This is the intro to a short story I’ve been working on, called “The Ground”. I hope you enjoy it.

**

From the low hanging clouds that stretched from one end of northern Alabama sky to the other, huge drops of rain splashed against my motorcycle helmet that was a little too big for my head. My speedometer said I was traveling at 70 miles per hour, but despite the thunderstorm, cars and semis were racing past me. The spray of water and the powerful wind left in the wake of the larger trucks caused my motorcycle to wobble beneath me. I felt the fear of death for the first time in my life. The fear was primal, something way down inside me, like hope or lust.

I was riding north on I-65 and on the right I saw a farmer leading two cows out of the rain, into a red wooden barn. I thought of Noah, catching and taming all those animals, leading them to the ark. I imagined myself back then, back when the rains of The Flood started. I imagined myself, not inside the ark with the animals and the righteous, but outside as the rain started, grew stronger and collected in to puddles, then ponds. That religious nut, Noah, had said the rain wouldn’t stop, and when I realized he was right, I screamed and banged on the side of that boat, feeling the water rise around me, to my waist, my chest, my neck. When I realized it wouldn’t stop, I clawed at the boat, digging my fingernails into the wood until my fingertips were raw and the water rose to my chin, then my lips, then the skin beneath my septum, then into my nostrils. The water streaming through my windpipe judged me unfit for the next world, the one with color. The next world that started out with two of everything: Two dogs, two mosquitoes, two polar bears. In that world, there would be no question that the chicken came before the egg.

I looked down at two rubber tires, gripping the wet road beneath me. The rain was driving in to the skin on my neck and arms, soaking in to my t-shirt and jeans. When I moved my feet around, I could feel rain squishing between my tennis shoes and socks. Ahead, I saw a dead opossum in my lane. As I approached it, the stench mixed with the moist smell of rain and started a parade of unpleasant memories, which I assumed to be my judgment.

I remembered the time my high school girlfriend came to my house wearing denim overall shorts, her hands deep inside her pockets. She asked me if it was true that I had cheated on her and then why. I lied to her, but she pursed her mouth and hit my ear with her fist. She turned and walked to her car with her fists clinched. She was crying as she drove away. The shame of seeing myself in this memory was blunted by the sweetness of the sin that came before it and which still lingered vividly in my mind, 15 years later, as I rode a 1986 Honda Rebel through the rain, past a dead opossum.

I remembered the time, years before, when my little brother, Jonah, appeared in our living room dressed in black pants, a red leather jacket with zippers everywhere and a white glove on his right hand. He strutted to the stereo, started a tape and danced Michael Jackson’s whole routine from the Beat It video on the hardwood floor in front of us. He finished his performance, which I knew he had been rehearsing for weeks, and stood before us. I laughed and my parents clapped. I could still remember the tears that pricked at his eyes and how he stood there with that white gloved hand dangling at his side, weighing my laughter against my parents praise. That was the first time I hurt someone on purpose and there was nothing in that memory to numb the pain of it now.

I pulled off at the next exit and parked my bike at a Citgo station. Inside the door, I stood next to a 4 foot map of Alabama and bit in to a scalding hot, gooey bean and cheese microwave burrito. Moving my thumb and forefinger against the map, I calculated that I had traveled about 175 miles since I left Monroeville, Alabama six hours earlier. Six hours ago in Monroeville, the sun was still shining and there was no water pooled in the red clay dirt above my brother’s grave.

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I am taking a  creative writing class this summer. Some of the exercises are interesting, so I will post the output here from time to time.

***

I can still taste the blood in that weird place between my nose and the top my mouth. Dad and I climb into his old black Chevy pickup and the doors squeak loudly when we close them. He pulls out of the gravel parking lot and we drive past the school playground. Over there by the tall chain link swings on the edge of the playground is where I got in to a fight with Ricky Dawson today.

Ricky pushed my sister and called her a bad name so I punched him in the eye. He punched me back and hit me a lot more times. It felt like someone throwing rocks at my face, but I didn’t fall down and I didn’t cry until the very end. When he stopped punching me, I tackled him and we fought until a teacher pulled me off and took me to the Principal’s office. Before we went back inside, I looked back at Ricky and he was crying too and his lip was busted and there was blood on his Cincinnati Reds jersey.

When I told Principal Hewson what happened, he told me fighting’s wrong and that Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek. Then he sent me to the nurse’s office so she could clean me up and I could think about what Jesus said till Dad came to get me. When he got there, I could hear Dad talking to the Principal, but couldn’t tell what they were saying because I was still in the nurse’s office. Dad was mad when we left. He told Principal Hewson not to worry because he’ll make sure I get what I have coming to me when we get home.

I taste the blood as we drive away from the school, past the houses and the big green trees on Walnut Street. We drive past Clouse’s Grocery, the gas station then by cornfields which were just tilled and more trees. The Reds and Braves are playing on 700 WLW. My window is rolled down a little and I smell rain even though the sun is still shining. Dad turns off the radio and starts talking to me about the fight. It feels good to have my cheek and eye gently resting against the cool window while he talks. It also feels good to listen to Dad tell me that even though I’m only eight and Ricky is ten and bigger than me, Ricky didn’t win the fight and I’m brave and I can bet my ass that Ricky’s gonna leave Keira alone from now on.

I am taking a  creative writing class this summer. Some of the exercises are interesting, so I will post the output here from time to tome.

Readers should note that story below contains a particularly nasty word (which the person actually said). If you are offended by smoking, old people or the F word you should not continue reading this post.

****

Charlotte Kauffman massaged her wrinkled hands to ease the arthritis pain. She made a loose fist with her right hand and used it to knead the palm and fingers of her left hand. We sat in wicker rocking chairs, angled toward one another. The wicker made a muted squishing sound as we rocked in silence.

She had stopped talking in the middle of a story about how, in 1952, she decided to transition from acting to directing in what I discerned to be the Manhattan equivalent of community theatre. She constantly rubbed her hands together, stopping frequently to take a long pull from a Pall Mall. She had an elegant and mesmerizing routine of taking a drag from a cigarette, then quickly sucking in to her nostrils a small cloud of smoke which came from nowhere.

I noticed the silence and turned to see that a man named Dennis had captured her attention. He was wearing a black mesh hat with “82nd Airborne Division” written in gold thread on the front. He always wore this hat. He had an astonishing forest of silver and black hair in his ears and eyebrows. He wore thick metal framed glasses and a blue flannel shirt tucked in to black sweat pants. Because Dennis was so short, he was able to stand fully erect as he used his walker to shuffle around. I judged him to be very appealing to the ladies of Autumn Park who would invite him to sit and smoke and flirt.

He plucked yellow and pink tulips from the dirt and held them between his hand and the handle of his walker, which he then pushed back to the sidewalk. He scooted around the front of the porch to its entrance and toward Corrine who was sitting two wicker chairs away from me. She turned her head and pretended to not notice him until he stood in front of her. He pushed his walker aside and held out his white hand which quivered gently. She put her tiny, black hand in his. He pulled her hand to his face and put it against his nose and lips, closed his eyes, kissed it and gave it back to her. He gave her the flowers and she put them in a bag attached to her walker then thanked him by smiling with her mouth and eyes. Dennis motioned to ask if she would join him for lunch. She shook her head no. He motioned again. She reached her hand out and he helped her stand. Their walkers touched several times as they walked side by side through the narrow porch.
I turned back to Charlotte in time to see and hear her inhale a tiny bit of smoke in to her nostrils. She touched her chest gently with the fingers of her right hand and said “Oh that was fucking beautiful.”

On the right hand side of my main page (here) just below the twitter updates is a section called “Tags” which contains a list of words I have chosen to associate with my posts. The more I use a word to tag a post, the bigger it appears in the list – I have written a lot about reading, but not very much about enchiladas. The tags section is visual evidence that I have tagged more posts with the word Jesus than anything else.

Yet I have intentionally not been talkative about what Jesus means to me. This is partially because I have had little to say beyond the feeling that my faith has spent the last several months in the shop for repair.

But there is an even bigger obstacle.

Jesus is hard to write about.

Whenever I try, I tend to scrap the effort because:

  1. I produced a list of things I believe about Jesus. While the list could be interesting (Jesus was masculine), it is usually forgettable because I was hiding behind sarcasm (JEEzuz served Cheetos and KEWL-AID at the last suppr OMG LOL!!!!!) or a too-faithful reproduction of core beliefs from a church website.
  2. The Jesus I wrote about is actually me with a halo.
  3. I wrote the spiritual equivalent of an inside joke – requiring so much background, explanation and summary that the story reveals nothing interesting about myself or Jesus.

Since item #1 in the list above seems like the least of the evils, here is my spiritual output for the day. I would love to read your list too.

I believe that:

  1. God is a hard worker and expects us to work hard too
  2. God is creative
  3. God always leaves opportunity for doubt
  4. God is approachable
  5. God reveals himself and his character through stories and history
  6. Things are not as God would like them to be
  7. Jesus is his solution for #6, but how is not yet fully revealed
  8. Jesus’ death was a game changer
  9. Jesus really walked out of that grave – also a game changer
  10. God is love. But “God is love” is not as comfortable as we want to think it is