The Back Pew: My Short Story Of the Week

THE BACK PEW

 

Alice Goddard attended St. John’s Lutheran her entire life. She was baptized in the eloquent old church twenty-nine years ago by Pastor Stone, who had long since left and later died, rest his soul. She went to Sunday school without falter, took part in Catechism, and was confirmed in the eighth grade—there she publicly vowed her allegiance to Jesus Christ. She later married a man named Richard, whom everyone called ‘Dick,’ when she was twenty-one. They reared two children, Clive and Anthony, during their four years of marriage, and then they divorced. Somehow, Richard got custody of the children. He then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in pursuit of a high school sweetheart.

Alice gave up believing in God around the time the State granted Dick her children, but, as was her custom, she never missed a Church service.

There was a time when her friends would have come to her rescue and taken her mind off so many problems, but they all left town for various reasons or became so busy with their own children that they didn’t have enough time to use the bathroom, let alone tend to her desperate needs.

The current pastors—Hadden, Byus, and Scholfield—each visited her empty home on several occasions, quoting Scripture and inviting her to Church functions, but Alice always presented some reason or another as to why she couldn’t visit such things. She did, however, sit and listen quietly as they reiterated the Gospel and reminded her of the wonderful Christian she had once been. They vowed to her that God was waiting for her to come back to Him, she just had to open her heart again.

But by that point, it was too late. She had already decided that if God was going to turn His back on her, she would do the same.

However, a lifetime of being in a certain room at a certain time could not be broken, so she continued to attend St. John’s, sitting silently in the back pew—alone.

One Sunday, near the end of January, a young man sat in front of her, breaking the boundary the congregation unconsciously established around Alice Goddard. He was apparently a visitor to the church, for Alice had never seen him before. He wore a dark brown sports coat, the kind you could get for under thirty dollars, a pair of jeans, and a plain white shirt. His hair was a deep oatmeal, unkempt, and somewhat greasy.

Pastor Byus began the morning announcements, and then initiated the opening hymn. Alice was certain she could hear the man singing, but it wasn’t nearly loud enough to appoint as a falsetto or baritone. In fact, he seemed to be one of those singers who sang just above a whisper.

She once had a beautiful voice, but she quit making a sound of any sort while at Church, and, frankly, outside of Church as well.

Then came the dreaded moment when all were supposed say, “Peace be with you,” to whomever sat nearby. Fortunately for Alice, as already established, no one ever sat near enough for it to be an issue. None came to her, nor did she make any attempt to go to them.

“Now take a moment to greet those around you,” Pastor Byus prompted.

Alice lowered her eyes and hoped the man would be shy—shy or rude. Either one was fine with her.

No such luck.

He turned to face her with his brown eyes catching the winter sunlight through the windows. She lifted her eyes and noticed his light beard.

“Peace be with you?” he asked while extending his hand. They were ragged and calloused.

He raised an interested eyebrow when she said nothing in return, but instead, literally turned her entire body so that her back was to him. He clenched his outstretched hand into a confused, passive fist, flattened out his modest sports coat, then turned to the people in front of him.

Alice slowly spun back around when the service resumed. She was shocked when the man remained seated at the end of the service.

Again, he turned around slowly, cautiously, and faced her once more. She lifted her eyes until they met his own, but she said nothing—not an apology, not an excuse, nothing.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded once.

“Do you need to talk?”

She shook her head.

“You sure?”

Before Alice could answer, some congregation members stood at the end of the man’s pew, welcoming him to their Church. He smiled politely to Alice, then walked down the length of the pew to converse with them.

Her eyes followed the visitor as he approached those who turned their backs on her. They held a nice conversation with him, laughing and smiling, doing all the things that humans are supposed to do when they take joy in being a Christian and living a Christian life. She’d been one of them once, before everything she loved about her life was ripped away.

The next week, like clockwork, she sat silently in the last pew at the ten-fifteen traditional service. It was Communion Sunday, and this would mark the fifty-fifth consecutive Communion she chose not to receive.

After about four missed Communions, some friends in the Congregation attempted to persuade her to reintroduce Christ into her system again, both spiritually and physically. She instead chose to insult their idealistic, utopian lives and sent them away. Those friends never contacted her again. Alice decided they were total failures as Christians. She didn’t consider herself a disappointment, though. Her disdain for God and Christ was a conscious decision, not some accidental shortcoming due to lack of character.

At any rate, for the second straight Sunday, there was the mysterious man. Wearing the same outfit, he sat down, looked over his shoulder, and nodded at Alice with a sincere but wary smile. She looked away from his kindness, finding it both pretentious and awkward.

There they were, one in front of the other, without any sort of communication at all until the greetings. Once more, he faced her, held out his chapped hands, and said, “Peace be with you.”

This time he uttered it as though an order. His voice was solid, and because of his sureness, she couldn’t help but reach for him. She took his hand and found that it was indeed quite coarse. As they shook hands, she glanced about the Church and saw that the entire Congregation gawked at them.

Her hand shot out of his.

“I’m Josh.”

“Alice,” she mumbled.

“Nice to meet you, Alice.”

Josh was then pulled away by the people in front of him who did not realize what a pivotal moment this was in Alice’s life, for she was about to return the sentiment, making more progress than she had in years. Josh had no choice but to turn and greet those before him in order to grant them peace as well. He would not turn anyone away.

When it came time to arise and take Communion, Alice despised herself when she realized she would take it if only Josh invited her to walk with him.

But, Josh did not invite her, because he did not rise himself.

At the end of the service, Josh stood, stared at Alice for just a moment with a pleasant look upon his face, then said, “It’s nice to see you again.”

“You, too,” she muttered. She forgot how to talk civilly with someone. However, she told the truth. It was nice to see him again.

“Why do you sit back here?” he asked.

Although it strained her to maintain the conversation, she pressed on: “I don’t believe in God anymore.”

He said, “Not really sure what you’re doing here, then.”

She didn’t respond, so he continued by saying, “Yeah, it can be hard, can’t it? I mean, He used to talk to people directly all the time, like it was going on every other day, whereas now, well, not many of us have that sort of familiarity with Him. And His son, wow, that’s a hard one to swallow, too, huh?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her eyes becoming alert.

“Well, they want us to believe that two thousand years ago some guy who was supposed to be God in human form died for our sins? Where’s the proof? I mean, the Bible? That’s the proof? That’s not much for today’s Information Age, is it? Seeing is believing, and no one’s seen Jesus in quite some time.”

Beyond belief, Alice found herself growing argumentative, countering with, “Maybe we see Him more often than we think. Maybe He just doesn’t walk up to us and say, ‘Hey, I’m Jesus, what’s up?’”

“Oh, come on, Alice,” Josh laughed, “you don’t really think Jesus walks among us …”

Before she met Richard, the man many called Dick, she fervently believed such a thing possible—that it was even a fact. Finally, she whispered, “I think He could, maybe He doesn’t, but I think He could.”

Josh walked around his edge of the wooden pew, then sat down next to her. “Alice, you either think He does or He doesn’t, you can’t take a ‘maybe’ position on this.”

Meeting his brown eyes with her own green ones, Alice thought a moment, bit down on her lip, then confessed, “When I was younger, even as a little girl, I swore I saw Jesus sitting here, right where you are now.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Josh chuckled.

“It’s not ridiculous,” she disagreed. “He sat back here all the time. Even at my wedding, I told the ushers not to seat anyone in that spot. Guess what? He walked in just as the ceremony started.”

“Really? What did He wear?” Josh asked.

“Kind of what you’re wearing,” Alice replied.

“Seriously?”

“Of course,” Alice replied. “He always wore nice clothes, I mean, nice enough. Just nice enough to show respect in His Father’s house, but never showy, never too glamorous. You’ve got his style,” she said while narrowing her eyes.

“I dress like this because I’m poor,” Josh answered with a grin, “not because I choose to.”

“What do you do for a living?” she asked.

“Carpenter.”

She felt a wave of euphoria wash over her heart, something she used to believe was the Holy Spirit, and she cried.

“Why are you crying?” Josh asked, reaching out and taking her hand as he did so.

She did not pull away.

“I’ve been telling myself and everyone who would listen to me that I reject God,” she sobbed. “I’m not mad at God. I’m mad a Richard!”

“Don’t most people call him ‘Dick?’”

With laughter and tears, Alice confirmed, “Rightly so.”

“I want you to make me a promise,” Josh demanded while squeezing her hand.

“What?” she asked, paying no heed to the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I want you to sit with your pastors and talk things out. Real talk, no holding back due to pride or resentment. Tell them the truth, even if you think you shouldn’t. Trust me, pastors have made mistakes in their pasts—that’s just part of being human, right? That’s why He died for us, right?”

“Yeah,” Alice choked.

“Good. It’s okay to be mad at God, Alice. Everyone gets mad at God at some point in their lives. But, you can’t stay mad at Him, not if you truly believe. He’s given far more than He will ever take.”

“He took my sons,” Alice cried.

“No, Dick took your sons, and that’s because the judged owed him a favor. You were supposed to appeal his decision, remember? But you didn’t; you lost heart, stopped praying, turned your back on the Church and God, and descended into this shadow of your former self. You came to rely on Dick more than your Creator, and when Dick left, you revoked your entire foundation. But God is always willing to take you back, no matter how long you’ve been away. He’s been waiting.”

“Yes,” Alice responded.

Josh stood up, flattened out his sports jacket, nodded at the pastors who watched incredulously along with the some of the congregation, and called out, “Hey, do you think you could whip up a Communion for her? It’s been a while.”

The pastors all but fell over themselves as they rushed to the front of the Church, and the ushers sprinted as fast as their legs would allow for the materials they needed.

“Will you take it with me?” Alice asked as she held onto his rough hands.

“Me?” he asked with a grin. “Oh, I don’t so.”

“Of course,” Alice said while closing her eyes.

Josh let go of Alice’s hand, then said, “You keep your promise, because God will keep His. Okay?”

“We’re ready,” Pastors Hadden and Schofield said as they stood with joy in their hearts at the front of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

There would be many apologies in the coming weeks, both from Alice and to her as well. For all were in the wrong, and it took only the reminder of their purpose to bring them together again.

“I’ll keep my promise,” Alice pledged before opening her eyes.

“Say ‘hi’ to the kids for me, and even Richard, too,” Josh said before he started to walk away.

As she approached the alter, Alice reminded, “Most people call him ‘Dick.’”

“Rightly so,” Josh said with the flash of a smile. He then moved along.


Copyright © 2005/2020 by Scott William Foley

This story originally appeared as “Sitting Silently In the Back Pew” from The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

The Miscarried: My Short Story Of the Week

TheMiscarried

 

Joseph wobbled through the backyard, jabbing his cane into the soft, grassy earth. His breath left in short, desperate gasps. Finally, he reached the tree at the back of his property. Fifty-three years ago he planted it himself, alone, when it was but a sapling. Back then it had been vulnerable … tiny … and virtually unnoticeable. Likely, no one would have noticed had it disappeared.

Like Quinn disappeared.

But Joseph made sure it thrived. He covered it with sheets during the cold, buckets in the hail, chicken wire when the vermin were flush. He kept the neighborhood children away, made sure the lawn service men were careful, and decreed no pets could move within a twenty-foot radius.

For the first several years of the oak’s life, Joseph spared no effort to thwart every dangerous factor imaginable. The oak had to persist at all costs.

He did for the tree what he could not do for Quinn.

Quinn.

Joseph flung his cane aside, dropped to his knees in front of the tree’s wide base, and then placed his palms against it. His eyes closed as his head lowered.

He heard the birds singing above, the children playing at nearby houses, a mower a block away.

“Hello.”

Joseph’s eyes shot open and he craned his heard toward the source of the sound. The sudden movement discombobulated his sense of balance, and he teetered sideways before a young man with the eyes of Joseph’s wife gently took him by the shoulders and eased him to the plush turf.

Joseph whispered, “Quinn?”

“It’s me.”

Joseph’s eyes glistened in the sunlight peeking through the oak’s leaves. He gasped, “How?”

“A last request,” Quinn replied. The smile he wore upon his face made Joseph’s heart swell.

“I prayed …” Joseph stammered, “… I prayed every night. Every night I prayed that I would get to see you … at least once. I wanted nothing more … It has been my …”

“Your dying wish.” Quinn took Joseph’s hands in his own and said, “You don’t have long.”

“I understand,” Joseph answered as he stared into Quinn’s face. “That’s why I came out here … I wanted to die next to you … your tree.”

Quinn continued to smile, but Joseph noticed the young man’s throat hitched a little.

“Most people,” Quinn began, “they’d mourn, but they’d forget. You could have wished to see anyone—your wife, your other children, your own parents.”

Shaking his head, Joseph rebutted, “I knew I’d see them again.”

Quinn raised an eyebrow.

“I know, son. I know. I wanted to believe I’d see you, too, but I couldn’t be sure. No one could tell me. I talked to our priest, I asked theology professors, I did everything I could to get an answer, but no one could give me one. So I prayed, and I wished, and I hoped for mercy.”

“And now you have it,” Quinn replied.

“So you were a boy,” Joseph chuckled. “Your mother was right.”

“You use ‘Quinn’ because of the neutrality. This is how you’ve always imagined me.”

Joseph lurched, grabbed his chest, and then eased forward into his child’s arms. He said, “I loved you the moment I found out about you. I never stopped. Not once.”

Quinn rested his chin atop Joseph’s head, looked at a caterpillar upon a fallen leaf, and said, “I know.”

Joseph leaned against the old oak, his heart finally at rest.


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Why We Won: My Short Story Of the Week

WHYWEWONCOVER

I wore an inappropriate shade of pink, especially for the starting quarterback of a state championship game. Looking back, I guess it was a minor miracle that, at seventeen, I managed the laundry at all.

Truth be told, I really didn’t care that night about my pink pants, and neither did anyone else on the team. We kept our minds focused on one thing—one thing only.

My mom had been sick for years … a lot of years. She did what she could for as long as she could, but her body eventually quit on her. When that happened, I took over. I cooked, cleaned the house, handled the odd jobs, and, obviously, did the laundry. The guys usually came over to help out. They knew my mom well by our senior year. Although she barely had any strength to speak, she used it to encourage them, to prop them up, to love them.

My dirtbag dad wasn’t in the picture, but if you want to know how I felt about him, I imagined the back of his bald head every time I passed the football.

My station in life alarmed the other guys’ parents. My intensity and its influence upon their sons scared them. But my squad … they knew what I was about. It didn’t bother them if I didn’t smile much or crack jokes. They understood that I played every game believing that if we won, my mom might win as well. They knew I believed it, and so they believed it, too. She wanted us to win; we wanted her to live. It proved a simple equation.

We started winning state championships in junior high, the same season my mom first got sick. She could still walk at that point. She marched right into practice, asked the coaches to leave, explained her diagnoses, and then demanded that we win as many games as we could before she died.

We didn’t lose after that. Not a single game.

As a testament to my brothers’ solidarity, the newspapers, the coaches, the teachers, the other parents, our opposition … they never got wind of it. If a guy left the team for whatever reason, he kept his mouth shut. They honored the pact made with my mother.

No one talked about why we won.

We just won.

And my mom lived.

But that night during our senior year, when I wore pink pants at the championship game, we didn’t just win, we destroyed our competition. We broke their bones, we broke their will, and we broke their spirit to ever play the game again. We were later described as a pack of demons, monsters intent on crippling someone. They thought we played for Death himself, but it was actually the opposite.

My teammates knew I stayed up at night worrying about the ramifications of our final game. Naturally, our streak had to end. We talked about trying to make the same college team, but even the most optimistic of us grasped the impossibility of such a thing. During a private club meeting, we decided that if we played hard enough at the championship game, if we beat the other team badly enough, if we made God take notice of our victory, it might earn my mom a couple of extra years.

It didn’t.

Thirty years have passed since she succumbed to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. After high school, I tried walking onto my college’s team, but I didn’t really want to play at winning anymore. At least, not in regards to football. I wanted to win for real. Not at a game, but at life. My dad showed me how to quit. My mom taught me how to fight until the last breath.

Her life insurance paid for my schooling and then allowed me to open a business. I returned to my hometown, married a teacher new to the area, and started a family. Though I resembled my dad, that’s all I had in common with the bastard. I liked being a family man.

Most of the guys came back for our thirtieth reunion. After the official ceremony at the high school, I invited them to my restaurant. They all made good in their own way. Every single one of them could count themselves a success.

We got to talking and each revealed the secret of their achievements. They said it was my mom and me. Watching me fight for my mom, watching my mom fight for life, it gave them perspective. Whenever they faced an obstacle, they tackled it with my mom’s tenacity.

I couldn’t believe it. These men, my brothers, cared about my mother—about me—so deeply, that even after thirty years, long after leaving the turf behind, they still fought and won on our behalf.

After the reunion, I decided to volunteer with the local football team. They’ve lost for far too long. I’m going to tell them about my mom. I’m going to ask them what’s going on in their lives that they need to beat.

I’m going to help them find a reason to win.

 


Copyright © 2013/2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Wake Up and Dream Again

Most of you know that I’m an educator by day.  It’s provided a wonderful life for my family and me thus far.  You also know, however, that I’ve been chasing a dream for damn near twenty years now.

At the start of every semester, when I get a new batch of seniors, I give them what’s meant to be an inspirational talk regarding their future.  I remind them that, if they have a dream, there is no better time to pursue it than the immediate future.  Most of them have no dependents, few responsibilities, and nothing holding them back.  I talk to them about the fact that when they are old, like me [wink, wink], and have children, a house, cars, bills, and that sort of thing, well, that’s not exactly the time to take a big risk.  You can’t gamble everything when you’ve got people depending on you to maintain a certain lifestyle.  I think it works fairly well with my students and it appears to get them fired up and excited about their futures.

But, I wasn’t totally being honest with them.

You see, it’s never too late to achieve a dream.  Not really.

Sure, you have to be a little smarter about it the older you are, but there’s no reason not to go for it.  You may have to be more conservative, a bit more grounded, but that’s no reason not to try.  You should never give up.

I firmly believe each and every one of us is put on this planet to achieve something unique.  Most of us, if I may be so bold, settle on sleepwalking through adulthood, though.  We use our children as crutches–we’re too busy building their futures to think about our own.  Here’s the thing: yes, you absolutely have a responsibility to provide the best life and the brightest future possible for your children, but you’re doing them a disservice if you give up on your own aspirations in the process.  Children listen to our words, but they learn through our actions.  If you want them to dream big, then you’ve got to dream big yourself.  If you want them to fight to achieve their goals, then you must do the same.

A lot of us are also just too tired at the end of the work day to do anything extra.  Look, we have to work, I get it.  I have to work, too.  But I’m wiling to bet most of us derive at the very least some joy from our careers.  Some of us adore our jobs even.  If your job is your dream, then that’s wonderful.  I say try to push even harder.  What else can you do within that job that gives you even more satisfaction?  Not commendations, but actual satisfaction?  Try to take it to the next level.

I’m telling you, we are not meant to sleep through life.  We are meant to hope, to aspire, to dream from the day we’re born to the day we die.  We have such beautiful, creative, complicated minds.  Our brains want to be exercised.  Our spirits want to be put to the test.  Our bodies want to live.  Watching TV after the kids are in bed night after night after night after night–we can be more than that.

Did you ever want to try dancing?  Singing?  Writing?  Hunting?  Stand-up comedy?  Pottery making?  Interior design?  Gourmet cooking?

Try it.  Whatever it is, take a risk.  See what you’re made of.  Don’t be afraid to fail.

Did you love doing something in your youth that got away from you because of adulthood?

You can go home again.  Go back.  Do it again.

But temper your expectations.  Don’t expect to get famous.  Don’t plan on setting the world on fire.  Don’t even expect anyone to actually care.  Just do it for the joy.

The joy.

We don’t do enough for the sake of joy, do we?

Go get that gourmet cookbook from the library.  Sign up for that dance class.  Hit an open mic night at the local club.  Join a rec league and play in your age bracket.  Publish your writing on a blog that you maintain.  In this day and age, anything is possible.  It just takes time, effort, and desire.

Wake up and start dreaming again.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Stuck Inside On This Snowy Day? Let Me Help With That!

Stuck inside on this snowy day?  Let me help with that!  I would love it if you downloaded my e-book series entitled Dr. Nekros.  Each installment is only ninety-nine cents.  That’s almost five hundred pages of writing for less than three dollars!  It’s available on both the Nook and the Kindle–remember, these are free apps on your phone.  Trust me, at first you’ll love to hate the good doctor, but in the end, you’ll hate to love him.

Find all three books at this link: https://scottwilliamfoley.com/

Don’t have time for an entire book?  No worries–I understand.  I also have many, many short stories available for your Nook and Kindle as well.  Though I write in a variety of genres, they all focus on that which we all have in common–our humanity.  Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, some will make you think, and others will make you hide under the covers.  I promise you, though, each will entertain.  They are also only ninety-nine cents each.

Click the following link to find them all: https://scottwilliamfoley.com/e-book-store/

As always, thank you for your readership.

StandingBookshelfHandsFolded

Win a Free Book!

Enter to win a free copy of my short story collection, The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II!  This collection has stories such as fantasy, realism, horror, science fiction, humor, inspirational, and historical fiction.  It literally has something for everyone!

All you have to do is email me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com with “I Want To Win!” in the subject line.  I’ll then drop your name into a hat, and on Halloween night I’ll randomly select FIVE winners!  I’ll personally email the winners to congratulate them and get their home address for free shipping.  First names of the winners will be posted on my website, so you can check back there next Saturday for the results.

As always, there are a few rules:

  • You must live within the United States to win (due to the free shipping).
  • If you win, you agree to write an objective review (at least ten words) of The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com within six months. You also allow me the right to quote your review at my own website. What happens if you win and don’t write a review? I’ll chase you down with a wet noodle, that’s what happens!
  • If you participate in the contest, you will receive my monthly e-newsletter and sporadic updates which you are free to read or delete at your discretion.

I hope to hear from you soon, and good luck!

Regards,
Scott William Foley