Jack

Fiction By Kyleigh // 9/22/2011

 {written September 2011. Jack is based – looks and mannerisms, anyway – off of a man we served food to at a church in the Seattle area. My aunt’s family took me with them when they went to help, with a program that offers food and shelter in churches to homeless men that are seeking to get back on their feet. It was a neat experience, though I’m not sure how much spiritual help these men were getting. My mind wandered to Les Miserables often, and the things the Bishop said – some of Sam’s words in this are based on that. So, without further ado, meet Jack.}          

 

A man shuffled into the small building. His wet shoes squeaked across the bare linoleum floor, breaking the silence. Water dripped from his coat sleeve as he pulled his hat from his head. He looked out one of the high windows that lined the walls. Rain beat across the panes, and made the scene outside look like an impressionist painting. The gleam of street lamps cast an eerie glow across the shining pavement. By now the streets were almost deserted, but from time to time shadows splashed through puddles, scurrying through the downpour to shelter. 

                He walked further in. The door he had entered by banged shut in a strong gust of wind, but the man did not look behind him. His green eyes were focused on a cross that hung above a low stage. He journeyed closer, leaving small puddles of water behind him with every step.

                When he reached the front, the man sat on a hard, wooden pew. Elbows on his knees and hands clasped, he leaned forward and bowed his head. But his head did not stay bowed for long. His eyes moved back to the cross.

                “Is someone there?” a voice called. A man in a suit stepped out from behind an office door. “Yes, I thought I heard someone.”

                “I’m looking for shelter,” the man on the pew said. His eyes flicked toward the suit-man, but didn’t meet his gaze. The man’s voice was low and gruff, but polite. “Someone told me that some nights they have food here, with good people serving it, and pallets to sleep on.”

                “We haven’t done that in some time,” the suit-man said. “We don’t have pallets anymore, but I will provide you with food and shelter. A real bed, even.”

                “Thank you, you’re very kind,” the man said. Again, he glanced toward the office, but did not meet the suit-man’s eyes.

                “I’m here for a little longer, but then we’ll get in my car and I’ll take you home.”

                “You’ll take me to your home?” For a brief moment, their eyes met. Then the man in the pew looked down. His movements were small and jerky. He seemed ashamed to have looked the suit-man in the eye.

                “Yes. My wife will have hot food waiting. I’ll call ahead and she’ll prepare you a place to sleep.”

                “I haven’t had a roof over my head while I slept in weeks,” the man said.

                “We’ll get you sleeping under one. Just wait a quarter of an hour or so.”

                The man on the pew nodded. His eyes returned to the cross. He didn’t know why he was so drawn to it.

                His name was Jack, and he was homeless. That was all people seemed to care about. Once they found out he didn’t have a home, most places didn’t want him, and odd jobs were hard to find when people didn’t trust you. He ran a hand through his short, copper hair, then rubbed the back of his hand on his chin. Three days of unshaved stubble remained there. He had nothing anymore. Sleeping on the streets you sometimes lost everything. Not that he had had much to begin with – a bag with a few dollars, a razor, and a driver’s license that hadn’t been good for anything but identity for five years. What use is a license when there’s no car to drive? And what use would a car have been when there was no place to come home to?

                Jack stretched his long legs out in front of him. His feet were covered in worn sneakers. His socks came up to just below his knees, inches from the hem of his shorts. He shivered in his wet shirt, pulled the open collar closer together, staring at the goosebumps that had formed on his arms. Maybe this man will have some clothes. Who is he, anyway? I know this is a church. I didn’t know anyone was at churches except on Sundays. That’s the only day we ever went.

                Jack’s gaze returned to the cross.

                It’s important, somehow.

                He turned to look behind him. There was another cross at the back of the room. Jack stood and walked toward it. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak, went his shoes.

                When I was a kid there was a man on this cross.

 

                “Ready to go?” The suit-man said.

                Jack turned and nodded.

                Suit-man put a hat on his head and stepped out of the office, locking the door behind him. “Car’s out back.”

                Jack followed as suit-man walked outside.

                The man turned. “Oh. Name’s Sam.”

                “Jack,” Jack grunted.

                “I’m very glad to meet you, Jack.”

                Another grunt.

                They got in the car. Sam put the key in the ignition. The engine started, but failed. He tried again.

                “Sorry. Car takes a while to start sometimes.”

                Nod.

                The car started. Sam flicked the windshield wipers and headlights on and they pulled out of the parking lot.

                “I like it when it rains,” Sam said.

                Jack shook his head. “I don’t, anymore.”

                Neither said anything.

                “Are people usually at churches on Thursday nights?”

                Sam smiled. He put the left blinker on, then waited for a space to turn into traffic. “Church isn’t a place, it’s the people of God. But I work at the building.”

                “Are you the priest?”

                They turned onto the main road, picking up speed.

“Christ is the priest. I preach sometimes. But mostly I do the paperwork and care for people.”

                Grunt. Jack looked at Sam for a brief moment, but then looked down. His shoulders hunched, his neck sank into his body and his kept his head somewhat bowed. He hadn’t been so close to anyone for a long time. He wanted to ask about why the man wasn’t on the cross. But trust wasn’t something he gave so soon. “Why-“ Jack began, then bit his tongue. Curiosity won. “There used to be a man on all the crosses.” He rocked back and forth, stared at the blur of city lights. They turned into a neighborhood.

                “That’s Christ. The priest, remember?”

                “Where’d He go? Did someone take Him off?”

                “Wha-?” Sam wondered.

                “All the crosses in the chu- the building. When I was a kid there was a man on all of them – Christ, I guess. But who took Him off of them?”

                “He was never on the ones in our building. But once He was a man and died on a real one. He rose again, which is why we don’t show Him on our crosses. But we remember the cross.”

                “What’s so important about two pieces of wood?” Jack asked, smothering a laugh.

                Sam stopped the car in a driveway and turned the engine off. “I’ll tell you over dinner.”

                They got out of the car. Sam locked it and they went up to the house. Jack lingered behind when Sam entered the house. He shifted his weight as he watched Sam greet his wife.

                “Come on in, Jack,” Sam said.

                Jack entered. His shoulders were hunched again.

                Sam’s wife reached her hand out to shake.

                Jack touched her fingertips, but withdrew.

                “I’m Nellie,” she said.

                Jack nodded.

                “Nellie’s made some soup and bread for dinner. Perfect on a night like this.” Sam said. He motioned for Jack to follow them to the table.

                “How were the roads?” Nellie asked.

                “Not bad. Here, sit.” Sam pulled a chair out for Jack.

                They sat.

                Sam and Nellie joined hands. “We’re going to thank God for our food before we eat.”

                Nod.

                “Father, thank you for the work you allowed us to do for your Kingdom today. Thank you for keeping Nellie safe here at home, and for allowing Jack to find shelter with us. May he come to find shelter in You. Bless this food; we thank you for providing it and pray that you would continue to supply all our needs as you see fit. Give us sweet fellowship tonight. All this we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

                “Amen,” Nellie echoed. “May I have your bowl, Jack?” She asked.

                He handed it to her.

                She ladled hot soup into it, then handed him a slice of bread. Nellie took Sam’s bowl and filled it.

                “You why the cross is important,” Sam said. He took his bowl from Nellie, and reached for a slice of bread. “The cross is important not because of what it is, but because of what happened on it.”

                “The only thing I know of that happened on crosses is that men died. What’s so important about that?”

                “Christ’s death wasn’t just any death. He was bearing a punishment for us.”

                “Punishment? For what?” There was that smothered, almost mocking laugh again.

                “When you break the laws of the state, there are consequences.”

                Jack fidgeted.

                “The laws of the state aren’t the only laws we have to obey, though. We are also required to keep the law of God.”

                “Keep a law I’ve never heard of?” Jack asked.

                “You may not have heard of it in so many words,” Sam said. “But there’s a part of it you understand very well because of conscience. But it’s the same as with the laws of men – breaking them means we receive punishment. The consequences for breaking the men’s laws are temporary.”

                “Pay a fine you can’t afford, go to jail, community service,” Jack muttered. “Done it all. But that’s not why I lost my home -” He began. His voice rose and he lifted his hands.

                “You don’t need to defend yourself,” Sam said. “I’m not asking what you’ve done; I won’t make you leave because of any of that. We’ve all done wrong.”

                Jack sank back into his shoulders. He nodded, and shot a glance at Sam, not meeting his eyes.

                “God also punishes for our sin – breaking the law. But since He’s so much greater than men, there are bigger consequences for sinning against Him. He’s angry because of our sin. Wrathful.”

                “If there is a God that’s the only side of Him I know.” Jack shoveled a spoonful of soup into his mouth.

                “The only way we can ever be punished enough for our sin is hell, and once in hell there’s no way out. But before death there is.”

                “How?” His eyes met Sam’s, and Jack didn’t look away.

                “That’s where the man on the cross comes in. He was the Son of God. Never sinned. And instead of taking His right of not being punished, He gave Himself to be judged as if He were us. He absorbed God’s wrath for our sin.”

                Jack pointed to himself.

                “For anyone who repents and believes.”

                “Repents?” The gruffness in Jack’s voice was still there, but was softened somewhat in the mix of shame and hope.

                “Turns from wickedness. Strives to, with God’s help, keep His law. Trusts that Christ’s death will save us from hell and bring us to God.”

                “Where’s He now?” Jack wondered.

                “Where’s who-?” Sam began.

                “Christ rose from the dead,” Nellie said. “He conquered death, so we don’t have to fear it. Instead of bringing judgment, it now brings eternal life with God.”

                Jack looked from Nellie to Sam. “Why are you doing this? You don’t have to give me a place to stay. You don’t have to give me warm food. You didn’t have to tell me how I can be saved. I don’t deserve any of it. If you knew what I’d done, you wouldn’t have been so willing.”

                "This house is not ours. It is in our care, but it is Christ’s. You are suffering – you are needy, and because of Christ we can fill that need. I sought to help you because I saw that you needed something we could give. What you’ve done doesn’t worry me. What worries me is the state of the soul of a man.” Sam pushed aside his empty bowl. “There are some men who are wealthy, and live in houses, and have nice cars, but they have less than Nellie and I in our small house and old car. And there are those on the streets, who because they know the Eternal and Living God, have just as rich of a life as the richest man in the world. Consider this, my friend – where does your soul stand before God? Are you saved?”

                Jack said nothing.

                For a long while, they sat at the table, no one talking.

                “Thank you for the food,” Jack said at last, looking at Nellie. He looked at Sam. “I have to think more. And I’m tired.”

                Sam stood. “I’ll take you to your room.”

 

                Two weeks later, the sun shined. Footsteps echoed across the sanctuary.          

                “Hello?” Sam called from the office.

                There was no reply but the sound of weeping.

                Sam stood and left the office.

                On the pew there sat a man, his head bowed, cradled in his hands. Tufts of copper hair poked around his fingers.

                “Jack?” Sam said.

                Jack looked up, but his eyes went to the cross. “It was the cross that drew me in,” he said. “And now I see why!” He turned his head, and his eyes looked steadily into Sam’s. “Thank you, for all you did. I’m a changed man. My soul is saved, because of two pieces of wood and a single man! I don’t understand it, but it’s true.”

                “My brother,” Sam said.

                “I need your help now,” Jack said, before Sam could get another word out. “I want to learn to be rich – rich as you spoke of. And I want to start over, try things again. Do them God’s way, this time. Will you help?”

                Sam nodded.    

               

                In the rain, business men hurry home. Women on their way to the store rush across the streets, umbrellas waving over their heads. A man runs downs the sidewalk, a newspaper covering his head. A young man sits against a wall, knees pulled up to his chest, shivering. The business men in their pristine suits speed by. The young man’s clothes are rain-soaked and cling to his body, revealing the outline of his ribs and sharp joints. His shirt has holes, and his jeans, too. Dark hair spews out every-which-way from underneath a gray newsboy cap. The cap is tilted jauntily to the left side. His bright blue eyes scan the crowds. They were striking against the dark hollows of his cheeks. His skin seems too pale for one who spends so much time outside.

A business man with copper-colored hair and green eyes crosses the street. His shoulders are back, and his head held high. Keys jangle in his pocket. He looks around, searching, ignoring the rain.

                The young man curls his bare toes in anticipation, waiting for someone to stop.

                The man with the copper hair pauses in front of the young man.

                “Name’s Jack,” the man says.

                The young man doesn’t meet his gaze. “People call me Robby.”

                “Need a place to stay tonight?”

                The pale face looks up.

                “A warm bed, a meal. Shelter from the rain.”

                Jack reaches out a hand and helps Robby up.

                They get in an old, beaten car.

“Why?” Robby asks.

“Someone did the same for me once, and it changed my life.”

“How?”

Jack doesn’t reply, remembering that other rainy night a few years before.

 Robby points to Jack’s keychain.

                “That a cross?”

                Jack nods.

                “Why?”

                “I’ll tell you over dinner,” Jack says, and starts the engine.

               

 

 

“It is precisely he whose name is a burden to him who most needs sanctuary.”

“I am in this world to care not for my life, but for souls.”

“This is not my house; it is Christ’s. It does not ask any guest his name but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me; don’t tell me that I am taking you into my house. This is the home of no man, except the one who needs a refuge… before you told me [your name], I knew it… your name is my brother.”

-          The Bishop of Digne, Les Miserables. 

Comments

Breathtaking.

Breathtaking.

Anna | Sat, 09/24/2011

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

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