Well, it’s just been too damned long since I posted a story. The crazy summer of travel is over, so it’s time to start spinning tales. This is my entry for this week’s flash fiction challenge at terribleminds. Famous people doing fictional things. As a musician as well as a fiction writer, I’ve always been a huge Dylan fan. Read on to see what kind of trouble he gets into with Mother Teresa. I had enormous fun seeing how many Dylan lyrics or song titles I could cram into a story with a 1,000-word limit. All you Dylan fans, see if you can identify them all! Welcome back everyone!
Nice Dylan painting by greencolander.
Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind
“Like Dylan Thomas?” Mother Teresa asked.
Bob Dylan lay down his weary guitar.
And rolling thunder rumbled in the west.
“Yeah. Meant it to be like Marshall Dillon, ya know, on ‘Gunsmoke’? But I got confused, somethin’ happened, and I didn’t know what it was.”
The heat sent plumes of garbage-scented steam up off the streets of Calcutta. Bob Dylan looked down the road and saw children fighting with dogs for scraps.
“Do you have a speech impediment, young man? As you can see, I’m very busy. So please tell me again, what is it specifically you want me to do?”
“Mama, you been on my mind. See, a hard rain’s gonna fall. Ya know when there’s a crash on the levee, water gonna overflow and we’re gonna go down in the flood.”
Mother Teresa squinted at the unkempt man, noticed the long, dirty fingernails, the unruly mop of greasy hair, the smoldering cigarette in his nicotine-yellowed right hand. A pack of Kools rested on the table between them.
“I’m not sure I understand you, Mr. Dylan.”
“I saw this all in a dream, my one-hundred-and-fifteenth dream, dig? A dream of Johanna, who had the ghost of electricity howling in the bones of her face. And that dream blew to me on the wind. I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, blood on the tracks.” His eyes, as blue as robin’s eggs, turned white hot, as he stared at this woman who seemed to him the embodiment of the stained world’s salvation..
“Why have you come to me? I’m just an ugly, old woman with bunions and too many mouths to feed. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have no power, despite what you may’ve heard on the news. Perhaps you could sing your songs at the UN?”
“Songs! They laugh at the songs! I’ve got so much mixed up confusion, it’s a-killin’ me, mama. They give me awards and I’m so frightened for the world, all I can do is mumble into the microphone. The masters of war are all talking World War III blues and some folks want me to be the voice, you know, but it ain’t me, babe, it’s you. You’re the real deal. I’m a jokerman.”
Mother Teresa reached out and laid a hand on his. His dirtiness and obvious mental illness failed to repulse her: it was just another day in Calcutta.
“But, Bob – may I call you Bob? – these troubles you note, they are nothing but the beautiful workings of the living Christ here, immanent on this very Earth. Ever has it been in this world. It remains only for us to find Christ in ourselves and spread compassion in the face of misery and suffering.”
Dylan looked off into the darkening distance, sighed smoke out into a dying world. “You see, I’m not so sure ‘bout that Christ thing. Tried it. Didn’t work out. Not for long, anyhow.”
Mother Teresa leaned forward and slapped him across the face.
“Perhaps your experience with that Christ thing was limited by your lack of faith. I’m sorry, are you OK? I didn’t mean to hit you so hard.”
Dylan ran a hand over his stubbly jaw. “Don’t think twice, it’s alright.”
The tiny nun rose from her seat – just a wooden box – and said, “Come with me. I want to show you something.”
Outside it had begun to rain, a soft mist falling on the just and the unjust alike. They walked side by side, Mother Teresa gripping Dylan’s leather-clad forearm.
They walked down by the old canal, redolent with the commingled scents of jasmine and shit. The western sky threatened the approach of the monsoon. Rumbling clouds of black and blue billowed then swirled around one another, spitting pebble-sized raindrops.
“Do you see the storm, Bob?”
Dylan mumbled,“Don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows…”
“That is correct, you don’t. The monsoon will come whether we like it or not. It will flood the Ganges, push human shit and dead bodies all over town. But it washes at the same time, picking up waste that has been allowed to sit and fester since the last storm. Do you understand?”
Dylan rolled a joint, fired it up, offered it to the nun with raised eyebrows.
She took it and swallowed a long, slow hit.
She said, “Before we get too far down that joint, I want you to try to look at the world with a longer view. One that has room for redemption. By the way, you’ve got blood on your tongue.”
“It’s alright, ma, I’m only bleeding. So, like, you’re whole approach is to get past the anger and have faith that God’s gonna make it all better?”
“No! Are all musicians this thick? WE are going to make it all better. You can sing your songs, but don’t forget to love someone. Show some kindness to a child.”
They arrived at the banks of the Ganges. People of all ages bathed in the river, surrounded by a kind of orange glow that Dylan could only assume was the Matanuska Thunderfuck they were smoking working its magic.
“The world will end, but not tomorrow, Mr. Dylan.”
“Well,” Dylan said, “tomorrow is a long time, as they say.” He walked to the very edge of the water. He looked at the old men and women bathing, smiling. Children chased one another and giggled along the shimmering water’s edge.
He continued out to a small outcropping of sand. There he sat down, put the pinched roach in his pocket, and gazed intently at the approaching storm.
“Will you come inside out of the weather?” she asked.
“Nah. Maybe the times are a-changin’ and I should too.”
The old woman embraced him before she left. “The storm can be frightening. Sure you don’t want shelter?”
“Nah. Just gonna sit on this bank of sand, you know?” he said. “Watch the river flow.”
August 31st, 2011 at 11:00 am
You picked a couple of very interesting characters to work with. As a Minnesotan, you got me with Bob Dylan. And kudos to any story with Mother Teresa smoking a joint.
August 31st, 2011 at 11:08 am
Thanks for commenting, Sarah. Yes, I started off with Dylan as a prophet in the wilderness and ended up in Calcutta with him getting high with the good sister. I have made the pilgrimage to Hibbing MN to stand in front of Dylan’ s childhood home. My wife, cradling our infant son against the freezing March wind on the iron range, was not impressed…
August 31st, 2011 at 7:19 pm
Bob! I was so inspire by the story, I wrote you a haiku (and I don’t do that for just anybody!):
saint and singer, stoned
discuss compassion and watch
the winds of change arrive
August 31st, 2011 at 7:52 pm
Hey Annie! Good to hear from you again, and I’m glad you liked the story. My initial image was Dylan weeping as the hard rain was a-fallin’. But the story kept a-changin’. Thanks for the great haiku!
July 20th, 2013 at 7:52 pm
I just read this haiku again and was reminded once again of what a great talent you possess.
July 26th, 2013 at 7:20 pm
Actually Bob, I just read your story again and thought the same thing!
September 2nd, 2011 at 11:26 pm
Beautiful! : )
September 3rd, 2011 at 7:23 am
Thanks for reading Louise!
September 7th, 2011 at 6:09 pm
Really liked this one
July 20th, 2013 at 10:23 am
Just as smooth the second, third, or fourth time around. Glad you’re back on the writing track, Bob. It’s been too long since our last horror fix.
July 20th, 2013 at 11:11 am
Hi SuzanneG –
I have some horror fixes in the works…stay tuned.
Thanks for continuing to read the blog when I post.