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Word Riot Inc.: Kicking Small Press Into High Gear
Short Stories

Kidney Stones by Scott McClanahan

Listen to a podcast of Scott McClanahan’s “Kidney Stones.”

I just wanted to be changed. I mean I wanted to be changed more than anything in this world. See that morning I was down at Rite Aid with my Uncle Terry copying some of my Grandma’s old pictures when I felt this pain in my back. Of course, I didn’t pay it any mind though and just kept copying the picture of this old black and white shot of my Grandfather from the late 30s.
It was one where he got in a fight with a police officer and they put him in jail.
It was a mugshot picture.
And then there was another picture of him somebody took a couple of years later, after he got religion.
He was sitting on the hood of a car, holding a bible in his lap.

And I just stood and stared at the pictures and the pictures stared back. I thought about my Grandfather who was a moonshiner once and then gave it all up to follow the lord. I thought about Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and being struck by a blinding light. And then he heard a voice and changed his name to Paul. That’s how easy it was—you just had to change your name to Paul.
So my Uncle Terry put the picture of my Grandfather Elgie holding the bible onto the picture scanner and said, “Yeah, he got religion alright and completely changed.”
So I giggled again because it was so stupid—the way it all sounded.
It all sounded so ridiculous really, how all of these visions were always about good and evil, God and the Devil.

So we copied the bible picture down and I started feeling this pain even more. I just leaned over the counter hoping it would go away.
Go away. Go away.
But it didn’t.
My Uncle asked me in his strange hillbilly/New York/New Jersey/ San Francisco accent,” You alright boy?”
So I smiled and said, “No I’m fine. I’m fine.”
And at first it came in waves, but then… I was just in PAIN.
“You need to go to the doctor boy?” he said again.
But I just shook my head no.
And so we finished up the pictures and I tried pretending I was fine.
I’m fine.
I’m fine.
And besides that I had to go to work that evening. I mean I’d just luckily found a job a couple of weeks before and I couldn’t lose it now.

But when I got home I could barely walk I was in so much pain.
I thought to myself, “O shit, I think I’m having kidney stones. I think I’m having kidney stones alright.”
So I sat around for another hour or so and took a whole handful of ibuprofen, hoping that would take care of it. But I needed to get going. I mean I couldn’t lose this job now. Things had been going so bad lately. So I got into my car and started driving the hour it took to get to work and the pain was still surging in my back.
On the way there I thought about my Grandfather and the road to Damascus.
“You’re fine. You’re fine.”
But about halfway into the drive, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I pulled over to this nasty, little gas station and I went inside. But my kidney stones were hurting me so much by this point, I had to bend over and start looking for a bathroom.
Picture this: A grown man bent over and searching desperately for a bathroom.
There was an old pot bellied woman working behind the counter who’d just finished checking in some dead deer this guy had killed, and there was an old man in there too spitting his Skoal spit into his Skoal cup and saying, “That Summer’s County Bobcat defense sure is awesome this year. Might even take em to the playoffs.”
He was smoking a cigarette too and holding it between his middle and ring fingers.
Spit. Smoke. Spit. Smoke.
I asked, “Where is your bathroom?” all out of breath and about ready to fall over. The old woman just looked at me like I was some kind of meth taking, crazy man and pointed at the door towards the back.
“You got the shit pains don’t ya boy?” she said.
I just smiled and shook my head like everything was ok and went into the bathroom all hunkered over and shut the door behind me. There wasn’t a lock. There was a hole in the floor someone had stuffed a bunch of trash in: cigarette packages, used tampons, candy wrappers, old newspapers.

“You’re fine. You’re fine,” I kept saying to myself, and I could hear them talking outside.
I put my hand against the wall and I felt something stabbing me in the back. I breathed deep and the whole world went black.

I passed out.

The floor was cold and I dreamed my kidney stone dreams. I dreamed about the mugshot picture of my Grandfather. I dreamed about my Grandfather on the front of a car with a bible on his lap, and a blinding light.
I dreamed about how he was a moonshiner once, and then he was a moonshiner no more.
And then I woke up.
I heard a voice outside the door saying, “Are you ok in there?”
I was still just sprawled on the floor. “Are you ok in there?” she said, trying to get the door open, but because I was passed out in front of it, the door wouldn’t budge.
I cleared my throat and tried being as normal as possible. “O yeah I’m fine. Just give me a second. I think I’m just getting ready to pass a kidney stone.”
Then the old woman said, “Well sonny, we don’t allow people to pass kidney stones at the One Stop.”
I didn’t listen to her though.
I got up and unbuckled my pants and felt glass moving inside of me. Then I felt it moving through me and I passed it.

I SAW SOMETHING I COULDN’T BELIEVE.
I watched the kidney stone float in the toilet water and then sink.
THEN I HEARD SOMETHING I COULDN’T BELIEVE EITHER. IT WAS A LOUD VOICE SHOUTING FROM HIGH ABOVE. I COULDN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.

And then the old woman said, “Do I need to call the law? I’ll call the law if I have to.”
“No I’m fine. I’m fine,” I said standing over the toilet. “Just give me a second.”
I washed my face and walked outside.
They were all standing there and looking at me strange. It was like somebody didn’t come in and pass out in the gas station bathroom everyday.

So I walked outside and I felt like everything was different now.
I felt like the old life was behind me.

So I drove off to work and wondered if it really happened. I wondered if I saw what I saw and heard what I heard. And when I got to work I just sat in the car for a few minutes before I went inside and asked myself, “Did that really happen? Did that… really… happen?”

When I went inside work I didn’t tell anybody about the pain from the kidney stones on the way there. I didn’t tell them about what had gone down.
And they didn’t tell me about their pain either.
They didn’t tell me about how their Dad’s drank.
And the woman in the corner didn’t tell me about how her husband cheated on her and she thought about killing herself.
The man in the front didn’t tell me his Mother died when he was 11 years old,
and everyday when he came home, he watched her die. He watched her die everyday beside the television cartoons.
And the other girl in the back didn’t tell about how she was raped one night by this older guy when she was thirteen.
I didn’t tell them about my pain either.
I didn’t tell them about how Saul saw a blinding light on the road to Damascus and changed his name to Paul.
I didn’t tell them about how everything changes in this world.

But how could I?
How could I tell them about what happened to me in the bathroom on the way there?
How could I tell them about the blinding light, and how I passed a kidney stone shaped like a crucifix? How could I tell them about hearing a loud voice, shouting from on high, “Surely this is the TRUE Son of God in whom I’m well pleased. Arise now and awake the new prophet of the Lord.”
And how can I tell you now what I know for sure?
How can I tell you now that my kingdom is at hand?

GO FORTH AND PREACH THIS GOSPEL CHILDREN.

About the author:

Scott McClanahan is the writer of Stories (published by Six Gallery Press). He can be reached at scottmcclanahan@hotmail.com. Stories is available here. His movie “Welcome to Rainelle, W.V.” is here. It’s full of bikers and handguns, and crazy american fascism.

    2 comments to Kidney Stones by Scott McClanahan

    • I have to tell you, that story is really something. I had no idea where it was going when you started with the pain but you ended it in a bizarre but seriously profound way. I like your writing style.

    • Holly

      Just listened to this podcast episode. I’m having my first bout of kidney stones. I loved the story and the objective ending.

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