Thursday, 29 October 2020

F Fic, Non-fic

Paint, Water, and Blood

By Hannah Romero

 Paint


 The heat shimmered up from the asphalt, making the world waver and turning the approaching crowd into a rainbow ocean. The heat waves formed an impenetrable wall, separating two worlds. On this side the men stood tense, tugging at the ties of their sweat-drenched suits, leaning against their signs. Waiting. The other side advanced, clutching a colorful banner. Ready. The distance began to close.

 

A heavy hand landed on Matt's shoulder, making him jump. He spun around and looked up into the face of his father. His gaze quickly fell to his scuffed shoes.

 

"What are you doing here, Matthew?"

 

The voice was calm, but it contained a tone Matt couldn't identify—either anger or worry. Matt shivered despite the heat of the day.

 

"I—I just wanted to—I mean, I thought I could help—"

 

"Let the kid stay," one of the men said. "He's old enough."

 

"He's only nine," his father protested.

 

"Almost ten," Matt said under his breath.

 

"He'll learn the wickedness of the world soon enough," another man chimed in. "It'll do him some good to stand by real men who know what's true."

 

His father opened his mouth to say more, but another man's yell cut him off.

"They're coming! Get your signs up!"

 

The men pushed back their sleeves and hoisted their signs into the air. The low rumble of voices from the approaching crowd grew. Matt felt his father's grip on his shoulder tighten and his chin raised by his father's other hand. He met his father's eyes.

 

"You can stay," his father said slowly. "But if anything gets out of hand, you get out of here. I want you to understand—these people are displeasing to God. Their lifestyle is an abomination. We need to stand for the truth of God's Word. Do you understand?"

 

"Y—yes. Yes." Matt nodded vigorously.

 

"Good. Stay toward the back of our group."

 

His father picked up his sign and moved to the front of the group. One of the men in the group—a younger man with a somewhat mischievous smirk—handed Matt a sign made of poster board. Large red letters spelled out "REPENT." Several verse references were written underneath. Some were from Leviticus, some from Romans. Matt tried to remember what they said. He looked around at the other signs that the men were holding up in anticipation.

 

Homosexuality is Sin. Marriage = One Man+ One Woman. Turn or Burn. God Hates Gays.

 

Matt tried to take everything in so he could put the pieces together and make sense of the situation. He'd heard the adults at church talking in hushed tones about this sin and about how they would fight against it today—but it wasn't something you just ask about. Hoping for more clarity, he turned his attention to the crowd coming up the street. He could see them better now. The banner they carried in front of the group was striped in rainbow colors and read "Gay Pride March." They walked in measured paces until the banner came parallel with the sidewalk where the men from the church stood behind flimsy barriers that had been put up.

 

That was when the world exploded. Matt had never heard so many screams or so much confusion. The men around him practically smashed him, pressing up to the edge of the sidewalk, shaking their signs, yelling out the same phrases they'd written. Some screamed Bible verses – some about salvation, some about judgment. He heard his father's voice, raised louder than he was used to, stressing the need to turn from sin to Jesus. Tentatively, Matt lifted his "Repent" sign into the air.

 

The men and women of the parade walked slowly past, screaming back. Two young women laughed hysterically, their arms around each other's necks. Two young men held hands, their entwined fingers forming one fist that they raised in the air. Matt gasped in shock when a man lifted his fists toward the group of church men and extended his middle fingers.

 

Church men yelled from the sidewalk. Men and women in bright clothing either yelled back or cheered defiantly as they walked by on the street. The screams blended together until words were unintelligible. The heat waves made the colors of bright shirts and dark suits run together. Everything was lost in confusion.

***

Matt took the wet glass from his wife and dried it carefully before setting it in the cupboard. They worked methodically, listening to the soft music playing in the background. After three years of marriage, they had established a comfortable routine. As she washed the last plate, Audrey spoke up.

 

"Did you see the moving vans across the street today?" she asked.

 

"I did, when I came back from work. It'll be nice to have neighbors over there again—that house took forever to sell." Matt put the plate away and closed the cupboard, then turned to her. "I'm not sure I saw the family, though. There were a few guys around our age—but I'm not sure who was just there to help."

 

"I think I could tell who the owners were," Audrey said slowly. "One of the young men was giving some directions about where to put things, and—"

 

"Do you think he's alone?" Matt asked, pulling Audrey into a hug and resting his cheek against her hair. "Or did you see anyone else in his family?"

 

"Well," she said slowly, squeezing his waist, "I'm pretty sure I saw his spouse…"

 

"Really? I guess she just wasn't there when I saw them."

 

Audrey laughed a little, but there was something strange in it. She kept her arms around Matt, but pulled back so she could look at his face. "I don't think you quite understand, Matt. He's . . . that is to say, his spouse . . ." She sighed. "I think he's married to—or at least together with—a man."

 

Matt laughed, even though nothing was funny. He had a bad habit of laughing when he was too shocked to respond normally.

 

"Are you sure?" he asked, trying to organize his jumbled thoughts.

 

"I'm not positive, but that's what it seemed like."

 

Letting go of Audrey, he walked into the living room and looked out the window. The moving van was still there, and people carried large boxes back and forth. Audrey came up next to him and they watched together. It was dark outside now, and the light from the house was only enough to make out generalities, but after a few moments it became obvious who the owners of the house were. The two men—mid-twenties, light skin, one blonde, one with light brown hair—could have passed as brothers.

 

"Well . . ." Matt shook his head. "This will take some getting used to."

 

"I guess it's just the world we live in now."

 

"The world, maybe, but why the neighborhood?" Matt turned to Audrey and gently placed his hand against her belly. She was just beginning to show. "I was really hoping we'd be staying here for a while."

 

"We still can stay here," Audrey said, placing her hand over his. "It'll be fine."

 

That night, Matt dreamt of hot streets, angry screams, and shaking hands holding up a poster board sign with red letters.

 

~~~

"I'd like to bring them brownies."

 

Matt turned to Audrey and raised an eyebrow. He wanted to ask her who she was talking about . . . but faking ignorance was pointless.

 

"It's been three days since they moved in, Matt."

 

"Yes . . ." He bit his lip as he closed his book and leaned back against the couch. Audrey sat in the window seat across from him, hands curled around a mug of tea, and she'd been looking out across the street. Now she was looking at him expectantly. But he didn't know what to say.

 

"We've always brought brownies to the other neighbors when they first move in," she prodded.

 

"It just feels odd," he said. He struggled to put the strange feeling in his stomach into words. "We can't look like we support them or are ok with their lifestyle . . ."

 

"How do brownies show support?" Audrey asked, almost laughing. Matt shrugged, and his wife's smile became gentler. "Remember when Aaron moved in a few houses down? And threw his first party on his second night here?"

 

"And we brought him brownies when he was very hungover the next morning," Matt said quietly, glancing down at his hands as he fiddled with his book.

 

"And you remember what you told me?" Audrey stood and came to sit beside him on the couch. Matt didn't respond.

 

"You told me that those brownies might be our first step to inviting him to church."

 

"He's never come," Matt said.

 

"But he knows the invitation is open," Audrey countered.

 

Matt glanced toward the window. "These guys are different."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"There's no getting through to them."

 

"Let's let God be the judge of that." Audrey leaned in and kissed his cheek, then stood and headed toward the kitchen. Before long, he could smell chocolate.

 

~~~

Audrey balanced the plate of brownies so she could reach out and ring the doorbell. Matt rubbed his hands against his pant legs and coughed.

 

The young man who opened the door smiled broadly as Audrey extended her hand.

 

"Hi, my name is Audrey Muller, and this is my husband Matt."

 

Matt somehow managed to remember to reach out and shake the man's hand. He didn't have a very firm grip, in Matt's opinion.

 

"Luke Reynolds. So pleased to meet you both!"

 

"We live in the house across the street, and we just wanted to bring you some brownies to welcome you to the neighborhood."

 

"That is so nice!" Luke took the plate of brownies with a smile. "Hang on just a second. Jason, come over here!"

 

The other young man appeared from around a corner and approached the door slowly. He looked as tense and skeptical as Matt felt.

 

"This is my husband, Jason," Luke said. They shook hands with Jason as Audrey introduced herself and Matt again.

 

Audrey and Luke talked for a few minutes. Matt didn't hear a word they said. He was taking in details, comparing the two men. Luke's light brown hair was shaggy, with bangs that fell to the side, while Jason's blonde hair was cut shorter and he had the shadow of a beard. Luke's voice had a slight high pitched lilt to it—not as affected as Matt had expected, but it still grated on him. Jason hadn't spoken. At one point, Matt and Jason's eyes accidentally met, and they both looked away quickly.

 

". . . and feel free to stop by any time, or let us know if you need anything," Luke said.

 

"Thank you, we appreciate that." Audrey glanced at Matt expectantly. He cleared his throat.

 

"Welcome to the neighborhood," he managed.

 

"Thank you for the brownies." Jason's voice was hardly above a whisper, and he didn't meet their eyes, but something in his words sounded genuine.

 

Once they reached their own porch, Matt took a deep breath. "That was awful."

 

Audrey simply smiled reassuringly.

~~~

Over the weeks, the neighbors got used to seeing one another and established a ritual of sorts. Audrey and Luke would wave and exchange pleasantries with whomever they happened to run into. Matt and Jason would exchange curt nods.

 

It didn't take long before patterns started coming out—particularly in regards to Sundays. Apparently, it was tradition for Luke and Jason to sit out on the porch and read on Sunday mornings—and they were always there when Matt and Audrey returned from church. The men would look up from their books and wave and nod as Matt and Audrey waved and nodded in their Sunday clothes before going in for lunch.

 

One Sunday, Luke added to his normal greeting. "You never miss a Sunday, do you?"

 

"We love our church," Audrey responded simply. "Besides, it would be hard for us to miss."

 

"I'm the youth pastor," Matt explained.

 

Luke nodded and might have let it end there, but Jason looked up, curiosity in his eyes. "What church do you go to?"

 

"Grace, down on Willow Street," Matt replied.

 

"And you're a pastor there?"

 

"Yes. Audrey and I work with the teenagers."

 

To Matt's surprise, Jason smiled. "That's shocking," he said. "I thought all pastors would be bound to have signs all over their yards telling sinners to repent before they go to hell."

 

To Matt's even greater surprise, he smiled back. "I've found that signs aren't immensely effective in presenting any message."

 

~~~

The summer night was stifling. Even with the air conditioner and every fan they owned turned on, Matt was roasting in his bed. He got up quietly so he wouldn't disturb Audrey, and then headed to the kitchen for a glass of water. The digital clock on the stove read 1:09 am. He wandered out to the living room, sipping his cold water. The front window was open to help air circulate through the house. He paused by it, his attention suddenly drawn by a voice outside beginning to shout. Drawing back the curtain, he saw two figures standing on the sidewalk across the street, just outside the circle of light from the streetlamp.

 

". . . think you're doing here? Huh? Both of you?" The voice continually gained volume. "Think you can just waltz in here and do whatever you want? But no one wants you here! No one wants you anywhere. You get that through your thick skull, Gayson?"

 

Matt recognized the slur in the shouting voice. Aaron lived several houses down, and he usually got too wasted to bother anyone. But occasionally, he was just drunk enough to get angry. Matt moved to the door and stepped out onto his porch.

 

Jason was standing still, his arms crossed. He said something to Aaron, but it was too quiet for Matt to hear. Aaron laughed too loud.

 

"You think you're better than me, Gayson? Is that it? You think you're so great? You're nothing but a piece of trash! You and your girly boyfriend! You're just two good for nothing fags."

 

"Shut up!" Jason yelled.

 

Aaron lifted his arm, beer bottle still clutched in his hand. Jason shrank back and put up his hands defensively. And something in Matt snapped.

 

He jumped down from his porch and ran across the street, jumping between Aaron and Jason, trying to grab Aaron's arm as it swung downward. The beer bottle shattered against his shoulder, but he managed to reach out and grab Aaron's arms.

 

"Matt?" Aaron asked, confused. "Get out of this, man."

 

"You're drunk, Aaron," Matt said, ignoring the burning feeling in his shoulder, trying to not think about whether the liquid he felt was beer or blood. "You're drunk and acting like an idiot. You need to calm down before you hurt someone."

 

"Whatever, man, you hate these gays more than I do," Aaron protested.

 

Matt caught his breath. "That's where you're wrong. I don't hate them, and I don't hate you. But I hate how you're acting right now. Go home."

 

Aaron cursed and shrugged himself free of Matt's grip, then turned and headed—stumbling—back towards his house. Matt winced and turned around. Jason's eyes were wide and his body was tense, his hands still up defensively.

 

"Ouch," Matt said, looking down at his shoulder. Even in the dark, he knew it was bleeding. "That's unfortunate."

 

Jason snapped to attention and forced Matt to come into his house, where he cleaned and bandaged the cuts from the broken beer bottle. For a while they didn't talk. Then Jason cleared his throat.

 

"Thank you," he muttered. "I should have just walked away, or stood up for myself, or something. But, no matter how many times it happens, I guess I've never gotten good at hitting back."

 

"I know what you mean." Matt almost chuckled. "I had a period where I learned to be remarkably good at taking hits."

 

Jason raised an eyebrow skeptically. "You? Why?"

 

"Let's just say that a Sunday school kid who's been homeschooled all his life showing up to a public high school doesn't exactly go over well."

 

"You were bullied? For being a Christian?"

 

Matt nodded. "Tonight when I saw Aaron raise his arm, the way you flinched—it's the way I flinch whenever someone makes a quick movement that startles me." He looked down, suddenly sheepish. "I had to do something."

 

Jason nodded slowly.

 

When Matt left, the two men looked each other in the eye and shook hands.

 

~~~

That night, Matt dreamt of a rain that poured over the streets, cooling the heat, drowning out the screams, washing the red letters off the signs. The barriers crumbled and the humans on each side looked each other in the eyes. Paint and water and blood mixed on the street, flowing over the shoes of marchers and protesters alike.

 

The End.


Hannah Romero is a writer from the inter-mountain West of the United States, seeking to use art to spread hope and truth. She's always been a bookworm and a nerd, so she first discovered her love for writing through fanfiction. As she continued exploring her love for words and good stories, she branched out to writing original short stories, poems, plays, and novels. Hannah studied creative writing at a community college and a Christian university for a total of five years. Currently she is a contributing writer at the blog Confident Foundation and she continues to find ways to share her stories with the world." 

You can find more of Hannah's work at the blog, Confident Foundation: http://www.confidentfoundation.com/

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