Friday, December 14, 2007

Home Again (5)

by Rocky Macy

(Part 5 of 5)

As the ragged edge of morning’s first light crept into the cabin, Comfort was stirring her stew pot and gazing in bewilderment at the sleeping couple lying naked on her floor.  Somehow she would have to work around this new challenge while still managing to have a respectable Sabbath.  Of all of the times that the Lord had seen fit to test her, this, she knew, had to be His best effort.
“Wife, come here!”  Ephram’s sudden demand shook her from her deliberations and woke Thomas who immediately kicked his older brother awake.  Comfort threw her stew paddle aside and rushed to the bedside.
“What’s the matter? Have you been dreaming?” In all of their years and decades of marriage she had only heard Ephram cry out in alarm one other time – and that was the night of their deaths.
“I’m disappearing!”
“Ephram, show some patience and don’t pester me by playing the fool.  We have had a very hard night.”
“Something is happening!  Look!”  He placed her hand on the blanket covering his barrel of a thigh and slowly guided it toward his knee. All at once, just above where the knee should have been, her hand dropped flat against their straw mattress. As Comfort screamed, Thomas and Jeremiah bolted to the edge of the loft. Thomas, unable to control his forward motion, tumbled out of the loft and onto the floor where he found himself lying among the naked couple who had invaded their world late in the night.  Jessie jerked and gave a soft moan, as if acknowledging his entry into their union.
Ephram, sweaty and frantic, held tightly to the hand of his loving wife. “My legs are almost gone. I’m leaving, dear wife.  The Lord must be taking me.”
“What’ happening, Ma?” Jeremiah was as frantic as his father. “What’s happening to Pa?”
Abiah began screaming, and Thomas, taking stock of his surroundings, also began to cry.  Comfort, the stout farm wife who could normally be counted on to handle any number of catastrophes while still doing the work of two healthy women and a mule, found herself crying as well.  Her husband of more than a century was now just a head, and chest, and two arms. He would soon be no more.
And with the baby screaming, one son yelling and the other crying, and her husband frozen in panic, Comfort Miller had a startling revelation. “She’s conceived!”
“What?” Ephram stammered.
“The girl on the floor. She’s conceived, and the Lord has chosen you to go onward through her.”
Abiah was screaming more loudly now than she ever had in her long little life. In less time than it would take to catch a breath, Comfort ran to the cradle and plucked the baby from its haven. Rushing back to the bed, Comfort handed her youngest, the eternally sickly Abiah, to Ephram. “Take the baby, my loving husband, and watch over her always.”
“Always, my love.”
Comfort kissed her husband and daughter gently, and then, as she wiped the tears from her eyes, they were gone.
*  *  *  *  *
“What the hell!” The exclamation came from Bud as he sat up and found Thomas sitting squarely in his lap.  “Get off me you little pervert!” Bud slung Thomas to his feet, and the frightened child ran screaming to his mother.  Jeremiah jumped from the loft to protect his brother, but before he could act Comfort stormed forth and knocked him aside.  Then, behaving in a manner that neither of her sons had ever seen before, the newly widowed farm wife grabbed their visitor by the hair of his head and pulled him upright. The startled young man opened his mouth to say something, but before he could utter a sound, Comfort slapped him smartly across the face. A thin stream of blood began to trickle from the corner of his mouth.
Bud touched his lip and stared in disbelief at the blood on his finger. Enraged, he began to move toward Comfort. “You stupid cow! What the hell was that for?” Instead of offering an explanation that she considered completely unnecessary, Comfort backhanded the youth across the face causing the other corner of his mouth to also begin bleeding.
“That,” she advised, “is what comes from staining the Sabbath with your foul mouth.”
Comfort raised her hand to commence a further discussion on blaspheming, but Bud stumbled backward out of her reach. He turned to bolt for the door and hesitated as he caught sight of himself and Jessie lying naked on the floor. “Oh, God, no.” Bud was still mumbling as his knees hit the dirt floor beside the young couple. “Wake up, Jessie!” He shouted as he tried in futility to shake the girl awake. “Wake up, Jessie! I’m having an awful dream!” Each time he reached to shake the sleeping girl his trembling hand slipped through her body as though it was only smoke. “Jessie! Jessie, please get up!”
Jeremiah came up and knelt beside the terrified youth. He put his hand on Bud’s bare shoulder and tried to give some manly comfort. “It will be alright. I was scared for weeks when we crossed over.”
Bud turned and looked the boy in the face. Much to his astonishment he found himself staring at a slightly younger version of himself.  “You’re saying I’m dead?”
“We all are,” Jeremiah replied, “except for her.”
“Oh, Jessie.” The boy turned back to the sleeping girl and lamented to the heavens, “What have I done?”
*  *  *  *  *
Jessie wasn’t surprised to wake up and find that Bud had died. She had felt him leaving her even as she slept. Jessie had her own ideas on God. Her vision of a just and loving God provided her with a sweet solace on this cold morning when she found herself alone and naked on the forest floor.
Bud had said that he killed the old man for his car keys, but even with the awfulness of that sin, Jessie knew somehow that he was now safely in the Lord’s hands being remade into His image.  The Lord would have His work cut out for Him with Bud, but Jessie knew that her God would see it through.
Jessie knew something else on that cold November morning. She knew instinctively that she was pregnant, or “with child” as they said in the Good Book. She was fourteen-years-old, unmarried, pregnant, and maybe heading to jail, but her spirit was in flight!  She was carrying Bud’s child, and while the Lord concentrated on the redemption of the father, she would see to it that the child walked the path of the righteous and rebuilt the family’s good name.  Raising Bud’s child, raising him right, would be her life from this day forward.
*  *  *  *  *
It was late afternoon by the time Jessie had placed the last stone over Bud’s dead body. She had found a rusty pickaxe in a long forgotten cave at the base of the hill and used it to scrape out a shallow grave and uproot a hickory sapling. The little tree now stood timidly at the head of the new grave, aligned perfectly with the five giant timbers. As she knelt and said a final good-bye, Comfort and her three boys stood silently to one side. Jeremiah and Thomas were deep in grief over the loss of their father and sister, and Bud was in the throes of a weepy shock as he contemplated his loss of everything. Why, he wondered, had he allowed his life to come to this?
Jessie rose and looked around.  She sensed the presence of the other mourners.  As much to them as to the grave she said, “Bud, I want you to know that you’re going to be fine.  Just be calm and take what the Lord gives you.”  Jessie wiped her tears away with a dirty hand before continuing. “I’ve got your baby, Bud, and I’m going to do right by him. He will be a wonderful child, and he’ll carry your name – Ephram Samuel Miller the Sixth.  And if it’s a girl, I think I’ll call her Abiah.  I’ve always thought that was such a pretty name.”  Jessie turned to leave, but looked around one last time to the grave and softly whispered, “Good-bye, Bud.”
The mourners parted out of respect rather than necessity as Jessie left the gravesite and headed out of the valley.  Jeremiah and Bud followed her as far as the highway. They stopped at the pavement’s edge and watched as she disappeared into the evening shadows. Bud wanted to follow, wanted with all of his heart to run after the girl who was carrying his child out of the valley, but his feet stayed firmly planted at the road’s edge.  They were both so young, and he had already corrupted her life almost beyond repair. Bud knew in his core – or was it his soul? – that she could only grow into a wonderful woman and mother if he remained behind.  He had to let her go.
“There’s nothing out there for us.” Jeremiah turned and began walking down the old trail toward home.  “Come on, Samuel.  We’ve got chores to do.”
“I’m right behind you,” the boy said as he turned his back on one life and headed off into another.  “But you’re going to have to stay close and show me the way.”
“I will, brother.  You’ve been a lost sheep long enough.”

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