chapter 9. The Sermon. short fiction by David Rutschman.

Valerie Mapple, 16 years old, driving with no destination through Albuquerque, New Mexico, reflects on the theological assertions of her great-great-great-great-great-great- great uncle on her father’s side . . .

So like if there’s a God and He can see you everywhere, no matter what, even if you’re in the belly of a freakin’ whale, I guess that’s just, I don’t know. But He’s all mad if you don’t do exactly what he wants? But He doesn’t even tell you what He wants?

She stops at a red light, glances in the mirror. She turns right.

I had a picture book of Bible stories, you know, when I was just like a really little kid? My mom and dad got divorced when I was like nine and me and my mom and my sister moved out here, but this was like way before that, when I was like four or something and my sister was seven. She’s in college now. She just went to college and it’s me and Mom and her boyfriend Steve in the apartment, and believe me that is just not enough people. Especially with Steve. If I have to be around Steve I want to be in a big-ass crowd.

She laughs. Another light, and again she turns.

My sister’s going to study anthropology, which Steve says is interesting. Can you believe him?

She changes the station on the radio.

But this book had a picture of Jonah, he’s the one got swallowed by a whale, and then he prays to God and God saves him and I liked the picture fine, I guess. I don’t know, it wasn’t like my favorite or anything. And I did pray, a lot, when we were first moving out here, that we could all just go home. A lot. But then nothing happened . . .

She switches lanes, accelerates past a row of cars.

And then Mom met Steve and my sister left. So there’s that.

She glides up the on-ramp to the interstate.

But you know what? I had a towel back then with a bunch of fish on it. One of those big beach towels? It’s probably still in my closet. All these cartoon fish with bubbles going up from their mouths?

She is driving fast in the left lane, the music loud. She snorts and starts to laugh.

I really liked that towel.

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