Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Distractions

Antonio knows he shouldn’t be on Facebook. He doesn’t need to see his ex post another status update about waiting for her Boaz.

“Where’s my Ruth?” he asks his empty bedroom. What does Elise even know about a Boaz anyway? She’s never read the Book of Ruth, doesn’t even know where it is in the Bible. Hell, neither does he, but at least he’s trying—five days born again. Elise is only Christian when it’s convenient for her, when a meme quoting scripture out of context is reposted on her timeline, confirming what her closed mind has already decided, that she’s always right, and that he ain’t worth the shit that comes out her ass.

She’s so vulgar. How did he ever kiss that mouth? How did he ever love her? The last time he asked to keep Ryder for more than a weekend, more than the end of a Sunday afternoon, she told him to suck her dick. Her dick. And she wonders why she’s still alone. Wonders why the closest thing she ever had to a Boaz walked right out the door. Wonders why she’ll still be waiting for her imaginative Boaz when Jesus returns.

Wives, submit to your husbands . . .

Antonio thinks he hears someone speaking, though it’s not really a voice, more of a feeling, like a pocket of air in his chest. “Is that you, God?” he thinks to say, though his lips don’t move. He wants to ask Him about his future wife, the woman who will fit in the gash in his side where his rib once was. She’s out there somewhere, already alive, already waiting, not whoring herself on social media for the likes, probably at home reading her Bible right now, like he should be doing.

Mitchell says not to rush it, that Antonio should get himself right with Christ first before he tries to find a wife. Easy for Mitchell to say. He already has his Ruth. And Renee and Bryan weren’t even saved when they married. Bryan still isn’t, though Renee has been working on him all year. Sometimes Antonio feels like a third wheel around them. Their perfect relationships with each other, with God—even Bryan, whom, Antonio presumes, believes at least some of the word Mitchell and Renee preach daily. Of course, he’s not completely excluded when he’s with the group. There is Rita, but the broad’s a basket case. She only dates white boys anyway. Figures. She’s probably like Elise. Done dirty by the wrong nigga, now she thinks they’re all the same.

The head of every man is Christ . . .

He knows he’s getting off track. One step at a time. Step one: Build a relationship with Christ. He’ll start by looking for that verse. He’ll write it in his prayer journal, pray on the word. He opens the composition notebook, reaches for the thousand-page concordance of Bible verses that Mitchell loaned to him (after they prayed together for his salvation) to find the book and chapter.

But the touch screen on his phone is still lit, and he can’t help but to look again. Another post appears on his feed. He knows he should turn it off, find that secret place Mitchell’s always talking about, but it’s a picture of his son, clad in the ugliest Christmas onesie he’s ever seen, Santa Claus’ pink face in tiled mosaic across Ryder’s chest and stomach. And he loses it. He fucking loses it.

The phone is ringing before he realizes his actions.

Slow to anger . . . 

This time he knows it’s God speaking to him, but then Elise’s voice drowns Him out, and he feels his temples explode as the fury rises.

“What, nigga?”

“Take that gay ass shit off my son!”

“Mmm, Renee told me you got saved last Sunday. I hate to call her a liar.”

He hangs up before she can finish her mocking in that high-pitched country twang he hates so much. He hates her. He hates that she has custody of Ryder, that he always has to fight her just to see him, that she blasts him on Facebook like he’s a deadbeat dad, that she never admits to her faults, like why he needed to get a DNA test when Ryder was born.

Vengeance is mine, I will repay . . .

He closes his prayer journal, the first page left blank. He’ll start tomorrow. Right now, he needs a drink.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Alone with the Clouds
Next: Driving Down Memory Lane

Sunday Morning Word Has a New Home!

Sunday Morning Word has moved to a new site! This is a project I’ve been working on for years now, both here, and on another blog. It’s come and gone over the years as I’ve repeatedly put it on the back burner for months at a time, wanting to focus on different things. But God continues to bring it back to the forefront, and I’ve come to accept that this is my assignment from Him—to teach His word and simplify it in a way that others will understand. But instead of bogging it down and having it get lost amid the content of my other blogs, I’ve created a dedicated blog for it. And no, I won’t only be posting on Sundays; there will be much more content to come.

So head over and read my first post about why bad things happen to good people, and feel free to follow!

Source: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

The Lord Will Keep You

Bacon sizzled and popped in the pan. Leslie hovered over the stovetop, watching the bacon’s translucent pink transition to a deep, crispy red. She forked the strips out of the pan and onto a plate lined with a paper towel to trap the grease.

She cracked half a dozen eggs into a bowl, scrambled them with the same fork she used to flip the bacon, and poured them into the hot pan. She cooked robotically, not fully aware of her own movements, working on muscle memory alone.

She hadn’t slept at all the night before, tossing and turning until almost four in the morning, while next to her Antonio lay completely still but for the rise and fall of his chest under his heavy breathing. She envied how quickly he descended into sweet slumber, mere moments after kissing her goodnight and laying his head down on the pillow.

She had to coax herself into sleep. After hours of fruitless efforts to get comfortable, she clicked on the lamp by the bed and retrieved her Bible from the top drawer of the nightstand. God was keeping her up for a reason, and she desired to know why.

She opened the Bible to her favorite psalm, 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help / My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. / He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber / Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep…

She stopped, prayed, “Lord, why have you kept me awake? Why do you refuse to grant me sleep while you work on my behalf?”

She didn’t expect a response. He rarely answered her prayers, especially when she question His motives. She used to be embarrassed by that. She’d been saved since her undergraduate years in college, nearly three decades, but she had never heard the voice of God.

It was on their second date, when the conversation had turned to salvation and whether or not they both had a relationship with Jesus Christ, that Antonio assured her there was nothing wrong not being able to hear His voice. He doesn’t always speak to you, she remembered him saying. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, like butterflies in your stomach when you talk to your crush. When He wants you to do something, it’s like you get dizzy, and you can almost see yourself doing it in your head. Some would call that a premonition, but it’s not; it’s the Holy Spirit leading you. “That’s how I came to give my life,” he’d told her. “I saw myself walking to the altar even before I did it.”

She waited for that feeling, that vision, to see herself fast asleep, and then to lie back dizzy, pull the covers up to her chin, and actually sleep. But God startled her that night, His voice like thunder filling the room.

“Keep reading.”

And she could hardly keep the Bible steady enough to read, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She laid it across her lap, stuttered through the words as she read aloud. Her ears still rang from hearing him for the first time, and her voice sound minuscule in comparison, like those squeaky little cartoon chipmunks she used to watch on television as a child. But she kept reading as instructed, whispering low to herself the entire psalm, down to the last two verses.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul / The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

And as if by the snap of His mighty finger, she was asleep.

Antonio’s cold hands curled around Leslie’s shoulders, jolting her back into the present.

“Morning, beautiful.” He kissed her neck.

She shuddered out of his embrace. “Honey, your hands are like ice.”

“That’s because I don’t have you to keep me warm.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, rocked her side to side, and slipped one hand underneath her blouse to caress her stomach around her belly button. She closed her eyes, rested her head on his shoulder, and he dipped down, lightly pressed his soft lips against hers. After twenty years of marriage he could still swoon her off her feet.

“Ugh, get a room!” Tony said from the kitchen table behind them.

“Watch who you talking to, boy,” Antonio snapped. “And last time I checked, every room in this house belongs to me. Unless you want to start paying the mortgage.”

Leslie hadn’t even noticed the boys were already at the kitchen table waiting to be served their breakfast before school. Tony slumped in his chair. He returned his attention to something on his phone’s screen. Leslie hated they’d even bought him one. He was a teenager, growing more and more distant from his family, and a cell phone only expedited that, but he needed a way to contact them whenever there was an emergency. She was reluctantly forced to compromise. At least she could still control his minutes. Limited text messages and no phone calls after 7 PM.

Next to him Gregory wrote in a thee-subject spiral notebook. Across the page he had written out the multiplication table, up to 20. He had a math test that day, and she was proud to see him studying. She wished Tony would follow his little brother’s example, since he was at the moment failing History.

“Boys, make sure you have everything together for school. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.” Leslie cut the heat off the eye of the stove and stirred the eggs with a whisk. Some of it had begun to stick to the pan, and she sighed in frustration.

“You ok, sweetie? You seem tired,” Antonio said.

“Couldn’t sleep.” She thought to ask him if he had heard anything last night. Those two words God had spoken had been so loud, so clear, but while she could barely contain her heart, pounding through her chest, Antonio didn’t even flinch. The message was meant only for her. If God had wanted her to share it, he would’ve woken Antonio too.

“Here, go sit down. I’ll finish up.”

Leslie couldn’t help but chuckle. Breakfast was ready, all that was left was dividing it onto four plates, but if Antonio thought he was helping, she wouldn’t refuse him. Chivalry was far from dead when it came to their relationship. She only hoped her boys would inherit their father’s same kindness and respect toward women.

She sat next to Gregory and smiled. “Ready for your test?”

He closed his notebook and stuffed it in his bookbag on the floor. “I think so.”

Leslie nodded. “Confidence, sweetie.” She turned to Tony across. “Put that phone away at the breakfast table.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Keep rolling your eyes like that, and they’ll get stuck there.”

He sucked his teeth. “Whatever.”

Leslie stood and was about to reach across the table to pop him in the mouth, but she heard a loud crash behind her. She spun around. Antonio was no longer standing in front of the stove. She rushed around the kitchen island and found him on the floor unconscious, the hot pan on his shoulder next to the oven, the scrambled eggs split all over his chest.

“Oh my god!” She fell to her knees, cradled his head in her lap. She slapped his face repeatedly. “Come on. You’re alright, you’re alright.” She swiped the tears from her cheeks. “No, you’re alright. Come on. Come on!” she pleaded.

“Mom?” Gregory and Tony had followed her. They stood at the corner of the stove next to the fallen frying pan. She looked up at her youngest son, and all her fear transferred into his eyes. They curved downward like almonds and welled up with tears.

She shook her head and pushed his legs back. “Call 9-1-1!”

“I-I don’t—” He looked over his shoulder at his brother behind him.

“Tony!” Leslie screamed. “We gave you that phone for emergencies like this!”

He scrambled to tug his phone out of his front pocket, suddenly tight around his hand. He finally ripped it out but dropped it on the floor. Leslie snatched it up. On her third try, she got the operator—the first two times, her fingers moving too fast, she dialed 9-0-1-1 and 1-1-2-9.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Get me an ambulance!” She panted heavily, tried to swallow back the sobs and mucus building at the back of her throat. Her voice faded in and out as she tried to speak, her chest bouncing in rythm with the fluttering of her racing heart. She was too flustered even to remember their address. “It’s my husband,” she stammered

“Ma’am, try to calm down. Can you tell me if he’s breathing?” His voice was steady, smooth. He spoke at the same level as he had when he first answered, not raising even half a decibel. He was probably used to this, trained on how to handle frantic callers like her, deescalating as much as he could over the phone before the police and paramedics arrived.

Leslie squeezed two fingers against Antonio’s neck, but she couldn’t feel a pulse. The phone fell from her ear, and she fell facedown across Antonio’s stiffened chest. “Please, God! Please don’t take him from me!”

And again, He answered her. Two times in under six hours after twenty-seven years of silence.

“Remember what you read.” He was preparing her for what was to come, a trying of her faith in Him, like when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Could she trust Him to be her only source after the love of her life was taken away from her? Job tore his clothes, fell prostrate to the floor and worshiped Him when he lost everything. Could she do the same?

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…

 No, she couldn’t accept it. “Not this, God. Anything but this!” She prayed unceasingly, knowing He wouldn’t change His mind, but she continued anyway, while Tony and Gregory stood over her, frozen, and watched. Their lives were about to change catastrophically, and while she knew that all things worked together for the good to them that loved Him, in that moment, as she prayed and prayed for Antonio’s healing and deliverance, she wasn’t sure she could say with tenacious zeal that she truly loved God over the man who lay dying in her arms.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt comes from Lisa Cron and asks us to investigate a turning point in our protagonist’s past. This was the perfect opportunity to explore more backstory for my NaNoWriMo novel, “Lost Boy.” Last month, I used the April A to Z Challenge to plan out the novel. If you missed it, read it from the beginning here

Quaker Quinton

Thomas and Jerry were still laughing when Grandma, almost trance-like, started to speak. “I know what you’re thinking.” Her eyes stared past us, watching the area where Tammy had gone. “How could I live with myself after that? There are bad people in this world, but does doing the wrong thing for the right reason make us any better?”

I shook my head. “Nobody’s perfect, Grandma.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Millie,” Thomas said. “No one’s blaming you.”

“You married ten more times after Pete. They saw the good in you,” Jerry said.

Our words fell on deaf ears. Grandma sat still. She took on the same distant gaze that Drake had when he wandered around nurses station. My ears began to pop. Muffled sound waves vibrated against my eardrums like I was submerged underwater. I stretched my jaw, pulled on my earlobes to relieve the pressure, but the fuzziness only worsened. A cool draft blew down across my shoulders, but when I looked up at the air vent above me, the ribbons remained motionless.

There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Jerry zipped his sweater up to his chin. Thomas pulled his sleeves down over his hands. Frank folded the newspaper around his torso. Drake sank further between the couch cushions, hiding. Marcos shivered so hard, his wheelchair moved forward an inch.

QI asked, “Grandma, do you think Marcos could borrow your blanket?” It was folded neatly in her lab. Grandma didn’t even look at me. She was rapt in the presence of something none of us could see, but we all felt it in the midst of us. I half-expected her to be looking into the face of Pete’s angry spirit, but her jaw dropped into a smile and her moist eyes shimmered, greeting an old friend.

.”I couldn’t always move on,” she said. “I carried a piece of each dead husband with me into the next marriage. Whether it was my fault or not, I still felt guilty. Then when I actually was guilty, the weight was unbearable. I didn’t get away with killing Pete. I was dragging a ball and chain on both legs the whole time.”

“It’s not your fault, Grandma,” I said, but she didn’t hear me. Her attention was focused entirely on whatever stood in the center of our circle.

“I always went to church before, but I don’t think I ever really knew God until I met Quinton.”

“Her next husband,” Thomas mouthed to us. Saying it aloud would interrupt the conversation Grandma was having with our invisible visitor.

“He taught me about forgiveness and salvation. That’s when I realized it didn’t matter how many husbands I had or how many of them died. As long as I had the love of God with me, I would be alright.” She kissed her finger tips and flung her arms out in front of her, embracing us once again. “I like to think Quinton was my guardian angel. He still is. He was there for me for only as long as I needed him, and he disappeared just as suddenly as he came.” Her wrinkled cheeks blushed a deep violet.

The dense air around us dissipated, and my ears finally cleared. Grandma stretched her arms over her head and spread her fingers, fluttering them freely and waving goodbye to her guardian angel as he ascended back into heaven.

Thomas leaned forward and slapped his thighs. “Crazy weather we’re having, huh?” he said. A sarcastic smirk spread across his face.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.

We sat quietly, waiting for someone to speak first, not sure what to say next. A blast of music from my purse rattled us out of our awkward silence. I scooped my phone into my palm, covering the speaker to squelch the noise. When I looked down, Mama’s face flashed on the screen.

—Nortina


Mama has finally arrived! What secrets will she reveal? Stay tuned for more A to Z Challenge!

#BlaPoWriMo: Psalm 90 (poem)

A Negro Preacher’s Haiku

We ain’t nothin’ but
grass, Lawd—green in da morn’, by
night, brown—dry like hay.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Black Orator

The Creation (A Negro Sermon)

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

—James Weldon Johnson, from God’s Trombones (1927)

Pavel Petrovich Svinin, Black Methodists Holding a Prayer Meeting, 1811-13. Watercolor and pen and ink on white wove paper, 16.7 by 25.2 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Johnson’s “The Creation” is written in imitation of African American pulpit oratory. Black preachers often had an animated way of retelling Bible stories, overtly exaggerating, repeating certain phrases for emphasis, adding human qualities to God with the incorporation of vernacular (“Like a mammy bending over her baby”), to connect with their congregations.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the black orator. Using dialect or standard English, capture the musical rhythms and vocabulary of rural black storytelling and give us a story, religious or not, that can be retold orally for generations.

—Nortina

Backslide

I had sealed my fate when I said yes to a second date with the atheist. I’d convinced myself that I only wanted to save him, prove that God does exist. Yes, there’s misery in the world, but pay attention to all the miracles; a dying man cured of cancer overnight, a long lost child reunited with his mother, a convicted murderer giving his life to Christ. Even Scrooge wrestled with God. Dickens only changed it after his editor commented that it sounded too “preachy.”

Truth be told, I could care less if he believed in God, Heaven, or Hell. There was something about him that aroused me. His recklessness. Pointing trigger fingers toward idle officers, blaming the Jews for everything, jacking off in front of the Madonna.

He had no restrictions. He preferred to be on top so he could moon all in Heaven as we made love in the Catholic cemetery and the statue of my guardian angel wept for my transgressions.

word count: 164

Nortina


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Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 100-150 words (give or take 25 words) using the provided photo prompt as inspiration.

Left Behind

Pat and Lynn stood outside of the chapel underneath the sycamore tree, the alabaster branches radiating in the sunlight as if covered in snow.

“I hate this church. Why do you insist on coming here? There’s not a woman in the congregation the Bishop hasn’t slept with,” Lynn said, picking at the bark. She held her Bible at her side, the leather cover still firm as if she’d just plucked it from a store shelf.

“He hasn’t slept with you,” Pat said, winking. He switched his tattered Bible to the other hand and pulled her into him, kissing her forehead. “Today?” He whispered.

“Not to that sleaze ball?”

“You’re asking Jesus to be your Lord, not Bishop Reynolds.”

“If he’s supposed to represent Jesus, I ain’t interested.” She shrugged and walked inside.

The sanctuary was half-empty, occupied only by the Bishop, who wiped his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, and his former mistresses, who shuffled about in their pews anxiously.

“What’s going on?” she asked, but Pat was no longer behind her.

word count: 173

—Nortina


Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 100-150 words (give or take 25 words) using the provided photo prompt as inspiration.

Click on the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own!

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