by Corey Mesler
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Jimmy “Crack” Corn was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover magic realism. Jimmy wanted to write. It was all he knew about himself. His heart had proven to be a mystery, his mind likewise. But, his creative soul seemed as clear as the eye of a sea eagle. He wanted to write books, the kind of books he saw in his father’s impressive library, thick and thin, consequential books, books with titles Jimmy barely understood. But he would learn, if it cost him his life, he would learn.
In those days, in that country, it was dangerous to write novels. It was dangerous even to own them. This made his father’s massive library an act of the purest bravery to Crack Corn’s way of thinking. His first timid attempts to create characters out of gossamer embarrassed him. He showed them to no one. Jimmy would pick a novel at random from his father’s shelves and from that novel he would try to glean how to write. From his perusal of a chapter or two he would then launch another attempt at a whole novel. He used Faulkner, Bellow, Mailer, Updike, Flaubert, Kafka and Joyce this way. He used Murdoch, Woolf, Ellison and Louis L’amour this way. He used Machado de Assis. And, slowly, slowly, by accretion, like building a lake from dripping, Jimmy began to approach a story big enough for his ambitions. He had just about taught himself to write a novel.
As his manuscript began to grow like weeds on a tomb, Jimmy “Crack” Corn had all but decided to smuggle his manuscript out of the country where it might get read by a sympathetic editor and published to wide acclaim. It still frightened him. He went to his father for advice.
His father told him, publish it, my son. Without reading it, his father said, this is what you were born to do. You follow the footsteps of great men and women. I have seen it in you working away in the library like a wage slave. Publish it, my son, and the consequences be damned.
So Jimmy “Crack” Corn built a novel, a novel made from arcanum and lexicology. And he called his finished novel, Again There are Night Questions. It was quite an achievement. It was long like a novel should be and it was packed full of incident like a novel should be. And there was magic! Like sparkling sunlight off the Sword of Damocles, magic like the serpent-crest of the king’s crown on the pillars of Egypt! What Jimmy had lived for he had achieved.
And it was smuggled out of the country and it was sold to an American consortium with the power of worldwide distribution. And it became famous and celebrated and Jimmy’s name was tossed around in the same basket as Nobel Prize winners.
When they came to arrest him, Jimmy “Crack” Corn was sitting in his library (a simulacrum of his father’s more magisterial collection) leafing through old issues of Jackpot Magazine, reading the works of the post-post-modernists. Jimmy stood as the Guard approached his chair. He stood and received them as if he were a lamb being lead to the slaughter. Which he was. He smiled and said, For my book I am ready to die.
The trial was short and punishing. No one in Jimmy’s country stood up for him save his father, whose speech was eloquent and heartrending. But at the end of a two-day hearing Jimmy “Crack” Corn was sentenced to die by the firing squad, as alluded to in the first paragraph of the testimony you are now reading.
In his last hours Jimmy eschewed the priest. He eschewed his final meal. And when he was lead into the yard he eschewed the blindfold. He stood fearless in the bright morning sunshine and said to his executioners, Shoot straight, you bastards. My book will outlive you all.
In the years following the execution of Jimmy “Crack” Corn the country moved inexorably toward an even more restrictive governing. More books, though, were written in secret and more authors were executed in the bright morning sunshine. All died saying, Shoot straight, you bastards. My book will outlive you all. The country was being slowly devoured by biblical winds, by a curse as solid as a cathedral, a fearful wind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of its dying writers, because races condemned to one hundred seconds of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.
COREY MESLER has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published two novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002) and We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006). He has also published numerous chapbooks and one full-length poetry collection, Some Identity Problems. His book of short stories, Listen, came out in March 2009. He has two more novels due out in the coming year. He has been nominated for a Pushcart numerous times, and one of his poems was chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN. He can be found at www.coreymesler.com.