January 1, 2015

FICTION BY GARY ROBERTS "A STEADY ARM"



Gary Roberts is originally from Michigan but is now living in Buellton California. He has been writing off and on since he was seventeen. He has had one story published in THE LUTHERAN JOURNAL entitled "Homefront."



A STEADY ARM


Pastor Rick was tired.  He was physically tired, mentally tired and most agitating of all, spiritually tired.
    He was up to his neck with the usual exhausting concerns; bickering vestry members, an offering
that came up short every Sunday morning, a leaky, creaky church building with no funds for repair.
But at the moment he was simply weary of the thankless task of anchoring another annual church
picnic, of the same old faces bringing the same old main dishes and desserts, of all the fidgety little
“Kings Kids” running amok, unwilling to participate in organized games, of the ants, the flies, the heat, the
 dust.
    He had fulfilled his basic obligations. He had given the blessing. He had pasted on a smile and
mingled. He had consumed two platefuls of as many homemade casseroles, salads and
brownies as he could  to offend as few of the congregation as possible. Now, as his reward, he  
was perched under a certain beautiful, tall oak tree, the same one he perched under every
year, post meal. He didn’t even mind that the ground under it was slightly cement like or its
protruding, uneven bark occasionally dug into his back. It provided more than welcome shade.
It also allowed him to doze on and off and be mostly oblivious to the busyness and chattering

around him.
    There came a point when he was in that hazy state between consciousness and slumber that his
curiosity got the better of him. He glanced to his left and squinted. Then he positioned a forearm
over his sun sensitive eyes.
    She was still there…the old woman in what looked like an orange, faded, housecoat and black laced
boots, sitting by herself at an isolated picnic table. Filthy and weather beaten, she was a street
resident cliché. He was surprised not to see an over loaded shopping cart in her general vicinity.
   He was aware that technically she was occupying a table which was in the park area that Crossroads
Church had reserved weeks before, but she wasn’t bothering anyone. He was the only one who had
really noticed her, let alone paid any attention.
   Truly, it had been a while since he felt any serious inclination to go out of his way, “to go that extra
mile.” A sorry statement, he realized, for a person of the cloth. So he was somewhat
confounded when he found himself torn between remaining slug-like or giving up his cozy
situation to actually reach out to this individual. Without too much thought, he chose the former.
    “She wants to be left alone,” he assured himself while removing a small twig from underneath his
leg. “Let her be.”
    He had half closed his eyes again when the woman produced a wine bottle and what looked like a
large, red plastic cup. As she poured, her hand shook and some of the bottle’s contents hit the rim and
cascaded down, causing a small puddle to form on the table. He had counseled many alcoholics in his
time and some of them had  described the reality which he was willing to bet applied now to this
woman as she imbibed. Her drink brought her no joy, just a temporary reprieve with each toxic sip from
the constant craving that overpowered her every minute, every hour, every day.
    “Why aren’t you approaching her!?” the little voice in his brain was scolding him. “Don’t you care,
Rick?” The sad truth was he just could not bring himself to care enough. Besides, he considered, his
success rate for making a difference in these situations was minimal at best.
    Predictably, she began to talk to herself as she drank. After a while she turned her head to the right
and seemed to be babbling to an unseen entity sitting next to her. Next, she addressed
another standing on her left and then another sitting straight across. Her communication was quite
intense and he was sheepishly bemused as he pictured her in an alternate life as a top executive
conducting a high power strategy meeting, giving orders to this subordinate, chewing out that one,
requesting a cup of coffee from another.
    He looked around his immediate area. Still oblivious to the stranger in their proximity, most of the
adults were starting to clean off tables and benches where they had been sitting,  shake crumbs from
table cloths and pack leftover food and dirty utensils into baskets and paper bags. The youngsters
were all chasing after errant frisbees, making rude noises by sticking their hands under their armpits
and flapping their elbows or whining  because they had had enough and were ready to go home.
    He gave himself a mild pat on the back. At least he had taken note of the woman.
    Satisfied that he was not a terrible person (or clergyman for that matter), he considered
pitching in with the cleaning crew,  but decided he did not even have the energy for that. Besides, like
a pig to a mud hole, his attention kept being drawn back to this hard luck, unfortunate woman.
    He studied her for another minute or two. Her bottle went dry. She shook it
vigorously, then examined her empty cup, then tipped the bottle straight up. She looked about her
anxiously, as if perhaps she were in some fine restaurant hoping that the waiter might come and
refresh her drink. After a while, she placed the bottle on the table and stared at it. Then she talked to
it for a while, then stared again.
    “Enough,” he finally said to himself, pounding his fist in his thigh. He would be a Good  Samaritan.  

If it was to no avail, at least he would be able to live with himself.
  He hesitated at first, then with all the motivation he could muster, he rose up, He ambled over to the
woman and stuck out his hand.  “How do you do ma’am,” he said after taking a deep breath. “I’m
Rick Kelly. You might have noticed we’re having a little get together at those tables over there. We
would love it if you would come join us.”
    She did not look up. Instead, she folded her arms, started to jerk her head and jabber incoherently.
In a way he was relieved. He had put in the effort but the woman was too far gone. Now he could
return to his lazy existence with a clear conscience.
    He had barely taken a step when he felt a strange sensation. The woman was still staring down at
her lap but had somehow grabbed onto his pant leg  and was tugging it gently. His first reaction was to
be alarmed and pull back; instead, out of instinct, he held out a steady arm. He was taken aback when
she clung onto it like it was a lifeline tossed to her in raging waters, then slowly stood up on her
wobbly legs. He wondered if he was imagining a subtle bounce in his step as he accompanied her
away from her empty bottle and towards the ongoing activity of his fellow picnickers.
                                                                              

~Gary Roberts

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