There are no martyrs in these parts. Only the dead and the living. Let it be known: Hector Calabash is among the dead. Take that to heart lest you join him too soon.
Excuse the grim posturing, friend. I’m not meaning to give you the shivers. It’s a simple matter of keeping the truth where it belongs, in the here and now. Too long truth’s been hiding, tucked away by so-called men who couldn’t carry its weight. Give it to me, I’d tell ‘em. Let me carry it. Hector? He was one of those so-called men. Always refused my offer. Safe to say it’s too late for him to regret it.
It’s easy to call him stubborn, but you take a look at his past and you tell me you’d be different. I’d call that what it is: a damned lie. Now he may have been too young to know his momma died while spillin’ him out into this world, but you can’t tell me that doesn’t leave a mark on a man. The phantom pain of not knowin’ where you come from. Lose the womb, you gain the tomb. Least that’s how Pastor Thornton saw it. You ask me, I’d say he’d have been better off lookin’ at it that way, but we all build stairways to avoid the feeling of descent.
If losin’ his momma wasn’t bad enough, then there had to go his brother Horace, and their daddy Bill. Not a soul here knows how their peace was made. Can’t say that makes a difference. Like I said, it’s only the dead and the living, so don’t bother me with questions about that mess. I been asked enough, and I’ll say to you what I say to everyone else: I waste no breath on the dead. Don’t do me, don’t do them a damn bit of good.
One thing you can say about the dead: they got numbers. I can’t imagine why they’d want more. But their masses…no solace when you can barely count. Hec wasn’t even 5 yet. Not fair to say he knew what had befallen him. The Pastor took him in, raised him by the Good Book. But Hec, he couldn’t hear none of that. Somethin’ about the Lord didn’t sit well with him, and I’d be damned if I blamed him. Even the Pastor wouldn’t dare call Hec a blasphemer.
Round the time he hit 15, just a few months back, Hec couldn’t abide no more. He kissed the Pastor on the cheek, whispered some grace into his ear, I’d imagine, wept on his shoulder, gave me one hell of a look, and made his way out, headed for some kind of darkness, I knew. The Pastor, he wouldn’t even speak to me. I didn’t linger there. Somethin’ about that place with all its high and mighty business, with glory and this and that all for Him, I couldn’t bear it. I likened myself to Hec in that regard. That’s why I went out after him, you see. Shame I found him too late.
It was a saloon in Abeline. I keep tellin’ myself, a few minutes sooner…but it don’t do no good to dwell on such matters. Like I told you, Hec is among the dead. And I aim to keep livin’. So that’s what I know, far as I can say. He drank himself to death. It’s truly a crime…a man who never had the chance to be a boy. Or even a man, you might say.
Now just wait…what do you mean you found him there? What do you mean he’s not dea…