That Song With The Extra Beat

Disclaimer: This is my debut piece of fiction for this blog, and I want to make clear 1) this is totally fiction, inspired by who-knows-what in my life, and 2) if you don't get it (I know reading short stories isn't your typical pastime), comment below and I'd love to give commentary. Thanks and I hope you enjoy it!

We’ve been singing that song the wrong way for over 20 years, for as long as I’ve been there anyway, which is longer than most, but even I can remember the way it’s supposed to sound. I hear it on the radio every now and then and when it comes on I just turn it off so it doesn’t confuse me. I remember how confused I was when I first came and everybody was singing and swaying along—chug-a-chug—just like a train. You felt it in your body. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and then boom, out of nowhere it happened. At the bridge the tune goes up real high and you really gotta get your gut into it and I was all wound up when the song-leader stopped an extra beat and I let ‘er go boy and it was just me, singing away, solo, all because he got the beat wrong. He added a beat right there where it didn’t belong and threw the whole thing out, the train came right off the tracks and I was caught with my pants down. Like I said, I been at this church for 20 years and he still gets it wrong.

The parson is a good man but he’s all heart. He’ll tell you you a sinner, you need a Savior, and you goin’ to hell without Him, but he won’t even tell you if you got egg on your face, or shoot not even if you got broccoli in your teeth. Marge’s dead now—my wife, she was the truth-teller of the year, every year. She got it honest: Her family was the most gossipin’ bunch you’ll meet, but they’d sure tell you how it was. Straight-shooters, the McGuffs. Our first date I walked up to her front door, knocked, and as I waited I sucked my teeth real good, straightened my tie, fidgeting, you know. I was fit to be tied and her Pa answered and first thing out’a his mouth was “Boy, you mighty short ain’t ye?” I’d never realized I was that short, but as she came down the shotgun hallway, I lifted my head and puffed my chest out and rolled my shoulders back and sneaked onto my tip-toes, but she walked right up to me, put her arm in mine, and said, “You’re only short if you believe it, Earl.” I couldn’t believe it.

From then on, every time some ole boy poked fun at me for being short I thought of her and it made me smile. What’s being short anyway? Everybody’s short when you stand next to Goliath. Shoot even he is short next to a giraffe, and God makes giraffes like he makes insects. They’re everywhere over there. We just don’t see ‘em and begin to forget about ‘em. And that’s the real point. Somebody’s gotta stand up and remind us of the Truth whether we like it or not. I thank God for Papa McGuff because if he hadn’t’a opened his mouth about my height Marge wouldn’t have either. And I don’t know what would’a happened if I’d gone my whole life without ever realizing I was a short man.

So I stand there and sing that song the wrong way again and again, and as visitors come in and get caught with their pants down at that extra beat of silence, all I want to do is walk onto the platform and take the wheel and direct us in the right way. I just look over at ‘em and smile. I’ve stopped trying to convince them it was a mistake and just try to smooth things over.

Every time I get frustrated I just think of Marge, how she would squeeze my arm when she felt me tense up. And so I sing the song the wrong way and just turn the radio off when the song comes on. But it kills me, still. Because to me, I’d rather know I was short and get over it, because then you’re better for it and nobody can hold it over your head. You’re freed up and it can’t haunt you anymore. A man ought’a know the truth even if it hurts, and when he does it sets him free, every single time. Because nobody cares if you think you’re tall or short or a good song leader or not, only you do. And when you think they care more than they actually do you start living in an upside-down world where your reality becomes defined by their perception. And in that world a short man must always be short unless he moves to a midget colony. Seems to me that ain’t no way to live.

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