A companion piece to Born on the Fourth of the Flies.
Uncle Sam emerged from the hallway after using the bathroom. An all-American stench followed him as he wiped his hands on his patriotic suit coat.
“You don’t have any towels in your bathroom. How do you expect people to dry their hands?”
The man looked up at him. “Sorry about that.”
Uncle Sam took his seat in the chair beside the man, a table with an ugly lamp atop it between them. “And it’s terribly dirty in there. Don’t you ever clean?”
“I try. Doesn’t matter.”
Uncle Sam studied him for a moment with grave concern. “Why don’t you just leave? You shouldn’t have to live like this. She obviously doesn’t give a damn about you.”
“You’re right. She doesn’t.”
“I am right… By the way, what was your name again?”
“Never gave it.”
“Well, are you? Because you have to… “I’m Uncle Sam. It’s a federal regulation.”
“Are you sure? That sounds completely made up. Are you trying to hide something from me?”
“It’s not made up. It’s my real name. Do you want to see my papers?”
“No. Damn. I should have known that. I think my mind is slipping.” Uncle Sam sighed. “I guess it’s expected when you get to be as old as I am.”
“Can you die?” Kirby bluntly asked with all seriousness.
Uncle Sam thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure. I suppose eventually I will… Seeing how things are going lately. You know,” he gestured with a big thumb toward the door. “Out there.”
“And that’s the very reason I don’t leave, I suppose,” Kirby said, now sitting up straighter in his chair, more engaged. “There’s nowhere worth going to. The idiots are everywhere.”
“Indeed, they are. The best advice I can give you is… Live your life around them, not among them.”
“I don’t know if I understand what you mean,” Kirby said.
“Don’t expend so much energy concerned with what those ass hats are doing in the world. Live your own life. Be your own person. You can’t change them, so don’t bother trying.”
“It is, but you’re not alone. Take some comfort in that.”
“Thanks, Uncle Sam. Do you want another beer?”
“I believe I do.”
Kirby got up and went to the kitchen. “There’s only a couple left,” he called out, invisible. “What do you say we get some more and take a run out to the desert.”
He came back into the room and handed Uncle Sam the cold can of beer. “What are we going to do in the desert?” the icon of American patriotism wanted to know.
“Enjoy the solitude and get loaded… Maybe we can try to kill you, too. You know, just to see if it works.”
“Hmm… Such lofty goals in life you have, but intriguing just the same. I’m in.”
Kirby looked at the van parked in his driveway and nearly had to shield his eyes because it was so blaring in color and flare. “My God,” Kirby said. “Are we going to go drink and try to kill you in this thing?”
“Whaaat?” Uncle Sam scoffed. “It’s my USA love van. You don’t like the sparkly star-spangled banner décor.” He went to pull open the back doors to show it off. “Just take a look inside.”
Kirby poked his head into the back of the van and looked around. “Jesus,” he said. “Looks like Captain America exploded in here.”
“Yes,” Uncle Sam agreed. “It is quite patriotic, isn’t it? Well, should we climb aboard and get going?”
“All right,” Kirby Hurricane agreed as he went to the passenger-side. “But drive very carefully.”
The two stopped at a dirty convenience store called Fresco and bought beer and snacks. Uncle Sam paid with his American Express card.
“Can I get one of those burritos?” Kirby asked him.
Uncle Same looked into the case where the burritos sat under a heat lamp. It looked like an open-air morgue to him.
“You want to eat one of those?”
“Yeah. They’re good. You should try one.”
“That’s not really American fare… But I suppose it won’t hurt having one just this once,” Uncle Sam said. He looked up at the clerk. “And two of those dead things you got in the case there.” The clerk nodded, reached in, and bagged two burritos seperately.
“Hot sauce?” the clerk wanted to know.
Uncle Same looked at Kirby. “Do we want hot sauce?”
“Yes. Extra hot sauce.”
The two sat inside the van in the parking lot at the Fresco convenience store. Kirby chomped on the burrito, squirting hot sauce on the end before each bite. Uncle Sam was more hesitant. He nimbly nibbled at the burrito to get a feel for it.
“What do you think?” Kirby wanted to know between bites.
“It’s uh… Different, I guess.”
“Oh, come on. Just go for it. You could die soon… And with never eating a Fresco burrito? That’s bad juju for the afterlife.”
Uncle Sam turned to look at him like he was crazy. “I seriously think there is worse juju for the afterlife than not eating one of these things.”
“What’s your biggest regret in life?” Kirby Hurricane wondered aloud.
Uncle Sam tore into the burrito with his teeth, chewed, thought about the question. He looked at the slop of food in his hand. “Eating this thing.” Then he rolled down the window and tossed it out into the parking lot. “It’s disgusting.”
Uncle Sam looked about the world around him. It was dirty. Gross. A huge human stain. A spill of recklessness and uncaring. “I don’t think it really matters,” he said.
“What if everyone thought like that? We’d be under 20 miles of garbage by now. Suffocating.”
“We probably already are and then some… They just push it into big piles and holes and caves. They try to hide it, but it’s still there. We live in a huge garbage dump. One gross little burrito isn’t going to matter.”
Kirby sighed, took the last bite of his burrito, and looked out the window. “Let’s get going.”
Uncle Sam followed Kirby’s directions and soon they were out of the city and in the desolate desert. They took a turn off the main road, followed a gravel pathway, and parked near a clump of salt cedars by a slow-moving stream.
“We can walk from here,” Kirby said. Then he paused and looked at Uncle Sam who seemed to be worried about something. “Are you ready for this?”
The red, white, and blue gray man looked back at him and struggled to smile. “I guess.”
The two walked along a narrow trail single file. They didn’t say anything to each other at first. The hot sun was beating down. It was bright, too — forced the eyes to squint. Each one was tipping back a beer that was slowly warming.
Kirby drained his bottle quickly and tossed it off to his side. “No worries,” he said. “The world is already a junk heap, right?”
Uncle Sam scoffed. “You’re not ever going to get past that burrito incident, are you?”
“Probably not,” Kirby answered. “But we’ll need to drain these beers pretty quick before they lose their chill.”
They found a shaded patch beneath a leaning stand of salt cedars near the small river that trickled slowly like old man pee. They set down their things, stretched, yawned. Kirby plopped down into the dry sand and popped open another bottle of beer.
“Take a load off, old timer,” Kirby said to Uncle Sam, looking up at the tall lanky man of stars and stripes.
“I’ll try,” he said, and the old man worked to bend his old body and eased himself down to the ground with an audible creak. “Oh my,” Uncle Sam groaned. “I feel like I’m 246 years old.”
Kirby cracked open another beer for him and passed it over. “Drink up.”
The two relaxed in the shade near the small river in the desert that fed nearby shallow lakes. God breathed over them in the form of a hot wind. They watched a dust devil dance in the distance. Soon there was a small pile of empty beer bottles before them.
“How many have we had now?” Uncle Sam asked with slurred speech.
Kirby drunkenly tried to focus on the pile of bottles. “Looks like about 72.”
Uncle Sam flapped a lazy hand at him. “No way. That’s preposterous,” he said, and he sounded like Sylvester the Cat spitting out the Ps.
Kirby looked around for some more beer in a panic. “Oh shit. I think we’re finally out.”
Uncle Sam fell backward in the dirt and fell asleep. Kirby got up, took off all his clothes, and waded into the river.
It was dark out when Uncle Sam’s eyes popped open. His head ached and his mouth was dry. The universe was spread out above him, like star jam spread across a burnt piece of toast. The moon was round, bright and it lit up the desert enough that one didn’t need any kind of light to see. The old man was impressed by the wonder of it all. He rolled his head toward where Kirby was sleeping. He was still naked.
“Hey.” Uncle Sam snapped. “Hey! Kirby! Wake up and put some god damn clothes on. Your thingy is sticking up like a flagpole.”
Kirby stirred, flapped his tongue in his dry mouth and groaned. “Whaaat?”
“Get up and get some clothes on! This is very uncomfortable for me!”
“All right, all right, all right. Jeebus,” Kirby complained.
Uncle Sam got up slowly and turned away. “Let me know when you have your clothes back on, will ya.”
Kirby dressed in the ivory tainted darkness. He yawned, stretched. Coughed a bit. Spit into the night. “Are you ready to die?”
Uncle Sam slowly turned to look at him. “I guess we can try and see what happens. What’s your plan?”
“I thought we might try drowning?”
“Drowning? In the desert?”
“Yeah,” Kirby began to sluggishly explain. “There are these round pools of water out here rung by red sandstone. They’re deep, dark, impossible to get out of once you get in. They’re called ink pots. I figure I can push you into one of those and that should be it… I mean, you may struggle for a bit.”
Uncle Sam grimaced. “That sounds horrible. That even sounds like torture. I thought it would be something quick and easy. Not so… Dramatic.”
“Are you scared?”
“Yeah… I’m scared. Wouldn’t you be?”
“It does seem like a pretty heinous way to go.”
“Yes. It does. I don’t want to do it. I can’t believe you nearly talked me into it.”
“You can’t back out now.”
“Because… You said you wanted to in the beginning.”
“That was before I knew you planned to torture me in an ink pot.”
Kirby got quiet. He looked up at space and then a thought hit him.
“Okay. How about I do it.”
Kirby looked down at the ground. “Oh, come on. We both know my life doesn’t matter.”
Uncle Sam was surprised by his friend’s comment. “What? Of course, it matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes. It does. Look at you. You’re young. You’re…”
“Oh, come on,” Uncle Sam said, playing him off. “You’re drunk. I’m drunk. We’re being stupid. Let’s just go home.”
“You can’t come up with one single thing that makes my life matter, can you?” Kirby beamed through the moonlight.
Uncle Sam sighed. “I cannot tell a lie. I’m afraid you don’t have much value in this world. I’m sorry to say it.”
“I though it was George Washington that never told a lie?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“Well, there you go… See, you do have value. You’re smart. You remember facts.”
“What good has it done me? Smart doesn’t count in a world overflowing with stupid.”
“You’re being negative,” Uncle Sam scolded. “Think about the good things once in a while.”
They both looked at each other. Some desert bird made a noise in the night.
“Let’s go,” they said in unison.
Uncle Sam and Kirby Hurricane stood on the great salted rim of a large desert inkpot and looked down into it. It was blackness on blackness. They could hear a slight ripple in the water, the surface of which sat at least 10 feet below the top ring of rock.
“Do you think there are any wild animals in there?” Uncle Sam asked, concerned.
“Animals? Like what?”
“No. The water is very brackish.”
“Some fish like brackish water.”
Kirby rolled his eyes at him, shook his head.
“Who’s going to go first?” Uncle Sam impatiently wanted to know.
“We go at the same time,” Kirby demanded. “On three.”
“Wait. Wait. What’s the hurry?”
“Quit stalling Sam. We made a pact. An agreement. Let’s just get it done with.”
Uncle Sam sighed and looked down in the water again. It was now streaked with a sliver of moonlight.
“All right. I’ve lived long enough. I’m ready.”
“Let’s just close our eyes and step off the edge,” Kirby instructed.
“Got it,” Uncle Sam said.
“One, two… Three.”
There was a splash. Uncle Sam looked down and saw his friend struggling in the water.
“What are you doing!?” Kirby yelled out, angrily slapping the top of the water. “Jump!”
Uncle Sam cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled down at him. “I’m afraid I can’t do that after all. I’m a very important person who does very important work. My life must go on.”
“What!? Then help me out! Please,” Kirby begged, and then he swam to the side of the pool and tried to get out, but the angle of the rocks made it impossible. “Get me out of here!” He screamed up.
Uncle Sam stood erect, placed his hands on his hips, and just stayed there at the edge of the ink pot to listen. He heard splashing. He heard struggling. He heard gurgling and cursing. He heard a string of frantic cries: “Help! Help me!”
Uncle Sam waited until it all stopped before he finally walked away.
Uncle Sam was driving in his star-spangled love van on a desolate highway toward the bulbous glow of the city. He was listening to his favorite band: America. He mumbled along to the song A Horse with No Name.
When he reached the curving overpass, he took the exit ramp and turned left at the bottom onto the main road that dissected the town. The contrast from desert night to neon strip was rejuvenating for him. He moved with the thick traffic. Other drivers honked at him and gave him thumbs up in admiration of his Americanized van. He smiled proudly, waved at most of them. He sped up to make it through the next intersection before a red light.
Then the van violently shifted to the right when another vehicle rammed into him at high speed. The impact was devastating. His last memory was a menagerie of shattered glass, twisted metal, broken bones, blood spraying, exploding fireworks, pain, darkness. He felt his American soul drifting away to an otherworldly cloud.
A short while after Uncle Sam arrived to wherever he was, Kirby Hurricane came out of some heavenly mist and walked toward him. He stopped a few feet away from the tall man, now shined to perfection in the afterlife like Oz. Kirby was clutching something in his hand. It was a Fresco burrito, and he cocked his arm back and threw it up into Uncle Sam’s face as hard as he could. It made a sloppy smacking sound and he watched with pleasure as the beans and cheese and sauce dripped down Uncle Sam’s old face, into his scary beard, and onto his patriotic suit.
Sam stood there, shocked, trying to wipe away the mess. Kirby laughed out loud before he turned and walked away, saluting him with a stiff middle finger thrust straight up in the air.