Tuesday, 10 March 2009

From "The Yiddish Policeman's Union"

By Michael Chabon.

The Granite Creek Big Macher outlet died about two years ago. Its doors are chained and along its windowless flank where Yiddish and Roman characters once spelled out the name of the store, there is only a cryptic series of holes, domino pips, a braille of failure.

Landsman leaves his car at the medan and hikes across the giant frozen blank of the parking lot toward the front door. the snow is not as deep here as in the streets of the central city. The sky is high and pale gray, with darker gray tiger stripes. Landsman huffs through his nostrils as he marches toward the glass doors, their handles pinioned like arms with a dangling length of blue rubberized chain. Landsman has this idea that he's going to knock on those doors with his shield held high and his attitude vibrating like a force field, and that slinking whipper of a man, Rafi Zilberblat, is going to step sheepish and blinking into the snow-dazzling day.

The first bullet blackens the air alongside Landsman's right ear like a fat humming fly. He doesn't even know it's a bullet until he hears, or remembers hearing, a muffled burst and then a clamor of the glass. By then he's falling on his belly in the snow, flattening himself on the ground, where the next bullet finds the back of his head and burns it like a trail of gasoline touched by a match. Landsman drags out his sholem, but there is a cobweb in his head or over his face, and a paralysis of regret affects him. His plan was no plan at all, and now it has gone bad. He has no backup. Nobody knows where he is but Benito Taganes, with his molasses gaze and his all but universal silence. Landsman is going to die in a desolate parking lot at the margin of the world. He closes his eyes. He opens them, and the cobweb is denser and sparkling with some kind of dew. Footsteps in the snow, more than one person. Landsman raises his gun and takes aim through the sparkling strands of whatever is going wrong in his brain. He fires.

There is a cry of pain, feminine, a whuff of breath, and then the lady wishes a cancer upon Landsman's testicles. Snow packs Landsman's ears and melts into the collar of his coat and down his neck. Somebody snatches at Landsman's gun and tries to drag him to his feet. Popcorn on the breath. The bandage over the moustachioed snout of Rafi Zilberblat, and by the doors of the Big Macher, a plump bottle blonde lying on her back, her life pumping from her belly into the steaming red snow. And a couple of guns, one of them in Zilberblat's hand, pointed at Landsman's head. At the glint of the automatic, the cobweb of LAndsman's regrets and self-recriminations goes away. The smell of popcorn, coming from inside the abandoned store, alters his perception of the smell of blood and brings out the sweetness of it. Landsman ducks and lets go of his Smith & Wesson.

Zilberblat was yanking so hard on the gun that when Landsman unclenches, the other man goes tumbling backward into the snow. Landsman scrambles on top of Zilberblat. He's just acting now, without a thought in his head. He yanks his sholem loose and turns it around, and the world pulls the trigger on all its guns. Zilberblat grows a horn of blood from the crown of his head. The cobwebs are now in Landsman's ears. He can hear only the breath at the back of his throat and his own blood pulsing.

For an instant a strange peace opens like an umbrella inside Landsman as he straddles the man he just killed, knees burning in the snow. He retains the presence of mind to recognize that this tranquillity is not necessarily a good sign. Then the doubts behin to crowd in around the knowledge of the mess he has made, bystanders gathering around a suicide leaper. Landsman staggers to his feet. He sees the gore on his coat, the tatters of brain, a tooth [...]

[Chapter 22]

Landsman is lying on Berko and Ester-Malke's bed, on his side, facing the wall with its dyed linen scene of Balinese gardens and savage birds. Someone has undressed him, leaving him in his underpants. He sits up. The skin at the back of his head prickles, and then a cord of pain goes taut. Landsman pats the site of his injury. A bandage meets his fingers, a crinkly oblong of gauze and tape. Surrounding it, a queer hairless patch of scalp. Memories fall on top of one another with a slapping sound like crime-scene photographys fresh from Dr. Shpringer's death camera. A jocular emergency room tech, an X ray, an injection of morphine, a looming swab dipped in Betadine. Before that, the light from a streetlamp striping the white vinyl ceiling of an ambulance. And before that. Before the ride in the ambulance. Purple slush. Steam from the spilled contents of a human gut. A hornet at his ear. A red jet bursting from the forehead of Rafi Zilberblat. A cipher of holes in a blank expanse of plaster. Landsman backs away from the memory of what happened in the Big Macher parking lot, so quickly that he bumps right into the pang of losing Django Landsman in his dream.

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