We now pause our regularly scheduled programming (three more Cain and Abel re-writes on their way) to bring you some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s best sentences.
From Treasure Island
Silver was roundly accused of playing double–of trying to make a separate peace for himself, of sacrificing the interests of his accomplices and victims, and, in one word, of the identical, exact thing that he was doing.
From Prince Otto
(This first one hits strikingly close to home–perhaps ol’ Bob stumbled upon Ecclesiastes?)
Do you not know that you are touching, with lay hands, the very holiest inwards of philosophy, where madness dwells? Ay, Otto, madness; for in the serene temples of the wise, the inmost shrine, which we carefully keep locked, is full of spiders’ webs. All men, all, are fundamentally useless; nature tolerates, she does not need, she does not use them: sterile flowers!
And this one (Prince Otto, too) persuades whatever inner-workings lie behind the long development of some men’s seemingly hard, dark faces to rush to just beneath the surface the brightest and rosiest hues of red.
There is nothing that so apes the external bearing of free will as that unconscious bustle, obscurely following liquid laws, with which a river contends among obstructions.
Of all creatures, man is set apart by his ability to respond at length. Other creatures appear to be able to make inquiry and even reply through a series of grunts and gestures, but man alone has been endowed with the responsive power so-called reason.
Lowering his chin almost imperceptibly, Adam slowly closed his eyes. With an increase of force likely to be noticed solely by his closest family, he exhaled the entirety of the deep breath he had been holding as he watched his sons. He leaned his head forward until his chin rested on hand, which was on the top of his staff, as he reopened his eyes.
“What?” Eve asked.
He didn’t look at her. Though his eyes were open, he did not see anything but the garden.
“What?” Eve repeated.
Worried by Adam’s silence, Eve did not notice the look on Cain’s face. Adam did not have to.
“Abel!” he called at last. “Here,” he motioned for his son to come close.
As Abel listened to his father’s words, he looked towards Cain only to see that Cain was staring at him. Some new feeling arose in Abel, one whose name did not yet exist but which he wished would never have surfaced.
The next month was not pleasant for the family. Adam would not let his sons out of his sight. Eve worried.
“What are you saying, Cain?” Abel asked when the two brothers were in the fields, some distance from Adam.
“I’m saying He-” Cain motioned towards the entire sky, “-He spoke to me after that day.”
“And what did He say?” Abel replied.
“He told me If you do well, will not your face be lifted up?”
Relieved, Abel said, “That sounds true.”
“But then He said,” Cain continued, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you.”
Alarmed and looking for Adam, Abel said, “Why wouldn’t you do well, brother?”
Adam awoke from his daydream and did not immediately see his sons. Scanning the horizon with growing panic, he soon calmed down. The two men were seen facing each other, apparently talking about something. Then Abel took a step backwards, as if to place some distance between Cain and himself. Adam grabbed his staff and began to run, cursing himself that he did not stay closer.
“STOP!” Cain commanded Adam, Abel lying lifeless on the ground. “Do not come any closer, father.”
Adam stopped and closed his eyes and saw the garden. Cain bumped Adam’s shoulder as he left him there with Abel’s body. Then Adam buried Abel.
That night, Cain had nightmares of the voice saying, “You must master it. You must master it. You must master it.”
He awoke to the sound of thunder, soaked in sweat.
Then Yahweh said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
I don’t post as much as I used to. My studies have kind of skerred me away from writing anything which carries an implicit, “If you only read what I write about Scripture THEN you’ll understand it.” For I cannot see how most theological writing is any different than every poor soul who does willfully add their own writings to Scripture. However, I still love reading and writing (am into some Robert Louis Stevenson at the moment), so I’ve decided to go a different route. To challenge myself literarily and spiritually, I am going to re-write some Old Testament stories that have caught my attention.
To be clear, what follows are totally for enjoyment. There is no added value or significant meaning. It just helps me to remember Scripture if I can discern between something that is not Scripture and the real deal. To begin, because a friend of mine has me re-examining the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis, I am going to see if I can re-write it five times–each in a distinct genre. As “fabulism” or “post-modernism” or what I think is just as aptly labeled “anything goes” is essentially the latest genre to emerge–certainly not present in Moses’ mind–I will start there. Enjoy.
she was not quite awake as he pawed her legs apart dawn had not yet broke they were alone somewhere in the middle of another barren land where the few nearby leaves rustled she soon caved to his passion it frightened her she bit his lip and was rewarded she bit harder he responded harder he slowly twisted her long hair around his hand and suddenly jerked her head back roughly she dug her fingernails into his back seeking blood in return he leaned his face towards hers again he held his foul breath in and by this she could tell he was close she bit his lip almost clean off as he finished tasting his blood he recoiled and instinctively smacked her hard seeing only the shadow of him through her own dark arms she screamed with sheer terror he had only witnessed such fear once before and that time he didn’t stop on this morning something was different on this morning he stayed his fist then his hands favored her soft chest to the hard ground and he squeezed violently one last time before he pressed himself to his feet food he thought catching his breath he walked towards his fruitless garden in the morning darkness
i do remember said abel i remember yahweh looked well upon my offering and did not look well upon yours then cain said i heard the voice of yahweh he spoke to me then abel said what did he say then cain said yahweh said to me if you do well then your face will be lifted up but if you do not do well sin is crouching at your door it wants to devour you you must rule over it then abel said to cain what are you going to do
the distant thunder slowly rolled closer as if weary from the journey as cain tore into the flesh of his brother abel and the blood of abel began to mix with his sweat on his skin and the thunder grew in speed and strength only yahweh saw everything but had you been there had the skies not become as night you might have seen that it was precisely when the first blood of abel landed on the earth that the deafening thunder clap stopped the intoxicated fury for one moment cain cowered in fear but abel was already asleep then cain completed his murderous act with renewed heart and vowed to never be interrupted again
cain wrapped his cloak around him as he sat alone on the side of the rocky mountain cain gazed far beyond where the heavens touched the earth the wind squinted the eyes of cain and then yahweh said to cain where is abel your brother cain was still as the mountain he sat upon then cain said i do not know am i my brothers keeper
then cain said to his wife who was with child there is no more food here
I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s shorter fiction and almost each story contains writing so good that I want to never make the attempt again. Here’s a few examples.
From The Death of Ivan Ilyich:
Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee, leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all lying and why they were lying.
From The Kreutzer Sonata:
“What is wrong with education?” said the lady, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “Surely it can’t be better to marry as they used to in the old days when the bride and bridegroom did not even see one another before the wedding,” she continued, answering not what her interlocutor had said but what she thought he would say, in the way many ladies have. “Without knowing whether they loved, or whether they could love, they married just anybody, and were wretched all their lives. And you think that was better?” she said, evidently addressing me and the lawyer chiefly and least of all the old man with whom she was talking.
From The Devil:
During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly.
Well done, Count.
As for myself, I had a coffee date with a young lady the other day, something I have not made an effort to do in years. As is often the case in situations like mine, I told myself that I was willing to re-enter the dating world for several clear and distinct reasons. Firstly, it is not good for the man to be alone. Secondly, the idea of sexual congress with a woman has not yet become altogether repulsive. Thirdly, and ever present, there is in me still some remnant of fire, quite incapable of scientific scrutiny, that wants to prove–or fail trying–that I might yet possess some quality desirable to a member of the fairer sex.
As for her, she was highly educated, well-spoken, and cultured. And beautiful. On these points there would be no dispute. Not wholly unlike the much publicized cases of celebrity progeny, however, her parents’ more modest wealth still seemed nearest the root of her inability to properly arrange cause and effect. On this point there may be dispute.
From Star Wars Episode VII until Logan, I had determined, for spiritual reasons, to not watch any movies. That’s fourteen months of no movies. While I do confess that several times during those months, I told folks, “If it gets solid reviews, I’ll go see it,” no solid reviews came in for those films. Finally, my childhood hero, Wolverine, seemed to rise to the occasion. Rated-R Adamantium claws and solid reviews? How could I resist?
Unfortunately, I seem to not be able to fully “escape” anymore–darn you, books!
By my thinking Logan normalized the act of harpooning little girls through the chest on screen and also advocated lying to children if it keeps them hopeful while the world falls to shit. No thank you, Hollywood. As Colonel Nathan R. Jessup once said, “You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don’t want money, and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to (censored) extend me some courtesy.” Do we really need to see a bloody (red-not-British) harpoon point sticking out of a little girl’s chest to be entertained? Fool-ish-ness.
Then, as if I needed another reason to not visit the cineplex again, I resumed reading some Tolstoy short fiction and came across a story called, “God Sees the Truth, But Waits.” It’s a brief account of a wrongfully convicted man spending his adult life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And while in prison he finally meets the real killer, who proceeds to try to escape by digging out, little by little, and dumping the sand from his pockets onto the prison yard. Upon light investigation, sho’ ’nuff the internet tells me I’m not the first to notice that Shawshank Redemption totally ripped off Tolstoy.
So I’m back on the movie fast. Twenty-eight plus years of staring at screens. And for what? What a waste.
H- answered, “Officer Judy is from Zootopia.”
“Zootopia, eh? When were you watching that?”
“So you wake up early enough to watch movies before school when you’re at your mom’s?” I asked.
“I wake up when my alarm goes off.”
“What time does your alarm go off?”
“I go down stairs and eat breakfast and then I change clothes.”
“You change clothes downstairs? Why downstairs?”
“Well, my mom throws down my clothes, and then I put them on and watch tv until it’s time to go.”
“I see. Where is your mom while you are watching tv?”
“She’s upstairs with C-.”
“Oh,” I said, cutting myself off quickly. Unable to resist the pull to follow inquiry further, I rejoined with, “What is she doing with him?”
“I think they play with each other.”
“Hmm. What do you mean? Like play games? Maybe play video games?”
“No,” she held the note, “not video games.”
“I don’t think I understand, H-. What are they playing?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
As if Truth’s gateway, the rear-view mirror reflected that her searching eyes did not notice mine.
Finding no satisfaction, H- concluded, “More like wrestling, I think. I don’t have the word.”
Not sure the reason, I found myself standing in the kitchen, holding the Krusteaz Belgian waffle mix box. (H- adorably calls said mix ‘sugar’.) She was finishing her waffles at the nearby table. That’s the reason! I was putting the box back on top of the refrigerator. Beside it, I also keep the cereal and–my favorite non-perishable treat–the Nutty Bars up there. Like her ol’ man, H- too had experienced love at first sight with Little Debbie’s delectable wafers.
“But you can’t give me the peanut butter and chocolate bars for snack time,” H- declared out of the blue.
I turned to look at her. She turned to look at me.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, carefully dividing my attention between the waffle iron and H-‘s mind.
“Why can’t you have them at snack time?”
“Because some kids are allergic to peanut butter.”
“Don’t they eat lunch with you too? How can you have Nutty Bars at lunch, but not at snack time?”
“At snack time the kids sit at the same table as us and they can smell the peanut butter,” she answered steadfastly.
This smelling problem being news to me, I resumed my inquiry with, “Okay, so what do they do at lunch?”
“They sit at the peanut butter table. There are not very many of them.”
“Ha. The ‘peanut butter table?’ What’s that?”
“That’s the table where you can’t have peanut butter.”
“So the poor kids who can’t have peanut butter have to sit all by themselves?”
“No,” she corrected. “They just sit at the peanut butter table. Anyone can sit at the peanut butter table as long as they don’t have peanut butter.”
“So there is no peanut butter at the peanut butter table?” I asked.
The baby is not the last thing that will be removed during an emergency C-section. Neither will the baby be last in a planned C-section or vaginal delivery for that matter. The last thing will be the placenta.
Attempting to quell some of my new-found, seemingly limitless nervous energy, I quickly flipped through the CD book. I was searching for the one she wanted to hear.
“This is it. This is the last car ride as a childless couple,” I pointed out, hoping to distract her. Her musical request now playing, I put it in reverse and slowly backed down the driveway.
She was ten days overdue.
Almost from the moment of conception, though definitely intensifying during the Lamaze classes, I had witnessed her become more and more terrified by the thought of a C-section.
“Do we have the movies?” she asked, playing along in our little game.
“I put them and the DVD player in the backpack three days ago,” I reassured her, tapping the bag stowed behind me.
Having completed the stretching of her skin, the doctor will cease to give consideration to anything or anyone–whether the room’s familiar beeps and buzzing, his assistant’s breathing, or even his own thoughts–as he silently and hurriedly slices through the exposed portion of her tough, clammy, and purple uterus with precision.
Like a consecrated moment of silence, his worth can now be demonstrated solely through execution.
“Well, looks like you’re all settled in. This seems silly. We’re going to sit for twelve hours, eh? Just waiting? Do you want me to put on one of the movies? Or I can read to you from one of the books? I brought T.C. Boyle’s new one.”
The hospital room’s television was already on. She was viewing it from her bed as she shifted her attention over to me briefly. I kept talking about random trivialities, but we both knew there was only one thought being entertained.
Guys at work, fathers, had recently reminded us–unhelpfully–how doctors were paid more for performing C-sections. “That’s another reason why there are so many these days,” they would speculate. “But the female body needs to experience a natural delivery if the mom is going to come out of the pregnancy alright,” they would continue, with a look that meant alright in the head. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in a woman’s body during a pregnancy and just cutting her open and pulling out the baby does not let nature take its course,” ran the last theory explained before I noticed her dilated pupils and silenced them.
Back in the hospital, she said, “I can’t eat, but if you want to grab some food like we planned, now’s a good time.” She tried to smile.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” I asked before leaving.
Her rushing breaths will never abate even as she unavoidably seeks the eyes of the motherly voice that just announced, “Okay! We’re getting ready to pull baby.”
Four hands will squeeze into her abdomen. They belong to the doctor and his assistant who will have positioned themselves on opposite sides of her. Not even sparing the moment it would take to make eye contact with each other, they will then begin to alternate a violent pulling and tugging. Their pace for stretching her skin will be a mean one–precisely between reckless and urgent. Pull-tug-pull-tug-pull-tug.
“Why don’t we see how laying on your left side works again?” nurse number five suggested. I had just finished my burger.
The nurse–like the others before her–mechanically touched the bedding and then my wife as she waited for task completion.
“I’ll be back in a bit, after we see if that works,” she said on her way out the door.
On one of the screens near the bed, I noticed that the green number relaying my wife’s heart rate had climbed ten digits since last I looked.
Only two of the twelve hours we were told we would have to wait before they would induce delivery had elapsed when a tall forty year old doctor that we had never seen before walked into the room.
“The baby’s heart rate is staying consistent through your contractions which is good,” he began. “But the baby’s heart rate is dropping after them.”
Hearing nothing, I turned to her in time to see her hold back her tears by nodding rapidly in response.
“We need to do a C-section to deliver the baby,” he concluded. Then he left the room.
All I could think about was what the guys had said. The doctor is greedy. He knows the baby would probably be fine, and the only reason he told us anything is to justify his payday.
“I can’t believe this,” I began aloud with an undignified tone that feigned a feeling of helplessness. “Can you believe this?” I asked her as she trembled uncontrollably. “This is exactly what everyone told us would happen. I am so sorry. We don’t even know this man and we were supposed to wait twelve hours before even beginning to induce. It has only been two. What the hell is going on here?”
Waiting for help, she cried.
These days scalpels under a new name are plugged into a power outlet and cauterize as they cut. There will be no blood.
I came into the operating room after being shown how to put on all the disposable sterile gear. The room appeared to still be under construction. A nurse led me to my wife’s side along a path that ensured that the blue sheet hanging over her torso, the sheet meant to obstruct her view of the procedure, would also obstruct mine.
Arms and legs strapped down, the woman will lay on a padded table awake though nauseous from the anesthetics.
“How are you doing, sweetie?” the nurse will ask just prior to the doctor making the initial incision. The doctor will not hear this, his thoughts centering instead on getting the baby out.
The hot blade will then slice through her unfeeling skin, fat, and muscle with little resistance.
Her restricted hand moved. The finest edge in the room was the courage behind the words that I will never forget. Piercing every form of fear, she filled the world with five syllables.
“Will you hold my hand?”
Looking at the still-stiff, sixteen year old, canvas duffel bag with his daughter, he couldn’t prevent the thought, “Man, I can’t believe I still use this bag-”
“What’s in that pocket, daddy?” she interrupted. “Socks?” she guessed as she reached with a raptor’s velocity into the opening. Looking up at him, her excitement was betrayed by her breathlessness and she said, “A glove?!”
“Your gloves,” he answered, pulling out the second one, anxious to keep the pair united. “From when you were smaller. Just give them here.”
“But I want to wear them.”
“Fine. Whatever. Actually, no. Don’t put them on just yet. We have to go to church-”
“-But,” he continued, “I’ll put them in the go-bag and you can put them on after we change into comfy clothes for the trip. Deal?”
Finding themselves changing in the old church’s random nursing station, the father couldn’t have had more on his mind. Remnants of the adrenaline his body released earlier that morning whilst playing the piano for the congregation lingered, and also capturing his attention was the anxiety of starting a road-trip from an unknown location in the city.
“My hands are cold, Daddy.”
“Okay, H-. That’s fine,” he said. “We’ll be in the car in a minute.”
Upon her entry into the back seat, she found the gloves and put them on.
“Clevah gairl,” he mumbled to himself.
“So you’re hands were cold, eh?” he asked, laughing. “You sure do have a one track mind. ‘I see gloves. I want to wear gloves. Dad controls gloves. Gloves make hands warm. I need cold hands. Must share hand temperature with Dad.’ Ha.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry. When are we stopping for lunch?”
“We’re headed to Limon for lunch. I just want to knock out a bit of the trip before we stop. Sound fair?”
“H-, where are you going? The restroom is over here.”
“Huh-uh,” she said, pointing to the family restroom sign.
“Ah. Okay. Good call. Let’s go then. We need to hurry and get back on the road.”
She stood and watched as he ran his hands under the faucet.
“You gonna wash your hands or what?”
He watched an incredulous look come over her face as she began to fiddle with her hands.
“You want me to take off my gloves?”
Mirroring the mood with his own bewildered look, he answered, “You still have your gloves on? Fine. Okay. Nope. I guess there’s no need to wash your hands if you went potty with your gloves on. Come on. Let’s go.”
So I don’t like admitting that there are ever any parts of anything to do with Batman that I question, but for a long time I had a lingering doubt that the whole “Make the climb…without the rope” theory would work. You know, the idea that only when we are spurred on by the fear of death in all its finality will we truly find the strength to do what needs to be done. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The fear of death does increase jumping distance.
Picture this: H- and I at the pool. Goggles on. We’re in the three-foot deep shallow end. Every four seconds she’s adding the post-script to what I can only describe as an entry into a no-holds-barred splashing contest, “See, Daddy? I can swim?”
I smile and say, “Just about.”
Then she says, “I want to jump in.”
I say, “Go ahead.”
She gets out of the pool and with a decent running start proceeds to jump into this same three-foot deep shallow end of the pool. Her head never does go fully under the water and she says, “Ow.”
I say, “You should tuck your knees up so you don’t just land on your feet.”
She says, “Like a cannon-ball?”
I say, “Yep.” So off she goes for attempt number two.
“Ow. I can’t really do a cannon-ball.”
I say, “Well, then, you should come over to the deeper end and jump in.” She starts shaking her head and I soothe, “I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”
Notwithstanding all the splashing, she actually can stay afloat a while during her attempts to swim in the shallow end. And if I remember right, swimming is like riding a bike. Add these things together, and you will see me a decent bit away from the wall in the hopes that when she jumps in, she may just start swimming to me and more importantly, realize she actually can swim. Ta da.
Instead, I learn that she can jump a helluva lot farther than I ever expected or have seen before as she nearly tackled me in a leap that can only be described as springing from legs attached to a brain that really thought a visit to the pool with her father might be the last event on her earthly journey.
The lesson: Teach kids how to swim before how to read the number four.