May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
November 12, 2020
Orlo stood in the narrow kitchen of the ancient house trailer, his Bible splayed open on the counter before him. “It’s right here in the Scriptures,” he said to Ray, who was cleaning his shotgun and watching Judge Judy. The single-wide they occupied sat on the nob of a wooded hill, an old Buick parked in its gravel driveway. A November sky washed in gray through the windows. Orlo tapped the holy book’s thin pages. “It says, ‘Reach hither thy finger.’ See that? Jesus is telling them to feel the wounds in his hands and feet. Right in those verses!”
Ray ran a nylon cleaning rope down one of the double-barrels. “So what?” he said. “That don’t prove anything.”
“That’s the resurrected Jesus talking,” Orlo declared. “He walked through the walls and showed himself to the apostles. He had those wounds then, and he’s got them now!”
On the TV, Judge Judy was speaking to the defendant before her. “Sir, you are a liar,” she said.
“Your honor,” the plaintiff answered, riffling through a bundle of papers, “I have cell phone records of that conversation.”
The TV they were watching had once belonged to Orlo’s grandmother, a woman who’d loved him more than his own mother. A picture of her, taken thirty years before, hung on the wall opposite the TV. In the picture, she wore sunglasses and a purple blouse, and she was standing near a hydrangea bush. Orlo had inherited the trailer from her, as well as the Bible, the Buick, and the plot of land where the trailer sat.
“Five holy wounds,” Orlo said to Ray. “Two in his hands, two in his feet, and one in his side, where the Roman soldier stabbed him with a spear, and the blood and water came rushing out.”
Ray pulled the cleaning snake out of the gun barrel and asked, “Why would a perfect God walk around carrying wounds?”
“The wounds showed that he did the Father’s will,” Orlo said, “every whit.”
“What kind of father wants his son to go around wounded all the time?”
Orlo groaned. “Don’t you get it? We’re all wounded—every one of us. That’s what Jesus is all about.”
On the TV, Judge Judy slammed her gavel and said, “Judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $500. We’re done here.”
“Listen to this part,” Orlo said. He lifted the book and read carefully. “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side.”
Ray ran the snake into the other barrel. “Thrust?” he asked.
“That’s right! Thrust it into my side!”
“That doesn’t sound very pleasant.”
Orlo shut the Bible. “It’s the salvation of the whole human race,” he said. “There’s nothing pleasant about it.”
Ray had a selection of rags and brushes on a towel next to him on the couch, along with open boxes of shotgun shells in various colors—red, black, blue, orange. Laying the grimy snake on the towel, he asked, “Who were these people? The apostles?”
“Yes! They were apostles!” Orlo hollered. “John was an apostle! Doubting Thomas was an apostle! They were all apostles!”
“Doubting Thomas? That’s a bad name for an apostle.”
Orlo took in a quick, deep breath, trying to be patient. “That’s what he was called.”
Ray laid the shotgun across his lap. “So you’re saying, the apostles were like, ‘Hey, Jesus, we’ve been hanging around together for three years now. We saw you raise the dead and turn water into wine. You said you’re the Son of God, and you’ve never lied that we know of, and—and!—not five minutes ago, you walked right through the walls. Nothing personal, mind you, but we’re gonna need to shove our hands in your side before we believe it’s really you!’ Is that what you’re saying?”
Orlo held up the Bible. “He carries those wounds! That’s what I’m telling you!”
Ray pursed his lips for a moment before changing the subject. “Listen,” he said, “I’m going turkey hunting tomorrow. I want to get us a decent bird for Thanksgiving.”
“You’re not going to find a turkey in these hills.”
“Are you kidding? We got some of the best wild birds in the state. You just have to know where to look.”
“Well, don’t be shooting any stupid bird for me,” Orlo said. “I’m going to Josette’s mom’s for Thanksgiving.”
Ray paused. “Why would you do that?”
“Because Josette’s in jail,” Orlo said, “and I feel bad about that.”
“The woman tried to run you over with your grandma’s Buick!” Ray declared. “Now you want to visit her mom?”
“She was upset! Is that a crime?”
Ray took an orange shotgun shell out of its box and shook it next to his ear. The tiny birdshot rattled softly. “Listen,” he said, “I’m getting us a bird, and we’re having Thanksgiving dinner.” He put the shell back in its box and lifted the shotgun, pointing at the TV. Aiming with one eye closed, he said, “Maybe we can invite Dennis and Margie.”
“Don’t point that gun at my TV,” Orlo said.
“Calm down, I’m just checking the sights.”
Ray lowered the gun and opened the break action, angling the double barrels toward the floor. He looked down into one barrel and then the other. Then he took up two of the black shotgun shells, loaded them into the barrels, and closed the break action with a satisfying clack. “If you want my opinion,” he said, “Josette’s bad news. And so’s her mom.”
Orlo grunted. “What do you know about it?”
Ray opened the break action of the shotgun. He took out the black shells and put in two of the green shells. “Patty told me,” he said. “She’s known Josette longer than anybody.”
“You got this from Patty?” Orlo scoffed. “Was that before or after she kicked you out?”
On the TV, a new plaintiff appeared on the screen. “Mr. Takashima,” Judge Judy said, “you’re suing for medical expenses from Mr. Wallace who, you say, kept his dog unchained, and subsequently, his dog bit you. Is that correct?”
The plaintiff nodded his head. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
Ray picked up an aerosol can of Gun Bright and shook it, causing the little ball inside to make a clattering noise. “Let’s just put it this way,” he said, “there are things you don’t know about Josette.”
Orlo went to the kitchen and got a Pepsi. He cracked it open and took a big gulp. “I don’t trust anything Patty says. I know that much.”
Ray sprayed the outside of the shotgun barrel and took up a cleaning rag. He began wiping down the barrel, his eyes on the TV set.
“And at this point,” Judge Judy asked the plaintiff, “is this when the dog bit you?”
“That’s right,” the plaintiff responded.
Orlo took a sip of Pepsi and then another. He stared in the direction of the TV, not paying attention to it. Finally, he asked, “Exactly what did Patty say?”
Ray inspected the gun barrel. He didn’t look up from his work. “You know that bartender at Skeeters? The one with the tattoo on his neck?”
“What about him?”
“Josette had plans to run off with him. That’s why she had your Buick.”
Orlo gulped down the last of the Pepsi and set the empty can on the counter. “You don’t know anything. I let her borrow the Buick that day so she could take some groceries to her sister.”
Ray lifted the shotgun to sight it. “According to Patty, Josette doesn’t have a sister.”
Orlo stepped into the tiny living room, until he was practically standing over Ray. He put his hands on his hips. “If Josette doesn’t have a sister,” he asked, “why would she say she did?”
Ray aimed the shotgun at the TV once more, right at Judge Judy’s face. “Has anyone ever met this sister? Have you ever met her?”
Orlo pushed the end of the gun barrel away from the screen. “Get that gun off my grandma’s TV,” he said.
Ray stood, pointing the gun barrel toward the ceiling. “Watch out! You’re gonna hurt somebody!”
“You think you’re so smart?” Orlo said. “I’ve known about that bartender at Skeeters for a long time. He’s been sniffing around Josette for years.”
“Did you know Josette had her suitcase packed? It was in the back seat of the Buick the day she tried to run you over.”
Orlo pushed his friend, forcing him down onto the couch. “Who told you that?”
But Ray stood right back up. He held the gun in one hand and fended off Orlo with the other. “Patty told me,” he said. “Josette was gonna take your car and leave you. She had the whole thing planned.”
Angry now, Orlo reached for the gun. “Give me that! I don’t want you cleaning your guns in my living room!”
Ray held the gun behind him at arm’s length, pushing Orlo back with his other hand.
“Give me that!” Orlo demanded, reaching for the gun. “And take back what you said about Josette!”
Ray took a step back. He held the gun in front of him now, using both hands to hold it like a bar between them. Orlo grabbed the gun with two hands, fighting to pull it away. The gun barrel moved wildly up and down in the tug-of-war. For a moment both men went to their knees, but then they were back up again, rocking back and forth and side to side.
Somehow the gun went off.
The blast of the shotgun rendered both men motionless, speechless. For a while the only movement in the room was the silent, surreal cloud of gray smoke that drifted toward the kitchen. Stupefied, the two men sat down on the couch, eyes wide, ears ringing. Ray, who still had possession of the gun, looked at the weapon as though he didn’t recognize it. Then he leaned it on the opposite side of the couch, away from Orlo.
When the cloud of smoke cleared, it revealed the handiwork of the blast. The birdshot had scattered just to the right of the TV set, spreading a swath of holes across the paneling like a comet’s trail of dust.
In the silence, Judge Judy asked, “May I see that police report?”
Ray joggled a finger in his ear. “Jesus!” he said. “It’s a good thing we didn’t hit the TV.”
“You stupid idiot,” Orlo said hoarsely. “You could of killed somebody.”
Ray stood and went to the wall. He touched the paneling carefully, inspecting the damage. “It’s not too bad,” he said. He closed one eye and scanned across the holes. “I don’t think that birdshot went all the way through.”
Orlo sat with his elbows on his knees, his countenance fallen. “My grandma gave me this trailer,” he said. “First Josette and now this!”
Ray turned to his friend. “Hey, buddy, we can fix it. It’s just the paneling.”
“I don’t want to fix it!” Orlo said. He looked at Ray, his jaw set. “I can’t afford to anyway.” He waved his arm, like he might sweep away the whole thing. “Let it stay that way, for all I care!”
“What’d you mean? You can’t just leave it.”
“Leave it there for a sign!” Orlo declared. “A sign for everyone to see!”
A commercial came on the TV screen. “I lost five pounds,” a woman said, “and I feel great!”
“A sign?” Ray asked. “A sign of what?”
“Of how stupid you are!” Orlo hollered. “Besides, they don’t sell that kind of paneling anymore anyway.” He looked angry enough to shout the roof off, but then he broke. Putting his face in his hands, he just groaned. “Dear sweet Lord,” he said.
A voice came out of the TV. “The pounds just melted away.”
Ray found the remote and muted the television. He sat down next to Orlo and patted him on the back. “Now, come on,” he said. “It’s just paneling. We can fix it. I’m sure we can.”
For a long while Orlo sat there and shuddered, letting out low groaning sounds. When he finally fell silent, he looked up at Ray and said, “I loved that woman.”
Ray patted his back and looked around the trailer. “I know,” he said, “your grandma . . . she was something special.”
“I mean Josette,” Orlo said. He made a whimpering sound. Then he added, “And my grandma too.”
Measuring his words, Ray said, “Yeah, that Josette . . . she’s a firecracker. There’s no doubt about it.”
“You wake up next to a woman like that,” Orlo said, wiping his nose on his sleeve, “and you think you’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Ray’s eyes followed the comet-shaped swath of birdshot. He thought for a moment about the way things could turn out in a person’s life. Money slipped away, couples separated, children grew up and didn’t come back. And every night on the TV news, the world churned inside out, like it was eating itself alive. A person could find himself living in a house trailer perched on a wooded hillside with nothing but a broken friend for company. Giving his friend one last pat on the back, Ray said, “Let me ask you something.”
Orlo sat there, glum and stoic.
Ray asked, “Didn’t the good Lord give you Josette, at least for a little while?”
Orlo didn’t say a word.
“And didn’t he give you a good grandma?”
Orlo nodded, raising his eyebrows in gentle astonishment. “That he did.”
Ray looked around, taking in the room. “And your grandma gave you this nice place to live, better than anything you ever had before?”
Orlo looked around the room, seeing it anew.
“And when Josette tried to run you over with the Buick,” Ray said, “didn’t she miss you by a mile and hit a tree?”
Orlo smirked. “She never was the best driver.”
“And what happened next?” Ray asked. “Exactly one week later?”
A smile came to Orlo’s face. “I won five thousand on that lottery ticket and used the money to fix the Buick.”
Ray patted Orlo’s knee. “And when you were getting tired of living all by yourself, who came along, needing a place to stay?”
Orlo looked at his friend, the pain on his face softening.
“From where I’m at,” Ray concluded, “it looks like the Lord’s been watching out for you at every turn. Ain’t that about right?”
Orlo bit his lip and nodded.
Then, without a word, Ray stood and disappeared down the narrow hallway. When he came back, he held a hammer in his hand.
“What are you doing with that?” Orlo asked.
“We’re gonna tear out this paneling and put in new,” Ray answered. “Come on, stand up.” He held out the hammer, the handle facing his friend.
Orlo stood and looked at the spray of birdshot across the wall. “I just thought that, maybe . . . you know, when Josette got out of jail . . .”
Ray looked down for a moment. He cleared his throat. “Listen, buddy,” he said, “there’s something I’d better tell you.” He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. Then he said, “Josette’s been out of jail for a month.”
A pained expression passed over Orlo’s face. “I know. I saw her with that bartender last week.”
Ray let those words settle for a minute. Then he said, “There it is, then. You can’t live in the past. You have to move on and let things heal.”
Orlo looked at the swath of holes left by the birdshot. “I know Jesus walked through the walls,” he said to Ray. “And I know he showed his wounds to the apostles . . .”
“That may be,” Ray said. “But now it’s time to make new.” He offered Orlo the hammer once more. “Come on, strike the first blow.”
Orlo took the hammer. “What about your turkey?” he asked.
“I’ll go some other time.”
On the muted TV, Wheel of Fortune played. A bald man bent to spin the wheel and the players silently applauded as the big wheel’s numbers went around. In the picture of Orlo’s grandmother on the wall, she stood there as always, forever in her forties near the hydrangea bush. Orlo looked at the picture, then looked to Ray once more for assurance. He lifted the hammer above his head. “I’m sure sorry, Grandma,” he said. Then he reared back and let swing with the first blow.
Jack Harrell believes that writing requires faith—faith in the power of stories, in Christ as the Word, and the reader as a fellow traveler. He teaches writing at BYU-Idaho. You can follow him on Facebook at JackHarrellWrites.