The Resurrectionists

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Following the untimely death of one of their friends, several men get together at Woodrat's Tavern and talk about his life, his death, and what to do about it.

Submitted: October 28, 2010

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 28, 2010



The Resurrectionists


By W. Dipper


Copyright 2010 E. Reeder


All the colors of the rainbow slipped through his guiding fingers as the wooden dowel turned round and round before him gathering the yarn.  Hunched over and musing on the discourses of Meher Baba as the rain danced on the metal roof overhead, Leopold was a sage of the ages now alive again in this one, making magic wands in his dad’s garage.  His bright blue eyes sparkled as he muttered the words “om padma, om Kali,” and finishing another one he stood it in a bucket with the others. Rising, he ran crooked fingers through his wild black hair and across his bushy mustache, and then bending stiffly he grabbed a handful of the wands out of the bucket and shook them abruptly, their colorful foil tassels shimmering and rustling together in the silence.  He pawed an open can of beer off the table and tilting his head back finished it with one long guzzle and said, “well then!” with resolve, and  “dooba-da-doot-dee-dee-dee!”  Then he turned and left by the sidedoor, walking out into the rain with his glittering gift for the funeral.


Francesco pulled his oars against the running of the river, shipping them when he reached the slackwater close to shore and letting the small wooden boat glide up onto what was left of a sandy beach.  The river had been rising slowly for weeks with the fall rains, still well below flood stage but beginning to become dangerous with floating debris.  That morning Francesco had dodged bobbing tires, a tangled barbed wire fence with posts, the heavy door of a house, innumerable plastic bags and bottles, along with many other things including tree limbs and half submerged logs in the fast-moving brown water.  One of these last had almost staved in his little boat on the way back, and Francesco had decided to retire from the fishing life until things calmed down a bit.

“No use in getting killed for a little grub when there’s more than one fish to fry,” he said aloud to himself getting out of the boat, and then realizing his words, “Ha! no pun intended, heh heh hmmm, well, my friend, some poet indeed!”  He grabbed the bow-rope and hauled the boat high up and over the cutbank and tied it to a grandfather cottonwood saying, “you’ll be good there ol’ puddlehopper, unless this is the mighty deluge again, in which case it won’t much matter—.”

Francesco bent and pulled his catch of bass off the floorboards, turned the little boat over, and then threw some loose branches over it to hide it from any passersby.  Following a path up through the dying blackberry bushes and yellow-leaved cottonwoods he soon came to the old trailer that he lived in and called home.  Whistling, he cleaned and gutted the fish, wrapped them in a plastic bag, carefully placed them in a freezer behind the trailer, and then rinsed his hands in a stream of water that was pouring off a corner of the tarp that covered his makeshift porch.  Stripping out of his rubber raingear he hung them out of the rain on a nail driven into one of the cottonwoods that acted as a support for the tarp roof, removed his rubber boots and stepped into the trailer.  He turned on the propane heater and then stripping the rest of his clothes off walked back outside naked and stood quickly washing himself underneath the streaming tarp corner. “Aiy-aiy-aiy!” he yelped and then vigorously toweled himself off and jumped back into the trailer.

Small, spare and snug the old trailer was.  Cotton print tapestries from India were tacked to the walls, and there were a number of pictures, books, and candles set about, and a radio on a shelf faintly playing some west African music from the public station.  To one side there was a small bed with woven cotton blankets from Mexico spread over it, and to the other a tidy kitchen consisting of a short counter with a cutting board, a refrigerator that came up knee-high, and a propane stove with a well-used iron skillet and teapot set on its two burners.  Francesco dressed quickly in worn comfortable clothes and then having warmed the remains of his breakfast on the stove, he sat eating and reading over a loose pile of papers at a small table.  “Well Kurt, since you took the trouble to leave us, the least we can do is give you a good send off,” he said.  “So what’ll you have—nothing trite of course, but nothing too solemn either—you were born into this world, lived a confused and contrary life, and then disappeared early back to the embracing cosmos—pain, joy, sorrow, consciousness, slavery, release, freedom, Greek statues and cherubim, ripe plums and burning leaves, pearly clouds passing shadows over mountains and rippling oceans—ah, hmmm, well…”  Francesco finally found a poem that seemed appropriate for the occasion, one which he’d originally written years ago after a trip to the zoo with his daughter who’d been four at the time.  Cleaning up the dishes, he put on a raincoat and hat and stepped out of the trailer, heading uptown toward the cemetery. 


Rain, rain, rain.  Peering through the splattered glass, past the manic action of the windshield wipers, Joe kept his eye out for low spots in the highway surface that filled with water becoming dangerous hydroplaning runways.  It was impossible to avoid them all—with the constant heavy truck traffic, the highway was just one long minefield of standing water when it rained like this.  But it was good to anticipate the lack of control and brace yourself for the abrupt return of your tires to pavement. 

“Truly we create a hostile world,” Joe said aloud as he passed a semi-trailer and a wave of water broke over his windshield, “and then we live in it, reaping its benefits of anxiety, fear, and stress—blaming the world and each other for what we’ve made of it—ah, to put yourself back in this madness is risking your life indeed my man.”  He grabbed a bandanna and wiped a streak of water that was beginning to bead up and roll down the inside of the windshield, finally jamming a small wad of tissue between the glass and the weather-strip overhead where it seemed to be leaking in.  The wipers were old and warped and left a blurring film of water across the windshield that made him have to hunker down over the wheel or lean toward the passenger side to get an occasional clear view of the road.  He chastised himself for putting off the simple job of replacing them, but held responsible the current civilization in general for defaulting to such a stupid and dangerous method of transportation, and for Kurt as well for dying during the fall rains.

As Joe got nearer his destination, his anxiety turned into a tingling alertness that he channeled into speech.  “Like trying to drive in a goddamn washing machine,” he grumbled, “now hold on, we’re almost there little champ, you lovely old bucket of nuts and bolts you—mother! Watch it over there you jerk—fucking talking on the phone and swerving in and outta lanes with no blinkers, fucker thinks he owns the goddamn road—inconsiderate bastard!  Oh yeah, way to go Joe, that’s practicing compassion for you—OK, OK, well thank you very much for being such an inconsiderate bastard, mister, and giving me this opportunity to practice patience and tolerance on this beautiful day among all my fellow sentient beings along this treacherous path.”  Joe found his exit and gratefully left the highway behind.  Now it was just an easy half hour drive along country roads to his destination in Marysville.  He sighed with relief and looked at the low gray sky dragging along over the flat bright green fields of the valley and he contemplated trying to catch it with his paints.


One by one they came into Woodrat’s Tavern that night and Sam the sturdy barkeep gave them each a pint on the house since they’d seen their friend Kurt put under the ground that day.  The three of them gravitated to their old places at a table in the back of the tavern—Leopold, the magic-wand maker; Francesco, the poet-fisherman; and Joe, the landscape painter and taxi-driver.  Customers came and went, music drifted through the air, pool balls clicked and rolled, and a tide of voices ebbed and flowed.  By midnight Sam had tossed a few pitchers the boys’ way and decided to close up early and join them.  He shepherded the last few stragglers out, locked the door, counted the till, passed a rag over the bartop, and dimmed the lights.  Then he pulled another pitcher and with a sigh walked over to the crew.  They’d been laughing hard for the last hour, and they were still at it when Sam walked up.

“What the hell’s up with you guys anyway?” he asked.  “Sound’s more like you just came back from a carnival than a funeral.”

“Hey, hey!  Saint Sam and his holy pitcher of glorious redemption!” exclaimed Leopold, bright blue eyes glittering over his beer-bedewed mustache.  “Well, merry tidings and blessed be you brother!  Here, let me pull up a throne for you.”

“Heh, so you caught us in the act of our corrupted bereavement Sam,” Francesco said smiling.  “Well, my family, crazy Irish tribe they are, always call this kind of gathering a ‘going away party’ and tear the roof off wherever they’re at.”

“Going away party, eh?  Well alright, I can handle that,” Sam replied, catching the spirit, “cheers boys, to Kurt and his going away!”

“Cheers Kurt, and happy trails kid!”


“May your wings fit you well brother!”

“And your halo never tarnish!”

“And the angels greet you with open arms—”

“—and legs!”

“Amen, brother!”

“Ha ha!  So hey guys, how’d the funeral go anyhow?” Sam asked.  “Did Rose show up, or did Kurt’s death not soften her heart?  And that creepy little guy, the one with the eedy-beedy eyes and gimp that used to follow Kurt around on his skateboard, did he show up?”

“Well I’ll tell you one thing,” Joe said, “the rain sure never let up.”

“Rain-shmain, you don’t like the rain you shouldn’t be in Oregon,” Francesco replied.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever guys,” Sam said, “it’s been raining for a month straight for Christ’s sake, I’m asking how it went, what happened?”

“Hold your horses there Sam, you’re going to join Kurt in an early grave you don’t learn how to relax,” Francesco said reprovingly.

“Yes!” Leopold exclaimed. “As Shantideva, the great Mahayana Buddhist monk from the eighth century said before ascending into the air and vanishing altogether except for his voice, ‘there is no evil like hatred, and no fortitude like patience’!”

“OK, OK!” Sam cried. “Jesus, you guys are something else, so OK, I’m calm and fucking patient, now what the hell happened?” 

And so they told him about the funeral service, presided over by a black-robed and white-collared priest of all things, for Kurt had never shown the slightest interest in any religion while he was alive, much less the Catholic faith.  There was the wind and the rain, umbrellas and tarps flapping, the smell of freshly dug up earth.  There was Francesco’s poem, “Ode to The Caged & The Free,” Joe’s gift of a small oil painting of a sunset on canvasboard, and Leopold’s gift of a six-pack of canned beer and some of his magic wands, ceremoniously placed about the grave after the priest and Kurt’s upset parents had left.  Kurt’s mother especially had not appreciated their presence at the funeral, for apparently she considered them to be the cause of her son’s untimely demise.

“She said he would’ve grown up to be somebody without us, that he’d been a fine promising young man back in Wisconsin, and when he came out here to Oregon we corrupted him,” Francesco explained.

“Ha! Didja get that—we corrupted him!” Leopold laughed heartily.

“Hell, we kept him alive!” Francesco stated.

“Grown up to be somebody!  What the hell does that mean anyway?” Joe asked indignantly.

“You know,” Sam explained, “the same ol’ thing—go to school and get a respectable job like a doctor or lawyer or investment banker or insurance salesman or something, make a lot of money, spend it on shit you don’t need, get married, have kids that drive you crazy, watch TV till your eyes, ears, and soul bleeds, go on vacations to swanky American resorts in third world ghettos around the world, that kind of somebody.”

“Well, I don’t think ol’ Kurt was cut out for any of that,” Leopold observed. “Hell, he had a rough enough time taking care of himself.”

“Yeah, well I could just see Kurt was headed to the top,” Francesco envisioned.  “Any day he’d have been flying around the world in private jets, wearing slick suits, wheeling and dealing with politicians and Donald Trump characters, dining in the finest restaurants with beautiful young whores on each arm, his face on the cover of Money magazine—”

“Oh-ho!” Leopold laughed again.  “That’s one thing you gotta give him—his heart was too big to let him go to shit like that—and his mind roamed around so much it would have taken a head injury for him to focus on anything like greed for long.”

“Tell me about it,” Francesco added, “he was the most rudderless man I ever met—absolutely without direction.”

“You know,” Sam said, “I remember getting into Kurt’s car once to go across town and there was this horrible stench inside that almost made me retch. I looked in the back and there were these big bags of garbage piled to the roof—full of eggshells, chicken bones, fast food packages, newspapers, coffee grounds, rotten leftovers, who knows what else—and when I looked back at him, he just laughed and said he’d been carrying those bags around for a couple of weeks like that—just kept forgetting to find a dumpster and get rid of them!  God, the stench!”

“Yeah,” Joe replied, “well you guys remember that old chicken coop he was living in a couple years back?  I don’t know if any of you ever went over there, but the place had no running water or heat and it really did used to be a fucking chicken coop!  And so, well I go over there one summer day to do a painting of it because even though it was no place to live, the structure had all these really funky angles to it—just haphazard and tacked together—and it’d been painted a deep barn red color too that was all faded to different shades of red by then and there were sunflowers blooming all around and—”

“—Jesus, we got it Joe!” Sam said.

“Yeah, so anyway I go over there and Kurt’d gotten some booze somehow—good bottles too, of top-shelf Scotch and gin and vodka—and he tells me laughing that the night before he’d gotten so cold he’d curled up next to a little fire he’d made out in the weeds and while he was lying there he’d gotten really thirsty and all he had was this booze around so he drank almost a fifth of vodka to try and quench his thirst!”

“Ha! That was genius!” Sam said laughing and cringing at the same time.

“He seemed fine to me when I saw him,” Joe replied, “he looked a little mystified about the experience, but he just smiled and then went into the coop and I started painting and that was that.”

“Egads! What a beautiful piece of work he was!” Leopold exclaimed, smacking his lips and smiling.

“Oh, but get this,” Joe went on, “there was no bathroom out there either you know, so he used to just shit in these little plastic bags and then throw them in with his garbage.  He was proud of it too and said if everybody did that it’d solve all our problems with expensive sewage treatment plants and clean water and all the rest.”

“Ohhh Jesus!” Sam groaned.  “I don’t even want to think about it!” 

He pushed his chair back and got up and went around the bar and began to pour another pitcher.

“He was probably on to something there actually,” Francesco said.  “Crapping in fresh water and then trying to clean it up seems like a pretty stupid way to go, but la-dee-da, what do I know except common sense.  Anyway, I was going to say that years ago I used to live with Kurt and a few other people up at the Château Debrís near campus.”

“Ah, the good ol’ Château Debrís!” Leopold chuckled.  “Many a beer and bottle of cheap wine went down in that squalid palace.”

“I could never figure why that building was never condemned,” Joe said with genuine wonder.  “I mean, that place wasn’t just an eyesore, it was a health hazard for the entire community.”

“Ha! You better believe it,” Francesco said.  “And a death-trap too if a fire ever broke out, which it almost did once when that numbskull Peter got stoned and fell asleep in his room with candles and incense burning—good thing I was watering my plants at the time and happened to be walking by with a loaded watering can.”

“Good Lord,” Joe said shaking his head, “but no really, I mean how did it stay open? The whole place was a violation of—well, every building code or statute or whatever else is on the books!”

“Well you definitely had to work at keeping things clean,” Francesco mused. “But you see, old man Barrett owned the place and lived there too you know, in that separate room on the bottom floor.  He was in his eighties then and’d been renting out rooms to college kids for going on fifty-plus years there, and I guess it was legal ’cause he lived there too maybe. Ha! who knows, sure was cheap rent though.”

“What’d you say?” Sam asked, returning to the table with a full pitcher and setting it down.  “You lived with Kurt for a while?”

“Yeah, you remember the Château Debrís?” Francesco said.

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” Sam giggled and clapped his hands together

“Well,” Francesco went on, “we all shared this kitchen on the second story, and everybody was pretty good about keeping it clean if they used it, except for Kurt that is.  This one time I went out of town for a week or two to help my mother with something, and I get back and open the refrigerator and ha! it was like he’d been conducting some horrible science experiment!  None of the food was covered or wrapped, jars were open, stuff had been spilt and left, and there was this mold of at least a dozen varieties everywhere!  All these different colors you know—ha! I’ve never seen anything like it!  After that, the kitchen was strictly off limits to him, and you know what?  He never could understand why!”

“Ho-ho-ho!” Leopold chuckled.

“The real wonder is that he lived as long as he did,” Francesco added.  “I mean I’ve seen what he was capable of and he really could have poisoned himself by accident at any time.”

“But he died in car wreck, right?” Joe asked.

“Gruesomely gutted by a galloping gossip,” Francesco explained.

“Yep,” Sam said, shaking his head.  “It was terrible—got T-boned going through an intersection by some lady driving a SUV talking on a cell phone. She just plowed right through a red light and he was dead on impact.”

They were all quiet for a moment, and then Sam reached out and filled up everybody’s pint glass.

 “Well,” Francesco said, “wherever he’s at, he’s probably already busy making another mess.”

“Now, now, mustn’t speak ill of the dead,” admonished Leopold, fishing with his finger for something in his pint glass.

“Hell, that’s not speaking ill of the dead,” Francesco laughed, “it’s just making an observation—he was the messiest sonofabitch I ever knew and that’s a fact—chaos, confusion, clutter, disorder, disarray—he had it all.”

“Speaking of a mess, Sam,” Joe spoke, “what’s this I hear about Woodrat’s closing its doors?”

“Where’d you hear that?” Sam asked.

“At this tavern down south called The Dodo Rising that I drop in to now and then,” Joe replied. “I got to talking with the owner the other night and he knows George and mentioned that he might be having trouble keeping Woodrat’s open here much longer—something about finances.”

“Well, times are tough all over,” Sam sighed.  “And usually that doesn’t hurt this type of business, but this ‘economic downturn’ or ‘Great Recession’ or whatever the fuck they’re calling it these days, is really something else.  George has owned this place for over thirty years now and he says it’s never been this bad before.  The banks aren’t giving shit for credit, all the breweries are charging more for their kegs, energy prices keep going up, and worst of all, our customers are cutting back like crazy, eating and drinking at home to save money.  Shit, they come in now for a cup of coffee and watch TV for a bit and leave.  And it costs money to keep a tavern open you know.  George has bills to pay too, and so yeah, unless he can figure something out quick, he might have to close up here soon.”

“But you can’t do that!” Leopold cried aghast.  “Woodrat’s is the learning center of Marysville!  It’s the beating heart of this whole blessed town!”

“And the history!” Joe argued. “There are generations of human beings walking the streets out there right now who were conceived after their parents met and drank here!”

“Well Christ guys, it’s not like I want it to happen!” Sam said, throwing up his hands.  “Or George either, but as far as I know that’s the way it is.  From what I hear he just needs a bit to get through this slump and then things should be fine, but like I said the banks ain’t lending shit right now.”

“Doesn’t he know anybody around here that can help him out with a loan?” Joe asked.

“All the money’s gone or dried up,” Sam said.  “Those that had it, either invested it all in real estate or the stock market or both and now they’re left holding the bag or worse.  Everybody that gambled got burned, and now nobody wants to play anymore, not even with friends.”

“I sure as hell wish there was some way I could help,” Leopold said sincerely, wiping a sleeve across his mustache. “But you know me, having money and holding onto it has never been my strong suit.”

“I know,” Sam said smiling, “the three of you are the worst bunch of free-loaders and deadbeats I ever met.”

“Oh c’mon Sam!” Leopold chuckled, “we try and pay most of the time!”

“Yeah, I know,” Sam replied, “and you guys do pretty well for the most part.  But you know who didn’t is our dear departed pal, Kurt.  That guy went down owing Woodrat’s over ten-thousand dollars.”

“Get the fuck out!” Joe cried.

“Get the fuck out is right,” Sam agreed. “I just found out about it myself.  I knew George kept a tab open for him, but I had no idea he’d let it get so out of hand.  George said it just crept up bit by bit over the years and sometimes Kurt’d pay off a chunk, and then it’d sneak back up.  The way I figure it, Kurt was in here pretty much every day for a dozen years or so, and though he’d pay for most things, he nearly always added a pint or two to his tab.  So do the math. George told me he never had the heart to just say no to him and turn him away and that it just kind of became a joke between the two of them after a while.  Kurt always said he’d be good for it—after he graduated he said, and then after he got his Master’s degree, and then after he got a better job—and, well it’s all beer under the bridge now.” 

“Well son of a gun—” Francesco whistled, “and I always thought I was good at cadging drinks.”

“Thing about you, Francesco,” Sam said, “is everybody sees it coming and puts their defenses up.  Plus, it wasn’t like you were ever headed for a career or—”

“—hey watch it kid!” Francesco cried. “I might yet become Poet Laureate of the World!”

“So how much does George need to keep Woodrat’s afloat?” Joe asked, taking a different tack.  “Not that any of us have any kind of money, but what the hell.”

“I have no idea,” Sam said sighing, “I mean it can’t be that much really.”

They were quiet for a bit, thinking about it.

“Well, how about ten thousand dollars?” Francesco asked after a while. “Would that save the tavern?”

“I would fucking hope so,” Sam said, “that’s quite a bit of dough though.”

“And that’s what Kurt still owes Woodrat’s right?” Francesco asked.

“Yeah, so?” Sam replied.

“Ha! Well I just got to thinking that like any of us, Kurt’d like to leave this life honorably,” Francesco answered, “with all of his debts paid.  So let’s let him do it.”

“Kurt?” Joe exclaimed. “He’s dead and buried and never had any money anyway!”

“Well he does now,” Francesco said, “think about it.”

“Think about what?” Joe asked.  “Like he’s got some cash stashed somewhere or something?”

“In a way,” Francesco replied.

“In what fucking way?” Sam asked bluntly.

“Well listen,” Francesco said, “that casket Kurt’s buried in is worth a lot of money and Kurt don’t need it no more.”

Silence. Nothing but the rain outside and a creak or two from the old tavern’s walls.

“Ho-ho!” Leopold chuckled. “I get it! Set blessed brother Kurt free from his spendy box and sell it to save the tavern!”

“What! You guys are fucking nuts,” Sam said horrified. “You can’t be fucking serious, right?”

“It’s just an idea,” Francesco replied simply.  “I know a guy who can sell anything and this’s right up his alley.  I’ve looked at the prices of caskets too, when my dad died I was at the funeral home and went through the whole deal, and I’m telling you we could get ten thousand dollars easy f

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