Scripture’s momma always told him he’d do great things. And do great things he did… Laugh. Cry. Or, maybe don’t laugh quite yet, as Scripture Jennings lets you peek into his world for an afternoon or two…
First printed in Issue #8 of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine and edited by Dean Wesley Smith, Leftovers features one of B.A. Paul’s most memorable characters.
Once in a while, the good people of Hickory Hills asked Scripture Jennings for his help.
And Scripture was always happy to help.
Scripture walked down Main Street to the tiny stone funeral parlor. Gwen had called him the night before with a job. It had been a while since anyone had called him with work, but the little town of Hickory Hills didn’t have many jobs for someone like Scripture.
Colorful pastel flags indicating the weekend of the Rainbow Run decked the rooftops up and down Main. Scripture paused for a moment, put his hands deep into his overall pockets, and gazed at the dancing flags. The residents would line the streets and throw colored powder all over each other and high into the air as they ran, skipped, and walked all over downtown Hickory.
Scripture’s momma hadn’t had the means to keep him in school. Scripture dropped out to help take care of his momma after she fell sick with the cancer. Since she died, he lived meagerly in their family home at the far edge of town and depended on a small trust she’d set up for him for his adulthood.
His momma did teach him how to be kind and caring and to work hard. “You’re gonna do great things, Scripture Jennings, when you don’t have to look after this old bag of bones any more. You’re gonna do great things.”
And Scripture had done things he was proud of, but he didn’t think they counted as great things.
Like when old farmer Ted had trouble with coyotes attacking his cows out by the edge of town. Ted called Scripture to help with the fences. And Scripture took down every one of those fences while Ted tended to his day job so those cows could find a safe place to hide in the woods on the other side of Interstate 265. The traffic on the highway helped out, too, by waiting patiently for six hours while the cows crossed the road. He’d done a good thing for Mr. Ted.
And then there was the time that Scripture helped Councilwoman Cynthia when the ivy vines overgrew the City Hall building. Scripture went right to work, clipping and cutting that ivy away from the walls so those good lawmakers could see out of their windows and the townspeople could see the pretty red brickwork. That nasty ivy even climbed the poles on the corner of the street. Scripture’s momma would be proud that he did his best and even cleared those poles, clipping and cutting some more.
The store owners on that side of Main jumped right in and helped, too, since some of them didn’t have any power to their buildings and had nothing better to do. Even the electric company came out to lend a hand.
He felt proud of his work that day, too. But he didn’t think it was great.
He smiled up at the flags because tonight he got to mix up all the colored powder for the race. It was his most favorite job for over ten years now. And, during the race, he would stand on top of the bakery’s roof to watch the festivities. He never accepted pay for preparing the colored packets. He only asked that he could watch from above and cheer on the runners.
But this morning, he hoped to be paid because he was running low on funds since he’d spent his last week’s allowance on feed and toys for the pet shelter. He planned to do the best he could for Miss Gwen.
He arrived at the parlor where Gwen smiled at him from the front steps. Scripture was a little nervous about coming here today, because his momma was here just a year ago and he didn’t much like the day that he watched over her in the casket; he still wished his momma hadn’t had to go.
Since Scripture’s momma didn’t have funds left for a proper burial after setting up his trust, Scripture had agreed to cremate her. Gwen graciously performed that service for Scripture without charge since the tiny parlor operated the only crematorium for miles around. He’d tucked his momma’s ashes away in a little white box in the kitchen cabinet. She loved the kitchen, and Scripture watched over her each morning to be sure she was safe and sound.
“Hey, Scrip. Are you ready to get to work? I have a lot to do to get ready for the race, so I’m so glad you could be here today.” Gwen gave Scripture a big hug and escorted him through the oak door. Gwen had called him “Scrip” ever since she was a little girl. If he’d a little sister, he’d want her to be just like Gwen.
“Yes, Miss Gwen. Happy to do whatever.” He shoved his hands back in his overalls and focused on the warped wooden floor. Thinking about his momma made him tear up, and he hoped Gwen didn’t notice.
“I’d like to clean out the attic today, and I thought you’d be perfect for the job.” She nodded toward a door marked Do Not Enter. “Nothing up there needs to be saved. Everything will be donated or disposed of. All you have to do is bring everything downstairs to the back dock, and George will sort it all out. Do you understand?”
Scripture nodded. “Yes, Miss Gwen. Everything goes to the back dock.” Scripture learned over the years that people liked him to repeat directions back. He figured it helped them out somehow. Even his momma asked him to repeat things.
“On the dock, there are bins for the smaller items. If anything is too heavy for you, let me know and I’ll have George come help. Okay?” Gwen unlocked the attic door and opened it for him. She flipped the light switch and Scripture peered up the narrow staircase.
“Okay. I’ll put items in the bins and then ask George if somethin’s too heavy.” Scripture grinned big. “But, Miss Gwen, you know I’m a pretty strong guy.”
Gwen patted him on the shoulder. “Yes, you sure are. Your momma sure grew you up strong. I’ll be down at City Hall if you need anything.”
He beamed and started up the steps. “I’ll do a good job for you, Miss Gwen.”
“I know you will.”
Scripture reached the landing of the attic. Three bare bulbs hung from the ceiling, highlighting the dust he’d stirred up with his feet. Momma always told him to pick up his feet, but he still shuffled them from time to time.
The attic was full of boxes overflowing with bits and pieces of décor, some of it matching what was downstairs. Other boxes held tubing and glass vials and vases and stationery with pens that had “Hickory Hills Funeral Parlor” printed on the barrels. He tried one of the ink pens on his hand, but the ink didn’t flow. A roll of green floral carpet leaned against a bookcase full of thick, heavy books. He could read some of the titles well enough, but they didn’t look interesting at all.
He started to sweat from the stuffy quarters, and the dust collected in the droplets on his forehead. He didn’t think he saw anything that he would need George’s help with, which was good. He didn’t like splitting his wage with someone.
He made trips one after the other down the narrow steps. One time, he lost his footing and dropped a box full of artificial poinsettias. It didn’t take him long to clean it up, and he was back to work quickly. He would pause on the small dock outside after each trip to breathe the fresh air and rid his nostrils of the stale dust of the attic.
On the way back up the steps the next time, he figured he had two more trips: one for the carpet, because the roll was as big as him, and one for the now-empty bookcase. He slid the roll onto his shoulder just how his momma used to carry bags of potatoes from Ted’s garden over her shoulders, and delivered it to the dock. He wiped his dusty sweat and headed up again.
He slid the bookcase away from the wall and tipped it onto its side for the final journey down the stairs. But there, behind the bookcase, rows of shelving hung between the open studs. Five rows of boxes lined the narrow shelving. Boxes like his momma rested in now at home in the kitchen cabinet.
Scripture set the bookcase down and stared at the boxes. Thick dust covered each, and none were as white as the one his momma was in. Some were yellow and some were brown, but all were the same size.
He pulled one off the middle shelf and took it to the center of the room under the light. He blew across the top of the box, revealing a typed label. He rubbed his thumb over the label to remove the last layer of dust.
The Cremated Remains of one Samuel Preston, November 1986.
He gently opened the lid and inside was a small, thick plastic bag, weighing just a couple of pounds. That was all that was left of his momma, too. He closed the lid and noticed on the side of the box was a sticker with a single handwritten word.
He placed Mr. Preston on the tipped-over bookcase and chose the first box from the very top shelf. This yellowed box seemed to have more dust than the others. He blew the dust off and wiped the top of it on the butt of his overalls.
The Cremated Remains of one Sarah Anne Knight, August 1967.
He turned the box to its side.
Scripture’s heart began to ache and he could smell his sweat now, rolling from every pore in his face. His hands shook just like the day he’d carried his momma home from this very place.
He chose another box.
The Cremated Remains of one Marie Bennington, June 1979.
Scripture stopped choosing boxes and, instead, twisted them around on the shelf to see their sides.
Tears flowed freely, mingled with dust and sweat.
Surely Gwen didn’t know these were here. She would never treat people like this. She would have found a home for them, Scripture was positive of that. He sat down next to Mr. Preston on the bookcase’s side and wiped his sweat. Here he was, a great big grown man crying alone in an attic. What would his momma think?
Donated or destroyed. That’s what Gwen had said.
He just couldn’t. He just couldn’t.
He put Mr. Preston back on the shelf with the others and carried the bookcase down to the dock. George had already backed up his pickup truck and was loading the dusty junk into the bed.
“Mr. George, Mr. George, hold up!” Scripture helped George load the bookcase and the cumbersome carpet roll. “Can I have one of these bins for tomorrow?”
“Anything you need from out here, Scripture. That’s just fine.”
Scripture nodded his thanks and grabbed a large plastic bin from the dock, stopped in the small kitchenette just inside the back door and grabbed a roll of paper towel and headed back to the attic one last time.
He approached the shelf and loaded each box into the bin, blowing dust off the tops, then wiping them on the butt, chest or legs of his overalls as he went. He counted twenty-five in all.
Twenty-five unclaimed lives.
He unrolled several sheets of toweling and covered the top layer of boxes with it. He wished he had a lid, but the bin was overflowing so it wouldn’t do either way. He hefted it onto his hip and surveyed the attic. Everything was out. Just like Miss Gwen asked him to do.
He went down the stairs and turned off the lights.
Dirt and dust from several decades covered Scripture’s overalls. And he smelled bad, but he had another job to do this evening.
He made his way a few blocks down Main to the bakery where the kind Mr. Mark set up the mixer and all the ingredients for the Rainbow Run.
“Hey there, Scripture! I was about to give up on you and call in extra help to make the packets. Hey, can I give you a hand with that?” Mr. Mark’s white apron was covered in dirt, too. Probably chocolate, though, not attic dust, because the air here smelled of cake and cookies.
“No, sir. I’ve got this. Just some extra supplies for tomorrow.” Scripture wasn’t exactly telling the truth, and he wasn’t exactly lying. Somewhere in the muddy middle.
“You look like you’ve been working hard today. Here. I have an apron that will fit over your dusty clothes. We wouldn’t want our color packs to be brown, now would we?” Mr. Mark laughed as he pulled a large apron off the hook over the door. Scripture laughed with him and put on the apron.
“Just like last year, okay, Scripture? Everything you need is here on the counter.” Mark nodded to the row of corn starch, a rainbow of powdered food dyes and hundreds of baggies.
“Just like last year, Mr. Mark.” Scripture would be up all night mixing and filling.
Mark left Scripture alone in the bakery. He started the mixer up just like Mark had shown him ten years ago and measured in the white starch first.
Then in went the pink powdered dye.
And then in went Sarah Anne Knight and Miss Marie Bennington.
He found three other ladies and added them to the mix as well. He had to add in extra pink to brighten things up after the gray ashes of the women dulled the mix. He bagged up the pinks and set them aside.
It was dark outside now. He’d have to hurry his pace if he was going to get all the colors made by morning.
Whistling now, he added in more corn starch and chose the blue dye. Once those were mixing well, Mr. Preston joined in, along with four other men from the funeral parlor’s bin. And he bagged up the blues.
Yellow was next. He wasn’t sure how to divvy up yellow, because well, that was confusing. He added a couple of ladies and a couple of men and one name he couldn’t read so he wasn’t sure.
Purple was all ladies.
Green had all men.
Everyone had a purpose. And everyone would be as free as Mr. Ted’s cows.
None were left over.
His white apron was a pastel rainbow with shades of gray like storm clouds. He didn’t think any of the folks would mind, so long as most of each of them could be free of their boxes and the attic.
The stainless steel table that held all of the ingredients hours ago now held hundreds and hundreds of baggies of color. He took off the apron, turned off the light and headed home just as the sun was coming up. The race would start in a few hours, so he had to hurry.
Despite the lack of sleep and food, he felt better than he had since before his momma got sick. He changed into a fresh pair of overalls, stuffed a banana from the counter into his deep overall pocket, grabbed his momma from the cabinet and stuffed her box between the bib and his t-shirt.
He reached the bakery to find Gwen passing out the color baggies to the racers. “Good job on the attic, Scrip! I’m so glad you got that done. And what a good job on the packets! They look brighter every year.” Scripture beamed and nodded his thanks.
He headed to the back of the bakery where he could access the stairs to the roof. The race was about to start, and he didn’t want his momma to miss it.
Excited residents of Hickory Hills lined up at the starting line at City Hall (where you could see every red brick on the building because the ivy was gone now). It was George’s turn to blow the whistle for the marathon this year, and he did it just fine and right on time.
Everyone cheered and lots of people started throwing their colored powder right away. Some of them waited, though, and when the mass of people neared the bakery just under Scripture, he watched as fifty or so of them sent up a swirling cloud of pink ladies and blue men and all the others.
Scripture whispered to his momma about the great thing he finally did.
And he set her free, too.
Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Monday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.
Copyright © 2019 by B.A. Paul
This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This work, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.