, Mr. M," Rambabu said.

"You will like her, Mr. M. And she will like you as well."

"Our Bavishya," they said. "Our Becky."

Becky's little out-of-wedlock daughter, Devmani, a dark-eyed sprite full of grinning mischief, peeked from behind her grandmother's swaddled legs as she spoke.

Mmmnn," the Minotaur said, following the Guptas into the vacant room beside the office.

Devmani stuck out her tongue.

That was earlier in the week.

Here stands the Minotaur in service. In the door of Room #7, he plans the afternoon. Gets to work. The Minotaur spackles and sands. The Minotaur changes the gasket in the dripping faucet. Replaces a switch plate. The Minotaur sets about assembling the shelves.

The Minotaur has never met Bavishya. Becky. What did they mean, Ramneek and Rambabu, when they said, "You will like her," when they said, "She will like you as well"? What does she do, this Becky, this young mother of Devmani? What does she study at the community college? Where does she hope that study will take her? These are the questions that swarm the Minotaur's mind as he works. And he should be paying more attention. He should not touch that bare wire while swapping out the light fixture. What did they mean, the Guptas? The Minotaur is not one to get his hopes up. Nor, however, has he ever been able to fully let go of hope. And it is hope's slippery little tail that the Minotaur is trying to grab hold of when his screwdriver touches the wire.


Excerpted from The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time by Steven Sherrill. Copyright © 2016 Steven Sherrill. Excerpted by permission of John F. Blair.
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.

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