First in a series
I first read this passage roughly 20 years ago, when Donald Trump was still only a crooked businessman and a short-fingered vulgarian.
Everybody else got off the train at Hell, but I figured, it’s a free country. So I commenced to make myself a mite more comfortable. I put my feet up and leaned back against the window, laid my guitar across my chest and settled in with my hat tipped down over my eyes, almost. I didn’t know what the next stop was but I knew I’d like it better than Hell.
Whoo! I never saw such a mess. All that crowd of people jammed together on the Hell platform so tight you could faint standing up. One old battle-hammed woman hollering for Jesus, most everybody else just mumbling and crying and hugging their bags and leaning into each other and waiting to be told where to go. And hot? Man, I ain’t just beating my gums there. Not as hot as the Delta, but hot enough to keep old John on the train. No, sir, I told myself, no room out there for me.
Fat old conductor man pushed on down the aisle kinda slow, waiting on me to move. I decided I’d wait on that, too.
“Hey, nigger boy.” He slapped my foot with a rolled-up newspaper. Felt like the Atlanta paper. “This ain’t no sleeping car.”
“Git up off me, man. I ain’t done nothing.”
“Listen at you. Who you think you are, boy? Think you run the railroad? You don’t look nothing like Mr. George Pullman.” The conductor tried to put his foot up on the seat and lean on his knee, but he gave up with a grunt.
I ran one finger along my guitar strings, not hard enough to make a sound but just hard enough to feel them. “I ain’t got a ticket, neither,” I bit off, “but it was your railroad’s pleasure to bring me this far, and it’s my pleasure to ride on a little further, and I don’t see what cause you got to be so astorperious about it, Mr. Fat Ass.”
He started puffing and blowing. “What? What?” He was teakettle hot. You’d think I’d done something. “What did you call me, boy?” He whipped out a strap, and I saw how it was, and I was ready.
From “Beluthahatchie,” by Nebula Award winner Andy Duncan
My friend and former colleague Andy made his literary bones with this Hugo Award-nominated story, first published in Asimov’s in 1997, about a dead blues musician who finds that Hell is the Mississippi Delta.
Like the story’s narrator, since Nov. 8 I’ve just been sitting and observing.
And like him, I see how it is, and I am ready.
In some upcoming posts, I’ll be talking about how it is, and what I think that means, and what I think being ready means. It’s only a small spoiler to point out that the narrator’s assertion that he was ready means that he had reached down to his sock, where he had a razor hidden, because metaphorically and perhaps literally, that’s where we’re headed.