The Dead Are Truly Free

Christian the Lion would join no union. He was no strike-breaker, but he held no signs and chanted no slogans and stared with unruffled hostility at the hundred men who stood arm-in-arm outside the lumber mills. He paid no dues, he attended no rallies, he displayed no stickers. The fight was hard-won for the union, against bosses, against owners, against police and shopkeepers and pinkertons and federals and Christian the Lion watched it all from outside. He had no contract with the mills, reaped no benefits from the guarantees so bloodily won, but somehow worked each day through the summer and the fall. He was beaten six times, nose broken, right ear wrenched off, bright burning hair pulled and burned and hacked away, but still no union would he join, nor strike-line cross.

They killed his wife when they burned his house in the mistaken belief that he was inside. He was watching the river, underneath the bridge that crossed from Hoquiam to Aberdeen and back again, cigarette burning down to his fingers; he came home to ashes and ambulances and Edna under a white sheet. He watched hatless from within the crowd the fire had drawn as the body that was no longer his life rolled away and in the morning drizzle was back outside the mill watching the strike. They roiled and tumulted as a kicked open anthill before him, until they charged across the street and fell upon him with fists and boots and placards. The police watched from the end of the street as they snapped his legs and smashed his face; if Wobblies wanted to beat Wobblies so much the better.

When the bell rang for the start of the day Christian the Lion shrugged off the strikers and got to his feet. He crossed the street through the suddenly motionless crowd, face a red ruin, legs twisted and knobbed where the splinters of his bones were misaligned, placid, hostile. He went into the mill. The union leader, a bald, bearded man with a shining, veinous nose, watched him punch the clock and move to the machinery before the door closed. There was a horrible noise of metal twisting and buckling and biting into itself and twenty minutes later Christian the Lion walked out, blood drying on his face, arms boiled, the wreck of the mill behind him. He crossed through the strikers again and cleared his throat, hacked up blood and phlegm and sawdust, a black bile stain on the ground.

The union was silent. The police were silent. The rain slowed into mist, stopped, and the sun shone through the rising fog around Christian the Lion.

“Godspeed,” said Christian the Lion in the bitter voice of an angel, and walked away.