Canvassing
A Short Story by Jim McCollum
Written using the suggestion "Step"
Originally featured on 11-12-2007
As part of our series "Journey To A New Word"

The radio crackled and hissed out the country twang and I hummed along, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel of my truck. The sky opened up in front of me, the rain clouds peeling back to let some sun through the steely gray. Electric wires extended along the road, held by giant structures that looked like Jesus on the cross.

I stopped at the next house I came to and stamped my cigarette out in the gravel driveway. I sat in my car, door open for another moment looking out at the vast expanse; a fraction of the land that had once belonged to the Indians, a paltry bit compared to what the white man swindled out of them. What should they listen to me for?

I had a clipboard for my record sheet. I looked at the long list of “Not Interested” check marks, and wrote the number of the closest mile-marker down for the house I stopped at, which really wasn’t a house at all, more of a one-room shack with a small motor home next to it.

When I walked up to the house, the door had been left slightly ajar. A piece of a label from a pickle jar had been stuck on a protruding nail, and someone had scrawled “Come in” on it in thick pencil.

I pushed the door open the rest of the way. Inside, an older Indian man sat on a couch listening to the same country station on a radio that I had been listening to on my drive out here. Beer cans lay on the table in front of him.

“Hello, sir,” I began.

“You’re wondering if I’m interested in any alcoholism classes.”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“I’m not interested in any classes.”

“Ok, sir, but if you’ll just let me explain…”

“I said I wasn’t interested,” he said, “Who sent you out here anyway?”

“No one sent me out here,” I said, “my church is starting classes and some of the youth leaders are helping out with spreading the word about it all.”

“So your church sent you out here?”

“Well, they told us to go to someplace in the community, and to not all go to the same place. I’m sure no one else would want to come out this far.”

The man chuckled. “How many people do you have signed up so far?”

“None so far,” I said.

“Aw, well, give me one of them fliers. I might come to see what you’ve all got going on.”

“There’s free dinner,” I said, “provided by us at the church. I’m one of the cooks in fact. Next week we’re having spaghetti.”

The man nodded. “Thanks,” he said.

It had started raining again, but I didn’t care. My hair was already wet from rain earlier. I walked to my truck and got in. I felt a ball of warmth in my gut as I checked “Interested” on my check-list. I thought about what the Bible said about serving our communities, and I tried to hold onto that warmth for as long as I could.

Read More By Jim McCollum

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Portland Fiction Project

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