Rebecca Evanhoe

Rock of the Lamb

Will and Marie were mar­ried right after col­lege. In their fourth year of mar­riage, they had a son. When he was eight, they divorced. Marie found an exec­u­tive job in California and moved there, leav­ing the father and son in Ohio. Since the divorce, their son Ben spent hol­i­days and most of the sum­mer with Marie, and lived out the school year with Will. Marie and Will prid­ed them­selves on their civil­i­ty, and Ben was prov­ing to be a good kid.

When Ben was 10, he made a friend named Frank. Like Ben and his father, the male Randalls were just the two of them, although in their case, it was because Mrs. Randall had died young of cer­vi­cal can­cer. Ben liked spend­ing time at Frank’s house because Frank’s father always cooked fan­cy din­ners like baked chick­en with mashed sweet pota­toes (not the white pota­toes) and real green beans with onions in them, big pieces of onion and also bacon. Frank had been over a few times and Ben felt embar­rassed when his own father made din­ner for the three of them: omelets or frozen chick­en pot pies.

One Saturday night, Ben spent the night at the Randalls’ house and went to church with them in the morn­ing. Without Ben around, Will found lit­tle to do: clean­ing the bath­room and the fridge, Sudoku and Word Jumbles. When the Randalls’ mini­van dropped off Ben on Sunday after­noon, Will cut up cheese and laid out Triscuits and asked him, “How’d you like church?”

He shrugged. “It was okay. Took a long time.”

Did you sing? Did you like the singing?”

He nod­ded. “Yeah, I liked that. It’s just the same as when we do it in school. Different songs, though.”

What sort of songs?”

Ben thought. “Um, I guess there was one that went like this.” And there in the kitchen, he plant­ed his small feet and sang:

My Jesus, I go unto Thee
Believin’ in the rock of the lamb
How deep the Father’s love for me,
Lamb of God, Son of Man.

To his knowl­edge, Will had nev­er heard his son real­ly sing before, only hum or shout out songs at scout camps. Ben had a nat­ur­al, girl­ish voice. Will was moved. “You have a beau­ti­ful voice,” he told his son.

Yeah, I like singing at school,” Ben said. In that moment, Will saw Ben exact­ly how a father wants to think of his son: A good boy, beau­ti­ful voice. Loved by his teach­ers. A good boy. This was before Ben’s mis­take, before his run-in with the cops, before Will real­ized that for every­one, even his own son, the world even­tu­al­ly gets at you, talks you into bad ideas.

About a month after that week­end, Ben and anoth­er boy prank-called Child Protective Services, pre­tend­ed to be Frank, and report­ed that Mr. Randall hit him. On the day Ben made his mis­take, a police­man had come to his school to give a talk. The police­man, Officer Buchannon, talked about what to do when par­ents hit you or when some­one touch­es you in a way that makes you feel bad. Officer Buchannon was jowled and sil­ly, using his hands to talk to one anoth­er as if they were sock pup­pets, but they weren’t, he was just using his bare hands. Ben’s teacher nod­ded enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly some­times and at oth­er times made a pur­pose­ful­ly seri­ous face. Officer Buchannon gave out tiny cards with num­bers to call when these things hap­pened. The same after­noon, at his friend Kenny’s house, before Kenny’s moth­er got home from work, Ben and Kenny made fun of Officer Buchannon. Kenny got the idea to tele­phone Child Protective Services from their lit­tle cards and pre­tend to be some­one at school.

Let’s say we’re Frank,” Kenny said.

Okay,” Ben said. He didn’t want Kenny to know that he and Frank were friends, that Frank had been to his house, that he had been to Frank’s house, that he had sang songs in church with the Randalls. He was embar­rassed of his friend­ship with tub­by, anx­ious Frank who got ner­vous a half-hour into play­ing with Legos, say­ing, “Shouldn’t we do our home­work real quick?” Frank who took ten min­utes, twen­ty min­utes to fill out one work­sheet, fret­ting over each ques­tion, scrawl­ing answers in his illeg­i­ble baby hand­writ­ing.

It was Ben who placed the call. He dialed the num­ber from the card and said, “Hello, this is Frank Randall? A police­man came to school today. He said that if my dad hit me, I should call this num­ber.” His heart raced and the oper­a­tor said, “Honey, I’m going to get you over to some­one who can help. A real police­man. Can you stay on the line, hon­ey?”

Yes, ma’am, I can wait. My dad’s not home yet,” Ben said. On hold, he and Kenny lis­tened to the record­ed music and laughed, his right ear and Kenny’s left ear against the phone. They were get­ting a real police­man! When Officer Buchannon got on the phone, he said, “Hey, bud­dy. Is this Frank? I’m here, Frank.”

Officer, my dad hits me,” Ben said. Kenny was lying in the cor­ner of the low­er bunk, sti­fling his laugh­ter with a pil­low. “I believe you, Frank,” Officer Buchannon said. “Does your dad hit you a lot? Could you tell me about that?”

Ben said, “My dad hits me every day. Could you come get me? My dad will be home from work soon.” He knew when Mr. Randall would be home, just after five, an hour ear­li­er than his own father came home.

Sure, Frank. I’m going to come over right now. Can you tell me your address?”

Ben said, “It’s 1317 Madison Court.” He repeat­ed it: “1317 Madison Court.” He knew the address by heart because he’d helped guide his father there a few times. Kenny didn’t ask how come he knew Frank’s address from mem­o­ry.

Great, Frank. Can you stay on the phone with our oper­a­tor while I dri­ve to your house? Just want to make sure you’re safe, bud­dy.”

Ben pan­icked. “I think my dad is home. I can’t stay on the line. I have to go now.”

Officer Buchannon: “I’m head­ed over right now. Don’t hang up. I’ll be there in five min­utes, bud­dy, okay? No mat­ter what, I’ll be there in five min­utes. Stay calm.”

He’s com­ing in the door now! I have to go,” Ben said and hung up the phone. He and Kenny laughed them­selves into hys­ter­ics. Such a prank! They had pulled such a prank.

After the call, Ben and Kenny left the house and went to hide in the bush­es in a vacant lot across from the Randalls’ to see what hap­pened. Ben saw the flash­ing lights of a cop car in the Randalls’ dri­ve­way. He saw Officer Buchannon pound on the door. Frank emerged and rec­og­nized Officer Buchannon, but he was scared from the intru­sion and from Officer Buchannon’s aggres­sive ques­tions, which he didn’t understand—“Are you okay? Where’s your father? Are you hurt?”

Two oth­er cars flash­ing lights pulled up in front of the house. From where he stood, Ben saw Mr. Randalls’ car dri­ving slow­ly as it turned the cor­ner onto the cul-de-sac. He was close enough to the road that he could see Mr. Randalls’ relaxed face as he drove down street, and his eyes widen and his mouth open at the sight of the cop car, lights flash­ing, in his dri­ve­way. He saw Mr. Randalls’ face express ter­ror, and he realized—somehow, he was so young, it was an instinct—that Mr. Randall thought some­thing bad had hap­pened to Frank. Mr. Randalls’ car sped up. Ben saw oth­er offi­cers, not Officer Buchannon, strangers, walk toward Mr. Randalls’ car with palms held up, heard them yell, “Sir! Stop the car. Mr. Randall! Stop the car.” An offi­cer made Mr. Randall exit his car. Mr. Randall spread his arms on the hood and the offi­cer pat­ted down his legs. Mr. Randall yelled, “My son! What’s hap­pened to my son?” Officers talked into the lit­tle radios on their shoul­ders, call­ing to each oth­er. One cop seemed to spot Ben and Kenny in the bush­es, and start­ed to walk toward where they crouched.

Ben felt sick, like run­ning but couldn’t move, and he felt Kenny tense up next to him and knew that Kenny want­ed to flee. He grabbed Kenny’s arm and said, “Wait, we have to stay,” and as two offi­cers start­ed to walk toward the vacant lot, he said, “Kenny, stand up,” gripped Kenny’s shirt­sleeve, and stood up from behind the bush­es.

 

After his son’s mis­take, Will and his ex-wife had many phone con­ver­sa­tions about the inci­dent. “He didn’t quite under­stand how severe his actions were,” Will said.

Marie was furious—at Will. In her eyes, he was the cul­pa­ble one. “How could he not under­stand?” she said. “I mean, at Christmas, Thanksgiving, when he’s here he’s like, a reg­u­lar kid, and then when he’s with you he goes off and does some­thing like this.”

We shouldn’t be too hard on him. He already under­stands what he’s done,” Will said. Will knew the depth of Ben’s remorse; he had been mis­er­able since he’d first laid eyes on him in the police sta­tion. To Will, the whole mis­take was an acci­dent of youth, a ter­ri­ble mis­un­der­stand­ing, fool­ish, but not mali­cious, and large­ly Kenny-influ­enced.

Marie sug­gest­ed he take their son to church, which he balked at—“What is that sup­posed to teach him? Guilt? I don’t think so”—but the moth­er kept on, argu­ing that it might pro­vide struc­ture, qui­et time for think­ing, per­haps some social norms. Will grad­u­al­ly under­stood Marie’s sub­text, unspo­ken but present in her rea­son­ing: She didn’t think Will was a good moral teacher. When Will picked up on what she wasn’t say­ing, he felt insult­ed; he con­sid­ered him­self a good exam­ple. He spoke up when under­charged at restau­rants and left nice tips for wait­ress­es, good and bad. He avoid­ed say­ing neg­a­tive things about his ex-wife and co-work­ers in front of his son. Another exam­ple: Once he had nicked a car in a tight park­ing lot, and he and Ben stayed at the scene for an hour to wait for the car’s driver—a teenage girl who emerged from a cloth­ing store with shop­ping bags on both arms. Will gen­tly apol­o­gized and explained the small scrape. The girl start­ed to cry in a dra­mat­ic way. Will com­fort­ed her and instruct­ed her to call her par­ents. He spoke to them briefly, gave his phone num­ber and oth­er infor­ma­tion, and in a week’s time sent them a check for three hun­dred dol­lars. A bum deal, he was sure, three hun­dred dol­lars for a scrape—not a dent—but he paid it, let­ting his son see him write the check.

You have to fess up if you make mis­takes,” Will had told Ben, rip­ping the check from the book­let. “There’s no shame in it.”

Ben seemed recep­tive. “Isn’t that kind of a rip-off?”

Will tried to smile in a kind way, but not in a way that encour­aged his son’s line of think­ing although he agreed. “Maybe it’s a lit­tle expen­sive, but there wouldn’t be a scrape at all if it weren’t for me, see? I’m respon­si­ble here.”

On the phone, Will didn’t bring up the scrape and the check to Marie, who insist­ed that there was noth­ing wrong with a lit­tle spir­i­tu­al edu­ca­tion. Will want­ed to tell her that a spir­i­tu­al edu­ca­tion wasn’t the same thing as a moral one, but she had exhaust­ed him and so he agreed to the plan. “He does like the singing,” he said.

Three years ago when Marie request­ed to be his ex-wife, Will wasn’t sur­prised but he was dev­as­tat­ed. He had known for years that Marie wasn’t ful­ly hap­py but he’d at least trust­ed her con­sis­ten­cy, her devo­tion if not to him then to their rela­tion­ship, to their invest­ment in a life togeth­er. At the time, they were in their mid-thir­ties; their son was sev­en years old; sure­ly they’d picked their lot, Will fig­ured. He’d con­sid­ered divorce once or twice, but he imag­ined it as a mutu­al deci­sion years away or nev­er. At heart, he believed they could keep co-exist­ing, doing their tax­es, meet­ing with friends, mild­ly argu­ing with one anoth­er, mak­ing love on anniver­saries, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, the occa­sion­al Tuesday. He assumed that, like him, Marie val­ued this com­fort over the risk of try­ing to start some­thing new, some­thing for­eign. He hadn’t imag­ined she’d gone so far away from him in her inner life to side­sweep him like that. When he saw that she still want­ed roman­tic fer­vor and believed she could have it, he felt embar­rassed for him­self. During the years they’d had a child and worked their full-time jobs, he’d atro­phied and she’d been alive. He grant­ed her request after a few weeks.

Will decid­ed to take Ben to the same church that the Randalls’ went to, fig­ur­ing that at the very least, it would show Mr. Randall that he and his son weren’t hea­thens, weren’t bad seeds. Before church, Will explained to Ben that the two of them might learn some­thing new, both of them. “When you make mistakes—the big­ger kind of mistakes—sometimes it’s good to show peo­ple that you’re try­ing to change,” he told Ben, who under­stood this in a vague way, an under­stand­ing of cause-and-effect, mis­take-then-church, but not the log­ic behind it.

And so the father took his son to church, the two of them togeth­er in church for the first time. Will held Ben’s shoul­der light­ly as they walked up the gran­ite steps to the doors of the First Presbyterian. They were ten min­utes ear­ly; fam­i­lies in the lob­by talked and ate cheap donuts from an open box. Mr. Randall saw Will, and Will gave a nod which Mr. Randall returned. Will guid­ed his son to the back of the church.

They scoot­ed into a back pew. A woman leaned over: “Do y’all have a pro­gram? I have extras.” She hand­ed them a white pho­to-copied sheet, jagged­ly cut, with a list on it.

Ben reached for the hym­nal in the wood­en hold­er in front of them. “I’ll find the first song,” he whis­pered. He found the page num­ber, the right song title.

The church filled up with fam­i­lies and old peo­ple in pairs, and old peo­ple with younger peo­ple, per­haps their daugh­ters or sons. Will saw Mr. Randall and Frank seat them­selves near the front of the church. The organ began to play. The preach­er came on stage from a side door and went to the podi­um with its lit­tle nub of a micro­phone. He smiled and called out to the con­gre­ga­tion, “We praise your good­ness, O God,” and they respond­ed with words print­ed in the pro­gram.

Will didn’t read the prayer aloud but he held the paper low and fol­lowed the text with his fin­ger for him­self and his son. He wasn’t sure he would be able to match the rhythm of the prayer; he didn’t want his voice to stick out or car­ry on longer.

He has kept our feet from slip­ping,” every­one said. “Let us call to the Rock of our sal­va­tion. We are the peo­ple of His pas­ture, the flock under His care.”

Blessed be,” the preach­er said. “Blessed be,” said every­one around them. The con­gre­ga­tion sat.

The preach­er read a long pas­sage of scrip­ture. The con­gre­ga­tion fol­lowed along in their Bibles. Will watched to see if his son would imme­di­ate­ly get bored, but Ben sat and watched the preach­er patient­ly, and Will was proud of that, and even­tu­al­ly the con­gre­ga­tion stood to sing.

With the first hymn, Will heard again his son’s love­ly voice. It rose above the oth­er voic­es around him, per­fect­ly in tune. He was proud of his son’s voice and lack of hes­i­ta­tion. Will sang at a medi­um vol­ume. He had tak­en piano lessons as a boy, and so he knew how to fol­low music, sim­ple tunes like this one, just fine.

As they sang the hymn, Ben heard, for the first time to his knowl­edge, his father’s singing. His father had a sol­id voice, not loud and tune­less like Mr. Randalls’ voice. He was glad he couldn’t hear Mr. Randalls’ voice now, and he was glad that he was sit­ting out of ear-shot from Mr. Randall. The last time Ben heard his voice, Ben felt embar­rassed for him. Or, real­ly, he felt proud of Mr. Randall, for being a bad singer but singing any­way, and so it was real­ly like his heart broke for him. That’s what it was: heartache at the thought of any­one mak­ing fun of Mr. Randall for singing at church with a voice like that.

Side-by-side with his son, Will remem­bered the moments when he had felt a sud­den stab of being deeply hap­py as a father, shock at his love for his son. Like the time Will went to pick him up from preschool, a task usu­al­ly reserved for Marie but she’d been kept late at an appoint­ment. Will walked into the class­room with its minia­ture chairs. Ben yelled, “My DAD!” and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, placed his head which smelled like corn­flakes, syrup, under his father’s chin. Will had chat­ted with the teacher for just a few moments, accept­ing a tote bag with the boy’s things, while Ben clutched his tor­so. Or like the first time, the only oth­er time his son had got­ten in trou­ble, for writ­ing in cray­on on the side­walks out­side the school, Will had been the one able to leave work, to come down when the prin­ci­pal called.

I mean, is this not your son’s hand­writ­ing?” the prin­ci­pal had asked him as they stood out­side, sur­vey­ing the dam­age.

Yes it is,” Will said; he could eas­i­ly rec­og­nize it. He knew his son’s hand­writ­ing well. It’s fun­ny, he had thought, you think all kids write bad­ly, the same, and then you have your own kid and you know his hand­writ­ing so well you can pick it out on a side­walk in green cray­on in giant let­ters across the pock-marked con­crete. “Yes, I’m sure.” Ben’s graf­fi­ti read in cap­i­tal let­ters MOM DAD TEACHER SCHOOL CAT DOG.

In His name, we pray,” the preach­er said. The con­gre­ga­tion bowed their heads to recite the Lord’s prayer. Will remem­bered this prayer word for word, found him­self recit­ing it from mem­o­ry, from a long-untapped pock­et of his mind. He won­dered how he’d ever mem­o­rized this prayer enough to know it like this; he’d not gone to church since he was Ben’s age.

Give us this day our dai­ly bread, and for­give us our tres­pass­es,” Ben said with the con­gre­ga­tion. Will heard his son recit­ing the prayer and mar­veled that they both knew this prayer in the same way, for­eign and yet ingrained.

Will fol­lowed along in the pro­gram, and the next sec­tion was Call to Confession. The organ­ist played while every­one knelt at the pews and peo­ple in the con­gre­ga­tion walked up before the preacher’s podi­um. Will did not expect this sort of demon­stra­tion from his son; in fact, he would have pre­ferred that Ben sit tight. This Call to Confession made him ner­vous because he remem­bered, in his child­hood, going to church camp with a friend, and after three days of late nights whis­per­ing with oth­er campers and ear­ly morn­ing church-ser­vices, he became emo­tion­al from sleep depri­va­tion and wan­dered up dur­ing the call to con­fes­sion. Afterward, there had been a coun­selor who sat with him for an hour, encour­ag­ing young Will to give his life to Jesus. Will didn’t want the same bewil­der­ment, the same hang-over of coer­cion, to affect his son. Will won­dered whether he should make some sort of com­fort­ing ges­ture, to com­mu­ni­cate to Ben that he need not go to the front of the church. He did noth­ing and Ben sat qui­et­ly.

While peo­ple walked up to the front, Ben wor­ried that his father was dis­ap­point­ed in him. That was why they were here in church, he was sure. Imagining his father’s dis­ap­point­ment caused a deep clench­ing in Ben’s low­er stom­ach. This feel­ing was bad, but not as bad as the one Ben got when he remem­bered Mr. Randalls’ face—the ter­ri­fied face Mr. Randall made when he saw the cop cars. When Ben remem­bered Mr. Randalls’ face like that, he felt like falling over, his hurt was so immense. After the inci­dent, Ben cried near­ly every night in his room or at din­ner, and when his father asked why he was cry­ing, he couldn’t explain. “I feel bad for Mr. Randall,” he’d say. Will would gen­tly press him for elab­o­ra­tion, but Ben’s throat would close, he’d be too upset, he couldn’t respond. Will nev­er pushed Ben fur­ther. Decades lat­er, Ben would have enough dis­tance from that feel­ing to dis­sect it, to rec­og­nize it as one of his first strong moments of empa­thy. The human brain is wired for it; Mr. Randalls’ expres­sion fired up mir­ror neu­rons in Ben’s devel­op­ing brain, con­nect­ing the image with his own father, and faster than a sec­ond, he under­stood a father’s fear­ing for his son.

When the peo­ple returned to their seats, the preach­er rest­ed for a moment. Will saw the pro­grams come out again.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son,” the con­gre­ga­tion said in uni­son. Will and Ben wait­ed. They didn’t know this recita­tion. “He ascend­ed into heav­en and is seat­ed at the right hand of the Father,” said the con­gre­ga­tion. “I believe in the for­give­ness of sins, the res­ur­rec­tion of the body.” Will and Ben said “Amen” along with every­one else. Funny, Will thought; any­one knows when to say Amen. When some­thing was over, you said Amen. Will looked over at the Randalls, feel­ing a rush of good­will, and hoped that Mr. Randall would look back at him. But Mr. Randalls’ head firm­ly faced the front of the church.

A gold tray with tiny beige wafers passed down each pew. Ben took the gold tray and picked one up, small as a tablet like a piece of med­i­cine. It tast­ed like noth­ing, like white bread or like the back of his hand. He knew that the tablet was a sym­bol for flesh, Jesus’ flesh, but didn’t know exact­ly why they were to eat it.

After the first gold tray came a sec­ond gold tray with lit­tle holes in it hold­ing plas­tic cups full of dark liquid—grape juice, Ben knew, from his last time at church. Will helped him with the tray, and they each took a plas­tic cup. Like at the dentist’s office, the father thought, and the son thought. When every­one else drank from the small cups, they did too.

Several high-school boys in kha­ki pants with small black trash bags walked down the aisles, col­lect­ing the plas­tic cups. Together, Will and Ben col­lect­ed the cups passed to them, and stacked and passed their own cups down the row.

The organ start­ed up and Ben opened the hym­nal to the next song. “Look!” he mouthed to his father. It was the same hymn he’d sung last time at church. The con­gre­ga­tion sang:

My Jesus, I go unto Thee
Believin’ in the rock of the lamb
How deep the Father’s love for me,
Lamb of God, Son of Man.

The woman next to them sang her heart out, loud­ly, from deep in her diaphragm like an opera singer. She trilled the “r”—rrrrrock of the lamb—with such sin­cer­i­ty and inten­si­ty that Will want­ed to laugh. He noticed his son didn’t seem to notice the woman, how fun­ny she was. My son knows bet­ter than to laugh, he thought, feel­ing proud again. Ben heard the woman sing and felt embar­rassed for her, in just the same way he’d felt about Mr. Randall.

As the last chords of the elec­tric organ died down, the mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion put their hym­nals back into the wood­en hold­ers on the pews in front of them. The preach­er began the ser­mon. Will tuned out the ser­mon almost imme­di­ate­ly, but he kept his eyes trained on the preach­er and made a con­cen­trat­ing face.

Will’s mind wan­dered. He remind­ed him­self to call Marie lat­er that after­noon to let her know they’d gone to church. Had he and Marie ever gone to church togeth­er? Maybe they’d been once, for a wed­ding. He didn’t remem­ber whose wed­ding but he did remem­ber the light blue dress she wore. He per­mit­ted him­self, as he rarely did, to imag­ine him­self and Marie when they’d first met as sopho­mores in col­lege, how fan­tas­tic their love once was, its pas­sion, the thrilling con­tent­ed­ness of wak­ing up with her in his arms, her hair on his face and their legs mixed in the twin bed of one of their dorm rooms. The slap-hap­pi­ness of a mild hang­over, sleep­ing too late and wak­ing to the sun com­ing through the blinds at 11 a.m., look­ing at her desk and read­ing the titles of books for her Poetry and Social Movements class while she stirred beside him. He’d want­ed to read those books cov­er-to-cov­er sim­ply because she’d read them. In those days she wore skirts and a strap­less bra under­neath her tank tops in the sum­mers. He remem­bered vis­cer­al­ly her low­er thigh under­neath his hand, under­neath a table top at a Mexican restau­rant; the smooth­ness of her waxed and lotioned young leg under his own young hand, which had not yet grown dark hair on its knuck­les. As he feigned lis­ten­ing, think­ing of Marie, he felt his own youth at that time, their mutu­al nine­teen-ness, the joy of going to class and tak­ing dri­ves from cam­pus into sur­round­ing towns, talk­ing in an unin­formed but cocky way about phi­los­o­phy with friends until four in the morn­ing, and on the way home, mak­ing love to her, his beau­ti­ful girl­friend, his some-day wife, in his car with the win­dows rolled down in a gro­cery-store park­ing lot. Once, the two of them had made love this way and then exit­ed out of oppo­site pas­sen­ger doors to re-enter the car in the front seat. They’d laughed and laughed about this for­mal­i­ty, and when they’d qui­et­ed from laugh­ing, he tucked her hair behind her small pret­ty ear and start­ed the car back up in a nat­ur­al, con­fi­dent way. After he tucked her hair and start­ed that car, shift­ing smooth­ly into gear, he mar­veled at his own abil­i­ties, the way every­thing worked per­fect­ly, and he loved her for draw­ing this out of him.

Will glanced at his knuck­les, his hands clasped togeth­er in osten­si­ble prayer. He grasped a men­tal image of his body as it was now, nip­ple hair gray­ing, chick­en legs with loose-skinned thighs, a slow­ly arriv­ing pot­bel­ly (not yet, but begin­ning, with a soft­ness around the bel­ly but­ton and on both sides of the pelvis).

He saw his body come home at the end of the day, saw him­self being curt with his son and then buffer­ing his post-work frus­tra­tion with a few min­utes alone in his room to change his clothes. Pulling his dress pants off by tug­ging at the cuffs, putting on shorts. Will’s gen­tle­ness always returned; when he came back out of his bed­room, he would say to his son, “I’m sor­ry I was short with you. What is it that you need?” He would go into the kitchen, say­ing, “You hun­gry for sup­per?”

The father watched this movie of him­self and thought This is how my son sees me. He saw him­self in shorts and flip-flops in the kitchen mak­ing omelets for sup­per. They were not even omelets; he couldn’t make a good omelet, he just made some­thing like a flat sheet of scram­bled eggs, browned to a crisp on the bot­tom and a few sec­onds past run­ny on the top. He saw a sack of a man dis­play­ing self-con­trol and patience but lit­tle else, set­tling into the mild space between hap­py and not, aging mute­ly like a nun before his son’s eyes.

This image of him­self, of his son’s expe­ri­ence of him, made him want to kneel. The preach­er con­clud­ed his ser­mon. The con­gre­ga­tion seemed to pause or inhale, and moved to its knees with­out murmuring—perhaps in deep con­cen­tra­tion, or with relief that it would be over soon. Will and his son knelt. In his mind’s eye, Will saw him­self and his son side-by-side. He want­ed his son to remem­ber the good things about his father, the bet­ter parts of being alive.

As the father and the son knelt, the father stole lit­tle looks at the son. The preach­er said, “Let us pray.”

~

Rebecca Evanhoe was born in Wichita, KS. She earned a BA in chem­istry from the University of Kansas, and an MFA from the  University of Florida. Her work appears in Harper’s MagazineGulf Coast, ViceGigantic, Bat City Review, and else­where. She lives in Gainesville, FL.