“Something’s got to die—doesn’t it?”

            This after.  Schultz’s eyes looking even more deep-set now that he has a shiner.  His nose might be broken too.  He’s sitting with his legs up on his prison bunk.  His pale hands dangling over his knees.  Smoke in front of his face because he’s holding it before passing it back between the bars to David.

            “Ain’t nothin’ dies that can’t be born again.”

            “No…  I mean people have to die.  They have to die in order to change anything.”

            “What you talkin’ about?  There’s places for me.  There’s places for me to go.  Just like there’s places for you to go.  What?  Just cuz you was able to get a drink and I wasn’t?  You didn’t think that was fair?  Thing is—I can play music in your places, but you can’t play music in mine…  maybe that ain’t fair neither.”

            There’s that moment when they look at each other—to judge how serious they are.  Then they start laughing as David dabs a handkerchief to his bloody lip.

            “So it doesn’t bother you?”

            “Sure…  sometimes I lose my patience.  When I start believin’.  Believin’ that I’m really different.  That’s why we’re fightin ya know.  Because somethin’ in me wants to believe that, even when it hurts…  You know cuz of what happened tonight—and you know what you did?  You just stopped thinkin’ we was different—me and you—and just started thinkin’ that bartender was different.  Even though he was white—like you.  And you gave up everything you believed in to do it too.  But it felt good.  It felt right—didn’t it?  It was a different kind of different.  Somethin’ to do with good and evil—I don’t know—but you’d even give up being who you are, maybe just for a moment, to do what you felt was good, what was right…  We’s curious creatures—ya know?  Capable of so much bad stuff, so much hate, but sometimes we do good things mainly because we just can’t help ourselves.  We have to.  Just takes time.  The right moment.  Right influences…  You gotta be tricked into doing good—that’s the curious thing.”

            “Yeah… but does someone have to die?”

            David’s eyes are downcast, but the light bulb above his head does not shadow them—in fact the light reflecting in them as he looks down, bent over in the stool he set beside Schultz’s cell.

            “No… you just have to be willing to die.   It ain’t the death that changes things.  It’s the willingness—what people see and remember of it after.  Not some corpse.  Just something before, something in it that makes you want to be good, that’s remembered long after…

            Schultz sighs.  He leans his head against the prison wall behind him.  Maybe for a moment he’s with David, there in that cell, or maybe he’s in Germany, remembering who he was then, before the war.  He thinks of his father and girls.  And then maybe he remembers the sign.  The sign outside the roadhouse door, a piece of cardboard in the window, saying: Whites Only.  And he remembers other windows and other signs, outside of businesses neighboring his father’s shoe store, and in other towns of his country—two overlaid equilateral triangles that form a six-pointed star.  And maybe he wonders how he never really noticed them—these signs—never really paid attention—until he was made to.

            “Well, how was I?”

            “How was you what?”

            “You know…” and Schultz pats his hands on his knees and whistles a few notes.

            “Oh, well you was off a little on the last set…  sorry we couldn’t get ya more than a snare drum—Johnny and I stole that from the Color Guard closet…  but you did good, man—at least you didn’t try to run off on us…  And you did pretty good with that bartender too.  You ain’t a bad man to have in a fight…”

            And this one of their last conversations.  Because it was in the news—early December, 1941—Roosevelt’s speech to Congress.  David and Johnny’s papers processed quickly.  Tickets on the next train out of Biloxi.  Their fame had run out, and after the fight at the roadhouse, senior officers on the base no longer wanted David and Johnny fraternizing with the German prisoners, especially since a Mexican with a large quantity of marijuana in his truck was pulled over trying to enter the base—David’s name mentioned in the interrogation, an apparent delivery addressed to the prison infirmary.  They were heading to England.  On a slow boat across the Atlantic.  And this the next story—David Threnody’s combat experiences during the war.  How he defeated the Goliath, and saved Johnny Tribout’s life.  And as for Schultz, he didn’t go back.  After the war, after he was released, he settled in Mississippi, and became a farmer.  There’s no proof that he ever played with anyone again.  He never sat in on drums with someone.  But maybe he kept it.  After meeting David he kept it and couldn’t say he knew nothing about it.  He kept a copy of it, that book, he kept that copy of Huck Finn that he had.

Advertisements