The carpet he stood on donated from the left overs of a basement remodeling. The crib three years ago given and draped now with jeans and t-shirt. A light blue chipped paint rocking chair in another corner. Then there was the window — two opaque yellow rectangles bordered with white trim against the baby blue cinder block walls. The man looked at the window and that feeling returned from below like mustard gas pumping into the room.

Outside this room, a short hallway, and at the end of that hallway the sanctuary and in that sanctuary an assembly of thirty eight well groomed friends and family sitting and fidgeting, waiting to get the whole thing over with. Down a different hallway the bride got ready. The bride’s name was Judith. Her made of honor Gail fussed over her hair in a Sunday school room as big as her smile. Grooms got stuck in the nursery because it had a mirror.

The mirror hung by the same deacons who organized the storage closet’s conversion. One summer Henry Bass brought in the low cut carpet the groom stood on. Jake Cowart asked his daughter for his grandson’s crib where the groom’s clothes laid.  No one donated the window. It’d been there since the church was built. Henry Bass brought the mirror. It used to hang in his hallway but he had no more use for it.

Beauregard Franklin donated himself to the nursery as groom. Everyone called him B.F. except some family that called him Junior. He didn’t know who supplied the feeling that kept boiling up but he suspected it was her. That feeling building up not just in this room but for six months past. Starting one day in a fried chicken place and growing more urgent each day.  He thought putting the ring to it might satiate it. Liberate him from it. It did not.

He fell into the relationship. He started playing gin on Tuesday nights with his stepsister and her husband. He would come over with a six pack of Budweiser and sit around a little Formica table in vinyl chairs shuffling cards long soft from overuse.

He had his chance. He’d had his chance ever since his stepsister Gail stood up and introduced them. Saying, “This is B.F. This is Judith.” The words themselves having no meaning beyond casual politeness but the giddiness at playing matchmaking boiling up in her voice. He noticed the blond hair, halfway down her back. The odd way she laughed at little uneven moments in conversation and sometimes too loud. He was single and had been for going on three months. A girl to occupy his time didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Other nights others came but to this gin night no one else but the two couples. That was the trap. The pairing up. Gail and Nolan across from one another and him across from her. Each one of them catching the other’s eye all night lingering longer and longer with each glance. Such a natural easy thing. Something you could slip into without much effort on any one’s part.  A prefabricated little couple to step into and go with the flow. She’d worn a modest sun dress. White with cornflower blue dots. It matched the biscuit bowl his grandmother used on Sunday afternoons. So it began.

The mustard gas feeling wasn’t there at first. He stopped while walking her dogs turned to her and kissed her. Two weeks after meeting and under a street lamp a block from her little house. Stopped and looked down at her eyes looking up at him and her lips smiling and then their lips kissing and letting the world swirl around for a minute on the sidewalk with the dogs panting dumb and unaware of what was happening. He kept coming back to that memory. Again and again. She smiled up at him. He smiled down at her. The fresh moment hanging in the air between them. At first they were happy.

He tried to pull up that memory through the feeling in the room. Sometimes the two of them smiling in his mind scattered the feeling, made the fog less thick. He knew it wouldn’t go away but he wanted it at least thinner before he walked down the hall to the sanctuary. Only had the shoes and the tie to put on still. The shirt already tucked in, the belt already buckled, even the coat was on binding about the shoulders tight and uncomfortable as he leaned against the crib. The shoes and the tie were his only last excuses.

Nolan, the same Nolan whose wife had gotten him into the nursery, would check on him soon. Nolan would tell him to get on his shoes and do up the tie and that would be that and then he’d go get married.

She used cream again, insisted on cream. The grits tasted thick and fatty with cream. He met her eyes and his mouth opened to say something but he closed it and took another bite. Still gritty and creamy. She smiled back. He hated it. He told her ten times he did not like it but she made them like this every time. Sweet to have cooked it for him though. Her eyes still puffy and red from last night. He did not eat them all and scraped them into the trash can. The cold grits on top of the broken whiskey glass.

The same glass that made up the bottle that put the little dent in the sheet rock over the dinning room table. She asked, “How was it?” He said, “It was good.” But he remembered her voice from last night.

Sharp and jagged and rage. “You don’t care about me and you never did.” and then he ducked the Evan Williams bottle that shattered on the wall. He stood dumbfounded at the rage. He left. The next day he returned. She apologized. He’d accepted and she cooked breakfast.

Three days later he’d been sitting at a fried chicken place eating a two piece meal when that mustard gas feeling made its first appearance. He’d been chewing cajun rice and panic overtook him. The first of those little stones came tinkling down the hill behind him. The first whiff of yellow mustard gas rose up from the dirty fast food floor. Get out and get out now. But by the time he’d tossed his tray the panic was down. When he cranked up his truck the feeling was gone. He drove back to work and that night they ate dinner, made love and held each other.

The ring did nothing for the feeling. It did not and he knew immediately the truth of it. Knew the moment she said yes that it wasn’t going away. No smile with the yes and it reminded him of how often they didn’t laugh together and in that moment on his knees looking up at her he couldn’t remember the last time they laughed together. She extended her fingers to admire the new ring with a peculiar curiosity. The feeling came on strong then, gurgled up fast, rose a foot and he knew it would immediately suffocate him if he didn’t get off that one knee and into clear air.

Momentum carried him this far. An avalanche building one stone at a time. At first the slight rumble behind him alarming but not worth stopping for. Then more and more the realization that stopping would cause the stones, now boulders, building behind him to slam into him, flatten him and so it became easier to keep moving, keep running and stay with her then it did to grind his heels down and stop. Take the bruises and the scars and the cuts and move on.

He slipped on the one shoe and then the other one. Tight stiff black hard leather. He would never wear them again. They were absurdly uncomfortable. He breathed out and the feeling in the room retreated back into whatever vents it came from if only just a little. He tied up the little thin shoelaces. They seemed insignificant and ornamental with the shoe so tight. You couldn’t see out the window. The panes a solid yellow tent and chip textured. The sun a bright yellow glow.

That’s when the feeling came back and the boulders he’d been running from since six months ago shook the earth likes gods behind him. He didn’t remember the sidewalk now. He remembered her angry and red with Evan Williams. Shouting in the kitchen of his little apartment. The neighbors sure to hear. Her shouting just so the neighbors could hear. Him standing watching the broken glass settle on the floor.

With the shoes on and now only needing the tie he allowed himself to turn to the window for the first time. If it weren’t for those damn yellow panes he could see outside. Just the sight of freedom would do him good. Just enough to move that mustard gas doubt out of his mind.

He picked up the tie. Felt the cheap smoothness. Turned it over in his fingers. Draped it over the back of his neck. Laid it over itself on his chest. Paused and then whipped it off by pulling on one end of it. He stood there tie hanging limp and skinny from one hand. His other hand bracing on the crib. “Please god,” he said out loud, “tell me how this story ends.”

He remembered the cheap hotel room in Helen, Georgia and him sitting there tying his shoes up while she walked by just wearing knee high boots and nothing else but black panties getting ready to go out and eat. He smiled at her and her at him so smooth and soft and pretty then. That weekend they didn’t fight. No anger. Just holding hands and sitting by the Chattahoochee.

Later that week he bought the ring. Three days later he got up from his one knee believing he’d die if he didn’t. Planning the wedding distracted her. He turned ghost during their dinners. She went on about flowers and the dress and the veil and the jewelry and his tux and a thousand minute details. Each detail oddly unexpected to him. The general concept was tolerable. The specific frightened him. He nodded and played the part. In his mind the thoughts kept breaking against his skull. The wedding veil became a jagged rolling rock. The reception a clutter of pebbles beating down on his heels. He stared through her. The questions and plans washing through him.

Two weeks later she was red and yelling again. The words muffled in his memory. He dropped the tie on the vinyl floor and turned to the window. The window. The fifty thoughts stopped crashing. The mustard gas rose in the room a foot. Outside the door he heard the rumble of the coming avalanche. Only one clear thought made its way through to the center of his forehead.

Get out. Get out now.

He swung to the window. His first deliberate movement in six months. Climb out the window and drive away. In a few days he could call her and discuss it all or not. An empty altar speaks clear words. The open road in front of him and her and the damn gin games behind him and Tuesday night would just be Tuesday night again.

He unlatched the window. Pushed up on the frame. The window stood firm. He bent his knees for leverage. It must be painted shut. He pushed again. He grunted and his face turned red with the struggle. The window defied him.

He checked the latch. Open, it was completely open. He banged his palm against the top of it. Pushed up again. It did not break free. Again he slammed his palms on the window. He thought he might break the yellow panes.

“Everything okay?” He jumped and looked over his shoulder. Nolan was right outside the nursery.

“Yeah. Everything is fine.” He choked when he said it. Open the window. Open the damn window and get out of here.

He struggled one last time, pushed on the wooden frame until he thought it might break. The muscles in his arms burned. He was an inch away from starting to sweat from the effort. Out of frustration he gave up a hoarse cry and slumped against the window.

That’s when he saw the bumps.He ran his hand over the frame and he felt the very paranoid nails of Deacon Henry Bass. The man who donated the carpet floor. He installed the floor as well and while installing it realized the window was just the right size for a man to slide in through. Just the right size for a burglar to slip open and slide in and steal the church hymnals and donation plates and whatever else drug addled lunatics might take. Three finishing nails, evenly space along the bottom of the window.

B.F. stood there feeling the nails. He didn’t know about Henry Bass but he knew what those nails meant. He couldn’t open the window. Nolan knocked again. He turned to face the door. Nolan’s voice coming from the other side, “You decent?”

He stood there terrified of being caught. Brought himself out of it. “Yeah.”

Nolan came in. His suit put together perfectly. Tie tucked into to the coat jacket and all smiles. He saw the tie on the ground. The only evidence B.F. left. Nolan picked it up and offered it up to B.F. “Get your tie on. You don’t want to leave Judith waiting.”

B.F. took the tie. He put it back around his neck.

Nolan patted him on the shoulder. “It’s alright. I was nervous too. Here.” Nolan took out his flask, screwed off the top. He threw back a swig and held it out to B.F.

B.F. glanced at the window, back to the flask. He took the flask and tossed it back. With the whiskey his fifty thoughts hit his forehead. The avalanche broke over him and the mustard gas feeling burnt itself out.

Nolan patted him on the shoulder. “To you and Judith buddy.”

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  1. Christina Crenshaw says:

    I read the story aloud to my hubby Andrew. We both thought the story did a good job of getting inside the mind of BF. Using the yellow glass panes along with the mustard gas image work really well. Perhaps the mustard gas image could have been developed more and the avalanche image could have been left out altogether. Maybe if there were some obvious way to tie the two images together. Hope my comments are helpful. Glad you’re settling down to write. 🙂

    • Jason Rogers says:

      Not the only person that’s said the mustard gas image could be developed more. I have an idea for it but it would have required quite a bit of re-writing which I might sit down and do at some point.

  2. ja-key "goldie" says:

    cheers! it’s the kind of thing that draws you in with pain and curiousity…and i just love the overall idea you got cooking here, a story a week, excellent notion

  3. Teddy says:

    Whether the feeling is the intense mustard gas you so eloquently describe, or some similar metaphor, anyone facing that moment with any real clarity and depth of feeling will go through it. Well done Sir. Looking forward to more. 🙂

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