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  • 3. Estrellas y Rascacielos

    By Justin Taylor

    Anyone intrigued by Justin Taylor’s beautifully written new novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, should let his thoughtful, intellectually engaged fiction lead them to his recent story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever—and particularly to this story, which walks much the same landscape with considerably different eyes.

    The anarchists were drinking victory shots and making toasts because even though they’d never met with success before they surely knew it when they saw it or it found them. Snapcase, his beard effulgent with spilled drink, was sure that school was out forever. He’d tossed Jessica’s survey of art history, his own Norton Shakespeare, and somebody’s copy of Derrida’s The Gift of Death into the fire pit they had dug in the backyard. The shallow hole was surrounded by salvaged chairs and shaded by a blue canvas canopy they’d stolen from some resort because property was always already theft anyway, and plus they had really wanted that canopy. The books were doused with whiskey from a bottle of Ancient Age. Snapcase lit a hand-rolled cigarette and then tossed his still-burning match into the shallow pit. It went out in the air, so he lit another and placed it gingerly in a little pool of whiskey. It snuffed there. Someone said something about lighting three matches in a row. Somebody else said no, the expression was no three on a match. And how that expression had come from World War I, because if you lit three cigarettes off one match in your foxhole or trench the enemy in his foxhole or trench had three pins of light to triangulate your location and then he blew up everything or maybe just shot you and your two buddies.

    Knock off the history book shit, Snapcase said. Where were the history books anyway? His fire was still unlit. The other anarchists who’d been watching were disappointed. I have to be at work in an hour, one said. Snapcase went back into the house for the history books. He ran into David in the living room.

    But I like Nietzsche, David said, grabbing back his dogeared copy of The Antichrist, which Snapcase had just taken from the bookshelf. Though no less certain in his convictions, David was not prepared to burn his Dictionary of Critical Theory and the books to which that book was a kind of skeleton key.

    Yeah but if, Snapcase said.

    Hey, why do you call yourself Snapcase? someone said.

    Dude, someone else said, it’s a band. Don’t you know anything about hardcore?

    David handed over his copy of The Prophet Armed because Trotsky had ordered the Russian anarchists shot down like partridges. Burn it, he said, and Snapcase went back outside. David eyed Estrella. She was finishing a rum and soda, going to pour herself some more rum, discovering there was no more rum, cursing. The label was ridged with silver like pirate booty. The Captain leaned on his sword. The TV was on. With the left rabbit ear twisted down so it touched the thick steel strings of their red electric bass, they were able to get one local station. Not having cable wasn’t a statement. Maybe the statement was being made by the people who paid out a monthly portion of their slave wages for endless infomercials and Wolf Blitzer. Anyway it didn’t matter because there was only one piece of news today. A single clip had been looping for hours. It was a bottle of light rum that was empty. Hakim Bey and Pirate Utopias notwithstanding, none of them had much stomach for dark.

    Estrella was the loudest anarchist of them all. Her band had a song that went We’ll tear down fucking everything / Till stars are the reigning light / Estrellas y Rascacielos / Burning in the ungoverned night. The bassist wrote the lyrics and she sang them. He loved it when she sang the line he wrote with her name in it. She loved singing her own name. The bassist always said he wrote the line in homage to the great Spanish anarchists, such as whoever. Actually it was because he loved her. When she sang her own name as part of his lyric it was like she had let him name her. She could sing so fucking loud. The band was a hardcore band. Her guitar roared like a certain kind of sermon. His bass rattled the windows and doors. The big gigs were coming soon; he just knew it. He was passed out under the kitchen table. The TV screen filled again.

    David asked to see Estrella’s new tattoo. She lifted her black hoodie from the waist. A circled A nested between her breasts, which were too small to hang but would have hung if they’d been bigger. Estrella knew that bras were just more bullshit, though sometimes she would put on a sports bra if she guessed they were probably going to be running away from something before their night was over.

    I thought it would be cool to get it on my nipple, she said, but the guy said if I did that I might never be able to breastfeed.

    What? David said.

    Snapcase gathered dead leaves and put them into the pit and then lit those, and finally the books caught fire.

    It’s gonna rain, someone said.

    It’s gonna pour, someone else said, and that person was correct. It had been raining earlier but that had been a mere warm-up compared to what would come; that is, with what came.

    I like it, David said to Estrella, but it’s too bad.

    He meant about her breasts, and not being able to get the nipples tattooed, or pierced even. He thought of the phrase female troubles. The silver ring centered in her lower lip gave her a pouty look, or rather accented the pout of her dark eyes and dark hair and the donned hood of the hoodie and the fact that she was frequently pouting. Her dreadlocks were wild and attractive. When she did push the hood back, as she had done, the dreadlocks made her seem more dangerous or unpredictable, but less severe. David wondered if her kiss had a metallic aftertaste, or if the salt and wet of her would overwhelm everything else.

    They drank whiskey and watched the fi re burn in the shallow pit until the downpour drowned the flames. Then everyone went back inside to watch the TV. Someone said for smokers to use the front porch and someone else said we should be able to smoke inside on account of the rain and the occasion.

    We’re out of rum and I don’t want any more whiskey, Estrella said.

    The liquor store was closing up when I bought the rum, David said.

    This is only the first blow against the empire, someone said, and someone else said, Yeah but what a blow I mean boy you know?

    There was a line at the gas station when I walked past it, David said. It went around the block. Everyone was filling their tanks and buying up the canned food. I walked in and stole two big bottles of Coke and nobody noticed.

    It’s on tape though, someone said. It’s in the files. Someone else said that Coca-Cola had sponsored death squads in South America and that person was correct. Coca-Cola was also responsible for the following: environmental devastation in India, union-busting, wage-slavery, rotting the gums of children and adults, inventing the modern image of Santa Claus as part of a plot to commoditize Christmas (actually, the modern Santa Claus evolved from a series of Thomas Nast illustrations that appeared in Harper’s Weekly between 1863 and 1865; the Coke Santa was done by the Swedish illustrator Haddon Sundblom in the 1930s, long after the archetype was standardized), partnering with McDonald’s, sponsoring various execrable campaigns, here and abroad, those death squads, and much more. So that person was really right for the most part when he or she said those things about the soda they were all drinking but at least had stolen.

    I bet that one store’s open, Snapcase said, and we could go get beer. But I don’t want to go.

    I’m really leaving now, said Roger, who sometimes went by Dagger but couldn’t commit to the alias. He fashioned a rain hat from a plastic bag in which some Chinese food had been delivered. He was the one who’d said earlier that he had to go to work.

    Lots of people were milling around, watching the TV and deciding what they thought or already knowing or thinking they already knew. Nobody knew Estrella’s real name was Anne. Even the ones who had been with her didn’t know. She was that good. Sometimes she almost forgot she had a real name—she was that good. The rain beat harder on the windows. The shallow pit overflowed. David said he’d go to the store and Estrella said she’d go with him. She went to look for her boots. The anarchists pooled their money.

    Angel, Snapcase, this guy they didn’t really know but who’d been crashing at their place, and Jessica were looking out the back window at the fire pit. I guess it’s a book drowning, Angel said, and the guy they didn’t really know mentioned Prospero and then someone put a Fifteen record on and turned it up real loud. Everybody knows authority is just abuse anyway / Everybody knows it ain’t no use anyway / Kill your elected official today / We will win . . . Estrella couldn’t find her boots so David took his boots off in solidarity.

    Muddy street dirt squished between David’s toes. He told Estrella they needed to go faster, and she ran so far ahead that he almost lost her in the shifting sweeping curtains of water. The storm was a North Florida special. They hurtled through it like airplanes. The water in his eyes blurred his vision. She’d pulled her hood tight but her dreadlocks were soaked anyway. She stepped on a little shard of glass, landed badly, and twisted her ankle. David caught up to her.

    Ow, she said, I mean fuck. She shut her eyes tight because it hurt and because she didn’t realize that with all the water running down her face he couldn’t tell she was crying so she was safe.

    She shifted to her good foot and hopped. She landed, wobbled, steadied herself, hopped again. David slid a hand under her arm, his other behind her knees. He lifted her and carried her through the rain like a husband with a wife or a monster with a cherished victim. He carried her to the nearest house that had an overhang. The sudden freedom from the rain was cold and thrilling. He helped her sit, then knelt before her. He took her wounded foot into his hands. She was sitting in a puddle but there was nothing they could do about that. The whole world was a river that day, rising: taking and bringing things. He cleaned her foot as best he could in the puddle, wiping away the shiny trickle of blood that flowed from the cut on her sole. He suckled. The blood was metallic; his mouth did not even fill with it. It wasn’t a bad cut, really.

    I think it’s out, she said. You didn’t swallow it?

    I don’t know, he said. It was really small.

    Is that okay? I mean will something happen to you?

    I didn’t think about that, he said.

    His selflessness touched her. She considered what that might mean. This tender moment was ending but they’d always have it.

    They stepped back out into the rain. Estrella hobbled, David walked. The day had been good and it was still cresting. They had shared a victory and lived by their principles, especially those of solidarity and mutual aid. The store was open. The beer was cold. There would be time later for regret and whatever the bassist thought, but right then they were still free. A pair of real anarchists, they drank on the street as they strolled home even though it was broad daylight and still raining.

    *

    © 2010 by Justin Taylor. From the collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever.

    Read more about The Gospel of Anarchy here!

    Watch Justin read here:

    And get more about Everything here!



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    1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Robert Burdock, seventydys. seventydys said: At 52 Stories Justin Taylor http://j.mp/h1uuEC Or, better still, get his collection 'Everything here is the best thing ever' […]

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