by Brian Swann
They looked all over for the whispers. They looked to the right side of the house and down the frozen hill onto the blue dark. The whisper diminished. They looked to the north, straight ahead, where the tail of the town curled round, but nothing rose off the frost. They looked to the left side, to the west, and that was where the whisper crept and tinkled as if caught in a sound reflector. The Germans were somewhere below on the hill, even perhaps in the quiet little town with its few lights kicking up now and then like a bullet in the dust. They went back into the house and waited.
Next day as they were going out into the fields a man on crutches came up the hill and passed one of the workers with a tray of grapes on her head. He leaned over and snatched a whole mouthful, splashing the purple juice all over his mouth. He grinned and swung on, leaving the girl dismayed and humiliated. The two men saw all this and hastened out of the house. They stood in front of the cripple and demanded the payment of a few centimes, more to reassert a reign of normalcy than as compensation. The man ignored them and continued his way toward their house, whereupon they kicked his crutches away from under him, for they suspected who and what he was, and he fell to the ground, even though the crutches were mere properties. One of the men straddled him, put a leg and arm grip on him as he lay on his back, arrogantly not even bothering to struggle. The other went through his pockets, taking the few centimes they had asked him for. Then they let him up and he turned back down the hill.
The next evening the whispers grew louder. They were more worried now and searched more carefully. From the second floor window, open on the warm night, they shone a beam outside. Then they saw figures creeping between the bushes. They slammed the shutter and started to lash it with twine, but all at once there was a noise downstairs. They turned to the two greybeards who were sitting enjoying the evening air, oblivious to all the danger around and outside. They told them to take over securing the shutters, despite the fact that the old men were deep in conversation on the nature of heaven. They seemed not to hear the order, but as the two men started down the stairs they looked back and the ancients were indeed at work. “You can talk all you want to,” said one of the men, “only make that secure.”
Almost as soon as they set their feet on the worn wooden stairs they realized that someone had been there before them. A white porker with its throat slit lumbered crazily out of the large washroom and staggered downstairs. As they pushed the door open farther, they saw their favorite black pig crumpled up on its side in blood. They turned and saw guts in piles like excrement on the stairs, and excrement. One of the men rushed back upstairs for his revolver. He flipped the chambers round to see it was loaded, but it jammed on the pencils he had put there for safe keeping when he had used it as a pen and pencil carrier. It took him some time to dislodge all these from the six-shooter, but eventually he succeeded and ran downstairs again.
When he got into the kitchen there was a small crowd, though he immediately singled out the killer at the other end of the long communal table, a peculiar individual, feminine in face, but with a slim man’s lithe body. He (or she) leveled her gun and waited. The man raised his own revolver and pulled the trigger, but only a series of small clicks resulted. He spun the chambers. Nothing. He spun again, and this time there was a crack and a bullet looped its way to stick in her side just below the right breast. It stuck there like a dart.
Behind him he was aware of two women he used to know. He stepped backwards, still keeping his eye on the person with the bullet protruding, and, reaching down, ran his hand under the hem of a long skirt worn by the taller of two women, let his fingers slip up and along her thigh, let his fingers trace the skin-silk between her legs. He lifted the skirt with his extended arm like a tent and waved it in front of the other woman who at first pretended to be shocked, but who then laughed, lifting her long skirt a few inches so that he crawled through the first woman’s legs and ran his hand up the other woman’s thighs to her sex. The first woman was already unbuttoning his military jodhpurs, her fingers reaching expertly inside. The white pig rushed around in anguish. The whispers had started again on the other side of the hill.
Brian Swann has a book, Whale Scars, also from New Rivers Press and is represented in Dan Halpern’s The American Poetry Anthology (Avon Books). (Spring 1975)