I usually don’t post entire stories, but I seem to be getting enough hits on this blog to warrant publishing a finished piece. So, for your amusement, derision or what have you I present The Book of Joshua, a five-thousand word tragedy. Or perhaps it’s a comedy. You decide.
The Book of Joshua
©2014 J Hardy Carroll
Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.
The man at the AmericInn would not take cash.
“I am afraid I need a major credit card, sir,” he said in an Indian accent.
He looked afraid, eyes white and jutting like a panicked horse, hand poised above the keypad of his AmericInn computer, ready for my credit card and other supporting information.
I had a credit card, but I didn’t want to use it. He blinked.
“Of course,” I said, and hauled out my wallet from my back pocket.
My wallet was heavy with junk. Credit cards, debit cards, business cards, receipts for wine and electronics and bookstores and dinners out, drawings by both of my daughters, pictures of my wife with and without my daughters, punch cards from coffee shops, flower shops and the local burrito stand.
It came out with a little pop, the pocket of my jeans gaping like a wound.
Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law
And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.
I could tell it was a cheap mattress just by sitting on it. The sound it made was cheap, and it sagged in a cheap way.
I read on the internet about bedbugs and how to check for them by pulling off the bottom sheet and mattress cover next to the headboard, how to examine the piping and stitches of the mattress itself looking for tiny black specks embedded in the fabric. The article also said to never set your luggage on the carpet, but instead to find a hard, clean surface like a dresser.
I didn’t have luggage, so this didn’t apply.
I also pulled the bedspread off and tossed in on the floor because I saw a TV show where they sent a hotel bedspread to the lab. It had looked like it was covered in phosphorescent mildew.
I found no evidence of bedbugs, so I pulled the mattress cover and sheet back up. The mattress tag stuck out from the bottom. I pulled back the sheet and cover again and knelt to read what it said.
UNDER PENALTY OF LAW
THIS TAG NOT TO BE REMOVED
EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER
Did anyone consume a mattress? I read further:
ALL NEW MATERIAL CONSISTING OF
URETHANE FOAM 95%
SYNTHETIC FIBERS 5%
Then in huge letters
I tore the off the tag and threw it in the trash.
We Have Champagne
And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.
That morning I’d come downstairs with the second-worst hangover of my life.
We’d had a few of my wife’s friends from her master’s program over for dinner, but we’d started with cocktails followed by many bottles of wine and nobody’d eaten anything. I built a huge fire outside in the yard, and after we ran out of wood I grabbed chairs off the porch, the girls’ wagon, the wooden handles to rakes and shovels—anything that would burn. I pulled the redwood picnic table across the yard to straddle the blaze, pouring first lighter fluid and then gasoline from the lawnmower to set it going. We hooted and clapped when the table finally collapsed into a pile of bright coals and ash, pushed the two halves in so they would both burn at the same time.
At some point, my youngest daughter came down to see what all the noise was about. I put her in my lap and told her about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern and starting the Great Chicago Fire while I sipped whiskey from thejug I kept out in my shop.
I don’t remember anything after that.
I woke up shirtless and alone in bed with the acid taste of vomit in my throat. My head will brim-full with pain. Cup of pain, I said to myself, and sat up. I was dizzy and sick and decided this was it.
I’m never going to drink again.
I stood in the shower and let the water run over me until there was no hot water left, not bothering to soap or shampoo or do anything but just stand there with my head bowed and the water racing over me.
I got out and dried myself with the pink towel, stepped over the bucket of bath toys and bent to drink from the faucet. I was terribly thirsty, but I knew better than to wallow myself with water, so I drank just enough.
Then I dressed and went downstairs.
I the kitchen I made an Alka-Seltzer in one of the little whiskey glasses that I kept from my bachelor days. I watched the little tablets dissolve for a while, waited until they were just gone.
I picked it up and drank it down.
My wife sat on the living room couch with my youngest daughter and our friend Dmitri. She turned to me, eyes swimming. She held out a bottle of Korbel.
“We have champagne!” she said, waving the bottle and her glass, a wedding flute engraved with our initial. “Dmitri and I went to the drugstore and got some! Sit down!”
Dmitri turned and smiled at me, waved his glass too. They were watching a collection of old Fleischer color cartoons from the 30s, a DVD I ordered off Amazon. “These old cartoons are great! Come watch them with us. Grab a glass.”
I stood watching the screen. An old couple from the sticks was going to the World’s Fair. A bunch of robots were sprucing them up, the robot brooms and powderpuffs and hair clippers circling around them and making them look shiny and new. Even the old dray horse was changed, given a hat and a seat of honor on the new car that had once been the wagon.
I was filled with a sudden, ungovernable rage.
I turned without speaking and went to back door. I strode across the yard, past the still-smoldering fire pit with the wreck of the table collapsed across it, the plastic chairs strewn about in a rough circle.
I got into the car and picked the keys off the dash, started it up. I fiddled with the CD player until I found something I wanted to hear.
I gunned the motor and peeled out, the spume of gravel and dust hiding the house behind me as I sped away.
Kelley Blue Book
And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.
My car is a 1982 Porsche 911 coupe. It is a color that Porsche describes as “beige,” but I like to think of as “bronze.” It has a sunroof and a three liter engine with a single overhead camshaft. The spoiler is broken because my wife fell against it last summer, and my attempts to repair it with Bond-O only made it worse. The sunroof cover went missing, so I only drive it when it’s nice out.
It has a lot of miles. When my daughter was very little she would only sleep in the car, so I got in the habit of driving for hours through various small towns in Southern Iowa near where we live. I would pick up a bottle of schnapps and a few cans of energy drink, put an audiobook on my iPod and head out, my daughter in the car seat next to me.
Quality time, I called it.
The Porsche was running rough because I couldn’t afford to take her to the Porsche mechanic any longer. The other guy—the guy who works on my wife’s old Volvo wagon—said he doesn’t have the special Porsche tools to do the job right.
The car was a gift from my father-in-law. It was his baby, very low miles and superbly maintained. He broke his back playing tennis and was advised against driving sports cars, or maybe he got a DUI in it.
He gave it to us right after we got married. He whispered to me to try and never let my wife drive it. We both know she’s a terrible driver.
I don’t let her drive it, but I don’t say why unless we’re fighting. Then it’s just another thing I say and apologize for later.
I am glad my father-in-law hasn’t come to visit. I would hate for him to see her now.
Save Money. Live Better.
And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
I had no destination in mind. Chicago, maybe. I knew that I was done with drinking. I didn’t know what was next.
I stopped at the Kum n’ Go and gassed up. I went inside and grabbed two diet Rockstars, a bag of peanuts and some of the good local beef jerky. I bought a quart of oil. I went to the ATM and withdrew the maximum amount. I paid cash.
As I drove away, I knew that the Mossberg was still in the trunk of the car, right up front. In a Porsche, the trunk is in front. I had gone shooting the week before, gone out to knock holes in an old water tank sitting in a neighbor’s bare field. I had gone through all the ammo I had, three boxes of shells.
I needed ammunition. The exit for the mall was just ahead. I could swing into the Walmart and buy a box or two of twelve gauge shells. Buckshot and slugs. Not the big boxes. Just enough to meet my immediate needs, whatever they might be.
The parking lot was full, and I remembered it was a Sunday. After church, too. I found a space way off in the corner behind a shrinking glacier of black ice left by the plows.
I walked across the lot, past minivans and a camper or two. My light jacket was inadequate in the chill air, but the weather was getting warmer every day.
The doors snicked open. I strolled past the pyramids of Easter baskets and candy. Groups of Amish pushed shopping carts. The men wore collarless shirts and severe jackets, the women in dresses and doilies on their heads. All the Amish were in the back, near the electronics. Somebody once told me the Amish bought burner cellphones and were allowed to use them in certain circumstances.
The Secret to Staying Young
That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.
In the parking lot I opened the bonnet and set the bag of shotgun shells next to the quilted shotgun case. I closed the hood and got back on the freeway. I rolled east.
The next exit, I stopped at another service station and went to the ATM to withdraw my limit. The hangover was creeping up on me. I was getting tired. I popped open a Rockstar and drank a little. I chewed on a piece of the peppery jerky.
The highway had many signs marking roads to tiny towns I knew from experience were a long way to the north or south. Sometimes there would be a gas station and then nothing for miles and miles, but eventually you would come to a town.
Sometimes there was a restaurant in these little towns, and always at least one bar. I liked going into a bar after my daughter woke up, taking the car seat in with me and setting it on the bar, dipping a straw into the chocolate milk I ordered for her and eye-dropping it into her little mouth.
When she got a little older, we sat in a booth. She would have her own Styrofoam cup. I’d order her fries and maybe a grilled cheese while I had a whiskey and a beer or two before we’d set out for home again. Often she’d be asleep by the time we got back, and I’d sit idling in the driveway until she woke up. I’d carry her inside in my arms and tell my wife of all the things we’d seen and done that day, while she’d stayed home.
I wasn’t going to make Chicago. I saw a sign announcing a county road ahead, but it also said there was a hotel and food.
Another sign said:
with a little red, white and blue AmericInn logo.
The motel was just off the highway. It looked new, the parking lot shiny black with glacier-white lines ghosted with spraypaint halos. I parked and walked in. The lobby was a tiny version of a waiting room with a counter, two gold-upholstered chairs, a coffee table with a vase of artificial flowers and a rack of tourism brochures for attractions around the Quad Cities.
There was a doorbell mounted on a little wood platform screwed to the counter with a sign that said
RING BELL IF UNATTENDED
I heard a TV in another room. Somebody was selling something to a lot of cheering, enthusiastic people.
I rang the bell and an Indian man came out. He wore a light blue shirt of a thin semi-translucent fabric that looked good with his coffee-colored skin.
I told him I wanted a room, preferably in a corner. I told him I was only staying for one night. He said if I wanted to stay longer, I could save ten dollars. Then we had the discussion about the credit card.
After I signed the slip, I saw that a fortune had fallen out of my wallet. Whenever I eat Chinese food, I read the fortune cookie and I always save the fortune in my wallet. Over the years I have amassed quite a number of them. I picked up the fortune off the carpet and read it.
THE SECRET TO STAYING YOUNG IS LYING ABOUT YOUR AGE.
I remembered getting that fortune and laughing about it, reading it out loud to my dinner companion. I don’t remember who I was with, or what restaurant we were in. I don’t remember if I really thought it was funny or if I was laughing just for show. It didn’t seem funny now. I put it back in my wallet.
Reason for Leaving (Required)
Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.
My bag contained a sketchbook, a few pens, a toothbrush and my old laptop. I forgot my power cord. I opened the laptop. The battery was three-quarters full.
There was a card on the nightstand that said
FREE WIRELESS INTERNET
There, written in Sharpie, was what I assumed was the password
I tried the password and it worked. I opened Gmail. Nothing.
I opened Facebook. There were several photos Dmitri had posted from last night. He had tagged me in two of them. In one, I was barely visible, a hulking, blurred figure pulling a picnic table toward a campfire. In the other I was sitting in my dining room, a full wine glass in my hand, my mouth wide open and my eyes closed, my hand up in a karate chop.
I looked at my face. It was blurred, too, like I’d been whipping my head back and forth. I had a large wine stain on the front of my white shirt. The table was a mess, bottles and glasses and messy plates. Off to the side I could see my wife’s shoulder. On the table was somebody’s hand.
Other than that, I was the only one in the picture.
I decided that I’d had it with Facebook. Fuck Facebook. I didn’t even want to go to the trouble of untagging myself. I typed into the search bar
Delete Facebook Account
Google came up with a whole page of results. The first one read
How do I permanently delete my account?
I clicked on it.
If you deactivate your account, your Timeline disappears from the Facebook service immediately. People on Facebook won’t be able to search for you, though some info, like messages you sent, may still be visible to others. We also save your Timeline information (ex: friends, photos, interests) in case you want to come back.
I followed the instructions and clicked on the link that said
Deactivate your account
I read the next page.
Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will disable your Profile and remove your name and picture from most things you’ve shared on Facebook. Some information may still be visible to others, such as your name in their friends list and messages you sent.
Your 1,602 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you.
Then it listed a few of the people who would miss me including my wife, Dmitri and a couple of people I didn’t know in real life.
I also had to give a reason for leaving.
After some debate, I checked
I don’t feel safe on Facebook
A window popped up telling me I could alter my privacy settings, but I was having none of it.
I opted out of receiving future emails and clicked confirm. Then I had to re-enter my password one last time. Then I was done.
I closed the window.
I closed the computer.
I felt cleansed.
Both the Book and Movie
And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.
I was ravenous. I looked at my watch. It was almost five o’clock. Aside from the jerky, I hadn’t eaten all day. I took my room key card and walked out into the hallway, through the door and out into the lot.
From this angle, I couldn’t see the broken spoiler and the Porsche looked pretty good. The tires were almost new and the paint, though dusty, was in very good shape considering the car’s age. I walked around the front and didn’t look at the spoiler as I got in.
I headed north on the rural road that fronted the motel. I passed a sign
A few miles later, I saw massive grain elevators and then a water tower that said in blue letters:
I drove past neat houses with lawns still brown in the early spring, the numerous trees still bare. Along the main road was a low red building with an enormous Dutch windmill at one end. A florid sign across the front with huge red letters said
OLE’S LITTLE DENMARK INN
I wondered what windmills had to do with Denmark. The country of origin was further confused by a plywood cutout of a painted Dutch boy and girl bowing to one another that graced the parking lot entrance. The parking lot was almost full. Three long vans with handicapped license plates were parked in a row out front.
I pulled open the door and was greeted by the powerful smells of cooking meat and cabbage, of pies and strudel and hot milk, of boiled onions and baking bread. The hostess wore a scarlet dirndl dress with lace sleeves. She was in her mid-seventies and wore black support hose tight around her calves. She showed me to a narrow table with two chairs facing one another.
She removed the silverware and scalloped paper placemat opposite my chair with one hand while the other reached an amber colored water pitcher.
She filled my glass.
“The morbrad with rodkal is very good tonight,” she said. “We also have frikadeller and medisterpolse, plus the prime rib special. Shelly will be over in a minute.”
She turned and left, deftly refilling waters as she went.
There was a low shelf next to my table with many different books, mostly about Iowa. I picked up the one on the end. It was a gold and white book about the size of a high school annual. On the cover was a red bridge that looked like a barn spanning a river. Beneath that it said:
IOWA’S COVERED BRIDGES: A HISTORY AND GUIDE
STEPHEN G. MEANS
There was a sticker affixed to the front in the shape of a glowing sun. It was red with white letters that read:
THE INSPIRATION FOR THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
(BOTH THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE)
It had slick pages with black and white photographs of every covered bridge in Iowa along with dense text outlining the history of each. The book had been signed by the author with the inscription
To Ole and Donna—thanks for the wonderful meal. Velbekomme!
–Stephen G Means
His signature was enormous and looping with a John Hancock flourish beneath it.
The waitress came. Shelly. She wore regular clothes and looked tired. Shelly told me the specials again.
I ordered one without asking what it was. Shelly asked me if I wanted something from the bar. I said no.
As she left, I asked for a cup of coffee. Shelly brought it along with rolls and butter and soup.
When I was done with these she brought me a little dish of pink cabbage and a little dish of cottage cheese along with more water. I ate the cabbage and cottage cheese together, sprinkling them with liberal amounts of pepper. Shelly cleared the dishes and brought me a big plate of little meatballs in a brown sauce, mashed potatoes with horseradish and gravy and pickled beets.
Shelly asked if I wanted another roll and I said I did, and when she brought it I slathered it with butter and dipped it in the gravy.
Everything was delicious and I ate it very fast. Shelly brought me more coffee and told me to save room for dessert because they had a special Dansk Lagkage. “It’s made for spring with spring colors!” she said.
I ordered this too, also without asking what it was. When I had finished, she brought me over a dish of what looked like rice pudding with almonds. It was white and showed no sign of spring colors.
I looked up at her in question and Shelly winked.
“This comes with the dinner, I’ll be back with the Lagkage in a sec.”
Shelly came back with a gigantic slice of multicolored layer cake, green and red and vibrant orange. It was the size of a toaster and the top was decorated with edible flowers. She set it down in front of me.
“I can give you a box if you can’t finish it, honey.”
I thanked her and fell to eating it. It was the best cake I had ever eaten, and even though I was so full that I thought I might be sick, I ate it all.
When I was finished I sat back and sipped my coffee, now cool in the cup.
The old couple across from me had been sitting there when I arrived, their food in front of them, a half pitcher of beer by the man’s elbow.
They sat there now, their plates full as ever.
The man poured the last of the pitcher into his glass.
The woman stared at him through thick glasses.
Neither of them said a word while I was there.
Choose From Photos…
Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?
It was still light when I got back to the motel. The traffic hissed along 80.
I got out and went around to the motor. I opened the hatch and checked the oil. When I pulled out the dipstick, I didn’t have anything to wipe it on so I made a kind of squeegee with my thumb and forefinger, wiping the excess on my sock.
I closed the hatch and went around to the front of the car and opened the hood and looked at the shotgun and the bag of ammunition.
I glanced around the parking lot. A white Ford truck with dual rear wheels idled in the parking space in front of the office. An enormous husky sat in the passenger seat. He was panting and staring at me standing there in front of my beige Porsche with the hood open. His eyes were startling, a blue so bright they seemed to shine through the tinted window of the truck.
I watched him for a while, not moving.
A man came out of the office and lit a cigarette. He was a burly guy with a mullet and little gold glasses. He wore a hat that said
HAWKEYE SEWER & DRAIN
He nodded at me. “I think the motor’s at the other end in a Porsche.”
I smiled. “I was just looking in my trunk.”
“Is it called a trunk when it’s in front? Isn’t it a boot?”
“No, I think that’s British. Maybe in a Jaguar?”
He shrugged. “Something more to learn, maybe. Have a good night.”
I called after him “I like your dog.”
“He’s a good one.”
I closed the trunk and went back inside. My room was just as I’d left it.
I pulled the blackout curtain tight around the window, trying to seal out the light.
The computer was still on the bed. I opened it up.
The Facebook page refreshed itself, my username and password already filled out in the login area.
I clicked ok.
At the top it said
WELCOME BACK, JOSHUA.
I had no new notifications.
I clicked on my photo and went to my profile. The photo I used was at least five years old. I right clicked it.
Edit Profile Picture
The little light atop my laptop glowed blue. In a second, I saw myself on the screen.
I looked dark and grainy, like an El Greco or a Goya. I leaned in and out of the shadow. The only light came from the computer, but the way it looked on the screen was brown and smudged.
I saw the countdown
3 2 1…
It flashed and my picture was there. I looked at the picture and had that same feeling when you look at pictures of people you know have been murdered, pictures of the Clutter family or Sharon Tate or Anne Frank.
You could barely see my face, but it was still recognizable. I clicked ok and it became my picture.
I got up to go to the bathroom. The mirror ran across the whole wall to the edge of the shower. I got a good look at myself in the yellow bathroom light. In the mirror, I didn’t look like I had been murdered. I just looked tired and unshaven and a little sad.
My eyes were red and my hair was stringy and windblown from the sun roof. My nose was running, too. Maybe I was getting sick.
When I returned to the computer I saw that three people had liked my new photo. The computer flashed a warning to me:
Change your battery or switch to outlet power immediately
Your computer has a low battery, so you should act immediately
to keep from losing your work.
I closed the lid.
There was a little bit of light in the room. I reached over and switched on the lamp next to the bed. I pulled open the drawer.
There was a King James Bible with a white cover placed there, it said, by the Gideons.
I shut the drawer and turned out the light.
I was glad that the Bible was there in case I couldn’t sleep.