Gary Sheppard

They come in a slow line of a hundred. Some are hooded, others capped. All are wearing black. Black jackets, black shoes, black slacks and jeans worn tight. They march together, in pale masks, like comic renditions of ghosts. They are taunting, threatening silently. The masks are flat save for the slight dent of noses. The eye-slits are circles cut savagely wide. From the berm at the jewelry store parking lot you can see them exiting the train slowly from each car, forming a single file line. The sign above them reads Mockingbird Station. The last two marchers in the line stop, once out of the train, and hold hands on the platform. The taller of the two pulls the smaller into a hug. They depart each other. The smaller rejoins the line of one hundred, and the other, the taller, stands on the platform and watches the line as it exits the station proceeding south, marching to the dirge-like cadence of a lone snare drum. Some of them wear rucksacks. These too are black. The marchers are a voiceless mass, though their aim is to communicate an individual thought for the dead. There is a pattern in their collective movement though they are not fully in control of it. It is forming. Hundreds others have come or stopped to watch them. Shoppers and police, newscasters and photojournalists, students and a few faculty heading to class. They have all turned their attentions to this band of darkened spies and the message they have come to deliver. They are all in communion, aware of nothing beyond their immediate skin. Individual movement. Total operation. Homeorrhesis. You can see most of the crowd in the clarion cool of this December morning. Breaths fogging, mushrooming in serial bursts in the direction of the marchers. The air is uncommonly cool for Dallas this time of year, and you notice how easily the flesh on their fingers and necks spreads to pink. You think, of course, how nice it is that your hands are warmed by those of your father or your young lover, younger than you, or by the heat slowly making its way through your coffee cup, attended by the memory of a slight, indifferent human touch. But you drop your hand or you loosen your grip and you too grow cold as you crane your neck for a view. You peer in with all the focus your grainy eyes can intend and you see they have nametags, undressed wood placards hanging from their necks. The ones you can see:

Haji Berget: 85. Killed. May 26, 2002. Afghanistan.
Ali Hamada: 33. Killed. 2/24/04. Iraq.
Sa’adiya Saddam: 8. Killed. 2/8/09. Iraq.
Ammar al-Shimma: Killed. 6/21/08. Iraq.

There is a marcher, taller than the others and easiest for you to see, toward the middle of the line. His coat is thin, inadequate for the day. His sign is large with black ink on a white board for sharp contrast and maximum exposure. He holds a single black sign above his head: Arrest The President! The marchers stop at Airline and Mockingbird where the main entrance to the library will be in a year’s time. The sole drumbeat still accompanies them, counting, sounding cadence, persisting. The marcher in the middle thrusts his sign higher into the air. He spins in place like a pageant queen hopeful, an unetched virgin, so that all can see his words. The crowd around them, also silent, is growing. The snap on the weathered skin of the snare drum grows louder for a minute and then stops. The street corner is silent except for passing cars and intermittent shouts from spectators. Emotion sounds from the mouths of those protesting the protestors into the free, cool wind before dispersing, maybe to a million different places, maybe nowhere, but finally into your back; and your shoulders shiver and you stand straighter. You can see them. They are silent, but you hear them. They have come here to the president’s dedication, but the president is not here. The marchers turn toward the spectators. Police dressed in SWAT gear are poised for a testing. Security officials, underdressed, tap expandable steel batons in their hands. You squeeze the hand of the one beside you, the one you love. One of the marchers drops her black rucksack to the sidewalk. It looks like an accident but it isn’t. The others with rucksacks drop theirs too. Nothing happens for a moment and then you feel a slow, deep pulse move through your chest and a strong wind blow in your direction. There is a flash of light. You close your eyes. You squeeze your love’s hand again, tighter now. You lose your grip. Glass everywhere breaks toward you, the direction of the blast; and, before you can think to run, you search for the hand you were just holding. You lose sight of it and, in the all dark, you reach out and stretch and grasp for it. It is all that you can do.

Gary Sheppard has work in past or forthcoming issues of New York Tyrant, Word Riot,
Everyday Genius and Pank. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi where he co-edits Kitty Snacks Magazine and The Yalobusha Review.