The following is a selection from Tito Perdue’s novel Reuben, published this month by Washington Summit Publishers / Radix.
“Your deep souls,” said Lee (they were in the field), “hate change. They see it as a distraction and a nuisance for anyone who cares about important things.”
The boy listened. All morning he had been breaking up clods of earth with his enormous hoe, until the noise of it had at last awakened Leland and pushed him out of bed. Still half-asleep, he emerged in a shirt and tie and pajama bottoms. He had managed to get into one of his shoes, and the other one, too. No use to call for breakfast, not since his wife had begun going down into Birmingham, there to fritter away full nine hours each day in an oatmeal-colored office building with antennae on the roof. Many times had he sought for her there, always to clap his hand over the muzzle of the telescope when he saw the quality of the people who drifted in and out of ken. Anyway, it would have killed him, he believed, to find his own beloved wife tethered to a desk and made to share in some of the preposterous activities that had grown so popular these last hundred years. (He could not remember whether she were engaged in public relations work for a consulting firm, or whether consultancy for a lobbying effort on behalf of advertising companies involved in public relations.) Today, his spyglass seemed especially drawn to some several tired-looking women who, most of them, or the best of them anyway, had far preferred to be at home on the farm. Just now he was examining a young woman of perhaps fifty, whose face and boredom without end told him all that he presently cared to know about this century and what it had come to. A milkmaid she might have been, a bee mistress, or tavern keeper’s daughter, any of which were better than this.
“It’s impossible,” he said, “to return the world to a previous period in history, and Toynbee says so, too. Nevertheless, that’s what I expect you to do.”
This time the boy expletived out loud in a kind of final exasperation and threw his hoe down.
“But I don’t expect you to do it all at once, good Lord no. Why a few more years of this”—he inclined his head in the direction of the city—“and they’ll come to you of their own choosing, demanding to be put to sleep.”
The child muttered a word or two and then, showing further signs of a resentment that Lee had not previously seen in him, began to extract the little green peas, which only moments ago he had been sowing, and began hurling them ferociously one by one at the horizon and the sun. Lee turned his gaze upon him. The older man still had more books and music to his credit than the boy could summon on his own behalf.
“Ingrate! Have you forgot your obligations to Judy, and to me?”
There were other peas visible along the row. Marching side by side with him, Lee continued his harangue as the boy went back to planting the little objects in the proper way.
“Yes. What we see here in America is the absolute triumph of quantity over quality. And that’s why your quality has to be larger than their quantity. Now, I want you to continue this row of peas all the way down to that low-lying series of hummocks yonder where seven of my ancestors lie dreaming.”
They both stopped and looked in that direction. As to how the boy was to accomplish all this and restore the ancient constitution, break the cities into towns, set up opera houses, and keep the wealth out of ignorant hands . . . It made Lee tired to think about it, but also glad that his own work was nearly finished now.
He spoke no further that day. Leaving the boy to his labors, Lee came inside and was well on his way to bed when, suddenly, he understood that winter had ended, bringing in its wake a long and tedious wait before it (winter, he meant to say) would agree to come back again. He did so dread it, the arrival of good weather and the sounds of noise as the usual low-grade people came bursting out of the city in order to contaminate with their persons the roadways and long-ago-lovely hills. He trembled for his wife and his books, but especially did he tremble for his monster, lest the people come and poke at him before his time had come. He knew them! Yea, and knew the hungers that drove the Democracy ever onward toward more perverted forms of music and television around the clock. Spring was coming in.
Because she had returned from the city with her usual cheerfulness curtailed, Lee strove to keep out of her way. But when at last it came to be ten o’clock and still he’d been given nothing to eat, that was when he went and knelt down next to her cot and tried to get some conversation out of her.
“Well!” he said.
She turned slowly and gazed at him.
“The garden is planted, almost. Assuming Reuben ever comes back from Atlanta.”
“Why yes. I had to send him on a little mission, don’t you know.”
(He winked twice and nudged her where she lay.) “Nothing he can’t handle. Hell, I could almost do it myself. So. And how was your day?”
“Oh Lee, these people, they. . .”
“Yes, I know.”
“But they’re very polite.”
“Certainly they are! And well-dressed, too, I’ll ween.”
“Ignorant of everything, but full of expertise—am I right? I did warn you.”
“They have relationships.”
“But they . . .”
“They don’t really like each other very much—is that what you want to say?”
“It’s so horrible, Lee.”
“Yes. Now my grandmother, to take one example, was an elderly woman, and yet she could have sliced to ribbons this whole generation with her pruning knife alone. Want some wine?”
He ran for it and after pouring himself a substantial drink, threw on some of his favorite music, nineteenth-century stuff, the twentieth’s only antidote.
Good with ladles and good with spoons, they reached, Lee and Judy, across the table to exchange samples of various things. Invigorated by that, Lee then shoved off, going from one piece of furniture to the next until in process of time, he came upon his favorite section of the house, a dark precinct with numbers of good books in it. It was here he had placed his best couch, a calming influence covered in cowhide. For him this was by far the best part of the day, a time of napping and digestion; he liked to lie there for an hour or so, scripting in his mind the dreams he planned to unfurl later on. Herself, the woman had found his grandmother’s glasses, an heirloom with gold frames and very thin lenses, and was sewing studiously in the almost insufficient light of the paraffin lamp. Would only she might turn a few degrees in his direction, then would he be able to spy upon her from his favorite angle; instead, the lamp began to sputter and then, finally, went out altogether, leaving them with nothing to do but to step forthwith into those same dreams prepared by him with so much foresight.
By Tito Perdue
Under the tutelage of Lee Pefley, Reuben learned what must be done. And when the time came, he left Alabama and took up the task of conquering the world, or at least the Occidental share of it. This novel is a chronicling of Reuben’s necessary, great, and terrible deeds.