Franny (2023)

So this chapter is on the cutting room floor. Too much back story, Let me back up a second. I’ve been writing a story. This chapter is about the female protagonist’s runaway attempt. Our young hero has shaved her head after fighting off a bunch of locals who don’t like her in the town. I went to Kanas City and to Strawberry Hill. It is a great neighborhood to research this. Anyway, I saw, for the very first time, the “official video” of Temptation by New Order. And I’ll damned if that’s not my girl there. Yes, that’s her. You can’t possibly understand. But this is my character, walking through Kanas City. As I said, this is cut. Won’t appear. But I felt as though I owed it to her to go back and edit this, and rewrite it, to show her stealing that book. She is the best. I love her. And that look, in the picture, that’s her. No I haven’t lost my mind. I’ve misplaced it. And I’m not sure I need it any more.

Everyone was talking about the incident that night. She shot over that mother fucker’s head. If she wanted to kill him, she would have. But everyone in the tiny town was talking. Everyone. It was exhausting.

“Fuck this town,” she said to herself as she packed a bag. “I’m leaving. I’m catching a ride outta here tonight.”

It was big talk. But she followed through all the way to Kansas City, hitching a ride with the kid, Jimmy, who drove a delivery van to convenience stores.

“Sure,” he said, “I’m heading for Kansas City.”

“I wish you were going to Paris,” she said. “But Kansas City will have to do.”

The drive lasted forever and he wouldn’t stop talking. He was a sweet guy, but she couldn’t wait to get out.

“Drop me here,” she said. She was in front of a gay bar called The View. He’d gone out of his way to get her there.

“Here’s 10 bucks,” she said throwing it on the passenger seat and slamming the door.

“You want a ride back?” he earnestly asked through the rolled down window. “I can come back by in an hour and then I’m going back to Lebanon.”

“You do that,” she said, “But without me. I’m never going back.”

He drove off.

After Jimmy dropped her off, she walked up to the door of the bar. It was early. Really early. Too early to go into a bar yet. She turned from the door and walked up Orchard Street past the big church and toward 6th street. She stopped at a bench in the triangle park in front of the church.

She sat with her legs crossed on the bench, and reached into her jacket for a pack of cigarettes. She set them on the bench and pulled out a paperback book and set it on top of the cigarettes. She looked for a lighter. Under her breath, she sang a New Order song she’d fallen in love with.

I walk along the street

I look into your eyes

I’m pleasant when we meet

I’m there when you go home

How many times before

Could you tell I didn’t care?

She opened the book, Franny and Zooey, with its white cover and green edge. She loved the font and the look of the book. She wanted to be Zooey. She even thought she was sometimes.  She found a favorite spot in the book she’d been obsessing over.

That asshole Lane was working on his started on his frogs’ legs. And Franny lit a cigarette and tried to explain the Way of the Pilgrim to fuckin’ idiot Lane. The image of that douche bag Lane eating frog’s legs and Zooey, like an angel, trying to explain God to Lane. He was a phony just like everyone in Lebanon.

She set the book down and lit a cigarette. Franny made her want to smoke. She loved Franny. She hated Lane. What an asshole. But Franny. She loved Franny. She seemed so well put together yet falling apart. She’d tried so hard to cry like Franny did in that bathroom stall. Franny cried. Cried. Really cried, like for five minutes. Fuck. She wished she could cry like that.

She looked around and soaked up the neighborhood, Strawberry Hill. She loved it. She felt at home. There was one thing she could do while she was here, along with wandering through the shops. She marched down 6th and through the park to the library. She kept saying the prayer under her breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

She searched the card catalog for the book. When she walked through the stacks, she couldn’t find it. Maybe it was checked out. She decided to ask.

The librarian took the title and the call numbers she’d written on a small piece of paper with a stubby pencil and disappeared behind a wall of books. She returned with a small volume.

“Here it is,” the woman said. “The Way of the Pilgrim. But it is a book you can’t take with you. It’s rare.”

She pushed forward her Kansas City Library card, the same one she got years ago on a school trip to the city.

“Ok, dear,” the woman said. “You have some late fees.”

“How much?” she asked

“It looks like $4.75”

She slid a 5 across the counter. The librarian was distracted with someone else, and she took the book and slid it under her shirt. She was taking it and never bringing it back. Nobody in this town would ever miss it.

“Keep the change,” she said when the librarian came back.

She walked down to the viewpoint and pulled it out and read it as she walked.

“Everyone will appreciate the sincerity of his conviction and few probably will doubt the reality of his experience. Strongly contrasted as the method may be with an ordinary religious Englishman’s habits of devotion, for another type of soul it may still be the expression of vivid realization of the truth ‘for me to live is Christ.’”

When she arrived at Armstrong and 4th, she felt a bit of a chill. The sun was setting on the gray day. She found a spot. The lights of the city were beginning to contrast with the waning light of the sun. It was hard to read the pages. She felt like it was worth saving for later.

Something told her, though, to go into Saint John’s church. The looming building sort of beckoned to her. She came to Kansas City to run away from home and get drunk. What was pulling her into the church?

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Maybe she’d faint in the pews like Franny. Maybe a priest would appear and give her some answers. Maybe she’d finally be able to cry.

The place was lit with candles. She felt vaguely guilty and like a trespasser. But she kept going to the front of the church and sat down in the front.

The front of the church was all white with a painting of Jesus wearing a red robe hanging off his left shoulder. She was the only one sitting there.

An older man, a priest, came walking down the aisle.

“Hello young lady,” he said. “Welcome to Saint John’s.”

“Thank you,” she said. She was relieved in a way that he didn’t think she was a boy with her short hair.

“We’re about to close,” he said. “What’s that book you’ve got?”

“Oh, well,” she stumbled, “The Way of the Pilgrim.”

“Well, my oh my,” he said. “That is a complicated work.” He sat down next to her.

“May I see it?” he asked.

She handed him the book. He flipped through it.

“Here,” he said, reading from the book,

So, offer to God what it is within your power to offer. Bring to Him at first just quantity (which is within your power), and God will pour upon your strength in your weakness. Prayer, dry and distracted maybe, but continuous, will establish a habit and become second nature and turn itself into prayer that is pure, luminous, flaming, and worthy.

He handed the book back to her.

“Why would God care about us praying?” he asked. “He’s God.”

“He wants to hear from us?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “You understand this intuitively. It’s what made you come here.”

“He needs us?”

“God has a purpose for us,” he said. “He needs you. There’s a story of a soldier in the book, and he becomes a thief. But even his prayers as a thief are redeemable as long as he says them.”

“I’ve run away from home,” she said.

“You can’t run from God,” he said. “You’ll just keep running into Him. Turn running away into a prayer. Turn what you are running away from into a prayer. Your whole life is a story, but it is also a prayer, a confession. He can’t wait to hear your story, your life. What will it be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Someday you will meet another runaway,” he said. “He’ll be a wanderer like yourself, a pilgrim. But he will have lost the path, and you will be his guide, you will become one people bound in a union of trust and love. Raise high the roof beam, hic hymenaeus erit.”

That confused her, but she thanked him. He walked her to the door. Later she’d dig enough to find a connection to another Salinger book and to Sappho. Then when she learned enough Latin, figured out where the second half of the phrase came from. Who was this person she was destined to meet? She’d think of that often in the years to come.

“You are always welcome here,” he said. “And this place will always be with you.”

She walked back up the hill toward the bar. Her copy of Franny and Zooey next to her borrowed Way of the Pilgrim felt good in her pockets, their weight seemed to confirm her experience, her existence. The anger she felt subsided and was replaced with a sense of well-being and fear. The fear danced along the edge of her comfort, as if the encounter with the priest and the book was a bright fire.

“That fire will die down,” she thought. “Then what?”

She didn’t know. So, she said the prayer.

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”