Burying Jacob Muscrat
Jacob Muscrat is going to hell; in spite of dismissing all of Christianities boasts, that pitiful soulless man is going to hell. We both are. The God fearing are certain of it. They have, that is the saved have, revealed this great smug truth to me, backhandedly of course, by telling me that they are saved and I, Nelson Binkey, am a heathen and must therefore be going elsewhere. They are mistaken. I am not a heathen. I am a godless idolater who is going elsewhere.
Well how is it down there Jacob? We planted him last week, or at least the Knights of Columbus did. I was the one who found him; drank himself to death just as the doctors said he would. He’ll be there by now if the righteous have their way and with all that preservative in him he’ll be the brightest fire in the place and if I know Jacob he’ll be using that distinction to his best advantage…but I’m getting ahead of myself. As the only one who cared at the end, I should do his life justice.
I first met Jacob one winsome starry night on a well beaten path between two houses. Let’s call the one a house of carnal worship and the other a house of chance. The ground over the years had been so well indented by foot traffic that it was impossible for us nocturnal travelers to lose our way. To fall out of that path you had to break Newton’s law of gravity. The problem was that it was only a single path so that when two weaving travelers met…well…
When I met Jacob he was crawling on all fours like the wild beast he would, at times, resemble so it would have been easy to ride up over him like Satan over the damned but, as I said, it was a starry night where one could lay on his back and happily imagine his fate or fortune so neither of us was inclined to pass the other. We lay there talking or at least I lay there talking; expounding on the possibilities of our origins when Jacob, in an instant, jumped up with a vigor I didn’t believe he had and shouted “What are you, some kind of fucking bible salesman?” It was that kind of abrupt humor that made Jacob my instant friend. Jacob reciprocated by befriending my financial resources, when I could lay my hands on them, and although he didn’t know it he taught me how not to get taken advantage of.
Jacob was a coarse man who delighted in acting antisocially intimidating and would attire himself accordingly. I am sure he would have loved to wear a full face of whiskers but his heritage would not accommodate him. A multiple strand of a goats beard dangled from his chin and his long vertical black cape of hair added a vulgar presence to his appearance as it partially masked his face. He, most often, wore a kilt and big black boots he called his ‘shin splitters’ which he would drive sideways down a man’s tibia when beginning a fight. This would give him a considerable advantage and ensure the outcome unless of course he fought someone drunker than himself that could stand the pain that had been thus inflicted.
I was his ‘little fucking fag’ in spite of my heterosexual orientation. Jacob didn’t own a large vocabulary and fag was the word he used to describe anyone who in any way challenged his limited faculties. We were an odd couple Jacob and I, brought together only by a desire for a tippling companion that each of us felt justified in looking down upon. A man living in a degraded sinful manner must still feel superior to someone.
I must admit Jacob was quite resourceful when he needed to be. He had a favorite ruse to procure funds in which he would go to a friend of mine, with me waiting elsewhere of course, and tell them he needed money for my bail. It was a believable story to my friends and one that they would have a sympathy for.
It was a wonderful partnership: me with my privileged heritage and Jacob with well…He never admitted to me to having had any parentage or siblings and one night I privately accused him of being conceived in a test tube.
“A fucking test tube?” he replied.
His dispassionate expression corrected me.
“An olive bottle” he said, “it was a fucking olive bottle.”
Jacob had a pride in his monstrous image. He played on it wanting you to believe that there was nothing that could hurt him, physically or otherwise. I was similar only the other way around. I was capable of nastiness and no one suspected.
Jacob had only one ambition. He wished to hide himself away in some ‘big ole’ house where he could ‘get completely weird’. I had told him that it would not be a lengthy trip to which he smiled a devilish smile of delight, called me an asshole and slapped me so hard on the back that I nearly swallowed my dentures.
At the time of his passing Jacob lived a primal existence. He’d stay at my place when I could tolerate him. He ate any kind of shite he would scavenge, and his meager possessions he left in my trust. They included the normal necessities to a middle aged man, toiletries, clothing, not one pair of underwear, my address book that had gone missing shortly after I met him, a collection of broken straight razors and a bundle of letters that dated back many years. All of these fine items were housed in a military type canvas duffle bag. I imagined the significance of these items. Why a man would cherish these amongst all items to tote, to be weighed down by, to rest his head on? At first I was going to throw the lot out, toss them in the dumpsters that, at times, had sustained him. What stopped me was a nagging curiosity, that a man, apparently devoid of sensitivity, saved items that could only have a sentimental value. Maybe everyone has to own something, anything, like a dog with a collection of neighbour’s property but I began to suspect that Jacob’s possessions hinted at a prior life. He had intimated to me, during times of severe inebriation, when his defenses were down, that that may be the case but when I would ask a direct question about his past he would deny any memory of it or simply ignore the question altogether.
The last abode that Jacob and I shared was an apartment, or at least a room with a private bath, right on Younge St. in the uptown quarter of the downtown. We were just north of a clutch of gay bars and our place was above a furrier and it had two windows that looked right out onto Canada’s longest street that was flanked by sidewalk thoroughfares that moved business people in the day and adventurers at night and weekends. It was like living above a persistent party. The threat of trouble there was equal to the threat of fun and the merriment was in perpetual motion. It even came to us in our Italianate style building from the narrow ledge that separated the first and second stories; a knock late one evening, on the window. It was the neighbours and we received them with laughter and libation. In an inebriated state, they had made their way across that ledge from their apartment next door.
I devoutly lived for play. I was born into opportunity and sought to escape nothing but a tedious lofty existence without exuberance. My pedigree breeding had never made any sense to me. I preferred an unbound life. I attired myself outrageously in a great Panama hat and pencil mustache. Jacob would laugh at the way I imitated the homos swagger and used a pretentious vocabulary like my great granddad and his cronies had.
On one occasion the police had cause to interrupt our fun. Jacob had been squirting pee from our window on the passersby below. The police burst through our door without invitation as if we were desperate hoodlums. Jacob, who never acted overly civil to anyone was surprisingly accommodating to the police and when they left he turned his restrained belligerence on me. We fought like lovers might fight, not friends, using blame and insinuation as weaponry and in the final blow Jacob warned “Don’t you ever bring no fucking cops on me!” It was then that I knew that Jacob had an undisclosed relationship with the police.
Jacob got into most of his fights on the dance floor. I got to where I could see it coming.
He wasn’t one of those fellows who would need spirits to assemble his courage. He fought drunk or sober. You could see it in his eyes. There was a frost there that would challenge the fires of hell.
I do believe he wore that kilt to antagonize…and those razors in his belongings. I wouldn’t be surprised if he carried one.
He was a dark horse Jacob was. I suspect he was like a cat with many lives and personas.
One night he came home with labored breathing, unnerved wide eyes and a torn shirt like he had fled from something deeply startling. ‘Jacob’, I did say, ‘what have you been up to? Not something nefarious I hope?’ He dismissed me saying I had a rich imagination. He added that he doubted I really believed anything sinister about him and if I had, I would not be able to sleep knowing what he might be capable of. I could have said the same about myself.
At the very moment I spotted my address book in Jacob’s things, my memory stubbornly retraced its steps in an attempt to remember why I had lent my book to Jacob. I renounced my next thought. ‘Jacob wouldn’t, property yes, but not that. Taking that would be like…like mocking me.’ I remember laughing a demented laugh and punctuating it with a great ‘hummmpht’. My eyes searched the light, the cabinet, my shoes; everywhere but down in front of me, down there where the truth provoked me and spit at my loyalty, down in that damned bag. The ‘bastard’ I laughed again. It was absurd and I began to laugh, quite out loud. I tapped the book in assurance. I picked it up and opened. Yes. It was mine alright. I kicked at his bag. I laughed at his treachery.
It nagged at me, the next question. Why? Jealousy? You have to care to be jealous. Spite? Jacob would respond with rage not treachery, and then it struck me so profoundly that it made me shriek with laughter. It was a list. A list of marks. Jacob would use them as he needed. My friends, his filth would touch my friends. At that moment I almost decided to toss Jacob’s things in a dumpster.
In death, that bastard Jacob, is going where he will finally fit. He will probably make general and have his eye on the boss’s job.
We had shared another place before Younge St. It was when Jacob returned from the west. I don’t know how the buggar found me. We hadn’t been friends very long before he left. He had been in the West for at least two years in some wretched apparition of a real place called Sucker’s Brook or something equally absurd. Jacob told me that when he returned he got a place at the Y and was dislodged for using an obscenity. He did not specify. He then found a room, paid for it in the morning; his landlady returned his funds that afternoon. That was when he found me. I inhabited a bachelor tenement that was encircled by the decrepitude of the old Cabbagetown. My front door was accessed off of a blind alley where I sometimes had to step around sleeping tramps, and cheap ragged common harlots performing their lewd services. Jacob’s vulgar manner suited this environment like a fly on vomit. It was his neglect that caused us to move, a withdrawal that I did not regret.
Our apartment had one window that provided a view of brick walls and filth. Jacob liked to attract the pigeons that were numerous, to that windows sill. This unscreened window also served as our only ventilation and on occasion one of Jacob’s ‘pets’ would trespass into our parlor.
When I was called home for my Aunt Isabella’s funeral I left Jacob by himself and charged him with paying the monthly rent. Well, not only, did he spend our rent money on liquour and an amphetamine binge but he did it elsewhere leaving the window ajar and a large bag of cracked corn open on the kitchen table. I cannot begin to describe the pigeon mess that resulted but I will say that it was easier to vacate our home than to clean it.
He had become an unruly cock walloper, Jacob did, a clever performer who kept me mad with hysteria. He could shock a woman out of her drawers with one of his war whoops and those eyes with the violence of wild fire…
Something from the west had changed him. I realized that Jacob could be changed, that he was not just a brutish psychopath. With a belated guilt I must admit that up until then he had only been, for me, company and entertainment. For Jacob I am sure he saw me as his little fastidious prig. I think our friendship was based on a curiosity. Each of us viewed the other as entities we had been cautioned about and were dying to open and see what came oozing out.
We were best when we made irreverent humor out of life’s repugnant gifts like the Jehovah’s Witness converters who made the unfortunate mistake of knocking on our door. Those boys left in such a state that I am sure they went immediately home and denounced their faith. We rarely shared personal information or desires. Paranoids don’t; that is what makes us formidable. One night though, in a particularly transparent mood, Jacob did disclose to me a whole litany of his private self. He started by telling me that he had been a prisoner in one of those residential schools that the government and the church had created for his kind. He told me that they had tried to whip the savage out of him with catechism and mortal sin and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He told me of the impure priests and the victimizing nuns. I believe the free and temperate nature of his words was the result of an amphetamine buzz. He watched my eyes react as he spoke and had armed himself with a large pair of nail clippers, just in case. To keep the flow of information coming I had to ask antagonistic questions at the point of a pause or full stop. ‘Do you believe in their god?’ I asked him, while pulsating the second syllable in believe.
‘Their god?’ he whispered and the words rattled in the back of his throat. ‘Their god is a hammer. Their god is a sharp stick. Why the fuck do you need that god? I’d squish the little fucking worm. I’d peel him.’ I could see his black hole eyes narrowing down.
‘So it is the devil you follow Jacob Muscrat?’
‘The devil is just the other side of the same goddamned thing! I could see he doubted his own words as his voice shrilled through his nose like escaping steam. ‘The devil is His goddamned discount outlet, pretending to be a fucking competitor. It’s like choosing between everlasting boredom and everlasting pain. They both serve the same master and they’re both feeding on your fucking impotence.’ Well I knew Jacob was just spitting venom, that he like all of us, whether agnostic, atheist or warlock define ourselves by the bullying rhetoric from the believers. You can’t be bullied by something you don’t recognize Jacob and I’m sure you have, by now, become persuaded about your beliefs by your new surroundings.
Well it took me years to realize that behind Jacob’s ugly mask of vulgarity was the potential for a capable mind. He acted the beast that he believed of himself and thereby he emerged as. Whatever he had been or could have been was eclipsed by what he had become.
I asked him about the odd way he studied people, how he always appeared to be measuring them as if he were tasting them with his eyes. I could see that he was shocked that I, or anyone, had detected this behavior. I couldn’t have been more surprised at his answer. He said he did not look at people as whole but as their individual component parts. ‘When I look into someone’s eyes I see round white marbles with pupil and iris markings that I know I could pluck with a flick of my baby finger. ‘When I look at their skin I look beyond to muscle and fat and in to the bone where the skeleton lives.’ I asked him why in the world would he do that. ‘It takes the sting out of them’ he confided in me. ‘It creates a distance between me and them that I can live with.’
I doubted he was being forthright. I believed he was getting some addicts high out of stripping their flesh and cannibalizing them like that; after all, this is Jacob Muscrat we are appraising.
The ongoing dilemma I had, was in deciding whether he was concealing a big heart or missing one. I bounced to and fro, on the matter, like a chimp on his digits or a mackerel on a taut line. Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry, that was I. He did perplex me, this crude man, of obvious crude parentage who may disguise gestures of nobility and threaten to malign us all. I would be glad to prove him a beast.
One piece of evidence only served to cloud the matter further. Those letters; those letters bound with a string and smelling like musty hosiery. Those letters addressed to a man not named Jacob Muscrat.
At first I thought my dear Jacob had absconded with someone else’s property just as he stole my address book. I could see that he could have been tempted by the symmetrical feminine penmanship and tender verse they contained but I discovered something while examining those letters, something that caused me to cast a doubt on the very thing that I had longed to know. Letter number nine, I’ll call it that as that was its position in the bundle; letter number nine was worded thus:
‘My dearest Leyland’, that was what she called him in all of the correspondence. The exact date of the letters is unimportant but I will say that they were all some twenty five years old.
‘My dearest Leyland,
I wish I could be telling you this in person but expedience
has compelled me to deal with this now. I am afraid that I must end
what was once beautiful between us for reasons that are so complex
that I am not sure that I even understand them. Among those reasons
are the obvious, our age difference and your unresolved legal
difficulties. I would like to say that we could remain friends but that
relationship would be burdened with all the same problems as the
other. I have enclosed your last two letters unopened, not as an
insensitive gesture of finality but to show you that this is not a whim
of mine. I am happy for, and do not regret the time we had and I do
wish you all the happiness that you deserve.’
And she signed it, enclosed the letters, which I opened and examined along with all of the other correspondence. She and he did appear to have an engaging Spring/Summer romance which almost brought me to weep in the reading. I was certain that this could not be our Jacob until I opened the returned letters. Jacob’s script has a particularly unrepeatable form that uses a mix of printing, writing and undecipherable chicken scratch and worm trails that leads one to think he is lost or at least conflicted. This was undoubtedly Jacob’s penmanship. How he could have had an intimacy with such a refined and sensitive voice is what genuinely confuses me and his returned letters were conceived by a much gentler mind that the Jacob I knew. It appears probable that my dear Jacob had experienced some kind of transformation. He had morphed himself for reasons only known to him. ‘And no marvel’ Jacob ‘For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.’ II Corinthians, chapter 11 verse 14. I too had been browbeaten by Christianity, Jacob.
I could have lived with the knowledge of Jacob the beast, the bi-product of that inferno of the wicked dead. After all, that is what had intrigued me about him. I could even learn to surrender to the fact that he was a lesser beast transformed. But that is as generous as I intended to be. If I were to allow him to have been tender, or devoted, even noble… One can’t just go around turning dogs into cats.
I would presume it prudent to clarify a small detail of the story that caused me more than a minor embarrassment and that is that I did know of Jacob’s possession of my property prior to, or should I correctly say, shortly after he left his possessions in my custody. I am as curious as the next man.
Some months before his death Jacob had a brief hospitalization imposed on him. Through the use of amphetamines and frightfully poor nourishment Jacob had become emaciated and prone to delusion. The doctor’s did tell him then, that untreated, it was likely that he would soon die. He argued to me that ‘they spoke of my death as if it were a bad thing.’ He had decided to be a martyr to his perpetual woe and I could not dissuade him and, in fact, I did wish it. My shame is that as well as believing in the mercy of his demise I also still carried an animosity against him and wished to be rid of him.
The night he died I went looking for him with a baggie full of high grade uncut ‘rock’ and a large bottle of Tia Maria, his favorite. I cut his track at what used to be the Canada House. I didn’t try to offer an explanation for my gifts and when I handed them to him he stared at me with an aloof shock and then forgiveness. I left without saying goodbye.
I knew the next morning where I would expect to find him and I did. He still had the needle in his arm and a bag of opened popcorn in his lap that the pigeons had mostly consumed. When I lifted his black locks to gaze at his still face I could see that it had gone peaceful like I had never known it to be. I removed the needle and with a wet finger wiped a small spot of blood. I rolled down his sleeve and buttoned out the morning air. I cradled his cool hand between my palms and patted the lifeless vessel that used to house a friend.
His belongings rode the train home in a mail car to Sucker Creek and I wept for weeks at the loss of my one true secret love.
The experience of a squandered early life became some of the raw material I later created with. I have been a painter and sculptor, a hobbyist luthier, making stringed instruments, none of which I play proficiently and like most writers I collect rejection slips. The irony is, the making of all that art helped facilitate my recovery from those lost years of youthful 'research'. Today I am ecstatic when someone takes note of that work I do.