"I expect you're wondering why I haven't come to see you," the Reverend says. He's sitting on the swing with me, 'cause it was either that or stand up, but he seems real nervous. His hat's gonna be a wreck before he goes home, the way he's working on it, turning it round and round, crumpling up the brim. He also doesn't look me in the eye.
I shake my head. "Nah, I just figured you were getting tired of always having to fuss over me. I've been told worrying about me is kind of a pain in the ass." I get up and limp across the grass to the fence by the alley. The grass is hot right on the surface, but once your feet sink into it, it's cool. Feels good.
"You came to me after you got back, and I turned you away. I feel badly about that."
"It's OK. You were busy." He wasn't. I knew he was lying to me when he told me he had an appointment. No point in calling him on it.
His forehead's all creased like he's thinking hard, but I guess he can't think of anything else to say.
"Look," I say, "You don't have to stay. I don't know why Arbutus made you think I needed somebody here. I'm fine."
He gets up off the swing and comes over to the fence next to me. "I'm trying to apologize."
"You don't need to."
He's silent for another minute. "Lynn seems to be concerned about you. And Arbutus. If it's OK with you, I think I'll stay for a while."
For some reason this irritates the crap outta me. "You know, if I wanted to die, I coulda done it months ago. All the shit I put up with to get back here, you think I did that just so I could kick the bucket in my own backyard?"
"What kind of shit?"
That sounds odd coming outta his mouth. I don't know that I've ever heard him say a four-letter word.
He turns red; not bright red like Patty does, but just a little darker. His hat's not gonna be fit to wear pretty soon.
"I had a lot of time to think about things while you were gone. And I've been doing a lot of thinking since you got back." He stops and clears his throat. "The reason I've been avoiding you…" He takes a deep breath. "I've been feeling very guilty…..After you'd been gone several months, and Lynn was tearing herself apart, I thought it would be better for her and for the child if she could just accept that you were gone, and go ahead with her life. I convinced them to call off the search."
I don't think Ed woulda done anything just because the Rev wanted him to, but I don't say so. Ed told me when he was here that they'd come up empty. He said it was like I disappeared into thin air. I asked him if he'd talked to the old guy in front of the barbershop in Linden.
"Yes. Yes, we talked to him, and found out you'd talked to him, and where he sent you. And we found that you'd checked into the motel there. But after that there was no trace of you at all."
"Did you talk to the old lady in the drugstore in Arrowhead?"
He got that disgusted look on his face and said he didn't wanna know about it.
The Rev looks like he's about to cry. "And you were still alive, waiting for us to find you."
"Hey." He looks up from his hat. "I'm sitting right here. I got myself home. Took a while, but I did it. Ed coulda looked till doomsday and not found me. So it didn't make any difference. Don't worry about it."
He doesn't look like that makes him feel any better. "Yes, I know. You take care of yourself. Always. Nothing that I do makes any difference."
Christ, here we go. This kinda thing drives me crazy.
"I know I've never done you much good," he says. "My whole life has been consecrated to helping others, and I've never done anything for you at all."
"You saved my life once. That was kinda important to me."
He turns a little bit redder, and nods. "That was fortunate. I doubt, however, if I could have planned that."
ou know my wife and I were never blessed with children. When I met you….." I'm watching his hat, waiting for it to rip in two. He exhales. "My wife was gone, and it seemed like God was giving me someone to…..to care about….like a son……..I realize that's presumptuous of me, but that's how I felt.
"And then you took a chance and told me something personal, shared a secret with me……and I behaved badly. I know that."
"It's OK. I shouldn'ta said it. It wasn't fair to throw something like that at you unexpectedly. And it wasn't something you needed to know, anyway."
"I only get one chance with you, don't I?"
"You've never shared another important thing with me since that first time, have you? Never told me anything you couldn't have told someone else."
"You know about my old man. I don't advertise that."
"I pushed myself into that situation. And you would have done very well without me. Quite possibly would have turned out better if I hadn't been there to throw a spanner into the works."
I'm just an old fool, naïve, ineffectual, meddling in things I'm ill equipped to handle. I know it. But this is what my life's supposed to be about. You've obviously had a very uncomfortable experience---" I have to laugh when he says that. Can't help it. Uncomfortable---yep, that's the word for it. He stops for a minute then pushes on. "---that's distressing to you, and my job, my life's work, is to help people with those kinds of problems."
"I really don't need you to do that. I'm fine."
He looks at me from under a wrinkled brow. "I don't believe that, son. None of us does. You never go anywhere, you never talk to anyone except Lynn and Arbutus, you don't even bother to put your shoes on anymore. You can keep saying you're fine, but nobody believes it."
I grab what's left of his hat out of his hands and throw it over the fence into the alley. "So if I go up and put my shoes on, will you go home?"
"I promised Arbutus I would stay until Lynn gets home. But more than that, I want to do something to be useful to you, to make up for the mistakes I've made. Can't you understand that?"
I walk back over to the swing and sit down. He follows me. This is bothering the shit outta him. I can see that.
"OK. You want me to tell you something? That make you feel better? OK." I'm thinking. He's waiting.
Can't tell him about the woman. Can't tell him about Arliss. But it's important to him, should tell him something. So I tell him about killing Blonde Hair in the snow. Not all the gory details, just enough to let him know how it was. Then I think maybe that was a mistake. He gets that sick look on his face. I've seen that look before.
"You strangled this man? Waited for him and killed him? My God." He studies my face. "And you're not sorry at all. Are you? No remorse whatsoever. My God."
OK, that fucking pisses me off. This is just exactly what he did the last time. He's the one that wanted me to tell him something. He's the one that's always bitching that the people in Bisbee have such damn boring problems.
"Remorse? Am I supposed to be sorry I'm not dead? Am I supposed to regret I'm sitting here with you instead a' feeding the fishes in the river? Am I supposed to feel bad it was him insteada me? Huh? Is that what you're telling me?"
"You can't know that would have been the outcome---"
"I do know. I do know. They woulda killed me and not given it another thought. The bum was supposed to shoot me when he dropped me out on the hillside, but he didn't do it. They were just there to finish the job. It didn't mean any more to them than dropping off their laundry."
I'm pissed. Real pissed. I start telling him how it was, explaining it all in detail, and then I don't know why, I just keep talking. Loud. I'm so pissed, I guess I'm yelling without even meaning to, but I can't seem to stop. Then I'm on my feet, I've got him backed into the corner of the swing, and I'm jabbing my finger in the air, at his chest; I'm telling him what it feels like waiting to be a cat's dinner, about laying half-dressed on the freezing mud waiting to die. Then I've got the lapels of his jacket in my fists, explaining to him how a broken leg feels, I tell him about fear and hopelessness and luck. I tell him the woman isn't any of his fucking business, and my scars belong to me and nobody else.
I'm hoarse and my throat hurts before I'm through. I let go of him and drop back down on the seat of the swing 'cause I wasn't paying attention to how I got up and now my leg is killing me. I'm breathing hard, and the Rev looks like he's about ready to wet his pants. Lucky I didn't give him a heart attack.
I let my head fall back, my face to the sky. The sunlight makes me shut my eyes. "Probably I shoulda been smart and just let him kill me. Woulda been easier. Sorry I didn't do the right thing. Sorry I'm not dead."
I feel his hand on my shoulder. Jerking away, throwing his hand off is just reflex. I don't even think about it.
Dammit. I shouldn'ta done that. I know how he is. I know he means well, he just doesn't get it. I know he can't help it.
"Bud." His voice is real quiet.
"You wanted me to tell you something, right? Is that what you wanted to hear? Are you happy now?" I'm not calm yet. I guess I can't help it, either.
"Bud. I'm so sorry. I didn't know---"
"You never do."
After a silence, he says, "I'm glad you're still alive. I wouldn't want you to think anything else. I care about you---"
"You don't know me. You don't wanna know me. You talk about wanting me for the son you never had---that's bullshit. You want somebody you got made up in your mind that just looks like me."
"You're a good man. I know that. I'm sorry if I've led you to believe I think anything else."
"You don't fucking know me! You complain 'cause I never tell you anything important, but you can't stand to hear anything that's really about me."
It's no use; I can see it, he doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about. The whole conversation's pointless."
Just stop it," I say. "You did this before, coming around, reading to me, calling me son, telling me shit, and I bought it for a while, but it's all just stupid, it's just bullshit." I can't sit still any more, I don't care how bad my leg hurts, I gotta get up, but then I don't have anywhere to go…..Of course he follows me anyway. "Let's just leave everything the way it is, OK? That's been working fine. I won't tell you anything that'll upset you, and you can go on pretending whatever you want."
He puts his hand on my shoulder again, and this time he won't let me shrug it off. "I was wrong," he says, still in that real quiet voice. "Forgive me. I was wrong to press you. You shouldn't tell me anything unless you want to."
"Why would I want to?"
He looks chastened. "You're right about that. You're right. I'm not much of a confessor. Or even a confidante. You've told me that I'm too easily shocked, and I imagine you're right. But I don't agree that I don't know you. I know that you're a good and decent man, Bud. I know that you love your wife. I know that you're good to your friends and neighbors. I've heard what Lynn's told me about you as a policeman in Los Angeles. I know you're kind to old fools like me." He took a deep breath. "Even when they hurt you, and I see that I did that, almost right away, and even so, you've been kind to me ever since."
I shake my head. "Just leave it. Just let it go, OK? Do we always have to talk about everything so damn much?"
That makes him smile. "Sometimes it's the only thing to do."
"Yeah, well, sometimes it's not."
"You know, Christmas before last, when Lynn approached us about your Christmas present……I was a bit apprehensive at first……I wasn't sure just what role I was being asked to play. Then I discovered it didn't matter, I was just happy to be included in your new family……I like to think we were friends, if nothing more. And then somehow you and I let some distance grow between us. I'm not sure what happened. If you thought I cared about you any the less, I'm sorry for that."
He talks more than anybody I ever met. On and on and on. Christ.
"I realize I forfeited some of the trust you'd given me when I was unable to accept what you told me. Your life has been so much different than anything I've ever come in contact with before, it is difficult for me to come to terms with parts of it at times. But I do feel like I've gained some understanding of other ways of living.
"And it is you, Bud, not some imaginary young man, that I care for. I know you have faults, and I think I even know what some of them are. I worry about your immortal soul sometimes, but I keep telling myself I must let that be between you and God."
On and on and on………He shakes his head. "We must thank God for helping you get through the
terrible experiences you had while you were gone. I know you haven't told me everything, and that has to be your decision, although I do think it might help you if you could do that."
I think about telling him I ain't sure God had anything to do with me getting back, but that would just upset him, so I decide not to. Instead I say, "I'm sorry I yelled at you."
He smiles. "That's perfectly all right, son. It's been a very emotional day for me, too." He puts his arm around my shoulders. "Perhaps we can get along a little better now that we have some of these things out in the open."
Yeah. Maybe. At least until he finds out something else he doesn't think is right..
Lynn asks him to stay for supper, and he does. I notice him looking at the open front of my shirt every so often, but I have to give him credit, he doesn't ask me anything about the scar that shows there, even though I know he's dying to say something about it.
After he leaves, I go in the bathroom and unbutton my shirt and look at that one, the one on my breastbone. It just looks like a pattern, lines and squares and that kinda thing, to me. There's only so much you can do with scissors.
But I know what it means..
"I almost wish my granny were here," Arliss said. "She would have liked you. No, no, hold still now." She was sitting on me. "There. This is the old language. This means---ooo, I could feel that." She giggled. "Wasn't that good?" She caught the blood running from the "good" one with her finger, and then put her finger in her mouth."
You belong to me now." She rested her forehead against mine and looped her arms around my neck. "This means you're mine. Always. Forever and ever. Just mine."
The rest of the symbols were just stupid shit. The one with the circle was about the Moon. And there was one about Power. And Darkness, I think. Crap like that. I think one of 'em on my back was about Cats. I don't know for sure, by that time I was mostly thinking about how much it hurt, so maybe I wasn't listening good.
The one on my breastbone is the one Arbutus touched. The serious one.
"Mine forever. You carry my sign. Wherever you go, I'll be there with you."
"I don't think I'm gonna be worrying about it very long. Tony's gonna kill me."
She opened her eyes real wide and looked into mine. "Maybe." She put her finger in the cleft of my chin. "Maybe not."
Then she giggled. "I just thought of a really good one. You're going to like this one.".
I was thinking about starting back to work even before Arbutus brought it up. Anything I can do now, I can probably do with a cast on. I think Arbutus was trying to tell me just to start in, and go ahead, no matter how stupid I feel, that it'd get better. I guess it can't get any worse.
Except I really like sitting in the sun, swinging, holding hands.
I guess I oughta have two good legs when the baby gets here. Right?
And when I find Arliss again, I don't wanna be a cripple.
Gonna have to start wearing shoes again. Damn.
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