He was stricken with pangs of guilt.
December 13, 2013
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A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Pangs of guilt stung Ben Tom as he waited in the yard at Rivers Crossing Church to waylay a preacher. The tiny church looked more like at one-room schoolhouse than a church. He slouched in his seat and waited for the congregation to leave. When Josiah Welch did not emerge, Ben Tom entered the tiny chapel and called his name.
Josiah soon walked through a door behind the pulpit. He was buttoning his shirt and his hair was wet. “Well, Mr. Lawless. You’re a little late for church.”
Ben Tom surmised that the preacher was living in the church, but did not feel comfortable discussing financial matters, especially unpleasant ones, in the presence of the Lord. “Would you mind stepping outside? I need you to take a little ride with me.”
When they stopped in front of the land Ben Tom had purchased, Josiah Welch jumped out of the car and beat a path to the site of the torn electrical, propane, and plumbing connections. “Why, what happened?”
“Seems that trailer you sold me was repossessed. You failed to mention you owed money on it.”
“I could have sworn that I told you I might be behind a payment or two. The needy family in our church has been taking up all of my excess funds, but I never imagined that the bank would foreclose.”
“Bank didn’t. They sold your loan off to some trailer house lender.”
“How can I make it up to you? I did, you may recall, ask nothing for the mobile home. I just assumed you would take up the payments.”
Ben Tom conceded the point. “I bought that trailer for my brother to have a place to live. Not only is it gone, but now I find out that there were delinquent taxes due on it and unpaid water, propane, and electric bills due. They’re threatening to cut off all my utilities.”
“What would it take to restore my good name with you?”
“You could give me all my money back.”
Josiah looked up to the sky. “Alas, if only I could. As a man of the cloth, I give all of my assets to the poor. The only thing I have in the world is that little church building we just left. I will sign over its title to you right away.”
The idea of owning a church appealed to Ben Tom on some level. Two weeks later, he owned one. Josiah agreed to pay him rent based on weekly collections in the offering plate. The next Sunday, Ben Tom and Penny and their children took seats in a pew near the back. He did not want to appear mercenary, as if he attended simply to collect his rent
In fact, that was not the reason they attended. He wanted his wife and children to know that he now owned a church building. “Of course, it’s God’s church, I’m just a caretaker,” he told them. He also wanted the experience of attending services in a building he owned, hoping God would smile down on him. It felt good and Ben Tom was moved by Josiah’s sermon on tithing.
After the congregation left, Josiah turned over the collections, still in the plate, as per their agreement. Ben Tom dropped a ten spot in the plate and left it all with the preacher. That process repeated itself for weeks.
Ben Tom cajoled Mark Conley into loaning him enough money to take back the trailer house. He reconnected all the utilities, repaired the damage that the trailer had incurred being moved. But Trez found it wanting. “I don’t like it way out here. Plumb on the other side of town from where I live now. My dog is likely to get run over out on that road.” He pointed west. “And did you see that trashy place down there? Think I’ll stay where I am.”
“You’d rather live in a fish trailer than in this nice mobile home?”
Trez looked at the lawn that needed mowing. Ben Tom kept the lawn around his fish trailer mowed. “I don’t see a TV antenna. Got my television programs all set up in the fish trailer. My alarm goes off at four o’clock every Tuesday and Thursday so I can watch old episodes of Seahunt with Lloyd Bridges and Highway Patrol with Broderick Crawford.”
Ben Tom knew it wasn’t the television. Trez had just settled into a comfort zone. He had always been a nester, content as long as his basic needs were met. And those needs were met as long as Ben Tom gave him a weekly allowance for beer and cigarettes. Trez felt he earned his allowance by feeding three horses and two dogs and watering a few potted plants. How would he do that if he moved eight miles away?
The decision suited Ben Tom; he already had a renter for the trailer in mind. They settled into an uneasy truce until Trez demanded his money back for the trailer he refused to live in. And he had no means of transportation. Ben Tom bought him a used Dodge pickup.
A month later, Ben Tom left the ramps down on his heavy equipment trailer overnight. Willy arrived drunk in his pickup, drove up the ramps, and passed out in the seat. The next morning, he forgot where he was, stepped out of the truck and fell off the trailer, reinjuring his ribs and hip.
The pain made him irritable, made him want more money for more beer to ease the pain.
Ben Tom did not have more money to give. “You’re turning into an alcoholic.
“Told you I was an alcoholic when I came out here. Why don’t you take me to AA meetings?”
When Penny bought him a Bible for Christmas, Trez turned it over and over in his hand, shaking his head, before he finally said thank you. When Penny left, he complained bitterly to Ben Tom. “This is The Good News Version.”
“It ain’t a King James version.”
Trez could complain as much as he wanted about Ben Tom, but he was not allowed to complain about Penny. They argued for more than half an hour about his ingratitude. Ben Tom finally asked, “If you can tell me the difference, I’ll buy you the version you like.”
Trez threw the Bible back at his brother. “Okay, I never read either one. Satisfied?”
When Ben Tom and Penny arrived for Christmas Eve services at Josiah’s church, nobody, including Josiah, came. Ben Tom checked the pastor’s living quarters. All of his possessions were gone.
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.