Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Crescent and the Cross

Benjamin Watson


It was untimely news for the thirteenth of February, but Shadi Hariri was in the States at a gas station when he heard what had happened.

The air was cool, yet thick, and a lone attendant stood smoking a Chesterfield at a door clear of the pumps. The sign was off and the prices were not lit. Someone had walked by smoking Middleton's pipe tobacco, and cloud cover kept the sweet aroma low. All was silent save the feed coming out the speakers.

Welcome to the new Iraq. I thought they would only bomb ministers and political people. We are not even part of a party. And still we are the target of this.

The attendant approached and with a pert, industrious nod motioned his greeting.

Hariri asked, "D-d'you have any cigarettes I can borrow?"

"A-ah justaminute…"

The attendant left, then returned with an entire pack. Inside were only three.

"Oh, no," said Hariri, stepping out of the vehicle, "I do not smoke." And giving over a dollar bill, he took one and said, "Thank you. I do not smoke. My wife is picking me up."

With a deft snap he removed the cigarette's top half and slid back into the driver's seat. He did not shut the door.

Why are we dying in Lebanon?

"Cash or card?" said the attendant.

"Ah yes. Twenty-five on the card," said Hariri.

The attendant moved away with chains from his belt tinkling on his thigh.

It was getting dark.

Hariri stepped out and walked an ellipse around the front of his car. Both men stood categorizing the contents of their own heads: Hariri now clearly seeing the emblem his business must take—that of a five-leaf tree, a branch and with it a leaf now broken and in mid-descent, and the guy with two cigarettes guessing at the precise geography of one more Middle Eastern country.

Hariri looked up. He saw the sky glow as if backlit both orange and purple.

Hariri's trembling hand—blood snaking out dry skin where pigment turns lighter—unlatched the passenger door and returned to his seat.

We want to live. We are normal people. We just want to live.

"My wife will pick me up," assured Hariri and stubbed out the ash between thumb and forefinger. "I do not smoke. Thank you."

A rip of the engine fired quick, then quicker out of P over N and into D, the dominant flash there of brake-red in the evening twilight ignited a déjà vu neither could be certain about, exactly, without calling on faith: biochemical for one, something altogether different for the other.

Rain fell, and the two parted ways, once and for all.

***

Benjamin Watson is a writer who lives in Georgetown, Kentucky.

© Benjamin Watson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012