By Zary Fekete
The sun is baking on the top of my head as I turn toward the last house in the cul-de-sac. I feel the wheels of the pushcart thunk into my Achilles tendon for what feels like the hundredth time. I wince every time it happens. A thin stripe of sweat slides down my back leg underneath the black polyester pants that the company gives us to wear. Mr. Bishop even discouraged us from hiking up the material to air out our skin in between sales attempts. “It looks unprofessional,” he said. “You can be young but professional.”
As I walk toward this last house, I repeat the phrase in my head that I’ve been reciting throughout the morning: I will sell these Bibles today. Mr. Bishop encouraged us to repeat … something. I can’t quite remember which verse he suggested. Something about “meek” … but I can’t remember. So instead, I have my own little phrase. I repeat, again and again, I will sell these …
Gingerly, I lift the pushcart over the small lip of the driveway which leads up to the house, as I said, the last one on this street. This driveway feels a little longer than the other ones. Probably because the yard is bigger, I think. I walk up the smooth concrete surface and look for a doorbell. There isn’t one.
I give a light knock on the wooden door. I wait. I will sell …
I hear the sound of a faucet or something turning off inside the house. Then there are a couple of footsteps approaching. The door opens.
It’s a lady. She’s oldish. Maybe in her 70s. Despite the hot day, she is wearing a heavy-knit green sweater. Her hair is in a tight bun, brown with a mix of gray and white. Her eyes are very green.
“Yes?” she smiles.
I take a breath and start, “Good mo … I mean, good afternoon, ma’am. Sorry to bother you, but could I ask you a question?”
I feel her eyes flick me up and down as she sizes me up. I prepare myself for the standard answer … but she surprises me.
“Of course, sir,” she says. “Why don’t you come in?”
For a moment, I don’t move. I have never gotten this far before. I remember Mr. Bishop’s words, “If they invite you in, they have already told you that they want to buy one.” I carefully lift the pushcart over the threshold.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
She has already turned away from the door and is walking down the short hallway toward the kitchen.
I take one Bible out of the pushcart and follow her. My palm is wet with sweat, and I can feel the brown faux-leather of the book grow slippery.
Without asking me whether I want one, she places a glass of tap water on the table, “Sit. Hot out there.”
“Yes, a little,” I say. I sit and take a long drink as I glance around the room. It is very clean. I can smell dish soap and coffee.
She sits down opposite me. “Now then. You had a question for me?”
I blink a couple of times. Something about this feels weird. “Uh. Yes, well …” for a moment, my words trail off, but then I imagine Mr. Bishop’s firm glance, and I clear my throat. “Yes, ma’am. What if I told you that I had something that could change your life?”
She is looking at me very intently. After a small pause, she says, “Well, that certainly sounds like something, right?”
I swallow, marveling at my good luck, and continue, “Yes, that’s right, ma’am. And I’m not here to waste anyone’s time. Let me tell you. Do you know what is the best-selling book in the world?”
She continues her steady gaze. She hasn’t blinked once yet. She says, “I’ve got a guess, but you’d better tell me.”
I give a practiced smile and hold up the Bible with a little flourish. “Here she is,” I say. “Now I know you hear all sorts of talk these days about …”
She holds up her finger and stops me mid-sentence.
“Sir,” she says, and then she pauses. She looks up at the ceiling for a moment and then straightens herself in the chair. When she continues to speak, her voice is even and steady … almost salesman-like.
“Sir, I can tell that you want to sell me this book. And I can tell that you’ve thought a lot about how it would feel to get a sale. I suspect that there are people who sent you, and they might have told you what to expect and how to say this and that. Am I right about some of that?”
I wait, uncertain whether I should answer her.
She continues, “Yes, I think that’s right. And I suppose from the heft of that pushcart back there and the effort you took to hitch it up that you may not have sold much yet. I think that maybe you haven’t sold even one. Does that sound like how it is?”
My mouth closes and opens silently. I manage to say, “Well, I have just started yesterday, but things will …”
She interrupts me again, “That’s alright, then. And no shame to it. Each one of us starts with what we have, and every day is a long river. So it comes back to the first point I made. I can tell that you want to sell me this book. But I’m not sure whether you are convinced that you must sell it to me. Do you see that?”
No one has ever said this much to me before. Mr. Bishop had nothing for this. I am uncertain about what to think. I say, “Well, now that’s not how I see it. I am just here offering you a …”
She stands abruptly and walks to a nearby counter. My words trail off. She finds something in the drawer, and when she turns around, I can see that she is holding a carving knife. She comes back to the table, places the knife in front of me, and sits again.
For a long moment, she looks at me, her fingers drumming silently on the table. Then she says, “Sir. Would you let me cut you?”
I blink. “What?”
She says again, “Cut you. If I promise to buy a Bible from you today … would you let me cut your arm deep enough to bleed?”
My mind begins to whirl. I blink several more times. She never stops looking at me. I quickly stand and start toward the hallway.
Suddenly she is up and between me and the door. I did not see her move, but she’s there. She is holding the knife. Her eyes are soft but unblinking.
I slowly raise my hands. For a long moment, we just stand there. Then she steps to the side. For a moment, I don’t dare move. And then I quickly take two steps, open the door, and I’m out. I quickly begin to walk down the driveway.
“Sir,” her voice from behind me is quiet yet firm enough to make me stop. I slowly turn. She is holding the handle of the pushcart. I quickly walk back up, grab the handle, and back away again.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I say.
Her gaze doesn’t falter. Then she slowly reaches down and pushes up the sleeve of her green sweater. She has the typical old, wrinkled skin of the elderly, but something is different about her arm. I stare at it. On her arm, leading up from her wrist towards her elbow and beyond, are a series of neat, white, raised scars, the kind that a carving knife makes.
“It takes faith to sell Bibles, son,” she says slowly. “Faith…and blood.” She smiles and turns to go back inside. But then she stops and says, “When you’re ready … knock again.”
Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Some places they have been published are Goats Milk Mag, JMWW Journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Zoetic Press. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete