Edie & the Low-Hung Hands
By Brian Allen Carr
Small Doggies Press
I held Edie's hand at Welder's funeral and wondered how long I should wait. I've never seen a mirror I liked much, and just then the sturdiest branches on the cemetery's broadest tree became a fixture I could string my neck from. I saw myself limp, blue and hung, swaying in the breeze, deceased, but I thought how oddly my hands would dangle as I choked out there. It seemed four months would be long enough, but of course I didn't make it. Six days later I stood in the damp field behind their home swatting at chigger bites and slashing Johnsongrass with my blade. The sunset grayed, and mocking birds sang their noise, and Edie sat in the breathy glow of a low-watt bulb on the porch, pouring something from a green-glass pitcher that hummed colorful in the light. She knew it was I standing out there and waved hello with the back of her hand. I motioned her to come off the porch, but she shook her head no. I held my arms out like Jesus, my sword aloft.
"I could hold you so good," I said, but she stood and went in off the porch. "Then why'd I do it?" I hollered as the screen door rattled closed against its frame.
After that, I went slashing my way through the field.
Father served as minister of our church, and he was assassinated in the pulpit. Unlike I, he wasn't cursed with low hung hands.
In the wake of his death, mother sipped Sweet Janes in the holey shade of the pecan limbs, her black dress moist against her body, her brow blotted and damp, her speech flaccid in the freeness of liquor, and she'd look me over, at my arms, "I know you come from me," she'd say, "but how are you mine?"
She said once she'd traced her lineage back to the root, and there was nothing like me in it, and that, "Father, God rest him, hadn't hereditary oddities in any direction. His line was pristine back to Adam. He was the most glorious of men."
Agreed, he was radiant in life, and I loved him, but after his throat was slit he got cast as saintly, and that wasn't so.
Welder, my brother, was also configured right. He was shrewd in stance as my father was. Indeed there was only one other low-hung handed man alive in Victory and he was much my junior and I knew how he came to be. I remembered the sour smell of his mother when I hoisted her heaving body upon mine.
I denied everything, but the obvious signs were truly telling, and I heard people whispering when I walked by.
I supposed him then twenty, and I'd caught him glancing me often. He was my image in so many of his features, and I knew someday he'd come for me.
Mother didn't live long after my father passed. She died in a helicopter crash beyond the town's edge. I was eleven then.
I used to pretend to be the chopper that took her. I'd hold my hands like blades at my sides and spin until my faculties were robbed by dizziness and the world slunk about me, a drape of color and sound, and I wouldn't let up, my arms cutting the humid air, filling with blood from the force and tingling with weight until my frame became unwieldy and I crumbled to the ground, scuffing my skin against the earth. If I bled, pride filled me. I hated the bad-candy smell of mother's Sweet-Jane breath, and I wished I hadn't come from within her. Welder, of course, mourned her loss. He was my brother, and he got what he deserved.
How low are they hung? I can scratch my knees while standing fully erect. I've not measured, but I'd say my arms are half a foot longer than most men's. But that's not what people think when they see me. They think my hands hang low. They look down at my knuckles as though they're pornography. It's a condition that births inconveniences. I only drove an automobile once, back before we bombed the roads, and my shoulders cramped from holding my elbows up like buzzard wings, and I was only ten and the arms have since grown. Books pose a similar ache to me, and it's near impossible to drink beer from a bottle. I strain my neck. I cock my elbows. It takes an effort to swat the gnats from my nose. But the looks folks give are the worst. They can't look at my eyes. The low-hung hands just own their attention.
Father was the architect of bombing out the roads and he was a great swordsman and feared by many. He wanted me to learn the verses too. He'd say them as he drew his sword.
Those he fell knew verses of their own. From the same book, just said in different ways. Before my father, there were a hundred churches throughout the town. The average there being one church per sixty citizens. He consolidated them, as did others of his line, by dueling for congregations. The ministers would meet in DeLeon Park, and, standing in the shadow cast by a statue of a rifle-wielding confederate, would draw their sabers, whisper scriptures, make each other dead.
This was always on Saturday, the day before worship, and the entirety of each church's congregation would amass to watch the duel, in part supporting their pastors and in part coming to find out which church they would attend service at in the morning.
My father became too powerful with a sword. He became thirsty for a larger flock. He was stopped by a Presbyterian who snuck from behind him and slit his throat open with a razor as my father prayed silently at the head of his congregation, the gurgle of his blood filling the pulpit—the only sound before terror hit those with their heads not bowed—and then the choir started screaming.
When Welder died there were twenty churches left in Victory. There were four hundred residents. Many folks fled before the roads out were destroyed. Some, like my mother, left later—in helicopters built from scraps found in barnyards or in hot air balloons made from quilts. They could have just walked away, but I suppose that route lacked drama. Mother craved attention.
You couldn't hate them for leaving. Those who didn't stayed out of fear. People elsewhere held bad stories of us. How would we survive among them? I couldn't understand.
I never committed verses to memory, but I did use the sword. There was less order to it. It became rare to duel in DeLeon Park, but it wasn't rare to duel. Most people in Victory thought me evil. They knew how many men I'd killed, and they knew about the boy. I thought that, in time, they'd become suspicious of Welder's death as well. The only reason the town didn't swallow me was because of my father. They knew I was his seed, and they'd adopted his vision in his absence, and they couldn't bring harm to me on account of his honor. But many of those who remembered him fondly had found their way to the grave. I felt my days were numbered and I wished Edie would let me spend my remaining life with her.
Edie had no children with Welder. I wasn't sure if the fault rested with her or him. I saw her before he did. She attended the ceremony where they announced the plan to follow my father's vision—the plan to bomb the roads. She was glorious. A brilliant figurine amongst the other girls. That was thirty years ago now.
Seeing a girl does not mean you automatically lay claim, and when Welder brought her home later, I had no right to be bitter, though I was. It was my own fault. I had seen her so often in the Victory streets growing broken and gray, grass taking over through cracks in the asphalt. I saw her and did nothing.
Things faded. Sun bleached the billboards white. Streetlights bent in the summertime heat. Power lines sagged, faltered and were stripped for copper once they hit the road. The zoo animals were inbred until every flaw in their genes emerged, the tigers going first white then blind. The tortoises dried up and rested decrepit in their shells. Years passed.
The coast lay thirty miles east. With a good breeze you could smell it. Salt water lived only in my imagination. To subsist we grew potatoes and corn, raised rabbits and chickens. In the spring there were tomatoes. In the fall, squash. I couldn't remember the taste of black pepper. I killed a man once over salt.
I've killed many folks, all with the same sword my father presented to me on my ninth birthday. A one and a half foot saber with an ebony handle, a little ball of pewter at the handle's base. It's a true blade, though to those I slew with it, it must have looked silly in my low-hung hand.
Many of those men were not from our town. Often exhibitionists rode to the thicket of windmills we maintained to keep Victory powered. They knew of our customs or fancied themselves competent with blades. In the past, when I couldn't get Edie from my mind, when I thought of her naked body wrapped in my brother's arms, I'd hike out beneath the spinning turbines and wait for men from neighboring towns to find me. Sometimes they'd come in clusters. I once fell six men in a single skirmish with my saber. It's a good weapon for slitting throats with.
The oddest of these duals was with a blank-skinned man who'd brought a woman along with him, and the woman held an umbrella over his head. He was the finest swordsman I'd ever met, though this might have been because he was so hard to look at. I'd seen an albino once in a book, but this was not what he was. I couldn't say for certain that his skin was thin, because when I finally cut him it felt like cutting any other man, but you could see the blood in him. You could see the bones. Not clearly. His skin wasn't clears as glass. Perhaps it was the color of wax paper. Or maybe the whisked whites of eggs.
For a moment I feared he'd best me. We tarried through the turbines, and the woman strained to keep up with us. Then, on accident, I slashed the umbrella, and it fell broken. With the umbrella broke the bright light robbed his ability and I gutted him.
The woman cried miserably for the blank-skinned man as he bled and died. She told me she was his mother, and I dragged him with her as far from the town as I'd ever gone, to where I could see in the distance where the roads to other towns picked up. I told the mother that her son was a strong swordsman, but it brought her no comfort. She said she felt empty inside. She told me her son's name. When I went home, I scratched it onto the turbine tower beside where I killed him.
My low-handed boy led a group of his peers. They walked the streets in a cinched-up pack. I'd seen them watching me. They'd hold mock duels. My boy was skilled. He used a traditional blade. He'd not called me out yet, but I'd noticed him with his sword in his hand, his lip a bit trembling as though he wanted to raise the tip of his sword in my direction and scream out my name. Then, I thought, if I had to kill him, I wouldn't drag him anywhere. I didn't know his name, and I wouldn't scratch it down. I imagine he felt the same about me.
Edie. It was a simple trick she played on me. It didn't take much. She found me on the roof of my home, trying to make out the coast with a telescope, but it was such a chore to get the thing in front of my eyes.
"Why haven't you left?" she asked me, and I didn't have an answer for her. She had an excuse to come by. It was near Welder's fiftieth birthday. He was several years older than us both, and she invited me to a party in his honor. "What do you miss most about out there?" she asked as I looked toward the distance. I had a list of things but didn't share them.
"Once," she said, "when I was seven, we traveled to Houston and we went to the top of a tower and you could see in every direction until your eyes went stupid against the distance, and everything became a single unnamable color, the whole world condensed to a blur at the edge of your vision, though you knew, in that space, beneath the blue of sky and before the empty of eternity, there were millions of years of life being lived, frozen, even just then, into that little sliver of moment, that I, even as a young girl, could grasp with my eyes and hold onto in my mind for forever." She looked at me, her face silly with wonder. A sad gripped her. "You can't find anything like that here." Then she climbed silently off my roof, and I watched her walk the town.
Weeks later, at the party for Welder, she pulled me beneath the pecan tree, the same my mother used to sweat in the shade of, and she whispered to me, that if Welder were gone, she would take me to that tower, and from there, I'd be able to see anything.
The next night I followed Welder into the field behind his house, crept behind him, ran my saber across his throat. He never knew what got him. Just a sting, then a silence. Once he fell, I drew his sword and placed it in his hand. I disappeared into the shadows.
Some of Welder's friends came for me in the night. They took me to his body, and I hid my face with my forearms.
No one asked questions. We fidgeted in the field a few hours. Someone passed around corn whiskey. When the night sky grayed with morning, we each left in the direction of home.
Two months after Welder's death, Edie showed ripe with pregnancy. I watched her in DeLeon Park resting in the grass, and a man with hands comfortably in his pockets sat with her. I asked one of the women about it, and she told me the baby was Welder's, and she told me that Edie lucked into finding a man to help her raise it. She told me these things and my mind opened in a broken way, and I saw, on a loop, and heard, in the same loop, the motion of the sword that swiped Welder's life from him.
I had hoped my boy would be better with a sword, but I'm puzzled I didn't kill him. I left the woman who'd told me the news and found him fencing with his friends and told him I was sick of the waiting game. He buckled with anger. I'd been that angry: so mad you would cry.
Tears filled his eyes as he approached me, his saber slashing. We clashed, blade to blade, and after three or four contacts, I disarmed him. It took so little. Perhaps he'd never killed a man. Or maybe he was too filled with emotion. Either way, the embarrassment of losing his blade caused him to drop to his knees and hide his face against the asphalt, and he slumped in the broken road, his lengthy arms clutched around him like a child who fears the dark, and I couldn't bring myself to slay him.
I eyed his friends who knew that their encroachment would lead to their demise. The world seemed out of breath. I decided I needed something new. I walked out toward the windmills. I felt light in the leaving. I knew the blank-skinned man's name. I thought I'd look for his mother.