|[Editors Note: You have landed amidst the wreckage of the American Dream. It's a novel called Big American. |
How did this start?The squid is on the road, people. Keep up. Want to catch up with past chapters? Check out the Archive.
Want to know what happens next? Read on!]
And now we are back to the frame of our tale. Thomas sits alone in a Georgia field editing video footage on his iBook. He looks over to the Escalade. It has been washed and is sparkling in the sun. Thomas leans back as he slurps at the lemonade. Shot of the sky, deep and clear.
It is late afternoon. Thomas finishes up some fiddling on the iBook and the stows it in his backpack. He stands. The house and the barn and the windmill stand off to the side.
Video and sound come through clear and nice. His glasses seem to be working very well.
Uncle Fred approaches. He is wearing a stained yellow t-shirt and is scratching long across his belly. He lifts his hat up off his head and scratches at the bald scalp.
"That's some Caddy you driving there, Sven."
"Yeah, it sure is, Mr. Smith."
Uncle Fred leans close and speaks in a hushed tone. "Now, I did some checking on the weight displacement on those shocks and you got yourself a fancy custom job or something. I suppose you need it with a gentlemen of Mr. Brando's . . . well, girth. I guess it's holding, though I can't quite say why. I changed your oil, checked your fluids, and put in some new washer fluid. There were some parts of that engine that I never saw before, so I left them alone. Must be that goddamn Northtrack thing. I don't know. But there was this—"
Fred holds up a small circuit board pinched between two greasy fingers. It has four integrated circuits like squat, square beetles, and a variety of resistors and capacitors.
"—I checked all over and I couldn't fine no way for this to be linked in with the engine— Hell, it's even got its own independent power supply, this little button-battery here— so I grabbed it and thought I'd show it to you. You ever seen it before?"
"No sir," Thomas says. His voice cracks a bit.
"Yeah, I never saw nothing like it. These two chips here, their Motorola. And that's the little Texas Instrument thingy. But over here, well, what do you make of that marking?" Uncle Fred holds the circuit board up close to Thomas' eyes for inspection.
"Looks like a z," Thomas says.
The largest of the ICs sits squarely in the middle of the green board. It has no numbers or markings other than an ornately inscribe Z.
Uncle Fred pulls the board back down. He sounds a bit dissapointed. "Yeah, that's what I thought, too. But it's weird, isn't it?"
It is a testament to the lack of erudition in the group— not to mention the total absence of Jewish blood— that both Thomas and Uncle Fred misidentify what lies before them. They are holding the chip sideways, rotated 90-degrees from its proper angle. The symbol, quite clearly, is not a Z nor an N but an aleph, first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The aleph is silent, a place holder for vowel sounds— as, in Hebrew, there are no letters to correspond with the vowel phonemes. A phonetic place-holder, the aleph should be brought to mind whenever it is claimed that Muslim Arabs invented the concept of "zero." But, a circuit whose only marking is the aleph; what could it mean?
Uncle Fred flips the board over to Thomas, who snatches it from the air.
"I guess you should have it. Came from your car. Oh, and, Western Union guy said he would be here soon. Called. Mother came out and told me."
"Thanks, Mr. Smith."
"Fred, Sven. Fred."
Uncle Fred smile and hits Thomas on the arm so hard the Thomas turns slightly to side.
Later that evening we have shots of the Western Union truck carefully backing up to the Escalade. A crate the size of a bicycle, perhaps slightly large, is being lifted to the roof of the Escalade by four men. They grunt and yell at each other until, finally, it is firmly fixed on the roof rack. They tie it down with nylon mesh belts, Thomas signs for the whole affair and they drive off.
Lisa stands next to Thomas.
The camera leans close to Lisa's hair. The strands are sandy and smooth. "What do you think he ordered?"
"He doesn't seem to want to talk about it," she replies quietly.
"The suspension seems to be holding, don't you think?"
"For now," she says with a chuckle.
"Hey, about last night . . ."
She turns to face him and holds up her palm to him. "Already forgotten." She leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. Her hair gets caught in the temple of the glasses and then there is a spinning, nauseating moment while the glasses fall to the ground. They peer up at the two as they look down.
"I'm still not used to you wearing glasses," she says.
Thomas leans down, his hand covering the camera lens, and picks up the glasses. They return forthwith to his face.
"Me neither . . . it's . . . been a while since I wore glasses. Since I was a kid."
"Well, you look cute. Those frames are kind of big on your face. The plastic is all . . . chunky. You look cute. Like a kid."
Thomas hands Lisa the circuit board.
"Your uncle found this on the engine. Do you know anything about it?"
Lisa pales as she carefully holds the circuit-board up on her fingertips. She runs a thumb over the large middle IC.
"I . . ." she stops and coughs. "I don't know a thing about it." She smiles and hands it back to Thomas.
"You were right," he says to her. "What should we do with this."
She takes it from his hand and turns to the field. She winds up and then throws that circuit-board so far so fast that it becomes a speck amongst the field grass and then disappears entirely.
She smiles at Thomas. "Taken care of."
We are now in the front seat of the Escalade. Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky stand outside Lisa's window, which is rolled down.
"Thanks, guys," Lisa says and waves at her aunt and uncle. There is a large grocery bag sitting between Thomas and Lisa.
"And thanks for the food!" Thomas calls out.
"AND FOR THE DELICIOUS BEECH GOBBLER. ABSOLUTELY DELECTABLE."
"Marlon, turn down your intercom," Thomas says. He reaches out and waves. "We're off, folks."
"INDEED, WE NOW MUST TRAVERSE THE HIGHWAYS OF THIS STRANGE SURFACE WORLD!"
Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky laugh.
Aunt Becky says, "Marlon, you are such a cut up!"
"I SHALL SURELY CUT YOU ASUNDER WITH MY TERRIBLE POWER, MRS. SMITH. LIKE UNTO A WILD ONE RIDING HIS MOTORIZED CYCLE OF TERROR!"
Everyone laughs. Thomas starts the engine and begins to pull away, slowly.
Aunt Becky calls, "Be careful."
Uncle Fred calls, "Remember, keep an eye on those fluid levels."Lisa responds, "We will, Uncle Fred.""We love you, Lisa," Aunt Becky says as she falls away and the Escalade speeds up. "And you too, Tom."
Lisa rolls up the window. Thomas honks the horn and looks out his window. The aging American couple waves as the trio in the Escalade speed away.
"So, where next?" Thomas asks.
"New Orleans, I say," Lisa responds. She puts a hand on Thomas' knee and he looks down. She pulls it away suddenly and they turn away from each other.
"YES. INDEED. I KNOW MANY BEINGS THAT LIVE IN THAT MIGHTY RIVER, THE MISSISSIPPI!"
"You mean, by the Mississippi, don't you Marlon?" Lisa asks.
"YES. BY THE RIVER. OF COURSE. BY THE RIVER!"
That is all, friends.
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