David sat in the still of the night on his crumb-covered sofa, wondering if clarity of purpose would ever come. At thirty-five, he was handsome and stout. Only a few fine lines on his forehead revealed his age. His robe was open, with his crotch almost visible. Ungraded student papers lay scattered across his coffee table.
The only cadence to the passing of the hours came from the cicadas. Bored and spent with his own thinking, he clicked the TV remote. Jonah Privett, the encouraging televangelist was on, and the crowd was clapping.
David sipped his chamomile tea and rolled the indica buds between his fingers over a tray, his fingers sifting the seeds with the deftness of a professional.
“But God uses those dark times, those moments of truth that feel like they are going to swallow us. This is all part of hisdivine plan.”
David contemplated this for a moment, then packed a tight bowl in his bong, took a long draw, and let the apparatus bubbles infuse their relief into his lungs.
Indulged in his usual paralyzed state, steeping in the bitterness of self-loathing: The years, he ruminated, had been wasted lamenting wasted years; yet, he felt powerless to alight the incessant merry-go-round of regrets. The depression had become like that old friend, the one you know you should get rid of but just don’t know how. “What is my purpose?,” he wondered. “Why am I here?” Then, “My father was right.”
He thumbed through the papers to find his favorite student’s work, a system he’d developed to keep him motivated enough to grade the rest, which were typically shit papers, probably written when the students were somewhere between halfway and fully baked. And the truth was that Yu-Po’s was the only he cared to read. He got a charge from the glimpse into the brilliant student’s mind. It was the only promise that he was making any difference. He studied Yu-Po’s essay with consternation. It was supposed to be a self-exploration exercise, assigned as choosing a character in the Bible with which the student most closely identified. Yu-Po had chosen Jeremiah, the weeping prophet; and, for the first time, David was hit with the insecurity that Yu-Po suffered. It was as honest a self-appraisal as David had known a teenager to be capable. There would be no comfort nor inspiration from grading papers tonight. It’s no use, he realized.
Bored and spent with his own thinking, he started toward the kitchen bar and tripped over a stack of Bible history books by the couch, the litter of empty soda cans crashing in his wake.
“And this is why he does it. Did you know that a seed cannot germinate in the light? That’s right. A seed needs the darkness just as the plant needs light. A seed needs dark times so that it can flourish when the time comes. But if a seed stays in the darkness too long, or, in its living room, as some of you know I am speaking to you now, it will never become what it was meant to be.”
The interruption of loud voices from the house next door began to rise over Jonah Privette’s preaching. Bobby and Lynette were at it again. But this time it was worse. David’s head shifted as he turned to focus and listen. He lowered the volume and exhaled a smoke cloud.
“You lying bitch! I catch you tryin’ that shit again, I’ll kill you!,” Bobby threatened. Alarmed, David parted the dusty curtains of the window facing the old brick bungalow. He could see the crushed beer cans carelessly thrown into Lynette’s flower pot. They were crushing the fresh pansies. She had planted them with fastidious attention; he had watched her do it just last week. He ached for a woman like that. And he hated Bobby for the cliché of a redneck he was. It begged the age old question: What does a beautiful woman want with a loser like him?
“Bobby! Stop! Please!,” pleaded Lynette.
The fuzz began to evaporate from David’s face. She could be in trouble. By this time, Jonah Privett was passionately raising his hands in prayer with cinched-closed eyes.
At the sliding glass door, David saw nothing. So he waited with the cicadas. Then, suddenly startled, he watched as husky Bobby dragged the young, bird-like Lynette by her shoulders and dropped her on the floor, followed by a kick in her side. Lynette screamed in pain. “Why can’t I move?,” he wondered as he crouched to get a better look. This was typical of David’s usual disengagement, as he was concerned but also somehow removed.
Bobby stood over her and pulled a t-shirt over his hairy torso. To David it looked like the silhouettes of a busty naked angel and devil, like those stickers one sees on the back of lifted trucks that people like Bobby drove. David cinched his feet to ease around the corner, afraid he would be seen. But suddenly he felt an unfamiliar surge of power through his veins.
Bobby slipped on a pair of motorcycle boots. He lifted a large, blue duffle bag and exited through the sliding glass door. As he rounded the corner, David stepped in to block his path. A standoff, but then Bobby dropped his duffle bag and grabbed him.
They struggled across the lawn. Bobby landed a few sharp punches in David’s gut, and he slumped over in agony. Bobby stepped back, looking satisfied. David panted heavily as he tried to pull the air from his smoky lungs. His mind had been abruptly sobered, but his movements were still sluggish. As he stood, Bobby rushed him, but David stepped out of the way. Bobby tripped over his duffle bag and fell forward. A large rock cracked his head as he hit the ground, a TKO for David. David stood still as the steady stream of blood oozed onto the grass.
Out of breath, in his open robe and bare feet, David looked up at the night sky. A cloud swam across the full moon. He questioned the darkness, trying to make sense of this unfamiliar shift that he was feeling.
And what about Lynette? She must need tending to. David headed through the living room. So simple and so pristine, Lynette’s house had always been a mystery to him. So had the woman. He paused, straining his ears. The house was silent. Where was she? He made his way down the hallway, his breathing tight, and stopped short at the bedroom. There she was. She lay on the floor, holding her stomach and rocking back and forth. For a moment he couldn’t think what to do. But she need help; that much was clear. His heart pounding, he lifted her gently and sat her on the edge of the bed. She was so weak, so woozy. He eased her down on her side, cradling her heavy head. Could he just leave her? He hesitated a moment more then covered her with a blanket.
She sobbed, stared at the wall as though she was too ashamed to look at him. Her cheek was distended and pink. He reached to turn off the lamp and allowed himself to occupy her delicate beauty as he stroked her hair in the amber darkness. The tendrils of her blonde hair were moist with sweat, and the cashmere softness of her blue eyes eventually drifted into sleep.
David followed the urge to check the window, see if Bobby was still around. The fixed body was still, except for his boot which twitched in the grass. David was so transfixed that he almost didn’t notice the movement in his periphery. As he turned his attention, an alligator was pacing toward Bobby. Bobby jerked to the side a little as the gator poked him with his snout. His jaws unhinged, and he fastened his mouth around Bobby’s torso. No resistance from Bobby. Each movement of the carnivore suspended David; he felt disabled. He felt emotionless as he watched the gator saunter away with the prize in his mouth and disappear into the dark, swampy forest.
He swallowed hard and scratched feverishly through his hair. Was he hallucinating? He ran through the house to the glass door, even though it was far too late to do anything about it now. And what would he have done about it anyhow? The voice of justification jumped in swiftly to cover his uncomfortable feeling of satisfaction. As he reached the lawn, the blue duffle bag and blood-stained rock were the only remnants of Bobby now. Glancing toward the swamp, he saw no sign of the alligator. He inched toward the duffle bag, checked behind himself, and glanced up again at the night sky. “Jesus! Forgive me.” Instinctively he grabbed the duffle bag and walked swiftly home.
At home, Jonah Privette was still on the screen, and he was getting animated. Various congregants peppered the excitement with an “Amen!” David turned the volume up to drown the swirl of his thoughts, the duffle bag still in his hand.
“There’s nothing worse than missing the opportunity to live God’s purpose for your life. God is calling you now. Take his hand, and you will come into the most glorious season of your life. I believe that God wants to drop a miracle in your lap today. If you believe it, too, pray with me.”
The words struck like lightning, and David silenced him with the remote as he dropped the bag. Looking down, he noticed the small blood trickle on his hand. His knuckles were sore so he cupped them and grimaced in pain. In a stupor he walked to the sink and held his injury under the water. The blood was twirling like a ribbon, and David was acutely aware of the metaphor: The cadence of his life had been switched from neutral to drive.
With his good hand, he unzipped the bag and, without first noticing its contents, dumped an impressive pile of neatly bound stacks of one hundred dollar bills. Beside the scattered soda cans, on his living room carpet, lay a mysterious assignment. And a miracle.
Three a.m. on the bedside digital clock. The damn cicadas again as David lay awake in distress. Abruptly he threw the covers back and turned on the bedside lamp. The cross over his headboard seemed an eerie presence. David had experienced both sides of God that evening, and he felt unworthy of the favor. Nothing left to do but drop to his knees.