Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Runt

Hey, friends.  I'm trying something a little different here... short stories. I'd love reader feedback (as always!), but specifically-

1- What emotions did the story make you feel?

2- Shall I keep going?  Of course, I'm continuing to write spiritual memoirs, but something about "true fiction" gives me the freedom to delve into emotional territory that memoir writing must sometimes skirt.

3- Thanks always for reading!  pax, pm

When it’s said of anyone, “they’re closer than brothers”, I tune out.  For one thing, I don’t know too many brothers that are all that close, and for another, I don’t approve of brotherly love.

When Gideon toppled out of my womb, it was with little effort on my part.  The way had been made three years earlier by his older brother Amos, who time would prove to be bigger, stronger, and smarter.

The pattern of Amos making the way clear for Gideon was one that my sons never grew out of.  When the runt needed the elder’s muscle in the playground, all he needed to do was whistle.  Gideon took great joy in prodding older or bigger boys into fights, and then ducking out as Amos dove in head first, fists flailing and curses spewing from his mouth.

The burden of being responsible for someone of no social intelligence is hard to shoulder, especially when the bond is blood.  Somehow, that responsibility left my hands and fell to Amos’ on the day that Gideon came complaining headfirst into the world.

Amos could sing beautifully from the time he started walking.  He paraded around the house, strumming my father’s old Gibson mandolin until the day that he hit on something like a chord.  From that day forward, Amos knew what he was supposed to do with his life.

Tiny Gideon, that simple boy, wasn’t cut out of the same cloth as Amos.  If Amos sounded like the child of Hank Williams, and I’ll take the credit on that, Gideon sounded like the love child of Phyllis Diller and Buddy Hackett- there was nothing glimmering in his voice, and nothing dirty or rusty.  His vocal chords held nothing of the poetry of music, only the notes.

Finding that his brother could squawk out a note, Amos taught him to play guitar, and taught him the harmonies that would befit his hollow sound.  Amos shouldered the burden of having an ordinary brother by helping him to appear talented.  As it happened, it only made Amos shine brighter.

Blessed be the ties that bind, says an old hymn.  But I say it’s a curse to be related to an idiot.  Don’t chide me for my lack of maternal niceties; I am too old to be less than honest.  Death is coming for me like a wise old hound dog, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk through the Pearly Gates with a lie tucked behind my lip like some old chaw.  I’m done saying that my boys were good.  They were both no good, and I may have delivered them into this world, but they delivered each other into the evil that has made them bright stars.  Some people make a deal with the Devil, but my sons, and I can hardly bear to call them mine, had each other to make a bargain with.

Amos I have loved, and Gideon I have hated, but Amos made it easier by being the nice son, the diplomat, and the hand shaker.  Gideon was fly in the ointment, a trouble maker, ne’er do well, kicking at the hornet’s nest until it would nearly explode, leaving Amos to pick it up and hurl it into oblivion before anyone else got hurt.

When they visited me in this lime lit room, I couldn’t wait for them to leave.  Neither of them meant anything nice, it occurs to me, but Amos would offer a few polite remarks, counter to Gideon’s badgering.  Gideon would repeat my every word in a mocking fashion, dumbly finding great humor in the remarks I made.  I talked of my pain, and it would bring Gideon great reason to laugh.

Before leaving, they would go to the waiting room and sing to enthused old timers. 

I don’t care if I hear a lick again.

You ask where their father is, and I’ll tell you he’s dead, too, but not before filling their heads with dreams of floodlights and adoring fans.  Fans that old rascal couldn’t begin to count.  Fans he couldn’t even dream about.  His card tricks and hatful of rabbits intrigued them when they were little, and the sexy tramp getting sawn asunder widened their eyes when they were coming of age, but an old magician with stale jokes and writing tear stained postcards from BFE couldn’t hold a candle to boys who could really sing. 

One August night, he made the mistake of unleashing them at ages 9 and 12 on an audience in Bartlesville, and those 13 people wouldn’t let the boys off stage.  Worse, the lit up Okies wouldn’t let him back on.  No trick in the book could undo the thing that he set into motion, and no soothing spirit could lead him to forgive himself for the pride that cometh before a fall. 

The boys were hooked on performing from that moment on. 

No longer did they fight me when I dragged them to the Pentecostal Church on Sundays.  The holy rollers thought it was the Spirit that prodded my boys to spontaneously start singing in the middle of the service, but I knew what was going on; I knew they had to be seen and heard, just like an addict needs to stick a needle in her vein. 

The boys would start singing, and the congregation would urge them on into glory.  “Yes, Lord”, women swooned.  “Hal Lay Lou Ya!” men shouted, and I’ll admit I basked in the glow of my stars.  “They’re touched from above, anointed!”, cried Brother Clay, tears in his eyes, pride shining from his face.  God was going to send my boys out into the world from Brother Clay’s tiny mason block tabernacle to be warriors for Christianity.

Marching as to war, they went.

When they were old enough to drive, they quit school, and took my Buick 6 on the road, playing in every Pentecostal Church in Missouri.  They would play for a “Love Offering”, at which time they would announce, “The Lord just told me someone is going to give us one hundred dollars tonight, Praise God!  Now, who is feeling that call this evening?  Who has had it laid on his or her heart?  Glory to God!  Let’s give a hand to this sweet sister over here!”

Down the highways and up the byways they traveled, sometimes singing their songs in joyous appreciation of each other, and sometimes beating the living shit out of each other.  

Despite all that made up harmonizing, those two hated each other like any right minded Siamese Twin hates the other, one being the host, the other being the parasite.

Yet, when push came to shove, loyalty sprang up like a weed and those two stuck together like glue.  They were closer to each other than they were to the women they married.  They were a team, albeit ill-fated, and they stuck together like glue.

One would never hear of any criticism of the other, no matter how constructive or innocent or even wise.  There was no talking to them.

I must have been alone in knowing that they hated each other.  I saw it from the time Gideon was crawling.  I saw it as he dutifully obeyed his brother, and screeched out the broken notes that would eventually be taken as charming and folksy.  I used to beg Amos to let Gideon to find something to do that was of his own invention, but Gideon was so pitifully stupid that I finally accepted that the Good Lord had blessed him with a watchdog and shepherd all in the person of his older brother.

After 13 years of being Gospel stars in tents all over the South, Amos pulled their station wagon to the side of the road one night, got out, said “Try life without me” to Gideon, and stepped into the path of an oncoming Greyhound.

With Amos gone, Gideon needed to find a new place for his shadow.  He moved into my house, lived on my social security, and expected me to pick up where I’d left off all those years ago. 

Nobody wants to hear a broken harmony part without the melody shoring it up, but sing to me he does every afternoon, if you can call it singing.  “I come to the garden alone” he pipes away, and that’s where I want to be- in a garden alone.

As he leaves, a nurse smiles and tells me what a wonderful boy I raised.   “He’s very talented”, I say with a smile.


  1. I was confused at first until I realized it was fiction. I like it! You're a wonderful writer who paints such a vidid picture!

  2. Thanks Elizabeth!

  3. Great idea to write in the voice of the mother. One thought - will a general reading population get the veiled references to both scripture, hymns and practices of which they may be unaware? Apart from that thought, this is a good piece of writing.


  4. Thanks Duane... not worried about whether the literary references are connected, but delighted that you can see them!

  5. There are a lot of surprises in here - plenty of emotions for me. But the twists and turns are what make it interesting. The ending was a bit of a stunner and I was kind of upset about the mother's attitude towards her kids! So it kept me engaged all the way through. Well done.

    1. Thanks Larry. Yes, it's always a bit strange when we encounter a parent who's given up on their kids. Thanks for sharing your emotions regarding this piece. If you haven't already, please check out my book "God On The Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith" from Jericho Books.
      All the best

  6. I find the story interesting coming from the mother. She is not a part of this story about two brothers, not really, even though she is the messenger who brought them into this life. I suppose it's suiting she should be the messenger to tell their story.

    I find the characters to be realistic. My daddy was the runt of his family, but he was a fighter, and he and the next oldest brother in the family were always cleaning up after the baby of the family picked fights and left it to his siblings to finish up. You brought me into the story there, and I felt a connection.

    And the turning point in the story, the part in which Amos steps in front of the bus, is a shocker for the reader, but, to me, it is NOT a shocker for his character. I study people constantly. (I am a writer too.) And music is my passion, my fire, and I am intrigued by musicians, their egos, their passions, their impulses. Yeah, I can see Amos doing this. Believe it or not, I felt as though I was right there in the car with them during a heated argument, a typical heated argument.

    And, boom, it was over.

    And I can see Gideon doing exactly what he does, going back to mediocrity because he was living off of this thing Amos possessed. I have known many Gideons in my lifetime.

    I don't think I've given you much constructive feedback here. :-)

    While I wish I had spent my life playing music or living in the music world, I have lived my life as a teacher, now teaching high school/college freshman English. So if I were to ask my students and myself what the "so what" of this story is, I probably would come up with this answer:

    Some people have this "thing" within them that makes them create, a "fire in the belly," poet Maggie Vaughn once told me. And this fire pushes the person who carries it; sometimes it even consumes the person. Many people are warmed by this fire, and once it goes out these watchers may possess the kindling, but they don't know how to make the sparks for themselves. Unless people have this fire, they won't REALLY feel it or understand it.

    What else could the mother do? If Amos didn't possess this fire, then none of this story would have existed. And when the fire went out, so did the story.

    The mother didn't understand the fire. Gideon didn't understand the fire. And Amos felt it, but, like others before him, he probably was overwhelmed with how this fire was warming everybody else, could even be used to manipulate everybody else, but he was just a holder.

    Cool story. :-)

    BTW, I read God on the Rocks and savored every part of it. I picked up the book because in the 90s I was a freelance writer and I had a chance to interview you. When I saw your name, I said, "I gotta have this book." Your words were good medicine, just like your music. Thank you.

  7. Theresa, thanks for these insights and for your personal take on the story. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks also for reading God On The Rocks! Tell your friends, and please leave a review on Amazon!
    Happy New Year


Your comments are welcome, and I will try answer any questions, if possible. Thanks for reading! pkm