John Brandon

San Joaquin

He had gone on the run, westward and led by pure instinct, fleeing as far as possible without leaving the country and then backtracking a hundred miles. He was forty-five and had enough money to last him almost thirty years if he lived frugally. He could do that. Live frugally. He wasn’t really a criminal. He’d had friends back East but had always dreaded talking to them. There was a sandwich place he missed a lot. And an uncle. He’d never killed anyone and did not own a gun. He felt no rush at beating the system and did not think of himself as cool. He was cool in that he didn’t need other people but he was uncool in that he was able to put himself on a budget and planned to adhere to it for decades to come. He lived now in a dusty town which was a great shopping mall surrounded by farms.

He attended a prayer group founded by a couple who’d won the lottery and then blown all the money. The prayer meetings were held in a building the couple had been unable to sell off, a farmhouse on a busy street. They’d decorated the inside of the place with paired photographs—pictures of places in different parts of the world that looked exactly alike. A sprawling mini-storage facility in front of a retention pond, low chain link fencing snaking everywhere. India and Florida.

He attended a Catholic church for a time, returning to his heritage, and as before it didn’t feel that anything was taking place at the masses that wanted his presence. He tried a Buddhist temple, then a synagogue.

He lived across the street from an ignored tourist attraction, an estate once owned by a poet/statesman/farmer. He got the idea that this man was known more for the company he’d kept than for his own deeds.

He missed weather, nothing now but a breeze and a brush of clouds. There was no guarantee of winter. 

He had a fireplace and split wood and many copies of the local newspaper, and they might sit there and sit there.

He was rich, in the important way. He drove a seven-year-old Honda and subsisted on second-rate sandwiches, but he never again had to work.

He had succumbed to prayer and would succumb to other hobbies.

He would vaguely imagine going back East for a visit, but of course he couldn’t do that. The men he’d ripped off did own guns, and not for shooting skeet.

This is what he’d wanted, what he’d wished for. He still wanted it, but in the hollow way you wanted something once you had it.

The members of the prayer group sat around a big black table and this made them seem like businesspeople at a meeting conducting spiritual transactions. There were no Bibles anywhere. He could not discuss his situation, so when it was his turn to address the higher power he prayed for everyone he used to know, changing names, calling his uncle Uncle Kenny. He prayed for the men he’d ripped off. They still needed prayer and he didn’t.    

John Brandon's two novels are Arkansas and Citrus County. His shorter work has appeared in Oxford American, GQ, Mississippi Review, The Believer, Subtropics, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, ESPN the Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, etc. He is currently the Tickner Fellow in Writing at Gilman School in Baltimore. This fall he's writing a weekly blog about college football for Grantland.com.

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