The following is in response to a short fiction writing challenge posted by Fractured Faith Blog. I changed some little details to make it fit a ‘Middle of America’/ small town setting; instead of somewhere in Europe. Hope that’s ok!
“What’s happened to Bruce, anyway?” Harley wondered aloud as he grunted the rubber off the tire rim.
Paul shrugged his shoulders, his greased stained coveralls lifting up above his ankle high workbooks. “Dunno. But he doesn’t drink anymore. At all. Not a drop. The other night shooting pool at Bobbie’s Place he went through a whole pack of mints. Every time I asked him if he wanted a drink he said he just put a mint in. Asked me if I wanted one.”
“He’s just been so different lately. Doesn’t joke around anymore. Doesn’t drink. This morning I saw him filling gas at the Circle K in Frankfurt. Weird. Why didn’t he fill here at my station, where he always does, and where he has an account? And he was buying a 24 pack of Diet Coke, too, after he filled gas, I saw him walk out with it. Didn’t mean to be watching him or anything like that, but, you know, he’s been acting so weird lately that I slowed down as I drove through Frankfurt–after I saw his truck parked at the Circle K. Since when does he drink Diet Coke? He has drank only Pepsi for twenty years. And his mother doesn’t touch any of that stuff. Who was the Diet Coke for?”
Paul shrugged again. Shook his head. Pulled a tooth pick from the front pocket of his overalls and started to pick at his teeth. Harley sealed the tire and started to put it back on Paul’s flatbed trailer. Harley changed the subject: “You hear about Widow Glanders?”
Paul laughed. “About fell over when I heard. Can’t believe she got herself a boyfriend now. Twenty years younger than she is!”
Bruce parked his truck outside the rehab center, and prayed. The sprawling building used to be a hospital. Recently it had been converted to a sort of halfway house for people with serious health issues but in too good of shape to require full time nursing care.
“Father God, open doors and give me courage.” Bruce started to cross himself but then stopped. He had decided not to be Catholic anymore. A few months ago, he’d found himself prostate on the floor of his bathroom crying out for answers. And they came. All at once. He just knew. And he’d never again be Catholic. He was born again.
But he didn’t know how to tell anyone. He had finally told his Mom about it last week. Ever since then he couldn’t stop sweating, or chewing on breath mints. She hadn’t said too much. But he knew she was mad. His cousin had quit being catholic a few years ago, even had dropped out of the nunnery–only a few months short of it being official. Bruce’s Mom talked about it all the time. Said she was glad it wasn’t her daughter who’d done that.
Once inside the rehab center, Bruce knocked on Esther’s door. A weak voice said ‘Come In.’
He asked her if she remembered what they talked about last week; about how Mary doesn’t save; Jesus saves. Esther nodded.
“Do you want to say the Our Father with me?”
She nodded again.
They started to recite it together. “Our Father, who art in heaven…’
Bruce heard raised voices. He stopped praying to listen. Several nurses were gathered in Dennis’s room, across the hall. Their tone was heated.
“You know you aren’t supposed to have that anymore! You have a chronic bladder disease! Who has been bringing you Diet Coke?”
Bruce shoved the twenty four pack of Diet Coke under Esther’s bed. Her eyes were still closed, lips mumbling, forgive us our trespasses, Bruce joined her, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.”