Today, after my weekly session with Gerard, I was pleasantly surprised to find the latest issue of Sprout in my mailbox. Sprout, as you may recall, is the literary magazine run by my friend Ashley. My short story, “Sacred Temptations,” was the feature fiction piece in this issue, meaning it was longer than all the other short stories and the only one with a two-page title spread. Sexier than a Penthouse centerfold, indeed!
I took the magazine and read it at least three times while lying on my couch. Re-reading the sentences brought back memories of the agonizing hours I spent writing up this 10,000-word story. I’m not sure if it’s any good. Ashley seemed to like it a lot since she really poured it on with the compliments the other week. But that may have been during the moments in between the three bottles of wine we finished together, before the hard-to-recall events that followed in her bedroom and me waking up naked and very sore. But she sounded pretty coherent when she said that the piece was “fast-paced and heartrending.” You know, she might’ve been my first redhead.
Anyway, the story goes something like this: Joseph is an ambitious Ivy League graduate who does extremely well in his two years as an investment banker. He’s been accepted to Harvard Business School and enjoying the life of a successful young professional. Then tragedy strikes – his younger sister dies in a boating accident and his mother is suffering from stomach cancer. His girlfriend cheats on him and leaves him for one of his closer friends. Sounds Job-ish, doesn’t it? He then meets another Korean-American banker, Michael, who is a devout Christian – the classic Korean Presbyterian. Together, they attend Sunday services, go to Bible studies, and engage in prayer. Joseph, who was originally indifferent to religion, finds solace and comfort in his new faith and becomes ever more zealous. The death of his ill mother convinces him that God wants him to give up everything to become a true servant. He enters seminary and begins his quest as an evganelist. I don’t want to give away the whole story, but Joseph encounters a number of temptations such as the nubile teenage girls in his youth group, the reverend’s young wife, nostalgia for material luxuries, and doubts about his ability to keep up the intensity of his faith. Now, a story like this can go wrong in many ways, and it’s so easy to fall into a cliche trap. I think I did a fairly good job of avoiding such pitfalls and actually chose to go with an open-ended finish, which does give me the option to pursue a book-length story. Ashley did mention something about that after the second bottle, right as her hand fell on my thigh. I might as well go for it. What’s weird is that some people, on hearing the premises of the story, think that it’s some sort of salvation story (my parents, sigh). But maybe that’s what makes it an interesting read.
One of the things Joseph gives up when he decides to become a full-time evangelist is his habit of smoking and drinking on the balcony of his luxury high-rise apartment building. And one of the things that continues to tempt him is his longing for the feeling of clarity and concentration that the smoking-drinking-balcony combination induced in him. For Joseph, it was more effective than prayer. Haha, I give this habit of mine way too much credit. But seriously, what beats the feeling of an ice-cold Stella punctuated by puffs on a smooth Dunhill stoge? I’d say amen to that.