On One Sunday In Particular
The Reverend was pacing around his living room. It was early Sunday morning: so early it was considered Saturday night. His head was full of nervous thoughts. There would be church that morning. This concerned him little as his thoughts were in much darker places.
It's the shoemaker's children who always go barefoot. The old saying had been quoted to him by that city kid who was getting the town riled up. That city kid who'd shown up late at night with his daughter, fitting the saying to her, not to mention encouraging her rebellion, encouraging the entire town to rebel, digging up the town's deepest pain… the Reverend's deepest pain.
If she hadn't been out with that boy, if she didn't always lie about where she was, if she didn't always provoke him like— if the Reverend hadn't lost control. If he hadn't slapped her….
He'd knocked on her closed bedroom door. Asked if she would come out and talk to him. Apologized. Called her name. Heard no reply. Called her name more urgently. Opened the door upon hearing nothing. Saw the window open… and no Ariel.
The Reverend sat down, but this did not satisfy him. He thought, What if she's out with that city kid, Ren, or Chuck, the local criminal and a recent boyfriend of hers? When she comes back I'll— If….—No, she'll come back. She has to come back…. Why would she come back? She's been wanting to run away for awhile now…. But she can't— I mean— if she really wanted to run away she would've done it by now. What reason would she have to leave now that she didn't have before? But unfortunately, the Reverend had an answer to that.
I hit her. I've never hit anyone before. Why did I hit my own daughter? That's why she'd leave. Mean old daddy was always giving her rules, trying to control her and the town, hates all of her boyfriends, hates all of that fun, dangerous stuff I like, and even hates me enough to hit me. Who would come back to that? Still, she had to come back. The Reverend didn't know what he would do if she didn't. According to his wife, losing Bobby was enough that they weren't a family anymore. With Ariel gone—
And the door opened. The Reverend stood up. Relief washed over him. Then, anger. Wasn't disappearing once in one night enough? This was beyond late. And where the hell had she been, anyway?
"Ariel…." he said quietly, trying very hard to keep his voice steady. It ended up sounding more like a growl. "It's the middle of the night. Where do you get off sneaking—"
"I know, I know." Ariel was looking down, her hair hiding her face. All the fight had left her. She was not in the mood for one of his sermons.
As she was walking in, a gust of wind suddenly blew the hair out of her face. That's when the Reverend saw the bruises. The black eye. As she tried to walk in and tried to hide her face once more, the Reverend now noticed a slight limp.
"Who did that to you?" His voice was less in control now, louder and sharper. He stepped forward, wondering how he could help her.
"Nobody…." she mumbled. Before she walked in she'd been so calm and happy. Being with Ren always made her feel better. Showing him her favorite place in the world…. Her favorite place with her favorite person…. Now her dad was getting her riled up again. She tried to walk straight to the stairs without being bothered.
"Would you like some tea?"
The preacher's wife always made tea when she was worried. And Ariel had certainly given her plenty to worry about…. But she was back now, that was all that mattered. As she offered her sentiment, Vi stepped out of the kitchen into the living room, joining the conversation.
"No, just—…. Leave me alone…."
The preacher tried again, "Honey, we're your parents. We don't like seeing you hurt—"
Ariel whirled around to face him. "If you don't like seeing someone hurt, maybe you shouldn't hit them."
"Ariel," Vi reprimanded, quiet and gentle, but firm. She was looking right at her. Then, more softly, "It's okay, honey." She looked at the Reverend. "You don't have to tell us if you don't want to." She turned back to her daughter. "We're just trying to help."
After a long silence, Ariel said, "I—…. I think I will have some tea, thank you." She made a few steps toward the kitchen.
"No, that's okay, I'll get it. You sit down on the couch."
The Reverend went over to his wife. She felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see him, his eyes full of questions. In answer to one of them, she mouthed, Chuck Cranston. She then silently urged her husband to go to Ariel.
The Reverend sat next to his daughter awkwardly. Neither was quite sure how this was going to go. After a pause, Ariel turned to her father.
"He's a good guy, Daddy."
"Ren. I know you don't like this… this battle he's causing here, but…. Daddy, I want you to know that he would never do this. This," she explained with a gesture to her face. She took a breath, in and out. "He's one of the good ones."
The Reverend mulled over this, then said, "It's hard to tell sometimes. Either way, you're out late…. It's hard not to be worried…."
"I'm sorry for that." Ariel fiddled with her wristwatch. "Worrying you, I mean." She thought of the bridge and her poems and the cause of all this madness and this stupid law…. She thought of the brother her family hadn't talked about in years. Well, directly, anyway. "I miss him," she said, her voice breaking.
Ariel didn't know what she expected her father to do. Usually mentioning the bridge or Bobby was a good way to get him angry. But the Reverend surprised her. He came over and hugged her. And between Chuck and Bobby and her father's distance and this sudden gesture… she couldn't help but cry.
Vi set the tea down next to where Ariel sat. She decided it was time to go to bed. But before starting up the stairs, she turned. She watched her husband and daughter, reconciling the way she'd always wanted. She smiled before going up the stairs.
Later that morning, the people of Bomont were filing in to church. What with all the rebellion going on, the teenagers were rowdier than usual. Lately that was all they'd been. Oh well, the Reverend thought. In one week, Town Council would convene, and all this would be over.
The Reverend already had his sermon prepared. So he was walking around the lobby, where people were meeting and greeting one another. The teenagers were all trying to talk to Ren now, who avoided the Reverend's eyes. Then there was a flash of orange light. The Reverend turned to the source.
Chuck Cranston was leaning against the wall next to the doors. He had just lit a cigarette. The preacher had had it. He walked over and flicked the cigarette out of his mouth. It landed in the doorway, where the people entering unwittingly trampled it.
Chuck reacted. "Hey wh—" Then he saw the Reverend standing over him. He jumped. "Mornin', Reverend," he said, straightening his jacket.
"Missster Cranston," the Reverend said through his teeth. As the rage swelled in him, he clutched the Bible tighter. Better to grasp the good book than Chuck. When the Reverend spoke again, his voice was calm.
"Cranston, do you know where you are? You are in a church. You are in God's house. You are in the sacred sanctuary people have been coming to for guidance for centuries. To defile that atmosphere with that vulgar contraption…. Cranston, you never pay attention while you're here. Half the time you're asleep, the other half, you're—" The Reverend often liked to pretend he didn't notice the looks Chuck gave his daughter. But at this moment it was all he could see. He clutched the Bible tighter. His voice was still quiet, but fiercer now. "You come here, and you learn nothing. You drop out of high school, you fool around, you learn nothing. You care about nothing. You never listen to authority—…." The Reverend breathed, in and out. Calm again, he said, "Look at me." Chuck looked away. "No, look at me." Chuck obeyed.
"You are no longer allowed in here. You don't appreciate this place the way it deserves."
"Where would I even—"
"I don't care. Go wherever you want. But if you step one foot inside this place…. If you ever come in here again, you're going straight to jail."
"You can't—" Chuck stopped himself. Often he dodged authority by saying, "Show me the rule that says you can't (whatever)." The Reverend was one rare authoritarian he respected. And feared. To Chuck it was one and the same. He knew he couldn't say the same line to the Reverend. By passing that law, he'd made it clear that he had the willpower and the influence to make any rule he wanted.
"Whatever, I don't even like coming here anyway," Chuck mumbled as he left.
Chuck never set foot in that building again. He did, however, come to the churchyard a week later, after mass. After that, nothing. He never went anywhere close to that church from then on.