Thou Bloody Villain
by Tom Fulton
"Ishmael… Goddamnit! My name is Ishmael! Don’t call me Ishy!"
I let go of the plastic thumb switch. Static. There was a crack in the rubber binding of my window. Wind whistled through at 72 miles per hour. I reached down to crank it up tighter. It helped a little. The road sped beneath me in regular clunk-clunk, clunk-clunks. Pennsylvania.
Ishy?… Ishy? Do you read me?" A voice garbled by the hiss of distance. "Where are you?"
I let out an exasperated sigh. I pushed the switch. "I just crossed the border into Pennsylvania." A green highway sign loomed up to the right. "Welcome to Pennsylvania. Our speed limit is STILL 55." A long list of outrageous fines followed. 56 to 60 - $120.00 ; 61 to 65 - $150; 66 to 70 - $180.00. "We care about your safety." I glanced at my Mitsubishi "Dragon Slayer" radar detector. It’s eyes were closed. No sign of danger.
I brought the portable CB up to my lips and shouted over the hiss. "They’re very serious here…"
"Where the hell are you? Will you slow down? I lost you back in Youngstown." Funny how George sounded like Macduff when he got agitated. I could hear the familiar inflection, a particular tonal twist that rolled up "lost" and carried upwards into "you" and then back down into the deep valley of his sonorous voice on "Youngstown." Anybody could tell he was trained by Clay Jordon.
"Thank you, Georgie", I drawled back into the microphone.
Ishmael. It’s a curse. ‘Ishy’, ‘Itchy,’ ‘Pisshead’… Favorite lines from my elementary days. One kid used to call me "bald-headed frog face", which had nothing to do with my name, but somehow I lumped them all into my battered little Ishmael bag. Later, among my more literate friends, who laughed hysterically every time it occurred to them, I was affectionately called ‘mopy dick’.
Thanks mom and dad… My grandparents named my uncle ‘Tolstoy’. Uncle Tolstoy named his son ‘Stalin.’ It has become a family curse. What’s funny is, my father’s name is Fred. My mother’s is Sandra. When they had me, they obviously saw it as a way to get back into the family groove. So they named me Ishmael. It's not biblical or anything. It's Dad's little nod of appreciation to Hermann Melville. "I love the sonofabitch," he'd say through the clenched front teeth of a tiparillo cigar. He loved the gore of Moby Dick. The frank, unapologetic obsession; Ahab's bitter vehemence. It was his idea to give me the name. My mother was appalled. One day, in a little fishing boat up in the wilds of Algonquin Park, Dad gave me his version of a father-to-son.
"Ishy," he said, "Ishy, sex can be a beautiful thing. But you gotta learn to keep your pants on. You understand? Don't ask me why. Its too damn disgusting." He flicked a little ash off of his tiparillo. "Life is shit, son. And anyone who's going to survive it needs all the damn help he can get. " In his tackle-box he had placed a torn-off cover of the novel. It was a portion of an oil painting - a photo on a slick paperback jacket. Ahab's fierce, scowling, demonic eyes - a mouth stretched wide like the dark maw of a whale. Dad swiped it with his fish towel, smearing a few drops of worm goo.
"Ishmael was the only survivor." A cooler full of Molson's golden. Another swallow. He tossed me a cold one, dripping, unopened. "You sneak 'em anyway…" and he winked at me, drew a deep breath of blue smoke and tossed the plastic tip into the water. Hiss.
Hiss... the static of the CB radio woke me… It was George, sounding frantic…
"You know I can’t keep calling you Ishmael. It’s too weird. ‘Ishy is easier…."
I didn’t say anything. There was a moment of confused silence. It was getting hot in the car. I leaned forward to turn the AC to max.
"Get used to it, George." And then like Jimmy Cagney, I said: "It’s my name, see… get used to it."
I took a little breath and looked over to the passenger seat where I had propped up my script. Slipped into the front cover was a photograph of our set for Macbeth. We were moving our production of the play lock, stock and barrel up to a summer stock theatre in Massachusetts. The set was a fantastic design made of great slabs of 4 inch thick Styrofoam glued together onto a plywood base and then burned bubbly and black with a blowtorch. It was painted with dark hues of blue and maroon and black. It rose up like Stonehenge out of the stage floor. Side lighting cast shadows where the dark thoughts lay. Witches emerged there, coaxing, flirting, seducing…Looking at that set, remembering the feel of my Macbeth armor spreading across my back, lifting my chest, how alive I felt. I could have been a warrior, a chieftain. To take a broadsword to an enemy’s head. I could do it, I thought. It’s all in the culture. Culture is everything.
I sang into the CB: "Hi diddlee dee, an actor’s life for me…"
George pressed his beep button and my little portable GE unit screeched. "Cut it out." He said. Now come on, we’re supposed to be off book when we get there. I’m only good through Act Three"
"That’s all you’re ever good for, Georgie boy.."
"Thank you and fuck you." Static.
I smiled and pulled out into the left lane to pass the large double-trailer semi a car in front of me. "We need to do the fight scene…"
"Ok. But we’re not going to miss any scenery. I’m stopping when I see scenery," I shouted across the hiss of CB air.
"Believe me, there’s no scenery until Massachusetts. Now start…!"
I cackled out a rude imitation of Becky McConnehay’s "witch" laugh. Hee Hee Hee Haa Haaaa Meow!"
Our director wanted the witches to be part human part animal. Becky was supposed to be the "Feline Witch", but ultimately she became known as "Kitten" by most of the male members of the cast – and one female. (as the rumor goes). One night last year, during the Twelfth Night tour, she knocked on my hotel door and said, "Ishmael, I’m cold." The proceedings were dismal… that’s all I can remember.
"Thank you, Becky."
In my best Becky southern accent, I drawled, "Whenever you want it, it’s yours… "
Over the little speaker came George’s static-filled chuckle.
I cut him off. "Say your lines, George." There was a pause.
He shot back. "It’s your line, Ishy!"
"Right, right." I said.
I held the unit up to my mouth and began to roll out the words that magically had wrapped themselves in the blanket of my memory. Learning the lines of Shakespeare were the easiest for me. His sentences had hooks that bound the thoughts together. Internal rhythms whispered the next word to me and then the next. And so at times, I would feel as though it was not me. As if the words arrived in my mouth like mail.
- "Why should I play the Roman fool and die
- On my own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes
- Do better upon them."
George immediately piped in.
"Turn Hell-Hound Turn…"
I loved this part of the play. The expectation of carnage, the violent bubbling up of fear, a dark passionate fear of death, they all wrapped about my mind like snakes… It’s as if the ground shifted beneath my feet. Even in the car, driving 70 miles an hour, I could feel the churning of the actor in me – the desire to raise my sword and hack Macduff into little pieces. I imagined seeing him standing there, blood across his chest, a huge, sharpened broad-sword in his hand… I spit back at him across the CB.
- "Of all men else I have avoided thee:
- But get thee back; my soul is too much charged
- With blood of thine already."
Again, right on cue, George roared back at me through the crackle of radio waves:
- "I have no words,
- My voice is in my sword: thou bloodier villain
- Than terms can give thee out!"
"AND WE FIGHT!" I shouted at him over the radio. It was a gleeful shout. The fun of this scene. To play soldiers. To fight each other and know what it is like to meet mano e mano. It was so much fun, it was glorious…I tossed one more rude imitation the witch laugh…"Hee hee ha ha ha … Meow!" Screaming the fight choreography over the CB: "Upper cut!, parry, parry right, lock, HOLD, push back, trrrrrrip!!"
A flash of movement startled me. My finger was on the button.
The huge double-semi ahead of me swerved hard to the right, crossing the lane and cutting off the car slightly advanced in the lane next to mine. A black Honda Accord. The sun sparkled off it’s rear window. A head popped up wide mouthed and silent in the rush of air. It careened onto the shoulder and then drew itself sharply along the guard rail like a can opener. Even in broad daylight I could see the sparks exploding off the fenders. Heads inside the car snapped sideways and frantic hands stretched out to catch the dashboard. The wheels of the semi’s first trailer raised up once, then twice. The second trailer jackknifed sideways thumping over a brown blur. A second brown blur shot out from under the back wheels at me. A rolling burlap bag, filled with red licorice – something -- the back end of someone’s old couch?– pieces! things! rolled out from under the massive vehicle as it sought to right itself. A last lump catapulted across the road and smashed the front of my car. It morphed like an X-man from the pavement and smashed the shit out of my hood. My windshield shattered. The world turned leisurely in gracefully arcing circles. Trees, cars, railings, trucks, cars, pavement… like a ballet. I was suddenly slammed to a stop. I glanced over my shoulder and saw five or six other cars pulling right and left keeping their distance. I was wet.
I was facing the opposite direction against the on-coming traffic, neatly parked against the median shoulder. Somehow I had spun around, and settled myself like a Perfect Parallel-Parker toward the setting sun. My car was clicking and a buzzer sounded somewhere.
Littered down the road were pieces and parts of a deer. People were getting out of their cars. Some stood back and pointed. An older man with a limp came running in a frantic jerk toward me.
"Don’t move, son. Are you hurt?"
I looked at him. I looked at what I could see of my car through the craquelature of the glass. It was once a powder baby-blue. Now it was crimson and streaked. "I think I’m alright." I said. "My car, though….shit…this is a new car…"
"Let me help you out," said the old man. He wore dark rimmed glasses, which were oddly placed on his face as if one eye were inches higher than the other. He had on oversized, stained, beige overalls. He opened my door with some difficulty, tugging on it. A screechy high voice across the highway reached me.
"Oh my God!" it said. "Oh my God!"
The old man’s callused hand reached for my arm. "Careful when you step out son. You sure ripped the hell out of that buck. It’s a damn 13 pointer."
At my feet beneath my door was the bloodied head of a large deer. One eye stared glassily up at me and sparkled in the sun.
"You sure you’re ok? You look like hell." I nodded my head and stepped carefully over the buck’s head. Green water was streaming out of the front of my car. The front end was early in the passenger seat. And my front bumper was completely gone.
"I don’t know where the hell he came from!" shouted the truck driver 200 feet up the road. He was outside inspecting his rig. He shouted back in my direction. "Anybody hurt?" I waved my arm at him to say "I’m ok."
An old woman with a walker was throwing up across the road next to the black Honda, while a pretty young woman in a summer dress, covered with daffodils or sunflowers, stood next to her rubbing her back. She said something to the man, who was trying to yank a fender away from his front tire.
Just take care of your mother!" he shouted at her.
A thin, tinny sound of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Nice and Easy’ rolled out of a window somewhere. All the traffic was stopped. Some enormous kid with gigantic pants dropped around his butt and no shirt on, was hefting a large piece of the deer carcass into the back of his pickup truck, which was thudding a punctuated bass of a rap song. The air vibrated with the Thump thump THONK! Thump thump THONK! of it. He was shrieking with laughter.
"Man, did you see that! It was awesome! The whole deer just exploded man! It just exploded! Man! Shit! Look at this! Hell, it’s whole side of deer. Hey, if you hit em you can keep em."
His door slammed and all four wheels laid into the pavement and screeched away. He flashed me thumbs up as he sped by: "Cool Dude! Fan-fucking-tastic!"
The crooked eye man had a towel. "Here son. You might want to use this."
"Huh?" I looked at him like he was insane. A towel? What kind of weirdo was this?
"Your face.." he said a little sheepishly, handing me the towel.
I took it from him and brought it to my face, which I suddenly realized was wet with sweat or radiator fluid, I guessed. I wiped the towel across my eyes, down my nose and scrubbed into my beard. When I pulled it away, it was covered with blood. The old man picked up my side view mirror, which had been neatly lodged in the antler’s horns. "Take a look," he said.
I held the cracked mirror before me. My head looked like it had been skinned. The whole right side of my face – my hair, my beard, down the side of my neck was thick with oozing, dark blood.
"FUCK! JESUS FUCK! Christ I’m bleeding! – God almighty!
"I don’t think any of that is yours son.", said the old man.
"How the hell do you know. Are you a doctor? Give me another towel. I need another towel." I mumbled, doing my best to clean up with the already sodden towel. "The head bleeds worst of all! Oh my god, all this blood! There’s a lot of blood up here!"
The old man looked a me and shook his head. He spat a large wad of chewing tobacco out of his mouth and dug the remainder out of his mouth with his huge thumb.
"Yer fine, boy. Calm down. " he said. "That damn deer-head exploded all over you! Yer practically gravy. Ha."
"Are you sure? Are you sure? Look at me. Are you sure it was the deer?" I stood still for a second and aimed my head in his direction. " Do you see any bleeding? Am I bleeding?"
"Nah, don't worry that. What you gotta worry about is this car. I'd say its pretty well totalled. What’s your name son? I got a cell phone here. You want me to call someone?"
"You’re not shittin’ me?" I said.
"Nope, I’m not shittin you."
"I'd say so."
"Think it was the deer, huh?" He nodded. "Man, whoooo, wow… That scared the hell out of me… Boy deers really bleed don’t they?"
"Deer." The old man mumbled.
"It’s DEER, not DEERS. DEER is both singular and plural. There’s no ‘s’." He was digging a new pile of chaw out of a little tin.
How annoying! I know that. "I know that!" I said, sloshing more blood out of my hair.
"If you’ll give me your name, I’ll call somebody."
The sun was starting to dry the blood on my arms and hands. It was caking up like dried mud. "Yeah, ok.. My name’s Ishmael. Ishmael Robertson.
"No Shit!" The old man’s face suddenly drew back into a tremendous smile, revealing an entire front row of rotting black stumps. "My brother’s name is Ishmael. This is one damn small world. Hey, I got a cousin named Ishmael too!" His little black teeth glinted in the sun.
"No sir, I am not. 'name’s Gatsby. But friends call me Gat. Gat Holloway." He stretched out his leathery hand and laughed a stream of chew-tobacco breath right in my face.
I shook his hand and smiled back at him. "Ok, …Mr. Holloway.... uh 'Gat.' Thanks for the towel… "
"Don’t mention it…." He winked at me and with a sly, older-brother tease in his voice, he whispered…. "Ishy." Crinkling up his eyes, and forming a moronic half-mast smile, he exposed his grasshopper spit teeth.
Adrenaline suddenly rushed to every nerve ending. "Deliverance! Dueling Banjos! Where's my crossbow when I need it." I shook my head. Little drops of deer blood flew off my hair and splattered onto the pavement at my feet. I threw the blood soaked towel over my face and began to scrub my hair.
"It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare... Oh, my God, this is a nightmare…."
I heard a crackle and static coming out of my steaming car. "…I’ the name of truth, are ye fantastical, or that indeed which outwardly ye show?"
More static "Ishy!" "Ishy!"
I pushed myself back into the crunched up cab of my car, fumbling for the CB. I found it, intact, on the back window ledge.
"Hel - llo! Hey! Ishy!" George was saying, "I don’t know where the hell you are, but there’s some kind of goddamn accident up in front. Looks like there about two miles of cars. Can you hear me? Ishy? Ishy? "
I wiped a little more blood out of my eyes with my tee-shirt. "I can hear you, George."
"Oh Great! Ishy, did you see an accident? It’s a damn parking lot back here."
I sat down on the hood of my crumpled, steaming, brand new car. The sun was bright, sparkling like a million silver birds down the eastward ribbon of pavement. Traffic was beginning to resume. The old lady with the walker was being helped back into her car. All the deer pieces had disappeared. Even the head. ‘Gat’ was loading it into the back of his pickup. ‘Gat’ spat. People gawked at me as they drove by; little children frantically pointing at the blood soaked actor on the side of the road… They shouted, "look! look!" I waved to them. I took a bow….
"Yeah. Hey, George.."
"Yeah?" he answered.
"I think I need a ride…. "
copyright (c) 1999 by Tom Fulton
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