Pratt has fallen upon strange times. Father Johnstone, who’s served at the helm for the past thirty years, has begun to lose his flock. He dispenses poor marital advice and indulges in the company of lusting widows, both of which he can hardly remember doing. The pastor has never felt more unlike himself, and Madeline Paigethe town’s newest residentbelieves she knows the reason. What she reveals will compromise everything Father Johnstone has ever known. Meanwhile, two men beyond Pratt’s county lines administer their own brand of faith. Billy Burke, the truck-stop preacher, tours the Bible Belt advising blue-collar workers how to properly assault a meth-hooker and the best way to protest gay nightclubs. He’s destined to meet a man that’s been operating out of Las Vegas under many different names, experimenting on a myriad of escorts using Christian lingerie, pious role-play, and Biblical paraphernalia. Together, they will push the threshold, and the town of Pratt will serve as the battleground for when faiths clash and lives hang in the balance.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Brandon Tietz is the author of 'Out of Touch' and the upcoming collection 'Vanity.' His short stories have been widely published and he is currently part of the key staff at Lit Reactor. He lives in Kansas City.
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Good Sex, Great Prayers
By Brandon Tietz
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Brandon Tietz
All rights reserved.
Las Vegas, NV
"We should all know where we came from."
The prostitute puts on Christian lingerie: a pair of white nylons that extend to the upper thigh, too sheer to conceal all the various bruises on her shins and knees. Every badge of dishonor she's acquired in men's rooms and parking lots glares through the fabric. She slides one on, then the other. Material begins crumpled at the toes, and then she pulls them past her calloused heels, the tattooed ankles, over sore kneecaps garnished in hard scabs. Left, then right. Wrinkles smooth and I can see her chipped magenta nail polish and all those bruises—even the urine-colored ones that are nearly healed. Aesthetically speaking, white was a terrible choice.
I ask, "Do you know the origin of your profession, Serena?"
She sits on the hotel bed and shrugs on the corset, also white. Boning and underwire push her breasts and flabby stomach into place. Conceal a C-section scar. Serena shakes her head no and proceeds to tug on the silk ties crisscrossing her bumpy spine. Clammy little fingers loop, swoop, and pull. The corset narrows a little bit more, and I see excess skin spill over the top of the garment, much to my disgust. I try to concentrate on the color.
In this culture, white represents: purity, innocence, cleanliness. Virginity. When I forced the priest to bless these garments, I specifically asked him to endow them with those qualities. Only after I broke three of his fingers did he finally comply. The corset, the stockings, the garter belt and lace underwear—all are white and piously sanctioned. All of them were purchased at the Frederick's of Hollywood on South Las Vegas Blvd, formally ordained to make the wearer an object of virtue.
To Serena, I say, "From the ancient Mesopotamians, the first of your kind surfaced. Women of the land were required to sit in the temple of Aphrodite until a man chose them for fornication, paying them an undetermined amount which the whore could not refuse." She looks at me nonplused, waiting for me to tell her what to do since we're officially on the clock. "Masturbate," I tell her.
Serena lies on her back. She brings up her heels so they're resting on the edge of the bed, then pulls the crotch of the underwear aside, revealing clitoris, labium, and vaginal cavity. Unclean. Unwashed. From across the room, I watch Serena mash her fingers joylessly into herself, intentionally stammering her breathing. Purposely shaping her mouth in a wide 'O', as if to indicate spiking levels of arousal. She's 'phoning it in,' I believe the saying goes. There's no desire to climax, no inclination; I can feel this intrinsically.
"The man would cast money into the lap of the whore while verbally recognizing his tribute was being made in the name of the goddess," I tell her. "If the woman refused, that would be considered a sin due to the fact that the money was sacred. Now stick two fingers inside yourself. Plunge and repeat."
She does as instructed. Serena masturbates, staining white lace underwear in the fluids of weeping sores and enzymes. Cigarette vapors and the dried sweat of at least seven encounters contaminate the fabric of the corset, the garter belt and stockings. Fumes of disease cut into the air, a distinct molded flavor I can taste on the back of my tongue. If the Christian lingerie does what it's intended to do, if the ordainment holds, her illness won't pass over to me.
"The whore would accept payment," I explain. "And then she would engage in the act of fornication with the man—not for pleasure or affection—but faith. Faith is why you're here, Serena. It's where you came from," I say. "It's what I'm trying to discover."
"I asked God and he had nothin' for me," Travis says, spitting a rope of tobacco into an empty soda can. He wipes the stray globs off his chin with the sleeve of an old cowboy shirt. Yellow plaid with pearl snaps. His bottom lip bullfrogs out, tongue packing the chew deep down under the gumline so it's buried and looking like a marble-sized tumor. Travis anxiously shakes the can, chaw-spit flopping against the aluminum sides as he looks to Father Johnstone with the same dirt-brown eyes his daddy had.
He says, "The wife and I already prayed about this, Father, so you can skip that piece of it." Travis spits into the can again and says, "I think we've done all we can do on our own."
In all the years he's known him, Father Johnstone can only recall two formal appointments with Travis Durphy. They've spoken many times, of course, the same way all folks do here in Pratt, usually at the weekly Sunday service. It's small talk and casual conversations anyone could have: how the single-A baseball team in the next town is shaping up or where the best fishing spots are located. Travis maintains it's the marsh bank on the east side of Larpe's Pond, just under the locust tree littered with carved crude hearts and the initials of high-school kids. All along the trunk, vows of eternal love (or perhaps lust) have been made in car keys and Swiss army knives. Serious inscribers use flathead screwdrivers, but Travis just likes to fish there.
"The dragonflies drive them so batshit they practically jump into the boat," he once said. It's nothing that Father Johnstone hasn't discussed with the other children and men of Pratt. Fishing and hunting gossip is frequent. For the women and wives, it's recipes: cobblers, pies, and during the winter months, stews and chili. Along with all things God, small talk is part of the church culture.
Personal office visits, however, are few and far between for someone like Travis, as he's never been the type to ask for help or seek personal counsel. Miles Conley, who owns the hunting supply store down the street, told it best when he said, 'That Durphy boy would cut firewood with a butter knife before asking a friend for an ax.'
Some folks say he's stubborn. Hard-headed. Travis would say he doesn't want to waste anybody's time if he doesn't have to. In the faith, Father Johnstone refers to it as pride, and he takes Travis's being here as a sign that, although he is not yet absolved, at least he's attempting to work through it.
Travis spits in the can again, sighing through his nose. "We're having the kind of trouble I never thought we'd need to worry about. Never in my life."
"I'm listening," he says, but it's only partially true. Despite himself, he's thinking back to that first meeting he had with Travis, which took place in the very office they sit now. The wood finish of the desk was a little bit brighter. The floors were a little less scuffed up, especially around the feet of the chairs, but it's mostly the same room Travis and Father Johnstone remember from all those years ago.
He was fourteen, and most people didn't call him Travis back then. Anytime he was spotted coming down the road, you'd usually hear someone say, "Here comes Danger's kid." Never "Travis." Always "Danger's kid" or "Danger's boy." His father picked up the name during his stint in the bull-riding circuit. "Daniel 'Danger' Durphy," they used to announce over the loudspeakers at the county fairs and rodeos. He always joked with the other riders that he could stay on any bull for eight seconds except for Mrs. Durphy, and then she'd slap him playfully on the shoulder with a slender hand while rolling her eyes. Everyone would laugh, drink, and then Mrs. Durphy would place her lips on Danger's cheek, leaving a lipstick signature. He never wiped them off, even when he entered the ring.
Most people in town regarded him as some kind of hero—not necessarily because he could ride, but because any time he went off to Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis for a competition, he always came back to Pratt. He never abandoned his roots.
"Good men grow up here," Danger said. "And my son will be a good man one day."
He was mostly right. Travis Durphy is known more for his hard work than for being bullheaded. Father Johnstone can hardly remember a Sunday when Travis wasn't one of the first through the doors for mass. If there was ever a dark cloud over the boy, that would have to be his father and the shadow he still casts. Even now, Travis is still thought of as Danger's boy by the older generations of Pratt, in both appearance and temperament. He's a constant reminder of what happened and a sort of campfire tale in the surrounding towns.
The story is that Danger finally met a bull that could buck him, and unlike the joke he often told, it wasn't by Mrs. Durphy's small frame. This was over 2,000 pounds of Red Angus steer. "A real mean bastard," the other riders said. Both Travis and his mother witnessed Danger get thrown to the dirt and shit of the arena after only a couple seconds, and before any of the rodeo clowns could swoop in and rescue him, a ton of steer slammed down on Danger's temple hoof-first.
Pratt's icon had passed.
As these stories do, it got more and more graphic with each retelling. Some people say you can still find fragments of Danger's teeth or little pieces of skull if you dig deep enough in the arena. They say there were real live cowboys throwing up corndogs and beer over the side of the railings that day, either sick to their stomachs or terrified. Hardened men broke down. Women wept, but none as much as Mrs. Durphy with her cheeks streaked with cheap, wet mascara and melted blush. She screamed and cried for so long she had to be sedated by the EMT personnel on the scene.
This is when young Travis was brought before Father Johnstone for his first appointment, so he could be coached through the grieving process. Places like Pratt don't have therapists or grief counselors; you have to make do with God (and that should be good enough for anybody). So Father Johnstone instructed Travis on the sentiment of the upcoming funeral and how Danger was in the Lord's Kingdom now. The pastor told him that Danger lived on through his son, concluding with a choice selection from the book of Exodus: "Honor thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
As Travis sits before his pastor about to pour his heart out again, Father Johnstone realizes this was the wrong thing to read to the boy considering the impressionable state he was in. The yellow cowboy shirt he's wearing was his daddy's, and so are the oversized belt buckle and boots, if Father Johnstone isn't mistaken.
Travis even began dipping chew after his father passed, despite all the times it made him sick the first few months. Sometimes he'd pack two school lunches just in case he lost the first one in the toilet. Plenty of underage boys in Pratt chewed, but Travis was the only one who didn't care if he looked tough or not. It was an homage. With the exception of riding bulls, Travis became his dad in every way he could, from the clothes to his bowlegged walk. He was paying tribute, just as he thought he was instructed to.
"The wife and I haven't consummated the marriage yet," Travis says. "We've tried and we've tried and it's like the Lord don't want us to—and I've prayed my ass off about this. Pardon the language, Father," he says. "Believe me, I've prayed the Lord give me the strength to be able to lie down with my wife as a man and ... and ... well, nothin'."
Father Johnstone leans in, lowering his voice to a little above a whisper, asking as delicately as he can, "What exactly is happening?"
Travis spits into the can again, wiping a brown string away from his lip. "It's more like what's not happening."
The second appointment was a little over a year ago. Father Johnstone remembers it because the daisy hill had just reached full bloom and he was holding Easter services at the church. He was watching the children hunt for eggs when Travis Durphy sidled him and said, "I need to talk to you, Father. Privately."
Travis looked possessed. He led the way through the grass towards the church, and Father Johnstone nearly had to jog just to keep up with him. The pastor's legs weren't what they used to be now that he was on the wrong side of fifty, yet, he kept right up with the Durphy boy, through the church doors and around the bend of pews. Travis entered the office, waiting for the pastor to cross the threshold before shutting the door behind him.
Father Johnstone hadn't even caught his breath yet before Travis blurted out, "I intend to marry Heather Graybel."
The boy was in love.
He's still in love.
"We've been trying ever since the wedding, but something's wrong with me, Father," Travis says. "It's like I'm afraid to do it—and no, before you even ask, I ain't no queer. Them queers make me sick to my gut," he says, spitting into the can a little more venomously than normal.
Travis Durphy and Heather Graybel were married on top of the daisy hill a year later, just as it had reached full bloom again. From far enough out, it looked like they were tying the knot on a pile of popcorn. They exchanged their vows with the assistance of Father Johnstone, and little Betty Graybel carried the rings on a small silk pillow. It was important to Travis that he knew his two fathers the Lord and Danger would bless this union, and he sought out Father Johnstone when he couldn't find the answer himself. Along with the cowboy shirts, chewing, and rugged good looks, Travis had also assumed his daddy's unyielding faith in the Lord.
The first two appointments with Travis Durphy were routine to Father Johnstone. Death and weddings happened often enough in Pratt, usually one or the other every year or so. A protocol had been established when it came to these types of events, anything from flower arrangements to biblical passages. Father Johnstone had a traditional line of questioning when it came to marriage and mourning, either to prepare or to cope. He preached love and devotion of the newly engaged, often stressing that a real marriage isn't always a day on the daisy hill. When it came to death, the bereaved took solace in knowing that the Lord is always present, always watching, and the departed watch with Him from the Kingdom. Death and marriage were standard. What Travis Durphy was asking of Father Johnstone was unheard of in the thirty-odd years he'd worked in the Lord's favor.
"This thing needs to be consummated, Father," Travis says. "So if you or the Man upstairs got any advice, I'm listening."
Father Johnstone is troubled. Granted, he could tell Travis to head over to the next town for one of those ungodly prescriptions, the ones for 'performance issues.' He's not going to do that though, and Dr. Keller would never endorse that sort of thing being the old-fashioned type that he is. If the Lord wanted man to have a four-hour hard-on, he would make it so without the aid of a pill or shot or however they administer that drug. It's unnatural. And yet, the consummation of the marriage is key, a bond between husband and wife and a heavenly tribute. Father Johnstone sees no reason why the Lord would keep Travis from that, however, can offer nothing by way of instruction to 'cure' the problem.
"Please, Father," Travis says. "I need help. Heather and I, we both need this. How are we supposed to have kids?"
And before Father Johnstone can utter a prayer, an excuse, a stalling question—before he can even think clearly, he says, "You need to fuck your wife."
Silence. Travis Durphy's jaw hasn't dropped this low since he watched his daddy die right before his eyes. Father Johnstone is staring at him coldly, distantly, and Travis shifts his gaze to the pens on the desk, a small plate of lemon bars baked by Miss Paige. Anywhere but the man sitting five feet in front of him. He heard it—Travis knows that, but he's never witnessed Father Johnstone speak in that language. That tone. The can slips from Travis's hand, clanking hard and slinging chaw-spit on the front of the desk and over the hardwood floor.
The entire room seems to flinch and Father Johnstone asks, "What were you saying, Travis?" He smiles encouragingly. "I'm afraid I didn't quite hear that last part."
Excerpted from Good Sex, Great Prayers by Brandon Tietz. Copyright © 2013 Brandon Tietz. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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