Nom De Guerra

Nom De Guerra
By Alex Tarrand

In the fashion of his position Edgar knotted the tie as close to his neck as his circumference allowed, and fastened the top button. He would no doubt undo it later but for this show nothing suited better than the appearance of penance. It was a dry sunny day out and all were set to arrive at Noon but many came early by an hour or more. Unfortunately the space wasn’t terribly accommodating. They didn’t have anything to sustain the audience with and he was sad for it, but those were the times.
Voicing the words helped them form. Of course he had a moderately rehearsed list of points to be made but behind the curtain his confidence receded like a winter tide and he could feel himself beginning to yawn as his stomach began to hurt. Years ago Edgar taught himself to yawn when he was nervous. Now, in reverse effect, staggering yawns precede every debut he makes. But this was worse. His abdomen flexed, the sick feeling was striking violent chords within his center. He had a dream, he wasn’t sure if he could distinguish a dream from a vision exactly, but he optimistically took it as a sign and decided to deliver a specifically poignant aria today.
“It’s five past noon Edgar.” Remarked a little voice from behind the curtain. He continued to mouth his words and carve his gestures into the air as he turned in the direction of the addresser. Contorting his hands to his inflections he gave a nod to the dark curtain and carried on with his practice. He marched to his right and put his hand over his breast while delivering the other upward. He wore cloth padding beneath his trousers to shield his knees. He had learned that pine is unforgiving but it was, unfortunately, and indispensable part of the devotional.
“Turn, turn your eyes.”
Edgar began before stepping through the curtain. The beast had been placed in a sack below the pulpit, but he was assured that it cold not hear him so he made no effort to tame his pitch.
“Turn to the stage and raise your hands.”
He placed a cautious finger between the black sheets and began to part them.
“Let him see who has come to the house!”
He tore them open like a blouse from a lover, ripped aside and through. They parted and their rollers carried them to the edges of the stage. It was mid day and hot, but the pine breathed and the cross cut out from the wall behind him provided a breeze from the yellow desert.
“Show me who still clasps hands in the dustbowl.”
The pews had been filled before eleven. People out of work who wanted to sit on something besides their own dry land.
“No foreclosures this week? No tax men dancing to your doorsteps? No Rockefellers standing on the street corners providing canes to lean on? No? Just an old church then. Just the word, which hasn’t faltered yet? That never seems to avert its gaze from your dirty clothes. Never looks away from the exposed ribs of this state. I suppose that’s all the company we are going to have today, well come on in. Come on in!”
They nodded. Too many to sit; the door open and some, with eyes closed, listening from outside.
“If there are no chairs improvise. If there is no faith, improvise. If there’s no more money left in this country improvise. Can’t feed the mouth, feed the soul. Bought stocks on credit? Buy some faith for less than pennies, for nothing. My word, his word won’t fall 200 points by November! It won’t bring debt, it won’t bring dust, and it won’t raise its price.”
They cheered. One of the congregation, Miller, committed suicide last week to escape his debts. His grandchildren were standing against the wall in the back.
“Are the crops selling? Can anyone afford to by them? My stand sells fruit at no cost. Where else can you go for free today? Where but the streets? As I understand some of you keep your stock certificates in your bibles. That’s fine. Fine, fine. That is just fine with me if I had them I might hold on tightly as well. But don’t mistake your parchments folks. In those books all you have paper. Some with promises, some with messages, and now some with stock certificates. One is worth nothing, the rest will have value until this dust swallows our bones and the mighty sees fit to bring Eden back up from the ground. One is paper, the other is prayer.”
Edgar started the church when he was sixteen. He’s now eighteen and had money to purchase the property from a foreclosed cantaloupe farm. He, and his family, had never once stepped into a bank.
He walked down from the stage. One black foot onto the dirt floor then a step towards his audience.
“I understand we are one less today. We have a member missing and I heard the whispers from the back just as loud as you did. I see him gone and I miss him just as much as you do.”
He paused and left the pulpit completely.
“I am a stock ticker ladies and gentleman. You want to know my job, that’s it. I forecast, and I am predicting a downward trend. You want a fast track to heaven, I have one. Beyond this church is a field, and beyond that field is our town, and in the center of that town is a road filled with cars. Step in front of anyone of them. There are doors to the afterlife in front of every one of those cars, step in front and you’ll see. The door opens and there’s you stairway.”
A silence. He let it stand, suspended.
“If you think I’m wasting your time, then you’re right. Not entirely but if you don’t follow the word, the sermon, the teachings the sweat that I expel you’re right. And I believe the same.”
He turned his fingers in a concentric mill.
“You are wasting my time. I see sin, I don’t forgive. He does, I don’t. I am not a preacher I am a stock ticker and I tell you this town is crashing!”
He stomped his feet and extracted gasps, as though he were stepping on their lungs.
“And if you want an immediate conclusion to this immediate, and temporary, plight then the road is that way!”
At this he became sick, first gasping for breath then returning to the stage to turn his back on the audience for a moment and wipe the sweat from his brow. If he could sack his congregation he would. This was an old conclusion of his. Replace them with youth, or the spirits of youth who didn’t want answers – who demanded them.
“I see many of you are hungry.” Edgar said as he turned back around.
“Well I’ve brought food today.” And he, with whatever strength the heat allowed, removed the burlap sack from beneath the podium.
“But I’m selling it. It’ll cost you. I have a two for one special, that’s good economics my brothers. Good economics.” And he threw the bounty to the ground. It’s noise amplified by the wriggling object within.
“I will sell you salvation, and I will sell you leadership in these hard times. And yours seams will split with fat. I was preaching to myself the other day, to convince myself of the mission. That I believed as strong as anyone of us. I do. And actions speak with a volume that words cannot.”
“God helps those who help themselves. Mary, Mrs. Mary I have known you for years.” Edgar said as he entered onto the floor once more.
“I have healed you Mary. Last week, of your asthma. The pain in your lungs? The devils wing beats that were stuttering your breath. I asked, and he delivered.”
Edgar pointed to the rafters with trembling hand.
“But truly it was you. I drew it out and it was your own spirit that smite it.”
The woman received his smile with one just as apprehensive.
“So listen to me now! Come rain or shine he will love you. He will take you in but he will not give you an umbrella, he will not dry you off. And he loves those who help themselves. But to heal even one’s self requires a tonic. A powerful tonic.” He seethed, spittle gathering in his words.
He reached for the sack and undid its bindings. He climbed the stage and held the bag high, such that his red hand turned white.
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well!”
“And they will get well! Mark 16:17-18!”
Retaining the burlap he stepped back and away from its viper contents rambling towards the floor. The audience was a gasp by the presence of a snake on the stage. Some rose from their chairs, some ambled back, some spit at the reptile and all cursed it as their familiar enemy.
“Today brothers I will defy your apathy and mine with a single glass!”
Forcing the ending punctuation on the percussion of his boot pinning the serpents head underfoot.
“This snake is ambivalent. An observer, a recorder, the eyes of thine enemy. Today he will see, today he will report!”
Like a plowshare to wheat Edgar, with hand, harvested the writhing and silent defendant.
“That we-“
And gifted the creatures gaze to its onlookers, after forcing it upon himself.
“Are without fear!”
Making quick to the podium he, with free hand, removed a clear fruit jar, top covered in plastic, and presented it to the crowd. They yelled to the rafters, the support was unanimous before he decided to put it back down below and switch it with its milk and arsenic filled twin that sat concealed in the wood hollow.
“If you want money I don’t have it.”
The serpent’s jaws opened as Edgar depressed its slick and cold throat.
“If you want the spirit?”
It seemed to find relief as it sunk its bared defenses into the plastic, piercing visibly into the soap filmed jar.
“Like nothing else in this age, it’s free.”
Straining at the brow and finding relief only in the sighs and affirmations hurled beyond his closed eye lids Edgar persisted with force.
“Take heart and take pride. I have a watch my ladies my gentleman. A stopwatch.”
In his left the depleted snake, in his right the full glass.
“And I’ve poured my watch into this glass. In the time of a drink you will know if you have the strength to face fear, if you’re rock bottom can go no lower and if you have the might to stare at your poverty, your hunger, your captors, your children, yourselves without dread.”
Tearing the plastic covering with bared teeth Edgar brought the exposed glass lip to his and took a modest sip of its chalked volume.
Twisting and shaking, the snake a whipped in his red hand; Edgar vomits in conflagration. He drinks only slightly less a moment later.
“I will start my clock at one drink! By the end of it we will be dead, the same, or better and the mighty will see the devotion in our mouths!”
The audience pours forward to receive the sloshing host.
“Do you think his fork tongue will tell the master of our defiance? Do you think our Washington economists have bifurcated tongues behind their teeth? Go!”
Ambling his way through the crowd like a sick stranger in a foreign market place Edgar takes the snake to the church entrance and throws him in command.
“Go And show him your broken back, and tell him what you have seen. Tell him salvation is still free in this country!”
The snake fell to the dusted boots of the company crowded round the door. Its back broken making its exit difficult and its course hard to steer. From their taunts and spits it retreated backwards with all the speed half of its body could manage. Staring forward, retreating steadily and to its last breath. Preferring the wild and the now inevitable to the shivering vibrations still coming from the dirt floor of the young man’s pine room.

Nom De Guerra


Joined January 2008

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Artist's Description

Snake charming? How charming.

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