Pure in Their Own Eyes
by James Krehbiel
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3
Streamers arched underneath the ceiling. A revolving glass light fixture sent flecks of light spinning over the dance floor. Two tables held punch bowls and plastic glasses. The DJ stood just in front of the gymnasium stage, his hair, the color of burnt wheat hung over his eyes. The dance floor was packed with kids dancing to Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson and the occasional Michael Jackson song. Mostly, it was country — no rap or hip-hop, nothing that could infringe on the strict Mennonite values.
For the first few minutes, Sarah eyed the other girls, their attire and their dates. Daniel and Sarah didn’t speak. They were mesmerized with the visual stimulation, the tunes bouncing off the walls, the group of girls across the room that Sarah assumed were talking about her having to bring her brother as her date.
“Do you want to dance?” Daniel asked.
“I think I’d rather just watch for a few.” They found two empty chairs and settled in.
“Did I mention how nice you look?” There was a soft, apologetic lilt in his voice. “I didn’t want to gush back at the house.”
“I kind of suspected that,” Sarah replied. She pressed her hand into her lap and took a sip of punch. “You look good, too.”
“Sorry, I’m not wearing a suit.”
“Oh please. I couldn’t care less. You look great, Danny.”
An explosion of laughter pulled Sarah and Daniel’s attention to a group of teachers huddled around the punch table. Mr. Burke glanced over, smiled at Daniel and headed in their direction. He stood in front of them, tall, broad-shouldered, confident.
“Daniel! How are you doing? Enjoying yourself?” he asked. As he spoke, he glanced at Sarah and smiled.
“Hey, Mr. Burke. I’m fine, thanks. Have you met my sister, Sarah?”
Mr. Burke held his hand out to Sarah. “Well, I’ve certainly seen this young lady in the hallways. Nice to meet you, Sarah.”
Sarah thought his handshake matched his demeanor, gentle but confident.
“How’s that family tree coming, Daniel?”
“It’s coming ... slowly,” Daniel replied. “Sarah helped me with Ancestry.com.”
Mr. Burke grinned. “Not too much help, though, I hope. This is your assignment, right?”
“No, no. Just enough to get me started.”
They chatted for a few more moments during which Mr. Burke asked Daniel to let his father know that there were a couple of windows in his classroom that needed attention. Joseph worked part time as a combination janitor and repairman for the school. Daniel assured Mr. Burke that he’d let his father know, and then Mr. Burke excused himself. “You kids have a good time,” he said, just before he walked away.
Sarah turned to her brother. “He seems really nice.”
“He is. If you’re lucky, you’ll have him next year.”
Miriam and Jackson walked by. She whispered something in Jackson’s ear and left him standing alone. She walked over to Sarah and Daniel. “Hey, Daniel... Sarah.”Sarah thought Miriam’s dress was all wrong. It looked a size too big, as if the dress were wearing Miriam; and the color, it just wasn’t right.
“Love your dress, Sarah.”
“Thanks... yours, too,” Sarah said.
Miriam sat down next to Daniel. She slid her chair close. “So, how are you, Daniel?”
You couldn’t miss it, Sarah thought. Miriam’s eyelashes fluttering, her posture taller than usual, the lean towards her brother.
“I’m fine. Thanks.”
“You look nice, Daniel,” Miriam said. The corners of her mouth perked up; she sipped her punch with her eyes inviting and glued to Daniel.
Daniel’s hand fumbled as he tried to loosen his tie. “You too, Miriam.”
Sarah watched her brother squirm. She knew his body language. He crossed his arms over his chest, shifted his weight, pressed his knees together.
“You having fun with Jackson?” Sarah asked.
Miriam shot a quick let’s not talk about Jackson look at Sarah. “He’s just a friend.” And then she turned her attention back to Daniel. “Would you like to dance, Daniel? You don’t mind, do you, Sarah?”
He cleared his throat and stuck his finger in his shirt collar, tugging. “I think I’ll pass, Miriam. Not much of a dancer,” he added.
“Well, okay,” Miriam said. “If you change your mind, let me know!” She stood up, brushed a strand of hair from her face, and said, “I guess I should get back to Jackson.”
“Yes,” Sarah said, “that’s probably a good idea. He’s looking a little lost standing out there,” She forced a plastic smile. “We’ll talk later,” although Sarah had no desire to chat with Miriam. Miriam constantly tried to slip into her life. Or perhaps, it was Danny’s life she really wanted to slip into.
The scent of heavy-handed applications of perfume and cologne, mixed with the aroma of sweaty, pubescent teenagers was more than Sarah could take. “You want to go outside for a few, get some fresh air? I’m roasting.”
Sarah and Daniel exited through one of the back doors that led out to a loading dock. Daniel pulled up a couple of old wooden chairs that were leaning against the wall. “Here, have a seat.”
They sat for a few minutes taking in the repose of the spring evening. The sky was cloudless, pitch black except for the Milky Way laden with stars; thousands of them twinkled overhead. And directly above, an almost full moon, its craters visible and seemingly so close, it felt as though they could reach out and glide their fingers over its surface.
Sarah took a deep breath of cool air. And then she exhaled letting the commotion and heat of the gymnasium flicker away. “It’s nice out here. I had to get out of there.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
For the next few moments, they sat quietly, gazing up to the heavens, felt the cooling breeze and listened to the muffled sounds of teenagers whooping and hollering, laughing with hundreds of feet pounding the gymnasium floor.
There were some people, Sarah thought, who felt uncomfortable with silence. They felt a need to fill it as if silence were a bad thing, something that held less meaning than idle chatter. But for Sarah, sitting alone, quietly with Danny, felt right.
After a few minutes, she asked, “Did you ever get the catalogue from Wichita State?”
“I did.” He paused as they listened to the fizzle of crickets just beyond the school parking lot.
“Where else are you going to apply?”
“Probably to colleges as far away from Pretty Prairie as I can get.”
As if someone had reached into Sarah’s heart, taken hold and wrenched it, she felt hollow and scared. She understood Daniel’s need to get away. But his words, as far away as I can, left her feeling saturated with emptiness. What would it be like to have Danny gone? No more walks to the pond out back. No more midnight talks on their beds. She was being selfish. She knew it.
“You ever think of going to college?” he asked.
“I haven’t really thought all that much about it. I’m so used to being here. I’m not sure what I’d do if I left.”
“Do? There’s a ton to do! Don’t you ever want to see how other people live? What a really big city is like? Or what Europe is like? There’s so much I want to see. There’s a whole world out there and we’re stuck here with this boring little piece of it.”
“I guess you’re right,” Sarah said. “But I wouldn’t want to go it alone.”
“Who says anything about going it alone?” He paused. “Bedsides, you’ve got time to figure it out.”
They continued to talk, mostly about Daniel’s dreams but as Sarah listened, she tried to envision leaving home, striking out into the unknown. It would take time and nerve, but if he were there with her — if he were willing, she thought — it seemed possible.
Sarah hadn’t noticed. It just happened as if it was supposed to. Was it while they were laughing, or perhaps when they were dreaming about climbing the Eiffel Tower? She couldn’t remember but there it was, Daniel’s hand resting on top of hers — a link. And at first, she thought she should move her hand away, that that was the right thing to do but, then, as if guided by nature, slowly, she turned her hand over, palm to palm and their fingers entwined. The thought of being left behind drifted off into the night sky and was replaced by something that simply felt right, a connection.
Suddenly, the door to the loading dock burst open. Mr. Burke walked out and stopped abruptly within feet of them. Sarah jerked her hand away from Daniel’s and shoved it into her lap. Her heart clattered against her ribs. Daniel’s face flushed.
“Oh, sorry,” Mr. Burke said. “I didn’t know you kids were out here. Didn’t mean to intrude.” The calm, self-assured man of earlier had vanished. He seemed on edge, eyes bouncing from Sarah and Daniel to the parking lot then quickly back to the loading dock door. “Really, I... I should go check on things.” He nodded towards the gymnasium. He turned and quickly disappeared.
Had he seen? Is that why he seemed in such a hurry to leave?
Sarah looked over to Daniel. He looked back with his lips slightly parted. “Do you think he saw?”
“Does it matter? It’s too late now.”
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, yet are not washed from their filthiness.
* * *
It seemed as though spring had forgotten to make an appearance. The air felt heavy; the sun blazed down on Daniel and Sarah as they strolled across the field headed for the pond set back on the property. They walked close to one another, their hands brushing against each other as they walked. A brother and sister looking forward to a swim. A chance to erase the sweltering heat.
They stripped down and waded out into the pond. It seemed natural, right, for the two of them to be there together naked in each other’s presence. They floated on their backs looking skyward, watching white cotton-ball clouds drift overhead. They talked about school, their friends, their parents and their dreams for the future. And they played together with the innocence of children. They splashed each other, dunked one another under the surface, a mouth full of water streaming towards the other person. A tickle. A nudge and laughter.
“I’m so eager to get out of Pretty Prairie,” Daniel said. “Aren’t you tired of flat as far as you can see?”
They stood in the middle of the pond on their toes, the waterline just below their chins.
“We’ve already chatted about this, you know.” Sarah smiled. “And what would be the first thing you’d do?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know. I’d start by making my own decisions. I’d travel... see the world or at least a part of it. Don’t you feel suffocated here?”
“I guess sometimes, but it’s what I’m used to. You know it feels safe for me here.”
“I’m tired of safe,” Daniel said. “I want some adventure. I want to take a risk.”
“And you’re going to do all this alone?” Sarah asked.
“I hope not.”
“You have someone in mind? I know someone who would love to join you,” she said.
“Gee, how did you know?”
“Does she even know what subtle means?” He grinned.
They were facing each other, only a few feet apart. Their feet sank into the silty bottom of the pond; their arms half treading water even though the water wasn’t over their heads. They blew little bubbles as the water lapped at their chins.
“I’ve got someone else in mind.” As Daniel spoke, he slowly moved closer to his sister. Sarah waited for Daniel to splash her or dunk her under the water’s surface. And she wondered if she should swim away, kicking water in his face. But there was no desire to back away.
Face to face, only inches between them, Sarah took in her brother’s scent, his warmth. Slowly, Daniel put his arms around his sister and pulled her closer. She could feel his breath on her neck. Her heart raced, but not from fear.
And gently, Daniel leaned forward and caressed her lips with his. As if happening in slow motion, the moment stretched into something pivotal and essential. Their lips parted and Daniel pulled his sister into him. She felt his skin against hers, his arms enveloping, his lips on her neck and his hips moving against hers.
Within moments, he lifted her up, tenderly kissed her breasts and then carefully, lowered her onto him.
Afterwards, they lay alongside one another, holding hands and soaking up the sun’s rays. A breeze drifted over them. Daniel was the first to speak. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Sarah turned to her brother and smiled. A tear slipped from the corner of her eye and curved down her cheek. Daniel gently wiped it away. “I secretly hoped,” she whispered.
They stayed put for a while longer as the sun warmed them. Eventually they got up, dressed and headed back to the house. Few words were spoken, but they walked hand in hand. That seemed enough. When they were within sight of the house, they let go of each other’s hand.
Copyright © 2017 by James Krehbiel