A Prayer for Diana Marston
The graying couple prayed in unison from their bed:
Dear God, please watch over our goddaughter, Diana Marston.
We’ve tried to keep watch over her, but she escapes it.
We’re getting old and slow; we just can’t keep up with her.
She thinks that just because she’s lost so much that she’s lost everything.
God, please let her know that we love her and that she hasn’t lost us.
Give her the strength to forgive those who have wronged her.
Help us to replace her anger with love and happiness.
The couple clapped their hands and the lights faded.
CROSSING THE RUBICON
The Felix the Cat wall-clock struck six; Diana awoke to the chorus of her iPhone’s Kill the Eagle Playlist, which urged her to rise up to the challenge of her rival.
Diana donned a crescent moon necklace with dog tags and applied red war paint below her eyes, which darted between the mirror and a picture of a black Scottish terrier.
Diana slid into the kitchen, where she devoured Frosted Flakes and half of a Cherry Pop Tart, washed down a red pill with Red Bull, and chewed a pink Flintstone’s vitamin.
Diana posed in a short green tunic with a longbow in her left hand before a 2010 Acer Netbook and behind a wall dominated by a Geaux Tigers flag, Wonder Woman poster, fan art from Buffy, and Caution: Slow Children Playing sign.
After several web-cam shots, she approached the netbook, chose the picture that emphasized her height and slim hips but downplayed her high forehead, typed a few words, and clicked post.
Diana removed Conscience of a Conservative from between Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, grabbed a semiautomatic Glock-19 with a pink grip, and placed it in the hollow book. She stuffed the book, along with cans of Red Bull and Pop Tarts into a military assault backpack that bore the patch of William M. Marston.
Diana placed her iPhone in an external battery case, listened to the chorus through white ear buds, and refreshed her Facebook page, staring into the blue and white. Her status had received 15 likes within two minutes, a personal best. The die was beyond cast; it had been hurled into the Rubicon. There was no turning back.
HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE
Revvin’ up the engine, listen to her howlin’ roar, Diana sang over the roar of the red tractor’s engine. In a moment of multitasking magic, she gripped the wheel and typed, “Ridin’ Big Red on a highway to the danger zone in a Red Bull rush of nine miles per hour madness past the Neon Bible, the cornfields, and on to The Tiger Truck Stop.”
A flashing red and blue siren led Diana to slow the tractor to a stop as the white headphones played Nina Rota and Carlo Savina’s Godfather Waltz.
A state trooper in his late-forties looked up at Diana, whose crimson-toned impact resistant safety glasses met his dark sunglasses. Diana examined the badge of officer Andi A. Gordon, who had removed his glasses.
“Is there a problem, officer?”
“Get down and take those off.”
She complied and stared, unblinking, into the state trooper’s hazel eyes.
“Diana, usually I ask for license and registration but considering that…”
Diana, now in the man’s shadow, shoved papers into his hands.
“Ms. Marston, I’m no lawyer but it’s my understanding that a girl of your age can only drive this tractor on the road for fuel and repairs, but you just passed the gas station closest to your aunt’s farm…”
“I’m getting fuel from the Tiger Truck Stop; I want to see Tony.”
“Isn’t that the one near the Long Land, you know the one with the eagle?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“You know Dina likes to follow you on the Facebook.”
The state trooper leaned closer; the brim of his hat blocked the sun.
“Well just thirty minutes ago, she texted me something interesting.” He read from his cell phone:
The path of all small dogs is beset by the tyranny of the evil eagle Xena. In the name of charity and goodwill, I will strike down upon the eagle that destroyed my precious Toto with great vengeance and furious anger. I am the huntress Diana who will lay vengeance upon thee by turning you into a handbag or hoodie. #vengeanceandfuriousanger
“That was a joke.”
“Those arrows a joke too? Seems a joke sharp enough to cut ain’t funny.”
Diana dodged the state trooper’s hazel eyes. “Toto was the first thing that my father gave me after my mother died and before he got shipped out to Iraq, and that eagle just flew off with him like it was…”
“Ms. Marston, turn around.”
“The law says I can ride Big Red to the Tiger Truck Stop to refuel.”
“I say you can’t.”
“Fine. I’ll just get a ride from someone?”
“Who’re you gonna get a ride from?”
“From the line of men who’d do anything to have me in their backseat.”
“You don’t want to do that, Ms. Marston.”
“Just like you don’t want to go to anger management.”
Officer Gordon’s lip quivered. “Ms. Marston, turn around and we’ll pretend like this never happened, like the time you maced me.”
“You saw me naked.”
“You got caught with the Galt boy in his pickup, and I stopped you from making a stupid mistake, just like Bill would have. He’s bad news. And how did you thank me, you blinded me for two hours.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
“No, you just didn’t get pregnant like that Paula Ryan.” The state trooper’s hat cast a shadow over his face. “Turn around and we’ll pretend this never happened.”
Diana shut her eyes, focused, and cried to the point of hyperventilation. Officer Gordon stood back, mouth agape.
“I just miss Toto. He’s gone forever like everyone else!” Diana’s war paint ran like bloody mascara. “I just want…everything keeps falling apart…I just want some control…”
Officer Gordon stepped back and ran his palms over his face.
“When the Westborough Baptist Church protested Bill’s funeral. It ate me up. Bill was my best friend and partner, before his unit got called-up. I look at you and I see that little girl who just broke down. One of ‘em started yellin’ straight at that girl. He looked like a blonde rat that was balding. I’d been biting my lip all day. Now it was just bleedin.”
The state trooper removed his wide-brimmed hat, holding it at his side.
“I was off-duty but I always carry my .45. Always. I crossed the street and pistol-whipped the shit-eating grin off of that face. I was gonna pull the trigger, but I looked at his eyes and couldn’t do it. I know what you’re plannin’ but an eagle is a special kinda creature and I’m pretty certain that when you look at that eagle in its nest with its kin, you’re gonna have a mighty weighty moment like mine.”
“You should have shot the bastard.”
Officer Gordon placed a hand on Diana’s shoulder and shed a tear. “I’m so ashamed that I almost did. I got suspended for six months and nearly lost my job.”
Diana placed her arms around Officer Gordon. She whispered, “I’m gonna kill that eagle. Anything you do to stop me will just make me want it more.”
Officer Gordon shook his head and sighed. “If you promise to look into its eyes, look at its nest, and look at its young’uns, you’ve got my blessing.”
Diana contorted her frown into a half-smile. “Thanks for the blessing.”
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES
All who love are blind. When your heart’s on fire, you must realize smoke gets in your eyes. Diana sang with her foot on the ignition. Once the tractor passed beyond the state trooper’s line of sight, Diana lit a clove cigarette with a chrome United States Army butane lighter, initialized W.M.M. But today my love has flown away. I am without. I’m without my love.
As Diana’s burning cigarette turned to ash, the Kill the Eagle Playlist chorus privately informed Diana through her white headphones that her prison is walkin through this world alone, requested that she come to her senses, reminded her that to resist it is useless, it is useless to resist it, and asked where she will stay my little runaway.
The fiberglass tiger atop the Tiger Truck Stop called out to Diana like the Bat Signal of South Louisiana and the chorus erased any doubts when it released Joan Jett through the white ear buds:
Hey street boy, what's your style
Your dead end dreams don't make you smile
I'll give ya something to live for
Have ya, grab ya til you're sore
Hello Daddy, hello Mom
I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb
Hello world, I'm your wild girl
I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb
Diana walked past the glass door covered with LSU Football and Tea Party decals and made a beeline for the Mountain Dew Code Red and Slim Jims, which she slammed on the purple and gold confederate flag checkout counter.
“John, give me a pack of cloves.”
“Do you have I.D.?” A patchy blonde beard with ginger traces surrounded John’s smile.
“I forgot it, just like I forgot how we model-T’ed in the back of your Ford, four months back when you knew that Paula was pregnant – speaking of which…is the wedding still two months ago?”
“That brings your total to $23.28.”
Diana placed her bow on the counter and stared at his gray eyes through her red impact resistant glasses. The clerk gulped.
“Hypothetically, if a girl is old enough for you to buy her the Morning After Pill then she’s old enough for you to buy her cigarettes?”
“That brings your total to $19.13. Also, my Dad wants to see you. He’s by the side of the buildin’ watching Tony. He’s got his shotgun so don’t sneak up on him.”
Diana smiled. “Thanks, John. Give Paula my best.”
As Diana was exiting, John yelled, “And you tell that Godfather of yours that he’s lucky I don’t sue his ass for that black eye.” Diana turned to face John.
“You threaten that man and you threaten me, and you don’t threaten a thirteen year old girl who’s rockin’ a pink gripped Glock-19 inside a hollow copy of Conscience of a Conservative and never misses a crotch shot in target practice.” Diana would have said more but the white headphones whispered run, run, run, run, run.
Diana spied an egg-shaped man, who sat on a rocking chair with a shotgun resting in his lap in front of Tony. Tony, the titular tiger of the Tiger Truck Stop, paced a 10 x 10 foot cell with a red sign that read: No Flash Photography.
“You’d better not be one of those damn hippies threatenin’ to steal Tony.”
“Mr. Galt, I’d never steal Tony…unless I had the opportunity to feed him to Nick Saban…” Cough-like laughter wobbled the man’s jowls. Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name, the chorus whispered through the white headphones.
“You remind me of myself. What with…” The egg-man’s words overlapped with the lyrics but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game. “…Diana, I’m fat, I’m old, but I’m not stupid – you’re goin’ onto the Long land to take what you deserve.”
“Shush yourself, girl, and turn that damn music off. I might be near deaf and those might be off your ears but I can still hear ‘em.” Diana muffled the chorus whose last words were And I lay traps for troubadours who get killed before they reach Bombay.
“You go and kill that eagle, you’re gonna have a hot mess of feds on account of a stupid law that’s wrong…that tells a man that he can’t care for his own property…damn eco-terrorists claim they’re gonna liberate Tony…I think that they meant to kill ‘em to make a statement. You tried to stop ‘em in the forest but they knocked you out…then they came down here, where I ended their reign of terror…”
“Mr. Galt that story makes no…”
“Every time I think you get close to half the mind of a man, you go and show you got the mouth of a woman!”
“I’m sorry but…”
“It’ll make sense because people will want to believe it – facts ain’t got nothin’ to do with what people say is true!”
“No, buts! Follow the trail covered in hay that way.” The egg-man pointed his shotgun to his left. “Scurry along for yer bird watchin.”
“Mr. Galt how do you know that the eco-terrorists are gonna be takin’ that trail or even that they’re doin’ it today.”
“Same way that I know what you’re up to.”
THE YELLOW TRAIL
Diana followed the hay-covered path and temporary signage that directed visitors to the Long Land and eagle’s nest.
“Idiot.” Diana muttered.
Within a half mile of her trek, Diana crossed paths with six United Colors of Benetton-looking hipsters in their mid-twenties. Impassioned by M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, Diana stopped and folded her arms, blocking their path. “If you cross that path and release that tiger…you’re gonna get shot.”
The sextuplet of hipsters exchanged glances.
A Zooey Deschanel-looking girl covered her face with vintage aviator goggles and a checkered scarf. The other hipsters followed suit with goggles, bandanas, and the masks of ex-presidents.
The Zooey-looking hipster pointed a black spray can towards Diana. The white ear buds whispered, lethal poison through their system.
“What are you…” Before Diana could finish, spicy frothy foam sprayed across Diana’s face. “…it burns…is that fucking bear mace…” Diana collapsed onto the yellow trail of hay, coughing.
“Achlach…gragg…” Diana coughed. “…this isn’t Brooklyn, you can’t just go around macing people…glachhh…”
A man with a rubber Ronald Reagan mask and a faded Exxon shirt turned to the Zooey-looking girl.
“Knock her out, Starbuck.”
“You got it, Apollo.”
Unable to stop coughing or stand, Diana stared at the black skinny jeans and leggings that dominated her blurry view of the path.
Starbuck bent on her knees and looked into Diana’s eyes.
“I am truly sorry for this but you threatened to shoot us…”
Starbuck pressed an unmarked metal container against a fresh rag. “Sweet dreams, Nemo.” She pressed the rag against the mouth of Diana, who fell into a deep sleep.
BANG, BANG, BANG
The chorus of the Kill the Eagle Playlist continued to whisper to Diana through the white headphones with occasional interruptions from the world:
Diana awoke next to the trail of hay. The daylight had dimmed. Leaning forward, she vomited Frosted Flakes across the trail. Diana rubbed her eyes until she could see.
She felt for her pack from the forest floor. Grabbing a bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red, Diana poured some over her face and drank the remainder.
Diana checked her Facebook post for comments and likes. The morning post had reached 115 likes and 37 comments. She had received friend-requests from three of the six eco-hipster-macists.
“Idiots.” Diana confirmed the friend requests and walked to the eagle’s nest.
The eagle’s nest, which was between the size of a large futon and three giant beanbag chairs, sat atop a giant pine tree. Diana determined the best position to deliver a kill shot in a gaze focused on soaring ambition, consumed in a single desire.
Diana never noticed the flight of animals or the subsequent silence, only the warning of The Trees.
The anticipation-driven adrenaline, the second bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red, and the technotronic pump-up song Tiger Howl, which included the synthesized sounds of various tigers, were pumping her heartbeat to warp nine. Diana master of multitasking, saw, heard, and felt everything – but failed to distinguish between the overlapping technotronic tiger beat and the tiger’s roar.
I’m just a loner baby, and now you’ve gotten in my way. Diana sang as she stared at the eagle’s nest with a pair of leather-covered binoculars. The setting Sun lit the eagle’s release of the top half of a nutria rat into its nest. Diana drew an arrow, raised her long bow, and stared into the eagle as its beak entered its prey, whispering along with the white headphones, I can’t decide whether you should live or die.
The arrow flew a foot below the nest.
When Diana used her binoculars to reevaluate her position, she saw the eagle feed tiny fatherless bobble-headed birds scraps of meat. She remembered her mother pretending that a spoonful of peas were a train and then remembered feeding her mother, bedridden with ovarian cancer on the night before her death.
Diana noticed that the Facebook post from her Four Square and Facebook check-in at The Tiger Truck Stop had generated a stream of comments such as:
Diana, are you okay? Where are you?
Did you release a tiger?
Diana, please call your aunt, she’s worried sick.
Get inside of a car or anything with a door…NOW…
The leaves crackled behind Diana whose neck hair stood on end.
Diana turned to face the tiger whose golden-amber eyes fixated on her. The tiger, whose face was covered with gray foam and left hind leg had been grazed by buckshot, limped closer.
Stepping back, Diana drew the bowstring, aimed, and released a silver arrow into the chest of the charging tiger. When Diana turned to run, the tiger’s powerful incisors penetrated Diana’s back, causing her to drop the bow. The tiger narrowly missed her spinal column and scattered the contents of her backpack.
The tiger, slowed by the arrow, continued to approach. Since the white ear buds had been pulled from the iPhone, the chorus sang for the tiger, Diana, and all within range of her pocket. Florence and the Machine’s Howl was replaced with a full marching band thrice interrupted by the cheer, “Go tigers!”
The tiger, now within pouncing range, circled Diana, torturing her with the occasional feint like a housecat to a mouse. The tiger, whose mouth was covered in a mix of Cherry Pop Tarts, pages of Conscience of a Conservative, and Diana’s blood blocked her path to the bow, arrows, and the backpack’s contents.
The pink handle of the Glock 19 contrasted against the shredded, cover photo of Barry Goldwater. Estimating that she could reach the Glock-19 in ten seconds, she raced towards it. The tiger ripped into Diana’s left leg in nine.
“Ahhhhh…” Diana rolled to face the tiger’s bloody outstretched claws. Diana smelled her blood and Cherry Pop Tarts on the tiger’s breath.
The tiger’s growl pushed Diana deeper into the ground. Diana’s camera phone flash temporarily stunned the tiger, allowing her to twist the arrow in the tiger’s chest. The phone, which Diana had dropped, automatically loaded the picture as the chorus sang: 1-0-0-1-0-0-1 S.O.S.
The eagle Xena planted her talons in the tiger’s back and bit into the tiger’s raised paws with her sharp beak. The tiger howled.
Diana pulled herself toward the pink-gripped Glock 19, which she grabbed and pointed at the eagle and Tony, unable to free himself from the eagle’s talons.
The panting tiger collapsed onto a bed of red leaves. The eagle, whose knife like talons effortlessly carried away Toto, released the tiger, stared into Diana’s eyes, and flew away without any prize. Feeling wet, Diana looked down to discover blood running down her left pants leg.
Diana limped toward the tiger until she was certain that she could unload her Glock between the tiger’s eyes.
Cataracts fogged the Tony’s golden amber eyes, which were sad, angry, and helpless rather than hungry. The chorus tempered Diana’s anger:
O yonder comes Miss Rosie! How in the world do ya know?
Well, I knowed her by her apron and the dress she wore,
Umbrella on her shoulder, a piece of paper in her han'.
She goes a-walkin' to the captain, said, 'Turn loose my man!'
Shooting Tony was harder than crushing him with a boulder. Now on her knees, Diana shushed and stroked Tony, singing with the chorus for the tiger. She prayed with her arms wrapped around Tony’s once powerful neck until the color of his golden amber eyes changed.
Oh, let the Midnight Special shine her light on me,
Let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin' light on me.
After Diana delicately closed Tony’s now dull eyes, she sang along with the chorus, until she cried, without trying, for the first time since her father’s funeral.