Broken Watch: Part 3

Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here.

A day of glossy eyes, pale skin, stiff hands, endless noise, and Shelia from management, and he couldn’t even go to the abandoned headquarters because of his son’s bowling game. Even in victory, none of his offspring looked him in the eye when he intoned “good job,” and that was best. A meeting of eyes like these and those would be like a man in a desert locking glances with a vulture. Mr. Guillory drove them all home, cooked dinner, served dinner, cleaned up after dinner, picked up the living room, tucked the kids in, hunted the stray nails, poked his skin on the stray nails, hammered down the stray nails, looked at the late time on his watch and cried.

The crying began over the toolset and continued up over the remotes, iPads, and reclined chairs. Mrs. Guillory walked through the ornate doorway, bounced up, and then rushed over to Mr. Guillory to put an unsteady hand on him.

She waited for him to speak, and he did. “I- is this the best- I haven’t felt-“

“Slow,” she said.

Mr. Guillory sniffled, then continued. “Ever- ever since the army, I’ve panicked at the thought of getting shot. He- you know- he– nearly did so when I didn’t sound off to his liking. And the only time I felt alive was when Cane pointed a gun at me.”

He told Mrs. Guillory everything.

When he finished, she said “So your new family-“

“It’s not your fault. I need to bring more to this family, it’s my fault that I’m not doing enough, I’m spending time with them instead of you, it’s my fault-“

“Those kids-“

“But I’m teaching them. Did you know half of them couldn’t tell you what kind of anarchism they fight for? And Belt- once you get-“

“Belt’s parents are looking for her. They all are.”

Mr. Guillory shook his head, positioned himself on the leather couch. “But they’re not in a bad state. They eat just enough to get by. They say what’s on their minds. They’re kids, and I never once had to worry for their lives or discipline them… and they listen. With them, I’m not lording over, but I am-“

“Listen to me,” she said, the first time since her first pregnancy that her round voice developed an edge. “You don’t know what’s best for them. Her parents do. The government does. I trust you with a lot of things. I need to trust you on setting things right here.”

Mr. Guillory looked at the suburbs outside the flat window. Necklace described suburbs as the ultimate perversion of nature, an alien beauty imposed on grass and bushes, with square spaceships dominating the landscape. She always talked about the spirit in all things. She moved from helping Mr. Guillory up to responding to any of his facts (when she bothered) with spit and volume. And Mr. Guillory submerged himself in his own body, choking on the arteries and veins, and found a Mr. Guillory that endeavored to become the Most Responsible Man Ever, once for power, now for safety, always to take little Charton Guillory and kick his stupid head in. If Emerson were still alive, he’d do the same to Mr. Guillory.


“But Charton, those markings, they didn’t mention them on the news, how do you know those thugs didn’t-“

“You want to argue about this?” Mr. Guillory stood up, his shadow like a gloved finger over his wife’s body. “Who’s the only one feeding the bank? Who’s the one who cooks breakfast for six every morning? I love you like a child nursing a fly’s broken wing does. This is my new life. I’ve earned it.”


Mr. Guillory stopped at the broken window entrance, ice pumping through his forearm veins until the police car caught his eye. He ripped his black pants on the spring up crumbling stairs.

The door was angled open as always, but with splinters where the lock would be. Belt banged her head on the uncarpeted floor. She was screaming through her tears before the blood seeped from her forehead and splashed on the officer’s hands. A lanky cop stood over a weapon pile, her sideburned partner held his pistol at Tie, Cane, Necklace, and Beard. Manifesto held the door open.

“Officer, I can explain-“

The transporter of Belt looked up. Belt, with a cry to smash a glacier into a thousand pieces, broke from her handcuffs and thrashed out at her captor. He shielded his face. She dropped to the floor. She ran to Mr. Guillory. The blood on her forehead stained on his shoulder.


On his shoulder.

He witnessed it all happen inside him. His stomach became a practice grenade that got punched up his throat. Every bead of sweat ran like it was on a shaky roof two stories up. Every cell burst out legs and did push-up after push-up after push-up. Every motion of fingers ached from stitching up the second surprise shoulder shot during roll call. And every decibel of screaming became the booming voice of him. “Feel so high and mighty now? Feel so high and mighty now!”

The sideburned one told the anarchists they better clear off next time they come by, ‘cause they’re not worth the paper to incarcerate, but maybe one day they’ll upgrade to bullet in the head. The other officer gathered up the weapons and took them out. A piece of paper fell out of a cop’s pocket before she left, and lay on the abandoned building floor like a small chest wound. The shrieks and their shrieker faded away.

No one spoke. No one moved. Then Cane said “You fuckin’ asshole!” and ran up to knock Mr. Guillory to the floor.

Beard cried out. Necklace too, although Mr. Guillory saw her wince at a bloody nose once, so maybe any violence to any living thing choked her up. But Cane just grabbed his cane and pummeled Mr. Guillory’s face with it, shouting all the while. Cane never shouted before.

“We were supposed to protect her! She trusted us! You sold us out! You just stood there! You- you- move goddamnit! Do something!”

Mr. Guillory caught his breath.

“Yes!” he shouted. “I told my wife about you! She called the police! And you can go ahead and kill me for all I care, because I don’t anymore! If I’m going to be an anarchist again, then I need to break the ultimate rule! I’m beaten, I’m fallen, and I’m free! You set me free! I set me free.”

Once his shouting stopped, the pain dug into his head to the point where he only glimpsed Manifesto walk over to help him stand up. Tie stepped forward, picked up the paper the cops left.

“I will talk with him. We should pack.”

The leader and her lackey grabbed Charton and carried him to another room, where they lay him on an empty desk. Tie grabbed an old metal first aid kit, rusted. She pulled out a sanitizing cloth and dabbed Mr. Guillory’s stinging face with it. Manifesto read- something, about how the blood of the covenant was thicker then the water of the womb, not blood of family thicker than water of baptism.

“Did the book I give you cover conversion by way of Nazi-punching?”

It hurt to laugh.

“You know what this means, of course,” she continued. “You can afford a car and new weapons. You can take us to New Caveton.”

Mr. Guillory’s breath shuddered. “First we need-“

“You sold us out, now’s the time to buy us back.” Tie held out her hand and opened it- inside was the note and address that led Mr. Guillory to this soon-to-be abandoned building. “I gave you this because I trusted you to do the right thing. You are the truest anarchist I know now- you know who you are, and you see how it shines. Time to teach the world.”

With a numb hand, Mr. Guillory took Tie’s.

“I’d hate to admit it, but I’ve forgotten your name,” said Tie.

“Watch.” Watch was free to check his pocket treasure to see if any blood got on it yet. “My name is Watch.”


A Review of ‘Go Set A Watchman’

Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s latest book in 55 years, came out yesterday. I finished it a couple of hours ago. I tell you that in part to brag, and also to show how fascinating I find the book’s status of a legacy-maker. This story will redefine Lee’s career, because now we have more than one work to judge her writing by. And boy, what a book to follow up with. I also finished this book faster than you preordering Half-Life 3 the moment it gets announced, because my feelings for it are, shall we say, complicated.

The two titles together form a sort of instruction: “To kill a mockingbird, go set a watchman.”

Scout- sorry, she’s Jean Louise now- grew up in the past 20 years since The Ham Costume Incident, and at the start of the book leaves her home in New York for a quick vacation in Maycomb. She meets up with Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton, a man hell-bent on marrying Jean Louise and a childhood friend that we’ve never met until this point. The first 100 pages of this 300-page book are, let’s be frank, not good. To Kill A Mockingbird’s not known for its dynamic plotting or eye-grabbing action, but I have to deny entry into my bookshelf by some minimum criteria. The main conflict in this first third concerns whether Jean Louise will marry this boring, thinly characterized nothing of a man. His ego gets wounded, yes, he’s a lawyer following Atticus’s footsteps like he’s sneaking up on the old man, sure, but there isn’t enough about Hank to determine whether the reader wants Scout to marry him, dump him, or both. Dill’s in Italy in this book, but he promised to marry Scout when they grew up. Why can’t he be the love interest? Sharp readers will argue, “Dill’s gay, and so was his inspiration,” and I find that that’s more reason to include him. He’s in a stigmatized social group not yet addressed in either book, and he could have a conflict regarding his promise to Scout vs. his own sexuality. Hank matters so little to the main story that you wonder if Lee forgot him too and stuck him in at the end just for completionist’s sake.

Big fans of the original novel might enjoy catching up with the town at this point, even for characters like Willoughby and the river guy that were ‘always there’ but not worth mentioning the first time around. People who like this part will not enjoy the main thrust of the book, and I’ll just stick a ‘mild spoiler warning’ sticker over everything in this blog post but the last paragraph.

Jean Louise finds an anti-black pamphlet full of racist ‘science’ in her old house. As she does the sensible thing and tries to trash it, Aunt Alexandria stops her, telling her that the paper belongs to her father. Scout’s all nuh-huh, and Auntie says ya-huh, your father’s in a citizen council meeting for it right now. Jean Louise runs to the courtroom, the same courtroom her father defended an unpopular black man in, to see her moral compass introduce the most racist speaker in the world for a lecture that must’ve confused black people for orcs. Atticus gives tacit approval the whole time. Also, Hank Clinton’s at the meeting, but that just simplifies the whole “will she or won’t she?” plot. Remember the ending of To Kill A Mockingbird, when Atticus says to Scout, “Most people are [nice], Scout, when you finally see them,”? Yeah, Atticus is not like most people.

I heard from someone before the book came in that Atticus is racist in Go Set A Watchman. First thought: that’s sad, I rather liked him. Second thought: I MUST READ THIS BOOK NOW. Twain raised the stakes in Huckleberry Finn through his protagonist risking his immortal soul; Go Set A Watchman raises the stakes by corrupting the purest soul in Maycomb. The audience is left with the same feelings of horror and betrayal Scout carries. If you read To Kill A Mockingbird and considered Atticus the main character/favorite character/ fantasy for those times daddy beat you, this twist may not sit well with you. And you find out later that he’s only quasi-racist, reacting to Brown v. Board of Education with the whole “grumble grumble state’s rights” shtick that motivates his citizen council meetings and distrust of NAACP lawyers. Even then, he says, “the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people,” (Lee, 246) and “You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you?” (Lee, 242). Talk about an asteroid collision in your heart. I wonder if young scholars of history feel this way when they discover that Lincoln believed white people to be superior to blacks. Still, Lincoln freed the slaves, and Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson. Most of the circumstantial and indirect evidence in To Kill A Mockingbird doesn’t support the change in Atticus, but nothing in the original contradict it. And look, he got old. The world went through a war and a depression. Changes like this can happen to the best of us. Once a father figure, Atticus is now a grandfather figure. Go Set A Watchman was actually written first by Lee, before her editor told her to write the backstory instead and gave us TKAM. This decision only gives more power and impact to the events in the 2015 release.

Now Scout’s weaksauce character arc in To Kill A Mockingbird gets replaced by a strong and solid one in the sequel. She learns (SPICY SPOILER WARNING, TAKE YOUR VIRGIN EYES TO THE LAST PARAGRAPH) to become her own conscience, confronting and challenging her father before learning that they share the same stubborn attitude and even some Southern Pride and racist ideas. She no longer has to worship Atticus, but she must learn to tolerate him, perhaps to still love him. Here’s the strength of the book: it’s a better coming-of-age story than To Kill A Mockingbird. TKAM is about learning to tolerate people that others hate and fear. GSAW discusses learning to tolerate people you hate and fear. Jean Louise is no longer Scout the child. She’s an adult, and must follow her own moral map instead of her dad’s. What a great arc and lesson for readers, especially for the one typing this blog post who understands that his conversations with grandparents on gay marriage have gone nowhere and will go nowhere. So it’s with this soaring sensation from reading a powerful story that I tell you that Go Set A Watchman (pulling words out of mouth like they’re anvils attached by string) is… not… that… well-written.

Yes, you heard an unpublished writer criticize the mastery of a Pulitzer Prize winner. But answer me this- what perspective is Go Set A Watchman in? It switches from third person limited to third person omnipotent to first person to some passages I can’t even tell. Important character beats, like Calpurnia’s revelation, are missed entirely. We flashback to cheesy events with “wacky” misunderstandings that most of the time don’t connect to theme or plot. And if you thought the last book wasn’t subtle, this one spells out all the previous foreshadowing at the opportune moments and just tells you the same moral I listed earlier. The main driving point for me is the character arc, and even that seems out of place. Jean Louise has lived in liberal New York for years now- wouldn’t she have found her own moral compass away from Atticus by then? And for a book about following your own moral compass, Lee picked an outdated and clear-cut dilemma to focus on.

Yes, this is writing jokes on easy mode today. You could say the comedian in me died.

I knew nothing could live up to 55 years of anticipation for readers. I didn’t expect this follow-up to get this close to greatness and then fall apart the moment you lay a hand on it. Maybe a film adaptation will clean up this emotionally powerful and gripping story that feels like the first draft it is and may contain some ruinous flaws. But make no mistake- this is a story worth telling and worth writing. It’s somehow for lovers of TKAM and not for them at the same time. I haven’t read any other reviews for this book yet- perhaps I’m wrong and this book is all great or all bad, but I’ll stick to my conscience on this one.

Broken Watch: Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

When the house quieted down at midnight, and the neighbors stopped brushing aside the pastel curtains to witness the chaos of the children, Mr. Guillory saw Belt on the news. The anchor motioned to a thin hole in the dirt basement of Belt’s house- every dig done by hand. Belt’s father owned a store on the South Side, and her mother cried so hard that she smiled. Necklace told him, after she passed out the bottom shelf vodka, that they put the scars and burns on Belt, places he’d never want to see. Mr. Guillory’s youngest child, in the one moment of his father’s inattention, touched the clothing iron and couldn’t pick up anything for the rest of the week. That son’s spaghetti stains were now off the close walls, the dusty treadmill, the white carpet, and the low couch Mr. Guillory sat on.

For once, he welcomed the anchor moving on to New Caveton, where the blonde newscaster monotoned about the shooting of Asli Breen by Officer Aaron Baak. Baak claimed Breen reached for his gun, everyone else claimed twelve shots into the black youth was excessive. Most of the witnesses, other minorities, were jailed for unrelated crimes. Before the indictment process even started, the community lined the streets, signs in their hands and gas masks in their pockets. The gang hounded Mr. Guillory about driving them there, because if ever an event called for bombs and bricks. He said he’d take them only with petitions and peace signs, prompting the only booing of the night.

He broke his first window at age 10. Only a sliver on the glass, but enough to crack the matron and reel from her mouth a condemnation for the mother that worked 80 hours, the public enemy of child services, the spirit that hugged Mr. Guillory when he boiled the rice or grabbed the clothing iron with tiny fingers. He almost hit a thousand windows before the matron forged his signature and the well-suited men brought him to boot camp.

On the TV, one protestor already ran into the police, and blood flowed from his shoulder.

A bloody shoulder.

The drafting…

When Mr. Guillory snapped back to reality, the real sweating skin and real pounding heart, the commercials began and the wife next to him spoke. The rolls on her body only highlighted the youth on her beady-eyed face and the wisps of hair standing up. “Another attack?”

Mr. Guillory nodded. “I don’t know why I keep having them. I never saw combat, just- him.”

“’Him’ sounds bad enough.” She smiled. “And ‘him’ made you into the wonderful man you are today. I’d say that’s enough.”

He winced as he said, “Am I more free?”

She said she didn’t understand.

“A lot of things would fall apart without me. They need someone to fill the coffee and cover the sick shifts. You need a dishwasher and childrearer and all around fixer. Yet only death can really take me away from all this- sorry, that’s too morbid, that’s not what-”

Mrs. Guillory tilted her head. “You’re not thinking of running away, are you?”

The flashback was over, but Mr. Guillory heard the echo of the sergeant demanding one more lap on the roof, if Mr. Guillory seemed so keen to run anyways. The ticking of his pocket watch was louder than his heart.

Their first date occurred because Mrs. Guillory rescued his watch. At the time, she just finished a meeting with a producer, begging him to make a movie about the time she got lost in Hollywood and met a famous actor. Mr. Guillory, his hair sticking up from sleeping on the bench last night, hugged her, told her thank you, my mother showed me how to make this watch when I was 6. She squeezed him tighter, told him there was one way he could thank her.

“Because I feel like that too,” she continued, scratching at the pajamas she hadn’t changed out of yet. “Like Hollywood won’t come unless I stop dreaming. But I control my dreams, not what happens out there. It’s all about how I see it. Also, it’s your turn to read them a story.”

Mr. Guillory stood up. One more run-through of Where the Wild Things Are, he seemed so keen to read about anarchism anyways.


Only Mr. Guillory noticed that Belt was about to insert the needle into an artery instead. Beard, Cane, and Necklace were busy arguing, Manifesto and Tie out of the room. Of course, he’d prefer she didn’t, but then she asked how he knew so much about veins and he looked back in his mind and saw a same-age Mr. Guillory hold a needle like an agonizing artist. When the liquid seeped into her bloodstream, she became the first person to laugh at his jokes. Today marked the first day the anarchists didn’t teach him a new protest strategy. But that didn’t stop him from taking the bottles after a few drinks and giving them his books.

Belt wandered off, and Manifesto began lurking about by the time Beard broke away and sat by Mr. Guillory. “So tell me more about this Emerson guy,” he said. “Is he as boring as you are?”

They both laughed, neither one genuine. “Well,” said Mr. Guillory, “my favorite quote by him goes like this: ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’” He declined to mention how his innards dropped nowadays when he said that.

Beard looked to the bare bulbs above. “So it’s like, whatever you do is better than everyone else.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“That’s because you’re stiffer than my dick on a Saturday night.” He laughed. “Hey, when are you going to take us to New Caveton?”

Before he refused again, Mr. Guillory stared with his mouth a little open at Manifesto. The teen’s long yellow hair swished around as he walked to the exposed wires hanging from the ceiling and began licking them both. He stood on his toes to do so. Only his eyes looked human to Mr. Guillory- a smidgen of duty, an avalanche of fear. Everything else, including the smile, belonged to a spacefaring tribe’s legends.

“Hell if I know,” Beard answered, pushing Mr. Guillory down before he stopped the teen. “All I know is that he does what we tell him and he never wipes that smile off. Oh, and all you’ll hear of him is reading from that book.

“You know what I think?” Beard continued. “He’s too goddamn happy. His book keeps talking about bringing happiness by bringing misery- if even that, the logic in there’s worse than its spelling- but I don’t think he knows what either one is. He rereads passages to us until we come up with an explanation, and we stall so there’s less time for this stupid shit.”

“Do you think it’s a medical condition?” asked Mr. Guillory, wincing, bracing. “His smile, that is.”

Beard pulled out what looked like a half-open car remote combined with phone and began fiddling with its wires and chips. “I read the Koran a lot when I was younger- trust me, that’s a much better read. I asked my folks why they had to reinterpret and revise an already perfect book. They dodged the question, just pushed me off to share another class with Joe Hick and Billy Fuskssister. If I had to guess, he reads from that book because he needs to. A statue can’t sculpt itself. And do you trust him anywhere near sharp implements?”

Mr. Guillory checked his watch, and stood up right as the first shock jolted Manifesto into a small hop. As Mr. Guillory paused, he saw Belt writing ‘The ultimate rule is death’ with a pencil all over the dusty floor. She looked at him and smiled. Mr. Guillory turned to the bulky man with the tongue on the wires, just one of the rule breakers whose greatest accomplishment was still living.

Continued in Part 3