The cracks started to appear in the glass of Krackit’s photographs the day Kennedy was shot. That first one, on the fourth of June, 1968, snapped through the big one over the fireplace of the whole Luna clan that was taken five years earlier at the reunion in West Memphis. It’s as one of the bullets from Sirhan’s revolver richocheted right into Krackit’s living room and has been echoing back and forth ever since.
It was six or seven years later when Krackit noticed that the cracks in the glass were taking the shapes of letters, if you stood back, angled your head. The family reunion one was clearly an “E,” as was the one that trisected Li’l Dorie in hysterics as she was literally dragged to the school bus by her father. You could reasonably assume that the cracks over Johnny Reno doing his karate moves formed a “W” but the real kicker, the one where Krackit finally decided it wasn’t just his fool head playing tricks, was the little photograph of the twins, there on the piano. The cracks were so tiny and so plentiful that they created, astonishingly, a smoothly elegant “Q.”
This is Krackit and I, out on the snowfields, and I just can’t get over the longjohns I’m wearing, it’s like I can’t stop feeling them the way you’d usually stop feeling the weight of navy blue slacks or a promotional t-shirt eventually. Krackit, he’s smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, and it’s this special kind of tobacco that he gets mail-order, it’s called X-actly! for some reason, with the exclamation point, and Krackit says
“it’s the catnip what does it”
and I wish I had a special blend like that, something to carry around in a little plastic pouch that would keep my nerves calm, stop the knee from bobbing, stop the longjohns from being so present.
“How much longer you figure.”
And I let out a long breath and it makes frosty clouds up into the heavens and I chew on a little piece of flesh that’s just inside my lip. “I want to tell you like ten minutes.”
“And that’s what I want to hear, too.” Krackit’s breath-clouds are fuller, more complex. Perhaps maybe the catnip?
“Let’s make it ten minutes.”
“I tend to break up time into TV shows, you know?” I can’t see his eyes his ski hat is pulled down so low. “Like if you said we have to wait another half an hour, I’d think, that’s a whole sitcom right there.”
Krackit looks at me for the first time in a long while and gives me a smallish nod of respect. “That’s right.”
The sky was black and the skeletal trees against it were greenly phantom and the house, snow-topped, fat and squat and greyish. But the six windows in the west face, each identical in size, each cut into fours, were a deep, warm orange. The curtains were drawn in Windows 1, 5, and 6, but the material was sheer so they only muted the color. It was like stumbling upon a corpse in a darkened trench and feeling along its frostbitten body, searching for a pulse, and then glancing in its eyes and seeing life, comfortable, relaxed, like the corpse was sipping from a snifter, fireside, on the verge of licking a thumb and applying it to a gold-edged page. Comings and goings there in the house, sometimes anonymous shadows, sometimes Emma, sometimes an unknown young woman, possibly of Middle Eastern descent.
I’m fondling the small black box that sits heavily in the right-hand pocket of my parka. I anxiously flip its lid open and closed and I know that’s a tremendously bad idea, but I barely even realize I’m doing it — actually, now that I think back, I probably didn’t realize it at all. It’s only now, as I sit hunched over the typewriter, pecking away at this story with my one remaining hand, that I recalled doing something with it there in my pocket, this nervous fidgeting that was wholly unadvisable considering, you know, that the lid was there to keep someone from accidentally pressing the smooth maroon button within.
Six months earlier:
“What’s it do?”
“Pure animal magnetism.”
“Is that a fact.”
“The fluid between your brain and your skull—”
“Alcohol dries that up. That’s what gives you hangovers.”
“Yeah well that fluid is popping and boiling. Like water thrown on a hot skillet.”
“And that’s good?”
“You have no idea.”
“No, I certainly do not. Did you put it together from spare parts or what? Are you a Radio Shack boy?”
“Oh are you talking about the button? Ha, oh, ha ha, never mind, then. Never mind.”
Krackit was taking nature photographs with an Instamatic. His only concession to professionalism was the tiny light meter that dangled from his keyring, a keyring of excessive size, like a jailer’s, containing an impressive number of keys that suddenly became less impressive once you realized that they were all merely copies of the same One Key, thirty or forty or fifty even today, although the number fluctuated since Krackit would uncoil keys from the ring and fling them to potentially interested parties along with the line (which had been polished and streamlined over the years to its current incarnation, perfect and minimal), “Balsam at 10th, sundown.”
“I know I have a box of pens around here somewhere. A great big box of pens!”
“I only need one,” I said, barely spitting out that final syllable before jamming my fist in my mouth and biting down, hard, deep, into my skin, an old trick to keep myself from screaming or throwing a tantrum, leaving behind, I knew, a little oval of holes, each a slightly different shape, sickly white, and sometimes, when I’m really upset, sometimes with a little dab of red in the center.
“I’ll check the broom closet!”
Krackit made some minor adjustments to the pegs, more to stall for time than achieve any kind of aural perfection. “This one goes way, way back,” he said, further stalling, strumming good ol’ E, then Em, then back again. “Way back. My grandfather’s grandfather … well, he didn’t write it, I don’t think, but he’s the one that brought this song into the family. It’s called…” Krackit looked toward the heavens, closed his eyes, tried to keep the peaceful, transported look on his face as he frantically whipped through what remained of his shattered vocabulary. “This one’s called,” he opened his eyes, Em, E, E, Em, “We call it ‘Midnite Threnody’ and it goes a little something like this.”
And all at once, all the babies — Andrew Jr., Mikey, Krackit’s nephew Robert, a handful of others — they all started sobbing, then shrieking.
My howl was broken up into bubbles of various sizes and shapes and I could feel things snapping and tearing inside my body and then it was like someone pulled out a giant drain-stopper and the fluid was sucked away and still I floated, in mid-air, and there was a little girl there, not particularly clothed, and she spoke clear, complete sentences which made me uncomfortable since she seemed too young to be able to do that.
—Stomach hurt? she said.
I tried to speak but more bubbles came out, though I’d thought the fluid had disappeared.
—I’ve got just the thing.
Thomas Jefferson smiled with feeble indulgence. The once-fiery red hair lay around his shoulders, limp, pale. He reached a hand out to her. Wraiths swarmed invisibly. “Of course, Lucy,” he said.
She leaned forward. The room, though ventilated with two open windows and a warm breeze flowing in from the back fields, smelled stale and sour. “Mr. Jefferson, I have a message from Mr. Burr.”
Thomas Jefferson dropped his outstretched hand abruptly. He felt, even now, the dark tug on his soul. “Leave me,” he said.
“He wanted to clarify some issues with you. He wasn’t interested in Spanish America—”
“He wanted his own republic in the Southwest. He is a traitor and a murderer, and you sully my life by even mentioning his name here in my final hours.”
Lucy’s grip remained firm. “Mr. Jefferson. The land he purchased in the Louisiana Territory was for a noble cause, for a plan that will make this country even stronger. Aaron Burr will at long last allow this country to reach its divine potential.”
Thomas Jefferson shook his head wearily. “You have set your loyalties with the lowest kind of man.”
Lucy put her glasses in her apron pocket, fished around momentarily, and then re-emerged with a small, blue vial stoppered with a cork. “He does not have your intellect,” she said in a low voice. “He does not have your charisma. But he will.”
Emma’s face was tight and happy as she fished around the junk drawer for the handcuffs. Her hair was freshly brunette and the deep crimson dress ravishing in the indirect light of the kitchen. Near-invisible organisms, paramecia of thread, swam about in the pattern. She liked the glimpse of herself that she got from the polished chrome hood over the range — so soft, ghostly, the most charming hint of a beautiful girl emerging from a metallic fog. She lingered a moment, the fleshy pad of her thumb resting against the point of a corkscrew, and watched her Dusky Shadow lips say: “It’s just for a couple of hours, Kracky. You need to sit and read tonight, anyway. You need to be absolutely still, you need to focus. And concentrate.”
“I have this — is it legal for you to ask me this?”
“Well I have this condition. That recently appeared.”
“No, no, and frankly the doctors, they’re baffled.”
“Doctor Exton I bet we’re talking about.”
“Him and Jeffries and … the, the curly-headed one, with the teeth.”
“I had this episode, basically, sir, where I blacked out. And while I was out — well, let’s just say I blacked out and thus was unable to perform my duties. At my usual unbelievably high level.”
“And the doctors don’t know.”
“They’re making calls. I’m already envisioning a kind of transmitter. Something I could wear, perhaps around my neck, that would monitor my consciousness, I mean like my being fully conscious. And if I should pass out, a signal would be sent to 911 and also here to FI. Like maybe right into the intranet so my pay can be docked immediately.”
“The best solution for the worst problem, that’s our motto. One of them.”
“I just want to reassure you.”
“Yeah, and so it was right there, right as he was folding the bed up after a good night’s sleep.”
“You weren’t there,” Krackit said, crouching down.
“This is Alanhauser lore, in the blood. And I inheirited the thing. Might as well’ve happened to me myself. See you’re supposed to ease it back into the — this is a good public-service announcement. You ease it back in to the couch, you don’t force it, and you do not just let it go of its own accord. Or else: Snap! Right in between those two bars there.”
“Oh god,” Krackit, standing back up and peering close. “I can see. Oh god. I see … I see a little unidentifiable stain right there.”
Emma nodded. “Should make for a tense morning.”
“How could they not find it? I am punching holes right in your dumb story. This is an outrage. I need an excellent night’s sleep tonight. Big day tomorrow. I do not, I do not need these phantom irritants.”
Krackit decided to take his shoes off and perform the scene barefoot. The velcro strap was itchy. A cough was spreading through the audience. He lumbered onstage with bovine heaviness. He sneaked a glimpse out into the theater and saw dark, restless heads. It was suddenly extremely warm. His pupils contracted. His skin evaporated the rain into a humid steam.
At stage right, a freshman girl scooted forward with small steps, like a kimono-wrapped woman with bound feet. Her body was sheathed in a cylinder of cardboard and her arms, cloaked in a brown leotard, were outstretched, each hand holding a leaf-covered branch. Springing from her head were more branches and leaves, held tight by an athletic headband. Her progress was agonizingly slow. Throats were cleared.
MARIA: Oh, please, please tell me that our lines intersect somewhere. Somehow.
TREE: They do, Maria. We all share the same spirit.
COW: Even simple animals have feelings.
Krackit waited the five beats that Coach had demanded. The sound of the storm swept into the silence. Emma managed to keep the awe-stricken look on her face reasonably stable during this obscenely long pause. The branches shook in the tree’s hands.
COW: And souls.