The Prodigal Father

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part One. Have you ever wondered what happened after the Prodigal Son’s return to his father?

Twenty years or so after the Prodigal Son’s return, his father occupied a table outside a cafe on a small street near a city park. The old man lifted his half-filled wine glass, saluted the spring morning, touched the liquid to his lips, sipped the nectar, then smiled at his mouth’s delight as he waited for the younger of his two sons.

His thoughts elsewhere, he occasionally raked his fingers through his white beard, unknotting the long, fine strands. He lifted a pipe to his mouth and inhaled a slow puff of tobacco.

He remembered asking his son in that long ago time of the boy’s return, “Tell me. What was it like?”

“It was glorious. Until the money ran out. Stuck my thumb out and headed West, cause West was where the night life was. And I had one rip roaring time. There was down on my luck days and full house nights. Did the Vegas thing and lost everything, including the seat of my pants. Robbed a train or two. Me and my outlaw buddies. Spent some time out Siberia way. Cold so bad it froze the bones. Fell in love seven, eight, nine times. Prayed at the Ganges.”

Listening to the boy spill his stories out like he was tossing dice, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to just take off toward the horizon without a care in the world.

“So. What made you come back? The farm sounds like it’d be Boredom City compared to the life you were living?”

“Don’t know. Guess I got tired of mining for gold and coming up pyrite. When I tired of a life on the run, I got into my head to settle down. Thing is I didn’t have much job experience. Even for a swineherd job, I needed a resume. So I lied and made everything up. Then I got to feeling guilty. Lying just wasn’t in my blood. You’d taught me well where that was concerned.”

As his son talked, the father realized he’d missed so much. He’d taken over his father’s farm because his father couldn’t do the work anymore. If the farm had depended on happiness to prosper, it never would have prospered. But it had prospered as he sowed the seeds of his misery. That’s when he realized he had taken a hankering for the wondering life. It’s like they say. You don’t know you’re lonely till you glance at a happy couple.

That night he called his two sons into his library. Right there and then, he did a Lear. Handed his older son the deed to the farm with a check for enough money to manage. He gave his second son, the prodigal boy, another check. That left him with just enough cash to head for parts unknown.

He’d been places. He’d gone East when he could have travelled West. He’d wanted to find the place where the sky drew back a curtain and gave the opening act of the sun, a new day to play with. He’d never found that spot, though he tried. It was just as lost as the end of the rainbow.

Scanning the park nearby, he recognized his son, walking briskly toward him. The once-upon-a-time young man had put on some pounds but otherwise he’d prospered in the intervening years since the two had last seen each other.

The old man called the waiter over and ordered a second bottle of wine.

The younger man saw his father and hurried toward him. The two men embraced, then sat down. At the table, they took a long look at each other, and tears rolled down their faces.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Figures.”

“How are you, Pops?”

“Still ornery enough to kick your butt.”

“I bet you can.”

The old man poured out two glasses of wine. Then they sat silently gazing into the park. They had never been a talkative bunch, he and his sons. His long dead wife had done most of the talking, often carrying on both sides of the conversation.

The sun slipped out of the sky and slowly the evening settled into shadows. In the silence, the father reached across the table and squeezed his son’s hand.

“I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pops.”

It was close to midnight when the two stood up and embraced.

“You sure you won’t come home with me? For just one night. Liza would love that.”

“No, Son. It wouldn’t be right. Your brother would think I was playing favorites again.”

The Son nodded. He knew what his father meant.

“‘Sides I got to get on. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore.”

The two embraced one last time, kissing each other’s cheeks. Then it was goodbye.

The son walked away, glancing back at his father several times, each time a longing in his eyes, a longing for another time and place when the two had shared a meal with his brother, when the three had laughed heartily at bad jokes and good wine and a mother’s love as his mother served up a feast of a meal. That time was gone, only a memory that would fade into the dust of time.

The old man sighed, then finished the wine. He decided it was time to go West finally to the sun’s setting and catch a wave off to Avalon. He stood up, dropped his pipe into his pocket and strolled off to the park. He’d hitch a ride the next morning.

In the dark and under a tree nearby, his older son watched his father. He started to call out, but something stopped him. He just couldn’t do it. So he turned and headed back to the farm. He had cows to milk early the next morning.

Near 500 words: The Mother of All Living

–from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

One of the most moving statues, for me, is “The Penitent Magdalene” by the Italian artist Donatello. With it, we get the figure of Mary Magdalene after years of wandering in the desert. It’s a statue that I love.

After spending some time gazing at pictures of it, I began to think of Eve. The Genesis story doesn’t give us much after she and Adam left the Garden of Eden. All we know is that Eve had three children.

One, Cain, murdered his younger brother, Abel. After Cain was banished to only God-knows-where, Eve and Adam had a third son. His name was Seth.

It seems to me that something is missing from that story. What was it like to leave the comfort and security of the Garden of Eden and spend their years wandering in a world that was so large and people-less? I began to imagine those two wandering souls and their regret for losing Eden. How they must have felt being cut off from God. The depth of their homesickness. Especially Eve, who gets the brunt of the blame for their banishment.

As I thought about the story, I remembered Psalm 137. This particular Psalm was written while the Jews were exiled in Babylon. It begins, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Psalmist was speaking for anyone who has been forced from their homeland and cannot return.It’s the story of the African slaves. It’s the story of the Jewish, the Armenian and the Irish diaspora. It’s the story of the Syrian refugees and refugees everywhere.

So I wrote this poem.

“My heart is breaking,” 
Eve told the Earth. 
Then Eve scribbled the words
with the ink of her tears

into the dirt upon the Earth’s back. 
“My son murdered my son, 
and the murderer is a ghost 
haunting the valleys 
and the mountains.” 

Eve sat by a tree 
mourning her first born, 
mourning her second child, 
the blues in her eyes shedding  
seven hundred seventy-seven tears each day  
‘tween the sunrise and the moon. 
“Tree, my heart is bleeding,” 
she sang, her grief rising 
like smoke up to the ears of God. 

Eve went down  
to the church by the river Cry. 
She lit a votive candle 
and prayed the rosary 
one hundred and fifty times 
for the souls of her sons,

one whose life was taken away, 
one who took the life
and a third,
a new beginning. 

Hamlet: Horatio One More Time

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Last we heard of Horatio, he was saying “Good night, Sweet Prince.” Then he slipped into the night before Fortinbras was all over Elsinore. Some say that Horatio went east and made himself a kingdom someplace in the Urals. After all, he had learned soldiering from Old Hamlet.

Personally I go with those who say that he went south. Since he was a kid, he dreamed of Venice. One thing is for sure. He earned his way in the world with his sword. Along that way maybe he worked for Othello, the Moor. For a bit of time, he was a Capulet, then it was on to Florence and the Medici fam.

For a while he had a run in with the Borgias. If Elsinore had taught him any one thing, poison was not his gig. So he was out of Valencia in a hurry. Along the way, he spent some jail time with Cervantes. At least, this is what I believe.

Since he had been Hamlet’s Nick Carroway, Horatio was in demand everywhere. Last we heard from Horatio was that he was doing TED talks.

He begins this way: “Guess you thought Shakespeare was going to do this talk today. Sorry to disappoint. He had some business back at Straitford. Something about bailing out his son-in-law. He sent me instead.

“So how did Shakespeare come up with Hamlet? Guess you’ve heard the tale that it was a response to his son, Hamnet’s, death. Hamnet died back in ’96. It was in all the papers….”

Next week at this same time and same station, Uncle Bardie will be singing a whole new song. So put it on your calendar and be ready to follow the Yellow Brick Road. You might even hear Miss Scarlett proclaim, “Tomorrow is another day.” 

Short Story Wednesday: Sam

Short Story Wednesday Prompt: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner.

I want to talk about a dawg. His name was Sam. Least that’s what he called hisself. Others knew him as Dammit or Git or Sumbitch or Git-on. That’s cause he was a tramp. He walked from place to place, calling no place home. Wasn’t that he didn’t want a home. He did. He wanted one mighty bad. Yet nowhere did he find any hospitality for the likes of hisself.

He was about knee-high-on-a-six-foot-man tall and what you’d call a half breed, half this and half that and half something else. His coat all caked up with mud and so it was hard to tell what color that coat was. If you looked hard, you’d see some brown and some black and a bit of red.

Mostly he was passing-through, getting his meals wherever he could. Got real good at finding a dumpster that might have a feast every couple a weeks. He stocked up his stomach real good, then moved on. Cause he knew nobody wanted him. ‘Tween dumpsters he’d find a garbage can, then someone’d see him tearing at the trash and throw a rock at him. With that, he moved on some more. Long time ago, he’d decided he didn’t want to be any bother, and he tried not to be. But it’s hard when you’re a dawg and nobody cares and you’re hungry all the time.

There were times a dog catcher showed up. Tried to outrun him and net him down. Sam was smart and he was fast. So he ended up on the no-catch list. By that time, he was on his way to another place, another town, another neighborhood. It wasn’t no matter where it was he was going. All that mattered was that he was going.

Now if you’d got up real close to Sam, you’d see the kindest eyes you ever did want to see. You’d know there was no danger in this dawg. There was only love. And you’d see lonely too. When a dawg is on the move the way Sam was, it was rare that any human person would get that chance to see them eyes of his up close.

Where Sam started out, he couldn’t have told you. Some distant memory of a family lodged deep in his brain but that was a long time ago. These days there was hurt and there was fear in that heart of his. As I said, the wandering life is a lonely life. So from time to time Sam would find a tree to keep him company and lie under that tree and dream. He preferred an oak tree. He would wonder if there was a human in his future. He wasn’t choosey. Any human would do.

Sam must have been on the road four, five years with no particular destination. Seems he’d been looking for something or someone all those years and still had not found what he was looking for. But you know, you may just find that which you been wanting, if you search hard enough, and you search with a pure heart. Sam sure searched hard enough, as hard as any, and it was for sure that he had a pure heart.

Maybe it was that some angel came up to God, pulled on his sleeve and said, “Sir, You might want to take a gander at this here dawg. He is a wandering dawg. He’s in need of a friend real bad. I been watching him a long time and I guarantee he is worthy.”

Well, that was why God had angels. So they could watch for things and folks that He might miss. When You are God, You have to keep Your eye on the Big Picture. Which means He didn’t often get a chance to see the little things.

God looked down on Sam and a tear fell from His eyes. Seems that God had a soft spot for dawgs like Sam. So God started doing some thinking. He thought and He thought and He thought some more. Then it came to Him. He knew just the thing for Sam. He called over to one of his extra-special angels and told her the plan He had in mind.

Sam had been tramping for a good four days. His stomach growled mighty hard as he made his way down a dirt road. He thought there might just be a farm nearby. Seems it had been aways since he last saw anything that he could reasonably call dinner.

In the distance, he heard some crying. Sam was a curious kind of dawg. That curiosity got Sam in trouble way too much, but still it was crying he heard. Even though humans had treated him unkindly, you’d think he would’ve not taken the chance. But he did. The crying came closer and closer as Sam edged hisself through the field of grass. Then he came upon it.

It was a human person. Must have been something like five years old and she sat there on the grass, bawling her eyes out. Sam being Sam he felt compassion for the little person. He walked right up to her and gave her a big lick like he’d known her his whole life. She stopped her bawling. Sam did another lick. This little girl started laughing. He did it again and she laughed harder.

Sam did not hear it. He sensed it. He made a quick turn and there was a rattler staring him right in the eye. That rattler was about to strike. Not at Sam. At the girl. The rattlesnake went for the girl. Sam went for the snake. Just as the snake was about to hit the girl, Sam bit into it. He bit that snake so hard, he bit it in two. Then he threw the snake’s head over aways.

Nearby a man stepped through the grass. Saw Sam and thought the girl was in danger from the dawg. He raised his rifle and aimed. Just as the hunter went to fire, he stopped. He saw the dawg throw that snake away. Then the dawg dropped down in front of the child. The girl went quiet.

The man ran over to the child. Sam bared his teeth. Nothing was going to hurt this child, those teeth said. The man dropped to his knees and said, “Easy, boy, easy. This is my Naomi and I am not about to hurt her.”

Sam liked the softness in the man’s voice. He picked himself up and moved away from the girl. The man lifted his daughter into his arms and hugged her. “Darling, we been looking all over for you. How in the world did you get here?” The girl giggled.

The man walked over and picked up his rifle as Sam saw his opportunity to sneak away.

The man looked over at Sam. He said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Sam did not know what to think. Should he trust this man. He went to run away.

The man called after him, “Sam,” he said. “It’s about time you came on home with us. You look like you could use a meal, some cleaning up and a home. Don’t you think?”

Sam barked. It was the first time he had barked in years. At least, the kind of bark that said, “Thank you.” Then Sam followed the man toward a nearby red barn.

God looked down from His cloud. He said to his angels, “It is good.” The angels all agreed. God smiled. Finally Sam had a home.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Short Story Friday: The Last Voyage of the Ark

Short Story Prompt: “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

It rains forty days and forty nights on Beelze. Then the folks there asks us to leave. Or, should I say, insists that we leave. Same as they always do. We get to a planet, my daddy does his preaching, they kick us off.

Me and the rest of the family complain about the lack of a home to my daddy, but he reminds us that we on a mission from God. To bring the Gospel to the heathen. If they don’t like it, so be it. It is his, and thus my family’s, calling to travel up and down the Nine Circles of the Inferno till we find a planet that takes us in for a bit. Gives us a home.

Seems in my short lifetime we have hit fifteen hundred worlds. I’m only counting the ones we been allowed to stay on more’n the obligatory seven days the Rules for Planetary Hospitality demand.

Back to Beelze. I’m glad to get off that place. It’s plenty hot, and its two suns never give you a night to sleep through. You aree lucky to get your forty winks, then you’re back up and at ’em. No wonder them folks stay half-pissed most of the time. Nothing, not even our Lord, is going to soft temper them people.

So my daddy gives them the finger and mutters, “Canaanites” the way he always does when the sinners do not accept his truth. Then me, my half-sister Ruth, my mama Joan, my daddy Noah and his second wife Hannah get back on the Ark and off we go wondering again. We’d lost my brothers Ham and Japheth in a gun battle on the Planet Infidel. My daddy sets the Ark’s autopilot and we settles into our prayers.”Lord, help us,” we pray like the true believers we are. And the Lord delivers. There, before us, a planet stares us down. It isn’t on any of our maps. But there it is anyway.

My father seldom smiles but this time my father smiles an hallelujah. Under his breath, he says to me, “This could be the one, Shem. Yes sir, this could be the one.”

It’s a smooth landing, the smoothest we’ve ever known. We step out onto a plain as green as green ever is. Nine monks in purple robes greet us. The nine smiled, each smiling a welcome. “We are glad you came.”

Then they lead my family through the forest at the edge of the plain. In a clearing there is a two-story wooden building. We enter the building and find ourselves among some of the friendliest people you ever want to meet. They feed us a scrumptious feast.

Over the following week, my daddy preaches sermon after sermon about the grace of our Lord to the monks. My daddy wears the collar but he is like no preacher they have met before. His eyes have a fire in them, what he calls the fire of the Holy Ghost.

“I may be a sinner. I may curse all to hell. I may be the kind of man who finds himself in darkness,” my daddy preaches up a sweat. “But I am here to tell you. I have grace. The Lord has given me His Light. And I want to give His Light to you.”

Soon those folks are saying Yes to everything my daddy says, and hallelujahing too.

Finally we have a home a place we can practice our faith in peace with others who follow the same Lord we do. As a celebration, my family and the nine monks return to our ship. There we perform a ceremony and set that Ark on fire and watch it turn the craft into ashes. There will be no leaving this planet. It is now our home.

One fine night, the finest night we have had since we arrived, they ask us to follow them to a special place. There they will take their final vows to commit themselves to our Lord. In this place, others are to join us and my daddy can preach his message to the people there. The monks are sure these others will commit themselves to our Lord as well.

Into a large dome, one of the monks lead us. We are surrounded by hundreds of others much like my famiily. They seem to be frozen standing. “Now you can preach your message to all these people. And they can preach their message to you.” Then the monk leaves the transparent dome and seals it.

“What?” my daddy wants to know and he wants to know bad.

From ourside the dome, the monk once again speaks. Softly this time. He speaks like the words are a chant, and they are a chant. “Each of you came to our world with a different god, a different faith. The one you say is the true religion they say it is not. They say the nonbelievers of their faith worship false gods. And you make war on one another. Under this dome, you have a choice. Your gods either learn to live in peace with one another, or all your gods die.”

“Lord, smite these people,” my daddy calls out to the sky.

“There’ll be no smiting. It’s one of the Five Rules. No smiting, biting or scratching.”

Then the monk flips a switch on the outside of the dome. In flashing neon lights, “Welcome to Hel” flashes across the side of the dome. He releases the others inside with us from their frozen stances. They starts screaming out their lords to us and we screams our lord back at them.

The monks turn and walked away. In silence.

Next Friday’s Short Story Prompt: “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville