A Very Minor Prophet

A Very Minor Prophet

by James Bernard Frost


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A Very Minor Prophet by James Bernard Frost

A Very Minor Prophet is the story of how Barth Flynn, a barista swimming upstream against purposelessness in Portland, Oregon, becomes the faithful scribe of Joseph Patrick Booker. Booker is a dwarf preacher who serves Voodoo donuts, Stumptown coffee, and, while his congregation throws PBR cans at him, rants about George W. Bush during the height of the 2004 presidential election. Barth’s Portland is a world of bikes, zines, and cheap beer, but it’s also a confined world, full of the desperate search to find meaning. In this lonely setting, Barth passes time learning trivial details, like the dozens of Gaelic words for rain. During Barth’s quest for human connection, he meets the passionate Booker, who sees light in the gray world and strives to help people think and believe in something and to find connections with each other.

Barth’s fascination with Booker becomes a friendship that comes to define his life, as he discovers himself, his city, and his budding feelings for an enigmatic bike messenger who helps distribute Booker’s gospel in the form of zines.

A Very Minor Prophet is a comic novel, a gospel, an ode to great coffee, a story of great friendship, great love, and of a man waking up in Portland, Oregon, to realize his life and his story is just beginning.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780983304982
Publisher: Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

JAMES BERNARD FROST is the author of the novel World Leader Pretend, and the award-winning travel guide The Artichoke Trail. His fiction and nonfiction has been published in many places, including the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Wired. He lives in Oregon with the author Kerry Cohen, their four children, the rain, the freaks, and the trees. His bike is currently in disrepair.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter IV

Where an Unusual Dinner with Annie Mercyx Takes Place

I made the man his triple espresso,
filled the next two orders, and basically
survived my shift. I wasn’t really sure what
to think about the conversation I’d had with Mercyx.
The night before, I’d thought I would throw
all issues of His Church That Sunday into the
Dumpster behind the burrito shop or burn them,
but now there were a few more copies to contend
with. I was still embarrassed about them, but
clearly Mercyx had thought they were worthwhile,
so now pride mixed in with the shame.

Then there was this dinner with Mercyx at Blowfish thing.
Like I said, Blowfish wasn’t a place Mercyx would go – she
had a sleeve full of tattoos on her left arm; short, cropped,
perpetually bleached hair; and muscled calves harder than
Schwarzenegger’s biceps. Mercyx was a burrito-and-run kind
of gal, and we assumed, Beale and I, that she was a lesbian,
although I have to admit that despite all our adolescent conversations,
we’d never ventured anywhere close to Mercyx’s
sex life.

It’s very strange, when I think back on it, that we hadn’t.
Beale’s comics were all about masturbation and frustrated
libido, and mine occasionally dabbled in that direction; so
you’d think somewhere in there we would have discussed
intimate matters, but it just never happened. Mercyx was
one of the guys – a fellow cyclist, pool shark, and zinester.
Don’t get me wrong, Mercyx wasn’t unattractive. If anything
she was hyperattractive – in a small tits, low hips, Suicide
Girls kind of way – but we kind of considered her an
untouchable. It was like if we’d shown any interest in her, we
couldn’t have been her friend. We saw the way she fucked
with other men in her brash, slick-tongued way, and decided
we’d rather be in collusion than on a collision.

Mercyx was tough, and we were soft zine boys. At first, we
felt privileged just to be in her presence, and then later, since
we’d been hanging out with her for almost a year, we forgot
her presence as a sexual being all together. She was genderneutral
Mercyx, the Photocopy Queen and our compadre.
So yeah. I’d finally decided that the whole thing was no
big deal, that it was just the raw meat, that she’d chosen Blowfish
simply because she had a primal urge to sink her teeth
into something fleshy and uncooked. There were better, cheaper
sushi joints in town, but it was near my apartment and she
knew she’d have to cart the zine stash there afterwards.
I walked down the stairs of my apartment, took in the
cooling breeze of an unseasonably warm spring evening, and
sauntered down Alberta Street, not thinking anything at all
about my unwashed, after-cycling T-shirt, my threadbare
black jeans, my half-tied Chuck Taylors. I walked down the
street and arrived at Blowfish. And there I saw Annie Mercyx,
and Annie Mercyx was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I am surprised, when I think back on it, that I got words
out of my mouth at all. Mercyx was wearing a strapless dress,
a kitschy cotton number with ferris wheels on it in pink and
yellow pastels. She had on a heavy coat of soft pink lipstick
to match, and an ochre-colored eye shadow that extended
cat-like to her temples. The contrast between the hard tattoos
and the soft colors of her dress was a visual fiasco, making
her appear comic and freaky and completely stunning all at
once. I suppose the average person would have seen her and
just thought she was strange; but for me it was all my fantasies
come to life, a beautiful alien from a sci-fi movie.
The words that came out of my mouth – oh, the lovely, stupid
words – were, “Annie, do you have a date tonight?”

Now the reality of it is that when I asked Mercyx if she had
a date that night, I was being completely sincere. I really
thought that she was setting up some office drone to do copies
for her. It didn’t occur to me that this was the date, that
Annie had put on a dress and made herself up for me. Annie,
however, took it as flirting, as if I was up to clever tricks. I had
absolutely no idea what I was doing; and yet I was doing all
the right things.

Mercyx actually blushed when I asked. I, the embarrassment
king; I, Bartholomew Flynn; I was making Annie Mercyx
blush. Now it was Annie Mercyx who wanted to just ride
right by the store window.

Mercyx responded sarcastically, “Meeting Beale after

I totally didn’t get it. I wasn’t gullible enough to think that
Mercyx was serious about having a date with Beale – I mean,
Beale was the most awkward man on the planet – but I still
wasn’t making the connect between the makeup and me. “No,
seriously, Annie, who are you meeting?”

Mercyx wanted this whole thing to go away. “Why do you
call me Annie? Everyone else calls me Mercyx.”

I still didn’t get it, but I decided to drop the subject of the
clothes and answer the question. Mercyx was usually so deadpan,
it was strange to see her the way she was, verging on being
pissed off. “I don’t know, if it bothers you, I’ll call you Mercyx.
It’s just old-fashioned or something. Maybe it’s the Little
Orphan Annie thing, you know? She had short, orange, funky
hair, and your hair, while it’s more bleached than orange, is
still funky. But then again, she’s so much more wholesome.
Maybe it’s more the contrast between you and Little Orphan
Annie: like it’s kind of ironic to call you Annie; because you’re
not an Annie at all, you’re much more of a … of a Mercyx …”
Mercyx was looking at me steely-eyed. Between that and
the yellow streaks on her eyelids, I couldn’t continue my
usual ramble. “What?” I asked.
“Why do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Just go off like that.”
“Like what?”
“Like arcane bullshit about Orphan Annie.”
I did this all the time. That’s what we did, Beale and Mercyx
and I, we had long, inane conversations about nothing.
And there wasn’t conflict. What was going on with Mercyx
all of a sudden? “I don’t know,” I said, “because it’s funny? I
mean, we all do it.”
Mercyx was really making me uncomfortable. I knew she
was formidable – I’d seen her in action at The Curiosity absolutely
tearing into the well-dressed yuppie types always
trying to get into her pants – but I’d never been the target of
her ire.
“But it’s bullshit,” she said, “and you know it’s bullshit. All
those issues of OTT. That was the whole point of those issues,
to make fun of yourself for all the rambling you do. And then
this new church thing, that was the flipside: you showing how
much power you could have if you were only sincere. It was
brilliant. The OTT stuff was funny, mostly because you took
every conversation Beale and you and I ever had and ripped
it a new asshole, but That Sunday – I mean, dude, you’re so
right – what if we were all really sincere like that preacher guy.
If we were to just tell it like it is. We all know how it is, but we
never actually tell it like it is.
“You have to tell me a couple of things, and you have to be
serious. First off, you have to tell me how you came up with
this guy and what you were thinking, and don’t go off on some
tangent to avoid the question. And then you have to tell me
why you really call me Annie, and I don’t want to hear any more
of that Little Orphan shit.”
I’d never seen Mercyx with such metal in her eyes. They
were the gray-blue of a circular saw blade. It suddenly seemed
unreal to tell her the truth: that Booker was really a guy who
had stood up in his makeshift church that Sunday and talked
to me. When it happened, it had been odd but not unreal – if
anything, it had been ultra-real, like when you’re on your
bike and the semi next to you starts to come into your lane,
Zoom of the pattern on Mercyx’s kitschy ferris wheel dress.
james bernard frost 40 A Very Minor Prophet
and you know it’s going to turn right, and that you’re about
to be a victim of the dreaded right hook, and that the dual
human-sized wheels next to you will crush you, but somehow
you slam on your brakes enough to swerve behind him and
survive, and then you look around and the world is normal
and traffic moves on.
But now it seemed unreal, like I’d made the whole thing
up. What was even more unreal was that I hadn’t even thought
of Booker, the person, since I left his church; in fact, I couldn’t
even tell you if I’d said anything to him. It was truly as if I’d
made him up. But I couldn’t have. I’d been at his church, and
I could walk over, if I wanted to, the very next Sunday, and I
could show Mercyx and Beale the place that inspired His
Church That Sunday.
It was hard to do, but she was staring at me, and although
it wasn’t in my nature – as usually when I talk to people my
eyes are all over the place, and never actually in the eyes of
the person I’m talking to – I looked her back in the eyes, and
what I said was, “Okay, there really is a preacher dude, and
he really does do a sermon like the one I wrote about in That
Sunday. As for calling you Annie …”
It’s funny how realizations hit you mid-sentence, like it
did on that day at Blowfish. We’d made our way into the restaurant
and used those little golf pencils to fill out our paper
sushi menus, and now I was sitting with Annie Mercyx on the
back patio, the late evening blue of the sky tinged a deeper
shade of blue; not pink like late evening skies are often described
– the air too clean and smog-free for that – but midnight
blue: a darker, softer, more romantic blue. There was an umbrella
over us, and nigiri in front of us, and cute little bowls
to mix our soy sauce and wasabi. Annie was beautiful and she
was Annie and not Mercyx. It wasn’t the truth what I said,
because the truth was probably much closer to what I’d already
said before about it sounding ironic: before this evening,
Annie Mercyx was always more Mercyx than Annie. But
somehow what came out of my mouth was more sincere than
the truth – and more importantly it was the right thing to say –
because the realization I had mid-sentence was that the reason
Annie had dressed up, and put on makeup, and confronted
me about my ironic bullshit, was that she liked me in a
much different way than as a fellow cyclist and zinester; and
perhaps even more importantly it was the right thing to say
because I liked her – and if I told her that I hadn’t really thought
about it, that my calling her Annie instead of Mercyx was nothing
more than a quirk; then, although I would be technically
telling the truth, I would be implying a lie, which would be
to say that I didn’t desire to be something other than her
fellow cyclist and zinester.
So the way I finished the sentence was this way, “I guess
I just wanted to be different. I wanted … I wanted you and
me to be different.”
I know, it’s such a cheesy moment – it makes me cringe
to write it out – it was so disgustingly sincere, but it’s really
what I said, and you can’t change what you say once you’ve
said it.
Mercyx reached a hand across the table, in order to grab
mine, and then she said:
Mercyx and I consumed our remaining nigiri in an uncomfortable
silence, and then agreed to meet the next Sunday at my
apartment for a visit to Booker’s church. You would have
thought that my statement of affection and Mercyx’s reaching
across the table for my hand would have led to more intimate
conversation, a kiss or two, and if this were an R movie or a
porn shoot, the consummation of everyone’s desires; but all
it did was make us feel really, really weird.
By the time Mercyx mercifully let go of my hand, the union
had become clammier than anything we’d eaten that night.
I felt stupid. I wanted to be witty and charming but couldn’t
think of anything to say. I wanted to at least

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