Fiction - Dropping Balm, The Absinthe Literary Review

a short short by Bruce Holland Rogers

“Here’s a parable.”

“Tell me a riddle instead.  Your parables never make sense.”

“They do if you listen carefully—not just to what I say but to what I don’t say.”

“That’s a poor excuse.  What is this parable about?”

“Good and evil.”

“All right, I’ll listen.”

“Once there was a man who was good.  And when he died—”

”Wait a minute.  What do you mean by good?  Was he pious?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Then how was he good?  What was his moral foundation?”

“His goodness might have had a philosophical basis rather than a religious one.”

“What did he do that was good?”

“He was generous.  Where he saw people in need, he gave what he could afford.”

“Ha!  I know people who give nothing at all because they believe they can’t afford it.”

“Well, he also forgave injuries when it was reasonable to forgive them.”

“So turn the other cheek, but only when it’s reasonable.”

“Yes. If a stranger is stabbing your child, do you say at once, ‘I forgive you’?  Do you offer up your other child?”

“Of course not.”

“Goodness isn’t simple.  But he was good.  When he died, he happened to die alone in a forest.”

“Wait.  If he was good, why didn’t he die in the company of those who loved him?”

“It didn’t happen that way.  He died alone beneath a tree, and his body lay undiscovered.”

“They would have looked for him.”

“They didn’t find him. Fallen leaves hid his remains.  Moth and maggot transformed his clothes into soil.  Mice gnawed at his skeleton.  In time, periwinkles sprouted.  From the earth that had once been this good man, there arose a hundred blue flowers.”

“A traveler would come across that place and feel at peace.”

“Perhaps.  Now at about the same time there was a man who was evil, and when he died—”

”Evil how?”

“The opposite of the first.”



“But evil.  I suppose he might have been a rapist.”

“Whose parable is this?”

“I want specifics.”

“He was evil.  And he happened to die alone in a forest.”

“The same forest?”


“How did he die?  Was he stoned to death?”

“Alone, I said.”

“He should have been executed.”

“It didn’t happen that way.  He died alone and his body lay undiscovered.”

“You can bet that no one went looking for him.”

“The worst tyrants have their admirers.  In any case, no one found him.  In time the earth reclaimed him.  Periwinkles sprouted.”

“Not periwinkles.  It should be thistles.”

“It wasn’t.  It was periwinkles again.”

“This place wouldn’t feel the same though.  A traveler would come across this carpet of flowers and feel foreboding.”

“He might.  Or he might feel at peace.”

“But it shouldn’t be the same flowers, the same mood in both places!”

“Can you stand over a grave and know the character of the stranger whose name is on the stone?”

“Of course not.  But this is a parable!  It’s supposed to illustrate something.”

“It does.”


© 2002 Bruce Holland Rogers

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