“Thud”

Now: I had the name of the port in southern Maine from one of Jacobi’s emails to my Gillian, and after half a dozen phone calls and some clicking on the net, I also had detailed directions: a two-hour ride. I would hunt them down indeed, deter them from abandoning me, from leaving together and wrecking my wedding.  Geronimo.

Think about the dejection I felt driving to this harbor in Maine: it was a whack to the temple and then the aorta.  Still, I was almost certain I would not be able to massacre the seaman Jacobi and his underlings.  I’d probably just discharge some rounds into the air, cause a disturbance, scatter robins.  And then—what?  I didn’t know; my breastplate was closing quick around the anguished drum my heart had become.  Opposites and contraries were hard at work: the hours hopped side to side on one leg; my wrinkled brain numbed and sharpened; always was fast becoming never.  And there was the persistent question, the tiny word I saw all along the highway in New Hampshire, on green road signs, personalized license plates—one read FO SHO, the ghetto equivalent of FOR SURE (I checked)—and along the trailers of eighteen-wheelers hell-bent on destination and pollution: Why?  Why had Gillian left me to join Jacobi at sea?

Several times I had to stop driving, park at darkened rest stops with overfull trash cans, because I was being barraged by what felt like the menopausal hot flashes of a disappointed woman.  Gillian was quite possibly, just then, sharing with Jacob Jacobi the riches I thought belonged to me alone.  Imagine if your child were to call another man Father, another gal Mom; what descends upon you is not just betrayal and hurt, but a disorientation most impure.  I was not fit for the highway.  The car horns of oil-gurgling SUVs and tiny hybrids alike were blasting at me left, right, and rear.  I yelled through my window, “I’m armed.  I’ll shoot your Honda full of holes and write a haiku about it.”

As it always does when I flail about blind, poetry spoke to me.  Gillian had collected every piece of literature that made mention of the giant squid, and in an effort to impress her with my interest, to mesh or meld, I took it upon myself to read these verses and stories, committing many of them to memory.  Mr. Tennyson devoted a poem to the beast, and when he wrote the first few lines, he had my sorry state in mind:

“Below the thunders of the upper deep,/ Far, far beneath the abysmal sea,/ His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep/ The Kraken sleepeth.”

As you can see, that was me: thundersabysmalancient, and dreamless, as in the destruction of my dreams.  The creature and I were kin; we were hunted by Jabobi the Slayer.  Some prayers to Poseidon were in order; I needed, people, all the help I could get.

The effects of shock and dehydration, in concert with my hungry woe, were beginning to make themselves known to me: throbbing forehead, a mouth like drying cement, intestines pretzeled into artwork, and jagged thoughts that aspired to destruction and deliverance both.  Part of my floating brain wanted to imagine Gillian and our relationship, how we met and what she meant.  But a private under fire does not stop to consider the history of the projectiles whirling by his limbs; he soldiers on until he is either out of death’s path or else perforated in a ravine.  Man liveth after the Fall.  Axl Rose, that rock-n-roll maniac from the late 1980s, once screamed “Welcome to the jungle,” and we’ve all heard that higher-seeking seer Jim Morrison warning us, “No one here gets out alive.” Yes.  It hadn’t occurred to me to click on the radio.

The two hours were up and I couldn’t find this harbor anywhere; I wasn’t even sure I was on the east coast anymore.  North and south no longer made sense; a compass would have come in handy.  A giant Mainer gas station attendant, six-feet-six-inches of meat descended from the Visigoths, gave me succor but not before tipping back his cap and looking at me askance.  We were leaned against the trunk of my car, beneath the bug-frenzied fluorescent lights.  As I could tell from the stitching on his shirt, his name was Thud, and apparently, before asking for directions, I had mumbled something cryptic about the kraken and prelapsarian bliss.

“You need a soda pop, fella?”

“That I do, Thud.”

“I'd get you some water but the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handle.”

Wha . . .?  Did he just . . .?  Did I hear him . . .?  My ears were all tricks.

He handed me a Fresca free of charge and the chill of the thing nearly pushed out my tears.  Imagine if I had allowed myself to weep in the grizzly grip of Thud: all would have been lost, my mission squashed.  One can’t let loose with an automatic rifle after coming nose to nose with the fact that all human kindness has not gone the way of the plesiosaur.

The neon OPEN sign in the window blinked on and off at odd intervals as if trying to make up its mind.  Eviscerated autos all around this Exxon had opened up and were saying Ahh.  In the woods nearby rotted all types of rusted-orange auto pieces, a carbuncle of a sight to my seen-too-much self.  Untold tons of junk on the earth.  I like my nature living and very close to God, my gas stations clean enough to lick in.  Thud pointed at my map with a black fingernail and said, “Go there, then here, then there, then back this way, then around, then around again, and then you're there . . . mostly,” and I knew I wouldn't remember a word of it.

“Thud,” I said, “I feel as if I'm hunting the fair-haired child who used to be me.  Does that English make any sense?”

“Be thy own son,” he said, me not knowing if he meant sun or Son, or even if I had heard right and he actually said “Fee-fi-fo-fum.”

We shook hands like passing travelers on our way to and from the Land of Nod.  I said, “Thank you, Thud.  May you find the spot we call paradise.”

He muttered, “Never heard of it,” and I left that odd place.

 

–excerpt from Busy Monsters, reprinted with permission from author

William Giraldi

About William Giraldi

William Giraldi is senior fiction editor of AGNI. His novel Busy Monsters is forthcoming from W. W. Norton & Co.