Ecochondriacs [10]

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Montenegro Gets to Del

Del had left the house, furious that Gina had refused to fight with him over Kara. Whenever they had had their previous fights over his affairs, the arguments had rapidly descended to an ugly level, at which level both of them said a number of unkind things about the other person, and Del had gotten into the habit of using any cruel things that Gina had said as a form of retroactive justification for anything he might have said or done prior to that point.

In other words, his adulteries were unprovoked, but in the fights over them afterwards, he could always act like they were somehow provoked by Gina’s subsequent reaction. Entirely irrational, of course, but Del had somehow missed that this was a technique of his until that mysterious moment when Gina had refused to do or say anything cruel, unkind, mean, or vindictive. She had been entirely reasonable the entire time, and she did not say or do anything that would enable him to justify any of his trysts with Kara. She just left him hanging out to dry, in other words.

But while she was reasonable, she was also adamant. They were going to be divorced. She refused to blow up the campaign, but if he won national office, as it very much looked like he might, she would not be there with him. And neither would Kara be there. Kara was a low-level staff twinkie. She didn’t belong on a national stage.

Gina did. She was a natural. Del respected her, looked up to her, and actually thought that he loved her. But at the moment he was furious with her for not allowing him to play his usual games. That left him with nothing but guilt, and the unpleasant sensation of being the moral equivalent of a three-inch green tree frog. It was not a sensation he was accustomed to, and he did not like it, not one little bit.

He drove angrily to a nearby hotel, one that was near the airport. He sometimes stayed there when he had an early morning flight, and they would just assume that such was the case here. He had an emergency travel kit in the trunk, so he was good there. He felt momentarily bad about the Secret Service guy who had to follow him out there, but that is what they were paid for. Normally in the evenings it was a fellow named Bert, but this time it was an agent named Keith. He seemed fully capable of not asking awkward questions, for which Del was grateful.

The car jerked to a stop in the hotel parking lot, and Del stomped across the parking lot, kicking a few small stones as he went. He checked in, glowering at the pleasant young lady behind the desk, went to his room, threw the travel kit on the bed, and then went down to the hotel restaurant to order a steak and a beer. It soon came, sizzling hot, and any other patron of the restaurant would have praised it to the skies. It could have been shoe leather for all Del noticed. He cut and ate mechanically, downed the beer, and went back up to his room.

It was late, but Del took a long hot shower, hoping that it would relax his shoulders, which were as tight as they had been in years. That done, he staggered to the bed and collapsed. And his strategy almost worked. He slept like a sunken and deeply saturated log . . . for about four hours. And then, in the middle of the night, suddenly, his eyes popped wide open. He was awake, and he knew instantly that he was awake awake. He stared at the ceiling for about fifteen minutes, weighing his options.

After a fruitless little bit of that, he got up, sat in the desk chair, and flipped on the television. He flipped through the channels listlessly, wondering what there could be broadcasting out there in the middle of the night that could possibly occupy his mind. In pursuit of this form of a flickering anodyne, he came upon a screen full of bacchanalian pornography, which he watched for about five minutes. Then he said gaaahh! and flipped the channel again.

And when he did so, he found himself immediately confronted by the energetic and very charismatic figure of Montenegro Cash. He started feeling around for the button that would rid him of this televangelical pestilence, but then something stopped him. He didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was stopped him. In the flickering light of the screen, he looked down, made sure he had the right button, and pointed the remote at the television. No, a voice said, right behind him.

Del uttered an expletive, dropped the remote, and jumped out of his chair, whirling around as he did so. Nobody there. He picked up the remote again, and pointed it at the television again. This time the voice came again, it seemed from the bathroom. No, it said again. This time, he set the remote carefully on the bed, and walked cautiously to the bathroom and flicked on the light. Nobody there.

While he was thus occupied, Montenegro Cash had been busy selling little vials of water, taken from the Jordan River, “where our Lord was baptized.” Had Del watched any of that spiel, it is doubtful that it would have done him any spiritual good at all. He would have been too busy speculating that the water in those vials probably came from the faucets in the bathrooms of Montenegro Cash’s studio, which in fact they had.

But by the time he returned, that particular sales pitch was over, and the evangelist was moving seamlessly into his monologue. And right about the time that Montenegro Cash was thinking his very first what the hell, Del was sitting on the edge of his bed, entranced. Everything about this made sense. And by the time Montenegro got to his second what the hell, Del was wavering. It made too much sense. And at the conclusion of the monologue, in the final paragraph, Montenegro said, straight to camera, with oceanic concern in his eyes, “Maybe you are sitting alone in a hotel room. Your wife has just said she wants a divorce. You know her request is entirely fair. You know just what you need to do. You need Jesus.”

This was right before Montenegro’s third what the hell, but Del didn’t get that far. He flipped the television off, this time with no opposition from his invisible friend, set the remote next to the television set, and took three deep breaths. He was standing there in his skivvies, with his feet kind of cold by this point, but slowly, deliberately, knowing full well what he was doing, he got down on his knees and repented.

He started with this most recent adultery, and then moved on to the others that Gina had found out about. After that he repented of the affairs that Gina did not know about. When he was done with adultery, he moved on to his lying. He had been a most shameless liar. Systematically, he found himself repenting of a good deal of the infrastructure of his entire life. And as he was dropping all these various sins to the ground, he found that he had in fact been carrying them all for years. Once they were gone, he started to notice how heavy they had been.

Some of them fell noiselessly. Some of them clattered. Some of them felt as though they just floated away. He stayed on his knees that way, repenting of a life filled to the rim with sham and pretense and politics, for about 45 minutes.

He felt instinctively that he needed to do something else. He felt enormously relieved in what he was doing, but he still felt as though it needed closure. This was grand and all, but it needed a lid. He couldn’t just repent all night. And for some reason a phrase floated into his memory from a Bible as lit course he had taken as a sophomore in college. That class had been a joke and a half, taught by an alcoholic and semi-retired United Methodist minister who didn’t believe in anything. But a phrase came back to Del from across the years from that class, that phrase being repent and believe. When he remembered that, he paired it up with what Montenegro Cash had just said about coming to Jesus. And so Del did. He came to Jesus.

“Jesus,” he said, “I know I am probably doing this all wrong. But if you will have me, please take me. Damn it, I’m here.”

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Joe Carlson
Joe Carlson
2 years ago

Ok. That actually made me tear up.

Thank you sir for these brilliant nuggets!


Andrew Lohr
2 years ago

Has cessationism ceased?

Kristina Zubic
Kristina Zubic
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lohr

Hee! :) But small miracles like this occur every day and don’t disprove (or prove) cessationism.

Kristina Zubic
Kristina Zubic
2 years ago

Last chapter, I asked what the con artist Cash had to do with any of the other characters. Now I know! :)

2 years ago

Dang it, Doug, I started to tear up at the end of that one. It wasn’t my story, but it was sufficiently on the nose emotion-wise to totally blow out the ol’ pipes. Then I read the previous comments and realized Joe Carlson said exactly the same thing, which just makes it all the more obvious that Echochondriacs is absolutely resonating.

Thanks. Now I have to go look at all your other fiction…