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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about math...kinda

Submitted: August 26, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 26, 2012





by John Mauldin

And they all, including Jason, smoked. Jason, Tommy, Mark and Joey, all get blitzed again, and again and again, until it was Sunday morning.

Jason, the brown haired and green eye knife amongst a drawer of spoons, the shortest of his small group of late twenty some-thing year old roommates who, though he would wear the same sized t-shirts as his friends, would have to fill them out in a completely different fashion, found it strange as a sudden, foreign urge drove him on to dig around his house, the whole thing, looking for a book to read. It was the kind of urge that made him pick up a skateboard on a day when there was no surf, put ketchup and mustard and relish on a hot dog when starving, and not raise his hand in class until the eighth grade, when he eventually found something he wanted to ask.

He tossed pillows, mattresses, sheets, dug behind the outdoor and indoor couch, and even went looking in the grass because he already knew if there were any books on the shelves in his house it’s pages would’ve been ripped and torn for rolling papers already, and the rest of the space was filled with DVD’s and Video Games, which are books of a sort but not the kind he was looking for. For Jason was looking for religion, but not so much in the strictest of sense. Jason was simply looking for something to look inside at.

So he walked out of his room on a Sunday morning while everyone was watching cartoons and asked a question, because there wasn’t anything else for him to do in his head.

“Any of you guys feel like goin to church?” Jason asked them, Tommy, Mark and Joey, the three of them sunken into couch and chair fabric as they were while everyone was a blazed, blitzed, and bored as they’d all been a hundred times before, the air grey, the TV loud, and the room dark blue instead of black because they were just lazy enough to let some sunlight in through the blinds.

“Church? That place hasn’t been it in a while,” Tommy said, sitting and looking over his shoulder at Jason as he stood in the doorway.

After he had finished Tommy pushed the bushy hair out of his eyes and readjusted the beanie that would resettle eventually, and only to push the same hair back into his face after just long enough for “high” Tommy to be unbothered, himself being unable to remember the last time he had to brush the hair from his face and readjust his hat.

And Tommy was right, in that things weren’t like they were in the old days. The four of them, each having grown up in the same small town, together attending the same Catholic school. The kind where, twice a week, all the students whose parents were “practicing” were forced to go to a mass in the morning, but because tuition was cheaper for “practicing” and “participatory” parishioners, it meant that all the kids had to suffer for their parent’s sins, even though most family’s didn’t even need the discount.

“Yeah, we used to go to church, you know? You remember? Back when?” Jason said, asking again.

“No I remember,” Tommy started, “We used to sneak out of one of the long masses and go chasin ducks.”

“Yeah, duck huntin,” Mark said, sitting the furthest away from Jason with his arm nestled in on his half of the couch beside Joey.

“That’s right,” Joey started, “But why would you wanna go duck huntin? Aren’t we a little old for that?”

“Yeah man, we’d have to get dressed up for it and everything, and I don’t know the last time I snuck out of a church,” Mark said.

Joey and Mark were cousins, Mark being the thick and short, Joey the tall and hairy, and both about as dense any can come without further inbreeding.

But both Mark and Joey, and Tommy and Jason as well had the same similarly enclosed and self-serving upbringing. Their parents had enough to afford them each a private school’s worth of primary education, and had the connections each to set their sons up with work enough, despite Jason being the only one to have actually gotten anything from college.

Joey and Mark simply went to the right classes within the right department, sat in the right chairs, for the right amount of time, and one day found themselves sitting in chairs and waiting to be handed a diploma, and Tommy left school after the first semester. He said that school didn’t matter, went to work in the auto shop he’d wanted to stay working in before he left, and waited for the rest of his friends to come back home for Christmas and summer, though he only had to wait a few years for everyone to get back for good.

“No, I’m not saying that, I’m asking if anyone wants to go to church.” Jason said.

“Well why would we wanna go to church man?” Tommy asked before turning his head back towards the television to further sink into the groove he’d been making in his chair.

“Yeah,” Mark started, “We were just gonna spark up another one, you know?”

And Joey finished “Yeah, work week’s comin up, yah know? So no need to go crazy, not this early anyway.”

The two of them dismissed Jason as quickly and deafly as they would have if he had asked them if they wanted to do anything else in the world besides get high, neither having actually heard Jason even though he was suggesting something as foreign to the whole as church.

“I’d just like to go, so what? Come on, Tommy, can you drive me?” Jason asked.

Tommy was the only one of them who currently had a car, even though he could and actually did walk to his job at the auto shop, so the rest of the group took the bus unless Tommy felt generous enough to dole out rides.

Jason, Mark and Joey each had however, at one point or another, owned a vehicle, but crashes or break downs and even thievery happens as it tends to, and eventually the necessity of a personal vehicle became overrated or unaffordable for the most part. First went Jason, who let his car break down slowly but surely, with time, by letting it sit in the front lawn until there was as much raccoon fur inside as pleather, then Mark, who lost, bought and found in cycles before getting bored, which he still currently was, and finally Joey, being the last of the three to lose his car, it going in a head on collision that had happened few weeks earlier, but Joey hadn’t even told his parents about it yet, so it could’ve been a while before anyone else had a car to share with the group.

“I don’t know man, I kinda don’t feel like driving,” Tommy said.

“Yeah, fuck driving,” Mark said.

“And riding…with two thumbs up!” Joey said, exploding with the same stoner laugh that he and Mark both found at age fourteen.

“Well what if you hit up Burrito King and drop me off on the way,” Jason asked.

Tommy mulled over the question, not turning his head back from the screen, for over for a full minute before even acknowledging Jason.

“Tell you what, I’ll drive us to Fat Sal’s,” he wagered, which was only four blocks away and not quite as far into town as Jason was suggesting, “And then you can walk there, but I wanna leave just a bit later if that’s cool.”

“Shit deal man,” Mark said.

“Real shit deal,” Joey said before the two broke out into mild hysterics and exited the conversation.

“Ok man, that’s fine,” Jason said taking what he could get, and leaving the three to roll up another joint while he went to find an iron and something proper to put under it.


And a few hours later, Tommy was driving Jason down the road with one hand on the wheel and sipping juice from a Capri-Sun pouch with the other while Jason, sitting shotgun, sat in a pair of poorly pressed khaki pants, sandals, and faded polo that was missing all three of its buttons.

“You know, you gotta be the one to pick up the phone, but I’m calling to tell yah right now that they’re gonna be offended,” Tommy said, mid rolling stop, at a stop sign barely a block from their house.

Tommy felt proud in never actually stopping at a stop sign, or even traffic light if he could avoid it. He would lay off the gas from nearly a quarter of a mile away if he noticed a yellow light, and avidly preach his philosophy that, “Any man who has to use his brakes isn’t planning far enough ahead.”

Jason was only half listening, but enough to dismiss Tommy at the first whiff of stoned cynicism.

“Shut up man, it’s gonna be fine,” he said as Tommy slammed on the gas, sped through the intersection and off once again into traffic.

“No it won’t,” Tommy said, his eyes in the clouds above the road, his free hand too busy with its pouch to signal as he weaved in and out of open lanes like a stone skipping its way down the river, “Sandals, no buttons? Enough of them used to hate us for that, and we were kids.”

“Jesus wore sandals, we and plenty of them also used to say that back then.”

“Yeah, well that’s cause the Italians hadn’t invented the loafer, nor the Chinese the sweat labor made basketball shoe that’s at least fashionably appropriate, if only monetarily.”

At another stop sign Tommy let his tires roll with feigned trepidation, the black rubber slowing as it inched in to kiss the solid white line before the intersection. A smile crept up Tommy’s face, himself amused with his own antics as if he was about to surprise a world waiting patiently to be amazed by him, before deciding to throw down the punch line.

Tommy slammed on the gas and the two of us shoot out through the empty intersection like a steel ball from its cannon.

“And then was then, it’s easy for people now to smile when it’s their kids cutefully coloring outside the lines, by accident or no, but it becomes that much easier for them to turn on anyone old enough to be a burnout,” Tommy said.

“It’s gonna be fine.”

“Not when you’re old enough to look like someone who’s gonna touch their kids, sell em drugs and then teach em how to swear, and we are that at least.”

Tommy turned into the shopping center with “Fat Sal’s Sandwiches” marquee’d prominently at the top, and let his car idle down the decline of the parking lot towards the end where an empty space in front of Sal’s waited.

“Not to mention, yeah, being dumb and high and fucked up and bored and rich and pissed enough to maybe fuck with their kids,” Tommy said.

“Yeah,” Jason started, his eyes no longer bothering with Tommy, who was leaning back in the driver’s seat, one hand out the window with the other back behind his head, and letting the car crawl to its parking spot as if it wasn’t there to be driven, but to carry him, “but I guess that’s the idea of going in the first place isn’t it?”

Mid roll Jason got out of the car, started walking toward the sidewalk, turned and left Fat Sal’s behind him as Tommy’s car, which had picked up enough momentum for it on the downhill roll, comfortably rolled itself over space’s cement curb but not the sidewalk, where the front end would get wedged from its own weight as Tommy sat at Sal’s and ate.

Twenty minutes later, Tommy would be frantically calling Jason to help him push his car, but he’d be far gone already, himself leaving his phone at the house because and so his trip could stay a short one, and too glued to his spot washed in shade from a steeple’d building’s massive face by then. It had been years for Jason, but one can never really count the years one’s been away until first returning to what had been left, and counting the inches from the newly cast shadows.


A little ways down the road Jason began to hear bells ringing, their echo leaping out over trees and houses to stretch out and reach beyond where he could even hear, as if he needed their help in reminding him of the direction he was heading.

He was only a few more neighborhood streets, sidewalks, and strips of black cement from the church. The brass notes erupted through their air as if the angel’s themselves were singing, their voices reverberating through the empty side streets like they were hallways with loud demeanor and prominence, their trumpets charioting through the sky, flying aflame just beneath the clouds to catch fire to the hour across the globe.

The sound drifted close over Jason’s head and hung in the air with the clouds, but he couldn’t bring himself to let his chin stray too far from his own neck. With every step the more downward his glance seemed to get, tighter his pocketed grip, and unnerved he became from the sound of his own sandals. His feet, it seemed to him, were each defiantly scraping louder and louder across the pavement as the three walked to meet the sound, church, and all the people packed in it. And Jason, who was still dragging himself into attendance, felt more and more like a Frankenstein noisily trudging lately along in an effort to go about a normal day, the louder and louder the ringing of the bells grew.

 Every house he passed had an eye where the window should’ve been, themselves brightly painted in Sunday blues and greens and yellows, and every car parked on the street was another family, father, son, mother, daughter quartet nestled already in their hard wooden seats, and ahead of him. Upon turning the final corner Jason stopped at the end of the block, pausing in the shade to lean up against a telephone pole, as he came face to face with immaculately pointed vaults and arches, stained glass, and painted crosses of the church.

Against the pole Jason could feel a chill, and a bit of him thought that maybe it was the shade, or a slight breeze, but another part thought it was the cold from the air conditioner inside, it’s expensive and far reaching fingertips dragging a chill up his neck the way that it had used to, or at least the way a part of him remembered it, when he was younger and had gone to church. And his back began to feel stiff, though not from the pole, as he likewise felt the prod from the wooded pews straightening his back, and in another instant, he could feel the gaze of a hundred invisible eyes, people sitting in rows upon rows behind him, fixing themselves on the back of his head.

Jason could smell the layers of eye watering incense, perfume and cologne, the sting on its way from wafts of red wine, and the retch of rubbing alcohol, formaldehyde and bleach pickling people trying to live forever, or at least that’s what a part of him was remembering, or trying to make him remember. He leaned back against his telephone pole, his mind running back over years of things he still remembered and felt, and knew that he’d forgotten or maybe never known, until the sun had fallen beneath the crest of the church, and he wished he had a cigarette.

A multitude of voices could be heard echoing out from the walls, almost as if the sound was really the smell fuming from the saintly paint, but as the breeze blew it tossed the leaves in the trees to go along with it, and Jason quickly fell into his thoughts.

After a short while in the shade, amidst the ambience of songbirds, car passings and construction, Jason snapped back as if he’d been asleep and heard the bells ringing out into what was now the early evening. The deep brass shook leaves and sent birds flying into the orange air to find the last meal of another week. Outside the church the lights had come on, and Jason knows that soon a river would come pouring out through the doors.

For a moment he paused, knowing, remembering that feeling as well as all the others, but turned and began walking back the way he came. Jason, head down, turned down the block and rounded the corner he had not too long ago as the bells rang at his back. He turned again down another old side street, passing familiar neighborhoods, cars and black strips of pavement as his sandals scraped across the familiar sidewalks, and Jason kept walking, and walking, as the sound of the bells faded slowly, and slowly away.

The bells had vanished by the time Jason passed Fat Sal’s, its doors still open but parking lot full of different cars, including in the space where Tommy had once been, but he still walked on without a single thought to it. Jason retraced their tire tracks, stopping at every stop sign along the way, until finally coming to the street with his home, friends and family, and Jason didn’t even lift his head as  passed by without looking back.

 He keeps on until the sun has nearly gone down, the evening ending, before he hits a stop light and pauses again on a corner he’d never been to before.

The air had started to grow chilly, it urging all on to either find warmth in doors or to live freely in the frigid air. Jason hadn’t thought of where he was going, but already felt sad at knowing he’d have to turn back sooner rather than later. As he waited for the street light to change he leaned up against another telephone pole to dig his hands into his pockets and decide on where he could maybe be going, and how long he could wait before having to go back home. However, without an answer to either, the light changed and, though only pausing for a second to make certain he was ready for the leap; Jason stepped out onto the street and kept walking.


He made it halfway across the street before noticing another shopping plaza where, marqued at the top, he read, “Suzy’s Bookstore” burning under bright white halogens.  Without a thought on it, Jason walked in with a smile, his destination well lit once again, trip adrift short, and feet feeling tired enough as they were already. In less than five minutes he had made his purchase and, book in hand, was waiting for the same light to change as before, but from the other side of the street.

And Jason walked down the path he’d came, his exposed toes feeling cold in the early night air, but the sound of crickets kept him company as he walked. The stars had woken up but not the moon, the sky a dimly lit sheet of black, its endless array of shape and unshaped clouds invisible, but then was a time was for each star to shine, and so each did, with every twinkle glinting all the brighter for it.

Down the same street, the one that lead back to his home and bed and friends and TV and things, Jason turned down in the darkness, his feet comfortably trudging on as if this were the path most comfortably softened by his perpetual footsteps. He walked up the same sidewalk, and headed inside as he had a hundred times before, behind him shutting the door to his room as he always had, but his roommates were banging on the door by the time he had landed on his bed to take his shoes off.

“Hey man,” Tommy said, his and Mark and Joey’s voices all as distinct as a fingerprint even through the door, “have fun at church?”

“Yeah, what’s in the bag?” Mark asked.

“You get food or beer or something on the way back?” Joey asked.

Jason threw the plastic bag in the trash and set the book beside him as he unlaced his laces, sighed with relief, and tossed both shoes into a corner.

“It was great guys, now I’m just chilling, I’ll catch up later,” he said.

But with that came more pounding, more sounds of wood splitting and door hinges moaning.

“Ah come on man, come chill,” Tommy said.

“Yeah, we are watching cartoons and smoking,” Mark said.

“Joints man!” Joey said.

Jason ran his fingers through his hair as he sat and listened to the pounding, to Tommy, Mark and Joey.

“Later man, I’m just gonna hang out for a bit,” Jason said as he grabbed his book and, putting it on his knee, leaned his weight on it for support as he spoke.

There was silence from on the other side of the door for a moment, peace, calm, hope,  it seemed to Jason.

But, “Just one hit man,” was what Tommy said finally.

Silence still hung in the air, a storm waiting to rage again as if chambered in the gun Tommy had stolen from Poseidon.

Jason stood, book in his hand, before tossing it underneath his mattress and answering.

“Ok fine,” he said as he went to answer the door, and to leave his room and his bed and his book behind until another time, “but just one hit.”

And they all, including Jason, smoked. Jason, Tommy, Mark and Joey, all get blitzed again, and again. And again, and again, at least until again, and again, and again, and again….

© Copyright 2018 John Mauldin. All rights reserved.

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