Banish Neck Wobble Forever
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He saw the blood and the pumping pulse of the heart, and he watched it for a long moment. The air smelled of rain and dust.
He shut his eyes. At length, he rose from where he knelt on the ground, and he looked at Justine. The misty rain was beaded in her brown hair — small silver diamonds of rainwater stippling her thin dark arms. Her breasts rose and fell with her breath. And without meaning to, he said aloud:. She worked with great speed, her motions deft, certain, the depiction hyper-realistic and astonishing in its detail: the distended middle, a leaf-like foot motionless, one round eye tilted toward her, the nostrils like needle-holes, the loose skin of its neck leathery — skin cataphracted and strange.
When she was finished, he asked if he might look at her other sketches as well, and she said yes. The first thing to capture him was a series of intricately drawn ladybugs: depictions the size of dinner plates, all done in colored pencil. Some of the ladybugs were blood-red with black spots, others black with orange spots.
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Two were burnt-sienna and unspotted. Another was pinkish and oddly mottled, and there was even a light-purple ladybug. She watched him in silence. By and by she spoke, saying that the thing she liked most about ladybugs was the thing she liked most about humans: their inexhaustible variety and versatility and loveliness.
Next she extracted from its sheath the drawing of the cream-colored ladybug he most admired, and she gave it to him. She reached over and squeezed his left hand with her right.
Where She Belongs
He dropped his eyes. Her skin smelled like apricots. The next picture he saw was a picture of himself sitting between her and Jon. It was recently done. Solitude fosters talent, as the solitary life fosters thought.
Thought is the source of human ingenuity. There was something of the acrobat in Jon as well. He could — and did — walk up and down stairs on his hands and was even once witnessed doing a handstand on a skateboard and riding this way, standing on his hands on a moving board, all the way down the main street of his small hometown: a quarter mile. He used his left hand and his right hand with equal facility.
He was an excellent basketball player, who, for years, practiced obsessively every day when he was a teenager, who could shoot very well with either hand, who preferred his left. He had the curious coordination which certain left-handers have. He owned an old lever-action rifle, with a bead-sight, which he kept in immaculate condition, and with which rifle he was a dead-eye: he could pick the tips off matchsticks from over a hundred feet away.
He grew strange plants and he mined strange minerals and he foraged strange fungi and he was something of an alchemist and an apothecary. With a kind of resentment, therefore, people came to him for psoriasis salves, eczema remedies, ulcer treatments, other maladies. So effective were his brews and potions and salves that his reputation for sorcery grew. That night, however, without explanation and scarcely any words at all, Jon had Justine and Kristopher get into his truck.
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He then drove them down a long lonesome road of sand and gravel. The night was dark, sultry. Phantoms of thermal mist hung over the desert ground.
A quarter mile from the base of Baboquivari, on the northernmost side, the road terminated, and they all three got out. There was no moon. The stars above gleamed like thumbtacks spilled across the firmament. A soft wind seethed through the grass. It went warmly about their clothes and hair. Saguaro stood mute and dimensionless all around them, pigmy owls among the cactus-arms hooting with watery coos.
Jon led Justine and Kristopher into the very foothills of Baboquivari, and he spoke not at all. Even in such darkness, he walked with great assurance. The wind poured down through the stony ravines. At length, they came to the mouth of a cave which was more like a narrow triangular hole in the ground.
Jon now produced from his front pocket a small bright light the beam of which shone lemon-lime and was oddly illuminated. He pointed its cyclopean eye into the black maw of the cave and then he climbed down into it. He beckoned them to follow. Once they were all three inside, he led them stooped through a low offshoot corridor and then onto all fours and down another corridor and then another and yet another. They crawled for a long time down these narrow stone shoots, nocturnal spelunkers, the ground cold beneath their hands and knees. Dog-like Jon held the small laser-light gently between his front teeth and in this way led them deeper into the Baboquivari mountains.
There came to them all, intermittently but distinct, an odd and alien sound, like a cathedral hush — like the whoosh of potato-shaped asteroids tumbling headlong through space. The last corridor they crawled down sloped gradually, and as gradually it widened. Directly, Jon halted them and then they dropped, one by one, off a short and mudded ledge.
They stood up straight at last.
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For a brief moment, the room in which they all stood went utterly black, and wands of green and yellow light produced by the retina in places of plenary dark passed before them. Jon broke open, with a sharp snap, the cylindrical object and tossed it on the ground. It was a flare. It loudly hissed.
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The room blossomed in a wine and hellish light, and shadows leapt like dancers across the Mesozoic walls — and there they saw across from them a row of tiny and malformed humans, which lay like martyred saints on a pocked slab of stone. Their defect is called anencephaly. Such are these little beings. Have you heard of the miniature mummy they named Chiquita and also the Pedro Mountain Mummy, both of which were found in the caves of east Wyoming and studied in depth by the forensic anthropologist Doctor George Gil?
These tiny people are the same. They are preserved in a manner which is unprecedented — from any population. Even war chiefs and very special burials are not preserved like these little ones. Kristopher alone was silent. The flare hissed snake-like at his feet. He stared at the miniature mummies mutely and in wonder. Their minute scrunched faces like little cow faces.
When, two hours later, they all three emerged back out into the desert night, the wind had increased. Later that same night, Kristopher excused himself and went back outside. He wanted to walk in the wind. When Jon and Justine were alone in his home, Jon poured her iced-water and a large measure of very dark tequila. They sat down at his kitchen table. They were silent for several minutes. After twenty-two years, newly discovered DNA evidence, incontrovertible and absolute, found by his lawyer and a private investigator, exonerated Frank once and for all, and he was set free at last.
He was a calm and quiet person, not bitter or angry, and I admired him for this and for many other things. Frank had begun mining when he was essentially still a child. He loved it — as most miners do love it.
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Mining is difficult work. It is also skilled work. It accordingly pays well. And nobody forces anybody to work in mines — not in this country, at least: miners voluntarily choose to mine, as I have. As Frank did. What you describe only happens under the authoritarian regimes our politicians here would have us emulate. Nevertheless, there was a period of time — an hour or so — when this man lived absolutely certain that he was shortly to perish.
Frank said also that he would never forget any of the things the man told him about those sixty minutes before he would be put to death. He said the description of the last five minutes in particular made a profound impression upon him. Then there was another minute to look around one last time at this human existence on earth, even if it was only the walls of a prison. He carried out his five-minute plan exactly as he mapped it. He was dying at age thirty-five, a healthy, vital human.
He thought about the woman he loved and how it had abruptly ended. What struck Frank the most about this was that the man was entirely certain that he could resolve this matter in one-hundred-twenty second because it was such a long time.