Time gets slow out in the Prayer Meadow, circling these two beasts that look like archaic horses and cannot interbreed.

 

My Faulkner litany has turned to meal and then to mush in my mouth, and once I’ve drooled it out onto the pebbles by my feet, I close my mouth and keep walking.

 

Up on a podium in the distance (its orientation to me seems to remain fixed even as I, like all the celebrants, continue circling) a series of priests or officiants have taken turns speaking, each more mush-mouthed than the last, drooling into a big bucket that some of them hold up for effect.

 

I fall into a waking sleepwalk, my eyes milked-over such that I’m trying to discern my thoughts etched onto what looks like a candlelit wall of whitish wax, rising like a cliff out of the waves.

 

Like this I remain, deciphering one wax-scratched word at a time, uttering none of them, listening to the frustrated, horsey beasts chew, when the messenger arrives.

 

The Prayer Meadow is thrown into action, fast and shambolic.

 

In comes Big Pharmakos, decked out in religious garb, and genuflects in a way I read as a signal that he needs to talk to me.

 

So here we are, under a ragged tentlike covering, and Big Pharmakos is whispering, “Inspector … emergency audit … from time to time … never know when … have to cloak … rearrange … retrofit … redakt, dissemble … by no means, at any cost … right now, man, today, right this minute … no, here, in Dodge City, a full audit, no stone left … if He were to see, well — ”

 

Things are changing fast.

 

There’s no longer any Prayer Meadow, any beasts or celebrants or anything. My suit of Dhalgren is long gone, replaced by some pants and a shirt out of last year’s Gap catalogue.

 

Big Pharmakos and I are still talking, as the locales get shuffled and cloaks of all sizes and natures get thrown over all offending aspects.

 

“Like when those two Red Cross inspectors came to Theresienstadt back in ’44? To see what the Nazis had been up to? And the Nazis mustered all the stick figures they’d been making to clean the place up … like really clean it up, spotless top to bottom, so when the Swiss dropped it it’d all look aboveboard, nothing to get all nightmary about.”

 

My lips feel like pasted-on chunks of stewed apple, so I leave off trying to respond.

 

“Called it the Great Verschönerung,” Big Pharmakos continues. We are, as far as I can tell, simply not in a space of any kind. “Really cleaned the fuck out of what, until the moment the Swiss got there, would have looked pretty doubtlessly to you or I like the home of some genuine concentration camp bestiality. And at least the Nazis had some forewarning — look around you, we’re doing this all on the fly, our pants down and tripping us up.”

 

Slices of Dodge City filter by, turning hastily opaque as hands from some other side of things douse them in cloaks.

 

Some silent sliced spatial shuffling ensues. I chew warm cinnamony baked apple, reminding myself to stop before I chew through my tongue. Big Pharmakos stuffs a wooden spoon in my direction, and I bite down on it.

 

“There he is!” shouts Big Pharmakos later on, as we’re standing in a windy parking lot with 7-11 soda cups and wires and hubcaps whipping all around our shins, a smell of gas and fur in the air.

 

I look, and see a very tall, androgynous figure, in a smart pantsuit and high heels, carrying a bundle wrapped in sheets. The bundle is about twice the size of a baby.

 

A pizza box smacks the back of my head, and I see the air fill with blown dandelion pulp.

 

When I regain my composure, I see the double-baby-sized bundle reach out a hand and unravel just enough of the cloth it’s wrapped in to peek out. I can see its eyes, looking hard at the town, taking it all in.

 

Big Pharmakos crouches behind an old Ford Galaxie up on cinder blocks, and pulls on my shitty Gap pants to get me to do the same. “Stay out of sight man, seriously!” he barks.

 

Thus crouched, we watch the Inspector and his handler, moving around, peeking through the wrapping bundle and whispering. The handler records spoken notes into a black plastic device.

 

The longer we remain crouched here, Big Pharmakos snoring with the effort of prolonged concealment, I feel my usual subjective orientation slipping out of its grooves.

 

The cloth in which I’m wrapped smells like Mountain Spring laundry detergent and off-brand dryer sheets. I like how tightly it contains me. I whisper up and my handler carries me to the next site. I peek out again, taking in all I can of this town, trying to see it for what it is.

 

I know this feeling. It’s the feeling I get in a dream when the dreamworld has something in its heart that it doesn’t want me to see.

 

It deflects and distracts me, bounces me off its surfaces, leads me on — the air itself tells me it must be here — but it will not let me find it. I can wake up now, or sleep as if dead, but I will not find it.

 

I begin to grow angry here in my bundle. I squirm in my handler’s hands. This isn’t good. The people of this town are hiding something from me.

 

 

 

 

When it all dies down, it’s like there’s been a tornado. Telephone poles are down and wires are sparking, dogs lie spread out in the street, hydrants bubble dejectedly, mushrooms sprouting in the puddles.

 

Big Pharmakos and I walk, still cagy and looking around, out of this parking lot and round a corner in a worn-out city that might as well be Pittsburgh or Detroit. People who seem to have nothing to do with our stories hustle us on the street.

 

Finally, we see a Cracker Barrel sign lit up at the end of the block, and hurry toward it, hands in our pockets, shouldering off the advances of five or six people between here and there.

 

There’s a crowd smoking, listening to headphones, and bobbing, boxer-like, on the balls of its feet, clustered around the entrance.

 

Inside, we brood over coffee and burgers and partially frozen fries. I play with the wooden spoon that Big Pharmakos gave me, admiring the tooth marks I put in it.

 

Aside from the waitress there’s no one here except Gottfried Benn, hunched and alone a few tables over.

 

“Not now,” we think, but, catching our eye, he comes over and sits down at our booth.

 

I can see he’s wearing an ascot, but it looks wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong about it, just that it’s not right.

 

“Heard about the Inspector?” Big Pharmakos asks him.

 

Gottfried Benn puts his hand up to his ascot, to stop me looking at it, and replies, “In tomorrow’s morning paper, we will know for sure.”

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