This a splinter- or heretical-post, deviating from last week’s dispatch from Suicide Sam.

 

Down in the Dodge City Mythos, competing versions of foundational and luminous events gnash and gnaw without surcease. It is less a competition for canonization than it is the workings of the engine that drives the whole thing forward, affording the town the energy it needs to persevere.

 

What I’m saying is, if one version of what happened (or what’s happening) were ever to beat out all the others, that would be the end of A Room in Dodge City.

 

So another name for Suicide Sam is the Creeping Despair. That’s how some tell it. Some say he came over from Europe, others have him pegged as a “drifted in from the Canadian Wilderness” type, while still others will consider nothing short of “uncut, mentholated L.A.” as an origin story.

 

In my version of the earliest days of Dodge City, there was a Civil War on (not the Civil War, but one of the main ones). Loose among both sides was the Creeping Despair. He was a soldier like anyone else, trying to make his way and a name for himself.

 

He Crept up on people, they Despaired, etc etc.

 

It came to be that a Group of Deserters, freshly pumped with Despair, drifted away from the battle lines, and ended up in the swamp or desert that would in time become Dodge City. They sat there, on a log with their feet dangling just above the lips of the catfish, or in the scorching sand with scorpions ringing them like sweat, and waited.

 

The irony — or just the fact — was that The Creeping Despair had come here with them. He too had Deserted, having grown bored of the Civil War, believing he had done all he could do there. Ken Burns would later disagree, but he was entitled to his opinion too.

 

So the Creeping Despair sat and waited among the Group of Deserters. Lord knows what they ate. Maybe burning bushes, land crabs, Kyuss records, the infrequent instantiation of takeout from on high.

 

In any case, others were in time drawn in. They were drawn inward from the coasts, downward from the skies, and upward from the far bottom of the buried earth, riding elevators like the one in Angel Heart.

 

When enough of a quorum had solidified, Dodge City was founded. The Creeping Despair was highly present that day.

 

Life as usual — we’re talking prehistoric, or at most historic, times — commenced. The Creeping Despair started making the rounds of this new citizenry. Before long, this being a small town, he’d gotten to everyone.

 

THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEMS STARTED: the Creeping Despair became a prisoner of his own success.

 

Morosely he wandered around Christian bookstores and knickknack stands, sipping flavored coffee and signing autographs for the few who bothered to ask. Nothing but Creeping made him happy. If he could no longer do that, he would simply be the Despair.

 

He was, as they always are, his own last victim.

 

*****

PRESENT DAY: Crippled by the fact of himself to the point where any possibility of leaving Dodge City is out of the question, and needing thus somehow to subsist in the interim, the Despair has taken a job cleaning houses. 

 

His rates being reasonable and there being no competition, the Despair has made of this a tidy, if glum, business. He cleans all of our houses biweekly.

 

Or, he’s supposed to.

 

Something has been going on. He has all of our keys in order to clean our houses when we’re away (like right now, for instance, while I write this). Which he does. But he’s been coming too often.

 

Much, much too often.

 

It started where he’d come every week and only bill us for every other, and it got worse from there. He’d come every three days, every other day, every day.

 

Many people now claim that he’s entering their houses WHENEVER they step outside, no matter how briefly and with how little announcement. Like he’s in all places at once, and knows his targets down to their minutest micro-movements.

 

“Any moment I’m not in my house, the Despair is in there, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning,” is so common a lament nowadays that it’s become a cliché.

 

No one has ever caught him at it, but whenever we return home, we find our presences — the material record of our habitation — undeniably more erased than they had been when we left.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have clean living quarters, but it’s unsettling to come home and have no smell of yourself to greet you. To come home and feel as though you are entering the house for the first time, like it’s a display house you have not yet decided to buy.

 

The Despair seems even to be washing our sheets, our clothes, our dishes. The finger-greasy keyboards of our laptops.

 

He is polishing us away, turning us into ghosts, rendering us incapable of impact.

 

 

*****

This seemed like it was going to be the end, but then one further thing happened: A FIRE.

 

The Despair was cleaning one of our houses while one of us was out buying grapefruit juice and fish for dinner, when the whole place went up in flame.

 

Maybe arson from afar, maybe rank accident, a bleach mishap.

 

[RELEVANT PREVIOUS ITEM: https://aroomindodgecity.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/a-burnt-house/]

 

Anyway, the place was blazing to the heavens when the Fire Dept. showed up.

 

Specifically, a firefighter by the name of Paul T. S. Denison. Now, this man has an interesting history: he’d initially been scouted by Peter Straub in Vietnam to play Tim Underhill, the writer and madman, in his novel Koko, but in the end was passed over due to contractual gridlock.

 

So, instead, he was sent to Dodge City to play a firefighter. Here he is, racing to rescue the Despair:

 

As soon as he gets across the lawn, he freezes up. He collapses on the front steps, sobbing, rocking on his haunches, gasping, spitting …

 

The Despair comes out and sits beside him while the house continues to burn, diminishing behind the two of them. Paul T. S. Denison howls with fury and grief while the Despair watches, his body filling with gladness.

 

All is not lost, the Despair thinks to himself. The house finishes burning, so now the scene is two men on a freestanding step-shaped brick platform, with the street in front of them and a smoldering ash-pit behind.

 

“I can’t … I just can’t … ” sobs the fireman, wracked with grief, fear, overwhelmed by his life, the immensity and brevity of it, the futility, the wonderment and … and …

 

He can’t think anymore. The Despair sidles closer, thinking, Okay, time to go to work. Let’s see if you’ve still got it, old boy ….

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