by Danuta Borchardt
Not realizing we would be entering forbidden territory, we decided to
cross the Mississippi River by the Hernando De Soto Bridge in Memphis.
A couple of years earlier the river was, we were told, at its lowest in
years. Its banks were swathed in dark mud, amphibians crawling out of
the water in numbers. But rains have since arrived. As we stood that night
on the eastern span of the bridge, there was nothing but blackness and
a foreboding of more blackness, at its western end. As we proceeded, we
saw garlands of yellow tape draped over the railing and in a zigzag fashion
across the bridge itself. All vehicle traffic had been diverted.
Suddenly the blackness turned into a tapestry
of brilliance, lightening shafts criss-crossing the sky and striking the
ground, followed almost immediately by thunder. Soon, a wall of rain,
then water coming sheets, began to pour on our heads, down our backs,
slowing our progress. About a hundred yards into the bridge, holding on
to the railing and heaving forward, we came upon a stationary car pressed
into the railing. It was in the right-hand lane but facing eastward, in
the direction from which we were coming. Apparently, a higher authority
had sent the law home for supper, and to watch on TV the latest developments.
The smell of putrefaction was everywhere -- of
the river flowing under the bridge and, as we learned later, of a human
body that had been snagged and subsequently retrieved. As we emerged through
the suffocating effects of the smell and across the deluge from above
half-an-hour later at the western end of the bridge, we thought ourselves
lucky to have escaped with life and limb an our lungs still intact.
In the chronicles of internet-speak, newspapers,
etc., the body turned out to be that of a scientist who?
The land had been hit by AIDS, by the potential
return of smallpox and lethal influenza, and now we were awaiting the
coming of an epidemic of anthrax and possibly of Ebola.
Gnashing of teeth would be nothing compared to
eyes, ears, mouth and other orifices spurting blood. All this the scientist
was working to prevent. And this is as far as the facts end. The rest
was conjured up by our imagining that, the scientist who died a suspicious
death just less than a month before the sporadic appearance of anthrax
spores in people's mail, causing death in some instances, was privy to
government information which did not bear revealing. That, the scientist
was the victim of a terrorist organization outside the country because
he knew its involvement in anthrax as a weapon of mass destruction. That,
the scientist was subject to depression, alcoholism, homosexuality, drug
addiction and an obsession with pornography, especially child pornography.
Imagine further: the scientist leaves a conference
that he has been attending in a hotel on the bank of the Mississippi in
Memphis, is approached, while still in the lobby, by two men on the payroll
of an authority and who, gangster-style of the thirties, wearing long
overcoats, their wide-brimmed hats cocked coquettishly over their brows,
stick a gun, one on each side of the scientist, under his ribs, tell him
to proceed to a car parked just outside the lobby, invite him to get inside,
jab him with a needle, drive him to the De Soto Bridge and dump him over
the railing into the river, they then turn the car around, jam it into
the railing to confuse anyone who might be investigating the case, then
leave the car keys, fingerprints and all, in the ignition, because they
know that the law here will be stopped by the authority from investigating
the case, and at autopsy, the prick of the needle will not be found after
the body has been swelling in the river for a while.
Imagine again: the scientist leaves the hotel
where he has attended a conference, it is dark outside, he walks to the
far end of the parking lot where he has parked his car, he is approached
by two men, masked and hooded to conceal their ethnic origin, he is shoved
into the car, told to drive to the De Soto Bridge, when they get to the
bridge he tries to confuse them by driving on the wrong side, thinking
they may be from some place where they drive on the right side of the
road and will get disoriented in their plans, but they hit him over the
head and dump him into the river, and not touching the keys they leave
them in the ignition because they know that the law here is good at tracing
Imagine again: the scientist leaves the hotel
on the banks of the river where he has been attending a conference, he
is drunk but tries not to reel around in the lobby, he has flashbacks
of masturbating in front of photos of little boys plastered on the walls
of his bedroom, he gets into his rented car, drives to the De Soto Bridge,
finds himself on the wrong side, tries to veer to the correct side but
looses control, the car twirls around and, because it is still slippery
from the rains that have just been pouring here, the car swerves to the
wrong side and jams into the railing, he climbs out (forgetting his usual
routine of taking the keys out of the ignition and putting them into his
pocket, or maybe thinking he won't need them anymore anyway) of the car,
over the railing and plunges into the river.
Moreover: some of the above, or none of the above
is true, and the truth is yet to be found.
There is one incontrovertible fact, however:
the scene of one of these events is the Mississippi River, that 'just
keeps rolling along.'
Another incontrovertible fact: the siege of 1863
that lasted six months also took place on the banks of the Mississippi
River, in Vicksburg. Scenes from this, following a lapse of time, appropriate
research, and laced with less appropriate and irreverent imagination,
may be written, on request.
(Perhaps too tall an
order to offer, but here it is).