Running Along the Path

Running Along the Path

by John Bartell

Ten years ago you and I were together but teetering on the brink of divorce. You having an affair with the preacher and me out all night playing cards with the boys. Mostly strip poker, which, I won’t lie, got weird so I quit going.

A year later the oldest child, pregnant and full of vinegar, ran off to Tulsa with a semi-pro karaoke singer. Which was fine until she dropped off her two new little bundles of joy with us to watch until she and Roy were able to get back on their feet financially.

We got drunk that night and decided that our income needed to be upped now that there were two more mouths to feed so the next day we dressed like nuns with Ronald Reagan masks and robbed a bank over in Stillwater. It went down pretty smooth, except for the part where you shot that good looking blonde in the thigh. She lived but had to have her leg amputated.

A month later I saw in the paper that a benefit was being held for her, to raise money to pay for the new prosthesis. We decided to go, with the intention of giving the woman a big chunk of our robbery stash. They held the event over at the New Beginnings Church on South Elm Street by where that Kolter boy had set his dad on fire back before you started sleeping with the preacher.

You and I were the fifth and sixth people, respectively, to show up. It was mostly her kin, sitting around a table, looking at their phones. They were all smoking and none of them acknowledged us, at least not until you put the wad of cash in the basket, then they were praising Jesus, mostly on the account that they could leave, and go back to their houses and play on their phones in privacy.

The one legged woman was so overjoyed that she offered to make love to me. You wouldn’t approve, which upset me because I hadn’t ever done it with a one legged woman before. You told me just to forget about it because, anyway, I probably would just give her the Herpes, which I said I didn’t have and you said that I probably did on the account that the preacher ended up having it too.

I outed you and the preacher the next day in the middle of his sermon. He wept and begged for forgiveness only the congregation weren’t in a forgiving mood. They bound his hands and drug him into the street all teary eyed and covered him in tar then hung him from the oak in the town square. We snuck out the back door.

That night we made love to several different people at the sex club in a run down hotel on the swanky side of town. Two of our son’s teachers were there. I came to realize, as I held the skinny teacher’s leg and rubbed the head of the pretty one, that maybe we should be leaving, as the mob from the church had smashed in the doors.

We ran naked through the field, giggling, holding hands, stopping every so often to shoot at the rushing horde. They couldn’t catch us and instead turned their attention on the teachers, carving big A’s into their foreheads.

The skinny teacher’s A got infected real bad and she ended up needing a skin graft. Her benefit was not as well attended as the one legged lady’s. We gave her all that was left of the robbery cash, minus what I had set aside to treat the Herpes. I thought she’d be happy and want to sleep with me for giving her all that money, just like the one legged woman had been. You told me on the way over that it’d be okay with you if that did happen only it turns out she wasn’t into that kind of thing anymore.

In the end I can’t say if that money really was any benefit, except that maybe it allowed us the opportunity to help all those people that wouldn’t have needed any assistance if we hadn’t been so reckless in the first place. And it did pay to treat the Herpes that you blamed on the preacher but I knew otherwise. I told you my secret and that I was sorry only you didn’t take it so well. After we finished our fighting we sat on the porch and watched the stars. It was pretty boring but there wasn’t anything better to do on the account that they’d cut off our cable. A meteorite ran across the sky. We both saw it and without saying nothing held our pinkies out, touching, like two lovers sitting on the front porch not necessarily because their cable’d been cut off, but because they wanted to be with each other. At that moment I couldn’t think of a better person to do that with. I wanted that feeling to last forever only then the dog started barking and the twins started crying. And really, I had to pee anyway.

The other day I was in the garage, cleaning out the spiders and scorpions and dead possums when I came across a big box. Inside it were the nun costumes and Ronald Reagan masks and the pills to treat the Herpes. I brought it to the trash can and as I stood there, holding it in the blazing Oklahoma summer sun, I remembered that Linda from across the street mentioned that a new preacher had come to town. Going to be preaching at the Holy Waters Bible Church that’s in the old Toys R Us building.

Just then you crossed the yard, barefoot, your flowery summer dress clinging to you and your curves, holding a bible in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. You winked at me and kept going. I decided I ought to probably keep the box.

◊ ◊ ◊

John Bartell
John Bartell is an East Coast transplant, trying to make it in Ft. Worth, Texas. Though he still hasn’t broken down and got himself a cowboy hat, he has taken a fancy to Shiner Bock and the Austin music scene. He’s been published in Sanitarium Magazine, the Manhattanville Review, and in A. Lee Martinez’s Strange Afterlives Anthology. John has served two years as the president of the DFW Writer’s Workshop and is currently working on his second novel in between earning his keep as a microbiologist, which is probably the most glamorous job a person could have.

14 thoughts on “Running Along the Path

  1. I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, but I guess I’ll go with laugh. This is a well-constructed piece depicting poor white trash soulmates to the max, done with sympathy and humor, just colloquial enough to be convincing. Nice job.

  2. I was so caught up in the narrative that I switched my editor’s brain off and just laughed, smirked, cringed and groaned all the way through. You had me the whole way, which is the highest compliment I can think of to give to another writer:)

  3. This is so well observed: (‘the Holy Waters Bible Church in the old Toys R Us building’), so briskly paced, and so gently stated (‘the strip-poker with the boys which … got weird, so I quit going’). Congratulations.

  4. Hahha Nice job, John. Just when I didn’t think things could slip any lower for these two, you bumped up the meaning of dysfunctional.

  5. That was the best kind of train wreck. And holy cow. I settled in for a quick snack-size read, but I feel like I just ate a Thanksgiving meal. Lots to digest. Love when 1000 words has that kind of power.

  6. Whether to laugh or cringe, I’m going with cringed. This is a not clever story. It’s not even a story, no beginning, middle or ending resolving anything. It’s just gross, and it makes a point of being gross, nonsense strung together. It isn’t even funny.

  7. You know when you watch reality TV about people in mansions or marriage camp or dance class, and you say you’re watching to see if they save their marriage/the competition/the friendship, but you’re secretly watching (and hoping) to see how off-the-rails crazy it’s going to get? This is like that, but actually satisfying. Great voice, too.

  8. I guess I was just in the mood for something like this because it certainly made me laugh, even as I cringed. Very entertaining.

  9. It’s certainly sui generis. Adept in its lowlife characterizations, set off with the dollop of sweetness in the finish. I can’t say I like; I can say I admire the crafting. AGB

Leave a Reply