June 1940

by

“Red leader, rendezvous angels ten over grey beach.”

Angels ten? Far too low. He had no intention of repeating yesterday’s disaster when ops sent them over Dunkirk at 10,000 feet.  Three dozen Messerschmitts dove out from the sun and cut the squadron to ribbons. But arguing with ops was like kicking a rubber wall.

“Red leader, copy,” Jameson said into his oxygen mask. He glanced down at the fuel gauge. Plenty for his plan.

He rocked the stick, waggling his wings to get the attention of the other aircraft. Woody, his wingman, looked over.  Jameson pointed upward and held up two fingers. Woody nodded and the three Hurricanes climbed to 20,000 feet, throttles wide open.

Down to his left he could see the port of Calais, the ships crowding the harbor. Five minutes later they were over Dunkirk itself. From this altitude, the lines of men waiting on the beach looked small as fleas.

Woody’s voice crackled across the receiver. “Stukas, Jimmy.”

Sure enough, two dozen of the German dive bombers were streaking in at 15,000 feet, preparing to make their run. Jameson toggled the switch to “fire” and jabbed the button to test his guns. The deafening clatter shook the aeroplane.

“Right,” he said. “Come on, Woody.”

He pushed his Hurricane into a screaming dive.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

Jesuit Relations

by

 Anue stands as he speaks. The leader of the Cord People, he is a lean man with both sides of his skull shaved clean, his face painted ochre and crimson.

He holds aloft a bundle wrapped in deerskin. “I tell you this. Our enemies the Hadenosaunee have already made an alliance. Not with the French, but the other strangers.They bring countless new things, many of which are useful. Axes such as the one I showed you. Bowls of a liquid stone that does not burn. The English and the French are enemies, so it is natural that the French become our friends. I have spoken to their chief who has made a village on the Great Water, Champlain. He fought with me against the Hadenosaunee. He does not speak our tongue, but one of the Crows with him did.”

“I heard they are sorcerers,” says Tsayanehn, an older warrior with one eye.

What Pegman Saw

 

This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress L’Incarnation,  which is largely set in New France in the mid 1600s. In this scene, a delegation of the Wendat Cord People has come to the council lodge of the Wendat Deer People to persuade them to take one of the  French Jesuit missionaries into their village. The French leader Samuel d’Champlain made the inclusion of the Jesuits a condition of trade, so most villages reluctantly took them in despite many misgivings. Over the  course of eighty years these missionaries produced an extraordinary record of life among these native peoples. Often extremely judgmental, The Jesuit Relations nonetheless accurately convey many details of a culture that had all but vanished by the mid-1700s. 

 

Structure

by

I.
American students usually do
not know the average
age of a soldier
which is 15, nor
how many
mines
tear
off
legs
in
so
many
countries
where these
very young and
ignorant and emotional
young men fire their machineguns

II.
The young women will believe

anyone who offers anything

different than what other

women always talk about

III.
Old and sitting is good enough, when
what is left of memory turns
and shows only feverdream horror
a world without end and other sacred things
turned upside down, profane and obscene
while some white clad stranger coos and walks off cold
isn’t it

 

Posted in response to The Daily Post: Structure

Their Problem

by

“Abel and Moses won’t be coming today,” she said, reading the note the boy had given her. “They’re down with the itch.”

“Goddamn them shiftless sons of bitches,” he said. “We got three days of harvest, and they got to be sick.”

“Doc Jenks thinks it’s some kind of Negro smallpox,” she said. “Most of Darktown got it. He’s issuing a quarantine.”

“So you’re saying none of them are going to help us get the wheat in? Well, that beats all.”

“Those poor people.” The baby fussed against her breast.

“God’s judgment. Nobody asked them people to come up here.”

 

Friday Fictioneers

 

Historical note: At the turn of the 20th century, the United States had managed to avoid a major smallpox epidemic for the better part of a generation. But in 1900, a small wave of illness washed over communities of black farmers and laborers in a few southeastern states. The white community wasn’t alarmed. The disease, which some called “nigger itch,” was a Negro problem. As one local newspaper put it at the time: “Up to the present, no white people have been attacked and there is positively no occasion for alarm.” The blacks, it was believed, had brought it on themselves.

Then the disease began spreading to white people. The smallpox virus was colorblind. 

 

Why We Fight

by

I wanted to be a Marine since I saw that Iwo Jima picture. I joined on my eighteenth birthday, June 14th 1949.

President Truman had integrated the armed forces the year before. During boot camp they treated us Negroes the same as the white boys, which is to say like shit.

I was part of the First Marine Division, third battalion of the Fifth Marines. We invaded Inchon in September of 1950. We had almost three years of hard fighting against the North Koreans, the Chinese, the winter, the country. Just about everything but each other.

We didn’t see no skin color in combat. A Marine was a Marine. Our blood was equally red when we died for each other.

Back home in 1953, I got caught up in the Trumbull Heights  race riots. These angry white faces screaming the worst kind of curses, throwing bottles and rocks.

I still don’t get it.

 

What Pegman Saw

The Real

by

West Baltimore, 2017. The murder rate is up 78% this year.

Kids together, we come up
on the West Side corners, never knowing
the clock. Never showing care

Way I remember
it was mostly summer
B-Mo heat hanging on you like a jacket

city stink of piss and spilled beer
garbage strewn on corners  swarmed with flies
a cold orange pop was all we want

or maybe lake trout from Al’s.
That was a good time.
I look now at the old Polaroid somebody’s girlfriend took,

the faces and names. Bucky, Little Fry, James, Cedric
and I like to remember them,
boys full of balls and promise and just young

posing on the corner arms crossed
Bulls shirt with MJ’s number
baggy Levis the newest style

Cedric killed a man for a handful of yellow tops
caught and convicted as an adult
sent up to Jessup forever.

Little Fry and Bucky gone too,
and James moved to Philly with some auntie
I stayed, teach school now. Funny, that,

my punishment for escaping
death to watch the corner boys just like us
heads full of dreams, waiting for something

or like Baldwin says, growing up to fast
only to slam their heads on the low ceiling
of their actual possibilities

In 2017, black men in Baltimore aged between 15 and 29 are as likely to die violently as American soldiers were in Iraq at the height of the country’s Baathist insurgency. As yet, there is no sign of Maryland or the federal government taking the sort of emergency action such a disaster would seem to justify. The murder rate has increased by almost 80% this year.

Written in response to The Daily Post: Corner

One of His Moods

by

My father was in one of his moods. Arms crossed, he sat in the front seat glaring at us through the windshield.

“Why is Grandpa mad?” Buddy asked. “Doesn’t he like camping?”

“Obviously not,” Cliff said.

“Why’d we bring him then?”

I looked at Cliff. “He can’t stay alone, Bud. You know that.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s getting senile,” said Cliff. He tapped his temple. “Hardening of the arteries.”

“Daddy’s exaggerating,” I said. “Grandpa will come around soon. He’s just tired.”

Cliff snorted and began to set up the Coleman stove.

Buddy looked at his father, then my father, then back.

 

Friday Fictioneers

Crowd Control

by

The Breslau Centennial Hall had been designed to hold twelve thousand people, but three weeks of relentless campaigning by the Brownshirts had swelled the throng to twice that number. Hundreds of  swastika flags hung in rows from the ceiling, and Goebbels had strategically placed dozens of agitators throughout the crowd. They knew their instructions to the minute.

The doors were locked at six, the scheduled start time for the rally. The ventilation system was shut down. After an hour, the doors were briefly reopened to admit those who had been turned away.

In another hour Goebbels began to send the decoys out to the podium, men who looked like Hitler. They would adjust the microphone, then leave.

The agitators began circulating rumors. Hitler had been arrested. Assassinated.

Then Goebbels cut the lights, plunging the crowd into darkness.

A spotlight clicked on, illuminating the podium. The crowd erupted. The silent Führer stared them down.

 

What Pegman Saw

 

Historical Note: 

Although it is difficult to confirm, some historians believe Adolph Hitler gave a speech at the historic Centennial Hall in the contested city of Breslau (Wroclaw) prior to his political ascension as Germany’s Chancellor in 1933. In charge of all propaganda was Josef Goebbels, a master of the new techniques of crowd manipulation, message control, and mass intimidation by implied consent.

This story reconstructs one told by my grandfather, who saw Hitler speak in Munich sometime in 1932. Hitler began this speech by standing motionless at the podium for almost ten minutes until the crowd gradually calmed into a barely restrained silence. Then he began chanting in a mournful whisper about the low and degraded state of Germany. After a long, long recitation of these “facts,” Hitler posed the question: “And who did this to us?”

You know the rest. 

High Times

by

Most of the high-end stores on the Mile use iPads. Supposedly the retail slaves all carry them around so they can ring customers up without needing to go to the counter, but the real reason is they think an iPad makes them look like the rich fucks who shop there.

Chip and me had it wired. The Mile is a mob scene from the first of November to New Year’s, so the stores staff up with temps. College kids, mostly. Poor fools from rich families without any street sense at all.

Chip and me dressed the part.  I wore a white polo shirt and Uggs. Chip had on a blue oxford and a school tie he got at Goodwill for a quarter. We acted like the wealthy kids who live in Gold Coast townhouses or Forest Hills mansions.  We tittered and made fun of people. Anyone would have guessed us at thirteen to fifteen. The clerks watched to make sure we didn’t put anything into our bags, but with the tags they got on stuff now shoplifting is almost impossible anyway.

We went into the Rolex store on Michigan. I stood at a long glass table full of diamond-crusted Oysters, real lowdown gangsta shit. Some of those fuckers cost seventy-five, eighty grand. Chip had his arm around me, his expression bored and typical. The sleeves of his Italian leather jacket were hiked up to show the Patek Phillipe on his skinny wrist. He’d swiped that from a commuter who fell asleep on the Blue train last year. Chip has fast hands.

He toyed with my hair. I bit my finger like girls do and like I never do, but had practiced doing in front of a mirror, and not just for this. The Rolex clerk was a young kid from India or Saudi or somewhere. Sharper than normal. He kept staring at us. I stared back, real sexy. I licked my finger like a cock. He flushed and averted his eyes, found another customer quick as he could. He left the iPad on the counter.

That’s when Chip made the switch. The one we swapped it for was a little older, an iPad 2, but they were both white. Chip had set it up so when the clerk swiped a card he’d see that little blinking bomb.

By that time we were sitting in the back of a taxi. I used my laptop to pull all the card numbers and pins off the iPad.  Chip had a stack of blank credit cards and a magnetic encoder. We had the taxi drive around until we had eight or ten cards ready, then made him stop outside a bank. Chip went in and withdrew the max from each card. We netted six thousand dollars in an hour.

And that was just the first time we did it.

Once they started putting chips into the cards it was all over. We’d gotten used to the money by then.

That’s where the real tragedy started.

 

In response to The Daily Post:Shiny

We Need to Talk

by

She searched for the right word. Hostility? No, that wasn’t right. Indifferent? She’d once read that the opposite of love wasn’t hate at all, but indifference. Was that what she felt? It was hard to say.

She listened to him in the shower singing his same old shower song. Skylark, have you anything to say to me? He would hum the rest while he shaved. How many times had she heard this? A thousand? More?

She sat on the bed, ran the fabric through her fingers. The silk trim was much nicer than anything he would have bought for her.

 

Friday Fictioneers