You are reading Fiddleblack #11
Hull left his car with the others on the grass and walked a path along an access road that winded across a beaten acre and past a pond which he reasoned was dug for swans or the geese that flocked there in summer. He and Bryn wore sweatshirts but the air was warm enough to have gone there without. She held his hand and they passed a grove of black raspberry that hung over the path like a crook. Their hands swung together and his knuckles brushed her chest. She was tall and thin but her hips were distinct and Hull liked to put a hand in her back pocket when she walked.
Now everyone here thinks like us so it’s cool to just be yourself, she said.
Hull looked at the ground that sucked his shoes. He could smell his own cologne and to him it was offensive. Be myself or be who I’m being right now?
Be yourself. You’re saved. So you’re yourself from now on.
Isn’t that supposed to be between us?
Well didn’t it happen?
At least I think it happened, he said.
Then why would you want to hide such a beautiful thing?
The camp was bordered with silver Airstreams that lay far onto the expanse of the farm. Couples passed by wearing neon necklaces, some with tattoos of crosses. Families shared cans of beer. A boy rested alone on the gate of a running truck, a dark ketchup smear on his lips. Bryn waved to a man who rose from a lawn chair and offered Hull a beer before firmly shaking his hand. They smiled and the man hugged Bryn and kissed her on the cheek. Did you all just get here? the man said.
We came from past Hiram.
Hull, the man said. I heard you’ve accepted Christ and I want to congratulate you on finding your way.
Thanks, Hull said, leading his hands back to his pockets. Just last week I think it happened.
Did he come to you?
I was sleeping. I heard a beak tap against the window beside my bed. Bryn didn’t even wake up.
You’re still cohabiting?
Hull looked at Bryn and she looked at the ground. He could see she had bitten the inside of her cheek. No, Hull said. I mean maybe that’s why I got saved then.
Was it a white dove? the man asked.
At first I thought it was Jesus Christ.
Transmogrified into a bird?
Well no. It was a whole group of turkey vultures. No man obviously. But the birds were real.
Dude, the man said. I’ve never heard anything like that.
Bryn played with her hair and stood nearer to the man as Hull was speaking. I took it as a good sign, Hull said. A good sign of God, I mean.
Are you sure something didn’t? Maybe from a coyote. Did you receive any message?
I don’t know, Hull said. I guess I can’t be sure. When I woke up at first I definitely had a headache. That went away pretty quickly. And had it been a coyote then wouldn’t the vultures have at least been emissaries or something? Wouldn’t the dead thing be the good faith?
Jesus gave up his own body to show us his love and you know what?
He didn’t think he was anything special. But if you’re saved then you’re saved. Hull turned his head to a clap in the sky. A wide splash of color came and fell and it arced in burst blue and thick in haze. Fireworks popped and whistled above them, sparse jets of purple and silver. Each ray left its outline in their vision for seconds after sight. Bryn sat down with the man near his tent and Hull wondered if she knew him more than she had said she did. When she got up the man gestured to Hull with his beer can.
Who was he? Hull asked her.
An old friend.
A very good friend?
What is a very good friend?
One who calls at night.
I didn’t date him.
It seemed like it.
Does it matter?
What about the cohabiting thing? Can’t we say that?
You want me to tell these people I’m sleeping with you?
You want me to tell them I’m saved.
You could be.
Hull stopped walking. I’d just like to know whose hands I’m shaking tonight.
No one’s, she said and she broke her grasp and walked ahead.
Hull lagged behind until he was lost in the crowd. Inward from the wall of trailers was a path that circled the camp and further in were rows and rows of tents. People ate food from styrofoam plates. Bryn had walked away with her hood up and a number of young people who passed wore the same shirt. He scanned the tops and backs of everyones heads and found himself amid a row of tents, having given up to sit by someone’s fire and drink his beer.
After a while a Mexican woman sat beside him at the fire and she warmed her hands on the wisps and drank her beer, looking up at the sky. The quick and distant cracks were a slow fight played out between ships. Some people were drumming and playing guitar. A dog bayed outside of a tent.
Was that from here?
Come for respite?
I’m here on a date.
A date. Well you might be the only one.
The woman still warmed her hands. She put her boots on the rocks that circled the fire and took them off when they were heated and put them back on again.
Are you a Christian like the rest of these people?
No good Christians are left. Most people here look a bit like Christians but they’re too young. A real Christian has to fail first and leap to faith. You’ve got to change from one thing to another thing. Adam in the garden went from not having sin to having sin. You’re never sinful and free of sin at the same time. There’s got to be a trial.
My girlfriend told me everyone here’s all been through some kind of trauma. And that trauma got them all believing in God.
That may be true, she said. I had trauma. Ain’t that right. Went off with a man from Kentucky. He promised me a job, salary and city apartment. He said he could keep me from drinking. Now the only person who can keep you from drinking is yourself. I got out of slavery if you can believe that. The woman swayed, a shackled thing where she sat. She was somewhere beneath a blanket, her thin body razed by druggy malaise. They found me behind a laundromat.
Wow, Hull said. Did he hurt you?
He made me think I had to hurt myself.
In the echo between them Hull could hear Bryn in the crowd. He stood and the woman did not stir. She pulled the blanket around her and her boots touched the ash.
Hey, Hull said. I’ve got to go but I hope everything works out.
I hope your everything works out, she said.
The room they had planned to live in, they first painted red and then splattered in parts with black. It was a big room, a master bedroom and they put their bed at the center. Around them was empty space and out of the first window was a blue light that shone from the barn and out of the second window were branches that occluded the neighbors and in this room they would sleep close and the black and red seemed like a dark kind of dream but they loved it. When they lay at night and waited for sleep they watched TV on a small set that stood atop a nightstand walled with mirror that he bought second hand at a thrift store. The space around them was a blanket and the colors were just as such and when she fell asleep before he did he would lay and look at the ceiling and the daubs of paint. The house smelled like mold in most places but when they left the windows open they smelled the trees and the country highway and the wet soil when it rained. In the morning she made pancakes shaped like hearts or faces or whatever he wanted and after work they sat downstairs and she painted and he stared at what they had done, all the work they had put into their home and all of what he had always wanted that they conjured up and built. Their dog would sit sometimes and stare at them. He would cock his head at the slightest sound. When they left, he waited at the bay window with his head through the drapes and when he slept he curled on the bed between their bent and opposing legs.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.