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Literature | In Capital Letters, 2011 March

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Sara Blaisdell Excerpt

Excerpt from “Let the Machine Do Its Work”

     Once, when we were neighbors, Charlie took me sailing in his black Trans Am through the hay fields of Walsburg. He blasted Dinosaur Junior and tried out character names for the children’s book he was writing, The Secret Goldfish. I jotted his ideas down while he drove.

      “Darby,” he said, “for the cat. Time Bomb’s the fish. Ed’s the father. Matthew 3:17’s the brave little boy.”

     “What’s 3:17?”

     “And lo a voice from heaven saying, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” he said. “That’s what God says after Jesus gets baptized. And this little boy is going to make his father proud, too. I haven’t decided how yet.”

     Charlie was a little stronger back then, but not too strong. Since I’d moved up to a studio apartment in Salt Lake, Charlie rarely visited. It was an hour drive. But he’d call and say stuff like, “My eyes water when I look at people,” or, “I haven’t been able to speak this entire year. I can whisper but it kills me.” His stupid adrenal glands were failing. He’d applied to graduate school to be a marriage and family therapist but there was no way he could do it short of an ultra-intense mind-bending miracle.

     When he said, “You’re the only girl who knows how to dress,” I thought for a minute.

     “What about all the artsy girls?” I asked. “Those artsy girls who lived downstairs?”

     “None of the artsy girls like Jesus. And the Jesus girls, all they care about is softball.”

     I didn’t even know what kind of girl I was. My bishop had just leant me a copy of Dr. Phil’s Self Matters and Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. My therapist had said, “Keep all the Reese’s on high shelves. Store the carrot sticks at eye level.” That week some girls and I had gone to karaoke. It had been a lively mix of both artsy girls and Jesus girls, some who considered themselves to be both. One of them had waved her empty glass in the air and told me I was her best friend. Another one had flicked the flab under her arm and said, “Remember when we were fourteen and had no cottage cheese? No cellulite?” My eyes had widened. I’d come home tipsy. I needed a bath, or to drown all my clocks in bath water, or to ditch my essence for a new one.

     Now I was eating from a bag of chocolate chips and Charlie was saying, “I’m thinking about coming up that way soon.” He made the drive up I-15 sound like a big deal. “Not many people are going to make it in this life, but you’re going to make it, and I’m going to make it. I’m trying out this new program and I want you to be a part of it.”

     “What kind of program?”

     “For starters, I got my colon vacuumed. Have you heard about the procedure? It cleans out all the shit that’s stuck in you. You wouldn’t believe how much stays inside. And I’m not talking about dead cells or tartar build-up. Actual shit.”

     “Gross.”

     “That’s not the part I want you involved in. There’s a lot more to it.”

     We hung up and I thought how I might rearrange things before he came. Maybe set a few of his favorite books on the back of the toilet, Anna Karenna and The Pearl of Great Price. Fill a bowl with organic Golden Delicious’ for the end table. I didn’t know if my apartment was pure enough for him or not. For some reason I thought of that Sunday School Song, “If Jesus Came to Your House”--Would you have to change your clothes before you let Him in? Or hide some magazines and put the Bible where they'd been? I decided just to leave things the way they were.