The Bukowski Agency - All True Not a Lie in It - Excerpt
My Name is a Knife

a novel by Alix Hawley

EXCERPT

My feet are skinned, I can run no more, I am sorry for it.…

I lie gasping, breathing mud. Here I am, I cannot run back. I cannot move as the sun beats me hard in the face. My eyelids crack open, my eyes burn, gnats come in a cloud for them. All night I have lain here. Two days and nights I have run. So much I have left.

The grassy smoky scent of skin, her skin, the sleeping mat in our house, the bark walls letting the night through. It was our house. Her eyes with creases in the skin round them like stars.

I groan and I have the sound of Daddy, my old Daddy in Carolina, your eye did not work either, it rolled about in your head. But you are not here, you are gone, you do not speak to me here and I do not feel you. I feel nothing but pain all through me. What else is behind me, what else will catch me, which of my ghosts follows holding my neck?

No. None. It is my eyes here, they are in my head in this place, my lower eye is blind with mud. I am here. I press the eye open against the earth, I wish to see. I cannot see her, I cannot see anything. She is not here I know, but I know they are behind me. If they kept to the Bullskin trail, they will be no more than a day behind. If they took time to gather more warriors and supplies, if they sent perhaps first to Detroit for British help, they will be some days yet. Perhaps some weeks, perhaps a month if luck holds, if I have any luck left down in my guts, perhaps there was some gold in the pebbles and dirt I have swallowed.

My guts stir, they will not hold, they go liquid. The river gagged me up miles from where I set out to cross. I limped down a few miles more before I could go no further. The fort, my fort, the dreadful place named for me, it is not far down from this great canebrake that snagged me, as I know. If it is still there and has not been burned to nothing.

I hold my guts in. In my mind I see the gate, I see myself walking to it, it is there. I know just how I look, filthy and starved, my hair half gone, my shirt lost, my feet swelled dead white with water and beaten into platters from running. White Indian, they will say. Or perhaps only Indian, with a bullet as a further greeting.

And oh God Rebecca, I am near you and the children now, whatever state you are in.

Gnat in my ear-hole. Mud in it. I pull my cheek up out of the sucking riverbank and crawl into the water to clean myself in some fashion. My finger bones ache. They are not young and they are all over bruised. I wash out my scratched eye, I take a little water to ease my cracked tongue. Once I have done what I can I crouch hidden in the cane and I listen.

A hum. A rhythm. Walking.

Someone just downriver, up the high bank above the brake. I know I will have to call. I muster my voice and I cry out Hey, but it soon becomes a cough.

–Who is it?

English. No Shawnee words, no soft Shawnee tone. The snap of a gun lock, a hard yell, Here, the rushing of legs. My dried lips say:

–Wait.

–Where are you? Answer.

–You know me.

–Who?

I cough again, I say it. I say my name, my old name, though I hardly want its taste in my mouth:

–Boone.

A hesitation. Still I cannot see the man but I know he has stopped. I hear him rummaging about himself for a moment. Then a silence. Very careful he speaks:

–You said Boone?

–Yes, yes. Do not shoot me now for God's sake.

He is crashing down the bank into the brake like a great, mad dog. I do not move. His gun shoves through the cane at me first, then his face comes with a bullet between his teeth.

–Flanders. Flanders.

My daughter's husband, long-necked and big-eyed as ever before, still with the look of a baby bird, as though no time has gone and nothing at all has changed. His mouth opens, the lead rolls on his tongue. He spits it into his hand and says:

–Jesus, Sir. Bless your soul. Christ almighty.

–Rebecca—

His face is all astonishment. I say:

–And—your wife—

I cannot force my girl's name past my teeth. My throat strains at it. Jemima. So many times I have seen her dead in my mind, her and my wife and all the rest. He says:

–Jemima is up at the fort.

–The fort.

–We are not far.

I laugh though my laughing is half panting, I say:

–I know where we are. It is standing?

Flanders crouches to hear me, and staring he says:

–Yes.

He looks up the bank now. I hear them also, the quick steps coming along the bank from the fort. No ghosts. No. They will have heard him yell. Down they crunch through the broken cane. All eyes, all faces I know, boiling up with rage, swelling with it like dried fish in a pot. Dick Callaway is first with his flattened-down hair and his old militia jacket. His gun nuzzles at my ear all loving. I force myself to say:

–How do, Dick. In a red coat too.

–You bastard, who do you think you are? Back here alive.

I am struck with a fit of coughing. I manage to say:

–Am I alive?

The gun butts my cheek.

–What did you say Boone?

This from Old Dick. I can do nothing but laugh again, then I cough. The water in my lungs does not wish to leave me. Flanders crouches to thump my back and haul me upright. Old Dick has not lowered his gun. I see his grey eye glint like a pearl out of the dull squinting flesh around it. I breathe in to try again to speak, but he says:

–Shut your talk. No more lies.

He bangs my ribs with the gunstock. Flanders drops his thin arm from mine. My lungs rattle and froth and, before I fall, the words burst from them:

–Tell her, tell my wife I am here, tell her they are coming, tell her what they are going to do—

 

 

 

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