by M.V. Moorhead
About two months ago, while driving through a rather remote and isolated part of Arizona, I pulled over to read a roadside historical marker. It referred to the Camp Grant Massacre, which happened nearby in April of 1871.
Ever heard of it? I had not, and neither had a friend of mine who worked for decades at a Native American museum. Briefly: A mob of more than a hundred Anglos, Mexican-Americans and Tohono O’odhams, led by Tucson mayor William Oury, raided a settlement near the Camp Grant outpost and murdered more than a hundred Apaches, most of them women and children; others were captured and enslaved in Mexico. It was a national story at the time and led to a shift in sympathy toward the plight of the Apache, although the killers were acquitted at trial in Tucson.
I didn’t learn all of this from the marker, of course; it inspired me to read up a bit on the incident. The marker is a simple stone slab with a metal plaque and plain, functional, unemotional text. If anybody suggested removing it for any ideological reason, or for any reason other than the information was determined to be inaccurate and needed updating, I would object. Despite its lonely location, it’s possible that more people learn about the Camp Grant Massacre every year from this little marker than hear about it in a high school history class. To remove it truly would be “erasing history.”
That’s what I keep hearing from folks opposed to the recent push to remove public statues dedicated to historical figures deemed offensive, especially Confederates—that the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park or town square, or changing the name of a military base from Bragg or Hood to something, you know, not derived from an enemy of the U.S.—is a foolish and oppressive attempt to “erase history,” like what Stalin did (and, ironically, what eventually happened to Stalin). In some cases, this is even followed by a sage quoting of Santayana’s, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Very respectfully…that’s crap. Is the “erasing history” crowd actually suggesting that a statue of Lee, majestic on his horse in a city park or outside a courthouse or capitol building, is intended to prevent another Civil War?
A statue isn’t a history book. It isn’t a museum; it isn’t even that modest historical marker in Middle-of-Nowhere Arizona. A statue isn’t principally informational in purpose. A statue is—at least usually—intended as a celebration of its subject. People don’t normally erect statues of historical figures they don’t like and admire.
And a historical figure needn’t be perfect, or even close to perfect, to be liked and admired. But it seems to me that they shouldn’t be actual insurrectionists who betrayed their country in the cause of preserving white supremacy and legal enslavement.
This seems so obvious that it’s difficult for me to believe that the “erasing history” complainers don’t know it, deep down. “They’re trying to erase history!” is just a catchphrase, one that they hope you won’t think about too hard.
If you did, it might occur to you that after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians tore down statues of Lenin. Were they wrong? When Baghdad fell, Iraqis tore down statues of Saddam Hussein. Were they wrong? If you don’t think so, then why is it wrong to get rid of statues of Confederate bigwigs?
Well, I’ve heard it argued that a statue of Lee, for instance, is intended not as a tribute to the Confederacy, but to honor Lee’s supposed military brilliance, or the supposed great gentility of his character. Even setting aside the historians who suggest that both of these traits may have been overrated, you’re going to have to do better than that. Rommel, I understand, is widely regarded as a fine general by military historians, but there aren’t many Rommel Parks or Rommel Memorial Boulevards around the United States (though I’m unsure how much the current administration would mind if there were).
There is, indeed, important history to be found in the Confederate statuary that sprang up so many places around this country in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but it isn’t, on the whole, a history that the people who want the statues left alone prefer to emphasize. The real, subtle historical significance of those statues is in the calculated and tireless efforts of the Daughters of the Confederacy and other “heritage” organizations to sponsor such memorials, and through them to gradually make the Confederacy and its leaders respectable, even revered and tragically gallant in their romantic “lost cause.”
To give this campaign its due, it’s been far longer-lasting than the Confederacy, far more strategically sophisticated, and far more successful. I experienced it, even as a kid in the North—more than one of my elementary and high-school history teachers passed on the received wisdom that “the War wasn’t really about slavery,” but rather about “economics” or “States’ Rights.” Many years later, it occurred to me that the embrace of these abstractions may have less to do with shame over slavery and more with a desire to debunk the idea that black people could be important enough to fight a war over.
Renouncing the rehabilitation of the Confederacy is an easy call, at least for me. When you move past the Confederacy toward memorials to other notable Americans who were slaveholders or had other aspects of their lives now understood to be reprehensible, I admit that the issue can become more complex.
There were calls this past week to remove statues of Thomas Jefferson from New York’s city hall and from the University of Missouri; another statue of Jefferson was removed from a park in Decatur, Georgia at the donor’s request, for its own safety. Statues of George Washington and Francis Scott Key were pulled down in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, respectively. And a creepy statue of Teddy Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York, depicting him flanked by and towering over Native American and African-American figures, is reportedly slated to be removed.
This is another issue. Jefferson, at least, should get to stay, in my opinion; despite the despicable, hypocritical aspects of his private life—not to mention his and the other Founders’ failure to abolish slavery at the beginning of this nation—his documents and the vision they articulate have been essential to the progress of civil rights and the ideal of human equality not only here but around the world.
But you know what? That’s easy for me to say. If Jefferson statues have to go, as part of starting to make things right in this country, so be it. A statue or two more or less isn’t the hill I want to die on, if the spirit inspired by Jefferson’s words in those documents is furthered by removing them.
In any case, while I have zero problem with the removal of Confederate statues—and I say this as the great-grandson of a Confederate soldier from Mississippi, albeit one who, family legend claims, deserted and went to Indiana in search of his POW brother—I would also make the “Don’t Erase History” crowd a counterproposal: Leave the statues, but add signage describing the barbaric institution for which they traitorously and ignominiously fought. Or, maybe, add statues of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Barack Obama next to each one; taller, and looking down with a smirk.
by Brian Quail
Aeons ago, or in the early 1980s, when I was a teacher in a Scottish school, there took place an incident that seems particularly pertinent to present concerns. I was sitting at the table supervising an exam when a colleague came in, and put a sheet of paper on the table with a cheery, “This will help pass the time.” (I’ll call him Dave to spare feelings.)
I read it with incredulity and growing revulsion. I said nothing to Dave, but as soon as the supervision was finished, I went straight to the school office and surreptitiously ran off several copies (this was in the days before personal photocopiers). I distributed these among my more progressive colleagues.
A few days later, the Rector summoned Dave to the office and told him, “I have received a letter from the director of Education about racist material being circulated in this school, and I’d like you to investigate.”
“You need look no further,” Dave retorted, courageously enough. Later that day he came to me in the staff room and rather nervously explained; “One of ‘them’ gave it to me. It’s just a joke. Even ‘they’ found it funny, and etc. But I want you to destroy it.”
“Okay,” I said non-committedly but, acting dumb, didn’t move. He kept insisting till eventually we trailed along to my classroom. There I solemnly opened the filing cabinet, took out the few remaining copies and tore them up in front of his eyes. But the matter was not closed. It had already gone viral, as they say nowadays.
It is an indication of how attitudes have changed that Dave thought it would be amusing to circulate what was, in all probability, material from the fascist British National Party.
Here is a short, and typical, sample of the contents:
APPLICATION FOR EMPLOYMENT (MINORITIES DIVISION)
Address (please give town street, house, room, bed and shift number. West Indians may give minibus or car number).
Degree of suntan: light, medium, dark, very dark, matches Ace of Spades…………………
Are you visible after sunset? Yes…….. No……..
Name of mother……………………
Name of father (if known. West Indians should list all possibilities on a separate sheet)……………
Father’s occupation: Peat cutter, bus conductor, lavatory attendant, underground guard (tick as applicable)
Marital status: Single, shacked up, common law marriage, informal screwing
On another occasion, during a staff meeting the head teacher read out a letter from the Education department on the topic of combating racism in society. At the end he remarked, rather smugly, “Since we only have four of them in the school, it’s hardly a problem for us.”
I found myself on my feet explaining that the implication that the presence of black people was the cause of racism was itself a racist assumption. Racism exists in the heart of the racist, not because of the presence of its victim. I added that this attitude blatantly contradicted the Catholic ethos of our school (it was what is coyly referred to as “transferred”). My contribution was met with a hostile silence, and all eye contact was avoided as I made a lonely departure.
I do not know if attitudes have changed in schools today. I can only hope they have.
Work in a neglected flower garden unearths a vengeful corpse. A drunken executioner befriends a voice from a bottomless pit. Gangster pals indulge in psychopathic pranks. A hoaxer pretending to be a ghost gaslights tenants into health and happiness until a sadistic exorcist calls. Actors in toon costumes wage a cold war against amusement park security. A woodland enclave conspires to vanish from the map. An assassin plays games with a hotel concierge on the swinging ’60s Las Vegas Strip. A wet nurse finds that the infant in her care is far from toothless.
There goes the ordinary in this new collection by Bart Lessard, home to god, fraud, crook, and devil. In these yarns, frightful and funny dwell side by side or are one and the same. Lessard’s books have shown him to be a master of the elegant grotesque whose fearsome imagination rejects all fetters—and this brilliant, audacious volume may be his best to date.
From June 15-29, if you buy the e-book of Black Body and Other Stories direct from Dockyard Press, you’ll also get Bart Lessard’s previous book of stories, Full of Days and Other Stories, free.
by M.V. Moorhead
Except for a comment or two on posts by other people, over the last week and a half I haven’t said a word in any public forum about the murder of George Floyd, or any of the events that have followed. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, I’m unable to find words to express my horror and fury and disgust at this atrocity, nor at the fact that it’s very far from an isolated case. Any combination of outraged adjectives seems feeble, both for this individual incident and for the monolithic, deadly reality of deep-seated racism in our justice system.
Second, even if I could find adequate eloquence, I always feel presumptuous in railing against an injustice of which I’m unlikely to be the direct victim. Who cares what some random 58-year-old white dude thinks about racist police brutality?
But I realize that this won’t do. Nobody cares or needs to care what I think on this issue, but it’s nonetheless incumbent right now for all of us—maybe especially us 58-year-old white guys—to say what we think anyway. Modesty and sheepishness and circumspection are not virtues at a time like this. So, lest anyone suppose that my silence has implied either indifference or sympathy with the perpetrators, let me keep it simple:
Black Lives Matter.
I use this now-stock phrase because there is nothing whatsoever about it that a reasonable person should find offensive. Nobody, as far as I know, has suggested in using it that Only Black Lives Matter, or that Black Lives Matter More. Yet many white people, including plenty of people I knew back in high school, seem to find this plaintive phrase infuriating.
Many of these same folks, who seemed to feel no pressing need denounce Floyd’s killing, were swift in their finger-wagging indignation over the looting and other violence connected to some of the past week’s protests. Wrong as this violence (at least some of it probably the work of agents-provocateur) unquestionably is, the hand-wringing response to it by many white people who didn’t seem overly upset by the killing itself suggests the need of a reminder like the phrase Black Lives Matter.
Here's what I hope isn’t true: I hope the elaborate revulsion that some of my fellow white folks evince when they hear “Black Lives Matter” isn’t a reaction to the reflexive internal response “No They Don’t.” Or, “Yeah, But Not That Much.” Not as much as broken store windows or stolen jewelry or re-thinking our own sense of self-justification. But I have to wonder.
In any case, here’s what I think, in the broadest possible terms, about how we should proceed. Black people and other disadvantaged minorities in our country have been trying to engage white society about their plights since at least the end of the Civil War. The vast majority of this engagement, ranging in approach from advocacy to being "a credit to one’s race” to nonviolent resistance to militancy to taking a knee, has been peaceful and dignified on the nonwhite side; white folks have often responded, however, with near-psychotic violence or, on a good day, with patronizing condescension or angry evasion.
Every civil right that white Americans take utterly for granted, down to the most basic, had to be won by black folks, virtually inch by inch in some parts of the country, school by school, drinking fountain by drinking fountain, lunch counter by lunch counter, public swimming pool by public swimming pool, in slow, stubbornly entrenched battle. Black folks have had white allies along the way in this struggle, of course, some of them important, but overall, their victories, which benefit all of us, are their own.
But now it’s time for us white folks to step up. We love things being All About Us; here’s our chance. Black activism can lead the way on changing laws and policies and what sort of language or practices aren’t socially acceptable. But sooner or later this work, essential though it is, runs into the wall of hardwired, often not fully conscious racism. Racist police violence can and should be combatted by protests and changes in policy and training; it can’t be truly eliminated until white folks will no longer tolerate it. And that’s not likely to happen until we are willing to admit that, whether we approved of it or not, we have tolerated it.
I wish I had suggestions more specific than “step up,” but I really don’t. I need guidance on this myself. Ideally, I think, the change would begin within law enforcement culture, with a shift in aspiration from being a thuggish enforcer of an archaic social order to a proud public servant of all people equally. Plenty of cops already see themselves this way; it’s time we asked them to assert themselves as leaders in their profession.
But we can’t wait for this optimistic scenario. The rest of us need to learn to speak up, challenging casual racism on the part of family members, friends, co-workers. And if we witness one of these mortifying incidents of public bullying of black folks by a fellow white person, we need to try to summon the courage to stick up for the black person. It isn’t right that our voices will carry more weight with the bully than the black person’s, but it’s often the case.
Much more often, though, I think that we need to work on mastering the fine and noble art of Shutting the Fuck Up. When we hear or read a racial opinion or observation that we perceive as critical of our own position, we should take a few minutes to think it over before we leap to our own defense or reflexively self-justify. And when I say we should take a few minutes to think it over, I mean we should take a few years.
Also, we should take the earliest opportunity to run the toxic garbage currently polluting the White House, the Senate and many other governing bodies around the nation out of power on a rail. This won’t get rid of racism, obviously, but it can strike a gratifying blow against overt, unapologetic racism.
Black activism can change policy; it can’t cure racism. We can only do that for ourselves, and only if we want to. We should want to.
by Greum Maol Stevenson
There are activists, and journalists, and people who are both, who have blind spots about the dangers of surveillance technology even when writing about it.
In this article, Mike Small, editor of Bella Caledonia, begins: “I ‘sign-in’ to my phone with my fingerprint.”
No journalist or activist should use fingerprint (or face) recognition on their phone. While seductively convenient, it’s dangerous. Police aren’t allowed to force you to give them your password so they can get into your phone, but they’re allowed to force you to open it with your fingerprint. This exposes not only the owner of the phone, but everyone they communicate with. A strong password, entered every time you check your phone, is surely worth the inconvenience.
Also posted on Notes From the Northern Colony
by Greum Maol Stevenson
Craig Murray reports that his trial for contempt of court, which could end with him being imprisoned for two years, will be without a jury. The evidence he presents that the judge will not be impartial is convincing — and chilling.
The hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh is on June 10. Murray writes:
TWO WAYS YOU CAN HELP
The hearing on 10 June is supposed to be public, but it will be virtual because of coronavirus. While it is a case management hearing, I shall nevertheless be grateful if you are able to “attend” virtually, as I am very keen indeed that I am not stitched up out of the public eye. Please send an email requesting access to the virtual hearing on 10 June to email@example.com. I am very keen as many people do this as possible. Journalists please in addition copy in firstname.lastname@example.org for accreditation.
Secondly, many people come to this blog through social media and I am currently suffering a very high level of suppression, on Facebook and especially on Twitter. Rather than just retweet and share any soical media post that brought you here, (which may appear on the face to have worked but the dissemination will be suppressed), I would be very grateful if you could also write your own new posting and put a link. If you have your own blog or access to one, a commendation of this post with a link would be very welcome, even if it is not your normal policy. And finally of course, the entire post is free as always to copy, republish and translate as you wish.
Also posted on Notes From the Northern Colony
by Greum Maol Stevenson
Neil Gaiman’s ability to make up stories has brought him wealth and fame. But his creative powers seem to be failing him when he’s challenged about how he thinks his wealth entitles him to ignore the law and put people’s lives at risk.
Gaiman is English but based in America. He was recently in New Zealand with his family. He had a quarrel with his wife, and the couple decided they needed some space from each other. Instead of getting himself a rental in New Zealand, which is under lockdown, he flew to America, where he caught a connecting flight to London, where he borrowed a car and drove to Scotland, to a house he owns on Skye, even though Scotland is also under lockdown, and even before the lockdown people were told not to bring COVID-19 to the Highlands and Islands by trying to escape from the cities.
But such rules are for peasants, not Gaiman.
He was so unashamed, he described the trip on his blog. But, in response to criticism, his story has been so inconsistent, it would never make it into any of his novels. Perhaps he needs an editor in real life.
“I’m currently a UK taxpayer and on the Scottish voting rolls,” Gaiman said. “I went home.” But, when his wife posted online that she was “heartbroken” at his leaving, he wrote, “Yes, I’ve seen the newsfeed headlines saying I’ve moved to the UK, and even that we’re divorcing. No, I haven’t moved the UK.” A few days later, he wrote that he has lived in the UK since 2017.
So... Neil Gaiman has lived in the UK since 2017. He just went home. But he doesn’t live in the UK, and hasn’t moved here...
Gaiman might want to think about moving to his country of origin, England. With his clumsy lying, narcissism, and belief that his position entitles him to do whatever he wants, he’ll fit in with his country’s government.
Also posted on Notes From the Northern Colony
by Mickey Batts
There is, in novelist Neal Stephenson’s most recent brick toss, a story concept worth our time. Not the central one, a manmade afterlife. On that score just note that the print edition runs to 883 pages and seek your own sick burns, for, like the eternal, this book is in no hurry. Most of a ream will flip to the left before the brain-fax of a hyper-wealthy gaming CEO wakes from his earthly demise to roam a digital void. This gives the poor sap a chance to star in a creation myth, faithfully rendered, and sorry, wise village elder, but most creation myths are a major drag. The hyper-wealthy gaming CEO imbues trees and landforms and rivers with material existence and builds himself a nice hut, smack in the middle, and on the seventh day I rested. Once subjective eons pass, ouch, and more of the rich have croaked and had connectomes uploaded to populate the joint, this silicon hereafter has matured into, no shit, a nonstop fantasy RPG tourney, to be played by postmortem amnesiacs forevermore. Sounds like hell to me, though my own infernal torments will not likely hew to Tolkien themes.
The title here is Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, three words of which are low-hanging fruit. The idea I meant is one fast put aside in favor of the above, and one that, despite a mounting fear, kept me reading to the very end, the fool. I speak, patient friend, of Moab Truthers.
Early on—shade—a hoax plays out in the mortal world. Thankfully this event has nothing to do with the plot of the book. Clueless actors are hired, one hopes for scale; deft hands at AV trickery whisk up fireballs and mushroom clouds; and cut telecom darkens Moab to the outside world. This is all in service of a prank—the feat of a gadfly, lone and unknown. Staging a nuke takes little more than deep pockets and credulity, the latter in no short supply and thrown in free of charge.
So far so good—commentary on “false flag” deniers and their unhinged ilk, but with conspiracy theory roles of “the man” and “a crank” inverted. Topical—but what gets me a little green as a writer of offbeat fiction is how the aftermath is shown to play out. Hard evidence has proven the bombing to be a fraud. Media outlets, government officials, and pesky experts have laid out how it was pulled off from start to finish. And to a good segment of the public it makes no goddam difference. Bumper stickers petition those who share the road to “Remember Moab”—and the closer one drives to ground zero the worse it gets. Beardy men with RVs, pickups, and automatic rifles have set up a citizen’s checkpoint on the public route leading in. Obstacles slow the traffic, what little there is, for a heartfelt PSA. The truthers approach this solemn duty in a spirit of fun. They grill wieners at roadside. They take potshots at the information center competing with their worldview back up the road, which they term the Nest of Lies. They never venture around the bend, where Moab is not only in sights but alive and well, a Starbucks in the immediate offing. And though they never resort to violence, those who skirt the homespun roadblock are identified as conspirators or, more shamefully, as suckers. In the lot back at the Nest of Lies, a car bears a license plate issued by Moab, not by the state. This is because “[t]he Utah state legislature had been taken over by Moab truthers who insisted that Moab had been obliterated by nuclear terrorism twelve years ago. From which it followed that anyone claiming to actually live there was a troll, a crisis actor in the pay of, or a sad dupe in thrall to, global conspirators trying to foist a monstrous denial of the truth on decent folk. In recognition of, and indignation over, which they had passed a law ordering the state licensing bureau to stop accepting motor vehicle paperwork from Moab.”
Satire, and delightful, but not without its faults. Stephenson’s third-person witness to these curiosities is a rich kid, one of the “1%,” a term yet au courant, somehow—and in a world of delusions such as these, elite can only mean sane. Moab truthers are plenty rustic. Their signs caution “NO ADMITANCE” due to “RADIATON,” and hayseed grammar does not pass unremarked by the upper crust rubbernecking from the bulletproof robot car. Stephenson comes from a clan of engineers, and classist attitudes are, for a technocrat, no rarity, usually gussied up in arguments to merit and the individual. These principles divvy up the world into initiates and plebs. Small wonder that a novel should sprawl where dialogue is a nonstop doling out of concept from the better informed unto the less—that is, to the readership. One character will play audience surrogate, the next authorial mouthpiece, almost without fail. This turns each conversation into an exegetic jam session built on themes of “Huh?” and “Duh!” I do enjoy geeky catechisms to a point. I now know what a connectome is, just for instance. But swap out terms—say, for ghost, soul, or brain-fax—and the thrust of this long flight veers not one whit.
Still: dig those Moab Truthers, with their ignoramus signage and their proudly flaunted sidearms and their brand loyalty to what is demonstrably fuck-bunk. Top-rate satire. Did I say satire? I should have said reality—eminent, unfunny, and objective, the place where you and I both dwell, and to wind up there we didn’t even have to die first.
I read Fall—a sequel, for some reason, to Cryptonomicon, which I prize—right before Covid-19 brought such innovation to the great ruck of things. At the time, a mere three months ago, Moab Truthers were purest send-up. Far-fetched. Broad. Scaramouche would blush. Since then, though—and somehow, not for the first time—current events have trumped any notions of too far for real. Truthers have been prominent for decades now, and their ranks only seem to bloat. I can even call one or two of them good friends. (Hi, S.C.! Step away from the broadband connection, pal!). But February in all its purple hell was an age of innocence. I could not have foreseen that Americans—and Britons, and goddam it even a few Scots—would clamor for a God-given right to spread cooties that can choke out their nanas or even slay the carrier.
Some things grow clearer when we take real for unreal. On the outside, to whatever reads us for a pastime, this is all funny. Of that I have no doubt. But life inside a joke is tragedy. Moab Truthers have nothing on Michigan MAGAs—outright Nazis, some, flying actual seig heil swastikas like buffoons from a Broadway flop. Storm the keep, they cry, and there is no keep to storm. In truth their governor holds nothing sharper in hand than a pen, which they counter with a bristle of weapons and as much upright posture as a Bugles diet allows. They are a minority, if a fat one, and stupid, but they do make a lot of noise. More troublesome is what the majority allows in the face of societal collapse, which would seem to be all things nimby. Lest you think I come down anti-yokel, note that the supreme schmucks in all of this are the privileged, those who see public safety measures as a pinch from their private stash of grist. And as far as merits and the sanity of technocrats go—those who gawk from robot cars to mock warning signs—eat a hot dish of dicks, Elon Musk. How people mistake themselves for fictitious characters is beyond me, except that, as a Zen Buddhist, I find it no surprise. You might disagree—I welcome opinion, knowing opinion for what it is—but all the human world is stuck in a mode of entertainment and sundered from a mode of reason. Enjoy your lot or resent it—when you are a character in a narrative, whatever becomes of you can only forward the plot. And I hope the overarching story here ends better than Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, though in the case of real life, I don’t mind it running quite so goddam long.
by Bart Lessard
Swim in it, piss in it, leave it to the ducks, no pool had ever been a feature of the Hub. But thanks to drainage choked with gems of Eldorado glass the miracle came due. That morning was a summer one, the blue shorn clean. Two boys had been on the swings nearby, kicking up corners on the turf. One had sly aims in bringing his friend there and was only half on task—as much as half, that was, until he saw the puddle laid broad and deep. Skimming stones, a.k.a. thrawin shite—this was the new regime, though all they had to shy was any slag they could worry up off the tarmac. Tar could not bounce and the dabbles from these flop dives barely echoed off the tower blocks. Loud enough, though, for here were the wee schemies—all of them, a gushing litter birth—come down to aid in the murder of the day. Rafts made of fast food bags were set on fire, and those that Mcbeef had left see-through far outshone the rest. Trolleys from the Extra ran to plumes of water. Souse glass had shown up in the weeds, always welcome for a lob and a shatter. Where resources ran short fists were inevitable, even three bouts. The children were too soft yet, flyweight, to crack bone, and since all were under twelve none but Psycho Hamish carried a chib. “Keep it doon,” from a mother, one at the tables near. Back to talk, fags, a circle facing inward.
“Chaos,” Rab said, and not without a smile. “Chaos.”
But then he came back to why he had come with his new friend. Such a ruckus was never any good for a stakeout. The future timeline was at risk. Thinking fast—up quick for a change—he came back in wellies. A whistle left on the pitch had gone around his neck. This Rab blew, to a shriek and to nothing. Another scrap was underway. Two trolleys overturned in the joust, and on a wrenching crash a third caught air. But his friend stood aside him, and he tried again—double toot, extra shrill, for a penalty. The public eye was on him, or close enough.
“Nae runnin,” Rab said. “An nae fire.” Weegie Scots—off school grounds such was the default.
Just unhorsed, Davy stood up, sleeves draining. “Whit’s at noo?”
“A sayt nae fire an nae runnin by ra pool.”
“Did ye aye! An wha are ye tae say it?”
“A’m ra lifeguard.”
Of course Davy Duncan would be the one to jam the works. But laughs came hard all around, eyes to his friend but not with caution, as before. Rab bent a neck, to no sign.
“Did ye make a face?”
“Chan eil agam ach an tè.”
“Pal, pal, ye must commit. A’m ra smairt talk here, no ye.”
“Tell me about the rabbits, George.”
The friend had two means to poke, both just shown. Catchphrase, accent, dopey register—for Rab these were the worse. At least with Gaelic he could not fault himself. Nobody should expect to get through cluck from the North Atlantic, not in Maryhill.
“Whit fuckin rabbits,” to himself. To the crowd, “Listen aw ay ye. A was ra furst wan here, furst tae see water, and at gies a say. Craic is craic but how long afore ra auld yins notice? They’d shut us doon tight as a boulder’s erse, so they wid.” A sweep to the senga mums facing inward, yet in their envelope of nicotine.
“Cho teann ri de?”
Rab began to lay out pool rules. But the mob’s two up ye was still hooking baws. Eyes began to roam. Time was wasting. Bags to burn, carts to butt.
Shug, late. On coming close he did a take, and Rab felt better. Shug had been away for a week to see a grandparent in Dundee. Feast yer specky eyes.
“Wha’s ra newbie? A had him fur a grup.”
“‘Bonk bonk oan ra heid, grup, bonk bonk oan ra heid!’”
“Ra hell ye oan aboot?”
“Aw, at’s from—”
A throaty burr, /r/s in a tumble. Cnut Mag Amlaíb had only just moved from a far and spumy rock. There life was different. Vikings in cable knits doffed hats to ewes. Friday nights saw a wicker man go up. Druids were new money and street signs were in runes. Call it the Isle of Nob. The name, and more, was a guess. Cnut had told little yet, though he had the human speech for broad strokes. He, too, was ten, even two months younger than Rab. Yet he stood a thumb above a meter eighty and weighed more than thirteen stone. None dare have a go, even for the outfit—breeks, hose, and a bluidy woolen gilet, all thirdhand. Like a sheepshagger husbandman from a telly countryside.
“This is Teuchter Cnut,” Rab said.
Bait untaken, as always, but you could see how the hook weighed in the eyes. Shug said, “Good tae meet ye.”
“Star Trek is braw! Ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”
“Ye are Dungeons an Dragons.” Shug caught himself. “A love a twel-sided die.”
“Ootrolls a caber,” said Rab.
“The toss?” Cnut said. “Och, that’s wummin’s work.” Joke and truth were too close a call. Plus nerd shite was not in the script, so Rab struck it. He would have to mind Shug and his reverse Midas touch.
“Hey! Hey Baywatch!” Davey was in the pond. “A’m drownin!” Angel motions for a churn and a go. Stuck to one ankle was a condom, fished out on a kick, flabby and yellow. “Baywatch! A’m fuckin drownin!”
Laughter again—and the weans took up the chant, stomping in the puddle.
“That’ll stick,” Rab said.
But here at last the agenda came into view. The ned dwarf. Led by Rab’s eye, Cnut and Shug watched him, too. The dwarf was local. Cut and colors aside he looked a lot like the best Lannister. Five years back, while in school, he had gone by Noser, and the tale there was cautionary. But that prendre pisse was not au courant. The dugs on lead had brought the change—each a wedge head, fawn and white, big as the man himself. A lone blung hand kept chains taut at two blung collars. Neither dug sped the pace. The dwarf was a big deal. He had graduated from the ranks of the Shawpark Young Team to the network that had no name. Rab had as much from Brace. That a “dinklage” could move up, and not his brother, made for whinges. Brace was away on a DTO. This freed up couch space and the PS4 and made home a wonderland.
The dwarf felt eyes. Rab and Shug found sky and earth. Children of Maryhill were no different from the grups, bonk bonk. They knew not to know.
But not Cnut Mag Amlaíb of the Norsedick clan. No, he lent a stare, and Rab a swat.
“Whit? Wha’s that noo?”
“Sledge. On’t-dae ucking-fae ook-lae.” Cnut had none of the vulgate. Rab put it in the best of teuchter terms. “Ra world behind ra world—ra Unseelie Court.”
Sledge had come to a halt. The wedge heads did the same. His face was wan, eyes pink, and both were on Cnut. A night’s fun—that would explain the late pickup.
“So e’s a drug dealer?”
“No so loud. An naw, e’s no a dealer, unless it’s iron ye want.”
“Snog,” Cnut said.
What could be more Nob. Saying snog did not break the stare. That could be trouble. Wee did not enjoy a gawk, muckle should have known.
But Sledge lost interest and the dugs led again. Hedge, rock, paper sack, all per custom, by the community center doors. Sparse leaf could not hide it. The rafters were not as numpty as Rab had feared. In went the free hand, and off went Sledge.
“That bag,” Cnut said. “A wonder whit’s in it.”
“Wan warm can ay Irn-Bru. Sugar Free. Tae make weight.”
Rab heard the irony as he said it. Funny. But his was the only smile.
“That wis specific,” said Shug.
Up came the hoodie, waistband made bare, and Rab basked in the reveal.
“Ye nickt it?” Shug said, eyes on. “Ye nickt a fuckin drop?”
“Too loud,” Rab said. “An anyhow A only found ra cunt.” Wink. “Whoever’s rightful owner cannae be happy but.” Shug whitened to an eerie translucence. “Drop a pair,” Rab said. “It’s ra call tae adventure.”
Cnut was less fretful. “Whit is it?”
Both hands free, hoodie safely down again, Rab made air quotes to nock the syllables. “Ta-ser. Like a phaser, fae ra anorak show ay Shug’s, but wi a tee instead ay ra pee aitch an ye cannae set er tae kill.” The syllables again.
“Tell me about the Rabbits, George.”
“How’m A fuckin George here,” Rab did not ask. Instead, “Mind ye A don’t know why, right enough. A taser’s polis, an rare—no ra style, no at aw. Nor is ra transfer ay black market arms ra most commonplace use ay ra middleman scenario. But taser, aye.”
Shug turned to walk away but stopped cold. Rab and Cnut were distracted by the abrupt appearance of Psycho Hamish. For him such contraband had a scent.
“Ooh, whit goodies huv ye goat therr?”
“Aye, boeys—whit?” Even more abrupt. A sip from the can of Irn-Bru. The dwarf made a face and read the label. “Sugar free?” Left and right the dugs were off chain.
Rab watched himself bolt, and Cnut. Psycho Hamish kicked a leg from under Shug and ran his own way. Rab could marvel at the ingenuity even as he saw the dugs’ scrum onto his nerdiest friend. “Bastard,” he heard Shug say, scarcely a whisper.
No growl, no scream—as boy killers went the wedge heads were first-rate.
Sledge shouted, “Might we no skip ra middle?” The pool party had gone silent and a senga mom aired her grief. For the sprinty gust in his ears Rab heard no more.
Even after he had come to a stop, hunkered at bins on Towie Place, his heart was a bell. “Never felt so alive,” he said to himself, clamping back a panic shite. Cnut was no less out of breath but had enough for a hairy eye. Gaelic came in bursts. Rab understood the pitches if not the words. “Don’t gies that,” he said. “Ye were starin oan like a cow. A waanted ye tae see him, no tae thraw a fuckin searchlight.”
“Whit do ye mean ye waanted me tae see him?”
Very tall and very short should gain a rivalry. Such a scheme to things was only right. Capers would go on for years, neither side with the upper hand until the epic showdown. But Rab only shook his head. Tending to the field was his own calling. No one else could understand. And here came a wedge head—trotting up to haunch before them.
A panting threesome. None moved. Gone cold in the dug breath, Rab drew the taser.
“Naw! E’s a good boy.”
“Ra cunt just ate Shug.”
But Cnut put out a hand. The wedge head took the invite and got close. No red on the muzzle, Rab had to admit, nor guts for garters. Cnut fell to petting, and the dug flagged lickings with a tail.
“It’s oan oor side!” Rab said.
“Fuckin hell,” said the dwarf. “Nae mair dash, all right?”
The taser had gone up in a two-hand grip, the trigger clicking tinnily.
Sledge gave a scoff. “Pal, at wad’s shot already—cartridge is emptit oot—an ye’ll never want yer traces oan it noo, trust us.” Yet catching breath, he held out a hand. And so the prize was surrendered. “A’ll admit, though—ye’ve goat neck oan ye, daein at.”
The first wedge head had gone belly up, and the second had come around the bins for more of the same. Rab had never seen a dug happier than those very two. “Whit’s it fur?” Cnut asked, petting with both hands.
“Funny ye should ask,” Sledge said and on that matter no more. “Yer pal back therr, e had a spill but e’s fine. Maybe a bit kissy yet from ra pups. Rom and Rem here, how they love a wean. Ye shouldnae play wi bastards like at Hamish boey.”
Cnut said, “Ye ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”
Rab felt a blush but Sledge said, “Dungeons an Dragons is pure gallus! A used tae run a tabletop campaign wi me pals. Planescape! But A only play online noo.”
Cnut perked up. “Em em oh are pee gees?”
Sledge shared a platform and a username. No good would come of that. “Ye’re no mad at us?” Rab asked.
“Mate, ye’re only a wean. Young’s a stupit ye graw oot ay.”
Years ahead, deep in the new timeline—and S6—Rab went home from school. On his passing a close a voice said, “Tell me about the rabbits, George”—a voice grown to a boom, all Gaelic shed along with thirdhand woolens. He who spoke was Team and fated to rise in the world behind the world. Rab kept on. By then he knew who George was and all about the rabbits, and he prayed that stupid was not a young he never would.
© DOCKYARD PRESS