The Union Forever
Randall Brown

Jack White and Meg White—the White Stripes—have always contributed to the talk that they are brother and sister. Eventually, someone dug up the truth, that they were, in fact, married in 1996, divorced in 2000. Why the desire to be known as brother and sister? When did sexual desire become sublimated into something Other? Ex-lovers. Ex-wife. Ex-husband. But with brothers and sisters, something unbroken exists between them, always and forever, a childhood memory that can't be erased.

In Citizen Kane, Mother, Father, Banker discuss what to do about the boy Charles Kane. A fortune has been dug out of a seemingly abandoned mine. A tiny cabin confines the adults, and in the background Charles, the littlest figure of all, is captured in the window frame as he plays in the snow, jumps on his sled, shouts, "The Union forever!"

Every White Stripes album has a song starting with little: "Little People." "Little Bird." "Little Room." "Little Acorns." "Little Ghost."

They sell Charles to the banker, for the son to be raised in the East and all that the East represents. In the subsequent scene, in the snow outside the cabin, a triangle dangles in the background. Mother. Father. Charles. Charles clings to his dark, Puritan-clad mother. In this scene, it's Father who appears faraway, a tiny figure lost in the snow.

The White Stripes explain that red and white originate in the image of peppermint candy, a sweet, lost object from childhood. Also, black, red, and white—the band's signature colors—appear in baby toys, so that infants—barely able to see colors—can find them.

Mother. Father. Son. The triangle of the nursery. Son wants Mother. Father wants Mother. What does Mother want? To protect Son from the jealousy and rage of Father? The banker tells his new Son, "Why, we're going to have some fine times together, really we are, Charles. Now, shall we shake hands? (Charles retreats) Oh, come, come, come, I'm not as frightening as all that, am I? Now, what do you say? Let's shake." Charles doesn't buy it. He smacks the banker with his sled. Father strikes Son. Mother pulls Charles closer.

The number of the band is three. Only three song elements: storytelling, melody, rhythm. Only three sounds: drums, guitar, vocals. Only three colors: white, black, red.

In the shot of the scene, the camera discovers the sled, being buried by the continual snowfall, its name buried too. Rosebud. The sled in the snow that by the end becomes ash. Red. White. Black.

The White Stripes song "The Union Forever" is made up entirely of quotes from Citizen Kane.

 "You people seem to forget that I'm the boy's father…I don't hold with signing my boy away to any bank as guardeen…"

In White Stripes song after White Stripes song, liner note after liner note, Jack White refers to "Suzy Lee." Is she real, made up, a lost girlfriend, a missing sister, a dreamed up lover? Each time White whispers her name, Suzy Lee is lost and found in the same breath.

As he dies, Charles Kane stares into a glass paperweight and its continual snowfall covering the littlest cabin. "Rosebud," he whispers. What has been lost. Buried. Obscured. The littlest thing. The three of them—Mother, Father, Son—confined together in the same life, unseparated, the dynamic of love and rebellion frozen and unending.

Randall Brown's collection of very short stories, Mad to Live, was published this year by Flume Press. His work has appeared in Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, Connecticut Review, upstreet, Clackamas Literary Review, and many others.

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Some of the information in this story derives from material to be found here and here.

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