Some thought my brother-in-law Delmus was unstable; I just figured he needed some trials and tribulations to help clear his vision a bit. So when he found an agricultural role in the Peace Corps, I cheered. I could not wait to see the changes a noble service in the third-world would surely bring.
Delmus came back from Botswana one year later with the gleam of purpose in his eyes. He sat across the booth from me at an Artic Circle in Big Pine, Wyoming. I watched him eat his Bacon Bounty Cheeseburger in one long, concentrated go. No talking, no looking about, just earnest chewing, punctuated by a few drags on his chocolate shake. When he finally came back from whatever gustatory dimension he had slipped into, he sat back with a smile of slack joy.
“Was the food over there that bad?” I asked.
“Billy Boy,” he said, “they were feeding me on rats and grass.”
Then he grinned all big and goofy, and I couldn’t tell if he was pulling my leg about the cuisine or the fact that he was calling me Billy Boy. He knew I preferred William or Will, but he said those names made me sound like some rich city fart and what kind of numb nut would want that?
He picked up his napkin and wiped his fingers like he was polishing silverware, then he looked me square in the eye. “Here’s the deal. I wanted you to be the first to know.”
He motioned at me with his chin. “What have you heard about the old ways?”
I groaned inside. “You’ve gone and hooked up with a bunch of zombies and voodoo, haven’t you?”
“Voodoo?” he said. “That’s nothing but watered down Caribbean crap.”
“Delmus,” I said. He’d tried fighting fires. He’d tried college. He’d tried Wicca, magnet healing, Evangelical radio, nudist camps, and quantum mechanics. For one week he considered living on a Kibbutz in Israel. He’d told me that something as powerful and deep as oak roots worked inside him, driving him to find the three-dimensional manifestation of the ten-dimensionality of our existence.
Delmus could see my disappointment.
“Things have changed,” he said. “I ain’t blowing in the wind.”
I just nodded. I liked Delmus. He was funny and kind. And no matter what he might sound like, he wasn’t dumb—he had gotten a 31 on his ACT exams, and he hadn’t even been trying. The boy had a lot of horses under his hood, but they were never given any opportunity to show what they could do: a Lamborghini stuck in life’s parking lot.
“Let me guess,” I said.
“No,” he said. “First, you’ve got to hear this thing whole hog.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m all ears.”
He nodded, and when he’d gauged my sincerity, he leaned in close. “The truth is I’ve got me an African god in a Smucker’s jelly jar in my trunk.”
Then he sat back like he’d just showed me a million dollars.
“I see,” I said.
Maybe I’d been wrong about Delmus. He wasn’t a Lamborghini. Heck, he wasn’t even a Ford. Delmus was turning out to be a go-cart.
* * *
We stood in the parking lot and he opened the trunk of his Mustang. A woman with short, expensive hair walked out of the Artic Circle and put on her sun glasses. She wore shorts made of some silky stuff that slid over the tops of her thighs like they were made of glass.
Delums poked me in the ribs. “Hey. I can goggle on the sly, but you, Billy Boy, you got to keep your focus.”
I was married to Delmus’s older sister, Jill, and married men in Delmus’s family were not allowed to look. I had been told this by Jill’s father: men were all alcoholics of lust and looking was nothing more than a fool bellying up to the bar.
“A momentary lapse,” I said and directed my attention to the contents of Delmus’s trunk. Amidst the jumper cables and two quarts of Pennzoil, I saw a crate the size of a toaster. It had small orange letters painted on it in French. Delmus popped off the lid, and there, nestled in the security of Botswanan newspaper, sat a large jar with holes punched in its red-checkered lid.
“Now lookie here,” Delmus said and pulled the jar out.
Sure enough it had a Smuckers label on the side.
“They got Smuckers in Botswana?”
“Billy,” he said and looked at me like I’d made another dumb cityboy comment. “Africaain’t stuck in the hut age. Some of those Bushmen, the ranching hands, they might forget to wear anything but their loin cloths, but they don’t forget their cell phones.”
Delmus held the jar out to me.
I took it and held it up close. What I saw were two beetles about the size of my thumbnail. They shined rainbow green and blue like a skiff of oil in a puddle. They were chewing on a fresh mushroom.
“These are your African gods?”
Delmus held up his hand. “You just hear me out. About three months out I met this skinny Gwi Bushman named Masego. He spoke English and French and Bantu: he was -- [End of Preview.]