Winter/Spring 2001Volume II Issue I

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Carlos Yu is single and from Wisconsin.

He currently lives in New York City.


Angel of History

Carlos Yu


Part I

"This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned to the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." -- Walter Benjamin, 1940

Hi all. Once there was a war, between North and South, and the war was lost, and the war was won, as is usually the case. Yet the outcome is still contested, in a thousand small ways. The rebel anthem plays on car-horns and doorbells, the defeated banner still flies over conquered capitols, its scholars write slanted histories for the victors. Lost orders, lost causes, lost opportunities - the details of defeat still nag the minds of millions. "If only," they say, "if it weren't for this."

So. Let us take the enthusiasts at their word, and allow them their one minor change, their one flap of a butterfly's wings. We pull the angel of history aside as the newly altered events pile up like boxcars at a train wreck. Acts of bravery, compassion, madness, despair lay twisted at his feet as the cannons continue to fire, but soon the outcome is clear. The Union lies asunder, and the Confederacy emerges victorious.

Lincoln dies weeping in 1870.

And the Confederacy carries on. A successful war against Spain, a failed intervention in Mexico; fires, floods, yellow fever, cholera, the boll weevil; the innumerable revolts as field hands are sold to more efficient 'labor agencies'; throughout all this the South not only manages to survive, but to prevail - in the markets for Texan oil and beef, Birmingham specialty steels, Carolina tobacco, Florida oranges, Cuban sugar and rum.

And by the end of the century even the common white man of the South has made his voice heard, which seems to be the enthusiasts' point. Thus Thomas Watson, Georgian farmer and self-made lawyer, becomes the first Populist candidate elected to the Confederate presidency, on its easy money, anti-foreigner platform. Yet the office brings him no joy. Watson becomes embittered with party politics, and returns to act as shill for Atlanta's growing business interests.

The poet Jose Marti, returning hopefully to Havana from his self-imposed exile in New York, is shot in 1898 during that island's short-lived insurrection against Confederate rule. The intense summer fighting lasts for days; he will be buried in a mass grave in a hastily consecrated lot.

In 1916, T. N. Spencer, a North Carolinian veterinarian, recognizes that blacktongue in dogs is the same disease as pellagra in humans. Two years later, researchers at Duke Methodist University discover that nicotinic acid is effective as an anti-pellagra factor, using experimental subjects recruited from slave clinics, who are paid ten cents a day. In the North, this substance is called niacin.

Henry Ford emigrates to the Confederacy in 1922, an event which causes a minor recession in the Union. At Richmond and various state capitols, he brokers his plan to develop the Tennessee River Valley into a series of semi-rural industrial towns powered by healthful hydroelectricity, where white workers can live in a country environment. Confederate legislators agree - and the Tennessee Valley becomes a Ford industrial satrap.

William Faulkner leaves Oxford, Mississippi to test his mettle in Paris. Three decades later, he returns with a group of young French film-makers - although it's six hours long, "Sanctuary" is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

In 1930, John Crowe Ransom publishes Spirit and Image, which becomes the defining text for generations of Southern Christian intellectuals. In radio broadcasts during the Blitz, C.S. Lewis will call it 'one of the wisest books that I have read.'

Fulgencio Batista is hanged in 1931 for involvement in the Sergeant's Plot, to throw off the Confederate yoke of 'statehood'. This marks the end of separate mulatto rights in Cuba, as the state is put under military administration by its governor.

In the depths of the Depression, Tennessean Cordell Hull is not his party's first choice for the Confederate presidency - too intellectual, too international, too stubborn for the New Democrats - but his nomination breaks the deadlock at Atlanta. Even with his opposition party advantage Hull only manages a narrow victory.

Yet during his constitutionally limited six years in office Hull will negotiate agreements with the US and Canada that help revive the continent's blasted economy, restore Cuba to civil elected (white) government, convince the states to combine their resources for the relief of Dust Bowl migrants, and accept boatload after boatload of European refugees into the Confederacy under his Fig Tree Declaration, who are at first housed in off-season Florida resort hotels.

But Cordell Hull's proudest achievement will be his passage of the Uniform Code, over the objections of those he will privately call 'pissants and scoundrels', formally abolishing slavery in the Confederate States of America, in 1937.

One of those scoundrels, Huey Long, will be his successor in office.


And what of the North? Only slightly humbled by the storm of progress, it still brawls and bustles, expanding overseas just because it can, buying Santo Domingo and Alaska, protecting Hawaii and the Philippines, keeping a watchful sad eye on Liberia.

That same sad eye looks South on occasion, as the whip and the brand give way to the cattle prod, the pass book, and the electric fence.

But relations stay correct, and even occasionally cordial, as during the great Centennial celebration. And the eye turns away.

Yet the Union, in its long industrial boom, is starving for immigrant labor, from anywhere it can get. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..." Shut off from the yearning population southward, by 1928, when the golden door slams shut, the Union is accepting additional thousands of Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipinos, and even, in a humanitarian gesture, Chinese brides and orphans.

Meanwhile, private groups like the Quakers and the Salvation Army maintain their long watch at the Customs ports and stations along the border. Horror stories abound about pregnant housemaids found suffocated in packing crates - some are true. The usual case, though, is a young man or couple, sweating in a stinking boxcar, sometimes with manumission papers clutched tightly in hand, sometimes not - in any case only a few thousand a year.

Booker T. Washington's teenage post bellum memories of the forced march North - at the end of whips - into pestilential 'freedman's camps' on the shores of the Potomac will cause him to realize that no accommodation with white supremacy can ever be possible. Later, with his friend W.E.B. Du Bois, he will urge blacks to 'prove the lie', and becomes one of William Randolph Hearst's most popular, Reb-baiting, columnists.

Andrew Carnegie, being the world's richest leftist, endows a foundation to "buy" members of separated black families in the Confederacy, as well as promising youths, and bring them to the Union, causing Mark Twain to write a short story about the experiences of a Carnegie factor in "The Man Who Corrupted Satansburg". Of the thousands of 'Carnegie Negroes' that make it to the Union, the most prominent will be Mary McLeod Banks, later Secretary of Education in the Roosevelt cabinet. As a group, though, they all tend to do well, such as the North Carolinian field hand who will retire as a Captain of Police in the District of Columbia, the father of A. C. 'Duke' Ellington.

George Washington Carver ends up at the University of Wisconsin's College of Agriculture, where he promotes whey-based soft drinks and yogurt with considerable success. His research into the rapeseed plant's possibilities are instrumental for the carvola oil boom of the 20s; his patents leave him a wealthy man, possibly the Union's first black millionaire. However, he is best known in Wisconsin for concocting his magisterial peanut butter ice cream, still made and sold on campus to his original recipe, you betcha.

Paul Robeson graduates from Rutgers in 1919, from Columbia Law School in 1923. Is appointed Assistant Attorney General of New York by Governor Al Smith in 1925, Deputy Attorney General in 1928. Robeson proves to be extraordinarily able, though with a taste for theatrics; in fact he has put himself through law school working on the stage. In 1937, as part of Roosevelt's controversial court-packing plan, Robeson is appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Part II

"A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history." -- Walter Benjamin, 1940.

August 1940. After Bordeaux and two weeks of sea sickness, the Confederate motor vessel Mississippi Queen arrives at Miami, and tempest-tossed Walter Benjamin with it.

Exhausted, he is directed from the docks to a bright blue vehicle labeled - in English - the Sunshine Bus, where a colored porter smelling of burnt rope gently takes his bags out of his hands and stows them efficiently in a compartment. "Don't you worry over no TIP; Mr. Huey be payin' for this." He recognizes some of his fellow passengers from the liner - the Hamburg broker, the Lyonnais cantor and his family, the phalanx of Polish officers' wives sitting disdainfully apart - as the bus motors along the palm-lined streets to its destination.

Benjamin half-expects a delousing station, and certainly not this... this palacious pink hotel, with its swordfish and steaks and carafes of orange juice for dinner, its spa-like baths, its enormous beds. The dreamlike morning meeting with the minor officials - "Hey, Verne, we got us a Mr. Benjamin!" - a feeling of utter dread passes up his spine, abates when all the clerks gather round to shake his hand, mysteriously enough. "Got-damn glad we got you out of there, suh."

But he remains worried. His cables to Max Horkheimer at New York University go unanswered; and after two weeks even the Polish officers' wives have departed - for Pulaski, Tennessee, a city not in evidence on his American map. He often sits at table in the hotel bar, adjusting his manuscript, feeling uncomfortably parasitic - if need be, he will teach the waiters French pronunciation to pay off his bill. But the manager demurs; just you recommend us when you get yourself settled in, sir; this one is on Huey.

Finally, a cable comes in, but from an unexpected source: Oxford, Mississippi, the university there. A position - European languages and literature - length of stay 'at your discretion', a residence, a (munificent) salary. A prepaid railroad trip to tour the campus.

Yours most sincerely.

Watching the moon rise over the Atlantic through the hotel's bay windows, a medieval Latin tag passes through his mind - Fortune rota volvitur; the Wheel of Fortune turns. Yes, of course.


Professor Benjamin, expert on Baudelaire (the French translator of Poe), guest lecturer at the University of Mississippi (Oxford campus), sighed and stepped out into the heat once more.

It was not the mere Mediterranean heat of Naples or Marseilles, but an inhuman African heat like that described by such men as Frobenius or Gide. Very quickly he has learned to associate the gentle chugging of an air conditioner with physical comfort, and wonders yet again on the impulse that had caused this land to be settled at all. Simple greed? Or a deeper testing of the flesh?

The classroom at Vardaman Hall was well-filled. Once he had joked - in a bit of self-deprecatory vanity - that he could be put on display in America as "The Last European", and finance his way by selling tickets...

There they were, his audience: gentle giant footballers; wiry country

lads on scholarship; anxious young officers-in-training, always in uniform, polite, expectant; and the many female students, called 'co-eds', as studious as the men (or even more so), thinking nothing about wearing the aptly named 'shorts'.

"The lecture today, class, is on Kafka's story 'The Metamorphosis'. I trust you all have read it?" Laughter over his raised eyebrows, a good start. "Then I shall begin."

Later. The dinners at the Faculty Club, Benjamin has found, were uniformly excellent, a far cry from their British model. The prodigious drinking, on the other hand, reminded Benjamin - not unfavorably - of Moscow, though he himself tended to soda water and a passable Missouri red, a recent discovery.

"Bilbo! Our esteemed Senator Bilbo is fond of pointing out that his name signifies a style of double-edged sword. But I ask you, what does he propose to cut with it?" Andrew Lytle was in his cups again, by all appearances.

"Our budget again, I expect. What ho, Walter?" The surgeon Percy was drinking soda water like himself.

"Our throats, in the fullness of time. You've seen the latest outrage, Volter?" The Jackson Times changed hands.

"I find nothing in it that shocks me," after a perusal. ("Chopin," murmurs Percy, surprising Benjamin.) "Presumably the senator is unaware that he seeks an alliance with an ally of the Soviet Union?"

Lytle cackled. "I feel certain that the Atlanta Constitution will soon remedy his ignorance," said Percy.

"Remedy him like a dose of jalap, I'll say they will." Lytle drank, continued in a more mild tone. "I must say, I am surprised by Senator Baruch's forbearance in a matter of honor. Why, Pitchfork Ben would have shot him down like a mad dog over what he said."

Softly, "Does your people credit." Percy looked embarrassed.

"But uncharacteristic of the South Carolinian temperament. Which is to say, violent, fractiferous, and miserly - none of which apply to Senator Baruch. All of which apply to South Carolina's bastard offspring, the Confederacy." A mischievous gleam lit his eye.

Percy recognized it, and smiled. "Another of your heresies, Andrew?"

"Am I a heretic for saying the Confederacy was founded to protect our pecuniary institutions? Very well then; I am a heretic. I say, our Southern ways would have been better served if every Negro had been freed, and given the forty acres and a mule once promised them in the heat of battle; it would have saved us from our jets and our demagogues-the-commodification-of our society," a nod towards Benjamin. "I look forward to young Foote's elaboration on these ideas."

"Your ideas, you mean." Lytle smiled serenely. "What say you, good Walter?"

"Very interesting." Recognizing distraction, the two duelists leave

Benjamin to his own, private, thoughts.


Of the people Walter Benjamin never expected to see in Mississippi, Karl August Wittfogel was surely near the top of the list; but there the Communist theoretician stood, chatting at a garden party with a faculty wife, a plate of beef brisket in one hand and a glass in the other. Quickly Benjamin asks his host for an introduction.

"Good heavens, Walter, is that you?" They shake hands; Benjamin, moved by obscure emotion, clasps them together. Strangely, the crowd of the party starts clapping. Their host leads them inside to an alcove where a colored woman serves them tea.

Wittfogel was enervated, ebullient; the effect was of a Lutheran parson turned cocainist. Benjamin could see the shape of his skull under the lines of his drawn face as he talked. Mutual friends, acquaintances, escapes; China and his endless, near deadly delay in leaving that war-torn country. The quotidian facts of exile - a good tailor, the Missouri Catawba Benjamin has grown fond of, local affairs. Finally their host interrupts them; gentlemen, it _is_ past midnight...

"So it's decided, then? We shall see this controversial new film together, and continue our conversation afterwards."

"The American Frau im Mond, is it? I confess I have been meaning to see a film for some time, but..." Benjamin shrugs.

"Hate to see 'em alone, do you? I know how you feel."

"It's said to be a 'must-see' production." Benjamin relishes the neologism. "Must I see? I must see!" Wittfogel snorts. "Forgive me; it's late." They take leave of their patient host, decide on a time, part under the streetlights.

The cinema is set on a side street off the courthouse square, some distance from the campus; Benjamin takes the streetcar, receiving puzzled looks. It must be the cut of my suit, he thinks as he sits reading the newspaper. More Bilbo. He sighs. If fascism attempts to aesthetize politics, then of course a specious connoisseurship follows, a cult of phony distinctions. Benjamin rises at his stop, folding the newspaper under his arm.

Wittfogel is already waiting for him under the marquee, wearing a Panama hat. "I have taken the liberty of buying the tickets; there is to be no second feature tonight." They sit a comfortable distance from the screen in the cool theatre; Benjamin switches his glasses, waits as the seats fill up.

"Do you have your teeth? Here, try this." Wittfogel hands him an open box of colorful design.

A dubious look at the gnarled brown pellet, almost Turkish in its sweetness, but pleasantly gristly in the chewing... "Is this the chewing gum that I have seen so much of?" "No, no - puffed corn, coated with hard caramel. It is permissible," Wittfogel added, "to swallow it. Ah, I see you've found the toy!"

First the newsreel footage, its patter too fast and stylized to follow. But the images tell their own story - London under aerial attack; the Leader ranting before a crowd; incomprehensible sports, which draw the unmistakable cry of "Nigger lovers!" from one young man, who is promptly hushed by his neighbors. Bathing beauties.

Then a short serial, the lowest sort of costume melodrama - "Confederate content," Wittfogel explains sotto voce, "required by law." An improbably named heroine in improbable Second Empire attire - or was that truly the fashion here once? - and her too-dashing suitors. But real tears were dabbed away by the women in the audience.

And at last the feature.

The Sudetenlandisch name listed in the credits as director gives Benjamin a shock; he had forgotten that the Union's population was in origin as diverse as that of Paris or Marseilles, or even more so. More unfamiliar, more unhomely names, and then, "Based on Fritz Lang's 'The Woman in the Moon'".

Benjamin has few memories of Lang's earlier film: splendidly realized effects, a true technical tour-de-force, but emotionally vacant.

And at first this film seems cast from the same mold - Benjamin recalls the engine of Lang's plot as involving gold on the Moon, not diamonds, but the dreary financial machinations in both are similar. He rummages in the box and finds a candied peanut.

And then the audience is bathed in reflected light, as the screen shifts to the gleaming California desert. Somehow, through what device of camera work Benjamin does not know, the illusion of great speed is produced - along the ground, through the air, diving like a hawk, somersaulting in a wholly vertiginous procedure - and somehow, Benjamin is able to link personalities, and even emotions, to the different styles of flight. Yes, this is what Lang might have intended to do, but failed to realize.

The identity of the pilots is revealed - a coy political message? yes, he judges - the lead actor, of course, but also a forward Union starlet with newly cropped hair, and a handsome colored man. He turns to gauge the audience's reaction, finds himself looking into the eyes of a similar-minded person, blushes.

An overtly didactic act follows, with a figure obviously meant to be Einstein explaining the basics of rocket flight. It strikes Benjamin suddenly that Einstein might very well be here, in the Confederacy, perhaps even in Oxford. For some reason he finds this disquieting.

Then a scene more purely borrowed from Lang, the launch sequence, keeping even the reversed clock and its hourglass drama of the seconds. Yet even here is Lang's technique advanced upon, using the sounds of the machinery to balance the necessarily static shots.

And then the rocket ignites, and the theater is filled with its roar as it slowly ascends...

The brutal noise of its engines abruptly ends, leaving an unearthly silence. Seconds pass. "Jehosaphat!" an audience member swears. Finally the tinny, modulated, voice of the lead actor, reporting altitude - cheers! In this film the silences are stronger than speech, Benjamin realizes.

The next act is less artistically realized - a 'walk' in open space, which Benjamin quickly perceives owes much more to Esther Williams than to Fritz Lang. Would protective suits really be so closely fitting?

The landing. For reasons Benjamin does not fully understand, the woman pilot must stay revolving around the Moon - die Frau im Mond, indeed! - which leaves the two men to explore it. Suddenly the question of precedence enters Benjamin's mind, as indeed it must in other members of the audience, judging by the mutters. He realizes now the reason for the odd looks his fellow passengers gave him on the streetcar; but most of his mind wonders how the director will resolve this crux.

Of course. The men must wear their protective suits. And as long as they are silent, they cannot be identified. On the screen, one man helps the other down a thoroughly prosaic ladder to the powdery soil of the Moon. In the black sky behind them, clouds swirl on the shining globe of the Earth.

The rest of the film glides together in Benjamin's consciousness. The sharp cuts between the lunar scenes of elegiac serenity, and the sub lunar celebration. The moon-hopping sequences, the explorers bounding in their suits like armored knights on their chargers. Their discovery - a quick glimpse of a skeleton of no earthly form. Only at this point do audience members leave, as if this reminder of death has pushed their sensibilities too far. Et in Arcadia ego. The return, and the bland, mellifluous lead actor's concluding monologue, during which Benjamin remembers his half-empty box of sweets. Did the time really pass so quickly?

After the curtain falls, Wittfogel and Benjamin walk in companionable silence. "I know of a place that has the most remarkable pastry, not far from here. Shall we?"

At the diner, Benjamin orders chess pie and coffee from a henna-haired waitress, who puts a dollop of whipped cream from a pressurized canister on each slice.

"Ah, this is good. What a classically imperialist film."

"Truly, I did not expect Bert Brecht from Hollywood." Chuckles. "But what, in your estimation, made it classic in that sense?"

"The passage, the exchange between the impresario and the banker, naturally. 'What are our chances of getting our money back? -- About one in fifty. -- And what is your excuse for asking me to place money at such a risk? -- This enterprise will be one of the greatest undertaken in the world!'" Wittfogel mimicked the dialogue with the bitter mastery of an unfulfilled playwright. "Glory and a rate of return. How did the British imperialist put it? Ah, yes: 'Philanthropy is all very well and good, but philanthropy and five percent is better.' All the rest of it, elaboration on that base."

"And the discovery at the end?"

"Cheap mysticism, pandering to the crowd. Something Werfel would have come up with."

Before he can reply, a shadow crosses the table. Benjamin looks up to see the hennaed waitress standing with an alarmed expression on her face. "Are y'all spies?"

Wittfogel speaks first. "Of course not, madame. We are professors." Not totally reassured by this, she returns to talking with her teamster paramour, who glances at them and taps his head. Wittfogel smiles. "Some things never change, eh, Walter?"

Soon Benjamin is outlining his response to the film: his insight into the director's use of silence, of flight; the progressive attitude towards technology, expressing human goals instead of shaping them; the entire aesthetic program of shaping a wholly synthetic experience, and the probability that similar attempts will devolve into cliché and jingoism.

Finally, an opportune moment. "Tell me, Karl - are you still with the Party?"

Wittfogel's face hardens. "No. After that pact Molotov made with that imbecile of a wine salesman..."

"I am not critical. But it seemed to me unusual that someone under Party discipline would choose, would come here, as you did."

Wittfogel looks uncomfortable. "Possibly I could have made it to the Union. But coming here was a sure thing... and I must confess, I was curious. Do you remember the Louis-Schmeling fight?" Benjamin nods at the change of subject. "Louis was a fugitive, a Runaway," Wittfogel uses the English word, "from this place. They would not have been kind to him on recapture. Yet when Louis knocked out Schmeling, these people scorned Schmeling and praised Louis; for them, even a colored Knabe is better than a dictator's pet. It is this antimony, this two-mindedness here that intrigues me - by the dialectic it should have been resolved long ago." He pauses. "It is not Mahoganny. Not even Parchman Farm is Mahoganny. Ah, I believe the matron is ready to close; we should settle up."


Benjamin picks up his pen and continues writing. "Just yesterday I learned that the Natchez described in Chateaubriand's novellas were in fact a local tribe. No one here is quite sure of their fate. This to me seems characteristic of the rawness of this place - entire towns here can fade and die, and ransackers auction the contents of empty houses."

"You ask me if I've been infected by the 'American bacillus'. I do feel energized by the continuing novelty of my stay, but not necessarily more optimistic. The same sense of exhilaration and fear I see here must have existed in Russia after the reforms of Alexander the Second. It's impossible to predict what's going to become of all of this."

"As soon as it becomes feasible, I intend to visit you in Jerusalem. There we will discuss our researches over mint tea, and we shall take siestas in the dry Jerusalem afternoons, like two camels. There is an unbelievable amount of condensation on my windowpanes here, and I worry what the humidity will do to my manuscr--" A knock at the door.

"Yes, good evening?" At first Benjamin cannot quite focus on his caller's face. The man steps further into the light, and Benjamin realizes it is the janitor who sometimes sits in the hallways outside the base of the lecture pits.

"Professor Benjamin?"

"Yes, how can I help you?"

"They say," the janitor coughs, "they say you are a critic."

There is an uncomfortably long pause. "That is correct."

"I have written something, that I would like for you to critique." The janitor unwraps an oilskin and removes a stack of paper, carefully tied with string.

Benjamin gingerly takes it; even in the dim light he can see that the stack is made of several different kinds of paper - typing paper, the backs of flyers, notebook sheets. The handwriting is clear and round, like a child's, but perfectly legible. He replies quickly. "Yes, this looks very interesting. Of course I will read it."

Obviously disbelieving him, the janitor turns and walks away. Benjamin feels his chest tighten, feels faint. "Wait! What is your name?"

The janitor stops down the steps, and turns his head. "Richard."

Benjamin meets his withering eye. "Mr. Richard? I give you my word." The two men stand perfectly still.

Finally Richard nods, and continues down the steps. Benjamin stands on the verandah and watches him walk into the darkness.

Still light-headed, he returns inside the guest house. All thoughts of his letter forgotten, Benjamin sits down and reads the story of Bigger Thomas.


Another Monday lecture. Benjamin has learned to read the mood of his classes, the signs of discreet hangovers, whispers, the rustle of notes passed. Today it is unusually quiet.

This morning's headlines have made pleasant breakfast reading for Benjamin, from the sedately accurate "Bilbo Implicated in Nazi Bribery Scandal" of the Atlanta Constitution, to the "Bilbo Denies Government Charges" of the suddenly demure Jackson Times, to the 36-point payback "FILTHY LUCRE!" of the Oxford Gazeteer. Benjamin had not thought most of his students politically engaged enough to have an opinion, is glad to have been proven wrong.

In a curious coincidence his lecture today is on Zola. He is halfway through the expected giggles as he describes the plot of Nana when he is interrupted by a commotion at the top of the lecture hall. A group of young men is standing at the windows, talking and gesturing outside.

American informality is all well and good, but this is utterly disrespectful, he thinks, as he walks up the steps of the lecture pit. "What is going on here?" he asks, as he hears the noise of engines coming from the tall open windows, accompanied by... drumbeats? Someone shouts, "Get down!" right before the windows shatter in bursts of machine gun fire, covering the back rows in shards of glass. "Oh my God, I'm blind," one student says incredulously.

An explosion rocks the room, knocks the remaining glass from the panes.

In the chaos of the following minutes one young lieutenant has already taken charge, directing nursing students to the wounded, calming the frightened, rallying his comrades around him. In the heat of the moment Benjamin has forgotten the young officer's name, only that he has written a brilliant essay on Flaubert.

Another explosion. "That's dynamite. God damn it to hell, they must be trying for the Armory."

Benjamin interrupts the soldiers' discussion. "I must go back to my home. My book..."

"Professor, the safest place for you is going to be right here."

And if they come for me? "My book, it is all that I have left."

The lieutenant sees his intransigence, considers for a moment. "You live past Barnard House, away from the Armory. Lessen they're stupid... you'll want this." He withdraws a gun from a previously unsuspected shoulder holster. It is an enormous revolver, of a type Benjamin has seen only in films.

"No, I could not possibly -"

"Take it."

"I would not know what to do -"

"Sir, it's my daddy's gun. Take it." Benjamin takes the revolver from the young man's grasp - it is strangely warm and heavy in his hand - and arranges it carefully in his coat pocket. The lieutenant sighs. "Lott, take him out through the nigger entrance. Make sure he's all clear."

The quad is empty and silent, and patches of morning fog still obscure the middle distance. The trucks have left tracks of torn earth on the immaculate lawns, Benjamin notices as he chuffs past. In the distance behind him he hears the sharp bark of pistols, and runs faster. A slight rain begins to fall.

Out of breath, Benjamin enters the guest house, where his manuscript is exactly as he left it. He sighs with relief, and puts it into his new leather valise, a gift from Doctor Percy. On impulse he includes the other papers on his desk, the letters from Gerhard, the janitor's draft, and hurries back out to the street.

A blast deafens his ears, then another. Benjamin turns around in shock.

"Well, looky here. Mr. Benjamin, I presume. You done surprised me." A man walks down the verandah steps. Despite the ringing in his ears, Benjamin can hear the mist sizzle on the barrels of the smoking shotgun that he holds. Droplets of water fall from the roof off the brim of the gunman's gray felt hat.

"Y'all think you're better than us. You Jews." The gunman advances on him, and as he walks backwards Benjamin remembers too late the picket fence behind him. The gunman grins.

Benjamin now sees that the man is very young, and very drunk. "No. No, we don't." He feels curiously calm. This was the fate he expected in the internment camp, in France.

The gunman doesn't hear, or pretends not to. "Gonna make you beg like a nigger. Gonna make you beg like a nigger bitch." He snickers, fumbles with the shells, swears.

"No. I will not beg." Benjamin lowers the valise he has been unconsciously holding in front of his chest, tucks it to one side.

A crack. Benjamin briefly wonders if it is the sound of his death. He opens his eyes.

The shotgun falls, fires when it hits the ground, splintering the white-washed fence. The gunman too falls, holding his knee, his eyes staring, his mouth open. "Ah, Jesus, Jesus, it hurts, it hurts!" he screams. Benjamin sees bright red blood seep through the man's scarred knuckles, his lower leg jutting out at an improbable angle.

"Morning, Volter." Andrew Lytle lopes into view, hunting rifle in hand.

Benjamin is speechless.

"Thought we might be having a little trouble today. Bilbo has what our psychologists call a Samson complex - if'n he can't get his own way, why, he'll pull the temple down around him." He stands over the wounded gunman, tsks. "Too many goddam trees on the street, can't hardly get a clear shot." Lytle kicks the shotgun away from the whimpering man, brusquely reaches into his raincoat. "Don't you even think about puking on me, boy. Ah." He pulls out a silver flask from an inner pocket, swigs, spits. "Methyl. Well, no goddam wonder." Lytle pockets the flask, removes another from his own coat. "Here, drink."

Benjamin drinks the white liquor, his thirst for the alcohol surprising himself. "Thank you." He drinks again. "And now what?"

"Now we wait. Inside, I think." And soon, the sound of sirens.

© 2001 by Carlos Yu