My next-door neighbors found a human bone in their backyard. Let me rephrase. She thinks she found a human bone. They were putting up a fence in their backyard. They've been digging and shoveling and leveling posts. I unloaded some boards to be a Mister-Rogers-kind-of-neighbor. And she was still talking about the human bone she'd shown me the day before.
I was walking down the driveway, and she called me over to look at the bone. "Don't you think it's a human bone?" she asked.
I put my foot on it and rolled it around, inspecting each side. It's about the size of a small child's bone. I took my foot off it and said in jest, "You should call the authorities. Tell them you found a human bone."
We both stood over it, looking at it, concocting our own beliefs about the bone.
"You really think I should?" she asked. The whole scene had my neighbor talking in a high-pitched voice.
Now I'm not an expert on human bones. I've never set eyes on them. I saw a picture of them the other night on Desperate Housewives. Somebody cut that woman up and put her in that trunk that floated to the top in some lake on the set of the show. So this was a first for me. I could tell it was a bone. Some kind of a bone.
If it were me, I'd pitch the thing in the trash. I wasn't ready to call Cold Case and have that blonde-headed chick come out to put us all under surveillance. Ask us twenty questions. "How long have you lived next door, Mr. Stofel?" Then she would investigate my boring life.
To pursue something like this is to invite too much drama into your life. They'll bring in a backhoe. Close off my driveway. Keep me from getting any work done with all the noise going on outside my window. It just makes your backyard seem like a graveyard. Then you get to worrying about the house. You'll start hearing footsteps on the boards or a heart beating beneath the floorboards like in that Edgar Allan Poe short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart." Remember the story? The narrator kills the old man because his pale blue eye, like a vulture's eye, is driving him insane. Everywhere he turns there's that eye, until finally he can't take it anymore. He inches his way into the old man's room each night until he finally springs on the old man who shrieks. The narrator throws the mattress over him. Suffocating him. Waiting for his last heartbeat. It happens. Then he dismembers him, like that body in Desperate Housewives. He raises the three planks of the floor of the chamber. The old man is gone. Elation.
Then a knock upon the door. Three policeman stand at his door. A terrible shriek coming from his house has been reported. But the narrator fears nothing. He's performed the perfect crime. He throws open the house. Slings his arms into every room. They are satisfied that it was indeed the narrator yelling in his sleep. The police pull up chairs and chat.
At first it's exhilarating for the narrator. He's getting away with murder. Then it gets old. They will not go away. And it isn't because they are suspicious. They're not. Just tired. Just feel like talking. But this is when the heart begins to beat beneath the three planks, up under the three policeman's feet. But they cannot hear it, only the narrator hears the sound of the heart beating from beneath the three planks. He starts talking in a crazy, idiotic way-his voice reaching crescendos. But the heart beats above the sound of his voice. Louder and louder. Until the man cannot stand it any longer. And he pulls up the boards and reveals the old man's corpse.
The narrator shrieks, "Villains! . . . dissemble no more! I admit the deed!-tear up the planks! here, here!-It is the beating of his hideous heart!"
Maybe I'm taking my neighbor's archeological dig too far. But it got me to thinking about Edgar Allan Poe and that zany story, and about how it bleeds into my story. I'm that way. Everything bleeds into a story for me. We are stories. You and I. Stories.
So, as I said, it got me to thinking about my own heart. How it was hidden beneath the floor, inside this skin and bones that the Apostle Paul calls "the old man." That old sinful nature inside.
I thought about how my heart was the first thing to respond to God on that day in a 1,000-member church. And the wild thing is-the evangelist speaking that day-he heard my heart. It must have been beating in his ears the way the heart beat in the ears of Poe's narrator.
Louder and louder it thumped, as if a low-rider was sitting at the red light at the corner with the bass thumping against the moment. It beat in his ears until he couldn't stand it anymore, and the evangelist shrieked, "Someone here; your heart is about to beat out of your chest. You need to get up and come down here to the altar and give your beating heart to Christ." I can remember his words like a mantra, even after twenty-three years. Word for word. True story.
And it freaked me out. I was new to all of this church stuff. I went to church as a small child, but I can't tell you anything about it. I can't remember much before I was ten. But I can remember what that man said to me at the age of eighteen.
I could relate to him somewhere deep inside my soul, underneath the three planks of the chamber. My heart beat. It pounded. Louder and louder. So I jumped up, went down to the altar, and shrieked, "I am the one with the beating heart. Me, this heart. It beats. I did it."
Of course, we are all guilty. We killed the most precious thing. The One thing. The One heart that took its last beat here, only to come back and beat inside everyone who listens. Louder and louder. And with each beat a new beginning for some poor soul whose heart has taken its last beat here, only to utter his first eternal hello there.
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My wife told me Bonnie buried the bone a couple of weeks ago. Put it back in the ground behind her house. I figured that was the end of it. Then Lee called this week and said, "Go to your backdoor, Bonnie has something for you."
So I did as told. I went to the backdoor and Bonnie was walking across the driveway we share. She had a basket with something inside. I could see right off that supper was mine. I even grinned. I just happened to be starving at the moment.
And she held out this basket with a good ole' southern smile and said, "We had some extra barbeque ribs. It's Lee's secret recipe."
"You've got to be kidding me! This will be a feast. Thank you."
She smiled and turned to cross the driveway. And man, were they good! Succulent. I'd eat them every night of the week and die of hardened arteries. I wouldn't care. I was so excited about receiving them that I even thought about becoming a Bo Bice fan.
Then I got to thinking about that bone she found in her backyard, the bone I was telling you about a couple of weeks ago. Well, I got to thinking maybe they'd cooked up some secret recipe all right. Secret meat that used to be on that bone she found. You know it happened in that movie, Fried Green Tomatoes. They killed that man, chopped him up, made barbeque out of him, and fed him to that Georgia detective, who told Big George that it was the best barbecue he'd ever eaten, and asked him what his secret was. And Big George smiled and said, "Thank you, suh, I'd have to say the secret's in the sauce."
And I was thinking, I hope they aren't feeding me a dead person.
The neighbors even found a grave marker in the backyard to go along with the bone. No lie. First came the bone, and then this grave marker appeared. This is where they said the bone must've come from. Said it may have been a soldier in the Civil War. They had my attention. It was some kind of white stone with a rough texture. It had three initials on it-W.C.P. I know because she had it leaning against the back of her house and called me over to look at it. Sure enough, it was a grave marker. And sure enough, it could be a Confederate soldier. General Hood, the Confederate general and full-time sot, took his men across the Tennessee River near Decatur on his way to get all those boys killed in the Battle of Franklin. So it could be a Civil War man. Or it could be they are setting me up. Making me think it was a Civil War man.
They could've bought that grave marker at a yard sale. She's big into yard sales anyway. She bought a butcher's block at a yard sale today. I saw her tugging on it, trying to get it out of the back of her truck. I just happened to be walking out the backdoor. I swear I don't spy. I ain't a nosy neighbor, but like I said, she was trying to lift it out of the truck, and when I asked her if she needed help she said, "Naw, I got it." Then she said, "It's a butcher's block. I bought it at a yard sale for $3.00."
I was thinking, That's an awful big butcher's block. She had both hands gripping it and she was straining a bit to carry it in the backdoor. I was also thinking, What's she going to cut up? A whole cow? Then I remembered the bone and grave marker. It was all coming together. She's Jeffery Dahmer's sister or something. I pictured her in her kitchen with a detached arm on that butcher's block. Freezer bags to the left of her and a knife in one hand, while the other hand on that arm's hand. Then I remembered the ribs. I figured I'd just eaten somebody the other night while I watched my NASCAR race. Maybe that's why, when I told them how good they were, she said, "Really?"
I said, "Oh, yeah. Best ribs I've ever sunk my teeth into."
She said it again with this funny look on her face, she said, "Really? . . . Well, its Lee's secret recipe."
Now I'm not accusing anybody of anything. But I tell you what, if I catch her toting a body bag in through the backdoor, I'm gonna go over there and tell her to let me know when the ribs are ready. I'm like that Georgia detective in that Fried Green Tomatoes movie-that was the best barbecue ribs I've ever eaten, and I'll eat'em again. I don't care whose ribs they are. They some good eating as long as Lee can keep his secret.
1. God, Are We There Yet?: Learning to Trust God's Direction for Your Life, a non-fiction book published by Cook Communications. Released-September 2004. Sales thru November 2004-2,262.
2. God, How Much Longer?: Learning to Trust God's Redirection for Your Life, a non-fiction book published by Cook Communications. Expected release date-September 2005.
3. Survival Notes for Graduates: Inspiration for the Ultimate Journey - a devotional for graduates published by Ambassador Books. Release date-March 2004. Sales 7,500.
4. Survival Notes for Teens: Inspiration for the Emotional Journey - a devotional for students published by Ambassador Books. Release date-October 2004. Sales thru December 2004-3,500.
OTHER AWARDS AND PUBLICATIONS IN LITTLE MAGAZINES:
"Post-it Note from God at the Edge of Faulkner's Yard," ?2000 Writer's Digest Writing Competition Winner
"Post-It Note from God at the Edge of Faulkner's Yard," St. Anthony's Messenger, which exposed his writing to an audience of 340,000.
"The Gene of Dysfunction," Aura Literary Arts Review-University