I don’t even need to really get Judy on board, I know she’s just bored. With this episode in our lives, and everything. I can barely pick up on her little voice out in the hallway so sweetly chastising those children back to bed. Lord knows if it was the ringleader, or all of them, in cahoots again. God those are scary times. They put the boy out on a mattress they found by Lake Murray. I caught them riding an exposed septic field on the upturned roof of the dog house. And the oldest boy and the middle girl set the back wood on fire and denied it even to the faces of the firemen. Confessed in just disgusting, snotty tears that night. It was awful. All the worst definitions of pathetic. Judy has the patience of a person who grew up a smart mean child. The really alluring way a witch woos a princess. A worm doesn’t stop being a worm just because there’s a fishhook in her.
My gut instinct is to call it a sign, but no. Jeremiah says, this is life.
Without walls. Without society’s endless game of hide and seek.
Hide from the world, seek products to fill the void.
This is what we’re so afraid of.
The deafening loudness of a quiet life in the country.
How this tiny insignificant spring can cancel out the noise
off so many other things.
I can’t even hear myself think.
“Jeremiah can. He believes the church is keeping people from going after God. We’re ruining Jesus’ philosophy by presenting him as untouchable, unrealistic, embodied in sacred language, with you, pastors, up on a pulpit preaching and us, sheep, facing forward. These long diatribes about sanctuary design. Mobile benches and picnic tables. Every service a different array. Giant stone fireplaces with rocking chairs in front, and the pastor walks around serving food and refilling cups. More than doors, he wants open windows, giant tents, walls that roll up and fire-pits in fields and secondary sermons, conversations and getting lost in the woods. He wants church equal parts daycare, assisted living, community rehabilitation, mixed with everything national parks and campgrounds already are. He says there will be gardens and goats and chickens and the church, an immortal food source for community.
He says we got it wrong. Jesus worshiped us. He died to feed us, to strengthen us, called himself our lamb. Jeremiah says Jesus was communicating to him specifically, for him to hear these ideas. He says every true Christian feels like that, like Christ specifically lived and died to transmit a powerful, revolutionary message direct to their heart. To shake us awake, not to worship, but to be the new Jesus in the world.
John, he says this enough that I remember it all. He says there aren’t enough crosses. If we all walk toward love with determination, knowing we will likely be persecuted in the process, there aren’t enough crosses, aren’t enough Romans, for all of us. As long as good people are afraid to suffer for goodness, good people will be props for bad people. He says all this to our therapist. And the man just nods. Nods and doesn’t respond.
John, I know I’ve said too much, but your son told me God put a shroud over him, and he doesn’t know what people hear and see when they look at him, the truth is masked, they don’t actually hear his words, or see his face. He calls it his veil. He calls himself the loneliest man in existence. He says, with full confidence, he’s never been happy. Not once. He knows happiness exists, he’s seen it in our faces. But believes he’s never felt it himself.
How can someone say that, and think it’s true?”
Judy’s father passed when the boys were still pretty young, Jeremiah was in fifth, no, fourth grade, I believe. His eyes misted over, stared off in the direction the deer had disappeared into. It wasn’t the funeral. Open casket. The family gathering. Fried chicken and mystery casserole and three different things called salad that aren’t. But a few weeks prior, when Papaw was in a nursing home having his heart monitored, we were out at this local pizza buffet that let kids eat free if they showed a report card with all A’s and B’s. I remember this night as he’s telling it. He had some great scheme of activities to do with his grandpa once he was better. Walking the land. Picking corn by hand. Shooting guns off at pie pans. His mother and I were as burnt out and worn down as this pizza place by now. Faking hope is not energy efficient. So we told him. Right or wrong. Mistake, probably, or not. This poor kid. That his grandpa wasn’t going to make it. That this was his end. Everything we were all working so hard at, was not to keep him alive, but to make him comfortable. And he broke. He broke then. He broke this morning. Neither Olivia or I said a word to him. We did not know how important it was that we did, and perhaps he was right, we should have at least tried. But, as he claimed, in ever mounting, heated tones, we were afraid of him. Anyone else would get a kind word, even just an exercise in manners. Jeremiah claimed to be the only man in the world who could open up his heart to people and be met with nothing but sheer silence. The fact that he even stayed around us, he yelled, was a testament to the strength and bottomless charity of his character. Maybe he should just go on and do us all a favor and leave for good, forever. And this is where I royally messed up. Big time.
I said go ahead.
Up early working on a novel I’m really excited about, I call it ‘Father and Son’, for now. It’s an atypical journey on the Appalachian Trail, in which a son takes off on a thru hike without talking to anyone, and his father decides to put his career on hold and go after him. Dad and I mapped it out when he hiked with me the first 90 miles of my trip to NY, and I’ve been working on it, slow yet steady, ever since. Here’s a little piece:
“There is a free ride in pride, but not even a chance of one on a hike. You are going to carry yourself and everything you own for every single one of these miles, or you are going to call the endeavor by a different title. Stroll, perhaps. Good heart healthy, low impact exercise, maybe. A walk in the woods, for the short sighted and uncreative. But a hike. To call it a hike. To take a hike. It is not about valley views. It is not about making big miles. It is about needing to be someplace you aren’t already, and employing the cheapest mode of transportation available, your feet, as the principle vehicle to carry you there. The beauty of it, is that it does not get any simpler, or more complex than that. If you’re out for twenty miles, you’re on a twenty miler.
You’re only on a hike if your goal is big adventure.”
“Set that chicken and…what do you call that other stuff down here again, I should know this.” Carol loops around the island and has her hands rested against the immaculate greyscale marble on the other side, lips pushed out while she looks up squinting at the ceiling.
“Fixin’s,” I say with a forced southern twang.
“Fixings, exactly, right there on the island if you don’t mind. I hear Bob getting his self together, he should be in here shortly and we’ll all fix a plate. Fix a plate. Hey, maybe that’s where that comes from!”
“Maybe!” I offer excitedly. “Dad always said it came from the Great Depression, when you couldn’t necessarily count on the quality of the meat, or meat altogether. He said a good set of sides could ‘fix’ that for you.” I’m ruffling the plastic and pretending like I’m doing something to prepare this piping hot food sealed in styrofoam and plastic and grease soaked cardboard lined in shiny white wax.
“Is that true Pastor, or one of your tall tales?” Carol speaks as she truly dissects the flimsy plastic bags and begins arranging the containers in a line, potatoes beside the gravy, green beans popped open and steaming, biscuit box beside the chicken bucket and the crinkly bag balled and buried in the trash inside a cabinet at her feet.
“True, that he said it, yes, but beyond that there’s no telling. Dad doesn’t really speak in plain fact. You’re always kind of trying to discern just how tall the story he’s telling is.”
“Oooo,” she exclaimed, “I’d love to meet that man sometime. Sounds like such a character.”
“Yes, and some characters are best known by their stories rather than in person. He can be a handful, so to speak.”
“Mr. Parker, has anyone checked out King Jesus Loves His Mustard Greens?”
“Yes Beth, I’m sorry, it’s out.”
“How about Spicy Kale and the Kingdom of God?” Parker shakes his head solemnly. “It was a long shot. Okay, I’ve seen it a hundred times, but, what about Gospel Salad?”
“Yep. That’s a good one.” Parker stands from where he was seated in the bend of a horseshoe shaped set of tables, in the rotund church library. The ceiling was twenty feet up, and the shelves climbed that high, handmade ladders on hammer wrought rails encircling and keeping guard. “When the cucumber-
“Mary the mother of King Jesus.”
“Sings The Ballad of Garlic Oil it makes me laugh every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. And that’s a lot.” Parker has selected the thin case that holds the film, specifically designed to resemble the sleeve of a slim old pamphlet style book. The bottom shelf was children’s education and entertainment, right behind his seat, down low, almost hidden.
“That’s a serious song.”
“Really? It’s all about how garlic isn’t really good though, I thought it was ironic. Because garlic is delicious.”
“No it isn’t Parker. Garlic in certain things helps make those things delicious. But no one eats garlic alone. It isn’t good on its own. That’s what the song is about. How God makes decisions to put things that don’t taste good into other things because all in all it makes everything more delicious. But if you ate a handful of garlic all on its own, before you had ever had it in a soup, you might leave it out of every recipe forever on afterward.”
“Well said little Beth. You’ve learned me a thing this morning.”
“Thanks,” she offered casually, the young girl, no older than thirteen, behind a flip of shiny dirty blond hair and gone.
What are we feeding to these kids, Parker thought.