Cast of Imaginary Characters: (so far)
John T. Hardwick
“The open caucus held by the people at Odd Fellows’ Hall nominated the successful ticket, and not the convention ‘held last week’– in the saloons.”
The Eye, June 28, 1890
“The city manager is out, and Snohomish’s ‘strong’ mayor is in.”
Daily Herald, November 29, 2017
. . . .
Leaning in close, his lips nearly touching the helix of Hardwick’s right ear, Bottom whispered, “John … It’s me, your Brother Billy!” Straining to see, Hardwick’s eyeballs jammed up against the corner of his eyes. Missus Nightingale was still holding his head with both hands. Hardwick’s mysteriously dilated eyeballs floated back to a lost stare, straight up into the dome of deep, bright blue.
“Talk to me John … Fuck man, please say something,” begged Billy.
His gaze was fixed through wireframe glasses which made his black pupils nearly double in size. Bottom’s pockmarked face was tough to look at and he knew it. Rather than shy and retiring, Bottom challenged people to look him in his magnified eyes while he kept talking, or ranting, depending on who was listening.
“Goddamnit! What’s the matter with him?” Bottom asked Missus Nightingale, who since dawn had been on the scene of newly elected Mayor Hardwick passed out in a mud puddle deep in the excavation pit for White’s new building.
“Cat ’s got his tongue… or something worse!” the Missus mumbled, not looking up, continuing to hold the manic man’s head.
Bottom leaned over him, came in nose to nose: “Goddamnit, John, we’ve come so far … You can’t let me down now. Shit! How stupid!” A small shot of spit landed on John’s lips.
“You’ve given voice to my life, Brother … Goddamnit say something,” whispered Bottom.
“You’re too close, Billy,” said the Missus. “Let’s get him out of this mud hole. He is in shock. He needs to be cleaned up and sleeping … with a dose of Jesus’s mercy!”
“Jeeeees….” Hardwick broke free from the Missus’s hold! He shot straight up. What was left of his white shirt fell to his lap, blending in with his white shorts. His naked torso, sitting on white cotton and surrounded by dirt walls and floor, radiated the morning sun as if the light were coming from him. Preacher Hardwick was all-a-glow, and it was terrifying.
Bottom rocked on to his back. Hardwick’s distant stare was unnerving. He held out his open palms to Bottom. “Suuuuus….” Hardwick said in his soft, deep preacher voice, slowly looking up to the sky.
Billy Bottom quickly stood. All eyes of the crowd were on him. So many faces, he thought, standing behind the barriers on First and around the corner up Avenue A. How can there be so many different faces? Crazy that such variety could come from one mind … from the one Mind-of-God!
Fuck God! He didn’t make my face.
“There Are Many Minds-of-God!” Bottom heard himself shouting, the anger surprised him. “This is One of Them at Work … Right Here in Our Town! We are witnessing Our Brother John Being Born Again! Don’t believe in Hearsay, Believe with Your Eyes, with What You are Seeing Right Here, Right Now!”
Taking a breath, Bottom continued, “And You Must Tell Others: Our Brother John, Our New Mayor, Fell to Earth On This Day!”
Billy Bottom looked down, took hold of John Hardwick’s hands, then lifted his eyes to the crowd. “Remember this Day. Remember this Place. Jesus loves Our Town enough to send us John to Lead Us Out of this Pit of Despair into the Light of Our Salvation,” he said like the experienced street corner speaker he was.
“Let’s bow our heads in awe and joy,” said Bottom. “All of Us Together!”
Bottom removed his ubiquitous handmade knit cap and bowed his head. Those in the crowd watching him instead of bowing and closing their eyes witnessed a bright white spot at the crown of his head surrounded by hair, most likely an early onset of male-pattern hair loss (MPHL), which meant either a blessing or a curse — known only by the life you lived.
He quickly replaced his cap, pulled it down close to his ears, and took Hardwick’s hands again, shouting: “We Will Rise You Up, Brother John!” with a voice of joy, perhaps for the first time in a troubled life.
A loud cheer rose from the crowd as Billy Bottom scampered up the ladder out of the excavation pit.
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Up on the street, Ivy Williams-Bottom had disconnected the wagon shafts from Sadie’s bellyband and had moved the donkey to under the excavation pit rigging for pulling up the basket. Four thick ropes were attached to the basket and threaded through a maze of pulleys and ropes hanging from a wooden tower. Only two lines were attached to the tug loops on either side of Sadie’s pathetic-looking harness. Contractor White used a team of two horses, big horses, but neither White nor the team worked on Sunday. It was up to Sadie. Preacher Hardwick was not nearly as heavy a load of dirt, often wet dirt; yet, he was quite a pull for old Sadie.
Billy Bottom was standing in his buckboard now, rallying the men in the pit below to claim a spot around the basket: “Old Sadie here is going to need your help, Gentlemen.” Bottom continued to cajole the men below, some who had been on the scene since early morning. Still dressed in their Sunday best. Their pacing around the basket holding their new mayor had turned the mud puddle into chocolate pudding. One by one, the overdressed men claimed a place around the basket and bent over to find a handhold in the woven cedar bark.
“If you are ready, Gentlemen…?”
Hardwick’s eyes darted from man to man, looking for eye contact from someone. Bent over from the waist, the men were looking down at their hands. “On the count of the three, Gentlemen!” Bottom barked.
“One … Two … “Three!”
It was amazing! The large basket rose and was soon out of reach for the men in the pit. All stepped back to take in the bottom view of the swaying industrial basket, holding the nearly naked Mayor of Snohomish, as it continued to rise toward the spectators watching in stunned silence.
With only inches to go, the upward motion slowed, then stopped; the basket twisted, and the crowd gasped in unison. A sudden rush of liquid from the basket fell on the men. John Hardwick appeared to be soiling himself. The men scampered up the ladder, barely keeping it single file, followed by Missus Nightingale.
“Pull, Sadie, you Bitch, Pull!” shouted Bottom as he cracked the whip even harder. Several bystanders had joined Lily Williams-Bottom, pulling on leads attached to the tug loops. John Hardwick was lying on his back now with an empty look in his eyes, as the large cedar basket swayed and twisted in the noonday sun, its shadow swaying on-then-off terra firma.
“Pull, you useless c…” Sadie took a step before he could finish, then another, and another. The crowd roared with each step.
To Be Continued
. . . .