Cody Walker



               Dennis and Edna sinned.  They also disappeared into the Severn River thenight of the Believers’ album release, which is why the police think they’re dead.  Dennis sinned against whatever code makes us decent and spark-lit and merciful.

               Edna—even worse—sinned against me.

               Just now I was looking up adultery in the Oxford.  I let the lens passadrenal and adrift and adsorb, but I rested on adulteration.  Adulteration, perhaps, is the more damaging act.  Sal called me earlier from his desk at the ad agency, told me to stop being “a maniac.”  He thinks I should drop the whole investigation—“Just let it go, Jamie, fuck it, relax.”  But to let it go, wholly, would make adulteration possible.  The truth could twist to fiction like a bending harp note.

               The afternoon, since Sal called, has swooned by.  It’s a typical Baltimore spring day—some clouds, much sunlight.  I’ve tried to relax.  I shot baskets in the church parking lot, ate corn flakes, browsed through old City Papers and Eight by Ten band flyers.  I put Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” on CD thirty-five repeat.  I ran my hand over paper edges, drew my blood, studied it.


               Last summer, before Edna and I were married or even knew each other, Sal and I played a lot of basketball.  We both worked part-time for The CityPaper—Sal sold ads, I wrote word puzzlers—and when things were slow we went to the Vo-Tech school on Howard Street and played h-o-r-s-e.  Instead of h-o-r-s-e, though, we used whatever word occurred to us: c-r-a-c-k-p-o-t or w-i-n-d-f-a-l-l or g-l-o-t-t-o-c-h-r-o-n-o-l-o-g-y.  One afternoon Sal suggested d-a-z-z-l-i-n-g b-r-u-n-e-t-t-e g-o-d-d-e-s-s, then laughed and asked if I’d seen the new music reporter. “Uh-uh,” I said.  “Worth braving the Eight by Ten for?”

               “Worth ruining my jump shot for,” he said, bricking one into a parkedCressida.           Imagine naming a car after an unfaithful woman.  We found Edna that night at the Eight by Ten, drinking whiskies and scribbling at the bar.   Sal and I pushed through the punkers and retro kids, introduced ourselves, sat down, asked about the band.  “They just play Dylan,” she told us.  “A brave idea after Under the Red Sky, but it works.  Lots of Blonde and Highway and Harding.  They’re called The Obviously Five Believers.  Their fifth guy, the harp player, is gonna move to Boston, so I don’t know if it’ll be The Obviously Four Believers or what.”

               “Like James at 15 that became James at 16 when it made it to a new season,” Sal jumped in.

               “Mmm,” said Edna.  She turned to me.  “I like your anagrams.  Excepthorsecart to orchestra this week, which was too easy.”  She slid me herwhiskey—raising one eyebrow, crescent-like.  I took a small drink.  She laughed.  “Have some more—I need to be able to write later.  These shows make me want to get drunk.  That’s a good sign. It means a good review.  When Mighty Congress or the Yack Boys play, I order Fresca.”    I smiled, took another drink, looked up at the stage.  The singer wasscreaming “I couldn’t see where we were going, but you said you did and I took your word.”  He was tall, with blonde bangs and a black jacket.  When he crouched down with the mike, his collar pushed around his face like a leather veil.


               Veil to evil is an easy anagram.  Edna and I began spending a lot of time together—we’d catch Believers shows, drive to the reservoir, make love by the side of her van.  “Jaaamie,” she’d whisper, in that perfect alto voice, and the birch trees would echo.  Sometimes we’d stay till after dawn, watch the sun creep up, imagine it looking for us.  We’d cover each other with our sweet and sticky bodies, kiss and suck and whisper, shutter off the day.  Finally, Edna would stand up, step into some jeans, throw back her hair like so much black water.  I’d get into the van.

               The sun wasn’t looking for us—we were just rotating towards it.        

               By October the Eight by Ten was into techno.  The club gilded its walls withflashing white lights and hired a DJ to spin Nine Inch Nails and Meat Beat Manifesto.  Edna and I started hanging out at the Irish Pub, a Charles Village dive that won us over by having “Israelites” on its jukebox.  We sprawled across the splintered wood tables, drank whiskies, sang, sometimes wrote.  Edna told me funny stories about growing up with her grandparents.  (“I’d be playing Barrel of Monkeys,” she said, “and eventually my senile granddad would run into the closet, crying, “That girl is after me!”)  Often Sal would join us, and sometimes it would just be Sal and I because Edna was covering a show.  The Believers started doing their own songs, got gigs at Max’s and Ledbetters and the Loft.  Flyers saying “Believe yet?” were posted everyplace.

               I was scrambling Asian capitals on a Thursday night, rocking my shoulders to Dekker singing “I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.”  Sal had just got a real job at an ad firm, and he was sitting across from me, reading The Sun.  “What do you think of these guys?” he asked.


               “The Believers.”  He passed me the “Weekender: What’s Hot” section.  “They made the fucking corporate paper.”

               “I only saw them when they did Dylan.  ‘Fucking corporate’?”

               “Gimme a break.  Edna goes to all the shows, right?  It’s becoming agoddamn hipster scene, Jamie.”

               “And Edna’s a goddamn reporter.  So what?”

               “I just wondered if you thought it was weird.  Hey, I got an idea for theGap account.  It’ll play off those London subway warnings, with some chipper Brit droning ‘Mind the Gap, Mind the Gap.’  What do you think?”

               “No one will get that.”  I grabbed my capitals, left Sal a handful ofquarters, walked into the night.               It was only seven blocks to the Loft.  The Believers were between sets.  Edna was sitting on the edge of the stage, wearing a Modigliani-print T-shirt, sharing a fat whiskey with the singer.  I watched her laugh for a moment—she couldn’t be heard over the heavy boots and drink orders—but I watched her laugh and imagined a silent film sequence, with Chaplin or Keaton or Harold Lloyd.  What would the caption say? I wondered.  What the hell would someone think to write, under that laugh, for a caption?

               “Jamie!” I heard, after I had turned my back to get a whiskey.  It wasEdna waving me over.

               “What are you doing here, baby?  I thought you’d be hanging out withSal.”     “Yeah, I was.  I mean, I did for a while.”  Under the stage lights, the singer’s hair looked almost ghost-white.

               “Anyway, this is Dennis.  We’re gonna give him the cover in mid-January.  This is sort of an interview.”

               “Oh.  Hey.  I liked your ‘Pledging My Time’ last summer.  It was hard, itwas good.”

               “Word.”  He put his hand up to me.  “Now we do my songs.  You write those word puzzlers, right?”  I nodded.  “Man, I do that kind of stuff too.  Check out this pangram—Jackdaws love my big sphynx of quartz.  If you want to use it, you can.”     “Thanks.”  Dennis got up to gather his band for the next set.  I looked at Edna.             “What?” she said.

               “Jackdaws love my big sphynx of quartz?”

               “Come on, Jamie, he’s just trying to help.  How many people do you runinto who even know what a pangram is?”

               “Still. . . .”

               Dennis and the Believers took the stage.  I listened to a few songs about aliens and betrayal, then told Edna I’d see her after the show.  “I love you,” she whispered.           And I loved her.  I thought it all the way home, passing stalled cars andbus-stop bums—I love her, I love her, I love her.  It was the only caption worth worrying about.  Later, when she came over, I sunk myself deep into her musky flesh, breathed roses and licorice and chamomile.


               At our wedding, Edna wore a white cotton dress that she had traded a rainstick for.  She twirled on the steps of the Irish Pub, whiskey in one hand, bouquet in the other.  It was December 14th—the air was chalky with snow.  We had to borrow Aran sweaters from the bartender.  We didn’t have a priest, it wasn’t legal, but it was something we decided to do a few days earlier, coming down from a drunk.

               “Let’s have a party,” Edna had said.

               I pulled my head from under the pillow, checked the clock—2:00 p.m.  “How about a wedding?”

               She ran her tongue from my ankle to my lips and slowly back down again.  “This is a good yes,” I finally managed.

               “There’s more,” she whispered, climbing on top of me, hair spilling wildly in folds.


               December 14th is the birthday of Nostradamus and Morey Amsterdam.  Idiscovered this later, searching for clues.  Edna and I went to a New Year’s Eve party at the Loft a few weeks after our wedding—the Believers were playing, and Sal was revved up about an ad idea.            “It’s for Pepsi,” he told us.  “It’s a bunch of old ladies at a banquet table, sipping on Cokes and nodding their heads to some Lawrence-Welk-type tune.  Then U2 bursts out of nowhere—they each have Pepsis—and Bono kicks over the banquet table and starts rocking out to that song ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing.’  The ladies are on the ground with their mouths open, the Cokes pouring out of their hands.”    “U2 would never do it,” I laughed.               “A little faith,” Sal chided.  “Have a little faith.”        The Believers took a break.  Edna cut through the green-haired and spiked-jacketed crowd, leaned against the stage next to Dennis.  I watched them for a moment—the way he took a drink out of her glass without even asking.  Eventually I walked over.

               “Jamie, man, I got another one you can use,” Dennis greeted me.  “Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex Bud.”

               “Uh-huh.  Who’s Bud?”

               “Any Bud, man.  Any person named Bud.”  Edna brought her glass to herlips, looked at us both.  Dennis shrugged.  “Anyway, you can have it.  People should share.” I told them both I’d see them later and walked over to Sal.  “I hate thatsinger,” I said.

               Sal nodded.  “They should play that Monkeys song.  The one about being abeliever.”

               “I guess.”  A lot of people were stage-diving and getting kicked in the head.  I saw Edna with her notepad.  Believe yet?  Believe her believe her believe her.

               I drank more in January.  I really drank a lot.  Pack my box with fivedozen liquor jugs—that’s a pangram.  It’s got all the letters—nothing’sleft out or adulterated.  The unbent truth, remember.  But there are partsof the month that I’ve just lost.  The City Paper came out with Dennis onthe cover—he talked like a fool about singers he admired, people who “wentout on top”—Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin.  He said he wanted to “take it onestep further,” spewed that Lizard King crap, ranted and rambled.  I kept reading for one of Edna’s lethal asides.  She reported it straight, though.  I showed Sal the article at the Irish Pub and he shrugged.  “That’s her job to build those guys up, Jamie.  Fuck, you know that.”  Someone put a fiver in the jukebox and played “Shanty Town” twenty times.  It wasn’t “Israelites,” but it was okay, it made me feel better.

               If you could take one thing back in your life, knowing it might changeeverything, might cancel out every subsequent pleasure or even get youkilled, would you do it?  I’d do it.  I’d go back to February 8th—James Dean’s birthday.  Edna and I had tacos, cake, whiskey at Mencken’s.  I tried to get her to go to the Irish Pub.  “Come on,” she said, “I need to sleep.” She was going to Annapolis to cover a release.”

               “Why?  No one’s gonna buy that record.  Your article scared everyoneaway.”               “Uh-huh.  That’s really nice.”


               “It’s a 20,000 unit first printing.  That’s big.  It’s also my job.  Do your palindromes before you lose your job, okay?”

               “Fuck.”  She drove me to the Irish Pub and left me there.  I watched hergo.  I watched Edna drive her van away, the van beside which we used to make love.  It made a sweeping left on MLK Boulevard.  Dean.  Edna.  This is the thing I would change.


               I passed out drunk that night.  I got a call from a cop about six thenext morning.  He wasn’t really sure what had happened, except that Dennis and Edna had taken a rowboat out on the Severn River and never come back.  People at the party got worried.  The cop found the boat, with most of their clothes in it.  That’s how he got the phone number, he said.  It was about thirty degrees outside.  Thirty degrees.  The cop told me this as gently as he could.

               I think I stayed inside for a while.  I don’t want to adulterate—butagain, it’s just not clear.  Sal left a lot of messages, maybe knocked onmy door a few times.  I wrote some stuff down:

               Believers.  Bee slivers.  Vile beers.             

               Severn.  Sever.  nothing, nix, nada.By the time I returned Sal’s calls and told him to meet me at the Irish Pub, my world, recently resolved, was re-focusing.

               Sal was reading The City Paper at a corner table when I walked in.  “Israelites,” thankfully, was playing on the jukebox.  “It’s his song lyrics, Sal.  His song lyrics are full of clues.”

               He looked at me and nodded.  “I’m glad you came.  I’m really glad.”

               “The lyrics.  I’ve transcribed them all.  Not the Dylan, you know, butDennis’s own songs.  There are all these hints about the disappearance.   Acrostics.”  I handed him a spiral notebook.

               “How’d you even get the songs?  You bought that album?”

               “Edna had bootleg tapes.  Some of it was pretty hard to make out, but Ithink I got it.  Read it.”

               Sal pushed aside his paper and looked through the notebook.  I ordered acouple whiskies while he read.  “Well,” he finally said. “What are youtalking about?”

               “Look at this line from ‘Fish Scales for Eyes.’  ‘It moves us past isolation, makes ravishing images . . . Seeing is no guarantee.’  I’m up, I’m rising.  And in ‘Sonic Blues,’ ‘Hit on a xylophone!’  Hoax!”

               “That’s it?”

               “Those are the best ones.”

               “Jamie, you go through any thirty pages of words and you’re gonna findall kinds of shit.  It’s like a monkey with a typewriter will eventually write—what? all of Edna’s articles, plus some save-your-relationship tracts—if you let him type long enough, like a trillion years.  Anyway, even if Dennis meant to do this, it’s just that Mr. Mojo Risin pose we both hate.”

               “I don’t think so.”  I took the notebook, told Sal I’d call him when Ifound something new.  This was about a month ago.


               The editor at The City Paper has left some sympathetic messages about mynot turning in the palindromes and probably needing some time and all that, but I notice that someone new is doing the word puzzlers now.   Fuck it.  I’m re-focusing.  Yesterday I found my name scrambled in “American Jive,” the Believers song that’s getting radio play.  So I’m getting closer.  Closer.

               Sal thinks I’m turning ordinary events into rituals.  I don’t even know what he means.  Isn’t corn flakes at noon a ritual?  Isn’t practicing free throws a ritual?  Isn’t drinking whiskies and pushing F128 next to Desmond Dekker’s beautiful name, night after night, a ritual?

               So then is tracing maps of the Severn River, bathing in rose water, running my tongue across licorice. So then is anything.


               Sal sent me a poem by Weldon Kees called “Crime Club.”  He didn’t saywhere he found it.  It ends with the sleuth Le Roux “Screaming that all the world is mad, that clues / Lead nowhere, or to walls so high their tops cannot be seen. . . .”  Sal adds that “Kees drowned also”—but also may not be the right word.  He wants me to come back to the Irish Pub, and I might, I might.


               Blood is not wine, not whiskey.  Blood is thicker, deeper, it moves atits own speed.  I’ve been playing a lot of Dylan lately.  It strangely comforts me.  “Obviously Five Believers” is a hell of a song.

               Yeah I could make it without you honey if I just didn’t feel so all alone.                           Dennis and Edna sinned.  Read it backwards or forwards, it says the same thing.  When I find them, I’m going to kill them, or I’m going to kill somebody.

Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Teaches English at the University of Washington and poetry as part of Seattle’s Writers in the Schools program
Publications: Margie, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Spinning Jenny, Pontoon, The Cream City Review, The Madison Review, The Cortland Review, etc.
Other: Pushcart Prize nominee, 2003 James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah

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