Fargo Burns

Chapter 1.

Howling and half-naked in his torn and bloody clothing Fargo is a desperate man and dangerous to himself and others. He ricochets around his kitchen, heaving furniture into the street. The street is twelve stories down and Fargo fills the New York air with chairs and tables, lamps and dishes, cutting boards and cabinets, electric fans and plastic caddies, frying pans and double boilers, brooms and mops and metal buckets, canned goods and Pyrex platters, a garbage can, a cookie jar, a toaster oven, even the refrigerator door, which he rips off and throws out the window.

The door sails through the air like a giant Frisbee filled with condiments and lands in the middle of 102nd street and shatters, hurling mustard, ketchup, mayo, cheese and relish everywhere. A man standing in the crowd that has gathered across the street to celebrate this mad defenestration snatches up a package of Velveeta cheese and holds it aloft:

Hey, pal, don’t forget the fucking bread!

Fargo heaves the breadbox out the window. He charges through the pantry past the back door into the living room. He continues to delight the crowd by smashing up and throwing out lamps and chairs, books and dishes, mirrors and paintings, bicycles and bottles, records and clothing, two radios, one TV, three boxes filled with family photos, two love seats, a framed map of the state of Mississippi, a broken stereo, six TV tables, a 250-gallon aquarium filled with old sneakers, a closet door, an ironing board, a wedding ring.

Where was Fargo’s wife? I said.

Fargo’s wife was on the town.

Doing what?

Having fun, I hope. Who can blame her anyhow?

Why was Fargo weeping so?

Fargo looked around wildly. He was hearing voices again. Rule number one: You talk to me, I talk to you. He could feel his head expanding like a hot air balloon, swelling and bursting at the seams. Fargo laughed and then he cried. He tried with all his might to push his face back into shape, but his hands were wet and slippery. Fargo was losing his grip. There was blood on his hands. There was blood on the floor. Then the dogs began to howl. Fargo found himself running down a long hallway. It was a dark passage lined with thousands of books. These books were in his head—the education of a lunatic—but all the knowledge in the world seemed useless now. The books were silent and unhelpful, a cavern of collected grief, as if a thousand mouths all crying woe had gathered here and then been shut.

Fargo ran through the dark. The silence was terrifying. Fact: A wound is a mouth without a tongue. He burst into the bathroom. The light was bright and iridescent. The cries of the crowd rose to meet him like a flock of slashing birds. No more silence now. It was Baudelaire who said: I have felt the wind of the wing of madness. But Fargo knew exactly what to do: he lunged across the bathroom and ripped the gleaming white enamel cover off the back of the toilet and brought its full weight crashing down against the sink again and again, smashing it, smashing it. The sink buckled, tearing loose from the wall, bursting pipes, spewing water everywhere, spraying the walls, soaking the floor.

Fargo spun around and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He was panting for breath, dripping with blood and sweat. He looked like a maniac, but he knew how to fix that.

Did Fargo have a plan?

Not exactly, no.

How about a tool?

Sorry, no tool.


You must be joking.

What about a plot?

Certainly not!

Fargo yanked the mirror from the wall and threw it into the hallway. Then he jerked the window open and looked down at the crowd, which was growing larger and more festive by the minute. The crowd roared its approval. They were glad to see him. But Fargo was in no mood to make friends. He slammed the window shut and drove his fist through the pane, sending a shower of glass crashing toward the crowd below. Fuck you motherfuckers fuck you! The crowd cheered again, and somewhere in the dark and tumbling reaches of Fargo’s whirling brain it struck him that he had never felt so satisfied in all his life. Or so sad. So bewildered. So lost. Or so completely free.

Fargo climbed into the bathtub, awash in blood and sweat, and proceeded, with a violence that was both frenzied and methodical, to punch his way into the wall. He tore out ancient tubes and pipes, some of which were glutinous and green from years of dry rot and festering mold, slimed over with rat droppings and a fine paste of dead roaches, and flung them into the night like a mad monarch flinging jewels out the palace window to the mob.

The mob roared with pleasure. Two ragtag teenage boys picked up a twisted pair of copper pipes and swinging them flashing in the air like bright batons above their heads began to hammer out a fierce staccato beat on the back of an upturned garbage can.

A short bow-legged lady with a white round face smeared all over with bright-red rouge wrapped herself in the slimy shower curtain and capered through the crowd shouting out with glee:

Throw yourself out, mister! We’ll catch you if we can.

Did Fargo comply?

No, sir, he did not.

Why not?

Fargo Burns was not prepared to kill himself or even die, at least not yet. He seemed determined to demolish inanimate objects only. He was the exact opposite of a neutron bomb, annihilating lifeless matter everywhere and leaving everything alive alone. For example, his children: his children were alive, but Fargo had forgotten them. They were hiding in a distant corner of the dark apartment, listening fearfully to every curse, every cry, every bellow of the beast, until it finally came to this: Midnight: Holly opened the back door and found her husband crawling on the glistening floor like some creature in a fairy tale who has been placed under a terrible spell and turned into a farmyard beast.

Fargo was covered with blood, slippery as a butchered pig. Holly held him close, trying to calm him down. He thrashed and struggled in her arms until they fell to the floor on a bed of broken glass. Then they clung to one another desperately, like the last remaining sailors on a sinking ship, and wept. They lay on the floor together a long time, rocking back and forth, back and forth, and sobbing quietly, and then more quietly, and then more quietly still, until finally they were calm, or if not calm, then spent. They continued to cling to one another with a tenderness, a gentleness that had long been absent from their marriage. It was as if they had found, here in the wreckage all around them, a kind of memento, a broken fragment, a bloody shard, of their once formidable, but now exhausted, regard for one another. It was as if they had returned, the two of them, ever so briefly, to the kind of ardor, the kind of sweet concern for one another that had first ignited, then sustained their friendship down the years. Wrapped in the safety of these feelings, Fargo and Holly continued rocking back and forth in one another’s arms, slowly rocking like a pair of children trying to comfort one another, until Holly, with a look of wild alarm, let out a cry and pointed across the room.

Fargo turned in time to see the back door, which opened onto the outer hallway and which Holly had apparently neglected to close, dissolve into a dark blue surge, like an ocean wave rising up under a black light, and then give way before a solid mass of burly flesh. The room filled up with cops.

There were ten policemen in all, powerful and polite, strapping fellows with friendly faces weaving slowly in and out of Fargo’s broken focus like enormous blue cartoons.

What’s the story here? said one of the cops.

Story? said Fargo.

Yeah, what’s happening here?

Oh my God, said Holly. Jesus Christ.

Fargo and Holly staggered to their feet, rising out of the rubble that surrounded them like survivors of a car crash, both of them spackled with bits and pieces of broken glass. Fargo was crisscrossed with tiny cuts and deep gashes, and he and Holly were stained with his blood. It looked like—and indeed it was—a scene of total devastation, the grim aftermath of a psychotic break that had left both of them looking battered and bruised. Fargo was bewildered. There was blood on his hands. There was blood on the floor. Two of the cops led Holly into the kitchen while the others stayed with Fargo to see if they could calm him down. They gave him cigarettes. Fargo smoked and tried without success to make sense of what had happened.

His three children came into the living room, stumbling toward him through the debris. On their faces, apprehension and alarm, but something else as well, some kind of curious mix of horror and amusement, as if they had already registered in their quick and watchful minds the undeniable fact that this night of fearful, inexplicable misery and violence had also been a night of astonishing drama; a night they would never be allowed to forget; a night that would feed their fears and anecdotes for many years to come. They begged the police not to take their father away—they said over and over again he would never hurt them—but the police were non-committal; they looked on quietly, forming a skeptical but nonetheless respectful semi-circle, like so many agnostics at a christening.

Fargo wrapped his bloody arms around his terrified children and held them so close they could barely breathe. The dogs began to bark again. The children were afraid. Fargo told them over and over that he was sorry, he was sorry, he was sorry, and that was certainly true, but he was crazy anyhow, not to mention desperate, dangerous, and frightened. The cops were patient and calm. Fargo was utterly confounded, like someone coming out of anesthesia.

One of the cops took the children into the kitchen to be with Holly while the others walked Fargo out of the apartment into the hallway. Fargo stared about him in a state of complete confusion and then he thought he heard somebody say:

Maybe she don’t love you, mister.

Maybe you feel black and blue.

I do, he said. It’s true.

Maybe you should come with us, they said, and lay your weary head upon a pallet bleak and drear.

Bullshit, I said.

Who said that?

I did.


Fargo lowered his head and said quietly, so quietly that his words were barely audible:

What have I done? I don’t know what I’ve done.

You kind of messed things up here, said one of the cops.

Big time, said another.

What about the children? said Fargo.

They’re okay. I wouldn’t worry about them if I were you.

Can I see them?

Not now, no. Maybe later.

Fargo covered his eyes. He could see his hands, but not his kids. The dogs began to bark again. He uncovered his eyes and said:


Here, have another cigarette.

My name is Fargo Burns, I said.

Maybe you should see a doctor.

I want to see my kids, said Fargo. I want to talk to them.

Someone handed Fargo a cigarette. The cigarette was soaking wet. This cigarette is wet, I said. He threw the cigarette away and started punching holes in the wall, slamming his fists into the plaster again and again. His hands began to bleed. The cops watched him silently (and carefully) but without apparent emotion.

Fargo dropped his hands to his sides and spun away from the bloody wall. He looked around wildly. Where was he? Who were they? The cops continued to watch him carefully, their hands resting lightly on their weapons. In Fargo’s twisted mind they had taken on a menacing, Teutonic look. They had guns and they had clubs.

Fargo noticed a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall a few feet away. It seemed to him that he had never seen it there before. He thought: I need to get to Paris, then I’ll be all right. He lunged across the hall and ripped the fire extinguisher out of its thin aluminum frame. The cops backed away, prepared for the worst. He turned and threw the fire extinguisher over the banister and down the stairs. The heavy metal canister hit the wall and bounced across the landing.

Paris Burns! he cried.

An unspoken but powerful signal, born of years of experience, passed among the cops, and they began to close in on Fargo, but carefully, warily, like hunters closing on a wounded lion. Fargo raised both hands overhead, like a mad evangelist, and roared:

There is nothing wrong with my appendix!

The cops stopped and looked at one another. Then one of them laughed harshly and said:

Somebody better throw a net over this crazy son of a bitch before I shoot him.

A powerful and wide gentleman came from the local deli with a straight jacket and wrapped Fargo tight. Paris Burns, he said, and then he said, There is nothing wrong with my appendix, and then they carried him away, and you could hear his cries of rage or grief, whatever they were, for blocks and blocks.

Did they pack him in ice? I said.

No sir, they did not. They gave him a shot instead. He drifted away and sang:

Talk about happy, I’ll be happy

When I lay my burden down

Copyright © 2020 by Kos Kostmayer. This excerpt is from the novel Fargo Burns, published by Dr. Cicero Books.