Note: I am pleased to offer my blog to my friend, Michelle Waters, for a fiction piece she wrote...her own very successful Mrs. Waters English page is devoted to resources for ELA teachers, so we decided to debut her fiction here.
Michelle is a teacher, advocate, #FierceWomanofOklaed. She and I are administrators of the Reading for Pleasure -- Oklahoma FB page. She curates the #oklaed Twitter chat each Sunday, with our Storify verison available moments after our chat is finished. She's a candidate for National Board, which gives us the opportunity to spend more time together. She attended Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute this summer and this piece was inspired during that intensive three weeks of professional and personal growth.
I've read and enjoyed this satirical piece, and love the bite of truth and irony it delivers.
"The Good Senator" by Michelle Waters
Sen. Damien O’Brien considered throwing his cellphone out the darkly tinted window of his red Lexus. He grinned as he imagined the screen shattering across the pavement of Lincoln Boulevard and onto the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol.
After a moment, he sighed, dumped the phone into the passenger seat, ran a hand through his cropped, graying hair, and punched the gas pedal, chirping the tires as he speed onto 23rd street headed east. The woman on the other end of the phone continued jabbering through his hand-free system as he ground his teeth.
“You can’t just swallow their rhetoric,” she prattled on about her stance against the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection. “Our state has cut funding to public education more than any other state in the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Vouchers...”
“Education savings accounts...” he corrected, his voice monotone. He rolled his eyes as the light at Kelley Avenue turned red and he slammed his foot on the brake. He really didn’t have time for this. He’d just finished a legislative session, and thanks to those godforsaken education lobbyists and their union thugs, he didn’t get out of the building until after 5. He hoped traffic on I-35 would let him get to church on time. At 7, he was leading a Bible study that’d be broadcast around the world via the churches satellite and online sites. His topic tonight: The Good Samaritan and Social Justice. If more people would do the right thing, our country would be a better place, he thought. As for those who God has rejected, known because God chose not to prosper them...
He closed his eyes and loosened his tie. Until more people understood though, making sure more people did the right thing would result in persecution. Drawing a line between those God loved, and those God clearly had it in for would cause a great outcry among the unbelievers. But did it really have to be on a Wednesday night? He opened his eyes in time to see the green light at Kelley Ave. Just as he was about to hit the gas, a police car flew past him through the intersection, full lights and sirens. He hadn’t even heard it over the sound of that woman on the other end of his phone. He checked his mirrors and then floored the gas pedal. His SUV surged forward, setting him back in his seat like a jet. The power was almost better than...
“Vouchers.” she repeated. “Vouchers will only take money away from the already starving public schools. The rich kids who already have it all will leave, and the poor kids, English language learners and disabled students will be left with a broken system and even less chance of escaping poverty...”
He could feel his face turning red and his foot pressing harder on the gas pedal as he swerved around a junked out gas guzzler that looked like it needed to be put out of someone’s misery. Up ahead, he saw the sea of flashing blue, red, and white lights and a line of brake lights forming in his lane. No one was getting through and he didn’t have time to sit in traffic for an hour. At the last minute, he slammed on his brakes, cut the wheel to the right and accelerated into a run-down street lined with broken-down cars and crackerbox houses with paint peeling like sunburned skin. He wanted out quickly -- the sooner he made it around the accident and to the Interstate, the sooner he could get to church. He grabbed his phone, held it up over the top of the steering wheel and started swiping through his app screens. Where in the world did he hide Google Maps, this time?
“If you’d stop spouting soundbites...” That was it. The last thing he needed was an unbeliever’s vitriol while he tried to find a way out of a decrepit neighborhood so he could hurry up and get to his Bible study.
“ESAs are the only way to break up a failed system that refuses to look at the internal problems and insists on stealing more taxpayer money to feed itself!” he growled into the phone and disconnected the call. Teachers could be so unreasonable, especially the retired variety.
He’d just found his maps app when a popping sound assaulted his ears. He dropped the phone and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel as his car decelerated like a skydiver after deploying his parachute. He stepped on the brake, and heard a crunching sound.
Moments later, he steered the car to the curb and took a deep breath. He glanced around. Other than a mangy looking dog, a couple of small foreign cars that looked like they’d seen better days and a few squat red-brick houses, he was alone. He reached down under his legs to pick up his phone and call Roadside Assistance, but came up with a handful of not-very-smart phone parts. He cursed under his breath, and followed up with a quick prayer of penitence.
After spending a few moments breathing and letting his temper subside, he swung open his door and stepped out onto the sunny, sweltering street. He glanced down and grimaced at the obviously flat front tire, then pondered his options: Attempt to change the tire, or walk to a nearby store and call for help?
He didn’t hear the door opening at a nearby house, or see what hit him. All he felt was the pavement slamming into his cheek, a searing pain in his arm, and sharp pains in his sides and head. It occurred to him that this might be how whack-a-moles felt. Pungent oil fumes battered his nose and he tasted his own blood. He coughed and spit; a tooth bounced in front of him and the world went fuzzy.
He must have only been out for a few minutes because one of his attackers was riffling through his pockets. The thug pulled out his wallet and rifled through his credit cards and identification.
“Remember that book we read in school? You know, the one named after a year?” he said.
“Uh uh,” the other thug chuckled. “Probably in juvy that day!”
“Yeah, he’s got the same name as that guy who turns out to be the thought police.”
“I’ll police his thoughts!” the other guys boot slammed into O’Brien’s head again.
Then the low-life pocketed $500 and his credit card. He’d have to cancel it just as soon as he found a phone, he thought around the buzzing in his ears.
Another thug yanked the Rolex watch off his blood-slicked arm just as his empty wallet landed at his nose. His eyelids slammed themselves shut.
Am I still alive?
His senses returned to him, and he realized he wasn’t alone. He cracked open one eye and spotted a very large Nike sneaker dangerously close to his head. From the sneaker rose a rather stocky kid who looked like he was in late elementary or early middle school. The senator suspected the later, considering the other boys in the group varied in appearance from late middle school to high school dropout. He tried to stand up, but quickly realized he could barely breathe, much less move even a finger.
“Dude, he’s messed up,” the little kid said. “Like, for real.”
He cracked open an eye in time to see the kid pick up his wallet and start sounding out the name on his driver’s license.
“Damien O’Brien,” he read haltingly.
The high school dropout, who’d been pacing, stopped in front of him. “Wicked! He’s named after that creepy kid in The Omen. Did you see that?”
The little kid shook his head, his eyes wide.
“Look at all the blood,” the dropout added. “It’s like CSI for real. Dude probably couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. Creepy name didn’t help him any.”
The boys snickered, and a deep-voiced thug he couldn’t see said, “This joker’s better off dead. He’s bleeding out all over my street. We need to call the city to take out the trash.”
“Maybe he needs a transfusion,” the little kid said. Now, he’s got the right idea, O’Brien thought.
“I ain’t wasting any of my blood on that old man,” the dropout sneered. “He’s dead already. Might as well sweep him up and dump him.”
“My mom says she ain’t gonna let some old guy take her kids’ blood,” another kid added. “That’s like robbing the young and giving to the dead, she says. She’s always watching those stupid doctor shows!”
The boys muttered agreement; he opened his mouth to express the ire rising in him, but all he could hear was phlegm rattling in his throat.
How could they stand around so callously while he died? Why didn’t they try to help him?!
He pried his eyelids open again and the kids were gone. A black dress shoe landed in front of his nose, adorned by a college aged man in a tailored business suit. The senator breathed a sigh of relief. Help must be on its way.
What little blood remained in his veins froze when he heard the man’s conversation with his elite buddies.
“Do you know this guy, Edmund?”
“Indeed, he’s Sen. Damien O’Brien,” Dress Shoe said. “Well, soon to be former senator. It doesn’t appear that he’ll be lasting long.”
“I’m sure if we provided some medical care, perhaps a bit of long-term treatment for that injured arm, he’ll be good as new,” the other man said.
“Doubtful,” Dress Shoe intoned. “He is a cog in the government legislative complex that just wants to save its own ass through pay raises and empty rhetoric designed to hide its own flaws. We’re better off without him. We can find someone who will cater to our needs instead.”
The senator struggled to focus his eyes, to see more of these men. Dress shoe seemed to hold a book in one hand, but he couldn’t see any more. Who were they? What did they want from him? Why weren’t they calling 911? They certainly needed to hear his Good Samaritan sermon!
“As expected,” yet another man in the group stated. “He is just like the other legislators. He lies and claims what he does is ‘for the people’ to cover up their deceptive practices. The people deserve someone who can do better than bleed all over the street!”
O’Brien heard what sounded like someone coughing up phlegm and then a wad of slimy wetness hit his cheek. His stomach rolled and he was grateful for the wave of nausea that washed away some of the pain. He peered up at Dress Shoe, who pulled a phone out of the inside pocket of his suit. Could he be seeing compassion in the young man’s actions?
He heard the men’s retreating footsteps, as Dress Shoe spoke into his phone: “I’d like to order three large pepperoni pizzas for delivery to the state capitol...”
He must have passed out again, because a mere blink later he saw a scuffed Croc before his nose. He looked up to see a woman with a scarf wrapped around her head, pushing a Wal-Mart basket. A blistering pain ignited his arm and a scream died as it fell out of his mouth. A young girl with scar tissue trailing up her neck and over her cheekbone and an amazing resemblance to the woman knotted a white scarf around his arm.
“Tabitha,” Croc lady said. “You run to the store and call 911. I’ll take care of this man.”
He heaved a sigh of relief, as best he could. Why is that name familiar, he wondered? Could it be a Biblical name? Yes! Tabitha had been a kind woman who took care of the poor; she had died, and when Peter prayed for her, she’d returned to life. Why had this woman named her daughter Tabitha? He wondered if he was dreaming now...
She rummaged through her cart, pulled out her winter coat, flattened it out, and placed it between his cheek and the blistering pavement. She extracted a bottle of water from a now-empty case, opened it, and held it up to his parched lips. She held the bottle as he quenched his thirst.
“They cut you bad,” she muttered, and pulled a t-shirt from her basket. She folded it up, placed it against his wound, and applied pressure. “You don’t worry. Tabitha and I’ll take good care of you now. Don’t you worry!”
Tabitha returned, sat on the scorching pavement next to him, and held his hand.
“Lord, we lift this man up to you,” the woman prayed. “Heal him in body and spirit. Let him see who you are through us.”
Had time shifted again? Red, white, and blue lights flashed around him, and he felt himself being lifted onto a stretcher. Paramedics inserted a needle into his arm and attached a bag of fluids.
He drifted out of consciousness and returned in time to see a man in green scrubs standing next to his hospital bed.
“Welcome back, Mr. O’Brien,” the doctor said. “We gave you 3 pints of blood, and I sutured your artery and tissues back together. You’re as good as new!”
“That’s it?” he asked.
“Sure!” the surgeon replied. “I just had to stop the hemorrhaging, repair the wound, and then replace all that you’d lost. You’ll be weak for a while, and you’ll probably need some physical therapy, but you’ll be able to function normally soon.”
The senator breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes.
Perhaps he was more tired than he thought because when he opened his eyes, the woman and her daughter stood next to his hospital bed.
“Good evening, Senator,” the woman said.
He swallowed and turned his head away to hide his reddening face.
“Why did you help me?” he asked.
Silence greeted his question, and he turned back, thinking he’d imagined the woman’s presence. But no. She still stood next to him.
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” she asked. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
The words sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place them.
“Is Tabitha your daughter?” he asked.
“Are you homeless?”
She nodded, turning her eyes down.
“I’m a rich white guy who gets paid to fatten the paychecks of oil company stockholders. You should have let me to die in the street like everyone else.”
She looked back at him with a fire in her eyes he had not seen before.
“On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
The words hit him like blazing cinders and he stared, speechless.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Samara,” she replied. As in Samaritan, the Good Samaritan. He felt the blood drain from his face. The verse wasn’t about making people do what you think is right. It’s about taking care of people -- even those you hate.
He blinked, or so it seemed. When he opened his eyes, she was gone.
Reflection -- After spending three weeks at the Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute, I felt an itch to write fiction that needed to be scratched. All I lacked was a good idea. Then my friend and mentor, Claudia Swisher, messaged me about an “argument” she engaged in with a friend of one of our illustrious state senators. She stated that she had made him so angry that he’d stopped talking to her. Naturally, I had to hunt down this conversation and see what had been said. As I read through the Facebook messages, one comment by the senator’s friend struck me in how ludicrous it was and how much it was based on rich-white-guy privilege. The friend did nothing throughout the discussion but spout education reform rhetoric designed to disenfranchise poor people. Even worse, this guy’s social media account is full of Christian symbolism. As I thought about how Christians are supposed to treat the poor, the sick, and the needy, the satirical short story formed in my head almost completely intact. I just had to work out the details.
Michelle Waters is a high school English teacher, award-winning Oklahoma education blogger, former small business owner and newspaper reporter. You can see her work at MrsWatersEnglish.com.