Not Long Tales … October 22nd, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4205)

11.

Tuesday’s Toodle

After thirty-five years of “workin’ on the railroad all the livelong day,” Gerald McCallister retired to a tiny, two-bedroom home with purple shutters, a mile-and-a-half outside the little village of Coreyville, Georgia. He was a single man with no children and no relatives who seemed to recall the “tie that binds.”

After months of going through the desperation of trying to find a purpose for his life, he was nearly on his last breath of despair. It was especially difficult late at night, when he found himself tumbling into the deep-dark caverns of depression, dwelling with deep consideration on his demise, even the taking of his own life. In those agonizing junctures of dismay, it seemed logical to leave instead of continuing the absurdity of repetition.

But each morning the sunlight offered such a cheery outlook that he sat down at a small wooden table he had made for himself years before and relished his cup of coffee and a plateful of sliced corn-meal mush he had fried to a crisp and drizzled with maple syrup.

But it was a to-and-fro that certainly could not continue. The agony of the nighttime was consuming the hope of the new day.

Finally one night his heart was overthrown by anguish, and he made a promise to all the blackened room around him. He believed it to be a prayer, though he was not sure it had the power to ascend. “If anyone is listening,” he said, “please hear. I cannot pretend anymore. I will not fake my life. I will continue to faithfully chase the weeks and months if you will do three things. Yes — just three things. Every day I will make a simple list of people, happenings or events that I wish to see, and during my walk to town, my journey through the village, my lunch at the diner, and my return to my home, if I see those three things, I promise to you — or to anyone who’s listening — that I will not grab my hunting rifle and climb into the bathtub, tuck it under my chin, pull the trigger and blow my brains into the face of God.”

Strangely enough, this petition gave strength to Gerald’s heart, for the next morning he had a true purpose — to pick his three things. He decided to call it his “Toodle List” — short for “To Do Today.”

Gerald McCallister was not insane nor was he in search of miracles. Just connection. He was never going to place anything miraculous or outlandish on his list — nothing beyond the spectrum of what was available in his community. Just three insignificant little jobs. He figured it was one task for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Ghost.

The list he made on the first morning was a request for a squirrel running by his feet, a bird singing in a tree and hearing the sound of an automobile’s honking horn. Sure enough — during the four-and-a-half hours of walking to Coreyville and back, all three were provided. This went on for weeks.

Gerald decided to do his Toodle list every day except Sunday. On Sunday he made the walk into town to attend the Glory Land Church of God in Christ. It was a black church, and Gerald was white — what you might call “china white.” He didn’t care. He loved the music, he loved the spirit, and even liked it a little bit that they stared at him, wondering why he didn’t go to the Baptist Church down the street, that was of a lighter hue.

But more than anything else, Gerald loved it when the black folks got to prayin’ and would suddenly slip out of their native tongue, into a language he didn’t understand, which he was told by the pastor was “heaven speak.”

Reverend Kepling, the minister of the congregation, told Gerald, “It’s when you get so close to God that your tongue goes heavenly and your talkin’ to just Him and nobody else.”

Gerald thought about how marvelous that sounded. He, himself, had no such dialect. But he sure loved to listen to them chat away.

There was one other white man who came to the church occasionally, but he usually showed up for the choir concerts, to tap his foot awhile to the Gospel tunes. He didn’t know about the supernal speaking that went on, from the Earthly angels.

Yet even though Gerald attended the church, he never got close to anyone, only having lunch at the Coreyville diner once a month with the pastor — more or less because they would always eventually run into each other. During one of those luncheons, Gerald worked up the courage to tell the young cleric about the deal he had made in the dark room. He was about halfway through his explanation — in the middle of describing the requests he made daily of God — when the young minister interrupted, horrified. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!” he objected.

Gerald sat and stared at him, not certain of the meaning, but figured it was time to cease being transparent.

More time passed.

There was also an older woman at the church who expressed some fondness for Gerald, but when he finally worked up the courage to approach her about continuing their friendship outside the churchyard, she shook her head. She explained to him, “I likes you an’ all, but we lives in Coreyville, Georgia. And here I’m not a woman and you a man. Here, I’m black — and you white.”

Gerald looked at her, perplexed, but deep in his heart he knew what she was talking about, and unfortunately, he had to agree that she was probably right.

But this disappointment further fed the demon that kept trying to drag Gerald McCallister to the gates of hell. But once again, every morning came with light.

Most of the time, the Toodle list he made was so simple that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost seemed to have no problem completing their tasks. Every once in a while, the third one would be slow coming. Gerald figured that was just the Holy Ghost being new to the job.

For instance, one day Gerald asked, on his Toodle list, to see a rainbow. He thought it was plenty fair, because rain was in the forecast, but lo and behold, the weatherman was wrong. The day was brilliant and beautiful. So Gerald was on his way to leave town, a bit forlorn, wondering if he would have to follow through on his promise. All at once, he passed by the town fountain, spraying water into the air. The sun — the mighty sun in the sky — hit it just right, and suddenly there was a rainbow all around him.

Gerald felt like shouting hallelujah. He thought if he got started with it, he might even find his heavenly tongue, like the folks at the church. But looking around, he saw some children walking by. So he contained himself and instead sprouted the largest smile his face had ever known.

Today, for Tuesday’s Toodle, he had requested to see someone helping out another who was having car trouble. Secondly, he wanted the town grocer to say hello to him (which had only happened a half a dozen times over the months.) And finally, he wanted to catch a glimpse of a soul giving a donation to the homeless veteran who sat outside the hardware store. Everyone called him Sergeant Jack.

Well, the first two came quickly — so quickly that Gerald was nearly as excited as he’d been on Rainbow Thursday weeks before. But the third one — well, the third one became problematic.

Unbeknownst to Sergeant Jack, Gerald sat twenty paces away, watching for nearly two hours, as people stepped over and around the veteran, but no one gave the old soldier a single dime.

Gerald was astonished. Normally, Sergeant Jack was beloved and appreciated. Why were people ignoring him today? Was it a sign from God? Was God punching Gerald’s ticket, ready to take him home?

After three long hours, with tears in his eyes, Gerald stood to his feet and trudged his way home.

Upon arriving, he took off his shirt, removed his walking boots, grabbed his rifle and climbed into the bathtub, sinking himself deep into the tub, ensuring that most of the blood and brain matter would land inside instead of destroying the walls. He tucked his gun underneath his chin and he gently reached down to finger the trigger. He was careful not to pull it too soon — not until he was certain that the time was right.

He had one thought in his mind: A deal is a deal. He had never welched on a bet and he’d always tried to honor his promises. He could not understand why after all these months, the Father and Son delivered but the Holy Ghost was ignoring him.

Do I really want to live, he thought to himself, in a world where Sergeant Jack is ignored?

His confidence to pull the trigger was building with each moment as he realized that the only thing he had left was his integrity. After all, without it, his Toodle was just a game he played with himself, which made him not only a fool but a liar.

It was time to put up and forever shut up. He fingered the trigger, testing to see how much pressure it would take to pull it.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. The knock was so surprising that Gerald nearly pulled the trigger accidentally. He remained quiet, waiting for the stranger to go away, but the knock came again, getting louder. It was followed by a voice — a familiar one. Reverend Kepling. He shouted, “Gerald! Gerald! Mr. McCallister! Gerald McCallister!”

He kept shouting, over and over again. Gerald was stymied. He didn’t know what to do. But he knew for a fact that he didn’t want this young man to discover him, headless. It could ruin his life and scare him away from the ministry.

So holding his finger on the trigger, letting up on some of the tension to so as not to complete the deed, he called out, as loudly as he could speak with a gun held under his chin, “In here!”

In the flash of a moment, the Reverend entered the bathroom and saw Gerald sitting there with a gun to his head. Trying desperately to maintain his calm through gulping gobs of dry throat, he said slowly, “What are you doing, Gerald?”

Gerald suddenly remembered that he had told the minister about his Toodle list, so earnestly — as rationally as he could — he explained that today’s list had gone unfulfilled. Unfortunately, Reverend Kepling did not remember quite as well. “What do you mean, unfulfilled?” he asked.

Frustrated, Gerald shifted his hands on the gun and replied, “It’s neither here nor there. I asked God to do something simple and told Him if He couldn’t, I would know that it was my Judgment Day.”

Suddenly, as if struck by the memory of an angel, the minister spoke up. “Oh, I know what you’re talking about! Wait, wait. What is it God didn’t do?”

“It wasn’t God,” answered Gerald. “It was Slow Joe, the Holy Ghost.”

Kepling nodded his head as if comprehending.

Gerald continued. “I had three things on my Toodle list today — you know that. The first two came quickly and easily. But the third one never showed.”

Kepling, grasping for inspiration, inquired, “Well, what was it, Gerald? What did the Holy Spirit fail to do?”

Exasperated, Gerald responded, “The Holy Ghost — well, the Holy Ghost was supposed to show me the sight of Sergeant Jack being blessed by a donation from one of the townsfolk.”

The pastor shook his head. Gerald, frustrated, replied, “Well, goddamn it, it didn’t happen.”

With this, Gerald motioned toward the trigger again. The minister rose to the occasion. “Listen. Listen, Gerald,” he said. “My brother, my brother — you got it all wrong. This was your fault.”

This surprised Gerald so much that he removed his hand from the trigger, taking his finger and pointing at himself. “Me?” he asked. “How was it my fault?”

Reverend Kepling burst into laughter. “Don’t you see? God can’t take your job and make it somebody else’s business. You were the one that came up with the idea to give a donation to Sergeant Jack. Not even the Holy Ghost can give your job to someone else.”

“What are you saying?” Gerald asked, confused.

Kepling inched his way over to sit on the edge of the bathtub. “I’m saying, Brother McCallister, that when you bring up being kindly to one of the lost souls of God, He is expecting you to have the good sense to know that you’re the one to do it, not someone else.”

Suddenly Gerald had a burst of understanding. His faith had been tested. The problem was, he was asking somebody else to do his business for him.

No wonder.

God was sittin’ there, right next to him, watching to see if Sergeant Jack would get a donation. But not from a stranger. No. From Mr. Gerald McCallister.

Suddenly in tears, Gerald slowly disengaged himself from his rifle, set it on the floor outside the bathtub, and climbed out. Crying like a baby, he pleaded, “I’ve gotta go to town, Preacher. I didn’t do my part. And I’m so tired. I’m so tired.”

Reverend Kepling supported Gerald as they walked out of the bathroom, clear from the present danger. “Brother McCallister,” he said, “it would be my honor to drive you into town in my car, so you can fulfill your third Toodle.”

Gerald stopped and gave the young fellow a hug. “Thank you, Preacher Man.”

They made their way into the car, drove into town, and found Sergeant Jack, who was about to head to the woods outside town to settle in for the night. They took him to dinner at the local diner and talked about things that none of the three men ever knew about each other.

 

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