NaNoWriMo, Part I
I have a tentative title for the piece. It's called When Jesus Came to Red Mule
And this is the first little bit, written this morning.
Chapter 1 is called: The Canning of Reverend Raymond Saffles
When the congregation of the Southern Home Reformed Baptist Church found out of the relationship between the Reverend Raymond Saffles and Lacey Duttweiler, it became more than apparent that the most dangerous place in the world to be was between a congregation and its righteous indignation.
Perhaps not since the early parts of the 20th century, when running a man out of town on a rail was the quickest and most convenient method of disposing of unwanted political machinery, had the separation of a man from his vocation, livelihood and home been so complete and cauterizing. And events that began to unfold on that Sunday in October had unfolded upon themselves to lay the roadmap out of town flat for Raymond Saffles by late Wednesday evening, just after the Wednesday night prayer service, but before the evening pot luck in the Fellowship Hall.
It's difficult to say exactly when the turn of events began.
It could have been early in their marriage, when Raymond's wife Dorothea decided it was unbecoming of a pastor's wife to be a smoker. As it turns out, Dorothea's admittedly voracious cigarette and occasional cigar habit was the only thing keeping her teeter-totter metabolism in line. Many women, they say, blossom with marriage. Dorothea exploded, and became nearly thrice the woman she'd been when Raymond met her during a prayer meeting and protest against the Jack Rabbit market on Route 419, which taken to selling the pornography. (Dorothea had come out of the store, cigarette in hand, not because she minded the protesters--it was making for her chance to watch Price is Right in peace, but because she took offense to Ophelia Snider's absent-minded tossing of used tissues onto the asphalt top. In the brief shoving match that followed, Raymond met Dorothea when he pulled the then slight woman off Ophelia Snider, taking special care to pick the rings up off the ground that had fallen off Dorothea's fingers, as she attempted to choke the life out of Ms. Snider.)
It might have been the pharmaceutical history of their daughter, Lorene, that spun the wheel in the direction that would ultimately send Raymond Saffles to the West. The Saffles' marriage begat one daughter, a small and seemingingly insignificant child who began a small love affair with permanent black magic markers one afternoon in junior high, just after Raymond was called away from helping her making posters for that year's Homecoming Parade to deal once again with the perpetually terminal Mitchell Jedson, who'd managed to come back from two bouts with cancer (skin and bowel), and was likely to succumb to the third (lung). "It's why you shouldn't smoke," Dorothea had warned Lorene, as she carried a plate of chess squares to her nest on the living room sofa. Lorene, who was secretly relieved she'd never have to hear Mitchell Jedson holler and mispronounce "Adeste Fidelis" this Christmas at the Cantata, nevertheless resented having her father leave her again for a man in bib overalls, lying on his death bed for the third time. The King Sized black magic marker, she found, didn't take the resentment away. It simply compartmentalized it in a way that allowed her to box it up and never have to deal with it.
From magic markers, Lorene graduated to paint, paint thinner, bathroom cleaner and gasoline. And it was showing up to that year's Christmas Cantata, during Mitchell Jedson's raspy, gaspy rendition of Adeste Fidelis, reeking of gasoline and brake fluid (nobody could ever quite figure that one out), that Raymond and Dorothea had decided to find Lorene help. Help came in the form of the Baptist Outreach 390 miles to the north, in Staples, Virginia. It was there that Lorene was cured of her chemical dependency, replaced with love for the headmaster of the program, who promptly married Lorene when she turned 16. The two, the last anybody had heard, were selling vacuum cleaners in Oklahoma, now.
The stress of sending a daughter away and having her marry at such a difficult age was not kind to Raymond, who had a lisp that became more pronounced under stress, and who added more than a few gray hairs during that tumultuous seven weeks. But while the stress was not kind to Raymond, it was downright cruel to Dorothea, whose psoriasis didn't flare so much as rage like a wild fire.
It was then that Raymond became unsure he loved his wife, not as she mowed her way through an Entenmenn's Raspberry Coffee Cake on the way home from the IGA, or as she picked at the flaking skin on her elbows and face, or even as the tuft of strawberry red hair came loose as she ran her fingers through it. It was her insistence that Raymond's absence had run her daughter to live with some "Injun feller" in Oklahoma, selling vacuum cleaners.
He parked the car in the driveway of the parsonage, a double-wide parked on the top of a small hill at the the back of the lot where the white clapboard church stood, on Route 9. Dorothea got out, and was about to tell Raymond to carry the groceries in. Ray had stepped out of the driver's seat, and saw his wife surveying the church. "Ray, how many souls do you think you've really saved? And was it really worth running out daughter out to Oklahoma to do it?"
Without realizing it, Dorothea had dragged the empty Entenmenn's Raspberry Coffee Cake container out of the car with her foot. She turned to head into the house, and slipped on the container, which was emptied except for just enough frosting to make it a slippery experience.
Yeah, when Raymond thought about it in later days, it might have been that moment: The moment when his wife, in one breath, had blamed his daughter's chemical dependency and disappearance, as well as questioned his motives and effectiveness as a shepherd of a flock. That might have been the turning point.
They say God works in mysterious ways. Raymond, about to say a curt word to his wife for the first time since he'd pulled much less of her off of Ophelia Snider some 17 years prior, watched as his wife went ass over elbows, and rolled, cursing, down the hill toward the church. Ray ran around the Chevy Corsica, just in time to see his wife make the final two revolutions of her journey, and come to rest at the tank that supplied Natural Gas to their home and the church. He figured if it weren't for that giant metal hot dog, she'd have rolled all the way to the back door the church. That sunny afternoon, he jogged down the hill to find Dorothea facing up the hill, and her toes pointed down.
"My back, Ray!" she said, almost conversationally. "I think it's broke."
Dorothea was paralyzed from the waist down. The parishioners had chipped in, and converted the parsonage so that it might be wheelchair accessible. There was a ceremony, perhaps the best attended church function since the congregation's inception, dedicating the ramp that made travelling to the door possible for Dorothea, who, if anything, seemed to be soaking in the adulation.
There was a second ceremony three days later, less well attended, after it was learned that a single sheet of plywood did not make a strong enough ramp for a woman of Dorothea's singular standing.
It was near this time that Raymond Saffles began spending more and more time in his office in the church. It was there that Raymond could work in quiet, and actually take a telephone call or two. Dorothea's confinement to her chair did little to impede her desire to communicate with the masses. Raymond had considered welding a holster for the cordless phone to the chair itself, until some find parishoner had been so kind as to bring his wife a Bluetooth. That was a fine afternoon, except for the point where Ray found his wife, sitting at the picture window, talking at length seemingly to the birds and the trees beyond, about where the daughter was, the difficulties of using the bathroom in her position, and how Ray actually seemed to resent the attention she was getting.
Ray was about to raise the roof over her discussing at loud, to herself these things, when she turned to face him. He saw the earbud, and was somewhat relieved, though he still wanted to correct the points that she had no problems going to the bathroom, as it was he who was changing her XXL Depends every three hours and he while he didn't know exactly what the opposite of "resentment" might be, he revelled in the fact that somebody had to talk to his wife, other than them.
It was at this time that Ray found the wonders of the Internet.
And through the internet, ultimately, he found the services of Lacey Duttweiler.
Ray spent most of his time on the World Wide Web doing one of two things: Working as a MOD on forum at SouthernMinisters.org, where he spent his time breaking flamewars between denominations up, reminding users about the 1 picture per 1 poster per 1 day rule, and taking down any posts that might be cribbed from another source (Thou Shalt Not Steal apparently not applying to ripping other people's materials off while trying to be top dog in the Religious Forum).
The other part of his time on the web was spent tracking down and charting baseball statistics, and comparing them against those listed on the back of a set of 1986 Topps baseball cards--a set he'd nearly completed when he was 16, a nearly complete set he'd saved from the trash during one of Dorothea's cleaning rampages.
Raymond could not say why he could take so much time pursuing such a trivial matter, but it seemed to center him. And in a world where so little centered him nowadays, he figured the Lord could forgive him for comparing Thad Bosley's statistics on his baseball card aginst those listed on the internet.
Very rarely was there a discrepency. Very. Rarely.
But when there was...oh my. It somehow made it worth all the while.
And it was during this venture, while searching for online statistics for Baltimore Orioles outfielder Lee Lacy (whose 1985 batting average was listed as .291 on his card, but .293 on the web--had he been credited with another hit since the card's printing?), that he happened across the website of miss Miss Lacey Lee Duttweiler.