Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Joe Dan's Religion

"I think you're protected sometimes by the things you don't know," Eddie said.

"What in the world you mean by that?" Joe Dan Darden asked, brushing wildly at his face.

When Joe Dan got nervous or irritable, he had a habit of squinting and brushing at his bushy black eyebrows as if gnats had attacked him. Taken in congress with the rest of his appearance--short, stocky but muscular, close-cropped hair--he was an uneasy and far too serious semblance of one of the Three Stooges. Handsome Curly puffed up by steroids. Stoopid Curly hopped up on Jesus.

"I mean, like not havin' car insurance," Eddie said. "If you're drivin' 'round all day and you're not even thinking about it--you know, like you've totally forgot about insurance, whether you have any or not, and you're just thinking about ordinary stuff. Just takin' an ordinary attitude, ordinary precautions--then you're safer than if you remembered how you didn't have any, 'cause it'd make you nervous and you'd probably have a wreck."

"What'd make you nervous?" Joe Dan asked impatiently. The explanation had been too long and he'd lost track.

"Thinking about the responsibility, of course," Eddie grinned.

"Well, I sure don't see how an irresponsible guy like you'd ever be worrying about stuff like that," Joe Dan declared. "You ain't never worried about nothin' else you was supposed to!"

"Well, I used to worry," Eddie grinned. He paused and started to pull a small heavy item out from under his jacket, something wrapped tightly in a piece of old split leather.

"Durn," Joe Dan thought, "he's gonna show it to me again!"

"I show you my new gun yet?" Eddie asked, then shook his head and yawned. "Oh, yeah, yeah! Sure, I did."

"Yes, yes! And I told you you shouldna never brought it to work, too! Keep it out of sight, will you?"

"Yeah, sure. Uh, anyway, what I was talkin' about, I used to worry, you know, before I figured everything out."

"And just what did you figure out?" Joe Dan asked impatiently.

"That nothin' makes any fuckin' difference."

"This is absolutely not true!" Joe Dan yelled, his face red as a beet. "That is not true, boy, and you just better refigure that stuff!"

"What fuckin' difference does it make, then?" Eddie teased, deliberately placing his emphasis on what he knew Joe Dan would only refer to as the "F-word". He liked to upset Joe Dan. It was so easy. "I guess now you gonna tell me it makes some kinda difference to God, huh?"

"It certainly does, it certainly does!" Joe Dan spluttered, almost choking in his effort to get the words out as quickly as possible. His loose bridge did a little flip flap inside his mouth and he clapped his mouth shut fast to hold it in place. He breathed hard, thinking how his dentist's appointment wasn't for another two weeks.

"Jesus, don't spit on me, Joe Dan," Eddie snickered, pretending to wipe something off his face.

"I didn't!" Joe Dan said through clinched teeth.

"Don't get so excited. Anyways, lunch is over; I gotta get back to my crew. That ole nigger Hargraves gets seriously pissed off if I'm even half a minute late getting them started." He picked up his gun, tucked it under his arm, and started walking.

"Don't just walk away from me on this!" Joe Dan bellowed after him, his face contorted with frustration. "This stuff is important! This is your soul we're talking about!"

"That's what you're talkin' about," Eddie hollered back with a grin. "That's what you're always talkin' about! But just talkin' 'bout it don't mean a damn to me!"

Joe Dan wanted to rush after him and keep arguing, but decided he'd better not. Meanwhile, though Joe Dan was unaware of it, the superintendent, Dick Hargraves, was headed toward him in a hurry.

"Goddamn that boy, he's just bound for hell!" Joe Dan muttered. Every day he got more worried about Eddie. "I got to do somethin' to save him!"

"Are you a foreman or not, Joe Dan?" Hargraves hollered gruffly, still walking toward him.

Joe Dan didn't answer. A moment later the superintendent stopped in front of him, embarrassed by the trance Joe Dan was in. He always hated it when one of his employees was so plainly strange. He never knew how to handle it. He looked down and cleared his throat, pretending to clean something off his shoes by scraping it against a piece of angle iron. When he looked up again Joe Dan still wasn't snapping out of it.

"Damn Christian nit-wit!" Hargraves thought. "I go to church too, but I don't haul it to work with me like a sack of potatoes!" He reached over and gave Joe Dan a mild shove on the arm.

"Huh?" Joe Dan shook his head and looked around.

"Joe Dan Darden, you go on now, your crew's waitin'! Goddammit, they're all waiting for you!" he hollered, pointing toward a group of men on the far side of the yard. "C'mon, you wool-gathering about Jesus again or what?"

"Sorry," Joe Dan blushed.

He put his head down and headed for his crew. He was forty years old and sometimes still felt like a kid. He hated it when Hargraves got on his case like that. When he got his crew in the field, he handed them the shovels and stood over them, hounding them to dig faster while he did nothing but occasionally spit. After a while, he felt better about everything.


©2003 Ronald C. Southern

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