Duncan Tierney

I was the only one, I think, who knew John Pat was not crucified. I think everyone knew it at one point. But that’s not what they know now, and that’s fine too.

I didn’t care much to talk about it. Still don’t. I just want it to be known that someone could.

I think a lot of things about the things people think about John Pat, but since I try not to try to know what I don’t know, I also try not to think about which things people think about John Pat might be. I don’t know if that makes sense. I think about this a lot, but I don’t know how to make it make sense when I say it.

Like, for example, I think that about myself. I think people might think something about me because I might have a stocking loose or a scuffed heel or some chap on my lip, but then I think that people probably aren’t thinking that. They’re thinking that the formula they just bought gave their son the runs or they think about how they’re craving a half-decent burger since the only ones we have in town people only pretend to like because that’s what you do when something you have is the only thing you can get. I mean, shit, they’re probably thinking about how they’ve got chap on their lips too or how their heel’s just about as scuffed as mine. So then I try to stop thinking about what they’re thinking about me altogether, and for that matter what they’re thinking about John Pat. Like how they think they know why he got crucified even though he wasn’t ever even crucified. But the thing about thoughts is that they’re hard to do that with. You can’t really stop them or slow them down even though it would be easier if you could. So I thought about them anyways.

The people in town thought a lot of things that they thought were about John Pat but weren’t. They were mostly about how there was a string of people just like John Pat. Grown men who were smaller than most grown men but still big enough to be shocking that they were left on a post for the ants and the birds to get to. And people thought that maybe it was because John Pat was an asshole in secret or had slept with someone’s wife or maybe it was some sort of old-timey shit that our grandparents would talk about, that he was up there because he was Catholic or because he was not Catholic enough or because he was a bastard or cursed at a crossroads or something. I guess it switched depending on your grandparent. And still, not a single person knew about John Pat except me.

I knew about John Pat. And I know about him now too. I think.

I saw him on my way home from the restaurant. It’s a long walk and in the winter it’s a nightmare, but in the fall when I remember my jacket it’s kind of nice. And it was the third at around 6:15 right when the sun was about to set. I knew that was when I saw him because the newspaper and the police report say that’s when I saw him, and that’s as good of a record as one can get about a time and date. After that things get harder to know, but I think I still know them better than most.

The thing about a story and about any story is that it won’t stay still, and the thing about a moment is that it has to, and stories are made up of a bunch of moments and moments are made up of a bunch of stories. So when I try to remember all I have is a bunch of stuff swirling when it needs to stay still and a bunch of stuff still when it needs to stay swirling.

The first thing I saw about him, and the only reason I really saw him, was the ribbon of dried guck running down what used to be his head. He was off the path. The woods weren’t  real woods, not like a real forest or anything. But it was big enough woods that you could get lost in them if you tried hard enough and a big enough woods that sometimes you saw a deer or two. Mostly I didn’t like the woods so much because there were mosquitos there and it seemed like they lasted longer there than they did anywhere else, but I couldn’t exactly avoid them seeing as my trailer was in there.

I didn’t know a thing about John Pat before I saw him huddled there. Didn’t know he existed. I saw the tree he was posted to first. Tied up there with rope around his middle and around his neck. His arms were out but just because a man’s arms are out when he’s dead doesn’t mean a thing about crucifixion. It was the rest of the people that were crucified. But John Pat didn’t have a thing to do with them either.

I wouldn’t have seen him in the fall gray except for the ribbon of guck.

People talk about the colors of fall, but the biggest color by the time September’s done is gray. People used to come into town from all over to see the fall colors, only at some point they must have realized that most of the fall colors were just bits of gray, and John Pat was gray too. Wore nothing but some old work pants that started off tan before enough years of work got to them and then some tighty whiteys that you could see because he must have forgotten a belt the day he was killed. So his pants were about halfway down his ass. And his skin was gray and his eyes were gray and the tree he was tied to was gray, and everything was gray except for one mud-brown ribbon where his head had been cracked by something heavy enough to cost a lot. And I saw the ribbon, and then I saw him.

I didn’t realize how gray he was until I got up there. Gray is a funny thing because all colors are a lot of things but gray is the only one that looks like a lot of things. A good gray is just as blue or brown or black as it is gray, and this man was gray. Gray, gray, gray. Gray as shit. Blue-gray on his skin, then brown-gray in his hair, then white-gray in his eyes, then gray-gray in the spot where a few inches of his head used to be.

He was sticking out in all sorts of places too. The rope had dug into him around his middle and his gut was sticking out past it, like a bit of sausage. I think he would have smelled, only it was in the forties, so it wasn’t like much had gotten to him yet. There wasn’t much else of him except for what was there, which usually isn’t the case, and that’s why I know him. That and because I found him.

Usually, people have a lot of other things to them. They’ve got a lot of little quirks or a lot of money or a lot of allergies or give you the feeling that they’ve got a lot of something or at least a little of it. John Pat just had a lot of gray and a lot of nothing. I knew when I was seeing him I was supposed to scream or yell or run or something, but I was so quiet because he sort of looked like he belonged there and he sort of looked how I felt. I haven’t said much of that because I don’t want people to think I put him there or wanted him there or like him there. But I did see him there, and nobody else did because they were too busy seeing something else there.

I did go to the police. Walked right back into town and borrowed a phone at the gas station and called them, and they were down there in no time. I think they would have thought I did it if I was any bigger or any louder or any more of anything, but there’s no way I could get or want to get a grown man in a tree, let alone get a grown man killed and then in the tree, and I think they knew that. And besides, a week later another grown man was left up dead off the ground a few towns over. Only this time the man was on a cross and this time I was at work, so they knew I didn’t have a thing to do with it just as much as I did.

People started coming into town more often after I found that man. I suppose it wasn’t that unusual. It’s not like we live too far out like Howell or anything, but this many people coming in and asking questions was still unusual. A bunch of them came to the Coney, but I only worked there a few days a week and my manager kicked them out anyway because who wants to eat burgers when a man with a notepad and a voice recorder is throwing around terms like ‘satanic ritual’?

And people are thinking so much more about how more stuff could happen, and if more stuff could happen then it could happen to their kids. Their kids or their wife or neighbor could be up there next. Then they don’t ever think about what has actually happened to people like John Pat because they are thinking about the thing that happened to him and to those other folks that nothing’s probably going to happen to. I think sometimes imagination is the biggest thing that can happen. I think it’s because if it happened to more than one person then that means it could happen to them. And if it happened to them then that means it could happen to their kids, and it’s not like they knew who John Pat was anyways, so why would they care if he died? I get that, I think.

You’re supposed to be sad when somebody dies. But you can’t be sad every time, so you just have to be sad or act sad sometimes. To be honest I don’t know John Pat, and I didn’t have it in me to be sad about anyone really. When you see a man in that situation, you’re more surprised than anything, and in most cases I think you’re supposed to be scared. But sometimes you’re too surprised to be scared.

I didn’t have to get to know John Pat, and I didn’t have to try to know him. I just knew him the way you know someone else’s bedroom for a second when you wake up expecting to be at home in your bed. That didn’t feel nice, but it felt like I was doing a service, which almost feels nice. It felt nice for me is what I mean, to know that I got to feel good without making anyone feel bad. That I knew a man. That he got to be known. Even if it was just getting known for a second by the gray on his head and the gray where his head wasn’t.

I think it’s nice knowing someone. Moreover, I think if John Pat knew he got known that would be nice too. I think everyone knows it’s nice getting known when they don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

About the Author

Duncan Tierney teaches and writes out of southern Florida.