My mother used to sing to me as she prepared our dinner:
“Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.
These thoughts come to me when I’m on these missions. Images of my mother in her long dress and kerchief. Reprimands from harsh teachers. Lost opportunities with pretty girls at school. Long forgotten Kipling Verse:
“Now this is the Law of the Jungle
Benedict called this place ‘The Crevice’, and I know why. It’s like as if a giant thumb with a thin, long nail were sunk into the most remote forest of Malawi, and there was no sign of life throughout the whole area of the thumb print except for at the deepest point of the nail’s crescent descent--there you would find situated around a tiny waterfall the village of Moko-Piku.
A few huts. A few rudimentary houses. A misplaced European looking clock tower that appeared to be gradually sinking into the muddy earth. A jumble of trees. The waterfall. Black and white specks: Sheep and Cows--small, excited brown specks: dogs. Pinkish brownish blobs, which were pigs. The animals wandered about without gates, oblivious to any notion of segregation; Sheep, Cows, Pigs and Dogs wandering among each other unbothered by the specter of special subjugation.
I squint into the city from the eye of the Cradle: Nothing. The apparent inactivity of the citizens of Moko-Piku added to the spooky aura of the chalk colored outpost on the hillside.
‘The Cradle’ is a burnt out hillside infirmary with all of it’s windows busted out and most of it’s floor caved in. I named it so only because those were the words I found carved over the doorway to the third floor office I had chosen for my perch. The carving was crude, and I could see nothing in the pale green paint that was chipping off the walls or the balled up papers on the floor, wet and plastered there, that would lead me to think of this place as somewhere innocence might be nurtured, or at least take a nap: It had the best view into the town square.
For six days I’ve been here. And only small movement in Moko-Piku. Not only am I growing unsure as to whether or not Kaninchen is really hiding in this city, I am becoming unsure as to whether or not anyone actually lives in this city…
Pigs, sheep, horses and cows. And a tiny black man who wears a buccaneer’s shirt from some strange era (with a pear of brown knee-high breeches): I’d seen this man once. He seemed to be tending the cows on my third day.
But I haven’t seen the man since.
I toss my leg over the windowsill and allow my posture to slouch. I smoke the cigarettes that Lynne gave me. One after the other, deep long drags. I drink from my canteen there in the windowsill as the wind styles my hair. Weird specters and long shadows crept through the town, just out of sight. But within my perception. I flop back down inside the cradle, laying on some hay and paper I’d collected.
I look at Mauser: A fine piece of craftsmanship. I touch the stock with hands once employed to beat phlegm from the chests of ailing businessmen and caress the woes from the shoulders of the overworked and overstressed. Now my forefinger was more familiar with the curve of an iron trigger than the slope of a foot’s arch.
Fleischer had been on me about owning a Nazi Sniper Rifle. “Und Sie! Ein Zigeuner!” He’d say. I’d only shrug. It was a good gun. What’s good is good.
Thinking of my friends eases the mounting anxiety about my mission.
But it’s hard to shake the feeling. Even when enshrouded in the supple
flesh of the past. Today I wrote in my journal:
“ This Morning I awake with the taste of death in my gums. Fuzzing my teeth. Curling my tongue. It’s a familiar sensation. Like Cough Syrup to a sick Child. It returns to me. But this morning the flavor is odious. It lingers at my throat-hole. Threatening to descend into my bones. I’ve doubts about Kaninchen’s location in the crevice. But there are no doubts about this. This taste confirms it. European blood is spilling today.”
Playful rain has begun to fall. Nothing malicious. Childlike in it’s lightness. “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.” There is a naivety in its playful splashes. I lean on the windowsill to catch some in my palm.
The black man is standing in the field. Arms at his side. He is staring at the building. Right at the window.
“Heillig Mutter!” I gasp, throwing my body hard to the floor, the boards creaking beneath my weight. “Konservieren Sie das Licht,” I say, shaking my head immediately at the sound of a language I had sworn off when fantasies of defection became actual plans. I have perfected my American Affect. It’s comforting to hear the native language come out of my mouth sounding like practiced theatrics.
Blackness in Stage dress: The man is digging. He’s got a shovel. I didn’t notice the shovel before.
There was a strange labor about his shoveling. He didn’t toss the dirt over his shoulder like the men in the quarry at the docks. He tossed it to the side, in a series of random piles.
Have I been seen? It’s prudent to consider killing the man. Defection will be pointless if I’m killed by a man with a shovel. Or by Kaninchen. No doubt he has a rifle of his own.
All of this has to be made peripheral. I’ve been careless and inattentive, and now I’ve been spotted. What should I do with this strange, ghostly black man? Should I convert the hole he’s digging into his grave? Maybe I should let him dig awhile longer. This will save me the labor if I decide to shoot him.
The townspeople, if there are any, aren’t quick to stir. I could shoot the man with a silencer and then snake down the hillside in the tall grass and push him into the hole and cover him with dirt. I can keep the shovel.
But should I go back to the cradle? It’s hard to tell. If the man saw me, who knows who else might’ve. Kaninchen?
What if the black man had told someone in the town, if there were others in the town, that he thought he saw a gypsy with a goatee and a Mauser sniper rifle up in the outpost windowsill, smoking a cigarette and staring off past the mountains? He could have said, ‘Hey, neighbor. Look at that gypsy up there in the windowsill. I bet he’s here to kill Kaninchen. I’m going to take a closer look.’
If this is true, I’m out of my depth. I’m here for Kaninchen. I’m not Gabriel. This isn’t Gomorrah. Shooting the black man could cause more problems.
Maybe the townspeople, in that case, are as paranoid as me. What if they all stay inside all day, peeking out the windows and bracing heavy oak chairs against the doorknobs? Maybe one of them would see the man with the shovel fall. The one they sent out into the fields to tend to the animals and bring back water. And scout for trouble. Maybe they’d be enraged and take up arms, and lay siege to the cradle. Maybe they’d summon spirits to come and flush him out. Maybe they had an intricate maze of tunnels beneath the earth that connected all of their homes together. Maybe they were beneath him now. Plotting with Kaninchen on how best to relieve themselves of this pesky Gypsy and his Nazi rifle.
I kneel in the windowsill. I cock the rifle, and mount my head against the scope. The digging man is divided into four slices. Whatever the hole he is digging was meant to be may be in another reality. I leave it to quantum philosophers to decide.
The man looks up from his digging as if straight down the barrel of my scope. “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf."
A pair of naked child’s feet. Attached to the pink bottoms of these feet that curb suddenly into diverging stems of deep mahogany that spread up and go around, emptying their loads into the pink palms on either side. Green britches and a black leather belt capped by an unserious outey, poking with minor vulgarity from the smooth field of the little boy’s stomach. “Are you here to kill the rabbit?” It says.
I blink but can’t raise by hands to wipe the blur from my eyes. “Yes,” I say, feeding the looming, existential punch line: “With this,” I say, in reference to my gun.
“You’re going to use big bullets right? The rabbit is big,” said the boy, almost singing.
“Biggish,” I say, unable to support the chasm between my eyelids. They rush toward one another and stay--too long. The laughter of that boy swims around my head as I become aware that the room is being penetrated. I hear wood and iron on tile, scraping, sliding. My gun is leaving my side. I feel, eyes still closed, a heavy metal circle--small and thick, a long and thin tunnel sucking the flesh of my forehead into its center--pressing against my head. I hear the click, and then no more. I smell hasenpfeffer.. I can picture the thick gray eyebrows and sloping eyelids of my countryman…Is he smirking? Or is that look bittersweet?
When I open my eyes, I see that the Mauser is leaning against the wall and the hammer is pulled back. I don’t know what manner of voodoo…
I won’t be peeling potatoes or plumbing the depths of this strange town to collect my scalp. No stewing bell peppers, no naked apples. Bell peppers, zucchini, diced onions, kielbasa and mozzarella…Butter to taste…Another agent can be dispensed to gather the ingredients for this recipe.
I breathe hard, thankful and spiteful, wounded and awed by the warning…What manner of voodoo…
I take the stairs two at a time. I wonder if I can get a window seat
on my flight over the ocean?