Suddenly, I was charged with guilt. The church loomed as the sky darkened. I dug deeper into my pockets knowing full well all I could come up with was a faded receipt and couple broken toothpicks…”
They told me to “fear everything”. Only then would I be admitted into the “Kingdom Of God”.
I was twelve then. “Fear” was living off of me. Feeding. I was even afraid to sleep. To do anything, really. Except pray. Praying was all right. That was OK.
Now I’m a neurotic adult. Not so much afraid, but confined. I have a wife and two kids. A decent job. And every Sunday, instead of going to church, I sit watching television in my favorite chair. My wife comes in intermittently. Sits with me. The kids came and went (they didn’t seem to be afraid of anything).
“Hey, buddy . . ? Spare anything? Anything’ll help, you know?”
He was in bas relief of a church I knew; a raggedy man with over sized gloves. I was out for my nightly walk with the dogs, Gordy and Zapper; names the kids had given them.
“I don’t have anything,” I said. “Not on me.”
“That’s okay . . . if you ain’t got it.”
Suddenly, I was charged with guilt. The church loomed as the sky darkened. I dug deeper into my pockets knowing full well all I could come up with was a faded receipt and couple broken toothpicks I’d picked up at a café during lunch. Deeper than that. Still nothing.
Nothing nothing nothing! Not a God damn thing!
And the deeper I went the more frustrated I became. Until I had no choice but to invite him home. The man I didn’t know. Who stood in front of the church underneath the darkening sky.
“What are their names?” He asked.
“The dogs? What are there names?”
“Oh. Ummm . . . Gordy and Zapper.”
I invited him. To our house. Three rooms and two baths. A decent view of Greenlake.
My wife, Jane, reluctantly agreed to let him stay. “What if he’s dangerous?” She whispered; under her breath, in the pantry, with her eyes on him through a crack in the door. He was in the kitchen. We were looking for the Shake And Bake.
For a moment I felt very afraid. And then less. Until the feeling went away. “It’s cold,” I told her, and went out.
For dinner there was chicken and mashed potatoes. Our guest ate with gusto. My son Michael, who was nine, asked him if he lived in the church.
“Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he explained. “From eleven to one. For lunch.”
“Today’s Thursday,” said Michael.
“That’s right,” he said, eyes dimming in a mostly dirty face. “So you can say I ate pretty well today.” He smiled, his lips smeared with chicken grease; strands of pale meat lodged haphazardly between crooked teeth.
Jane would later describe “the ordeal with the vagrant” as being “surreal”; only because it didn’t belong into whatever reality schism we subscribed to. He was the lowest common denominator, the bottom rung in our own Inferno and there was nothing we could do to save him; from the “cruel world” or “himself”.
We sat in the den. Thomas and I. That was his name. Thomas. And he told me his life story in brief:
Thomas Calhoun. Born in California in forty-nine. Dropped out of high school in sixty-six. Went to Nam three months later. Did two tours over there. Saw things that no man should be forced to see. Came back with an entirely different outlook on life and humanity. Took a number of pointless jobs until they were too pointless to take. Married once, but only for a short time. Living on the streets since 1983. Eleven years. A long long time.
“What about you?” He wanted to know.
I loaded a bowl and offered some to Thomas. He’d said it had been a long time for that too.
“I only do it on special occasions,” I explained.
We smoked in silence. Thomas sat near the window, watching his reflection in the glass; or whatever was behind it. Soon enough and he would be back out there. And this would seem a dream; so much less a reality than anything outside of it, or whatever was pressing in.
But was I dreaming?
I tapped the charred remains of the pipe into a nearby ash tray.
Thomas was looking me at with glazed eyes. “I needed that,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
C. C. Parker lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter. He has appeared in over a hundred anthology/magazine/ezine’s, including Decadence 2, Chimeraworld 1, Flesh and Blood, Lullaby Hearse, Bare Bone, Scared Naked, The Dream People, etc . . . He is also a resident writer for Cherry Bleeds. Aside from writing he enjoys caffeine and film.