Friday, June 12, 2009

Ice Cream Prayers


“Mommy, I want some ice cream,” whined three-year-old Matty.

“You know we’re going to have supper soon,” Jeanine Anderson answered wiping her hands on a nearby towel. “Besides we don’t have any ice cream.”

“I want ice cream,” the toddler said defiantly stomping her black patent leather shoes on the while kitchen vinyl.

“Matty, do you want to be sent to your room?”

“Even so, I’ll still want ice cream,” she said arms laced across the pink sleeveless dress.

“Why do you have such nice clothes on anyway,” her mother asked trying to change the subject.

“I’m playing church,” her daughter answered. “And after the preaching, we’re going to eat ice cream.

“You just won’t give up, will you?” her mother said laughing. “I really don’t have any ice cream.”

She watched as the three-year-old began twirling around the kitchen. “Look Mommy, I’m a mixer. I’m going to make some ice cream.”

“Stop that you’re making black marks on the floor,” Jeanine said raising her voice.

“If I can’t have ice cream then I want to eat supper,” the toddler announced.

“We’ll eat as soon as your Dad gets home.”

“But, I’m hungry now.”

“He should be home any minute now,” her mother answered. But inside she had no idea when her husband would be home or where he was for that matter. He could be working late. No probably not. He would have called if he was working late. Maybe he went out for coffee with some of the office gang, Sam and George and . . . Lilly. The very idea made her blood boil. She knew she had no reason to think that John would be interested in the recently divorced office secretary, but circumstances like that always make wives wonder, don’t they? Or maybe he was in an accident and went over a big embankment and down a hill and no one knew where he was and. . . She shook herself and came back to the present.

Her daughter was tugging at her pants leg. “Is it any minute, yet?” the green-eyed girl asked looking up at her mother.

“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you set the table and you, Buddy and I will go ahead and eat so you can get your bath and be all ready for bed on time.”

“I don’t want to go to bed,” the curly, blonde-haired girl protested stomping her feet again. ”I want to eat supper.”

“That’s what I said we’d do, isn’t it?” Jeanine said with a scowl on her face. “I said we’d eat because I don’t know when your dad will be home.”

“But you said he would be home any minute now,” Matty said still whining. Matty plopped down in the middle of the floor and began to cry. “I don’t want to go to bed. I want to eat supper.”

“As long as you’re down there in the middle of the floor you can take your shoes off and set them over by the door,” Jeanine said trying to keep her cool and get her daughter’s mind on something else. “They’re making black marks all over the floor. Then you can set the table.”


Matty got up slowly being careful not to scrape her shoes against the floor. “I’m sorry, Mommy,” she said taking off her shoes. “I’ll set the table.”

Now she was being the obedient child her mother knew she could be. But she also knew Matty was being compliant now because she was getting her way, she was getting something to eat. How did that happen? She had been totally manipulated by a three-year-old and didn’t even realize it at the time.

Jeanine glanced at Matty who was humming Jesus Loves Me as she sat the table. Her
green eyes sparkled as Jeanine sat the spaghetti, salad and garlic bread on the table. “Spaghetti, my favorite!” she exclaimed.

“Go call your brother and we’ll go ahead and eat,” Jeanine said. “It’s almost 7 as it is.”

Matty skipped off in search of her 8-year-old brother, Buddy. He was a nice big brother, as big brothers go. Sometimes he would let her play with his legos or his hot wheels cars. He’d let her come in his room when no one else was around. But when his friends came over, it was off limits to all girls.

Buddy’s room was at the end of the hall, next to her room. The door was open, but Buddy wasn’t there. “Buddy, Buddy, where are you?” she called just in case she hadn’t spotted him under a pile of clothes somewhere hidden in the room.

The bathroom door was open and her brother wasn’t inside. He wasn’t in the living room watching TV or in the family room playing video games. She opened the back door and called for him again.

“Buddy,” she shouted as loud as her three-year-voice would allow. “Where are you, Buddy?” Then she waited, but all she could hear was the sound of traffic on Lindell Boulevard, the next street over. The quiet had an eery feel to it. It made Matty feel all alone.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” she cried running into the kitchen. “I can’t find Buddy anywhere. He’s lost. He’s lost for sure. Something terrible has happened to him, I just know it. Buddy’s gone and Daddy’s gone and there’s no one else here. We’re all alone, Mommy, we’re all alone.”

Matty ran full force into Jeanine’s arms and it seemed the little girl’s entire body was sobbing. Giant, wet tears rolled down her face and dripped off her cheek onto Jeanine’s shoulders.

“Hey, Baby, it’s all right, really,” her mother soothed. “I’m sure Buddy is here somewhere and Daddy will be home any minute.”

“But, Mommy, you said that lots of minutes ago and Daddy isn’t home and now Buddy is gone. What will we do?”

Jeanine sat down in a wooden chair at the kitchen table and held her daughter. Gently she rocked her back and forth. As she rocked she began humming Matty’s favorite tune, Jesus Loves Me. In a few minutes, Matty’s sobbing had stopped and mother and daughter simply sat holding each other.

“It’s prayer time at church, Mommy. I’ll lead the praying,” Matty announced continuing on without stopping. “Dear Jesus. Bless Daddy and Buddy and keep them safe and bring them home for supper right away because I’m really hungry. And, Jesus, could you send some ice cream, too?”

Jeanine smiled at her daughter when she finished her prayer and gave her a bear hug. In only seconds, Buddy burst through the kitchen door. “Man, am I hungry. What’s for supper?”

Matty jumped down from her mother’s lap and with her hands on her hips, addressed her brother. “And just where have you been, young man?” Then, softening, she ran to him and hugged him around the waist, “I was so worried about you. I prayed for you and Jesus answered my prayer.”

“Hey Sis, Chill,” he said grinning. “I was just playing ball with the guys down at Adam’s house.”

“Next time, let me know where you’re going,” Jeanine said. “We were concerned about you.”

“Wow, spaghetti, let’s eat,” he said pulling out a chair.

“Surprise!” a voice boomed out from the kitchen door. All three Andersons jumped and turned.

“Daddy,” Matty said running to him. “I’m really glad you’re home. I missed you and Mommy and I prayed you would come home safely.”

“You did, Pumpkin,” John Anderson asked smiling. “That’s really good because there was a really bad accident on the interstate. It had traffic backed up for miles. I had to turn off and take a different route home. It just so happened it took me by Baskin Robbins and I couldn’t help but stop for some...”

“Ice cream!” Mattie screamed.

“A peace offering perhaps,” Jeanine said.

“Perhaps,” he said kissing her lightly on the cheek.

“I tried calling. The phone was busy.”

“I haven’t been on the phone all day,” she said with a puzzled expression on her face.
Matty looked down at the floor.

“Matty have you been playing with the phone?” Jeanine asked.

“I was making important phone calls, Mommy. I was calling for the ice cream delivery man. But God sent him instead when I prayed.”

“Wow, you must have really been praying hard today,” Buddy said. “You prayed for me, Dad and ice cream.”

“Yep,” Matty answered. “I did. And God heard me, too, and answered all my prayers. Amen.”

“Well, young lady,” her dad said swooping her up in his arms. “You and I have to have a talk after supper. I have a few things I’d like you to talk to the Almighty about for me.”

“Anything for you, Daddy,” she said smiling. “And I’ll even pray for Mommy and Buddy’s bequests too.”

“I just have one ‘bequest’ right now,” Buddy said rubbing his stomach. “Could we please eat supper?”

September 14, 2003

September 14, 2003

The banner above the entry read, “Victory House Walk-A-Thon.” She pulled her 1992 blue-rust Toyota into the long driveway. “They paved it,” she thought to herself. “It was gravel the last time I was here.”

She would never forget that date, September 14, 2003, the day her son was born.

A teenage girl was motioning the vehicles into makeshift parking spaces. She was about fifteen years old and at least six months pregnant. Sarah had been eighteen when she arrived at Victory House—scared, unmarried, pregnant, with no purpose or direction in life.

“I have come a ways since then,” she said to herself. Her eye caught the corner of her algebra textbook and she groaned. “Why would a social worker need to know algebra anyway?” But she needed it to graduate and graduate she was going to do, next year, when her son would be five years old.

Parking the car, Sarah turned off the key and waited until the beast’s belly jerked, whined, sputtered, and finally died. She stashed her keys in the front pocket of her dirty khaki backpack, grabbed her jacket, and pulled at the doorknob.

At the registration table she picked up her information packet. The next stop, coffee and donuts. She sat down on a step to eat her breakfast. Marilyn, the director, usually gave a pep talk right before the walk started.

Sarah liked just looking at Marilyn. There was a special twinkle in her brown eyes. When she first came to the house, Sarah was the opposite of Marilyn. Lines had hardened around her blue eyes. Laughter had not been in her vocabulary. But today her eyes sparkled like Marilyn’s. “And I’m happy,” she thought as she looked at the holes in her jeans. “Thanks to Marilyn and Jesus I’m happier than I have ever been. I just wish I knew for sure that . . . that I made the right choice back then.”

The crowd grew. Sarah estimated at least a hundred people. The Walk-A-Thon would do well for Victory House this year.

“Looks like a good group came out today,” a pleasant voice said.

“Uh, yeah,” Sarah said, shielding her eyes from the rising sun.

She looked for the source of the voice; it was a young woman, but several years older than Sarah. Sarah immediately noticed her name-brand sweater, jeans and new Reeboks. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby nestled contentedly against her shoulder. His one-piece romper suit probably cost more than Sarah spent in a month on groceries.

Behind her, a man stood dressed in a matching outfit. He pushed a double stroller with bags, blankets, water jug, and a curly-haired toddler. Beside him stood a boy of about four. There was something about the boy that riveted Sarah’s attention.

“I’m Abby,” the woman offered. “That’s Eldon, my husband, and Jerome, my four-year-old. Katie,” she said pointing to the curls in the stroller. “And this little guy is J.D.”

“Sarah,” Sarah offered cautiously.

Marilyn appeared to greet those present, give directions for the walk, and pray with the group. “Dear Lord, send us forth in joy with expectation of having the best day we’ve ever had.” She followed it with a hearty, “Amen.”

Laughter swept the crowd. They knew Marilyn. She believed in good times. People had to laugh around her. It was as contagious as a summer cold, but more welcome.


“I just love that woman,” Sarah said.


“She is special,” Abby said, shaking her head in agreement.

Sarah stood, dusted her hands, and turned to head toward the porch.

“Uh, Sarah,” Abby called, “would you like to walk with us? We could use the help. I mean if you don’t have anyone else to accompany you.”

“Sure. I’ll push the stroller,” Sarah offered.

J.D. napped in the stroller. Katie was more than ready to go and pulling on her mother. Jerome latched on to one of his father’s belt loops and tugged fiercely. “Let’s go, let’s go,” the youngster pleaded.

Jerome and Eldon headed out. Katie began picking up orange and yellow maple leaves. Sarah always enjoyed this walk. Many times while at Victory House, she’d take an early morning walk here daydreaming about the families who might live in the stately homes.

“Sometimes I get frustrated with the kids,” Abby chattered. “But I never question the decisions we made to adopt them. We love them so much.”

Sarah wasn’t surprised the children were adopted. Many of the families at the Walk-A-Thon were comprised of children adopted through Victory House. And, all three of Abby and Eldon’s children looked different. Little J.D. had blonde hair and blue eyes. Katie had curly brown hair and brown eyes. And Jerome had dark hair and green eyes.

“Did you adopt all three at the same time?” Sarah asked.

“No, we got each one as a baby,” Abby said. “We were already approved as foster parents, so we got Jerome right out of the hospital. We didn’t get Katie until she was about a month old. Same with J.D. That extra time with Jerome was special. Almost like I gave birth to him.”

Abby talked nonstop about Jerome. “He was our first,” she said. “I remember everything. We have four photo albums filled with him. Such a great baby. There is no doubt in our minds that he was meant by the Heavenly Father to be our son. I hope I’m not boring you.”

“No, really. You’re not,” Sarah answered. “Tell me more.”

Abby continued to talk about Jerome’s first words and cute things he said and did as a toddler. She even told her about Jerome’s decision to accept Christ last year. They hadn’t let him be baptized yet. They wanted to be sure he understood. But they were very excited about his decision.

As she talked, Sarah began thinking about her son. Forgiveness was something she acknowledged. Accepting it was a different story. It was hard. But her son was living a good life, wasn’t he? If only she knew her baby was with a good Christian family learning about God and being loved.

Jerome and Eldon appeared on the horizon. Jerome had fallen and scraped his knee. He needed a bit of his mother’s TLC, a prayer for healing, and a band-aid from the bag in the stroller. Watching him reminded Sarah of someone from her past, someone she wanted to forget. But there he was again, his eyes, his nose, even his dark hair.

With Jerome’s knee repaired, he and Eldon were once again off and out-distancing the women.

“You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden,” Abby said to Sarah. “What’s on your mind?”

Sarah looked at Abby, the wonderful mother, someone meant to be an excellent mom. Someone she would have chosen herself for her own son. Her son whose father had green eyes and dark hair and a nose just like Jerome's. Could it be? No, it wasn’t possible was it? But she had to know.

“When is Jerome’s birthday?” Sarah asked.

“I think you know the answer to that question,” Abby said.

Sarah was taken aback. “Why would I . . . ?” She stopped and looked at Abby astounded.

Abby said nothing. They were at the end of the walk. Sarah saw Jerome standing with Eldon a few feet away. She turned to Abby and said quietly with tears in her eyes. “September 14, 2003?” Abby smiled and nodded in reply.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Splinters


In a dirt pile, at the edge of the playground, the little girl sits with bits and pieces of stuff piled to her side. She must dig with her hands to find the other pieces, for they are buried. Gently she removes the dirt like an archeologist uncovering a find. When she finds a piece she claps her hands in glee and carefully places it in her special pile. The pile is small, just fragments and pieces of commonly found items that would need to be pieced together if a it were ever to resemble what it once was. The going is slow because some pieces are buried deep. Getting up, she dusts off her light green dress and searches near the trees. With an, "Aha," she picks up a stick and then an old soda can and returns to the dirt pile to continue digging.

An older lady, stooped a little walks with a cane slowly to a nearby wooden park bench. She pulls her black coat tighter around her body. And sits carefully on the bench. She notices the jagged wood edges and reminds herself not to run her hand along it for fear of splinters. They do hurt something awful and with her arthritis, they are impossible for to remove. Once she had one that got infected. She didn’t have money for the doctor and the little thing nearly killed her. She worked at it until it finally came out but it was a long time coming. No, avoiding splinters was definitely the best choice.

It is a spring day but a brisk breeze is blowing. Out of her pocket, she pulls a scarf. Its faint purple and red flowers blow in the breeze. She wrestles it from the wind, folds it into a triangle, places it over her head and ties it around her chin. She watches the little girl now as she gets sheer joy out of each discovery. The old lady sits back, closes her eyes and turns her face to the sun, her head leaning against the back of the wooden park bench.

Suddenly the little girl shrieks with delight and holds up a small sliver of wood. She turns and sees the old lady, looks at the sliver again, then with understanding in her eyes, runs to her.

“Lady, Lady,” she says, tugging at her coat. “Lady, Lady, wake up.”

The older lady slowly raises her head and looks at the young girl's dress blowing in the breeze, her blonde bangs falling across her eyes.

“I have a part of you,” she says holding out the small wooden sliver.

“A part of me?”

“Yes, it is a part of you and you must have it.” With that she places the piece in the lady’s hand and runs back to the dirt pile, digging more furiously.

“Little Girl, Little Girl,” the elderly lady calls.

The girl puts down her tools and runs back to the bench.

“What is this?”

“It is a splinter.”

“A splinter is not part of me. You are crazy. Why would I want this?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a small problem will keep you from having a bigger one?"

“Look, splinters hurt and I have arthritis. I can’t remove them and if I can’t remove them, they become bigger problems. I don’t want this.”

“There is another part to it, I just haven’t found it yet. When I do, I’ll bring it to you. It will make sense then.” She smiles as the old lady stares at the wooden sliver.

“I could throw it away,” the old lady says.

“No, it is part of you. You cannot throw it away.”

“Why do I need it?”

“You need it to be whole.”

“But it will hurt.”

“Then you must go through the pain.”

The old lady shook her head. She was familiar with pain in her life. “It will cause infection and I have no money for a doctor.”

The little girl patted the old lady’s hand. “I will find the other part.” And with that, she ran back to the dirt pile.

The old lady looked at the piece of wood, shivered, and then sighed. From her pocket, she took a handkerchief with a pink flower embroidered in the corner. Carefully she wrapped the wooden sliver in the handkerchief and held it tightly in her hand.

The little girl was digging furiously now. Though she found various things, she shook her head at each discovery and placed it in her special pile.

The old lady's eyes were closed again. Her head was laid back against the bench. Her eyes were lifted upward to the sun once again. In her hand she still held the handkerchief wrapped package.

“Yes,” the little girl shouted. “Yes. I found it.”

Grasping the small object she ran back to the bench.

“Lady, Lady, I found it.”

The old lady raised her head to look in the little girl’s bright blue eyes now wide with excitement. The little girl thrust the piece toward the old lady.

“It will help you with the sliver.”

The old lady carefully placed the handkerchief in her pocket. She opened her hand to receive the little girl’s find.

“Why this is nothing more than a common, ordinary straight pin,” the old lady said.

“No, it is THE pin that will remove your sliver when it becomes a splinter,” the little girl explained. “It is what you need to survive the splinter. It is necessary.”

“But this sliver will not become a splinter if I simply throw it away.”

“You cannot. It is part of you. You must experience this little pain now. See, He’s even given you the way to remove it. A small pain now may keep you from a bigger sorrow later. It is part of the plan. It is part of what will make you whole.”

“What plan?”

“His plan.”

“His plan is not a very good one then. I think I can make a better plan than that.”

She laughed as she pulled the handkerchief from her pocket, found the small wooden sliver and laid in on the bench. She folded the handkerchief and put in back in her pocket.

“Please you must take it or His plan will not work and…”

“…And what? Will the sun refuse to shine? The moon turns to blood?”

Tears formed in the little girl’s eyes as the old lady laid the pin on the bench, as well. Because she was a little unsteady, she used her hands to push off the bench as she stood to grab her cane, leaning slightly on the bench before beginning to walk. When she had put her hands on the bench, the sliver imbedded itself there. She felt a little twinge but thought nothing of it. When she had leaned against the bench to steady herself, the pin had fallen through the wooden slats of the bench to the weeds below and bounced into a crack in the ground.

The little girl knew many things and instantly she knew the sliver had imbedded itself in the old lady and she knew the pin had been lost forever in the earth. Which made her sad for the thing designed to remove the splinter was gone, lost to the old lady.

The little girl watched the old lady walk away, leaning a little more heavily on the cane. She stopped and rubbed a spot on her hand and then slowly continued on her journey. She turned back to the little girl, snickered, shook her head and walked on.

Silently, the little girl’s tears fell on the ground beneath the bench watering the weeds and the cracked, dry ground.

©2009 by Teresa Parker

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Looking at Life from an Eternal Perspective















Not of this earth are we
Not bound by threads or chains or flesh
But free to roam through all eternity
Free to entwine our hearts with the very heart of God.

There are times I know
That Divinity seems more distant than the evening stars
Yet closer than the butterfly darting past.
Where are you God? Where aren’t you, God?

How can I comprehend You
When I see a friend die or a child is beaten and I know You could stop it?
Just one wave of Your hand would do
To make all time stand still.

I can’t even start to understand
Your thoughts, Your ways, Your goings and comings, Your heart.
And so I wait upon this land
For a day when I will soar with You.

Then I’ll know it all.
I’ll see the Master Plan and probably still not understand
But it will be more clear as I stand tall
A spectacle in the heavenly scheme.

We are forever
You and me and God and Jesus and the guy down the road we've never met.
We will die but never,
Always we will be somewhere.

Not of this earth are we
Not bound by threads or chains or flesh
But free to roam through all eternity
Free to entwine our hearts with the very heart of God.


3/15/01 5:37 p.m.

©2001 by Teresa Parker

A Tribute to Maydene Carr, 1/20/04-7/4/93

The rain beats down on my windshield with big, wet drops. Is God crying? Does He feel the pain I feel. Our tears mingle together. And, I don't know why they're coming.

My baby has my grandmother's name and my husband's grandmother's name. We gave our baby girl the names in tribute to two noble, stalwart women, who loved God and family and life and people. We wanted to instill in her a sense of history, of connection to her past.

Today, I sat by my grandmother's hospital bed. Her namesake played with the sheets and talked baby talk. My grandmother's eyes lit up as they always do when she sees one of her great-grandchildren.

"Put her here on the bed beside me," my grandmother pleaded.

I did as she asked. Jenny Maydene played with Grandma's ring and hospital bracelet. Talked some more baby talk, patted Grandma and then settled in for a nap.

"Everyday I think, 'I've got nothing better to do, I could be holding that baby if she were just here,'" Grandma says.

Jenny squirms and rolls over. The hospital bed is too confining. She wants the open spaces. She cries. I succomb and hold her.

"Sometimes I wake up and I don't know where I am," Grandma is telling me. "I don't know if I'm at home or where I am. Then I remember I'm in the hospital. I worry that I'm losing my mind."
She's lived a full and meaningful life. But I hang on to her tenanciously. I don't want to let her go. She means too much to me. I remember her when others would have called her old—in her 50s and 60s when cotton dresses and flour sack aprons were her main wardrobe. And she was worried about dieting and losing weight. Her robust figure had soft, smushy parts just right for hugging grandchildren. Now her body gets frailer with each passing day. Sometimes I look at her and it's hard to see the strong, active farmer’s wife I knew as a child.

She was a leader, opinionated, people-loving. Even though she lived on the farm with Papaw, she was never far from people as long as she had her telephone. And, their home seldom held just two. If children, grandchildren, and other relatives weren't around, there were always neighbors and friends to stop in for a visit. And, if they didn't come to the two-story farmhouse, she and Papaw went to them. She was active in club, auxiliary and church work. She knew everyone for miles around and everyone knew her.

But most of all, she had dignity. She had a sense of calm self-possession in that she knew who she was and what her mission in life was. That's not to say there weren't times she lost it, like the time someone at a box supper let a mouse out of a box and she climbed on a school desk and screamed bloody murder. Still she kept her poise, as much as any grown woman in dress can while standing on top of a school desk howling.

Even now she has dignity. For dignity is defined as the "degree of worth or honor" a person has. In that sense, my grandmother is the most dignified person I know, because of earthly people she is one of those I hold in highest esteem.

So, for all these reasons and more, my baby has her name. But today I realized there is one more reason I gave my baby her name. I realize my baby may one day be all I have left of my grandmother. I gave my little girl a name I love, so hopefully for the rest of my lifetime I'll have a remembrance of the one who originally bore that name.

Hospital is no place for a baby. Our visit has to be short. I don't have much time. I lean down to kiss her and I tell her I love her. She looks me in the eyes and saysthrough tears, “Oh, Honey, if you love me even half as much as I love you, it would be enough.”

And then as we get ready to go, she says, "No, you can't go yet." The visit is just a few minutes out of my busy day. I realize to her it is all she has to look forward to, visits from me and other relatives. We give her more kisses and leave as she calls out, "Don't forget to cover that baby's ears when you go out." Always the caretaker even as she is the one being cared for.

I'm crying as I drive home. But the tears are not for Grandma. I know the Crystal City she is going to will be much better than any earthly home. No, the tears are for me because I love her so much and letting go hurts. God's raindrop tears? They’re for me, too, and for all those who love her dearly. Because He, too, knows how very much we'll miss her when she leaves.

Good-bye Grandma. I love you and I’ll miss you more than any words could ever express. And the rain beats harder on my windshield.

©1991 byTeresa Parker

Falling Again


Lying on my bed, drifting off to a place where I’m hoping dreams are. Tossing, turning, trying to get comfortable on my side, on my stomach, curled up in a ball, on my back. Now, as the dark blueness of the night begins to envelope me, I am lifted supported, floating on a cloud soft like falling into a mound of fleece and satin whiteness surrounded by the smell of baby magic and the touch of tiny fingers. And, I smell Issabella’s sweetness, see Neveah’s smile, touch Drevyn’s curls, hear Jenny’s lovely song and I know I am bound for a journey that includes the sweet nectar of life. Up and up I rise above where this life no longer resides. I am riding in the total smoothness of my airborne limousine complete with built-in comfort control.

Staring into the face of the night, not fearing where it will take me, giving myself over completely to something unseen, I am falling freely into the arms of an Almighty Caretaker who has my nights and days completely accounted for. Below me, the earth fades away. Colors soften. Buildings dim. Sounds mute and the faces of those I know fade away. Traffic continues. The morning routines begin. Workers enter office buildings, drink coffee and trade lies. The day starts and I don’t hear. I don’t see. I don’t feel. Quiet fills me with sound and I am completely at rest.

Floating through a vast expanse of the heavens, I am aware of the cool of the night, the brightness of the stars, the feeling that there is something more awaiting me just around the next cloud, beyond the next galaxy and I so want to experience it. I ask, timidly, may I see?

Suddenly, before me looms a place. It seems it was there before but, I did not see it. Now, it exists. Clouded gates rise all around as if in a fog. Beaming brightly from them a sign blinking in neon. No, it is something even brighter than neon: Authorized Admittance Only. Despite the words, I am lifted above the gates. Below me I see the city that reaches for miles and miles in all directions. As I get closer, the colors begin to rise so brightly that I can not stand the intensity. I close my eyes but I can still see their brilliance, more exquisite than anything I’ve ever experienced. They fill my every pour and ooze out around me. I can't even look to see what they are coloring for their power overwhelms me and I cry out. My voice seems mute as if no one can hear me yet the colors do seem to dim.

As I look there are thousands around me. They bustle to and fro all unaware of me, but they carry on as with a purpose. In the midst of the city stands an enormous building glass on all four walls. Inside I can see many people working. Each has an instant sense of knowing of others around them. They appear to be doing more with the knowing. They are filing, compiling, archiving in some way unknown to me. From the center of the building imamates a light that seems to fill every part of the city. The light is power beyond any power I have ever touched, and yet it is vaguely familiar. I long to see the power and yet all that I am experiencing is overwhelming my current being. My senses are overloaded and I realize with faint knowledge that I have only begun to experience this place. With all that is within me I long to fully understand this place. And yet, I realize, that it is probably because of all that is within me that I cannot understand.

I do not say it aloud, but I want to experience more. Suddenly all around me is sound. It is sound that is indescribable in its magnitude and intensity, unlike any I have ever heard. It is a song and yet not a song. Rising and falling it builds and fades, growing stronger with instruments no man has ever heard. Its melodies are unknown but glorious. Its harmonies so perfectly intertwined, they seem to wind in and out of each other like a garland of ivy. They bring fullness beyond anything to the sense of sound. I know each person around me is part of this complete sound and that each is somehow contributing to make this song completely beautiful. It is the sound of community and it fills me, resonates through me, spills out from my eyes and my ears and my mouth. It does more than touch my ears. It brings a sense of connectedness to me. I want to be connected but, if I were I would surely die because my body cannot contain the sound. It is uncontainable and I cry out for it to stop.

The sound dims but, other sensations overwhelm me now. The senses of sound and taste: Mammaw’s apple cobbler, Grandma’s faint talcum powder, Aunt Mart’s rolls, Mom’s delicate odor that filled her house even months after her death, Aunt Coralee’s pecan pie, Papaw’s overalls after a day of tilling the fields in the hot sun, Aunt Opal and Uncle Claude’s barbecued mutton, Dad’s Old Spice aftershave and clean white shirt, a baby’s soft magic smell, clean laundry, cinnamon rolls baking, fresh rain, lilacs, jasmine and all the earth in bloom. They are smells and tastes that overwhelm my body with sensations that keep coming and I cry for them to stop.

I want to fall on my face but, I can’t for I am still floating above the city. If I get any closer I think I will explode from the inside out and tiny particles of me will become part of all that is around me. But I am here and I want to experience all of the city I can, so I ask. I am allowed to come closer to the tops of the building in the city and I can see they are not made of glass or steel or anything known on earth. These are buildings made with materials that never deteriorate and always glow radiating the energy and light from within. I reach out to touch one surface near me but my hand goes through it. I realize I cannot on my own feel this place and so once again, tentatively I ask and reach out again. This time smoothness that is beyond any feeling on earth wafts through me. I want to rub my whole body against it but instead, I lay my hand flat on the wall and I am engulfed in the feeling. I try to remove it but, I cannot. It is as if a magnet has drawn me and I feel my body slowly being drawn to it. I am afraid that I will meld into the surface become a part of it. I cry out and I am jolted back away from the buildings.

I feel so insignificant in comparison to everything in this city. It is as if all knowing is here as if everything starts and ends here, right here. Below me, I can see inside the building. The surfaces do not contain as much as they gather people to them. People come and go without turning doorknobs. Openings appear where they need to and disappear as suddenly. Some people walk but, others also just appear as if from another galaxy or segment of the city. There are no cubicles or offices but, as people come together they do corporate tasks and a oneness seems to have been achieved. They are definitely about business, though what it is I cannot tell. I sense though that it is important, perhaps the most important of any business in the entire universe. In one building I have the feeling that much knowledge is contained. It seems to vibrate with the pulsing vein of humanity. Could knowledge of all of life be here in this one place? It would be too much to contain in one building. Wouldn't it? I notice people touching screens that seem to be inherent in others, storing knowledge in each other. Building a sense that all are connected that all know. Still there is a power source that fuels all this, I’m sure. Yet I am aware that I am still thinking in earthly terms. We are not in Kansas any more, Toto. This I know for sure.

From the central building now comes a rumbling. It begins and builds like thunder but, louder and more enveloping. The brilliance in the city seems to wane and fade as darkness covers it. All activity ceases in anticipation of something, though I know not what. I watch the faces to have a clue as to what my reaction should be to what would seem to be a coming doom. I am frightened beyond belief. As a matter of fact as much joy and exhilaration that I’ve felt since I’ve been here, I now feel that much dread and fear. It fills me up and I am overcome with the knowledge of my own mortality, my own humanity, my own sin. It is hot but, I don’t know why. The temperature since I got here has been perfect in every way. I can smell burning flesh and hear cries of those in torment. It seems so out of place in this city of perfection and beauty. I don’t know where it’s coming from and I want to hide my face but, there is nowhere to hide. In contrast, all those I see are calm, serene, smiling. They seem to know what the outcome will be. Then, as if a new day were dawning, the thunder ceases. Light and brilliance returns to the city and the sounds of immortal melodies fill every space. The stench of burning is gone and the perfect day returns.

Then, He steps forward. I know in an instant it is He, completion combined in one being. All the city falls on its face before Him. He approaches each person, extends His hand and draws them up to full height wrapping his arms around them. I see the nail prints in His hand, the dried blood at His side, the crown of thorns on His head and I know who He is. In this city of incomprehensible wonders resides the Man of incomprehensible sacrifice, the One who died that I could live. After He wraps them in His presence, He looks each in the eyes and whispers in their ear, “Good job, My Child. Good job.” Then He simply smiles at them. The looks on their faces tell the story. He is all they could ever need. I am still floating above but, I so want to be there by His side. I want Him to look in my eyes, surround me with His presence, whisper gently to me and smile at me. Oh, how I want that smile. It is a deep, longing in my being, that smile, that word, that hug. Surely it would not take effort from me. So far I have gotten everything I asked for. Being so bold as to know He would never deny my request, I ask for this as well.

The moment I ask, I am catapulted out of the city and I am falling this time not on soft, billowy clouds but, headlong like a speeding bullet through the blackness of night. Stars whiz by, meteors zing off me, sending searing pain through my flesh as I gain more and more speed through the emptiness of space. I cannot stop. I am being shot through the heavens at a dizzying rate. I should be burning up now, I think, for I am rocketing toward earth an enormous speed. There is no way I can still be alive. Surely I am dying. Surely this is a part of my demise and I will be where?

Where would I go? It would be nice to be in the place I just visited one that is beyond human comprehension in all areas, one that the God of the Universe has wired to His command, where all is connected to Him and to each other. This would be the place of ultimate purpose and goal as a direct center for command of the universe. To put it in human terms, it is the Enterprise of the Universer with Captain Kirk at the helm. No, it is much more than that. We don’t have a comparison. That’s OK, though, because I experienced it briefly. I know what to expect.

It is clear there is a choice here and it is clear what the choice should be but, how to make it while falling headlong through all the universe is quite a different matter all together. I know with everything within me that all Power comes from the One who died for me. My imperfections so magnified by His perfection now and always let me know that I could never take my place before a perfect God. Obviously, I was thrown from His presence headlong into the universe. But it was my choice, really. My choice because I have chosen not to completely choose Him. I wanted there to be no commitment on my part. The gift is free, that is true. But it requires a turning away from fleshly desires to wanting only Him. I am afraid of the other choice but, now I can no longer smell the burning stenc or fell the heat. Neither can I hear the beautiful melodies or see the brilliant colors. So, the choices have become less of a reality. And with the sure pull of gravity, earth beckons me forward. I remember the feeling of that place. It's a nice feeling, but to be there means to totally give myself over to Him in every way. Am I ready for that?

If I could just stop for a minute I might be able to make a choice but, right now all I can think about is dodging the next meteorite because, man, do they hurt. I want the ringing in my ears to stop. I want to stop falling so fast that I am dizzy and nauseous. If I could just stop for a minute, grab hold of a star or sit for a while beside the lunar sunset then I could choose. And, surely I would choose the right thing, the Sacrifice, the Man with the Power, the One who will smile at me when I choose. But, right now life is going too fast and I am falling again.

©2009 by Teresa Parker

Perfection

She could hear the rhythmic clacking of Robert's clock as she stomped up the stairs. The second stair from the top creaked as 15-year-old Dusty stepped lightly on it. She liked the sound it made. Robert, her math and engineering genius brother, always skipped over the second stair from the top. He said it sounded creepy and even threatened to tear it apart to see why it made that "awful" sound.

Robert wanted everything to be perfect, consistent, rhythmic like his silver ball clock. But Dusty liked things a little out of whack. At the top of the stairs she paused and then went back down two and came back up again. Two extra creaks.

"Stop makin' all that noise!" her brother yelled from the bedroom at the end of the hall. "Can't you see I'm tryin' to study in here?"

"No, I can't see you at all," she called tersely. “And it’s just fine with me if I never see you ever again.”

For Dusty, it had been a particularly horrid day at school. Mrs. Johnson gave back the English essays. Dusty had gotten a D-. In addition to the typos and grammatical errors, her essay was only two paragraphs long and it was supposed to be at least three pages. “Oh well,” Dusty’s friend KT had said, “at least it’s not an F.”

Then, there was the pop quiz in algebra. This time it was an F. Dusty told KT, “What gives with that quiz? I don’t even think Robert could have passed this one.”

In biology, she got stuck with Almo Trendale as a lab partner. His breath smelled. His clothes wreaked of sweat and his hands were dirty. “The frog smelled better than he did,” she told KT.

After biology was lunch and she just couldn’t stomach anything after frog guts. That afternoon, was her childcare practicum. “I got stuck changing poopy baby diapers for three hours,” she told KT. “Now, I get to go home and listen to my perfect older brother brag about his perfect college freshman day. I don’t think I can take it.” And so she had seethed all the way home on the bus and devised ways to take out her wrath on her brother, just because nothing bad ever seemed to happen to him.

She thudded the five steps it took to reach her bedroom door, threw it open and listened to it bang against the wall, and, then, slammed the door shut again, pausing only briefly to touch the button that brought the blaring stereo monster to life. Grabbing her 15-year old teddy bear, she danced around her room making as much noise as possible.

"Man," Robert exclaimed as he burst through her door. "What's a guy got to do to get some peace and quiet around here?"

"Get outta' my room, you Bum," she yelled. "You never let me come in your room, but you're in here every two minutes. Who died and left you in charge anyway?" She took off a red high-top tennis shoe and threw it in his direction.

Shielding his face with his arms, he backed toward the door. Dusty plopped in a well-used bright blue beanbag chair that was slumped in the corner amidst last week's socks and yesterday's underwear. Robert was always so neat. His room was always clean. His clothes always looked like they were freshly ironed even his jeans, when he wore jeans which was seldom, looked pressed. She never could figure it out. Didn't the same mother wash and iron both of their clothes? Why did hers always look like she slept in them? Her mother couldn't figure it out either.

She had said things about her all the time, like lat week when she said, "Why can't you be more like your brother, Helen Ann?" Helen Ann was her given name and her mother preferred to use it, even though Dusty abhorred it. Then at Thanksgiving she’s said to Aunt Judy, "I don't know what I'd do without that boy. He's been such a help to me since his father left us. He's really my mainstay." Dusty didn't actually hear her mother say it, but she knew she was thinking ". . . and then there's Helen Ann. She'll be the death of me yet."

"What's the deal? Slammin' doors and stompin' up the stairs. It's like you got it in for me or something," Robert demanded, jolting her back to the present.

"Couldn't you just mess up once in awhile?" she shot back.

She watched as he leaned against the door frame with that older and wiser big brother look on his face. He crossed his arms. He was wearing his brown striped button-down shirt and tan slacks. As usual, there wasn't a wrinkle in sight. She looked down at her torn red Harvard sweatshirt with a smear of chocolate ice cream across the front and her frayed levis. It made her even angrier.

Right then all she wanted to do was hurt anyone and everyone she could. The whole world seemed to be against her and she wanted to fight back. Robert was a good place to start. He was close, accessible and she knew exactly how to drive him crazy.

She expected him to try to figure out what was the matter with her. After he pried a little bit, she'd shut the door in his face and turn the stereo up a notch just to really gall him. Driving him crazy was her specialty and a marvelous pastime. Maybe he'd fail that calculus quiz he was studying for, she thought smiling.

"Hey, you want to be alone? I know when I'm not wanted. I was a kid once, too.”

“Right, like you’re so much older and so much more the big deal. You’re only 18, three years older. Who says you’re really not a kid?

“What is this? Some woman thing or something?”

“Oh, now I’m a woman and not a kid. How’d that happen so fast?” she yelled over the heavy metal music blaring from her speakers.

“OK, I know when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to draw me a picture. But, could you at least use the headphones for that thing? I'm trying to study, you know."

"I'm always having to give in to you," she retorted throwing a math book in his direction. "Why don't you just leave or something if you've got such a big deal to study for? Just get OUT of my life."

She looked up and to her amazement, he was gone. A few minutes later she heard the engine of his truck roar to life. She turned off the stereo. She didn’t really like music that loud, it’s just that she knew Robert hated it and so when he was around she played it as loud as possible.

The house was quiet except for the clacking of Robert's clock. It was his pride and joy. Uncle Sam and Aunt Judy had given it to him for his high school graduation. It was one of those that had silver balls and moveable parts. On the hour, all the silver balls moved at once. Since the front and sides were glass, all the movements could be watched and marveled at. When the balls weren’t moving, the clock didn’t really tick, it clacked in rhythm. She hated that sound, partly because she never could figure out how the clock worked. She said it made her head hurt to try. Robert, of course, always said he loved the clock. It was a perfect gift he had told them when he opened it. Aunt Judy beamed and Uncle Sam gave Robert a hug.

Everyone knew what to get Robert for a present. Everything he got was just right for him. Dusty got shirts that were always too little and usually last year's style. She hated Robert for that.

She listened again. Quiet. Clack. Clack. Quiet. Clack. Clack. With stealth-like motions she rose. Down the hall, she opened the forbidden door to Robert's sanctuary. He was gone, of course. She couldn’t take out her anger on him or could she?

It was on his bookshelf. She stared at it for several moments. It was almost 7:00 and soon, all the silver balls would roll down the tracks at once causing the next hour of the day to begin exactly on time in sequence. It was the sort of technical perfection that Robert loved, but Dusty hated.

She knew what she had to do. In a second, the clock lay smashed on the floor. She didn't even hear the sound of shattering glass and metal. She looked down at the broken pile on the floor and smiled.

Robert's room was too clean anyway.

©2003, Teresa Parker

Just In Case

Durk felt the cold steel tube of the gun chamber. The heaviness weighed him down as he quickened his step to keep up with Charlie and Sid. Why wouldn’t they wait for him? They were always walking ahead and it was dark. If he knew for sure where they were going, Durk would have beat them all there because he was fast. After all, Charlie called him the Rabbit and he paid him well for his services as a runner.

Durk thought they were headed to gravel lot behind Charlie’s house to talk over a deal. At least that’s what Charlie said but it was dark and Durk had only been to Charlie’s house one other time. Charlie lived with his Aunt Mart and Charlie did a lot of business from the gravel lot behind the house. Aunt Mart always slept soundly and didn’t hear anything Charlie did. And, Charlie did plenty.

Durk laughed to himself as he thought about his friend, Charlie, the Deal Maker. If there was a deal going, Charlie would be in on it. That’s why Durk was glad that Charlie hand-picked him to help as a runner for the business. Durk wasn’t in on most of the intricacies of the deals. But he’d turned 17 last week and Charlie said it was time to cut Durk in on some more of the action. Durk wasn’t too worried about what the deal would be. Charlie was lucky. No one ever caught Charlie. He always went for the sure deals, ones that would make everyone involved some good money. He was a businessman after all and he told Durk that as a businessman he valued Durk’s loyalty above anything else.

I’d never squeal out Charlie, Durk thought to himself. That would be like cutting my own throat. Charlie is like my boss, he’s the man that pays the money. Durk’s family needed the money, that was for sure. Since his dad’s accident, money was tighter than ever.

They were in the gravel lot behind an old ramshackle house. The street light three houses down gave a faint glow to the lot even though it was too dark to make out Charlie and Sid’s faces.

They weren't whispering but weren’t yelling either. “Can’t ever be too sure who might be listening,” Charlie said. “So keep your voices down.”

“So what’s the deal?” Durk asked.

“It will be easy, Rabbit,” Charlie had said cuffing Durk on the shoulder. It was meant to be a friendly tap, but, man, was Charlie big. He probably outweighed Durk by at least 100 lbs.

Durk hit the ground hard. Too stunned to move, he felt a bit of wetness in the corner of his eye. He brushed it away grateful for the poor lighting. Buck up. Be a man about this. You’re 17, remember?

Sid guffawed at Durk. “Whatsa’ matter, Little Boy? Need your Mommy to help you up? Maybe you need your Mommy to help protect you, too.”

“Stop it, Sid,” Charlie had said giving Durk a hand and even helping brush off the gravel sticking to his pants. “We can give him some protection.”

Durk looked at the ground and once again felt the tears thereaten. Don't be a cry baby. Be a man. Why couldn’t he be a man? He was 17, wasn’t he? He was practically the man of his family what with his dad’s disability. He should have said something to Sid. Why did he always have to let Charlie fight his battles. He needed to stand up for himself if he was going to get anywhere. Making it was important to Durk. Oh sure, some day he planned to get a real job but until then, working for Charlie made him more money than any part-time job.

Durk was cut short in its daydream when Charlie handed him the gun. Even in the dark, the steel shaft gleamed. He stared at it in awe. His own gun, wow. Maybe Charlie really did think he was a part of the team, after all. He didn’t know what kind of gun it was. But that was OK, Charlie was telling him he didn’t want him to shoot the gun.

“Put it in your pocket, Rabbit. But don’t use it. Just hold it, kind of like insurance. It’s a just-in-case thing.”

The thrill was almost unbearable. Charlie trusted him with a gun. Charlie knew he was a man. Charlie knew it, so it must be true.

Suddenly his mind went to his dad. What would Dad think of Durk carrying? Ever since the shooting, Dad kept a gun in the house, he had it handy just in case, he said. Durk remembered how Dad put his gun in Durk’s hand. He showed him how to hold it with both hands, aim at a row of soda cans and pull the trigger.

“We’re the men in the family,” he told Durk. “We have to protect the women. But only use a gun if necessary, for protection. Don’t ever use it to scare someone or bully someone. A gun is only for, well, it’s for just in case.” Then he took the gun from Durk and put it in the drawer of the table beside his bed.

That was the same thing Charlie said, “It’s for just in case.” Dad wouldn’t mind if Durk carried a gun for just in case.

“So what’s the plan?” Durk said again to Charlie.

“The plan, my man,” Sid said answering instead, “is to make a little exchange. See, they got something we want and they think we ‘re gonna buy it.”

“But don't we need money?”

“What, you don’t got any money?” Sid said laughing. “We told them you were the one with the money!”

“Nuh uh. I don’t got no money.”

“He don’t got no money, Charlie,” Sid mimicked.

Durk saw the meanancing look Charlie gave Sid. “Rabbit, that’s what that thing in your pocket is for. But remember we’re not shooting anybody. We’re just using it to get what we want. We'll sell the stuff, get paid and split the loot. See, easy.”

“Split?” Sid said. “This little pipsqueak don’t get a full cut, no way. What’s he doing for his part anyway?”

“He’s Rabbit, the runner.”

“Where do I got to run to, Charlie?”

“See, he don’t even know what to do. Even if he is 17, he looks all of 12. Geez, man. This is too important a job to leave it to a little kid to handle.”

Charlie’s cell phone rang. He took the call and listened intently. “You’ll not be disappointed,“ he said popping the phone closed. He bent down, put his hands on his knees and looked Durk in the eyes.

“OK, Rabbit, here’s what you got to do for your cut. When the guys with the goods come, they’re gonna’ ask us for the money and we’re gonna’ say we want to see the stuff first. Then, they show us the stuff, we show them our guns and we take the stuff. We hand it to you and you run like you the rabbit you are, like you don’t got better sense. You stay to the back alleys and back yards and go ‘til you get to the regular drop at the old warehouse. Take the bag that’s there and run back to your house. We’ll meet you behind your garage and divide the dough. Now, put your hood up and keep your coat zipped up. Stay behind the dumpster 'til we get the stuff. And, oh, you can thank me for cutting you in on this deal later.”

“Uh, thanks, Charlie. I mean it, thanks.” He drew designs in the dust with the toe of his tennis shoe. “My dad. . . well, just thanks.”

“No problem, Rabbit. But remember if you get caught . . .”

“. . . I don’t know anything or anybody.”

Charlie smiled and nodded, but Durk saw a silent nod back from Sid, as well. What was that? Durk thought if he were Charlie he'd be concerned about what Sid would say if he were caught.
They were headed toward the Park N Go now, down the round and around two corners. Durk thought of his dad’s gun as he fingered the one in his pocket. His dad’s gun was smaller than this one, but he figured all guns were pretty much the same. Just point, pull the trigger and bang.

Durk laughed nervously. He wouldn’t need to shoot. It was for just in case. He repeated it over to himself as he heard his tennis shoes slap against the asphalt pavement, a rhythm that might have been soothing if he were running home or to the store for his mom or even to youth group on Sunday night. Now it just seemed to repeat: just in case, just in case, just in case.

They stopped at the corner, near the liquor store, which at 9 p.m. on Sunday was just closing. Thoughts were swirling through Durk’s head. This job was different from anything he’d done for Charlie before. But Charlie was the man. Durk trusted him. He’d always taken care of Durk. He paid him well for the various errands and deliveries Durk did. Always there was a package for Durk to deliver to an address and then someone would give him another package to take back to Charlie. The work was easy because Durk was fast. This was one area where his size was to his advantage. He was small, quick and he liked to run. Making money to run was easy pay and it helped the family budget. Never mind that his mom and dad thought he was working after
school cleaning the warehouses.

It seemed to be getting late. Workers from the Park N Go were gone.

“How much will my part be?” Durk asked.

“Maybe 2-3Gs,” Charlie said. Durk quickly figured that meant he would be carrying $6,000-$9,000. His knees started to get a little shaky. He could do this, he told himself. His folks could use the extra money. And people would buy the stuff from someone if not from him.

“Don’t give him that much money,” Sid said again. “What’s he doin’ for his money besides looking like a scared rabbit?”

“He runs like a scared rabbit.”

Durk thought about why he ran like a scared rabbit. First of all, because he could. Second, because he liked the feeling of being faster than anyone else. It had gotten him out of lots of jams. More than once older guys had told him they’d be waiting for him after school to teach him a lesson about something or other.

Charlie laughed about the first time he noticed Durk. It was one day after school when Durk shot past a group who were waiting to beat him up. "You ran like a blur past them. You were a speeding bullet. Those guys agreed that rabbit was too much trouble to try to catch. I guess they wanted easier prey. Not too much meat on your bones anyway. But I knew your skills were too valuable to waste.”

That was last year when Charlie was still in school. He’d graduated or maybe he quit. Durk was sure. He did know that Charlie was already 21.

Charlie offered Durk a job, as a runner, he said. It would be an easy job of delivering and picking up packages. Durk never asked what was in the packages but he wasn’t stupid. He knew for the amount of money Charlie had been paying him, it probably wasn’t letters to a friend. The job had been easy so far, but then he hadn't been in on this end of the deal before. But the pay was better this time and he was happy Charlie trusted him enough to let him in on a deal of this size. And Durk trusted Charlie. If it were Sid in charge, he wasn’t sure he’d be as convinced. But at least Charlie was in charge and he was sure Charlie would keep Sid in line.

He looked at his watch, 9:30. Durk’s sisters would be pushing their dad home from church in his wheelchair. Every Sunday night, they always went to youth group and took their dad to the adult service. Sometimes Durk went, too. He liked youth group because they always played basketball afterwards. Durk wasn’t tall but he was quick and he could shoot pretty well.

Plus, Pastor Brad was just wild. He thought about him riding into the gym on a Harley last week. The whole theme that week was born to be wild, centered around some song from the 70s. He had talked about how Jesus was born to do some outrageous things like die on the cross for us. He said most people wanted to be rebels but no one wanted to be the ultimate kind of rebel that Jesus was: the kind of rebel who would die for others. To follow Jesus was going against the flow, being a rebel completely. But Durk didn’t want to be a rebel. He just wanted to help his mom pay the bills since dad couldn't work. He knew some things Charlie did weren’t right, but it wasn’t like Charlie was trying to be a rebel either. He was just helping his family, too, wasn’t he? Durk knew he lived with his aunt and she couldn’t work. Charlie paid for everything. He took care of everything. He needed money, too. They weren’t rebels or bad guys. They were just doing what they needed to do to survive.

He wished he could have gone to youth tonight, but then Charlie said he needed his help. He couldn’t let Charlie down, or his mom. The two were entertwined in his mind. Working for Charlie meant he had money to give his mom.

Soon his sisters would be needing help getting his dad in bed. He wondered how long this job would take. He wondered, too, if this job would get him in trouble. Yeah, if he’d be truthful with himself he knew he’d been carrying drugs before. But now there was no question. He’d be carrying drugs and then drug money. Was his family worth it? Yes, his family was worth it.

“When are they comin’?”

“Should be anytime. Let’s go back behind the dumpster. We have a view of the street from there so we can see them but they won’t be able to see us. You loaded, Sid?”

“Yeah.”

Why would their guns would be loaded if they weren’t going to shoot?

“Am I loaded?” Durk asked.

“Yeah, Kid, you’re loaded, just like me,” Sid said laughing. Durk wasn’t sure if Sid was joking with him or not. He just hoped he didn’t have to fire the gun. It was well past 10 now and Durk was sure his sisters would be mad that he wasn’t there to help lift his dad into bed. He was small, but he was bigger than them. He felt ashamed that he was shirking his responsibilities. Maybe he could do everything in the morning and his sisters could sleep late.

“So Rabbit, what’re you gonna’ do with your cut?”

“Give it to my mom.”

“Hey Charlie, did you hear that? The Rabbit’s gonna’ give his two Gs to his mommy. How’re you gonna’ explain that much money to her?”

“I got a raise?” Durk said shrugging his shoulders.


“Well, I’m gonna’ buy a ride for sure and maybe a big screen tv,” Sid said. “What about you Charlie?”

Durk looked at Sid out of the corner of his eye. Sid was older than Durk or Charlie. At 25, he was the old man of the group. Durk thought it a little strange that Sid was older but Charlie was definitely the one in charge. Sid was more like the muscle and Charlie, the brains. Both looked like they worked out whenever they weren’t doing business. Durk was glad they were on his side.
Charlie motioned for them to be quiet and gestured with the gun in his hand down the road to where a car was turning. He quickly stuck the gun back in his jacket pocket. Durk assumed the guys would be on foot. He could outrun most anyone on foot but, he wondered how he would outrun the car if they came after him.

He looked up at Charlie to ask the question pointing at the car and then his feet. Charlie just pointed to his gun. Durk was confused. Was Charlie indicating he’d use his gun to disable the car? That meant someone would have to fire their gun. Durk’s stomach was in his feet. His heart pounded inside his shirt. The rhythm was the same as before: just in case, just in case, just in case.

He heard his dad’s voice in his head, “Guns kill people. If they don’t kill you, they sure can hurt you. Just look at me. Don’t use a gun unless you absolutely have to, only to protect your family, never to intimidate.”

Everything was happening now. Durk watched the events unfold, but he felt as if he were viewing them like a slow motion movie rather than in real time. A black SUV pulled up to back of the Park N Go. He saw Sid and Charlie with their hands in their pockets most likely fingering the guns. They stepped out from behind the dumpster. Durk stayed partially hidden. The gun in his pocket felt heavy again.

The back door to the vehicle opened. The street light illuminated the red flame pinstripe on the door. Callahan stepped out. Durk recognized him immediately. The red flames seemed to leap off his black shirt. Fire Devils. Charlie was messing with the Fire Devils? Man, we’re in trouble now.

His hand wrapped around the gun, then pulled it out of his pocket. He heard the words in his head: just in case, just in case, just in case.

“Where’s your stuff?” he heard Sid say.

“Where’s your money?” Callahan countered.

Time seemed to stand still but in reality, it only took a split second before two other black-shirted teens jumped from the car. They pointed guns, big hand guns, at Sid and Charlie.

“Hand over the money.”

Durk’s gun was in his right hand, finger on the trigger, left hand steadying it. Sid pulled his gun from his jacket pocket. Charlie did the same and stepped to the right blocking Durk’s view. Durk, gun still drawn and aimed, moved to get a better view. When he did, he accidently kicked a bottle which clattered from behind the dumpster.

The Fire Devils pointed their guns toward the sound and fired. Charlie saw, anticipated the shots and jumped in front of Durk just as the guns were fired. Durk had jumped at the sound of the guns. One bullet caught Charlie in the stomach, dropping him to the ground. Blood splattered everywhere. Durk dropped his gun and took two steps to Charlie’s side, kneeling beside him, he cradled his head in his lap.

As soon as Charlie fell, the driver of the vehicle had it rollin. Fire Devils ran stumbling over each other to jump in the open doors. They sent random bullets back at Sid, Charlie and Durk, though no one seemed any good at hitting a target. Sid ran toward the vehicle and fired three shots at the Fire Devils. Both went wide and hit the SUV. The boy who shot Charlie didn’t look over 16. He was slower than the rest and jumped in just as the car squealed its tires out of the parking lot. Chasing the car, Sid got off two more shots before it sped down the street. Durk saw Sid look back at Charlie sprawled on the ground. He shook his head, threw up his hands and loped off in the opposite direction.

Durk cradled Charlie’s head. “Charlie, Charlie, I’m here, Charlie.”

“Hey little Rabbit. You best…leave...the cops,” he stopped talking but Durk could tell he was still breathing. He remembered the cell phone Charlie had earlier and pulled it out of his friend’s jacket pocket.

“There’s been a shooting,” he said when it connected to 9-1-1, “behind the Park N Go on Rodgers. It’s my buddy. There’s a lot of blood.” Then he threw the phone down and stroked Charlie’s brow.

“Why’d you jump in front of the gun, Man,” Durk said. “Why’d you do that? Guns kill people.”

“They were pointing at my little…rabbit… It was a .45. It would have flattened a rabbit, but I can take it.”

“You’re not Superman, you know.”

“But I am the man. I can take a bigger hit.”

“Charlie, you said the guns were for just in case.”

“You gotta get out of here…run…Rabbit…run.”

Durk heard the sirens now. He thought of Mom at work at the Shady Inn, of his sisters putting Dad to bed, of the money they wouldn’t have and of the youth group and Pastor Brad. The guys would be playing basketball now. He wished he were there with them.

Officer Radison was the first on the scene. An ambulance was only seconds behind him. After checking Charlie’s pulse, finding he was alive, trying to talk to him and getting no response, he turned him over to the ambulance crew. Looking around the scene, he spotted Durk’s gun which he handled by picking it up with a nearby stick through the gun handle.

“This yours?” he asked.

It really wasn’t his. It was Charlie’s. Should he say yes or no? He shrugged his shoulders.

“Let me rephrase that. Did you have possession of this gun tonight?’

Durk slowly shook his head yes.

“When did you fire it?”

“I. . .I didn’t.”

The officer stared at Durk for at least 10 seconds. Then he said quietly. “It’s been fired. Recently.”

Durk’s face went white. Had he fired the gun? He remembered having it in his hand, pointing it, having his finger on the trigger but he didn’t remember firing it. Everything had happened at once. The Fire Devils had their guns drawn pointed at Charlie and Sid. Then Durk stumbled and the Fire Devils pointed towards him and Charlie stepped in front of the bullet. The Fire Devils fired. Charlie and Sid fired. Did he fire his gun? Durk’s mind was filled with thousands of images coming at him nonstop but none of them made sense.

Where had he been and where had Charlie been. If he had fired his gun could it have hit Charlie? He couldn’t have shot his friend, could he? Over and over again the words beat in rhythm with his heart. Just in case. Just in case. Just in case.

Charlie was being loaded in the ambulance. Durk turned, ran to his side and started to climb in, but Officer Radison pulled him back.

“No Son. You’re coming with me.”

“But Charlie. Will Charlie be OK?”

“I’m not sure.”

Durk turned to the paramedic who was closing the door. “Wait, wait. Will he be OK?”

He just shook his head. The siren wailed. The ambulance took off down the street lights blazing.

Durk knew in his heart. Charlie was dead.

What had Pastor Brad said? Jesus was the ultimate rebel because he gave his life for his friends. Pastor Brad had talked about how people today were only concerned about themselves, not anyone else. But Jesus had come to live his life to die for others. Charlie had done that for Durk. Charlie had died for him. Maybe Jesus had too, Durk wasn’t sure of that, but he was sure of one thing. Charlie died for Durk even though he had said the gun was for just in case.

There was nothing left to do. Officer Radison held Durk’s head as he ducked into the back of the squad car. The car pulled out of the drive. From somewhere a repetitive sound maybe an engine tick seemed to drum in Durk's head: just in case, just in case, just in case. Durk wondered what constituted just in case.

He couldn’t stop the flood any longer. Don’t do it. A man wouldn’t do it. But he couldn’t help it. Alone in the back of the squad car, Durk wept.

©2009 by Teresa Parker