All Stories, General Fiction

The Shroud of Tulsa by John B. Mahaffie

How all this got started was there was this guy Lee, I don’t think anybody remembers his last name. He hadn’t been in Springdale long. Quiet guy, late 20s. Decent looking. Beard, muscles, longish hair, bit of a mountain man way about him.

Did construction and other pick up work, lived out of his truck. Didn’t bother anybody. Wasn’t even a drinker so far as I’ve been able to find out. A transient, you call someone like that. We get them, passing through here, it’s common enough, with the work on the Interstate and the oil up north.

Lee put in a day’s labor demolishing the half-burned Elks hall that was a total loss after that lightning strike two years ago August. Eighteen an hour, you just showed up at the site.

After a day’s work, Lee stops at Iron Works to lift weights. He’s one of those fitness types.

Lee’s dirty from work. Swabs off his face with a white gym towel. Then leaves it draped over an open locker door, forgetting to toss it in the towel bin.

Thing was, the towel winds up with a pretty exact image of his long, bearded face in soot and grime on the terrycloth. Someone saved it, probably one of the custodian girls took it serious. We’re that kind of town. Or could be it was just a gag. Word about this landed by next morning at the Savemor, and Tina got hold of the information. She must have been going on about it in the presence of one of our more faith-oriented ladies.

Across town, same night as the towel thing, it was business as usual at the Freeway Diner. Kelvin was rinsing out aluminum pitchers they mostly use for water and lost track and managed to not empty one, which had held Sangria. He refilled the six or eight pitchers all at once with the hose from the sink, and set them on the counter for the waitresses to use topping up waters. That one pitcher had wine, or mostly wine, instead of water in it.

Still the same evening. Out on the side of Route 90, there was a slick of water on the hardpan, left after some heavy rain. Lee stops to pee on a fence post, like you do, and steps across that skin of water. And the way these things go, at that exact same moment, a lady in a beat up Civic comes along. How was she supposed to know it wasn’t but about a quarter inch of water he’s on top of?

Far as this lady’s concerned, it was an actual pond like you see all up and down the Fremont Valley, and a man was walking on it, not in it. Well, her next stop was the Freeway Diner, where she told all she saw.

These things, all from the same day, got, the way bits of information and observations do, got told at the Savemor, first to Tina, who knows everyone, likes to share information, and has a screw loose anyways. The puddle, the towel, and the water pitcher that was wine, which didn’t even have to do with the drifter fella, Lee. All of it came together.

Hang two on a fella and the third happening, I won’t reach for the word miracle here, gets hung on him easily enough.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t believe in these sorts of things myself. Just telling you how it played out.

So before too long, starting with Tina retelling the stories all that day, and forgetting details and substituting some of her own, we ended up with water turned into wine, a man walking on water, and what came to be called the Shroud of Tulsa, now Plexiglass-encased at the Free and Independent Church of the Almighty on Leedy Turnpike, out past the landfill. “Tulsa,” since “Shroud of Springdale” doesn’t sound like anything.

All of this was ascribed to Lee, who had a passing resemblance to Our Lord and Savior, if you squinched up your eyes and didn’t study him careful, especially in the retelling. After work sometimes wore sandals and an overlarge white t-shirt, which if you allowed it to be was passably an ancient man’s robe or whatever it is they wore back then, so long as you didn’t gaze down and see the grubby Wranglers sitting low on his butt, or notice his jacked chest and shoulders, the result of the weight lifting.

All this meant nothing to Lee himself. By that week’s end, he’d driven off in his F150 two states away to work a few months on a job in Nebraska. ‘Course he wasn’t around anymore to defuse anyone of all the stories that spun up.

So Katie heard about all this late that next morning. Working nights bartending at The Coop, she sleeps in, and that gave the whole run of miracles a chance to stew up and flavors meld overnight, like your grandma’s chicken stew, better the next day. Mind you, there were right away people who believed.

Late morning Katie steps out on her porch and hellos Peggy, her neighbor, who had been to the Savemor and gotten the whole rundown. She told it all to Katie.

Now Katie had taken Lee home one night and didn’t think he was Jesus. She was quite sure of that, though she did recall that night for quite some time with a certain fondness, even after she met and moved in with Pete.

So Katie is about to say, “oh, that’s just Lee, I knew him.” But she sees Peggy touching the silver cross at her neck so she keeps it to herself, then and from then on.

And go up there even now and you’ll like as not hear about some miracles that happened in Springdale, Oklahoma. And if you ask in a pious way, folks’ll take you to see the Shroud of Tulsa. I might even do so myself.


John B. Mahaffie

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5 thoughts on “The Shroud of Tulsa by John B. Mahaffie”

  1. Great fun and believeable in a twisted sort of way.
    Very much appreciate the restrained yet extremely effective dialect, the way the sentences seem to begin a word late yet make perfect sense. You show a fine ear.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi John,
    This is fun but there is some very wry observations all the way throughout.
    The pace is excellent and you have a talent for putting across a story. This is a clever piece of writing.
    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Liked by 1 person

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