Friday, December 24, 2010

All Seated on the Ground

On the outskirts of town, the crackle of a modest campfire could be heard from a distance, indistinct words mingling with short outbreaks of muted laughter, carried across the hills by a calming night wind.  Working men’s hands stretched out towards the fire, elbows resting on knees, eyes gazing at the inviting flame, lingering smiles on lined faces.

The fire invited warmth, and the small circle of four enjoyed each other’s company.  Conversation alternated from the mysteries of life to the mysteries of a good lunch, with moments of gaseous laughter in between.

Jake stroked his beard absently, his round face a picture of contentment.  With a touch of ache, and a touch of whimsy, in his heart, he took a deep breath of the night air. But the breeze shifted and instead he took in a lungful of smoke.  Coughing and laughing, he waved his hands in front of his face, the smoke stinging his eyes with tears.  His friends looked on and seasoned the night with another healthy smattering of laughs.

He hacked himself dry, and wiped the tears from his cheeks.  

“Daaaah!” he said with a wheezy chuckle that shook his big frame.  “Oooh…  Shaaah!”

Another round of laughs.  Jake could easily keep a laugh going with his supplementary curse words.  It was an old joke with these men, but one that seemed to improve with age.  He wiped his face with one more chuckle, glancing around the circle at these men who knew him like no one else.  Jake’s soul could use a good, strong laugh right now, and the levity in this circle had been earned in heartbreak.

Jake’s wife was not living with him at the moment.  She had the girls, Deborah and Sarah, with her.  Sometimes the other guys saw Jake bite his bottom lip while he worked.  They knew this meant he was missing those lovely brown eyes.  Michael sat next to Jake now, and had noticed the familiar lip bite several times through the evening.  

Michael was Jake’s closest friend, and had been with him in his darkest moments.  He seldom offered a solution, but he always offered a shoulder.  He was with Jake now, as he struggled to earn his wife’s forgiveness and make his family a family again.

Michael was older than Jake by two years, and shorter than Jake by two inches.  Slow to speak, it seemed that words formed somewhere in Michael’s dimples a few seconds before he spoke them, and Jake could usually predict the mood of the words if not the words themselves.  

Jake was the first person Michael told when he found out he would be a father, and Jake was with Michael when little Gabriel was born.  That night they smoked their lungs dry and drank bad wine.  Michael went to Jake when, sixteen years later, little Gabriel stormed out of the house, cursing his father and making an oath never to see him again.  They drank bad wine that night, too.

Michael took a cursory glance around the hills at the animals they were minding and  reached for the jug.  David beat him to it and with a wry little smile, took a deep, warming swig of the mixed concoction.  

David, thin on top and thin in the middle, had been a widower for almost as long as he’d been a father.  When he spoke of his little girl, who was married now and expecting David’s first grandchild, his eyes became thin slots of joy.  When he spoke of his wife, those eyes were wide and thoughtful, and it seemed he had married her yesterday morning.  When he spoke of her death, they were distant, and it seemed she had died last night.  The wound left by her absence was a tear, a laceration, that had never healed.  

But he knew how to tell a good joke badly, and he laughed twice as often as he cried.  “I own this town, you know,” he would often joke.  “I got royal blood and someday I’m gonna clean up this city!”

Dave licked his lips and placed the jug in Michael’s waiting hands.  Mike took a large gulp and set it next to the kid of the group, a young man they simply called Turtle.  Turtle  lifted the jug nearly to his lips, but didn’t take a drink.

Turtle was slow.  Young for his age.  He began working with these men two years ago, when his father gave him the scar above his right eye.  He told his son never to come back, and Turtle, though crushed inside, obliged.  He felt no bitterness to his father, he was too simple for that.  He simply felt sadness.

Turtle, simple as he was, had begun to make something of his own life.  He wasn’t sure what a man was supposed to be, but he knew it wasn’t what his father was.  Somewhere, though, in the company of these broken men, he had begun to form a picture of fatherhood, of masculinity, of friendship.  Recently he had even found a young woman with far-off green eyes and wispy brown hair who seemed to him to be God’s messenger on earth.  Her name was Zoe, and to him she was Life itself.

“She’s really pretty, huh?” blurted Turtle, absently holding the jug in his hands.

He liked to talk about her with his friends.  Whatever the actual topic of conversation was at the moment seldom mattered.  When he got to thinking about her, he went to a place far away, and talking about her was an invitation to join him there.

“She sure is, Turtle.  Very pretty,” said Jake with a knowing look to the others.

“I know, huh,” said Turtle, smiling.

Silence came upon the four friends again as they stared into the fire.  The flames crackled from orange to yellow, with sparks of green and blue near the bark of the firewood.  A lamb brayed here and there to accentuate the tranquility of the moment.  If a stranger passed by in the night, he would have seen four good old boys sitting by a fire.  

David sighed deeply.

Michael coughed quietly.

The fire crackled.

An angel stood within the fire, and said, “Hello.”

The men jumped, falling to their backs as if hit by a blast.  David scrambled backward on his hands and elbows.  Jake screamed girlishly.  Turtle didn’t move.  Michel ran several feet in just seconds before turning around to see the figure.  

It was smiling, and stood as tall as a fig tree.  It was a fiery green, flickering with flame, highlighted in orange and white.  Though the men were scattered, the angel seemed to gaze on each one of them individually.    His eyes looked into their own, reading their stories in a moment.  Mighty dread pounded in their ears and fear struck their limbs numb.  Their impending death seemed apparent.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel said.  

But Turtle had stained himself, just a little.

The angel’s voice was both deep and light, like the rushing of mighty waters and the babbling of a brook.

“I bring you good news, of great joy, which will be for people of all time, everywhere.”

“Oh God,” said Michael.

“Tonight, just over there in David’s town,” and the angel held out a flaming hand and outstretched finger, “a Saviour has been born, who is the Anointed One, the Lord.”

“Wow.” said Turtle, who startled easily, but accepted things with remarkable speed. “Can we see him?”  

“Yes!” The angel smiled as if sharing an inside joke. “This is how you’ll find him.  He’ll be wrapped in swaddling bands, and laying in a feeding trough.”  

The absurdity of a newborn in a feeding trough didn’t strike the men until much later, as at the moment they were talking to a flaming angel.

The angel now seemed to hunker down on his haunches, as if he were about to reveal a wonderful secret.  Later, when David told the story, he swore the angel whispered, “Watch this!”

A curtain opened.  Until that moment, they had been unaware of its presence, but it drew away from them just the same.  What was revealed was perhaps the greatest spectacle ever seen by human eyes.

The shepherds rose slowly to their feet, mouths agape, eyes transfixed upon the quiet hills surrounding the little town of Bethlehem. Tears rolled down Jake’s cheeks.  Michael’s legs shook visibly.  Standing upon the hills, as far as their new eyes could see, were angels.  Thousands upon thousands, millions, more than could be counted, line upon line, arrayed in the swirling, perfect order of nature itself.

An emerald glow rose from the ground to the sky, illuminating each strange, angelic creature from within.  Which were cherubim and which were seraphim they didn’t know, but there were figures of flame, like the one in their campfire, and beasts with strange faces, and men and women with enormous eagle’s wings, and creatures that eluded all description.

The campfire angel stood to his feet again, and bellowed with a voice as big as the sea:

“Glory to God in the highest!”

The angelic horde shouted back with the sound of a million trumpet blasts: “And on earth peace!  Good will towards men!”

Again the angel shouted, even louder, and the earth itself thrummed with his voice:


The legions of beings called in return, deeper than thunder and higher than music.


And in an instant, they were gone.  The curtains closed.  The campfire angel disappearing with, what Dave would later claim to be, a wink.

The four men stood there, in the silent hills, the night air whisping across their faces.

Turtle giggled.  Jake chuckled.  David laughed.  Michael burst out in a howl.

They laughed all the way into town.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mercy's Place

An aged dog, tethered to a stake in the ground and forgotten, listless and languid in the afternoon sun. He sat there as such, rubbing his whiskers and watching the shadows grow. He had been here for a very long time, and could remain for an age to come.

Thirty-nine years ago, he was 24. He thought he was an adult then. He was mistaken.

He took for himself a girl. She was old enough to excite him, and young enough to love him. He thought he was in love, too, or something close to it. He was in heat. When he discovered that he’d impregnated her, the air around him became palpable, pressing the life from his lungs.

He deserted her, and ran for the big city. He hoped he would be lost in the crowd. His first night in town was spent at a brothel, where he began the evening laughing in the company of strangers. He fell asleep weeping in the arms of a prostitute.

Between drinks, he looked for work in the new town, finding it at a small cabinet making company on the south side. When, on his second day, he arrived for work a strong morning wake-up on his breath, he was able to hide his condition from his boss. He could not hide it from the blade he was carrying or the steps he was attempting to descend.

His injuries were extensive, but with his money spent entirely on forgetting the mother and child he’d abandoned, he had little interest in medical care. It didn’t take long for him to lose the use of his legs. His right hand, infected from a deep gash and lack of proper bandaging, was not much better.

The proximity of his injury to his act of abandonment was not lost on him. He was guilty. He was punished. He wandered the streets, and haunted the jails, hobbling as he could on crutches, or shuffling along on his calloused knees.

It wasn’t long before he found the community pool. It was a popular place to be for those who were going nowhere. Tramps and beggars, cripples and creeps. They congregated here. For the disabled, it was a place to be among people who understood. For the drunks, it was a place free from judgement. Upright citizens often called upon the authorities to “clean up” the place, but seldom to any avail.

It was known as Mercy’s Place, a name held in irony by the upright, but not by the residents. It was a mercy to be among people that didn’t mind what you were, or why you were there. It was a grace to be free among the fettered, without shame.

It also helped that these were thought to be miracle spring waters.

“Watch for the water when it woozshes,” a friend told him. “If it moves a certain way, like, ‘wooozsh’ like that, it’s an angel jumping in the water. If you’re the first one in when it woozshes, you’ll be healed. My friend knew a guy who lost a foot. He got in the water when it woozshed, he got his foot back. Cuz God loves us, huh?”

A good tale for the simple-minded, he thought. God become superstition. On the rare occasion when it looked like an angel was troubling the water, he sat and watched the lucky one jump in. He never did see any limbs grow back, but the rumour persisted.

In the back of his mind, however, never close enough to confess it in words, he believed something of the story. He would sit on his mat, legs useless and slumped beneath him, staring at the spring, the sun sparkling upon the waters. The thought, the feeling, always persisted, that there was something to his friend’s words. Maybe not the part about angel jumping in, or even about getting healed, but something.

“If I ever make it in, I’ll know…”

His mind would again travel to the child he never met, whose birthday he never even knew. He thought of the mother, nursing a newborn alone. It was always this way in his mind. The child always an infant, always out of focus. The mother always alone. Neither child nor mother aged a day in 39 years. Their place was as stationary as his seat on his mat.

And there he sat, forever held in place by the weight of a burdened mind and a heavy heart.

He was an old man now, and old beyond his years. His legs withered sticks, his hand a fist so gnarled it was practically a club. These days, however, he sat closer to the pool than he used to sit. On the rare occasion that the spring waters woozshed, he shambled as quickly as he could to reach the edge. It was always the same, though, with the old man left wheezing and breathless while the quicker man splashed in the angel’s wake.

From time to time, some well-meaning souls came down to Mercy’s Place, offering a meal or clothing, sometimes even a little conversation. Today was such a day, though not on the typical day of the week. He ate a simple, mildly tasty meal, as a volunteer sidled up to sit with him.

“Hello,” said the volunteer.

“Hello. You’re not supposed to be doing this today, you know.”

“Some people think that.”

The old invalid gave him a wry look. “ ‘Some people?’”

“Don’t worry about it,” the man said, and changed the subject. “Are you from around here?”

“Nope. Been here a long time, though.”

“How long?”

“Almost forty years,” he said, his eyes occupied with the space around him.

“Wow. You’ve been here by the pool all that time?”

“Pretty near. I like it here,” and he took a sloppy bite of his lunch.

“It’s nice,” the volunteer confessed, taking in the sunshine on the water. “I’ve heard that the water here is good for you.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“You must know about the angel jumping in?”

“Yeah. That’s why we’re all here. Everybody’s waiting for a miracle.”

“Do you think it’s true?”

“I don’t know. Heard plenty of stories. But I’ve been here a long time and I’ve never seen it for myself.”

“Hm. But do you think it’s true?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it would be nice for it to be true. Angels taking a swim in the water and all that. It would mean that maybe God is actually watching out for us. Maybe it means he likes us.”

“Do you think he likes you?”

“I don’t honestly know. I’ve done some pretty unforgivable shit in my time. It’s why I am the way I am. I wasn’t born this way, you know. I don’t have a palsy.”

“What happened?”

“Well sometimes you’re lame because that’s how life is,” he said. “And sometimes you’re lame because you made a terrible, sinful mistake, and that’s how life is, too.”

“You think you made a mistake?”

“Bad. I’m still paying for it. These legs, this hand, payment to God. I suppose I’ll be staying right here until I die.”

“Do you want to be healed?”

To the surprise of both, the old man began to cry. “Young sir, more than anything. You know I sit right next to that damn pool every day, just waiting for that angel to jump in. Isn’t that stupid? But every time it happens, it’s when I’m too far away. I don’t have anybody to carry me, and while I’m trying to drag my bony ass down there, somebody else always gets in first.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it’s nonsense,” the old man sniffed. “I just… I just want it to be true. I think if I got in there, and I was… Well it would mean… It would mean I was forgiven.”

The man put his left hand on the cripple’s shoulder, his right upon the shriveled hand, and looked him in the eye.

“Get up,” he said. “Take your mat and go home.”

The old man sniffed again. “What?”

The volunteer stood.

“Stand up. Take this old mat, and walk.”

He twitched his right hand. He stared at it. He stretched it out.

“Oh… God.” He stared at the volunteer. “You can’t…”

“I can. Stand up.”

The old man looked up at him. He shook his head, tears filling the crevices of his beleaguered face. “You… You don’t have to do this… I don’t…”

“I know. I want to do this.” He offered his hand. The old man took it, and as he did he felt in his feet a sensation he had missed for nearly forty years: strength. It flowed into his calves and thighs, and before his thoughts could catch up to him, he was standing, and sniffling in the arms of a lunchtime missionary.

The missionary turned him around. “Go ahead,” he said. “Walk.”

He did. Not with the trepidatious steps of a newborn, but the easy gait of a man waking after a long nap. He walked to the edge of the pool, looked back at the volunteer, and shared a smile. He walked back into the embrace of the man who made him walk.

“Thank-you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” replied the man. “Don’t forget your mat.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Well, to be honest, I’ve never seen my parents.  It’s not that they left me, it’s just that I was born blind!  I’m sorry!  I’m kidding.  I mean, yes, I was born blind.   But in fact, I love my parents very much.  They live on the west side.  I try to visit them at least a few days a week.  Let them know I’m okay and so forth.  I’ve lived with them on and off, but I don’t like feeling like i’m a burden on anybody, so I try not to disrupt their lives too much.

Anyway, I love them and I’m glad that they never treated me like a curse.  Some folks tend to think that if you have a kid with something wrong with him, like being blind for instance, that there must be something wrong with you.  Pardon the expression but that’s bull crap if you ask me.   Well, unless it’s because my parents were less than married when they had me, but I don’t think so.  Well, actually, they were married when they had me, if you want to know the truth.  Just not so much when they... um... made me.  Ha!  Either way, I don’t think they were being punished.  They always loved me as if I was a blessing and I’m grateful for that.

As far as begging, I honestly don’t know how long I’ve been begging.  I’m not trying to make you feel bad or anything, I just can’t remember.  It doesn’t bother me that you asked.  It is what it is, you know?  I hear a lot of people going by, and a lot of them are in this big rush and going places and so forth.  I don’t need to worry about that.  Where have I got to go?  The only time I have to go anywhere is when I have to GO, y’know?  Ha!  I’m just kidding.  No, but, I do have to go sometimes, right, and I’ve got a spot so don’t worry about it!

My parents didn’t make me go beg.  I just knew I needed to.  And like I said, it’s not that bad.  And blind people tend to make more than your cripples and such.  I know, right!  I think it’s because people just feel worse for a blind person.  Ask somebody what they’d do if they lost a leg or an arm, and they’ll say they could get by.  But ask them what they’d do if they went blind.  That’s when they start sighing a little more and saying things like, “Boy, you know, I just don’t know.  That would be awful,” and so forth.

Well it’s really not awful.  I was born this way.  I don’t miss seeing.  I mean, do you miss being able to, I don’t know, touch sound?  Ha.  I know, it’s weird.  But really, that’s what it’s like.  Actually, I notice a lot of things other people seem to miss out on.

Like what?  Wow, um, let me see...  Birds, of course.  There’s a lot of different birds around here.  But, actually, my favourites are the pigeons.  I know!  I know nobody likes them, but I think they’re great.  I love to listen to them coo.  That’s the most incredible sound.  I’ve probably been pooped on more than a few times on the corner here, but I still like them!

I love the sound of certain bugs, too.  There are these things, I don’t know what they’re called, but they make the most amazing humming sound in the summer.  I love it.  You get that going along with the pigeons cooing, it’s just amazing.

Oh, and the sun.  I love the sun.  I think if there’s one thing that would make me wish I could see, it would be the sun.  I think if I could see, I’d probably go blind from staring at it!  Ha!  Isn’t that supposed to be bad?  Staring at the sun?  I don’t know.  But I love the fact that I can feel it, even though it’s not, like, a thing,  you know?  Like the wind, but more mysterious.  You can’t touch it, but you can feel it.  That’s so crazy!  Sometimes when I’m sitting here holding out my hands, honestly, I don’t even care if anyone drops any money in them.  I’m just holding the sun there.  A nice cup of sun!  Ha!

So, yeah, I guess it would be nice to see, if you want to know the truth.  I’d like to know what light is.

Maybe someday.  On the other side of the door, you know?  Yeah.  That’d be nice.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Son of David

His throat was raw with screaming.  He had reached a point of frenzy and fear that sent his mind whirling with desperation.  His sightless eyes spilled tears as he called out again and again. His moment was passing away, and with it, all hope for healing.

He clamored through the crowd, the masses of people pressing and surging around him like a rushing river.  When he finally fell to the ground, he wailed so loudly the sound seemed to form a momentary circle of silence around him.  His ear popped with a sudden thud as someone kicked him.  “Shut up!” came a voice, but his tenacity was as complete as his blindness.

He had lived in darkness almost all of his long life.  He remembered sight faintly, but he did remember, and on many days this seemed to be less a blessing than a curse. 

When he concentrated, instinctively closing his eyes to do so, he could see colour, and shape, and distance, as through tempered glass, and darkly.  He recalled the mottled shade of a bird’s wing (a sparrow?), and the sky reflected in water.  But mostly he remembered the shape of his father’s face, and the colour of his eyes.  His mother died when he was very young, and even when he had sight her image had already faded.  But his father’s eyes were deep and strong, and it seemed to him that all colours were possessed of the blue of them.

He remembered the light brown tones of parchment in twilight.  He remembered his fingers running the page as he read aloud to his father, stumbling on a word here and there, his father smiling and helping him sound it out.

He remembered going to temple with his father.  Though the people and the altar were obscured in the shadowy fog of his mind’s eye, he remembered the touch of his father’s hand in his own, and his father’s hand upon his back as they knelt together to pray.  He remembered the whisper in his ear, close enough to feel his breath, as his father hinted insight into the scripture reading.  

It was in this way that he remembered a promise.  He remembered a saviour.  He remembered a whisper.

“David’s son.”

He thought of that whisper every time he heard a scripture about the promised Hero.  The Hero would come from David’s line, his truest son.  Even now, not having heard a proper scripture reading in many years, he would hear, and feel, that whisper again.

“David’s son.”

He remembered other whispers.  These were the words that escaped his father’s lips when he prayed in private, his sleeping son wide awake and listening from his bed.

“O God, we are in desperate need.  Please, please help us, dear Provider.  Come to us, dear Saviour.”

But the son of David was a long way off, and the young son of Timaeus had hunger pangs.  When his father became ill, the boy had already begun begging to keep them both fed.  His blindness was not yet even complete, though he would play his eyes wildly for a more complete affect, and for more coins from sympathetic passersby.  

It seemed, now, in his memory, that his eyesight and his father died on the same day.

For unnumbered years, the son held what was left of his father’s image as to life itself.  But he was losing the strength of his youth.  Time pulled the blind man slowly, relentlessly, away from his father’s embrace, the distance between them growing ever greater, the blue of his father’s eyes ever fading into darkness.

But today, there was hope.  A man was working miracles, and he was coming close by.  He remembered a line from Isaiah, and he remembered his father’s whisper.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

“David’s son”

He screamed again, his voice like a desperate animal.  “JESUS!  JESUS, SON OF DAVID!  HELP ME!  HELP ME!”

He sat there, shaking and weeping, and still he called out.  But now, all that came from his throat was a kind of silent braying.  

“David’s son...  Help me.”


There was a voice next to his ear, and a hand on his shoulder.

“He wants to see you.”