Fiction 2012

PK — Ellen Burns

She was crying, telling me about how, where, and when Jesus had touched her. I’m not good with emotions—never have been—so I didn’t really know what to do. I just froze up as if I’d been caught doing something shameful. This was a lot more than I’d bargained for. They hadn’t taught us how to respond in a situation like this. “Crazy, charismatic widow” wasn’t listed as a possible scenario on the handout we’d been given by Pastor Matthews, a.k.a. my father. But, of course, that was the card I’d been dealt.

Her fifty-year-old hand brought the snot-stained hankie down to her lap and she looked straight at me, like she could see clear through me to the other side of the stuffy living room. “He’s always here, ya know?”

“Yes, ma’am. I know.” I’d zoned out, but I assumed she was referring to Jesus or God or whomever. But, looking back, I guess she could have been talking about her husband. Either way, she seemed satisfied with my answer.

It reminded me of a sermon my father had done a few months ago on faith. The main idea of the thing was for us to “strive to see by faith, instead of relying on sight.” He read from Hebrews 11, verses 1 through 16. I remembered that. The exact passage, I mean. That was not a usual occurrence. I tended to zone out during scripture readings. But, during that one sermon, I’d even memorized one line my father read that really stuck with me: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen.” Who knew if God was real or not? I sure as hell didn’t. But I really did like that line about faith. I don’t know why, but I did. I can’t explain it.

“You look so handsome in that fancy little suit with your hair all slicked down. How old are you? Early twenties, I bet.”

“Very early twenties. I turned twenty last month.”

“How exciting! The next ten years will be some of the best of your life.”

“How do you know?” The bluntness of my question startled both of us. She stared at me for a few moments with slightly-raised eyebrows, then subtly smiled. I think Quentin Tarantino would have liked the shade of her lipstick. It was a bold blood-red.

“I’m guessin’ you’re burning up walking door to door under this hot Arkansas sun. How ’bout a nice glass of lemonade?” She uncrossed her legs, which looked deceptively tan and youthful due to the sepia-colored pantyhose they hid beneath. “Freshly squeezed?” Beads of perspiration gathered at the point on her chest where her cleavage began. I’m not an expert on breasts or anything, but hers seemed perkier than most women’s her age.

I mentally slapped the back of my head for noticing, hoping she remained unaware of my prolonged stare. “How can I say no to that?”

Her smirk grew into a full smile, revealing a smudge of red lipstick that stained the bottom corner of her right front tooth. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. I figured it was something that would be better for her to discover when she was by herself, after I’d left. “Be back in a jiffy.” When she rose from her plush, red chair, the hem of her navy polka dot dress fell right above her knobby knees.

I looked into the brown paper bag sitting by my right foot. Three more tp go. Only three more pocket-sized copies of the New Testament to give away before I could return to the church. If I stuffed them behind a pillow or shoved them between the cushions or under the sofa before the widow came back with the lemonade, I’d be done. Task completed. Mission accomplished. I might even be able to beat the other six men back to the church. That’d please my dad. But did I care enough to cheat?

The living room was soft. Draped over the back of the sofa was a crocheted blanket matching the orange crocheted coasters scattered throughout the room. Everything within the cream-colored walls seemed to glow, highlighted by the sun pouring in through the large picture window. The curtains framing the window looked like they were made out of velvet. Though they were a shade of red, I couldn’t help but think of David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet and suddenly felt uneasy. / shouldn ‘t be here, I thought. “Spreading the good news” was the last way I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoon. But last Sunday, when my dad asked for volunteers at the end of the service, I knew there was no way in hell I’d be able to get out of helping. Single, jobless, and twenty, I had no excuses. No plans. No life of my own.

In high school, everyone gets labeled. It’s inevitable. But when people graduate from high school, as they “grow up” and become “adults,” there is a chance for them to ditch those reputations. Who they are becomes defined by their jobs and the kinds of people they become—what they contribute to the world. Being a good boss, husband, and father override winning first place in the Craighead County spelling bee when you were thirteen.

But I’m an exception. A special case. I always have been—and always will be— pegged as a preacher’s kid. Even though there are several examples that defy the stereotype that preacher’s kids are perfect—Ariel Moore in Footloose, and Jessica Lovejoy in The Simpsons, to name a few—once people believe something is true, it’s hard to convince them otherwise. With my dad the minister at First Baptist Church and my mom the secretary, I never got invited to parties or asked to join in any shenanigans, people assuming it was engrained in my DNA to “do the right thing.” The high expectations people placed on me stunted my ability to socialize. The kind of camaraderie found in cult classics like Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a foreign concept to me. After my senior year, I was ready to be done with school. But without a paying job I had no money, which meant I had to rely on my parents—every high school graduate’s worst nightmare.

“Here you go.” The widow leaned over to hand me a sweating glass of lemonade, allowing me a glimpse of her chest that left little to the imagination. I loosened my tie, suddenly feeling warm. A voice in the back of my head told me to turn away, but I was in a trance. Time was moving in slow motion. Several seconds must have passed before the widow stood up straight. But when she finally did, I noticed how loose the dress was on her, not form-fitting or clingy anywhere. She must have lost weight at one time or another. Perhaps her loneliness had plummeted her into a state of depression. I could relate.

“You like my dress?” Shit. She’d caught me staring.

“It’s very nice.” She smiled. “Classy,” I added, feeling like I needed to say something more to fill the silence.

She took a seat in the red chair. “Willard loved it on me.” She tried to smooth out the places where the extra fabric gathered.

“I can see why,” I said, attempting to flatter her without being inappropriate. Her smile looked expectant. I felt like I was playing a game that I didn’t know the rules for. Or maybe there were no rules.

In order to not seem impolite, I casually pretended to scratch my forearm so I could get an update on the time. I’d been there for almost half an hour. Accepting that there was no way I’d get back to the church before the others at this rate, I decided to sit back, relax, and enjoy my freshly-squeezed lemonade. It tasted kind of funny, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I consumed nearly half of it within a few big gulps.

“I don’t think I caught your name,” she said, carefully setting her nearly-empty glass in the middle of a crocheted coaster.

My knee-jerk reaction was to come up with an alias, not because I felt threatened, but rather because I was bored and figured I’d probably never see this woman again. So, instead of saying, “My name’s Jacob,” I thought about some of the movies I’d recently watched on AMC. The Graduate popping into my head, I told the woman, “It’s Ben. My name’s Ben.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ben. I’m Mrs. Robertson.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me!” I blurted out. Her raised eyebrows caused her forehead to wrinkle in a way that resembled the bunched fabric of her dress. “I mean, you must be kidding. What’s your last name, really?”

She suddenly lowered her eyebrows, pulling them together and moving the gathered wrinkles down with them. “Ben. I’m not kidding. Why would you say that?”

“Well, you don’t find it peculiar that—I mean, considering the situation—with my name being Ben and your name being so close to—” I paused for a second and tried to collect and organize my thoughts. “Haven’t you seen The Graduate!” I finally asked.

“No, I can’t say I have. Willard and I never watched much television.” She paused, turning to look at a tangerine-colored, corduroy recliner to her right, as if there were a third person in the room. “Why do you ask?” she said, grabbing her lemonade from the coaster and making eye contact with me once again.

“Don’t you even know what the movie’s about?”

“Tell me, Benjamin. Maybe it’ll ring a bell if you describe it.”

“Forget about it,” I grinned, amused by the woman’s obliviousness to the coincidence and pleased to be in on a secret joke with myself.

“How long have you lived in Jonesboro?”

“Willard and I have resided in this very house for thirty years. We built it ourselves.”

“What did your husband do?” “What do you mean?”

“What did he do to make a living?” I grabbed my glass of lemonade and took a few more swigs. It was starting to go down smoother.

“Oh. Willard worked for Tupperware.”

I struggled to keep the lemonade from escaping my mouth. “Plastics?” I blurted out. “He was in plastics?” This was getting better and better.

She thought for a moment, as if she were unsure of the accuracy of her answer. “Yes. That was his job. Yes.” She squinted, looking at me suspiciously. “Why are you behaving so strangely, Benjamin?”

“No reason. I apologize.” I tossed back the rest of my lemonade. “And it’s Ben. Benjamin is too formal and dignified. I’m no Benjamin.” I was no Dustin Hoffman, either, but this was Academy Award material.

“Does that mean you’re humble or ashamed?”

“What do you mean by that? Do I have to be one or the other?”

“It’s okay. I’ve not always been the pious woman I am today.” She licked a condensed droplet of water trickling down the side of her glass. “When God came into my life, I was in quite a state.” With her wet glass in hand, she leaned forward. My eyes immediately went to the gap between her neckline and chest but all I saw were hollow shadows. “Do you understand?”

I wanted to say, Yes. I’ve been arrested. I’ve lived. But that would have been yet another lie. I’d never done anything illegal, aside from underage drinking, but who wasn’t guilty of that? Wine is considered to be a sacred beverage for Chrissake. I knew my parents would disown me if I got into severe trouble, and if they kicked me out, I’d have nowhere to go. No one to turn to. Not even God himself could bail me out of that one. If I were being truthful, I would have told the widow that I was a stick-in-the-mud who is sick of his parents but not independent enough to leave them.

But I wasn’t me. I was “Ben, not Benjamin.”

“Yes. I understand, Mrs. Robertson. But God loves everyone.” I no longer knew who the fuck I was. The goody-two shoes PK (a nickname for preacher’s kid)? Ben, the repentant criminal? Or Jacob? This was no movie. But I felt removed from reality.

“Ben, have you ever done hard drugs?” Curve ball.

“Naw. I prefer the soft stuff, like Robitussin or Benadryl.” I laughed uneasily, an attempt to break the tension. The silence lasted long enough for me to turn sun-burnt red.

“I like you,” she said smiling, her red-stained tooth still prominent, resistant to being washed away by the lemonade. “Let me get you some more cold lemonade.” Before I could protest, she was heading toward the kitchen with my empty glass.

Unsure of what exactly I’d gotten myself into, I gave the room a second look-over to see if anything hinted at a dark past. Slowly scanning the room from left to right, I turned my head to look behind me. When first entering the room, I had failed to notice a small fish tank resting on the built-in shelves above the couch. Somehow it looked familiar, causing me to experience a wave of deja vu. A few grayish-colored fish swam around inside, and a black scuba diver figurine stood on the bottom, looking up. I suppose that if your husband dies, and you don’t have a lot of friends, you get fish. It made me kind of sad, in a way. Looking at the fish swimming around in such a small tank. I don’t think I’d have the heart to trap them like that. But Mrs. Robertson did. What did that say about her? But lots of people own fish. Maybe I was being paranoid. I wanted to trust her so badly. She made me feel warm inside; that must’ve been a good sign. Plus, this was the longest conversation I’d had with someone other than my parents in as long as I could remember. But I wondered if this noble-intentioned, Christian widow was just putting on an act in order to cover up addictive, and possibly even illegal, habits she’d never been able to shake. Or was she a true convert who decided to make drastic lifestyle changes in the name of the Father and his Son?

The longer I stared at different parts of the living room—the crocheted coasters, the velvet curtains, and the creme-colored shag carpet—the more familiar it all seemed to me, like visiting your grandparents’ house after years have passed. Strangely enough, I felt like this woman, who I had known for no more than half an hour, would tell me the truth. Why wouldn’t she? I’d never thought of myself as having a threatening or authoritative demeanor. Besides, Jonesboro had grown a lot over the past few years; the probability that I’d see this woman again after today was low.

“Here you go.” When she bent over to set the glass down on the coaster, I didn’t even turn my head, knowing I’d be too weak to avoid peering into the gap. Besides, the image of her ample breasts was forever engrained in my memory.

“Thanks, ma’am,” I said, training my eyes on a bird snacking on some seeds in a feeder suctioned to the outside of the picture window.

“So, where were we?” she asked, resuming her position across from me.

“I believe you were about to reveal some dirty secrets from your past. Now, I am not a fan of Catholicism, I have to say—it’s too strictly rooted in tradition—but I am not opposed to confessing for the sake of confessing. Sometimes it’s good for the soul…. So I’ve been told,” I added, realizing what a hypocrite I was.

“Alrighty, Benjamin. But if I’m gonna do this, we’re gonna have to do it my way.” She smiled again. The tooth formerly stained with lipstick was now clean.

“And what does that entail, may I ask?”

“I don’t see why this confessional has to only be about me. We’re all equal in God’s eyes aren’t we?”

“That’s what they say,” I said, trying not to sound sardonic. “What are you suggesting?”

“Well, I think it’s only fair that every time I spill one of my sins, you do the same. Deal?”

“Hmm.” I took a sip of my lemonade and noticed I was starting to feel warmer and more relaxed. I slipped off my sport coat. This woman was casting a spell on me. She made me want to tell her stuff I’d told nobody else. “Okay,” I agreed.

“And no questions with regard to the sin are allowed following its disclosure. Are we in agreement about that?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Great.” She grabbed a handkerchief from the table beside her and delicately blotted her forehead. Before setting it back down on the table, she dabbed at her glistening cleavage. She wasn’t the only one working up a sweat. “I suppose I go first.”

“Well, according to the rules you’ve established, I am only required to tell you something about myself after you have already done so. Isn’t that right?”

“Alright. Here it is, then: Willard was my fourth husband.” I followed her glance to a picture on the wall of a younger version of her with an older man standing at her rear with a hand lovingly resting on her shoulder.

“Is that a sin?”

She turned her attention back to me. “To’ve been married four times? Some people would probably consider it one. Marriage itself is probably a sin to some folks.”

“Charlie Chaplin was married four times. I don’t know if he was a sinner, but he sure did the world a lot of good.”

“Everyone’s a sinner.” She took a sip of lemonade. “Your turn, Benjamin.” I hesitated. “My name’s not Benjamin.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Ben.”

“No, I mean, I lied to you about my name. It’s really Jacob.” “You lied about your name?” “Yes, ma’am. I sure did.”

“Why would you do an odd thing like that? Surely I don’t come across as menacing.” She smiled a smile that lacked innocence.

“I don’t know why, to tell you the truth,” I said, nervously rubbing the back of my damp neck.

“Well, the truth is all I ask for, dear. That’s what this is all about.” “Your turn. I told you something about me, so now we’re back to you.”

“Fair enough.” She reached into a canvas floral-print purse near her left foot and pulled out a blue, paper fan. When she opened it you could see a white dove imprinted across it. Its wings were spread, and as she fanned herself, it looked as if it were flying. A kind of optical illusion, I guess.

“I spiked the lemonade.”

“You what?” I set down my glass.

“It’ll do you good. Loosen you up a bit.”

“What’s in it?” I asked, looking at the glass.

“You’re not supposed to ask questions, remember?” she said. “And if I told you, that would be another secret.”

“Touche, Mrs. Robertson.”

“Your turn,” she said.

I took another gulp of lemonade. I couldn’t taste the alcohol, but I could feel it.

“I’m feeling a buzz from the lemonade,” I admitted. “Is that pathetic?”

“If that was your turn, it is.” She smiled.

I hadn’t intended for that to be my secret, but it was probably more interesting than most of what I had to tell. “Well, it’s something I wasn’t going to share, but I did,” I said to her. “Personally, I think it’s embarrassing. I don’t drink much, though, so I guess it makes sense. But I’ve always admired Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, walking around with a White Russian in hand and his bathrobe open. That’s the life right there. Cheers to ‘The Dude,'” I said, raising my glass before tossing back more of the mystery drink.

“I’m lost. Who is this ‘Dude’ man you speak of?”

“Never mind. I’m starting to ramble. But I believe that should count as my turn.” I knew she wanted more from me, but it was hard to determine exactly what. “The ball’s in your court,” I said.

“Very well.” She took a swig of lemonade. “Here’s one for you: I’ve sold drugs and been arrested once, but the two are unrelated.”

She said it just like that, like it was some kind of a riddle I was supposed to figure out.

“Don’t look so surprised,” she said next.

I must’ve made a hellova face for her to say that. In high school I took an Anatomy class where I learned that the human face has like 52 muscles or something like that. I remembered that. And I remembered thinking that I probably used more muscles in my face than I realized.

Be cool, I thought to myself. I couldn’t let her gain the upper hand. “I’m only surprised that you revealed two secrets. Correct me if I’m mistaken.”

“I suppose I did.”

“Do you expect me to do the same?”

“If you’d like.” She stopped fanning herself and scooted toward the edge of her chair. “This is a casual, private game between acquaintances. Not some kind of organized, televised sport. Do whatever you want. As long as it’s legal, that is.” Clearly she didn’t consider underage drinking to be much of a sin. She smiled coltishly, parting her red lips to take another sip of ice-cold lemonade.

“You were really arrested?”

“Ah, ah, ah. No questions, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“Hey, no need to apologize to me. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, Benjamin or Jacob. Whoever you are. But I’m a changed woman now, and the good Lord in all his graciousness has forgiven me for every single one. All I had to do was ask. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, though, isn’t it?”

I didn’t know if that was intended to be a rhetorical question or not, but whether it was or it wasn’t, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to respond. So I didn’t. I just let the awkward silence pervade the space.

Realizing she’d caught me off guard, she slid back in the red chair, crossed her artificially-colored legs, started fanning herself again, and reminded me that I was up.

“The arrest is really more surprising to you than the drugs? Huh. You’re pretty mysterious. Hopefully this game will help me figure you out a bit more, ’cause I’m in the dark right now.”

“I’m not as complicated as you think.”

“I didn’t say complicated. I said mysterious. But it’s true that everyone’s more complicated than they think they are. For example, you don’t know why you lied to me about your name. But you did. Something inside that head of yours told you to. Would you agree? You can’t have a response without a stimulus.”

“I guess so.”

“Anyway. The drug was heroin—I don’t count pot as being illegal. But I think I’ve told quite enough for one turn. Is there anything you’d like to say?”

Heroin? That’s some heavy shit. I didn’t know from first-hand experience, but I’d seen Jesus’ Son and Pulp Fiction many times. I prided myself on being good at reading people, but I’d have never guessed Mrs. Robertson had shot up. Did everyone have a catalog of illegal activities in which they’d been involved? How much of life had I been missing out on?

“Are you a virgin?” she suddenly asked me, uncrossing her legs.

Wasn’t this woman tired from all the curve balls she’d been throwing me? Maybe it was about time I started throwing some back at her.

“Ah, ah, ah. No questions, remember? I recall that being included in the initial set of rules.”

“Well, I vote to make an amendment.” “I object. It’s too late.”

“As you wish,” she said, closely imitating Westley from The Princess Bride. Defeated, she leaned back in her chair, waiting.

What was the worst thing I’d done? What could I reveal to her that would really take her for surprise, causing those ruby-red lips of hers to part? The only deep, dark secret I had concerned seminary school. I hadn’t told anyone the truth about that. But she made me want to. Besides, I felt like I couldn’t lie to this woman, like she would somehow be able to tell. By the way she looked at me, I imagined she was probing my mind. The sensation reminded me of what Joel and Clementine undergo when they try to get their memories erased in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The longer I paused, the better I knew my secret had to be. Oh, fuck. Why the hell not?

“I dropped out of college so I wouldn’t have to go to seminary school.”

My dad naively assumed I would follow in his holy footsteps by enrolling at Memphis Theological Seminary, even though being around more PKs would only push me further into a world I wished to avoid entirely. Nevertheless, I sent a filled-out application to the school to humor my parents (pocketing the thirty-five-dollar application fee they gave me to include). But I knew something that they didn’t; a bachelor’s degree was mandatory for acceptance into the school, a requirement that had been added since my father attended MTS. When the fated letter came, my father, outraged and offended, called the school up and demanded to know why I had been denied acceptance.

Whoops.

Still convinced I had great potential to change lives as a minister, my father tried to get me to see the selfishness and irresponsibility of “this little phase I was going through.” It turned out, “this little phase” lasted two years. Immediately flunking out of community college—claiming to my parents that I couldn’t keep up, when I had purposely failed so I wouldn’t have to attend seminary school—I became my father’s right-hand man.

Hey, living with your parents at my age wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have to work, I had free room and board, and I sat down to a home-cooked meal every night. Finally realizing seminary school was out, my father said to me, “Well, at least I know you will be there to take my place when I die. Even if it will only be temporary.” And sure I let him think that. I didn’t have the heart to tell him differently.

“How fascinating,” the widow said. “So you didn’t leave college to pursue seminary school; you did it for the opposite reason?”

“Well, ya see, you can’t enroll in seminary school unless you have a bachelor’s under your belt.”

“Ah. I understand now. But why couldn’t you get a bachelor’s and not go to seminary school? The degree’s useful for other things too, you know.”

“That wasn’t an option for me. My dad’s a preacher and my mom’s the church’s secretary. Saying my parents are strict is an understatement. They’re nearly suffocating.”

“That sure is a shame. I hate seeing controlling parents ruining bright kids such as yourself.”

I couldn’t remember the last time someone referred to me as a kid. I didn’t hate it. “‘Ruining’ seems kind of harsh, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know, do you? Has religion freed you or has it trapped you? Honestly, I’m surprised you still claim to be a religious man. I think if I’d had the life you’ve had, I’d refuse to associate with any kind of organized religion at all; I’d abandon it completely. But it sounds like we’ve led quite different lives, you and I.”

“Amen to that.”

“Just out of curiosity—rules aside—if you felt like you had a choice, what would you want to do with your life?”

If I’d said I’d never thought about it, that would have been a lie. And I was through with lying to this woman. I liked her. I genuinely did. She was the one person I felt like I could be myself around. Whatever that means.

“This may sound kind of juvenile—”

“No, no, no. This is a judgment-free room. You tell me straight from the heart.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to be a film director. I love movies. I know a lot of people say that, but I truly do. The way they can make you feel. It’s like you forget where you are and even who you are. An escape from reality. It’s a portal into another world. Or maybe it allows you to enter an alternate reality. Yeah, that’s it. It shows you somewhere you’ve never been. And while you’re there, nothing else matters.”

“That’s wonderful, Jacob. I think you’d be terrific at that. Really, I do. I can tell you’re passionate about it, and that’s all you need. All ya have to do is believe.”

“Believe? Believe in what?”

“That’s the problem with people today,” she said, shaking her head. “They need something to believe in. Something to offer them escape, relief, guidance, comfort, hope. They need to be reminded of how many emotions humans are capable of feeling. Without the bad, there can be no good. Without hate, love is lost.”

“I have another secret.”

“Go right on ahead. The floor is yours.”

I felt like Patrick Bateman when he confesses all of his crimes on his lawyer’s answering machine in American Psycho. “When my parents aren’t paying attention I film them.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I hide under tables and around corners and film them with a Sony 8mm Camcorder I picked up at a pawn shop a few years ago. I have some pretty good stuff: arguments between them, gossip about people in the church. A few times I’ve even set it up without them knowing, during dinner or when we’re all together.”

“And what do you plan on doing with this footage?”

“I was actually hoping to turn it into a documentary about religious households or even the Baptist church. But if my parents found out, they’d kill me. I’m sure of it. They care a great deal about what people think of them.”

“You have to plant the seed for it to grow into something substantial.”

“But what if you don’t have any water or sunlight?”

“There’s always water and sunlight,” she said.

This extended metaphor was getting hard to follow.

“I want you to think about something for me,” she said. “Will you do that?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Ya see, Jacob, it’s what you do that matters, not who you are. Remember that.”

The sun streamed in from behind her, giving her outline an angelic glow.

Noticing the sun’s change in position, I realized how late it had gotten without me knowing it. “I’m sorry Ms. Robertson, but I’d better be going now.”

“Alright then. Finish your drink.” There wasn’t much left, but I downed it and stood up. “I’m sure you still have more stops to make,” she continued. “And one can never have too many copies of the New Testament.”

“I beg to differ,” I said under my breath as I grabbed the brown paper bag at my feet containing the sacred books.

Ms. Robertson raised herself up from her red chair and turned to face the picture window. “Say. Is that your bike out there on the front lawn?”

“It sure is. It’s a lot cheaper than a car. And more eco-friendly.” Words kept spilling out of my mouth.

“I bet it is. I’ve been thinking about getting a bicycle. I take spin classes at the local YMCA, but I find it so frustrating staying in one spot. It’s impossible to gauge your progress that way.”

“I can see that.”

“And I don’t drive my car enough for all of the upkeep to be worth it. It’s over a decade old, so I probably can’t get much for it anyway. But I’d feel better if it belonged to someone who used it more than a few times a week.”

The buzz was beginning to ware off. I felt mellow and clearheaded.

“I don’t know how to work these internet sites where you can post stuff like that,” she continued, “so I guess I’ll have to go to the hassle of running an add in the paper.

And who knows how long I’ll have to do that before it gets sold. It’d almost be easier if someone could just take it off my hands.”

“You’re really that eager to get rid of it?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. But that’s my problem not yours. I better not keep you any longer.”

She walked me to the front door. I pushed the screen door open, squinting from the almighty, omnipotent sun. As Mrs. Robertson stepped onto the porch, she grabbed my forearm. “Oh. Don’t forget your jacket.” She went back inside, returning to the porch with my sport coat.

“Thanks,” I said as she handed it to me.

“I could’ve kept it so you had to come back, but that wouldn’t have been very nice of me. It really has been ages since I’ve had the opportunity to entertain anyone, though. Promise me you won’t be a stranger.”

“I promise.”

“Good. I always have freshly-squeezed lemonade ready. Remember that.” She winked.

“Yes ma’am.” I walked down the wooden steps and down to my bike, but as I leaned over to pick it up I heard a jingle. I reached into the front right pocket of my sport coat to find a single key with “Toyota” on it. I looked up at front door right as it closed. This was my chance to escape my own reality. I dropped the paper bag on the grass. Someone else could hand out these remaining three copies of the New Testament. Someone willing. Someone honest. Someone who cared.

As I walked over to the car sitting in Mrs. Robertson’s driveway, I once again began thinking back to the sermon my dad gave about faith. I remember that at the end of the service, we sang “In This Very Room” out of our hymnals. After the end of the first verse, the part that claims Jesus is “in this very room,” a little boy in one of the rows in front of me had frantically looked around the sanctuary, his wide eyes lingering on men with beards. Had Jesus really been in the sanctuary with us that day? Who knows? I certainly couldn’t tell you. But I did know that I could never be a preacher. I didn’t have the heart to lie to good people. I just didn’t have the heart.

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One thought on “PK — Ellen Burns

  1. Pingback: Current Issue: Volume 42, Number 2 — Fiction Issue, Spring 2012 « Coe Review

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