The Soldier

Excerpt from All the Last Furies.
He swept me into the storage room of the inn. Baited me with the promise of candy. Something so simple, and yet candy might be the ultimate siren for children, its lure a golden hook.
The storage room smelled of musty cedar, and was crowded with wooden crates.
He, the soldier, dressed in his gray-green uniform went to the door and bolted it by sliding a wooden cross-bar into place. This he did casually, almost gently, as if it were naturally ordered logic to lock us in. It’s something, quite something, how the closing of a door can change everything. The noisy patrons of the inn, their bawdy revelry, immediately became muted and distant.  A closed door, and darkness, really does slide you from one reality to another.
 The soldier reasoned aloud—I don’t want any of the other children to wander in expecting candy. I only have enough for you.
His voice matched the creaking of old friendly wood, the worn smooth gliders of a rocking chair. It lulled me into a stupor, yet I managed to remember why I was alone with him in the cramped darkness—Where’s the candy?
It’s funny, I hadn’t even wondered what kind of candy it was, just the fact that I was being offered candy was enough. Though I did wonder about its color. Color always meant the world to me.
The soldier didn’t seem to hear what I asked, or ignored it, as he drew nearer to me and began stroking my hair.
You are such a fine and lovely creature, do you know that?
I had never been called a creature before and my stomach felt uneasy. Candy seemed like a fast-fading-illusion, part of another reality that I had conjured. I had wandered into the wrong dream.
The soldier continued stroking my hair, gently ever so gently, and said—You really are a perfect little angel. Can I kiss your perfect little angel mouth?
The soldier lowered to one knee and leaned in. His coarsely-whiskered face was now blotted and out of focus, a moon that had transgressed its orbit. His breath smelled of onions and anise.
Just a little kiss okay, and I felt his piscine lips forced onto mine. My small mouth felt in danger of being swallowed whole.
After he removed his lips from mine, I dumbly asked—Where’s the candy?
It’s okay, he says, leveling his gaze with mine, trying to project reassurance from his eyes into mine, just be quiet and let’s have this time together. It seems as if he hasn’t moved at all, yet I can now feel his fingers like tweezers pinching me down there, and he begins unbuttoning my trousers. I lose track of time, myself, where I am.
I’d say the soldier was tall, but compared to what? I was seven and he was a lot older than seven and so it would be more accurate to say he was a giant.
Beyond the slope of his massive shoulder, I see a spider crawling along the edge of a crate. It stops, keeps perfectly still. Was it watching us? Watching the scene unfold through its spider-eyes?
The soldier forces me down.
To become a master of silence will take time, but I know that I have begun.
That was an adaptation excerpted from the play, Polestar, written by Viola Manzetti, about the life, myth and legend of the 19th century poet, Arturo Arcturus. The text was read by Evie Chase, the actress who plays the role of Arturo. Viola and Evie will join us live, in the studio, tomorrow to talk about the play, which will be launching on a national tour at the end of the month.
Arturo turns off the radio. They, people out there, god knows when, are talking about him, he is being performed on a stage for an audience by a woman named Evie Chase. The world is creating him while he lies here in a hospital bed, decaying, besieged by things he didn’t understand, voices floating in from this inexplicable marvel of a thing called radio, and somewhere out there, far far away from this remote island of a hospital room, there were people talking about him, writing about him, staging him, there was a play titled Polestar inspired by the life, myth and legend of 19th century poet, Arturo Arcturus. He was the 19th century poet Arturo Arcturus, that was him.
Why couldn’t he remember having been raped by a soldier in the storage room of an inn? Was that an invention rooted in artistic license, a fabrication that had snaked its way into the narrative of this Viola Manzetti’s play? Or, perhaps, he was blocking out this trauma which had occurred when he was seven? Perhaps it was a memory entombed in a cinder vault, one of those catatonic untouchables?
Even though the program had said that Viola and Evie would be in the studio tomorrow, that didn’t mean that his tomorrow would match theirs. There was no consistency upon which he could depend, or set his dial, when it came the radio and its offerings. Maybe he’d stumble upon the interview with Evie and Viola, maybe not. In this respect, Arturo’s relationship with the radio was one of fragmentation and cliffhangers. He longed to hear what Viola Manzetti had to say about him, why she wrote him, the play, same as he wanted to hear from Evie Chase, and what it had been like playing him. Why had they chosen a woman? What did this Evie Chase look like? That being said, what did he, Arturo, look like? He could almost see himself reflected within his memory-reels, but the images were vague, insubstantial, irresolute.What did he look like now? There were no mirrors in the room, no reflective surfaces. When his stump throbbed, or he felt pain elsewhere, he became aware of his body, this derelict residence in which he was a rooted clawing tenant, but what about his face? He hadn’t given thought to that in a long time. He felt that it was reasonable, or within the realm of possibility, that he might look in the mirror and see no face at all reflected back to him. Or perhaps it would show a featureless face, an embryonic mold. Yet the deliberate inquiry conducted by his fingers, registered a nose, mouth, eyes, so why not trust these tactile findings?
Was there really a coarse-whiskered soldier, smelling of onions and anise, that had trampled his innocence? A cedar-scented storage room, wooden crates, a spider crawling along the edge of a crate. Did memories make fiction, or was it the other way around?


(Artwork by Mark Rothko)

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, performer, and playwright, John Biscello, has lived in the high-desert grunge-wonderland of Taos, New Mexico since 2001. He is the author of four novels, Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, Nocturne Variations, and No Man’s Brooklyn; a collection of stories, Freeze Tag, two poetry collections, Arclight and Moonglow on Mercy Street; and a fable, The Jackdaw and the Doll, illustrated by Izumi Yokoyama. He also adapted classic fables, which were paired with the vintage illustrations of artist, Paul Bransom, for the collection: Once Upon a Time, Classic Fables Reimagined. His produced, full-length plays include: LOBSTERS ON ICE, ADAGIO FOR STRAYS, THE BEST MEDICINE, ZEITGEIST, U.S.A., and WEREWOLVES DON’T WALTZ.
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