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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Cooking/Baking (not recipes) (10/16/08)

TITLE: Shouting at the Ceiling
By Jan Ackerson
10/21/08


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I left Danny on a cold Saturday night in December, knowing that he’d seek comfort from his new friend, Jesus, at church the next morning. In my spiteful state of mind, I wondered if Danny would find refuge in the bearded and sandaled Jesus who first pulled him away from me, or with that ridiculously haloed baby, waving its chubby hand from a straw-filled manger.

We’d only been married six months. Our barefooted wedding in a wildflower-bedecked meadow had celebrated not only our love for each other, but for earth, air, water, and sky, and above all for animals—our fat bulldog, Twinkie, wore a chain of daisies and carried our polished cedar rings dangling from her neck. In our vows, we promised to believe always in our own love and in the harmony of all living things. My friend Jade married us, having procured a license online.

Do you get the idea? We were Danny and Elyse, the Happy Agnostics, and we scoffed at the religious trappings of church, synagogue, and mosque equally and with our own kind of fervor.

And yet, in October, Danny found a new love. It started with an evening of playing guitars with his co-worker, Sam. That led to a few hours at Sam’s church, fiddling with the sound system. Then he went with Sam on a Sunday morning—“They need my help, Elyse, no one there understands sound.” And they got him there—seduced him with microphones and B minor chords.

He told me about it sheepishly, using words we’d always made fun of like saved and born again and personal Savior. Had they given him a little glossary when they brainwashed him? Over the weeks, his vocabulary changed as much as his personality; we no longer knew what to talk about over our hummus. I grew to detest Danny’s alternating zeal for religion and his pathetic longing for me to join him.

Time for me to fly.

So now it is almost Christmas, a holiday I persist in celebrating despite the remnants of Christianity that cling to it. I’ve been in this tiny apartment for three weeks now, and I’ve gotten to know the neighbors a little bit. We are a sad and lonely assortment of misfits: Mrs. Strahan is hiding two cats—Mr. Flynn’s daughter hasn’t visited him in months—little Annie Willis puts Pepsi in her baby’s bottle and smokes too much.

Today, I’ve decided to indulge in some Bread Therapy—there’s something very satisfying in punching and kneading a yeasty dough—and I firmly believe that you don’t have to be a Christian to be charitable during this season. I have a recipe for cinnamon bread that should fill our hallway with delicious smells, and I’ll take a loaf to each apartment while it’s still warm, with the icing slipping down the sides.

Four loaves of cinnamon bread—with each punch and knead, my frustration flows from my heart to my fingers.

Why did you have to take Danny from me? Don’t you have enough people to love you? And I had Danny, only Danny…couldn’t you just let me keep him? Danny didn’t need your salvation…he’s good and kind and funny, not some druggie on the street. But he needs me. Who’s telling him what tie goes with what shirt? Who’s making sure there are no black olives in his pita? I thought you were all about love…but who loves Danny now? Who loves me?

As I pause to rest my aching hands, another thought comes to me—Who are you talking to, Elyse?

I laugh out loud at the absurdity of carrying on a conversation with a god who does not exist. And yet the thought persists—Elyse, who are you talking to?

“Dammit!” I actually shout it, aiming for the vicinity of the ceiling. “I’m talking to you!” I shove the loaves into the oven and turn the stereo on full blast.

When they’ve baked, I slather them with a powdered sugar icing and travel the hallway with my warm offerings. A smiling woman answers Mr. Flynn’s door and introduces herself as his daughter. Annie Willis shows me her nicotine patch, and her baby graces me with a two-toothed grin. Mrs. Strahan insists that I take a plate of frosted and sprinkled sugar cookies in exchange for the cinnamon loaf, while a tenor sings “O Holy Night” on her scratchy record player.

I find myself buffeted by hope.

I think I’ll take the fourth loaf to Danny.


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This article has been read 799 times
Member Comments
Member Date
LauraLee Shaw10/23/08
Wow, what a creative take on the topic. It's wild how the Lord can even take an agnostic and use the Christians and the church or its traditions to grab his or her attention. I pray this happens to a many people I know before it is too late.
Chely Roach10/23/08
That second paragraph had me hooked. What a realistic glimpse at a prequel to salvation...loved it!
Charla Diehl 10/24/08
The MC in this story is so real--she could be my daughter. There is always hope and prayer. Glad she made the right choice at the end. Yes, I liked this one.
Joanne Sher 10/25/08
Oh, this is EXCELLENT. Your MC is incredibly authentic, and I love this out-of-the-box approach to the topic. Wow.
Debbie Roome 10/27/08
I love the way she found herself talking to a God she didn't believe in. Great story.
T. F. Chezum10/27/08
I love the creative take on the subject and the very real MC. I also like the realization of who she was talking to and the open ending of her taking the loaf to Danny. Great job.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge10/27/08
This captures the frustration I've seen played out in real life when one partner gets saved. We assume the other person will be excited, but they feel betrayed and jealous. Great job of bringing this out while opening the door of her heart.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/27/08
You captured the hippie couple perfectly, as well as the bewilderment when one got saved. The description of their wedding was a "hoot."
Sharlyn Guthrie10/27/08
Oh, this is very good. There is so much depth in it, and feeling, too. And your last line injects some hope for this pair. I like how such simple things begin breaking down your MC's resistance.
Beth LaBuff 10/27/08
Does it date me if I say I can visualize this wedding? :) I had to smile at the license "online" LOL …and the B minor chords… I understand them completely :) I love that Elyse "talked" to a "god that does not exist". Yay, for the bit of hope at the end.
Betty Castleberry10/27/08
This is classic Jan...well written and engaging. I like the subtle changes in people toward the end. Well done.
Janice Fitzpatrick10/27/08
Well done! I can't add much to what others have already commented on but I loved reading it!~You have all the ingredients for a wonderful piece- humor and realism baked with a dash of hope-a great mix. I would like to see this as a short story someday. I can see the characters in my mind. God bless and thank you for sharing your gifts with us.
Celeste Ammirata10/28/08
I love stories where people talk to a God that they don't believe exists. It's a sign that their soul recognizes the truth before their heart and mind does. This is a very well written, excellent piece with wonderful imagery.
Karlene Jacobsen 10/28/08
This was good. I could feel the MC's frustration.
Sally Hanan10/28/08
Ahahaha--seduced him with microphones and B minor chords. One thing about you is, you never disappoint. Hahahah.
Marijo Phelps10/29/08
This is TRUE - been there and done that - could almost have been me a few days before JESUS. Only one thing - Danny's shirt and tie? (most of us in that counter culture would not have even considered wearing a tie - but, maybe he had a job that required one?)
Yvonne Blake 10/29/08
I was thinking those words right away..."Who are you talking to?"
I think everyone knows there is a God, whether they admit it or not.
I love your subtle character descriptions.
Laury Hubrich 10/29/08
Awesome "Jan writing." Loved it. Very real.
Marita Thelander 10/29/08
I loved the seduced by microphones...oh...and I was afraid to say sucks...whodda thunk, huh?
Joshua Janoski10/30/08
Your MC is so authentic, that I could swear she is a real person somewhere that you personally observed yourself. I appreciate how you ended this. You didn't magically make everything turn out perfect, but yet you also gave a glimmer of hope that maybe this woman would someday come to know Jesus herself. Great job, as always.
Kristen Hester10/30/08
You have such a talent for putting the reading right in the middle of the scene. And also for making us fall in love with characters that are very different from ourselves or anyone we know. I love that about your writing! This is great.
Leah Nichols 10/30/08
Excellent work, as always! You have an amazing talent of really putting us into the story and writing about unusual people. I loved it!