title. In The Name Of Thy Father

name. Brooks Hudgins

right now. Fourth year studying Film at Edinburgh College of Art

        The son of a successful grocer and the father of an outside linebacker for the Hillsborough Green Raiders, Robert Lingard held the phone to his chest while a woman with short brown hair popped her head into the kitchen.

 

“Hey, Bob, can I grab a glass?” she said .

 

“Yeah, here you go, honey,”

 

         Robert opened a head high cupboard, stretching the phone cable, and passed her one. She thanked him, and he waited patiently for her to be out of earshot before he spoke again.

 

“It can’t be. That’s impossible,” he said. He waited a moment, and as the fear and awe that he had first felt in the early days of his youth prayer groups welled up inside of him, his arteries constricted, and his temper got away from him. He suppressed his voice as best he could, so as not to disturb his guests.

 

“You are a liar! You are a scam! I won’t have any of this. Do not call this number again, or I’ll call the police…. They’ll never believe you! Goodbye!” He slammed the phone, took a deep breath, and reminded himself who was really in charge. He straightened his sweater vest, adjusted his circular eyeglasses, and stroked along the curvature of his salt and pepper goatee. He was a man of many things, but above all a man of faith. But even Robert Lingard, descendant of Scandinavian pioneers, the fair skinned Princes of the Midwest, could not have his cake and eat it.

 

“Oooooooooo, Hosanna!”

 

        Robert heard the voices beginning to sing. He put on his game face, he’s no sissy! He won’t be played a fool! He is a father! A husband! A family man! He entered the living room of his English Tudor style home; 6 digits, he thought to himself, 6 Golly Gosh digits, and he’d earned it! Paid the mortgage! Respected the community and by and by they were going to respect him! The nerve!

 

        There were about 12 teenagers and young adults seated in the various chairs brought by friends and neighbors for their Wednesday evening prayer groups. His son, Zeke, was not among them. He had football practice, the ever vigilant father reminded himself. He has practice, he hoped. The boy had become a man, and made a damned good form tackler when his head was in the right place. He had a temper like his father, and was known for his violence on the field, but never off. He had taught him justice, the boy was just, the boy had learned to separate the vicious and vile on the field from civilian pain and reactionary anger. Have him blitz off the end, if you could just draw up a dang zone blitz, you wouldn’t get beat deep, Robert thought, the dang coaches - Robert caught himself, and was quietly reminded of his surroundings as 24 impressionable pupils played eye tracks on his face.

 

“Hello, everyone,”

 

“Hello, Father Bob”, they all responded, in slight unity.

 

“Anybody new? I think I see mostly familiar faces... ”

 

There was a bit of shuffling around.

“Come on, I don’t bite, do I guys?”

 

        A thin blonde girl with icy eyes and skin so fair her veins could be seen punishing oxygenless blood back to the her weakly fidgeting heart raised her hand with the authority of a field mouse.

 

“Well, hello! What’s your name, sweetie?”

 

“Julia”

 

“Beautiful name. Isn’t it. Julia. Julia how did you find our group?”

 

“My boyfriend Ethan.”

 

“Ah, Ethan. Good man.”

 

A ginger boy wearing a mothballed sweater gleamed a grateful, metallic braced smile.

 

“Welcome, Julia. Shall we sing?”

 

        They all smiled in agreement. They took each other’s hands, and reluctantly, Julia included, they fell into a moment of silence. Looking around, the frail little girl realized everybody was looking at her. The translucent face flushed into a vivid detail of vermillion.

 

“Julia, honey.” Robert said.

 

“Yes sir?”

 

“Shall we sing?”

 

“W-what song, Father Bob?” she squeaked.

 

“Anything you want, as long as it doesn’t exist.”

 

“What do you mean? I don’t know -”

 

“From the heart, Julia. God put music in you - just close your eyes, and open your heart,”

 

        She closed her eyes. She thought about her argument with Ethan earlier. She didn’t want to do any weirdo stuff, she told him. He said it’s not weird, it’s beautiful. So she agreed. She closed her eyes, and whimpered out a high octave C minor note accidentally. The group hummed in response. She hummed again, this time louder. They followed suit. Then she opened her mouth wide and said, “Oooooh”, and they followed suit again.

 

“The trees”

“The trees -”

“The grass”

“The grass-”

“My family”

“My family-”

“We love”

“We love-”

 

        She waited a moment. She was feeling very strange. Very emotional.

 

“Each other”

“Each other.

 

“Beautiful, Julia. Beautiful.”

 

        When she opened her eyes, she felt strong. Yes, Father Bob, she felt beautiful. She felt Ethan’s hand on her knee. She put her hand on his.

 

        The evening bled on as what each individual poured out was gobbled up insatiably by the rest. For what seemed like hours, they sang directly into each other’s souls, she felt. The grim, grey afternoon turned black, unforgiving night, and they were glad to be in each other’s company. Nearing the end, Robert Lingard stood up and reminded the group:

 

“Same time, same place, next week, guys. Had a great time, I hope you all did as well. And please - please - remember your homework this week: take a moment for you. You time is important. Whether it’s in between classes, or in between video game levels - Michaeeel - just take a moment to close your eyes, breathe in through the mouth, and out through your nose, and just remember how lucky you are to be loved. To be loved by our God. To be loved by your friends. To be loved by your family. And as always, to be loved by me. Good night.”

 

        In the soppy state of things, the group decided to applaud and hug simultaneously, and they found the outside to be so cold and disparate - such terminality and contrast. The warmth of a home, the warmth of a father, the warmth of friends. As they all filed out, the last to go was Julia. She was nervous to speak one on one with Father Bob before the group, but now she felt empowered, like he was her family. Ethan hovered by the door and watched.

 

“Father Bob - I have a question for you,”

 

“Of course, Julia. What’s on our mind?”

 

        Julia hesitated, her voice faded to a whisper, “It’s not something - appropriate - for the whole group, but - I just thought -”

 

        Her voice wouldn’t have rippled a still pond on a windless day.

 

“Go ahead, Julia. Only God can judge,” Robert said firmly, as if to will her voice to action. His veins welled, he’d heard this introduction before, and rarely was it good. Thus is the responsibility of his job.

 

“I feel like - I - I may have committed sin.”

 

        He cleared his throat, adjusting his glasses.

 

“We all commit sin to various degrees. Before you elaborate, Julia, I want you to know that I am not the police nor will I report you to the police. Your secret is safe with me.”

 

Father Bob waited.

 

“It’s Ethan and I.”

 

        Father Bob waited. She colored tremendously.

 

“Is it wrong?”

 

        Father Bob waited longer. She looked at her feet. She felt the schoolgirl she really was. Miles from the mountaintop she had just climbed moments before, toppling further and further back into her short life of indiscretion and impiety.

 

        Father Bob adjusted his glasses again and stroked his goatee. He touched her shoulder and brought her around the corner into the kitchen gently, out of earshot.

 

“I need you to be very specific, Julia, about what you’ve done. There is a fine line between right and wrong at your age. I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you are going to answer them with yes or no, do you understand?”

 

“Yes,” she said, like the mouse she felt.

 

“Did you and Ethan kiss?”

 

“Yes,” she said.

 

“Did you let Ethan touch you? Where you aren’t to be touched by anyone else?”

 

“Yes,” she said.

 

“Did you touch Ethan?”

 

“Yes,” she said.

 

“Did you and Ethan have intercouse, Julia?”

 

        Julia was a puddle. She had nothing to say; she was confused.

 

“I don’t - I don’t know what that means, Father Bob,”

 

“Was Ethan inside of you, Julia?”

 

        She was holding herself, and all of a sudden felt so cold, a cold that no blanket could cover, a depthless vacuum of spirit that swept the heart of the midwest to the coasts. She thought she was going to have to run away. What would she tell her parents? They were so nice, she thought, but they didn’t understand. Father Bob does, she thought. He will help me. He will help me get to California. He will know somebody, somebody who sings, somebody who prays, somebody who will accept me for my sins and sing and pray with me, because it felt right, and I can’t remember ever hearing that sin was supposed to feel so good. It felt different.

 

“Yes,” she replied, this time with a snap of understated anger.

 

        Father Bob went to the sink and pulled out a length of kitchen roll, and handed it to her. Julia hadn’t even realized she was crying. He straightened his sweater and glasses, and bent down, with his hands on his knees, to get closer to her.

 

“Julia,” he said.

 

        She looked at her toes.

 

“Juuuliaaaaa,” he said more playfully this time.

 

         She giggled through her sob. She looked up at him.

 

“It isn’t the end of the world. You are not the first person to ever do this, nor will you be the last.”

 

        She felt a streak of relief through her body, a one way free ticket back to salvation, courtesy of Father Bob.

 

“Thank you for understanding Father Bob,” she replied, wiping her eyes. “I think I need to - “

 

“Julia,” he said.

 

“Yes, Father Bob?”

 

“I wasn’t finished. This is not the end of the world. But that is because the world we live in is rife with immorality and transgression. You have transgressed, and to inherit the Kingdom of God, the soul has to be cleansed of these silly mistakes. Do you think your mistake was silly?”

 

“Yes, Father Bob. I don’t know why we did it. It just - “

 

“Felt right.”

 

        She nodded. He got up out of his squat, and went over to the sink. He poured a glass of water for her, handed it to her and watched her drink it. He washed his hands and said to her:

 

“I’ve got something that will remedy all of this. It might seem stupid, but what you did was stupid right? It’s all pretty dumb sometimes, the stuff we do. But we’ve gotta remember, we’re only human, made in God’s image, but not in God’s manner, right?”

 

“Right,” she said.

 

“Come with me,” he said.

 

         He led her through the hall, past a few bedrooms, past a few old portraits of ancient Scandinavians, and into a bedroom at the far end. It was pristine, and completely clean. It looked like a child’s bedroom, but obviously no child had been tearing the place up in years.

 

“I like to come in here when I get emotional,” Robert Lingard said, “I like to come in here when I feel angry, or upset, or stupid, or just plain lonely. This was my son Tyler’s room.”

 

“Where is Tyler?”

 

“Tyler passed away, Julia,” he replied.

 

“Oh. I’m sorry,”

 

“Don’t be. Tyler had a good life, albeit a short one. As I said, I like to come in here, to remind myself why certain things happen. And how some things we can control, and others we cannot. Julia, could you have controlled your actions?”

 

Julia paused. “Yes, I could have.”

 

“And did you?”

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“Julia -”

 

“I told you!”

 

“Julia, I quote, ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God’ AND GOD ONLY, ‘will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous’, I’m not God, Julia. I answer, just like you, to the guy upstairs,”

 

She raised her head and met his eyes. For the first time, she noticed that he didn’t seem to have any particular color in his eyes. Just a sort of emotion she couldn’t quite put her finger on. As he approached her, she realized that it was pain. Helplessness. She raised her chin and looked closely around her. Immaculate, impeccable white furniture, toys meticulously placed, baby blue embroidered pillows set in the dustless stagnance of eternal upkeep. He was facing the window, the black outside, and turned to her.

 

“Julia, I want you to understand how lucky you are. To have control of your actions, to understand your wrongdoings, to seek help. But what I don’t think you understand is that your actions have consequences. When this great race is up, how will you be remembered? How will you be greeted in the hereafter? Would you like to go to Heaven, Julia?” he questioned.

 

“More than anything, Father Bob. That’s why I came to you. I thought you might be able to help, I thought maybe you could -”

 

“Julia -”

 

“You could help me sing or something, or maybe -”

 

“Julia, there is no -”

 

“Or something, anything! I don’t want my parents to know, PLEASE,”

 

         His voice raised, and mouth quivered, “Julia, what’s done is done! Now, you listen to me. Do you want to make this go away?”

 

“Yes. I do.”

 

“Then I need you to close your eyes. Imagine a beach, or a forest, or a river, the birds, the children laughing and playing. And feel the song God put inside of you,”

 

         She wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t, not again. She remembered how good it felt to sing. So she closed her eyes.

 

And as she opened her mouth, she felt the words come out, slowly, quietly, meticulously:

 

The birds in the sky

Are closer to you than me

 

        Robert Lingard, the son of a successful grocer and the father of two, one living, one dead, laid his hands on the hands of the girl before him. He raised her hands into the air above her head, and held them there with one hand, his firm, calloused grip fit around both translucent wrists. With his other hand, he pulled the edge of her dress slowly over her back, then shoulders, the carefully over her wrists above her head.

 

The children may laugh

And play like nobody cares

 

         Robert gripped her freezing waist, and closed his eyes as well. He felt the drip of a tear on his right hand. He breathed in through his mouth, and out through his nose. The heavy, warm, moist air settled on her shoulder like morning dew. His whiskers brushed the dew aside as he dug his mouth into the crook of her neck.

 

But I know who is watching,

Always watching - The man upstairs

 

         Zeke Lingard was an outside linebacker and though he had hit and been hit many times, nothing could have prepared him for what he did when he came home that night. He didn’t remember his brother Tyler, and he wasn’t expected to. But he felt guilty for ruining all of his nice toys and pillows. Though the blood of our fathers runs through us, the the blood of Zeke Lingard’s father ran straight through the embroidered baby blues, straight through the impeccable white textured duvet cover, and straight between the feet of the thin ginger boy named Ethan who stood watching from the doorway, his finger frozen in midair, still pointing into the room. The neighbors saw a girl, naked as a jaybird and as translucent as the full moon that night, come running out of the front door. Some say she never stopped running until she got to California.