Read, Write, Repeat.

Essays, fiction, photos and nonsensical ramblings by Joel Zlotnik

Bless These Pants

Paul, his arms full of pants, stood in line with the other men. It looked to him almost like this was another department store going-out-of-business sale and everything was 75 percent off. Only if that were the case, the line would be 99 percent women and not a one was in sight … and he wouldn’t be standing there in his underwear.

The pants Paul held were his; every single pair he owned. He shuffled forward, as if heading to the cashier, holding his Levis and corduroys and khakis and work pants and itchy wool suit pants and even his sweat pants. There were more than a dozen in all. Paul’s skinny arms ached and his chicken legs were freezing in his blue polka dot boxers as he slowly headed toward the church door for the Blessing of the Pants.

It was a chilly desert morning in early spring and the clouds weighed heavy in the sky with no hint they would clear as the day wore on.

It was a Saturday like this, almost a year ago, that he first encountered Rose. Sitting on the patio at a coffee shop that used to be a Starbucks in his favorite flannel shirt and gray hoodie, he was half reading Stephen King’s Misery and half watching the other people half reading their Kindles and iReaders.

He had a perfect view of two thongs sticking out of two pairs of low-slung sweat pants being worn by two teenage girls. Paul, who always thought he wanted to have kids some day, wondered if these girls’ fathers knew 27-year-old guys like Paul couldn’t stop staring at their daughters’ underwear.

“Getting a good look?” the voice came from the table behind Paul’s and startled him to the point that he nearly choked on his café latte. He turned to find a girl about his age dressed all in black except for a pink scarf. She was little, probably wouldn’t come up to Paul’s chest even in high heels. She had nearly transparent blue eyes, set into a fragile thin face, and they were convicting him of his voyeuristic sins.

His mind scrambled for something to say to free him from the shame and embarrassment that was turning his own face pinker than his accuser’s scarf. But all that kept flashing through his mind was the time his mom walked into his bedroom without knocking and found him in front of his computer watching porn with his mouse in one hand and his dick in the other. He didn’t have words then either.

“Excuse me?” he finally offered.

“Don’t you think those girls are a little too young for you to be staring at their panties?”

“What? I wasn’t staring. I was uh, just, um … what’re you talking about?”

“Just admit it. I busted you buddy,” the girl said staring wide-eyed, her head tilted sideways, like a curious cocker spaniel. Her long black hair fell in front of her face covering one eye. Paul’s accuser smiled a satisfied smile and with a little shake of her head flipped her hair back into place and stood up.

“I was just reading,” Paul said raising his Kindle toward the girl who was now in front of him.

“Dude, you’re bright red,” said the girl. Without invitation, she sat across from Paul.

“I always look like this,” Paul said continuing his defense.

“Yeah, right. What do your friends call you, Red?”

“Actually, I’m Paul.”

“Well it’s a pleasure meeting you, Paul. I’m Rose.”

Rose did the cocker spaniel thing again and looked over at the girls with the thongs. “You like thongs, Paul?”

Paul wasn’t sure how to answer. And who was this girl asking it? Paul had been going to this coffee shop since before Starbucks went bankrupt and he never had a conversation with any girl on the patio, let a lone a girl like this. He wasn’t the kind of guy who talked to cute girls at coffee shops or for that matter, grocery stores or gyms.

He was the kind of guy who went to those places and looked at cute girls, wishing he were the kind of guy who could talk to them. It’s not that he didn’t think he was good looking enough. His lean six-foot frame, full head of chestnut hair and dark brown eyes gave him almost an all-American boy look, if only his face were a little thinner and his ears didn’t stick out quite so much.

Paul’s problem was that he never got over that nervousness around the opposite sex that most guys started putting behind them in ninth or tenth grade. When he saw a cute girl at the gym or coffee shop, he spent so much time debating in his head what exactly he should say that he never said anything.

So here he was in an apparent conversation about underwear and his face remained as bright as Rose’s scarf.

“Well, Paul?”

“Thongs? Um, well, yeah sure, I guess I like them.”

“Have you ever worn a thong?”

“Uh, no.” That was a lie. Once in college, his one and only real girlfriend, left a thong, a black one, in his dorm room and he tried it on. The thin strip of fabric running up his butt felt strange, not bad, just strange and the way the silk hugged tightly against his dick made him hard.

“You look like you’d like it,” Rose said, as if reading his mind.

“What the hell does that mean?” He wasn’t sure why he had a desire to defend himself to someone he met in a coffee shop three minutes ago, someone he’d probably never see again.

“Now don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Rose said laughing and swinging her hair out of her face once more.

Paul started laughing too and realized he very much wanted to see this girl again. Then the familiar stomach churn began and his palms started sweating on the kind of cold early spring morning where sweat hardly seemed possible.

“Hey pal, keep moving.” The old bald man with three or four chins standing in line behind Paul was nudging him with an arm full of mostly plaid golf pants. A gap that could hold six or seven men holding pants had developed between Paul and the middle-aged man ahead of him wearing a tweed sports coat and tighty whities.

Paul made little progress after 30 minutes in line. Judging by the number of guys in front of him, Paul figured he had at least that long to wait before he made it inside the massive wooden doors of the old stone church. From there, he had no idea how long it would take until he could lay down his pants and kneel upon them at the altar. He was afraid to ask anyone. He didn’t want to talk to anyone in front or behind him. What kind of lunatics would stand in line in their underwear outside a church waiting – for what Paul feared could be a couple of hours – to get their pants blessed?

What troubled Paul almost as much was that no one walking or driving by the downtown church seemed to notice a few hundred guys standing in line in their skivvies cradling their pants in their arms like grocery sacks. Or if they did notice, they thought it was perfectly normal. Much different than a year ago, when the first Blessing of the Pants made headlines. It was featured on Podcasts and newscasts around the country, mostly in that spot they save at the end of the show to make people feel good after twenty minutes of bad news … stories like the four-year-old boy who knows every capitol city in the world AND the square root to any number, or the dog that manages to navigate seven-hundred miles home after being lost on a family camping trip to Yosemite.

Paul read the story in Google’s “News of the Weird” category:

 TUCSON – A fourth-generation tailor, whose livelihood fell victim to the New Depression, hung out his shingle again today at a once-shuttered Catholic church claiming he could transform the lives of men by blessing their pants.

Thomas Krause, who has asked to be referred to as Reverend, said after the nuclear holocaust in the Middle East, millions of people are rightly abandoning traditional religion because they realize there is no shred of evidence to justify God’s existence in today’s world.

“With the alleged birthplace of religion reduced to radioactive rubble, how can anyone pick up a Holy Bible, a Torah or Koran and believe one single word of it was written through the will of some divine being?” said The Rev. Krause. “What I offer my followers is hope, hope in something tangible, hope that we will find redemption from these tragic times through the simple and universal act of putting on our pants one leg at a time.”

The Rev. Krause declined to allow a reporter and photographer inside the church during the morning service, which lasted approximately two hours and was attended by more than 100 men.

Multiple calls for comment to the Diocese of Tucson, Congregation Bet Shalom and the Islamic Center of Tucson were not immediately returned.

 What a bunch of freaks, Paul thought. Another lunatic fringe group that will give people around the country reasons to make jokes about what spending too much time in the Arizona sun can do to your brain. Jokes that would end with the obligatory: it’s a dry heat.

But that was back when Paul had a job – a junior software engineer for a company that developed warehouse inventory and tracking programs. Back before most of the businesses that utilized warehouses for their inventory went out of business and no longer had a need to track anything. And, back before falling in love with Rose.

It hadn’t taken long for that to happen but then again, Paul never met a woman who talked to him the way Rose did. It was like she vocalized her thoughts without any regard for how they might sound to the person on the receiving end.

“You don’t want me to think you’re a pervert, do you Paul?” she asked that morning at the coffee shop.

“I’m not a pervert.”

“Then be a gentleman and ask me for my number and call and ask me out so you can prove it.”

“You don’t even know if I’m single.”

“Yes I do, and Paul, don’t wait three days to call me.”

Paul sent her a text that night: hi its paul … it was really nice meeting u 2day J

Rose responded: i thought i told u 2 call me?!?! L

Why on earth did he want to have anything to do with this clearly insane girl. Paul called Rose. They talked for about an hour. Well, mostly Rose talked, which was fine by Paul because he was never sure what to say to a girl anyway. Rose was three years younger than Paul. She grew up in Tucson, the only child of overprotective parents with high expectations. They pushed Rose to become a doctor like her father. She decided she could heal people’s souls with music rather than their bodies with medicine and learned to play the guitar. To pay the rent, she tended bar, one of the few industries that continued thriving.

“My parents forced me to play the piano,” said Paul, jumping into the conversation as he stared at the dying Ficus tree in the corner of his one-bedroom townhouse. “For years the lessons drove me crazy and my piano teacher’s house smelled like cigarettes and mothballs, but I can still play and now I think I have to thank them for it.”

“Oh yeah, what comes out of Paul’s fingers when he sits down to tickle the ivories?

“I like old blues, a little jazz. I think my parents were a little pissed off when I started playing Ray Charles instead of Tchaikovsky.”

“I knew there was a little bit of soul in there somewhere,” Rose said. Paul pictured her flipping the hair out of her face. “If you’re nice Paul, maybe I’ll let you sit in with us one night.”

“You’re in a band?”

“Yessir, you have the pleasure of speaking with the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Ruby’s Tuesday, an all-girl Rolling Stones cover band.”

“Get out of here. I love the Stones.”

“Frankly Paul, I’m a little disappointed you’ve never heard of us. We’re the hottest all-girl Rolling Stones cover band in Arizona.”

“Um, there’s more than one?”

“Very funny, Paul. So I guess you don’t get out to too many clubs.”

“Well, honestly, I don’t have a lot of friends here. Tucson is a different world compared to San Francisco and it’s only been a few months. The transition has been a little rough,” Paul said, not realizing that his palms had dried up. “This place is … well, how should I put it … there are a few too many people wearing cowboy boots in this town.”

Rose laughed into the phone looking at her favorite pair of weathered black boots sitting next to the front door of her downtown studio apartment.

“It’s not the boots that are the problem, it’s the fact that no one in this town ever puts them on and goes anywhere. It’s even worse now. The Jesus freaks have been circling the wagons since Jerusalem was nuked.”

“Yeah, did you hear about that lunatic and his church of the sacred pants?”

“Paul, my darling, I hate to break it you, but that lunatic is probably the most sane person in the Old Pueblo.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“No sir. You stay here a little while longer and you’ll see. Now, weren’t you supposed to ask me out?”

The phone slickened in Paul’s hand. “Um … what are you doing Friday night?”

“We’re playing at the Boondocks at nine. Come by at eight, we’ll have a beer and you can hear us play.”

“Cool, that sounds great.”

“Oh and Paul.”


“Wear boots.”

Wear boots. That was the last thing she said to Paul just before he left this morning with all his pants. He tried to be quiet, she hated getting up early, especially after a gig. But just as he grabbed his keys gingerly off the dresser, her naked body rustled under the sheets. She shook her head, a mass of black hair popping out and said “Love you, Paul. Wear boots.”

So as his pants grew heavy in his arms and he inched toward the church door in his boots and boxer shorts, he tried to imagine the absurd possibility that his life could be altered by a former tailor blessing his pants.

It was six months ago this week that Rose moved in with Paul. His company started laying people off and he thought it would be smart to have someone help paying the mortgage. He felt pretty safe though. He didn’t make much money compared to the senior engineers and he worked twice as hard, and his bosses knew it. But Rose was at his place just about every night anyway and already commandeered his closet.

Four weeks later, Paul walked into Rose’s bar in the middle of the day. The manila envelope containing his severance information was tucked under his arm.

“Don’t worry baby, I’ll support you. You can be my bitch” Rose said.

Paul didn’t laugh.

“Do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be to find another job?” Paul was in shock. His company closed its doors and became one more notch in the New Depression’s gun belt.

“Um, yeah, baby, I kind of do,” Rose said, cocking her head toward the men lining the crowded bar.

2:15 p.m. on a Tuesday and each high-backed vinyl chair at the worn wooden bar was occupied with an unemployed car salesman or insurance agent or teacher or bus driver or lawyer or waiter or …

An air of humble resignation hung over them thicker than the cloud of blue cigarette smoke. It wasn’t sadness or shame or even the embarrassment that Paul was feeling after losing a job for the first time in his life. The prevailing sentiment was acceptance.

“Jesus Christ, what am I going to do?”

“Don’t worry Paul and don’t think Jesus is going to lend you a hand.” She said it sliding a shot of Jack Daniels his way. “This’ll help.”

“Welcome to the club,” said a fifty-something man wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a blue button-down shirt as he tipped his beer toward Paul. “Real estate?”

“Software,” Paul said and he held the shot toward the old guy, then at Rose. He downed it, the brown liquor warming his stomach but not numbing the feeling that he just got punched in the gut.

“Good luck, brother.”

The man in the bar reminded him of the one wearing the tweed jacket standing ahead of him in line. Paul spent a few seconds too many looking him over and broke his self-imposed no eye contact rule. It cost him.

“How you doing, brother?” His gruff voice and the deep lines in his face gave him away as a lifelong smoker.

He shrugged his thin shoulders, sighed and said: “You know.”

At times like this, Paul envied Rose the most and wished he could stop thinking and just say what was on his mind, which at the moment was: I graduated with honors from Stanford, interned at Google and now I’m in some godforsaken town where I haven’t worked in five months and I can’t even get someone to call me back for a job interview; I’m living off the government and my girlfriend, who has to wear low-cut tops and flirt with losers like you so she can squeeze an extra dollar or two tip from your unemployment check; I sold my car and pawned my piano, oh and I’m standing here in my fucking underwear and my feet are killing me in this ridiculous pair of cowboy boots while I wait to have some fucking lunatic bless my pants.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” the man said, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together like he needed a smoke.

It’s tough? Is that the best you can do, old man?

“You know I taught high school English for nearly 27 years and wasn’t even considering retirement. Then the district doubles class sizes and enacts its over 50 mandatory layoff and then our pension fund goes broke.”

A touch of guilt hit Paul in the gut. The man was about the same age as his dad, who has spent his entire career working for the IRS – another nearly New Depression-proof profession.

“You know for 27 years I had my students read ‘Of Mice and Men’ You ever read it?”

“I wasn’t much of an English student, computers are my thing.”

“You should read it. Looks like you’ve got some time on your hands. Say, you have a cigarette by any chance?”

“No, sorry,” Paul said.

“Too damn expensive any more … anyway, you work more than half your life at something, teaching, a noble profession and you try and inspire young minds and all you ask for is a little place of your own, to live off the fat of the land and raise chickens and rabbits and …”

The man stopped and his sunken eyes grew wide, his chest started heaving and he didn’t do a thing to fight back the sobs. He dropped his pants and his knees buckled. He fell to the ground sitting on the rumpled pile of slacks.

Paul had never seen a man break down like this in person even though it was a routine part of the daily news. They showed the suffering nightly: The families left behind by suicide, the newborns abandoned at fire stations or worse – in dumpsters, the old women beaten and robbed of their wedding bands and the few dollars left in their purses. It was TV though, somebody else, somewhere else. “Wheel of Fortune” was up next and the suffering was forgotten as quickly as it took to buy the first vowel.

This man, who wasn’t nearly as old he looked, was real and suffering and Paul didn’t think he would ever be able to forget the sound of his breathless sobs, gasping for air, his wire-rimmed glasses crooked on his face, snot running out of his nose as he lay in his underwear in a crumpled heap.

Paul set his pants down and put his hands on the old man’s quivering shoulders. The tweed jacket felt coarse and he squeezed a couple of times like a trainer warming up a boxer before a fight.

“It’s OK man. It’ll be OK. Don’t worry. It’ll work out.” He was trying to convince himself more than the man. “Things will get better, they have to.”

The man stopped shuddering. He buried his face in one sleeve and wiped away the tears and the snot in one quick motion. He half laughed and half wheezed, took a deep breath and let out a deeper sigh.

“Things will get better, they have to,” he said, repeating Paul. “Brother, I hope you’re right, it would truly be a shame for you to grow old in a world where grown men are weeping in the streets. God, what I really need is a smoke.”

The man gathered his pants, stood up, and they moved forward in an uncomfortable silence toward the church doors.

The man’s words made Paul think of his first date with Rose, how she looked on stage, her little hips swaying side to side not a thing like – but embodying all the spirit of – Mick Jagger. She dedicated a song to him that night the song before the last song, which of course was Ruby’s Tuesday doing ‘Ruby Tuesday.’

She shook the sweat-soaked hair out of her face, took the mike stand in one hand and surveyed the crowd by putting the other hand up to her forehead like a ship’s captain searching for land. Paul got the feeling that Rose thought she was playing to a sold-out show at Wembley Stadium not a few dozen drunken cowboys.

Her gaze fixed on him sitting at a table front and center. “I’d like to dedicate this next song to Ruby’s Tuesday newest groupie, Paul the Perv.” With that, she slid a hand into her low-slung black jeans, pulled out the thin black strap of her thong and let it slap with a thwack against her hip. Rose winked at a bright red Paul, cocked her head slightly and said: “Remember baby, you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”

After the show, she bounced off the stage and ordered each of them a shot of Jack Daniels. She pulled her chair close to Paul’s and he felt the heat radiating from her body.

“Well?” she asked, shaking the hair once again out of her face.

“Wow, you were amazing. When Mick kicks I think you’ve got yourself a job.”

“Good answer, Paul.” She leaned closer and Rose kissed Paul hard on the lips. She tasted a little salty from her sweat but god was it sweet. The waitress brought over the shots and Rose offered a toast: “To getting what we need.”

“To getting what we need,” Paul said.

They swallowed the Jack and each slammed the glass onto the table.

Every fifteen minutes or so the heavy church doors swung open and a group of roughly a dozen men exited from the left side as the same number entered from the right side. The group that just went in left Paul fifth in line. Another thirty or forty minutes and his pants would be blessed and he’d be on his way home to Rose. And what he really needed was to take off his boots and the rest of the clothes he had on and climb into bed with Rose.

Sure, she made him do things like get his pants blessed and he couldn’t remember a day since he met her that she hasn’t made him blush at least once. Her presence wasn’t even necessary to embarrass him. The first morning he woke up at her place, he walked into the bathroom and on top of the toilet seat was a pink sticky note that said: “Enjoy your piss!”

The hell of it was, the only time he really felt good lately, felt safe, was when he wrapped his arms, his body, around Rose and closed his eyes. His body enveloped hers, the smells of her hair and her skin mixing with his own and after a few minutes he was lost in her, not able to tell where his skin ended and hers began. He slowed his breathing to synchronize the rise and fall of their chests, listened to them inhaling and exhaling in rhythm and forgot.

He forgot he was one month behind on his mortgage and even with Rose’s help there was no way they could afford his townhouse. He forgot the first place he owned was quickly heading toward foreclosure. He forgot that he waited two hours at Circle K to interview for a lone cashier’s job that become vacant and someone else got the minimum wage position. He forgot that since he was fifteen, this was the longest stretch he’d ever been without a job. He forgot that his mom offered to let him move back home into his old room that was no longer his room but a repository for dust-collecting gym equipment.

None of it mattered to Rose. “Don’t worry baby, it’ll work out, you’ll be my bitch.” She said it every time Paul started worrying. That made him smile and worry a little less but he had a hard time seeing how it would work out.

“Good morning, gentlemen. Please come in and have a seat.” Paul walked slowly down the aisle of the musty smelling church toward the voice. A man, Rev. Krause he presumed, stood just in front of the spot where a life-sized crucifix once hung. The outline of the cross was still visible where the paint spent years fading around it.

The men in Paul’s group filed into the first row of pews. They sat and Paul realized how tired he was from standing and holding his pants the whole morning. The wooden bench was cold against his skinny bare thighs.

“Gentlemen, please drop your pants in front of you.”

The pants tumbled into heaps making dull thuds like falling flour sacks. Paul gazed down the floor at the pants piles and the mounds reminded him of the Central Valley farms and the way the dirt looked just before the crops started sprouting.

Rev. Krause walked up and down the row like a drill sergeant at inspection. He was wearing the top half of a dark blue, three-piece, pin-striped suit, crisp white shirt and a red bowtie with electric blue paisleys like miniature shrimp. On his feet were black wing-tip shoes shined to a high gloss and black socks with red stripes circling his legs and matching the bowtie. His silk boxer shorts also were red with electric blue paisleys. His hair was slicked back and dark with gray starting to creep in at his temples.

“Gentlemen, I would like to thank you for coming this morning. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is The Reverend Thomas Krause.” He paused, striding slowly to the aisle between the pews and stretched his arms out toward the men. “And I am here to help you.”

Rev. Krause didn’t sound very much like a preacher. His voice had a bit of a high pitch to it and it crackled, not the steady, deep, authoritativeness meant to instill belief. His shoulders hunched noticeably, quite the opposite of the puffed out chest of a man of god. And, although somehow Paul got used to standing among a group of pantsless men, the same way you unknowingly adjusted to a foul smelling cab, the preacher – in his silk paisley boxer shorts – resurrected the absurdity of the situation.

He resumed pacing back and forth, his silk shorts and wingtips reflecting the light coming through the stained-glass windows in the otherwise dim church.

“Let me first dispel the myths that are on the minds of I’m sure at least a few of you. First and foremost, I have not lost my mind.” Krause held the gaze of each man as he passed. “I am not here to steal what’s left of your money. I have no interest in turning you away from any supreme being who you may still believe in.”

No problem there, Paul thought. Aside from the occasional wedding or funeral, he was a teenager the last time he went to church. He didn’t buy into the father, son and holy ghost bit back then and he didn’t believe it now.

“I call myself Reverend not because I’m a man who preaches the word of god but because I believe I can lead you and your brothers down the road to a better life at a time when that seems wholly impossible. However, the truth gentlemen, is that what I believe is meaningless in your lives. What your wife believes, what your children believe, what your president believes, what your mother-in-law believes … all meaningless gentlemen.”

Paul and a number of the other men started nodding their heads without realizing what they were doing.

“There is but one belief that matters in your life gentlemen and it is yours and yours alone. For four generations, the Krause family has succeeded with needle and thread, dressing the most successful men of business and industry on two continents. My story is not unique. When business and industry started crumbling, my business, my family’s business, built over a century, went with it. Take a good hard look at me, gentlemen. How many of you think I’m a failure?”

The church was silent as a few heads shook side to side.

“I don’t believe I am either. And I don’t believe a single one of you sitting here is a failure. Gentlemen, please rise.”

Paul and the other men rose.

“Take a close look at the men standing next to you. Do they look like failures? Do you believe they can succeed? Do you think they believe you can succeed?”

More nodding.

“Gentlemen, you need but one thing to succeed.”

Krause walked back to the altar and lifted a pair of dark blue, pin-striped suit pants from a valet that Paul hadn’t noticed. He started talking with an urgency in his voice, his pace quickened, he preached.

“You need to believe. You need to wake up each morning and believe you can succeed. Do you understand? Whether you’re walking to the unemployment office, or to the grocery store to buy bread for your family with your food stamps, or to the job interview where hundreds will apply for one opening. You wake up and you put your pants on, you put your pants on one leg at a time.” There was a long pause.  “And gentlemen, no matter what you do, you believe.”

The Reverend stopped. He wiped away the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. The suit pants were folded over his arm and he paced once more up and down the pews, looking each man in the eye.

“Gentlemen, please join me,” Rev. Krause said motioning toward the piles of pants that lay on the church floor in front of each man.

Paul bent down and lifted his left leg across his right and yanked off his boot. He repeated the action with the other. He heard other shoes falling to the floor and a couple of grunts as the older men reached for the floor. Paul then picked up his favorite pair of khakis. Worn and weathered, he wondered how many thousands of times in his life he put his pants on … one leg at a time. How old was he when he started dressing himself? Four or five, six maybe. More than 20 years for sure and not a day without sticking one leg, then the other, into a pair of pants or shorts, shorts count too, still one leg in at a time and then pull them up.

Oh wait, there was that day last summer when it reached 110 degrees and Rose insisted they go 24 hours without a stitch of clothing. The day was going along perfectly until there was a knock on the door around lunch time. Paul reached for a robe and Rose shouted at him before he could get one arm through.

“No way baby. Twenty-four hours. No clothes.”

“I am not answering the door naked, Rose.”

“Fine, chicken shit, I’ll do it.”

And before Paul could protest further, Rose was buying three King Size Kit Kats from two bug-eyed twelve-year-olds trying to sell their way to Space Camp.

The memory caused Paul to laugh out loud, breaking the church silence. The laugh came from deep inside, a laugh buried under months of humiliation and sadness. The teacher putting on a pair of corduroys next to him, the one who had broken down outside earlier, shot him an odd look and then couldn’t help but smile himself … a smile that morphed right into a laugh of his own. And then it spread, man after man, hopping around, pulling on their pants – jeans, and plaids, and chinos, and wool – and laughing like each had a ghost standing behind them and tickling away.

Paul, now on his knees hysterical in the heap of pants, looked up at the laughing Reverend Krause just in time to see him pull a blue paisley handkerchief from his breast pocket and wipe away the tears that were streaming down his face.

It wasn’t yet noon when Paul entered his townhouse quietly, knowing that Rose would still be asleep. She was a lump under the white sheets with only a mess of black hair sticking out from the covers. Exhausted, Paul sat on the edge of the bed and repeated the ritual of pulling off his boots. He tried to stifle a chuckle. He then took off his favorite khakis – one leg at a time – and stripped off the rest of his clothes. He slid under the sheets and could immediately feel the heat from Rose’s warm body, like it was sending him a signal. He pressed himself against her, wrapping his arms around her tightly.

“Hey baby,” Rose stirred, sliding back into Paul. “How’d it go?”

“It’s gonna be OK, Rose.”

“It’s about time you believed me.”

Paul slowed his breathing, getting it in tune with Rose’s and fell asleep.

Joel Zlotnik • October 20, 2014

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