Short, shortening afternoons after the Inspector’s departure and the siphoning-off and putting-back-into-the-basement of the Thanksgiving crush that’d been at assembly when last we met.

What is there left to do? Well, we listen to that new Scott Walker record in the silence and privacy of our own homes. It plays on and on, none of us quite sure yet when it’s repeating and when it’s forging ahead into yet more distant territory within its selfsame globe of recorded time. Following the old Dodge City saying whereby a man is said to have said (added wholesale rather than piecemeal to our parlance like something straight out of Embassytown), “I’ve brought my lawn chair in off the lawn so that my pregnant wife might have someplace to sit indoors,” we sit on our lawn chairs indoors, watching the phone for it to ring.

When it rings, it’s our Benefactor. No one knows much about the man, if man he be, certainly no one sees him, but around this time of year he calls us all fairly often (daily), to say, with no small measure of menace wedged into his voice, “I’m gonna get you a little Christmas Present.”

Big Pharmakos and I sit, each on our own lawn chair (having each employed the old saying separately, in order to each get one of our own), and, when it rings, we take turns answering. “He’s gonne get me a little Christmas Present,” each of us reports to the other, in accordance with tradition.

The Christmas Present that our Benefactor is gonna get us (if this year be one of many) is the head of a Dodge City bull that mumbles lines from Molloy. We each get one, each impregnated with a different section of the text, and, as we’ve been told we must, we keep it in a cardboard box by the door instead of mounting it on the wall like a trophy (which, we’ve been enjoined to make no mistake, it by no means is). We tap it lightly with our boot or slipper upon passing by, through the worst of the winter, and it speaks, bullishly, a sentence or two or three of Molloy to us, then falls silent the way the dead head of a Dodge City bull more properly ought.

Once the announcement of our coming Christmas Presents comes, we are to put all of last year’s heads — spat-out now and free of all Molloy — onto the kerb, to be drudged up and stuffed into the compactor by the roving bands of garbagemen, and taken away someplace far (though, in all likelihood, not actually far). We cannot bear to stand on our porches, drawing our bathrobes tight, and watch the bed of that compactor fill with such heads, nor are we invited or perhaps even permitted to do so.

In any case, now’s the slaughtering. Big Pharmakos and I switch on our set, from which it comes through in real time.

IN THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE, all is industry. The slaughterers are arranged vertically, whereby those who are resting and receiving their busymaking  meth are tied up, often quite tautly, against the ceiling, while those who are about to, as it were, step to the slaughter, have been winched back down to ground level by the Rope Operators (sent over from the high school by the National Honor Society) and are donning their rubber smocks, sharpening their kosheresque blades, which, in honor of Molloy itself, are fashioned to resemble the Malaysian Kris.

They huff their meth up there by the ceiling as if suckling on the ceiling itself, drinking in what the vents spew forth, jumping in all the directions of the pinwheel while still fastened tight by ropes and suspenders. They have to work triple shifts because of the layoffs, while all those laid-off, as these things go, stand in the cold just outside, stone cold sober, hoping against hope in laughable vain to be rehired.

Below, as well as the Kris-sharpening and the Rope-Operating, are the machinations of the High Priests. They wander among the fatted bulls (no calfs for our Benefactor, please) with their Everyman editions of Beckett’s Trilogy open across their palms, whispering into the bulls’ left ears according to prearranged or coincidental rite.

Ideally, the slaughterers follow behind the High Priests with their Kris at the ready, hacking through muscle, sinew, and bone once the words have entered the bullheads, hacking off said heads at precisely the right moment to seal those words into undying instinct or reflex, bypassing all cortices to bore into the stratum of the biological-inevitable, the same as putrefaction, where they will persist in our Present-Boxes all the way until next Christmas.

This is how it should happen, one head at a time, until there are enough for all of us. But it doesn’t happen that way this year. It might have happened that way this year, like all years, but I think not: I think maybe it’s a losing gamble to tell the story like, “Here’s how everything went according to plan,” when you could just as easily tell it like, “Here’s how everything started according to plan but then turned strange.”

That, to me, is what I’m saying, seems more surefire to titillate, of a winter’s eve.

IT ALL STARTS TO GO WRONG when the slaughterers can’t get control of their weapons, and no one can get through to the High Priests, who are whispering dervishlike into the bulls’ spooked ears. The Rope Operators, themselves spooked now, winch the last of the replacement slaughterers down, and the meth-vents, unmouthed, are left open to the whole of the interior, so fogging the place up so that Big Pharmakos and I at first think it’s a tracking problem on our TV set, and, in trying to adjust it, end up cranking the volume of that new Scott Walker record to nearly (nearly?) unbearable heights.

The slaughterers, all of them on the floor now, are hacking and sawing hard at the bulls’ necks, and the High Priests are reading on and on in Molloy, their fingers sweating through the pages, and nothing’s happening, by which I mean that none of the bulls are turning headless.

They are, rather, it seems, conjoining. The slaughterers saw harder than ever, while, in between waves of static, we see the many bulls becoming several, growing at first proportionately and then disproportionately. Ropes whip all up and down the slaughterhouse, tangling in the horns of bulls that are now …

ONE BULL.

One giant bull, it’s neck sawed-at and distressed but far from severed, tearing through the place on a course that can only lead through the roof. It breathes that meth deep, it’s eyes awakening to a new kind of wakefulness, the High Priests clinging to its ears and continuing to whisper, and slaughterers left now far below, hacking comically at its ankles, as dwarfed as those guards who once received in welcome The Trojan Horse.

There’s little resistance as the slaughterhouse roof comes off. The bull now stands towering over the unemployment line outside, and all of Dodge City beyond. Many of the High Priests have fallen off by now, but some remain, tangled in the rigging that has come tangled with the bull’s enraged and stretched-thin hide. They whisper on and on, and then the bull begins to speak:

“Unfortunately I do not quite know what floor I am on, perhaps I am only on the mezzanine,” it says, into the open air.

All of us are out there before it now, our houses abandoned in mid-usage. Some thoughtful citizen has brought Scott Walker on a boombox, but our attentions are increasingly elsewhere.

“I have lost my stick,” says the bull. “That is the outstanding event of the day, for it is day again,” it continues. “Sine qua non, Archimedes was right.”

For a moment, none of us knows what’s happening. What’s really happening, I mean, above and beyond what’s merely happening.

Then, all at once, our cell phones ring. It’s our Benefactor, speaking to us all, in a rage such as we’ve never heard. “It’s left Molloy and gone on to Malone Dies!” our Benefactor shrieks. “Kill the High Priests! If it’s allowed to reach The Unnamable, Dodge City is finished!!”

He hangs up. We stand there, tiny in ourselves, gazing upon the mass of bull that fills the sky. If ever this town needed a hero, we think.

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