Similack: 18th Century Dream Trauma, in Which I Played The Part of Isaac

January 20, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard. This post contains some violent content.


Based on a dream I had. I didn’t know what to do with it, but it was vivid enough to become a story of sorts….

Pat McEuan was a mean man, they’d always said and known as much. Certainly none felt right to question his ill repute, writ as it was across his surly face, the scar that crossed his cheek, an angry thing it turned more pink when a storm came near—even before the weatherman knew of it. They said he’d grown up with snake charmers in some part of Pennsylvania where men handled snakes to prove God’s love for them, and Pat grew up bit. He had scars all across his hands. He said, though, that he’d drunk enough poison growing up that no snake bite would ever kill him.

All the same, they hadn’t expected his wrath to strike them; like anybody, and boys especially, they thought themselves exceptional. So when McEuan threw them darn kids in the back of the car, when he drove them the 20 odd miles to the cost outside the city, the boys felt faint, sick with anxiousness, fear and, even, a strange joy that can only be called excitement.
They’d been dawdling around the Tenderloin all day, on McEuan’s beat, only they weren’t too concerned with the man, since most of the time he left them alone so long as they didn’t cross him too hard. But this time, when McEuan leaned in old Pork, asking for a quarter for the juke outside Wong’s place, Pork almost threw up then and there.

“You boys’ a been getting pretty big for your britches ‘round here,” McEuan said, spitting tobacco next to Pork’s boot. “You might’n oughtta pitch in once ’a while.”

Isaac knew something wrong was turning, he could feel the air turn sick, the fog seemed greener than it had and he prayed through the back of his head, hoping McEuan wouldn’t check his pocket’s and find the loose coin he’d gathered off the dumb mugs on the waterfront. He didn’t realize, of course, that Andy was the cause of their troubles. No one knew that, not Pork or Isaac. They didn’t figure that out until they got to the car and McEuan bashed his face against the door to the front seat.

“Why don’t you stay up here with me, doll face.”

Isaac had always been shrewd, maybe on account of his always been the smallest, and he gauged the old man to be a little tipsy, so he grabbed the feller’s gun when he had the chance and pulled back the trigger, his lower lip quivering all the same, he could see the Pork and Andy both out the corner of his eyes, and out of the corner of his eyes he could tell they were scared.

“You jes’ pull over ol’ man an’ I won’ shootche.” His voice cracked.

And McEuan laughed. He laughed loud and crazy and swerved back and forth again in the car along those windy roads just north of the city, swerving back and forth so Pork just squealed like he did, they could hear the gravel crunching under the car’s wheels, and Isaac pulled the trigger but his hand wasn’t steady enough so instead of shooting anything meaningful at all he shot a hole through the roof. McEuan laughing the whole time, even harder, before he stopped sharp just after the shot, pulled the gun away from the boy and slapped him sharp with its butt, serious and snarly and mean as a damn boar, “Keep yourself alive, boy, they’s better things for you in store. Y’all should have kept to petty thieving.”

McEuan drove the boys all three some miles and miles outside of the city, into land they’d never seen before, it was marvelous to behold, certainly, for the sun had started to break through, and there was cows along the side of the road and Isaac saw a fox trotting off in the distance, and a couple hawks, and at one point they passed over a road, undulating as the yellow hills, and he could see the ocean on either side, glittering and bright as mercury, stunning enough that he forgot he was most certainly about to die.

As soon as Andy threw up through the open window, the hair on his head wet and matted where the door had cut him, it looked like through his skull. And pretty soon the car started smelling funny enough since Andy wet his pants, and cried when the car slowed down a bit, pulling off into a driveway and through some farm yards that looked ancient, with big rambling fields and enough jersey cows to feed a whole nation, Isaac thought. They drove farther still at this slower pace until the man drew the car up to the end of the road, and with his gun back in hand, forced the boys out, one by one, marching them in front of him, with Isaac’s ear pinched in his ugly snake-bit hand.

“This here is Drake’s Bay,” McEuan said.

“It may as well be Ireland for all I know.”

“Drake was a pirate. You should know that,” he said, slapping Pork across the face. “You lookin’ poorly there son, you sure you’re ready to swim? I hate to make you swim with you lookin’ so poorly. They’s some shark out there too, and you know how they go with the smell of blood. Especially boy’s blood. But hell, if you’re determined I’m certainly not going to stop you.”
McEuan pushed the boys, Isaac first, pushing them onto the rocks—there wasn’t much of a beach—“Go ahead an’ take off your shoes, if that’s what you want.”

“You can’t kill us with your badge on. It’s not right,” Isaac said. “You oughtta take your badge off.”

“Just you and me and the Lord out here, son. You don’t go worrying yourself about that.” He kicked Isaac in the back, hard enough so he was winded, and fell into the water gasping, swallowing the cold salty sea. “Now go on and get out there,” McEuan fired a shot, “I aint got all day.” The boys stared. Andy started to cry. “Get out. Get out before I shoot you in the foot and make it even harder. And you better swim fast. Anybody gets hypothermia pretty fast out there. You best swim harder to stay warm. I’ll wait here and just watch. I’ll sit on this rock and watch you swim. Like I was your daddy.”

“How far do we need to go?” asked Pork.

“You just keep going. Don’t you come back. You keep swimming straight.”

Isaac, with trembling legs, started swimming first.

Having ducked under water with the hope that the old man would think I’d died, I woke up from the dream after I couldn’t breathe anymore.


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