A MANIFESTATION OF GOOD LIVING

by Saint Katabasis

Twanger bent down to pick up his little girl's donut. Urban types in raincoats and earrings moved in and out of waiting areas, like catfish suspicious of low tide.

"Why, it's just like Kansas City, ain't it, Garita?" he whispered to his baby. The hostility of New York was palpable, even to an month old child.

"Looks like all that fast-livin took the finish of their skin...Huh, Garita? Scrap iron." Margarita jerked, dropping her donut a third time. Patiently, Twanger loosed his belt and scooped down. A proper "Papa" Squat. A few irascible silent types watched in disgust as the broken donut travelled from terminal floor to teething mouth without so much as a brushing off. Twanger caught the drift of bad vibes.

"Everyone's got their dirt quota, Garita. Some folks eat it, some folks breathe it, and some folks need it so dang bad they soak it up through their eyes." Margarita drooled a long line of sugar spittle across her father's shoulder.

"Near as I can figure it, most of these East Coast hard-eyed critics see so much dirt everyday of their lives they're just addicted to searching it out wherever they happen to look. How your mother escaped so clean I hold Your's Truly responsible. Ain't that the truth, huh, Garita?" Margarita thought that was a good one, and jerked her knees in happy contractions against his red flannel shirt. Twanger did a step of a jig or two to keep the baby buoyantly distracted as he scanned the mouth of arrival gate for any indication of action.

Twanger didn't love anything in life as much as his girls. Wife and baby. He figured his indenture to a -string guitar assigned him since boyhood by Uncle Reeves, of the Reeves Boys Country Pickers, was fated to be annulled the moment he heard the splendiferous peels of laughter out of his future Mrs. Bonnie Alise Belgetti from Canarsie, Brooklyn, a Cherubic Italian chanteuse, had fled social science at Missouri State to sing "Bewitched" one night with the Fireaters, on a dare, at Elmo's Kansas City Emporium. It was . She was hired on the spot. She was out in the parking lot tweezing her brows between sets one month later, and Twanger had been following her career all May when he finally found the courage to approach her. She laughed so loud and high and sweet he thought he'd had a sexual encounter. "Like a manifestation of good living," he thought, and the rest of his life fell in line. Casual minors in anthropology and religion, which had wet his appetite for deep meanings, were dropped, and Twanger set about the business of seriously perusing the job market for the legitimate sustenance of the abundant brood this tweezed-brow goddess would bear him.

He had mentally married her on first sight. Made it legal ten weeks later. No one objected, having noticed the change in the boy his pa had labeled "resistant." No one, that is, save Uncle Reeves. Having seen Woody Guthrie in concert... "That boy could have been the heir apparent. Gaw dang that guinea sister!" Yet even Uncle Reeves clapped hard at the wedding reception when Bonnie "Bewitched" the locals. And he soloed on harp after hours that night for her country rendition of "Stardust." Yes, she was a welcome addition, alright. A manifestation of good living. Small, sturdy, rosy, and round. A comfortable match for the eye.

"Plane's overdue, Garita," Twanger cooed in his fidgeting daughter's ear. "I hate this goddamn airport." He could tell her diaper was making her squirm, and resigned as he was to public changes he felt too distracted to make one. Back home, in Kansas City, people were less apt to eye him suspiciously for changing his baby's diaper. But somehow these rituals seemed less elemental in New York. Tainted. As if there was something potentially twisted in a man attending to diapers. As if he were stealing lascivious glances at her innocence. Some creep. A wolf in cowboy boots stalking Little Red Riding Hood's virtue. It made him mad to think this way. It made him hate these strangers. It made him want to fling her shitty diaper at the wall. And bark. Pa's boy, resistant. Margarita was not getting calmer through this. The official word at the arrival counter was, "Up to an hour's delay." But two hours had now slipped by and the airline people got ruder. Nerves and crowds and the holiday crunch. "Shit, Miss, it's just November. You said one hour and that's a lie." "Sir, sit down. I'm not driving the plane. When it's in, you'll know. Cool it." "Cool it! I'll ..." and the baby wailed. And a fat man behind him pushed. He felt his face go plum with rage, his arm jerk tight on Margarita. he shuttled her off to the men's room. "This whole damn trip was a stupid idea," he spit through his teeth. At the washroom sink, aware of an impeccably dressed executive's disdain just one sink over, primping, he made a show of standing his baby up as he dropped her dirty drawers before the mirror. Both he and Margarita began to laugh at the sight of themselves in shambles.

Twanger laid the baby back and calmly changed her diaper. The sight of her purplish excrement somehow settle them both down. "Mommy poo-poo, Gita poo-poo," gurgled Margarita, pointing out the inscrutable difference she read in her mound of flattened feces. "That's right. You're gonna be a fortune teller, ain't ya', baby? Ain't ya'?" The well-dressed executive fled, his threshold past its limit. Twanger threw the diaper out and snapped her up. Accomplished. He threw some water on his face and took her in his arms. She wrapped herself around his neck and settled in for napping. A distant, magic merry-go-round made music, and she slept.

When Twanger emerged into the terminal proper he was aware of someone sobbing. A familiar array of tragic masks adorning passersby. Quick, abrupt movement of uniformed officials. Scattered shouts. Agitation. Concurrently, he felt the grinding of his own sense of time as it slowed..to...a....halt. And everything was being photographed by fear: The lateness of the plane. Pounding in his chest. The blanching flourescence. The heat of Margarita. The rapid working of his disembodied legs. GATE . GATE . GATE . A woman waving schedules was speaking to a crowd. She seemed to be aluminum. Reflecting too much light. He worked his way forward. He focused on her lips. With all his force, he listened to her saying...

"...is not within our power, at this time, to know, precisely where communication was lost. There was no signal of distress. We have every reason to believe that a ROUTINE malfunction is causing this TEMPORARY shutdown. Power outages are a COMMON OCCURANCE during transcontinental flight patterns. We have every reason to believe we will have word shortly. Please remain calm. We're doing every...."

He phased her out. He let his blood's torrent drown her sound. He sat down. On the floor. His baby around him. His face closed up against the world. And listened. A peel of laughter, so loud and high and sweet, came ringing through his bones like guitar strings. A cone of stainless steel formed itself around his body, the pressure of which turned his fluids into stone. And there, forever, conical, a thing without resilience, is where he brought his daughter up to serve him.

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