DoxCover

Doxology: Brian Holers’s Debut Novel

Doxology, the debut novel from author Brian Holers, is available in both paperback and digital format now! Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss and the healing power of community and family. Doxology examines an impossibly difficult...

Brian Holers

Doxology: Chapter 1

DOXOLOGY

Vernon hates pennies. He knows it’s ridiculous, the surge of dread he feels in his stomach when he holds a penny in his hand. But it’s like just about everything these days, deceptions and crimes and perversions of the sort you never heard of way back when. What can he do about it? After sixty one years, Vernon allows himself his feelings.

When the rainshower stops, he stands from the seat of his truck and takes the coins from his pocket. He reaches back inside, drops a quarter, a dime and a nickel into the open ashtray. Vernon looks across the parking lot at the Branden Parish Hospital. The afternoon sun is well into its long descent, and though it is not yet April, steam from the midday shower rises in clouds off the pavement.

He holds one of the copper coins out in front of him, holds two others in his hand. Vernon loved these when he was a boy, when EL used to give him a few cents to buy candy or gum with Pearl or Leonard. Leonard his only brother left, in there in his bed. Hard to believe they used to be so special, back when a quarter still filled the palm of his hand. Now they’re everywhere. Free in convenience stores. Vernon reads the date on the penny. 1975. His stomach burns, not just from the whiskey. The year Billy was born. It was an overshined penny just like this one that had worked its way out of his pants pocket one day, wedged itself under the agitator of his washing machine, and stripped the gears so thoroughly that the innards just froze. Vernon was working on it that night when the sheriff came by. A four hundred dollar washing machine dead, because Vernon tried to hold on to something worthless. Something absolutely worthless.

Finally, he closes the door of his truck, walks toward the hospital. He throws the three pennies in the briars as he passes. Vernon smiles at the red haired receptionist in the lobby, shuffles up the stairs to his brother’s room. Leonard is asleep. The hospital blanket is bunched at his feet and he’s covered by nothing but a gown.

Vernon stands over his sleeping brother, tisks at the yellow pall creeping into Leonard’s face. For a moment Vernon thinks he’s looking into a distorted reflection at the Davidson family chin, the wide upper lip. He feels a crush of sympathy for his brother, so strong he starts to reach out his hand. Just then Leonard stirs, opens his eyes, smiles.

“How you doing today Leonard?”

As Leonard’s eyelids flutter open, the pictures inside them fade quickly, snap off mid-motion like a frozen camera shutter. Yet he knows in an instant what his dream was about, and a warm, contented feeling he has only recently begun to know seeps into his joints as he wakes.

Leonard settles into the bed. “I was dreaming.”

“Yeah? What about?”

“Pearl.”

“Hmm.”

“Yeah. I’ve been dreaming about him a lot the last few days. Vernon?”

“Sir?”

“What do you think about what Daddy used to say?”

“Hmm. What was that?”

“About why he done it.”

Vernon reaches into his empty pocket, grabs a ball of lint, pulls it out, looks at it. “Done what?”

Leonard struggles to sit up, settles back, then kicks what remains of his blanket onto the floor. “You know what I’m talking about.”

“Well. I haven’t thought about that in a long time.”

“Vernon. That’s not true and you know it.”

“Probably just what he said then. That was his job. His responsibility.”

Leonard reaches for the plastic pitcher by his bed, pours himself a cup of water, drinks it. “That’s what he said. But I don’t see how that taught Pearl anything. Or us.”

Vernon walks to the window, his back to the room. “It don’t matter now. He just done what he done I guess.”

For a minute they both are silent. Leonard pours another cup of water and drinks it, blows out a long breath. “You know what I think Vernon?”

“Hmm.”

“I think Daddy done the best he could. What he thought was the best thing for us.”

Vernon looks out at his truck in the parking lot. “You think so?”

“Yeah I do.”

“Well. I’m not going to argue with you.”

“Why not? Because I’m dying?”

Vernon doesn’t answer.

“Don’t look so sad Vernon. You’re not the one dying here.”

“You think that if you want to Leonard.” Vernon snatches up a magazine from his brother’s bedside table. “But I guess we’ll never know why Daddy done the things he did.”

“I hear you. I thought that same way. That there’s things we’ll never know.”

“And now?”

“Now I feel like I know something.”

“Well good for you Leonard. Good for you. What the hell makes you think that?”

“I don’t know. I just do. Isn’t that something? Layin’ here on this bed before I figure things out.” Leonard pauses again. “The good lord spoke to me, I guess you could say.”

Vernon starts toward the door. “I’ve got to get on home.”

“Come on brother. Stay awhile. This may be the last time we get to talk.”

Vernon feels himself blush. “Don’t say that Leonard. Please don’t.”

“Alright. Alright. I apologize. I shouldn’t have said it.” He raises a hand in accordance.

“I’ve got to go. Got to get on home. I’ll stop back tomorrow.”

Leonard reaches for his brother’s hand. “Vernon?”

Vernon stops.

“I need you to do something for me.”

Vernon stands still, looks out the door into the hallway. Waiting.

“Find my boys for me.”

Vernon exhales loudly, as if lowering himself to the ground. “I figured eventually you’d ask me.”

“You think you can find them?”

“Jody. . . I knew where he was out in California last year. I can probably track him down. He hasn’t been back since. . .”

“No. Been 12 years now. Matter of fact it’ll be his birthday in a week or so.”

“He’d be thirty then.” Vernon grimaces when he says it.

“You got it.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” He steps again toward the door.

“Vernon?”

“Yessir?”

“Find Scooter too.”

Vernon pops his lips, considers a response, decides to leave Leonard his peace. “You’ve never asked too much of me I guess. I can make some phone calls.”

“I appreciate it. You always were the best finder.”

 

In the waning daylight Vernon drives his truck through Branden. He passes the paper mill, where he’s spent most of his life for the last thirty six years, bumps over the railroad track and thinks, as he often does, of his father. He tries to imagine the day the train brought the man to Louisiana, the deeds he ran from, the future that must have held such hope, now but a distant blink in the past. Vernon feels a pinch of sadness blindside him, then reaches for the bottle on the floorboard, takes a long pull at the stoplight, begins to feel the numbness again before the light turns green.

He rolls past the abandoned shops at the edge of town, guides the old truck along the mile long stretch of broken sidewalk that stops at the highway, shifts through the light blinking red and crosses the bypass road. Even the Wal Mart lot is mostly empty.

Outside town, Vernon slows down in the curve that fronts the old homeplace. A porch light is on, and for a moment he considers stopping. But, as he does every day, he decides against it, pilots the truck back onto the road and continues toward Natchitoches.

Vernon slows again to read the sign out in front of Mt. Olive church. The preacher there had hauled in one of these chest high neon signs on wheels and was always changing that sign, trying to say something witty to the people passing by. This time Vernon rolls down his window, stops in the middle of the road. Humidity and the roar of crickets pour in. Vernon reads.

 

If you meet me and forget me

You have lost nothing

If you meet Jesus and forget him

You have lost everything

 

He slides back into gear and continues. Then he feels the truck slowing, feels his hands jerk the wheel all the way to the left, sees the sign approaching again and the white concrete of the church’s parking lot. He reads the words once more, leans his head back, laughs out loud, shouts.

You believe that if you want to Leonard. Doesn’t matter to me. Doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. He punches the gas pedal to the floor. The words of the sign grow larger.

Vernon screeches the truck to a halt. You have lost everything. No sense ruining his truck too. No sense letting everything go. He backs off a few feet, jumps out, runs over, lifts the handle of the sign, then flips it onto one side until he hears the crash. By the time a light switches on in the vestibule of the church, Vernon is back on the road, headed home.

11 Responses to Doxology: Chapter 1

  1. Aint Barb says:

    OK…..you got me hooked…..I look forward to the next page…..

  2. Carey Douglas says:

    An everyday, but intimate slice of a southern, perhaps fundamentalist or charismatic, guy…so, gon on.

  3. angie erickson says:

    I want more….

  4. Jules says:

    For some reason, the line “You’re not the one dying here.” jumped out at me exquisitely. It’s a great opening and I’d definitely read further. In fact, now I guess I’ll have to hunt it down to do just that.

    • brianholers says:

      Thanks Jules, I hope you do read it and then let me know what you think, I really love hearing from readers even if they don’t like something.

  5. Jo Mazzotta says:

    Wow! Just Wow! I loved it and I also want more. It is said, “If you can make a reader laugh, feel sad, wonder and cry, you are a writer? That you are!

    Wish you the best in your success!
    Jo

  6. brianholers says:

    Thanks Jo, I appreciate the comment. Sometimes a few nice words go a long way to continue motivating me.

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