This is the first chapter of my new story The Not-So-Holy Bible, which is about a boy trying to fix his mom and himself so they can escape his miserable grandparents. You can get it free for your e-reader here with the code PA52P.
My hope is you’ll enjoy it then share it and give it a positive review — or not!
In my beginning God created me.
And that was nice, I suppose. Though it mostly went downhill from there. But life was never unbearable for long, not until we had to move in with my grandparents and I found out—despite my best efforts and bumperstickers constantly assuring me otherwise—God hates me.
I was alone, in their guest room, tucked into their twin bed, which creaked any time you just thought hard enough. Still I was closer to sleep than I had been for two and a half days. Somewhere, the Hoover coughed as it grumbled on. Then flip-flops came flipping and flopping down the hall. Before I could summon the sense it takes to hide properly, the door flew open.
All I saw were teeth—my mother’s ghost-white teeth.
I curled into a ball and covered my face with the nearest throw pillow. But my feet did not tuck tightly or quickly enough. She reached under the blankets and caught an ankle.
“Come here, babe,” she said.
I didn’t budge, so she stabbed the tip of a fingernail into my heel.
My fingers crawled out and latched on to the mattress’ loose edge. With both hands, she pulled, dragging my ankle, the creaking, and me to her. My free foot flailed, until the big toe found her hip. When I gave her a slight push, she let go, which sent me tumbling to the floor.
Sitting up, I found her finger pressed into my top lip, shushing me, though I had not spoken a word. Beyond the wall, the Hoover gobbled up something metallic that grinded its gears. My mother gave me a wink and I had to look down.
A thumb-shaped smear on the inside thigh of the moss-green sweatpants she had been wearing for weeks was pointing at me. Before I could guess how she’d gotten that there, she kicked off her flip-flops, and grabbed my wrist to tow me into the bathroom.
Once the door was locked and the faucet was flowing full blast, she dug two fingers into the watch pocket of my jeans and drew me close. The fresh stink of her cigarette breath made me shudder as she whispered, “Your grandmother has informed me that we may borrow one thousand whole dollars to move out—immediately.” She stepped back to wait for her news to arrive on my face. “If we scrimp and scavenge, babe, we’ll get to California, easy.”
Like that, the world was new.
She grabbed me and squeezed till she found bone.
“See,” she said, locking her hands into my shoulders in case I attempted to flee before I had demonstrated sufficient gratitude. “Your grandma ain’t entirely evil.”
“I never said that.” I hadn’t. “She just wants us out of their house. Her house.”
“He don’t want to be bothered, either.” She pressed her forehead into mine. “So we don’t mention it to him or her, never—especially him. Even if you’re asked twice.”
Him was my grandfather, and there was less than no chance he would ask me about anything, ever. In ninety-seven days, he hadn’t even looked me in the eye once. “Fine.”
“Promise a promise.”
My mother has always been well aware that I do my very best to avoid unnecessary deceptions of any sort. But in that moment, I was convinced that she had delivered us a miracle that had proven that genuinely desperate and constantly repeated prayers could be suddenly and completely answered. So I nodded. But I must have given in too easily.
“No one’s gonna tear us apart?” she asked. “Never ever?”
“Fine,” I said, unable to imagine why anyone would ever bother to do that. “I promise.”
Her hands flew over her head to begin a dance of pure joy and terrible tap dancing. Once she had completed two full 360-degree spins, I shut off the faucet to ask, “Shall we pack?”
She sighed, knowing that all of my possessions—except for my most essential toiletries—were zipped inside my suitcase. “Tonight’s the night, babe. Tonight we celebrate.”
I shrugged as the Hoover moaned off.
“Claude Norman Tillson.” My mother only used all my names to indicate she was no longer in a mood to fuss—or when she felt obligated to demonstrate she was sober enough to remember all three in their proper order. “The bank don’t even open up till Monday, babe.”
The thought of two more nights in that house, on that bed, paralyzed me, until she said, “Get.”
It took less than five minutes to ready myself. I decided on my churchiest outfit—my only option that did not require hours of ironing. It was a yellow button-up shirt, with matching yellow dress shoes and nearly matching slacks. Hair parted. Teeth brushed, rinsed, and brushed again. Nails clipped. Done. I was ready to get the festivities over with.
“You’re too cute,” my mother said, shoving me out of the bathroom. “It’s easy for you.”
Her preparations, however, took hours.
I made the bed, then sat on the floor and memorized Proverbs while she bathed and re-bathed; shaved, and re-shaved. Once every cranny and crease on her body had been dried and then smothered in coconut-scented lotion, she put on her bra and underwear and stood in front of the mirror on the back of the bedroom door to tweeze every stray strawberry-blonde hair off her brow—and chin. She did this for the better part of the afternoon before she was ready to cake on her makeup and declare with complete confidence and all due modesty, “Earthly perfection has been achieved.” Yet it was not until she returned from the bathroom in her outfit and heels for the evening that it was clear that we had entirely different celebrations in mind.
She dangled her left hand over her head and twirled slowly to reveal how the smooth fit of her chocolate skirt complimented her snug tapioca blouse with its oblong shoulder pads. The top had been stranded in our Sunbird’s trunk for months since she bought it for half off of half off during Rich’s Department Store’s “So Long, Santa! sale.” I thought it was an interesting match for her reddish quilted Vera Bradley handbag, even though it came off a bit stuffy when Princess Diana wore the original version on the evening news. My mother had added some zest by tucking the collar in as far as it would go, revealing even more of her mostly vanilla skin along with a scenic view of her more-than-ample cleavage. Before she could twirl again, I had to set my Bible aside to ask if such a fine ensemble might be wasted on such a trifling celebration.
She put her hands on her waist and studied herself up and down in the mirror until her gaze settled on her lips. Pink and pursed, they resembled a frosted rosebud.
“Honestly, Claude,” she said. “It don’t get any better than this.”