Excerpt of Jazz Bird by Craig Holden
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Prologue: Out of Eden
He found himself on the grass of a great dewy meadow surrounded by trees and violent outcroppings of rock and the high clear sky. It was October, he knew. It was 1927. The sharp air of the morning burned in his nostrils. He felt as if he had just awakened from a long and exhausting dream. Or been born. He breathed carefully and looked around and, realizing that he was alone, began to walk. The dew wetted his shoes.
Ahead, down a short slope, he saw a road they had driven many times. He came to it and stepped into it. A motorcar approached. He waved but it veered around him, its throaty electric horn blaring and distorting and fading as it went. The wind it generated whipped about him, spinning dirt into his eyes and chilling his wet feet and lower legs. He stepped back to the berm.
Other cars came. One finally slowed, and stopped. The driver leaned across. "Mr. Remus?" he said. "Is that you? Is everything all right?"
Remus got in. It was a Packard, a runner's car. Those big old, good old twin-sixes, heated up and retrofitted with extra water and gas and oil tanks and limo springs to bear the load of thirty cases of Remus's best, unpacked and hand-wrapped in newspaper, and stacked in where the backseat had been removed. They could cruise at ninety nonstop all the way from Cinci to Chi.
The man looked at him and waited. He was supposed to say where, he remembered. He was supposed to remember this man. He found that he could remember very little.
"The station," he said to the man he did not remember, who had stopped in Eden Park.
There was blood, after all. He hadn't noticed it before. A single shining spot of it on his trousers, near the zipper, over the region of his testicles. A round globule, thick in its relief, just beginning to coagulate. His suit was a good hard worsted, which is why it hadn't soaked in but sat there, beaded. He hadn't gotten any other blood on himself, that he'd seen anyway. It didn't matter. His fingers felt hot. He pressed the nails to his nose and inhaled and smelled the cordite, the back-blow, the burn there. Then he remembered and reached into the right pocket of his suit coat and found it, its barrel warm still. He wondered if it had burned a hole in the fabric.
Below them, the city lay in perfect definition in its basin against the river. So often it was shrouded, in cloud, in smoke, in haze, but today it showed itself, as if to make some point he couldn't quite grasp. They crossed the small pretty bridge and drove toward the edge of the park, through heavy trees just beginning to show their autumnal color. The trees too needed to display their vibrancy to him, to rub it in. We are so beautiful, they seemed to say. And alive.
The road held on to the lip of the cliff, high above the shining river and Kentucky beyond that, then came steeply down Mount Adams. They passed the reservoir and sped into the basin. He had emerged from one dream but suspected now that he had awakened into another. And that this was the one from which perhaps he would never escape.
As if it were some bizarre tour, the driver, this man he apparently knew, proceeded to take him past all the old places: Marcus's Front Street garage, the old lawyer Ring's office brownstone up the Eastern Row, then over to Race, within view of the dark building at the corner of Pearl. Where were they going? They'd already passed the Second District Station on Broadway. That would have done. Remus said nothing. He understood: it was a tour for his benefit. The driver must have known. (Soon they would all know. Everyone would know.) The driver knew, and he had passed his own sentence and was now administering it -- you must look, the sentence read. You must remember it all as it happened and is happening and will happen together at once and in perpetuity. He watched it all unfold, the past in the present, here in Cincinnati and before that long ago in Chicago. It all seemed to be happening, still, though he was beginning to realize now that it was over.
Copyright © 2002 by Craig Holden