It'th a Beautiful World
The wind collected where he stood, eyes shut, hands curled into loose fists in the pockets of his brown leather jacket. A leaf swirled about his head, brushing his face as he listened to the cars from the other side of the trees. The motors, the tires pushing against the asphalt, the metal and glass cutting through the air: the sounds compressed as each car approached, becoming dense-- until the passing swoosh-- and then slowly dissolved into the veil. He thought about the people in the cars, what their lives amounted to, who drove found and who drove lost.
A hard rain was coming, the weather folks warned. Flood watches were posted. The few remaining leaves on the trees beside the road whipped like miniature sepia flags on the gray limbs. He walked into the Waffle House and slid into a booth that hadn’t been cleared yet from the last customers, two fiftyish women dressed in matching jeans and crisply-pressed button-down white shirts who now cashed-out a few feet away at the counter. He slid the five-dollar tip to the other side of the table, buttered a piece of untouched toast, took a bite and chewed slowly while staring out the glass front at nothing in particular.
“I’d ask what can I get you, but it looks like you’re doing just fine by yourself.”
The waitress was a shapely woman in her thirties, about 5’7”, with a wry smile, black-framed glasses, straight black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and earrings, lipstick and nail polish that complimented her peach-colored ascot. She resonated uncommonly.
“Christ, I’m hungry…” he said, pausing to read her name tag, “Savannah,” and he smiled.
“Obviously,” she remarked. “How about some coffee? Or do you want to finish theirs?”
“I like my coffee hot and black, like my sense of humor.”
“Uh-huh. Local or out of state?”
“The mental institution you escaped from.”
“Local, of course. But it’s not an escape, it’s a weekend furlough. My doctors believe I’ve made remarkable progress.”
“Nice,” she remarked.
When she returned with his coffee, he had unfolded a flyer he’d torn off a bulletin board from a mom-and-pop convenience store down the road.
“Look at this guy,” he said. “Can you believe this? In this day and age? We’re gonna land a spacecraft on a comet next month, for God’s sake.”
Hands on her hip, she peered over his shoulder. “Hmm. Hard to believe, ain’t it.”
The flyer showed a pop-eyed man dressed like a traveling salesman from the fifties laying hands on an elderly fellow stooped over a walker. A roundish white glob seemingly floated above the preacher’s head like a halo. Below the grainy black-and-white photo, it read:
BROTHER CREED’S MIRACLE CRUSADE, NOVEMBER 20, 6:30 P.M., CHESTERFIELD COUNTY FAIR GROUNDS, 27 WATERTOWN RD., LANCASTER, GA. HEALING IN THE NAME OF JESUS, RAIN OR SHINE!
*This photograph was taken in Winslow, Tennessee on April 21, 2005, and has been scientifically examined and declared free of any manipulation by numerous sources. Praise Jesus!
“I’ll say,” he agreed. “Just look at him.”
“Oh, I’m lookin’ at him, alright,” Savannah told him. She leaned closer and whispered, “He’s sittin’ in the booth straight ahead.”
Momentarily stunned, he turned his head until his face almost touched hers. She smelled like vanilla and tangerines. His heart beat faster.
“That is sooo freakin’ weird,” he remarked.
“Hmm. I’ve seen weirder,” she said.
She punctuated his dinner order with a wink and a decidedly non-churchlike smile. As he waited, he looked from the flyer to Brother Creed a few times, doodling with the pen Savannah had left behind.
A rusty, custard-colored station wagon pulled in and parked right outside his booth. A short jiggly woman wearing tight turquoise pants and a yellow sweatshirt so bright it would set a Geiger counter off hoisted herself out of the car, hollering as she did at the two kids who already chased each other spastically around the jalopy. The woman’s hair was suspiciously blond, with bangs above cheeks the color of a ripe sugar beet, and she quickly corralled the little pigtailed drip of a girl and the chubby boy up against the car, wagging a stubby finger most threateningly-- and the two settled down and marched quietly in formation into the Waffle House, taking their seats with utmost decorum in the booth directly opposite his.
It wasn’t long before the little girl tapped him on the arm. She was a smidge less than four-feet- tall on tiptoes, with dark-brown eyes and a precocious smile, and each pigtail was adorned with a pink ribbon tied in a perfect bow.
“My name ith Maria Thelina Rodrigueth,” she told him.
“It is? That’s a pretty name.”
“It’s Maria Selena Rodriguez,” the jiggly momma corrected. “She ain’t got her front teeth in yet. Hey, anybody ever say you look like that actor who played Taxi Driver? You know, Da Vinci.”
“You mean De Niro?”
“Yeah, him. I can see you with a Mohawk. Dead ringer.”
“No. But thank you.”
“My name’s Jamaal,” the chubby boy chimed in. He had a pleasant round face, chocolate-brown skin, and blue eyes like his momma. “I got my teeth, see?”
“I see. Very nice, Jamaal.”
“Here’s your burger and hash browns, Mr.”
Savannah had changed out of her uniform into faded jeans and a pink low-neck pullover blouse sparkling with rhinestones. Her hair spilled down onto her shoulders, black and shiny, with a touch of curl at the ends. She placed his food and a carafe of coffee down and took a seat across from him.
“If this is the new company look, I approve,” he told her.
“It’s my ‘my shift is over uniform. ’ I’ve got too much overtime as it is. Hey Darlene,” she said to jiggly momma. “Hey Maria; hey Jamaal.” Then she looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Hey…”
“Mike,” he replied
“Well, Mike, I’m tryin’ to figure out what you’re doing with that,” she said, pointing to the flyer.
“You don’t seem the Sweetie type.”
“Sweetie?” He questioned whether the word actually came out of his mouth. Her black-cat green eyes seemed to have fundamentally changed something-- gravity, or maybe the tilt of the earth.
“That’s what they called him when he was a kid. His daddy was Sweet Daddy Creed, who, before he got religion, made the sweetest corn liquor around back in the day.”
“Thweetie batpithed my daddy,” said little Maria Selena Rodriguez, laughing adorably.
“It’s true,” Darlene added. “Baptized him in Burr Creek two years ago. Bobby ‘bout drowned. Came down with the cryptocrapyourbritches. That’s an amoeba that swells up your chitlins. It weren’t pretty. I had to buy him new underwear.”
“Wow,” was the best Mike could do. “Wow.”
“Thweetie batpithed my daddy’th butt,” adorable Maria noted, and they all laughed.
Their laughter ended abruptly to the sound of breaking glass. They turned their heads in unison and saw Brother Creed bent over, clutching his throat in distress. The miracle-working evangelist staggered straight towards them, ripping frantically at his tie, face like an inflated purple balloon, a huge twisting thrombotic vein rising beneath his comb-over.
“Dear God!” someone screamed.
“Uh-oh,” said little Maria Selena Rodriguez.
“Help him, Mike!” cried Savannah.
Mike sprang to the rescue, positioning himself for the Heimlich maneuver behind Brother’s thrashing body, but the preacher’s gut was huge, and even though he struggled mightily, Mike could not quite get his hands locked.
“He’s gonna die!” a frantic voice screamed.
“I called 911!” cried an equally distressed soul.
“Call Jesus!” someone shouted.
A macabre tango ensued, with space-time contracting into a spotlight as they danced, until Brother’s flailing arms hung limply at his sides. Then, like the proverbial deus ex machina, the cook appeared from nowhere with a mop, ramming the handle repeatedly like a bayonet into Brother Creed’s solar plexus, producing at last a tremendous ragged exhalation, and a piece of hot-sausage shot from the afflicted faith healer’s mouth like a bullet, ricocheting off the ceiling and landing on the floor with a splat.
Brother Creed collapsed on a stool, head bowed, and took five gasping breathes before raising his bright-pink, sweaty face.
“Praise God,” he croaked, waiving his fat hand in the air, and everyone burst into applause.
“It’s a miracle!” a woman proclaimed.
Mike fell back into the booth. Savannah handed him a cup of coffee, but his hands shook so badly, he just sloshed it on the table.
“What the hell just happened?” he asked.
“You’re a hero,” Darlene told him.
A delighted little Maria Selena Rodriguez jumped in his lap and hugged him. “It’th a beautiful world, Mike,” she chirped.
An ambulance screeched into the parking lot, lights flashing, siren wailing. Three paramedics rushed in and thoroughly examined Brother Creed, determining no further treatment was necessary, and they stayed on for coffee with the preacher, who shook hands with everyone who stopped by his booth. Darlene and the kids had to leave to pick up Bobby, and little Maria leaned out the car window and waved as they pulled away, the engine backfiring loudly as if to say goodbye.
A waitress took a picture of Brother with his arms around the cook holding the mop and the beaming, gap-toothed manager, who said the meal was, of course, on the house. As he was leaving, Sweetie approached Mike and Savannah.
“I want to thank you, son, for what you did,” and as he spoke, he spotted the coffee-stained flyer on the table… and his eyes changed. “Here,” he said, reaching his hand out, “I’m gonna pray for you.”
Mike moved away. “No thanks,” he told him.
“No offense, Sweetie, but I’m not your son.”
Sweetie Creed seemed momentarily puzzled. He looked back down at the flyer and noticed the horns drawn on his head. He looked around, grinning tightly, then leaned down and whispered into Mike’s ear.
“Fuck you, then,” he said, patting him on the back, and then he rose up, smiling all the while, and walked out the door.
Later, Mike sat in the passenger seat of Savannah’s car. The rain now poured like they said it would. The parking lot lights had kicked on, and the light sparkled in the rain as it swirled down the glass front of the Waffle House, which itself glowed like a golden ornament in the twilight.
“I’ve got a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia,” she said to him. “I’m thirty-six, never married, childless, and I work at a Waffle House.”
“I just wanted you to know.”
“That says a lot.”
“Yeah? What does that say?”
“It says you’re a lot like me,” he told her.
“That’s strange,” she said.
“I didn’t say it was bad. Strange is altogether different. It’s a jagged, aching presence without a distinct origin. It’s something with pressure and mass that floats from inside you, envelops you like a mist. Case in point: let me tell you what happened last time it rained this hard. I went to the mailbox one morning recently, and the earthworms were everywhere, flooded from the ground, stranded. So what do I do? I go inside and get a bucket and start picking them up from the walk and the driveway—all the way out to the mailbox. Then I started down the road. I couldn’t stop. I mean, I had to save them. I was out there in the middle of the goddamn road in my robe, but it was like for that little moment life had meaning. Some fleeting, invisible grace brushed me in passing.”
He didn’t know what to say. The world was a place where children played, and just that, only that.
“They’re good for the soil,” he blurted out.
“The soil. They, uh, they improve the soil.”
“It sounded like you said ‘soul.’”
He paused a second before speaking. “I did,” he said, turning to face her. “I did say soul. I mean, that’s what I meant. Can I have your phone number?”
“I don’t give my phone number to strange men,” she sternly replied.
“Oh,” he said.
“Give me your phone,” she said, touching his hand.
He gave her his phone. She made a call and smiled when her phone rang.
“Somebody’s calling me,” she remarked.
“Could be someone important,” Mike said.
“Could be,” she agreed. “Or maybe not.”
“True,” he said. “But then you never know. You never know what might happen before it happens.”
“I like it that way,” she whispered.
She handed him back his phone as she answered hers.
“Hello, this is Savannah. How may I help you?”
About the Author: Kent Monroe lives in Troy, New Hampshire, with a damn fine woman and a motley gang of cats and dogs who refuse to obey the rules. His works have appeared in New England Review, The Missing Slate, and Your Impossible Voice, among others.