Monday, March 01, 2010

Fishers of Men-Flash Challenge

This was written for Daniel O'Shea's flash challenge to write a story set in a church. In truth, it was reduced from a 7000 word story which appeared on Shred of Evidence a few years back-and is only the better for the loss of 6000 words (gulp). There are some indenting issues I couldn't resolve midway down.
For more stories, go here.

"Fishers of Men
By Patricia Abbott

“Why don’t you help out with the Martha Circle,” her father said.

Lillie’s mother had taken off a few weeks earlier, sending them a postcard from Philadelphia with nothing on it but an address. A photograph of a church shaped like a fish was on its front. Congregants seem to enter through the gills.

“Why Philadelphia?” her father wondered, rotating the postcard in his hands.

Later at their own dingy church, Lillie heard the thunderous voice of Jimmy Hart practicing his sermon. It boasted the usual hellfire and damnation.

“Yes, yes,” the congregation agreed every Sunday, their voices rising as one. Life seemed pale after that.

Jimmy Hart heard her at the door. “Who’s that?”

“Lillie Wist.”

Jimmy stepped into the light. His face was damp; perspiration necklaced his shirt. Holding the door open, he fanned himself.

“Guess I missed the Martha circle.”

“Come and gone.”

“My father said …”

“Lester’s over in Dearborn, right?” he interrupted. “Hunting down lighting fixtures.” Jimmy sat down and opened a paper sack. “Like roast beef?” he asked, pulling out a sub.

“Not really ....”

“Keep me company.”

She sat down.

“I skipped breakfast and my stomach’s begging me to pay attention.” Oil slid down his chin and his gray, flannelly tongue caught it. “Doesn’t all that hair get hot in summer?”

He reached for a handful, but she pulled back. “I’m used to it.”

“Your daddy tests me, Lillie.” Shaking his head, Jimmy pulled out a thermos, pouring a half-cup of coffee. “Most people have somethin’ they’re good at, but Lester—well, I haven’t found his talent. Thought once I got him off the sauce things would change.”

“Hasn’t had a drink in months.”

“So you say. Don’t know how long I can keep payin’ a man with so little to recommend him.”

“He’ll be expectin' me.” Lillie rose.

Groaning and holding his back, Jimmy got up and walked her to the door. As Lillie’s hand went for the knob, his arms encircled her, his pulpy lips pressed against her neck. While one of his hands threw the lock on the door, the other urged her down.

“Your Daddy said you didn’t do things like this,” he whispered, “but I thought otherwise.”

“Get off me right now,” she spat out, struggling to rise.

Laughing lightly, he forced her down again. “Your Daddy won’t find it easy to get another job, Lillie Wist. And your mama ain’t here to help him no more.”

The world retreated to the wild panting of the man above her, the dank blackness of the vestibule, the desperate scratching of her left hand on the metal door. Suddenly, her thighs were wet and sticky.

“Double damn! Should’ve known what would happen lying down with a Wist.”

Lillie scrambled to her feet, trying to clean herself up with her shorts.

“Grab somethin’ from them care boxes over there.” He pointed to the row of soggy boxes lining the back wall. “And that little poke don’t count for nothing neither.”

She stepped into a pair of slacks and started for the door, her yellow shorts balled up under an arm.

“Now, just you wait a blessed minute,” Jimmy bellowed, dropping to his knees again. “Get down here with me, girl.”

Lillie fell to her knees as if fired on. “Merciful God,” Jimmy said “Forgive this girl for temptin’ me. Her Daddy’d be saddened to know what she did. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

“That you in there, Lillie?” Lester stood outside the bathroom door. “Why you taking a bath in the afternoon?”

The water was pure cold, though she hadn't noticed. “Be right out.”

In the kitchen, Lester sat with an assortment of electrical supplies, “Wish I knew more about this stuff,” he said. “Like to burn the place down foolin’ with it. Your mother….”

“Gotta to tell you somethin’.”

“Hair’s dripping wet. Didja lock the church door?” Lester’s eyes returned to the socket in his hand. “Sure made these directions hard to figure.”

“Jimmy Hart was practicing his sermon.” The words rushed out. “When I tried to leave, he—he—raped me.”

Lester sat there. “Do you know what that word means—a girl youn’ as you?”

“Put his thing in me.”

You could see Lester's Adams' apple travel like an elevator, and he let out a cry. Tears worked their way down his scarred cheeks. “I’m taking care of this right now.”

“I’ll go with you?” Her mama would have.

“Better if you don’t.” Lester continued to sit staring at the electrical parts. Finally, he took his Tiger hat from the table and left.

Much later. “Lillie. You ‘wake?”

It was dark except for a shard of light from the street lamp illuminating his knees. “Look, I can’t do it. Stood outside his place for hours.”

“Go tell the cops.”

“You don’t understand. What’ll become of me after? I’ll start drinkin’ again. Jimmy’s the only person in the world can save me. Your mama….”

“He wants you to think that.” Lillie felt empty, flat, unreal. Parts of her burned, others were cold.

“Know he did something pretty bad, but you’re okay now. Didn’t beat you, right? Just got carried away. Don’t wanna show any doctors or policemen your—parts--do you?”

“Have to show them… that?”

He nodded. “No nice girl would. Maybe it’d be better if you went to visit your mama in Philadelphia.”


“Maybe it’d be best.”

“He’s quicker than a snake in the bushes”

Lester nodded. "Seen it myself."

Next morning, her bags were packed.

“Don’t have to wait with me,” she told Lester at the bus station. "Get on to your church and Jimmy Hart."

“Get you a candy bar? Or a Pepsi. How ‘bout some cheese crackers?”

Lillie shook her head, and Lester picked up a newspaper section from the bench and read the weather report for Philadelphia. It was planning to rain. “But not in Detroit,” he told her. “It’s not gonna rain here.”

The bus was on time, and she sat near the front, next to an older woman knitting a yellow baby’s sweater. “You’re always safe with yellow,” the woman told Lillie with a tired smile.

“I guess so.”

The rain started to fall just east of Breezewood.


sandra seamans said...

Such a sad story, Patti. You always tug at the heart strings. Nicely, done!

YA Sleuth said...

Nice, as usual. Love your writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very good. It really reads stripped down. Almost like a play.

Kent said...

Short and emotionally powerful. Another great story, Patti.

Chris said...

Lots of emotion and tragedy and backstory packed into 1000 words. Very good, Patti.

Steve Weddle said...

Geezaloo. I thought this was gonna be a happy story. What the heck?

The sharp, bare corners of this story really set the tone for the loss, the emptiness. Fantastic.

Todd Mason said...

"He reached for a handful"..."You're always safe with yellow"...wicked. I'd say it'd be even more effective if it was just a little longer, if perhaps not 6K longer (and perhaps Jimmy just a little less physically repulsive), but solid. Thanks for showing us.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, I think it needed to be about 2000 words to further point out her father's ineptness. I would have also liked to talk more about Martha and Mary circles, something that always fascinated me as a child. Did they have different functions. Come to think of it, I wish I written a story about that.
Is there a happy story among them today. A few funny ones-but happy seems beyond us.
Thanks for the kind words, friends.

Christopher Grant said...

I never had the opportunity to read the original version but I have to agree with Sandra and all the rest that it is a powerful and sad story.

I kept waiting for the murder of Jimmy Hart and when it never came, I was actually extremely happy, even though the scumbag deserved it. I was happy because that payoff would have pure Hollywood.

I know it's difficult but I actually enjoy editing my own stuff down to a sharp point.

Fishers Of Men reads as sharp as a knife blade to the heart.

Loren Eaton said...

Noirishly spare, although without Jimmy Hart ending up chained to an engine block underneath a frozen lake. I knew a pastor/counselor who tried to help victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse. Those poor people were so terribly broken.

David Barber said...

A sad tale that was very well told. Too many dead-beat dad's in the world and you wrote about one perfectly. Top stuff. Regards.

Dana King said...

I like how your stories never give me quite what I expect, and after I think about it for ten seconds I see how your way was much better.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Dana-that got me thinking. How else would this story have ended? I may post that later.

Eric Beetner said...

Well now I'm curious about the lost 6000.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The lost 6000 dealt with his problems with maintaining a job and sobriety, Lillie's trek to Detroit from Philly where she lived with her mother, her attempts handle Jimmy Hart. Although it shared the rape scene, Lester's inability to react and her flight to Philly, it was more literary. This stuck to the crime much more.

Evan Lewis said...

Damn, that's strong stuff. This is a story we won't be forgetting anytime soon.

DILLIGAF said...

Tears to my eyes.

The emotion in this piece is out of this world!!!

Love it.

Actually...after reading this I need another vodka...;-)

Todd Mason said...

Again, the notion that the "literary" can't be rather succint and to the point seems odd to me. Too much Borges and Oates, I guess. To say nothing of Chekhov and Bierce and Crane...unless we're ruling Bierce out.

Todd Mason said...

Or even succinct. Ah, typing. And proofing.

Joyce said...

Patti, So much said in so few words. Such an emotional roller coaster ride, with a crash and burn ending. Of course, that's the only way you could have ended it. That's the way 'real life' would have ended a story like that, and that's what gives this one such power. Superior tale.

MRMacrum said...

I am reminded of Carolyn Chute, author of "The Beans of Egypt, Maine". Wonderful writng telling a sad but all too real tale.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And what a thrilling comparison that is! Thanks so much for such lovely words all of you.

Dan Ames said...

Really evocative writing, Patti. I loved this story and am looking forward to much more from you.

Matthew McBride said...

It didn't end the way I expected it to end, and that's what made it great for me. I think I would have ended it differently, but only because yr way wouldn't have occured to me. It was great story telling. It was deep.

Cap'n Bob said...

All too real, sadly, but that's what makes it so effective. Nice job.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks so much, Cap'n.

Unknown said...

Such a powerful piece in such a few words. Painful, beaten down. Great work.


Kieran Shea said...

You know what I like about this? The sparse thrift. It's so different from other pieces you've done. This is me, clapping and getting your coffee for you some day soon.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Cut 6000 words and you get sparsity. Is that a word?

Todd Mason said...

Sparsion, Patti. (Not really in either case, but neologisming is fun!) Terseness is a bit more like the conventional English.

Cormac Brown said...

Well, I'm skeeved out and that's a good thing...I guess. No, it is and what I'm trying to say is, good story.

Oh, for your formating problems? When you import a Word document, or sometimes when you add a jpeg to existing text, it somehow throws off the formatting of the post.

So, when you edit your post; switch over from "Compose" to "Edit HTML." Use "Save Now" often, and use the "Preview" feature to see how the edited version will look when it's posted.

It will take some trial and error, but that's the drawback of Blogger's so-called "wysiwyg."

Todd Mason said...

Actually, I stand AMERICAN does recognize sparsity along with sparseness. Sparsity simply sounds wrong, somehow, at first, though, doesn't it? And now, of course, it sounds natural, of course. I have heard that before...why was I estranged from my widely-spaced state of being?

Anonymous said...

Nice job packing so much in such a short amount of space -- really an honest, thoughtful and disturbing look at the "real" world, unfortunately. I look forward to reading more.

Jimmy Callaway said...

Ooh, that stings. However violent all these other church stories are, this one takes the cake. And I mean that in the best possible way.

John Weagly said...