ACM C. S. Lewis First Prize Writing Contest Award to David Sable
|September 16, 2012||Posted by webmaster under 2012 Winners, anthology|
The Athanatos Christian Ministries
C.S. Lewis Award
Deep Gap, GA
(19 and Up Category)
A math major in the computer science field, David Sable gave himself permission to write while approaching forty. Since then, he has dabbled with a newspaper column, won a honorable mention for article with the Amy Foundation and third place for short story with Athanatos Christian Ministry. In 2012 he was awarded first prize in the short story contest with Athanatos Christian Ministry. Writing fiction is a terrific means to explore how the propositional truths of Christianity work themselves out in the spiritual lives of people. David has two grown boys and lives in North Carolina with his wife Loretta, a dog, a cat, and some useless chickens.
The God of Oscar’s Misunderstanding
By David Sable
All Rights Reserved
Oscar smiled as he threw the notebook into the fire. He breathed out a sigh and relaxed his shoulders. “It’s done,” he said softly as the flames began to catch the green cover and consume the pages, “It’s over.”
His feet were light as he walked towards the house. He hummed a silly tune with a silly rhyme. He was going to sleep good tonight.
Oscar’s cell phone rang. “Oh, jeez,” he said as he pulled it out to silence it, looked at the number and weighed his options. Puzzled, he answered.
“Oscar, get over here.”
“You’re not done. Get over here now.”
“Look, Auggie, I’m through.”
“You’re not through. You know you’re not through.”
“I’m through. What do you mean I’m not through?”
“Just get over here. Now.”
Oscar continued listening, but the cell phone went dead. He kicked a rock off to the side. He started walking towards Auggie’s office. In the alley, Oscar kicked another rock. Then he picked one up and threw it against the back of a brick building as he trudged down the alleyway. He made his way through the back door of a nondescript office building. He took the stairs two at a time, wanting to get this visit over with. He walked down the hall directly in to the office of August Federman, Financial Services. Behind an empty reception desk was Auggie’s office. Oscar walked in without knocking.
“I’m through, Auggie,” said Oscar. Auggie looked up from his reading and looked sternly at Oscar.
“You’re, through huh?” said Auggie.
“Yeah, I mean it. Maybelle is happy. My life is good. I’m not doin’ the booze no more. I’m out.”
“I see,” said Auggie closing his reading, standing up and walking around the desk. “You’re out. You’re done.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“No more of this stuff because it’s time to walk the straight and narrow.”
“I mean it, Auggie. I’m done.”
“Yeah, I’m done.”
Auggie picked up the notebook from his desk and moved closer. Oscar backed up but found the door had swung shut. “Let me ask you a question, Mr. Done and Finished.”
“What?” asked Oscar as he reached for the door knob, but with his back to the door and Auggie’s face in his, he had nowhere to move.
“What do you mean by out?”
“What the hell, Auggie?”
Oscar felt Auggie’s grip tighten on his shirt.
“It’s a simple question,” said Auggie. “Just trying to figure what you mean by out.”
“Stop it, Auggie. What do you want, anyway?”
Auggie thrust the corner of the notebook into Oscar’s cheek. “Does out mean you write a full confession of the job in a damn notebook?”
“And you leave the notebook in the outside corridor for anyone to pick up and read?”
“And what I don’t understand is why you didn’t just pop it into an envelope and send it to the police so we can spend the next thirty years in our prison garb picking up trash along the highway.”
“But I burned it. It’s gone.”
Auggie pulled Oscar forward and threw him against the door. Oscar fell to his knees. Auggie swiped him with the notebook shouting, “You burned it? You burned it? What the hell is this then?”
Oscar pushed forward and ran to the other side of the office. “Stop it, Auggie. Stop it,” he said, his arms up ready to defend himself.
Auggie looked at him with cold eyes.
“I didn’t. I mean I’m not. I mean. Just sit down. Just sit.”
Auggie stared at him, cursed, tossed the notebook on the desk and walked around to sit in his chair. Oscar slowly moved to a guest chair and sat down. He picked the notebook up off the desk, opened it and stared in astonishment.
“Why would you even write this stuff down?” asked Auggie, running his hand through his hair, “Don’t you know what a rap this is? Maybe you want to confess to the police but listen, I sure as hell don’t . . .”
“I swear I burned this.”
“This is your handwriting, right?”
“Yeah but I didn’t confess to the police or nothing.”
“That don’t make it much better but it’s a start.”
“It’s for my alcoholics group.”
“Your what?” asked Auggie as he began to stand up.
“No, no, wait, Auggie. Nobody knows nothing.”
Auggie sat down with a sigh. “OK, talk.”
“Well, in this group I go to for alcohol, they say to get rid of your demons and everything you need to write down all the things that tick you off and all of the things you did wrong.”
“So you wrote it down.”
“Yes, to get over alcohol. And then you read it to somebody.”
“You what? Who? “
“No, nobody knows. You see, the guy I read to, well, he says not to share anything with him that might be illegal. That way he’s never in a position where he has to hide anything. So I skipped that part about what we did.”
“So nobody knows about the job?”
“No, no, Auggie. Of course not. I’m not an idiot.”
Auggie’s eyes narrowed and his hand trembled slightly. “And this is the only copy?”
“Well, yeah. It has to be.”
“Is it or isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I only made one copy. But I burned it. I don’t know how this got here.”
“So this is the only copy?”
“Yeah. I know I only made one copy. No more.”
Auggie sat in silence. ”Jeez. You are an idiot. A damn idiot.”
Oscar stood to leave clutching the notebook. “I will get rid of this,” he said. “I will burn it and there will be no more problems.”
Auggie sighed. “You don’t do anything until this is gone. Understand?”
“Yes, Auggie,” said Oscar opening the door. “I’m doing it right now.”
Oscar walked swiftly, holding the notebook with both hands as he backtracked the route to his house. He went directly to the back yard where the bar-b-que was still warm from the last fire. He stuck a piece of wood on the bottom and the notebook on top. He took a bottle of lighter fluid and drenched the pages of the green notebook, making sure all the pages were coated. He picked up a matchbook, tore off a match, struck it, lit the edge of the notebook and watched as the flames devoured the writing. He took a stick and poked and stirred, making sure that every page, every word and every action was consumed.
“OK,” he said to himself, wiping his forehead with handkerchief in a shaky hand. “It’s done.”
He didn’t know how long he had been there watching the fire burn down. It was dark. He tossed the stick aside, took a few wayward steps to get his bearings and walked towards the house. He had just dodged a bullet and felt a sense of relief knowing that the bullet was never coming back. He thought maybe he would take Maybelle to her church. Behind the singing and the reciting and the moralizing, it couldn’t be too different from the god of his own understanding. Religion is a good thing because it makes things work out for good in the end.
By the time he entered the house, he was humming again. He flipped on the dim stove light and tossed his keys on the counter. He turned on the hot water pot. He would surprise Maybelle with a cup of cocoa. When the water boiled, he poured it over the powder. Then he surrounded the top of the cup with whipped cream, giving an extra sprig from the aerosol can. He found some chocolate syrup and sketched a crooked happy-face on the top of the cream and topped it off with some sprinkles that bounced off the mountain of cream onto the saucer plate below.
Oscar carefully carried the cup of cocoa on the saucer across the room and down the hall to the bedroom. He saw the bedroom light on under the crack in the door and slowly began to open the door. ”Maybelle,” he said. “I have a surprise for you.” He extended his offering forward and smiled sweetly.
Maybelle stood across the room, her gaze steely beneath hair tightly wound in curls and above a faded pink mountain of tattered and stained, flowery nightgown. Her eyes grew narrow as she reached for a cup and screamed, “You bastard!”
He turned his shoulder to deflect the glass and barely got the cocoa onto the table as the whipped cream sloshed over the side onto the saucer. He looked across the room and saw tightly bound in her small pudgy hands was the green notebook.
“Maybelle, no,” said Oscar as she charged across the room.
“How could you?” cried Maybelle, clenching the notebook with both hands and hitting Oscar as he cowered in the corner.
“Maybelle,” stammered Oscar. “Sweetheart.”
Oscar batted the notebook out of Maybelle’s hands and it landed on the floor. Oscar grabbed it and said, “Baby, this is all done. I don’t do these things anymore. I’m different.”
“Out!” cried Maybelle, swinging her hands and kicking into the air trying to hit Oscar. “Get out!”
Oscar ran back down the hallway through the kitchen and to the back porch. He opened the notebook, flipped through it and saw all of his confessions just as he wrote them out. ”God damn to hell,” he said as he went out the back door and slammed it. He cursed his way to his bar-be-que and threw in three pieces of wood. He slammed the notebook on top, shaking the bar-be-que. He drenched the structure with the remainder of his lighter fluid and hurled the empty can over the back fence into the alley. He then went to his shed and brought out a can of gasoline and drenched the notebook. He threw in a lighted match and watched it all go up in a ball of fire. The heat radiated off his sweaty face as he backed up until he hit the wall and slumped down to the ground.
“Get away from me, damn you,” he said. “Get the hell away from me.”
He did not know how long he sat slumped against the wall but the fire had become glowing embers. He got up and stirred through the ashes and said, “I burned it. It’s gone.”
Dusting himself off, he started walking towards the house. He stopped suddenly and then went out towards the front of the house and began walking to downtown. Evening shoppers were out on Main Street as he walked past the stores under the dawning awareness that he had no place to go. He scanned the boulevard and then crossed the street to a diner. He walked inside and sat down at the first booth.
The cook came out from the kitchen, grabbed a menu and handed it to Oscar.
“I’m not hungry,” said Oscar waving off the menu. “Just coffee.”
“You no eat? You no booth,” said the cook sharply.
“Look, I’m not hungry. I just need to clear my head. OK? All I want is coffee.”
“No eat. No booth. You go now.”
“Why, you . . .” started Oscar. He looked around the diner filled with empty booths except for an elderly man on the other end. ”I guess it’s your friendly service that’s packing them in here.”
The cook stared at Oscar stoically.
“All right, fine,” said Oscar. “Give me a hamburger.”
“How you want cooked?” asked the cook.
“On the damn grill. And get me some coffee.”
The cook walked behind the counter and returned with a coffee mug and pot. He set the cup down and filled it up from the pot. He judicially pulled out one creamer and set it on the table, looked sternly at Oscar and walked back to the kitchen.
“Keep your precious cream,” Oscar said flipping it to the other side of the table. “I drink it black.”
Oscar watched the cook as he went back into the kitchen and started cooking the hamburger. He stared as the cook worked behind the service window until the cook looked up and their eyes met. Oscar, not losing his gaze, picked up the sugar container and defiantly poured sugar into his coffee for several seconds. He set the sugar down with a bang and smirked. The cook scowled.
Oscar turned away and sipped his coffee. The sweetness caused him to cringe so he set it down, noticing the soot from the fire on his hands. He got up and walked across the diner by the empty booths and the elderly man and entered the restroom. He turned on the tap and rubbed his hands with soap, watching the soot wash down the drain. He looked up at the mirror and saw himself staring back.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked noticing himself as if for the first time. “You burned the same notebook three times. What the hell is going on?”
He rinsed the soap off his hands and reached for a paper towel. He stopped suddenly as he pulled off the towel, the water still running in the sink. The elderly man in the diner flashed into Oscar’s mind.
“No,” said Oscar, crumpling the towel. ”No!” said Oscar, throwing the towel towards the trash with all his might.
Oscar opened the bathroom door and peered around the corner. In the booth was the elderly man reading a green notebook.
“Steady,” said Oscar to himself. ”Don’t react. There are thousands of notebooks just like this one.”
Oscar casually walked back towards his booth. He walked past the elderly man and then slowly turned around. He peered over the shoulder of the reader and looked. Oscar saw his handwriting. His sentences. His life. In one motion, Oscar thrust himself down on the booth and slid in harshly, pinning the man to the inside of the booth. Oscar picked up a butter knife with one hand, grabbed the man’s collar with the other and held the knife to the man’s throat, hissing, “Where did you get this?”
“Why hello, Oscar,” said the man. “I was hoping we could talk.”
“Who are you?” said Oscar waving the butter knife in the man’s face. “What are you doing to me?”
“Do you suppose you could set down this utensil so we could have an uninhibited conversation?”
Oscar looked at the knife pointing at the man’s throat. He could feel his heart racing and his chest heaving. He slowly lowered the knife and set it on the table.
“Talk,” said Oscar.
“Good,” said the man. “Would you like to get your food and coffee and bring it over here?”
“Very well,” said the man taking a deep breath. “You do know you are responsible for all this.”
“It stems from our confusion, you see. Our misunderstanding. I do hope we can clear this up.”
“I don’t even know who the hell you are.”
“When it comes down to it, you created me.”
“I created you?”
“In your alcohol program you’re always talking about the god of your own understanding. People like you are always so surprised when this god they think they understand actually shows up and begins to manifest himself in their lives.”
“What? So you’re trying to tell me this is all in my head?”
“Oh goodness, no. It’s all very real. In fact I think that is what surprises people the most – just how real their dealing with a higher power really is. People love to trifle with conceptual thoughts of the divine as it suits them. They just never really expect these thoughts to take on flesh, obey laws of reason and interrupt their daily lives.”
Oscar suddenly realized how drained he was. He stared off into the distance thinking about the activities of the day. Suddenly realizing what was at hand he said, “The notebooks. Where are these notebooks coming from?”
“Oh, yes, the notebook. That really sums up the matter I think. I have been reading all about the heist, as you put it. The deception, the greed, the secrecy – even the murder that covered it all up. Not to mention the continual adultery and dishonesty in your life.”
“Look, give me that notebook. If you breathe a word of this I swear that I’ll take you and . . .”
“Don’t be alarmed. In fact, the way I read this is that you want the opposite. You want forgiveness. You want all of this to go away. You want your past indiscretions to disappear and be forgotten. Poof!”
“Yeah. That’s the way it going to be.”
“Well, good. That was easy enough.”
“Sure, you want it more complicated?”
“No, I . . . “
“But look here. I was reading this other part,” said the elderly man flipping through the notebook. “About your father.”
“What about my father?”
“You use some very harsh language here.”
“Do you have any idea what my father did to me?”
“You have it pretty well documented here. The point is, Oscar . . .”
“He leaves me frozen in a car all night while he is inside the bar getting drunk on his ass.”
“Yes, terrible. But it seems like you want me to keep holding on to this.”
“I was seven. It was freezing out. What was I to do? That bastard.”
“Yes, but that was many years ago and it seems to me that . . .”
“Is it OK? Are you saying that it was OK?”
“No, it wasn’t OK, Oscar. But you want his sins to keep coming back. You want them to always reappear and never be forgotten.”
“I want him to rot in hell. That’s what I want.”
“But Oscar, don’t you see? That is the crux of my confusion. Do you want me to be a god that fulfills your expectation for justice and rightness by setting things proper and shining a perpetual light of condemnation upon the evil deeds? Or do you want me to be a god of gracious forgiveness that hides wrongdoing, covers sins, and always gives another chance? How do you understand my role, Oscar?”
“Look, buddy. My life is in the toilet right now. These notebooks are screwing up everything and all I want is for them to stop. You got it?”
“But it is these very notebooks that express my dilemma. You are asking me to be a god of justice on the one hand and then to be the justifier on the other. I’m trying to get you to think about how that works. We can’t live in two realities. Something has to intervene.”
“You know what your problem is? You think too much! And you continue to sit there with all this heady philosophical crap and you haven’t done a single thing to solve my problem. You are wasting my time with your rambling.”
“Oscar, listen. This is not mere trifling. This dilemma has captivated the hearts of the best religious minds of the western intellectual tradition for thousands of years. You just haven’t thought very deeply about it.”
“Look,” said Oscar picking up the notebook and waving it in the elderly man’s face. “This is how it is going to be. This notebook. They are going to stop. This is the last one. End of story. You got that?”
“Yes, I hear what you are saying, but . . .”
“Look, I’m tired of all this crap. I want it to be done with and done with now. I think I still have a chance to have a life back if you don’t keep trying to screw it up. Is that clear or do I have to make things rough for you?”
“No,” said the elderly man. “It’s clear. I just . . .”
“I just don’t know how this is going to work out for you.”
Oscar grabbed the notebook and huffed out of the booth. He walked down the aisle and slammed the door on the way out. He walked at a steady pace towards nowhere, his gaze set ahead.
“Help,” cried a voice behind him, “Police. That man! He thief! He no pay! He eat and no pay!”
“Oh, jeez,” said Oscar turning around to walk back. Running feet came from behind and two hands grabbed him by the arms. The notebook flew forward onto the ground.
“Hey, it’s nothing,” said Oscar. “I just got into a fight with someone and walked out and forgot to pay. It’s OK. I’m going back.”
Before him a second policemen had picked up the green notebook and was reading it.
“Hey,” said Oscar, “That’s private!”
“Oh my God,” said the policeman, his eyes astonished as he read. “The Zenger Building Robbery. It’s all here!”
“Hey! Give that back!” said Oscar. “That’s mine. You have no right.”
“And where you hid the money. And Calloway! You killed Calloway!”
“No, no. That notebook is nothing. It’s all made up. It’s gone. I burned it. Give it back.”
The first policeman from behind handcuffed Oscar, led him to the patrol car and said, “We’ve been looking for this for a long time.”
“No!” cried Oscar as they set him down into the seat. “It’s not fair! Don’t you see? It’s not fair!”