Jesus rides shotgun
Harold pops prenatal vitamins, speeding up Highway 101. Ninety-five. One-hundred. Hundred-and-five. Six dozen red roses sit beside him on the seat.
He strips butt naked and sneaks outside to fire up the tractor, using a chain to drag off the limbs, piling them in an empty pasture.
By Sherry Shahan
It’s 4 a.m.
Only Harold and the mice are active. He’s nude, leaning into the digital camera. Soon he’ll put his image beside Jesus on the corrugated steel walls. The latter eight-by-ten glossies were downloaded off picturesofjesus4you.com.
Harold squats beside his computer. He swigs cooking sherry while filling out loan docs.
Monthly income: $50,000. As soon as escrow closes he’ll own this two-hundred-acre ranch.
Then he and Jesus will move from the barn quarters to the main house — No mice in the French Tudor.
He fires off faxes to his banker, realtor, wedding consultant, and follows up with phone calls, leaving messages about maximizing productivity. How do people who sleep all night ever get ahead?
Harold caresses the slinky gold foil on the gift box, imagining the gown inside. Seafoam green. Silk and beaded. Beautiful. Just like Sarah. The second present isn’t wrapped — an onyx box with an angel carved on the lid. He shuffles through the stack of photographs, choosing a shot of him leaning against the Cadillac Escalade, licking an ice cream cone. Strawberry, Sarah’s favorite.
The photo goes in the onyx box with the cellphones — all of them programed with his number. She’ll want to call him. Thank him. Her concert schedule is safe inside a professional--size Frigidaire. Yesterday the appliance ruled the tack room. That was before evil forces tampered with the controls and melted six gallons of sherbet. So he moved it into the living room, cramming the vegetable crisper with prenatal vitamins.
Harold pictures himself on tour with Sarah. Asia, Europe, North America. Tonight she plays the West Coast, San Francisco. He soaks in a hot tub listening to her new CD, “You take my breath away….” His Camcorder is propped on a towel in the sink.
After clipping his nails, he snips the tags off his Armani suit. He knows Sarah will love the linen jacket, classic fit. The Escalade is parked in the breezeway, new-owner sticker on the windshield. The dealer agreed to hold his check for 30 days. By then he’ll have more money than, as the saying goes, he knows what to do with.
Harold pops prenatal vitamins, speeding up Highway 101. Ninety-five. One-hundred. Hundred-and-five. Six dozen red roses sit beside him on the seat. He steers with his knees, aiming the camera at billboards, truck stops, his watch. Won’t Sarah be thrilled he’s recording their courtship?
At Candlestick Stadium, the parking attendant points to the VIP lot. (His laminated business card works every time.) He clutches the roses, scans the fans, and prays for the poor souls in the nosebleed section. Sarah’s gifts stay in the car with Jesus.
Some guy stops him at the gate. “Ticket, sir?”
Harold notes the Puma sneakers; definitely knockoffs. “She’s my fiancee.”
The guy smirks in that minimum-wage-lackey way. “Is that right? I thought she was married to that composer dude.”
“Where’s the VIP entrance?”
“Gate 6. Just follow the signs.”
A guy stops him there too. This one has a tattoo of a snake on his wrist, a slithering bracelet. “You on the list, man?”
Harold flashes his business card.
“You gotta be on the list.” Harold knows a disciple of Satan when he sees one. “Shall we pray?” The guy fingers his walkie-talkie. “Code X.” Security surrounds Harold faster than he can say Our Heavenly Father. He drops to his knees, looking up with a righteous smile. “Good evening, gentlemen,” he says, reaching for his wallet. “Is it possible to buy a—”
“Hold it right there!”
Now Harold is face down, his cheek kissing asphalt. “Sinners, join me in thanking the Almighty for our blessings….”
“Another nut case,” the fattest guard says, then helps him up. “Come on, buddy. We’ll walk you to your car.”
Harold brushes himself off. “I have a right to buy a ticket.”
“The concert’s been sold out six months.”
“I have zero-interest credit cards. Best-Buy. Home Depot. The works.”
“Sold out friend. End of sentence.”
Harold films security all the way back to the Escalade.
He slides inside, turning the camera on himself, a close-up of capped teeth, marine-green contacts, virtuous smile. Then he props Jesus on the dashboard. Fifty-thousand people cheer.
Sarah is on stage, singing like an angel:
I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you would crave,
I have both wagered life and land,
Your love and good-will for to have….
After the concert, they hit the road. Sweet, sweet Sarah. Soon we’ll be together. Very soon. Harold makes a note to buy engagement gifts: Diamond pendant, bracelet, earrings. He calls the caterer, florist, videographer. Gets bids on a helicopter pad. Sixty-grand. Peanuts.
He pulls into the breezeway at sunrise, plucking petals off the roses. She loves me. She loves me not. Yes, she will always love me….
Jesus Christ, if there isn’t an eviction notice on the door: FIVE DAYS TO VACATE. It’s signed by Judge Miller, the same Evil Force who presided over his divorce. No visitation rights. Unstable. Non-med compliant. Vicious words, like flames, singeing his soul.
Harold prays for the judge and his ex-wife, agents of Lucifer. Our Father who art in heaven….
Inside he bolts the doors, seals the jambs with duct tape, sculpting a silver figurine with the rest. I’ll just stay put until escrow closes.
He opens The Book of Mormon and removes the photos of his children. Luke, Mary, Eve. He goes online and orders a tuxedo with satin lapels for his son, the best man. He buys lace dresses for his daughters. Flower girls.
While he’s at it he hires an arborist to cut down the eucalyptus trees lining the driveway. Stupid things shed year-round. He’ll replace them with palms. No branches or messy leaves. Sarah will approve.
“Are you crazy?” The old man who owns the ranch shouts through the door. “Those trees were thirty-years-old! “
Later that night Harold checks the Burn Permit. He strips butt naked and sneaks outside to fire up the tractor, using a chain to drag off the limbs, piling them in an empty pasture. Then he siphons gas from the tractor. No pockets. No matches. Damn it to hell, anyway. He hadn’t considered the stumps. Big around as the Escalade. Dynamite should handle it. Tomorrow night.
Harold hasn’t slept in a week. Invigorating! Suddenly he’s famished. He douses cereal with cooking sherry, guzzles vitamins, and stuffs the Restraining Order in the kitchen sink. Then he dials his ex-wife. The number you have called is no longer in service…. Slut!
He Googles her. Nothing. Tries her maiden name. Nil. Skims the church website. No listing there either. His fingers do the walking, settling on Hunt Agency. “My ex-wife kidnapped my children,” he says into the phone. “They probably left California. Certainly I have pictures. Retainer? Absolutely. I’ll send a check right away.”
Harold faxes off photos of his children and puts them in the onyx box. Sarah will be such a good mother. He downloads adoption papers and fills them out. He’s signing her name when he hears voices. Polite voices.
“Harold? Are you home?”
Harold squints through a pinhole in the cardboard taped over the window. It’s Dr. Gordon, his psychiatrist. The church bishop is with him.
“We’d like to come in,” Dr. Gordon says. “Make sure you’re OK.”
“Why wouldn’t I be OK?”
“Bishop Glenn has a doublewide mobile on an acre. Rent-free, Harold. In exchange for care-taking.”
“The barn’s fine for now — escrow closes soon.”
“We’d like to visit a while. Talk about old times.”
“I’m on a long-distance call. Come back around six. I’ll make dinner.”
Harold notices the difference in their voices when they whisper to each other.
“Wonderful, Harold. We look forward to it. See you later.”
“Mr. Williams? I’ve located your family,” the investigator says into the receiver. “You’re a lucky man — it rarely happen this quickly.”
Thank you, Jesus.
“They’re in Independence, Missouri.”
Harold knows all about Independence. It’s the place of the prophesied Temple of the New Jerusalem. The Second Coming of Christ.
“I’m sure you’ll mail a check immediately.”
“Yes, of course. Bless you, my brother.”
Harold checks MapQuest. It’s 2,425 miles to Missouri. Estimated driving time: 36 hours, 9 minutes. Today’s Saturday. If he drives nonstop he’ll be there early Monday. He packs quickly. Tuxedo and lace dresses. Sarah’s gifts. The Book of Mormon. Jesus rides shotgun.
“There’s another way,” Jesus whispers when they hit the freeway.
At the airport Harold tosses his credit cards on the counter. “Independence, Missouri,” he tells the agent.
It’s comforting to know he’ll see his wife and children at church in the morning.
Dear Lord, I promise that your joy will be great when I bring these souls unto You…. §
Sherry Shahan is a published author from Cayucos who has written 30 fiction and nonfiction children’s books. This story, originally published in Confrontation from the University of Long Island is reprinted with her permission.