Bargain and Roll – One of my very first short stories

I woke up sweating while it was dark out. In a dream, I cracked open shell after shell pouring perfectly cooked scrambled eggs from them. With each orange yellow fluff my disbelief and doubt grew, leading me to another. When I woke I asked myself in a whisper why a grown man would dream about eggs. Then I laughed in my head for calling myself grown. I laid my head back on the pillow and solved all the world’s problems until I fell back to sleep. 

In the morning light I walked into the Carolina room and searched out the windows at the lake. The sun was dancing on water and I thought about our neighbor, swimming back and forth across it every morning even into his nineties. I made coffee. I sat and read a book in front of the window, distracted by crests of small, wind-blown waves throwing light off the lake. Jeremiah shuffled into the hallway from the guest bedroom and I thought I should have made more coffee.

“Dad,” Jeremiah said shortly.

“Make some,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. I continued to read. “Want some eggs?” he asked.

“Not really.” I turned the page. Jeremiah set his plate down and returned to the kitchen to get his mug. 

“I made extra, we’re out of eggs,” he said. “When will mom be home?”

“Later.” I was staring at the first sentence of a new chapter. Jeremiah was being sarcastic.

“Something strike you father?” he asked.

“This question,” I said. I was looking down at it.

“Easy. That question is the hard one,” Jeremiah said.

“Can God make a rock so big he can’t pick it up?” I asked. Jeremiah hummed and I looked at him. Moments like these set in stone that I had truly made him.

“Yes,” Jeremiah said. My eyes remained focused on his, but I lowered my forehead.

“How?” I asked.

“It already has,” Jeremiah said. I asked him what he meant and his phone started to vibrate loudly against the table. He picked it up and left the room. The sun was beginning to gain height in the sky and I knew by twelve the air would be too hot to work in. I donned my overalls and went outside. 

In my small, backyard garden there were high, green corn stalks with fat cobs getting fatter, squash fading yellow from white striped green, and almost certainly flesh and red colored potatoes no bigger than pebbles underground. I sucked in loudly through my nose.


 

As my father and I walk past the dollar store we see a man selling watermelons. Dad walks toward him but says nothing to me. 

“Morning,” the man offered us. He is a fat man, wearing a shirt with two front pockets on his chest, tucked into dark blue, denim Dickies work pants. I want to tell my Dad the strained buttons on the man’s shirt make sideways looking mouths where cloth stretched into arches struggling to stay connected while watermelon man’s mass pulls the fabric almost skin tight. I like him. His cheeks were red as the inside of his produce.

“Watermelon crop,” Dad says.

“Yessir, good looking too. Fifty cent,” the fat man says. I look up at my dad and see him touch his chin. 

Dad hums and we turn around. I do not know why, but I feel like crying. I don’t necessarily want a watermelon, but not buying one upsets me.

“Fifty cent isn’t bad daddy,” I say. Dad makes a little noise but never turns down. We walk into the dollar store. Dad examines, in his palm, a list written out by my mother. We walk the aisles, every single one of them, and approach the checkout. Dad shakes his head as he pays and I stare at his hands as he drops two quarters into his left pocket. We leave the store, pass the mustard yellow chevy truck, and slowly veer toward the watermelon man. I can see him shuffle his feet in the distance but I do not turn my head away. Dad faces him. I follow.

“Twenty five,” Dad says. He hands the watermelon man a quarter and me the melon. It hurts my hands but I can not stop smiling. When we get home mom scolds us for not needing a watermelon, and I never get a chance tell her what a bargain.



I tried to grow watermelons the summer after dad died and they never panned out fully. Jeremiah walked up from the backyard and stood beside me. He handed me a jar of water. I told him thank you and we stood silent for a few minutes.

“This looks good,” he said.

“I’d pay you to sit out here with your slingshot.”

“Probably shoot you.”

“Not while I’m out here. To watch for rabbits.” He told me I should get a good snake population going and I wondered what had made his generation so different than mine. I smiled though, and wanted to tell him I loved him. “Turn on that hose,” I said. He mumbled something around the phrase ‘turned on’ but I took the hose and watered my cabbage. Jeremiah went inside and I thought about my next sermon, which remained unwritten. The gospel was Pentecostal and I wanted it to be a hair raiser. I went inside at four thirty and Jeremiah had just showered. Judy was not home yet and it was all the same to me. I took a shower in my bathroom. Feeling fresh I sat down on the couch and my half Siamese cat Theodore curled up beside my knee. I could feel him purring and I stared in the direction of old television shows. Theo’s eyes half-closed and Andy Griffith carried me back to my childhood.



I love making music because it simplifies the equation. It cancels out my thoughts and forces my brain and hands to behave simultaneously; mouth vibrating, diaphragm stretched and shrinking, arm and limp wrist bent or pushing. The little black dots connected by thin black lines bring purpose and art to my rural soul. Playing my trombone makes me feel like even though I can not impress people every moment, I am doing something primarily unachievable to most. I do marching band and it makes me feel like an athlete. My peers remind me I am not. If I knew when to cry I would. But something powerful pushes me. When I play the horn, it works better than crying.



I was in front of my computer watching the cursor blink. I put a sentence down, then another, and soon I was done and off to bed. Judy only woke me when she first laid down. I kissed her face and slept again.

In a dream I saw my dad sitting at my table in the Carolina room, dark out, moon bright and greenish yellow. I saw my garden through the window, but the corn was even taller. 

“God built us a rock,” dad said. 

“Can he pick it up?” I asked.

“Too big.”

“What does that mean?”

“He can roll it though.”

“Roll it?”

“Along. But it’s too big to carry.”

“Can he control it?”

“Generally.”

“What about the bible? Church? Faith?”

“Well. One quarter’s a better bargain than two.”

I woke up sweating. When I preached later that morning I could see Jeremiah’s eyes.
He never looked away. I love my son, and he drove back to college right after church. Judy and I ate lunch out in town after the service. That night, when I undressed, I unfolded the bulletin that had been in my pocket. On the back, in blank space, I had written the words ‘bargain and roll’. I thought about my sermon and wanted to quit my job. But I looked at Judy, snoring softly, and fell straight to sleep.

All Good Confessions

Nobody writes about dragons. Dragons are a mythological concept, probably derived from our ancestors finding dinosaur bones and inventing explanations. There is no actual quantifiable definition of a dragon. It is fiction. So no one who writes about them is writing about dragons. They’re just like the rest of us. We’re all writing about ourselves. Greed. Selfishness. The amassing of great hoards of equity, virgins and gold, that we can never access. The value of both can only be measured in the instant either one is handed over. Gone. Changed forever.

Nobody writes about witches and wizards and jumbled Latin roots and millennial blurred line friendship turned love stories. They’re writing confessionals. Just like me. Just like the greats, who filled the canon with black ink powder and wounded us for generations into the future. Injuries for which there is no suture. We pray for clean burns and exit wounds. We are writing about the nature of art, the nature of nature, putting down our part. A wand is a stick. But a pen, now that is a funnel for power. Killing spells, renewal curses, habitual rituals like brushing our teeth or setting up the coffee. There is no such thing as magic. The greatest witches and wizards of our time will tell you. There are human beings behind all of this holding strings. Hiding the miracle of reality behind a barrage of earthly, domestic expectations.

Goblins, and elves, and demons and sorcerers. We suffer under such a deficit of imagination in our time. No one alive invented these things. These ideas. Creative, moldy leftover remains of our giant, untraceable, easily arguable collective unconscious. Our universe’s big memory. Like an ocean. Comprised of all these droplets of our individual memories. If you could journey back thousands of years, the people who first wrote about them were not inventing, or being creative, or imaginative. These writers would tell you they were translators. Observers. Watchers. The fiction was so good, because no where in their minds was it fiction.

Nobody is living anymore. Nobody imagines if there were no word for tree. How many sounds would you throw to the ground to see which one sticks to rocks. We are so wrapped up inside of our own culture, it’s stagnate. The most imaginative, our very most creative, are interpreting nothing. They’re regurgitating primeval themes and re-branding the myths and fantasies of medieval minds.

One should not trust the metric of consumption as reflective of success. I’ve seen people, and animals, eat some terrible things with smiles on their faces because there was only ever a menu of terrible things. Sometimes you don’t even see how clouded the glass is, until there is clean water on the table. A powerful, moving, world changing novel, that isn’t based on a children’s fable. But reality. Capital T Truth.

I like it when heroes have to wash their hands. Or sit with a child, trying to keep it from crying. Or sewing holes in crotch of their long underwear. For me, magic cheapens, tarnishes, makes a farce of all these actions. The presence of one real, undeniable, wand waving miracle in this world darkens and dampens and disrespects every experience untouched by such formal grace. My answered prayer shines a burning spotlight onto the unanswered prayers of thousands of others who honest to goodness probably need it more than me. Magical abilities would produce more overweight wizards than it ever would heroes.

Not even if we believe, if we’re even just mildly curious if this world is the creation of some untouchable, unknowable intention, if it is all on purpose, then why are we trying to escape it so desperately?

Why can’t wizards be true, and goblins for next door neighbors. The school you go to, teaching physics, literature, expression, the mathematics of how all existence comes together and falls apart, an ancient purveyor of our most modest witchcraft. Ingenuity. Invention. Imagination.

We are translators, first and foremost.
All great writers read.
Just not always books exclusively.

Nobody is inventing worlds so that we can get out of having to live in this one.
In my experience, it has been the exact opposite. They’re not telling us how it is,
but how it feels. They’re giving their confession. I can’t speak for all writers.

But most often, I write for the simple sake of it helps me to feel less alone,
whenever I help someone else feel less alone. That is my magic. A sort of miracle.

I found it at the heart of every piece of fiction I’ve ever read. No matter how extravagant. How imaginative. How other-worldly. Like all good writing. All good confessions.

I found myself looking into a mirror.

In the middle of a five army battlefield or banquet dinner or an old growth forest walking in circles. I did not feel transported. But rooted. A mouse with a sword and a shield taking on a world of sea rats and foxes triple my size and carving out a good name for myself.

Overcoming limitations. We even fantasize about our limitations. We don’t enjoy the strength without the struggle. And magic and miracles are always demonstrated with elements of suffering, humility and base need. Same as reality. There is no escaping it.

But you can always wake up in it.
There is no franchise that holds the patent on magic.

All good fiction is a pursuit of truth.

And I’m saying, I’m telling you, if you can stop glossing over it, reality is full of magic and miracles. It is the source and inspiration for literally anything and everything you have ever read.