Being stuck in the mud was preferable to being stuck inside. The tires spun, helpless, beneath him. Their inability to get a grip on their surroundings felt somehow comforting like he wasn’t alone in his failings. He was late for Sunday night dinner; a family tradition that was in place well before he came along. He shouldn’t have been this late. A congregation member had wanted to talk after the service, the man’s ramblings and his marital troubles required some spiritual counseling to bring him closer to God, and his wife. To give such counsel was, of course, part of the role.
But if they only knew, David thought.
Of course, Elizabeth understood that he had to stay at the church. She had gone on ahead with her parents, his Lucy waving happily out the rear window as they drove away, her dark curls bouncing along with the bumps in the road. The counseling, conducted over a cup of tea in his office, had taken a little less than an hour. The man had left, a firm handshake and heartfelt thanks in his eyes, marking his appreciation. David had closed his office door, locking it to the man’s back and to the world. He took a seat on his chair behind his desk and passed the next two hours doing absolutely nothing. He didn’t type out a sermon for next week or take notes on his counsel. He didn’t drink more tea or read a book. He didn’t get lost in childhood recollections or reflect on his place in the world. He just sat, staring forward, watching the light in the window change from dim gray to dimmer gray as the sun past, above the thick rain clouds, in an arc over the church.
His solitude was interrupted once by the jangle of the phone on his desk. He didn’t reach to answer it. He knew that it would be Elizabeth wondering where he was, if he’d left yet. The ringing and the raining both stopped at some point. When he felt he could wait no longer he rose, walked out to the car, and made the forty-five-minute drive to Barton and Norma’s farm where they would all be expecting him to give the blessing before the six o’ clock meal of roast beef.
When he got there, he knew he would be able to see into the kitchen through the back-porch window, an observer before becoming a participant. To most, it would be considered an inviting setting, populated by inviting people. The house would be bright and warm, the sounds of easy conversation and laughter filling the large kitchen, no one minding the draughty windows, or the kitchen faucet’s incessant drip; content in their imperfect surroundings. A hint of wood smoke would flavor the air, built to ward off the dampness of spring.
It had been a wet season. In the last week, rainfall records had been set in Ontario. The ground was drowning. The mumble of conversation before the service started this morning offered various levels of comment on the rain. The farmers complained, fed up because their planting was delayed, too wet to even get in the fields. The children whined at their lack of outdoor play and fresh air. But, David liked the rain. The gray clouds soothed him. He found the dim light far more acceptable than the harshness of the sun’s offerings.
He was caught on the uphill, halfway between the road and the farmhouse. He turned off the car’s engine and rolled down his window, inhaling the smell of spring in the air. The clouds had begun to move on, leaving a clear sky that held the promise of sunshine tomorrow. He sighed, closing his eyes. He didn’t enjoy the prospect of having to wake to the world so brightly lit in the morning.
A cow bellowed in the field past the barn. He heard the back-porch screen door squeal open, then snap shut. Someone had noticed him coming up the lane. He’d hoped that they’d all have been too busy, engaged in their happiness to have noticed him pulling in. He’d hoped that being stuck would buy him more time. He heard boots suctioned by mud approaching and opened his eyes to see Barton drawing closer, a smile of welcome on his face.
“Hey, David. You’ve gone and got yourself stuck there? You haven’t been there long, have you?”
“Hello, Barton. Not long, not long at all.”
“Why didn’t you come up to the house? No sense sitting out here. We can pull you out with the tractor after dinner.”
“Sure thing, Barton. Thanks.”
David opened the door, unbound himself from the car and shook Barton’s hand, his other hand gripping his father-in-law’s shoulder in a customary display of warmth.
“Thought you would’ve been along earlier. That bugger John must’ve talked your ear off!”
“Yes. He had a lot that he needed to say. It took much longer than I’d expected. My apologies.”
“Well, no worries. Part of the job, I suppose. Norma’s keeping dinner warm.”
“You should’ve gone on ahead without me.”
“Wouldn’t hear of it, David. Not to mention, who’d say the blessing?” Barton said.
The two men ambled up the lane, then the weathered porch steps, and into the screened- in back porch that seconded as a mudroom. David removed his galoshes, hanging his jacket on the overloaded coat rack. As Barton pushed open the door to the kitchen, David caught a glimpse of Lucy, chair pulled up to the counter, concentrating on a book opened in front of her, her hair masking most of her face. Elizabeth stood behind her, one hand on her daughter’s shoulder, the other wrapped around and pointing to a picture or word on the page that they were both concentrating on. Norma bustled between the fridge and the set kitchen table, a flour-dusted apron tied loosely around her.
“Look who I found,” Barton said.
“Daddy!” Lucy cried, clambering down and running towards him, arms thrown wide.
Elizabeth came over and pecked him on the cheek, Lucy wedged between their knees, an awkward, yet familiar, huddle.
“David,” Norma turned, wiping her hands on her apron, untying and removing it, “you made it, we were beginning to worry.”
“John must have been uncharacteristically chatty,” Elizabeth said, pulling back and looking at David. He thought a shadow of skepticism passed over her features, but before he could be sure, it was already gone.
“Yes. John had a lot he needed to get off his chest. I’m sorry. You really should have gone on without me.”
“No way Daddy,” said Lucy and “Nonsense David,” said Norma simultaneously.
“Daddy, I was just reading about Edinburgh Castle. It’s going to be so cool. They say it’s haunted and that at night you can hear the ghost walking around. Grandma and Grandpa said that we can go there, for sure.”
“Dinner,” Norma says, pulling a casserole dish of potatoes from the oven.
They all assumed their usual places around the table. David stayed standing and said the blessing, as everyone expected him to. He stared down at the tops of their heads. In the back of his mind, his own prayer to be lost where they would never be able to find him played on silent repeat. He hoped God could hear it like a scream over the offered grace.
He sat, as they all raised their heads, tucking into the feast that Norma had prepared. Elizabeth, who sat directly across from David, in her need to fill every silence, began to recount a humorous story about the antics of Tyler and Thomas, the twins in her Sunday school class. Everyone was pleasantly engaged in the story, laughing and smiling at the appropriate times. Her voice cloying.
He wanted to scream, “Just shut the fuck up!”
He saw himself reaching across the table, grabbing Elizabeth’s hair, smashing her face against her plate repeatedly until shards of broken china protruded from her gravy-smeared, bloodied pulp of a face. He could see the look of shock rippling across their faces. He hugged an upset Lucy, a strangling hold meant to free him from his own feelings of suffocation, her body struggling. The tension, followed by still release. He, running into the darkening fields, the screen door smacking against the house behind him. Norma and Barton sitting shocked in the ugly aftermath, unable to move without their moral compass.
David sat there, a pleasant smile plastered on his face, appearing to be looking at Elizabeth. In fact, he was looking past her, through her, watching the rhythmical drip of water descend from the faucet behind her right shoulder, and wishing that he, too, could slip down the drain.
Amy Roberts, a content writer and editor at PunctU8 Inc., grew up in rural Ontario, Canada. Her writing often explores the juxtaposition of the normality of quaint, small town, settings and the peculiarities of the residents that inhabit them. Her work has been previously published in Flumes Literary Journal, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, and in The Proceedings of The 3rd European Conference on Social Media. She holds a Master of Education and an English and Theatre Bachelor of Arts.