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Reflections in church ceilings (excerpt from the unpublished novel: A Casualty of the Peace).

I hear the Lieutenant and the Sergeant banging on the Crypto Room door but I cannot shake myself out of the alcoholic grip that has me chained to a dungeon wall. I am the character that Poe never imagined. I try to move but can't. I hear them yelling my name. I am in an opium den in the back alleys of Taipei where I have communed with Confucius for two days. I have flown through the Great Wall of China like my name through the steel enforced door. I hear the crash of a big hammer, the jingle of a thousand keys, and the rat, tat, rattle of the Teletype machines drumming my walk to the end of the plank. There are white sharks in the water. Perhaps they think I am sick or dead like the baby Chu-Chu buries over and over in my mind. I hear, see, feel, but I cannot move! The urgent bells of a communications specialist in Japan alarm in my ears! I have fallen asleep at the switch and the train carrying a "Top Secret" cargo is off the tracks in unsecured territory and he is alerting me to stop transmission. Luckily I am so drunk that I did not place the tape securely in the sprocket and it jams. Still, a part of the message is in free space. That is enough for my mind to start doing time in "Silver City," the stockade in the Philippines.

I hear knocking on the door to my cell. Then it opens. The Lieutenant looks at me as though he could kill me and cry at the funeral. He had written "Superior" during my last evaluation. The Sergeant has a grin in his eyes. I have confirmed his beliefs that the "Nigra brain is not made for intelligence work!" I want to fly away and disappear. I want toffy away "cross Jordan and never go home again!

"Go sleep it off!" the Lieutenant yells. "And if you wake up, report to me immediately!"

If? Do I look that bad?

Both officers avoid any mention of my name as though I have suddenly lost any right to it. I stagger out of the Crypto Room, their eyes like buck shots into a doomed rabbit. I check my access badge in for the last time and walk through the barbed wire fence like a chicken to the pot.

One day I am an innocent altar boy with the body of Christ on my tongue, the next day I am a sex addict eating virgin dewdrops. Maybe the trip from the "Colored" water fountain to the "White" Crypto Room has been too swift for me. I didn't want to know the President's secrets, I didn't want to know what I already knew! But there is no way to unknow something!

The court martial comes quickly and my newly sewed on stripes are ripped from my sleeve like the skin of a dead catfish. But I escape the brig. "You are fined three months' pay and restricted to base for three months. You will stay in your barracks except for food, hospital care, or duty, and report to four weeks of menial labor." I am assigned so many dirty details that even the Taiwanese cleaning boys call me "Coolie." My confinement runs through Christmas and New Year's of my first year in the age of consent. Not an enviable position for a student once voted "Most Likely to Succeed."

My friend Taco brings Chu-Chu to see the "prisoner." She looks like an Empress riding sidesaddle on his motorcycle. Her eyes try to tell me that Taco is not the loyal friend I believe him to be. But I have no time for that. I am tired of raping my lathered hands in hot showers. Her sex is a drug to me and I need a fix.

I give Taco money to buy drinks in the Linkou Club and walk Chu-Chu to the only secluded corner of the base, a deserted chapel still being repaired from the last typhoon that ripped part of its roof away. On a clear night you can see stars.

The echoes of our footsteps bounce off the bare walls of the hollow structure. Our whispered voices hang in the black air. We move slowly to the pulpit. It is covered with a thick red weather-stained carpet. I have knelt on altars like these with Father Hennegen and answered prayers in Latin. A solid oak portable communion rail stands empty and stark and a teakwood podium watches silently at the center. We sit behind it and I start undressing her, leaving little time for gentleness or respect.

"What if someone finds us here?" she whispers in Taiwanese, looking around as if she expected angels with nightsticks to swoop down and beat the devil out of us. "Are you sure no one is here?"

"Only the Gods."

"Can't you wait?"

"No," I say, peeling away her panties, "honest to God!"

Chu-Chu stares up at the crucifix.

"What did that White man do?"

"He brought Love to the world."

"Why did they kill him?"

"People didn't want it."

"Who nailed him up?"

"We did."

"Oh," she says, her warm thighs urging me into their embrace, her eyes expecting Jesus to jump off the cross any minute now.

I lay her down deep into God's plush carpet and hungrily enter her hot nervous body. I am riding on a golden cloud. Rocking in the cradle that bore my first child, I can feel love's calligraphy on my back and the ocean waves at high tide at the crossroads of life. My voice fills the silent black church with the holy gratitude of the spiritually reborn. But even as I get closer, tighter, and deeper, I can sense a pregnant distance in her receptive thrusts. Yet, she lets me find whatever I need in her body, leaving the honor of disgrace of it to me. She is no longer making love, she is fucking! Need satisfied, greed comes strutting through the stained glass windows followed by an inquiring finger of light from a Military policeman's flashlight. We dress quickly and slip out of the sacristy door into the night.

"Halt!" the light demands as we emerge from the inner sanctum. "What are you two doing here?"

"Just showing her what Christianity is all about."

"Right!" the light growled. "Git out of here now, on the double!"

We hurry back to the Linkou Club.

"Where the hell you two been?" Taco asks.

"To Heaven," I say, while Chu-Chu is staring out of the window at the speckled sky.

"You ready to go?" Taco asks her.

"Yes," she says, looking at me in a strange new way. Maybe what she saw through my body in that dark church ceiling was not visions, but decisions.

I watch Taco put Chu-Chu on his motorcycle and start down the dry unpaved road that will take them back to Taipei and the place where my clothes are hanging. I see her arms tight around his waist, her face snug in his back. Her hair is waving in the currents of the scarlet dust and ebony night swirling around them. They are becoming so much like the color of the earth I can no longer see them.

I think of the bottles in my barracks and the lifestyle that is causing me to lose everything good that I know. "I'll drink to that!" the voice that is killing me laughs, cryptically.

As I pass the staring chapel I hear the prayers of Black women screaming as the colonizers of god filled their enslaved bodies with strange but beautiful new races.

Richard Fewell, a finalist for the Thedore Ward Prize for outstanding plays, has published fiction and poetry in numerous international journals and magazines, including Callaloo, OKIKE (Nigeria), The Mississippi Review, and The Black Scholar, Former Winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Bridgeport, he seeks a publisher for his first novel.
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Author:Fewell, Richard
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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