Category Archives: My Fiction Writing

And Did My Saviour Bleed: Scene V

(To start with Scene I, click here.)

Easter Sunday afternoon, 2010

Caron walked into her childhood home and tossed her coat over the arm of a never-used chair. “Hi, Mom,” she said as she leaned over the kitchen island to kiss her mother’s cheek, the oven-mitted hand patting her arm.

“Hi, honey. I’m just about ready to pull the ham out of the oven. We should be ready for dinner any minute.”

Caron glanced at the three place settings. “No Kayla?”

Ann’s voice dropped low. “No, Dad hasn’t heard from her since that new job started filling up her schedule.” Caron nodded in understanding right as Jim walked in.

“Hey, kiddo!” He smiled and patted her shoulder, “How’s our scholar?”

“Hey, Dad. I’m good. How are you?”

“Oh, not too shabby. Tired but keeping myself busy.”

The incomplete family moved to the table, Grandmother’s rarely-seen dining set making an appearance, a liturgy of the china cabinet announcing a resurrection of its own. A disproportionate amount of traditional dishes gathered around the ham before the trio sat down at the same seats in which they always sat down, Kayla’s chair left empty at the western end of the surface.

“Shall we pray?” Jim asked rhetorically as he folded his hands and bowed his head low. These days, Caron usually prayed with hands held open to receive, her eyes focusing on whatever the sun happens to put a glimmer on outside the nearest window, but she did as was expected of her in this place.

“Heavenly Father, thank you for the food before us and the many gifts you bestow upon us. Thank you for the turn in weather. And on this day above all other days, we thank you for sending us your Son to pay for the debt we’ve incurred with You. Forgive us our many sins. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”

Jim reached for the carving tools and allotted portions of the honey-baked sacrifice to his wife and daughter, all three taking pieces of the many gifts bestowed upon them. The tiny clinks of forks and knives clanged as loudly in the empty dining room as church bells on a crisp winter day.

Caron was moving leaves of her salad around her plate when she blurted, “I want to have a better relationship with you.”

The silverware chimes stopped as she made eye contact with her father.

“I know we’ve never been close. You were always so much closer to Kayla, and there were real reasons for that, and that’s fine.” The words were coming out with such speed they slid together like cars on an icy interstate. “I just want to have a better relationship with you. You know, going forward.” There was no slowing down the pile-up, so Caron focused on her shallow breathe as she anticipated her father’s response.

Jim sighed and lowered his knife and fork. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Caron. I can’t change the past.”

She shook her head, “I’m not asking you to. I know you can’t. That’s not my point at all.”

“Then what is your point?”

“Growing up,” she began, shakily, “you compared me to my alcoholic, drug-addicted, promiscuous, anorexic——”

“Even with all that, “ Jim growled, “she was still easier to deal with than you.”

Caron nodded, feeling a different and equally familiar wetness on her cheeks; not the cleansing baptismal tears of that morning, but hot shamedrops reddening her eyes. “I tried so hard to be the perfect—No, it’s ok. I can accept that. I know I was sometimes——”

“Her issues were all on the surface, at least. You, we had no idea what we were dealing with. It was all so hidden.”

Ann tried to be helpful in her most soothing tone, “We couldn’t read your mind, honey.”

“Did you ever think to ask me? Ask me what was going on?”

Jim snortlaughs. “Please. You were so stubborn, you wouldn’t have told us.”

“So you didn’t even try?”

Jim’s shaking his head and smiling so Ann steps in again, “We paid for your counseling.”

Outsourcing relationships doesn’t work, Caron nearly says, but stops herself in time and remembers her priorities. This isn’t about arguing over the past. If she moves directions, she is not absorbing debt but throwing out the ledgerbook. Another deep breath. “Look, I’m just saying, I want things to be different going forward.”

“I can’t change what happened.”

“I just want us to have a friendship. I want to invite you to that.”

“There’s nothing I can do about any of it.”

Caron sighs and looks away at the remnants of the carved ham. Jim matches her sigh as he leans his elbows on the table.

“Look,” he begins. “My parents didn’t plan on having me. I ruined their retirement plans. In junior high, they would go antique shopping for weekends and leave me five dollars, told me to walk to the burger joint if I got hungry.”

“Was that when you were out on forty-fifth?” Ann cut in, “What was the name of that joint?”

“They got me a motorcycle even before I could legally drive one. And I’m grateful for it, I have good memories of that bike, friends I wouldn’t have otherwise had.” He paused before remembering his point. “They never said they loved me or were proud of me, and I tried really hard to always tell you that much.”

“I know, Dad. I just want more than just those words. I want a relationship with you, just like you always wanted more from them.”

“The difference between me and you, is I got over it. We didn’t have to talk it through. I just absorbed the debt, and I moved on.”

“I want to move on, too, Dad, but I want to move on to something different. I’m sick of this pattern. I don’t want you to pay a debt to me, and I don’t want to pay the debt for Kayla’s mistakes, and I don’t want us to be against each other keeping track of who owes what to whom.” She can hear her voice sliding out of control on this icy patch again, but she knows her brakes will lock, there’s nothing but to slide through it. “I want a relationship without debts. I want us both, us all, to be able to look at what happened and say ‘that sucked, let’s do something different, let’s find some better way to do this.’ Can we do that? Can we all acknowledge that it sucked and find a better way to do this?”

A cardinal hits the window, and all three turn to the east at once, together for the first time, to notice the anarchy and the glory of spring’s arrival.

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And Did My Saviour Bleed: Scene IV

(To begin at the beginning, start with Scene I.)

Also Easter Sunday morning, 2010

Near the university the next town over, their daughter is singing accompaniment with her church, her people, her tribe. The drum pushes through her chest, her shoulders brush those of the pastor beside her, she allows her voice to blend into the unified voice of the community. The hymn ends to applause as a man dressed in black denim bounds onto the platform. As the congregation sits, Caron feels the final exhale of a community that breaths as one as it sings as one.

“Good morning!” he shouts with great sincerity.

“Good morning,” comes the enthusiastic response.

The pastor has the genuine smile of a child on Christmas morning, or perhaps better and less metaphorical—that of a theologian on Easter morning. “He is risen!” The proclamation is met with cheers, applause, and the traditionalists who shout back, “He is risen indeed!”

“We have come through months of darkness followed by months of snow. We have journeyed through Lent. And in that darkness, we have crucified our God.

“Humans, historically, have been confused. We believe that God is angry and needs to be placated with human sacrifices, or if the culture evolves then God is placated with animal sacrifices, and then sometimes those sacrifices evolve to grain and fruit: bread and wine.

“But in Jewish tradition, God is not angry. The rite of the atonement is about the priest-representing-the-Creator emerging from the Holy of Holies so as to set the people free from their impurities, their sins. The whole rite was about God coming down to his people to do the hard work of restoration, of love, of forgiveness, all on their behalf. In Jewish ritual, the people are the beneficiaries of God’s work.

“Jesus, then, at once fulfills the Jewish atonement rites while exposing the sacrificial violence of humanity. In Jesus, God substitutes himself in the place of the  victim of our typical sacrifices. He overcomes our violence by exposing it for the murderous desire that it is, by substituting his human self for our grain or animal sacrifices. He inverts the sacrificial culture: he takes bread and wine, and makes it human. By revealing that sacrifices are murder, he reveals the lie, depriving it of power. Jesus is the authentic high priest, not only representing God but actually God, acting on our behalf to restore the relationship between God and all humanity.

“The good news is that God is not angry. The only angry divinity in the story is humanity, and the good news is that we don’t need to be. In the cross, we see our anger and violence for what it is, and in the resurrection, we are released from having to protect ourselves against death, because death cannot win against love. The one true sacrifice, the sacrifice of God giving himself for us in our midst as our victim, has taken place. It’s done. And love wins over death.

“What generally happens is that when people are dead they stay dead. That’s the way it works. But the Crucified One is risen. He was dead, and now he’s not. The tomb is empty, he is resurrected, and because that happened, we now know that love always wins in the end, even when hatred shouts and fear rages and God is dead on a torture device, the quiet whisper of love outlasts and cannot be silenced by death. Because love wins, we don’t need to be defensive, we don’t need to be self-protective, we don’t need to be afraid.”

Caron takes a deep breath in, savoring the capacious inhale as she allows herself the weightlessness of forgiveness, gives herself permission to believe that these words are true, allows herself to believe she’s worthy of such love, allows herself to be vulnerable.

“Today is the day of Resurrection. Now is the time of epic new life, the fresh day of a new creation. Today, we celebrate that we are able to enjoy the fullness of creation as though there were no death.

“Sometimes resurrection gets confused with life after dying, but while resurrection includes that, it transcends it. What we talk about is not life after death. It is not some disembodied evacuation to some other place. It is not a continuation of the same life that was; we are not interested in mere resuscitation. What we are interested in is Resurrection. What we talk about is a new way to live this life now. It is a new, transformed physicality. It’s about this world, and this life, and these bodies. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s physical.”

Caron is surprised by the familiar wetness of her cheeks. She has wept oceans since she began attending this church, but this week she helped write portions of the sermon, and somehow the words are still shocking in the freedom they announce. Something about being with your tribe, she supposes, and unashamedly wipes tears as they cascade.

“So, if you’re visiting us today, you might be asking: what does all this matter? What does it matter that one time one man’s love won over death, even if that man was God? What it means is that we have seen Jesus, our victim, approach us and forgive us. We have been thrown off balance by grace, we have been confronted by someone who is entirely outside our structures of vengeance and power. We are undone by a victim who approaches us without accusation and makes our world bigger, opens us up to new life. We are a community who testifies to the truth of the resurrection, not because we have evidence that it historically happened, but because it happens, and it happens to us and among us and in this world all the time. We are a community who testifies to the resurrection not because we’ve said the ‘right prayer’, but because we testify with our lives, we have seen ourselves resurrected, we have been loved into new life.

“The worship team is going to come back up, and there are elements for the eucharist in the front and an open table policy, everyone is welcome, and we are going to have us a celebration. We are going to have some church in here. For those of you who are not in a season of celebration, allow us to spiritually carry you.

The drumbeats are starting to pulse through Caron’s chest and people’s feet are already moving in anticipation of the coming music.

“Grace and peace of the Lord be with you, for He is risen!”

The pastor might as well have ended with “let the wild rumpus begin” for the reaction of the congregation, drowning out the first lines of the song. As he walks back to his seat beside Caron, they smile at one another, knowing that the work they have done was good. It’s not just that lives were changed that morning, it’s that in the fresh reminder, their lives are changed too.

It isn’t until the chorus that the congregation manages to find its place in the song all together:

We have been blessed—now we’re going to be a blessing;

We have been loved—now we’re going to bring love;

We’ve been invited— we want to share the invitation;

We have been changed to bring change, to bring change.

(Final scene here.)

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And Did My Saviour Bleed: Scene III

(To start with Scene I, begin here.)

Easter Sunday morning, 2010

Once the live video feed is playing, Jim pushes back in the desk chair and pulls open the business section. Around the edges of the paper, Ann can see the sanctuary full of thousands of congregants that is, in real space, about four miles behind her back. The volume is low, but she can catch the melody of a familiar hymn– “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” –and hums the harmony quietly, so as not to disturb her husband’s reading. Her accompaniment is itself accompanied by the soft swish of long fingers on yarn as she absently rolls a chaotic skein of colorless wool into an organized ball.

The song ends. In the silence the screen shows a broad-chested man in a black suit climb the stairs up to the pulpit. As the congregation sits, Jim shoves his paper aside and stands as he hurriedly turns up the volume before moving across the room to his armchair. The pastor is introducing the text for the morning as Jim sinks heavily into the overstuffed leather, kicks up the footrest, and focuses on the preacher.

The minister arranged his notes and cleared his throat roughly before glancing up at the masses before him. “He is risen.”

“He is risen indeed,” comes the unified response.

“I’d like you to open your Bible to first Corinthians chapter fifteen verse three. If you don’t have a Bible of your own, there’s one available on the pew in front of you and the page number is on the screen. We’re starting near the big number fifteen, and look for the little number three. It’s near the top of the page.”

Ann reaches across the table for a scissors. Jim keeps his hands folded over his protruding belly.

“While you’re searching for that, I want to preface. This message didn’t originate with me, nor did it originate with Paul. He received it and passed it on, as I have received it and am now passing it on to you. I am handing you a story that has not been changed one bit, and that fact is of first importance. Now I’m going to tell you an even more important message. Ready? Here it is. First Corinthians fifteen verse three:

“‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.’”

Two of those statements are the message, and the other statements are evidence. The first statement that comprises the gospel, which is a word that means ‘good news’, is that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. The burial is evidence. The second half of the message is that Christ was raised on the third day according to the scriptures; the evidence is that he was seen. I want to just talk about the message. ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.’”

Ann is quietly cutting out the pattern for her next project, occasionally glancing at the screen to fulfill the obligation of attendance. Jim’s smoke-ruined lungs strain for breath beneath the weight of his hands, his head a constant bobble. Raised in the church and a lifelong Christian, none of this information is new for him, but as the preacher says, ‘Christ died for our sins’. An hour a week is the least Jim could do.

“Now, Christ is a title for the man we know as Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago in the nation of Israel. He was killed on a cross, just like thousands of other people, and died, just like every other human. That part is not debated; every scholar, every historian, agrees on that much. The difference is that Jesus’s death was for our sins according to the scriptures, he died for our sins in accordance with a plan that God had written down long long before that death. It’s in a book of the Bible called Isaiah, which tells us that God was not punishing him for his own failures but for our sins. He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his cuts, we get healed. It’s what God had in mind all along: to crush him with pain to pay the debt of our sins, all the things we do wrong, our adulteries, our alcoholism, our lies, our lust– so that we could see life. Those things we do, he died because the penalty for them is eternal separation from God. The penalty was eternal damnation  in Hell. But Jesus died for us. We were the ones who deserved to be there, but Jesus did it for us. God demanded a debt, and God paid it in the death of Jesus Christ. If we accept this, this is good news that saves us from that punishment!”

Jim’s eyes are at the line where the wall meets the ceiling, anything to help the tear ducts dry out. He is such a sinner. He is so guilty. He might as well have held the hammer and nails himself. Ann hastily removes a pin from its cushion, hand-embroidered with a lamb.

“Now, the rest of the message: ‘He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.’ This is what we’re celebrating this Easter Sunday morning along with millions of others around the world. This man Jesus was raised back to life! In that way, also, his death was unique. Because he died not for anything he did wrong but for the things we did wrong, God raised him. That’s the message that changes lives, that rescues, that forgives our sins.

“My question for you is: What are you going to do about that message? It’s not enough to say ‘that’s great.’ That won’t help you! It’s not even enough to say you believe it. You must receive it. You must believe that Jesus died for each of our sins, and that this is a truth that doesn’t only apply to others but applies to you as well. You must make a decision to know that it was your sins that put Jesus through suffering and nailed him on that cross. You have to say ‘Jesus died for my sins.’ You must know that God is not happy with sin, and apply that to you: God is not happy with your sin, and you are in danger of eternal damnation. If you can apply this belief to yourself, you have hope for eternal life in the presence of our Lord and Savior. You must realize that others are living happier, better lifestyles because they believe this, and you can too.”

Some of Jim’s tears are escaping his control as the guilt of his sinful status meets the privilege of having been one to hear, believe, and profess, like the opposing fronts that create a tornado. Ann glances at the screen again and takes a sip of coffee.

The pastor pauses significantly, looking over the crowd with conviction before barking, “He is risen!”

“He is risen indeed.”

“God bless you and may you live in light of that truth. You are dismissed.”

The struggle to rise from his chair before crossing the room and closing the internet browser gives Jim a chance to compose himself, clear the emotion from his face.

“That was a nice Easter sermon,” chimed Ann.

Jim turned to her. “You entirely missed the point, Ann! There’s nothing nice about it—the whole point is that our sins killed Him!”

“Oh. I guess I didn’t catch that,” she shrugs as she places the pin through the lamb’s thread paw.

(Continuation here.)

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And Did My Saviour Bleed: Scene II

Scene I can be found here.

Holy Saturday, 2003

The next morning, as usual, Kayla is making her breakfast of coffee and skim milk as the rest of the family is polishing off lunch. As the pot gurgles its appetite-suppressing brew, she moves towards her father’s armchair just on the edge of his line of sight to the television.

“Dad?” He breaks his gaze and looks up at her. “I’m sorry.”

He nods. “It’s alright, sweetie.” He feels he should do something more, that three words weren’t quite adequate enough. “Erm, here.” He pushes the footstool aside, decides he should set his plate somewhere, pulls himself to standing and outstretches his arms. “Come here.” After what seems an appropriate amount of time, he gives her the universal pats that signal the completion of an embrace, she kisses his cheek, and he is free to go back to his program having only missed a couple lines of dialogue.

Next stop in rounds is Mom’s craft table. “I’m sorry, Mom,” Kayla whimpers, her eyes bloodshot, although it’s not discernible whether it’s from tears or the alcohol. Ann hesitates but follows her husband’s lead and offers a half-hearted hug from her seat.

Caron is at the table, watching the familiar ritual. Kayla approaches her, eyebrows raised and lips pouting, a gesture once endearing but made grotesque in her condition. “We’re okay?” The younger sibling breaks the ritual; she can only stare. The silence is unbearable for Kayla. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry for what?”

“Caron!” Her mother whispers over her shoulder.

“No, I mean it. What part of what you did are you sorry for? You can’t just say two words and it’s like nothing happened.” She is breaking every rule that has never been written. “Are you sorry for coming home late? For the yelling? Do you even remember anything specific you said that you want to apologize for? Are you sorry for being drunk? That I have to take care of you?”

“Caron,” their father growls, “don’t be a bitch.”

Kayla seems confused. So much has never been demanded of her.

“I don’t know why I’m sorry, I’m just sorry.” Now there’s no question about the increasing redness in her eyes. She skips the coffee (think of the calories she’ll save!) and dashes back up the stairs to the safety of her bed.

“God, Caron.” Jim says in disgust. “She’s just being a teenager.”

“She has a problem. This happens four nights a week.”

“Don’t exaggerate. No one likes a fibber.”

“I’m not! She drinks too much. Something’s wrong.”

“Look,” he scowls, finally turning from the television to face her. “She’s a teenager, she’s doing what teenagers do. You’ll understand in a couple years when you’re her age. I don’t want to hear another word about it. Just let it go. Say to yourself ‘people make mistakes, someone has to pay the price,’ and you pay it, and you move on. You let. It. Drop.”

Caron’s throat is closing but she manages one last defense. “Pastor Kline says it’s not my fault. That I shouldn’t have to be the one to pay.”

He glares, and for a moment Caron realizes she’s made a terrible mistake: now her father knows that she’s let out their secrets. “Pastor Kline should stick to his novels.”

She should be relieved he’s letting it slide, but tears are welling up and she can’t stop the correction: “Music.” she chokes out. “Mr Strickland is my lit teacher.”

“Unless you want to take on her punishments? That worked when you were kids. You told on her and I’d give you her punishment. Remember that?”

“Mr Strickland is a teacher. At school. The church orchestra is Pastor Kline. Pastor, like of a church?”

“Do you want her punishments handed to you? I don’t mind.”

The chair screeches against the tile as she pushes away from both the table and the conversation.  She never did take on Kayla’s punishments, but then, neither did Kayla. Still, Caron absorbed the debt, taking care of her drunken sister night after night,  and she paid the price of a different kind. This is the body, broken for you. It did nothing for Kayla, but Caron released her blood to release the pile of hurt that was being held in her as Kayla’s weight plummeted. This is the blood, shed for you. Eventually Caron became glad for her sister’s alcohol consumption: at least it had enough calories to keep her sister alive.

(Continue to Scene III here.)

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And Did My Saviour Bleed: Scene I

Good Friday, 2003

Caron looks over the balcony of the stairs at her sister. Kayla must have heard the creaking of the old wood, but she determinedly looks into her purse, checking for the essentials: lipstick, lighter, illegitimate ID. From above, it seems her shoulder blades push against her skin like mountains waiting to burst. Her collar bones are valleys. It was only a few years ago that her flesh held life, that her eyes held high hopes of a future that stood like a promise before her.

“I love you.” What else could she say?

Kayla sighed, hastily grabbed her keys off the table.

Desperation arises in Caron. Kayla has to know, has to experience … If she just felt loved, she wouldn’t have to do all this every night. “Kayla. I love you.”

Halfway out the door, she turns to her little sister, her black-rimmed eyes squinting in disgust before she slams the door.

Caron retreats back up the stairs to her bookshelf and waits for her sister to come home and need her.

(Continuation here.)

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