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Igms issue 15, p.18

IGMS - Issue 15, page 18


IGMS - Issue 15

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  "What's it to you, Teague?"

  "They're your family, you dumb little dickhead. Even dogs don't piss on their own family."

  He let Ollie slide down the tree till he was standing on the ground, then let go of his pants and his shirt and stepped back a safe distance. Ollie didn't try anything though. Katie was still calling "Ollie! Ollie! Ollie!" He just stood there, looking at Deaver, and then got his little half-smile, turned around, and walked out of the orchard, straight toward the pageant wagon. Deaver stood there and watched him go.

  Deaver felt all jumpy and tingly, like all his muscles had to move but he couldn't think what he should do with them. That was the closest Deaver'd come to really tearing into somebody since he was in his teens. He'd always kept his anger under control, but it felt good to have Ollie pressed up against that tree, and he wanted so bad to hit him, again and again, to pound some sense into his stupid selfish head. Only that wasn't it, after all, because he was already ashamed of letting himself go so far. I was being a stupid kid, making threats, pushing Ollie around. He was right -- what's it to me? It's none of my business.

  But now I've made it my business. Without even meaning to, I've got myself caught up in this family's problems.

  Deaver looked over toward the pageant wagon, silhouetted in the last light of dusk in the eastern sky. Just then the generator kicked on, and bank by bank the fresnels and ellipsoidals, making a dazzling halo around the pageant wagon, so it looked almost magical. He could hear the audience clapping at the sight of the stage, now brightly lit.

  The backstage worklights had also come in, and now in that dimmer light he could make out people moving around, and seeing them, gray shadows moving back and forth on business he didn't understand, he felt a sweet pain in his chest, a hot pressure behind his eyes. A longing for something long ago, something he used to have. So long lost that he could never name it; so deeply rooted that it would always grow in him. They had it, those men and women and children moving in silent business behind the truck, hooded lights glowing in the dusk. It was there in the taut lines that connected them together, a web that wound tighter, binding them with every pass. Every blow they struck, every tender caress, every embrace, every backhanded shove as they ran from each other, all left still another fine invisible wire like a spider's thread, until the people could hardly be understood as individuals at all. There was no Katie, but Katie-with-Toolie and Katie-with-Scarlett; there was no Marshall, but Marshall-with-Scarlett and Marshall-with-Toolie and Marshall-with-Ollie and Marshall-with-Parley and above all Marshall-with-Roy. Roy who had hacked those lines, cut them -- he thought. Roy who went away never to return -- he thought -- but still the lines are there, still each move he makes causes tremors in his brother's life, and through him in all their lives, all the intersections of the web.

  I've been caught in this net, too, and every tug and jiggle of their web vibrates in me.

  A fanfare of music came over the loudspeakers. Deaver ducked under a branch and walked across the field toward the truck.

  The music was loud, almost painful. An anthem -- bugles, drums. Deaver came around the truck partway, well back from the lights, till he could see that Katie was onstage, sewing with big movements, so even the farthest audience member could see her hand move. What was she sewing? A flag.

  The music suddenly became quieter. From his angle, Deaver couldn't see, but he knew the voice. Dusty, saying, "General Washington has to know -- is the flag ready, Mrs. Ross?"

  "Tell the general that my fingers are no faster than his soldiers," Katie said.

  Dusty stepped forward, facing the audience; now Deaver could see him, right up to the front of the truck. "We must have the flag, Betsy Ross! So every man can see it waving high, so every man will know that his nation is not Pennsylvania, not Carolina, not New York or Massachusetts, but America!"

  Suddenly Deaver realized that this speech was surely written for Washington -- for Parley. It was only given to Dusty, as a young soldier, because of Parley's failing memory. A compromise; but did the audience know?

  "A flag that will stand forever, and what we do in this dark war will decide what the flag means, and the acts of each new generation of Americans will add new stories to the flag, new honor and new glory. Betsy Ross, where is that flag!"

  Katie rose to her feet in a smooth, swift motion, and in a single stride she stood at the front, the flag draped across her body in vivid red and white and blue. It was a thrilling movement, and for a moment Deaver was overcome with his feelings -- not for Katie, but Betsy Ross, for Dusty's fervent young voice, for the situation, the words, and the bitter knowledge that America was, after all, gone.

  Then he remembered that he was supposed to be backstage, ready to raise the flag when Katie was finished with the very speech she was beginning now. He was surely too late; he ran away.

  Janie was at the lever; not far away, Parley, in his full George Washington regalia, was standing behind the pyramid, ready to enter and deliver his speech to the soldiers. Onstage, Katie was saying her last few words: "If your men are brave enough, then this flag will ever wave --"

  Deaver reached up and took the lever in his hand. Janie didn't even look at him; she immediately removed her hand, snatched up a script and scrambled up the ladder to a position halfway up the back of the pyramid.

  "O'er the land of the free!" cried Katie.

  Deaver pulled the lever. It released the weight at the top of the flagpole; the weight plummeted, and the flag rose swiftly up the pole. Immediately Deaver grabbed the wire that was strung around the other side of the truck, invisibly attached to the outside top of the flag; by pulling and releasing the wire, he made the flag seem to wave. The music reached a climax, then fell away again. Deaver couldn't see the flag from where he was, but he remembered the cue and assumed the lights were dimmed on the flag by now. He stopped the waving.

  Janie wasn't helping Dusty with a costume change at all, though that was the original reason why they asked Deaver to run the flag effect. Dusty had run straight back to the tent, and Janie was halfway up the pyramid, prompting Parley in Washington's speech to the troops. She did a good job; Parley's fumbling for his lines probably seemed to the audience to be nothing but Washington searching for just the right word to say. Yet Deaver knew that Parley botched the speech, leaving out a whole section despite Janie's prompting.

  The speech ended. Parley came down in the darkness. Onstage Toolie was playing Joseph Smith and Scarlett was playing his mother. Marshall moved through the darkness wearing brilliant white that caught every scrap of light that reached him; he was going to appear as the Angel Moroni. Parley came down the steps and turned, a few steps toward Deaver, into the darkest shadow. He bent over, resting his head and hands against the edge of the stage, the edge of the flatbed truck. Deaver watched him for a while, fascinated, knowing that Parley was crying, unable to bear knowing it. A man shouldn't have to wait until he wasn't any good before he retired. He should be able to quit while he still has some fresh accomplishment in him. But this -- to have to stay on and on, failing again every night.

  Deaver didn't dare speak to him; had he and Parley even spoken yet? He couldn't remember. What was Parley to him? An old man, a stranger. Deaver took a step toward him, another, reached out his hand, rested it on Parley's shoulder. Parley didn't move, not to move away, not to show a sign that he felt the hand and accepted it. After a while, Deaver took his hand away and went back around the truck to watch the show from the side, where he'd been before.

  It took a while to get back into the pageant, to follow what was happening. Dusty was onstage in blackface, to be the slave that Lincoln freed; Marshall made an imposing Lincoln, fine to look at. But Deaver also kept looking at the audience. He'd never watched a crowd like that before. The sun was long gone, the sky black, so all he could see was the people in front, where the light from the stage spilled back onto their faces. Mouths open, they watched the stage, unmoving, as if they were machines waiting for someone to
switch them on. And now, onstage, Lincoln's hand reached out to the young slave and lifted him up out of bondage. "O happy day!" cried Dusty. The music picked up the refrain. O happy day! The Tabernacle Choir singing it.

  Then Lincoln reached out both his arms to embrace the boy, and Dusty impulsively jumped up and hugged Lincoln around the neck. The audience roared with laughter; Deaver saw how, almost with one movement, their heads rocked back, then forward again; they stirred in their seats, then settled. The comic movement had released the tension of their stillness. They relaxed again. Then burst into applause at something they saw; Deaver didn't even bother looking at the stage to see what it was. The audience itself was a performance. Moving, shifting, laughing, clapping, all as one, as if they were all part of the same soul.

  Toolie played Brigham Young as he led the Saints across the plains in Utah. Deaver vaguely remembered that the settlement of Utah was before the Civil War, but it didn't seem to matter -- it worked fine this way in the show. To Deaver it seemed a little strange that a show called Glory of America should have an equal mix of Mormon and American history. But to these people, he realized, it was all the same story. George Washington, Betsy Ross, Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, Brigham Young, all part of the same unfolding tale. Their own past.

  After a while, though, he lost interest in the audience. They only did the same things -- hold still, rapt; laugh; clap; gasp in awe at some spectacle. Only a limited sort of entertainment for someone watching them. Deaver turned back and watched the stage again.

  It was time for the rocket. Even though it actually looked like a missile, and nothing at all like the Apollo launches, it was still something to watch Marshall put the helmet over his head and climb into the missile. All wrong -- one man, not three, and riding in the rocket itself. Every school in Deseret taught better than that. But everyone understood. There was no way to put a full-size Saturn rocket with the letters NASA and USA on it, and the man getting in was supposed to be Neil Armstrong. A large puff of smoke represented the launch. Then the door opened again, Marshall came out; the music was soft, a high, thrilling violin. He opened the rigid American flag on its little stand and placed it on the ground in front of him. "A small step for a man," he said. "A giant leap for mankind."

  The music reached a towering climax. Deaver's eyes filled with tears. This was the moment, America's climax, the supreme achievement, the high-water mark, and no one knew it at the time. Couldn't these people back in 1969 see the cracks, feel the crumbling all around them? Not thirty years later it was all gone. NASA, the USA itself, all gone, all broken up. Only the Indians to the south were making nations anymore, calling themselves Americans, saying that the white people of North America were Europeans, trespassers -- and who could tell them no? America was over. It grew two hundred years, feeding and devouring the world, even reaching out to touch the moon, and now the name was up for grabs. Nothing left but scraps and fragments.

  Yet we were there. That little flag was on the moon, the footprints unstirred by any wind.

  Only gradually did Deaver realize that these things he was thinking were all being spoken; he heard the whispered words in the trembling voice of Scarlett Aal. "The footprints still are there, and if we go back, we will recognize them as our own."

  Deaver glanced at the audience again. More than one hand was brushing a tear away. Just as Deaver's own hand went up to his cheek.

  Now the collapse. Cacophonous music. Parley as the evil Soviet tyrant, Marshall as the bumbling fool of a President, together they mimed the blundering that led to war. Deaver couldn't believe at first that the Aals had chosen to show the end of the world as a comic dance. But it was irresistibly funny. The audience screamed with laughter as the Soviet tyrant kept stomping on the President's feet, and the President kept bowing and apologizing, picking up his own injured foot and hitting it himself, finally shaking hands with the Russian, as if making a formal agreement, and then stomping on his own foot. Every mimed cry of pain brought another roar of laughter from the crowd. This was their own destruction being acted out, and yet Deaver couldn't keep himself from laughing. Again he was wiping away tears, but this time so that he could see the stage at all through the blur of his own laughter.

  The Russian knocked off the President's hat. When the President bent over to pick it up, the Russian kicked him hard in the behind and the President sprawled on the stage. Then Parley beckoned Dusty and Janie, dressed as Russian soldiers, to come over and finish him off.

  Suddenly it wasn't funny anymore. They both held submachine guns, and jammed the butts again and again into the President's body. Even though Deaver knew that the blows were being faked, he still felt them like blows to his own body, terrible pain, brutal, unfair, and it went on and on, blow after blow after blow.

  The crowd was silent now. Deaver felt what they all felt. It has to stop. Stop it now. I can't bear any more.

  At the moment when he was about to turn away, a drum roll began. Toolie entered, and to Deaver's astonishment he was dressed as Royal Aal. The plaid shirt, two pistols in his belt, the grizzly beard -- there was no mistaking it. The audience recognized him at once, and immediately cheered. Cheered and leapt to their feet, clapping, waving their arms. "Royal! Royal! Royal!" they shouted.

  Toolie strode down to where the Russian soldiers were still pounding the corpse of the President. With both hands he thrust them apart, knocking them down. Then he reached down to the President's body -- to lift him up? No. To draw out of his costume the gold and green beehive flag of Deseret. The cheers grew louder. He carried it to the flagpole, fastened it where the American flag had been. This time the flag rose slowly; the anthem of Deseret began to play. Anyone who wasn't standing stood now, and the crowd sang along with the music, more and more voices, spontaneously becoming part of the show.

  As they sang, the flag of Deseret suddenly flowed outward, disappearing, as the American flag moved in behind it. Then the American flag flowed out and the flag of Deseret replaced it. Again and again, over and over, the flags changing. Even though Deaver had helped Katie set up the effect and knew exactly how it was done, he couldn't keep himself from being caught up in the emotion of the moment. He even sang with all the others as they reached the final chorus. "We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the King! Let glory to them in the highest be given, henceforth and forever, amen and amen!"

  The lights went out on the stage; only a single spot remained on the flag, which had come to rest as the old American flag. It could have been the end of the show right there. But no. A single spotlight now on stage. Katie came out, dressed as Betsy Ross. "Does it still wave?" she asked, looking around.

  "Yes!" cried the audience.

  "Where does it wave!" she cried. "Where is it!"

  Marshall, now dressed in a suit and tie, wearing a mask that made him look pretty much like Governor Monson, strode into the light.

  "O'er the land of the free!" he cried.

  The audience cheered.

  Toolie, still dressed as Royal Aal, stepped into the light from the other side.

  "And the home of the brave!"

  The music immediately went into "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the lights went out completely. The audience shouted and cheered. Deaver clapped until his palms stung and kept on beating his hands together until they finally ached and throbbed. His voice was lost in the crowd's shouting -- no, rather the crowd's voice became his own, the loudest shout he had ever uttered in his life. It seemed to last forever, one great voice, one single cry of joy and pride, one soul, one great indivisible self.

  Then the shouting faded, the clapping became more scattered. The faint audience lights came on. A few voices, talking, began among the crowd. The applause was over. The unity was broken. The audience was once again the thousand citizens of Hatchville. Little children were gathered up in their parents' arms. Families moved off together into the darkness, many of them lighting lanterns they had brought with them for the tre
k home in the night. Deaver saw one man he recognized, thought he couldn't think why; the man was smiling, gathering his young daughter into his arms, putting his arm around his wife, a little boy chattering words that Deaver couldn't hear -- but all of them smiling, happy, full. Then he realized who the man was. The secretary from the mayor's office. Deaver hadn't recognized him at first because of that smile. It was like he was someone else. Like the show had changed him.

  Suddenly Deaver realized something. During the show, when Deaver felt himself to be part of that audience, like their laughter was his laughter, their tears his tears -- the secretary was part of that audience, too. For a while tonight they saw and heard and felt the same things. And now they'd carry away the same memories, which meant that to some degree they were the same person. One.

  The idea left Deaver breathless. It wasn't just him and the secretary, it was also the children, everybody there. All the same person, in some hidden corner of their memory.

  Once again Deaver was alone on the boundary between the pageant wagon and the town, belonging to neither -- yet now, because of the show, belonging a little bit to both.

  Out in the crowd, Ollie stood up from behind the light and sound control panel. The girl from the orchard -- Nance? -- was standing by him. It made Deaver sad to see her, sad to think that she would translate all those powerful feelings of the pageant into a passion for Ollie. But there was nothing to worry about. The girl's father was right there with her, pulling her away. The town had been warned, and Ollie wasn't going to have his way tonight.

  Deaver walked around behind the truck. He was still emotionally drained. Toolie had the door of the truck open and was peeling off his beard and putting it in a box by the light from the cab. "Like it?" he asked Deaver.

  "Yeah," Deaver said. His voice was husky from yelling.

  Toolie looked up, studied his face for a moment. "Hey," he said. "I'm glad."

  "Where are the others?"

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