Pure in Their Own Eyes
by James Krehbiel
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3
“Here it is, look,” Joseph said. Daniel walked around the corner of the coop to find his father on his elbows and knees, his head level with the ground looking under the coop. “Crouch down here and take a look.” And there, by the back side of the coop, the floor was rotted with a hole leading up inside. “I wish we’d fixed this when I first asked you. This isn’t good,” he said. “Go grab some plywood out of the barn. I’ll get my tools.”
A fix that should have taken an hour stretched into three, and the more Joseph surveyed the coop, the more he found wrong with it. “While we’re here, let’s replace some of these boards,” he said. And one thing led to another and another.
“Dad, how much longer is this going to take?”
“Why? What’s your hurry? You’ve got the day free.”
“I just wanted—”
“Wanted what?” Joseph asked.
“I just wanted to get some studying in. Exams start Monday.”
“You’ve got all day tomorrow to study.”
Daniel paced back and forth as Joseph nailed loose boards in place. “You don’t even need me.”
“Nonsense, you’re helping,” Joseph said.
“Dad, I’m not doing a thing. I’m watching, that’s all.”
“Well, here then. Do you want to nail these on for me?” Joseph turned and held the hammer out.
“No, I don’t want to nail those on! You don’t get it, Dad. I need to study.”
“And like I said, you’ve got all day tomorrow for that. God forbid I ask you to help me out around here.”
“Monday morning is my history final, and there’s tons of stuff I have to know. And Mr. Burke’s finals are known for being really tough.” He stopped pacing and looked at his father. “I’m not even sure I can get through everything tomorrow,” he said. “I need a good grade in his course.”
Joseph turned around facing Daniel and tossed the hammer on the ground. He locked eyes with him. “That reminds me,” he said. “I ran into Mr. Burke the other day. He showed me the family tree you did.”
Daniel’s face turned from frustration to pride. “He did? How did you like it?”
“I didn’t really look at all of it, but I did wonder why you didn’t put your mother’s name on it,” he said.
“Huh? But I did.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Joseph said. “You know who raised you.” Joseph picked up the hammer, the can of nails and the remaining plywood lying on the ground. He started towards the barn.
Daniel followed behind. “I had to put Maria on it.”
Joseph kept walking, picking up the pace. “She’s not your mother, Daniel, and you know it.” He walked into the barn, tossed the plywood in a pile on the ground and as he turned to go back outside, Daniel stood in the doorway.
“But this family tree was supposed to be specific to bloodlines. That was the assignment, Dad.” Joseph started for the door. Daniel did not move.
They were only feet from each other, face to face. “How do you think your mother would feel if she knew? And would it have made any real difference? Mr. Burke never would have known.”
“So, you’re saying I should have lied?”
A flicker of bewilderment passed through Joseph’s eyes. “I’m saying your mother is the woman who brought you up, fed you and clothed you, the woman who has devoted her life to you and your sister.” Joseph moved to the side and started to walk by. Daniel stepped in his path. “Step aside, Daniel.”
“So I’m just supposed to pretend that the woman you married and loved, the woman who gave birth to me never existed?” Daniel hesitated. “But we know better, don’t we, Dad?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Come on, Dad. Let’s not play dumb anymore. Maria? My birth mother?” He paused. “Do you want to finally tell me the truth?”
“Daniel, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Move out of my way, now.”
“This is your chance, Dad.”
“Chance? What chance?
“Okay, fine. I’ll spell it out for you.” Daniel leaned in to his father’s face. “Tell me something. How the hell did Maria, the woman who supposedly passed at my birth, manage to write five letters to you since my birth? Tell me how that works, Dad.”
As if being shoved, Joseph stepped backwards, stunned. For a moment, his jaw clamped, the veins in his neck taut. “Those are private,” he growled. “You had no right—”
“No right?” Daniel’s voice rose with disbelief. “But you had the right to let me believe she was dead? That I was responsible for her death?”
“I did it to protect you.”
“Protect me? From what?” The knot in Daniel’s chest tightened. “Who exactly were you protecting, Dad?”
“Daniel, you don’t know what you’re talking about. She wasn’t able to be your mother.”
“And so you just packed her up and sent her off to some hospital for the insane? Was it easy for you, Dad? Just send her away, tell Daniel he killed her, and everything will be just fine. Was that it?”
“Damn it, Daniel. Get out of my way. I can’t talk to you when you’re like this.” Joseph stepped to the side. Once again, Daniel blocked his path.
“So how did you get everyone else to go along with it? Did you pay them off or something? What? Does everyone know except me, Dad?”
“Get out of my way, now.” Joseph stepped towards Daniel, his arm outstretched, across Daniel’s chest as he tried to push him aside.
Daniel clutched his father’s arm, holding it tightly in place. And then, only inches from his father’s face, he said, “I bet your parents would be so proud of you: their good Mennonite son living a filthy lie.”
The last thing Daniel saw was a pained grimace, a face flushed and then a fist that came out of nowhere.
Off in the distance, his mother’s muted voice, panicked. “Joseph? What happened? Are you okay?” Anna was standing on the back porch as her husband huffed by her, slamming the porch door behind him.
Daniel heard her footsteps. He pulled himself to his feet, his hand over his throbbing eye.
“Oh, my God! Daniel, what happened?” She stood in front of him trying to move his hand so she could see. “Oh Lord, come in the house so I can get a cold compress on that.”
As they walked in the porch door, they heard the front door slam and then tires spinning over gravel as Joseph’s car sped out of the driveway.
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
* * *
Off in the distance, a bank of angry clouds churned slowly towards them. Daniel and Sarah sat at the pond’s edge, their shoes and socks tucked neatly beside them and their feet submerged.
“Does it still hurt?” Sarah asked, lightly touching the purple bruise around Daniel’s eye.
Daniel winced. “Only when you touch it,” he said.
“Oh, sorry.” Sarah picked up a pebble and tossed it into the pond. They watched as the water rippled away. “You must have really pushed a button. What did you say?”
Daniel followed her lead and threw a stone in the pond, too. “I let him get to me again.” He paused. “You know? I feel like it’s just a matter of time before one of us...” Daniel’s voice trailed off.
Sarah looked from the pond to her brother. “You mean because of us?”
“Well, maybe that, too, but I was thinking more in general. You know, his and my relationship, the tension,” he said. “I know he’s my father, but there are moments when I hate the man.”
“Danny, don’t say that.”
“Sorry, it’s how I feel.” And then in a voice lowered and bathed in self-deprecation, he said, “He probably hates me, too.”
There was resignation in his voice, a tinge of finality as if there were no more hope, no options left. Sarah took hold of her brother’s hand. She placed it in her lap, wrapping both her hands around it.
“And I have another year before I’m free of this place... of him.”
“Maybe I could talk to him?”
“And what would you say? Be nice to Daniel? He’s your son? Tell him about his mother? Let him live his life the way he wants to?” Daniel leaned in. “Good luck with that,” he said. “You might as well tell Rusty to stop shedding while you’re at it.”
The wind kicked up; the clouds grew closer. They gently paddled the water with their feet.
“If it weren’t for you, I’d take off.” He took his hand from Sarah’s lap and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. She tilted her head as he nuzzled the side of her neck, breathing in a wisp of lavender.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll make the best of it.” The clouds were rolling in faster and the first few drops of rain started to fall. “Do you think we should get going?” Sarah asked. “Looks like we’re going to get a storm.”
And then behind them, they felt the swat of a tail and a wet nose forcing its way in between them.
“Rusty!” Daniel said. “I almost forgot he was behind us.” They laughed and pulled Rusty in rubbing him furiously. His eyes narrowed as little groans of contentment eked out. “What a good boy you are!” Daniel buried his face in Rusty’s neck. “Man, if it weren’t for the two of you...” he said.
“Come on,” Sarah said. “It’s looking nasty.”
They started back to the house. Rusty with his nose to the ground darted ahead pausing to look back before continuing on. Daniel took his sweatshirt off and held it over Sarah’s head as they hurried. The sky looked the color of Daniel’s bruise, the clouds thick with moisture. A rumble of thunder urged them along. And then, suddenly, as if someone had turned a spigot on full, they found themselves in a downpour.
“Can you see where we’re going?” Sarah called out.
“Follow Rusty!” Daniel shouted.
They ran, drenched and out of breath, their feet pounding the muddied earth. Finally, up ahead, they could make out the lights of their home.
Rusty had bolted ahead, his nose pulling him towards the chicken coop. Sarah and Daniel started down the south side of the barn, headed for the expanse of lawn which led to the house.
Daniel looked back over his shoulder. “Where’s Rusty? Come on, boy!” Sarah turned back to look and there in the distance was Rusty’s back end sticking out from under the coop, his head and front paws hidden beneath it.
“He’s found something under the coop. Come on. Let’s get inside, I’m soaked. He’ll be in in a minute,” Daniel said.
On the back porch, Anna stood with her hands cupped around her mouth calling out over the yard to her husband. Daniel and Sarah looked to the other end of the yard and there, through the wall of rain, they saw their father, his Winchester in hand running towards the barn.
“What’s going on? Where’s Daddy going?” Sarah asked, out of breath, as they ran up the porch steps.
“It’s the fox,” Anna said. They hadn’t even noticed but, beneath the sound of sheeting rain, all chaos had erupted from behind the barn as if someone had broken into the coop with a machete, wreaking havoc. “The fox is trying to get into the coop.”
Daniel was off the porch and running towards the barn before Anna had finished her sentence.
“It’s Rusty causing the commotion,” Sarah said. “There’s no fox.”
Daniel sprinted after his father, shouting. “No! Dad, stop! It’s only Rusty!”
But Joseph was too far away. He couldn’t hear over the clattering of the rain.
Through the blanket of moisture, the thunder, Anna and Sarah stood watching, transfixed. Just before Daniel and Joseph disappeared behind the barn, they saw Daniel clutch his father’s arm, spinning him around, the rifle waving in Daniel’s face. They heard voices painted in anger — snippets of words.
“Damn it, Daniel! Get the hell away from me!”
Daniel grasped his father’s wrist, trying to jerk the Winchester from Joseph’s grip. “Jesus Christ! It’s only Rusty! So help me God, if you shoot him, I’ll—”
And then, Anna and Sarah saw a shove, a swing of a fist and arms striking out with malice as Joseph and Daniel slipped from view.
The falling rain slowed and off in the distance, the thunder took on a low, extended grumble and for a moment Anna and Sarah stood waiting. They expected Joseph and Daniel to come walking around the corner of the barn, Rusty trotting alongside, on their way back to the house. They hoped for reconciliation, a misunderstanding rectified.
But instead, through the pelting of the gutters and with piercing clarity, they heard one lone frantic bark and a gunshot.
In the blink of an eye, everything can change. So forgive often and love with all your heart. You never know when you may not have that chance again.
Copyright © 2017 by James Krehbiel