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Authors: Jack Womack

Heathern

BOOK: Heathern
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HEATHERN
BOOKS BY JACK WOMACK

A M B I E N T

HEATHERN

E.LVISSEY

RANDOM ACTS OF
SENSELESS VIOLENCE

LET'S PUT THE FUTURE
BEHIND US

TERRA PLANE

 
HEATHERN

Jack Womack

For Nancy
With Nancy knows what,
and Nancy knows why.

 
ONE

A baby almost killed me as I walked to work one
morning. By passing beneath a bus shelter's roof at the
ordained moment I lived to tell my tale. With strangers
surrounding me I looked at what remained. Laughter from
heaven made us lift our eyes skyward. The baby's mother
lowered her arms and leaned out her window. Without applause her audience drifted off, seeking crumbs in
the gutters of this city of God. Xerox shingles covered
the shelter's remaining glass pane, and the largest
read:

Want to be crucified. Have own nails.
Leave message on machine.

The fringe of numbers along the ad's hem had been
stripped away. My shoes crunched glass underfoot; my skirt clung to my legs as I continued down the street. November
dawn's seventy-degree bath made my hair lose its set.
Mother above appeared ready to take her own bow; I too, as
ever, flew on alone.

"Joanna," Thatcher said, prying loose my memory's coils
that I might freely return to my present. "You want your
face to freeze like that?" Thatcher Dryden, who with his
wife Susie owned the Dryden Corporation-that is to say,
Dryco-was my boss; my owner, in the conceptual sense.
As Vice President in charge of New Projects I rarely listened
during the morning rundowns, as I had yet to work on a
new project in the nine months since he promoted me.
"There's something I want you to look at tomorrow. See if
anything's there."

"Anything where?" I asked. Thatcher's eyes glazed, as if
he imagined me clad in one of those specialized designs he
favored, the sort I refused to wear.

"Got some reports in about some fellow on the Lower
East Side-"

"Loisaida," said Bernard. "For appearance's sake we
should pretend to keep the names straight." As Vice
President overseeing Operations, Bernard made sure that
when his owners left teeth beneath their pillows at night
they would in morning find shiny prizes in their place. He
also still handled those New Projects. I'd worked under
Bernard before coming to Dryco, through his mentorship
learning the skills I no longer used.

"Whatever they're calling it this week," said Thatcher.
"Give her the lowdown as we've got it, Bernard."

Bernard was forty-five, three years older than me; he held
his printout that he might see over the frames Of his
bifocals, and read aloud, translating the jargon in which all
paperwork, for obfuscatorial reasons, was written. One
Lester Hill Macaffrey, age twenty-nine, from Kentucky,
present address unknown-"

"Squattin' somewhere, no doubt. We'll dig him up like a clam if we have to. A Southerner, you'll notice," said
Thatcher, keen to note his countryfolk.

"Turn over any rock and find one," murmured Susie
Dryden, seated as ever at the far end of the table reading the
Daily News, her eyes flitting over the pages, looking for
referents, seeking in mundane reports the usable connections that underlie seemingly unrelated events; she reminded me of a hawk searching meadows for mice. Her
paper's headline read: PROBLEM? THEY ASKED/CANNIBAL, HE
SAID. Kept Hand in Pocket.

"He teaches philosophy and theology at a parent-run
facility on Ninth Street," Bernard said. "Most of his students are Long Island transferees, including test group
children-" Susie grimaced.

"Macaffrey teaches grade schoolers philosophy?" I
asked.

"Nothing more eschatological than Nietzsche, I'm led to
understand," Bernard said. "Our friends in the appropriate
agencies have examined possibilities mentioned concerning
potential political disruption and feel we're being quote,
paranoid, unquote."

"Told you that's what they'd say," Thatcher said, placing
a finger to his lips that he might hush his own classroom.
"Listen now. That's all I ask."

"Said neighborhood is rife with tales of Macaffrey,"
Bernard continued, "most arising during the past year, most
claiming that he possesses, or is possessed by, some
supernatural force. It's sworn by many that through unknown agencies he provides his charges and their families
with drugs-"

"Drugs? What drugs?"

Bernard winked at me. "Food, clothing, shelter. Traditional silencers. As so many these days are mad for apocalypse no matter how arbitrarily timed, more outre stories
have begun to circulate, silly even by Nasty Nineties
standards and far beyond most recent fin-de-sieclivities-" "English, Bernard," said Thatcher.

"Sources claim he foresees and tells of the future."
Bernard smiled. "Must be a fount of joy for his neighbors.
Supposedly he restores sight to the blind. As predictable
within such subcultures a consistent belief is that he
changes the weather to suit or punish as he pleases. I don't
think these tales can supply his public with the fix they
need much longer. Any day now we'll probably hear stories
that he's cured millions of cancer, turned water into CocaCola and parted the Fast River to ease the shipment of
weapons into Brooklyn."

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