A Bit of Real Life, Workshop Short Story

The Prophet

Hey folks,

It occurred to me I hadn’t posted a short story in a while. This one felt appropriate. Enjoy~
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When I saw Dorian coming up Clinton Avenue, I’d cross the street. Whether or not I had the right of way. Whether or not it made me late. Whether I struggled with a packed shopping cart at nightfall, or strolled by in cutoffs and flip-flops to sun at Fort Greene Park. Only one thing mattered: that I avoid eye contact with my uncle.

Dorian had once been first in his class at Brooklyn Tech. He was in the Air Force for a while. In my childhood, he was the only consistent male role model I had, but I knew a different version of him then. He’d taken his high-school sweetheart on a first date wearing an all-white silk suit and grey shark skin shoes; it was tough, squaring that image with the man I later knew. The person he had become made rounds through the neighborhood wearing overlapping strands of red, black, and green beads across his neck. Over those were roped dozens of religious pendants: Jesus with neon white eyes, a brown Mary with outstretched arms, tangled among layers of crosses of fake silver and gold. And in the crook of one arm, always present, was his Bible. Dorian couldn’t eat or sleep without it. I mean this literally. Toward the end, he couldn’t use the bathroom without having it in his sight.

Sometimes he took me to day care when my mom needed the help. We took the bus up Myrtle Avenue in the mornings, and depending on my mother’s schedule in the evenings, we took the same bus down Myrtle back home. He would carry my book bag for me and say, “What’s in this thing, bricks?” He would chuckle at my loud, winding stories about important five-year-old matters. Later, when I was in the seventh grade and home on a blustery snow day in January, my uncle taught me how to play chess. He adjusted his thick, brown glasses often. His tone was quiet, measured and patient, as he explained the pieces: the rook, the knight, the queen.

It was distressing–an understatement–to see a loved one slowly and painfully morph into someone altogether different. A stranger, really. This version of Dorian needed fistfuls of medications to function. There were powdered tabs and multi-colored gel caps. Some were on his nightstand in squat orange bottles; others were liquids, kept in a fridge. I learned too much about them. Combivir, norvir, zidovudine.  Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Gilead, Bristol-Myers Squibb. When he couldn’t remember to take his meds anymore, the bottles vanished and a nurse would come in with the pills in little paper cups. She came in every few hours, then every hour, depending on how sick he was on a given day. “I’m back, Dorian, did you miss me?” she’d ask playfully. He’d say “Yes” in the voice of a ten-year-old.

Dorian was the man I’d grown up with, and I’d loved him. And then later in life, I avoided him. He wore clothes given to him by shelters or emergency rooms,  and scuffled around Brooklyn, clutching his Good Book—at this point almost unrecognizable beneath layers of neon Post-it notes. Occasionally though, he’d catch me off guard, connect with me through his scarred bifocals. He would take a step toward me, sometimes calling my name and sometimes not—and then whisper quickly: “Don’t send yourself to hell. Jesus has made me His almighty prophet. I’m the blessed messenger. Hear the Word and be made whole. He is the way. His wrath is on the horizon. Heed my words.” And then he’d wish me a great Agape day. I would turn from him, mortified and stunned into silence, while he shuffled away, often humming, utterly unaware of his effect on me.

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12 thoughts on “The Prophet”

  1. Old age brings its own challenges- a second look made me aware there was a second page. Maybe, e.g. (go to nextpage) at the end of the text might be good for us oldsters?

    Great ending.

    When we are living our lives, we don’t often think of the effect our life may have on another person. Even if it’s just a matter of birth order, gender bias, or something we say that is absorbed by an highly influenceable mind.

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    1. First of all, thanks for the comment, I appreciate it greatly. Second, right under each page break, where it says “Share”? Underneath that, it does indeed say more pages (in this case, 4 or 5).

      I’d love to add some of your fiction as well. Feel free to email me a short story or two if you feel comfortable with the idea.

      BSC

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  2. What an incredible piece!!! I got the email for the post last week and just remembered I had not sat down to take it in (smile). Reading this made me feel the same as when I saw “A Beautiful Mind”….for a moment, my reality was altered. I was transported to those times when I struggled to connect to or acknowledging my relatives who were in the throes of substance abuse addiction or mental health concerns. Most times, like your narrator, I would attempt to avoid them, attempting by sheer force of will to ignore them into invisibility. As family, they reflected who I am and more importantly, highlighted my fears that someday I would be like them. In those moments when I “crossed the street”, I believed I could inoculate myself against the stigma of what their labeled lives had become: crazy, unkempt, irrational, druggie, crackhead, touched, drunk, etc.

    It takes a courageous strength to love the mocked, ignored and stigmatized and to tell the truth with love. I think you were able to shine a light on the humanity of the characters which made it easy to connect with them all. Great read!

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  3. This was great. Through the years I’ve seen people who would fit the description of your uncle in their decline. And it’s often times uncomfortable, so what did I do if I saw them coming? Pretend I was going the wrong direction and turn around, or move to a different seat on the bus, or subway train. But you revealed a truth in this story. That someone I’ve avoided is someone else’s uncle. Someone else’s son. Someone else’s husband. Often times as we spend our time avoiding that “strange person”, we lose the fact that they have a history, and may not have always been the way we see them now.

    Again, great read!

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    1. Thank you so much for visiting! It means a lot. This was a hard one to share for obvious reasons, but I thought it was worthwhile and probably would touch people who don’t speak on these topics much in public. As one writer to another I’m so pleased to have your feedback, truly. Please stop by again.

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