Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Into the Wind

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Into the Wind

Article excerpt

1.

Joseph listens to the hurricane's biblical fury and prays for the air to sleep. The floodwaters nearly at his chest, he clubs the bars across the window of his cell, yanking the cool iron with stiff frozen fingers. Calling into the darkness, he counts the strokes out loud. Suddenly, morning is a faraway thing yet Joseph remembers having creased his face against the cell bars, screaming into the sheriff's fleeing back, screaming into the wind.

Joseph beats the bars faster. His breathing is harsh. His arm starts to cramp and his mind trades life-and-death images at a furious pace. He wonders about holding his breath under water, opening his eyes to see the cell walls moving and alert through the filter of the wetness. The storm is only a day old but Joseph can barely remember when he was merely alive, merely a colored prisoner asleep in a tiny cell, waiting to be officially accused, desperate to stand before a New Orleans judge.

At twenty-six, Joseph believes in goodness. He believes the window bars want to let him pass with the tender sway of a modest country gate so he can swim like a child, natural and true, swim as if the floodwaters ringing the ramshackle parish jail were a quiet pond and Joseph would be able, as he claims his liberty, to pause, to momentarily inhabit the joyousness of a divine underwater silence.

2.

Coming from the lake, Joseph throws his pole and the perch in the dirt and runs toward the Model T in front of his house, his fourteen-year-old mind euphoric. He circles the motorcar slowly, his hands behind his back. He's desperate to caress its gleaming red surface. He knows the wealthy driver is just inside, no doubt bringing stories of faraway places, gamblers in close dark saloons, outlaws with guns, belching trains, tall majestic ships and homesick sailors, riverboats moaning in the moonlight, stories whose heartbeats exist lifetimes away from Broussard, Louisiana, from Joseph, from his mother's tiny vegetable garden and the neighbors with their endless sorrows and the wild mongrels and Aunt Ella's jelly jar ... Joseph's yearning for the world rippling outward.

Joseph suddenly hears the visitor inside. He steps softly onto the porch and peers through a worn screen. Minnie, Joseph's mother, moves a plain blue fan and talks reservedly of the heat. Calvin, Joseph's father, wipes his brow with a damp rag and looks over his shoulder, a nervous gesture that hardens to a twitch in times of stress.

Calvin sees Joseph at the door.

This is Mr. Claude Villard, Calvin tells Joseph. We done spoke about him son I know you recall.

Claude Villard has come to pay late respects to Joseph's dead grandfather, Elijah. Elijah was one of ninety-seven slaves Villard had owned before the war. The third time Elijah had cut from the Villard plantation the black-birders found him in a nearby well and shot once into his left hip. Calvin was never owned. But he is haunted by his father's legacy and often believes the patrols are still coming. Still hunting. Calvin snaps his neck even in sleep, screaming in the well, pleading for his life, his hands open to God. Through the gauze of this terror, Calvin has hovered over his only child, checking Joseph's breathing long past infancy, beating him without mercy for climbing the cherry trees alone or walking the lanes at dawn.

Joseph stares at the visitor, saying nothing, his desire for tales instantly gone.

I could use a good strong boy, Villard says to Calvin, nodding at Joseph. Got a fleet of flatboats out of New Orleans, pay your boy there a little some thin.

Calvin straightens, his neck in spasm. He strains to look Villard in the eye. I thank you kindly, says Calvin. My boy young, don't belong in a city, Joseph love a field sky and pure clear rain same as me. Who says? Joseph murmurs to no one.

3.

At twelve, Joseph had begun to feel his will. …

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