Stranglehold: A Short Story

STRANGLEHOLD

I can’t breathe.

All the time.

You hate me so much.

You hate me if I laugh.

You hate me if I cry.

You hate me if I silently kneel.

You hate me if I peacefully march.

You hate me if I speak my mind.

You hate me if I don’t want to talk.

You hate me if I’m smarter than you.

You hate me if I’m not smart enough.

You hate me if I look you in the eye.

You hate me if I turn my head.

You hate me if I live in the “bad” part of town.

You hate me if I’m your neighbor.

You hate me if I’m sitting on my porch.

You hate me if I’m at the park.

You hate me if I’m in my car, on the bus, or riding the train.

You hate me if I’m walking somewhere.

You hate me if I’m rich.

You hate me if I’m poor.

You hate me if I go to college.

You hate me if I don’t like school.

You hate me if I’m your boss.

You hate me if I’m unemployed.

You hate me if I’m submissive.

You hate me if I fight.

You hate me if I win.

You hate me if I lose.

You hate me if I live.

You hate me if I die.

You hate me so much.

All the time.

I can’t breathe.


Author’s note: Since George Floyd’s murder, I have felt inept. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, or how to act. I finally decided to follow the adage of putting myself in someone else’s shoes. “Stranglehold” is the result. It is my sincere hope that this work helps with the struggle against hate, inequity, police brutality, racism, discrimination, and injustice.  


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.

You Come First: My Short Story Of the Week

YOU COME FIRST

 

You want to know who comes first? That’s right—you do.

It’s your right—your God-given right as an American citizen—to do whatever you think needs to be done. Who are they to tell you anything? You’re smart. You’ve been through a few things. You know what’s what, right?

These scientists, they’re changing their story every day. One day we’re supposed to wear a mask. The next day the mask doesn’t do anything. Then they’re back to telling us to wear masks again. Guess what? You’re perfectly healthy. You don’t have the virus, so you obviously can’t give it to anyone. You can’t give what you don’t have. There’s some real science.

Speaking of which, where do these grocery stores get off trying to force you to wear a mask? Are they the Gestapo? Who put them in charge? You go right into that store without your mask and just watch what they’ll do—nothing. Oh, they’ll talk. That’s all anyone does—talk, talk, talk. They’ll probably say something like “it’s for the safety of our workers,” but we all know that they shouldn’t have vulnerable people working there. Their employees’ frailty is supposed to keep you from eating? Not happening.

On the topic of food, can you believe they shut down the gyms? That’s a great strategy. There’s a virus going around, so let’s make sure people can’t exercise. Brilliant. Here’s some more science—exercise makes people healthy. The government has you sitting at home, eating like a pig, and won’t let you pump iron at the gym. They want you to get fat. They want you lazy. They want you at their mercy. That’s how they try to control you.

Furthermore, let’s talk about these people in charge. They think they can dictate where you can go, what you can buy, and who you can hang out with? Last you checked, you live in a democracy, and you most definitely did not vote for fascism. If you want to have people over, that is none of their business. Your friends are all grown, aren’t they? You can trust them to stay home if they’re not feeling well. You’re being treated like a child who’s been sent to your room, and you don’t like it. Not one bit.

In fact, they won’t even let you go to church. Seriously? There’s two things guiding the course of your life—God and the Constitution. Both of them want you in church. After all, you live in one nation under God. Are you really going to let some commie pinko tea party snowflake socialist get between you and your lord, Jesus Christ? No way. This is how they’ll eradicate Christianity from our schools, and you know it.

Schools. Can you believe this? It’s a fact that kids are barely getting sick at all, yet they shut down every school across the land. Just what are these teachers doing at home all day, anyway? Your kid hands in some papers a little late, just a few months, and those teachers take their sweet time grading. They’ve already got the whole summer off, and now an extra three months on top of that? Just to sit at home. You’re working your butt off, and they’re probably out on the golf course instead of grading papers the day they come in. You emailed your thoughts about that to your kid’s teachers, but they’re too cowardly to even respond.

Cowards. That’s the operative word. Everyone is scared of their own shadow. Not you, though. Just the other day, you were at the hardware store. You needed a new snow shovel—everyone with half a brain knows off-season is the time to buy. Some guy was taking too long looking at rakes, so you just stood right next to him and searched for the best price you could find—capitalism, baby. He thought he was tough, said something to you about keeping your distance. One cough in his direction proved what kind of courage he really had.

You’re good to go. You’ve got a big house with a giant yard and a great job you can perform from home. You earned everything you have, and if people are catching some bad luck during the Covid outbreak, that’s on them. They should have worked harder. The smart people know how to get things back on track, and it starts with the economy. When’s the last time the Covid spent a dollar?

You understand the Covid is flu. Technically, it’s not, but basically it is. Flu kills less than 1% of people who get it. The Covid kills less than 5%. You wish you were shocked the whole world shut down for less than 5%, but that’s today’s leaders for you—only worried about getting reelected. Let’s make everyone suffer for less than a handful of the population. The old, the weak, the sick—how much are those people contributing to society anyway?

You need to get this country up and running again by sacrificing whatever it takes.

America comes first, right after you.


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.

Huffy: My Short Story Of the Week

HUFFY1

 

Dino and Cary closed the screened-in summer porch’s deep freeze. Each boy giggled while sneaking back into the house with several Schwan’s frozen cookie dough patties in their hands. Cary looked around, saw no one, then led Dino through the hall that led straight to the garage.

As soon as Cary opened the door, both boys dropped their cookies.

There, in the middle of the garage, stood Mick’s black and gold Huffy bicycle with the garage door wide open and the family cars parked in the driveway. The bike faced outward, toward the street, eager to rocket through the small town.

The boys froze. They looked around them, behind them, even above them. They didn’t see Mick anywhere. Cary and Mick’s dad always made them park their bikes along the wall so that the cars would have plenty of room. It didn’t make any sense—both of Cary’s parents were home. Why were the cars in the driveway? Furthermore, Mick’s bike had no business sitting there, dead center, primed and ready, begging to be noticed.

It had to be a trick.

Cary didn’t bother to pick up his frozen cookies as he descended three steps into the garage. A slight breeze whistled though the garage’s only window, slightly opened, as he approached Mick’s bike.

It was beautiful. The rims and handlebars were golden and caught every bit of sunlight that shined its way in. The hand grips, frame, and seat were black, the kind of black Old West gunslingers wore. There wasn’t a chip on it; Mick kept the paint pristine. The chain had been freshly oiled and smelled like action. As far as Cary knew, no one else in town had a black and gold Huffy—Mick alone wielded the prestige. Comparably speaking, Cary’s own blue and white BMX could only be described as inadequate.

But why was it sitting out in the open? Mick never left it unguarded. He normally chained it to his dad’s rolling tool cart in the front corner.

Cary lifted a leg in order to straddle the Huffy.

“Don’t,” Dino warned. “It’s a trap—you know it is.”

Looking over his shoulder at Dino, Cary whispered with a grin, “I don’t care.”

And with that, Cary hopped onto Mick’s Huffy, kicked up the stand, stood on the peddles, and then jettisoned down the driveway into the street.

“Follow me!” Cary screamed against the wind.

Dino ran to the yard, lifted his blue and yellow Raleigh up off the grass, then tore after Cary down North Street.

“You’re crazy!” Dino yelled. “Mick will kill you!”

“It’s worth it!” Cary hollered back.

Dino caught up to Cary and they raced side by side. The other neighborhood children stopped what they were doing and stared, dumbfounded. Though Mick was a well-liked, charismatic teenager, it was common knowledge that you were not to provoke him. Cary saw a young girl with a Popsicle in her mouth close her eyes and do the sign of the cross in his direction.

“Isn’t the seat too high for you?” Dino questioned.

“I’ve never felt more alive!” Cary roared in return.

They angled their bikes and swerved right onto Beard street. Both boys knew they would pay for this infraction, but at that moment the thrill proved too intoxicating. Whatever the future held for them, nothing would ever top the day they stole Mick’s Huffy.

“Pop a wheelie!” Dino squawked over the torrent of air flowing through their hair.

Cary had never successfully popped a wheelie before, but he knew he was destined to do so on that July day. A blissful smile spread across his face. In perfect synchronization, he pushed with his legs, thrust back his chest, and yanked upwards with his hands as mightily as he could.

And for a brief instant, the front tire lifted off the pavement.

Cary bellowed, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

But then the unthinkable occurred.

Cary bawled, “No! No! No!”

For as the tire rebelled against gravity and became airborne, the handlebars ripped loose—completely loose.

Though he still clutched the hand grips, Cary found himself effectively riding with no hands as it wobbled precariously from side to side.

“What happened?” Dino screeched.

“I don’t know!” Cary replied.

Then things grew even more dire for the boys because, seemingly all at once, the bike’s front tire disengaged, both peddles flung away, and the seat spun at a ninety-degree turn.

Somehow, Cary landed on his feet.

He stood among a heap of gears, parts, nuts, and bolts as he still held the handlebars aloft.

Dino skidded to a stop next to Cary. He uttered, “Oh, no …”

“I don’t believe this,” Cary mumbled. “Do you think Mick booby trapped his bike?”

“What?” Dino asked. “Are you crazy? That’s impossible!”

“Then how do you explain this?” Cary wailed.

“I don’t know, but you’re a dead man,” Dino groaned.

“Go get my dad,” Cary said. “I’ll start gathering everything up. Get my dad and tell him I’m in front of Christian Academy. Maybe he can help us take it home and put it back together before Mick finds out.”

“What if I bump into Mick?” Dino demanded with bulging eyes.

“Just do it!” Cary yelled.

“Oh, man, this is so nuts!” Dino shrieked before racing down the rest of Beard and turning right onto Sunset.

Cary sat at the edge of the road and waited five minutes. He noticed a grey cat leering at him from within a bush across the street, then waited another ten. When twenty minutes passed, he realized that his dad wasn’t coming. Either Dino lost his nerve and went home or Mick had gotten to him. Either way, there would be no help.

After staring up at the blue sky for several seconds, Cary took a deep breath, then collected all the small parts that he could find and stuffed them into his front pockets. Each peddle went into a back pocket before he hoisted up the bike frame and slid his right arm through it until it rested on his shoulder. The handlebars were wedged under his left arm and he took a tire in each hand. He searched the pavement one last time with eyes darting erratically. No piece could be left behind—partly because he feared his brother, but also because one didn’t abandon even a bolt of the black and gold Huffy. It was a treasure, a paragon of bicycles, and it had to be treated as such.

Then began the long walk.

It wasn’t that far of a trek back to his house, but it felt interminable. Cary had no idea how he would explain the situation to his parents, and he was even less certain about how he would survive Mick’s guaranteed rage. He only knew he would put the Huffy back together again. No matter how long it took, no matter how hard it proved to be, he would right this awful wrong. The Huffy had asked for none of this—its days would not end as a heap of parts on Beard Street.

When Cary finally reached the opening of the garage, he fell to his knees in exhaustion and carefully allowed each part to rest upon the cold concrete floor. Evening approached and the crickets reproached.

The door then opened, and, while stepping over the thawed cookies, Mick walked out.

The older brother stepped down, and once he reached the bottom Cary saw that Dino trailed. They both stood a few feet from Cary and simply stared at the grease-stained, weary boy.

“Wha—I don’t understand,” Cary stammered.

“I had to be sure,” Mick said.

“Sorry, dude,” Dino added.

“Sure?” Cary repeated. “Sure about what?”

Mick crouched down with clasped hands before his younger brother. He said, “I turn thirteen next week.”

“Yeah? So?” Cary replied. He felt himself devolving into hysteria. It was all too much for him.

“Mom and Dad said I could pick out a new bike. I’m getting too big for the Huffy—I’ve had it since I was your age.”

Cary studied the Huffy’s parts surrounding him. A realization dawned.

“You did this,” Cary seethed. “You didn’t want anyone else to have it …”

“Whoa,” Dino warned, “you’re way off, man. Let Mick explain.”

Mick stood, put his hands behind his back, and paced the garage. He said, “It’s true—I set you up. I rigged the bike to fall apart. I knew you would take it for a joyride—who wouldn’t? I had to know …”

“Know what?” Cary whooped.

“If you’re worthy,” Mick answered.

“Worthy?” Cary repeated.

“If you left the bike, if you came running home like nothing happened, if you never admitted to what you did … then I would know you didn’t deserve it. But if you scooped it up, carried it with you, refused to leave it behind … That was the test.”

“And you passed, dude!” Dino proclaimed.

Narrowing his eyes at Dino, Cary growled, “You were a part of this?”

Mick interjected by saying, “The Huffy is yours, little brother.”

Cary took in the mess encircling him, then looked at Mick with his eyebrows lifted.

“Relax,” Mick said. “We’ll help you put it back together.”

Dino giggled, “This was so awesome.” Then, to Cary, he asked, “You’ll let me ride it, right?”


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.

Chubby Tummy: My Short Story Of the Week

CHUBBYTUMMY

 

I remember standing in the shower with the steam rolling around me. The roar of the water combined with the whir of the fan created a loud, encapsulating experience. White stripes, about the width of three fingers, stretched across the middle of the door just enough to shield one’s private parts should someone enter the bathroom. In a house full of two adults and four children, such an invasion always proved likely. Even the dog committed the occasional incursion.

I remember staring at that clear glass with the white stripes. We once had a frosted glass door, but when my sister pushed it open too hard, it shattered. The shards fell everywhere and managed to slice open her forearm in the process. The neighbors put my two older siblings and me to bed that night because my parents drove her to the nearest emergency room, which was thirty minutes away.

I remember thinking my sister would not return home that night or any other night ever again.

I remember the beige stain that would appear on the floor of the shower. My mother made one of us scrub it every three days with powered bleach, but that brown residue never relented. With six people using one shower, Comet didn’t stand a chance against the constant barrage of oil, dirt, and, in my case, urine.

I remember the metal drain in the center of the shower floor. At one time it appeared silver—a round, metallic plate with twenty-three holes. The drain had taken on a greenish tint, however, with a bit of blue mixed in. It reminded me of shipwrecks featured in those shows with strange sounding men that hunted undersea treasure. Bits of mashed Dial clung to the edges of the holes on the underside of the drain. When the soap wore down to a sliver and careened to the floor, we would press it against the drain until it pushed through like sausage in a grinder. We took my mother to the brink of insanity.

I remember all the bottles lining the perimeter of the shower stall. My mother and two sisters each had their own brand of shampoo and conditioner. My dad complained he barely had anywhere to stand because of all the plastic containers. Dad told my brother and me just to use the bar of soap for our hair, but I actually used my sisters’ stuff. I would wash my hair every other day while making sure to switch from one brand to the next to the next. This method served me well for months until my oldest sister recognized her scent of raspberry atop my head during an impromptu wrestling match that resulted due to my unauthorized use of her athletic socks. As the youngest member of the family, I mastered the art of scavenging in order to fulfill my needs.

I remember looking down in the shower only to see my tummy blocking the view of my toes. The hot water hit the back of my head and flowed downward. It caught my dark hair in its currents and pushed my bangs into my eyes. I saw black tendrils hovering over a pink balloon—my fat gut.

I remember hating myself.

I remember my sisters, my brother, my father and mother—they were slender, toned, slim, strong. You could actually see my brother’s muscles through the skin of his stomach. I didn’t understand. My legs were lean, as were my arms. But my face carried a lot of flab in the jowls and my stomach—it looked like someone blew up a beach ball inside of me.

I remember being so confused. We all ate the same foods, drank the same drinks. Why were they so skinny? Why was I the only tubby member of my family? To make matters worse, it seemed like I got fatter every day. Wasn’t it bad enough that I regularly got the lowest grades amongst my siblings? Didn’t the world beat me up enough in that I always got picked last for sports? My oldest sister earned multiple academic scholarships—colleges lined up for her approval. My oldest brother consistently won the lead in every school play through elementary, middle, and high school. My other sister, though only a year older than me, could outplay anyone at soccer. Everyone agreed the Olympics could be in her future. Me? I could eat twice as much bread at dinner as my entire family combined. That was my only claim to fame.

I remember feeling hopeless. My grandmother once called me chunky when we hosted Thanksgiving. She said I inherited it from her side of the family. After her proclamation, I slowly and inconspicuously backed away from the table before fleeing to the room I shared with my brother. I sobbed for an hour before my mother found me. She tried to assure me that I would thin out. She compared me to a squirrel saving up for the winter. According to her, I would soon hit a growth spurt. This sudden growth would burn up all of my blubber as I got taller and taller.

I remember thinking that was bullshit.

I remember looking down at my gut in the shower. It would glisten like raw chicken meat as the hot, soapy water streamed over it. It stuck out so far that I couldn’t even see my thing. My best friends were thin as could be. We ate the same food at lunch—why weren’t they fat? Pudding pies, Twinkies, Nutty Bars, Swiss Cake Rolls, Cosmic Brownies—we all ate them! They drank Coke just like me, too.

I remember wondering if I would always be fat. Would I just get fatter and fatter? Would my arms and legs start to swell as well? Was I eternally destined to be the beefy kid? Would girls like me? Would I ever find someone willing to marry me? What would PE class be like for the rest of my life? Would coaches keep teasing me worse and worse, year after year? Would my dad’s friends ever stop accusing me of sneaking beer? Would the middle school kids bully me? Would people laugh at me until the day I died?

I remember standing in the steaming, noisy shower while praying to God to make my chubby gut disappear before sixth grade.


Copyright © 2018 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.

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.

The Easter Egg Escapade: My Short Story Of the Week

EASTEREGGESCAPADECOVER
So there he is, my only son, about to be pummeled by a throng of angry parents.

I can’t say I blame them.  Way back when he was a little guy, if some strange man stole Easter eggs right from kids’ baskets the way my boy is, why, I’d be obliged to serve up a knuckle sandwich as well.

His pretty little girlfriend—and she is still just his girlfriend, by the by—is pleading with the hapless fool to leave the poor children alone.  Of course, she doesn’t have a clue why he’s seemingly gone off the deep end and decided to terrorize children barely old enough to remember their own addresses.

I get it, though.  I understand his motivations exactly.  When he piled us in the car this morning and said we were heading out to Old Bruns’ Field, I’d already figured out what he had in mind.  I considered it a bad idea at the time, and his current state only reaffirms my original notion.

Anyway, I better get involved soon.  After all, this has the potential to be great for business.  Besides, like I said, he’s my only son.  Be a shame to lose him over Easter eggs.

In the meantime, let me catch you up.

Last night, Abe—that’s my boy; you know, the one about to do his impression of an eggplant—disappeared.  He said he had a top-secret mission.  As a teenager, such erratic behavior wouldn’t have surprised us much.  But seeing as how he’s now in his late twenties and brought his girlfriend to our place for Easter weekend, well, we considered it fairly odd.

Teri—that’s his girlfriend—was polite enough about it.  They’d been together for several years, and she had gotten to know us pretty well.  So while he was off doing whatever, we sat around the kitchen table, played Scrabble, and joked about Abe’s display of absurdity.

When Abe finally returned home with dust all over his shoes and a face beaten red by the cold night air, it didn’t take much for my old brain to add two and two.  Luckily for him, neither my wife, Cara, nor Teri guessed what Abe had been up to.

Teri even went so far as to tease Abe about having a woman on the side.

I believe that could be considered irony.

The idea of dragging him back out into the dark and revealing the faultiness of his plan crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to alert Teri and ruin anything.  I just figured I’d have to bail him out the next day.  Before Cara and I went to bed, I grabbed a stack of free passes out of my work desk and put them next to my wallet on the nightstand.  They’d come in handy later.

So Easter morning, after Abe cajoled us out of bed and into his car, he drove us to Old Bruns’ Field.  I could tell by his panic at the sight of dozens of parked vehicles along the road that he’d neglected to remember the town’s churches came together annually and held an Easter egg hunt for the little ones a few hours before services started.  How my boy could have forgotten such a fact is beyond me.  His mother and I only brought him to this very field for this very event every Easter until he was ten.

When boys are in love they seem to turn noodle-brained.

Abe’s not really one to lose his cool, so while I’d foreseen his predicament, I hadn’t counted on him going nuttier than a fruitcake and snatching kids’ Easter eggs straight from their baskets.  He’d take a plastic egg, pop it open, then toss it to the ground when he saw candy or a toy escape.  The poor kid he’d plundered would then scoop up the bounty with tear-stained cheeks while Abe hunted out a new victim.

Teri ran after him as he raced from child to child, pleading with him to stop.  Before long, quite a few young mothers and fathers confronted my son with some pretty hefty threats.  Had it not been a church crowd, Abe may not have been given that courtesy.  They might have just knocked him down and been done with it.

And that’s where we are.

I tell everyone to calm down, and, because of my gray hair and the fact they’re a respectful lot, they listen.  Abe looks to be near hyperventilation when I ask the little ones if they want to see that latest Disney movie, the one that just happens to be playing at my dollar theater.  Of course, I see a horde of tiny hands shoot into the air.  I reach into my coat pocket and pull out the stack of passes I’d brought along—each good for one free viewing.  I explain to them that in order to get a free pass, all they have to do is form a line in front of the deranged lunatic—my son—and let him peek into their eggs.

It’s probably no surprise the little rascals fall into formation faster than I can say “Jiminy Cricket.”

Abe investigates a good forty eggs with trembling hands and a sweaty brow before I start to doubt whether the particular egg in question had yet to be found.

But at last, he cries out in joy.

I smile as I watch him return the artificial egg to the little girl without its prize—a diamond ring.

As Abe drops to one knee and takes Teri by the hand, the adults in the crowd finally understand what had him so riled up and they start to cheer.  And Teri, why, she must be as crazy as my boy, because she says “yes” without delay.

For my part, well, I’m just glad to pick up a little extra business.  Kids get in free—sure.

But I didn’t say anything about their parents.


 Copyright © 2009 by Scott William Foley

This work originally published in the April 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.

Follow Me: My Short Story Of the Week

FOLLOW ME

 

“TJ, wake up!”

TJ rolled over, reached down to the outlet, and flipped on his race car nightlight. His grandmother must have turned it off at some point after he fell asleep. His room suddenly illuminated in a weak blanket of light. Brent had done this exact same thing to him a few weeks before, so TJ fully expected an encore of the rubber Wolf-Man mask glaring at him again. This time, though, TJ told himself he wouldn’t scream.

Nonetheless, he was quite relieved to see only Brent’s narrow face hovering a few inches above his own. No Wolf-Man this time.

“What’s goin’ on?” he mumbled. When his lips moved, he was vaguely aware of dried saliva cracking upon his face.

“Put your shoes on,” Brent demanded.

As little brothers are prone to do, TJ plopped out of bed without hesitation. He slid on his sneakers and pulled their shoelaces tight.

Rubbing his eyes as only a child can, he next peered expectantly at Brent, his elder by an immense chasm of five years. He noticed Brent wore his army man belt fastened about the waist over his pajama pants and St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt. He’d even gone so far as to attach the canteen. TJ wondered if he’d bothered to fill it with water.

In Brent’s left hand, he held the rifle.

Although TJ did not make a habit of questioning Brent, he innately understood that the middle of the night coupled with his brother and a rifle boded well for no one.

“What’s the gun for?”

“Don’t be a baby.”

Though he couldn’t quite articulate why, the younger boy’s face flushed.

TJ couldn’t see the rifle in any great detail due to the frailty of the nightlight. However, he had carefully studied it in the past. For instance, he knew there were six kill marks notched in the wood just in front of the trigger.

Brent ordered, “Follow me.”

The two boys moved silently throughout their grandparents’ house and, at Brent’s insistence, were careful not to turn on any lights. They slunk to the front door.

TJ watched, his heart giving off a sonic boom with each beat, while Brent slowly undid the deadbolt with the precision of a bomb technician.

He eased the door open just a crack, then turned his head so he could face TJ.

“Okay,” he whispered, “you’re going to back me up on this thing, right?”

Despite the fact that TJ had no idea what they were getting into, he found himself nodding like a neglected dog.

“I’m going to throw open this door, and then we rush ’em, okay? That’s what we’re gonna do.”

“Okay.”

Before TJ knew it, he sprinted madly behind his brother into the cool, November air. He watched in unabashed admiration as his brother, in one graceful motion, leapt over the decorative wooden fence lining the front walk while lifting the rifle to his shoulder.

Planting his foot with every intention of mimicking the agile move, TJ powered into the air as well, but his pudgy little body proved too much a disadvantage and he caught his right foot. He fell face-first into the grass.

Brent exploded, “Get outta here!”

TJ next heard screams. There were the terrified sounds of people decidedly . . . older.

“Crazy kid’s got a gun!” he heard a man’s panicked voice erupt above all the others.

Thousand of confusing thoughts tore through TJ’s nine-year-old mind as he noticed the toilet paper billowing in the light breeze. It hung from his grandparents’ trees. He found the moon peeking through the dark limbs with the swaying toilet paper quite beautiful. In contrast to the loveliness of the moon, the toilet paper, and the trees, however, was the stark image of grown-ups racing through the yard toward their trucks and mini-vans while Brent chased them, his unloaded World War II relic of a rifle positioned to kill.

After Brent and TJ came to live with their grandparents, Brent took an immense interest in his grandfather’s father, who had been killed while on patrol in France during WWII. TJ and Brent’s grandfather was only too happy to allow the boy to keep some prized mementoes in his room, including the antiquated rifle.

Brent’s primary objective had been met. The trespassers feared for their lives and were executing a resounding retreat.

Light suddenly showered TJ. He spun over on the itchy grass, lifted his hand in front of his eyes to better see, and then discerned a large silhouette garbed in a tank top and boxers filling the doorway to the house.

With one of his grandsons eating a face full of grass and the other pointing a rifle at his co-workers, TJ and Brent’s grandfather groaned, “Aw, hell …”


Copyright © 2007 by Scott William Foley.

Originally published in the November 2007 issue of 60 Plus News and Views.

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 One True: My Short Story Of the Week

TheOneTrueCover

 

I had about two hours before my first session, so I decided to grab a coffee. When the cab dropped me off in front of my hotel, I noticed a Starbucks across the street. Sure, I’m in Chicago, and there’s probably some great coffee places pretty close by, but I’m not exactly from the city, and let’s face it, Starbucks is really good.

Some Chicagoans gamely played Frogger with the traffic, but as an out-of-towner, I figured I’d better go the safe route and use the crosswalks. My death would probably disappoint the hundreds of misguided educators planning to listen to me deliver a speech pathetically titled, “Be a Hero To Your Subjects.”

I originated the speech for a School Improvement Day, mostly because the principal asked me, and since I’ve been disappointing her for years, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to shine. I made it as sappy, clichéd, and pandering as possible. Just as I knew would happen, the administrators loved it. Unfortunately, my plan backfired to a degree. Sure, I regained my principal’s faith, but she made a point to share a video she took of me with her peers. (She did so without my consent, by the way.) This resulted in some fairly generous offers to visit other schools and deliver the same speech. Before I knew it, I found myself in great demand across the Midwest. Finally, the most lucrative offer yet arrived—an invitation to speak at the Illinois Educator Association’s conference.

Intended to be a play on words, my speech encouraged teachers to really focus on why their particular subject is super cool. I suggested they find heroes within the field and focus on that person. Try to recreate what those luminaries did—whether it be a scientific feat, a groundbreaking work of art, you know, whatever. By allowing the students to imitate the hero, they become the hero themselves, connect more deeply with the subject of study, and may even feel inspired.

Of course, I’d taught for twenty years, so I believed none of that would actually come to fruition, but my bosses ate it up, as did the more optimistic among my coworkers. People are paying me well to give the same damn talk over and over, so it must be striking a nerve with somebody. I’d feel a bit hypocritical, but my wife and I have always dreamt of finishing our basement, and this whole fantasy is making our dream a reality.

As I approached Starbucks’ door, a … mumbling person sitting on the sidewalk next to the entrance of the coffee shop extended his hand to me.

I recoiled, saying, “Sorry, guy, I don’t have any change.” After I spoke, tiny puffs of vapor hung in the frigid air, refusing to dissipate, much like my shame.

The … person … okay, I’m just going to call him a bum. He was a bum, right? I know that’s not a polite term, but there’s really no other way to describe him. He had long matted hair, a scraggly beard full of crumbs and grime, a long overcoat that looked like it came out of a dumpster, and boots with several toes poking out.

Anyway, the bum kept his hand outstretched as he gazed straight up into my face. His eyes were blue—a blue unlike any you’ve ever seen. This blue evaded the boundaries of time, space, and reality itself. I instantly recognized this man as something … unique.

I took his hand and lifted him to his feet. “Who are you?”

“It is I, the one true King of England.”

I shook my head, saying, “But this is Chicago. We’re not in England.”

“Impossible. All the world is England,” he muttered with eyes squinted.

“Hey,” I said, “look, is there someone I can call for you? Do you need help?”

“Indeed I do,” the man said. “I am in need of knights. You will be my first.”

“Um … I’m not sure I’m really qualified.”

“What is your name?”

My every instinct told me to walk past the man, to go get my coffee, to head back to the hotel, to set up my space in the conference hall, and to leave this crazy situation behind.

Instead, I said, “I’m Lance. Lance Dulac.”

The man’s electric eyes blazed. He whispered, “A sign!”

“I don’t think so,” I said while waving my gloved hands back and forth and shaking my head.

The man took one of my hands. He pulled me in close while proclaiming through rank breath, “It is I—Arthur! Do you not recognize me? All is forgiven, my friend. We have been given a second chance! We will bring peace back to the Kingdom—together!”

I forced Arthur to release me, backed up a step, then said, “Look, this is a little crazy, okay? There is no Camelot. We’re not even in England. This is Chicago, Illinois. You know, in the United States.”

“I know of no such thing,” he said. “Is this the same world it has always been?”

“Well … yeah, I guess,” I stammered.

“Then the Heroic Age begins anew!”

“Um, Arthur, really, can I help you get in touch with family, or …?”

“You look different,” Arthur said to himself while nodding. “I look different as well. You need proof. I would expect no less.”

Arthur pulled open his overcoat to reveal an enormous sword hanging from an old leather belt. I won’t pretend to be an expert at swords, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. The craftsmanship of the hilt, the pureness of the blade … it did not strike me as a weapon so much as a … spirit.

Doubts flooded my mind. Rationally speaking, I knew King Arthur grew from myth, that no actual man by that name executed the adventures of such fantasy. Of all the legends surrounding the figure, the magical sword proved the most unlikely.

And yet … when Arthur held the sword above his head and pointed to the heavens, the gray clouds parted and a beam of light showered both the man and his sword in gold.

I felt a smile spread across my face as I lowered to one knee.

But then someone yelled, “Holy shit! He’s got a sword!”

Another shrieked, “Terrorist! He’s gonna kill us all!”

People scattered in every direction as screams erupted. I fell flat on my face when the panicked crowd knocked me to the ground.

“Be not afraid,” Arthur bellowed. “I am here to restore peace, honor, and chivalry!”

“Drop the sword!” a voice demanded.

Still prostrate upon the sidewalk, I glanced to my right and saw a police officer leveling his gun at Arthur. His expression guaranteed not one citizen would suffer a beheading on his watch.

“Arthur, put down the sword!” I implored.

“Are you a knight?” Arthur asked the police officer.

I looked through Starbucks’ windows and saw people cowering beneath their tables with their cell phones held aloft. They recorded the unfolding horror.

The police officer finished calling for backup, then said, “Drop the sword now, or I will shoot you! Do you understand?”

Convinced bullets were about to fly, I scrambled away from Author while begging him, “God almighty, Arthur, put the sword down!”

Arthur instead assumed a battle stance, and, while staring at the police officer, said to me, “Why do you withdraw? Join me, my friend, for together we will help the people achieve glory!”

“I don’t want to kill you,” the police officer said. “Put it down—now!”

“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Arthur responded. “Within your eyes, I see a brave warrior, a man worthy of my crusade. Join us!”

Oh, shit. Sirens blared, tires squealed, doors slammed, feet pounded, guns clicked.

“Please, Arthur, give up,” I groaned while scooting back on all fours. “You’re delusional. What you’re trying to do … it’s not the way the world works anymore.”

“Then this world is doomed,” Arthur groaned.

“Last warning,” the original officer yelled.

“Don’t do this!” I screamed to Arthur, to the officers, to myself.

“I bow to no man!” Arthur declared. “I serve God, and through Him, I serve the people! I will never put the sword down, for the sword gives me the right—”

The lead officer made the shot. It hit Arthur precisely in the chest. The sword fell. Arthur fell. Everything fell.

The police officers gathered me up and took me in so that I could make a statement. My speech had to be canceled. The media got hold of all the cell phone video and somehow twisted my actions into that of a hero. They said I tried to help the police by talking the man down. As a result, my speech became more popular than ever, for I appeared more authentic than ever. Truthfully, I grew rich from it.

I’ll never forget those eyes as they dimmed.

While in the precinct, the officers were kind. When they realized I only meant to grab a coffee, they offered me one.

It did not taste good, but I drank it anyway.


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.

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.