Page 46 - Vol. VII #8
P. 46

Old Time Religion (continued from preceding page)
the bottom of an empty sea. Silence was salvation. On out there, where everything is. Must it all be lost to the wall of Myrna’s apartment were prints in black have it all back again?
 and white of Half Dome, Big Sur and the sun, sink-
ing into the black oblivion beyond the Golden Gate. Who needs the aggravation of denial, so that, if it came right down to it, and he raised his voice and lifted his chin, might not Barbara Lehr herself—nee Barbara Helsted—put a torch to the kindling at his feet? Every- one wondered, what did Barbara ever see in Brian Lehr in the first place, and Barbara with so many like-minded friends, who remained like-minded, in spite of Bill Helsted and Bill Helsted’s secretary? And sometimes, in those early days at Myrna’s, just after the marriage with Barbara, at the Tanners’ or the Higgins’ or the Wherever, he thought that Barbara must have wondered as much herself. He saw something in her face, when she strug- gled to pay attention to what he said, when, truly, what she wanted to hear was what anyone else was saying. He was apprehensive, later, in bed, when he saw a face, and wondered, was it love he saw, shadowed in her eyes, or only the need to be loved?
He had tried, one Saturday night, early on, to explain. They said, Hell, if that’s the way you feel, go live
out somewhere. Buy an island, like Marlon Brando. Explore the woods, like Lewis and Clark. And you say you don’t understand that the earth is getting warm- er? And you don’t see why?
Brian Lehr squeezed the thing in his pocket. He re- called the old keypad phone on his desk and the convenience of call-waiting. He recalled the dial phone of infancy, a black, funky thing with a neck like a stork, a cradle and a black ice cream cone to stick against the ear. He thought of long-before-phones and his grandmother, who wrote letters and waited weeks for a reply, and of everywhere, how people went on horseback or in a boat blown by the wind. He hated needing the phone because he needed it, the way he had needed last year’s phone and the phone before that. He needed it for business. He needed it for groceries, when he forgot Barbara’s list. He needed it, stuck out maybe on a country road late at night, miles from AAA. Machinery did that with a man, and he hated machinery. No. No. No. He didn’t truly hate machinery. He didn’t hate electricity, indoor plumb- ing and ice cubes. He hated the convenience of need- ing everything because everything was so damned convenient. He hated the phone because he had to have it.
Brian Lehr stood on the sidewalk. People were in line at the store. Those outside held the thing that he held in his pocket. They played and giggled and tapped. They bumped into each other, tapping and tapping, under the blue, intangible sky. Don’t sweat it, Brian, he thought. Don’t flail and decry crowded intersec- tions, jacked-up stereos in low-slung automobiles with tinted glass, cocktail parties with similar- minded people so dissimilar from what they have no mind for, couples in restaurants, tapping and tapping, the pearlescent dance of light tapping every win- dow, window after window, every night, along every neighborhood street.
He was not nostalgic for some pastoral time, with
oxen and hand-hewn cabins, no light bulbs, no hot
water, no supermarket two blocks down, no inter-
state to Montana and rainbow trout, and everything
to do because there was no convenience about doing
anything. He had watched those documentaries about
men who homestead life off the grid, far from Ama- and Best Buy, off somewhere in Alaska, no
roads, no restaurants, no cigar shops, no theater, no
Saturday night parties, no anything, just out there,
freezing your ass, chopping your wood, hunting your which was nominated for the American Book Award. His most recent food, no shower, no carpet, no three-gallon toilet, just collection is Fly Fishing the River Styx (Adelaide Books).
Henry Peterson clenched his teeth at such blasphe- my, and raised the sword above his head.
Ever finer and finer life was lived as it had not been lived before. Ever more somber was the work of memory. Already there was talk of metal men. Al- ready they were implanting living flesh with factory parts. They were padding light posts and stop signs to protect those who speak by satellite. People slept with their phones. They defecated with their phones. They committed coitus interruptus to answer their phones. How could the need of any instrument be as needful as the need for love?
He removed the hand from his pocket. The sun was on his face. He felt the absolute coldness of that separate, greater grinding, and the beckoning from The Church of Good Earth, its promise of deepened friendship with Henry Peterson, the deeper love of Barbara Lehr, nee Barbara Helsted, whose husband Bill ran off with his legal secretary, and—most pre- cious—the belief and belonging that make one whole again. He stood on the sidewalk, blinking into the sun, and thought, The earth warms. The earth cools. The earth knows what to do. But what about me? What about me?
Dokey’s stories have won awards and prizes and have been reprint- ed frequently in both regional and national anthologies and texts. He has novels and story collections to his credit, including August Heat, (Story Press), and Pale Morning Dun, (University of Missouri Press)

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