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The Whole Whirling Burlesque of it

Manuel Garcia ran along the shoulder of a road that led to one of the nicer neighborhoods on his side of town. He thought of some of the things that had happened to him on other runs—like the time he got hailed on and the time he got chased by a rabid raccoon—when he came upon a small, untidy feline horror flung out on the railroad track at an intersection. He stopped and studied it, whispered a curse at it, “You tawdry bastard.” God was Manuel’s Main Man, but He was flawed. It was a simple syllogism, really. A marginally bright child could reason it out. Man was flawed. Man was made in God’s image. God was flawed. But this didn’t mean that God was any less worthy of worship and reverence. As tawdry as the universe could be, it was divine and awesome and handmade by God. All of it. The whole whirling burlesque of it. God could be anything from a bolt of lightning to a mangled-ass kitty on a railroad track. He could be as goddamned flawed as he had a mind to be.

Manuel surveyed the intersection for someone to bare witness. An old man, using a walker, advanced achingly from fifty yards away. Manuel shouted at him. “See here, old timer!” He pointed down at God’s flaw manifestation, a stiff tabby body lying on one side of a train rail, in media res, whose head lay two feet away, on the other side of the rail, at the end of a mangy twist of elongated, still-connected-to-the-body neck. The head and stringy neck perversely suggested to Manuel a child skipping along a sidewalk holding onto a balloon on a string. The cat’s face was forever stuck with a hissing mask.

The old man’s demeanor perked.

“Once you arrive here take note of our lord’s aesthetic cruelty!” Manuel often thought of All Creation as something like God’s canvas and everything on it was produced by a stroke or series of strokes of God’s brush. This dead cat, all out in the open for anyone to see, was, to Manuel, a misplaced brushstroke.

The old man waved his hand in a dismissive way. He could tell that Manuel was talking to him, but he could not make out what he was saying—and he didn’t care enough to try. Manuel sidestepped the kitty corpse and slowly crossed the tracks, resuming his morning run.

Manuel didn’t run to lose weight or anything like that. He ran because it brought him closer to God. “‘The Runners’ High’ is what it is,” he would explain to people who asked him why he ran. “It’s a spiritual thing. God’s way of saying this is good.”

In this way the Run was Manuel’s Church. And so he ran. Six mornings a week he ran. God had only rested one day, so Manuel did too.

Miami was probably not a runners’ paradise. Manuel couldn’t say for sure. But it didn’t much matter, one way or the other, because Manuel did not live in Miami. Manuel had been born there, but his father, Manuel Garcia senior, had moved the family up to Atlanta when Manuel was two-years-old. Manuel senior, an American Civil War buff, had been one of Fidel’s “degenerate” exiles, as well as a very fine general practitioner with a Confederate soul (may it rest in peace). He had loved Robert E. Lee’s style. He had often told his receptive son stories of Lee’s purported dignity and grace under pressure, particularly of Lee’s surrender to Grant, how profoundly respectful and deferential Grant and the other attending officers had been to the defeated general.

Manuel didn’t have a prescribed route. He ran in the direction in which he was pointed by God. When he got to an intersection God would put a tingle somewhere in Manuel’s body—left, right, or center. The results were not always positive, but whatever happened, wherever he ended up, it was God’s will. This technique sometimes tested Manuel’s faith.

Manuel was coming up on a house whose front door had a doggy flap on it that sometimes spat out a feisty Boxer and he readied himself. The dog wasn’t there. It was quieter than usual, in fact, on this street. He looked at his watch. It was eight in the morning and he supposed he’d never come this way this early before. Instead of the Boxer an exceptional woman stepped out from behind the front door of the house. She was a warrior of a woman, a triumphal Greek statue with auburn hair. Manuel waved and the warrioress waved back and offered a nice smile. Manuel felt a tingle in his lips. “Where’s the dog?” said Manuel. It was God’s will.

“Oh,” she said. The smile leapt off her face. “Molly is gone.”

Manuel came to a full stop.

“Molly is gone? The dog is gone?”

“How did you know I had a dog?” she said. She glanced up and down the street.

“I’ve been chased.” He smiled to let her know it was okay.

She smiled too. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m usually later through here.” He pointed in the direction in which he had been running.

“Oh,” she said. She was standing next to the car door. She drove a nice car. Manuel didn’t know what kind of car it was because he was not that kind of guy, but he could tell it was an expensive one.

“I’m sorry about your dog.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “She was mean. It was,” she paused and looked around, “God’s will, I suppose.”

Manuel’s skin tightened and his head felt tentative. He tingled all over. He was compelled to say, I love you, and nearly did. He saw a series of vignettes, of shiny, tarnished-around-the-edges photographs of her and him in all the typical situations in which a couple finds themselves—courting, marriage, quant moments of yard work, and living room scenes of intimate familiarity, tender lovemaking scenes, scenes of them growing old together. She makes a beautiful old lady, he thought.

God had placed a beautiful woman in Manuel’s path.

“Forgive me if this seems forward, madam,” he said, “but I feel as if I’ve been presented with a rare opportunity.” He smiled and took a few unsure steps forward.

The woman put her hand on the top of her nice car, but did not speak.

“Would you consider accompanying me for dinner some night in the near future, perhaps a film as well? There is a movie house in Five Points that has a Deutsches Kino night. They serve St. Pauli Girl beer. The ushers wear lederhosen.”

The woman’s face went impossibly white which made her auburn hair look deep red. Manuel noticed now that her eyes were green. He felt her green eyes in a concentrated area just below his belt.

“Oh,” she began. She opened her car door and put a foot inside. Her mouth hung open, but no words came out.

Manuel began to feel sick and the dead cat scenario broke the surface of his daguerreotype dreaming. He leaned over and put his hands on his still sweaty thighs.

Finally she spoke. “I just don’t think so,” she said. Her voice was shaky with awkwardness.

“But didn’t you say ‘God’s will?’”

“About the dog? It was just something to say,” she said. “It wasn’t perfect.”

Manuel gathered up the little bit of dignity he had left and bowed to the perfect sample of female humanity. “Good day to you, madam,” he said.

The woman’s perfect smile returned to her perfect face. “Bye,” she said and tucked her statuesque body into her nice-looking car.

Manuel did not take off running. He walked at first. One can’t go from standing still to running. You have to warm the body up again. You have to take it slow. Manuel took it slow, and by the time he got to the next intersection he had built to a steady jog. The sensation came, God’s bidding, and it told him to go right. But Manuel went left instead. He pointed a finger to the sky and gave it a wag. “I’m just a lowly sinner down here, you cruel bastard,” he said. “She was a hymnal.”


Gavin Lambert’s work has recently appeared in Word Riot and Writers’ Bloc.  He lives in the uncool, unhistorical part of Saint Augustine Florida with his wife and daughter. 


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