[This is a continuation of my piece “Jumping Before the Bulls” which was featured in the Cigale Literary Magazine]
I found myself back in the Greenbelt, sitting atop the rocks watching the water pass. Melissa was there, too. Her lovely legs, starting to turn pink from the sun, sat in the creek and we watched as the flow washed over them. It was summer suddenly without the mugging heat. I put my hand in the water and tried splashing some on my body but felt no sensation. Melissa laughed. “How did I get back?” I asked. She simply smiled and arched her back exposing her face fully to the sun. She glowed with all the effulgence of glass in sunlight. Then I turned because someone was calling my name. I was in the backyard. Mother and I sat at the iron table. The light bounced from its painted skin and shined us in the whiteness. The sweet tea sat in its luminous glass dispenser. The amber drink was half filled with slices of neon lemons and tiger oranges. Mother was in her floral summer attire. I was in my plus-fours and pullover with matching socks, though I had pushed them down to account for the heat. Only again there was no oppressive humidity. No sensation of the real. Then I heard my name called again. Corn was waving me to come play with him and Imogene on Old Oak. “I’m too big,” I reminded them. A strong wind blew and clouds started rolling over the sky. Mother said something but I did not hear. Then I spotted Melissa. She was wearing that same aqua dress she wore the night of the party, the one I teased her looked like patinated bronze. She made her way to me. My heart picked up speed. Just before me she went to her knees and placed her hands on my legs. I looked to Mother, but she seemed not to mind. Then I looked back to Melissa. She smiled: “I don’t mean to disrupt this salutary moment, but you need to wake up. Now.” Why?
Slam! The bulls charged the car swinging their mean sticks, grabbing at us and screaming in the splenetic fashion. Packie lifted his head at the most inopportune moment and was cracked in the face. He grabbed his head with his meaty hands. His mouth parted to make sound but nothing interrupted the night. The bull that struck him turned him on his side and began striking his ribs. I watched in fright as Packie, half dazed, half angry, tried to grab the bull, or raise his hand in a muted cry for mercy, but he was met only with malice. The bull struck his hand down, easily breaking fingers, and called another over to join in the violence, swinging down blows and kicking Packie towards the opening. Mack grabbed me: “Get! Get!” His large dark hand on my shirt, simultaneously propelling me upward and outward. Bo was right behind, struggling to place his shirt on. Ray was in strife with the third bull. When we hit the gravel outside I was able to recognize the severity of the moment. Two more bulls were waiting for us, blowing whistles and calling for their reinforcements. “Go!” Mack screamed. Still holding me tightly, we rushed them, Bo somewhere to my rear. The bulls charged. Before reaching the locus of aggression, Mack released me and led his thick body into one of the bulls, who landed a swing. The bull exhaled an: “Oof!” before being propelled to the ground, striking his head against the nearby rail.
I was not as fortunate with the other, however, who must have had more experience. Covering my head and face, running forward towards emancipation, the senior bull side-stepped me and grabbed hold of my vestiture. Unable to break free, I looked at the bull’s face. His physiognomy bared the most blithe attitude for my present condition, and I knew there would be no parley. Forces were moving too swiftly, neither of us could stop this conflict. So he laid into me with all the hatred his belly could muster. My head, shoulder, arms, ribs, leg, hip all took on what felt like simultaneous blows. In return, I grabbed ahold of his collar, and we began to spin. Even in our dance, the bull managed to deliver several violent kisses to my person. I tried to defend myself, but my mind was overrun between the decision to return the brutality or protect myself. All I could manage was to keep our momentum going with the hopes that it would loosen me some so I might break free from his vicious grip and I could then flee. A few more blows to my body, and the word “jackanapes” was thrown around, before some grace came in the form of dear, sweet Bo. He grabbed the bull and with shock in his own eyes struck the brute with a large rock–from where I still do not know. The first landed on the bull’s brow, but not with enough force to release me. “Hit him again!” I must have said because the next I knew Bo had the bull like I was being held, and he was striking the bull in the face repeatedly. By the third or fourth blow, the bull had released me and was trying to retaliate, but Bo had him and would not yield. Again and again he hit that bull in the face until the white was gone, replaced by the gored red. For the briefest of moments, I thought of Mother and her cobbler. Then Mack grabbed me again and said: “We gotta go!” I looked behind and more bulls were coming our way. Bo dropped my attacker and the rock and started behind us. The three of us ran with all the haste we could give.
The train yard is not like a labyrinth, but a catacomb. The moon breaks through the thin veil of clouds in the night and creates a gothic palette of blue. The cars resemble ancient sepulchers. Moonlight passes through the slits creating the sensation of being entombed. Bulls travel through like demons waiting to carry the living to the underworld. It is a chthonic realm in the real world.
After some time we had managed to double back to our original train to see if we could help the others. They had Packie tied up and leaned against it. The other bulls had Ray held up. We couldn’t hear all too clearly, but it seemed obvious they were going to hold him responsible for what Bo and Mack had done to their own. There were six of them total now, bludgeons gleaming in the night’s glow from fresh drifter blood. Ray pleaded for clemency. “Please, please,” he cried over and over. “Please, please, please.” He shook his head, and though I could not see his face, I knew there were tears. Mack watched with me. Bo hid behind us and could not bare to witness the man’s fate. He instead held back his own lacrimal moment. Ray pleaded one more time before the lead bull interrupted. “Shut your mouth. I’m sick of hearin’ those purple lips flappin’.” And then he stripped the humanity from Ray with one epithet. Mack gripped me upon its utterance. This big, dark figure with all the equanimous talent of a great general was pierced and broken by the force of this one word. Ray fell apart from the declaration like a spell had been cast upon him. It had stripped him of his voice. And though I was too far, I saw the fear in his perspiring face and wide-staring eyes. I shared it, too. But as I watched the bulls begin to cudgel poor Ray I realized our fates were intertwined yet distinctly separate, and I began to hate myself anew.
Mack and I watched until there was no point and the three of us made our way away from the crime. I was in a lapsed state of mind, some kind of intellectual Purgatory. All I managed was to move along with Bo and Mack. I heard the grinding of gravel beneath our feet, and Bo’s muffled tears. “We should move into the field,” I think I mentioned to our small penurious cadre. It seemed the right thing to suggest. It helped, I felt.
Mack slammed me up against the nearby car. “Why wasn’t you watching? Why?” My shirt was entwined with his two large fists. They smelled a mixture of sweat and steel and other earthen material. He stared me down with the most intense animus.
“I… I’m sorry. I fell asleep… I’m sorry,” was all I managed to say. I was too terrified to utter more. But I wanted to. Lord as my witness. I wanted to find the ancient words that had power to reverse time and correct this, everything. But all I could manage were the worthless ones that only admitted my regret.
I watched Mack storm off ahead. Bo stood for a moment, and then trailed after him.
Oh Mack, I thought, forgive me. I was only dreaming.