Fiction: Forceful Fiction
In our fifth issue of Write From Wrong, we welcome previously published and new writers to take us on a literary journey in our current fiction installment. Writers Sonia Segura, Adaobi Nwoye, and Kerina Pharr show us, the readers, that there is a force in fiction. The power of the English language shines throughout these three wonderful tales. We at Write From Wrong would like to you to take the adventure of reading “The Distant Road,” “Lip Service,” and “Waning of the Sanguine Humor.”
Remember, the force is with you. Enjoy!
1. “The Distant Road” Sonia Segura
2. “Lip Service” Adaobi Nwoye
3. “Waning of the Sanguine Humor” Kerina Pharr
The Distant Road
“The Distant Road” is a playful journey into the Old West, following the plucky protagonist on his search for a home. Sonia Segura does a wonderful job capturing the voice of a young renegade cowhand as well as the spirit of adventure that we have come to associate with the restless daring of the cowboy and his world.
I guess I should have seen it coming…trouble! It seemed to always follow me. My first instinct told me to ride away into the sunset, while the going was good! My Mama always told me that the T in my middle name should have stood for Trouble not Theodore. I didn’t mean to cause trouble; it just followed me everywhere. I sure enough proved my Mama was right.
It all started the day I rode in to the sleepy town of Broken Arrow. I had been on my own since I was no bigger than knee high to a grasshopper. My folks and sister had died in a fire and I was left an orphan at six years old, with no other family to speak of. Our closest neighbors and supposed friends took pity on me. Or so I thought. But, then they found out that I could be used as free labor for their fields. I guess I grew up a bit rebellious. It didn’t help having no affection from my so-called new parents.
Meanwhile, a few years had come and gone. I was a bit older and able to understand that if I didn’t high tail it out of there my life would be over! I decided to borrow their best horse. I figured I deserved it! Out here in the West you were considered a man at fifteen years old and–yes sir, I surely did think of myself as a man.
I traveled far during the first two weeks I had left my old life behind. I tried to avoid the big towns. I spotted Broken Arrow in the distance and it seemed like the answer to my prayers. It was the kind of town I was looking for to settle in. As I rode in I received the usual look over given when someone new is in town. The people appeared to be friendly enough, with a smile here and there. I had never seen so many people in my life. I was in awe!
While I had taken provisions and a good horse, money was another matter. I thought the saloon was as good a place as any to ask about a job. I was so hungry, I felt my innards were about to bust out. Also, I had no place to stay the night. I got off my horse and tied it to the hitch-rail. I walked into the saloon, the swinging wooden doors hitting me as I went in. I heard snickers from the table closest to the door. Troublemakers was what they were. I ignored them and decided that my growling stomach was more important than retaliation. I walked up to the bartender and asked, “Mister, you know anyone that’s hiring around here?”
He replied, “Son, you better get out of here. Those boys back there are looking for trouble. They already have an eye on you and have marked you as the target for their games.” I looked back and sure enough they were already making their way towards the bar. As soon as they reached the bar they surrounded me. The one that was acting as their leader pushed me and said, “I hear you are looking for work. Well, we have a job for you. All you have to do is beg for it.”
I knew they were not serious. They just wanted to mess with me. I tried to not mind them. But, like I said before, trouble seemed to always follow me around and it had found me. All I had wanted was a good meal and a place to stay! I guess that was not happening! When was lady luck going to show her face? I said, “Look, I ain’t looking for trouble here. I was just leaving.”
The bartender said, “Boys, just let the fellow go.”
Of course they didn’t listen to him. All of them ganged up on me and threw me through the swinging doors. I fell on the ground and was about to get up, when I looked up and saw an angel’s face. I thought I had hit my head really hard and was having some kind of vision. Because that’s what she looked like to me – a vision! The sun was hitting her hair at an angle and it looked like spun gold. Her eyes were the color of the purest blue. That’s what had made me think of an angel. Because when I had looked into her eyes I had thought of heaven.
She extended her hand towards me and said, “Hello? Are you alright? I overheard you asking for a job? I think I can help you there. My name is Emily. My uncle and aunt are looking for someone to help them at their general store.”
Hallelujah! Lady luck had finally decided to make an appearance! I wanted to go back to the saloon and rescue my dignity and balls. But looking at this angel of mercy made my mind up for me. She helped me up. I thanked her and cleaned myself up as best as I could. We headed down the street towards the general store. I felt very proud to escort Emily down the street to her aunt and uncle’s place. Emily and I walked into the general store. I have to admit I was nervous and scared. I was not used kindness from folks. This was all new to me.
What I saw almost blew my boots off! This was my first time in a place like this! This was the most amazing place and with such a variety of things to eat. I don’t believe I had ever been to such a place where they sold so many things! Then I looked at the food and my stomach started to protest. I felt a bit embarrassed about that in front of Emily. I sure was hungry! The little food I had taken when I left home had kept me for a couple of days. I had eaten whatever fruits and berries I found and had also had trapped a few squirrels that were good eats. We approached the counter where Emily’s aunt and uncle were helping some customers. They looked like nice folks, but I had thought that of my adoptive parents. Boy, had I been wrong about that!
Mr. Walker, Emily’s uncle said, “Emily, dear? Who do you have with you?”
Emily told them about the trouble I had had at the saloon and that I was looking for a job and a place to stay.
He asked me, “Son, where are you coming from?”
I felt a bit intimidated by him. I had not been around too many people in my life. I told him I had come a few weeks’ ride south from here. Then I said, “Listen Mister, I’m hungry and need a place to stay and I’ll work for it”.
He answered, “My wife and I have been looking for some help with the store and you are a godsend!”
It had been a long time since I had heard any kind of praise from anyone and it sure made me feel good. He suggested that, if I didn’t mind, I could stay out in the back store-room. If I didn’t mind? I was grateful for the offer and the trust! And it sure beat sleeping in a barn full of animals as I had been doing before, while living with my adoptive parents. That night I had supper with Emily and her uncle and aunt. I finally felt like part of a real family. I would try my darndest to not let these people down.
When Emily and I were grown up a bit, we fell in love and married. When her aunt and uncle passed on they left us the general store. We raised our four children with love. My life had come to the end of the road and my distant future was sure looking bright.
BIO:Sonia Segura is a wife and proud mother of four. She is at heart a Texan but currently resides in the state of New Mexico where clear blue skies and rich history are an inspiration for this story. She has had several stories published and has a million more just waiting to be put on paper.
In “Lip Service,” Adaobi Nwoye leads a fascinating exploration into the minds and true convictions of seemingly devout churchgoers. As we watch a mass through the eyes of an observing angel, the facades of intent worship—behind which many conceal their religious indifference and materialistic preoccupations—are pulled down. This story calls the sincerity of prayers that are only products of routine piety into question. What becomes of a religion when all its flesh and blood fall away, when all that is left are empty bones?
One day Father called me into his Chamber. “You have been so faithful to me, child,” He said. You make me happy, just like your colleagues here. But my children nearly always make me cry. I sometimes wonder why I bother with them. Only a crop of them is true to me.”
“But Father,” I replied, “Can you really say that? About ninety percent of your children are very passionate about you, and everyday many more come back home.”
“That’s what you think,” He said sadly. “That’s what they make you believe. I’m so good to them and sometimes go the extra mile just to make them happy. All I ask for is some loyalty and love in return. Is that too much to ask after all the wonderful things I do for them?”
He clearly looked sad. I didn’t know what to say. Father was a great guy. He was completely besotted with all his Children. Sometimes he publicly praised some of them. He would not stop talking about how faithful and worthy a particular son or daughter was. However, something that baffled me was that Father seemed to show more love to a child whom he said was recalcitrant. I know how many times some of his children who seldom call him would scream his name when they got into trouble and Father would rally some of my colleagues and I to their aid instantly. The moment such a child got what they wanted, they would go about telling people what a great dad Father was. They would frequent Father’s house for a day or two and that would be it.
“Father,” I said, “I know how you feel considering how much you love these children. And I know you spoil them with attention. But maybe you expect too much in return. I feel that ninety nine percent of your children are crazy about you and do what you tell them.”
“All make belief, my dear.”
I was confused and Father knew. He knew everything. That was Father.
“You don’t understand but I’ll show you something now. Take a look at this,” He said, pointing in the direction of his footstool. I surged forward and craned my neck in the direction of Father’s fingers.
“That’s what I say, Father,” I exclaimed. “Ninety nine percent of your children are out there singing your praises, talking about your goodness and all.”
“That’s how it appears , but I know these people more than you do because they are my children. I tell you, of all these children calling out my name, only a little percentage actually mean it.”
Who was I to argue with Father? I was only a messenger. He still valued his children more than me. Though some of his children asked me to talk to Father on their behalf.
“Come and have a closer look here,” Father said, punctuating my thoughts.
I drew closer and smiled. Father’s children were distributed in cliques. Father was just an enigma. All these children looked different but they all resembled him. I don’t know how he does it. Well, I know that Father’s beloved who is by His side all the time, even now, once lived on earth. Father is so crazy about His Beloved, yet it was this mad love for his children on earth that made him send his beloved down there to reconcile them with him. His Beloved went on that errand and succeeded to an extent. He had a great friend Peter, also Father’s son, whom he asked to continue His work. And so Peter started the clique. Some of Father’s children joined the clique eventually. As time went on however, some pulled out and started their own cliques. And now, as I sat with Father watching, there were millions and millions of cliques all calling on Father. But Father said most of them were not actually calling on him.
Anyway, the clique that Father showed me was the oldest. They called themselves Catholics. They were scattered around different parts of earth and they were reading from the same books of the bible, Father’s manual. The readings and proceedings were exactly the same all around the earth. I wondered what else Father wanted. These people as far as I could see were loyal to him.
“Come this way,” Father said.
I obeyed. Father was showing me a smaller group, all black. Yes, Father’s children were an assortment of colours. Or races, if you like.
“I’m sending you down there. These are my children in a small town in the eastern part of Nigeria. I’m giving you the privilege of going through the minds of each and every one of these children of mine so that you’ll have a wee bit of what I’ve been dealing with.”
“All right Father,” I said and in a second I was in a certain catholic church.
I was in time for the gospel reading. Father Mathew got on the pulpit and began as the congregation rose.
“The lord be with you.” He intoned.
“And also with you,” the congregation chanted in reply.
“A reading from the holy Gospel according to John…”
“Glory be to you, Lord…”The congregation chanted.
Glory be to you Lord! Was I dreaming or did I just imagine it? I had sailed through seventy percent of the congregation and not one person actually gave glory to Father when they chanted that phrase. Was this real? In utter shock I watched Father Mathew read the ten verse gospel. Those three minutes I have come to conclude, are one of the longest and most eventful three minutes I have ever experienced since the day I found myself under Father’s employ. The experience I gathered from that encounter has left me with much more love and respect for Father. And I have also come to the conclusion again that no other being can love like Father. How can Father be so familiar with what I saw in just an infinitesimal fraction of his children and still love them so desperately, so passionately, so unconditionally?
While father Mathew started reading I slipped into one of the mass servers, who held a candle beside him. He looked like somewhat like me: angelic. So pious and genuine. And holy. But in spite of the fact that he was standing right beside Father Mathew, his mind was in the parish house kitchen, beside the hot pot of jollof rice that would be served for lunch that afternoon. His mouth watered, only the physical eyes could not see it. I slipped out in shame and penetrated the mind of a young woman who sat beside her husband. Her mind was busy in soliloquy. ‘Does it mean that Okoro will not give me the thirty thousand naira to buy the wrappers I demanded concerning the forth coming August meeting? No. He will kill me first….’ I moved on to her husband. He too was engaged in soliloquy, like most of the other worshipers I would soon discover. I found his mind in a place I discovered was the Government house. ‘Can it be that the Chief of staff did not give that proposal to the governor as he promised? That would be very unfair of him. I really need that contract. How else am I supposed to raise the children’s school fees for this term? It’s already end of July, very soon it will be August and then September, and the children will have to go back to school.’ He stole a glance at his wife then and returned to his thoughts. ‘And all this foolish woman can think of is money for wrapper…’ I slipped out and moved into a man who was looking very intently at Father Mathew. He looked as though he were listening with rapt attention. I discovered he was a knight of the church and the chairman of the pastoral council. But he was thinking thus: ‘Just see how rotund this priest that was posted here barely a year ago has become. He is just feeding fat out of our pockets. In fact we need to do something about this priest. He doesn’t even have any respect for the council. Well, what does it cost, just a petition to the bishop will do the job….”
I was sweating with disbelief. What was going on here? I slipped into a balding man who looked disinterested in the gospel. As I guessed, his facial expression mirrored his mind. ‘I should be resting now after a very tiring week, but this sanctimonious wife of mine will not let a man have a little rest. Couldn’t she have interceded for me? Did I have to come here? Women! See how engrossed she is. Well, thank God I have a devout wife.’ I turned in the direction of his wife and she was engrossed indeed, admiring the pair of black shoes that a woman beside her was wearing, wondering how much the shoes might have cost and wishing she could own a pair as well!
I shook my head and slipped into another woman, the president of the Catholic Women Organization. I followed her mind through four different car shops and actually got on a ride inside a grey Honda Element she had dreams of someday owning. ‘Perhaps Ebele can convince her husband to buy this car for me so that Mrs. Obi and the rest of the CWO will know that we are not on the same level.’
The Catechist was thinking about the visit he intended to pay to the rector of a polytechnic on Monday morning to grant admission to his second son. He was hoping that his wife would augment the money he had saved up for that purpose, though he had doubts. ‘Stingy woman. All she does with her money is buy pancake and lipstick. Does she think she can cheat nature?’
I moved on to a man in his mid forties. I found his mind in a room beside a younger woman. He was calling her name, Nkechi, and making love to her over and over again. I looked about him. His wife was seated by his side. Her name was not Nkechi. And Father Mathew was still reading the gospel. Was Father looking?
Another man, the chairman of the Men’s League was thinking, ‘Father finish this reading please let me see if I can take a nap during the homily.’
I couldn’t take this anymore. I needed a little respite so I decided to return to the alter where another priest, who was expected to deliver the homily or sermon after Father Mathew finished reading the gospel was sitting. At least here was one true child of Father who was willing to be refreshed again. That was what Father’s words did. Refresh, revive, renew. Alas, the priest was thinking, ‘Why do we even have to be celibate?’ I ran out at once. I had passed through ninety percent of the congregation and not one single person was truly listening to the gospel. I was about leaving when I heard Father Mathew say, “This is the word of the Lord.” Lo and behold, all these members of the congregation whose minds were in different parts of the world while Father Mathew read the gospel returned from their various sojourns to respond in unison, “Thanks be to God!”
I bowed my head in shame and wept for Father on my way home. It didn’t matter if the remaining ten percent were genuine. I was already disappointed enough. No wonder, I overheard Father’s beloved say some time ago, “These people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
BIO: Adaobi Nwoye is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories. She holds a Bachelor and Masters degree in Education from the University of PortHarcourt Nigeria. She is married with children.
Waning of the Sanguine Humor
“Waning of the Sanguine Humor” reads like a window into the narrator’s life. I have a clear sense of her—of her past, of the hole her father’s absence leaves in her life, the grief that prevents her from finding the love to fill it. Her thoughts and memories flow as smoothly as the river mentioned at the start of the story. Afterwards, I am left with an image of the faithful dog, curled up under a desk waiting for something that she doesn’t know will never come. Just as, perhaps, the narrator waits for her river of grief to dry up, all the while clinging to the mantra “keep writing,” as if it were the only thing keeping her afloat.
I refused to leave your bed until I was warm again. I wrapped my legs around yours, borrowing your body heat, and waited for the blood to run warm again in my feet. We had gone swimming at midnight in the river. It was late in August and the water was as warm as it was ever going to be, but it was still too cold to be refreshing, and was mostly just a shock. You invited me out, even though you knew I still couldn’t find my bikini top in the mess of stuff I moved back home with me. You came back to our hometown just for a visit. I came home because I couldn’t hack it anywhere else after my father died.
I passed by a book on the dining room table on my way out. I stopped and turned it over with hands that were still red and clumsy from staying too long in the swimming hole with you. It was a medical book, called “Blood,” and your father’s name was on the spine. I had no idea he had published anything. You gave up on being published. You gave up on being a poet. Now you’re going to be a doctor too, of sorts. You say you will go back to writing, but only after you’re done with your Ph.D. But you tell me not to give up. You tell me I should keep writing, that I should stay with it.
At the door, I look to you to say good night. I still have the taste of your love on the roof of my mouth. You say this might be goodbye for good; you are going back to your city and your life and your Ph.D. and you might not have a chance to see me before you go.
“I’m sorry,” you say, “I should have said something sooner.” But you didn’t. You always find a way to disappoint me. “Are you mad?” you ask.
“A little,” I admit. You and your fucking intuition. You always know what I’m feeling. That’s why I want to love you. But I just can’t. I have nothing left to love you with anyway. The death of my father washed it all away. Your sudden goodbye throws me back to that moment when I first knew loss. I have to look away from you. I don’t want you to see the familiar tide of grief flood over me.
“You’re doing this now,” they said to me when Dad began to die. “Say goodbye now. You have two weeks, tops. You have three days. You have twenty four hours. Stay close. Tell him what you have to say.” But the only things that came to mind were so obvious that they went without saying. He was supposed to stay. He was supposed to be here. He’s going to miss everything that comes after this that matters. I stroked his fingertips. His nail beds were turning blue as the blood retreated to his failing heart.
“Oh, Daddy,” I finally said to him after he was gone. “You missed Cora’s birthday.” The dog turned ten the day after he died.
I remember when we first brought Cora home. He came outside to meet her. I had wrapped her up in my coat and was holding her close to my chest. Her puppy fur was still soft and too thin for December. “Hello there, Cora,” Dad said to her. She looked up at him with those puppy eyes he would never be able to resist, even when he was too tired to take her out for her walk. She used to curl up underneath his desk to be with him when he wrote his poetry for hours on end. When he was gone, Cora missed him. She still sits under his desk, waiting for him to come back there. It’s the only place she knows where to look for him.
I sit down at his old desk, with Cora at my feet, to write, like you told me to do. I write because there is nothing else I can do about any of it. There is nothing for you and me but to stay apart, to become the people we hoped we could be, when we were young enough for hope. I write stories instead of poetry. I write stories instead of writing letters to the people who have gone away. I write about things that were once there and that are there no longer. And I write about the man who was once a boy I knew, who came back and left me all over again.
BIO: Kerina Pharr grew up in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Skidmore College, with a major in American Studies and a minor in Spanish. Kerina was recently invited to read her short story submission at the 2010 Mixed Roots Literary & Film Festival in Los Angeles. Prior to this event she participated in a reading of fantastical and science fiction at The Cell Theater in New York City. Her genres include creative nonfiction, flash fiction, and speculative fiction. She is currently working on her first novel, tentatively titled City Upon a Hill, about a dystopian future society.