Christian Short Stories

Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.

The Deep Of Deeps
By Web Ruble

Walter believed he was a loser.

Everyone guessed he would be a ne'er-do-well. If Nelly wanted a decent, material-supported life, there was no question about it. Georgie was her man. Not Walter.

Walter knew this and it was so depressing that he considered ending it all. He just couldn't compete in that league. Georgie was a stock broker out of Portland. No doubt he was headed for the big time: mansion, flashy car, travel to exotic places, social status.

Walter saw them (Nelly and Georgie) again Wednesday.

They were walking in the late afternoon along the main avenue, looking into store windows. One of these hole-in-the-wall glitz galleries was a jewelry store.

Dressed partly in sable, Nel tugged on Georgie's arm. He faked mild interest but would not enter and tried to move on. She motioned some more. He blanched. Then he looked like a fugitive from certain entrapment, impatiently wanting to go.

Walter mentally heard the music: "Daddy, you wanna get the best for me!“

Georgie became flustered and finally jerked Nel away from the shop window. Red faced, she stumbled along the sidewalk in her patent leather pumps as he pulled her along.

It was the first time that Walter had taken a dislike to that smashing persona that was Nelly. Nell, you see, up to that point had been at the center of his heart. Up until recently, he did not think he could live without her. He had been in that half-life for about a year. Twelve months ago was when that Georgie entered their lives. The handsome, muscular, well-dressed 6-foot-4 dude swiftly swept Nell off her feet, made all kinds of promises, and she followed him -- right out of Walter's life.

Walter, meanwhile, was still “boxing out” at a Buy-Rite Grocery. Hardly any material goods -- other than boxes of produce -- were in his gun sights. Nor was social status. His future was loco weed or a dandelion.

That's the way it was. Shipwrecking as the Desdemona sands. Moreover, others would ridicule him to the brink of it all being unbearable. Before Georgie swooped down, Walter's friends would say that they didn't see why he -- being the absolute clod that he was -- should have such a “schnazzy-lookin’ girlfriend.” They'd say someday she'll find somebody with class and pizzazz, and the moment she does, it'll be all over for Walter.

That prediction, unfortunately, came true. She did. And Walter became hardly a memory. It was over. Only the laughter of his cohorts remained. Sobbingly sad it was. He simply wasn’t exciting for someone that striking.

Nelly's warm smile. Her swirling curls. Her flashing blue eyes. The melody of her voice. Her semi-willowy 5-foot-8 stature. The lovely curves of her body. Even encased in dungarees or burlap she looked like Venus. And her delightful personality. It all was a memory now. She was gone from his life.

The year went by and Walter -- his moods up and down like a bobbing cork in Puget Sound shallows -- tried to grapple with his loss. His morale declined to where he was but a pathetic down-on-his-luck guzzler at Mary's Hide-A-Way. Some called him “Froth Buster.” Others called him "Suds Sucker." One late summer day, it became too much.

That's when -- in a moment of super despondency -- he slipped on a pier and hit his head. A light boomed on like thunder and he felt different. Thus jarred into some sort of Shangri-la, he decided to push aside his usual timidity and do something daring.

It would be a flat-out brave adventure. It would take visceral fortitude. He would change his life. He would ride Cody bold out of town into the strange forest of sin-be-gone, regain his spirit and become a force in a society that he saw crumbling.

After all, he reasoned -- aside from drinking -- I am not too bad of a guy. Hey, I'm somebody. Uh huh. Sure.

That very day -- a sun-breached cloudy one in September -- he took the bus up to Olympia to see the Rev. William Thomason at Cannon Free Methodist. It was a desperate move visiting a high school chum to gain direction. He didn't know, yet, what awaited him. He had heard of cases where down-and-outers would "see the Lord," go through remarkable transformations, and become disciples of "the word.” Bible thumpers, he had called them.

The last thing he wanted to be was that. What he wanted, he thought, was Nelly back in his life. Perhaps if he straightened, did right, and became a moral "somebody" she would regain her sanity and come back to him.

Huh? 'Tis an outrageously unlikely prospect if he ever heard one.

'Twas a huge gamble, and he knew that it would take lots of work and convincing. But even as he fantasized, he was under no illusion. It probably wouldn't happen. Perhaps, however, he'd meet someone just like her. And maybe even Nelly would notice; feel jealous, and be sorry. Then maybe they could "negotiate" a romance.

Come on . . .negotiate a romance? He'd sooner become pope. However, maybe he'd simply be more palatable to Nelly. Well . . . anything would be better than the current situation. At least he'd feel better about himself.

It was in that spirit that he went calling -- on the Rev. Mr. Thomason.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Walter, old sock. C'mon in."

"Hi Bill. Got a few minutes? Got a problem. Maybe you could help."

"Sure. Let's go into my office. Actually, I have the morning."

Seated in front of Rev. Thomason's book-and-paper-cluttered desk, Walter, looking beachcomber ready in raincoat and 1940s wide-brimmed hat like the ones now coming back into vogue, summoned the courage: "Well . . . you know I've been consuming heaps of hops lately, and have been becoming a disgusting drunk... ."

"Huh? Walter, c'mon. I don't believe. . .."

"No. Please. Don't argue. It's true. The reason, you see, is that I've been in the deep of deeps. First, I lost my girlfriend, Nelly, to some suave doggie a year ago. And the other day I almost lost the only thing I have left -- my job. Well, okay, it's not much of a job but it's the only thing standing between me and sleeping with Dungeness crab. It struck me yesterday after work, like a brilliant from the light boat. It's time to shake off and break this dismal decline. I have lived in an obscure cloud bank for a decade. I want to see the sunshine again. I want to take my place in the world and feel good. It hammered me yesterday that I needed to square it all with God as I get after it. And I said to myself, 'Self, it's time to see Rev. Thomason.' So here I am."

"Er, uh . . .well . . .I'm glad you came in, Walter. Yes, some word has trickled up here. For instance, I knew you weren't doing well and I knew you were still down there at the Coast. Not much opportunity there, really. But that's the case of so many. You know, I hear rumors about classmates all the time like that. I don't believe half of what I hear. And we . . .what the heck, we haven't seen each other for years."

Rev. Thomason then appeared ready to launch the old babel and fugue, seizing the dodge-the-subject-and-it'll-go-away approach to long life and happiness.

But Walter wouldn't have it: "Bill. Bill. Please listen to me. I'm desperate."

"Okay, Walter. You got my attention. Shoot."

Walter then went into a lengthy discourse about his life, Nelly, his box-out job, his despair, Nelly, and his sense of being lost, his sojourn with John Barleycorn, the arrival of the big moneybags jerk from Portland, and . . .Nelly.

"Walter, you mentioned this Nelly several times. She must be something. Is that Nelba Neuenstein of Hoquiam?

"Yes, she’s the one. I know. It doesn't make sense -- she being a knockout and me being . . .well, a loser. But believe it or not, we were close. Too close I'm afraid for my own good. I'm trying to keep her loss from ruining my life."

"I heard you two dated from time to time. But I left town. I never dreamed that things had gotten that far along. Well, that's all in the past. Exactly what do you have in mind now, anyway?

"Well, I thought maybe I could change my life. Get into the Bible. Get into some kind of social work. Forget myself, and do something for somebody. And eventually get to where I felt good about myself again."

A few pertinent questions and answers ricocheted off the stone walls. Then a long silence. Finally the Rev. Thomason asked, "You're really serious are you?"

"Yes. Yes."

"Hmmm. Well, I have something in mind right here. As a matter of fact I need help. Can you move almost immediately up here? (to Olympia)?"

"I think so. Nothing really stopping me."

The Rev. Mr. Thomason broke into a gargantuan grin, leaned forward like a coyote about to swoop onto a poor cottontail, and said, "I've been praying for help. You may be the answer. Walter, you've always gotten along swell with older folks -- even when we were in grade school. I need somebody who can do that. I have this seniors program. It needs an enthusiastic, understanding young leader. I can't think of anyone better than you . . .of course, you'll have to abandon your tavern ways, study the Bible, and undergo several weeks training. But I think you can do it easily. It's a touchdown, if you go off God's tackle and put your heart, mind and soul to it. How's that for a run? How about it?”

The world exploded. Walter was thrilled. Saved. He said yes probably a dozen times. He would take the ball and run with it. After all, it was far more than he expected. He came to Olympia to get direction. He never dreamed he'd reap such a built-in package of redemption and forward foraging. He was about a foot off the sunshine-baked rug. The clouds of despair were parting.

The Rev. Mr. Thomason detailed the program. It had elements that would be conducted right there in Cannon Free Methodist, plus the Methodist retreat center near Lacey. He said St. Martin's University -- a Roman Catholic Benedictine college also at Lacey -- had offered to help with the logistics. Who knows? The program someday could serve as an ecumenical model.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Smickle, smackle, smackle, smickle: He could hear the tires sock and suck Interstate 5's wet surface just south of Seattle. He glanced at his watch. He was two hours early. On his way to a conference at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, he would swing off the freeway early and visit Seattle's Pioneer Market -- his favorite place in that city of many waterways and light-house promontories.

He immediately reflected on his life's good fortune since that wonderful day in September when -- on strong self suggestion (backed by the Lord) -- he visited Bill Thomason.

In the intervening five years, he had propelled the over-65 counseling program to startling success both in Olympia and the Lacey retreat center. Moreover, he had been in demand for speaking throughout the Puget Sound region. He even planned program expansions to locations in Oregon, California, Colorado and Arizona. He, of course, couldn't do it all. But as hands-on program director he was summoning plenty of help. In short he was soaring. His income was substantial, his prestige was high, his life light years beyond what it had been, and he felt good about himself. He gave the Lord credit.

He saved a wretch like me!

As if he were a robot, he piloted his car automatically to near Pioneer Market. He got out and strode about, taking full measure of the market's ambiance. Then it happened. Like a devastating torpedo from the past it hit him on port bow.

He couldn't believe his eyes. There she was -- Nell. She was regal and statuesque in jeans and sweatshirt. She was alone save the baby on her hip. He knew she had a small tot. Nell was buying a fish.

He staggered. Tears welled. That old feeling of self doubt and unworthiness plucked and gobbled him as a seagull would a butter clam. Either that or he still was a jellyfish. He collapsed on a nearby bench with the dizzying world roiling. His heart was sick. He was thirsty.

Several blocks away he found a cocktail lounge. And that destructive, self-absorption started all over again. Two hours later, he somehow had enough presence to call Seattle Pacific and say he couldn't make it. He staggered from "Sunny's Cave" and braved a cold drizzle.

Depression -- not only from seeing Nell but knowing he had slipped back into Jack Daniel's well -- was trying to push him into Eliot Bay for his final what's-the-use goodbye.

First, however, he had to find his old beater. It seemed urgent. Why? He didn't know. He just had to. After nearly an hour he found his car. The exercise had sobered him enough to motor away in a soggy-suited search for a coffee stop. He found one several miles south near Fife. He paused a few moments for prayer.

He entered through attractive French doors and squished straight to the men's room to dry off. He used a forest of paper towels, nearly filling the trash bin.

Then just as he took a seat at the counter, a cheerful, blue-eyed young lass -- a charmer wearing a t-shirt that said Cannon’s Methodist Camp, Lacey -- bounced to the counter, put her chin in her hands and said, "Hi . . .you want coffee? . . .a menu? Don't look so sad, Dad. It can't be that bad."

Rockets exploded. This gorgeous, soulful, heart-stopping waitress he vaguely recognized was a part-time counselor in his program. Not only was she a lay leader, but a spiritual sunbeam. Divine realization lifted him from the emotional pit. He couldn’t explain it, but now suddenly he felt wonderful. He hoped he wasn’t becoming bipolar.

He thought about it. No. The joy was turn-the-corner real. He had just survived what he subconsciously had feared the most -- an emotional run-in with knockout Nelly.

And think about it -- you knuckle head -- Nelly at one point had become a common gold digger. You saw it yourself. She's not one of God's disciples.

Visceral and emotional victory was his at last. It would be tough, but he could trash her memory. It's possible that someday he would run into her again. However, it wouldn't matter. From this day, he knew he could handle it. How?

He'd simply put it in the Lord's hands and move on . . .like he was doing right now.

(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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