Bored with an Awl

Derek was reading the Old Testament while he listened to Mae Moore on CD. He started to cry. Precisely after Mae sang about taking a room at the Oceanview Motel, one of his tears fell as a wet period at the end of Exodus 21:4-6

If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,” then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

Derek had had an argument the night before with his girlfriend Melissa, who had accused him yet again of being too introspective for his own good.

“It’s not healthy, Derek,” she’d said. “All this talk about death and the meaning of life. It’s not normal.”

Derek wasn’t sure what he was crying about. He did feel bad for the poor slave who didn’t know the difference between love and subservience. And though he resented Melissa’s dismissiveness, he knew that he had been in a bit of an existential funk. He would stare fixedly at the simplest of things—the wicker chair in their living room, the homeless man on Main Street ranting about needing water—and he just could not fathom that all this, everything, would be gone from him when he and his consciousness were gone from the world.

And though that made him sad, too, it was something in the solidity of Mae’s song that made him cry. The simple plangent voice, the possibility of taking the adjacent room at the motel, the digital counter on the CD player counting backwards the whole time.