genre bender

Throwing genre formula into the bender blender.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Faith In Fiction Story

The Next Step
By Lori Saltis

Alison tossed her higher power into the trash.

The tarot cards didn’t flutter so much as slide into the bin. The whisking noise of their descent echoed off the walls, momentarily blocking out the ticking clock on the wall above the fridge.

Four a.m. tick

Alone. tock

Her gut clenched. She thought of her parents and children in their bedrooms upstairs. Did they know that she lurked in the kitchen on these sleepless nights, trying not to think of ways to fill her cravings? Anything would do: booze, weed, sex, anything to fill the long, anxious void between each second. Especially tonight. Tonight was bad, even the cards had failed her. One reading advised her to stay the course, but the next advised that she go her own way, to find herself within herself.

What a load of crap. Maybe she should have tossed the cards into the toilet.

A whisper of fear squeezed Alison’s chest. She tried not to look at the bright colored tarot, their slick surfaces well worn from much handling. For so many years, she had carried that deck around, first just for fun, doing readings for herself and friends and lovers. How it fed her pride when she began being sought after for readings, a wise and mystic woman with insight into the spiritual realm.

Alison snorted. How many of those readings had been done after smoking a joint? So much easier to feel mystic with reality pleasantly numbed. Her index finger tapped on the single piece of paper now lying on the kitchen table. It didn’t contain supernatural symbols, but an outline: twelve steps. She fought an impulse to wad the paper up and toss it in the bin as well. She’d been attending the Narcotics Anonymous meetings for weeks and had only made it as far as the first step.

We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Well, that was easy. Obviously, she wouldn’t be attending these meetings if she didn’t realize there was a problem-- problems. Like losing custody of her children and living on the street, sometimes offering her body in trade for shelter and drugs. And then there was Costa Rica. The cards had told her to go, that she would find herself there. Alison’s eyes squeezed shut against the visions of what she’d done to survive. Shame, familiar as her shadow, haunted her. If only she had a shot of whiskey to dull the pain. How did normal people get by, day to day?

We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Alison’s eyes strayed back to the bin. What if those cards really were her higher power? She thought of the times when she’d sat on the sidewalk in Berkeley, offering readings for ten dollars. At such times, those cards were her salvation and the only thing that kept her from being a beggar or a whore. How could she toss them aside, if they were her only hope of beating addiction?

With trembling fingers, she reached into the bin, ignoring the greasy remains of last night’s dinner, and pulled out a card: a naked man and woman standing before an angel. As she placed it on the table, she gave a little laugh. How appropriate that she would choose the Lovers, the card representing the struggle with temptation and making a moral choice. Though it could also mean staying true to yourself and going your own way. Maybe it also meant that there was a man in her future, one who would help her through her addiction... Alison’s teeth gritted. How could these stupid cards help her if she was the one making up her mind about what they meant? Wasn’t she the one who got herself into this mess in the first place?

Alison felt a little rush of triumph. She really had made it past the first step! Only eleven more to go. Huh. At this rate, she’d be free of addiction by the time she was sixty. She reached into the bin again and fingered through the cards until she found the one she was looking for: the Devil. Gnawing on her lip, she stared at the horned demon and the naked couple bound with chains before his throne. She had never felt fear when she looked at this card before, knowing that it represented negativity rather than evil. Now, it seemed like the very face of her addiction: hopeless, helpless bondage to something evil that would never let her go.

A goose walked over her grave. Alison shuddered. She tossed both cards back in the bin and rubbed her hands on her terrycloth robe. All right, then, done with that. No more bondage to drugs, alcohol, sex, or self-deception. But she still had to find a higher power. Damn it. Alison sighed and slumped in her chair. Should she give Buddhism another go?

She pondered her brief flirtation with eastern mysticism: the lighting of candles and incense, sitting in the lotus position and smiling blissfully as she meditated. It got sort of boring after awhile. When she tried delving deeper, actually reading the sacred text, it turned out to be just another form of organized religion, with strict moral principals and an almost unattainable means to achieve higher consciousness. And reincarnation, which once sounded fantastic--the very idea of past lives and past experiences!--now seemed like a horrid burden. To live was to suffer, and a single bad choice could ruin a person for years to come. Why on earth would she want to do all that over again?

Alison gave a dry laugh. How funny, that she finally understood the purpose of enlightenment: so that one would no longer be reincarnated and forced to live through another miserable existence. She hated to think how much negative karma she’d already stored up over this lifetime. A bunch of candles and incense were not going to make that go away.

Frustration huffed through her lips. What she wouldn’t do for a cigarette right now. Alison rested her chin on her hands and stared at her dim reflection in the facing window. She liked having the blinds open on these long, dull nights so she could watch dark turn to dawn turn to day. It gave her hope. The glass, though, distorted her image, making her look older than her twenty-six years.

Through a glass darkly.

Alison’s brow furrowed. That was deep and spiritual sounding. How did the rest of it go? Something about being seen face to face. What was it from? Not the Bible. Or was it? Maybe. After all, the Bible wasn’t all bad. It did contain some nice poetry about nature, not just condemnation for being your own person and doing your own thing. She sucked in her breath. How did the rest of it go?

Sliding her feet into her slippers, Alison padded from the kitchen to the living room. The family Bible sat on its pedestal atop the rosewood cabinet. The thing was huge. Nobody read it. It wasn’t even there to read, just to view and, on occasion, to records births, weddings, and deaths. It wasn’t even truly old, having been given to her parents when they married. Alison ran a finger down its beveled, white leather length. No dust. No surprise. Mom was such the neat freak. How she had a daughter like her... Alison’s breath tightened in her throat. She wanted to feel the familiar rush of resentment toward her parents, but she no longer had the will. First, they had taken in her children. Then they took her in, or what was left of her after Costa Rica...

Costa Rica. Those men. She didn’t think they were going to let her go after they were done with her. She’d prayed then to a higher power, she didn’t know what or who. All she could think was that she wanted to see her children again.

Please God, just let me see them one more time.

Alison lifted the Bible and clutched it to her chest, like a square, weighty teddy bear, protecting her from the night fears. She carried it to the kitchen and set it on the table. Sitting back down, she slid off her slippers and tucked one foot beneath her thigh. With a little grunt, she opened the volume to the middle. Proverbs. She gazed at the text before her: There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Yeah. Just what she thought: a fat lot of condemnation. Still, she turned the page, breathing in its musty scent as she read another verse: Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die. Alison shook her head. This just made her feel worse. Why should she even bother? She turned another page and the word “silver” caught her eye: The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.

Now, that was true. She could believe in that. How many times had her heart been tested? God knows. God knows... hmm. Alison rolled her eyes. No. She couldn’t base her higher power on just that. Could she?

“Always, always looking for the easy way out,” she whispered.

Alison turned to the index, but couldn’t find the words “glass” or “darkly”. She did find “face to face” and turned to that verse. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Fully known. That was what she wanted. To be fully known and accepted and not expected to change.

“But you have to change!” Alison’s fierce words burst from her aloud. She clamped a hand over her mouth and whispered through her fingers. “Or you will die.”

Hot tears slid down her cheeks. Cold palms wiped them away. She gave her nose a furious rub and read the verse above. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Alison nodded. Yes, put those things, all those horrid, awful, painful things behind and start again, fresh and new. Her eyes skimmed further upward. Love is patient, love is kind. She went to the top of the page and read the entire chapter, to where it ended: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

That was it. Love. Unconditional love. That would be her higher power.

God is love.

Wasn’t that in the Bible, too? Alison flipped back toward the index. The pages turned over to some full color pictures. One of them was of Jesus, bearded and robed and oh-so-holy. Too bad his religion was responsible for the oppression and murder of millions of people through the ages! Looking at him, though, he didn’t seem oppressive or even holier than thou. Just an ordinary man, really. Maybe more compassionate than most of the men she’d run into. Alison smiled. Funny, what a wistful feeling that picture gave her.

“Hey, want to hang out with me? Show me what I’m supposed to do?”

The picture didn’t answer. Well, she couldn’t expect miracles. Could she? Alison continued on to the index. As she skimmed through the contents she glanced out the window. Dark had turned to dawn. Fear and dread eased from her chest as she realized that she’d made it through another night. And found her higher power! Maybe she really was ready to go on to the next step.


  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger Elaina Avalos said…

    Great story Lori, I enjoyed it. It totally reminds me of the idea that the Word doesn't return a void, you know? Somewhere, someday it will come back.

    I like how you talked about eastern mysticism..."Why on earth would she want to do all that over again?"

    Good job!

  • At 6:11 PM, Blogger Becky said…

    Yep, a great story. Well written. A wonderful, believable progression. Your character is so realistic. Great job, Lori. I loved it as much this time as I did before.

  • At 9:11 PM, Blogger sally apokedak said…

    Lori! What a pleasure to read your stuff again! I've alwayse enjoyed your writing and this is no exception.


  • At 11:47 PM, Blogger Lori said…

    Thanks Elaina, Becky and Sally for your kind remarks.

    I'm just so impressed by the quality of the stories I read. Dave is going to have a hard time choosing a winner.

    Best wishes to all of you!

  • At 7:15 AM, Blogger Dee said…

    great job, lori. I liked the pace of this story. I wanted to slow mine down, but I ran out of words. I love how you slow the conversion down. And deal with that moment. It is hard. You did it. Thanks.

  • At 4:51 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon's Rant said…

    Lori, this was well written and I admire how you carefully laid out the conversion process. Bravo, I loved it!


  • At 8:42 PM, Blogger Gina Burgess said…

    Excellent story. Reminds me of the Ephesians a little.

  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger ragamuffin diva said…


  • At 4:27 PM, Blogger falcon said…

    Are you Lori Saltis from Saratoga HS class of 1977? If so please post a response.


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