Close the door. See it rise down the pot-marked alleyway lined with grey snow leftovers and brown cracked ice. See red-bricked and sandstone skin, three stories tall, rise and brood over a neighborhood. Lift up your eyes to the alleyway leading to the front doors, to the tall flag waving with the sound of a clean sheets’ snap on a spring morning. See it rise real from memory’s rubble.
Ascend the marble staircase with chipped edges. Hold the smooth lacquered wood railing. Wind past the noisome cafeteria to the top floor. Follow the hooks for little coats to the wooden doors. Enter the lanky room with barred windows and labeled books. Hear the smart, iridescent hum of fluorescents.
See the boy, red-faced and weeping. Alone.
See the bureaucrat. He sits at a desk with a nameplate. A matted photograph of an eagle with the words, SOAR WITH YOUR DREAMS, hangs behind him. Phone calls made and emails sent, but the bureaucrat doesn’t know what to do. The men with beards are demanding blood. They stand outside the door. They crowd the hallway.
See the man in front of the bureaucrat. The men horseback and torch-led by night’s false fire tore him from the woods and bruised him. They argue about his future, their future. Back and forth, back and forth they go until the sky blushes with morning’s pale light.
The bureaucrat questions the man. Manacled to his left hand is a pen. He writes in tight block letters on a legal pad: NOT KING. DENIES KING. He doesn’t understand the bloody man or the men with beards at the door. Exasperated from the early morning, he finally asks, “What hast thou done?”
The man’s tongue was fat from the beating. His words are intentional. His cracked teeth ooze blood down his beard. The man’s words are thick, buttery and slower than shouts. Grumbles follow from the hallway. “Art thou a king then,” the bureaucrat asks. “Thou sayest I am a king,” the man replied with drooping words, “To this end I was born, and for this came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”
The man’s voice becomes the incoherent mumbling of a sleeping lover. The bureaucrat almost heard his wife’s voice in the whispering (there were long nights of disturbed sleep these last weeks). The men with beards made no effort to hear him, but the nameplate and the eagle photo heard the man’s final and careful reply, “Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
See the mother. The Hoosier wind tosses her hair and reddens her face. Feel the soft suede of her blue jacket on your cheek and smell comfort. Her arms enfold you. Her shoulders are wet with young dolor. You shudder and gasp emotion. It bursts from behind your face. The boy never knew such tears in a library.
She speaks in his ear, “One day, not long from now, all of this will be memory. Memories are not a thing. They do not exist unless you choose to give them life. Though they lie to you and haunt you and make you hurt yourself, they are just ghosts. Truth has a body. Truth is a body.”
She takes him home. He does not finish the school day.
See the men. See them driving to work. They go for their families, for their wives, for themselves. See them turn up the radio; lift up their coffees; driving up the road, pushing the speed limit and praying for no police. The speed, the coffee, the sounds, the thoughts of family and the kids—keep men from seeing the ghosts attached to the car and floating behind them.
The men do not see the ghostly procession of a thousand hangers-on, a thousand figures clutching onto men’s brains and mufflers. They follow each man throughout the day and into the night. They shout. Through the cracks, the men hear them when they wake in cold sweat and muffled cry. See the men stumble into the bathroom for water. Their wives sleep.
See the men greeting. See their ghosts meet. Their ghosts argue and wrestle to determine which ghost is the strongest, which ghost can affect which man the most. They have eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear. Noses have they, but no smell. The men who really know themselves listen to the ghosts. The greatest predictor of the future, these men say to themselves, is the past. The ghosts are the greatest source of knowledge. Their shouts are wisdom.
See the man. He looks down, catching the drops of blood in his hand before they hit the beige carpet. The bureaucrat asks with a huff, “What is truth?” but does not wait for an answer. He shuts the door and in terse tones discourses with the men with beards. They said the man was no philosopher, no king, no healer, but a demon, a madman. A murder is more deserving of freedom than he. The bureaucrat wipes his hands on his khakis.
The man in the room had no ghosts to argue on his behalf. He had no repeated history. He gives no answer, or riddles or qualifications or carefully crafted explanations. The ghosts of the bearded men and the bureaucrat said the only way to fix this problem was to kill the man. If it took duplicity and lies from the ghosts in their collective thousand-year stories, then so be it. Whatever they had to do, they would do it. The brains of men will make sane anything.
See the dusty street lined with grey snow and brown-cracked ice. See the man, his breath puffing out before him. His blood steams off his body. His back is deeply slashed. See the man pass through the men and the men with beards and the ghosts of all those lining the street (an untold number including Abraham and Isaac, Romulus and Remus and Jupiter and David and Caesars, et. al.). They lower the cacophony, “We are truth. What has happened will keep happening. Die in the prognosticating past.” They keep shouting even as they enthrone the man with nails on a hill, until, finally, nature shook them to cold silence where they stood in noonday’s night.
See the boy become a man. The ghosts taunt him. See him love and doubt and love and doubt again—always too deeply, too much, too soon. See the ghosts from that bricked school down the alleyway tear and shout and hang on and drag him under. “See,” they seethe in his ear, “we ghosts are real when you’re already dead.” Did a man ever emerge from the past?
See the bureaucrat, the men with beards, and the men of that time and of this time and of all time. See us go about our work, our lives. See us living quiet lies of desperation. Love—even a mother’s love—is no match for reliving, for nostalgia. The men remain their pasts. The man remains the boy in the library alone. The cock crow awakens dawn to nightmares.