When Glenn Miller Faded Away

 

By Paul George

 

“Your invitation?” the young, formally-dressed man said to me at the entrance of the building.

“Invitation?” I said, puzzled.

The young man pointed to my left hand. It held an envelope, embossed with my initials. I handed it to the young man. He opened it and gave the card inside a quick glance.

“Welcome to the party. Our bar is open, so feel free to order what you want,” the young man said in a polite, but friendly voice. The room was a large ballroom with Spanish-style arches molded along the walls. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds? I couldn’t tell. The band played light, danceable pop music. As I walked down the stairs, the sound of people talking and laughing filled the room.

I glanced behind me, and the young man was letting an old man, white with waxy skin peppered with liver spots, into the party.

I walked over to the bar, sat down, and the bartender, a woman with long, bleach-blond hair, came up to me.

“Hi, I’m Sharon, your bartender tonight. Can I get you started with something?” she asked.

“Rum and Coke,” I said, gesturing with my fingers a large amount of rum compared to the Coke.

Dozens of people lined up at the bar, and she was the only person behind it. If Sharon had a superpower, it would be the ability to fill everyone’s drink order almost immediately. I don’t think I saw her pour my rum and Coke. It seemed like it was just there. She walked away, helping other patrons.

After a few sips, Sharon returned.

“How’s that drink?”

“This is perfect. I mean that. It’s the best rum and Coke I’ve ever had.” I meant it too. The mix of the two ingredients was exactly what I asked for.

“By the way Sharon. Where is this place located? I don’t remember a place this nice in Reno.”

She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, you got here on your own, right? Or are you telling me you have no idea how you got here?” She had no malice in the questions, but there was a hint of parental sarcasm in her tone. Before I could finish the bottom of my drink, she had another rum and Coke on the counter.

But I wasn’t sure how I got here. The music was enjoyable. My drink was perfect. The bartender was pretty and, truly, the fastest bartender I’ve ever met.

A woman with dark brown hair, cut in a bob with Bettie Page bangs, sat next to me at the bar.

“Sharon,” she said. “Gin martini, three olives.”

Again, with almost no lapse in time, Sharon handed the woman her drink.

“No fruity drinks for you, huh?” I said as I turned my swivel stool toward her.

“Screw that,” she said as she took a drink. “As my dad used to say ‘real women drink like they have a dick swinging between their legs.’”

“Your dad said that? Really?” I said. Maybe she was bullshitting me, but she certainly opened up the conversation better than I ever could.

“My name’s Jason,” I said.

“Raquel,” she said, putting her hand out for me to shake it. Which I did.

“Like Raquel Welch?” I said.

“Oh,” she said, laughing. “You don’t know the half of it. My dad had a massive hard on for Raquel Welch. In his dirty magazine room, or what he called his study, he had a large poster of her from that dinosaur movie.”

“And your mom was cool with that?” I asked.

“I think she had a wet spot for Raquel. So they named me after her.”

“It’s a good name. I like it.”

The older man, he must have been 90, who entered the party after I did, walked up to the empty stool on my other side.

“Sharon,” he said as he placed his hands flat on the counter. “I’d like the best bourbon you got, neat.”

I turned toward him. Sharon already had his drink on the counter. He was still old, but his skin seemed less way, less liver-spotted, than it was when I first saw him at the entrance.

“Some party,” I said to him. “My name’s Jason,” I said while extending my hand for a shake.

“Lloyd,” he said as he grabbed my hand and shook it. “I don’t know where our host gets this bourbon,” he said, holding the caramel-colored spirit in his free hand. “But it is the best I’ve had, ever. And, Jason, I’ve had a lot of bourbon in my lifetime.” He turned his attention toward Sharon. “Could you get my pal, Jason, a refill? Put it on my tab.”

“Drinks are complimentary at this party,” Sharon replied as she handed me a fresh rum and Coke. Her speed and grace was truly awesome. She was like a comic book hero, but dispensing the perfect drink instead of justice.

“Well,” Lloyd said, turning toward me. “I guess I’ll buy the next time we meet.” He held is drink up, “Bottoms up.”

“Cheers,” I said.

He took his drink in a single gulp, slammed the shot glass on the counter, and said, “It’s time to go. I need to find the host and say goodbye.”

Other guests danced the night away. But Lloyd was content to have his drink and go. He got up and faded into the crowd.

“If you’re done trying to pick up that old man, I’m still here,” Raquel said. I turned my attention back toward her. “So what do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Are you one of those I’ve-written-a-bunch of crap-no-one-pays-for writers? Or are you the one-of-these-days-I’ll-write-something-one-day-maybe kind of writers?”

“I make a living writing,” I said, understanding her sarcasm.  Too many people say they are writers, but do almost nothing. “I write for the Reno newspaper and freelance for magazines. And I make money writings screenplays.”

“Like movies?” Raquel said with a hint of distrust.

“Yes. Actually I make more with one sold script than I do with a year’s worth of news reporting.”

“Anything I would know about?”

“You know those low-budget, direct-to-video movies usually inspired by other, bigger, better movies? I’ve written a few of those.”

She looked at me, took a sip of her martini, “So you write stuff like Space Sharks?”

“I wrote Space Sharks! And I wrote Termigators and few others,” I said. Her suspicious glare continued. “Look it up on your phone.”

She rummaged through her purse, but couldn’t find her phone. “Dammit, I must have forgotten it. I never forget my phone.”

“You can use mine,” I said as I put my hand in my pants pocket. “Odd, I must have left my phone at home too.”

Raquel hailed Sharon, who brought Raquel a fresh martini.

“Jason here says he wrote the scripts to Space Sharks and Termigators,” Raquel said, laughing.

Sharon glanced at me. “Jason wrote those, and he also wrote Hot Girls with Fake-red Hair. He also got to pitch a spec-script to Warner Brothers for Death Carries a Bazooka, but they didn’t go for it.”

“So, you’re Mr. Hollywood, huh?” Raquel said, poking me in the ribs.

“Not really. I just enjoy writing. Screenplays give me a chance to have some fun.” I took a sip of my drink.

“So what’s the next big project?” Raquel asked.

Termigators vs. Space Sharks,” I said. “I’m about half-way finished. But I think it’s time to let another writer take over the project. It’s time for something new.” I thought of Lloyd, content to have his drink and leave.

Raquel was good. By that, I mean, she had asked me a bunch of questions and let me talk away. She’d be a good journalist. I had practically given her my autobiography; yet, I knew nothing about her.

“And what about you? What do you do?” I asked, knocking the symbolic tennis ball of conversation back in her court.

“I work at a coffee shop. I’m trying to get through school.”

“What led you to going to school,” I said.

“I was married for about 20 years, married too young. You know the song.”

“Very much so,” I said, nodding my head.

“One day, my husband’s mistress called my phone by accident and the jig was up. It turned out he had been seeing her for years, even had a kid. When I confronted him, he hung himself rather than deal with the fallout.”

“I’m sorry. That’s rough.”

“Well, as my dad used tell my older brother, if you won’t face the consequences, keep your dick to yourself.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” I said. “Your dad, kind of a blunt talker, huh?”

“Yes. But he was also kind and generous. But he didn’t take crap from anyone. He was always honest. And while he would never fight my fights for me, he was always in my corner.” She took sip of her martini, twirling her hair with her free hand. “And what about you? What’s your tragic love story?”

“Nothing as exciting. I got married at 20, and it was great for the first few years. By the end though, I don’t know. We just bitched at each other constantly until we realized it was just time to move on. What are you studying in school?” I said, not that interested in discussing my past.

“I’m undeclared. I’m taking all of the core classes while I figure out what I want to be. Maybe an accountant,” Raquel said.

“And that’s what you want to do, process paperwork all day?”

“Not really. But I need something more than being a barista. I don’t want my tombstone to say ‘made a hell of a latte.’”

A slow big band song started playing. Benny Goodman, I think.

“Hey, let’s dance,” I said, grabbing her hand.

She shook her head. “It’s not something I’m good at.”

“Me neither, except moshing and head banging,” I said. “Don’t worry, Raquel. Let’s step on each other’s toes and bump into people.”

We stepped onto the ballroom dance floor. I put my arm around Raquel’s waist, and we began to dance. Slow dancing doesn’t require much skill. I did it in high school and at the occasional wedding reception.

“I think this is Benny Goodman,” I said. “It sounds like something my dad would have had in his record collection.”

“It’s Glenn Miller,” Raquel said. “It’s Moonlight Serenade. My dad used to play it on piano. Hey, now I get to teach you something. Take that!”

“I was too busy blasting Iron Maiden to care about my dad’s music,” I said as we both grew adept at complimenting each other’s dance steps.

She rested her head on my shoulder. “You’re a better dancer than you let on,” she said in a soft, quiet voice.

“Maybe you’re inspiring me to dance better,” I said.

“Smooth, Mr. Hollywood. Very smooth.”

Glenn Miller continued playing. And we continued dancing.

After a moment or two of silence, Raquel’s voice whimpered from my shoulder, “Do you regret things, like your marriage falling apart?”

“For a while, sure. It certainly wasn’t what I planned.”

“But,” Raquel said. “The time wasted.”

“There’s no point is staying in the past,” I said. “It’s like feeding a ghost, giving something that shouldn’t be able to affect you all the power. What’s on your mind, Raquel?”

“I’m just now going to school. Just now trying to figure out what I want in life. For twenty years, I stood by the sidelines, letting what I could have been drift past me. I’m not making sense. I’m sorry.”

“Some Buddhists believe that our regrets, our mistakes, accumulate as specs of dirt on our soul,” I said.

As I spoke and we danced, the party’s host walked by me. He was a tall man, over six and a half feet. He wore a black suit with a bone-white shirt. He carried a cane, but walked fine without using it. As I looked at him, he grinned.

I turned my attention back to Raquel. “The thought is that we need to wash and scrub away those specs off of our soul. Only then can we become enlightened spiritual beings.”

“So now you’re a philosopher?” Raquel said. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying.

“Just something I remember. The thought helped me through some tough times.”

“It’s easy to say it. Doing it, that’s the hard part,” Raquel said.

As Glenn Miller continued playing, I took my hand, lifted her chin, and looked into her eyes. They were welling up, tears building along the edges. I kissed her.

“Come with me,” I said. “It’s time to get out of here.”

Tears trickled down her cheek. “I can’t. I just …”

“Just leave with me. Whatever happens next, let’s be there together.”

“I have too much to finish. School. Work. I have wrongs I need to make right,” she said, crying.

“Raquel,” I said. “Those specs of dirt will come off. I promise. Just let go and come with me.”

I could see the host at the exit, which was at the back of the ballroom. He held up his cane, grinned, and nodded his head.

Over my shoulder, Raquel was staring at the bar. As we turned, I saw that her seat at the bar remained unoccupied. Sharon held up a martini and placed it on the counter in front of Raquel’s spot.

“You are an amazing woman Raquel,” I said. “Full of humor, compassion, and beauty.”

Her eyes remained fixed on her drink at the bar. “Stay with me,” she said, tears rolling down her face.

“I think you know I can’t. It time for me to leave. Goodbye.” I released her. Immediately she began walking toward Sharon and the bar, not looking back.

I started walking toward my host. Glenn Miller continued to play. For such an average-length song, it never seemed to end. I walked through the crowd, still dancing, chatting, and laughing. A champagne bottle cork popped and people cheered.

As I approached the host, he said, “Did you have a good time Jason?” His hand motioned toward the exit door. “If you are ready, I’ll show you out.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said.

“I think you do,” the host said, eyebrow raised.

“So what’s next? Heaven? Hell? Judgement?” I asked.

“Nothing that silly, or turgid for that matter,” he said, grinning.

We reached the exit, and he opened the door. Blackness.

“What’s ahead,” the host said. “It has nothing to do with anything left behind.”

“Thanks for the party,” I said, extending my hand. He didn’t respond to my gesture.

“You’re ready, Jason,” the host said. “Some,” he added, looking toward the bar, “are never ready to leave.”

I walked through the doorway and entered the darkness. As I walked forward, the light from the ballroom began to darken. The sound of people laughing, cheering, and talking became less distinct and quieter.

And Glenn Miller’s song faded into the ether of the past.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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Blueprint: The Devil Kind of Looks Like Beck by Paul George

Image courtesy CalBegonias.com

Image courtesy CalBegonias.com

Chapter One: The Devil Kind of Looks Like Beck

“Look dude, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this,” said the fair-haired man in a white suit with a red Begonia in his lapel.”But you’re dead.”

He smiled as he told me of my demise. I was sure it was a prank orchestrated by my brother.

“how do you feel?” the man asked.

“Fine,” I responded out of habit. Then I looked around. Where was I? Fog surrounded us. Above me, beams of cyan, magenta, and yellow flickered through the fog.

How did I get here? I remember walking home from the liquor store with a bottle of Sailor Jerry, ready to make some homemade rum and Cokes.

I can’t remember getting home. I crossed the street.

“Hey, got any change?”

Who said that? He was a homeless man.

“Sorry, I’m broke,” I told the homeless man. I heard a gunshot. I felt my shoulder rip open. I heard the bottle of rum shatter on the sidewalk.

The man in white pulled out a silver pocket watch out of his pocket, opened it, looked at the time, closed it, and slipped it back in his pocket. He ran his fingers through his hair.

“We don’t have an eternity here,” the man said. “How do you really feel?”

“I don’t think I’m breathing,” I said, realizing that  my voice wasn’t the product of air billowing from my lungs, through my larynx, and out of my mouth. My mouth tried to sound out my words, but my voice was coming from somewhere inside me.

“Look,” the man said. “It’s death. It’s traumatic. I get it bro. It takes a while for the mind to catch up with the truth of death. You’re a smart one. You’ll figure it out.”

I have no pulse. No heartbeat. No body heat.

“So am I in Heaven?” I said.

“Heaven, Hell, it’s all so linear to the living,” the man said as he pulled the Begonia off his lapel and held it in his fingers. “You are here,” he said while waving his hand around the fog, as if he were a real estate agent showing off a house.

“All you need to know is that you are here,” he said as he checked his pocket watch again.

“Time is short,” he said. “Time to go back. The doctors are resuscitating you right now.”

He handed me the Begonia.

“A flower?” I said.

The man smiled. “I stole it from God and now I’m giving it to you. Oh, God’s going to want it back, so he’ll be gunning for you.” He stepped back, fading into the fog. Before the fog completely obscured him completely, he said “And don’t forget to breathe.”

“Clear!” a voice in the darkness cried.

A beep droned on for what felt like hours.

I feel the shock of the defibrillator.

Beep.

“Clear!”

Another shock.

Beep.

My heart beats.

Beep.

White lights.

Beep … Beep … Beep

I breathe.


Coming soon: Chapter Two “Mari Missed the Hippie Movement, but She’s Still A Sweetheart”*

*Title subject to change. Hell, I may never write it!


©  Paul Anthony George 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contact me at paulanthonygeorge@gmail.com

The Intern by Paul George

“So how long have you been working for Mr. Cornelli?” asked The Mentor to the young man sitting next to him in a white Lincoln Town Car.

“About a year,” The Kid said. “My first job, really. I mean, not counting mowing lawns or making pizzas.”

“Well, I’m not sure why Mr. Cornelli asked me to show you the ropes,” The Mentor said as he took a drag from his cigarette. Putting his hand back on the wheel, he said “this job requires the ability to be a best friend and a worst enemy at the same time. And you have to be willing to be brutal. You look like fucking Ritchie Cunningham.”

“Ritchie Cunningham?”

“You know, Happy Days, the Fonz?”

“I must have missed that one,” The Kid said.

“Shit, you didn’t even catch it on Nick at Nite?” The Mentor said as he pulled the car up to a red light. “You work in accounting? What do you do for Mr. Cornelli? I mean when you’re not wasting my time.”

“Accounts receivable. Collections mostly,” The Kid said as he adjusted his eyeglasses. “Bob, I mean, Mr. Cornelli asked me to work on his aged receivables. There were a lot of accounts past 90 days.”

“And that makes you a good choice for this business, Opie? I just don’t get it. Collecting past due bills on office supplies is nothing like collecting gambling debts.”

“He had over $270,000 in old receivables,” The Kid said. “In two months, I cleaned up all of his past 90 days receivables and nearly all of his over 30 days.”

“No shit. But that accounting gobbledegook isn’t going to cut it here. You sat at a desk, made a few phone calls, politely asked people to pay their bill, and you think you’re ready to be a part of Mr. Cornelli’s real business?” The Mentor said as he turned the car off the main road, entering a residential area.

“Hell, I don’t know,” The Kid said while shrugging his shoulders. “It’s still the same business. Do you know the first rule of economics?”

“Oh, please tell me it’s we don’t talk about economics,” The Mentor said.

“I won’t bore you with the details,” The Kid said, laughing lightly. “But remember this.”

“What?”

“Incentives matter,” The Kid said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Well,” The Kid said. “In economics you learn that there are a variety of …”

“I don’t want a lot of needless exposition,” The Mentor interrupted. “Plus we’re here. Time to go to work.”

The Mentor drove past a small farm house, turned down the next corner, and parked the car under a large oak tree. The two men got out of the car. The Mentor, wearing a black suit and a white shirt told the kid to stay behind the tree, out of sight from the house.

The Kid, with a tan corduroy sports jacket and black slacks stood quietly.

“I can’t tell if Purcell is home or not,” The Mentor said. “Do you have a piece?”

“A what?”

“A gun, Opie. You got one?”

“No, I have a knife. That’s it.”

“Just as well. Purcell shouldn’t be much trouble. He owes Mr. Cornelli $10,000,” The Mentor said as he took a last drag from his cigarette, tossing it to the ground.

The two men entered the yard. Behind the white with blue trim farmhouse sat a parked silver Mercedes. Further down the driveway sat a red pickup next to a barn.

They approached the front door of the house. Looking through a window, the kid could see a well-furnished living room with a large-screen, high-definition television against the back wall. The Mentor knocked on the blue door.

“Stay cool,” he said to the kid.

Down the driveway, the barn door cracked open, and a small golden Cocker Spaniel out of the barn and toward the two men. Its large ears flopped at it ran.

“Ginger!” a deep voice said from inside the barn. “Get back over here.”

A tall, burly man walked out of the barn. He wore blue jeans, work boots, and a hunter green work shirt. He had an axe slung over his shoulder. He walked slowly toward the farm house.

The dog approached the kid, tail wagging. The Kid knelt and started petting the dog.

“Stay cool,” The Mentor said as he discretely kicked The Kid.

Walking up the steps, the man with the axe looked at The Mentor. “What the hell do you want?” he said.

“Good morning Purcell. Mr. Cornelli has asked us to come down here and collect the $10,000 you owe him. You were supposed to pay it Friday. Well, it’s Monday. So just give us the money and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’ll have it next Friday,” Purcell said. “You’re going to have to just tell Bob he’ll have to wait.”

“Maybe you didn’t understand,” The Mentor said. “We’re here to collect today. Now, if we don’t collect, we need something to bring back something as collateral.”

The Kid scratched Ginger behind the ears.

Purcell moved his axe from he shoulder and held it in both of his hands. “Come back Friday. Now, get off my property,” he said.

The Kid gently grabbed the dog.

Ginger yelped.

The Kid through the dog’s large, severed ear in front of Purcell’s boots. A few small drops of blood pelted his boots.

“You two are dead,” Purcell said.

“I don’t think so,” The Kid said as he drew his knife toward Ginger’s remaining ear. “This is a nice farm. Kind of fake, but nice. When I was a kid, I lived on a real farm. Cows, chickens, pigs, we had it all. But it’s boring most of the time. As a kid, I’d skin stray cats and dogs, just to pass the time. And I got great at it. The game was this, can I skin a dog before it dies? I was a pro! So before you swing that axe, I’ll have most of Ginger’s skin removed.”

Purcell snarled, but dropped the axe.

“Now,” The Kid said. “You owe our boss Mr. Cornelli $10,000. Plus I figure you owe us an additional $2,500 for our pain and suffering. Or, if you prefer, I will take Ginger’s pelt here as collateral. But she’ll miss it terribly.”

The Mentor stood quietly for a moment, took in a breath and said, “So, $12,500 and we walk Purcell.”

Purcell reached into his wallet and counted out the cash. “Fuckers,” he said.

“A pleasure doing business with you Purcell,” TheMentor said.

The Kid released Ginger, and the two men walked back toward the car.

“So what was that about incentives?” The Mentor said.

“Useless exposition,” The Kid said.

“You may just be in the right business Opie,” The Mentor said, pulling a black book out of his lapel pocket.

“Next we have Isaac St. John. He’s a bit tougher than Purcell, but I doubt he’ll be any trouble. But before we head over there, you need a better suit.”

The two men got in the car and headed back into the city.


©  Paul Anthony George 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contact me at paulanthonygeorge@gmail.com

A Modern Romance by Paul George

unreal kind

Jacob loves Martha.

Tonight is their big date, and he wants it to be the perfect night. It is morning and he is thinking of buying her a card to declare his love for her.

In a forest near Camas, Washington, a chainsaw cuts down a fine pine tree. It violently crashes on the forest floor, harshly evicting a family of squirrels. A truck spewing carbon dioxide into the air drags the tree to the local mill. A young boy chokes on the rotten-egg odor vomited into the air by the process of turning a tree into paper while he sits in the backseat of his mom’s Buick, traveling past the mill.

The paper, thin, without grain, lifeless, goes to a factory where it is colored and pressed. A staff writer at the greeting card company creates a cute sentence using words like heart, kiss, and love. He could write something deeper, but the value of his words is in direct proportion to his paycheck. A drawing of a heart, the unreal kind, is printed on the card along with the writer’s words in a beautiful fourteen point font. Now the machines will do their work and create the card. At the end of the line, the Hallmark trademark is stamped on the card and envelope. Above the bar code, the Hallmark Corporation reminds all would-be-lovers that they own the content of the card and will sue anyone who misuses it for copyright infringement.

Jacob leaves Wal-Mart with a white plastic bag containing socks, canned corn, breath mints, soap, aspirin, latex condoms, bottled water, Cheetos and one Hallmark card. An elderly man checks Jacob’s receipt. Jacob tells the old man to keep his eye out for those damned condom thieves.

Martha likes chocolate, so Jacob travels across town to a shop that sells the finest German chocolate. He selects a small unreal-heart-shaped box that has been sealed in non- biodegradable plastic. He pays for an additional bow and gift wrapping. It looks beautiful, he thinks to himself. The chocolates will be quickly eaten, but the packaging will endure forever.

Next on the list: roses. Jacob travels to the florist and asks for a dozen red roses, the benchmark standard for true love. The florist explains that there used to be a time when roses could bloom in season. Now, however, the hot house allows them to be produced year around. Mother Nature, he explains, had rules about these things.

“God made one kind of rose, so thoughtless. We’ve created thousands of breeds. We, the florists, are Mother Nature’s apostates.” He goes to a bed of roses in the hot house and hacks them from their roots and wraps the stems in shiny red plastic. “Be sure to put them in a vase with water or they will dry out. They are dead already, but you can slow down the decay,” the florist says as he hands Jacob the roses.

It’s early afternoon. The date is getting close. There is but one final item on Jacob’s list, a diamond. He travels to the mall and walks into a jewelry store. Jacob sees a beautiful diamond sitting upon an altar of gold. He asks the jeweler for a closer look at the ring. “This ring is special,” said the jeweler. “It was brought out of a mine in Zaire along with the body of an eleven-year-old boy who found it while working in the mine,” continued the jeweler. The boy worked for pennies a day and died to prove your love to your girl.” He continues to speak, holding the diamond ring under a light. “You see, a diamond is not a true sign of love unless someone dies in order to get it to you. Fortunately, the life of a little black boy in Zaire is nothing compared to the beauty of this stone, sitting on its little altar.”

Jacob tells the jeweler that he will buy the ring.

“This diamond was once a rough stone in the ground,” says the jeweler as he packages the ring in a little box. “It has been cut, polished, and, most importantly, washed of blood.”

Jacob pulls out a plastic card branded as the “Consumer’s Cache” and hands it to the jeweler.

“The best things in life are not free,” the jeweler says. “They’re financed.”

It is dusk and Jacob drives to Martha’s apartment. He approaches the door, card, chocolate, and flowers in hand. Martha is dressed in her finest dress. Her blonde hair is in perfect submission. Jacob gives her the card. Martha opens it and glances at the back. Papyrus would have been better, but Hallmark will do. She takes the box of chocolates, removes the plastic wrapping, discarding it in a little green trash basket by the door.

She takes the red roses. “My favorite,” she says. “I love pretty dead things.”

They get into Jacob’s car and drive to Demain de la Merde, the finest French restaurant in the city. Jacob decides tonight is special and drives up to the valet parking. He gives a young man his keys and some cash in exchange for a ticket. The attendant takes the car to section C14. Two years ago, there was the sound of birds singing from the trees that once ruled this piece of land. Now there is nothing but asphalt with white lines painted on it. The sound of car engines, horns, doors shutting, and swearing parking attendants fill the air. The parking attendant sits in Jacobs car, checking the car for spare change or anything else of value. Beneath the asphalt lies the bones of a family of rabbits who did not escape the diesel-fueled wrath of progress.

Inside, the hostess leads to couple to their table. They sit down, talking to each other over the warm glow of candlelight. The waiter, a young dark-haired man, asks Jacob and Martha what they would like for dinner.

“I’ll have the genetically-modified steak,” says Jacob, thinking of the hard-working men in lab coats and blue latex gloves who created this fine steak.

Martha looked at the waiter and asked, “Is the swordfish fresh?”

“Of course,” responded the waiter. “It was brought in this morning.”

“Was anyone hurt on the fishing boat?”

“Yes. A young Boston man lost his hand catching the very swordfish we are serving tonight.”

“Then I will definitely have the swordfish.”

“A good choice madam. If you will excuse me, I will get the two of you some soup.” He walks off and enters the kitchen.

Soon the couple enjoys its French onion soup, fortified with the urine of a minimum-wage waiter. They drink wine, eat dinner, and talk about the mundane details of their lives. The desserts arrive and Jacob stands up and approaches Martha. He kneels in front of her and talks about how much she means to him. He reaches into his pocket, fingering an unopened condom before pulling out a small jewelry case with a black bow on it. He opens it, allowing the warm light of the candle to reflect the ring’s beauty.

“Will you marry me?”

Martha looks at the ring. It is a good-enough diamond, worth at least the life of a black boy in Zaire. She takes it and a tear rolls down her face.

“Of course I will marry you Jacob. This is the most romantic night of my life.”


©  Paul Anthony George 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contact me at paulanthonygeorge@gmail.com


What Are You Gonna Do? by Paul George

Paul GeorgeIt is raining. It always rains. The Bible says the world was destroyed after forty days and forty nights of rain. Here in Vancouver, we would just call that springtime. I leave the comfort of the sea of front doors and windows that is the Evergreen Terrace apartments and take my morning sojourn to Cascade Junior High School. I have my green duffel bag. It was my brother’s when he was on the high school football team. While walking, I navigate the puddles and stay under the pine trees when possible. As the high pitched sound of car tires on the wet road gets louder, I move away to avoid baptism by puddle splash.

It is Friday. Thank God! I approach the school; it is still locked. Kids are standing around talking about music and football. I look for Jason, my best friend. He’s rarely there before me. I stand with other students under the awning, looking for protection from the unrelenting spring rain. I look down the street and see Jason walking by himself. Damn! I was hoping Rachel, his sister, was with him. It never rains when Rachel is around.

He walks up to me under the awning, soaked from the rain. He doesn’t have a raincoat. I know his mother cannot afford one. His hair is black and cut as if someone put a bowl over his head and trimmed around the edge. I ask him if Rachel is coming to school. “She’s running late,” he replies.

The eighth grade has been unremarkable in every way except one. This is the year I became Gentry’s object of aggression. Gentry was an ape poorly disguised as a human being. Every morning he would fall out of his tree and manage to dress well enough to pass himself off as a homo sapiens. He was much shorter than me, but muscular. He was on the wrestling team and walked around like he was always carrying an invisible milk can in each arm.

About a month into the school year I was walking down the hall, heading to history class. As Gentry passed by me, he knocked my books out of my hands, kicked them across the hallway and then got in my face grunting “you wanna do something about it?“ I said nothing, picked up my books, and went to class. I was taught to always turn the other cheek. This continued week after week. I would change my route to class, but he would always find a new way to harass me.

Yesterday was a typical lunch in the school cafeteria; hamburgers and tater tots. “What the hell is in these hamburgers anyway?” I asked Jason, who was sitting across from me at the table.

Worms. That’s what they say,” he replied while biting into his dry gray burger.

Pat, who sat with us, said “it’s soy protein. You can’t eat worms.” Pat was a pudgy red-haired kid with freckles. The only time we ever spent time with Pat was during lunch.

Sure you can,” I responded with a smile. “In Africa they eat all kinds of bugs and shit. On ‘Wild Kingdom’ the other day they showed these villagers eating raw grubs. One guy took a machete and hacked a chunk of a tree off and, voila, there were hundreds of grubs. He just grabbed one and popped it in his mouth like a pork rind that wiggles. Then the little kids came over to him and they each grabbed one and started munching. I mean, we eat shrimp. Those are just bugs that live in the ocean. I bet you could take a big fat grub, fry it in butter and eat it with a little lemon. Tasty!” I drew out that final word and smacked my lips like I just ate something delicious.

Jason laughed a little bit. “Hey, maybe the burgers are made of people, like in ‘Soylent Green.’” The discussion concerning the content of the burgers had no effect on Jason‘s appetite. He continued to eat his burger without hesitation.

No way,” said Pat. “That would be gross.”

Nope, these burgers aren’t made of people,” I interjected. “Do you know why?” I inquired while waving my soggy hamburger in front of them. “People taste like pork. Now if we were having something that tasted like pork chops or bacon, I’d say that you might be right Jason. However, these burgers taste like something else. They sure as hell don’t taste like beef, so it has to be something we haven’t discussed.”

Before I could finish my statement, Pat couldn’t be quiet any longer. “Wait,” he interrupted, “how in the hell did you get the idea that people taste like pork?”

I don’t have a damn clue, but that did not stop me from giving an answer. “It was in National Geographic! I was at the dentist looking at the pictures of village women’s titties and the article said that the cannibals call humans ’the second pork’.”

Jason is trying not to laugh. He knew me well enough to know that I was making the story up as I went along. Pat, who took life a little too seriously for a kid our age, looked hesitantly convinced.

As a matter of fact,” I said, “it even had a recipe for a sweet and sour sauce to pour over the victim.” With that I stood up, grabbed a few of Pat‘s tater tots, tossed them in my mouth, picked up my tray, and bid the two boys farewell. 

As I approached the area where students hand in their dishes, I saw that Gentry was the dishwasher. I quickly dropped my tray off and walked away. At least I tried to walk away. As I turned away, I heard Gentry snort “Hey George, come here.”

I really have to go Gentry.”

Just come over hear for a minute. I need to ask you something.”

I approached Gentry with caution. We had a counter separating us, so I felt reasonably safe. “What?” I asked him.

He immediately grabbed me by my shirt with both of his hands and dragged me across the counter. I squeaked “let me go.”

He brought his face close enough that I could feel the warmth of his breath. He growled “what are you gonna do?” I tried pulling away, but he would not let go.

Tomboy Tonya and I had classes together and always got along fine. She was my dance partner in gym class. She walked over and broke Gentry’s grip. “Leave him alone Gentry,” she commanded, and he obeyed. I quickly left the cafeteria. Some students laughed. Others seemed more stunned that Gentry would do this right in the cafeteria.

I walked home alone that day. Jason and I usually met after school, but I left without waiting. I re-entered the maze of apartments and headed toward an orange apartment door with the number 18 nailed to it. As usual, the apartment was empty when I entered it. There was a note from my mother on the breakfast table that said “I’ll be home around six, I want you room clean. Don’t forget to do your homework. Mom. P.S. NOW!” I sat down and watched “Gilligan’s Island” on television. I looked at the clock, five p.m., plenty of time. About a half hour later, I got up and went upstairs to my room. My “Raiders of the Lost Ark” poster had fallen again. I immediately put it up and then looked around. The room didn’t look that bad to me. I pulled the covers over my bed, threw my dirty clothes into the closet and picked up the glass on the floor and put it on the window sill. I then laid on my bed, put on my headphones, and listened to Led Zeppelin while reading a Conan story by Robert E. Howard. Robert E. was my favorite author. Conan the barbarian didn’t take shit from anyone.

Mom came home and got a beer out of the fridge. I could hear her moving around downstairs. She came upstairs and saw my perfectly clean room. “I asked you politely to clean your room,” she said as she took a drink from her Olympia beer bottle.

Dumbfounded, I simply looked at her, looked around the room with a look of glib satisfaction.

I did!”

There was never middle ground with Mom. It was right or it was wrong. Hot or cold. Black or white. “You will clean this room in the next half hour. By clean, and I apparently have not been clear enough for you, I mean I want your dirty clothes in the laundry downstairs, dirty dishes are to go downstairs. You will dust your dresser and window sill. You will change your sheets and make your bed. You will vacuum. If all of this is not done in the next thirty minutes I will remove everything from this room. You will not have clothes to wear, a bed to sleep in, or music to listen to.”

My older brother James made the mistake of ignoring Mom‘s edicts. He came home one day to an empty room. It was only because our father mediated that he got his things back.

Rather than simply agree, I made the mistake of trying to reason with Mom. “But Mom,” I attempted to explain, “I had a really bad day today.”

Before I could explain further, she interrupted “There are two things in the world, reasons and excuses. I see no reason for you to have put off cleaning your room and I do not want to hear any excuses.” She was not a mother that yelled at you. She was like a mobster with a gun to your head. She knew she had all the aces in the conversation. “Now, you will clean your room in the next half hour. Do you understand?”

Yes.”

The clock starts now,” she said coldly as she and her Olympia headed downstairs.

I cleaned my room and went downstairs for dinner. Mom talked a little bit about her drive home from Portland. My father talked a little bit about something he read in the paper about a mill shutting down while he went into the kitchen. I could hear the crack of virgin ice being taken out of the tray. He made a rum and cola and sat back down. I just ate my pork chop, giggled quietly to myself, and drank my milk. I bet cannibals don’t have a lot of problems with bullies, I thought while I took my last bite of pork chop.

I asked Mother if I could be excused. She made a quick inspection of my plate and made sure I had eaten my daily requirement of beets and something that tasted a lot like pork. She told me to wash my dishes. I then asked if I could go to James’.

Homework?”

I don’t have any tonight.” This was always a much better way around the issue than saying that I had already finished my homework. Mom was smart enough to want to see the homework. If I simply said that I didn’t have any, there wasn’t much she could say.

Be home by eight.”

My brother James lived in the same apartment complex as we did. He was eight years older than me. In high school, he was a legend. When he would go to the mall, he would wear tight jeans, a vest with no shirt, and a cowboy hat. He played on the school football team and the girls had nicknamed him “Jesus Christ“ because of his long flowing hair. He was pure extrovert. Then, one day, his girlfriend told him that she was pregnant. Now he is married and has a baby girl. He has short hair, puts on a button-down shirt and necktie everyday, and sells refrigerators at Sears. He is a caged lion.

His wife was out of town with the baby that week, so I thought it would be a good time to talk to him about my problem with Gentry. I knocked on the door. As the door opened, Bachman Turner Overdrive filled the air. With a big smile on his face and a beer in his hand he said “Palinka!” I hate that nickname.

Hey James, may I come in?”

Of course little brother.” I entered and walked into the living room. James went into the kitchen, got a beer and tossed it to me. His friend Kevin sat in the living room, drinking beer from a glass. Kevin and James had been best friends for longer than I can remember. Kevin was on the football team for one year, but was on the high school wrestling team for two. For Kevin, the world of music began with Elvis Presley and ended with The Beatles. I knew that Kevin was only tolerating James’ music. 

I opened my beer and sat down. I told James that I was having a problem in school. He asked what the problem was and I told him everything that had happened regarding Gentry, with the exception of my being saved by Tomboy Tonya.

How big is this kid?” he asked while stroking his chin where his beard used to be.

About this tall,” I reply while placing my right hand to the middle of my chest.

Your letting a little guy bully you? Listen, there’s a good chance you can drop this kid with a good punch to the gut.” 

I’m not into fighting James. You know what we are always taught in church, ‘turn the other cheek.’”

Are you into getting humiliated in front of everyone? You can only turn the other cheek so many times. Good, bad, or indifferent, you have a guy picking on you and he isn‘t going to stop because you try to ignore him. Bullies are scavengers. They have no real power, so they take what little scraps of fear they can. They can only prey on those who fear them.”

I was hoping you could show me how to defend myself.”

James suddenly looked enthusiastic. He smiled, “now you’re talking. That’s what big brothers are for. I get off work around four on Saturday. I’ll show you some simple rules to keep in mind when you get into a fight.”

Kevin, who looked concerned, said “I could show you a few wrestling moves.”

James interrupted “none of those queer moves for my brother. He’s going to learn to fight on his feet.”

Queer?” responded Kevin with a bit of a laugh. “Who is the one who landed in the hospital with a broken jaw after getting into a fistfight?”

That’s because I was thinking about your faggy fight moves! Plus I fucked his little sister, so he was motivated to hurt me,” James retorted. They both laughed.

James turned his attention back to me. “Have you talked to Mom or our dad about this?”

Well, I tried to talk to Mom, but she wasn’t in the mood for hearing excuses.” James understood what I meant. “Our dad, well, you know how our dad is.” He knew that our father simply avoided being involved.

Look, just remember that real fights are not like the movies. When you get in a fight, your goal is to win. It isn’t about looking good or being fair. The first rule is to protect yourself at all times. The second is to remain calm and think about the situation.”

Kevin looked up. “And remember to go for the gut. The face is hard. You can break your hand hitting a dude in the face. Well, unless you hit old glass jaw there,” he said while pointing to James.

I handed him back the nearly full can of beer and walked home. As I came in, I could hear my dad and Mom arguing in the bedroom. It was like this almost every night. I went into my room, closed the door, undressed and crawled into bed. As I drifted to sleep, heavy drops of rain slammed against the window.

It is now the tail end of fourth period. It is Mr. Clanton’s reading class. I haven’t opened up my copy of “The Old Man and the Sea.” Instead it sits in my hands while I stare out the window, looking at the school courtyard. Lunch was next and the way to and from the cafeteria was though the courtyard. It is a large open area toward the back of the school. There is an awning that connects the main building to the cafeteria. The courtyard contains a basketball court. There is a grassy area next to Mr. Clanton’s room. I am thinking about this weekend. I feel better knowing that James and Kevin are going to show me how to handle the situation with Gentry. 

While staring out the window, I daydream of Rachel. She came to school late, but I got to walk her to algebra class. She is the only girl in school that I take notice of. She has raven black hair and olive skin. She is beautiful. Since her brother and I are friends, I get to spend a lot of time with Rachel. Frequently I go to her house and we listen to music and I feel like I can talk to her about anything. Well, almost anything. I have thought of telling her that I like her, but I am frightened. I have no clue how she will react. I daydream of being with her forever. We would never have to get drunk and never have to fight.

The bell rings and Mr. Clanton asks to see me. He is one of the few teachers I like. He wears thick rectangular glasses that make him look out of touch with modern trends. “Paul,” he says, “I’m concerned. You seem distracted today. Usually you are the one student that I don’t have to keep an eye on.” 

Do you know Gentry?” I ask. Affirmatively he shakes his head. I tell him the quick version of what has been happening.

Perhaps Gentry had been a problem before or maybe Mr. Clanton has dealt with similar situations. Quietly he says to me “the problem for us teachers is that we can’t be everywhere. If we don’t see it, it didn’t happen.”

I thank him and leave. I meet Jason in the cafeteria. We get our pieces of greasy pizza and sit down. I say nothing. Jason tries to start a conversation, talking about Monty Python, but I just eat my food. I just want to make it through the day. I tell him that I’ll see him after school, grab my tray and head toward the kitchen. Gentry is not in the kitchen today. That makes my life a little easier. I leave the tray and head toward the doors to the courtyard. I think I will go to the library. I won’t be bothered there.

As I open the doors to the courtyard, the sky is dark and the rain is falling hard. I see Rachel with a distressed look on her face. As I enter the courtyard, it is clear why she is upset. There is Gentry, yelling at her, calling her a bitch. He keeps grabbing her breast and hitting her on her rear. She is trying to walk away, but he keeps her cornered under the awning.

I step up to the two of them. With a barely audible voice I say “leave her alone.” 

Gentry turns around and growls “what was that George?”

Leave her alone. Do you understand?”

What are you gonna do about it?” He moves away from Rachel and stands toe-to-toe with me, nostrils flared.

“Leave my friends alone.”

Gentry quickly grabs me, bends me over, and puts me in a headlock. I am struggling to pull out of his hold, but he has a good grip on my neck. As the two of us struggle, we move away from the building and into the pouring rain. I had hoped that this would have waited until Monday, but today is the day of the fight. As he tightens his hold, the students in the courtyard gather and yell “fight!”

I realize that panicking isn’t going to solve anything. Remain calm and think about the situation. I place one arm between Gentry’s legs from behind. My other arm comes around the front and they clasp together. Your goal is to win. It isn’t about looking good or being fair. With all of my strength I lift my arms, hitting Gentry in the groin and lifting him off the ground. He releases me and falls to the ground.

He gets up, enraged, and yells “That’s it! You’re dead!”

My heart is racing. The howling of the crowd means nothing to me. Rachel is invisible to me. All I see is Gentry and the figure of Mr. Clanton looking through the window. For a second I look at Clanton, who turns around and begins to clean a chalk board. Now it is just me and my enemy.

Gentry throws a right hook, hitting me in the cheek. It doesn’t hurt, not a lot anyway. I thought it would hurt more. I swing back with a clumsy and undirected punch, missing Gentry. I know nothing about fighting or throwing a punch. Gentry stays out of my range. He tries to grab me, but I grab him by his shirt, lifting him off the ground. I push him against the red brick wall of the school. I shout “this is over today!” He just smiles. I am still holding him off the ground and press him harder into the brick wall. “This is over!” 

He tries to break free, but I simply strengthen my hold. I pull him away from the wall and shove him as hard as I can against it. With a loud exhale, his smile quickly fades. I drop him and he falls to the ground. He sits there in the rain. Some of the students are laughing at him. Others just start to walk away. Rachel is gone. Mr. Clanton turns around and looks out the window. I thought about what he said, if we don’t see it, it didn’t happen. 

It is now the end of the school day and I am going to drop my books off at home and go to Jason‘s house. The clouds have broken up a bit. I have no idea what Monday will bring. I don’t know if Gentry will keep bothering me. He now knows, though, That I’m not a piece of dead meat on the sie of the road, waiting to be eaten by a scavenger. It isn’t about winning the fight, it’s about not giving into fear. Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. I am starting to think that maybe Jesus got it wrong. The next time Gentry asks me “what are you gonna do?” I’ll show him that I’m not going to take his shit anymore. 


For a PDF of this story, click here.

©  Paul Anthony George 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contact me at paulanthonygeorge@gmail.com

The Gospel According to Julia by Paul George

The Gospel According to Julia

Paul George

Julia Simmons couldn’t breathe, let alone cry.

“I wish I had better news,” Doctor Nadira Patel said as she put her notes on top of the sterile examination room table.

Julia said nothing. She stared at the floor while sitting on the examination table.

After explaining to Julia and her husband, Phillip, that the baby had died in the womb, Dr. Patel offered to schedule surgery to remove the baby.

Phil stood by Julia’s side, speechless.

“I’ll leave you two alone for a few minutes,” said the doctor. “Take your time.” Doctor Patel left the examination room, gently shutting the door. Julia could hear her talking to a nurse outside, but could not determine what they were saying.

“Julia,” Phil said, “I‘m sorry.”

“Leave,” Julie said. She did not look up from the floor.

“But…”

“Just leave Phil. I need a few minutes to myself.”

He looked outside for a brief moment. Clouds were forming over the New England sky. He leaned over and kissed Julia on her forehead. “I love you. I’ll be here when you need me,” he said. He walked out of the room, shut the door, and Julia sat alone in the room.

Julia chest ached as she stared at the floor, her long blond hair hanging down like willow vines. The room was quiet, except for the clicking of the blue Viagra clock on the wall. Her baby was dead and there was nothing she could do about it. She clutched her chest and began to weep.

Then she began to cry. She looked up and saw the clock. It was 2:05 p.m. She then looked upward and prayed to God. She said two words she never thought she would say to Him.

*****

Julia walked into the vacant bedroom. Instinctively, she reached for the light switch, but stopped when she realized the morning sun was pouring into the room. The golden light, broken up by the shadows of the birch trees outside, warmed the room. She looked at the light blue wallpaper with dark blue bunnies printed on it and thought about how long it took Phil to finally get the paper hung. She had to admit, though, that he did a great job. She walked over to the empty crib and ran her thin, almost fragile looking, fingers along the rail. She gently raked her finger nails along the bars of the crib and smiled as she heard the clickety clackety sound. One more month, she thought, and this room will have a little resident. She noticed a book of Bible stories had fallen from the tiny desk onto the floor. She bent over to pick it up. As she did, her left hand kept her long blond hair from her face. With her right hand, she picked up the book and put it back on the desk. She walked over to the window and looked at the view. Their backyard was mostly woods and it was a warm summer morning. She thought she saw cardinals amongst the woods, but could not be sure. It seemed a little early for cardinals in New England. As she looked out, her hand moved along her white and pink bathrobe and rubbed her growing belly. As she did, she felt the baby kick. She said a prayer of thanks to God and left the room with a glow of joy on her face.

As she passed the bedroom, she could hear Phil snoring. She went into the kitchen and started coffee for him. She loved coffee, but had not had a cup since she became pregnant, though it wasn’t for health reasons. Since she became pregnant, the smell of coffee made her feel sick and nauseated. Phil, however, still loved his coffee in the morning, so she made some and then sat down at the breakfast nook with the window slightly open to dilute the smell.

It was Sunday, so she picked up her Bible. Today was church and the pastor had suggested reading the first two chapters of the book of Job.

Phil came out of the bedroom and stepped into the kitchen. Wearing his blue and white striped pajamas, he yawned. Julia thought his thick mustache made him look like a cat when he yawned. He opened the cabinet, grabbed a black coffee cup, poured fresh coffee into it, and added cream and sugar.

“Good morning dear,” Phil said.

“Good morning.”

“How’s our son?”

“He’s fine. He was moving around a lot this morning.”

Phil kissed Julia on the check while placing his hand on her belly. Then he sat down and started drinking his coffee. Julia put down her Bible and said “would you like to read these scriptures with me before we go to church?”

“I don’t think I’m going today, Jules,” Phil said. “I’m feeling pretty tired this morning.”

“You hardly ever go,” Julia said. “When we got married, you went every Sunday.”

Phil took another drink from his coffee and said, “I just don’t have the energy.”

Julia sighed.

“Could you at least read these scriptures with me?” she asked.

“Sure,” Phil said.

They took turns reading the two Bible chapters. The verses they read described Job as a man blessed by God. Satan came into heaven and said the only reason Job served him was because of the blessing he received from God. God allowed Satan to destroy Job’s material possessions and his ten children. Job remained faithful. When God brought this to Satan’s attention, Satan replied that, if afflicted physically, Job would certainly curse God.

After reading the verses, Julia looked at Phil and said “we can see that Job was a man of integrity. He was willing to remain faithful to God even though he had been afflicted.”

Phil paused as if thinking about whether he should continue the conversation. Finally he said, “Why should he have had to prove it?”

“Because the devil made the challenge.”

“Why would God have even needed to accept such a thing? I’m just wondering Julia.”

“Wondering what?”

“Look, if some guy at work said that you were some sort of slut who would sleep with any guy that had some money, I’d punch that prick right in the face. Why would I not only entertain the guy’s accusations, but go so far as to wager with him. Especially if I thought he was going to hurt you in order to win. I believe in you, Julia.”

“He needed to test Job to see if he would remain faithful, and he was,” she said, although she knew it wasn’t enough to pacify Phil.

“But if God is a loving father, why would he allow this? Why would he allow suffering? A bet? That’s not love. That’s pride.”

“Phil, I don’t know. What I do know is that God must have had a reason for allowing it and that’s good enough for me.” She took a deep breath. “I really want you to come to church today.”

“Why?”

“Because I do. The Bible says that we are supposed to gather together.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean church. It just means that Christians are to meet together. It could have been talking about gathering to have Moxie and Twinkies.”

“It is important to me Phil. The way they look at me when I am by myself…”

“Who?”

“The pastors’ wives and some of the other women. They always ask about you. It is always with a hint of self-satisfaction rather than concern.”

“Why do you care, Julia? Why does it matter what they think? I almost died a few years ago and Pastor Bill said I was suffering because I wasn’t ‘putting God’s kingdom first’ and that somehow God was punishing me for something I did.”

“I know he was wrong when he said that, but don’t you think he will pay for that later?”

Phil said nothing.

Holding the Bible up before him she said, “Phil, you still need to worship God. I know you are a good man, but you need to be faithful to God. It says in here that ‘faith without works is dead’.”

“I still believe, Julia. I try my best to be a good, honest person. However, you make it sound like that I’m worthless unless I got to church.”

Julia wasn’t sure how to respond. She took another deep breath. “I think you are a wonderful husband and I think you’ll be a great dad. I’m not going to nag you about this, but it does hurt me that you don’t go. I’d just like you to think about going to church because I think it will be good for all three of us.” She stood up, walked around the table to Phil, and gave him a hug.

Phil kissed her and told her that he loved her. “If you want a ride, I’ll take you.”

“I can still drive. It is a little hard to get in the car, but I’ll be fine once I get in.”

“If I can get in the car,” Phil said while patting his stomach, “I know you can.”

The two ate oatmeal, drank orange juice, and chatted about the baby’s room and the weather. Julia reminded Phil that she would have an appointment with Doctor Patel on Monday. Phil said he would be there.

Julia showered and put on her Sunday dress. It was a red maternity dress with white flowers printed on it. As she came out of the bedroom, she saw Phil watching soccer on television. “I’ll be home by three,” she said while putting on her earrings.

“Okay – I’ll be here,” said Phil.

Julia arrived at the church and entered the building. Rupert, an older gentleman, greeted her. “Good morning Julia, you’re looking big today. Are you going to make it through all of the service?”

Big? Julia thought. She knew better than to take his comment the wrong way. “Oh, I have another month left, Rupert,” she said, smiling.

She went into the sanctuary and sat down. The service started. She sang the opening hymn with the congregation and then one of the pastors offered a prayer. She really wished Phil could be there. This is where God is and this is where He wants us to be, she thought. She knew the situation when he got sick was bad. The pastors, especially Pastor Bill, were uncaring toward Phil the entire time he received chemotherapy. However, that was no excuse for Phil to quit going to church. Sometimes she felt like she had to demonstrate enough faith to cover both of them.

Pastor Bob walked on the stage, wearing a white three-piece suit, and started to talk about how all Christians were going through difficult times. The pastor gave a few statistics regarding illness and tied that into the story of Job’s personal integrity. He summarized by comparing Job’s righteous life with that of Jesus, who remained faithful until his death.

It bothered Julia that Phil could not see the importance of Job’s example. Phil was willing to turn his back on God just because Pastor Bill made a few unkind comments. She could not understand how his viewpoint could be changed so quickly.

After the service, Julia went to the children’s center at the church and volunteered to help clean. Eden, Pastor Bob’s wife, was already in the room, returning children’s books to their shelves.

“Maybe you should just get some rest Julia,” Eden said.

“I’m okay. In a few weeks, well, that may be different.”

“Well, just take it easy,” Eden said. She was tall with long, dark hair. Julia thought that as Pastor Bob’s wife, Eden’s stature within the congregation was almost as important as his. Eden originally brought Julia to the church and she always considered Eden her spiritual big sister.

“Where’s Phil?”

“He stayed home again. I’m not sure what to do. Spiritually, it isn’t good for him to stay home from church. Now that the baby is coming, I’m even more concerned.”

Eden continued to pick up books. “Well,” she said, “you need to really think about what is good for the baby. The Bible says we should not be unevenly yoked with unbelievers.”

“Wait,” Julia protested. “He still believes. He just doesn’t want to go to church.”

“If he believed, he’d be here.” Eden stopped cleaning, walked over to Julia, and put her arm around her. “I know he’s a good man. He works hard. He’s always been generous. But you have to think of the spiritual health of your new baby.”

“I think he has allowed some bad feelings to develop.”

“But that isn’t your fault, is it? Maybe you need to put your foot down. If he doesn’t want to serve God, you will need to do what is right for your child.”

It made sense to Julia, but she didn’t like it. She would never leave Phil. Is church so important to me, she thought, that I’d leave him?

After they finished cleaning the room, Eden walked Julia to her car.

“Are you going to be working at the food bank this week?” Eden asked.

“I plan to,” Julia said. “It is going to take more than this baby to stop me.”

“If you don’t feel up to it, I think that is understandable. I wouldn’t want you to overexert yourself. I think the Big Guy would understand that you needed a few weeks off to have a baby.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks.”

When they reached Julia’s car, Eden gave her a kiss on the cheek and went back into the church. Julia squeezed into her car and went home.

She entered the house and called for Phil. He came out of the baby’s room.

“Hey there,” he said with a smile on his face.

She smiled and said hello. She tried to hide the stress of her experience with Eden.

“Did they talk again?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay, I was thinking, since it is a such a beautiful day today, we could sit in the backyard and have dinner.”

“That sounds wonderful, Phil. What do you want to eat?”

“I already made dinner. All you need to do is change out of your church clothes and relax.”

Julia smiled.

They ate outside and didn’t talk about church. Julia didn’t tell him what Eden said nor did she think much about it. She loved this man and she knew he loved her. She realized that this was important.

After dinner, they watched a comedy on television and laughed together. Then they both crawled into bed. Phil gave Julia a kiss goodnight. Then he kissed her stomach and said, “Goodnight son.” Julia turned the light off and the three of them fell asleep.

*****

Julia began to cry and glanced at the clock, noticing the time. It was 2:05 p.m. Alone in the sterile examination room, she could feel the tears dripping off of her face and onto her dress. She looked heavenward and prayed “fuck you.”

After ten minutes, Julia opened the door and left the examination room. As she entered the hallway, she saw Phil sitting by the door. Her face was red and swollen from crying. Phil rose and walked toward her. She put her arms around him, still sobbing.

Weeping, she said, “We lost him, Phil. He was our son. I don’t know what to do.” Phil had tears in his eyes.

Dr. Patel approached Julia and let her know the surgery had been scheduled for the next day.

Phil put his arm around his wife, picked up her purse, and walked with her out of the doctor’s office. They rode the elevator to the ground flood, not speaking. As they left medical building, the afternoon humidity rose. The sticky air made the situation seem heavier. From the dark clouds overhead, Julia could see lightning. Almost immediately, the loud thunderclap shook the two of them.

“It is going to pour,” Phil said, “we’d better get to the car.”

Before they could get to the car, the rain came down. The rain, heavy and warm, drenched to couple.

Julia suddenly stopped, gasped. and smiled. “We have to go back!” She turned around and started to walk back to the medical building entrance.

“Julia, what’s going on? Wait!”

“The baby just kicked!”

Julia entered Dr. Patel’s office, rainwater dripping from her soaked hair and drenched dress. “I need to see Dr. Patel right now. The baby kicked.” Phil entered behind her.

The nurse called the doctor. Dr. Patel came into the waiting room and said “Julia, you have been through a lot. I’m sorry about your loss. You have been carrying this baby for eight months. For months you have felt him moving around. It is natural to feel like it is still moving.”

“No! You don’t understand. It – he is moving!”

“Julia, sometimes…”

Julia grabbed the doctor’s hand, placing it firmly on her belly and said “God damn you, just feel it!”

The baby kicked Dr. Patel’s hand. She placed her stethoscope on Julia’s stomach. “There’s a heartbeat.”

Dr. Patel took Julia into the examination room. “You’re in labor. You need to go to the hospital.”

A nurse brought Julia a wheelchair. Phil pushed the chair for his wife.

Julia’s contractions grew stronger. She was admitted into a hospital room. It would only be a matter of time and Julia and Phillip Simmons would be parents.

“You were right Julia,” Phil said while holding his wife’s hand. “I need more faith. This situation has shown me that.”

Julia remained quiet.

“Maybe God let Satan torment Job because there was not doubt in God’s mind that Job was faithful,” Phil said. “He had confidence in Job.”

Or maybe it was just a bet, Julia thought.

“I’ll put aside my differences with Bill and start going to church again. It will be good for our family.”

Julia delivered the baby after two hours of labor. He was healthy and loved by his parents.

The next Sunday, Julia watched as Phil got dressed and went to church. He told her he would never miss worship again.

Julia stayed home. Her words in the examination room were her last to God.


For a copy of this story in PDF format, click here.

©  Paul Anthony George 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contact me at paulanthonygeorge@gmail.com

Welcome to Sad Stories for Happy People

tony2014_2Although I consider myself primarily a journalist, concerned with real-world events, I also enjoy writing the occasional piece of short fiction. I’ve created Sad Stories for Happy People as a place to collect my short stories in one place. Hopefully someone will enjoy them.

I don’t think I have a style or a thematic approach to my stories, although metaphysical themes arise a lot. So expect to find some creative non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, drama, and whatever the hell pops into my mind. A few of these are stories I wrote a few years ago during a creatively fertile period of my life.

Feedback is always appreciated. I want to improve as a writer, so if a story confuses you and has a giant plot hole, I welcome the constructive criticism. But, like most writers, I’m incredibly self-absorbed, so praise is always welcome!

And please take a few moments to check out my blog The Reno Signal. It’s about Reno, Nevada, usually. But I also share my opinions of music, movies, and chicken wings!

Peace,

Paul George