This is the seventh round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “G”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “G” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson
(2,740 words – approx. reading time: about 10 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“What’ll you have, fellas?” the waitress asked. She was a tall woman, early 50s, thin to the point of gaunt, nicotine stained her ragged nails.
“Whatever’s on tap,” Saul said.
“Coffee for me,” Paul said, almost simultaneously.
“Hot and cold brews!” she called out over her shoulder. “Food?” she suggested.
“No, thanks,” this time they replied in chorus.
“Are you guys…?” she paused, then retreated as a man at the breakfast bar rattled a spoon in his empty coffee mug.
“I thought Daphne was going to jinx us and owe her a coke,” Saul whispered to Paul.
“Daphne, who’s that?” Paul asked.
“The waitress. Didn’t you see her name tag?”
“Oh, her. I guess I’ve made it a discretionary habit not to glare at women’s chests,” Paul demurred.
“But I’ll look at yours, Saul.” Paul squinted at the colorful array of ribbons, badges and shiny accouterment that adorned Saul’s dress blues jacket. “Nice rack you’ve got there. Are you a General by now?”
“I’ve told you a hundred times, I’m enlisted, not an officer. I work for a living, err…worked. I put my retirement in last month. I’m still a Command Sergeant Major but the only thing that I command these days is a coffee pot.” A sigh in his voice underscored a note of regret.
“What’s that one for?” Paul pointed to patriotically-colored award on the top row of Saul’s ribbons.
Tucking his chin, Saul looked down. “Silver Star. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
The drinks arrived. Through sips and slurps they said all the right things. “You did a great job presiding over Gram’s funeral,” Saul continued.
“She would have been so proud to see you in your uniform,” Paul replied.
The light conversation ping-ponged back and forth for a few minutes. As Saul and Paul caught up on the details of their lives, a flat screen TV over their heads drained of all color. A man in a dark suit and thin tie filled the screen. He lit a cigarette, took a drag, arched a bushy eyebrow, stared into the camera and began a monologue through a billow of smoke.
Witness if you will a greasy-spoon diner on Anystreet, USA. Two men, brothers, twins, split-zygotes, sharing beverages and bereavement. Identical twins, separated now for a quarter century. One, a weary soldier with a chest full of medals and heart full of regret. The other, a priest in a coat and collar, armed with beads and a bible. Both searching for lost souls; one from the pulpit, the other through crosshairs. Fresh from their grandmother’s funeral, a woman who raised them as sons, they celebrate her life in this time of death. Once united in the womb, Saul-the soldier and Paul-the priest have lived distinctly separate lives only to be reunited by the woman we will call Granny Goodnight. Found only here, in a corner booth of the Twilight Zone.
Paul reached under the seat of the booth and hauled up a leather satchel. He unbuckled a strap, peeled back the flap and retrieved a large, gold-fringed bible. “Remember this?”
“You’re not going to preach to me, brother, Father, whatever; are you?” Saul said, finishing his beer and nodding to the waitress for another round.
“No, no. You are too far gone, Saul,” Paul smiled. “This was Gram’s bible. The one she used to read to us when we were kids. She asked me on her deathbed, to share it with you.”
“So which half do I get? The old smiting God or the new turn-the-other-cheek God?” Saul smirked, thanking the waitress for the fresh brew. She backed away reverently at the sight of the holy book.
“Neither. She wanted me to share her…I guess you’d call it a diary.” Paul expertly fluttered the well-worn pages to the back of the bible. He thumbed to the book of Revelation, licked his index finger, and found the last verse; Revelation 22:21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Then he turned the page.
“This is where we’ll begin,” Paul said, pointing to the upper left-hand corner of a page full of tight cursive hand writing.
Like drawing gunslingers, they both reached inside their jackets simultaneously. They drew out identical wire-rimmed glasses.
“King James’ versions often add several blank pages for notes, dedications, family tree information and such. Gram used these pages to tell her story.”
“Have you read it yet?”
“No. I had to pry it out of her cold, dead hands just before they lowered the casket,” Paul replied.
“Go ahead, you read it, preacher.”
“Okay. Revelations 1933: This is the year I was born,” Paul began.
“Wait a minute. I just read her obituary. She was born in 1921,” Saul interjected.
“You asked me to read this, little brother. Are you going to interrupt every five seconds?”
“You’re ten minutes older. And that’s only because the doctor took a smoke break.”
“Can I read this now?”
In response, Saul glugged his beer and waited for his ‘big’ brother to continue.
“Sauly Boy, you were always a good one for numbers,” Paul continued. He looked up at Saul, eyes wide behind his cheaters.
“What, why you still bustin’ my balls?” Saul asked. “Go ahead and read it without the commentary, will ya’?”
“That’s what I read, word for word, Saul. Here, look for yourself.”
“Bullshit! Gimme that.” Saul bent close, leaned in and read.
“How about a pitcher?” the waitress interrupted.
“Yes!” both men spoke the same word at the same time with the same inflection.
0 0 0
I was twelve-years-old and riding my bike home from the Jot-M-Down store. I was smoking a candy cigarette that I had cuffed when old Frank had turned to spit tobacco. I was on a jagged path that led me through a dark patch of woods. But I remember looking up at the dappled sunshine streaming through the pines, then Wham! I got knocked off my bike. As I lay there on the ground, skinned knees, God spoke to me. He said…
I told Pastor Mac about my vision and he believed every word. The next week, I got baptized. We all gathered at Jasper Creek. It had rained hard the previous night and we had a red tide—it was so cold. Pastor Mac said all the stuff he was supposed to say, then dunked me under. I remember, I was wearing a tater sack dress Momma had sewed up for me. While Pastor Mac held my nose with one hand, he slipped his other hand under my dress. Right there in front of my folks, his congregation, and God. He tweaked me good, then winked when I came up snotting water. That’s the day I was really, truly born. Later that summer, Pastor Mac lost his hand in an accident at the mill, but I didn’t make the connection at the time.
Revelations 1941: We were so poor. The Great Depression had left us with less than nothing. I was twenty-years-old and had no prospects. My only hope of moving up was to marry Billy Jim, a shrimper, or Harley from the pulp mill. I wasn’t the kind to settle, so I prayed. I prayed to God asking him for a mighty change to my condition. On Dec 7, 1941-a date that would set my destiny-change happened. I joined up with the Army Nurse Corps and the next chapter of my life began.
Revelations 1945: You’ve probably heard the story of how I met your grandfather. We met and fell in love on VE Day when he randomly grabbed me and we danced in the streets of Paris. He was a British officer; God I loved that man. We married and we moved to India after the war. That’s where I met Anjie. We worked together for years, helping the poor and sick until I got pregnant with Daniel, your dear father. Anjie was different than the other nuns. I asked her once why she never prayed. She told me, “I’d blow the Pope to get help for these people, but I won’t pray for them.” Of course I asked why. She looked up at me and said one word, “Strings”.
Since she wouldn’t pray for herself, I prayed for her. I got down on my bleeding knees (they never quite healed from the day I was knocked off the bike) and asked God to bless Anjie and allow her to help the downtrodden. He did. He made her famous; they called her Mother Teresa and made her the face of the church. I didn’t understand it then, but many years later I realized that although she had helped thousands, millions more would suffer due to her restrictive dogmas on birth control and abortion in an already overpopulated country—the ‘strings’ she warned me of.
Revelations 1966: Your father Danny was a good boy, but conflicted. He loved the Lord like his mother but longed for a battlefield like his father. He tried to compromise and signed up with Uncle Sam as a chaplain and was sent directly to Vietnam. The night before he deployed, however, Danny left a divine gift with your mother—you boys. Your father never came back from that war. Yes, physically, but not the man he was before he left. I prayed so hard that Danny would find peace. In 1970, he did. He was killed in a car crash on his way to preach a sermon, he was drunk.
Your mother was strong. She found a way to raise you boys alone. We helped as best we could. We sent money and prayers, and I called long distance every night just to let your mother and you boys know that you weren’t alone.
“Granny Goodnight!” Paul said.
“What? Who?” Saul asked.
“I remember. When we were little kids, the phone would ring every night but mom wouldn’t answer it,” Paul elaborated.
“Yeah, it would ring twice, then stop. Mom would let us stay up until it rang. She said it was our Granny in a faraway land called India calling to say goodnight. There was something about long distance charges back then, so she would only ring twice then hang up, but that sign let us know that we were missed and loved by our Granny. We called her Granny Goodnight. I remember now,” Saul finished.
Revelations 1975: That year I found out I had a gift, if that is the right word; the Lord allowed me to see disease even when the doctors were blind to it. Like Daphne, she’s got a bad batch of lung cancer.
“Daphne,” Saul said. “You don’t mean…” they both looked over at the waitress working the cash register. She looked back at them.
“Je-sus,” Paul whispered. “This is getting weird.
The Lord told me that your mother was dying and that I would need to come back to the states and take care of you boys. Six months later, your mother passed on from lady-parts cancer. I searched my soul during those troubling months, wondering if I had somehow asked the Lord for possession of you boys. If maybe your mom’s passing was somehow an answer to prayers I didn’t even know I prayed.
Revelations 1990: You boys were young men, but you were still seeking your calling in life. You were foundering like lost boats on an angry ocean, so I prayed that you two would find your true paths. That was August 2nd, I remember, because Mr. Saddam Hussein rode his pony into Kuwait that day and picked a fight with our president. Saul, you joined up the next day and Paul, you started seminary that fall. Your paths were set.
“What’s this?” Paul asked, sliding a folded pamphlet from the pages of the bible. The church bulletin was dated 1979. On its cover was a photo of Pastor Ken Johnson, Pastor Mac’s grandson. Blue ink superimposed the man in the caricature of a devil.
“I remember doodling on those bulletins while sitting in church,” Saul admitted. “I know I drew the horns and goatee.”
“I drew the pointed tail and pitchfork,” Paul confessed. “I wonder why Gram kept this old thing.”
Revelations 2001: These were hard times for you boys. Saul, your career had stalled. You were reconsidering your path. Paul, you had a different itch, one that you couldn’t seem to scratch. So I prayed again. This time I prayed that you boys would find happiness. A simple prayer, one that any mother or grandmother might pray for her sons. Saul, when the towers fell that year, your career was renewed and your shooting skills were needed again. Paul, you found your own brand of happiness when the Pope put his blessing on gay clergy. You met that handsome young man, what was his name…Emery? Emilio? No, Emeril, that’s it. Unfortunately, these new paths to happiness also led you two in drastically different directions. Deep down I knew that neither of you ever approved of the other’s lifestyle.
Revelations 2020 (January): I’m 99-years-old, boys. Too old for any of God’s creatures. I’ve been looking for a way out for a long time now. Here at the assisted living home I eat a carton of Rocky Road every night. I avoid anything green on my plate and my only exercise is lifting the remote for my TV. The doctor says my diabetes is mild and won’t be a problem and that my heart is still strong, but he can’t see what is really in my heart. Since your grandfather died, I don’t have the will to carry on. I want to go home, to heaven. I want to dance in the street with my sweetheart again. But I haven’t dared pray for release; I don’t know what kind of strings might be attached.
Maybe there’s another way. As I kneel down on my scabby knees one more time I’ll ask a special prayer. No, not for my death. I hope, I pray, that if I say the right words in the right way, maybe things will work out for the best. Maybe those hidden strings will tie up into a nice bow and we’ll all get what we need. My final prayer is that you two get back together, become brothers again. I pray that you rekindle that love that only twins can understand.
This is not a suicide note, boys, but if it works out that way, so be it. These are simply the ramblings and revelations of a crazy, old dying woman. A woman with a gift and a curse. I love you boys. Goodnight.
“Is that it?” Saul asked.
“Amen,” Paul replied, solemnly closing the tome.
“Whew, that was intense. But you don’t actually believe that all those things that happened were a result of Gram’s prayers, do you?” Saul asked.
“God works in mysterious ways, my brother. It seems that in death, Gram got what she prayed for. She got us back together, at least for her funeral. Any chance you can stick around this time, Saul?”
“I’m retiring next month. Still working on my exit strategy. But I tell you what; I’ll pray on it,” Saul grinned, throwing a fake punch at his brother.
“Check, please,” Paul said.
“I never asked you, Paul, what exactly did Gram die of? I know she went quick, caught a fever one day and a dry cough the next, and on the third day they took her off the ventilator.”
The diner’s wall phone blared like a trumpet; Paul and Saul’s cell phones buzzed like angry hornets in their jackets; Daphne’s apron pocket bagpiped Amazing Grace; a customer at the bar tinkled the ivories of Piano Man; while Beethoven’s Fifth reverberated from the restroom.
Saul reached in his jacket automatically. Paul grabbed his arm. “Don’t answer it!”
In a corner booth of a greasy-spoon diner, twin brothers share life and death in pre-pandemic America. Bonded by the strings of fate and the love of their grandmother, they ponder the power of prayer and the whims of happenstance. But there’s more to the story. And inquisitive minds are asking the question. If you must know what the Alpha and the Omega revealed to Liza Anne Brantley in the fall of 1933 just answer your phone and ask her, but be prepared to pay the long-distance toll. Goodnight from the Twilight Zone.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it’s copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intentions, like attracting you to a malware-infested website. Could be they also torture small mammals.