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"Jesus Changes Everything"--short story excerpt

Friday 5/28/21

From Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives.


In eighth grade I had a teacher named R.K. Barnes. No one knew what the R.K. stood for. A consensus was Rectum Kisser, but that was for joking and not for believing. He wore this kind of necklace made out of rope. Some friends said it was part of his soap-on-a-rope kit so that he could drop it and then mount and thrust you in the shower as you picked it up because he was one of those polite people who foster politeness. I liked him. Had a version of faith in him. On the last day of class, I asked R.K. Barnes to sign my yearbook. Walked over to his desk when we were doing nothing. Everyone had given up, even the teachers who tried the most. “It was my pleasure, sir,” he said to me as he signed. “If you ever need a letter of recommendation, you know where to find me. I’d be proud.” I sat back down and we horsed around some more. A friend of mine named Roberto imitated R.K. and what R.K. said about my letter of recommendation. “What kind of freak would get a letter of recommendation from his middle school history teacher?” Roberto asked. Then someone else said, “Hey, Clam”—because my name is Cleminger—“how much would you need to be paid to let R.K. jerk you?” I looked up at the desk because he could have heard that one. But he just kept looking down into the book he was reading, shaking his head.

I was walking through a park in the spring trying to figure out how I could make friends now that my friends were all married and had kids and I had been married and now I wasn’t, and my friends from before were not even my friends anymore. I saw a woman having lunch on a bench with her kid. The kid was maybe five. She wasn’t eating. I hoped that she had already finished, but I didn’t know. The woman had on a shirt that read, “Jesus Changes Everything.” She stood up, walked right past me to the garbage can, and chucked her burrito into it, really hard, as if delivering a fastball but with a downward trajectory, so that it was part football spike. “Tastes like shit,” she said to herself, but also anyone who was near. The little girl looked at her when she was about to sit down again. “What?” the mother said, which I translated as “What the fuck are you looking at?” Mostly to the girl, and somewhat to me.

That kid Roberto said he wrote songs but he didn’t write songs. He wrote these titles of pretend songs that were really, really wrong. A lot of them had parentheses. One of them was, “I Can’t Make You Do Anal (But I Can Make You Do Rape).” He’d give them these introductions. About that one he said: “Okay, this is a progressive number, not everyone is ready for it, but it leans hard on the social justice angle. Social causes and everything. With a sardonic edge.” The words would be an amalgam of the words we’d recently learned in English. Hence, “sardonic.” He’d forget the words by the end of the week, and use new ones from the latest lesson. We didn’t hang out in the summer. I would wonder if he stopped doing his songs then. Perhaps he called it a holiday, or a necessary fallow period. “Go with the Grace of My Dick” was another, which did not use the parenthetical construction, and was dedicated to a Korean girl in our class named Grace.


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