“In the morning was the Sound, and the Sound pursued Eddie all day.  The Sound awoke Eddie in the morning, and prophesied to him in the night as he dreamt, and everything Eddie did, issued forth from the Sound.  Eddie was not the Sound, but his life plays a note in the Sound.  Until he had earsto hear, the Sound was a grinding, mechanical noise. In the Sound was also the rhythm of Eddie’s life, but the Sound was not his life.  As flesh and blood alone, he heard nothing without the Sound, but could not comprehend it.  All sounds sounded to him like the Sound.  Even his own child’s tears and laughter.  In the fullness of time, when he received the birth of water and spirit also, his ears opened to hear much more of the Sound that was the whole song of his life that had played all around him, always.  His song was never a symphony, for very few ever are. But it was a song that we know, and love, and listen to comfortably and with joy, more routinely than the occasional sensational symphonies.  The Sound that Eddie knew at first, of course, was the noise made by a ratchet"

"What?" a confused listener asked.

"The ratchet sound." The Evangelist's curly auburn hair, silver at the temples, shook as he turned to address St. Greg.  “I'm not gonna try to imitate it. You know what I’m talking about."  St. John swigged wine out of the grail and passed it to the saint on his right. 

All the saints around the Apostle enjoyed his stories.  Every so often, so to speak, additional light was given for the telling of new tales.  Usually, the apostles and prophets did the telling, but not always.

"Methinks I didst leave before those ‘wretch-its’ were invented,"  mused St. Isaac from the back of the group, chewing some particularly satisfying bread.

"Ratchets.  They’re called RA-chitz.  Invented in 1863, in Woodstock, Vermont.  Had a wood handle, of all things," St. Luke said. “When you turn them back and forth, securing or loosening a fastener called a bolt, or the nut thereupon, they make a peculiar noise, and the users thereof tend to do so very rhythmically, like so…” He began to make the noise.

“Please, Luke, desist. Not essential.  The Spirit will guide us,” the Apostle implored.  St. Luke nodded and smiled, pleased at the “chance” to serve his friend.

"Yea, indeed I didst finish my race three or four hundred years prior,” continued St. Isaac.

"Ah, 317 years, it was." St. Luke was a bear for the details. This Isaac was not the St. Isaac of more ancient times. Even in heaven, much remains privy to him alone with whom all have to do.

"Of course, you are correct."

"But John, wouldn't Eddie have used a pneumatic?" asked another saint.

"Yes, mostly, but he grew up using the hand ratchets working on his ATV's with his Daddy, and later working on dirt bikes with his brother, St. Bill, whom I think you all know.

St. Bill waved and smiled and nodded to the group, and the group murmured greetings.

“And though tis true the noise of the pneumatic permeated the mechanic shop, it was the simple crank and buzz of the hand ratchet, which grew and increased in Eddie's mind, and it shaped his view of everything in his life.  At the time of this story, the Sound did not please Eddie."

"The Sound bore witness to Eddie's mind, so he thought, of the grinding drone of his existence.  Irritating, jarring, and inevitable.  He relied on it, yet he denied it.  It drove him on, yet held him back.  But, I also have to tell you about our brother Sayyid, whose coming Eddie knew not whence, nor knew he ever upon the earth, but will soon know perfectly.  The fullness of the Sound’s days has come, now is, and soon will pass."  The Beloved Disciple settled in on his pillowy couch and looked far off, receiving his tale, as it were, in a vision.


Surrounded on all sides by a sea of silver curls on bowed heads, nodding in prayer, Sayyid studied the restaurant’s smoke-rubbed window. It was raised a few inches, and the bottom corner of the screen was torn.  A cool breeze blew in every now and then, stirring the smoke and the smells of heated swine flesh, creating the incense of Dixie dinnertime.  There flew from out the hickory smoke two house-flies which did land upon the window sill, intending to reproduce after their kind.  A crowded strip of fly-tape twisted and gently swung back and forth a little, like some freak piece of modern art that no one can bear to look at.  Some of its victims lived and buzzed helplessly. 

"I drive all day every day, and many a night. But I get nowhere," thought Sayyid, staring blankly at the amorous flies.  “Always driving, never arriving.”

Sayyid’s moustache guarded him against the babybacks.  It grew stout beneath his Persian nose.  It was a prominent nose in general, but less so than many of his race.  If you could see the little valley between his nostril and upper lip, it had an exaggerated angle to it, as though he was perpetually pursing his lips.  Sayyid’s eyebrows did not arch in a smooth curve, nor march in a straight line, even on the few occasions when he relaxed.  They began on the inside near the top of his nose and rose towards his hairline at an alarming angle, except that it moderated and ran towards his ears for the latter two-thirds of its distance.   They expressed a variety of emotions all by themselves, but none so well as consternation.  His eyes were black as crude, distilling generations of decay into a wealth of combustible energy. 

As he sat and watched, the fly-taped gang welcomed one of the post-copulatory flies just mentioned.  The little buzzer happily joined his fellows in the resinous arsenic.  The fly and his companions patronized the now famous Butt Ox BBQ, which barely had seats for the 25 or so members of the Vineville Avenue Baptist Church Choir.  Butt Ox came highly recommended by the local United Methodist pastorix, who had reason to know.   Bless her heart.


"It is THE best barbecue restaurant in Kansas City," St. Peter paused his tale and said.  “I have it on good authority; Hank's Flanks used to be, but Butt Ox succeeded it."

After what seemed an eternity, St. John scanned the rest of those assembled around the fire pit, busy roasting bread and spitting watermelon seeds, and resumed his tale.


The Butt Ox BBQ was the fifth barbecue restaurant they had eaten at on this trip.  They wouldn’t have been there at all if Frank hadn’t asked Sayyid to take a little detour so they could see the University of Kansas, and the Memorial Campanile in Lawrence, which is also where Quantrill mustered for his retaliatory raid on the Jayhawkers.

“In Jesus name we pray, Amen!” Frank eventually concluded.  “Let’s eat!”  Frank was the choir director, and a bona fide maestro.  His choirs had performed for royalty, and he had conducted at a prestigious university in Texas for many years.  His daughter and son-in-law’s move to Macon brought him back to his roots, in this humble little choir from Vineville Ave. Baptist Church.

Sayyid didn't budge.  As he scrutinized the flies in bas relief against the now-spinning fly-tape—presently the breeze rushed in--his mind drifted, remembering how he came to be in Butt Ox with these people.

"Dear Nephew, in America I find great wealth and comfortable work. Join me. Wishes To You of Eternal Success and Dazzling Wealth Greater Than All Dreams, Uncle Darius."

So, join him he did.  In Atlanta, but not in comfortable work. Not in financial prosperity.  He recalled the longing which the letter from his uncle Darius awakened within.  Their respective experiences of America had been very different for reasons not entirely clear to Sayyid.  For Sayyid, he had loved his native Hamadan, but felt trapped in a cycle of poverty and mediocrity in a strange land. He longed for glory.  Persian warrior blood still coursed through his veins, yearning.  Unsatisfied.


"Meanest thou 'Ecbatana?'" Adin interrupted.  St. John generally welcomed interruptions for clarification’s sake.

"In your time, yes.  But it goes by ‘Hamadan’ now, and has for quite a while.  Relatively speaking.” 

They all chuckled.


“Anyway, in a short time, Sayyid's uncle had grown rich in Atlanta...”


"You mean Terminus?"

"I thought it was Thrasherville."

"Yes, yes, the truth is they’re all the same place. Brethren, we’re never going to get through this, if ye all keep focusing on place names."

"What's the hurry, John?"

St. John reflected on this.  For a very long time.  Concluding that not all annoying habits are also sinful, and that getting annoyed easily must not be either. He continued.


The silver heads all popped up, and the reverent hum of their voices swelled to a subdued roar, as Sayyid listened to the choir members ordering forbidden swine flesh without remorse.  They talked excitedly, and sometimes also listened.  Chattering away about nothing that concerned him, Sayyid nevertheless smiled politely.  Peter's dream meant nothing to Sayyid at this point.  In fact, he secretly hoped that there would be no brisket or chicken on the menu, because he longed to be able to eat barbecue out of necessity, it smelled so good cooking on the hickory smoke. "I am so weak. Why am I so weak?"

"They torment me on purpose," he thought, his attention shifting from the flies to the riders of his bus.  They were mostly elderly or middle-aged, but not all.  The older white ones, in particular, who failed to learn that every culture except their's is equal, smiled and offered him pork, and asked him wouldn't he like to "try some ree-yibs, 'cause Jesus declared them right tasty in the Bible when he dreamed about a sheet of 'em at Peters’ house.”  “Doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus fed multitudes with fish?” Sayyid smiled and replied. Such was his experience in the South, where not eating right still raises suspicions of Satanism, and maybe cannibalism, or maybe being a New York yankee jewboy or worse.  That’s only among the decreasing native population, though. Many transplants have turned various Southern locales indistinguishable from the ones they fled.  The natives live in the scary places, waiting. Most of these good people were remnants of an older Southern stock, not being from Atlanta.

"I'm tired of this job. I want to go home," Sayyid sighed inwardly, taking another drink.  Uncle Darius’ wild success in the chiropracty field was discouraging compared to Sayyid's dull job of bus-driving, barely making ends meet.  Darius’ letters to Sayyid when Sayyid was young and still in Hamadan certainly served to induce his immigration 18 years ago.  He was convinced that Allah was upset with him, because he bought his daughters iPhones and pre-ripped blue-jeans.  Plus, his Georgia bosses at the bus company were touchy about accidents, unlike in his native Hamadan.  If he had one more, he would lose his job, and his wife and daughters would hate him, and he had no other way to support them.  How could he start over at 52?  “What weel go wrong next?” he asked himself over and over.

When Darla the Waitperson asked him what he’d have, he ordered the “cheeck-in and waf-fells, weeth side of friess,” and tried hard not to be rude.  Though at times a touch irritable, Sayyid was generally a kind and respectful man.  He sipped his ice water often, to keep from having to talk too much.


Another workday for Eddie was drawing to a close.  The Sound persisted in his head, though its volume varied with circumstance.  Eddie himself wasn’t even ever fully conscious of it.  When the noise of the day clamored for his attention, it burrowed even further inside, but never went away.  Towards quitting time each day, his thoughts turned to his wife and child.  These would stew around for several hours until just about bedtime.  As he locked the doors and turned off the lights at his home, the Sound would resurface to disturb his rest, but he still was not conscious of it.   

"Borrow your broom?" Eddie asked Manuel.


Eddie swept his work-bay for the twenty-third time that day.  Vincent Freeman could hardly have scoured his workstation at Gattaca Corp. more thoroughly.  At home, though, Eddie never put his clothes in the hamper or dishes in the dishwasher.  His wife Catherine’s scowl from his slovenly habits threatened to develop lines in her porcelain skin.  To him, it was simply the natural division of labor, obvious and without need of analysis or criticism.  He couldn’t believe his Catherine might have sympathy for “them woman’s libber types.”

"Thanks.  Y’all playin’ soccer tonight?"

"No.  Dreenking cer-VAY-zahssss." Manuel smiled infectiously. 

"Mucho?" Eddie grinned

"No. Pork-eet-oh.  You feenish the green XJ?" Manuel switched to very grave in an instant.  "Lady cahming in de morning for peek-ahp."

"Not'chet.  I'll be in at 6:45, man. That's plenty of time to finish.”  Manuel looked bothered. “Ah-ight, man?  Come on, don’t look at me like that. It's just a tune-up.”

"What eef you not make it?  I haf no time for feenish you redneck slackness. You slow as sheet, Eddie.  You gotta feenish now!"

"Dude, it's beer o'clock.  I been at it all day. I git here 'fore you do."

"But I work twice as fast."

Eddie shook his head and moved the broom around randomly. Upset at the harsh characterization, but also ashamed that it was mostly accurate.

"Eddie, man, Brant told you las' week dee pace you work too slow, man.  He stoopit, but he right about that!"

Brant MacNamara was Eddie's boss, kind of.  He couldn't actually get anyone in trouble, he was just there to "enhance the overall customer experience," but you would have thought The Throne itself gifted the technicians to him as his own enslaved guild.  His rotundity generally, and his face, in particular, testified to a softness of character jarringly ill-suited to the sharp words spraying from his lips.  His complexion had that carmine blotchiness around the jowls that marks some people, and his hair resembled an out-of-proportion helmet of sandy hue.  If you had the misfortune of being close enough to see, you could actually discern minute red lines, like little hairline cracks, making it look like he was literally shattering, as he half-spit and half-yelled his semi-literate, partially-formed tirades.  In another 10 years, his jolly rotundity became morbid obesity.  He was just in the early stages of breathing too heavily, and sweating too profusely on this particular day, though.

"What's that?!" Brant had overheard his name, as he skulked along the shop floor, grazing on Swiss Cake Rolls.  Brant felt his persuasiveness grow proportional to his proximity to his victim.

"Nuh-theenk, jefe.  We shooting bull, is all."  Manuel instantly regretted speaking Brant's real name loud enough to be heard.  When speaking of Brant, the technicians usually used “Waller” as code.  It was a compound of Walrus, wallow, and holler. 

Manuel had the Mexican Shoulder Shrug mastered.  It has to be done with the hands simultaneously performing a reverse akimbo, and throwing the neck forward, down and into a slight angle.  Meanwhile, the mouth corners go down, the eyebrows arch upwards, eyes open wide, and then walk away at what is best described as a “leisurely getting the hell out of here” pace.

"Shooting bullshit, you mean.  I heard my name."  He uttered a trisyllabic blasmphemous oath that ultimately applied to himself.


Though factually accurate, not all things are fit to be repeated or recalled. May God have mercy on his soul.


"Manuel was telling me you was promoted from technician to upper level management, ‘cause of some awards you won, or something."  Eddie’s olive complexion and slight stubble hid the blood coming into his face.  He was not particularly quick-witted, as a general rule, but he summoned all his powers to ward off Brant.  He continued placing wrenches equidistantly in his toolbox drawer, with his back to Brant, and a thin grin on his face.  His fingers were long and nimble, contrasting with fairly thick hands and toned forearms.  He was not a large man, but broadly shouldered and athletically built. Brant kept his distance during his frequent verbal assaults. 

"Oh.  Ah, yes, well."  Brant looked around and cleared his throat.  "It was nothing."  In fact, they "promoted" Brant from the technician ranks, because he was no good and a liability.

"I wish I could win an award," Eddie said.

"Keep at it. You make good someday, leetle brother."  Manuel caught on.

"I dunno."

"Yeah, man, stick weeth m..."

"Why don't you two lovers just get some dang work done, for a friggin' change. Unbelievable. This ain't group hug time.  Two pieces of crap.  You finish the green XJ, ‘Never Ready Eddie?’"

            “He jahst need fife meenitz in thee mornink,” Manuel said.  “Then eets out the door.  Eddie does good.”

“Yeah, okay, Taco,” Brant said.  “I’ve heard that before.  I should fire both of you.”

Brant's only skill was ingratiating himself to rich people, or those he thought were rich.  His Cheshire Cat smile elicited universal scorn, but he was a useful tool to those who crave flattery.  His father-in-law owned a sizable share of the dealership, so he couldn't be straight-up fired.  He was essentially paid to do the only thing for which he had ever had any competence: grovel.  They couldn't let him near any other work. Not even selling, because everyone could tell he lied through his teeth and would say anything for a sale.  He made the technicians’ existence burdensome.

"We trying to feenish work, but you asking questions.  Should we ignore you, jeffe?

"Hell, no, Che!  Ignore me at your peril," Brant fired back, starting to walk away.

"Okay, well..."

"Well?  I'll send your ass back quick.  Get back to work, girls.  People are waiting while you two tweeties are doing each other’s nails."

Eddie wrapped his fingers around the twenty-four-inch drive resting in his drawer, and daydreamed an unworthy dream.  Manuel shook his head slightly when Eddie cut his eyes sideways at him. 

"Yes, sir".  He gulped down the cold remains of his morning's coffee. 

Satisfied for the moment, Brant took his little mobile hell down to DuWayne's realm, a few bays down.  DuWayne would give him satisfaction in a verbal battle that usually entertained the whole shop, but his concentration and work suffered for it.

"Eddie, man, you GOT to feenish the tune-up,” Manual said more quietly, once Brant was out of hearing.

"I'm going home,” Eddie’s deep-blue eyes bore down upon Manuel, at last.  “It's time, and Cathy'll get upset if I'm late for supper."

"She get upset when you have no job to get home late from."

"You wouldn't..."

"Not me, man. I like you.  But I don't haf much say so."  Untrue, and everyone knew it. 

"I'm goin' home."

"But your work..."  Manuel undertook his work with a fury incomprehensible to a man never threatened with deportation.

"I'm here every morning at 6:45 and stay until 5:00.  Every day.  The board says customer's picking up at eight tomorrow, and I'll be done by then with time to spare.  Get off my back, man."

"It's my ass eff you scre--"

"I'm not going to be late on one again.  How 'bout I come in at 6:15 tomorrow?  Will that make you happy?"  He sounded more sarcastic than he meant to.  He wanted Manuel's approval.  Eddie leaned down and picked up a spark plug that had rolled onto the floor meant for the XJ tomorrow morning. He had everything laid out in order on his worktable for the next day, and tucked it away under his workbench.

"What if you seeck in morning?  Or keeled on the way in?"

"Manuel, come on..."  He stuck the spark plug in his shirt pocket and kept cleaning.

"Eet could happen, man.  You don't know.  Cus’mer don't care you excuses."

Eddie put up his fender cover mat, and latched the hood.  “Then, cover for me, dammit, I would for you.  I'll text you a picture of me here at 6:15 sharp."

"I'm'a haf to stay late now, in case you don't show up."

"That's never happened."


Eddie headed for the clock, with his lunch cooler in his hand.  "5:05. Stupid spic," he thought, about the man he revered as the top Jaguar technician in the state, and one of the best men he knew in all respects.  Eddie was like clockwork with most things. He just lost himself in the Sound when he got under the hood.  It operated like his cruise control, and he was not in control of it.  It set his pace, and his pace was to grind.  At a slow-medium pace. As he strode to his truck in the employee lot of the Pinnacle Pointe Jaguar dealership, his thoughts turned to home, and Florie, and Cathy. 


Cathy checked her hair in the mirror as she finished washing her hands.  She wished it had more curls.  Not tight ones, but wavy ones.  She needed a trim.  Her's was dark brown hair was parted in the middle, and pulled back in a bun, except for two small braids in front, which fell on either side of the part, so that they encased her oval face in front of her ears, on the way down to where they just touched the edge of her collarbone, discreetly visible above her black top underneath her favorite carmine sweater, that was starting to show a little wear and tear.  “Eddie should be home soon,” she thought, looking at her face in the mirror once more, oblivious to its attractive permatilt.

Their marriage was in what would prove to be an occasional ebb of affection, and she was troubled by it at the time.  She didn’t understand, and he didn’t, either, but he didn’t like talking about feelings.  Feelings to Eddie were a vast wilderness terrifying and terrifyingly beautiful, and to talk about them felt like a desecration. They were, and you couldn’t much change them, whatever they may be. You could only try to survive in their mysterious midst.  Eddie and Cathy’s love, happily, didn’t depend on feelings, but was anchored more deeply, and tethered by traditions ancient and strong, scornng this age of infidelity and folly.

"Hey, Baby!  Hey, Florie-doo!"  Eddie called out, as the door from the garage banged shut behind him.

Cathy hurriedly flipped off the bathroom lights and came to greet him in the kitchen with the kiss on the lips.

"Mmm!" he responded, as he always had.

"Dadd-eeeeeee!" Little Florie came running in from the back deck.  She was motion and delight.   A blond tangle of hair crowned the space above her face, incapable of expressionless apathy. Her hair flew around and behind her face at all times, its precise location depending upon the trajectory of her never-ending swirls and leaps.  She was fay incarnate.

"How's my favorite little alligator?  I missed you today!"  Eddie greeted her.  Cathy looked on with a smile, pensive and a little pained.  She wanted Florie’s joy, and to be Eddie’s joy again.  She would be again, but on that day she knew it not.

"See what I made?"  She climbed onto the arm of his chair as he flopped himself into it.  Contributing her daily offeing into his hands.

"Oh look!  It's a, ah, it's a, ahhh..."  Looking to his wife for help.

"It's a Gato--"

"An Alligator!  Go Gators!  And, it’s, covered with Goldfish fingerprints. Nice"

"...eating a bulldo..."  Cathy continued to help, already having been briefed fully by little Florie, who expected her Daddy to already know what had been told to Mommy.

"Eating a Bulldawg!  That's great, Sweetheart!"  He rotated the mess of yarn, construction paper and popsicle sticks, searching, but not finding, the alleged creatures.

"How's your day been, Babe?"  Cathy asked.


"Did Man-WELL ask Hey-ZOOS ‘bout them steps?"

" I dunno,” Eddie sighed.  "Forgot to ask."  He didn't forget.

"It's been a month," Cathy ground on, hating herself for doing what her mother always did to her father as a child.  She had vowed not to greet her husband at the door with nagging. So much for vows.

"I know it, hunny, but Hey-zoos is real busy this time of year, and..."

"You want a beer?"

"...and--yes ma'am, thank you--and I'm not sure he even likes guns, much less a Taurus. I don't know."  Her cause was just, but he wasn't good at making arguments or asserting himself with friends, or so he thought.  The pistol he had swapped with Jesus for the work on the steps was worth more than the time it would take Jesus to repair them, but the mortgage-man in the sky only accepted bank transfers, limiting his expenditure of that form of currency.

"I'll ask about it tomorrow.  Won't I Florie?" tickling his girl, who was holding a little tattered Battle Flag in one hand, a bag of Goldfish crackers in the other, and stabbing the bulldog portion of her creation with the flag.

"Ah-own-no."  She giggled, and jumped down and twirled her dress a few times, spraying Goldfish body parts around the room like a lawn sprinkler.

"Here," Cathy handed Eddie the beer and sat down at the far end of the sofa and picked up the remote.

"How'd your day go?"  Though speaking to his wife, Eddie kept his eyes on little Florie, holding his right hand up, so Florie could high-five each time she came around in her twirl.

"Mama'nem comin' over nex' Satiddy, and I'd like 'em not to break their necks comin' in the house."

"They can use the garage door, I don't mind.  Jew git any more of them spicy pecans at the store?"

Catherine fell silent at these words. She looked at Eddie, disbelieving. Company doesn’t come through the garage. 

Eddie was chewing his nails, pretending not to feel the disloyalty of his flippant suggestion.  After a couple of minutes, he looked back at her from the other side, and said, "What?  I really don't mind."      

"Of course you don't," folding her arms and staring at the TV she hadn’t yet switched on.

"It was alright, I guess," Cathey answered his question about her day.  "Them begonias I had my eye on is on sale now. I was thinking 'bout maybe gettin' a flat to plant around the steps--" 

"Damn, woman, forget about the damn steps, I said..."

"Don't you cuss 'round our little girl, Edward Murdoch." 

"My bad.  Florie, Diddy said a bad word. Don't you do it, you un'erstan'?"

"Babe, you said you was gonna ask Manuel about it..."

"I will, but that don't mean it's just goin' to magically happen 'fore your Mama'nem come over..."

"I didn't say it did."

"Toss me that remote."

It thudded gently on the couch next to his leg.  He grabbed it and turned it on, his finger instantly returning to its customary position on the button above where “last” used to be printed on the plastic.  The finger would stay there the rest of the night, as he flipped between channels.  It moved occasionally, to alter which channels were “last,” or occasionally to “mute,” but rarely anything else.  The lights blinked on, and all attention focused.  The screen accepted their confession and began blessing their evening prayers, dispensing its imaginary gospel of an imaginary salvation. 

During an interlude in the prelude coverage of the Food City 500,  Jesus suddenly loomed before them on the screen, with a fresh haircut and the same infectious smile as his father.  Jesus began to sing about back decks, room additions and storm repairs.  An amateur slide-show of construction projects flickered in the background.  Then the music:

            "Wee can put decks on your houses

            "Help you enjoy your green backyard

            "Workeen' weef in-surance comp'nees

            "Fixing yor roof jus' like noo-oo"

"I'll be damned."



“That there’s the judgment of the Lord on you,” Cathy exulted, enjoying the humor of the moment.

            Florie climbed onto Eddie’s lap and started fiddling with his pockets and collar and name patch, keeping her eyes on Jesus on the screen.  Jesus came to the house once before, for Christmas, and she'd never seen anyone she knew on TV, other than when she briefly saw a scary picture of her uncle staring at her from the screen with a black eye and his hair disheveled on the evening news. Her parents had immediately flipped the TV off, and she forgot about it, but didn't see her uncle for 3 years afterward, released on his own recognizance.

"Ole Hey-zoos ain't half bad, is he?"

"A dang 'ol Me-hee-kin Randy dang Travis!"

            "Nails can pull out of dee joi-oists

            "Watch all of your gue-ests fall right through!

            "Nex' time call JC's Construction

            "We always use five-inch deck scre-ewwws!

            "Call JC's Construction, LLC, at seex sefun ayt, ayt too juan, juan too juan too.  We do evf'reetheeng just perfect!"

"Pff.  Yea, if you ever get around to doing it at all!"  Cathy said.

"He can't hear you, Hunny.  He is pretty good, though.  Manuel was tellin’ me--"


"I know he is. I just want my steps fixed."

"I know."


"You hongry for supper?"

"Yes, ma'am.  Good'n hongry.  What’chu fixin’?"


"Hot dawgs.  Zat suit’chu, babe?"

"Yeah, quick and easy."

"’Nother beer?"


"Diddy? Hey Diddy?"

"What, baby?  Hey, will you make some chili and pork'n'beans to go with?"

"Uh-huh.  By the way, Sly emailed and said Amy put in her notice today."

"What? Why?"

"She wants to get that job at Chadwick's with me, so we can work together. It pays better and you get free popcorn."

"Diddy?  Di-DEEE?"

"What, baby?  Well, does she even know anything about hardware?

"What is that?"  Florie poked a lump in his shirt pocket, feeling it through the material.

"How hard can it be?  The old men just like a purty face to grin at."

"She got that."


"You do, too, by a lot more.  But my sis-in-law ain't bad lookin'"


"Anyway, the old men like to find what they need and get the hell out, too, and you’re a master at that,” Eddie said.

"What is that, Diddy?  What. Is. That?  That?" Poking the object harder with each syllable.

"Edward Murdoch."

"Sorry.  Florie, don't say ‘hell.’"

"Jesus said hell."

"Yeah, but only to say 'Don't go there,' or 'I'm'about to send you there.'  Hunny, the race is 'bout to come on."

"This'll be done in a minute."

"What is this, Diddy?"

"What is what?"

"This!"  She wriggled her hand out from his pocket, clutching an object she had never seen.

"That there is a spark plug. NGK Iridum BXR6EIX-11. Put it back, Sweetie.  I need it for tomorrow.  Why is she quitting before having the job?  That don't seem..."

"What's it for?" Shaking it and holding it up to her ear, listening expectantly.

"She's always been a little flighty.  Bless her heart. I love her, though.  Just a little flighty."  Cathy said.

"Yeah, I guess.  She don't have to work anymore if she don't want to. Sly's been a W-4 since las’ October, and he gets the housin’ allowance on top, and don't have a lot of extra expenses.  Or kids."

"What's'it for, Diddy?"

"It makes a little tiny spark, right there, that explodes the gasoline in the combustion chamber—‘pkksheww’--, and that pushes the piston back down and turns the cranksha--"

"A 'sploszhun!"  Florie breathed in quickly and her eyes grew enormous in her little head.

"…And that makes the engine go ‘vroom’ and drive real fast when you mash the accelerator.  Put it back, Baby. I need it for tomorrow."  His eyebrows furrowed, remembering he had promised Manuel he'd be in early to make sure that very spark plug found its way to its new home on time.  He felt a surge in the Sound.

"What’s a sell-ray-tur? Why do you have it?"  She asked, not taking her eyes off it.

"It’s the long pedal on the right. A lot of people forget to use it when they get in the left lane on a highway.  I have this here spark plug, ‘cause sometimes cars need new ones, so they can go real fast like them race cars right there,” pointing to the TV.  “I put 'em in. That's my job.  This one fell off my work bench, and I picked it up when I was cleanin’ up s’evenin’. Guess I forgot to put it back on the bench.”

Whatever his job may have been in real, it was appropriately noble to the little fairy.

"That's my job," he thought to himself, ungratefully hearing the Sound intrude louder upon his reprieve, "ever day, just like a piston, up, down-- gettin' blown back down ever time I jus’ ‘bout get up again."  He failed to appreciate that the only alternative at this point in his life was staying down eternally.  He did not reverence the gift as Florie did.  It was Mary and Martha all over again.

He stared at the cars racing around a track 500 times, with a cluster of humanity watching in person, all alike observing, much as he had watched ants as a kid.  It struck him how silly it would be to watch ants and yell at them and cheer for a particular ant carrying its proportionate share of a potato chip, fallen from the hands of a careless child.  He pictured them with sponsorship logos painted onto their thoraces or abdomens: Tide, Skoal, Lowes, UPS.  A billion dollars in ads to watch ants go back and forth, but with a cloud of earthly witnesses cheering them on. It struck him that all those ad dollars must get them several times more than what they spent on them.  It seemed hard to believe that people needed that much stuff every year, to make racecar sponsorships worth it. He sipped his beer.

Florie looked from the plug in her hands to the cars revving and warming up their tires behind the pace car at Bristol, and back again.

Then she looked at her Daddy with new awe, and restored the plug to his pocket.

"Thanks, Hunny." Eddie bit into his chili dog and wiped some off his chin, as Florie stared at the pocket. Pondering.


St. John asked for his pipe, and began packing it leisurely with a blend rich in Latakia and Perique.  As he pressed the third pinch to the side of the bowl, completely absorbed in the process, some hearers urged him to continue, eager, yet without any mixture of impatience.

"Is that it?” asked Kyria.  “Are you finished?  What's the point?" 

"Just want to take a few sips of this good stuff, and relight my bowl."

"Well, what happened next?"

"Abide, abide, my elect lady.  We have just as much time, as when we began."

"So, do we have no time, or all the time? I don't get the point of your story."

"You understand more than you know.  The point is the same as in all the good stories.  Abide in the story and the point will soon abide in you in fullness."

"Who won Bristol that year?" his brother James asked.

"Kyle Busch.  Beat out his brother," he said, pausing for effect, his eyes twinkling, and his mouth drawing long at the pipe.  Several chuckles began to ascend.  The Boanerges then roared together in laughter, slapping backs and turning red in the face.

As the mirth subsided, a lady near St. John asked, “Who'd Florie end up marrying?"

"That which I have seen and heard, I tell you, but, of that story, I have neither seen nor heard.  And some things remain sealed, but these stories I tell you face to face like I prefer.  I tell you so that we may have fellowship and joy."

After another sip, he drew long at the pipe, and bluish incense filled the space with an earthy aroma, not entirely unwelcome among earth’s gathered inheritors.  The smoke swirled, then drifted apart, then swirled towards itself again, mixing in myriad patterns, hues and thicknesses.  The light was not lessened by it, so much as it was reflected and striated by it.  And it was no less a part of John's story than his words.

"Well, shall we resume?"  he declared more than asked, after what seemed an eternity of watching the smoky light show.  Everyone blinked and mumbled, roused as if from a vision full of rich aromas of vine and branch.


Sayyid enjoyed driving through the night. The Prevost handled beautifully, tunneling through the black en route to the dawn.  There were fewer distractions.  Just bright lines, and the occasional pair of headlights to evade.

The reflective lane dashes almost placed him in a trance.  Full of chicken, waffles, and sweet tea, a stick of Wrigley's between his teeth, his body relaxed, chewing the gum to the pulse of the diesel rumble behind and beneath him.

"The old ladies are mesmerized with life flying by their windows. I like the silence.” Sayyid thought.

For a little while after supper, they chattered without hearing.  As the engine steadily lulled them, though, the the choir members’ voices died down, punctuated only the occasional accidental laugh at a whispered joke.  The moon bid its reluctant adieu.  All sound but the tires and the engine passed away as the night poured out all around them.  Sayyid sipped from his Race Trac travel mug.

Buh-boomp, buh-bomp!  Buh-boomp, buh-bomp!

Expansion joints kept time with his Wagnerian ride through the mountains.  Fifty-two choir members, their Maestro Frank, a couple of instrumentalists and two pimply technical assistants, all sleeping or reading.  All oblivious.  All with the fortune-seeker from ancient Assyria at the wheel, nowhere near his fortune, far from Assyra, driving them to a pinpoint in middle Georgia. 

Buh-boomp, buh-bomp!  Buh-boomp, buh-bomp! 

Sayyid imagined scenes of his wife: at home in Iran, here in the states.  Here, she wanted to be American, though she, too, strove to keep up with the appearance of devotion when it came to her native culture.  She struggled to unite them both.  It was her fight, too, only very different.

He also thought of his daughters.  No striving for native culture by them. He imagined their dark heads shaking in disgust, as he searched his pockets for more rials to give them to buy immodest clothing. He felt he was always broke, and for what? iPhones and ill-fitting blue-jeans.  He imagined his daughters flying back to Iran without him.  His Persian eyes narrowed at the thought, and his grip on the wheel tightened and relaxed, alternately.

"It is the iPhones," shaking his head at himself and his weakness.  He had been against the iPhones.  His daughters had insisted. His wife had rolled her eyes when he had begun to explain all the evil they represented.  He did not try to reconcile how the imams could have iPhones without the evil effects.  He did not yet see that the evil within would use any animate or inanimate excuse to manifest.

"I should not have done it, but the I5’s were out and the price on those had dropped."  Cringing at his own stupid excuse.

Buh-boomp, buh-bomp!  Buh-boomp, buh-bomp!  External accents continue to drum the march.

To the beat of the road joined snores softly percussive.  He steered the bulk of the Road to Glory Tour Lines bus onto the I-57/24 South/East exit in Mt. Vernon, pausing his thoughts to pay attention to the merge.  Merging at night was easier. Not only were there fewer travelers, but the contrast between the darkness and the headlights was stark, drawing focus from all else but the potential danger.

"Tomorrow, when I get home, I will take them and smash them.  Allah and the prophet will be pleased with me."  He smiled to himself at the thought.  Then, he frowned, "Amira and the girls will be unhappy.  Very."  It bothered him that it bothered him. 

"It is tomorrow," glancing at the clock.  "It's 12:44," he began calculating in his mind. He stayed south on I-57 at the split.  “Seven and a half more hours to Pinnacle Pointe.”  There, the choir members would get to enter into the presence of a charlatan who led many astray, though he repented in the end, I am happy to report!  They were getting to meet him and sing some songs with the Jesus Rocks My World praise band.  "Allah never would put up with that garbage.” 


Jesus doesn’t, either, as you all know.  Of course, His patience is meant to lead to repentance, but I'm just telling you what Sayyid thought about on that night. 


"Vernon said to return the bus to the service shed no later than four." Sayyid continued crunching the numbers.  "This means back on the road at 11:00, in order to unload the choir at the church, and get to the shed at four. Only time for McDonald’s for lunch, not barbecue, thank Allah.  Or, probably they want the Cheeck Fil-A’s.”

Buh-boomp! Buh-bomp! Buh-boomp! Buh-bomp!

Vernon was the owner of the small, but successful, tour bus line.  He specialized in choir tours, and "silver saints" excursions to apple orchards and other exciting destinations, usually, but not exclusively, around the Southeastern United States.  He, too, was a corpulent eater of the smoked swine flesh.  A great hypocrite, but Sayyid nevertheless admired his success.  If such an unintelligent slug (in Sayyid’s mind) could succeed, so could Sayyid, and this gave him some hope.  Sayyid did resent Vernon's unfairness and lack of concern for his drivers.  Vern also waited too long to service the buses sometimes, in Sayyid's opinion.  Sayyid was very conscientious about such things, which perplexed him more why Allah was so uptight about the iPhones.  Vernon prayed to Jesus with the men in the shop each morning before overworking and underpaying them.  It was touching, his devotion.


“Uh, John?  Not to excuse my sin, but I did believe being a good capitalist and living the American Dream were my Christian duties.”

“I know, Vernon.  You tried to use that before, too, but He shut you up, remember?  He took a much different view of profit than you, as I recall.”

“Yes, but since He forgave it, I thought maybe you might not put it in the story.”

“But that is part of the story.  My sins are written right there in the Book for all to meditate on day and night throughout most of human history! Your shame only highlights His glory.”

“Some of them,” referencing the Apostle's sins.

“Ah, yes, Vernon, I accidentally left some of yours out of this story...”


“Where was I?” asked St. John, as though he had really forgotten.

“Sayyid doing math in his head.”


For a long time, relatively speaking, as he journeyed on in the darkness, Sayyid seemed to think of nothing at all. His eyelids stood at half-open, and the remaining sips of coffee, automatically swallowed, were all cold.  He became a machine.

Buh-boomp, Buh-bomp!  Buh-boomp, Buh-bomp! 

As the horizon transitioned to grey, he ran out of sunflower seeds, too.  His mouth ached with the salty brine, yet craved more at the same time.  Hours later, he got off the highway at Adairsville, and took a back-road leading into Roswell. 

"It is 7:15," he resumed his thought train, as if no time had passed at all.  "We will be a little early.  Unless I stop for pee and sunflower seeds."  He pulled into the truck-stop behind the QT.  A few choir members trickled off the bus with him, but most remained blissfully comatose.

Relieved and resupplied with seeds and a type of “coffee” he still had not gotten used to, he heaved back onto the bus and into his seat.  "Now, we will be a little late," he lamented, looking at the clock.  He would have to make up time. 


As Sayyid and his slumbering choir had been rumbling on towards Alpharetta, Eddie was at home in his vinyl-clad ranch house near Mountain Park, slurping the milk from the bottom of his bowl of cereal flakes.  He hopped up and took the bowl to the sink and ran some water in it, and left it for Cathy to put in the dishwasher.  He loved the clump of sugar at the bottom of the bowl.  He stretched, picked up his keys, and headed for the door, as the Sound gradually increased.  His mind was on the work he had to get done, so he almost forgot, but then turned to go back and kiss the heads of his pretties before getting on the road.  Cathy smiled and murmured something unintelligible at him as he stood back up from the kiss and watched her roll over onto her other side.  He paused a few seconds to enjoy her alluring shape beneath the cover of the sheets, then took his leave.

Out on the road, he hummed a song a without remembering the words to it. The light turned red, Eddie's truck ground to a halt, and as two minutes stretched into three, his eyes glazed, staring at the red tail-lights of the big black Mercedes in front of him.  He was tired.  His face glowed red from the reflected tail-lights, his eyes glazed and his thoughts searched.  The man in the Mercedes looked back in his mirror and saw him sitting there, thinking.

"Traffic lights replaced common courtesy," Eddie remembered his father saying every time they put up a light at an intersection that didn't use to have one.  "You don't think about nobody no more.  You jus' stop or go according as to which color blinks at you, like a danged albino rat in a Skinner Box.” 

Eddie wanted to take Cathy and Florie somewhere and the three of them do something fun and different.  Buy them some nice things.  "Same ol' crap, though.  Keep grindin'. Git the bills paid."  The man in the Mercedes adjusted his tie in the rearview, grabbing Eddie's attention. "Ever dang day," Eddie whispered, comparing his life to the imagined life of Mercedes man adjusting his tie.  "Same ol' crap."  

The paracletes of his youth told him the man in the Mercedes stole from him, and so he drove a better car and had a better life.  More stuff, and higher position. But this, too, was darkness.  The dark sayings kept him from hearing the Sound rightly.  They kept him from hearing the beauty which accompanied it.  At that red light, Eddie had no ears to hear the truth.  The Sound kept on jarring him, therefore, until it was appointed for Florie to deliver his first grandchild, and then the plugs in his ears were pulled out.  For good, hallelujah.  Though yet more time is appointed for struggle, as we know, darkness never overcomes light.


“All glory is God’s alone!”  They all shouted in unison, without prompting.


"A beautiful beginning to another crappy day of wrench-turning and boot-licking,” Eddie thought.  “And next week, Cat's Mama'nem come with more crap. Crap, crap, crap."  Eddie was no poet, though his father had been an amateur philosopher.  He looked at the man in the Mercedes he was stuck behind, and pictured him entertaining important clients, winning arguments, reaping the spoils of glorious warfares of the boardroom or courtroom.  It was beautiful, the life Eddie envisioned for Mercedes Man.

Three weeks after that morning, the Mercedes Man shot his unfaithful wife and rebellious kids, then drove that shiny car off an embankment into a beautiful little lake near his country home in Gilmer County.  They buried his victims beneath polished granite with flowery etchwork. No one ever found him.

"Nothing but bullshit," Eddie whispered, wearily, drumming his steering wheel to the rhythm of the sound.

"Edward!"  Cathy’s voice was in his head, even in her absence.

"Sorry." He smiled, remembering to watch his mouth.

At 6:10 in the A.M., he pulled into the NorthStar Jaguar dealership, proud of himself.  He felt in his pocket for the spark plug, humming "One Piece at a Time."

Bill Masters always arrived first.  He was the head technician, and his upbringing in an English parochial school in Plaistow formed his habits more severely than most.  When his parents divorced, though, he was unable to continue his education, and his mother returned home to her parents' house in Douglasville, where he followed in his grandfather's footsteps as an auto mechanic.  Manuel was superior to him in ability, but never would be in rank.  The yankee transplants who bought most of the cars in Atlanta loved having a real Brit working on their British cars and telling them how much money they needed to spend again in a few weeks.  It made them feel like the Queen her own self. 

"S'up, Bill."

"Morning, Eddie.  You're at it early."

"Hafta finish a tune-up for an early pick-up.  I promised Manuel."

"Ah.  Coffee's ready."


"Did I hear Waller raving at you yesterday?" Bill smirked an understanding smirk.

"Yesterday and every day. I've about had it with that ass..., Bill. Seriously."

"Let it roll off, lad."  Bill said "lad" as often as possible, conscious it made him sound like a Royal Naval captain.  "He can't do anything to you, really.  You're fine at what you do, and Manuel's bringing you along to be a top-notch repair man in good time.  Speaking of good time, I think that's the only thing you lack right now. Manuel reports that you are thorough, just a touch slow.  If we have to have one or the other, I'll take thoroughness every time.”

"Yeah, well. Thanks, I guess.  Not sure Lord Waller agrees."

"No, I'm serious.  Efficiency will come, Waller be demmed."  Bill felt that with his tall frame, blonde hair, thin moustache and cold-blue eyes, these sorts of flourishes gave him a Peter O’Toole charisma.  Not that he cared what Eddie thought of him, but he was a method actor, and couldn’t break character around the stagehands.

"Hm. I dunno."  Eddie fiddled with the buttons on the Bunn-O-Matic.  "Well, I gotta get this thing knocked out."


Eddie walked by bays of sleek machinery; race horses complacently watching the lowly stable boy carrying a load of oats.  The Sound was making his head ache. It grew louder.  Despite his earlier good mood, Mercedes Man and the talk about Brant and the acute sense of being low man on a tall totem pole oppressed him.  He dreamed of driving that black Mercedes to a big courthouse with reporters and glamorous clients hanging all over him, and suing the heck out of some corporate bastard, or clearing the wrongly accused of all charges, with an Atticus flourish. 

He turned around slowly, looking back at all the beautiful Jags.  "Pre-rust buckets," he sneered back.  "Y’all ain’t nothin’ but a pack o’dead mules without me."

After texting a picture of himself wearing a goofy grin to Manuel, he spent his first ten minutes looking for his 5/8 plug socket, while the pretty people of Atlanta jetted along the city's arteries to exciting conquests and untold successes. His grand conquest today would be not to screw anything up.  This sounds lowly, but is of infinite importance for some people, like mechanics.  “Where’s the damn five-eighths?”  Manuel was bad to use Eddie's tools and not put them back in the right place.  Manuel texted back, "Ur late. 6:17."

Eddie had already finished a good bit of the work the day before, so he began on the plugs and wires first thing.  As he unplugged and removed the coil packs, his mind began to zero in on his work.  He lost himself in the details, like few people are able to do.  It was in this state that the Sound was almost a comfort; a welcome source of good, even then.  It was this ability to remain focused that prevented errors, but also prevented him from realizing how long it was taking.  The world sped by while he whistled I Sang Dixie and took his time to do the job right.

After about an hour and a half or so of work, he took his first break for coffee, thinking as he did so, "Even if I do actually reach the top, which I won't, all it'll mean is that I get the bay next to the coffee pot."  He snorted an amused snort, and then walked back and re-interred himself in the gaping engine compartment of the Jaguar.


Mindy Schwischer blew in the lobby door precisely at 8:00 a.m.  Mindy made an entrance whenever she walked through a door, regardless of whether she was coming or going.  She perfected the dramatic sunglass removal movement in the eighth grade in front of the mirror in the room she shared with two sisters in the family's double-wide.  She banged her town crier heels on the shiny floor.

"Good morning!" chirped Susan, behind the desk.

"I'm here to pick up my car. Green XJR. 2021.  Getting a tune-up."  She perfuncted a polite smile, then swept her eyes around the room to look for hunters she intended to impress, but disappoint.

"Just a sec,” Susan turned her attention to the computer monitor. She was used to it.

The tip of Susan's tongue showed itself just a little in the corner of mouth as her fingers flew over the keys. Mindy began slowly pacing, scrutinizing her temporary realm.

"Are you Ms. Schwischer?"


"Okay, I've got your paperwork ready. Just read over this part, and sign down in the right-hand corner, please.  The total for this service comes to $792. How will you be paying?"

Eddie walked in to fix an espresso.  Susan looked up and smiled her lure smile at him.  He wasn't usually able to indulge in the finer things, reserved for customers and higher-ups.  The fancy coffee machine in the lobby was one of those things.

"Brant hasn't dragged his sorry ass in yet, so I don't mind if I do,” he mused.

Susan launched into her customary script in her customary sing-song, "Your technician has recommended the 45,000-mile service sometime in the next 12 weeks when you come in for your next oil change. He changed the oil and performed the tune-up, rotation, replaced pads and rotors, replaced cabin and engine compartment filters, plugs and wires, etc., you can see the details over here on this side..."

"K. K."

Eddie turned around while the espresso machine made sucking and boiling noises.

"Is your's the British racing green XJR?"

"Yes. " Mindy answered.

Eddie just looked at her and nodded for a few awkward seconds.  He was not the grease-streaked grungy kind of car guy, and she liked that.  She was more attractive than most.  So, he observed.

"Hi, I'm Eddie.  The tech who performed your service.  She's in good shape and ready to go.  They're fine for now, and within the recommended guidelines, so I didn't write it up, but you'd get better handling with deeper grooves in the rubber on your tires, so you may also want to put some new shoes on her at your next service."

"Well, good morning, Eddie, and thank you."

"The plugs were also fouled more than I'm used to seeing, but the oxygen sensors and catalytic checked out. Where are you buying your gas?"

"At the last place I see before I'm about to run out."  She laughed a nervous high-pitched short laugh, as he maintained a serious demeanor, “Ah-ha-ha!”

"Well,” he continued, unable to consider that someone with a car worth the same as his house might not keep its fuel routinely tanked up, and with the best available, "I would recommend Shell, Sinclair or Texaco.  And actually, Costco ranks pretty high, too.  Fouled plugs can give you bad performance."

"Oh, well, I like good performance."  They just looked at each other like aliens in different galaxies looking up at separate skies on the same night.

"Well, nice meeting you Miss..."

"Mrs. Schwischer."

"Mrs. Schwisher. Let us know if we can do anything else. Have a good one."  He turned, picked up his espresso and headed back to the shop, looking over at Susan and finally returning her smile.

"Bye, Eddie. Nice meeting you, too."  Mindy said to his back, as he threw a casual hand up in a wave.

"That'll be $792," Susan said, a little annoyed at the exchange.  She considered the techs her own personal domain.

Mindy tapped her card on the machine, and hammerd her nails on the counter.

"Here's your copy," handing her the service detail printout.  "Thank you.  Pinnacle Pointe Jaguar, this is Susan, how may I direct your call?"  She had already pivoted in her chair. Mindy exited quickly, entering the world outside, flourishing her shades in perfect time.  She thought of Eddie and reveled in being the lady with the Jag, and not the girl at the desk.

She headed towards Chadwick's, to pick up some Begonias she saw on sale in a weekly flyer.


Sayyid watched without seeing the greying of night’s tail end.  Stirring had begun in the seats behind him.  Like two passerine birds, the voices of Sadie Myers and Polly Tharpe started first, and were a little too loud, since neither could hear particularly well.  They only caught about a third of what the other said, and that seemed to be the secret to lasting friendship.  They had known each other since 1950, when Sadie’s father began working for a construction company run by Polly’s father and uncle.

"Breakfast, girl.  Not 'Memphis pearl.'  You gittin' ol'" Sadie chided her friend.

"Gettin'?  I been old for fifty years already.  I'd like some breakfast, too.  I don't think we're stopping, though," Polly replied.

"I don' kyeer how many millions o’ fokes watch him on da toob Sunny mawnins when dey ‘sposed t’be at church, Miss Sadie needs bacon to start her day."  Sadie concluded with an exaggerated nod to indicate further discussion, other than to manifest various intensities of agreement, would be superfluous.

"There they go again, the devils," thought Sayyid, hearing the word "bacon" wafting above the rising hubbub.  "The curs-ed peeg.  Always they torment me."

"Bacon does sound right good, I agree."  Polly's mind wandered far back to her Daddy slaughtering Winkles, her pet pig, when she was all the meat they had left during a bad year.  She remembered the guilt of enjoying slices from Winkles' back.

"You know it do.  An' I tell you what else...bisquits.  Soaking up dat grease.  Mmmm-Hm!"

"Well, I thought they were nice young ladies, and I don’t mind if they were smoking under the trees."


"I said 'ladies.'  Not 'Sadie.'"

"Oh.  What ladies?"

"The ones you called...that name."

"What'choo talkin' 'bout, now?"  Sadie peered at her with large eyes, amplified by the lenses of her glasses.  Polly resolutely gazed out the window, agitated. She preferred the window seat, and it worked out, because Sadie's bulk was more comfortable with a bit of aisleward overflow.  Sadie had no qualms consuming the portions of Winkles that Polly’s father had given them.  Winkles’ sacrifice had helped more than one family survive.

“I said ‘BISQUITS SOAKED IN BACON GREASE’” Sadie almost yelled.

"Not enough to just eat a piece of smoked evil once in a while, but the evil must saturate all other foods, yes," Sayyid thought.  He equated bacon-grease-soaked bisquits with the evil pervading his own life.  Always driven, dripping with desperation, going in a perpetual loop from the shop back to the shop, carrying Allah-dishonoring, pig-eating infidels who despise him, so he thought.  And his daughters go in the pig-eater way, not his own.  Amira not far from it, either, though she maintained faith respectably enough, he had to admit.  "She grudges it, though, I can tell. She only keeps peace with me. She does not love the Prophet, I do not tink.  She only loves peace in the home, but I will not despise her for that.  But how could I buy iPhones and the blue jeans for my daughters?  The immodesty I ignore. Efry day.  I am unworthy of blessing, yes."

"Oh, Sadie, all that grease is bad for your veins."  Polly replied, embarrassed at not hearing her correctly.

Sadie jerked her head in a sideways swishing motion to express dismay.  Her face condemned the Mrs. Polly Tharpe as a heretic for her words against a fundamental tenet of Sadie’s life: bacon grease.  With her Coke bottle glasses sweet Sadie wore, the eyes looking at Polly grew positively planetary while they stared, accusing.  Polly withered before them.

"I didn't say it weren't good eatin', dear.  You don't have to look at me like that.  I only meant that at our age..."

"What you mean 'our?'"  Her neck tilted now as far as her old bones could go-eyes still large added a steady but rapid blinking to the presentation.  There could be no greater dismissal of an argument, no matter how otherwise sound or profound. 

"Sadie, hush, you old fool,” Polly scolded, sharply.

Sadie's head and face drained off its animation, as she slowly returned it to a deliberately erect and dignified position, facing the front, looking at nothing. She resented Polly's liberties, though their long friendship counseled her to hold her tongue. She knew Polly would risk her life to help her, and vice versa.  They had both done it before.

After several minutes of silent tension, Polly offered, "You're only two years younger than..."

"Might as well be two dozen, way you goin' on.  You kin keep yo' foot in de coffin if'n you wants, but girl, Miss Sadie's soakin' dat grease wid a bisquit!  Ever. Blesset. Day!"  With another emphatic nod, she fixed her gaze on the back of Sayyid's black-haired head.  Polly sensed a rift, but couldn't identify it.  She pulled out some knitting from her voluminous purse.  This took a minute.

Sayyid glanced at the friends in his mirror.  They were waking more people up with their banter.  Maestro Frank rubbed his eyes behind them, and smoothed his thin hair.  He then yawned and stretched hugely, reminding Sayyid of the sleep he didn't get.  Sayyid yawned, and raised his eyebrows as high as he could to hold up his eyelids, which, in theory, would keep his eyes focused on the road.  He was tired.

"Good Morning, singers!" Frank greeted his adoring choir.  Frank was one of those who is cheerful when he first wakes up, and presumes the world is glad he has awoken.

Sayyid's vision blurred a little. He reached for his coffee cup.  Highway 140 is one of those roads where you can drive pretty fast, but the cows and Cherokees who first drove it were unconcerned with how straight the path was.  It was well-enough traveled now, but back in the day it was boondocks.  And "the day" wasn't that far back.

"We shall arrive at Pinnacle Pointe in a little over half an hour."  Frank paused for effect, broadening his smile.  Excitement would build, he was sure.  As a younger man, he once sang a private concert for the English queen, and he was ever after "the skilled man who stood before kings."  He felt his deportment should always reflect this honor bestowed on his humble personage.  He was not arrogant at all, in truth.  But he was oft misunderstood, as many are whose confidence lies outside themselves.  Frank found himself oblivious to the new morals in a time where any attitude other than self-degradation and debauchery by an older white man was presumed to be self-righteous pomposity.  The only permitted pride was pride in impropriety.

"And after a brief tour of the church campus, we shall meet the Reverend Shandy Manly!"  Smile broadening, head sweeping, eyes twinkling.  Shandy Manly, of course, refers to the former preacher who works in the FombleLand Realm now, entertaining the dear souls that died in infancy.  At this point in the story, however, he was still revered to a degree not altogether appropriate, though he insisted on never being called “reverend,” just “Shandy.”  Thirty thousand members belonged to his megachurch.  At Frank's mention of Rev. Manly, the choir collectively inhaled and exchanged excited glances with one another. 

"So, let us awaken our souls with song this morning!  Take a sip of water, stretch, get the blood flowing, and let's sing, 'When Morning Gilds the Skies.'"

At that moment, as he stood up,  Frank staggered a little, but no one noticed, because of the general stir of waking up and reaching for water bottles.  He thought his gimpy knee might have twitched, but, as he quickly steadied, he paid no more attention.  Sayyid's coffee cup had only grounds remaining.  His vision had blurred and a slow blink in the middle of a curve jolted the bus a little.   

"...My heart awaking cri-ies!" the choir was quite good in performances.  But first thing in the morning, it was barely joyful and mostly noise.  Sadie and Polly rang out especially, their voices having warmed for a longer period, and they were eager to unite in song to end the threat of their late hostilities.

"To Jesus I repair-air, May Jesus Christ be praiiisssssed-d-d-d."  The sloppy cut-offs brought the Maestro no joy, but he closed his eyes and thought of the perfect music he would enjoy up here.  He was patient and blamed it on their grogginess, and so held his tongue.  Now was enjoyment time, not instruction time.  Music need not be perfect by man’s standards to nourish.  Art was not created to entertain, but to sustain the soul.  It was a necessity.  This, too, had become perverted in these days.

Sayyid arched his thick eyebrows again, as much as he could, as the Christian hymn inexplicably calmed his thoughts.  His body relaxed, and his mind numbed.

The crossing of a bridge jostled Frank again, this time noticeably more, so that he knew his knee was not the cause.


After the bridge, a gentle curve up a hill, then another curve.  Sayyid accelerated into the incline.

"When sleep her balm deni-ies!  My silent spir-rit sigh-ighs-s-s-s!"

Green kudzu swarmed the hill, but a dilapidated front porch peeping from beneath the kudzu, stood unreconstructed and defiant.  The old roof swayed downward in a wink at Sayyid, but he didn't notice.  The Oriental invader entangled, but the peeling whitewashed homestead stood too stubborn to succumb.

"Struggle is all I know," Sayyid rubbed his eyes as Sadie's voice rose above the rest, "When evil thoughts mo-le-est-t-t!" 

"Struggle is all I know," he repeated to himself.  "All I know."

"All I know."

"I know."

"I know."

"Know. No.  No.  No, no, no."

The man coming towards him looked small at first.  Far away things on the horizon play that trick.  But before Sayyid knew what he was looking at, the fuzzy outline became huge, and a gulf of liquid verdigris undulated between them.  From the spot on which he stood, he saw beyond the Alborz range to Hamadan, his home.  The man was now the height of a skyscraper. 

Sayyid tried to yell at him, but couldn't.  The man dismounted from his gargantuan donkey and spread his hands, never taking his eyes off Sayyid.  Each hand held an iPhone with a dark red circle on the display, and they were scrolling, scrolling.  They wouldn't stop.  His jeans were too tight, and ripped at the factory.

Sayyid's daughters, backs turned to him, were running away, on those verdigris undulations, towards the man.  But then they ran past him and towards the distant mountains.  His eyes could see a hundred miles, though blurry.  Over the mountains the girls raced, southwest through the olive groves towards Hamadan where the sky bled into the sand.  He tried to yell, but they ignored, or couldn't hear, he wasn't sure.  They wore rough, unshapely clothes, and they didn't stop talking.  To everything.  The olive trees and the sand, even. 

Sayyid tried to run, too, but his legs wouldn't move, and the Man nodded at him and grew larger.  His legs wouldn’t move.  Sayyid's daughters disappeared and it all waxed into the same tannish grey, but still he knew what he was looking at somehow.

"Awake, Sayyid," the Man whispered.  His eyes shone bluish-white, like lightning.


Mindy gave Cathy her money and waited for the receipt.

"Can someone help me out to the car with these?"

"Sure. I can, hon."

"Oh, you don't have like, a helper boy, or something?"

"Nah, most people just carry their own, or if an older person needs some help, I help them."

Mindy, miffed, grabbed the handle of her garden cart with four flats of begonias and headed for the door. She bristled at the allusion to her and old people in the same sentence.

"She's a pretty lady," thought Cathy, somewhat jealously, but mostly admiring.  To Mindy she said, "It looks like it’s going to be a great day to plant some flowers!"

"Oh, I'll have my husband do it.  Which means they'll probably die sitting in the garage. He's so busy." She offered a high-pitched half-laugh. 

"Have a good one."

"You, too."

As Mindy popped the trunk of her car to set the begonias in, she wanted to cry.  She knew Dan wasn't going to help her with the flowers, or anything else.  He never did anything he didn't feel like doing, and he never felt like doing anything for her.  She envied something about Cathy's uncomplicated--so she imagined--life.

Cathy wandered over to the free popcorn stand next to the freezer with glass-bottled Cokes and Hunky ice cream treats.  "Hip corn," she thought, filling her striped bag with the buttery treat and comparing her hips to Mindy's.  "I'm corn fed."  Mindy eased her car to the road and began to turn left, pulling out of the Chadwick's parking lot, still making assumptions in her mind about Cathy's tranquil life, while Cathy made assumptions about Mindy’s glamourous one.


Catherine dropped her popcorn in horror, every muscle frozen.


Forty thousand pounds of Prevost glass, steel and human flesh rocketed towards Mindy's left cheek like a missile.  Sayyid calmly dozed. She instinctively jumped on the accelerator to push it through the floor. The Jag engine roared its answer in a split second, and four inches separated her from eternity that day.  She eluded what would have been her doom that day.  "Prevost" was etched in her mind forever, it being the only thing that her eyes had time to focus on, and that only barely.


"...This while life is mi-ine...aaauugghhhh!  Whooaaa! AAuuuugghh!"  the choir finally sang in perfect unison, as they torpedoed towards Mindy in her expertly-tuned car.

Sayyid woke to see a green trunk bend in a blur past the driver side corner of his bus, turning left in front of him, and speeding off in the opposite direction, like a bat out of hell. It was the roar of a well-tuned racing engine that jarred him awake. It was the roar of an engine with all its spark plugs working to perfection when required.

His stomach turned sick as his heart raced and his knuckle-skin stretched taut to the breaking point.  His breath came shallow and quick.  He glanced in the rearview at his riders.


Catherine burst through the door, running into the parking lot in disbelief.  She had only a moment to process, as two old men ambled past, unaware of what happened behind them, thinking only about what kind of straw they needed.  She looked to the right, at the back of the bus, disappearing down the road to Alpharetta, and to the left at the now empty curve, where Mindy had escaped, she still wasn't sure quite how.  A little puff of exhaust drifted into oblivion.  It was that close.  She always hated that spot. She had seen many near misses.  None this near. 

She stood, stunned, as each vehicle sped away in opposite directions, untouched.


"Sorry folks!"  Sayyid said sheepishly.  "Blind curfs are dangerous!  Ha! Ha!"

"May Jesus Christ be praised!" They quietly finished the song, barely paying him any attention.  It all went by so quickly, the danger didn't feel real to them.  Barely a blip. The closeness to the end flashed and faded and was forgotten as quickly as each car that passes another on a lonely road.  Quicker, maybe.  Frank turned and smiled at Sayyid without missing a beat, his back to the front, directing his choir whose terror was brief and uncomprehending of its actual magnitude.

Mindy, shaken, but steadied, quickly turned her thoughts to anger at "The Government" that built roads like that.

Cathy was the most aware of all of them, and the old men in the store she told about it weren't interested.  They just thought that straw cost too much.  The bus was going at least 65 mph, and Cathy couldn't see any space between its bumper and Mindy's door. It was all a blur, but she played it over in slow motion in her mind.  She couldn't wait to tell Eddie about it when he got home. She had no idea how the two vehicles could have missed each other.


"Here's your grail."

"Thank you.  Could y’all slide down some, so I can get my feet next to the fire pit? Thank you.  That’s better."

"That's it?"

"”That’s it.  Good one, ain't it?  There are a billion more like it, every day that went by, is going by, or will go by."

"What did Eddie think when he heard?" Eddie the Shepherd asked.

"Nothing.  He never heard."

"But I thought..."

"Don't assume.  You know what happens when you assume..."

"But, I thought..."

"Little Florie was running a fever when Cathy picked her up at the Wee Thangz Day Kare that day, and Cathy's mind was absorbed with her girl's health.  She forgot all about it."

"So, he never knew that the spark plug with Florie’s salty fingerprints on it prevented the wreck?"

"Never knew.  Well, he will shortly."  John winked at someone sitting in back.

"Tell them what Mrs. Polly said to me," that someone's voice said softly.


Polly was old, but a keen observer.  When our brother Sayyid first dozed and jostled the bus--just a tiny bit--she noticed and became alarmed.  Polly was ready to meet her Maker.  Not that she didn't fear death.  Or love life.  But her Jesus was real and good, and it was high time, she thought, for Him to bring her home and let her see His face.


“I had no idea what death was really like.”

“I know, my dear.  None of us did.  Maybe I knew a little bit, because of my trip to Patmos, but still, I did not know, not really.


She began to watch the rearview mirror trained on his eyes with vigilance, and to pray.  The choir sang on, and the hymn comforted her. Sadie’s rich voice, in particular, brought great peace.

After they arrived safely at Pinnacle Pointe, she waited until the last to get off the bus.   She pretended to fumble with her things, so sweet Sadie would just leave.  She didn't want to embarrass the young man.

"I watched you dozing," she whispered to him.

"What? Me?  No!"  He needed his job, and this bacon-eater was a threat.

"Oh, it's okay, Mr. Zeedy.  I jus' kep' on asking the Lord to wake us all up, and then your your little eyes popped right open, just in time!  You saved us all, and I thank you."  She patted his hand and handed him a peppermint. 

“I couldn't take my eyes off this dear sister, St. John, as she stepped gingerly down the steps of my bus and tottered away.  I bequeathed that peppermint to my son, Frank, who was born a year after I took my family back to Hamadan to open the candy store.  As a mission to my people.”

The End

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