"I know! I'm on it." snapped the husband without looking up from typing on the laptop.
"Well, are you going to pay it then?" asked the wife.
"Yeah..." said the husband quietly.
"When?" the wife persisted.
"We have a couple of days of a grace period before they charge a late fee. I'll get it in tomorrow or the day after." said the annoyed husband. The annoyance was more of a cover up for other feelings such as shame and fear. It was hard for him to face the fact that his family did not have much money. "Why couldn't he earn more and save more?"--shame. "What would happen in the future?"--fear. This was not the first time he and his wife had had this conversation. It had played out at the first of every month for maybe a year now, (maybe two?)
"When can we go shopping for groceries?" asked the wife. "We're getting really low on food."
"Can we make it a week more?" asked the husband.
"I guess." she replied with a sigh. "But you need to pick up some milk and bread soon."
"OK, I will tomorrow morning then, before work." he said.
"What are you working on now?" asked the wife.
"It's my latest story. I am having trouble getting started." said the husband.
"Do you think anybody will buy your stories?" asked the wife.
"I pray that they do. It's all I can think to do to earn extra money. If I could just get a penny per word we would be rich." he said.
"Well, I'll go pick up some laundry," said the wife smiling, "while you pick up pennies."
The husband sat and stared at the start of his latest story.
Dusty Mangum spat in the dirt and looked at the mule train stretching out in front of him. "Five hundred more miles to go across this god-forsaken land while eating the dust that these smelly animals kick up." he thought.He quickly erased what he had written. "Nobody wants to read a corny western."
"What is the purpose of telling a story?" thought the husband. "Is it to simply entertain, to distract the reader from the misery and trouble of life...?"
He was beginning to believe so. After all, it wasn't just the rent that was due that was troubling him. There was the water heater that was about to go out. It had been making a distinctive knocking sound after every shower and he had repaired it twice already to save money on a plumber.
"And what about the car?" thought the husband. "Where will we get the money to fix it when it starts breaking down?"
"No," he thought. Somewhere inside he knew that a story was more than a distraction. It was meant to transport its audience beyond the mundane, beyond the difficult--not to distract but to lift above the noise. And being lifted the audience could see the truth ahead.
"I have a life, a wife, and a God who loves me. It's enough." thought the husband. "All good, all good, nothing but good ahead of me no matter what." he said out loud.
And being lifted to see the gifts he had received he began to type.
A ball of thick spit hit the dirt behind the mule train that Dusty Mangum drove. He had been here before: no water for the last day, no food for two, and five hundred more miles to go.
"God," said Mangum above the noise, "I thank ye for keeping me above the ground rather than below it. You fed the chil'ren of Israel in the desert and you can take care of ol' Dusty too. Favor me, Lord with your grace and git me 'cross this desert to the good woman that is waiting for me. But Jesus, if you let these bones o' mine fall here in the sun to be bleached and dried, I'll meet you on the other side. As it says in the Good Book, You is the resurrection an' the life an' he what believes in you though he die he shall live. I believe it, Lord...
The husband wrote on.
Sometime later, Fifty Mules and Five Hundred Miles was published and the pennies rolled in. But a greater story played out in the life of the husband and wife, one told by an Author writing the story of history.