Reflecting on ‘Love, Solomon,’ my first published short story

One writer of a famous American classic once said he would love to rewrite parts of the book. Just as painters talk about never completing the “perfect” painting, writers often agonize over a published piece of work that isn’t “perfect.”

Parody singer “Weird Al” Yankovic echoed this thought on his website, saying, “I could work on an album forever, but like anything else of a creative nature, at a certain point you just have to ‘give up’ on it and let it live its own life.”

My first published short story was Love, Solomon, published in the November/December 2000 issue of the Austin-based True Believer magazine. Unfortunately, this magazine no longer exists (I’m certain, though, my short story had nothing to do with its demise). It’s a shame, since they were interested in publishing more fiction from me before deciding to go in a non-fiction direction.

I was 27 when this story was published, and I’d probably complete rewrite it today. The author’s note almost seems comical now, as if guiding the reader as they read a “great” work of fiction. Here it is, as it was…

Love, Solomon

By Richard Zowie

Author’s note: Although no archaeologist has ever discovered a letter written by Solomon to his son Rehoboam, there is also no proof that such a letter never actually existed. The following, therefore, is a work of fiction by the author.

The Song of Songs and The Preacher, the two books of Solomon referenced in the story, are the literal Hebrew translations of The Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. These are the titles Solomon would have known them as; the contemporary titles we known them by weren’t given to them until the Bible was translated into English.

To My Dear Son Rehoboam:

My son, as I write this to you, I am old and greatly stricken with years. I have ruled Israel as King for forty years, as did your grandfather David. In the time that I have lived and reigned I have seen many things. Many of the things I have seen and experienced have been very empty and heartbreaking, so I decided long ago that I should write a letter to you and share the things I have learned.

I recall a dream I had shortly after I began my reign as King of Israel. In the dream, the LORD God appeared to me. He told me I could have whatsoever I desired. Needless to say many things came into my mind. Wealth. Women. Power. Fame. A long life. Now, to a young man such as you who has never known poverty, it would amaze you that I chose none of those things. Instead, I asked the LORD God for wisdom. I desired wisdom to govern my people, wisdom in learning, and wisdom in understanding. There was nothing more in the world that I desired than to possess knowledge and wisdom.

God was gracious enough to give me wisdom and understanding. It’s been a long time, but I can still clearly remember in my dream that He gave me a bonus for my request. He told me, “Because you did not ask for wealth, power, or old age, I will give all these things to you.” And indeed he did! In my prime I was the wealthiest, famous, most learned man in the world. I even had a visit from the Queen of Sheba, which I’m sure you remember from your adolescent years. It still amuses me when she told me that my wisdom was even far greater than what she had heard.

What I am trying to tell you, my son, is that wisdom is of little use if not put to practice. Unfortunately, more often than not I was not true to the God of Israel. I worshiped false gods, I had wives who do not know the LORD God, and I gave into my selfishness much more often than I should have. I did all these things knowing that they were wrong to do. This was, without question, my greatest folly.

As I prepare to leave this world and go on to join your grandparents and ancestors in paradise, I hope and pray that you learn from my mistakes. In my lifetime I have written three books that I leave for you to study and learn: The Book of Proverbs, The Song of Songs and The Preacher.*

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of both my writings and other’s writings. It consists of observations and lessons about life, as well as sayings that reflect inherent truths. Read this book daily, even if it’s only a chapter a day.

The Song of Songs is, to put it bluntly, a book about love and sex. Although it may seem odd to some that the LORD God would inspire me to write a Song about intimacy, it seems fitting, though, since so many people live in relationships that are founded upon sex instead of love. This book, my son, represents romance as God intends it. I have been a hypocrite and a terrible example by having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; please do not make the same mistake I did. Limit yourself to one wife, as God gave Adam but Eve. Center all your love, both physical and emotional, on her and her only.

The Preacher is perhaps the most complex of the three. It represents perhaps some of my most intimate and intricate thoughts on life. This book is my account of my attempts to find happiness apart from God. You see, son, I lived my life largely for myself. I did things that made me happy. I never denied myself in any of my pursuits of pleasure, and I strived continually to make myself completely happy. I tried, son, to give myself a happiness that only God Himself can provide. In short, my son, despite having all of my material desires fulfilled, I was completely miserable. For us to try to fill that void in our lives that only God is capable of filling is the ultimate vanity of life. Please remember this; failure to do so can and will be fatal.

Read this letter diligently, my son. Please do your best to heed it. My heart grieves to know that I have been a terrible example to you and others as a father, a friend, a husband, and as a follower of the Lord God. Do better than I have and the Lord will reward you limitlessly.

I love you.

Your Loving Father,

Solomon

The titles Song of Songs and The Preacher are both literal translations of the Hebrew titles Shir HaShirim and Qoheleth. In most Bibles they are known as Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, respectively.

Advertisements

Writer’s circle

A few weeks ago, I met with fellow writers from Fredericksburg Writer’s Conference. We read from our works. Some read poetry, others novel excerpts and others short stories.

I read from an unpublished short story, titled, “What Nearly Was.” The group liked it overall, although a few tweaks may still be needed. I’d rather not yet say what exactly it is about, but I will say this: if there’s a home for it, it’s in Christian fiction. The controversial nature it focuses on probably makes it untouchable in the secular fiction market.

 

Your Story #77, what I submitted

Here’s what I submitted today to Writer’s Digest.

Cobb Salad: Cheddar or Bleu Cheese?

By Richard Zowie

Fridays are often a half day for me at work. I’m a journalist and usually work five extra hours combined on Monday and Tuesday as we rush to meet deadlines and lay out the weekly newspaper. And because Fridays are often a slow day anyway, I normally take off most of that day to keep my weekly hours near 40.

My week ended at 11 a.m. on Friday, so I thought, why not take lunch to Jesse?

Jesse is what I prefer to call my wife, Jessica. She’s tall, her pale blue eyes stand out against her olive complexion, and she has corkscrew curly black hair. When she wants to make me melt, she smiles and dimples appear on her cheeks. Her maiden name was Antonian: her family fled Armenia shortly the Soviet Union collapsed. She doesn’t like to talk about that.

I went to the grocery store and picked up a Cobb salad. They make it exactly as she loves it — with shredded cheddar cheese instead of bleu cheese crumbles. When we first met, we learned of our mutual dislike for bleu cheese, that sharp taste of decay. It’s since become an inside joke during our 10-year marriage, a playful, but intimate secret between two lovers.

Maybe the salad will cheer her up, I thought. Jesse has seemed talkative lately, odd since she normally doesn’t say much even when it’s just the two of us at home. She teaches Algebra and geometry at the local public high school. She insists nothing is wrong but, deep down, I know she’s lying.

I went up to the high school and brought her a Cobb salad, along with a wheat roll and her favorite drink, Evian spring water. The school smelled of a fresh repaint, its walls Kelly green and white (the school colors). Class was in session, so the halls were empty and silent. One teacher, a female coach wearing wind pants and tennis shoes, hurried past me with a clipboard in her left hand. Her eyes were elsewhere, as if she had 20 projects she was managing simultaneously.

I walked to Room 229, the teacher’s lounge, and knocked on the door. Since I’m not an employee, knocking seems more appropriate.

The door opened, and a towering teacher with dark brown eyes, dark brown hair and graying temples peeked out. He was a coach, but I couldn’t remember his name. Henry or Hendricks. “Yes, can I help you?” he asked, his strong breath that of someone whose coffee maker only took breaks when he slept.

“Hello,” I smiled, offering my hand. “I’m Steve Wolverton, and I brought lunch for my wife, Jessica. May I come in?”

He shook my hand, a loose, distant grip. His eyes stayed on mine, and I could tell immediately he knew something I didn’t. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if they were having an affair.

“Jessica Wolverton?”

I nodded.

“Mr. Wolverton, your wife, um, hasn’t taught at this high school in a month,” he said. “She resigned.”

Resigned?” I asked, surprised, but realizing that probably explained her strange behavior. “Why, Coach Hen—I’m sorry, what is your name?”

“Coach Henderson,” he said. “She left, and after doing a little research, school officials learned she faked her résumé. Her education never went past junior college, and she does not have a teaching certificate. She was a friend of mine, so I was shocked.”

I didn’t know what to say. When she did talk, Jesse would tell me all about her students, lessons, papers to grade, stories of attending the University of Houston and its math professors.     Henderson looked at the salad, the green lettuce, red tomatoes and yellow cheese mixed together on a black plastic tray, the contents visible from the clear plastic dome. Half a boiled egg nested in the middle. His eyes locked onto the cheese, as if he’d never seen cheddar cheese before. “Cobb salad with cheddar cheese?” he finally asked.

“Yes,” I said. My throat was dry sand.

“That’s odd. She loves Cobb salad, but she prefers it with bleu cheese.”

Richard Zowie is an “oil brat” who grew up in Kansas and Texas and now lives in the Texas Hill Country. One of his passions is fiction writing. Post comments here or email them to richardzowie@gmail.com.