The Minstrel

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Those in the fortress were busy plotting. The fortifications had to be strengthened, the peasants were liable to riot once again. The priest of the peasants was near death; what little leadership they’d had before had been reduced to ashes. They must be kept under control.

Taylor and Johnson-Frawley were two of the souls trusted by God and man to keep law and order. Today, the Zoning Committee, the name this fine order of knights decided to assume, received word that the peasant suspect might be released on account of lack of evidence. He might not even make it to the grand jury again. One of the most violent of the peasants (and the peasants could be pretty violent, as their actions of late had proved, re: riot) was going to be let free because of cowardice within the ranks. The peasants truly had taken over.

But all was not going so badly for the Zoning Committee. They had just received permission from the local board to fortify their fortresses. They would receive money to aid protection, as well as government workers more than happy to construct their wall for them. A bribe from Johnson-Frawley to withdraw all support for officials in the next election had been key. A petition with a whopping two thousand signatures who would follow her lead had been tantamount in the government’s decisions to implicate the Zoning Committee’s plan. Congratulations were bestowed upon Johnson-Frawley. She deserved it. She was the best. She and her daughter in law Taylor, a.k.a. Mrs. Russell Frawley, were women for their communities.

Joan Taylor was proud of herself too. All the years she waster, sitting on the verandah drinking her sorrows away were over. She was a local celebrity, a hero. The White Plains Daily, the Daily News, and New York Newsday wrote blurbs about her successes. Finally, at the age of forty-three, she was making something of her life. She didn’t care anymore about her pathetic husband and what time he came home, who he’d slept with, or the dinners that were getting cold because of his escapades. Besides, she’d received a few offers from potential suitors herself, some as young as thirty from the Republican club. She met them at council dinners at the county clubs because she came unescorted, that is, unescorted by a manher venerable mother-in-law was also there, equally flirtatious. Taylor was learning from the best. She didn’t care if the ladies of town knitting sweaters and giving high tea talked. She didn’t even care if Russell found out. This was her life, and she’d be damned if she missed out on any of the fun any more. She’d wasted too much of it already.

Building of the wall would begin as soon as possible in anticipation of the nearing winter season. Already, the first frost had fallen, so time was quite limited. The workers didn’t work in cold weather, particularly in iceit would be too much trouble and exertion, besides, the government had to pay the higher salaries needed for their exertion, so the construction workers had an arrangement with the government in which they didn’t work in the coldest months. Time was running out fast.

So Taylor sat down with the foreman and arranged a building schedule for the workerswhen the foundation would be laid down, when the building structure would be finished, when the painting and other designs would be put in. Taylor had all kinds of exotic ideas for decoration: murals of birds, political symbols (the elephant was the most popular design), even some pictures of the moons of her childhood. She felt excited the way she had the time when she built a new kitchen in her home. In a sense, she was decorating her home. It was her community, and she took pride in it. Finally everyone would see what she was made of.

It was decided that the building would be terminated for winter in mid-December. The foreman made sure that Taylor knew they were extending their building schedules just for them. She thanked him and gave him a one hundred dollar bill, and told him, more would be coming, giving him a wink, seductive with the power of money, not sex. The foreman promised that he would keep his men in line. After that little interchange, there was no more complaints about inclement weather from any of the men.

All this was decided upon by the week after the Negro preacher got himself stabbed by his fellow gang-banger. Just in time, as far as the community was concerned. Taylor didn’t want the Negroes storming her only place of sanctuary because things weren’t exactly going their way. You couldn’t trust these imbeciles with power that only real adults should have; they abused it and caused chaos. Ask the business owner of the tobacco shop on 180th St. whose business was vandalized during the recent riot. He’d vouch for that, black or not.

She sighed and walked home, something she’d been chastised for the last couple of times she’d done it, chastisement which she promptly ignored. They all sounded the same, she was a woman, she shouldn’t be out alone at night, something she’d heard all her life in variant forms. Women were never supposed to be alone; those who chose to were deemed suspicious, whether they were women who walked alone or slept alone. They were undesirable, all sorts of adjectives with unsavory connotations. She was sick of the lectures. Women were supposed to give to others, but only in ways which were acceptable to mainstream society. When they deviated, they were considered deviant by men and women alike. Men would be called creative for doing the same things.

So she walked alone. The deterrence of bad men lurking in the shadows no longer held meaning for her, she’d grown up and discovered that the bad men were everywhere, and most were not bothering to hide. They were blatantly evil, outwardly corrupt. Like the foreman who could be bent by a hitched skirt and a one hundred dollar bill. That wasn’t hidden from anyone. Besides, even if the bad men were lurking behind the shadows, Taylor wasn’t about to give them satisfaction, not with her newfound freedom. She refused to give such creeps power by letting them know she was frightened. For too long, she’d been afraid; too long. No more.

She thought about the events over the last month and a half, and marveled at the progress she’d made. It was hard to believe it ha only been that short of time earlier that she’d been wasting away on the davenport drinking her sorrows away, making a drunken slobbering fool of herself by showing up at her husband’s office , looking like a desperate drunken hag. She hadn’t even showered that day. Now, she took pride in herself. Each day, after her husband left for work, she showered, and spent and hour and a half coifing her hair the way Ivana trump did. Like the entrepreneur’s ex-wife, Taylor had the looks and the body to show off in the dim grayness of early middle age, only up to now, Taylor had no reason to show off her looks. OF course, the protocol of the affluent lower upper class deemed it essential the she appear attractive and poised, but done in such as way as not to overshadow the gallant appearance of the husband, the one with the great deeds and accomplishments that could support the wife in such a fashion. Too much gaudiness and she would appear as though she either had no education or, that she wanted to outshine her man, or even worse, be a man herself, and a lady would never want to do that. Besides, gaudiness showed a lack of class, a lack off good breeding and education. So Taylor, as a good lady, complied. She would never want to be accused of lack of good breeding. But she didn’t care anymore. All her life, she’d lived for image, renting so much to her outside that she didn’t know what her soul was about.

But things had changed. In some ways, the stalker that had been killing the town had given her a gift. Her shell had been cracked. She had been jolted to acknowledge that she was not invincible , the walls of her great castle were not impenetrable. She had been like an innocent child who thought bad things didn’t happen in her world. Murder just didn’t happen on this side of the tracks. Somehow, despite or may because of her own son being the victim of violent street death, she had remained in a fog, a veil of denial draped over her eyes, preventing her from seeing what was happening right in front of her. She still had believed nothing would happen to her, even as they lowered the coffin of her seventeen year old son into the grave.

But events could have a profound effect on one’s life, just one incident and your whole life could be altered forever. The bizarreness of this was that you could never know when these events would happen, nor could you will them to happen. They were random fleeting events whose importance was only recognized when they passed, when they never would really return. Never were they noticed when there; sort of like a friend taken for granted, or time itself. It was only appreciated when it was gone.

This is, in effect what happened to Joan Taylor Frawley. After the weepy sleepless night on the verandah, and the office confrontation fortified with alcohol, she’d stumbled into an alcoholic oblivion which had lasted three days. Perhaps she wouldn’t have even stopped if she hadn’t heard the newscast on the bar TV. The story had a profound effect on her.

Not that the journalism or any of the actual storytelling was at all impressive to her. Joan had noticed over time that the quality and the competence of the journalists had greatly declined since the days of Walter Cronkite and William F. Buckley Jr. But it was the message conveyed to her, that spurred her into action.

She was forty-three. More than likely, she had less than half her life to live; and what had she done with the first half? Nothing too memorable, as far as she could see. When she assessed her life, all she saw was murkiness, the color of green mud; slop, waste. There were many of those who thought, because she had been born into money and married it, that he life’s problems were solved. If she cried, got angry, or was depressed, she was just a self-pitying bitch who was too selfish and greedy to appreciate all that was around her. As a child, she heard this often. As an adult, the words were not needed to convey the message. The look the clandestine whispers, the silent telephone, they were enough. They were louder than words.

But she had always been dissatisfied, not quite knowing herself why she was discontented. Sometimes when sitting around at all the barbecues with the private in-ground pools and strawberry daiquiris galore, while everyone else was laughing and joking, she would sit apart, feeling empty, not even knowing how to join in. Even the times she did manage to fit in an external way, she felt her laughter came from somewhere else, that it was another Joan laughing and not herself. In some sense, it really was another Joan, the Mrs. Russell Frawley the Third, upper-middle class socialite, who could easily be replaced with another frilly knick-knack so her identity didn’t matter. Joan the person didn’t even fit into the equation. Perhaps this was where the emptiness lay, she had thought over the years, not quite daring to explore that theory and further. There were images to maintain and lifestyles to upkeep. Joan dared not tangle with either of these venerable things.

Now, it was different. Now, the attack upon her fortress had left a gaping hole. She did not quite feel so protected. She had known both white preachers, and knew of the Negro one. The second white preacher, Michael Westerfield, had been a classmate of hers. She had dated him a couple of times. His death, rather, his murder, hit close to home, having a profound effect on her consciousness. She felt as a witness must feel. She had watched innocence being ripped away from her. Violence now held more feeling than the glazed images she’d been fed by the media. Whoever said Americans had been numbed to the effect of violence by media was wrong; dead wrong. She had been permanently alerted from the experience.

Time would end. Linear time, with a beginning and an end; that was her life. A memory popped back to her from high school geometry. Lines had beginnings and ends. Rays had beginnings, but no ends. She had lived her life like a ray, that somehow she had begun and would continue, on and on, forever in this body. Only now at the ripe old age of forty-three did she realize she’d been fooling herself all along, that time, her time, was a line. It had a beginning and an end. With the death of Michael, her peer, she had also learned that the end could come at any time. She remembered street preachers from her childhood in Manhattan: Repent, for the end is near. Never in her life had that seemed so true for her than now.

So, what was she to do with this limited time. Right now, this had proved to be less of a dilemma than she would have imagined. With the venerable Michelle Johnson-Frawley handy, life projects were never scarce. She was always ready to uphold the Christian values of the forefathers and God himself. There was order, freedom for all, hard work, quiet Christian virtue. The noise of the sixties had appalled her, why anyone would ever be called a hero for avoiding national duty during wartime was beyond her. She practically had a heart attack when Bill Clinton was elected. Now, she said the country had truly gone down the tubesfirst NOW, SDS, NAACP, then it all amounted to this farce of a leader. We must save ourselves from ourselves, she said.

Joan Frawley couldn’t have agreed more. Prior to the killings of the preacher, she had felt safe to walk down her own streets, but she had always been afraid to walk down the streets of Manhattan or the Bronx, because she worried that some nigger would rape her in some sick diabolical demonstration to show the white man he meant business. All the niggers and Spics wanted was for hard working white people to fork over their money just so they could have as many babies as they wanted, take drugs, and sit on their duffs. When the white people who couldn’t’ afford to have a child of their own because of taxes complained, they were called racists. When government officials had the audacity to cut “programs” that parasitically minorities fed of off, riots were threatened. It was said that the first act of terrorism on American soil was the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. That was a farce. Terrorism had been going on for years. Ask the good citizens of Newark in 1967.

And the terrorism was going on now. Give us your money, or we will brandish your character, or, if we feel like, we will kill you for it. Do not cut our programs or arrest any of us for capital crimes, or else we will burn your cities down. But of course, this was not racist. To accuse these violent hoodlums of racism would land you a racist as well and maybe even a lawsuit for bias crimes. Yeah, these hoodlums worked real hard for their money.

So be it. But Joan Taylor Frawley was sick of not feeling safe in her own community, and so were many other good people. If the Negroes and the Spanish were entitled to safeguard their own regardless of expense, so were she and other whites who felt the need to protect their own. Racial crime was on the rise. If the blacks couldn’t deal with the whites, just leave them alone, just like she did them. What was the need for all this violence. They were being racist themselves. Only don’t ever tell them that. They might have a temper tantrum and start playing with matches.

Joan enjoyed her work on the Zoning Committee.. It was giving her a selfhood she never knew she had. No more Mrs. Russell Frawley for her; she was sick of being Mrs. Anyone, she wasn’t going to hide behind the curtails of an incorrigible drunk. She was her own person with her own goals, doing good for the community her way. She started thinking with the same mind she had a long time ago, before she’d become half of a whole through marriage. The brilliant mind of Joan Taylor had briefly felt uncomfortable, like a shoe not broken into yet; too much freedom, to wide open a space for her to explore. But surprisingly she got used to it very quickly. It was a luxury to be able to think for only one, though the one was so young and underdeveloped that she felt like she was nurturing a child. She was, actually. Her person had never developed past twenty, when she had been of obsessively involved with Russell who she thought was supposed to be her white knight. She had still been a child, and yet she had felt old at twenty to be single, “still” a Taylor, like the identity she had been born with was some kind of shame to still have as a grownup. Now, in her middle age, she was ready to claim it back. She was ready to begin being her own person again. Her personstrong, secure, whole.

She turned a corner leading her into White Plains, her home, her sanctuary just over the hills, visible in the distance. Only a short while left to reach it. She began to feel a comforting peace. Life felt very good to her.

There were two people up ahead, a man and a woman. They appeared to be arguing. The woman kept walking away from the man; the man kept following her, harassing and grabbing at her. Joan felt a slight apprehension at the idea of walking upon an argument. Fighting made her uncomfortable. But somehow she continued upon her path, determined to face the fears that had been caging her all her life. No longer would she be dominated by them.

Imagine her surprise when she reached the two and found herself face to face with her wayward husband. And, presumably, the latest slut that he had been consorting with.

And a slut she was. Tattered clothes, an unclean smell, tattered hair. And on top of it, this mess of a human didn’t even want her husband, and there he was begging her to stay with him. If it hadn’t been her husband, Joan Taylor would have laughed right there and then at how pathetic looking this middle-aged idiot in his wrinkled suit was. But it was her husband. And despite herself and the great strides she had made towards her independence, Joan Frawley found herself distraught at the sight she saw, panic at the idea of losing her husband, embarrassment at what she was losing him to. She felt like trash, less than that, even. Trash didn’t even want her husband. She did. Stupid fool.

A part of her wanted to act. Kick him in his balls, claw his eyes out. Or go home and tell the gossip column in the local newspapers a lurid story of his excursion. Maybe taking all his stuff from the house, bring it to his office and burn it in front of his sleazy nose. All these things she had plotted during her drunken moments sitting on the verandah for when this time came. Now, that it was here, she was immobilized and paralyzed. She felt at a loss to either speak or act. All she could do was watch the repetitive scenario before her, her husband the lecherous wretch to grab at the whore; the whore smacking kicking, screaming at him. Despite herself, Joan felt a smattering of admiration for the slut for having the balls to do what she always wanted to do today. The women today had spunk. Even homeless sluts like this one. The feeling quickly submerged to disgust. She had taken what was someone else’s; hers. She deserved no respect.

Then the scene changed abruptly. Out of nowhere, a hulky, dark man appeared, rushing straight for Russell and wrestling him to the ground. Even the slut was suddenly still, probably as dumfounded as Russell himself. She laughed. She wondered what the expression on Russell’s face was. But she made no move herself to help her husband. She felt a grotesque satisfaction in watching him suffer his just desserts. Finally, he’d met his match, learning what it was like when he stole another’s.

Her husband lay on the ground, actually, half-sitting would be a better way to describe his position. He shook his head, holding his hand to his forehead as his attacker hauled the trashy slut over his shoulders, presumably to give her the good beating she deserved. There was no more movement before her; the storm had ended, and she felt oddly disappointed. She would have liked more action.

Her husband caught sight of her. Once he recognized her, he called to her. He wanted her to take him home.

And Joan Taylor, fully in control of herself again, found herself turning away and going home alone.

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