Die Mockingbird! Die! Die!
Neville Cole Reels the Tell Story ….
Harper Lee’s new book Go Set a Watchman is generating serious buzz and even more serious consternation. Critics, readers, and especially life-long fans report they have been left “shocked” and “aghast”at the revelations within. Those who, years ago, read Lee’s original draft, however; were not at all surprised by how far from grace the once noble Atticus Finch has fallen.
In the draft, known only by the working title Die Mockingbird! Die! Die! a teenage, but still grammatically challenged, Scout Finch, discusses, at length, the Finch family’s troubles after the Robinson trial.
I thought Atticus was feeble when he was nearly fifty. Hoo-boy! You sho’ have done seen him when he was nearing sixty. To be fair, the years after Tom Robinson’s trial weren’t easy on old Atticus. He kept getting calls to defend pretty much every innocent black man in town and every time he proved they didn’t do nothing of the sort and every time they hung the poor chump anyways.
“That’s justice round these parts, Scout.’ Atticus got to saying; “Guilty till proven innocent, then hung… then an alcoholic spits in your face.”
It weren’t much of a good time for me neither. Kids at school all start calling me Spit Ball. Like it was my face all them toothless racists drunks were spitting in. Try getting a date for prom when all and sundry look at you ‘an picture pickled phlem.
All in all, I guess it were much worse for Jem though. He dropped dead in his tracks one day. He were always so darn crazy for football; but, you know, Atticus would never tackle him. He’d always say: “I’m too old for that, son.”
Well, anyways, one day after his broke arm done healed good, ol’ Jem says he’s ready to play football again ‘cause one day he wants to go to Alabama and play for the Crimson Tide.
“An,” says Jem. “If Atticus won’t tackle me, I know someone who will.” ‘An with that, Jem, he goes next door and he calls on ol’ Boo Radley to come out an’ play football with him. ‘An Boo, you see, he don’t really know his own strength and on the very first tackle he done hit Jem so hard he broke his arm again, and both legs and cracked open his skull a bit as well. The doctor tried to bandage him up again as good as he could; but Jem died of the internal bleeding later that very night.
We was all plenty broke up about that for a while. Atticus was even more tired than ever before. He wouldn’t even sit in the livingroom and read at night no more. Actually, that was around that time he started the drinking.
Whenever I asked him why he’d say: “Remember, how I told you that sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse that a whisky bottle in the hand of another?”
“Yessir,” I’d say. “I do remember that. You said there are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.”
“That’s right,” says Atticus pouring out another five fingers. “Well, I’m finally learning how to live in this one the best way I know how.”
When Miss Maudie heard about that, she said she was going to have some hard words for Atticus; but he just told her that he always believed that when a child asks you something you should answer them. for goodness sake, and not make a production out of it.
Thing was though, Atticus started to pick and choose when he would answer me. The things I really wanted to know – like especially about boys and dating – he pretended he didn’t even hear at all; like he was deaf in both ears in addition to being blind in one eye.
Basically, like me, Atticus was born good and grew progressively worse every year. Then he up and stopped teaching me anything at all. Especially grammar and such things.
But worser than all the rest, was the day Atticus finally cracked. The fateful day he committed the ultimate sin.
I still don’t know how it all came to be ‘cause Atticus wouldn’t talk about it except to say that I wouldn’t really understand because I couldn’t climb inside his skin and walk around in it so how could I even hope to consider things from his point of view? It must have been all them trial loses or all that spit in the face; but fact is, somewheres along the line, Atticus changed his whol’ mind about them mockingbirds.
Instead of him sayin’ them birds was singin’ their hearts out for us, he’d constantly complain about “that damn noisy bastard out back that never seems to shut up” and that “them mockingbirds aren’t smart enough to make up their own noises so they just copy all the other birds around instead only twice as loud so everyone gets to thinking it was their idea” and always he was saying that he’d bin “woke at the damn crack of dawn again because of them miserable mistakes of nature.”
Then that fateful morning out he staggers just before lunch; gun in hand, still reeling from all the whiskey he’d gulped down the night before, and he lifts that gun sight up to his good eye and mumbles:
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for… and I see one dead damn bird that I won’t ever have to listen to again.”
I knew Atticus was a good shot. He’d killed that rabid dog when no one, not even the sheriff dared to try. But, to see him pick off that tiny mockingbird at a distance of well over 100 feet, dressed in nothing but his night robe and barely able to stand from all the alcohol still surging though his veins. Well, frankly, it was time like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the craziest old coot who ever lived.
But you know, like Atticus always said: “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
Las’ thin’ I ever want to do is look right silly.