I thought he said Taliban

I thought he had said Taliban.

I thought that when Eric Greenwalt leaned into the microphone, cleared his throat, held up his finger, started coughing, said “Excuse me,” drank some more whiskey, and leaned back into the microphone, he had said, “This next one is called The Taliban.”

Eric and I had talked about the reading earlier in the week. After he’d laughed for an uncomfortably long time regarding at my inability to finish stories in a timely manner, he’d told me that he was going to write about a subject that he knew nothing about, that he was going to broaden his horizons. Actually, he’d said that he was going to kick those horizons right in the teeth.

I listened as Eric took another sip of whiskey and leaned back toward the microphone. He paused, before speaking in a voice that sounded like a gravel fight, fixing a hard look at the audience.

“Hey Mr. Tally Man, tally me bananas.”

If you’d told me earlier that week that my friend, Eric Greenwalt, wasn’t going to write about the Taliban and would instead lift his first line of dialogue from the song Dayo, also known as the Banana Boat Song, popularized by Harry Belafonte and that audience members wouldn’t whisper “Isn’t he directly quoting Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song?” I would have hoped that I was not drinking liquids, because those liquids would have come out my nose with the force of a non-water-saving showerhead.

If you were to tell me that the subject of Eric’s story was a young New Zealand girl finding love with a poor tally man on a Honduran banana plantation in 1884, I would have said, “OK, you’ve had your fun, why don’t you just drop it now?”

If you’d told me that the girl’s name would be Sassy, I would have told you to shut your mouth.

I thought I knew what to expect from Eric’s stories, every one read in a voice so deep that could vibrate quarters off a table: stories that ripped out your heartstrings like a ditch digger pulling out tree roots. Eric’s stories were scratch tickets of rage and betrayal, stories about drunks ground out like cigarettes, autobiographical stories set in a harsh desert where God never failed to disappoint, and his noir detective stories with Callahan, Sam Callahan, where someone always had to die. But nothing he had ever written prepared me for a period romance set on a 19th-century fruit farm.

I mean if you had told me that nowhere in his story set on a banana plantation would there be a machete fight or the slightest sniff of machete-based violence, and, in fact, the most erotic part of the story had the Tally Man removing Sassy’s corset tenderly with the aid of a machete, I would have shouted that you to stop filling my head with lies.

If you had would have told me that I would not laugh every single time Eric said “buh-nuh-nuh” because that’s apparently how New Zealander Sassy pronounced “banana,” I would have shoved you hard because I was unable to articulate how upset that pronunciation made me.

I looked around as Eric read, his voice as booming and ominous as a tractor-trailer coming down mountain pass at night with bad brakes, and the audience was enthralled. But if you told me that I would not have started coughing up bile when the evil foreman is stabbed with a banana, or that I would not shout out “You’re killing me!” when the character of Sassy says that the Tally Man’s heart is like an overripe banana, black on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside, I would have put my fist right through a bathroom door in frustration.

When Eric read the last line of the story—where kind, old Mr. Charles patted Sassy’s shoulders as she wept over her dead lover, the Tally Man having been fatally bitten by a tarantula from one of the banana bunches Sassy herself picked—that last line of dialogue where he says, “Do you know why I love bananas, Sassy? Because when you turn them on their side they look like a smile,” if you told me that I would not jump up and scream, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” and instead I’d fall to my knees in pain for Sassy’s loss and thinking that a banana is really, actually, like a smile, I would have leapt from my chair, run directly into the wall, and then slid down it slowly, weeping in rage and confusion.

And, if you would have told me about the intense, dark jealousy that would boil up inside me when Eric Greenwalt wrote an amazing love story set on a Honduran banana plantation, I would have said, “That doesn’t sound like me”—but inside I would know that sounds exactly like something I would do.


SeattleAlan said…
Great story as usual! It was funny watching Eric as you read it!

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