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They Dragged Them through the Streets

A Novel

Hilary Plum

Publication Year: 2013

A veteran of the US war in Iraq commits suicide, and his brother joins with four friends in search of ways to protest the war. Together they undertake a series of small-scale bombings until an explosion claims one of their own. This grave and elegant novel is an elegy for these two deaths and the war itself.

They Dragged Them Through the Streets
is a bold meditation on idealism, anger, and the American home front’s experience of today’s wars. This is an innovative work in the great tradition of war literature and a singular chronicle of one generation’s conflicts.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-x

House Razed by Blast and Fire; Man’s Body Found

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pp. 1-2

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A

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pp. 3-4

A recruiting center? This was the first idea, an obvious choice. It wouldn’t be enough, of course we all knew this, it would be only a gesture. But we imagined the smoke and stink, the heat, we pictured keyboards popping apart—it would say something. We told each other....

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V

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pp. 5-6

Someone should tell Z’s story; I don’t disagree; but I won’t; how could I? There was no end, which is needed for stories; and I am no storyteller, I insist on this.
I am a woman of sentences.
Of semicolons....

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F

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pp. 7-9

Start with the tree in the backyard. Where the swing was when we were kids in what weren’t quite the suburbs. Our yard backed up to a swamp, the kind of land that’s preserved because nobody wants it. But we weren’t far from town; if Jay went with me I was allowed to walk the fifteen minutes to the convenience...

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S

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pp. 10-11

I’m the only one who works at the shelter who doesn’t wonder why some of the homeless won’t come in, why they prefer the streets—wandering, troops losing strength. Many have in fact fought in wars, and even those who haven’t tell the stories. They’re such accomplished scavengers they can’t help...

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A

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p. 12-12

A recruiting center?
The four of them looked at me. It was the obvious suggestion. When I said it I wondered if everyone had just been waiting, not wanting to be the one.
How? Z said....

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F

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pp. 13-15

The night after Z died we sat in A’s living room.
I’d done this kind of sitting before and A was looking to me for something. There’s no skill to it really, I wanted to say, but by then she was crying again. Straightening the magazines on the table, cleaning pointlessly. Vivienne and Sara should have been there...

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A

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pp. 16-18

The first place I chose was the woods where I was young and my brother used to chase after me and my friends, set off small firecrackers he’d gotten somewhere illegally. The ground snapped and dead leaves flew. There was smoke and we screamed. He laughed and laughed. The woods were endless. Toads among the leaves, snakeskins. Deer and trees the bucks ...

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F

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pp. 19-20

Someone has to clear the fields, I’d say to A, don’t you see? But she said: That’s your vision, not mine—and you’re no farmer, you know, you’re no sower of anything.
She was in one of her moods, crossing everything out, turning her back to me to answer the kettle....

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S

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pp. 21-22

Everyone always thinks that I’m fine, I’ll always be fine; people have always thought this of me. But it’s just that I know—well, time moves forward, death ends everything. If nothing else nursing school taught me this, every day. Each pathway, the messages traversing each synapse. The organs are softer and smaller than I had imagined. There are so many ways...

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F

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pp. 23-24

Every day I followed the war. When Jay was over there I followed him, and when he was gone I followed the war. This need is what Z and I understood in each other.
We had to seek the pictures out. The papers didn’t print them. Bodies in ice, waiting for burial, parents, children, organs skin had pulled back from. Slivers of glass lodged in the face. ...

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A

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pp. 25-26

One night, early on, F came up from the basement, eyebrows singed and hands shaking. I wanted to laugh, but swallowed it. He went to the sink and poured a glass of water, which spilled down the front of his shirt as he drank. I laughed. Fire’s already out, I said, pointing to his wet shirt, and he turned toward ...

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S

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pp. 27-28

The other day at the shelter we had a young woman, twentyseven, who’d slit her wrists. She’d done it poorly, across the line where forearm becomes hand. You have to draw the blade up, follow the path of the vein back toward the heart. Instead they found her by the river, one hand tossed toward the water meaning to stop the coagulation, but it hadn’t worked, or at least not...

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A

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pp. 29-32

At Z’s funeral we stood in a row and faced forward. People came to shake our hands as though we were family. We could look at them, not at each other. No one said the word suicide, and there was so much to do that we didn’t have to have names for everything. Everything had had to happen so quickly, someone had to know which family members and how best to reach ...

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V

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pp. 33-35

I wish now that Z and I had written to each other, but he was always there; I never had to write. The only letters left are mine, from just after I’d been sick, little notes claiming recovery; they wouldn’t let me write too much, do anything with enthusiasm, intensity—too dangerous....

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A

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pp. 36-37

A post office, I said to F.
He was doing dishes and turned, shaking soapsuds from between his fingers. He looked at me, disgusted.
I said: You said, where we connect—and think of the historic importance, the site of the rebellion, the famous poem....

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S

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pp. 38-40

The new patient wanted to talk, I could tell, but I avoided him. I came up with something each time he began to say, When I was over there… I’d wait for him to pause and take a breath, which he had to often, pained, and then I’d say, Oh, and your commode—anything to shut him up. He would stare at the ceiling ...

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A

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p. 41-41

The women’s bathroom, we decided. It was right above important offices: sink water and toilet water would flood them, computers hiss their death throes, water pooling in the keyboards....

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V

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pp. 42-44

The war, we all used to say—as though there were only one, and it was ours. Each generation must say this—but no; most would be lucky to have only one.
This is not the first war we’ve known, I wanted to remind them, F especially. Z didn’t need to be reminded; he knew his history. But I don’t even mean history, I mean ourselves, what...

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S

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pp. 45-48

The heat was dangerous. I must have said this too many times because Ford gave me a look. We’d heard there were a quarter of a million people coming. This is what Viv had said when we left her in a square near the business district, a paved park with a statue of a minister, his stone paunch lichening....

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F

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pp. 49-51

I didn’t see much of Jay the summer before he left. I wasn’t avoiding him, I was just never home. I worked most nights at the liquor store. He worked days, his old job tossing boxes for UPS. We just missed each other....

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V

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pp. 52-56

If you know that here is a hand. Last week I was reading a book scarred with Z’s notes; it had been my book first, but what I left stacked by the bed for months, he read, finished, moved on. Here is a hand. This line irritates me, my hands aging too soon, arthritic: the flesh sinking from the bones and I think of the stream at the foot of A’s hill, banks eroded, how roots ...

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F

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pp. 57-59

I had chosen the house where Z died. Z and I needed somewhere to work, A didn’t like having everything in her basement. She’d started getting paranoid: pulling at curtains that were already drawn, wondering out loud too often about the neighbors—should she plant more trees along the property...

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A

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p. 60-60

A gas station, Z said.
You could see it for miles, V said.
That’s someone’s livelihood, F said. No.
There’s insurance, I offered.
Not enough, F said....

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F

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pp. 61-63

I check Z’s magazine sometimes, but it’s done now too. Whoever had kept it up for a while must have moved on. Tired of deleting fucked-up epitaphs from the comments. So he’s gone from there too, nothing even sounds like him....

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V

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pp. 64-65

Late mornings I came downstairs, A at the door (is it that late? I always thought), my fatigue must have been visible. Those mornings, she knew me. Not the nights—I could be anyone when I’d gotten dressed, went out. But those mornings A walked in, always bringing something—wildflowers, fresh-baked bread, a book she’d finished—and kissed me on...

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S

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pp. 66-68

Z and I sat on the couch. One never thinks of him like that, at ease, sitting on the couch. I was just off work and had gone by A’s, sat on the couch and shuffled the television forward. On television they were showing the four bodies, burned and swaying as they hung from the bridge, over the road, over the river. Is this true, ...

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A

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p. 69-69

A mosque, Z said.
A convenience store, F said.
I laughed, but they were serious.
You’d start a war with a mosque, F said.
I would point out the war we’re already in, Z said....

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A

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pp. 70-72

F led us into the heart of the city, train by train. The city breathed hot air down the stairs into each station, it was unbearable. Z passed his water bottle around and the middle-aged Quakers next to us shared their oranges and gave us peace buttons. ...

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S

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pp. 73-75

Of course I thought of going over there. I called programs and kept a notebook of the details. But it amounted to nothing. If you can’t speak the language, they said. They said, the training there had been the best in the region, it’s more a question of supplies, and they encouraged me to donate. But as the ...

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F

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pp. 76-79

...him licking his paw, tongue across the same spot, over and over, stare into the dark between us and the ceiling. She wouldn’t go and we’d be waking them up in the middle of the day, the whole Jay with his friends, laughing, spray paint cans scattered. You chords over and over. Jesus Christ, can’t you just learn Stairway, ...

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S

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pp. 80-81

Z was pacing A’s kitchen, the smell of mint strong through the windows. A had let mint take a whole corner of the yard. We had mint tea, tabbouleh, whatever she thought of.
A church, Z said.
Jesus Christ, Viv said, Are we the KKK?...

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V

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pp. 82-85

Z didn’t like to visit his parents, but we’d go. I went with him, though I didn’t ask him to do the same, slipped off by myself to my own hometown. But I liked watching him fight his mother to do the dishes; I liked watching him sit stiffly in their living room. You too are human, I thought. His mother coming and going from ...

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F

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pp. 86-87

I told her the true story but she laughed, she didn’t believe me.
We’d had a class together. We sat near each other and laughed together at nothing. There was nothing funny about the class, a history of the Middle East, popular that semester. At first I sat behind A. When there was nothing to take notes about she gathered...

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A

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pp. 88-90

What do I even remember of the years in school? I would go to visit F in his lab. I would hold the mice in my hand. Their nails scratched at my palm and I imagined his days, lifting them from the cage, their feet tickling his heart line....

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F

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pp. 91-92

The daffodils were up after Jay died. Dad insisted on cutting the tree down and he dragged the limbs of it through the daffodils. He dragged the limbs into the swamp behind the house, to where we couldn’t see them. He’d have the stump out too, he said. But that would take some equipment, which Mom didn’t...

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A

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pp. 93-95

The child had been taken while gathering coins in the street with his father. I read this three times, but I always pictured it wrong. I pictured the child standing in a fountain lined with coins, gathering. The fountain would be dry. But I didn’t even know if there were fountains in that country, if this was a way...

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S

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pp. 96-98

The woman next to me on the bus got up from her seat and pushed past. My bag rustled and the pink writing on the box of the pregnancy test was legible through the plastic. I looked around—who had seen it? That old man, that teenaged girl? I pushed the bag back behind my calves. I thought, well, the body answers to none of us. And for all they know I...

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F

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pp. 99-101

I don’t go on dates, I can’t stand it. What do you do? Where are you from? I’ve tried but I just jiggle the drink in my hand and make people nervous. I know this because one woman put her hand over mine and said, You’re making me nervous. ...

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A

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pp. 102-104

F calls me every few weeks. I think he’s always stoned when he does this.
I’ve been having dreams, he says.
This isn’t enough to reply to, so I wait.
I dream about finding Z’s body, he says. ...

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A

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pp. 105-107

What, are you going on a date? F asked my reflection. He had been up all night and had come to bed just a few hours before. The mirror was still foggy from the shower and I wiped a circle clean....

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F

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pp. 108-111

It surprised me, when Z began asking more questions, offering ideas for actions, targets. What about—he’d say, and he’d have a list. Soon there were handfuls of lists, all his.
Come have a look at this, he’d say, gesturing at his laptop. His magazine was doing a series on PTSD and vets, interviews...

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A

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pp. 112-115

Is it love, this old surprise? To note who the face across from me isn’t. At a coffee shop, in bed: not F. The hand is not the same and pauses on the stomach, not the hip as I was used to, but I turn. In the morning across from me drinking coffee is not F but—this man, he’s a journalist, he takes cream and...

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V

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pp. 116-121

I consider the genres: Interview. Manifesto. Lede.
Love letter.
Flower on gravestone.
Flowers on gravestones—which somehow never rot in the cemetery I walk through daily, I’ve noticed this, the petals never damp and stinking; someone must come by to neaten up....

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S

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pp. 122-124

At the shelter one kid had a horrendous infection that had started with a piercing. The other nurses were annoyed by him—He won’t take it out, one complained as she led me to him, it’s hopeless....

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V

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pp. 125-126

Ford said: A museum.
You don’t mean that, A said.
I agree, I said. A museum.
I had been to Berlin and seen the Babylonian gate: it was housed in its own wing on an island mid-river in a foreign city. When, following your museum map, you turn the corner to see...

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A

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pp. 127-128

A school.
I don’t remember who suggested it. We’d been up too long, crickets crowding at the windows, no one had moved in hours.
What? Sara said....

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S

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pp. 129-130

A bookstore! I said, and waited. We were all at A’s, assembled.
It’s already a cliché, Vivienne said—pages burning, which means history; covers burning, which are skin.
But that’s all kind of true, A said....

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A

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pp. 131-133

In college Sara and I lived on the same hall. We weren’t friends yet: she had a stiffness to her. Anyone could recognize her from behind as she walked, so upright, down the hall in her white bathrobe, hair swept up in a towel, shower caddy in hand. We smiled hello; if we were next to each other at the sinks in the...

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F

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pp. 134-135

Jay and I used to bike to the gravel pits, past the No Trespassing signs. He biked right past and I followed. But when trucks came he was the one pulling me belly down into the gravel. You can’t let them see you, he said. What do they care, I said. We were just kids. But when we biked down the pit’s sides the gravel...

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S

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pp. 136-138

It was my fourth time in a year giving blood and I wanted to shake a finger at people I passed on the street, people who passed the sign shouting BLOOD NEEDED in red letters. I don’t even like doing it, and the headache afterward lasts days. But people are dying, I should have announced. The blood drive ...

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V

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pp. 139-141

If, for instance, I were to go to a party. This is something that really happens; I am invited to them. I wear the right dresses, and later I dab traces of the evening out—red wine; a sauce that slipped through the fingers and smelled of fish; other people’s perfumes, freesia, bay rum....

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A

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pp. 142-144

At Jay’s funeral I was Ford’s girlfriend, that was my part.
F didn’t talk to me, but we stood next to each other. The grandparents kept looking at my bare legs. I’d thought it was too hot for stockings, but their eyes were worse. I could feel the sweat on my back, drops along my legs one by one. The heels of...

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F

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pp. 145-147

There are things I can admit now—I call and try to say them to A. I know, I already knew that, she says, because now she can be like this. I say: You know how it is in those countries where there’s no news, not really, all the papers are state-owned and every day they say the same thing? ...

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V

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pp. 148-149

The interviewer and I have been sitting for what feels like hours, the room getting warm.
She asks: Who are your greatest influences?
I give her some names, but say—of course it’s easy to be influenced by the dead. You don’t have to wonder what they...

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A

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pp. 150-152

V and I sat in her living room. Do you ever think of traveling? I asked V.
And who would take care of me, if I got sick in some other country?
But you hardly get sick anymore, you live by yourself here, I said....

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V

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pp. 153-154

My morning walk takes me through the cemetery, a joke with myself. Doctors tell me to walk every day: here I am. To my health.
Around the graveyard there’s a split-log fence, ineffectual, traditional; the whole place a floodplain. Northward levees hold ...

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A

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pp. 155-156

A cemetery, V said, from her chair in the corner.
The dog stirred and Sara scratched his neck.
Tell me more, F said, lifting a plate away from V; she had been dragging a fork over it ceaselessly.
You’re not going to tell me how disgusting an idea it is? ...

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A

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p. 157-157

You think that if something happens only once, there’s a way in which it didn’t happen. I was at the kitchen window, watching a man in a red tracksuit walk down the street. He was walking slowly, jacket rustling over his belly. He may have been going to the trails, dressed brightly for hunting season....

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F

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pp. 158-160

I could revise, I think I said to A on the phone.
You’re high, she said.
No, I said, without thinking about whether it was true.
It doesn’t matter, I said, I think about it all the time.
About what? she said. Stop, she said to the dog on the other end of the phone, meaning whatever he was peeing on. I only ...

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A

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pp. 161-162

A real estate office, F said.
You already said that, V said.
What are you talking about? Z said. His fingers drummed across my coffee table.
I was just talking—F started.
How surprising, V said....

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V

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pp. 163-165

Now the oregano is overgrown, soon the mint. I am tending to the garden Z planted but don’t have Z’s touch. He hung tinfoil to scare off the deer. He came inside, a pumpkin in his hands, from the corner where when I’d last thought to look there had been only pumpkin flowers....

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A

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p. 166-166

An end, I said.
What, like a funeral? Z said.
Vivienne frowned: A funeral isn’t an end, it’s to witness an end. To acknowledge the fact of ends. It’s not the same.
The difference between communion and transubstantiation, Sara said....

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S

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pp. 167-168

There was a kid in the shelter with shingles. We had to keep him separated from everyone; I went to visit him as often as I could. There wasn’t much to say, so we played Connect Four, which he was surprisingly bad at.
We sat across from each other, the plastic contraption on the table between us. His room had no windows and he never...

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F

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pp. 169-170

In the middle of almost every night A woke up, thirsty, and I never understood it. Why don’t you drink something before you go to bed? I asked her.
I’m not thirsty then, she said.
She said: Isn’t it strange how you can’t imagine drinking when you’re thirsty, or heat when you’re cold? You can’t. You...

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S

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pp. 171-172

I take long walks; it’s pointless, but I am trying finally to love this city. I like—how down the middle of a block by my work I’ve discovered a hidden dirt road, covered with trash and weeds growing thickly, lush is the word. Two mattresses bloat side-by-side obstructing the way—as if it’s a slumber party, I think, like a child. The top of one is torn open and smells of old ...

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A

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pp. 173-174

I’m sure the four of us still read everything, follow all the news. I rely on this thought, I think of what I might say to them after I read anything: an article about the president’s most recent speech. An interview with veterans. Debates on whether one should use the term...

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S

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pp. 175-176

The other week I went to hear Vivienne read. I could have told her beforehand I was coming, but I didn’t. I wanted to see her surprise, see the muscles of her face before she composes them, before she pushes her way half-elegantly through the small crowd to say hello. Is her expression sudden warmth ...

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V

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pp. 177-179

I’ve been asked to give a talk and I don’t know the first thing. I should talk about the escalation in Afghanistan but I can’t remember the right details. What is the name of the mountain range…? I can’t call anyone to ask; I should just look it up; I do. I’ve sketched a little map on my desk but it doesn’t seem to help....

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S

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pp. 180-181

I try to picture Z’s face, but I can’t. I see only the photo, the fine definition, his face turned away. A branch low over the sidewalk brushes my forehead coldly, I can smell the rain wounding the petals. I imagine Vivienne’s hand lifting the branch for me to pass under....

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F

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pp. 182-184

I try to write. Only when I know there isn’t enough time, that I’ll be interrupted. Yesterday on my lunch break. The other day as an egg cooked, I wrote a couple things on a piece of paper. Wrote idly—that’s the word for it, leaning against the counter, still not sure how to start, the yolk heating into rubber....

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A

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pp. 185-186

I go weeks without reading the news so that when F calls I won’t know what he’s talking about. He’ll get to explain it to me and I won’t have to argue with him.
He doesn’t call.
I don’t read the news because it doesn’t offer itself to me....

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V

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pp. 187-189

I haven’t been sick in years, I tell them, but still: a checkup.
They slide me into the MRI; they slide the cushion under the knees, the cushions next to the ears. From the corner a voice: There will be a clicking sound. Try to keep still.
The clicking is really a thumping, screeching and thunderous, but I don’t mind. I lie there, still, sometimes I sleep....

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A

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pp. 190-194

I picked a moth up off the floor. It was nearly dead and I waited, watched. It seemed as alien as anything could be and still have a name. On the back of its thorax was a design, black and gray and green accented, I think meant to look like a face, to confuse. I watched this false face: that’s what it’s there for....

Acknowledgments

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pp. 195-197


E-ISBN-13: 9781573668408
E-ISBN-10: 1573668400
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661720
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661724

Page Count: 207
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Social change -- Fiction.
  • Suffering -- Fiction.
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