A Nightingale in the Scrapyard

Carolina swampland. Trees grow out of the black water like the broken columns of some dead civilisation. Waterlilies lie on liquid soot and ripen under ripped stumps. The dirt roads dip into wet hollows. Dragonflies and damsels fly the ranges and men curse them. Butterflies of an old kind, dark and striking, wander between the soot footed pines. These are not the drifting motes of English lawns. These are shocks among the stun grenades and guns and shell cases crunching under foot. War gestates in these woods. We hear that there is a stranger on the range. A wanted man and so we shall have live ammo. There is hunger, like dogs sniffing for a crumb. The roads on the high ground are bound side to side by sand coloured vehicles. Men and women crouch on the ranges, firing, and there are many ranges. Miles of ranges. Recruits stretch into the distance. It is 4pm and the sun is shining and the flare one mile down the sniper range hurts my eyes. Men lie in fake tenament windows waiting to kill electric muslims.

Leaving the swampland for home, crossing the higher ground, with everyone silent because our own mission has been a failure, we pause in a queue of traffic for yet another checkpoint. Through a screen of trees I see row upon row of motorcycles, scrapped. Harleys, Elektra-Glides, Ducattis, Kawasakis and Hondas. Glittering chrome handlebars curl like dinosaur bones. Brilliantly coloured bodies glow like great dead dragonflies. Corrosion wanders through the piles which are stacked like strata exposed. For a moment I am struck with regret because I have missed, perhaps, the most poignant photograph of my life. We lurch into motion and cross a thin stream draining the swamps and all that they bear, into the blackwater of the Cape Fear river.

Our guide recommends bars, one has a wet t-shirt contest, others are rawer still. If we are feeling adventurous there is a country music bar where a fight is the price of admission. He didn't mention the lounge in the sorry mall. It promises live music and we chose to slake our boredom there. It has four screens each showing a different sport. Segregation has long died in North Carolina, so they say, but that appears not to be the case here. The barman is agitated for a moment. We want beer. A man watches us. Another watcher sits in the DJ's hut. The barman touches his hands free and the DJ touches me on the shoulder. He is almost seven feet tall. His sharp eyes bite. But he wants to play whatever whatever we want because the band is late and we look like tippers. They play us Beatles and Stones and the dark faces tolerate it. The band arrive. They have no drummer, he is not sufficiently stoned today. The bassist and stand-in engineer rips our ears with feedback. He wants us to buy his album and we don't. But when he grudgingly invites the fat lady to sing, apologising for her in advance, we discover the music of a woman told she is talentless by a talentless liar. All the bar is looking away, staring at the TV or the barmaids chest. Not one watches the woman sing and every man here is listening with every ounce of his attention to the nightingale in the scrapyard.



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