Seth Crowe is an undergraduate student in the writing program at SCAD-Atlanta. He previously attended Carrollton High School and the University of West Georgia. Crowe is in his final year at SCAD and plans on continuing his work as a fiction writer.
The Dead Confederate (Excerpt)
New York, May 1964
They wore their skin like it was too tight; a cramped movement of dead weight and mangled bone, nobody could sleep in Greenwich Village. A young harmonica player took deep breaths between riffs, crashing chords across the face of his dark-wood grained guitar. A yellow fog hovered above the bar. The high-ceilinged bulbs poured dim light over finely adorned panels crafted from stained timber. Two doors from the corner of 11th and University, a light drizzle rapped against the windowpanes of the Cedar Tavern. The floor was tacked from spilled beer. It created a familiar stick that whispered from the shoes of college students, sophisticates, and emerging beatniks. A man with a clean-cut moustache dressed in a double lapel, black suit and green tie leaned across his bar stool to emphasize the tail end of his conversation with a young woman. He said, “It’s not illegal in any procedural manner, not by current standards mind you.”
She stirred the two cubes in her drink and raised a sarcastic brow, “Because burning draft cards represents the ideal patriot.”
He wiped the stray ashes from her dress and said, “That’s why you’ll vote for Goldwater, and the first amendment will be another piece of liberal garbage for him to wipe his ass with.” A mischievous smile crept over his face as he continued, “I must have missed that chapter in Goldwater’s book, was it not in between The Welfare State and The Soviet Menace? Or is it another unspoken conservative bylaw? I just assumed he would rather put three more notches in the Bible belt before giving a damn about anymore bloodshed.”
Across the room, the ragged musician wiped his forehead and waived to the bartender from his dim corner of the tavern. A scotch appeared next to him. He took a sip and began the next song lightly strumming his six-string:
A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
She crossed her legs and let out a quiet sigh. Taking a long drag from her cigarette she ran her hand through her hair and said, “You assume I’ve read the book. My president died in the back of a Lincoln Continental.”
He pointed to his glass, mouthed, “another please.” The bartender nodded, he turned to the lady, “But are southern girls not steeped in such tradition; born with iron-clad chastity belts and baptized in the waters of White and Villard?”
Taken back for a moment by the man’s comment she paused, then quickly replied, “And what makes you think I’m from the South?”
Adjusting his black-rimmed glasses he reached for her drink, “Yankee women don’t drink bourbon, not straight with two cubes.”
The small crowd seated at tables surrounding the young guitarist began tapping their feet in rhythm with the verses spilling from his lips:
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
She smiled and nodded her head from side to side. He drained the remainder of her drink and adjusted his tie, pulling the single Windsor snug to his collar. She said, “I suppose the crows are in the corn.” After a sterile, inquisitive stare she added, “I don’t even know your name.”
The bartender poured the man’s drink and walked back down the bar to hear the music. The mustached man grabbed it and handed it to the woman, “I’ll tell it to you over breakfast; grits, scrambled eggs, and biscuits should suffice I would dare to venture?”
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game.
She choked on a drag from her cigarette, “Quite the presumptuous one. I’m married.”
Reclaiming his drink he took a hefty swig and said, “ ‘a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.’ ”
“What is that? Locke?”
The rain came down in waves as the door to the tavern swung open revealing a drenched, dark figure wearing cowboy boots and tattered blue-jeans with a bronzed buckle and sheathed Bowie holstered to his leather belt. He shook the rain from his time-worn jacket and covered his face as he let out a bellowing sneeze. A young couple turned from a table near the door and said, “Bless you.”
The soaked man extended his hand towards the pair and said, “Thankye very kindly.” The young man shook his hand and said, “You’re very welcome, sir.”
His boots replicated the proverbial stick as he walked down the bar wiping his nose on the corner of his sleeve. His left leg moved slower than his right, an informal gait not far removed from a recognizable limp. Surveying the crowd he made out a familiar face and approached the man in the black suit sitting at the bar. He said, “All God n’ hell Hank. If ain’t never seen nothin’ more stupifyin’ than yer ugly face. Ya don’t look a day past shit.”
Hank turned in surprise, “Jesus, Walter.”
Walter snatched the drink from Hank’s hand and downed it without pause. He pulled a cigarette from the lady’s pack on the bar and said, “Howdy ma’am,” with a wide grin.
The bartender approached, “What can I get for you?”
He slapped Hank on the back, knocking the wind from him, and said, “I believe this fine fella is gonna buy me a beer. Whatere’ ya got on tap’ll be just fine.”
Hank recovered from his temporary shock and said, “Walter this is…” He paused pointing towards the young lady, “Actually I don’t believe I got your name.”
She snuffed her cigarette and smiled. Taking her handbag from beneath the barstool she laid three crisp bills on the counter and said, “I didn’t give it.”
Walter grabbed his beer over the bar, “Thankye.” He looked to Hank, “I like her,” raising one eyebrow.
“Well you’re out of luck. She’s married.”
Walter took three gulps from his beer and dropped a dirty satchel bag to the floor. He placed the stolen cigarette in his mouth and began patting his pockets. Before he could find a light, the young woman struck a match and lit it for him. He took a deep drag and said, “Hitched are ye?”
She climbed down from her stool, “I suppose I am as you say, ‘hitched.’ ”
Hank nervously ran his hands through his dark brown hair and began tapping his right shoe against the foot-rail on the bottom of the bar. Walter ran his index finger across the bottom of his nose, “Ya know what they say bout them nuptials right?”
She began to walk away. She turned and paused, “No, what do they say about it?”
“‘A master, a mistress and two slaves, makin’ in all, two.’”
The young woman looked at Hank. She nodded her head in agreement, “I’ve never heard that before.”
Walter rummaged through his satchel bag. He said, “Well, now ya know, and knowin’ is half the battle.”
Hank stirred the remaining cubes in his glass and straightened the pleat in his pants. An air of apparent anxiety overcame him. Raising a hand to the young lady’s departure he said, “I’ll see you at draft card burn tomorrow.”
The lady laughed as she walked towards the door saying, “Because you’re such an advocate of the first amendment.” She raised her hand with her back turned to Hank and Walter waiving adieu.
Hank hung his head, “Shit.”
Walter sat down, not wasting any time he finished his beer and took a long drag from his cigarette, “Who in tha hell is that?” He pointed to the young man with the guitar.
“He ain’t half bad.”
Walter stared at the selection of top-shelf liquors. He rubbed the stubble on his chin with his thumb and index finger, “Daddy’s dead, Hank.”
Bob finished his set quietly strumming his old six-string singing,
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.