One of the effects of the blast set off by the Russians was that Uncle Sam on occasion lost track of time, and when he did time came off the track and spread over the moment like pancake syrup, giving him a moment of connection to sugar and bread. “Why am I thinking about pancakes?” he asked. “I think I’m still fucked up from that explosion.” He would do his damnedest to pull himself up by his bootstraps, get his mind on track and roll down that track to the station and deliver the mail, but at some moment a terrorist would damage the track and time would spill across the scene again, and he’d connect to sugar and bread.
Aunt Jemima was doing her pancake meditation, a meditation that few men past fifty could resist. It began with grain but grew into magic rising powders and sugar and milk and there were flavors of berries, bananas and vanilla and butter. It grew a complex nose as she birthed it into the empty vessel in front of her.
Uncle Sam was feeling a little obsessive. The English bulldog walking off to one side, tracking him but not bothering to be overly social, felt the obsession as slightly crazy but attributed it to the blast. He edged a little further away and concentrated on his front body muscles, making himself appear as large as possible to oncoming traffic. Uncle Sam was singing to himself:
“She cooks me hotcakes in the morning, she makes me hot sweet buttered bread.
She cooks me hotcakes in the morning, she makes me hot sweet buttered bread.
She’s got a chocolate body, she’s got a soft white featherbed.”
He stopped short, his reverie hanging unfinished in the air. Standing in front of him was the old black man with the chicken bones. “Don’t I know you?” Sam asked.
“I brought you something,” Uncle Ben said. He lifted a glass of Aunt Jemima’s homemade wine, held it toward Uncle Sam. “If you drink this, you’ll hear something that’s been out of your range for a long time.”
Uncle Sam sniffed the deep red liquid, swirled it and inhaled the nose. He closed his eyes. The flavors blended into a complex and subtle taste that lingered and teased him toward a second taste. “That’s very good.” He finished it almost greedily and smiled with boyish charm. “Damned good. But I don’t hear anything out of my range.”
“No sir, and you never will.” Uncle Ben walked into the shadows from which he had appeared.
Uncle Sam again became aware of the English bulldog off to his right. It was speaking to him in his head, as if he could hear it telepathically saying, “If you want me to kill or maim somebody you can sic me on them. You’re not too goofy to remember that are you, dear?”
“Dear? Don’t call me that,” Uncle Sam said darkly.
“Sorry, Chief, didn’t mean to project upper class manners on you.”
“I was in the meat business before I became Iconic.”
“And a packer. Name was Sam Wilson. Listen to that.”
They were moving deeper into the juniper forest, and the song had changed. Before, Sam had heard a seductive song, one that stirred in him the excitement of having a chance to show off his prowess. Now the voice was taking on difficult tones, that reached downward, cracked and ragged and full of pain. There was only one voice down in this ground, held sacred by the Navajo, that could have that effect on him. He was being lured toward Spider Grandmother, the Icon of Native American tribes. She never traveled without the Twins, two young warriors of supernatural skill and grace in battle. Uncle Sam was abruptly gripped with sobriety.
The English Bulldog made a strange, whining noise.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t feel well.”
“What do you mean you don’t feel well? You’re not organic. You’re an interface.”
He stared contemptuously at the dog, which was munching grass. “You’re afraid of that old woman?”
“Not afraid, no. It’s just that I can’t emotionally relate to her being a spider. I don’t know why it is, but at about snakes, I start losing emotional relationship. She just reaches back too far into something I’d rather not think about, if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. Well, this isn’t a battle. I wish it was a battle because I’d rather fight with her than have to deal with her. I used to be able to work with the lawyers and get around her, but the people are all gone now. We have to deal interface to interface for the first time.”
He waited a little while to see if the bulldog was going to offer to go with him, but the bulldog just kept chewing grass and looking vacantly toward the sound of the song. So, Sam went on alone, deeper into the juniper trees, and he found his hearing really was much improved. He could hear nuances in Spider Grandmother’s song that he’d never heard before, because he’d never paid attention before, really. He’d thought of her as something somebody made up, without considering that he, too, was something somebody made up.
The idea that she might be his equal, here, one on one, without his millions and his munitions, was disturbing. It suggested she was his equal all along, and he had thought he was more powerful because he was more aggressive. But there was an emptiness inside him now that he needed a woman to deal with. Emptiness was a frighteningly feminine thing for him to deal with without sticking something in it.
He stopped again, terrified. He had known beautiful women, from revolution to world wars to Hollywood to fashion shows in Milan and Paris. He had always loved beauties. Not one of them had been real to him. They were accessories to his swollen ego. But Spider Grandmother might be his equal. It was only with an equal he could find something he’d lost. The horrifying thought came to him that Spider Grandmother might be calling him for some reason other than revenge. Or maybe an especially ironic kind of revenge. She might be going to try a merger, or even a hostile takeover. He thought of her, old and brown and smelling like damp earth.
“No.” He shook his head to clear it. “That can’t be. She’s ugly. She’s a fucking spider for god’s sake.”
The song from the junipers began to take on the scent of flowered gin, and it passed into his breathing like perfume and found its way into his bloodstream, a wine of the juniper berry so subtle it was the atmosphere itself. “A man can’t fuck a spider,” he whispered. He tried to remember if there was relevant scripture.
But he was obsessively drawn on into the forest, toward the song. When he saw her he was stunned into paralysis because she didn’t appear as a spider. She had transformed herself into a rather average woman of about sixty, with a wiry body and large, expressive eyes. “Where’s the spider?” Sam asked.
“Where’s the butcher?” she countered.