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.

Dialogue from a novel I’m currently working on, called ‘Fathers and Sons’

“Set that chicken and…what do you call that other stuff down here again, I should know this.” Carol loops around the island and has her hands rested against the immaculate greyscale marble on the other side, lips pushed out while she looks up squinting at the ceiling.

“Fixin’s,” I say with a forced southern twang. 

“Fixings, exactly, right there on the island if you don’t mind. I hear Bob getting his self together, he should be in here shortly and we’ll all fix a plate. Fix a plate. Hey, maybe that’s where that comes from!”

“Maybe!” I offer excitedly. “Dad always said it came from the Great Depression, when you couldn’t necessarily count on the quality of the meat, or meat altogether. He said a good set of sides could ‘fix’ that for you.” I’m ruffling the plastic and pretending like I’m doing something to prepare this piping hot food sealed in styrofoam and plastic and grease soaked cardboard lined in shiny white wax. 

“Is that true Pastor, or one of your tall tales?” Carol speaks as she truly dissects the flimsy plastic bags and begins arranging the containers in a line, potatoes beside the gravy, green beans popped open and steaming, biscuit box beside the chicken bucket and the crinkly bag balled and buried in the trash inside a cabinet at her feet. 

“True, that he said it, yes, but beyond that there’s no telling. Dad doesn’t really speak in plain fact. You’re always kind of trying to discern just how tall the story he’s telling is.”

“Oooo,” she exclaimed, “I’d love to meet that man sometime. Sounds like such a character.”

“Yes, and some characters are best known by their stories rather than in person. He can be a handful, so to speak.”

On Us

At some point, you submit. If it is happening this way, then it is on purpose, there was never any other order of things. I don’t know what this is, just what it isn’t, and primarily, this is not an accident. I know that is hard to read. I’ve lost people. I’ve failed at things. I know you may have told yourself it was a deviation from the plan, but it wasn’t. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. And blame for the things we do to one another falls in no way on the divine. Though the humans who use them would have you believe it’s out of their hands, all weapons are shaped for them. A thousand ways to feel washed clean. One form of filth.

The only sin is born in a decision you know you shouldn’t make as you make it. That’s it.
It has always been up to you. No matter how fervently you deny it.

Maybe God made a lumpy rock with saltwater licking shorelines. But it did not invent America. Or life. Or humans. Or the disgusting way a millipede’s legs all work together in waves.

Maybe God invented the perfect atom, brick, building block, with just enough consciousness written within, that this brick is one part mason, one part chemist, one part pragmatic technician, one part way back in the rear, engineer. Brick all the same.

Which would mean we truly own our choices.
Our hardfought, often unnested consequences.

I know this hurts. But we are doing this to ourselves.

I blame God for creating potential.
But this, reality, all of this.

This is on us.

It has happened before.

Their religion is seizing.
Clear glass mountain view
eyes rolled back like blinds,
fluttering spring green leaves
in rain bearing wind.

It is not dying.
People are not abandoning it.
But giving it space.
Waiting for the episode to pass.
Wondering how long this one will last.
It has happened before.
It is safe for the church to drive a car.
Or operate heavy machinery.

The theology is heavily medicated and loopy.
Like twisted links of chains upholding a red candle.
Loopy like the redundant circular music.
The hymn and hers mind. Kind. Of. Loopy.

Eyes glazed from the cold outside
and the breath off volunteers
and so much mismanaged time
and energy.

Baguettes

Mistakes are like Old Testament men with infertile wives. Somehow, even left with no direct route, they find a way to multiply. We thought it was love. And out of love, family. But in reality, it was the other way around. We want family, and also love, so long as it leads to a little one who looks and acts enough like me I don’t feel so final about my final trial. Mistakes will copulate, they will take more wives, servants into deep closets. The progeny of mistakes will begin to ooze out of the woodwork like oil off all the fingers and hands that have touched it throughout the decades.

Mistake begets mistake begets mistake.

And in this way, Adam repopulated the world. And Abraham after him. And so on and Noah afterward. Cutting the foreskin off their boys so all women could recognize them. A nametag of sorts. Hey. Eyes are up here. This isn’t about pleasure. This is repopulation. An old man with a sharp knife saw to that. In a sordid old fashioned way, fixing his own mistake.

I will commit to my mistake, so long as a nonspeaking, unknowable, most importantly, non-human deity demands it of me. I will walk my only sun to the top of the mountain and snuff him out like a distant star between my pointer finger and my thumb.

No I won’t.

I will learn to not make a god out of any entity that makes demands. Any object that seeks to undermine the rules of physics that require we all tire out and die when it comes time, for the sake of a story, for the purpose of proving a point, betrays its own laws and rigid guidelines, fixes them like they were mistakes, like stray dogs, is no God of mine. Is no God at all.

That is what you call poorly developed literary device.

I don’t need my universe to make mistakes.
Trust.

I was self-made to make enough for both of us.

Oops

The mountains saw God. And oops.
Their hair turned white. Parted nice and neat
in between full wavering ridgelines combed over into neat clean
albeit dusty looking landscaping. Streaks of dark where evergreen
keeps the whole scene dirtier and salt and peppered. Bovines speckled
like dandruff and the hillside is framed in farmhouses for ears.

Muddy overflowing creeks at the bottoms of powder white mountains.

Electrified, traumatized by the divine presence
streaked white lightning like a skunk’s sour complexion.
Smell it from a corpse on the side of the twisted mountain spine.
Conscious thoughts in cars slow one by one slink up along connecting
traffic circles and overlapping highway junctions to thoroughfares down around
the hips to the mind. Some house in a row of them. This one is mine. My mind.

When it believes it perceives a thing it fails to describe.
A jolt of spirit blown white lights the burning penetrating radioactive kind.
Snow. High of sixty yesterday. Tonight. Oops. Low of nineteen. God.

Is not all these mountains have seen.

Big Words

Love: A line of credit you’ve given very few people access to that has no spending limit, that despite your current situation, one way or a thousand installments after, you will eventually pay the balance.

God: A monosyllabic reminder that Mankind invented language, and when language fails to name something, the fallibility is in the vocabulary, not the universe.

Death: A superpower life discovered early on that allowed us to not just learn from our failures, but eat them up for supper also.

Cruelty: Doing to others, solely without second thought as you have had done to yourself. Severe lack of story. Caught up in some moment. A tangent. The overfermentation of desire. The flex of weakness.

Trust is a sail.

Faith is a paddle.

Hate is what anger becomes when it matures. Be careful not to make an enemy of hate.
The word enemy is a doorway for the hateful. Make them fuss at you through a window,
a good word for that is called a neighbor. Hate is a season. Hate is a debit account.
Once it’s spent it’s done and gone. The overdraft fee on hate is criminal.

Hope: long list of chores and an early start.

Write your own worst critic

Select a passage and reflect upon it as a reader.

from Forever-Open:
“Churches are vessels for memories. God, not so regularly. You get to the afterlife looking for a house of worship, you’ll probably be handed a hammer and nails. We have no evidence whatsoever to believe a divine current running throughout the universe has much if any interest in our buildings.”

Wherever this magically misplaced confidence comes from I’d sure like to know. Wouldn’t we all appreciate the authority to declare when, where, why, what God is or isn’t. Where does he get off, or maybe he never got on, please step down onto the same plain of existence the rest of us all call home. Wake up buddy. God is memory. God is the church. The church is God’s will manifest on earth. What would you have us do, light candles and sit in a circle in the woods and pass around a stick and tell ghost stories. I just hear that kid, the worst kid you can imagine, who nothing is ever good enough for, and he’s invented the best possible hardest to argue excuse to get out of going to church ever. God isn’t even really in there anyway. Meh. Hammer and nails, what does he know about building things, do a lot of carpentry work hiking through the woods hugging trees, do you? Though it is beside the point, because in what world do we go to kids like this for theological pontification and advice, but isn’t their mere existence in the world evidence of God’s interest in buildings? What are humans, I mean, chopped liver, ant hills are still part of nature, why aren’t buildings? Giant, like, I don’t know, termite mounds or some shit. Know what I mean? Of course ‘the divine current’ is interested in that. Get a haircut. Get a job. Wake up take a shower and go to church. It’ll be good for you. We skip over most of the gospel stuff anyhow. Don’t get hung up like Jesus, I mean on Jesus. Let me show you these letters written by Paul.
All this church stuff will start to make a lot more sense.

The Carrot

These are serious questions we’re asking. To no one.
For no reason. Just asking. Deeply insinuates, we do not already understand.
If we took our conscious state as evidence, we’d know the secret of the universe.
It’s confused.
Sunlight is confused.
Hydrogen commiserated in the arms of oxygen.
It makes molecules of confusion.

If empty bare bones black space could speak it would sound just like me.
Scattered.
Incoherent.
Incapable of the task before it.
Attempting it anyway.
Great capital I It.
All of It.

The answer behind the question we’ve been asking in complete contradiction
of the true state of existence which, by all means, we should have taken at face.
From the start. If we knew, what would we do.

If there was nothing left to ask, why have we all been put to task.
The mere existence of an answer would negate the treasure trove of motivation
uncovered in an unrepentant state of childlike bewilderment and confusion.

Asking all the serious unanswerable questions. Full with so much expectations.
Hope. That this is not the way It really is.
Some better, clearer, simpler destiny must exist. It doesn’t.

It is a carrot dangled dangerously in front of the whiskered nose of a mule.

One taste.
Is all it takes.
And believe me, we wouldn’t walk again.
Not another step.

For Mankind is a stubborn animal.

By the shovelful

A letter to friends. First things first. Snow.

There really is no clearer demonstration of how rare it is to call something beautiful
that isn’t also dangerous. One of those unique instances nowadays
that’s impossible to argue with. I mean, look up. It’s that same cluttered,
pupil-shrinking prism for all of us. Weather.
And we fall under it.
What does that tell us?
The tilt of our wonderfully imperfect earth. The pull of the moon, pulled like a rib
from the belly of our world. The storied soil we work on and eat from and take on
yet cry and bemoan any opportunity or demand to give back. Which is inevitable.

It disrespects the dead to fear death this much.

That’s what winter is for. Every year, for a month, or a few, our planet tries to bury us.
Freeze us out. Toughen us up. Shed old leaves and dream and make plans for spring
staring longingly into fires as we listen for kettles to whistle
more eager than dogs do for dinner bells.

Wheels are not really ideal for snow.

Clothing becomes a form of shelter. As much home as one can carry worn like armor.
It can be the difference between a good day and that one day. Extra gloves. Dry socks.
Nature Valley bar. Lukewarm coffee.
It really is the little things that separate being outdoors from hell on earth.
Come equipped. Be stubborn about it. Dress in layers. Prepare for change.

A good nickname for winter. Change. Different.
Roll with the punches off a rolling earth.
Be buried up in ice and frozen rain and dig a way out.
By the shovelful. Claw with bare hands if you have to.

Show up.

A pretty titanic lesson that’s been working on me over the past year.
Which events of life am I truly willing to let deter me. Cold? Rain? Snow?
Were these elements not in the forecast when I set my plans. My intentions.
Yes. Of course they were.
These seasons have been forecast for millennia.
Put your boots on and play in them. Shovel out the drive and go adventuring.
Leave some tracks in something that was pristine when you first got there.
Perfect. Clean. And powder. Like paper. Put a story in it.
The greatest form of flattery is imitation.
So show winter it is not the only one of us who is willing to change.

Say to the earth, this is how I roll.
I, like you, stop for nothing.