UNITED STATES—The Crescent City press slyly mocked Sam’s residual Russian accent in the headline ‘Philantropical’ PROJECT ANNOUNCED. Sam Delaney’s ambition was to cure the torrid zone diseases that time and again afflicted New Orleans. Cholera, yellow fever, malaria.
People were still dropping left and right after the turn of the new century —the school’s mission was to find ways to treat the diseases that flourished in Bananaland in the supple belly of the isthmus. Thus, he achieved some good, alright. Yet this sad truth of life, this aching sphere of vulnerability, was that one life lost can eclipse all the grace and joy gifted us. Where smugness reigned supreme, there’s the flagellant’s whip. Joe Holly. After the rather sudden death of General President Padilla Ortiz, Joe’s friend and powerful ally–not even his first year on the Honduran throne, through there was grace insofar as the rebel leader had attained his dream—of leading his country for a third term. But is lasted scarcely three months.
Joe shed the tasseled uniform tailored in Paris, and the admiral bicorne cap above the hair now whiter than gray. he did odd jobs, hung out in New Orleans, he hopped on banana boats and loafed around Central America, driven my itch for the next adventure. But it didn’t come. He tried to enlist in the big new European war. Not once, but three times. He was rejected once for being over fifty years old, once for being slightly deaf in one ear, and once for a hangnail.
“I know not why war is wasted on the young,” Joe Holly muttered.
“I’m sorry sir,” replied the young recruiting officer.
“You know in Europe, there are battalions using machine guns following the infantry. They can get to where the enemy is holed up and mow down innumerable enemy.
“That’s fine, sir,” said the uniformed lad with a paraffin smile. “I’ve got a line waiting.”
When his luck had run out in New Orleans, he lived in Guatemala and sold stocks in a planned resort for thermal waters. He lived in Nicaragua and owned a coffee plantation and started to achieve the success of a coffee crop, just when the real owners came back and ousted him. At last, he took one of Sam’s decrepit ships to New Orleans. The coils of his small intestine were already impaired by the tropical sprue, a malady Holly had contracted in Bananaland. He was delirious during much of the week-long voyage back, living these moments, now in his old Parish, now running a locomotive at full throttle, the steam and water droplets hitting his warm face. When he came down the gangplank in New Orleans, he was already weakened by the illness, his weight had dropped 30 pounds. Already in the throes of acute anemia.
“It would’ve been best to never have been born,” said the fortune teller.
Like an alcoholic can go for months, years, without a drink and then finds the justification to take a drink, Joe Holly had a weakness for fortune tellers. He would go off, now in more of a dipping walk than soldierly strut, to a little corner under a moldy staircase where Tana had her crystal ball in an immaculate yellow space, with rainbow crystals hanging from the wooden railing. Joe Holly was far now from that apex of prestige, after installing General Miguel Padilla Ortiz in the keystone province of Bananaland, the general became president.
“I miss your cat snuggling up,” said Joe.
“He went through his tenth life…Nuthing is forever, Joe.”
The incredible Yanqui would see Tana a few more times in the coming days. His body weaker, his eyes more glazed. Great comfort she gave. He was aching with anger. His visits and his consultation with the crystal ball gave a brief freedom from anger. She caressed her crystal ball:
“There will be joy, there will be sadness. You have much to look forward to. You will get a good night’s sleep tonight, I assure you,” said Tana.
At the biblical age of 33, it was time to travel to a new land. There was hope that the School of Tropical Medicine would offer a remedy to the chills and fever. He took a trolley car to Canal Street. Joe Holly was unlucky in his quest not to die. Unrecognized as the great hero of Central America, he was turned away from the sanatorium. He ended up on a tiny cubby-hole for rent where the partitions didn’t reach the high ceiling. The sniffles, sneezes of cough of a few laid out on Army surplus cots kept awake those trying to sleep. It was irremediable, the kiss of death and when it came it was release to joy.
The silvered sky of a new day peeked through dirty windowpanes of the end of the cheap hotel in what had been a building of colonial opulence. Joe Holly went down to the docks and got aboard one of Sam’s ships.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.