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Bible Stories a novel by David G Payne


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Part One:

The Past

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- Chapter One -


…And Satan pulled a beautiful apple from his pocket and said to Eve, “Take a bite of this, baby,” and she did, and she liked it and wanted Adam to partake as well, but he said, “We’re not supposed to do this,” and refused. And Eve said, “Spoil Sport! You don’t love me anymore,” and cried until he relented, and as he took a bite of the apple, a cock crowed in the distance and Adam spoke to her and said, “Ay girlie, you’ve killed us both for sure.”

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–The Complete Illustrated Bible Stories


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satellite view of greater New York City would show a gigantic macro mass exhibiting an orderliness any alien would recognize as far beyond the bounds of probability, since forests and weeds and flowers don’t often proliferate in perfect circles and squares, being more entropy minded in their reproductivity, while we humans have proclivities for geometric shapes and replicate them whenever possible for razorsimplistic reasons, and so from space humans appear as busy optimally rational bees, clean and orderly grid builders.

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But as we approach, we begin to see a disintegration of this orderliness: lines fragment into jaggedness, circles sag, squares degenerate. Imagine the disappointment of an overoptimistic alien streaking earthward from Plato’s heaven as he sees those proper Euclidean lines and circles transform into potholed roads and rust hulk junkyards and tenement ruins.

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It is to one of those less glorious locales we must now travel, away from the tour book babel towers of Manhattan with its museums and sculptures and centralized parks, across the Hudson to a lowly untrafficked New Jersey quarter, on the edge of a shady grove, down an unkempt and tired shouldered road where sat an old bramble wooden shack, tin roofed and rusting, front porched as an afterthought, paint long since peeled. An old overturned wash pan substituted for rotting crumbled steps and a large faded hand was painted on the front door. Its primary occupant was a well preserved female, orphic offspring of god knows what, who, though blind to the auguries of experience, was nonetheless said to be able to see.

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Dying for half a century, Grace Shipton’s life seeped slowly back into the earth, living in that shaded copse, that tenebrous habitat she called home, where she had perennially persisted, root close and true to her origins, tenaciously maintaining a tenuous hold on her homestead, shrugging off the corrupt call of the ornate male, with his siren song of shelter and safety and his bright feathery allure, always wanting to “Take care of her.” Empty promises all.

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She hadn’t much truck with menfolk, and though she occasionally allowed them to roost within her realm, it was never to stay, for she was Female, unadulterated and unashamed, and so was feared by most men, who are attracted to women who inside want to be like them, created in their own rib’s image, for such men smell the secret shaft envy and become stronger, like Admetus, as their women grow weak.

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But Grace’s was a primal womb, a womb that vomited forth an Adam before he had a rib to gift. She smelled of earth and ocean, of ancient slime and gelatinous mud, and most men would have none of her for long, nor she of them, and when they left they felt weak of mind and emasculated, as if their manly substance had been sucked away, leaving them hollow and afraid.

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Grace had been blind for half her fifty years and had never missed her sight, her close connection to the earth making her as much at home in darkness as in light. She would have been content living in the deepest recess of the darkest sea, or a mossy cave in an unfathomable fen, and it was to her shack one day a young George Zander came, ineluctable in his life pursuit, oblivious to his manifest destiny, carrying her fate and that of others hard upon his shoulders.

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o! What dark snake daydreams are flute charmed beneath the white obelisk sun, illuminating an unwillingly entangled pair of strangers twitching within the darkened verdant depths of a green and yellow sea. Writhing serpents hang, vinelike, whispering secrets, surveying the handiwork of fate’s relentless unfoldings while the lion and the jaguar, gracefully alert, wend their slippered paws through restless twisting corridors, greeting lusty interlopers with a lethally amorous embrace. And who would dare enter that dark moist realm where mother nature spreads her lush mossy legs, revealing both danger and desire from within her steaming broad leaf walls?

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Vibrant limbs wrap a helpless prey and ignoble savagery becomes the quiet substitute for a lost naive ideal. Dusk falls, throwing shadows across a growing magenta pool, the inexorable result of life’s curious corruption, and the luscious jungle heartbeat, momentarily stilled, begins anew, as memories sink into nothingness like blood into earth, while the flute absolves of all hard questions, softening the cruelty of the picturesque kill beneath the ivory stare of charcoal breasts and an enigmatic smile.

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hen we snoop into the broom closet of our history, painting it a grey on grey, foraging the jungle of the past for a felicitous explanation of the present, we may begin to feel eerily vertiginous, for once we stumble on what we were looking for and see the pregnant causes were spider full of their hideous ramifications sitting close beside us on the tuffet all the while we were mead-feasting in the mess hall, it’s as if we were unknowingly living with an ax murderer in our midst; it’s the feeling you get when you discover you have cancer and realize a part of your own body has been clandestinely killing you, which reminds of a tale from The Complete Illustrated Bible Stories where Adam laments Eve’s apple snacking has done them in, for if that apple wasn’t pregnant with possibilities then what is? 20


Causal talk is like the proverbial camel poking his nose into the tent: you allow the nose in and before you know it you’re sharing your domicile with a dromedary. This story begins with George Zander and the concentric pond circles emanating from his existence, and yet we have already digressed back toward the primal pool of causes by considering Grace Shipton, but to fully understand what happened to George and his offspring we must know something of Mother Shipton, as she called herself, and of course it would be interesting to find out about her parents, and maybe their parents, but this is a temptation we will resist, thus stopping the regress and reversing the causal trend and thereby keeping the camel the hell out of our tent.

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Our story, then, properly begins with Mother Shipton and her Fortune Wheel Emporium, from which bully pulpit she spouted dire warnings based on her idÊe fix of an impending cosmic occlusion centering on the Big Apple with all its bad seed potential. She later likened herself to old Jonah, whose tale she came across while listening to her daughters read The Complete Illustrated Bible Stories, for Jonah ran from his god message and cowered like a bilge rat in the bottom of a boat. There he ripened, like a babe in a belly, until he was spit out into the ocean by superstitious sailors and swallowed whole by Moby Dick, who spouted him out through his blowhole three days later, and he drifted for forty days and forty nights until washing up on Sodom’s shore, the very destination he was trying to avoid. All his trials and tribulations were the result of trying to fight the pull of fate, a pull which Mother Shipton also resisted until she was old enough to see such prick kicking was futile. 22


Believing as she did in a fixed foot future, there was no point in preaching hellfire like Jonah, who preached only because god told him he would spare the city if a righteous man could be found, and of course none could, and god destroyed it and sowed its fields with salt.

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Mother wished she could influence the fates but was certain she could not, and so sat on her porch, unperplexed, constant in her unconcern, contemplating nothingness, watching dreary threadbare clouds scuff their heels across the sky, racing toward oblivion. Later, as the winds began to shake the shuttered windows of the night, loosening the grit and mortar of the world, she slept, unimpressed, indifferent to the dangers of her inadvertent dreams.

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other was weaned on astrology, various peel and pip divinations, oracular pronouncements and the I Ching; she cut her teeth on dowsing, tarot, numerology, palmistry, oneiromancy, crystal gazing, entrail and tealeaf deciphering, yet one night lost her faith in magic, and not on purpose, for she loved the mystery of the old beliefs and hated the demystified stink of an antiseptic world, but what can you do when your mind panes are windexed from without? For she was deconverted against her will and all that remained of her previous belief structure was that vague fix on a coming disaster brought on by her impenetrable serpent dreams and a firm belief she would eventually become involved with a person important with respect to that disaster.

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You may think it problematic for a fortuneteller not to believe, but most don’t, which doesn’t matter, for only the clientele, not the proprietor, need believe, and to say Mother lost her faith in magic is to say she no longer believed in her own ability to foretell the future, not in magic’s effects, for quack magic can placebo a belief in the same way a sugar pill can allay your aches and pains, or a false god soothe your soul’s deepest fears, and thus, even if magic is hocus bogus we cannot ignore its causal efficacy, for as long as people believe they will act.

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Melding magic speculation to already ambiguous mental concoctions is like adding bat wings to a witch’s brew: Voila! we have a potion pregnant with possibilities, and so, although Mother Shipton abjured rough magic, she did not stop practicing, for fools are born every minute and her job was perhaps to lighten their life’s load by giving them comfort and maybe to lighten their purse as well, which meant, of course, she had to become creative, which is why she interviewed her clients with care and was not above listening in on their conversations in the anteroom if they came with a friend.

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Mother passed her skepticism on to her daughters, who continued her business after she died, following in her footsteps, crafting false futures to guide the gullible, but Mother differed from other future purveyors in her genuine desire to do good, for though her future eye was as blind as everyone else’s she realized ambiguous prophecies could nudge people toward goodness rather than evil.

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She always kept a lookout for that Special Person, confident she would know who it was when they met, and over the years she held many hands and thought Maybe? but always remained unsure until the day she met George Zander.

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here are people born into the wrong era, like the middle class housewife whose lace aptitude and crustless cucumber sandwich propensities mark her as a counterfactual Victorian gentle lady, or the strong willed pan wielding washerwoman who would have been an Amazon Queen in the ancient world.

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There are also people born into the wrong circumstances, like the card punching piece work car mechanic whose manual dexterity has neurosurgeon skill makings, or the desk staring corporate CEO whose weekend wanderings and bird watchings would harbinger a park ranger or a Johnny Appleseed in another world.

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All these wrong born self-alienated individuals have at least a low grade latent unhappiness, a clutch slipping gear grind, a closure lack of life fitness, which maybe they think is everyday normal human situational angst, and maybe is, since what are the odds everything might fall perfectly in place for a person, one who is both time fit and place suited?

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Conversely, what about those rare birds who are out of synch in both ways? which George Zander was, for though a roaring twenties birth child he always felt himself a fin de siècle man, and though a lowly accountant, was certain he should have been a box office famous movie star or bestselling literary giant or some other suave artistic professional who could fashionably exhibit a postmodern aesthetic world weariness which would impress and attract beautiful women.

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You may say this is the oft engaged in Walter Mitty wish of many an unhappy American male, and yes, it was that for young George, but to an amped up abnormal high degree, not the usual spike desire many unhappy humans exhibit when they spy a glamorous movie star emerging from a limo to flash popping fan adulations, that brief desire to be shoe in with someone else which surges though them like an electric current and then fades, after which they return to their stone rolling day drearies. For George it was a continuously underlying mattress pea of which he was not even aware, an apple of discontent which made him continuously uncomfortable and always on edge.

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We might chalk this behavior up to a childhood fixation or neurosis or a nurture malfunction or maybe it was the result of parallel possibilities, a situation in which an originally subatomic realm-restricted indeterminacy became microscopically transformed into the macroscopic world, maybe by means of a geiger actuated hydro-cyanic acid gas hammer mechanism, in which case maybe George really was a movie star man hunk, at least until god looked down and esse est percipi’d him like the soundless tree falling in the forest.

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Whatever the reason, George Zander hyperworked his overactive libido from the starting line, but this phenotypic fact did not turn him into a drooling monster as it does many, for women found George’s genetics irresistible, which alleviated the need for any field force, hat trickery, date drugs or any of the other seduction deceptive arts to which less attractive men must resort when at the two strike, two out, bottom of the ninth score-behind portion of a desperate dating game. When male friends accompanied George for a two martini lunch or an after work happy hour jam session, they quickly felt invisible in the bright noumenal light of his Êlan vitale, like the north star must feel at noon time, for women’s glances would pass through them like neutrinos through the earth on their way to a George Zander rendezvous. 38


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eorge’s first libidinous outburst occurred when he was but sixteen, spending some quality time with his mom’s best friend Julie Porknell and her husband Pizzle while his parents light tripped some long needed upstate togetherness time. Julie jumped at the boy sitting opportunity, telling herself she could resist any temptations with which he might waylay or boobytrap her and didn’t notice her pulse raising attraction had already gone beyond the appreciative glance platonic stage and had entered the moist excitation phase, and what did that catamitic contemplator Plato know of lust anyway?

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Then came the dark day when husband Pizzle, whom we will palette paint a dull brown sludge color, was work bound and Julie came to reveille George for a continental and found him sleeping naked with but a silk sheet partially covering his bugle, and she quivered a vulvic volcanic event beginning and without hesitation gently pulled down the cloud covers for a peak inspection, and her knees weakened and her lava flowed at his Adonis-like beauty, and she lost all motor impulse and rational control and George awoke to unfamiliar paw clamberings upon his pink smooth skin parts and lustful mewings in his ear, and when their eyes met unoffended she stripped bare and they bed thrashed the sheets orgasmic.

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Their relationship continued lust unabated for six months, with George finding a multitude of Julie visitation excuses, from math tutoring to helping her mend the garden fence. They were eventually caught red handed in lamebrain Pizzle’s coarse mesh entrapment, for he was beginning to hanky pank suspect his wife’s honky tonkness and came home early from work one day and found her flushed and naked in the bedroom. A quick room search revealed nothing, and he was on the verge of apologizing for doubting her nuptial integrity when he noticed a mattress perturbation and pulled back the mass of bed quilts and comforters, revealing George in an undressed and still tumescent eruption state. 42


This sordid episode not only ended a family friendship and unmade a marriage, but also made Pizzle forever after feel size incompetent, which substantially increased his inferiority complex, which led to a drinking problem which led to an early cirrhosis death, while a Georgeimpregnated Julie, having no schooling and no gainful employment, lost house and home, which forced her into poverty, which led to a male dependent lifestyle, which later led to her death at the hands of a jealous lover. George, though, emerged with his teeth’s skin unscathed, for seldom did his love affairs cause him harm, though they often harmed others, sometimes a great deal. His world effect was not unlike old Mr. Magoo, who weaved and swerved crazily down the highway leaving car wrecks and carnage in his wake, of which he was totally unaware. 43


The final spike in George’s life coffin was driven home by a seemingly innocuous incident a year later when he was a newly hired apprentice accountant with the highly respected Tesler accounting firm. Old man Tesler himself cash advanced and commanded him to go forth and buy Proper Business Attire, and George straightway went to be fitted and was standing in front of the mirror in full dress regalia as the store clerk chalked and pinned his trouser hems, when a night passing ship named Margi, in boyfriend tow, caught his mirrored eye, scanned him upward and down, and decided to play cat among the pigeons by calling out what were to become Fateful Words: “Yum, baby, don’t you look like Clark Gable!” 44


With that spontaneous ejaculation she was gone, and she never thought she would see him again nor he her, but did, and she only felt compelled to say those words to make her preen-primping know it all boyfriend jealous, an always dangerous endeavor, which she later ruled entirely successful while gently nursing a nosebleed. Margi ditched her beau shortly after the openhanded slap session and later went on to meet and marry a freshly appointed judge named Henry Winkelbaum, both of whom will have some bearing on this story.

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Hearing those fateful words, George stared into the mirror and there saw a completely different persona. He promptly trimmed his hair and groomed his mustache to Gable standards, practicing looks and stances to Clark-mimic perfection, and those words became like the fall bite of a forbidden apple, for never again was he content within his skin, always wanting public adoration he was never fated to possess, always craving wealth he was never destined to have, always desiring sexual gratification of a humanly impossible quantity. Sex became so inextricably bound to these unreachable goals it in turn became only a means to those ends, and his potential for true love slowly dissipated like the lights of a small town at midnight, winking out one by one until only darkness remained. 46


You may well wonder whether it was merely Margi’s words which made this character difference in George, for he may have had a genetically directed propensity which those words initiated, but which could also have been initiated by any one of a large word or phrase subset, or maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse in causal terms like assuming human bipedality to be the result of increased brain mass or flower color to be the result of newly developed insect color discrimination. In other words, maybe we’ve skewed the causal sequences here in some way, flipping them back assward and maybe over analyzing them, but if we omitted that fell event sequence and reran George’s life scenario we would see him without the Gable fixation which was crucial in his movie star money fixation which led to his unhappiness, and thus we must insist the phrase was at least sufficient to point him in an entirely new and world historical direction. 47


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other Shipton first met this Gable fixated Zander boy when he arrived, a nubile nineteen year old, at her Fortune Wheel Emporium one hot August day, best friend Tim in tow, both having done the Uncle Sam signup for mom and apple pie. The year was 1941, Hitler was doing the European foxtrot, and many American boys were already itching to jump the ditch and join the Brits in their fight against the goose stepping Hun hordes. Mother had by then seen boatloads of young uncooked recruits wondering would they live or die and she duly palm read their hearts’ desires and spouted her mystical pseudo prophecies, endeavoring to give them direction.

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When George Zander and Timothy Bopeep arrived at Mother’s door she had them sit and await her highness in a small antechamber for what seemed to them two eternities before ushering them inward through the soft cotton veil to her sÊance sanctum where she asked searching questions and listened intently to their hopes, dreams and fears.

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She first enfolded Tim’s hand in both her charcoal dark ones, conjured a trance and told him of close calls and hare scares, and how he should avoid the number eighty-eight like the plague, for she always liked to throw in a specific number taboo free of charge for clients to fixate upon, but told him he would return home safely and become a father and have a great impact on a number of people.

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She then turned to George and held his hand in hers, probed his opaque eyes with her very blindness, and was completely overwhelmed by the electric buzz of pulchritudinous peril she felt within, informing him with stammering tongue she was sorry, but he would have to return later for his reading for she had momentarily misplaced her inner sight.

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He, puzzled and a little alarmed, returned the next day, alone this time, and she repeated the routine once more and held his hand, and muttered mysteriously, “Beware your son, for he will end your days! Beware the number twenty-nine.� Maybe it was the incense in the room or a sudden barometric pressure drop or some synchronic combination, but George began to quake and suddenly became acutely aware the hand not tightly grasping his own was resting hot upon the hardness of his thigh, and he became obviously aroused and began to whimper and pant like a puppy, and Mother arose and flipped the open sign closed and led him wordlessly into the back room and there feng shuied his fear tremblings, and later in a self-directed prophetic utterance, predicted in nine months she would give birth, and did, to twin daughters, whom she named Cassandra and Far Liath. 53


What was it Mother felt when she held George’s hand that day with Tim? She later tried to tell him of his world historical importance, that he was no mere hero-armored hanger on, tried to relate to him her horrific visions of broken benches in a slaughter slick hall and of ground strewn fire charred gable beams once towering high, but her knowledge was inevitably ineffable, resisting spoken explanations, like the very bottom of god’s secrets, and so she simply tried to cajole him with care, like a worried Venus to her Adonis, reminding him his every action gave rise to others, and he laughed at the flute sweetness of her voice, content to be entwined.

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She saw then that the best she could do was watch closely over his simpleminded childlikeness, an unseen angel guiding him with invisible hands, and made him promise to return, which he did, wending his wander-tangled way back to the Fortune Wheel daily, where he spent his leisure time betwixt Mother Shipton’s legs.

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One day while so enmeshed he mentioned his girl, Mariah, and Tim’s girl, Charlene, both of whom were hard pressing their men to marry before going soldiering, and Mother insisted they all come together for a group consult, and so George and Tim brought Mariah and Charlene, and Mother, no slouch in the psych department, listened closely, feeling Charlene watch George watch Tim watch Mariah watch Charlene, and she wondered at this too tight friendly assemblage, and she brought them in all together and spoke her best ethereals, telling of laborious times and barking war dogs and lonely nights. Mother advised marriage for both couples, and married they were, and off went the men to war.

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n the army, George’s accounting proficiency made him a bureaucratic golden boy, and he was easily seduced away from the foot slogging infantry war path he and his arms brother Tim had dreamed of traveling together, a seduction sealed by a major’s wife who underwinged him, talking him up to her husband who was the adjutant accountant of the entire theatre and who insisted on his joining the accounting corps, which he did.

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Tim was assigned to the motor pool where he could have served safely behind the lines for the war’s duration, but he noticed his division’s number was eighty-eight and immediately transferred, looking for another interest and found one in demolitions, and so eschewed the safety of the motor pool and learned the aesthetics of explosives instead, breathing a deep sigh of relief at the narrowness of his escape, thanking Mother Shipton for her numeric insightfulness while cursing George Zander for abandonment, for while Tim was immersed in army mud, George followed far behind the front, pencil in hand, immersed in the loving minds of general’s daughters and farmer’s wives while the war ground slowly onward toward its inevitable conclusion. 59


There were many heart saddened female French the day George sailed for America, and he seriously considered remaining without leave, and may well have but for a final flimsy shred of marriage fidelity decency and, yes, a great respect for the long arm reach of the Army.

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Stateside at last, George disregarded the GI bill’s equal opportunities and allowed himself to be rehired by Tesler as a salaried accountant and discovered to his chagrin he had overhastily married a woman he did not know, and immediately began to appreciate the binding aspects of the marriage contract, for Mariah was almost an exact George Zander opposite, and though opposite magnetic poles attract, opposite personalities do not, for long, despite contrary truisms.

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George was nothing if not a monopole and Mariah one of those odd individuals who are warm and comfortable and happily complete within their own skin, wishing only to be cushioned and creamed and adored by her husband, though it was soon obvious that wasn’t going to happen, and though George quickly regretted having entered the nuptial bargain basement, he vowed to make it work and be a good husband and father.

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His vow lasted almost two weeks and broke like Moses’ crystalline tablets when a bedizened bible storybook salesperson named Josephina Smith-Jacobs came door knocking one Saturday morning while wife and child were playing kickball in the park, at which time George not only bought a twelve volume book set of The Complete Illustrated Bible Stories for little Zeke, but bedded the colporteur for big George.

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Nor did he abandon Mother Shipton, for though Mother was more than thirty years his senior, he found her not merely sexually stimulating, but a rock solid reference upon which he could set his wander weary compass. She was the one fixed point in his spectral life, for George was an unstable compound, subject to decay, and Mother was his preventative, his neutralizer. He was a Proteus, unconsciously assuming various shapes and forms, taking on whatever persona was needed to seduce and titillate a particular female.

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George seemed to intuit what women wanted and became that, and did this so well and so often he became ungrounded so there was no real self left, except maybe the self he was with Mother, and though he was oblivious to his plight, still, when with Mother Shipton, he felt a comfortable warmth he never felt elsewhere, and so always returned, even when she became old and feeble. He reciprocated by helping her financially, for these were hard times for Mother, raising two daughters alone, and George bought beaucoup Fortune Wheel coupons and gave them as gifts to his Tinkerbelle girlfriends, and though he never acknowledged her twin tykes as his, he helped her to the best of his abilities, and so the two of them survived, symbiotic in their relationship, bracing the door against the oncoming Grendel dreams. 65


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hose youthful days with wife and son at home were George’s glory days, though not for the familial benefits, for George preferred almost anywhere to home and had excuses aplenty for late night shenanigans, for he was well known as an accounting wizard, intuiting debit and credits and general accounting procedures, inventory methodologies, ratio computations and tax evasions. Clients were delighted with his digital proficiency, for any sufficiently talented accountant is indistinguishable from a magician, and said clients would always insist on his return and word wildfired of his sleights of hand and legerdemain and he was soon raised to a managerial position and so traveled from client to client, overseeing his own number crunching minions, personally working with Tesler’s most prestigious clientele. 67


Such was his charm that a mere sideways glance could stop a conversation cold, for women loved George and he them. He was the hub of a fortune wheel, a warm glowing mead hall in a dark sea wilderness, a neural fiber network with impassioned emotional outpourings.

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Small wonder George felt empty and alone when he walked in the door at home, hanging his persona coat on the wall rack, for there truth stared hard back at him, reminding him he was not Clark Gable, not fabulously rich, not adored by millions. He would kiss his wife like a zombie and pat little Zeke on the head and go in the bathroom and splash Old Spice on his face and look in the mirror and see Nothing, for at home he was the invisible man, blending with the somber colored household like a green head fly on grass.

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He would read the newspaper while his wife endlessly read first bible stories then fairy tales to their son, and would on occasion catch the boy watching him as Mariah read of the father and son prophet team of Elijah and Elisha, and how they jumped Jehosophat together, napalming the baal prophets like a father and son fish outing on a summer morning, while he, George, never took his own son out anywhere or even loudly growled the wolf part in the boy’s favorite Little Red Riding Hood story, as the wolf gave his famous “The better to eat you with my dear!”

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Mariah would make excuses for his behavior, for she was not of the henpeckedy sort, though Ezekiel saw through his dad like an open window. George knew this and squirmed in his seat under the son burn gaze, and so he lived to leave home, when he could snugly pull his persona coat about him again, do the work walkout, and reenter the real world of his illusions. 71


If asked about his women, George would truly say, “They are more necessary to me than the bread I eat and the air I breathe!” and though there are those who might lecture us, explaining how each female was for him a mother lustful Oedipal need, this was true only in the sense that woman is a warm motherly womb symbol, a cosmic moist earth icon, and thus in his trysts George was seeking a return to the womb, which is a return to the earth, which is a return to dust, which is a return to death, and so we may be right in claiming George Zander a personification of the erosthanatos identification, but then, aren’t we all? 72


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s Mother Shipton grew old and weak, George came often to her dark wood home, carrying tea kettle and broth pot, and would sit in her room beside her bed, his smooth strong hand resting lightly on her own brittled claw, and there the two seemed to merge in the room’s shadows, drawn to each other in ways neither understood. As soon as Mother felt his hand she knew instinctively it was his, and tried to speak, her fingers fluttering with urgency. George brought his ear down low to try to make out the words, but her mouth’s dryness made speech impossible. He did the damp cloth mouth dab, wiping away the whitened sea froth from her parched lips and Mother tried again with great effort, but the result was still unintelligible.

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Feeling Mother’s fragile pulse, looking at the emaciated body, once healthy and well rounded, her dugs, once life giving and full of milk, now shriveled, empty and dry, he felt himself hanging by a hair’s breadth, and then she spoke.

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“O Georgie…” she called as if to a distant listener, her gnarled hand grasping the dry ribs of the bedstead, pulling herself upwards. “O Georgie…” She raised her eyebrows, as if looking skyward, tears flowing, toothless mouth downturned, the skull clearly visible beneath her skin. George preened the cotton hair on her hoary head, listening. “O Georgie, beware your son, for he will end your days!” A pallid cooling cloud momentarily covered the sun as if a veil were pulled, a curtain dropped, a scene changed. “Beware your son…” Mother’s sudden strong grip upon his hand as she whispered sadly into his ear, “Beware the number twenty-nine.”

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Day turned to dusk and George became alarmed at her lethargy and just after midnight he called in a favor to a Tinkerbelle nurse named Rachel, and later as he awaited her diagnosis on the porch, the prim medical person appeared beside him, shaken.

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“Miss Shipton… she’s dead.”

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The date was March 20, 1970, and George went in and looked down upon her stone face and felt a sadness inside that transcended anything he had felt before, and when he left, having taken care of all the golden bough death details, informing her daughters and filling out the bureaucratic paperwork that insured her smooth transition from this world to the next, he stopped at the Starlite Bar & Grill and drank himself into a psycho-pompous funk, wandering through the city for hours afterward, lost, having no Cartesian coordinates to guide him, and not quite knowing what to do or where to go, for he had lost his center and finished his course, and from that day forth began to decline. 79


Bible Stories