A Confederate General from Big Sur(14)

By: Richard Brautigan

Lee Mellon was leaning up against the wooden wall which was the only wall in the place to bet on. During the time that I spent down at Big Sur, I saw only one person lean up against the glass wall. That had been a girl who had an obsession with going around naked and we took her to the hospital in Monterey and while she was being sewed back together again we went down to a hardware store and got a new sheet of glass. The bugs were standing there on the log and looking out at us through the fire.

And I remember somebody leaning up against the dirt wall of the hillside, deriding William Carlos Williams, when suddenly there was a loud roaring, crunching noise and a chunk of the hill fell off and covered the person up to his neck.

The person, being a young classical poet fresh from NYU, began screaming that he was being buried alive. Fortunately, the landslide stopped and we dug him out and dusted him off. That was the last time he said anything against William Carlos Williams. The next day he began reading Journey to Love rather feverishly.

I’ve seen more than one person lean up against the wall that was but a space of air and fall into the frog pond. Usually strong spirits were in rabbit-like evidence whenever this happened.

So the wooden wall was the only safe wall in the place, and Lee Mellon was leaning up against that wall, sitting on a distorted deer rug. It looked as if it had never been tanned, as if after skinning the deer someone took the skin and a pound of garlic and put them together into an oven with a low temperature and left them there for a week or so . . . ugh!

Lee Mellon was rolling a cigarette very carefully. That and leaning up against the wooden wall were the only cautious traits Lee Mellon ever exhibited. The bugs were standing there on the log and looking out at us through the fire. Bon voyage, bugs. Have a nice trip, little that they could see now.

I walked out through the wall that was but a space of air to the narrow catwalk and stood there looking down at the frog pond. It was silent because a small amount of the day was still with us, but in a few hours the pond would be changed into the Inquisition. Auto-da-fé at Big Sur. Frogs wearing the robes, carrying the black – CROAK! CROAK! CROAK! CROAK!

The frogs would begin at twilight and go all night long. God-damn them. Frogs, barely the size of quarters. Hundreds, thousands, millions, light years of frogs in that small pond could make enough noise to break one’s soul like kindling.

Lee Mellon got up and stood beside me out there on the catwalk. ‘Soon it will be dark,’ he said. He stared down at the pond. It looked green and harmless. ‘I wish I had some dynamite,’ he said.

Breaking Bread at Big Sur

THE DINNER WE had that evening was not very good. How could it be when we were reduced to eating food that the cats would not touch? We had no money to buy anything edible and no prospects of getting any. We were just hanging on.

We had spent four or five days waiting for someone to come along and bring us food, a traveller or a friend, it made no difference. That strange compelling power that draws people to Big Sur had not been working for days.

The switch had been pulled and the Big Sur light turned off for us. That was kind of sad. There was, of course, the same meager traffic along Highway 1, but none of it stopped for us. Something caused them to fall short of us or to continue on beyond us.

I knew that if I ate abalone again I would die. If so much as one more bite of abalone were balanced in my mouth, I knew that my soul would slide out like toothpaste and be diminished for all time in the universe.

We had a little hope that morning but it was quickly dissipated. Lee Mellon went hunting up on the plateau where the old house was. It was not that he was a bad shot, but that he was excitable. Sometimes there would be doves hanging around the house and quail near a spring where the old man had died years before. Lee Mellon took the last five bullets for the .22 with him. I implored him to take only three. We had quite a discussion about it.

‘Save a couple,’ I said.

‘I’m hungry,’ he said.

‘Don’t shoot them up in one thrill-crazed flurry,’ I said.

‘I want a quail to eat,’ Lee Mellon said. ‘A dove or a big rabbit or a little deer or a pork chop. I’m hungry.’

The bullets for the 30:30 had been gone for weeks and every day, late in the afternoon, the deer would come out on the mountainside. Sometimes there would be twenty or thirty of them, fat and sassy, but we did not have any bullets for the Winchester.

Lee Mellon could not get close enough to do any appreciable damage with the .22. He shot a doe in the ass and the doe limped off into the lilac bushes and got away.

Anyway, I implored him to save a couple of the .22 bullets for a rainy day. ‘Maybe tomorrow morning we’ll find a deer in the garden,’ I said. Lee Mellon would have none of it. I might as well have been talking about the poems of Sappho.

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