from "The Sabbatical"
Below you can read the first two chapters of my novel "The Sabbatical." I hope you will enjoy the flavor of this small bite. If you like it, I invite you to savor the whole book.
It was springtime in Dallas, the tenth year of Lawrence (Sonny) Fleming’s tenure, or—as revelations emerge—his captivity.
He had just made a scheduled hospital visit—a pious prayer, a quick hug, canned words of comfort, a cheerful wave goodbye.
Sonny had a talent for masking a growing duplicity, and he could forge expressions of kindness and sympathy like a pastoral art form. But he was not proud of this talent—he could no longer fool himself.
Back when he was in Bible College most of his professors expected Lawrence Fleming to reach a high position in the denomination—perhaps all the way to the top. None would have thought, only ten years into his ministry, he’d be suffering religious burnout, sitting in a Dallas bar drinking mugs of cold beer.
Taylor sat two stools over today. Larry and Sonny had developed a
friendship…but in a rather odd way—showing up at Beverly’s bar at the
“How are you today, Larry?”
Larry toasted his mug of beer, “Purty dandy now, Mr. Suit and Tie,” and chugged it.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Larry?” Beverly said, “You’ve had so much beer you could probably piss all the way to Fort Worth.”
Larry lit a cigarette, pushed his empty mug at her, smoke came out with his words. “Beverly, sometimes I think you’re the most beautiful woman in Dallas and—”
“And then I sober up.”
She pushed another full mug across the bar, grinned. “Maybe you ain’t had enough.”
Larry squinted at Sonny through a wavy line of smoke. “Mr. Suit and Tie, you ever drank anything besides beer?”
Larry snuffed out his cigarette, pointed at Sonny. “Beverly, my favorite bitch, top off a couple of worms, one for Mr. Suit and Tie, one for me. And if you ‘as the good little gal a fellow once said you was, you’d pour em on the…hic… house.”
“I’ll pour the tequilas, Larry Taylor, but you’ll pay for every bitter ounce.”
Larry winked. “Feller called you a good little gal must’ve been misinformed?” He ran his eyes up and down. “Must’a been blind too…called you a ‘little’ gal.”
“I wouldn’t be talking, Larry. You could dive through a keyhole without touching the sides.”
“But I’m good looking.”
“Talk about misinformed!”
Sonny said, “If you don’t mind, I’ll just stick with beer.”
Larry turned a taunting gaze at Sonny. “You ain’t afraid of a little worm are you, Mr. Suit and Tie?” He held up a finger. “One shot.”
Sonny rolled his eyes, sighed. “Okay…just one.” He turned to Beverly. “Put those on my tab, Bev.”
Beverly poured the tequila.
Larry, reaching for a salt shaker, accidentally touched the breast of a redhead sitting next to him.
She glowered. “Careful there, Larry!”
“Sorry, Red,” he slurred, making a fist and sprinkling salt on it, thumb side up.
He extended the salt toward Sonny. “Worm slithers down better if you grease it a bit.”
Larry poked the redhead on the arm.
She frowned. “What do you want now, Taylor?”
He held up the shot glass. “You know why I like liquor more’n women, Red.”
“I can change dranks without payin alimony.”
“You old fart.”
Sonny and Larry downed the shots. Sonny, lowering the glass, blinked. “Beverly, your bar is whirling.”
She chuckled. “They say love makes the world go around, but mixing beer and tequila makes it go around a hell of a lot faster.”
“Got any coffee?”
“You bet.” She took down a cup from a cabinet, poured it full, set it in front of Sonny, at same time frowning at Larry. “Glad somebody in here’s got a brain.
Larry said, “Hey, Mr. Suit and Tie, you ain’t never sh’aid what you…hic…did for a living.”
Beverly gazed over the top of her reading glasses at Sonny. “You’re a preacher, ain’t ya?”
Sonny spewed coffee. “H … how…?”
Wiping up the coffee drips she said, “Been here nearly twenty-five years…developed a second sense about that kind of stuff.”
She waved him off. “Nobody here gives a damn if you’re a preacher. You might even preach to these sinners!”
Larry wrinkled his brow. “Who are the sh’inners you’re talking bout, Bever (hic) ly?”
She blew smoke in his face. “You, for one…you skinny old drunk.”
Sonny said, “Maybe Larry should preach at me for coming in here.”
Beverly peered down her nose at Sonny. “Why? You think preachers are better’n us?”
Sonny sipped his coffee, smiled. “Not anymore.”
Larry lit another cigarette, cocked his head back, blew smoke at the dingy ceiling. “A preacher huh? He circled his gaze around. “Wish you could meet my brother, Elmo.”
“Does he live in Dallas?”
“Naw. Arkansas, Ozarks…the old homeplace. Elmo had some kind’a experience, teched by the spirit…somp’m…back when he ‘as a kid…at an old stump along Buck Creek.”
“Was it some kind of call to preach?
“He don’t do no preaching. Jest got where he loved ever’body. When he ain’t out on a welding job—what he does for a living—he’s out helping folks—fixing fences down, delivering calves, diff’rent stuff. Ever’ time somebody needs help, he’s Mr. Handy Dandy.”
“Where does Elmo go to church?”
Larry hesitated, like he was giving the question some thought. “Don’t recall him ever goin to church.” He turned misty eyes at Sonny. “Truth known…I’m real proud of Elmo. I love im.”
Sonny sipped his coffee. “I can see that.”
Several hundred miles from Dallas, a stone’s throw east of Pinefield, Arkansas, three Ozark Mountains join foot to foot, creating an undulating, forested hollow between them.
As a dark, rainy night withdrew from the hollow, the rising sun, striking raindrops on leaves and grass, glistened like diamonds.
The rising sun also uncovered a thick paste-like fog in the harsh lower regions, at the same time unveiling spring’s contribution to the Ozarks—dogwood, honeysuckle bloom, towering red oak, long-needle pine, thickets of gnarly blackjack.
A tall, bony fellow ambled out of a weatherworn house at the end of a long, winding, unpaved road. He appeared to be in his 50s, early 60’s, had on faded blue overalls and tight-fitting welder’s cap—its tiny bill turned backwards on his head. He gave a golden retriever a pat on the head. “How ya doing this morning, Sparky?”
Sparky licked his hand.
He reached down, pushed a button on an old 8-track player on top of a rough-wood stand, and an old Jimmy Rodgers tune…T for Texas, began to play.
The door opened behind him.
“Papa, your music sounds like somebody singing in a bucket? Makes me wonder when Elmo Taylor’ll finally catch up with the times.”
Elmo slanted his dark irises at his attractive 32-year-old daughter, Dottie, spoke around the pipe stem, “Maybe when the times slow down a bit.”
“You want me to fix you some breakfast?”
Elmo reached back, lowered the volume. “Ate a bowl of Post Toasties. Grab yourse’f a bowl…we’ll eat lunch later at Mattie’s.”
“Sorry your marriage did’n work out, honey.”
“Me too.” She kissed him on the forehead, limped to the edge of the porch. “I’ve missed mornings in Taylor Hollow, ‘specially before the skeeters start biting.” She turned. “Reverend Sanger still at the Pentecostal church, where Tommy held that revival.”
“Bobby Sanger? Yeah…still there. Comes here bout oncet a week a-fishing, mostly on Sundays, after dinner.”
Dottie smiled. “Other day, Sissy told me Sanger thinks highly of you, Papa…but he wonders why you never attend his church.”
Elmo chuckled. “First time Bobby Sanger came a-fishing here, could’n keep from laughing at im. Pulls up in that big shiny black car, takes out his fishing pole, and he’s still wearing his Sunday go-to-meetin suit…neck tie and all.”
Dottie laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“No.” He chuckled, “We git to the creek, he goes to looking here and there for somp’m to set on, so not to soil that fancy suit. I don’t remember what he found…piece’a paste-board, somp’m. He parks his large butt on it, flips out his bobber while I’m lighting my pipe.”
Dottie rolled her eyes. “Smoking’s a sin to them Pentecostal folks, Papa?”
Elmo grinned. “Did’n take long to find that out. Bobby’s eyes go to fluttering like they do when somp’m or other offends im…and he says, ‘Elmo Taylor, what if the Lord comes while you’re smoking that pipe?’ Kind’a caught me off guard—wad’n sure what to say. So…I jest said, “We-e-ll I hope he brangs his own tobacca. I’m bout out.’”
“Surely you did’n say that?”
Elmo laughed, relit his pipe. “Bobby’s eyes near fluttered off his face.” Elmo held his pipe out, said. “I sure love that preacher.”
Dottie sighed. “You love ever’body, Papa…and I jest don’t understand it. Take Derek Morgan for instance, ever’body in three counties knows he’s gay, yet you put im to work, treat im like your own son…same way you treat Jimmy Turner. Ain’t you afraid what people might think, or say?”
“Can’t let thangs like that bother me. When Derek’s dad disowned im for being like he is, the young’un had no money, barely out of school. Derek needs love same as me and”—Elmo pointed his pipe stem—“same as you.”
“What does Reverend Sanger do when Derek comes around?”
“I’m not surprised.”
Elmo smiled up at Dottie. “Good to have you home again.”
“Good to be home, Papa. You got any welding jobs this week?”
“Naw, got a job or two next week. Not much happening this week, ‘cept I’m going over to Annieville on Thursday, visit a friend”
Elmo didn’t say one way or the other.
This is the website of Bob Hinkle.
Revised February 2010.
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