The Minstrel

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One lovely frosty night a week or so later, Cindy was eating a fine breakfast of moldy bread that she’d found in a dumpster, after sleeping in luxury on a heating grate. She couldn’t stop thinking of the praying mantis man, for whatever reason. Then, if life couldn’t get any stranger, she saw these dorky college students marching down the road with a clang and a bang, looking like a scene out of Candy Land. They were singing some song that had this hearty feel to it, the kind intended to manipulate you into pretending life was really grand, even if an asshole with a gun just blew your hand off. As they got closer, she could tell it was some Christian hymnit sounded boring and mentioned how they were going to cast out Satan, Jesus is our salvation, etc. And wouldn’t you know, they were headed right for her, like she’d put out some kind of loser radar, here I am! Yippee.

“Praise be sister,” began the one who looked the oldest, a guy who hadn’t recovered too well from a massive adolescent zit infestation.

She continued eating.

Next, some oreo dude who seemed like one of those eager puppies whose life ambition was to prove to the Great White Way that he wasn’t one of “those” black guys, sauntered forward. “Repent, for Jesus is your lover. He will be a lover of your soul.”

Sure. And Simon Peter was a loan shark. “Yeah?” she asked. “Is he going to pay my bills or give me somewhere to live?”

“Of course!” Oreo replied confidently. “Jesus can do anything! Ask and you shall receive!”

“Really? You mean, abracadabra, just like that? Hell, oh excuse me, darnit- sounds better than any other man than I’ve ever messed with. Where can I get in touch with this Jesus guy?”

The Jesus freaks started shifting on their feet like lost penguins. Probably weren’t used to having their minds screwed with. Life had been a carnival for them up until they met her. The whole group seemed like they wanted to leave, except for Oreo and this girl she hadn’t noticed before that looked like she’d been rented from a Bambi movie. She’d stare at Cindy until Cindy looked at her. Then she’d look away. Oreo was on a selling spree now, undaunted by her sarcasm. And the whole group seemed to be held up by him. Maybe he was less oreo than she thought.

“You just talk to him. Like he’s right here.”

“And he’ll just show up and start conversating with me?” She emphasized conversate. Let’s see what this dude was made of.

“Yes! He will!” the leader said.

She started laughing. “I already talk to myself like a crazy lady. I don’t need some holly roller to come and tell me to go blame it on some guy who’s been dead for two thousand years.”

“No! You will not look crazy! You will only be doing what you were meant to do,” Oreo protested. “And besides, he is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Word. He is in your spirit. He really will be there for you, if you trust Him. But if you never ask, He will never be there for you.”

This was a really bad joke. Here she was with no place to sleep and she was stuck in a Sunday school with the kind of people who stuck their noses up at her in high school. She started laughing, and couldn’t stop laughing. Even Oreo and Bambi were looking at her like she was possessed. Guess they hadn’t studied exorcism in Vacation Bible School. Finally she managed to speak through her cackling. “What the hell makes you so sure that I haven’t asked? Believe me I’ve asked. I’ve asked so much that I’ve cried myself to sleep and throat was dry from screaming, I was asking so hard and my brain hurt from praying. See what good all that shit did? You’re looking at it. A goddamn sore throat and a lot of broken bones is what I got for my fucking efforts. You know what? Tell your God that I will gladly stick my finger at him when he sends me to hell while you fly off with your wings. He’s already sent me there. And I haven’t even died.”

After she finished her tirade, the whole bunch of them got this dumb look on them like they really were sheep. She’d ripped their sweet little god to shreds. What to do? They began to walk away, the wimps. They told Cindy that they wished her well. Sure. Like OJ loved Nicole. But Cindy was still hungry. And didn’t Jesus say something about feeding the hungry? So she called out, “Hey.” The only one that turned was the kid who looked like Bambi.

“Your church got any food?” Cindy asked her.

“No we don’t. We don’t have a need for food drives in our neighborhood.” The girl’s voice was shaking. Maybe there was a human being in there.

“Oh,” Cindy replied. “Okay. I just thought I’d ask.”

Bambi swayed on her feet, like she was caught between the urge to give the starving soul of Cindy more and the urge to follow in the path of cookie cutter righteousness. She started to take a step forward towards Cindy. But then–

“Hey, Carla, let’s go,” the zit leader intoned. Cindy could tell he’d decided she was one of the Bad People he as a Christian man should shield the women and children from. Screw him.

A dejected Carla despairingly bade herself to follow. “I’m sorry,” she begged. “I’ll pray for you,” she promised.

“I’m sure you will Carla,” Cindy agreed. “Now run along with your friends and go back to your goody two shoes neighborhood. You hear?”

Cindy leaned back her head and made like she was trying to sleep, watching Carla. She looked like she could be any girl in the world. Maybe if life had gone down less of a bumpy road, Cindy could have been her. But obviously, that wasn’t how it went, and that was why Cindy was here homeless and starving, and Carla was tra-la-laing in the name of Jesus and going home to a pot roast dinner. That was the breaks. A few seconds later, Carla rejoined the flock, busily singing praises to the Lord.

Cindy listened as the music drifted away. In her inattention, a tear managed to get past her eye and onto her cheek. She swiped at it. Emotions were for sissies, she admonished herself. They were the dubious luxury of those who had food on the table and a bed to sleep in. And that sure as hell wasn’t her.

She went back to her crust and continued with her meal. It was gone two bites later.

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