All things counter, original, spare and strange in Khujand, Tajikistan

My Final Story

Well today was the last day of classes.  The semester is on its last legs.  Yesterday I turned in my final story for Creative Writing Fiction.  I think it turned out pretty well.  Here it is:

The Speaker

 

By Seth Morgan

 

He was blind.  That was a part of his power.  It gave him the look of the prophet, staring wildly at something none of us could see.  He was blind and his hands were cold.  He was touching my hand across the table and it seemed that all the warmth in his body had gone into his voice, because that was warm as always. 

            “I have a message from the Lord for you, Janiece,” he said, “I believe He is telling me you should be married.”

            “Anyone specific I should consider?” I asked, not sure if I meant it to be ironic.

            “Yes, actually.  Thurman Samuel.  I truly believe the Lord put his name on my heart.”

            I tensed.  I was used to the Speaker acting as if we’d never slept together, but he’d never tried to marry me off before.

            “Thurman?  Speaker, he’s nearly twenty years older than me!”

            “Janiece, Elder Samuel is a great man in the Kingdom of God.  It is a sad shame he is unmarried.  I think God has brought you together in our community for this purpose.”

            I stared at him silently for a moment, my tense hand clenching his, biting my lip.

            “We have few enough couples in our community Janiece, and even less of child-bearing age.”

            Even worse.  He wasn’t just marrying me off, he was breeding me like a milk-cow with his favorite elder.  I wanted to yell at him, kick him, rip his glasses off and unveil his mad blind eyes. 

I didn’t owe him anymore respect.  He’d stopped being the Speaker when he slept with me.  After that he was just a man; there’s no sanctity in the bedroom.  He desired like the rest, like all the men on the outside, united in their one unbreakable chaining need. 

I clenched his hand until I realized I was hurting him.  His face stayed serene but his hand shook.

“I’m leaving.”

“I hope that’s not true.”

“It is.”

I walked out of the long ranch house where we all lived and thumbed a ride into town.  Later I had to call the community’s only phone to get my things from my room.  Sarah Percy answered.

“Just bring my things when you come to buy groceries,” I pleaded.

“But why are you leaving us Janiece?” she asked with the naiveté of the faithful.

“Because I’d rather go to hell.”

            I threw down the receiver and turned away from the pay phone.  Not since I ran away from home at seventeen had I felt more like a traitor.  I was on the outside again.  Outside with the convenience stores and neon and alcohol and music and sin.  I’d lived at the community’s compound for more than six months.  Now I was outside in the dry heat of Carver, Oklahoma, squinting at the edge of the asphalt. 

There was a bus station in Carver.  I could take a bus.  Where I’d go I didn’t know, but once I got my things from Sarah, I was determined to be gone.

            I stood outside the grocery store for a long hour, waiting for Sarah to come with my things, thinking of places to go, people to run to.  It took the whole time in the sun to realize I didn’t have anyone.  Sarah showed up at three o’clock.

            “Where are my things?” I asked.

            “Oh honey, where are you gonna go?”

            “I asked you to bring my stuff!”

            “I know you feel bad now.  Everybody gets like this sometimes.  I get the cabin fever every once in a while.  But you don’t really want to leave do you?  Why don’t you just help me do the shopping and I’ll take you back.”

            I felt like I was fighting through wisps of cotton candy.  I stammered in frustration, but there was nothing I could do.  I’d go back to the compound, pack my things, then hitchhike out in the morning.

            Back at the compound the elders were out, alerted to my attempted flight.  They were gathered around the kitchen table when I came in, pretending to talk over sandwiches.

            “Janiece!  Welcome back!”  Thurman Samuel said, as if I’d been on a vacation.

            I stood for a moment, silent.

            “Is there anything you’d like to speak with us about, Janiece?”  Arthur Davis asked.

            “No.”

            “If there’s anything we can help you with, just tell us.”  Elder Samuel again.  I wondered if he knew of the Speaker’s plans for our coupling.

            “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

            “That’s your decision, Janiece, but please, think about this first.  Think about what you are doing.  There’s no life for you out there.  Knowing what you know, how can you leave?”

            “I’m leaving.”

            “Will you please talk to the Speaker first?”

            I knew they would bring this up soon.  The Speaker was their ace in the hole, guaranteed to convince anyone thinking about deserting.  No one could resist his silver tongue.  They didn’t know the spell was broken for me.

            “Fine.”

            “Just wait ‘til the morning, and the Speaker will meet with you.  He wants to see you,” Elder Samuel said pleadingly.

            “Fine.”

            I could think of nearly everything he’d say to me.  He’d talk about salvation, about the suffering church and the coming Messiah, about the way our little community was both, somehow the bride and the groom in the mystical union, how those outside were cut off and would only be saved through us.  He would tell me the theology and I would listen.  Then he would play on my desperation, hint at my hopeless lack of friends outside the community, promise to take care of me, even at the final extremity admit what he’d done to me. 

            None of it would convince me.  I had a little money hidden away, enough for a bus ticket.  I could get to Oklahoma City, or Tulsa.  That’s all I’d need. 

            I was grimly considering whether or not I would physically assault the leader of our little spiritual family when the Olson’s retarded boy came into my room. 

            “’Niece,” he said, “where you been all day?”

            Jordan was my best friend in the compound, the audience to all my frustrations, the one human still left who believed that you could embrace away all difficulties.

            “I went to help Aunt Sarah with the groceries,” I half-lied.

            “Cool.  Can I look at your tattoos?” 

As usual, his mind turned quickly from the troubling to the familiar.  I pulled back my right sleeve and he began to trace the patterns as he always did, working from my forearm up my shoulder.

“Today can I look at the other one?” he asked when he was done.

“No, Jordan.  There’s no tattoos on my other arm.”

“Well let me see.”

Nearly every time he came back to this.  He was convinced that some unspeakable beauty lay beneath the sleeve I never rolled up no matter how hot the weather.

“Please, ‘Niece?  I won’t tell anyone I saw it.”

For the first time I considered it.  It was the last night I would spend in this community, maybe the last time I would see Jordan.  It could do no harm.

With a sigh I acquiesced.  I drew back my sleeve to show an arm even whiter than my right.  Jordan looked disappointed.

“But why don’t you show it to everyone?” he asked.

I turned my forearm over and he gasped and reached out hesitantly to touch the long white lines where I used to press a knife into my flesh then spread the skin out just as I stopped bleeding.  He touched each scar like a stigmata then he looked up at me.

“Where’d these come from?”

“I did it to myself,” I said with a catch in my voice.  “I thought it’d be cool.”

“Cool?”

“No, Jordan.  That was a lie.  It wasn’t cool.  I cut myself on purpose because I was sad.  But I’m not sad anymore, so I don’t want to see these scars anymore.  That’s why I always wear long sleeves.”

“Oh.  Why were you sad?”

“I don’t really know anymore.  I guess I didn’t think I was a good person.”

“But God helped you, didn’t He?

“Oh yes.  He helped me very much.”

“He brought you here, didn’t He?  That’s how he helped you.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said as he hugged me.

That night I could not sleep and in the morning I felt sick.  I’d have to confront him again, look into those sightless eyes and tell myself again I could no longer trust him. 

I lay on my bed in the half-light remembering the first time the Speaker came in to me. He knocked on my door in the middle of the night and I opened. 

“Janiece,” he said.

“Yes Speaker.”

“I love you.”

He touched me then.  He reached his hand out to where my voice came from and put his hand on my shoulder.  Then he traced the side of my body with both his hands, as if to get an idea of what I was shaped like.  Then he began to take off my clothes. 

He was like all the other men, only more clumsy. All men are the same.  I was a fool to think he was different.  So I did what I’d done all the other times, with all the other men on the outside. Thinking only, “what the hell?  What the hell is going on?” 

            When he was done he nestled his head where my neck meets my shoulders and took a long slow breath. 

            “You cannot tell anyone about this, Janiece.”

            “Yes, Speaker.”

            “You’re a wonderful woman.  God holds you very dear.  Do not feel guilty about this.  Nothing we have done is wrong, for we did it in Him and in love.”

            “Yes, Speaker.”

            So he used the same little platitudes too.  Except he added God to it.  But that didn’t change much.  Just another man.  The last of my idols was gone.  He left after a few long moments, and took my illusions with him.

            So why did I stay?  I guess deep down I’d begun to expect my idols to fall.  That’s the nature of idols.  Besides I really had no place to go.  So I stuck around, but I was no longer his like all the others he held in the palm of his hand.

But now he would try to take me back. I was determined not to let him.

The Speaker’s study door was locked when I came to it.  I set down my backpack full of everything I owned and knocked.  There was a click and I opened the door to see him feel his way back around his desk to the big leather chair the previous owner of the ranch house had left behind.

“I’m leaving today.  I just had to come back for my things.”

“I know.  I only wanted you to make sure of something before you left.  For your own safety.”

All of a sudden I realized that the small white box he was holding in his hands was a pregnancy test.  My hands went numb and I began shaking.

“I know this seems improper, Janiece.  I just want you to make sure before you get out there without anyone to take care of you.  You’ll be by yourself, Janiece.” 

He put the test down on the desk and pushed it toward me.  I shrunk away as if it had the power to impregnate me.

“I want to be able to care for you, Janiece—if you’ll let me.  Just take the test, then make your decision.”

I reached out unsteadily. It remained uncomfortably solid instead of dissolving into thin air as I had hoped.

I stood awkwardly in the bathroom with my pants half-zipped, looking curiously at the two lines on the pregnancy test.  I couldn’t concentrate.  Something in me couldn’t remember whether I should be hoping for two lines or one.  One positive, two negative? Two positive, one negative?  I looked at the instructions again.  There it was.  Two little blue lines sealed my fate. 

I awoke from a dead faint to the sound of Jordan banging on the door.

“Who’s in there?  I gotta pee!  Come on!”

“Just a minute, Jordan,” I said.

“That you, ‘Niece?”

“Yes Jordan.  I’ll be out in a minute.”  I finished pulling my pants up and ran my fingers through my hair.  With a little shudder I tucked the pregnancy test and its instructions in between two paper towels and buried it in the trash can, then I slowly opened the door.

“You take too long, ‘Niece.”

“Sorry.”  I stumbled around the corner toward my bedroom, then broke out in a full sprint down the hallway.  The world was knocked off its axis.  I was pregnant and I no longer believed.  I and it, or she or him—we?—were  stuck here in the midst of all the true and faithful, an apostate and an innocent babe amidst the remnant of the kingdom of God, and who was going to watch over us once the God of this place found out we were reprobates? 

I ran straight into Thurman Samuel.  He nearly fell to the ground.

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t know.  I’m sorry Elder Samuel.”

“That’s all right.”  He composed himself, straightening his pants by the pleat.  “I was just going to see if you were here.  Are you coming to the meeting tonight?”

I stood awkwardly on one leg, peering around him to my bedroom.  He stood directly in front of my door.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I said.

“Be where?”

“The meeting.”

“The meeting’s tonight, Janiece.  It’s still morning.”

“Oh yeah.  I’ll be there.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  What are you doing here?”

He looked down at his feet. 

“I think last night the Lord spoke to me about you.”

My breath quickened.

“He put you on my mind and…”

“And what?” I said, expecting a proposal.

“I believe He wants you to become a missionary for the community.”

“What?”

“I think you should go out, Janiece.  You should go out into the world and draw the Lord’s people into the fold.”

I crumpled against the wall and started crying.  Frustration and relief shook me and I realized how invaded I felt.  Invaded by Thurman Samuel blocking me from my room and by all of them throwing themselves into my life at every instant and by God if what they said about Him was true and by a being smaller than my hand who just made one line turn to two and my life into a long chain connected to a man I’ve only ever called the Speaker.

Thurman Samuel stood awkwardly for a long minute then walked away without a word.  I started laughing.  The pious gelded fool wanted me to be a missionary! 

I dragged myself into my room and closed the door, then sat down by my bed, still shaking with tears and laughter.  It was more than I could take.  Finally I subsided into the hiccups and curled up on the carpet.

When I woke up it was nearly one o’clock.  I felt like one of the numbered balls in the lottery tumbler, the way I’d been tossed about in crisis for what seemed like months.  At that moment above all I felt I needed to get outside. 

I slipped out the back door and circled around to the gravel driveway.  Highway 60 shimmered like an oil-slick and the cicadas sang in unison with the heat-waves’ rise and fall. 

My insides churned as if the baby were already kicking but I kept walking west.  West, the way to Carver and a bus ride out of town, the way I started walking every time I ran away from home, and the way I ran when everything fell apart with my last boyfriend.  That was where it all started.

That time when I went west I met Shaniah Olson from the Community of the Living Christ.  She picked me up on the side of the road on the way from Oklahoma City and took me back to the ranch house for dinner. 

Walking along the road right then I felt as if I could connect it all into one great time of fleeing, and with that thought I stopped.  I was nearly to Carver already but I stopped stock still on the median.  The dashed line of my western flight ended abruptly in my mind at the Community’s ranch house.

I turned around.  Despite all the warnings I screamed to myself, despite knowing that the crazed blind man who had impregnated me wanted me to come back because he wanted a child more than he wanted to preserve his reputation, despite every part of me yearning to just run away I turned back and started walking toward the Community of the Living Christ again.

I must have walked west for over two hours, because by the time I could see the Community the afternoon had worn into evening.  The sun was still high above the horizon, but already the sky was tinted red above the tall barn behind the ranch house.  There in the barn they had started the evening service. 

I could hear them singing and I quickened my step, but as I reached the driveway exhaustion and dehydration overcame me.  I retched into the grass on my hands and knees until the nausea subsided.

Forcing myself up, I stumbled around the back to the barn.  They finished singing as I sat down in the back row of folding chairs.  Of the thirty or so people in the make-shift sanctuary, five or six were already contorting themselves in front of the altar.  Several more lay slain in the Spirit in the aisle.  The Speaker stood behind a rough wood podium, sweating and singing and proclaiming the word of the Lord.

“I am the Lord Jesus returning to earth, and you are the body and blood!” he said, “we all are messiah to this broken world, this remnant here under this roof!”  It was a variant of the usual message, a message that seemed empowering when I first came to the Community of the Living Christ.  Now it seemed to strip the breath from me.  I was shaking and sweating from the heat and from pent up anger as much as they all were from the holy fire.

“Prepare your hearts, brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Amen!” I said.

“Who will testify?” he asked.

“I will!” I answered.

“Speak sister,” he said, but I could almost hear him hesitate.

“Friends,” I said, now shivering in my long clammy t-shirt, “tell me, who are you?”

“We are the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior,” they all called out in unison.

“And who am I?” 

There was a pause.  They did not know this one.  After a moment someone called out, “You are the Christ as well!”

I shivered again and felt the nausea return.  Doubled over, my face toward the floor I screamed back, “then who the fuck is my baby?”

No one moved.  The contortionists on the front row even stopped.  I laughed.  I’d even stilled the Spirit. 

“You see that’s where you’re wrong,” I said in a stage whisper, “I can’t be the Christ and give birth to the Christ too.  I guess that makes me the Virgin Mary then doesn’t it?”  I was yelling again now.  “Or maybe I’m John the Baptist, crying out that He is coming without knowing who He is.  Or maybe it’s a girl anyway.  How do I know?”

None of them had any idea.  I could see it in their faces.  I knew that the Speaker would rally soon but he was still silent so I pressed my advantage.

“I am pregnant,” I said clearly, supporting myself on the back of the chair in front of me, “the father’s name is Charles Anthony Wilson.” 

At the sound of their beloved Speaker’s real name shockwaves of movement went through the room as people turned their heads to look at me and the Speaker and each other, searching for an explanation.  My vision started to blur and the aisle down the middle swam and shook.  It seemed like the barn was splitting down its seam.

Finally exhaustion forced me back into my seat.  Incredibly, the Speaker was still silent while his people murmured in confusion.  Darkness was closing in my field of vision, but just before I blacked out completely I could hear them all fleeing the sanctuary.  My work was complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One response

  1. whippoorwill

    i like this Seth. A lot. It’s powerful.

    January 13, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s