Reggie troops down the aisle, sweeping up the remains of a wilted bouquet. He pushes petals into neat miniature piles and, for a mini moment, pretends that he is marching toward someone of his own.
Yes, yes. I have seen him parade like this before. Each time he becomes glazed with hope. A speck of sadness too.
Behind Reggie, the double doors split open.
“Hi, Father Fink” he calls out.
“I’ll be finished soon. I’ll be quick.”
“It’s fine. No need to rush.” The man’s hairless head gleams in the light.
“The ceremony was really…great. I liked everything you said.”
“Your weddings are the best,” Reggie says.
I know that Reggie can always be found at weddings and Sunday services. I have seen him, enraptured by the vows, the hymns, the speeches, the songs. And I hear Reggie’s questions that always perform pestering back flips inside his mind. He ponders many thoughts, “Does God hate sinners before he forgives them? Does God hear me? Does God grant every prayer…especially when you’re good? Will I ever get married? Before God?”
Reggie sweeps more and says, “What a mess, huh?”
“I hear you.”
“No, Reggie. I hear you.”
He triple-blinks. “What do you mean, Father Fink?”
“When you pray. Up there in the pews.”
Reggie’s face quickly becomes jeweled in sweat. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he says. “It’s wonderful.”
“Well, if I ever get too loud, just tell me. I’ll stop.”
Father Fink chuckles a bit. “I’ll be sure to let you know. Feel like confessing today?”
“Um, not today. I don’t think I have enough yet.”
“Saving up, eh? Well, we all wander and stray.”
“I try not to,” Reggie says.
“Me too. Hey, feel like going to this reception with me? Free spaghetti supper. Dancing, if you like that. Nice Catholic girls all dressed in pink.”
He replies, “Can’t. Gotta finish up here.”
“I’ll bring shepherd’s pie on Tuesday.”
“Perfect. We can eat. You’ll confess.”
On the pimpled sidewalk, Elmer is perched atop his parent’s television set. He and Mrs. Lolly have been gabbing, gossiping and chatting since four. They munch on oyster crackers as the power lines sway above Nixon Avenue.
Mrs. Lolly asks, “So…ya gonna be a fancy chauffer?”
“Don’t wanna be one.”
“But will ya?”
“Not sure. Maybe,” Elmer says.
Mrs. Lolly wets her smile with candied gulps of blackberry brandy. Seemingly ablaze, she reaches out and pets his shabby hair. “Gotta make your own life, boy.”
“I know. But I don’t really know what I want to do,” he says.
She asks, “So, ya aint got no idea ‘bout thangs?”
“Yo daddy’s right, Elmer. It’s time to grow up.”
“Well, what did ya learn at that college ya went to?”
She grimaces. Mrs. Lolly drinks more. “What’s that? Communications?”
“It’s nothing, really,” he says, beginning to laugh. “I got a degree in nothing.”
Elmer crunches a handful of small, salty discs. He thinks, “Since I can’t be president or mayor or governor, I could be like Mrs. Lolly who sits in her chair, happily watching the world prance by.”
She tells him, “I bet you’d like to just take care of Pinky for a livin’.”
“Wouldn’t be so bad,” he says and chews.
“You already do an A plus job, Elmer.”
Reggie mashes his face against the screen door. He hears another ballgame root and roar on the AM radio. “Dad? Dad?”
There is no response. Reggie wonders if maybe he tumbled down the stairs or maybe he swallowed the wrong capsules. Maybe his heart stopped as he always said it would.
The boy scrambles inside and eases down the cluttered hallway. He sees that there are bundles of newspapers, coffee cans, empty wine bottles, jam jars, two snow shovels. Quickly, Reggie opens the bathroom door. An immediate stink swarms him.
His giant father shouts, “I’m taking a BM!” Mr. Lauderdale sits on the toilet, bumbling through last Sunday’s crossword puzzle. Shirtless, his prickled rolls of skin bulge and ruffle over his three-hundred pound frame. His bellybutton is the size of a half-dollar.
Reggie turns away and asks, “Didn’t you hear me calling?”
“No, kiddo. Think I’m going a little deaf these days. Falling apart.”
“Tell the doctor when you go. And what about your foot?”
“Dr. Dann gave me more antibiotics. It’s hooey, I think. That stuff don’t work on me anymore. I have to take two or three pills each time.”
Reggie asks, “You feel okay?”
“Yeah. Just gotta take it easy,” his father says. White scars swerve over Mr. Lauderdale’s back. Like kinked fencing.
Reggie says, “No more walks to Vic’s Variety, Dad.”
“Not for a while.”
Reggie scratches at his forearm. A tiny, red splotch shaped like Tennessee has spread across his skin. “I think I’m getting a rash,” he says, almost whispering.
His father asks, “Can ya come over and do groceries next Friday?”
“Can’t. I’m supposed to be some place.”
“Church. There’s a wedding,” he replies.
“Well, after that?”
Mr. Lauderdale begins pushing out more mess. It plops into the bowl of water. He says, “Dr. Dann’s secretary told me ya had some kinda problem with your…you know…ding dong.”
Reggie hollers, “Dad! Don’t…”
“Well, is everything okay down there?”
“Yeah. It’s just…I just…keep having those dreams. I can’t make them stop.”
His father sighs, smelling his index finger. “You been prayin’?”
“Of course.” Reggie’s eyes wheel backwards.
“You been confessin’?”
“Every week, dad.”
“Mmm. Well, maybe try Bengay. That might work.”
In spite of loud jeers, the Red Sox are still losing by only one run.
“I gotta wipe,” his father says.
“Alright. I’ll make some BLTs”
“Oh, hey, Aunt Dolly called.”
“What’d she say?”
“She and Herb are off to their island in paradise. Must be the life, huh?”
Elmer re-reads his letter:
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Hello. It’s Elmer Mott again.
You have only responded once to my letters and, quite frankly, I am sure you yourself did not write it. Was it some intern? Or do you have a generic letter saved some place and when goons like me send a note, you whip it out and stamp your name? It’s fine. I take no offense. I know that you’re busy with things.
The election is coming up and I bet you’re nervous. I do hope you win! The other guy seems like a jerk, so, yeah, I hope you win.
I still think the process of election is way more complicated than it needs to be. It doesn’t make sense. Electoral College votes are stupid. It makes the whole thing too drawn out. It should be like this: Two people make their speeches and their promises and then the country votes. Simple. And someone from somewhere else should count the votes. A guy in Canada! That way it’s fair. And that way, the people of the United States of America truly choose their leader. This is only my opinion, of course.
Since the election is near, I just want to urge you to NOT run childish, attacking commercials. For two reasons. First, that’s not very nice and it makes you look like an asshole. Two, if I sleep on the couch with the TV on, those ads come on and they seem much louder than the others. So, they wake me up!
More from me later.
Reggie slumps before the mirror. He unscrews the tub of green jelly. He digs in four fingers, then scoops out a massive gob, then smells the Bengay. Its minty aroma spanks his senses. Reggie swabs himself. Penis. Testicles. Anus.
He prays, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life.”
I can also feel Reggie’s flesh scorching.
After almost eighteen knocks, Elmer sighs and sets the television outside Pinky’s door. He thinks of shouting her name, but, no. He simply sulks back to his apartment. He slams his door and the American flag sagging on his wall flutters.
“Fuck,” he says.
Elmer yanks off his pants. He slips his penis in between the couch cushions. He swerves about and gyrates. He pinches his nipples too.
I know that Elmer is daydreaming about her. I know he thinks that Pinky’s mouth could cover him completely.
Reggie wipes his genitals clean.
When he was seven years old, he felt as though his mother could see him at all times. Even with doors closed. Even with blinds cranked shut. Reggie could have said, ‘I feel sick,’ and his mother would have replied ‘I know.’ He could have said, ‘I stole quarters from your purse,’ and she would have replied, ‘I know.’ He could have said, ‘I’m feeling sinful,’ and she would have replied, ‘Yes. And so am I.’
Right now, he hopes that his mother is not watching.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 5 of our week-long serialisation of Parade, Chapter One.
Read Michael’s exclusive essay for STORGY: ‘I’ve Learned a Thing or Two: Lessons from My First Novel’
Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies. Visit his official website: www.michaelgravesauthor.com.
To purchase a copy of Parade and/or Dirty One click on the images below:
Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults… but they aren’t sure how to bethemselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching?
Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of religion and government.
Set in the 1980’s, Dirty One follows a pack of adolescent characters who live in the acid-drenched, suburban town known as Leominster, Massachusetts—the plastics capital of America, as well as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. In the story, “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch has his first homosexual tongue kiss during a monster truck show and, after a bout of the flu, he is convinced he has somehow contracted AIDS. With “Curls and Curls,” nine-year-old Lee hates his kinky, brown head of hair and is seemingly possessed with magic, casting spells to unfurl his evil tresses. In “A Snow Day,” eleven-year-old Cassidy longs to be the next mega-watt, teen pop star, but is forced to deal with her crazy classmates, her gay father, and her dog that continually vomits in the driveway. “Do It” follows a tween named Denise as she seeks her first sexual experience with a boyfriend who can never remain erect. Denise strives for high school greatness while her gay best friend is crowned king of all local paper routes. These selections join five more, constructing the remarkable world of Dirty One.
Read more of Michael’s fiction below:
Eclectica – ‘Black Doll’
Soft Cartel – ‘The Keepers’
Post Road Magazine – ‘Balloons’
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