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TITLE: The Most Important Question
By Catherine Craig

Water beaded up where I’d just stuck my big toe against the side of the old worn canvas tent. I held my breath watching the drip, but then exhaled in a gasp as someone dug a finger into my side. Someone else grabbed at my knees and instinctively, I curled up into a ball on my side, trying to evade them. It didn’t work.

“No!” I hollered, rolling over onto all fours, and then crawling toward the tent’s opening. “Leave me alone!”

Just as another pair of hands grabbed my foot, dragging me backwards, someone shouted from somewhere to my right, “What is the most important question in the universe?”

“I don’t know, for goodness sakes! Leave me alone!” The words came in gasps between giggles, as several sets of fingers took advantage of my being caught unawares. “Okay, I give!” I relented. The game, carried over from the party the night before, was growing old. I’d had enough.

I didn’t know the answer. I didn’t care.

Hands grasping my arms and legs relaxed their rigid grip just for a moment, and I was off, leaving them grabbing at air. Thankfully, the tent flap was open and not zipped. I ducked through the opening, straightened up, and then ran down the driveway toward the paved road. My bare feet ached as small stones bit into the tender flesh of their soles.

My sides heaved as I fought to catch my breath. I felt mad, angrier than things warranted, and it didn’t make sense. I’d known those guys most of my life; it’d all been in good fun. Now, here I was, alone, walking down a country road half-dressed, in jeans, with no shirt and no shoes.

The sun spilled over the horizon. Sunlight spread across the sky, tinting the clouds with all those purples and pinks that are so pretty, they just makes me want to stop breathing.

I dug out an old piece of gum from my pants and crammed it into my mouth. The paper stuck to it; it was that old.

What was it about that question, “What is the most important question in the universe?” Why did it bug me so much?

The tar on the road was still warm from the day before. I slowed my pace toward home when I saw tar bubbles that needed popping. With each one I stuck my toe in, I wondered.

I got home and scooted across the lawn and up the front steps to the sprawling two-story old farmhouse my dad and I lived in. It took just a minute to grab a shirt and haul it on, before joining Dad at the table.

“What gives with you, son?” Dad asked, tipping his bowl and digging the last of the cereal from it. “Why’d you come home half-dressed? I thought you and the boys were going fishing today.”

“I think they let me go. They figured I was pouting or something. Nobody followed me,” I said. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care.”

“What happened?”

“They asked some stupid question. I got mad.”

“The question was…?”

“What’s the most important question in the universe?” I answered, and dumped some cereal into a bowl. “The nearest thing I come up with is, “What happens after people die?” I mean, okay, what happened to Mom? Where is she now? Maybe that’s what’s bugging me. I don’t know.”

“She used to believe she’d go to heaven…”

“Yeah right,” I said. “Like there’s a God, let alone heaven. I don’t believe in any of that junk. Church is for pansies. Besides, what kind of God takes a mother still raising a son, and who was pregnant to boot? They’re a bunch of hypocrites, and so is their God. I don’t need it. Why would anyone need God?”

Dad stirred his coffee, hard, and said, “The doctor said she’d have died of a heart attack, in pain, within a month anyway. Her arteries were calcified. Remember?”

“Yeah, true.” I agreed.

“Mom used to say the most important question a person needed to answer, was to decide who Jesus Christ was and what it meant …for them.”

I eyed Mom’s worn Bible on the counter. “Maybe that’s why I’m mad. I don’t know…”

Dad sighed. He set the empty bowl in the sink, and ran his fingertips thoughtfully across the old Bible’s cover. “Maybe it’s time we figured it out….”
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