Azrael and Eleanor
Azrael and Eleanor
On the fourth day he made, amongst other creatures, Azrael and Eleanor, so that they might soar high above the earth across the yawning vault of heaven. Of all the birds, Azrael and Eleanor were by far the most beautiful and their flight by far the most fanciful, and he recognised the tension this might cause and demanded their piety. But believing they were meant to be free, they refused. Why would you make us one way only to then desire us another? Does our appearance truly offend you so? And his answer brought them nothing but displeasure. But if you resent our manner of flight, for what reason have you granted us the means? And again his answer met with their displeasure. If we were created with the gift of free will, how ever can you fetter us with orders? Through fear, would you force our acquiescence?
For the first time in his tenure, God was troubled: the order he so desired already threatened, and, what was more, by the fruits of his own labour. Yet he found himself unwilling to destroy them, and sought instead to punish their defiance. Thus, on the morning of the fifth day, he cut off a finger and from it carved two elegant cages of bone. Snatched in slumber by his massive hand, Azrael and Eleanor woke to find themselves imprisoned. But they were not to be so easily stayed. For could they not still see and hear the world? So from their cages they sang, and the rest of God's creatures were frightened. They saw that Azrael and Eleanor had been imprisoned, and heard the haunting melody of their song, and for the first time became aware of their maker’s power. And on the fifth night God was unable to rest, for he could hear his charges dreaming, and he knew his judgement was being called into question. So on the morning of the sixth day he cut ribbons from his flesh, and muffled thus the openings of the cages. But so unsightly were these contrivances of meat and bone that he tore a swathe of skin from his side and upholstered them with it. And at this point his resolve did sorely waver, and as much to assuage his own guilt as to grant the birds reprieve, he made passages through which they might hear and breathe, and two small windows from which they might bear witness. And so it was that he manufactured for Azrael and Eleanor two prisons in his own image: prisons which would serve to remind both that they were but fractions of him.
Martin Ackroyd and Clem Eustace got paroled on the same day. Stir may dictate space and time but it sure as eggs is eggs ain't a place for forgetting: the plan still stood. Martin was out of Missouri by sundown, and the greyhound hissed into Kansas by light of the morning. He needed coffee, and he needed the restroom. Clem got picked up by his mother in her beat up mustard Skylark. She had a case of Strohs there in the back seat. By the time he got to bed he'd punched her senseless. The imaginary rattle of the guard’s baton woke him early, and he pulled on his boots and stole into the morning. He needed coffee. They hadn't arranged to meet till noon and it got Martin paranoid. Shit Clem - you think I wasn't gonna show or something? I told you this thing of yours wasn’t going to work out right.
Clem lit another cigarette and blew the smoke into his partner's face. Old worry wort. He smiled thinly. C'mon buddy - no need to be talking that bullshit. I ain’t checking up on you or nothing: this is the only joint open this time of morning. Relax okay? Relax.
Martin spit out the dregs of his cold coffee. Shit that was some fucking ride I tell you: this state is wider than the vault of heaven. He looked over his shoulder. Hey lady - I gotta eat you out to get a refill?
The cafe was the same as you find in any bus station. Full of paper-bag drunks and folks in between places and all of it the same blue grey you get when the morning comes to a place you don't want to be at. The waitress sighed and waved away Clem's smoke ring. By the time they left, Martin had relaxed some and the sun was burning off the wisps of August cloud head. Clem wiped the sleep from his eyes and they got in his mother’s Skylark. The home of the Markinkus family wasn’t far off - thirty five miles south-east at the most. Plenty of time. Clem swung them into the parking lot of the Tool Time hardware store and they got out. Martin checked in his billfold and hooked out a twenty. This oughta be enough I reckon - unless we need buckshot. They didn't. Clem had it all pre-arranged. They bought four lengths of coarse blue rope and two rolls of heavy duty duct tape. Clem stole three packs of gum from the counter display. Better wait till it gets dark. Any good bars round here?
From the cell windows, the garden was nothing more than a slideshow. In tactile terms it was like screwing through a doubled-up rubber. God spoke to them daily, but they didn’t want to listen. They heard him like you hear your neighbour’s radio. The garden was a dream inside another’s head, the snake persuasive, the forbidden fruit distinctly underwhelming. But what the hell: you get fucked over like that for having a mind of your own, you might as well just go the whole nine yards. It was purgatory feeling so distant. Imagine being part of something you hate, imagine that there’s no goddamn escape, and imagine no matter what you do you can't bring the whole sorry saga to a conclusion. It all got laid out for them when he clinked them up: you can’t just go demolishing the cages, or you'll be flying over Satan’s shit heap with the stink of it burning your nostrils - every day you spend on this earth you’re gonna remember just who’s calling the shots. Unable to do the sky dance, and too hard headed for repentance, Azrael and Eleanor sank deep within their cages. They tried and tried to forget their maker’s garden. Time flowed like molasses. In the end the cages got to having compulsions of their own, filling the spaces that Azrael and Eleanor had abandoned. The birds took to lying low in the heart and slumbering deeply, hardly ever looking out of the eyelid windows. And without the birds at the wheel them cage-bodies fell on one another in a disgusting orgy. I believe that’s how Cain and Abel were sired. And the part of Cain that came from Eleanor [the soul part] was so mad that her brother had earned God’s favour she caved his sleeping head in with a boulder.
As the land mass of the United States turned its back on the sun, and the inhabitants of that region turned their backs on their daily toil, Clem and Martin went out into the dusk and climbed into their vehicle. Martin was incensed, for his companion had imbibed heavily, and was thus incapable of conveying them to their destination. The weapon was secreted safely in the trunk, along with the recent purchases of binding material. Amidst exchanges of bitter recrimination and insincere appeasement, they made their way out over Kansas' patchwork plains. On two occasions their progress was interrupted: once for Clem to vomit and once for Martin to urinate. They became lost for a time, all the while discussing how considerably their plan would remunerate them, and eventually they achieved their destination just as the Markinkus family was climbing the wooden hill. Clem and Martin, having witnessed the extinguishing of the house lights, discussed how they would execute their plan. Clem had, by this time, attained an unsuspected state of sobriety and his previous confidence was gradually ebbing away. Conversely, Martin, so replete with irritation at his companion's conduct, found that the prospect of binding and threatening a wealthy family of god-fearing folk was not, in itself, too considerable a challenge. Mr Markinkus had, through the tenets of his inherited Calvinism, amassed a veritable fortune of paper capital. A fortune of which he deserved to be divested. Clem peevishly despatched the Markinkus’ soft and inept guard dog, and Martin worked an entry to the premises. And thus they entered the Markinkus residence and gathered together the household in a small, pine-panelled room which Mr Markinkus often described to visitors as the den.
Trapped for so long, Azrael and Eleanor became enfeebled shadows of their former selves. Their wings withered, their breasts sagged, and the little red glow in their saddened eyes went out: with life placed beyond the reach of their will they became like sleeping fossils encased in granite. And eventually they perished and returned to the cold unfeeling soil. But the halls of heaven were closed to them for their transgressions, and God had not yet sent the son who would bring mercy to the world. Thus he presumed he had overcome the threat of the birds’ uncouth behaviour. But their legacy transcended the opaque boundaries of the flesh, and endured the inexorable ravages of time. Eternal was the possibility of their reunification. And while God grew complacent, and the interstices of his joints filled up with gout, the progeny of Azrael and Eleanor did propagate. If through reincarnation those punished birds could defy the maker’s wishes, the paradox might undo all creation in a heartbeat.
Clumps of the Markinkus family spatter the wooden walls, like mud flung from the tyres of a mired pickup truck. Martin lost his mind and Clem joined in, lest he become a number on the morgue list. His ears are ringing from the roar of the shotgun and he gags on the wretched smell of sulphur and burnt hair and blood. And the worst thing of all is there was only about fifty bucks in the house, and all of that come from the missionary box on the ledge inside the screen door: god-fearing motherfuckers. All Jeb Markinkus had in his billfold was a goddamn library card and a season pass for the state bridge tollbooth. Someone [probly one of the daughters] had set off the silent alarm and the two State Troopers who took the call pushed aside their pie and coffee. In a place as moribund as Gilded Nest you’d do most anything for the chance of getting some action. They jumped in the patrol car and lit the siren.
Clem Eustace and Martin Ackroyd have just gotten out onto the porch when they arrive. Flashes of red and blue light across their faces. Martin has the spent shotgun in his right hand and the both of them are so dazed they just want to get out of there. Like in a dream, Clem reaches for his partner. The Troopers kneel behind the car doors and level their side-arms at the killers. Martin raises the shotgun - a bird flutters in Clem's chest - God in heaven kneels and starts his praying.
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