It’s dark and raining and beyond the darkness I can hear the river rising in the rain. It’s been that way for three days, the rain falling so hard I cannot see anything. And what is before me? I struggle through the mud, a place where the rain has become a ubiquitous wall that shifts and shapes the world around me. If I could see where I were going, if it were daylight, if the moon were high and the sky was clear, I know there would be mossy rocks, vetches, forget-me-nots, many kinds of wild flowers. I know if I could see beyond the river I would see an immense mountain covered with balsams, hemlocks, spruces, pines, beeches and maples. There could be sunlight falling on the foliage and the shadows it made would be a girl who smiles and then walks away forever.
I have killed a man. His body is stiff and cold and the rain slides off it and his clothes cling to him like a second skin. When the lightning flashes, I can see his face, a smile locked there until decomposition begins, his skin the color of flour. I have dragged him for hours. I have kept my head low, but still the branches have scraped and touched and tried to hold me with boney fingers. Perhaps I am bleeding, my blood mixing with the rain and the rain mixing with the blood and if I were Christ the world could drink of me. But I am not and this morning I killed a man who was once my friend, a man who I have known since the third grade.
He was not killed for adultery or theft or any other condemnations that one could argue as supposition for any murder. No, he was killed quite succinctly, quite commonly, because he had remarked with little fanfare that I lacked the courage for killing. And then it was finished. And then it was done. There was no remoteness as one might find when looking upon a lighthouse from far out at sea. No, he had turned his head and in one instant I had pressed the pistol barrel to his head and before he had time to reason what had befallen him, my finger had pulled the trigger.
The body crumpled as he fell to the floor and through I expected some kind of virtue there was none. There was, however, at the moment of death, an overriding calm as if time had ceased to be anything but a name and perception. I looked down on him to find that quizzical grin, the one I had known since childhood, and wondered if his soul had left him? Blood had run into his blue eyes and I asked myself how it would be for his wife. She was a beautiful women who did not deserve such a thing, but it was finished now and outside it was raining and thundering and from time to time the house shook and before I went outside to load him into the back of my truck, wrapped tight head to foot in a dark tarp, I turned off the television. CNN was talking about the profits made by the oil companies and that was the last thing I wanted to listen to.
In the end it’s always some son-of-a-bitch sitting in his glassed-in office on the fiftieth floor, some gray-haired CEO who’s out to fuck the common man. Now I’m fucked for life, through I don’t know if I’ll ever be caught. I think I’m smarter than that. And if I could, I’d be dragging the CEO of Exxon through the mud and rain not the heavy body of Wilson Woolf, a man who at one point in my life I would have died for. But he’s the one who’s dead and I wish he would have watched his weight because my back hurts and the buildup of Lactic acid in my arms makes my muscles burn.
As I stop to rest I can hear the river roaring close by and for a moment I picture the oil fields burning during the Gulf War. The skies are black from the rising smoke and it’s raining oil on a platoon of Marines and through they won’t say it out loud each of them is wondering how-in-the-hell did it get to this?
Then I’m thinking about the moment in The Deer Hunter where De Niro holds up a bullet and says, “this is this.” Well this is this and here I am and here Wilson is and because I don’t believe in the concept of sin I wonder what it means for me in the end? It doesn’t matter now because what will be will be and it’s all one giant cliché, one which means nothing because nothing can be done, and even as I near the river I’m sure the oil gurus are smirking and thinking of excuses to jack up the price on crude oil as much as they can.
I dragged him towards the water by his ankles but his boots slipped off and so I had to take up his wrists and lean back and pull and keep at it until the water was lapping at my feet. The river is high and mighty and wild and it has heard my laughs before. I was young once and so was Wilson and we swam here summers when the only worries were what our mothers were cooking for supper. But I’m thankful now that the river is the way it is and I’m sure it will take his body far downstream and if it’s found they won’t find the gun because I’ve broken it down into pieces and thrown them away miles apart.
As Wilson floats away I’m imagining the CEO of Exxon fucking his mistress and whispering in her ear little nothings about the Porsche he’s going to buy her. As for me I know I used half a tank of gas driving out here and there’s a good chance the prices will go up again tomorrow. On the way home I know I better fill up because I’ve had visions about the new world order and it isn’t a pretty thing and on nights like this when it’s not all that clear a man like me never gets a break.
Michael P. McManus is a two time Pushcart nominee and recipient of a Fellowship from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. He was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He currently lives in Louisiana where by day he sells plumbing supplies to the masses. At night he reads and writes, and from time to time sips a round or two at the local Irish pub. He is a Navy Veteran and lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans. Michael’s poems and short stories have appeared in numerous publications.