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Drama Fiction Contemporary

Gemma's dramatic wails echo down the hallway, the tinny sound carrying like a sharpened porcupine quill, direct and unwelcome. 

Avery sighs, glancing briefly toward the hall where his wife cries—with the same emotional gusto as when her pick on The Bachelor doesn't win, so there's no telling how upset she actually is—then back to the credit card bill on the table.

He pours a finger of scotch over ice, sinking his weary self into the old leather wingback in the darkened den. The contrast of the papers stacked on the low mahogany table is sharp, as if the five-digit number totaled at the bottom of the page, highlighted in red, underlined, with metaphoric flashing neon lights stating overdue, wasn't enough to capture his attention.

His phone lights up on the table with a text, illuminating the pages further. 

I made a mistake. I promise I'll do better, Gemma pleads from three doors down.

It was strange to him that she'd bother trying to hide the mail as if he wouldn't see the credit card damage when he went to pay their monthly bills online. Their fight was a tired one, and when he got home and found the statement tucked beneath a stack of catalogs, he couldn't even be surprised.

When they bought this house, he told her it was at the max in their budget. But he was about to get a promotion, she reminded him. Admittedly, he wanted the place, too. It was big. Tall ceilings, great neighborhood. Gorgeous deck to grill and invite friends over for dinner parties. Gemma reminded him how good the place would make him look in preparation for the promotion. You've gotta look successful to be successful, she'd said. Dress for the part. Fake it till you make it.

Staring at the newest credit card bill, astronomically higher than expected, so high he'd have to seriously consider bankruptcy, Avery couldn't help but wonder where all the money went.

Somewhere down the line, his wife's obsession with wealth changed their lives. Social media, reality TV, extreme bouts of apathy he could feel radiating off her whenever she looked his way… whatever the cause, it crept up like a shadow in the night, eerily silent yet now entrenched them completely. 

He wasn't totally innocent. He liked having the newest of everything. But he also just wanted his beautiful Gemma to be happy. 

Years have passed like this, finding momentary joy in whatever they could purchase. But Avery had to admit he couldn't remember when he'd last been truly happy. And he had no clue what made Gemma happy. Clearly, not more stuff.

Ice clinks against his teeth as he drains the last of his scotch; tilting his head toward the hallway where Gemma's TV blares, he notices her obligatory crying is now complete.

Every few months, he'd make some headway on their debt. He'd come home in a good mood after working seventy hours at the office, feeling like he could finally breathe. His doting, loving wife, elated to see her dear husband relax, would crawl on her hands and knees in the middle of the kitchen, suck him off while cooking dinner, and they'd celebrate like newlyweds. But it was fleeting, just like everything else. 

Picking up his phone, Avery searched the internet for advice on financial support and debt suffocation. His fingertips hovered over the keyboard, tempted to open a private tab and look up state laws on divorce before wondering if couples therapy made more sense.

Therapy searches led him down a rabbit hole of click-bate, and when he discovered the words minimalist and then mindfulness, Avery Googled until he could no longer read straight and fell asleep, drunk and numb, in the old leather wingback.

Days passed, and Avery began the surprisingly fast process of declaring bankruptcy. Only this time, he decided, when he dug himself and his wife out of their financial hole, currently filled with bigger TVs, the newest iPhones, and all the gadgets and toys they'd never need or use, he wouldn't tell her they were in the clear.

More weeks passed while Avery contemplated filing for divorce, going to work before the sun rose, coming home long after it set, living life like a corporate zombie. Gemma pretended everything was great, not-so-discreetly shoving her new margarita-mix machine in the cupboard before presenting him with a perfectly crafted cocktail when he finally got home past 10 o'clock one evening, too late for dinner.

She kissed his cheek, then disappeared into their bedroom to watch TV, and he sat in the old leather wingback, staring at the low mahogany table in silence. An alert on his phone illuminated brightly against the dark table, reminiscent of many nights prior when he sat there alone and wondered if this was all living had to offer.

An email came through, one he had to read twice to comprehend.

Dearest Avery, we thank you for your kind and very generous donation. Your contribution will feed many and assist in providing medical care for the local orphanage. We look forward to seeing you soon. Sincerely, Bhikkhu Anāyo

Having no clue what the hell a Bhikkhu was, he had to Google the word, which only brought up more questions.

It took Avery several minutes and a lot of browser search history to remember what he did in a drunken stupor several weeks prior. 

He felt a brief moment of shame for misrepresenting himself and his intentions but then remembered he was a little drunk when he sent that email. An idea began to form, and Avery smiled for the first time in ages.


---


The Bhikkhu scurries across the hardwood floor, his robes swishing, bare feet gliding soundlessly. Generally, the middle-aged monk successfully rendered his need for efficiency to a quiet roar. Still, on occasion, he would forget his training and move at a pace best reserved for an air traffic controller or some other overly expeditious occupation. 

As he approaches the chanting room, the low, vibrant cadence of his fellow monks filters out, reminding him to move more slowly; his steps come to a temperate stop just outside the door. Quickly—though not too quickly—Bhikkhu Anāyo briefly bows toward the front of the room, bringing his palms together, forehead meeting his thumbs, then stands tall, continuing his scurry around the room's periphery. 

The familiar chant rounds into its last verse as the Bhikkhu kneels before the Abbot. The deep veneration ends, though the Abbot, Ajahn Bramāli, takes his time before bowing to the life-sized statue of the Buddha, offering homage. Only then does he turn to the Bhikkhu in distress.

"Venerable Sir, forgive me. The villagers have arrived." The Bhikkhu sits back on his feet patiently as the Abbot nods in understanding, but he makes no move or gesture. Bhikkhu Anāyo is used to this. Although, in another life, he had a job that required more sense of urgency, since becoming a fully ordained monk, he's learned to practice more patience.

Anāyo wouldn't have felt any level of distress if it hadn't been for their fellow monk, Bhikkhu Thanāssa, who had been in terrible pain for several weeks and needed the medication the villagers brought for his toothache. His moaning kept the residents of the common room awake all night, but his death was not imminent; he was merely in great pain. Besides, even if his death was close, that is a certainty for them all, so there is no cause for alarm. But the late-night moaning was tiresome.

Finally, the monks in the room gave the last of their prostrations for the morning chant and began their meditations. Out of respect, the Abbot waits until silence descends along the great hall, then brings himself up to a stand and follows the anxiety-ridden Anāyo out of the room.

Navigating around the seated, now meditating monks toward the end of the great hall, through the next empty room, often used for lectures for lay people, the two monks emerged into the bright, humid sun. The rainy season had just ended, leaving the forest temple in a haze of heat and lively, happy bugs. Although the Abbot rarely wore shoes, out of habit, Anāyo slips on his flip-flops and follows the elder monk's slow gait down the steps to greet the outsiders. 

Two men from the village—familiar faces, a set of cousins set to care for the monastery's deliveries by their grandfather who spent many years as a monk himself, though he recently died—bow respectfully, bringing their palms together at their foreheads before jumping straight into business. Ajahn Bramāli turns to Anāyo and tells him to find a few novice monks to assist, which he quickly—but not too quickly—does.

While the men from the village unload the truck, Bramāli waits for Anāyo and the young novice monks to return before addressing the third man, who took his time exiting the small truck, overloaded with supplies, fruits, vegetables, and medicine.

Anāyo was, after all, one of only three residents at the temple who spoke English, and judging by the quiet yet stilted conversation between the newcomer and the villagers, the man did not speak Thai.

Eventually, without further explanation regarding the newcomer, the villagers drive off, leaving in their wake a tall, lanky white man with thick dark hair and a lean, muscular torso; he was obviously unused to this type of heat, the monks observe, as the man plucks his shirt from his torso to fan the sweat now saturating his upper body. The tall man turns to watch the retreating truck bounce down the narrow road leading down the mountain. Anāyo and Bramāli wait patiently on the steps while the tall man shifts and fidgets.

Anāyo has an inkling as to why the man is here, but after another moment, realizing someone will need to break the silence to help him along, the monk decides to address him.

"Sir, why are you here?" Though Bramāli speaks no English, the translation from Anāyo is not yet necessary; the sentiment is clear.

The man reaches his long arm up, scratching the back of his head as if he's unsure of the answer himself. But after a brief glance at his surroundings, he responds, "I'm sorry to show up unannounced. I was in Bangkok yesterday and got directions... Anyway, I spoke with someone several weeks ago who said I could maybe join the monastery. I sent another letter and a donation. I never heard back."

Bangkok was a full day's drive south of their temple, which was nestled in the lively jungle of northern Thailand near the Laos border. One would have to be told of the location of this temple. Though its existence is no secret, finding it is a feat. 

It's possible the tall man will be welcomed by Bramāli, but the decision lies solely with the old, wise monk. Anāyo translates the man's request for the Abbot.

"Ajahn Bramāli says, why are you here?"

The man almost repeats his first answer, then understanding dawns. At least he's astute. "I wanted… I had to go. There's nothing left for me there," he says firmly.

After translating, Anāyo turns to the man. "Our Venerable Ajahn Bramāli asks you to recite a recollection of the triple gem." A man cannot simply show up at a Buddhist monastery and decide to become a monk, though Anāyo remembers this man's donation and his letter requesting acceptance as a novice. Still, despite his intentions, he must have some understanding of the Dharma, the Buddha's teachings. But the question trips up the tall man, whose white-knuckle grip on the strap of his backpack tenses, and he vigorously shakes his head.

"I can't recite anything yet. But this is what I want, to be here. I swear it. I can be useful. Look, I read all these articles on living mindfully, and I just need—" The tall man begins recalling all the information he can about Buddhism. It's rudimentary, at best. A child's understanding. 

"No matter," Ajahn Bramāli declares to Anāyo before sharing his next question.

"Ajahn Bramāli says, are you aware you will need to renounce your possessions and family to become a novice monk? Do you have a wife? Children? You cannot call them or be with them if you choose this path."

The tall man pauses a moment, then nods. He relaxes for the first time since arriving—clothes drenched in sweat, his obvious discomfort with the humidity, and his lack of knowledge, these things no longer matter. The monks smile when the tall man replies, "I understand. I've already left everything behind."

"And when was the last time you held a broom, Sir?"

The man winces sheepishly. Assuming the monks are speaking literally, he's ashamed to admit he couldn't remember. "College? Maybe? It's been years. But I can sweep. I can clean."

Anāyo translates, and Bramāli laughs at the admission. People—perhaps Westerners especially—think being a monk is all meditation and enlightenment. In fact, there is a fair amount of sweeping involved. The monks tease the tall man unbeknownst to him.

"Are you ready?" Anāyo asks on his own.

Anāyo wonders if he's imagining the selfish, insolent glint in the tall man's eyes. No matter. The other monks will cure him of arrogance soon enough.

The tall man stands a little taller, smiling tightly, "I'm ready."

He isn't, but it's too late now to go back.

January 27, 2024 02:27

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18 comments

John Rutherford
10:36 Feb 06, 2024

This is relatable, and authentic. Actually, I thought you would surprise us even more, and have the MC as a fully fleshed out ordained monk, welcoming a person that he recognizes as himself. I enjoyed the story.

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Hazel Ide
15:01 Feb 06, 2024

Thanks John! I guess I liked the idea of leaving it a mystery, if the MC could hack it as an renunciate. Would be a great story though, part 2…

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Kathryn Kahn
16:31 Feb 03, 2024

Great story, Hazel. I love the contrast between the two settings. The main character is a bit of a cypher, isn't he? A private person who isn't completely revealed to us.

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Hazel Ide
16:56 Feb 03, 2024

Thank you Kathryn! Yes! He absolutely is a cypher, good catch! Funny how you can tell a story through one POV and still know nothing about their interiority. Thanks for the comment :)

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Ty Warmbrodt
14:33 Feb 03, 2024

This is the first story I've read by you and I have to say you're extremely talented. I love the way you show your protagonist stressed by the material world before leaving for a less materialistic, albeit more disciplined lifestyle. The ending leaves you wanting more. Very crafty. It's a great read and I wish you luck.

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Hazel Ide
16:15 Feb 03, 2024

Thank you so much Ty! Very kind and thoughtful comments, I appreciate it.

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Wendy M
16:48 Feb 01, 2024

I enjoyed your story. I felt as though there was something hidden at the end. Perhaps he thinks he'll be in charge before long, or he's using the place to hide his money from the ex-wife. Nice to end on a bit of intrigue.

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Hazel Ide
23:02 Feb 01, 2024

Thanks Wendy! I liked leaving it on a slightly nefarious note :)

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Angela M
15:15 Jan 30, 2024

I really like how you started the story with the failing relationship. The conflict was fleshed out really well. The last line also really makes me want to know what happens next!

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Hazel Ide
16:18 Jan 31, 2024

Thank you so much Angela!

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Jan 29, 2024

Strong beginning, paints the relationship very well. But it's not really a relationship anymore, is it? It was on its last legs. “wondered if this was all living had to offer” is probably something that a lot of people can relate to. He comes up with a solution, and it's drastic, although drastic might be what he needs. Not everyone follows through with drunk decisions, but Avery makes this decision sober too, so perhaps this is his path in life. Critique-wise, there are some tense issues here, where the story flips between present and p...

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Hazel Ide
16:18 Jan 31, 2024

Man, you're a tense shark, I reread that story so many times and missed those, thank you so much for pointing them out! There were quite a few mistakes once I noticed. Thank you for your comments. It's interesting, everyone seems to get something different from the story. I feel like both the MC and his wife were complicit and culpable in the demise of their relationship, and- yes!- he definitely made the mistake of thinking he knew when he only 'internet-knew', but following through with something so drastic definitely points to desire for...

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Alexis Araneta
11:55 Jan 29, 2024

Somehow, I knew Avery would do that, but now, I'm curious what happens next. Very gripping !

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Hazel Ide
15:28 Jan 29, 2024

Thanks Stella! Good catch guessing what the mc was going to do!

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Mary Bendickson
03:38 Jan 28, 2024

Minimalism to the max. Thanks for liking my 'All for Science'.

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Hazel Ide
12:13 Jan 28, 2024

So true.

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Jonathan Page
17:36 Jan 27, 2024

Great story. I really like the beginning and how you deal with the couple getting further in debt and the affect on their relationship and their daily lives.

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Hazel Ide
19:57 Jan 27, 2024

Thank you Jonathan!

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