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Conversion

Arise, and go into the city

By Pitt GriffinPublished 26 days ago 8 min read
Top Story - June 2024

It does not rain much in the Arizona desert. But when it does, the waters come hard and fast. Ancestral dry river beds scoured by flash floods bear witness to their force. A man caught between steep, rocky banks can drown on a cloudless sunny day, swept away by water racing across the desert, shed by thunderstorms rumbling beyond the horizon.

Every night, in my nightmares, I am that man.

Nothing in my experience explains why I am in that river bed. I have never set foot in Arizona. I am a city boy to my core. An urbanite who thinks nature is best enjoyed as a documentary. And for whom the great outdoors is a beach or golf course.

I am a New Yorker who lives in Dallas. I was seduced to move to the Lone Star State by the economic come-ons and the easy money of the early aughts when glib talkers were making fortunes.

“There's a reason people want to live in Texas. Our low taxes and business-friendly environment allow businesses, workers, and families to thrive," the Governor crowed. And the promotional material swept uneducated poverty and hungry children under the rug.

But hell is hell, no matter how much leg it shows you. Sure, a striver can thrive - especially, if they do not care who they hurt. And I hurt people, although I do not think I do. I tell my conscience that I provide a worthwhile service. But my conscience is not buying it. So I ignore it.

The sub-prime mortgage business is a blue-sky con - especially in the vineyards where I toiled.

The low-regulation states celebrate liberty with paeans to freedom. But if everyone is free to do as they wish, the strong prosper at the expense of the powerless. It is the law of the jungle.

I subscribe to that law, as it has made me rich. I make my daily crust by telling the financially illiterate they can afford houses they have no business buying. The secret is in the interest-only teaser rate. A $500,000 house for $1,200 a month? The dreamers congratulate themselves for their hard bargaining.

For a year, they live victorious. Then, the 13th payment rolls around. This one includes the principal. Now, they are on the hook for $2,100. It gets worse. The 2.9% interest? That’s history. If only they had read the fine print. Now 7.5% kicks in, and their monthly is $3,500.

Welcome to Texas. If you can’t be rich, at least you live in a state where everything is bigger. Whatever that means. Perhaps you will get yours. Somebody has to win the lottery, don’t they?

It is a religious state stuffed with sinners. I do not know if I believe in God. It never seemed like a pressing matter. But for business reasons, I went to church. As I sat listening to someone tell me who to hate, I wondered how many fellow doubters were there to prove their righteousness.

Not that I care. I have banked my commission. The company has sold the loan, and thousands more, to a bundler. She has created a derivative with a nonsensical return. The smart money snaps them up to sell to the next guy, who flips it. Everyone is happy, except the schmuck with no chair when the music stops.

And the home buyer.

That family lives in the grandparents’ basement - their credit shredded. The kids do not understand their fall from grace. And the marriage crumbles. Meanwhile, my biggest problem is deciding whether to go the Beamer or Audi route.

Life is good.

I am youngish - younger than the man in my mirror. I like to have a good time. I take dates to fashionable restaurants. And squire them to nightclubs. Sometimes, these affairs include weekend trips. But I must vibe impermanence. Nothing lasts long.

Many nights, I keep my own company. I like to smoke something in the evening. Whatever my guy featured that month. I am not a connoisseur. I enjoy a gentle high, something floaty. I must be present enough to enjoy my Spanish potboilers - I have seen everything else. And I do not mind the dubbing. I appreciate the different shades of cultural variety. Besides, I rarely watch that closely.

After a good night hit, I shower and pull on some ratty boxers and an inside T. I turn off the light. Put on a podcast. And sleep until morning. At least I did until the nightmares came. If you are interested, I will tell you the story.

I am thirsty and scared. My feet scrape the sand and pebbles of a steep-sided arroyo. I am lost under a bright and cloudless sky. It is silent. I know I am in an Arizona desert, miles from anywhere. But I do not know why.

I wear city clothes, dusty and stained with dry sweat. My smooth-soled Gucci loafers provide little purchase. I stumble forward irresolute, funneled downward by the unclimbable walls.

A low rumbling breaks the stillness. I can not tell where it comes from. The noise intensifies. It is like a storm of children's marbles showering against a tin roof. The solid sound shatters into a thousand individual assaults on my ears. I turn to look. A stream of water sluices around a bend upstream. It wets my shoes. I step up on a rock. The water rises and covers my feet again. There is no higher ground between the rock walls.

I step back into the water to run downstream. The water continues to rise. The stream explodes into a white-water river. The swirling pressure knocks me down. I struggle to stand, but my feet can find no purchase. The torrent throws me on my back, picks me up, and slams my shoulder and head against an outcrop. I grasp for a handhold. But the water rips me away.

I tumble. Every part of me hits something. I have water in my mouth. And then my lungs. A bright light flares in my head. The pain is instant and unbearable. Then it goes dark.

I started awake staring into the murk as the city’s night light showed I was in my bedroom. I lay twisted in the sheets. Soaked in sweat, not river water. My heart beat allegro. I got up, pulled the sheets taut, and regimented my pillows. I dismissed the nightmare and returned to bed. I slept dreamlessly until dawn.

I do not know if dreams have some symbolic meaning. Perhaps they do. Many people will tell you their significance. There must be a reason for them. Evolution does not reward pointless effort. My best guess is that they are a psychic pipe cleaner. Or maybe the brain is taking out the trash.

Whatever. Life goes on. And I went about my day.

When I fell into bed that night, pleasantly buzzed, I did not expect to be back in the desert. But I was.

I am in the arroyo again, wearing the same clothes. Now I know what the sound is. But it does not make any difference. I start running. But my stupid shoes slip on the loose rubble, and I lose my balance. I fall onto my hands and jam a wrist as the water rises.

I struggle to my knees and then my feet. The onrushing water rams me down again. I wrap my arms around my head. And I pinball from rock to wall, back to rock. Everything hurts. And then it goes dark.

I awake, back in my bedroom, drenched. This time, sleep does not return easily.

It was quiet in the office. We do not do much business during the Christmas season. The sophisticated buyer knows it is the best time to make an offer. Demand is low. The houses still available are getting stale. And once optimistic sellers are slashing asking prices to get out from under.

But sophisticated buyers do not darken my door. They have good credit. The money for a deposit. And the brains to lock in a fixed rate. They do not need a cowboy.

I do not go to bed early. But I usually look forward to sleeping. But on the third evening, the pot made me tense. And sleep was a grim prospect. I do not drink much. That night, I added tequila to the recipe. A big one on the rocks. And two more. I did not shower. And I passed out as soon as my head was down.

I am drowning. This time, I had no warning. I am already underwater. I tumble for minutes, hitting everything. A team of invisible ballplayers is using me for batting practice.

I think I hear myself scream, although my lungs are full of water. Individual pains in joints and muscles blend into a haze of hurt. I am in my body suffering the agony - while I also look down on myself dispassionately wondering why I am not dead. Blackness comes. I can see nothing.

I wake up.

On the fourth night: I am walking in a different part of the dry river. There is no distant rumbling. No water. No pain. Instead, I can see the hills surrounding the arroyo. And lining the crests, hundreds of native children stare at me unblinking and still, as if waiting patiently for something to happen.

I am terrified. I feel like a laboratory specimen, and the children are waiting for the teacher to arrive, so they can dissect me to see what makes me tick. The sun rises behind them. I cannot turn my head. The intensity of its light blinds me,

I wake up.

On the fifth night: I am lying on wet rocks. The deluged has passed. My body lies broken. The pain is so severe I am anesthetized. I stare up at an impossibly blue sky. A gentle face eases into my vision. I looked into his eyes. They are deep, brown pools of serenity. He says nothing, but I hear the words.

“You do not have to carry the pain. It is your burden. You can put it down anytime you want.”

He smiles at me and reaches his hand out to touch my face. His fingers push my eyelids down. I can see nothing.

I wake up.

On the sixth night: I weep in relief. I am again lying on the rocks. I grasp the man’s cool hand and feel the pain flow away. My body, which had lain broken on the rocks, is whole again. Gravity no longer pushes me against the rock pricks. The man’s face comes into focus. He says nothing, but I hear the words:

“You can see now if you choose to, Saul.”

I wake up crying.

I quit my job and sold everything. I bought a bus ticket to Hot Springs, Arkansas. There was much to see I had never looked at before. I wanted to be with people. To eat in small-town BBQ joints. To play chess with strangers. To laugh at children splashing in mud puddles.

For five more days, I took buses from small town to small town. I traveled through the Great Smoky Mountains and Kentucky’s horse country. I stopped in Tug Valley, home to the infamous Hatfields and McCoys, where old families gazed balefully at strangers.

I continued through Virginia, up into Pennsylvania, and across New Jersey to Sea Bright, where I walked on a snow-covered beach lapped by a leaden Atlantic. My journey ended at New York’s Port Authority Bus Station, where tides of commuters ebb and flow into the city’s ocean of residents, native and newly arrived.

Now, I provide financial advice to people looking to buy a house. I explain the fine print to them. I manage their expectations. I shield them from the sinners who would destitute them to make a buck.

There is little money in it. But I have never been richer. Best of all, I am home.

PsychologicalShort Story

About the Creator

Pitt Griffin

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Comments (4)

  • Dr. Jason Benskin20 days ago

    Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • shanmuga priya20 days ago

    Congratulations on this stunning achievement 💐💐💐

  • Fly Alone20 days ago

    This evocative narrative skillfully captures the transformation of a man haunted by his conscience and nightmarish visions of drowning in the Arizona desert. His journey from a morally bankrupt, city-dwelling sub-prime mortgage broker to a conscientious financial advisor seeking redemption is powerful. The nightmares serve as a metaphor for his inner turmoil and guilt, culminating in a profound realization and life change. The story is a poignant exploration of the human capacity for change, emphasizing the importance of integrity and the pursuit of a meaningful life over material wealth.

  • The dreams were a series of healing episodes.. Thanks for sharing and congrats for top story!

PGWritten by Pitt Griffin

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