--GIVING THE ACADEMY A RAINCHECK
…It’s a good morning, a great morning.
I awoke to find my story, “Homebound” was one of only two nominated for The Pushcart Prize at MICROW. (The piece is below.)
Also, I have a new story, one of my favorites, because I love he narrator’s loyalty and diligence, up at Pure Slush:
She was a constipated mail-order bride who had yet to arrive. So he sent her emails and texts in her foreign language, sometimes misspelling words. Eventually, he even reverted to old-fashioned letters.
After a while, he wondered if she was real. The advertisement claimed she was and he had had those initial contacts with her. He’d sent money, too, via his credit card over the internet.
Afterward she, or the website, kept updating her life. New photos showed she’d gained a little weight and now had an adorable muffin top. She wore less jewelry and had cut her hair in a choppy bob. He adjusted his computer settings so her images could be magnified, yet the closer he looked the less he could tell if she was happy or content.
His friend told him he was being played, that he’d be best off calling The Better Business Bureau, yet he didn’t want to spoil his chances of meeting her by looking flakey and indecisive.
Even though the flights sometimes arrived late, he showed up at the airport each Monday an hour early. He knew many of the TSA agents and, for fear of being thought a terrorist, he was always overly polite while waiting as close to the exit gates as allowed. One of the uniformed women was nearly a granny and she often greeted him with a sad little pouch of a smile, as if she was disappointed or depressed for him. But she couldn’t possibly know, could never understand.
This was the great love of his life. His father had told him we only get one of those, and his father had demonstrated as much, waiting by his wife’s bedside as she struggled, then withered, then died.
While driving to the airport, he played mix tapes of songs he thought his future wife would enjoy. He constantly rehearsed his greeting. He was going to make a good first impression if it killed him.
One day she sent a Friend Request through social media and his heart soared. She was so glad he hadn’t given up on her. She missed him, too. Times were very rough in her country and her mother had grown sick. He told her he knew what that was like. Be patient, she said, and he told her would, no matter how long.
Then they started talking on the phone. For hours they spoke. As incredible as it was, he fell even more in love with her.
Their impasse went on for months, years, decades, and still they kept communicating. On his death bed, a very old man now, he imagined what their life would have been like if they’d ever physically met. Almost every married couple divorced, often in bitter dispute, and so he realized they’d been spared all that. Smiling as he passed away, he said her name aloud, said, “I love you,” and whether it was true or not, he believed that somewhere, wherever she was, she heard him.
We watched it smolder. Water cannons shot arcs over the remaining flames and the weight of water combined with the charred cinders collapsed the building, sending plumes of smoke across the lot where we once lived.
Magic, black or otherwise. Hell opening up from underneath the earth. Hell, it was, or had been.
I took Tina’s hand. It was small as a dog paw. I said, “It’s okay,” and pressed hard for reassurance.
I patted my back pocket. The money I’d taken was a thick wad. It didn’t make me any less nervous, but it provided spurs of hopefulness.
We walked in the opposite direction of the commotion, well away from the fire trucks and gawkers. Our Foster parents wouldn’t be back for several hours unless they’d been called. The firemen would search for us and find no bones, but it’d be too late anyway.
Tina and I went through the wooded greenbelt. Eventually, we came to an abandoned church.
The window glass was stained in grape juice and berry colors, gems that made me think of sucking candy. When you put the pieces together, they made up a medieval woman praying while two angels hovered over her shoulders.
We went in through the back door, down the hall. My heart was probably beating as hard as Tina’s, but the place was empty of people.
Inside the main sanctuary, ceilings reached up sky-high and there were more glass murals of saints and whatnot.
Tina said we should leave, but I held her hand tight and tugged her until we got right up to the front row where the good seats were. When I turned, I saw three aisles and quickly counted 36 long, mahogany pews.
“Sit,” I said.
Tina did, but she asked a penny for my thoughts.
I was a big reader because The Fosters wouldn’t let us watch television. There weren’t many novels around The Foster Home, so I read whatever was handy—the Bible with its contradictions, road maps, an atlas, The Yellow Pages. One book I’d found was called “Alienation Nation.” It had this particular passage that got me thinking. It said something like a house is a building, while a home is a house where love exists among families. I knew that was true without having to be told, but after I’d read those words, they settled in me like grout between tiles, and quite frankly, they were the reason I started plotting the fire in the first place.
Tina asked were we going to live here, in the church. I said it didn’t matter, didn’t matter where we lived because if she and I stayed together we’d make a fine enough life for ourselves. I could tell she didn’t believe me. Her confidence lacked because I let Mr. Foster call her names and punch me around whenever he started scratching himself.
A selfish urge in me prodded that I explain about arson and what I’d done and how I’d done it. Everyone wants the gratitude of others, even if it doesn’t make you quite a hero.
Instead I said, “Let me tell you something you don’t know yet.”
I went on and on with the story of our lives and the wonderful things that were going to happen.
I started it on Christmas day in the far future. I was a grown man and she a woman with a husband and two great kids. I described her youngins and the gift exchanges, how the food tasted and how the room smelled like cinnamon and turkey gravy, but when Tina asked for me to detail the house and the way the rooms were outfitted, I said it didn’t make a difference. I said it wasn’t a house she lived in, it was something much better.