EVAN JAMES ROSKOS
The History of Dents
On a crisp April
day in 2001, Mitchell waited in line to see the Liberty Bell. He
wore a camouflage jacket. He had a beard and old black combat
boots. Yes, Mitchell did buy his clothes at the Army Navy
stores. Yes, he walked considerable amounts. Yes, he rarely
In front of
Mitchell were twelve school kids. Their teacher stood backwards
in line facing the students like she wanted them to misbehave.
Behind him were two grey women from Minnesota. They held cameras
and had taken turns asking strangers to take their pictures in
front of Independence Hall, Edgar Allen Poe’s house, old
churches. They were polite, though, and did not mention the
smell coming from Mitchell. They did not look for bugs in his
knotted hair. They did not even make faces at each other, though
later they would certainly agree this man was part of
schoolchildren moved past the bell so quickly. This perturbed
Mitchell. He knew it took time to see and feel the vibrations of
solitary objects. The swaying of tall buildings. Wind rippling
across grass. Swerving bird flocks in the sky. One just had to
wait. But no one wanted to wait.
boring.” One of the kids said, looking straight at the bell with
its history and energy. One of the great manufactured things.
resisted accusing the boy of having no sense of place or time.
That wouldn’t help. “It’s too easy to look at things and not
listen or feel them,” Mitchell told his grandmother once. They
sat on her porch. Huge, bright clouds complicated the sky.
“You’re a deep boy,” his grandmother had said. “You always
thought about things no one else did.”
grandmother still lived in Nebraska. He sent her letters or
postcards. His messages made little sense to her, but she would
tape them to her refrigerator, the messages facing out on some,
the pictures of big cities facing out on others. Her friends
would say it was a shame that Mitchell had lost his mind. She
would defend her grandson, pointing out that everyone had their
own path. “As long as he has love in his heart, Jesus will
protect him.” Sometimes she had to admit, though, that her
grandson might be too fanatical. This was the word she used. And
her friends would study their tea and sip, unsure of exactly how
much one should excuse their relations.
When it was
Mitchell’s turn to look at the bell he looked at the bell. Three
full minutes. Browns and brasses, how the air aged the dull
metal skin. The scars of it, all over. Shallow wounds and the
one that went straight through. He yearned to touch the three
tight rings that faded at the site of the crack. “Pass and Stow”
the letters read. The names of men who tried to fix the brittle
shell. Could his fingers pry those letters off?
guard asked him to keep going. The Minnesota women were anxious
to take their pictures and move on.
No one liked
people who stood so still. No one liked silence. Maybe if he
spoke, they’d be okay. If he told them the history of the bell,
of how it broke. Of how it rang an E-flat. He knew this for some
reason. Perhaps because it was not important to know. He stared
at the curve and thought of the curves of rivers through
valleys. The bell wasn’t symbolic. It simply shared the shapes
and lines and arcs of the world.
“Sir, lots of
people want to see.”
They wanted to
see. But it was a bell. Didn’t they want to hear? Mitchell
pulled a hammer from inside his jacket and swung a heavy, hard
swing against the lip of the bell. Little flicks of metal bled
off, but everyone noticed the sound itself, not the metal or the
hammer or even Mitchell’s own light sandpaper voice that said,
“God lives. God lives. God lives. God lives.”
guards froze as this happened. Who would think of hammering a
monument? The absurdity of such an act nearly killed them. Years
of watching rowdy school kids and the elderly and the tourists
march past the bell left them without the snapping energy to
tackle Mitchell in the middle of his first swing.
Still, the two
guards did tackle him and the people in line all stood back to
stand clear, failing to snap pictures.
his face against the cool floor during the wait for the squad
car, but as he was led out of the Liberty Bell building, he
“I didn’t do
anything violent. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The Liberty Bell
was closed for days.
At the police
station, Mitchell answered basic questions as best he could.
“Where are you
different places. But mostly I walk.”
“I was the king
for homecoming. And a wrestler and on the football team. I had a
girlfriend with long hair that she colored black. She met me at
church. I think that was me.”
“So. No kids?”
convinced I’m some stupid man.” Mitchell put his hands on the
table. His skin was dry, raw. “I get chased by people. I get
shit thrown at me. Dumb fucking questions and dumb fucking
statements. I pick fruit. I eat rice from a bowl I take with me
everywhere. Whenever I say Jesus’s name people look at me like
they are expecting something else.”
The news quoted
everyone except for Mitchell. His grandmother admitted she’d
always feared he’d become a fanatic. The old women from
Minnesota said the hammer against the bell sounded like
picture revealed nothing to people. They just saw a man with
dirty hair in dirty clothes shouting about God. He looked the
part. There were plenty of men like him.
At the hearing,
the judge pounded his hammer and no one cringed. Mitchell did
not shake anyone’s hand. Money had come from somewhere but no
one was waiting for him outside.
to other cities and other states. He walked on roads that used
to be the only highways. He washed his feet in gas station
sinks. He drank soda that made his rotting teeth ache. He ate
buttered rolls. He made his way around.
The Liberty Bell
was treated with gentle, gloved hands. A velvet rope was
installed to keep people back. The guards laughed and talked
like nothing strange had ever happened anywhere. Cameras
flashed. Kids fidgeted. People moved past at an acceptable pace.
The dents were hard to see in all the photographs.
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