18 March 2006

Junior Surrenders to the Will of Mazie
Joy, Adam:

You've read this one before. Please let me know what's wrong with it, why someone wouldn't publish it. It's been rejected a couple of times. Is it preachy? Too narrow in its focus, what it's about?

I'm still working on the novel revisions, should have something headed in the right direction by next week.


Junior Surrenders to the Will of Mazie

Pastor Roy scares me with all that girth. He’s got hands the size of shovels. He wears a blue blazer two sizes too small, packed into it like a sack of meal. His jaw and head are square and hard. When he moves he strides. His voice is huge. It drives out silence and replaces it with the echoes of an angry spirit. It’s not the Spirit, I’m pretty sure. But it’s something.

I am a wretched, filthy Christian.

I try to tell Mazie about it in back, in the hall of fellowship, where we’re filling juice cups with a turkey baster and nibbling bread bits the size and shape of Chiclets. It’s a thing we do, prep communion. We’re serious youth, unlike the others. I love Mazie. She’s holy, the kind of girl you could only defile. She has olive skin, dark eyes. She wears these long yellow skirts and white socks that bunch around her loafers.

“Have you ever talked to him?” she says, squirting grape juice.

“I’m afraid of his voice.”

Balls.” She’s squirted some on the Formica countertop.

I snatch a paper towel from the roll. “Big, booming, hearty man-laughter. It would haunt my dreams. You don’t know, Mazie. I’m insecure. I tell you, you just don’t have a clue.”

“You’re your own problem, Junior.” She tosses the towel in the wastebasket under the sink. Purple, dime-sized droplets on the linoleum. I move from those to Mazie’s calves. She runs every weekday, four miles. Her daddy owns the lumberyard and a big brick house. I imagine sneaking into her bedroom by moonlight, the old man catching us among the sheets and teddy bears in some twisted conjugation. His silhouette in the doorway, wringing an aluminum bat. I flee bare-assed into the lumber, into the night.

I tell you. I’ve got a problem.

“Junior? Junior? Here. Carry the wafers.”

We head to the vestibule to set the trays—like Chrysler hubcaps—on the table for the deacons. The 11 a.m. service is well under way. I hear Pastor Roy through the doors, same as eight o’clock, raining down all kinds of righteous indignation at “society today.” Baby-butchers and queers. “Jesus FORGIVES!” in letters ten feet tall and dripping red.

We stand close to the doors, listening through the cracks, Mazie’s round face inches from mine, her scent—Ivory soap—creeping on me like a sweet-smelling vine.

“He’s hypnotic,” she says.

I smell the Juicy Fruit on her breath. Something falls away inside me. In an instant, I see myself reaching out, touching her, first her hair, then her ear, then the mole at the base of her neck. She becomes a pillar of salt, crumbles away. I blink.

What the hell is wrong with me?

“Come on,” she says. “Let’s cool it in his office.”

That’s next to the gym. We close the door behind us. Through sheetrock we can hear the thud of balls, the squeak of shoes. The real youth are praising Jesus in game. I sit behind Pastor Roy’s desk, put my feet up, and flip through a book on marriage counseling. Mazie stretches like a cat on the lime green couch across the way. Have I said anything about Mazie’s breasts? They’re very small and nice. I’ve thought to tell her several times, but I choke. I’ve known her for five months now. She showed up one day at the door of our house, which is across from the lumberyard, where my old man drives a forklift. She invited me to spring revival. That night I gave my heart to Jesus and became a member. Now, I get rides to church with her family. I never see her except on Sundays.

“Do you think he appreciates her?” Mazie’s gazing at a picture above the couch: Pastor Roy and his slim blonde other.

“It says here,” I say, waving the book on marriage counseling, “that couples who’ve been together for a long time develop Needs.”

“Do you think she calls on Jesus when they’re doing it?”

I close the book. “What?”

“When I was little, I used to think Pastor Roy was Jesus. During the dismissal prayer, I used to wonder how he got from the front of the church to the back in order to shake everyone’s hand as they left, without me seeing him get there.”

I re-shelve the book and smooth my clip-on. “How’d you find out?”

She looks at me. One calf dangles off the couch, a socked heel slipping free of its loafer. She grins. “I opened my eyes during the prayer.”

“I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a Christian,” I say, staring at her heel. “I have carnal thoughts.”

“Do you have compassion?”

“Not much.”

“Do you have love?”

“The selfish kind.”

“Do you lust?”

“Three to five times a week.”

She shrugs again. “You’re your own problem, Junior. Like I said.”

It’s you, I almost say. You’re my problem. Instead, I come out with: “I lack his conviction.”

“Christ, Junior. Pastor Roy’s a fucking idiot.”

I blink.

“Haven’t you noticed?”

I shake my head.

“I saw this picture once of a thousand sheep lying dead in a field in Montana, killed by

lightning. Some mineral in the ground, conducts electricity, sent it through them and fried

every last one of them. I think about that when I’m sitting out in church sometimes.”

“Why did you invite me to church?”

She shrugs. “Just doing my part.”

In the gym next door, the balls have ceased to thud. The youth are singing now, softly, a chorus: I surrender all. I surrender all. All to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all.

“I really do feel broken up about things,” I say. “I have the desire to be…more than what I am. I just can’t transcend. I can’t…” But I don’t know what I’m saying, not really, so I shut up.

Mazie sits up on the couch. She hunches forward, props her elbows on her knees. Her dark hair falls over her shoulders, spills around her. “Why do you think I spend my Sundays with you instead of them?” She nods at the wall.

“Because…we’re different.”

“How? How are we different?”

“I don’t know. We just are. We don’t like Petra. We don’t like sports. We don’t like fucking jamborees.”

She hesitates. She says, “I want to show you something,” and sits up straight on the edge of the couch.

I drop my feet from the pastor’s desk.

She gathers two fistfuls of yellow cotton at her thighs and draws her dress quickly up her legs. Calves, knees, hips.

I’m sitting staring at the dark thatch of hair between her legs, and beneath it the bright pink furrow of her apex.

“There’s not a boy in this church I could show this to who wouldn’t fall down before it and worship.”

I can only stare.

She shifts closer to the edge of the couch. It hangs in space like a sideways smile.

“Not them, not you. Not even Pastor Roy.” She drops her dress, sits back on the couch. “Truth is I don’t spend my time with you because I think you’re any different than the rest, Junior. And that’s the trouble you make for yourself, thinking you are. You want to be a good Christian? You never will. You know why? You mistake the sheep for the lightning.”

I swallow, hard, the image of her sex seared into my retinas like the sun splitting the horizon. I shake my head, close my eyes, open them. “So,” I say, “why do you spend time with me?”

She laughs, high and startling. And suddenly looks very much like the fifteen-year-old girl she is. She shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I like your hair.”

We walk around outside in the field adjacent to the church. It’s getting near noon. We don’t say much. We step on crawdad mounds and swat bees. At some point, Mazie kicks loose a loafer and I squat to slip it back on, and my hand steals from ankle to calf, firm and tender. I leave my fingers there and glance up, but Mazie’s looking off toward the church, toward its steeple, toward the blue sky beyond, some high and lofty place I cannot be.

It’s not long before the church doors open and Pastor Roy emerges into the afternoon sun, warm and friendly, bellyful of blood and crackers. He shakes hands and claps backs. People stream out. Cars dislodge and drift away. Mazie’s parents appear, wave to us, and head for their black SUV.

“Things’ll be different now,” she says beside me. “You know that.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have.”
“I had to. You’ve got to stop obsessing, Junior. You obsess about everything. It hurts you.” She moves away, across the grass, toward the pavement.

I watch her go, note the way her hips move beneath her dress, marvel at the mystery between them. I follow.


Blogger The Damned said...

Yeah Petra takes on a whole new meaning given Compassionate Conservatism's love for Iraq:

"This Means War!
And the battle's still raging:

Ah, Petra. Christians CAN be cool AND have fun!

12:02 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

This moment is a bit awkward, organization-wise: “Balls.” She’s squirted some on the Formica countertop. I snatch a paper towel from the roll. “Big, booming, hearty man-laughter. It would haunt my dreams. You don’t know, Mazie. I’m insecure. I tell you, you just don’t have a clue.” Why not have her say BALLS afterward so that it sounds like she’s confronting him about the voice instead of the juice?

Cut this: “I can only stare. She shifts closer to the edge of the couch. It hangs in space like a sideways smile.”

Okay, here’s a thought: is Junior really his own worst enemy here, as far as the story-telling goes? What I mean is, is he too aware of himself in the story. Look at how many times his phrases start with “I” and then a verb (hear, see, etc.). Could he not notice things without saying “I”?

I honeslty don't know why this hasn't been taken. It's curious, good. Perhaps you're sending it to Petra loving Christians and just don't know it? My only real critique is the one above about the narrator's self-awareness. I say, revise, tighten those moments. Then send again.

3:33 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

Joy, are you talking about narrative distance? Whether it's a valid criticism or not, I'm not sure, but one excuse for rejecting a story like this--and stories Joy and I have written as well--might be the problem of narrative distance. There was a Writer's Chronicle article about this a while ago. Here's a link to somebody's blog post about the article:


10:29 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

I think this story is about more than just a lusty fifteen year old going to church just because he wants to bang the hot chick in his sunday school class. The conflict here is that christian fundamentalism is firmly idealistic (in its attempts to conquer the flesh with the spirit, for example, or in its attempts to provide religious ecstasy) and yet, it prevents individuals from seeking the Ideal (here, beauty and sexual ecstasy) except within its own narrowly prescribed limits. Is that what this is about? I still haven't fully figured out the sheep/lightning stuff, but that's a significant image, though I'm not sure how yet. Is Pastor Roy the mineral who conducts the truth (lightning) created by christianity's (the earth's) interactions with mysterious forces above into the congregation (the sheep), who die because of it? Junior's problem is mistaking the sheep for the lightning, thinking the power that kills them is themselves (carnal desires) or the doctrine they're founded on (christianity invents carnal desire to suggest that it's preferable to follow the spirit), when its really the mineral that conducts that flash of power.

Is that it?

11:38 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

yes, i'm talking about narrative distance...a narrator that continually has to tell the audience he's/she's the narrator instead of disappearing into the story as a character seems to be a poor narrator in some ways...and i'm guilty of this too

i'm with adam about the sheep thing...i'm sure that's the crucial moment but i'm not quite sure what's being said

wouldn't it be odd/redemptive of Junior to NOT want Mazie the way she thinks he wants her? that instead of causing him to "worship" her by the flashing moment, he's somehow repulsed?

2:04 PM  

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