Ceremony

   I groan out a rolling curse that first time I try to get up. Stomach is weak, muscles feel stretched like torn, but mostly I’m giving voice to my lower back. Gasping and saying fuck I use my arms instead, pull onto my side. Cold rushes in. Vomit lands behind me in a steaming wet splash. I feel better.
   Not that I’m that particular, but I do slide myself along the dirt a little because I don’t know what splashed where and a muddy jacket is probably preferable to the alternative. I hear the clash of cymbals and look up.
   Skinny and his fellows, dressed up in white, coming down the road. The last time I’d seen that a group like that, decked out in flimsy paper robes and red sashes, they’d been strung out across the main road stopping traffic, the one and only protest action that wouldn’t get you shoved to the road by police. That time, word was, some liked individual had been killed on that same road and that group was observing traditional funereal rites. Buses had lined up on either side of the road to disgorge passengers who’d started walking, bags in hand. This lot, with cymbals and sticks to beat without rhythm on their tambourines jostles along on the thin road
   The form of this march worries me. Aside from people collecting for a public purpose, which was suspicious already, the presence of ceremonial elements just flat out contradicts everything we know about the state of our country.
   I stand. Somewhere back up behind the line the fireworks start. Shatteringly loud in the still air, rattling furiously, I won’t be able to tell these halfwits to fuck off. Then harsher, solitary booms, and the rattling rises and falls. The thick white haze wafts along with the crowd, looks to be about eight men.
   The only truly musical element in the procession is the horns. They produce a raucous reedy buzz, altogether too high up the scale, but purposeful and continuous.
   The procession halts a few steps away. We wait for the crackers to cease exploding. The music stops abruptly, the product of some tape machine rather than players.
   Skinny Zhou approaches, fumbling at a packet of cigarettes. He holds out the butt of one at me, watches my hand come out to receive the offering.
  “Come to take her home,” he says.