Single Titles (Stand alone stories)

Talk to Me 

Have you ever had one of those days while you’re driving and decide, at the last minute, to change course, to go a scenic route? That’s what happened to me while cruising through Richmond Heights, a St. Louis suburban neighborhood. I could blame the detour on the comfort of the car I was test driving, a platinum Cadillac CTS—the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

I’d been searching for a while. Not for God, but for a car that was sleek and roomy for my six-foot-three-inch muscular frame. At thirty-one years old, I bench press almost three hundred pounds, workout five days a week, and maintain a healthy weight of 210 pounds. I’m also an educated black man with two degrees.

Church was the farthest thing from my mind when I drove past a large, portable sign, flashing a message in bold, bright-red lights, Thanksgiving morning worship service, beginning at nine. Deaf ministry is available.

Hmmm, any excuses had expired for skipping a service with real people and a reach-out-and-touch pastor. I’d stopped attending church a long time ago because the experience left me too frustrated. For years, my Sunday morning rituals consisted of reading several chapters in my Bible and watching two hours of televangelists. Although I read lips, I’d missed something in the translation—the excitement, the power, the inspiration—despite watching an interpreter at the bottom of my TV screen.

I hadn’t known that a Holy-Ghost filled church with a Deaf Ministry was minutes away when I recently purchased a house. It was an answer to my inconsistent prayers. The location was closer to my office and the one-story brick ranch house had recently been renovated. Neighbors appeared to compete for camera-ready manicured lawns and intentionally posed shrubbery. Everything was perfect except for decorating. That proved to be a first-time lab experiment gone wrong. Each picture, rug, and piece of furniture confessed that all rooms were under construction.

On Thanksgiving morning, at the designated hour, I arrived on the church’s corner parking lot. I’d never attended service on a holiday. The number of cars reminded me of an auto dealership as I scrambled for a space in the strategically landscaped area. When I parked, I got out, and began my walk to the entrance. Large, weather-bleached stones and mortar fortified the church’s exterior. Once inside, my eyes widened at the modern sleek décor camouflaged by the vintage front building.

Marble pillars stood at attention between stained-glass windows that allowed anyone to peep into the sanctuary. A warm presence touched me before anyone approached, as if Jesus was beckoning me home. Glancing up, I grinned. My anointing was really the outside chill that had activated the blast of heat inside the lobby.

“Welcome to God’s Grace, my brother.” A man, maybe in his fifties, saluted me and added a huge smile.

“I’m here for the deaf ministry,” I signed, hoping he understood. He didn’t.

As if summoned, an elderly usher appeared dressed in a faded black suit, white gloves, and a purple bow tie. After bowing like a butler, he did an about face and walked away. I took that as my cue to follow. Entering the sanctuary, the size overpowered me. It was spacious with purple cushioned and eye-catching crystal chandeliers, sparkling like night stars.

The deep-purple carpet was so plush I felt guilty for wearing shoes. Numerous ushers patrolled three aisles as if they were programmable toy soldiers. Others were sprinkled throughout the sanctuary.

I grimaced as my escort guided me to my seat. Why did visitors always have to be paraded to the front line? I didn’t have to guess that the four roped-off pews were the designated deaf area. Thanking the usher, I shook off my black cashmere coat, and draped it over my arm. Scooting inside the pew, I laid it down with my Bible.

After nodding to those already seated, I sat. Bowing my head, I prayed, asking God to tell me if this is where he wanted me. Opening my eyes, I stretched my legs and wondered if my comrades were members or fellow curious visitors.

Flexing my muscles, I crossed my arms, and waited for the show to begin. I have to be honest; I wasn’t easily impressed because everyone who called themselves interpreters weren’t polished, nor did they enjoy the communication. It was a job, a well-paying one too. As a first-time visitor, I made note of my surroundings. Despite the grandeur, it had a cozy feel.

The next thing that caught my eyes were the people crammed into a three-level stadium style seating—the choir stood several feet behind the podium. Then, two women who appeared in a doorway stole my attention.

From a distance, neither was bad looking. The taller one was dressed to showcase her endowment, and I admired her bountiful assets. Her hair was straight and poured over her shoulders as a silver-colored dress clutched her body. Her shimmering stockings were meant to catch a man’s eye. They did.

The other woman, who was shorter, piqued my interest. There was something about her that challenged me to look away, if I dared. Her clothes were bold and her hair was wild, but the combination was stunning. I had no doubts about her endowments although it was clear she attempted to conceal them.

What had I been missing sitting at home in front of a television? “Wow,” was my first thought at her abundance of hair. I smirked at her colorful scarf that failed to restrain rebellious curls. Yeah, set them free, I taunted inwardly. The way she jutted her chin and held her head showed she had confidence. Her beauty was understated.

Closing my eyes, I regulated my breathing, and reminded myself where I sat. Yes, I was in church, but God wanted me to appreciate His handiwork. A beautiful woman was worth admiring. I inhaled a deep, measured breath and opened my eyes.

The pair chatted as they walked, throwing air kisses, shaking hands, and returning waves to church members. Eventually, they approached the roped-off pews and stopped. They made eye contact with our group for a brief moment, as if they were taking a head count. The tall sister’s eyes met mine a second and then a third time.

I couldn’t believe I looked away first, thinking, I’m trying to behave. I did come for the Word not a woman. In sync, they sat in folding chairs and faced us. They were the interpreters. Okay, show me what ya got. I smirked.

Unfortunately, the showcase interpreter did. She yawned wide enough for a dental exam as her eyes darted around the sanctuary. Was she bored already? I wondered. That was not a good sign. The other woman bowed her head in prayer. The choir opened their mouths and swayed to sounds that were prohibited to one of my five senses. It didn’t matter, as I felt the powerful vibrations under my feet. My heart pounded in harmony. Masterfully, that interpreter moved her fingers, telling me a story that defied me to blink or turn away.

Her Dess

“That’s my dress!” Pepper Trudeau’s mouth dropped open.

“Where?” Her friend and coworker, Monica Marshall, craned her neck to peer through the crowd. “We’re standing in a ballroom with hundreds of people, dimmed lights and gorgeous hunks, and all you think you see is someone wearing the same dress? Honey, please. You need to refocus.”

Pepper huffed without taking her eyes off the voluptuous woman across the room who modeled their two-piece scooped-neck sleeveless dress better than her.  “When you spend more than four hundred dollars on a dress, shoes, handbag, and other accessories, you want to sniff out any competition.”

The matching olive-colored duster gave the outfit more pizzazz with ruffles that trimmed its outline and the cuffs. Pepper thought it was a classy ensemble for the Children Are Our Future Scholarship dinner soiree.

The fundraiser was promoted as the fundraising event of the year held at the Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis. Pepper’s purpose for attending was to support some of her students whom she tutored in an after school program who were also recipients. It was one of many projects her company encouraged employee participation in as part of its community outreach initiative.

Monica’s pet project was her commitment to the yearly scholarship team to solicit donations and drive ticket sales. Although it was Monica’s third year on the committee, it was the first time she had convinced Pepper to come.

Suddenly, Pepper’s idea of splurging on the pricey designer outfit at Ashanti’s House in the trendy Central West End seemed foolish. “Why didn’t I borrow my mother’s sewing machine, go fabric shopping, watch for a Vogue pattern sale, and declare a weekend sewing marathon?”

 “Hmmm. You want the top ten reasons or just one?” She didn’t wait for Pepper’s answer. “You didn’t have time to whip up a masterpiece for this soiree. Besides, there are so many people, no one will notice that two women are wearing the same dress, probably the same shoes and nail polish too,” She teased. “Oh wait. I do see her.”

Pepper finger-combed through her bob cut as she scrutinized various guests’ attire. “This is like New York’s fashion week. Everyone is wearing a one-of-a-kind piece, except for me and her,” she pointed in the woman’s direction, “of course.”

“Stop it. You’ve got the legs, the height, the face, the hair—”

“…And the same dress. You’re not helping because from where I’m standing, I don’t see imperfection on her for days. She has what I have, plus a lot more. Case in point, she has no shortage of male attention. It’s as if she’s a queen and they are her servants.”

“Jealous?” Monica grinned. “Listen, I can round you up a Soul Train line of men. Say the word.” Monica wasn’t bluffing.

 “You don’t have a good track record when it comes to blind dates. Should I whip out my list of disasters?”

Monica shrugged. “You just haven’t met the right one.”

Yes, Pepper was picky, but there was something appealing and even sexy about a God-fearing man who possessed the ability to rein in his pride and surrender to God. Her argument was how could a woman submit to her husband if he couldn’t submit to God? She just didn’t believe she could find him outside the church walls.

And women thought biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and whatever else-ceps were what God used to create men who were sexy, but add a little reverence to the Man upstairs and it was like whipped cream on a slice of white macadamia cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Unfortunately, in Pepper’s thirty years on God’s earth, she had yet to meet “the one,” even in church.

Tonight, she couldn’t buy a date, or rather, none of the men she knew would plunk down one hundred and fifty dollars a ticket for charity. They didn’t give her a chance to mention that a tuxedo was required.

 “Listen,” Monica said with a squeeze to her arm, “I’ve got to get back to my post. Ticket sales are down this year, so we’re encouraging guests to bid higher. Hopefully, that will make up the difference. Just stay away from that diva imposter!” Monica winked and hurried off in five-inch stilettos as if she was born in heels.

 

If I Should Die Before I Wake (True Testimony)

 

Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

It’s a simple eighteenth century child’s prayer that has been revised by parents throughout the years. It rolls off our tongues without much thought. Then on the morning of July 1, 2005, it became more than idle words.

This is my family’s eye witness account what happened to me:

About five in the morning, my husband, Kerry, got up to use the bathroom, then returned to bed. After peering at the clock on the nightstand, he sighed and relaxed. “Thirty more minutes.”

Not long after closing his eyes, my body shook the bed uncontrollably.

“Pat, wake up.” Kerry nudged me a few times.

Not alarmed, his initial thoughts were “the witch was riding me again,” a phrase sometimes

used to describe sleep paralysis where a person is asleep, but there is still a level of awareness.

Sleep experts say it’s a natural response to keep us from acting out our dreams. Attempts to move a limb is thwarted until a sudden jerk like a finger or toe wiggling releases the freeze on the body.

When I didn’t respond or stop, he panicked.

“Jared, Simi,” he yelled down the hall to where their rooms were, never leaving my bedside.

“I can’t get your momma to wake up. Call 911. I think she’s in a coma.” Fear crept up his spine.

Simi—short for Simone—was sixteen years old at the time. Racing into our bedroom, she cradled me in her arms while Kerry dressed and waited for the ambulance. No one remembered who placed the first 911 call.

“I think she’s having a seizure, Dad,” Simi guessed at my condition. Maybe she had seen an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I doubt if she learned about seizures in her high school classes. Plus, nobody in my family suffered with them, so she had no point of reference. Kerry wasn’t buying her diagnosis as my eyes rolled back and I involuntarily released body fluids. To him, I was dying.

The commotion had startled my son who was then twenty years old. Jared can sleep through anything. His head had probably just dented a pillow an hour earlier, after he arrived home from

his overnight shift at UPS.

Jared hurried out of his room and approached the master bedroom, but refused to cross the threshold. He stared at his dad who was now holding me. But Jared didn’t want to see me like that. He became delirious as he ran up and down the stairs aimlessly. Jared placed frantic calls to 911, shouting and demanding that they hurry up.

Somewhere between the paramedics getting to the house and Jared "losing it" during a time of crisis as Simi described it, she ran downstairs and grabbed our bottle of holy oil. Believing in the power of the Holy Ghost, she anointed my head and prayed. When the paramedics came into our bedroom, they asked my family my name and then called out to me. My eyes opened and closed again.

"Is she a diabetic?" one of the medical team asked Kerry.

"No."

They advised my husband that I had probably suffered a seizure. They called my name again and in a semi-conscious state, I responded enough for them to guide me to a waiting stretcher. I don’t remember getting on the stretcher or being loaded inside the ambulance. I do recall seeing my neighbor across the street looking at our house. But that’s all I remember.

In the ambulance, Jared rode upfront with the driver. Kerry and Simi trailed in one of our vehicles. My husband said the ambulance exceeded speeds of eighty-five miles per hour with its  siren blaring. Kerry panicked when he couldn't keep up.

"What's going on? What's wrong?" Kerry called our son on his cell phone.

Jared must have checked with the paramedics. "Nothing, Dad. They're just trying to get Momma to the hospital."

Christmas Greetings

I’m being stalked. Saige couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Daniel heading toward the greeting card aisle in Target. The man couldn’t be missed. She guessed he had to be about six-foot one, two, or three. She was never good at guessing heights.

With rich, brown, African skin, Daniel resembled actor Lamman Rucker, with a dash of something extra. His walk was an attention grabber, turning heads, including hers, with every step.

Didn’t he say he was going to get something to eat anyway? In contrast to Walgreens, the aisle at Target was starting to become congested with potential customers. More than she could handle. That was the good news; the bad news was nobody had purchased any of her cards. They were hidden, though, which could be the reason that none had been sold.

Dismissing Daniel, Saige did a little stalking of her own—potential customers.

“How many have you sold?” his deep voice whispered close to her ear, sending goose bumps down her arm.

It was at that moment Saige knew she regretted singling him out in the first place. “None—yet.” She gritted her teeth in sudden aggravation. “But I’m about to try.”

“Need any help?”  His childish expression reminded her of a little boy pleading to do a chore to earn extra allowance money.

So, the brother had charm, did he? Saige released the annoyance that was building and smiled. The two of them working in cahoots would only look suspicious. She could only imagine security suspecting them of being shoplifters or worse. “That’s sweet, but no thank—”

“C’mon, you’ve made my day,” he insisted as more customers wandered into the aisle.

“If you want to help, then tweet or post about the cards on Facebook.” Why did she feel that Daniel was infringing in her territory? This was getting crazy.

“Already done. I sent it out on the way over here. Well, actually, while I was still in the parking lot. You know we’re not supposed to drive and text.” He snickered, and that was the first time she noticed his goatee was trimmed with precision around his full lips, as if serviced by a sculptor. “It was a worthy cause. I couldn’t help myself.”

 “Mr. Washington, you’ll only be a distraction.” She pivoted to walk away, but stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “To other women,” she added, scrutinizing him from the rim of his hat to his polished shoes—or boots.

“Right.” Daniel released a hearty laugh, and then disappeared into the next aisle. Was she relieved or disappointed? Saige didn’t have time to give it much thought as she cozied up to a mother holding a baby. As she was about to pitch her rehearsed speech, Saige could feel a presence behind her. Lord, please don’t let it be security.

Finally, with curiosity that would kill any cat, she turned to find Daniel behind her, engrossed in one of her cards, as if it contained a book of words instead of a few sentences. Then, all of a sudden, he began to ask women for their advice on whether they would buy it for themselves. Glancing her way, he winked.

Maybe Saige was the one being played. Daniel was a natural interacting with people. Surely his relationship with his family wasn’t as bad as he was making it out to be? A few minutes later, Saige admitted defeat in her well-thought-out covert operation. While Daniel was distracted with some flirty females, Saige made her escape to her final pit stop.

Her friend, Maxi, would never believe how her evening played out. She hoped her other friends didn’t have any distractions like Daniel Washington.

Saige didn’t return home until after ten that night. She was exhausted and came to the realization that she could never be a sales rep. The rejection—she took it personally. However, the customers who did take her cards lifted her spirit. Then there was Daniel, who fascinated her, but confused her at the same time. Although she didn’t see a ring, Saige wondered if he really had nothing better to do with his time than tag along beside her.

After making half a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich for a snack and pouring a glass of Eggnog, she said her grace, and then called her best friend after the first bite. She wanted to find out how it went on the other side of town.