EDELWEISS

tyler wilson

  Photo: George Etheredge

Photo: George Etheredge

 

Luigi Police was recently assigned to the 423-C beat, a small quadrant of the West Village mostly encompassing a community garden that, seemingly overnight—according to Luigi—had fallen prey to what he called “nocturnal trespassers and mercenaries.” Despite no record of serious or petty crime in the area, Luigi’s scrupulous higher-ups jumped at this opportunity to expel him during working hours from the rest of the city.  

Although he was eighty-four and apparently educated, Luigi Police was a veritable dolt with a slack grip on reality. He lacked an experienced officer’s instinct. He believed in conspiracies and double-crossings in every aspect of life, distrusted women and children and Italians (despite being one himself), had been earning the same wage since 1946, and ate nothing but canned beans and Jim Beam, which he combined in different ways depending on the time of day: as a soup for breakfast, as a freeze-pop for lunch, and as a boiled stew for dinner. Outpaced by the present era, Luigi wore his original dress blues from the academy both on and off duty, which was a source of many complaints early in his career. He also picked his nose so frequently that his nostrils had grown to the size of nickels by the time he reached middle age. Somehow, though, the NYPD conflated Luigi’s loyalty with ability—perhaps taken with the English phonetic pronunciation of his surname—and made him a tenured anomaly. To passersby and fellow officers alike he was simultaneously cheery and paranoid, slow to act yet all too willing to pick a fight, passive yet irritable, annoying, and unhelpful once engaged. Nonetheless, he felt as though he embodied the American spirit like no other man of his generation: his rigid posture and military cut evoked the foreign wars into which he failed to be drafted. His self-described “Protestant” work ethic (which he frequently compared to that of the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, and Remingtons) was perhaps the only aspect of his life that could be considered normal. It was this aspect that Luigi often cited when the faintest suggestion of “retirement” reached his ears.

Luigi also had a green thumb, and he found small but meaningful joy in locking step with the living greenery of the community garden—and it had been so long since Luigi drew a pistol that he was afraid to admit to a superior officer that he’d forgotten how to reload one. He had also lost it somewhere in a Tribeca diner six years earlier and presently believed the Greek owner had poisoned him after the two argued over their respective countries’ beaches.

At dusk a man came through the garden’s gateway just as Luigi was about to say auf wiedersehen to his precious edelweiss, one of 423-C’s most vibrant signs of life, which he regarded as his quiet, unfussy, nonexistent children. When he wasn’t clicking his heels at the jackanapes sniffing rosebushes, or slapping the hand of the old Romanian hen clipping orchids for her granddaughter’s corsage, Luigi was preening his edelweiss, kissing them with some mist, or perhaps gently humming a classical ditty when no one else was around. Although the garden was distinguished by the beauty and diversity of mid-Atlantic vegetation, there was something particularly striking about the edelweiss. Perhaps it was the rugged beauty and purity of its white woolly leaves, a symbol of the Alps that mystified those who could witness it flourish in the New York City heat. It was the only plant in the garden for which Luigi took considerable responsibility.

This man who entered was quite a sight, too. His face was square, flat, and riddled with pockmarks. He wore a black fedora, carried a sheaf of newspapers under his armpit, and babbled in some kind of brassy tongue for which Luigi didn’t have the ear.

No doubt some inbred klazomaniac looking to discharge propagandist spunk all over my plants, Luigi thought while covering his ears, but not on my watch.

The flat-faced man didn’t look at Luigi, though. He looked at the edelweiss—those verdant flags of Luigi’s disposition. He approached them quickly, walking with short, choppy steps.  He stopped jabbering as he began uprooting one of its stems.

Furious but not surprised, Luigi said the first thing that popped into his head: “Tut, tut!”  He reached for his holster but remembered this was where he had been holding his water spray bottle since reassignment. Not that it mattered. The flat-faced man already succeeded in his perverse mission. He turned his back on Luigi and carried off toward a tan Stutz coach that stood in the street just outside the bounds of 423-C. In an answer to Luigi’s exclamation, the man bowed and saluted just before hopping into the vehicle that shot away in a jerky, but speedy, manner.

Luigi pulled his shoulder-radio to his mouth: “Breaker, breaker, this is Luigi. I’m in pursuit of a certified Fritz headed northbound on 6th Avenue. I’m going to need backup. Officer in pursuit. 423-C has been abandoned, 423-C has been abandoned. Over…” Luigi ran as far as he could before losing his breath. He threw his baton in the air. It didn’t even come close to hitting the vehicle, but instead landed on a kit of pigeons that dispersed rather dramatically in the air. Their coordinated flight gave Luigi the chills. For a few minutes, he was lost in thought. First he thought about the mysterious, untidy ways in which nature finds synchronicity, then about how punctuality and professionalism in the workplace really pay off, next the circuitous subterfuge recently thrust upon him, and finally, somehow, Gleichschaltung.

His radio sounded off. “Officer Police,” dispatch screamed from the other end, “Return to 423-C. We repeat: Get back to your quadrant or we’ll be forced to take disciplinary action.”  

Ad maius bonum, perhaps for the best… Luigi thought as he looked around. The five seconds of running carried him outside the quadrant’s limits, beyond his jurisdiction and sense of control, and left him with nothing but the repulsively steamy, the incoherently loud, and the meaningless bric-a-brac of NY, NY. This sensory ensemble brought Luigi back to a bleak reality he was all too willing to vacate.

The flat-faced man was blocks away by now, anyway. That car hurried up 6th Avenue at a speed Luigi refused to clock on his radar, out of fear for what he might see, or not see. Indeed, Luigi pondered as he walked back to 423-C, perhaps this man was no man at all, but another hologram transmitted into my psyche by the local Nazi cabal. They have been breathlessly testing my allegiance to the Flag and to God since the armistice.... Luigi was not a religious man, but his recent and increasing open-eye hallucinations convinced him to embrace the spiritual side of life with mild affection and curiosity.

Luigi briefly ignored HQ’s scolding while retrieving a cigarette butt from the sidewalk. Now and then he would suck on it like a pacifier, against a stop sign, until he returned to the comforting nursery of the community garden.

Rain accumulated in fat drops on his patch of edelweiss. They appeared untouched; in fact, they looked as robust and brilliant as ever. The flat-faced man quickly became a distant memory as the dullness of the early evening rain gave way to total darkness. Although his shift was over, Luigi remained at his post. He sat on the bench, grew tired, and then drifted off…

The flat-faced man returned, this time in a dream. He sat rigidly erect at the wheel of a motorcar with the top down. His red baron scarf blew in the wind. His Wehrmacht panzer goggles seized mosquitos and flies like Velcro. He switched on the lights and increased speed. Above his military collar adorned with swastikas, among the hairs that were clipped short on his nape, Luigi saw himself running—a globule of moisture sliding down the sweaty, sinister neck of the New World Order. The car swerved and plunged ahead, throwing Luigi into an almost cosmic-like space in which he floated like an astronaut. From an aerial view he caught a glimpse of something dark lying in the road, just ahead of the vehicle. On closer inspection, he saw himself—his life-sized double—lying in the road. His body was arched, as if its weight rested on his heels and the back of his head. An American flag that couldn’t have been more than a foot long stood straight up in the air from his chest. By the time the tiny, floating Luigi could make out as much, the flat-faced man drove pell-mell over the life-sized Luigi. He pressed on the car horn, which beeped the first four measures of “Deutschlandlied” on and on and on and on and on and on…

Luigi woke with a start.

His head jerked toward a sound he thought he had heard, and he screamed: “A-a-a-a-a!” It was church bells ringing as dawn broke.

Luigi was early for his next shift by several hours. He darted his head back and forth, brushed seemingly nothing off his pants, rose to his feet, and marched through the garden with a guarded silence. He stared joylessly at a shadow cast over the garden, at the edelweiss that shook innocently with the wind. Where a uniform nosegay had been, there was an undeniable pit of turned-up soil. He walked closer to the flowers and pressed one of them to his nose. Despite the purgative quality of the morning air, he couldn’t forget yesterday’s gross violation of the law, and the imperfect oblivion of sleep that followed. He hated dreams. These breaks from reality were a travesty to him, horrors that inevitably filled him with obsessive panic upon waking. “Hitler had dreams,” he said to himself, “fanatical, diabolical visions of an expanded Germany...” Indeed, Luigi was again launching into one of his tirades, the kind that didn’t require any audience. On this occasion, however, he became so quickly agitated that yelling and gesticulating wasn’t enough. He nearly foamed at the mouth, and he finally threw himself at the flowers and began chewing on the bracts.