Drive By: A Short Story

 

I stand by the window, looking out, watching my daughter play in the front yard.

My heart fills with dread.

They should be here any minute.

Should being the operative word.

Will they come?

Why should they?

I’m amazed how everyone seems to know everyone—everyone but me. How do they all know each other? Our kids are in third grade. When I was a kid, if my classmates didn’t live in the neighborhood, my parents didn’t know their parents at all.

I seem to be the only one upholding that tradition. How would I even begin to meet the other kids’ parents? PTO? Sports?

I honestly have no idea.

I don’t want my daughter to pay for my ignorance. She’s going to be the outcast. The weirdo. The kid with the dad who’s clueless about throwing birthday parties under ordinary circumstances. But during a pandemic? Hopeless.

When the mom emailed, my instinct said not to trust her.

She wanted to organize a birthday parade for my daughter. She said my daughter’s teacher asked her to do it, which is also how she got my email address. She said she’d be happy to lend a hand—I just needed to make sure my daughter hung out in the front yard at a certain time. She included her phone number and asked me to call.

I did.

It wasn’t bad, but it was awful.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to it. I asked if I could assist, and—to my relief—she said not to worry about a thing.

Why?

She doesn’t know me. I’m not even sure she knows my daughter. She owes me nothing—no favors, no kindness, no mercy. Yet, she supposedly got in touch with all the kids’ families and set up a parade.

But what if she didn’t? What if she changed her mind? What if she got busy with her actual friends or her real commitments?

I’m expected to trust her without knowing her.

Maybe I should have just thrown a party. Screw it. Get the bouncy house. Hire the clown. Order pizza. Invite the entire third grade to our backyard. Pandemic be damned.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It would have been hard when things were normal—but I would have done it. I keep telling myself I would have bitten the bullet and hosted a party.

But now? I can’t bring myself to take that risk. No matter how unlikely, I can’t jeopardize my daughter’s health.

The neighborhood thinks I’m a freak for taking this so seriously. My daughter will likely be ostracized for the rest of her school years because of me. She’ll be the kid with the nutty dad. The house nobody wants to come visit. She won’t be invited places because no one will want to deal with me.

What they must think—all those normal parents. I can’t even organize a birthday parade on my own.

What’s wrong with me?

I watch my daughter.

She’s the only bright spot in my life. The only thing I got right. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not equipped for parenthood. It doesn’t come naturally. I never expected to be doing it alone.

I watch her.

My heart is full of joy, fear, confusion, love, anxiety, and happiness all at once.

Tears zigzag down my face.

For the longest time, nothing happens but the hitch of my chest.

And then I hear it—a blaring of horns. I see my daughter begin to jump up and down, waving her arms. Cars and minivans appear. Most have balloons attached. Some even have her name written on the sides, wishing her a happy birthday.

She looks at me through the window, gestures for me to come outside, and then goes back to jumping for joy.

I wipe off the tears, walk to the front door, and reach for the knob.


 

Copyright © 2020 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.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes – A Book Review

ghostboys

Though this book is aimed at young readers in terms of sentence complexity, the plot and themes of Ghost Boys are so important that I believe adults would benefit from reading it as well.

Ghost Boys is about a young black boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer. The aftermath of his murder involves Jerome’s family, his best friend, the police officer, the police officer’s family, and the multitude of young black men and boys who previously died under similar circumstances.

However, the book does not progress in a linear fashion. It alternates between when Jerome was alive and when he’s not. By using this method, Jewell Parker Rhodes builds suspense and keeps the reader enthralled.

I think Ghost Boys is an excellent book for introducing young readers to the very real racism that still plagues our country to this day. It offers a glimpse into the racist murders of black children dating back decades, even centuries, and it does not shy away from pointing out that murders motivated by racism have yet to end.

Ghost Boys delves deeply into the fact that real change cannot occur without acknowledging racism and the horrors that it perpetuates. Yet it does so through simple paragraphs and a very fast pace.

Jerome’s death is vividly described, but it does not cross the line. Young readers need to understand the awful implications of gun violence. I think Rhodes does a fine job of respecting young people enough to avoid pulling punches without drifting into the overtly gratuitous.

Ghost Boys is the kind of book that can foster change. I encourage you to read it, allow your middle or high school child to read it, and then discuss it together afterwards.

Crisis: My Short Story Of the Week

crisis

 

“He’s dying, damn it, and he’s all alone!”

“Mom—he’s not alone.”

Holly looked at her nineteen-year-old daughter through narrowed eyes. She held her cell phone in both hands after hanging up with the hospital as she stood next to the kitchen island.

“He’s not alone? Abby, what are you talking about?” Holly demanded.

Just a few feet away, standing by the kitchen table, Abby put her own cell phone down and replied, “Dad’s not alone—you know that.”

“Really?” Holly seethed with her head tilted. “Who’s with him, then?”

Abby answered, “Jesus.”

Throwing her chin back, Holly groaned, “Christ almighty.”

After folding her arms, Abby declared, “Exactly.”

Holly stomped past her daughter before plopping down on the living room couch. With her elbows upon her knees, she dropped her head into her hands.

Abby did not move from her spot, nor did she unfold her arms. She questioned, “You know that, right?”

Holly murmured into her palms, “Yes, I know. But your father needs more than that. He needs us.”

Abby lifted her eyebrows just a bit as she asked, “He needs more than Jesus? Before the coma, when they kicked everyone out of the hospital, Dad texted me. He said he wasn’t afraid. He cited Psalm 23.”

Holly lifted her head up and stared at her daughter. “I really don’t want to hear about the valley of Death right now, okay?”

“Are you worried about him?” Abby asked.

“What’s the matter with you?” Holly spat. “Of course, I’m worried about him! The doctor said he’s not going to make it!”

“But Dad’s okay with that,” Abby said as she unfolded her arms and shrugged her shoulders. “He wants to go to Heaven. That’s what we all want, right?”

“God,” Holly mumbled. “You go off to college and become a theology expert …”

“No,” Abby answered a little coldly. “I’m not a theology expert; I’m just repeating everything you taught me. What’s the matter with you?”

Holly jumped from the couch, pointed at Abby, and screamed, “Your father is dying! My husband is dying—alone, in a coma, suffocating—and nobody cares! Our own daughter doesn’t care!”

Abby put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. Once she had control, she said, “I care. I care very much. But you and Dad taught me to believe, to have faith, and to accept Christ into my heart. You taught me to do these things so we could one day reach Heaven and join Him in all His glory. Are you saying you don’t actually believe those things?”

Holly fell to her knees and began to cry. Between sobs, she said, “Those are just things we tell kids … children’s stories …”

Abby stood her ground. “That’s not true. Not to me. Not to Dad.”

Unable to meet her daughter’s eyes, Holly remained on her knees with her head hung low.

“I don’t understand you,” Abby confessed. “You were our youth group sponsor. We prayed together every dinner—every night before bed. You got me up every Sunday for church. I don’t …”

“Those things …” Holly began as she fought to stifle her tears, “… they were just the right thing to do. I wanted to raise you … right.”

With eyes widened, Abby asked, “Are you saying you never actually believed?”

Holly faced her daughter again. Tears ran down her cheeks and her throat hitched. As she started to answer, Abby interrupted her.

“Don’t,” Abby said. “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to answer.”

Abby moved toward her mother, dropped to her knees as well, and wrapped her arms around her.

The daughter placed her head atop the mother’s and squeezed tightly.

“You’re upset. No matter what, I know Jesus is sitting with Dad right now, holding his hand. And Dad knows it, too. He’s not afraid. He’s joyful.”

Holly whispered, “I hope you’re right.”

The two women remained on the floor, hugging one another, waiting for the call.


Copyright © 2020 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.

In This: My Short Story Of the Week

IN THIS

Dr. Timothy Walker tried to enter the grocery store on the wrong side. After a long day at work, he’d forgotten that they had recently established a designated “entrance” and “exit.”

As he walked along the storefront, he pulled out his cell phone and cued up the list his wife sent him. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long.

Once he grabbed a basket, Dr. Walker made his way to the produce. His kids were out of Honeycrisp apples—basically the only fruit they’d eat. Next, he made his way to the carrots, which, as you probably guessed, was their vegetable of choice.

The store had plenty of both. He wondered if he’d be so lucky in the toilet paper aisle.

Dr. Walker double-checked his screen for the next item. As he did so, he noticed a man walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Dr. Walker realized the stranger aimed to confront him.

But why? Dr. Walker still wore his surgical mask along with his scrubs—there’s no way anyone could recognize him. Could it be the mask? Dr. Walker noticed the man did not wear one. Perhaps he was desperate and planned to steal Dr. Walker’s.

Dr. Walker turned to face the man with his phone positioned upright at the waist and recording. If he was about to be attacked, he would be sure to collect evidence. His free hand balled into a fist. Something about the man’s intensity set him on edge.

When it seemed obvious the man did not intend to honor six feet of distance, Dr. Walker ordered, “Stop there.”

“What?” the man asked.

“Just, stop there, okay?”

The man said, “I want to say something to you.”

“Okay,” Dr. Walker replied. “Go ahead. Just, don’t get any closer, all right?”

“Yeah, okay. Yeah—you’re right. Sorry about that.”

Dr. Walker stared at the man from behind his surgical mask.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said.

“What?”

The man continued, saying, “Yeah, you know, you guys, you’re all out there, on the front lines, protecting us all—keeping us healthy, saving our lives. So, thank you.”

Dr. Walker stammered, “Er—You’re welcome. Of course. It’s just that—”

“No, no,” the man interrupted. “Don’t be humble. I know you’ll say you’re just doing your job. But you’re not just doing your job. You could have quit. You could have walked away. But you didn’t. All of you—all the doctors and nurses—you’re all putting your lives on the line for us. Thank you. Thank you all.”

The man’s eyes got misty at the conclusion of his statement.

“I … It’s an honor,” Dr. Walker said. “I should probably tell you, though—”

The man asked, “Can I shake your hand?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Walker replied.

“You’re right. That was dumb. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to shopping. Doc, if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”

Dr. Walker replied, “I need you to wear a mask, friend.”

“Yes! Yes, as soon as I get home, I’m going to make one. I saw a thing on YouTube about turning a jock strap into a mask.”

Dr. Walker said, “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. A tee shirt would work just as—”

“God bless you, doctor! Good luck. I’ll keep you all in my prayers!”

The man walked away. Dr. Walker watched him for a few moments. The man didn’t have a cart or a basket, he just collected items in his arms as he strolled along.

Dr. Walker continued shopping and, as fate would have it, found a mega-pack of toilet paper. It wouldn’t fit in his basket, though, so he had to wedge it between his left arm and his body as he made his way to the cash register.

As she rang him up, Dr. Walker made pleasantries with the woman behind the plexiglass. The young man bagging his groceries was far too close, but what could they do? They both wore masks, so Dr. Walker deemed it an acceptable risk.

“Doc, one last time—thank you, brother! You’re saving lives!”

Dr. Walker looked over to see the man from earlier walking by on his way to the self-checkout units. He couldn’t wave to Dr. Walker because his arms were full of groceries, so he tried to lift his chin higher and higher as he smiled.

Though the man couldn’t see it, Dr. Walker beamed from ear to ear while giving him the “thumbs-up” as he said, “We’re all in this together, my friend. Thank you for the love. Much appreciated.”

The cashier asked, “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Walker replied.

“So, you’re, like, treating people with the Covid?”

“No,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m a podiatrist.”

“Yeah, but,” the bagger began, “that guy acted like you were in the thick of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Dr. Walker confirmed. “I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t let me finish. It was so heartfelt; I just decided to go with it.”

“But …” the woman began. She was too polite to finish her thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “I got the whole thing on video. I may not be on the front lines, but I have plenty of friends who are. That guy is going to make their day.”


Copyright © 2020 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.

Lovebirds: My Short Story Of the Week

Lovebirds

 

Bob Lyons walked into the kitchen, his blue, denim shirt soaked in sweat and peppered with twigs, leaves, and dirt. Paula, his wife, bent at the waist and peered under the sink in search of something. Because the basin had nearly filled with hot water and soap bubbles threatened to overflow, it seemed she’d been hunting longer than intended.

“Need these?” Bob asked in a gravelly voice while peeling Paula’s dishwashing gloves off of his hands and tossing them onto the adjacent counter. He ran callused fingers through his damp, thinning flattop before wiping his forehead with a blue and white bandana that he had pulled out from his back pocket.

Paula, irritated that Bob had obviously used her gloves for something other than washing dishes, huffed before embarking upon her chore without the benefit of protective latex.

Shuffling to the cupboard, Bob removed an old mason jar. Next, he invaded Paula’s space by reaching past her and turning on the faucet. He filled his jar with cold tap water and then left her in peace when he sat at the nearby table.

While rubbing and scrubbing away grease and grime, Paula mumbled, “So you couldn’t resist poking your nose in, huh?”

Bob clenched his jaw, thumbed at a dent in the table, and uttered, “They were making a mess of things. It’s like they don’t have any sense. They needed my help.”

Paula encountered a particularly resilient chunk of grease and, as she threw her whole body into scouring it, grunted, “They’ll never learn if you do it for them.”

“I know,” Bob sighed. “I didn’t have any choice. They’ve got babies on the way and they weren’t about to have their home ready in time.”

Paula finally offered Bob her full attention. Her shoulders hunched, exhausted from battling the pots and pans, when she lectured, “And what happens next time? What will they do if they have to face the world without you?”

Staring at his wife, Bob gripped his empty mason jar, his fingers whitening from the pressure, and returned, “You’ve been watching them through the window just like I have, Paula. We both know there wouldn’t be a next time if I didn’t do something this time.”

Taking his jar, Paula rinsed it off before setting it on the drying rack with the other dishware.

Her silence spoke volumes, and so Bob stood, yanked on the pants that no belt could keep affixed around his narrow waist, and mumbled, “Come see for your own self, then.”

Paula trailed her lanky husband as he led her through their humble home. They arrived in the living room. Bob pointed through their picture window.

“You see that?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Folding his arms, Bob griped, “Before I gave them a hand, that place was a disaster.”

“I take it you waited for them to leave.”

Bob answered, “I couldn’t very well work on it while they were home, could I?”

Leaning in closer to the window, Paula ignored her husband’s sarcasm and questioned, “So what did you do?”

Agitated that his handiwork did not speak for itself, Bob gruffly informed, “They had so many holes going on, you could have driven a truck through it. Their sticks were too small, and neither one of them can weave worth a nickel. They left everything loose as a goose, and to top it all off, they had a plastic bag just stuck in there, unsecured.”

Paula rolled her eyes and groaned, “So now I know what they did wrong, but I still haven’t heard what you did right.”

“I’m getting to it,” Bob spat. “I took some good, thick grass and patched up their holes. Then I rounded out the innards so that something could actually sit in there. Finally, I reinforced its base with some twine, fastening it every which way to the surrounding branches. Thanks to me, a tornado couldn’t budge that thing.”

Deciding to swallow several barbed comments, Paula instead tugged on her left pearl earring, an heirloom bequeathed by her long-departed grandmother, and asked, “And you think they’ll still use it, even after you fiddled with it?”

A smile emerged upon Bob’s face, so diminutive it could have been just another crack or crevice. He said, “That’s why I wore the dishwashing gloves.”

Feeling her hands already chapping, Paula thought of the soiled gloves that contaminated her counter, next to the drying, clean dishes, and grumbled, “I suppose that means I’ll be visiting the store soon …”

Then, as an afterthought, she noted, “You need a shower.”

♥♥♥

A few days later, Bob and Paula rolled out of bed just after daybreak. As was usually the case, before Bob made his coffee or Paula read her email, they overcame their stiff joints and stumbled into the living room in order to check up on the lovebirds.

Though the bright red male and his dowdy mate weren’t home, probably thanks to the old couple’s plodding along the hardwood floor, Bob and Paula looked through their window, examined their Japanese maple, and discerned four gray eggs covered in brown and black flecks lying within the nest.

Plainly pleased that the eggs appeared safe and sound, Bob rubbed the back of his neck, working out the rigidity, and said, “You know, cardinals can live for over ten years, and they tend to stay in the same area.”

Paula chuckled while replying, “Then let’s hope they’re as good of neighbors to us as you are to them.”

She turned around, wrapped her housecoat more tightly about her torso, and began the journey through the house to the computer room. Before Paula left the living room, however, she abruptly spun and returned to her husband. Pecking him on the stubbly cheek, she whispered into his ear, “You’re a fine man.”

Bob nodded in return, feeling a surge of warmth throughout his body.


Copyright © 2009 Scott William Foley

Originally appeared in the August, 2009, issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

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 to the story.

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.

 

George Winthrop Jr. Park: My Short Story Of the Week

WinthropCoverI

“Look, there he is,” Krystal groaned.

Ben said, “Every Tuesday! What’s the creep doing at a children’s park?”

Andrea said, “It’d be different if he brought a grandchild or something, but he just sits there watching the kids play in their bathing suits. It’s weird!”

“We’ve done nothing about it this whole summer,” Lisa said. “We should confront him. We need to let him know we’re on to him. We can’t tolerate it.”

“Totally,” Ben replied. “Doesn’t he realize we see him gawking at our kids? He’s lucky we haven’t turned him over to the cops!”

“So go tell him, Ben,” Krystal said. “We shouldn’t put this off any longer, and it’ll sound more impressive coming from you.”

“Why?” Ben asked. “Because I’m a man?”

“No,” Krystal answered. “It’s because you’re super tall and probably three hundred pounds.”

“Two-fifty,” Ben huffed while getting to his feet. “Keep an eye on my Lacy, would you?”

Lisa smiled and said, “You bet, Ben. Good luck. We’ll be here if things get out of hand.”

Ben followed the water area’s perimeter. Toddlers ran from spout to bucket to spray gun, laughing all the while. Ben had joined Lisa, Krystal, and Andrea’s Tuesday play group after meeting them at church. Throughout the summer, they’d convened weekly at George Winthrop Jr. Park, and without fail, they’d seen the old man haunting a bench, speaking to no one, and ogling the children.

As Ben approached, he saw that the old man wore a battered fireman’s cap and black-rimmed glasses, as well as a white shirt and blue jeans. He also had a thermos. Ben could only imagine its contents.

The man in question didn’t notice Ben’s advancement.

“Hey,” Ben called out.

The man’s head snapped away from the children and he studied Ben a moment, careful to avoid eye-contact. With a face devoid of friendliness, he mumbled, “Howdy.”

No stranger to confrontation, Ben got right to the point by saying, “My friends and I notice that you come here a lot.”

“Yep,” the old man replied.

“Every Tuesday, in fact,” Ben said.

“Just like you and yours,” the man pointed out.

Ben chuckled a little before replying, “Yeah, but we bring our kids with us.”

The old man went back to watching the children as he spat, “That right?”

Folding his arms across his wide chest, Ben answered, “Yeah, man. That’s right.”

Without looking at Ben, the man said, “I used to bring my kid to this park—every Tuesday. This was back before it had all the fancy water guns and such, back when it was still called Evergreen Park. It was a long time ago, probably before you were born.”

“I don’t really care,” Ben replied.  “I do care about my kid’s safety, though, and I want to know what you’re doi—”

“People are funny nowadays,” the man interrupted.  “They don’t think. They don’t think about the past or the future; they only think about the present. They get a notion, and they act on it, lickety-split.”

“Look,” Ben said, “I don’t have time to listen to you rant, okay? I just wanted to give you fair warning: we don’t like you watching our k—”

“You probably don’t even know who George Winthrop Jr. is, do you?”

Furrowing his brow, Ben got caught off guard. He stammered, “W-What? No. Who cares about George Winthrop Jr.? He doesn’t matter. It’s just a park.”

The old man laughed before grumbling, “He doesn’t matter, huh? He sure mattered to Travis and Becky Swan. They had a little girl, about three years old, and she got trapped in her bedroom during a house fire. George Winthrop Jr. was a fireman, and he saved that little girl’s life. He died doing it, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get it done. The Swan girl got a little burned on her legs, but she went on to grow up and have a few kids of her own. Last I heard, she’s teaching elementary school up north.”

“Cool,” Ben muttered, “so they changed the name of the park in honor of the fireman, I get it. What’s your point?”

“Ha!” the old man cackled. “They changed it all right, but only after I hounded them for three solid years. A man gives his life saving a baby, and the city makes you jump through a thousand hoops just to give that man a little recognition. Then, a few more years go by, and before you know it, nobody even remembers who the park is named after.”

Ben’s cheeks grew hot as he began to understand.

The man continued, “Well, I’ll always remember who this park is named after, I can tell you that much. My boy loved this park, and I know he’d love seeing all these kids enjoying it, too. Like I said, I brought him here every Tuesday, my only day off, and I don’t aim to quit coming any time soon. Sometimes I can feel him sitting right on this bench next to me, and we watch the kids together, and we understand that he did right that night—saving that Swan girl. I miss him terrible, but he did the right thing, and I’m proud as hell of him.”

Swallowing hard, Ben extended his hand and said, “I’m Ben Silvestri. Would you care to join my friends and me? You could meet our kids and maybe tell us a little bit more about your son.”

The old man looked Ben in the eyes for the first time, and then, with his face brightening, said, “I’d like that.”

He then shook Ben’s hand while saying, “I’m George Winthrop.”


Copyright © 2009/2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. . This story first appeared in the September 2009 issue of News and Views For the Young at Heart.

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.

 

A Christmas Confrontation: My Short Story Of the Week

AChristmasConfrontationCover

James Henderson shook the snow from his overcoat and dress shoes as he entered the mammoth church. In his opinion—with the food court, café, gift shop, and free Wi-Fi—it had more in common with a shopping mall. His left hand clung to a hot pink flier so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

James pounded through the lobby, but the grey carpet devoured his stomps, rendering them ineffectual. Teenagers loitered around everywhere. Some were working on homework, but most were playing on their phones or gossiping. Nearly all of them clutched a coffee of some sort. They obviously came straight over once school dismissed. This fact only served to enrage James all the more.

He stopped one of them, a boy whose hair hid his eyes, and demanded to know the location of the youth minister’s office. After a muffled response, James headed in the appropriate direction. He hadn’t bothered to wipe his feet, and so he left cold, wet tracks.

The particular door he sought stood wide open. James burst into the office without knocking or announcing himself in any way. He discovered an older man sitting at a desk, listening to a radio show while tapping away on his laptop. The man wore a white Chicago Bears hat, a red pullover, and a silver wedding ring. The office was adorned with posters promoting musical groups unfamiliar to James—names like Switchfoot, Third Day, and David Crowder Band.

Before the older man could even look up, James huffed, “My name’s James Henderson, and I expect a word with Marty Yaple.”

The other man didn’t seem startled by the rash intrusion whatsoever, as though unexpected outbursts were an everyday occurrence. He smiled and said, “You’re looking at him.”

“No,” James said. “I want to see Marty Yaple, the youth minister.”

“Yeah, that’s still me. I’m Marty.”

James squinted at the man, prompting Marty to say, “Ministering to youth doesn’t mean the minister has to be young in body, though being young in spirit helps. I really am Marty Yaple. Now, what can I do for you?”

As James rushed across the room and slammed the pink flier down upon Marty’s desk, the youth minster pushed a button on his laptop. This brought the radio show to an end.

“You’re responsible for this,” James seethed.

Marty looked at the flier, then said, “I take it you don’t like the event.”

“No, Mr. Yaple—”

“Call me Marty—”

“Mr. Yaple, I do not like the event one bit. Get Jiggy With Jesus’ Birthday. It’s sacrilegious.”

Having had many experiences over the years with people of all temperaments, Marty remembered to keep his cool. “We’re celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve. Jiggy denotes joy, dancing, and celebration. Where’s the blasphemy in that?”

Scooping the flier back up, James read, “Live music, dancing, pizza, video games.” With his nostrils flaring and a vein above his left brow visibly throbbing, he interrogated, “Where’s Communion? Candles? Hymns? What about a sermon? You don’t mention anything that remotely gives the impression of worship.”

Marty felt his cheeks flush ever so slightly as he said, “Well, to be fair, Mr. Henderson, we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth. We will pray as a group, of course, and I always encourage independent prayer as well, but we want it to be a party. We’ll address those things you mentioned the next day during regular service, but our youth Christmas Eve event is all about celebrating Jesus’ arrival into the world and our hearts by throwing a party.”

Skepticism shrouded James’ face. Marty witnessed the look a thousand times during his years of service. Waving the flier back and forth as though aflame, James growled, “My thirteen-year-old daughter brought this home yesterday. One of her friends, a member of your youth group, gave it to her. She wants to come.”

“Wonderful!” Marty exclaimed.

“Wrong, Mr. Yaple. My wife and I have taken her to our church’s Christmas Eve service since she was a little girl. Now that tradition will come to an end over pizza and live music? Our family will spend its first Christmas Eve apart over some gimmick? How can you justify the turmoil you’re bringing into my family by catering to the whims of children?”

Though a Godly man, Marty felt anger swell up inside his chest. He didn’t deny it; instead, he overcame it. He said, “My goal as youth minister is to bring children to Christ so that they may then bring their future children to Christ. You may not like my methodology, but I firmly believe Christmas is about Jesus; we want to celebrate Him.”

Marty noticed that James’ expression softened as he continued with, “Look, Mr. Henderson, we’re both Christians. We may not have the same ideologies, but we both believe in Christ and want your daughter to celebrate Him. Now, we’d love to have her join us, but as long as she’s acknowledging His birth, I’m a happy man wherever she is.”

And then Marty spotted it.

Up until that point, he believed he saw anger in James’ eyes. But he was mistaken. It was not anger James suffered, but pain. Marty, being the father of three grown women, finally realized what was at the heart of this confrontation.

Marty asked, “You said your daughter is thirteen?”

James nodded with averted eyes placed upon a nearby cross.

“I remember those days. That’s around the time they realize we’re not infallible; that maybe our way isn’t always the best. And then something like this comes along, and you ask yourself, ‘Man, if she’s willing to break a Christmas tradition of all things, what’s next?’ And that thought scares the hell out of you, just like it did me.”

When James looked at Marty once more, the old youth minister saw tears.

“She’s going to grow up, James, and she’s going to live a life without you there by her side. Trust me, there’s not a thing you can do to stop it, nor should you. But just remember Proverbs: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’”

“That’s from the King James version,” James said.

“It is,” Marty replied.

“I assumed you to be an NIV man.”

Marty grinned and said, “Well, I’m kind of traditional in that regard.”

James laughed a little. It was enough to convince Marty that a resolution arrived.

“Go home and talk to your daughter, James,” Marty said. “Believe me, if you sit down and tell her your concerns, all of them, even the ones that make you look weak, emotional, and fearful, she’ll listen. And then you have to do the same for her. But know that whatever decision you both make, it’ll be the right one. Because wherever she is that night, she’ll recognize the true meaning of Christmas.”

James took a deep breath, extended his hand, and then, after a manly shake, apologized for his behavior. He went home to follow Marty’s advice.

While he resumed his Internet radio show, Marty chuckled to himself. He suddenly realized that at his age, he was a youth minister to just about everyone.


Copyright © 2009/2019 by Scott William Foley

This work originally published in the December 2009 edition of News and Views for the Young at Heart

This book 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.

Depths: My Short Story Of the Week

Depths

“Mr. Ben?”

“Yeah, Raph?”

“I prefer my full name, Mr. Ben.”

“My apologies, Raphael. What’s up?”

Children surrounded a plastic banquet table as they toiled away at a craft pertaining to Jonah and the whale. The Youth Ministry Team created an engineering marvel in which the Sunday school students could color a previously manufactured Jonah, affix him to a craft stick, and then connect that to the back of a large cardboard whale. With the help of a grommet, the children could force the whale to regurgitate Jonah and then swallow him whole again.

Luckily for everyone, Ben wasn’t in charge of developing projects. He simply facilitated class every Sunday morning in room 21 of the church basement.

Encouraged by Ben, Raphael asked, “Do fish utilize a digestive system comparable to that of a human?”

Baylee, Ben’s daughter, said, “See? I told you Raphael was smart, Dad.”

Another child, Kean, countered: “I’m just as smart.” Though he listened intently, Kean refused to divert his eyes from the shade of gray he hoped to achieve by alternating between the heavy application of a black crayon and the soft smattering of a white.

“Guys, it’s not a competition,” Ben said.

“That’s good,” Jay giggled, “because I’d lose big time!”

Baylee, Hattie, Malik, and Sammy joined Jay in laughter. Kean didn’t appear to find it all that funny while Raphael seemed not to notice the joke at all.

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael repeated.

“Right, Raph—Raphael—sorry. Fish. Um, yeah. I think fish digest food the same way we do …”

“I can check on my phone,” Baylee offered.

Kean muttered, “Cell phones are not allowed in Sunday school classes.”

“We can’t get a signal down here anyway,” Sammy added. “It’s like a dungeon.”

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael asked.

“Yes, Raphael,” Ben responded as he strolled along the perimeter of the room.

Raphael said, “Jonah could not survive in the stomach of a whale. He would have been digested by the third day.”

“Oh,” Ben began, “well, you see, the Bible is … um, we shouldn’t take everything the Bible says literally, right?”

“What?” Hattie huffed. “My mom says the Bible is truth.”

Nodding furiously, Ben replied, “Yes! It is. It is truth—that’s right.”

Sammy said, “But … you just said it shouldn’t be taken literally.”

“What does ‘literally’ mean again?” Jay asked.

Malik answered, “You know, like, word for word.”

Kean mumbled, “You were right about being the loser in the room …”

“Kean,” Ben said, “come on, that’s not nice.”

“You were saying, Mr. Ben,” Raphael prompted.

Perspiration seeped from Ben’s forehead. “Oh. Well, that was pretty much it. It’s just that, while—yes—the Bible is truth, most people agree that it also uses quite a bit of embellishment in order to make a point.”

Raphael asked, “So it’s possible Jonah did not actually find himself swallowed by a whale, fish, or any other aquatic life-form?”

Hattie’s eyes bored through Ben as he said, “… It’s possible.”

Malik leaned over to Sammy and whispered, “Mr. Ben is so fired.”

Having overheard the comment, Baylee declared, “My dad does this for free. He can’t be fired.”

“He could be asked to step down,” Kean said.

Ben and his wife joined Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church twelve years ago when they were engaged. They were young, new to the community, and felt an urge to assimilate. Though they were now longstanding members of the church, they still knew very few people. Ben thought that teaching his daughter’s Sunday school class could be a productive way to increase his connectivity to the congregation.

Forcing himself to laugh, Ben said, “I don’t think anyone is going to ask me to step down.”

“You look apprehensive, Mr. Ben,” Raphael said.

Ben asked, “Are you sure you’re only eight? You’re all eight, right?”

“Yes, Dad, we’re all eight, about to turn nine.”

“I’m already nine,” Malik said.

Hattie added, “Me, too.”

“Mr. Ben, may I ask you a difficult question?”

Sensing Raphael’s trajectory, Ben wanted to preemptively deny the child’s request. Unfortunately, he didn’t wield the ability to redirect or otherwise terminate Raphael’s impending enquiry.

Mistaking Ben’s silence as accordance, Raphael pressed on by asking, “Do you believe in God?”

“Duh!” Jay exclaimed. “He wouldn’t be teaching Sunday school if he didn’t.”

Ben moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

“I only ask,” Raphael continued, “because I find it very confusing. So much of the Bible is impossible. There is no evidence of God’s existence in modern day society. Yet, in Biblical times, God’s influence manifested regularly. I hoped you could provide some insight.”

The children grew quiet. Each one of them, even Keane, awaited Ben’s reply.

Ben thought for a moment, then said, “You’re all so smart. So much smarter than I was at your age. I’ll just be honest with you. I struggle with God all the time. I don’t teach Sunday school due to a calling or anything like that. I just wanted to spend more time with Baylee, help out the church, get to know some kids, and maybe meet your parents.”

The children remained silent.

“So do I believe in God?” Ben resumed. “… Yes, I do, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because my parents raised me in the church? Maybe I’ve been conditioned to believe? I don’t know. And I won’t lie to you—I can’t say that I believe everything in the Bible to be true. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense at all. I guess it just comes down to … faith.”

Ben watched the children nod in agreement. Only Hattie seemed dissatisfied with Ben’s analysis.

As they returned to their crafts, Raphael said, “Thank you, Mr. Ben. I appreciate your candor.”

“Um, you’re welcome.”

Raphael worked on his project for a few more moments, then looked up and asked, “Could we discuss Santa Claus?”

At that point, Jay erupted, “Dude! Don’t even go there!”


Copyright © 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 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.

Promise: My Short Story Of the Week

Promise

 

“Why did I ask you to stay after class?”

“Because you’re a punk.”

“No, Sam. Try again.”

Mr. Hardy could see the surprise on Sam’s face. He figured that “punk” comment would get him sent straight to the office.

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. The test.”

“What about it?”

“You played on your phone the whole time. You didn’t answer a single question.”

“I didn’t read the book.”

“Sam, we listened to it on audio as we read along. You at least heard it.”

“Don’t you have another class coming in or something?”

“No, this is my conference period. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“I need to get to my next class.”

“I’ll write you a pass.”

“Ms. Johnson gets pissed if students come in late without a pass. I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

“I’ll write you a pass when we’re done. I promise.”

“Come on, Mr. Hardy. I need to go.”

“Tell me why you didn’t take the test, and then I’ll let you go.”

“I didn’t know the answers.”

“I watched you. You didn’t even try the first page.”

They both stood at the front of the class. Sam ran his hands up and down his backpack straps. He looked everywhere but at Mr. Hardy.

“Sam?”

“ … There’s no point.”

“To what?”

“To the test.”

“The test is how I assess your knowledge.”

“I don’t mean it like that. The test doesn’t make any difference.”

“Look, Sam, I know you’re failing, but you’re right on the edge. This test could put you over the top.”

“You know I’m not going to graduate, right?”

“What? We’re only halfway through the first semester. Of course you’re going to graduate.”

“No, I mean, I’m not going to graduate. Like, it’s not going to happen.”

“You’re quitting school?”

“No.”

“Sam … I’m confused. You’re a senior on track to graduate.”

“Can I go now?”

“No, Sam, I want to get to the bottom of this.”

“You’re being a total dick.”

Sam locked eyes with Mr. Hardy. He hoped that one would send him to the principal.

“Call me whatever you want. We’re having this conversation.”

After throwing his head back, exasperated, Sam slid off his backpack and plopped down into a nearby desk. He took out his phone.

“You can graduate. It sounds like you’re making a conscious decision not to graduate.”

Sam scrolled with his finger. He left his earbuds out, though, so Mr. Hardy knew he had Sam’s attention.

“Don’t you want to graduate?”

“What’s the point?”

“College. Junior college. Trade school. A job.”

“I can’t pay for college.”

“There are scholarship opportunities, grants, that kind of thing.”

“That’s what you all keep telling me, but I don’t know where to find that stuff.”

“Our guidance counselors can help you. They want to help students take advantage of those things.”

“Yeah. I went down there. Mr. Vonn found a few for me, sent me the links, then told me to come back when I looked at them.”

“Did you look at them?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know how to answer half the questions.”

“Like what?”

“Like how much my mom makes in a year. How am I supposed to know that?”

“Did you ask her?”

Sam glared at Mr. Hardy like he was an idiot.

“Okay, how about we make arrangements for you to come in after school and I can sift through it with you. We can figure it out together. We’ll ballpark those numbers they want.”

“Then what?”

“Then we maybe get you into a junior college or trade school or something.”

Sam didn’t blink as he asked, “Then what?”

“Then you’re off and running.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.”

“What makes you think I know how to do college?”

“It’s very similar to high school in terms of structure—”

“I’ve got friends at college. They say it’s not like high school at all. I know a guy getting kicked out, and he’s not even getting his money back.”

“Well, that may be true. You have to maintain a certain grade point average. If you don’t, they can make you leave.”

“Nobody in my family has ever gone to college. I can’t pay for it, I don’t know how to do it, and I wouldn’t fit in.”

“I can help you with all that.”

“Really? Are you going to be there for me the whole time? All four years?”

“I … I’ll do my best. Of course, I have two kids of my own. This job demands a lot of my attention as well. I can’t promise—”

“Exactly. People like you love to make promises to people like me, but people like you never make good—not all the way through. People like me? We have to face reality.”

“Which is?”

Sam emitted a chuckle. “The best I can hope for is some minimum wage job. That’s my life, Mr. Hardy. That’s what the future has in store for me. I’m always going to worry about food, rent, money—everything. I bet your kids have a nice house, a yard, their own bed. Hell, they probably even have their own bedrooms …”

“ … They do.”

“Here? I like it here. There’s no one from the outside. I see my friends. The place is clean. There’s food. The teachers can’t mess with me. Why would I want to go out there when it’s so good in here?”

“But … but your future …”

“Look, can I go now or what?”

Mr. Hardy appeared dumbfounded. He whispered, “You’re only a kid …”

“Can I go now?”

Snapping back to attention, Mr. Hardy said, “Yeah. You can go.”

Sam kept his phone in his one hand and snatched up his backpack with the other, then hustled out of the room.

“ … I forgot to write his pass.”


Copyright © 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 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.

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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:

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Regards,
Scott William Foley