Saturday, February 4, 2012

Novel Excerpt

(From a novel that will be set in a city very much like Philadelphia.)


"Every kick I receive from life makes me crazier."

Top Hat and Mary Dreads sat in Top's west side rowhouse, a collapsing flimsy-built 100 year-old structure with no heat, electricity, or running water.

Mary sat on a sunken-to-the-floor brown-and-beige sofa across from Top Hat, who sat upright and hatless in a straight-backed chair sipping from a paper cup of hot tea bought at a corner shop. A silhouette against the debris of the room.

Gray light flowing into the room displayed a large gray rat poking through mess in what passed for a kitchen. Top Hat didn't much care. His attitude: They have to live also. If he called the exterminators on them, someone might call the exterminators on him!

Mary's dog Parker showed no interest. The dog had learned long ago to mind his business. He slept next to Mary on the sofa with a yellow paw over his eyes, ignoring rats and humans both.

The herbal tea in Top's paper cup appeared violet. A dab of color amid grayness. Mary sipped from her usual extra large coffee.

Mary respected Top Hat. He reminded her of her favorite 19th century Russian anarchists.

"What makes a revolutionary?" Top Hat asked. "Total alienation. I'm not talking about comfortable people hanging around their comfortable lives at the bistro imbibing overpriced wine feeling vague unease and suddenly decide the lightbulb goes on that they're alienated. I'm talking about alienation being pounded into you and your cells and your soul every day of your life.

"Take Lenin. The revolutionary, not the Beatle. Lenin's older brother the cherished joy of the family was murdered by the Czar's police while a college student. I'd say this radicalized young Vladimir Ilyich!

"I don't have an experience like that, no I don't, though I saw my brother beat up by five cops in our family's own backyard. No room for him to move. They knocked him back and forth. This was the other end of the state. It made an impression on me.

"Five against one! For our family those were good odds. It's been fifty-to-one against us all my life. We grew up fighting everybody. My brothers, my sisters and me, fighting, always fighting, in school, gym, on the bus, fighting everybody everywhere we were always the poor kids in town, you know, wearing rags flapping shoes our parents drunk we were the crazy family that everybody hated. Talk about alienation!"

He shouted the last sentence, then took a sip of his herbal tea and calmed a trifle.

"I'm half-Irish, half-Slovak, you know," Top Hat continued. "Coalminers and steelworkers! We were brought here to work-- allowed in, you could say-- to work the hardest jobs. For no other reason. Wage slaves. The toughest places. I saw my father work himself into the grave. He had a sixth grade education. Tell me about opportunity."

Top made his two hands into fists and turned them over a few times, exhibiting them to Mary. They were thick and gnarly.

"As hard as steel!" he said in wonderment. "That's what this world gave me. I worked in a steel plant when I was young. Hard work. Those were the good days. Good pay, right out of high school. Now the plants stand rusting, empty. This used to be a great country. I know all about work, worked to support my mother and sisters keep them in our little house since I was fourteen, working nights sleeping in class-- but you know that whole song-and-dance. The story of my generation-- mine, not theirs--"

He waved with his hand toward the window to show he was talking about Them; the Oppressors; the Man; the so-called Good People.

"--is the story of dreams the only reason we were here and alive taken away from us. I've seen strikebreaking, union busting, busted heads, shuttered factories, an onrushing sea-crashing tidal wave of relentless bonecrushing change.

"What do they know about revolution, Mary?" he asked. "What do they know about alienation? What do they know about anger? I trust nobody. Only those hard core we happy few balls-to-the-wall radicalized warriors like yourself who are true outsiders."

Mary considered.

"I don't know, Top," Mary said, while Top Hat sipped from his herbal tea with his yellow whiskers bristling, his grumbling for the moment contained but rumbling inside his throat, through his body up to his cheeks and occasionally in stray moments sparking inside his crazy eyes.

Mary Dreads sighed.

"I trust Miles. I really do! I know him and I trust him. As for her--"

They both knew who Mary referred to. The Voice.

"Is there anyone more alienated from life than she is? Could there possibly be? You've heard her, in person. You've seen her eyes. What must be her story!"

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