Good People by Josh Russell

We take our boys to church. It’s been a while. We remember the Hello My Name Is badges stuck between their then-tiny shoulder blades when we fetched them from childcare the last time we came. Back then our names were on those stickers, as if our boys were too little to have names of their own. Now they’re big, old enough to sit through the service without fidgeting or whispering, the younger studying the hymnal, the older reading a Dickens novel he bought at a neighbor’s yard sale. Christmas is coming and we’ve chosen a service centered on carols. Nevertheless, there is a sermon, and we wonder if we should make them close the books and listen. We worry about our boys, worry without religion they’ll end up like the boys who text emojis of bombs and warnings to stay away from school if you want be safe, worry with religion they’ll end up like the boys we see brooding over laptops and red-letter New Testaments in jerkwater Starbucks when we drive down to Orlando to visit Grandma. Or maybe we’ve got it backwards: maybe those texted threats are because of religion, and the boys with shaggy bowl cuts and Bibles are nonbelievers trying to pick up church girls. Antarctica is melting fast and men and women with assault rifles are killing people in Paris and Las Vegas. The Internet’s cluttered with hardcore porn and bomb-making tutorials. We hope our boys become good people, somehow. We pray for peace.

Josh Russell’s shorter prose has appeared in One Story, Subtropics, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories, and Epoch. His novels are Yellow Jack (W.W. Norton), My Bright Midnight (Louisiana State University Press) and A True History (Dzanc Books), and his chapbooks of very short prose are Pretend You’ll Do It Again (Greying Ghost Press) and Suburban Folktales (forthcoming, The Cupboard Pamphlet).

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