Callan Wink’s “One More Last Stand” was first published in Granta 122: Betrayal.
Callan Wink first came to my attention when he published his first story in, of all the lucky places, The New Yorker. “Dog Run Moon” proved to be an exciting glimpse at what Wink had to offer. Then around a year later, another of his pieces showed up in the magazine. “Breatharians” was one of my favorite pieces in the last year. Now Granta has also picked him up. He is apparently working on both his first collection of short stories and his debut novel.I’m sad to say that of the three I’ve read so far, “One More Last Stand” is the weakest. For me, it lacked the vitality of the others and came off feeling more like an amateur work, which is not surprising since Wink is young and just getting his stuff out to us. I still enjoyed the story about a deluded couple, however, and am finding the entire Betrayal issue a lot of fun.
“One Last Stand” begins strangely. A man named Perry pulls over at a rest stop and dons a cavalry uniform. He then drives to a hotel, checks in, goes to his room, takes the uniform off, and calls his wife. It turns out that Perry is part of a group of reenactors. He’s General Custor, and each year for a week he reenacts Custor’s last stand, dying a few times every day. When he strolls into town — or, rather, when he drives his small car into town — he assumes the persona. People call him the General.
The night before the first reenactment, the General, dressed in his duds, gets a knock on the door. He opens it to find Kat Realbird dressed in full regalia, and they do what they do every year; “it was like a return home after a long journey fraught with uncertainty and peril.”
Perry and Kat have been doing this for seven years. In the reenactment itself, Kat is the Indian who eventually jumps down on the General and kills him. Other than this week of real sex and pretend violence, they apparently have no contact at any other time of year.
‘I think about you,’ he said. ‘Back home at work I sometimes put on my uniform and imagine this. I’ll spend whole days downstairs in my office, in full dress. I do conference calls in my hat and gloves and cavalry pants. It makes me feel closer to you — to this.’
‘Kat, did you hear me?’
‘And? Do you think of me? During the year, in your real life?’
‘I do. But it doesn’t change anything, so I try not to.’
Perry tries to talk about this more. At seven years, they’ve been doing this for longer than he has been married, so he asks, “Doesn’t that beg the question: which is the marriage, which is the affair?”
Of course, no matter what Perry says, he’s cheating on his wife. It becomes more acute when we learn that his wife has breast cancer, a fact Perry eventually tells Kat. And, if possible, the betrayal becomes even more acute as the week passes and Kat makes a request Perry was not prepared for:
‘Let’s just do it like normal people tonight. If you don’t mind.’
‘Normal people? I thought you liked what we do.’
‘General, you know I do. It’s just tonight, I don’t want to be your Indian tonight. How about we do something different? How about you pretend I’m your wife? How about we do it like that?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Please? What does she wear to bed? How does she like it?’
‘I don’t know, Kat. It feels like a wrong thing. Dishonest.’
The “what is real” concept is not the central theme of the story, thankfully; rather, it is central to the characters betrayal of themselves. We readers know exactly what is real. Perry and Kat do not have a real relationship. Their sexual encounters are shielded by assumed personalities. Perry is no General Custor, a fact not lost on many of the people in town who don’t like his annual visits with Kat. They see through the facade, and this year they won’t sit idly by.
Despite my disappointment that it didn’t measure up to the two stories he’s published before, “One More Last Stand” is a nice story, and I continue to be impressed by Wink and will continue to seek him out.