Would you believe that we found God on VHS?
Yes. It was after the chaplain resigned in the wake of his sex crimes. What were they? I wonder. No one at the home seems to know. And you should know that any good nursing home is rife with rumor, and usually rumors are lies at best or truths in the worst way.
The best case scenario, I think, is that the world will soon end. Helen and I both think so. Whether we live to see it or not: doesn’t matter. If the priests start calling it quits, you know you’re in trouble. They’re the optimistic ones. They close their eyes and smile when the organ plays out of tune.They ask us to shake the dust out of the hymnals when we open them and to pick up the pages that fall out even though it’s hard to bend down.
But anyway, Helen and I saw Him one night in the cafeteria on a ruined cassette of Pollyanna. We had tried to tape over it for our grandson’s little league game, but you know you can’t do that with the Hollywood ones. All you get is static. So we had taped over it and then forgot we had taped over it and then forgot to throw it away.
We put the tape in, and right when the star hits the ground on the other side of the Disney castle, that’s when we see Him. You can hear Him, too. He looks like static and He sounds like static. I know it’s Him, and Helen believes it’s Him—we are of different opinions on the matter.
So we grow old this way. We wait until it’s late and the orderlies go out back to smoke reefer. Helen helps me push a loveseat up to the screen. Then we just sit and watch. He tells us everything we need to know, and we know that once He stops talking, we’ll have lived enough.
My father stitched his own Care Bears for us, seven of them, but we weren’t allowed to hug them. The insides of their wrists said radix malorem est cupidtas in curly black yarn. And the bears weren’t ROYGBIV, as I’ve since learned to call the rainbow. They were like when we mixed all the paints together hoping to get the best of each color but only ending up with mud. Shitty, greenish-brownish mud. On their bellies Father stamped the names of the vices that he warned us about every morning at breakfast and every night when he tucked us into bed. He’d list them off and point to each bear and it was like a bedtime song. I figured that the vices were the bears’ names, maybe. Like I said, we weren’t allowed to cuddle them, but Father hung them over our beds with fishing line so we could watch them twirl and tangle in the moonlight.
Tim wore boat shoes to P.E. He forgot to say “ouch” when someone stomped on his feet. And it did hurt—guaranteed. Bob Michaels did it and Bob Michaels wore size eleven Skechers. So then everyone dropped their backpacks on Tim from way over their heads and Phil Steiner slammed his fingers in a gym locker door and the pinky got purple. My grandpa always told me that bullies hammer kids into the shape their lives will take. Tim wasn’t taking shape.
We put him against the brick wall in between the science modules. On the way out, everyone picked up a basketball. If you didn’t pick up a basketball, someone would push one into your gut really hard and knock the wind out of you. We pelted him big time. I could almost feel how the rubber must have scraped and pulled at his skin on impact. He didn’t try to dodge like he’s supposed to. We all pitched hard and fast until our arms hung loose, but Tim just kept standing there and standing there as the balls hit him and bounced back to our feet.
Through my tears, I could see Tim sinking into the wall. The hole spread as tall as a basketball hoop, but not at first. It started above Tim’s head and stretched up and down as he sunk in. And when he finally disappeared out of sight and the hole started to close, the last thing I saw—still peeking out of the gray stuff between two bricks—was the purple pinkie.
We stopped throwing and Dan Bradley and Eric Stambaugh ran back inside. They said they knocked on the shop department door until Mr. Harris let them in. They ran to the other side of the wall, but Tim hadn’t come through.
No one goes in between the science modules these days, but before biology my friends and I look out the back windows of the module and we can still kind of see it—the pinkie, I mean. Now it looks more like a caterpillar in mid-crawl or like an old piece of bubble gum.
Kids lie and say that they walk right up to it, but no one’s dumb enough to say that they touched it.
Joshua Keller is a Ph.D student in English at SUNY Albany. He was born in Seoul, South Korea but grew up in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. He loves to
travel and explore the local folklore of the places that he visits. If he could, he would sit down to tea with William Faulkner and offer to share a flask of whiskey under the table.