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Writing Challenge: The Story of John

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John had been here before, a long time ago. I watch as his eyes follow the train tracks into a copse of trees. His chocolate brown pupils have turned milky with age and look almost purple against the bloodshot whites.

“That was almost sixty years ago,” he says dreamily.

Then he straightens his shoulders, hitches up his belted black dress pants shiny with wear, and looks directly at me. “That’s when God put his hand on me and called me back,” he says with a vigorous nod.

John knows the moment he left God. He was fourteen, living in a small town in North Carolina not far from where his family had been enslaved a few generations before. One Sunday after church, John opined to his mama that he didn’t think he believed in the God that Granny’s pastor talked about, “the one who sends people to Hell and tells us we are despicable creatures. No sir, I didn’t know that God.”

“Mama whipped me good that time,” he said. But he was used to it. His mother often disappeared, going on drinking binges and leaving him alone for days at a time, only to beat him when she returned.

A few days later, still sore from the thrashing, John stepped out of a movie theater into the bright afternoon sunlight. His guilt-ridden mama had treated him to the show. “All the white folks were on the ground floor and all us blacks were up above. I decided it should not be like that. Things were wrong. That’s when I decided to go where the train goes.”

Going where the train goes...

Going where the train goes…

That’s also when John told his first lie. He asked a man outside the theater to give him a lift to the depot, and told him he had permission from his mother.

Then John hopped a train.

“Just like that,” he said. “My mama kept disappearing, so I disappeared.”

Enslavement and Liberation

By the time I noticed we were walking, we were some distance down the tracks. John was striding from tie to tie as if his feet had rediscovered an old familiar pathway, like fingers recalling a musical instrument after a lifetime away. I trailed behind.

“I had to lie again when I got to Raleigh,” John said over his shoulder. “I told the man at the depot I was sixteen and that my parents had died.” The man helped John find a job on one condition: that he go back to school. “Yes sir, God had his hand on me all along.” John shakes his head in wonder.

He stayed in school and worked afternoons at a hot dog stand. On Sundays, he would make good money selling wine and whiskey from behind his stand. “Soon enough I couldn’t do without the stuff; I was an alcoholic just like Mama.”

John slows his gait and looks up and down the tracks and over at the copse of trees. “Right about here,” he says, stopping,”right here.”

“One night I was sitting by the tracks — here — with another wino, wondering where we were going to find the money for more booze. All of a sudden, I see he’s crying. I asked him, ‘What’s the matter, Pokey? Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to get more wine before we go to sleep.’

‘It’s not that,’ Pokey answered. ‘It’s you I’m worried about — you’re not going to make it.'”

John is silent for a while, as if reliving that conversation.

“That was my low point, yes it was,” he says finally. He toes the dust with his black lace-up shoe. “I thought about it all night. After that I went to an AA meeting and had a miracle. God took away my desire for alcohol. It’s more than drinking, it’s liberation . . . that’s where I found the true God.”

Pokey went to a few meetings with John, but he’s the one who didn’t make it. “He died of alcoholism in his forties,” John says, “but he saved my life.”

* * * * * *

Based on a true story (John’s name has been changed) and in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, which this week offered a selection of photographs and introductory lines to kick off a story. I chose the train tracks and a variation of “I had been here before, a long time ago.” Photo credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands/The Daily Post.

How the Zebra Got its Stripes

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Woman:

“So what do you think — is the zebra white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?”

Child, after a thoughtful pause:

“The zebra used to be white, but it got swallowed by the darkness.”

Woman:

“Why isn’t it all black, then?”

Child:

“Well, after a while the zebra realized that the dark and light live together, so it decided to be both at once.”

Woman:

“How do you know that?”

Child:

“God told me, and I thought it sounded right.”

even the darkness is not dark to you;     the night is as bright as the day,     for darkness is as light to you.

 

“. . . even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”

Psalm 139:12

An antidote for my previous post, A Rant at God

The Witness: A Fifty-Word Story

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This week, WordPress bloggers are being challenged to write a fifty-word story — no more, no less.

Here goes:

There was talk of an autopsy, but nothing came of it. Because of her blood alcohol level, they assumed it was an accident.

He knew better, but could never speak of it. No, he was forever condemned to take kibbles and biscuits from the very hands that had pushed her.

He knew better...

He knew better…

Unspoken Words

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“SEXUAL?” Amanda’s voice holds an accusation.

“What?” Mark doesn’t look up as he taps each letter with his pencil eraser and then writes down his score.

“Oh man, way to double-score the X!” Frank shouts out, a little too obviously trying to break the tension.

“More wine?” Jan’s distraction is only slightly more subtle. “Your turn, Mandy.”

Amanda ponders her Scrabble tiles and then carefully places them down, one at time, the N above Mark’s E, the V below, followed by E and R. “Never,” she says. “That’s eight.”

Mark writes down her score and still doesn’t look up. “Eight years of wedded bliss,” he stage-whispers in Frank’s direction without a trace of bliss in his voice.

Amanda shoves her chair back with a screech and disappears into the bathroom. Everyone stares at their tiles, pretending they don’t hear the nose-blowing coming from behind the bathroom door.

AFFAIR, spells out Frank.

“Frank!” Jan smacks Frank’s arm.

“Not yet, but I should be.” Mark downs his wine like a shot of cheap whiskey. “I’ve had plenty of chances. She barely talks to me. Shit, maybe she’s having one. Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had sex? ”

“About three months, I’d guess,” says Jan quietly.

“What — does she talk to you about it?”

“Mark . . .” Jan shakes her head. She’s been picking out tiles from the Scrabble box lid and now sets them down to spell out MISCARRIAGE.

The room is dead quiet. Only the golden retriever under the table seems to be breathing. The toilet flushes, and Jan quickly scoops the tiles back up as Amanda comes out of the bathroom.

“Oh, Jesus. Why didn’t . . .” Mark gets up and hurries toward Amanda with his arms open wide.

“I told him, Mandy. He needed to know,” says Jan.

Amanda melts into her husband’s arms, and they sway together as one, like a sail rolled protectively around a ship’s mast in a storm.

409

This story was written in response to today’s WordPress Daily Prompt: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/daily-prompt-game/

Daily Prompt: The Perfect Game — You’re set to play poker (or Scrabble or something else . . .) with a group of four. Write a story set during this game. Or, describe the ideal match: the players, the relationships — and the hidden rivalries. Photographers, artists, poets: show us COMPETITION.

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