James Tateís new book is Memoir of the Hawk (Ecco, 2001).
The Tri-County Fair
Michelle asked me to go to the Tri-County
fair with her. She had never been and was curious
to see what it was like. Against my better judgment,
I agreed to go. Amidst the over-sized cows and pigs,
the swarming mobs jostling us, the grating organ music
of the carousels, the flashing lights, even the thought
of cotton-candy, I felt weak in the face of so much
strength and energy. Michelle seemed to be having a
grand time, and I tried to put on a face. Michelle
wanted to go on the Ferris wheel. "Itís really for kids,"
I said. "Oh, Felix," she said, "please." My fear
of heights was not consistent, so I had no idea how
Iíd do, and I did like pleasing Michelle. The moment
we were locked into our seats, I broke into a cold
sweat. As the ride started up I began to shake
uncontrollably. Michelle was shouting, "This is
great! Look at the view!" I closed my eyes, praying
that that would bring relief. But it didnít. I
couldnít catch my breath and my heart was amuck.
This was the longest ride in Ferris wheel history.
I was a wet rag of a man. I felt as if I had just
fought World War II all by myself. But I was a better
man for it, and the whole nation was so proud of me.
I looked around. I had lost Michelle. I could barely
muster the strength to push my way through the crowds.
I looked for thirty minutes or more, during which
time a Clydesdale horse stepped on my foot. I had
asked a security guard to broadcast her name and my
whereabouts over the p.a. system. When there was
no response to that, I grew desolate. Later, I told
myself, there never was a Michelle. You just made her
up to test your courage. And you failed again, old boy,
you failed as you do every year, and thatís why you
have no Michelle, you big baby you.
The Destiny of Wapakoneta
The little village of Wapakoneta had been
a favorite destination of mine for years. It had
one of the best General Stores in this part of
the country, as well as an odd little antique
shop full of surprises. I hadnít been up that
way in about three years, so I was shocked and
saddened to find that it had all but disappeared.
Two-thirds of the houses were caved-in or flattened.
And both the General Store and antique store were
boarded up and out of business. As I walked up
and down Main Street I could feel a pair of eyes
following me. Finally, a voice cried out, "Is
that you, Rory?" It was Etta, Etta Hardt. I found
her on her porch. She was almost blind, but had
recognized my footsteps. "Dear Etta," I said,
"it is so good to see you. Iím glad to see youíre
well. But what has happened to Wapakoneta?"
"I think Iím all thatís left. Oh, Mr. Bailey
might still be here, but we never liked each other
anyway. I grow my own vegetables. I can barely
see them, but I grow them nonetheless. I still
keep a tidy house in case of visitors, but youíre
the first one in several years," she said. She didnít
seem to want to answer my question. Some kind of
fury had unleashed itself upon the village, a storm,
but there have always been storms, and bad ones, too.
People donít just give up on three-hundred years
of history because of a bad day. Etta served me
some tea and gingersnaps. "Are my peonies beautiful
this year, Rory?" she said. "Yes, Etta," I said,
"theyíre magnificent. After an hour of pleasant
small talk, I promised to return soon, and took my
leave. Driving through the rubble on my way out of
town, I thought, No, Etta wouldnít hurt a flea.
My friend Kenny had a vision. It told
him that he had to quit his job, sell his home,
and move to another town. He told me, and any-
body who would listen, that he had no choice
but to comply with this vision. I said, "Kenny,
visions are like telephone calls–you can get
the wrong number. It was probably just a dream,
and you know how reliable they are. Last week
I dreamed I was a duck. Do I look like a duck
to you?" At least that got him to smile. "I
tell you, Artie, when I woke from that vision
there was no question in my mind what I had to
do. God was talking right to me," he said. "Oh,"
I said, "I hadnít realized it was that big. Of
course youíd have to do what the Big One said.
What if He told you to slay your family?"
Kenny shot me a look that practically guaranteed
heíd follow orders. "Just a little vision-
humor," I said. But I wasnít joking, and Iím
sure he knew it. The papers are full of people
who have taken orders from God. "Artie," he
said, "youíve been a good friend all these years
and Iíll miss you. But I canít turn my back on
this thing. God has His reasons for us to move
to Springfield, I donít know what they are. It
could be to sell used cars, or to be run over
by a taxi, I donít know. I just know I have to
move there." "Gee, Kenny," I said, "I never
even knew you were religious, and I thought I
knew you pretty well." "Iím not," he said,
"but, you know, Iíve been picked for this thing
in Springfield." "Could have been a lot worse,"
I said, though I wasnít quite sure how.