Now on to this week’s story excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 7. of Soul Cages. In today’s entry, Marian’s family prepares to move into their new home in Albuquerque. (This story is around PG-13 in intensity.)
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Part One. Dreams in the Desert
When my family drove up to our house Saturday morning, the Andervenders stood lined up on the sidewalk waiting. They reminded me of people out of a 1950s TV show—Pastor Andervender in a gray business suit, Gena in an orchid-print dress, and all four sons dressed up in oxford shirts, ties, and khakis.
My family was dressed for dealing with boxes out of moving vans—jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Even Mom.
Dad parked our car on the street so that the driveway would be clear for the moving vans.
Mark and Luke, the youngest Andervender sons, turned out to be seven and five respectively, and on their best manners. But they wriggled while standing in place.
Mom looked at Gena’s dress, then down at her own jeans. “I didn’t realize—”
“No, no,” Gena interrupted. “We always dress up on a special occasion like this. I’ve packed other clothes for them to switch into after the healing prayers, if it’s okay with you.”
“Certainly,” Mom said.
Gena lifted up a picnic basket that was at her feet, and handed it to Mom. “From our home to yours. May we break bread together in the name of Christ.”
“Amen,” all the boys and Andervender said.
Mom lifted the basket lid, to expose a loaf of brown bread and eight blueberry muffins. “Oh, Gena, this smells wonderful.”
“I love the smell of baking bread,” Gena said. “If you put a slice in the microwave for ten seconds, it’ll make your kitchen smell nice and homey.”
Mom put her hand into the basket and smiled at Dad. “The bread is still warm.”
Henry ignored the bread smell to gaze at the backyard walls. I could tell he wanted this all to end so he could get away from the strangers and go hide in the backyard.
But Pastor Andervender launched into prayers that seemed to go on and on and on. I got bored and began watching everyone while my head stayed tilted down. The Andervenders posed in solemn prayer with bowed heads and folded hands; they obviously had to do this a lot.
Dad and Mom had their eyes screwed shut like they were afraid they’d be busted for peeking. And Henry stood there, head unbowed, shifting from foot to foot. Dad had a tight grip on Henry’s T-shirt, which explained why my brother hadn’t snuck off.
At last there was a chorus of Amens, and both Henry and I made for the barred front door.
“Ahem,” Pastor Andervender said. “Henry, Marian, please come back. We’re not quite done.”
Henry scraped his sneakers in long drags as he came back with me.
Andervender said, “Stand before me, children.”
All the boys and Gena looked blasé. This must be something Andervender always did.
Andervender raised his hands over my head and Henry’s. I made myself stay put as he lay a sweaty palm on my head. His thumb dug deep into my scalp.
Henry ducked Andervender’s other hand.
I would have laughed except for the look in Andervender’s eyes.
Andervender scowled. “Son, hold still.”
“Son?” Henry asked. He pointed at Dad. “He’s my Dad, not you.”
Dad said to Henry, “Pastor Andervender calls all the boys in his church ‘son.’ It’s a special word for pastors to use.”
“Oh,” Henry said. To Andervender: “Don’t touch me.”
“Henry,” Mom said. “Let the Pastor bless you. Just like what he’s doing with Marian. Hold still.”
“No!” Henry ran for the door and rattled the bars.
Mom said, “It’s hard for him to let others touch him.” Dad went after Henry, while Mark and Luke gawked at the unexpected change in routine.
Andervender’s hand on my scalp was getting on my nerves.
More loud No‘s from Henry as he yanked on the bars while Dad whispered in his ear. I winced inside. My brother was being pushed to his limits, and any moment now he was going snap.
“Matthew,” Andervender said, “please help the Hawthorns get their son back.”
John put a hand on Matthew’s arm, but Matthew shrugged it off and strode up toward Henry.
My mouth went dry. I couldn’t get any words out. Come back, Henry. They don’t understand.
When Matthew had almost reached him, Henry made a run for it. My brother was such a clumsy runner, with his flailing arms, that Matthew caught him easily. Matthew wrapped his arms around Henry from behind and lifted him like he was a huge box, hauling him back to Andervender.
Only Andervender’s hand on my head inhibited me from going after Matthew when Henry started bellowing.
Dad walked next to Henry, saying over and over, “Stop it, Henry, stop yelling.” Mom wrung her hands and went to stand next to Gena.
Henry wriggled as hard as he could. Matthew’s hands, linked together, turned pink with the effort to hold Henry in place.
Andervender let go of me to use both hands to hold Henry’s head between his thick fingers. “In the name of Christ Almighty,” Andervender said, “I command the affliction of Asperger’s to be lifted out of this child. Let your light shine in this world, O Lord.”
While Andervender continued to pray, Henry yelled. His feet dangled and kicked out helplessly.
Mom and Dad watched, gripping onto each other’s hands.
Henry tried to whip his head back to escape Andervender’s grip. Matthew’s arms tightened, the sinews showing, and my brother gave a hoarse moan.
The cry welled out of me. “Stop! You’re freaking him out!”
Andervender kept praying, focused on Henry.
“Stop!” I twisted Andervender’s nearest pinky out at a sharp angle. Andervender yelped at the pain, and had to remove that hand from Henry’s head to get his pinky away from me.
John ran up. “Matt, put him down.”
Matthew let go, and Henry fell in a heap.
I squatted at Henry’s side as he rolled onto to his stomach to pummel the concrete with hands and feet.
Andervender watched Henry fall apart. He calmly told me, “You ruined this. I could feel the spirits leaving the boy.”
My voice shook. “Stay away from my brother.”
“That’s for your parents to decide.” Andervender looked at my parents, and I followed his gaze.
They wouldn’t look at Henry or me. The younger Andervenders were hiding behind Gena—who wagged a finger at me.
Dad said, still not looking at me, “I’m surprised we didn’t bother the neighbors with all this fuss.” He sighed, and walked over. “Marian, Henry is having a tantrum, and he’ll keep it up if you pay attention. You know better than to do that.” He clasped my wrists and tried to pull me up. “Come away. He’ll stop once he doesn’t have an audience.”
I sat down on the concrete, close enough that Henry could sense I was there, but far enough that I wouldn’t get hit by his fists or feet.
“Get up,” Dad said. “Let Henry be by himself for a bit.”
“No,” I said.
Andervender sucked in his breath in disapproval. I was sorely tempted to give him the finger.
Matthew offered his hand to me to help me up. Jerk. Go away. I wrapped my arms around my legs and shook my head.
He took a step back, hesitated, and then followed Gena and Mom as they disappeared through the front door with Mark and Luke.
“Go on in,” I said to Dad.
“Very well,” Dad said. “But lock up the car after you get the backpacks out.”
Dad and Andervender went into the house, but John stayed. He said, “What can I do?” as he watched Henry thrash around.
“Not much.” I leaned over to say in Henry’s ear, “They’re gone.” But my brother was lost in overstimulation. I worried he’d start banging his forehead against the concrete.
So I walked to the car on shaky legs and rummaged through Henry’s backpack until I found his spinning light toy. Then I dug through mine for Henry’s surprise gift—a field guide for New Mexico.
When I returned with toy and field guide, John had moved so that he was between Henry and the street; Henry would be unable to accidentally roll into it.
I stood next to Henry and pretended to study the light toy up close. “Gee, this is fascinating.” I pushed the toy button halfway in, then all the way, then halfway again. “I can control the spin of the lights by how far I push the button in, and the spin speed changes the light patterns.”
Henry stopped pounding the concrete, raised his head, and held out a scuffed palm.
I handed the toy over. Henry lay on his stomach with his nose up against its plastic shell, studying how the light patterns changed. His arms had faint pink marks where Matthew had held him.
How I hated Matthew and Andervender for this.
John said, “I’ve never seen Dad get carried away like that. Matt tends to act first, think later.”
“Dad is certain he can cure Henry—he said he had a vision about it.” John kicked a stone away while mumbling, “I don’t think…”
His voice was so soft I moved closer to try to hear him. “Think what?”
As he rubbed a hand against his forehead, a rough wooden cross hidden by his tie came into view. He said, “You didn’t tell your parents about knowing about Sydney.”
“Would you have gotten in trouble if I had?”
“You confided in me,” I said. “Breaking that would be a betrayal of trust.”
John’s shoulders relaxed. He took off his glasses to polish them with his tie. “Dad went about this prayer session the wrong way.” He put his glasses back on. “He was too fast and too harsh … he’s used to parishioners being eager for the laying on of hands, not running away.”
“He knows nothing about Asperger’s, nothing about how they experience the world.”
“Would you teach me? Then I’ll know how to explain it to him.”
I thought about it. So far John’s interest in Henry had been genuine. “Yes.”
“People from church will be arriving soon. Should we take him for a walk to Piñon Park?”
Henry lifted his head at the word “park” and looked around. That’s when he caught sight of the field guide under my arm.
“He’d like that. Here,” I said, giving the field guide to Henry as he stood up. “You can take it with you to look up any plants or animals we see.”
Henry flipped it open to a picture of ravens.
Now was not the time to remind Henry he was supposed to say “Thank you.”
Henry kept his nose in his book as he said, “Let’s go.”
John tugged at his tie. “I need to change. I’m not dressed for a hike.” He paused, staring at the living room windows. “Then again, maybe we should just grab supplies and go.”
Mom and Gena were looking out, heads tilted toward each other, mouths moving, watching us. I made a weak smile and waved. John waved as well.
I turned my face away from the window. “In the car there’s sunscreen, and a small cooler with water bottles.”
Henry ran for the car. He grabbed his backpack—shaking DVDs out of it onto the seat—to shove in his field guide and light toy.
“Henry, do me a favor and get my backpack for me.” I popped the trunk to pull out four water bottles. John took my backpack from Henry and put the bottles in for me while I dug around for sunscreen.
After I locked up the car, John led the way to the house. Mom and Gena were gone from the window. John said, “Let me persuade them.”
My brother’s pace slowed. I doubted Henry wanted go inside while Matthew and Andervender were there. “Henry, why don’t you sit out here? We’ll come get you.”
Henry flopped down and rocked his upper body back and forth while looking through his field guide. We left the backpacks near him.
John and I entered the dank hall to find Luke and Mark playing hide-and-seek in the living room. Female voices could be heard from the kitchen, muffled male ones from behind the home office door.
John made an exasperated noise. “Still stinks in here.”
No wonder people call them “swamp” coolers. I pointed at the brown carpet. “Maybe the carpeting soaked up the puddle smell.”
“Could be. Mr. Bauer should have cleaned the swamp coolers more often.”
John reached the kitchen archway and stood there, while I lurked in the hall to listen.
Gena said, “Oh, there you are. Laura’s parents called. They’ll be here in fifteen minutes with folding tables for the food and drinks.”
“Fine.” John sounded hostile about Laura. “I heard people with Asperger’s don’t deal well with crowds. I’m taking Henry and Marian for a walk to Piñon Park so he can relax.”
Mom said, “That’s … very nice of you.”
“We need a better understanding of Asperger’s if Dad is going to help Henry,” John added.
Gena said, “Let’s not go into that now. Tonight will be soon enough.”
So, there would be a discussion at the Andervender household about the botched prayer.
John studied his watch. “We’ll be back before noon.”
“Oh, all right.” Gena sighed. “How about Matthew goes with you?”
“After what happened?” John said. “No way.” He backed out of the archway into the hall.
I overheard Gena say, “He’s so irritable whenever I mention Laura. I don’t know what to do at times. He refuses to go out with her anymore, but she’s perfect for him.”
I couldn’t be sure due to the hall’s dimness, but I thought John blushed.
Mom said, “I know exactly what you mean. Marian and Trent started out so well, and then she fought with him nonstop. Since Henry’s diagnosis she’s become so argumentative and pushy. She needs someone she can’t bully, like Matthew.”
It was my turn to blush.
By silent mutual consent, John and I rushed for the door, gathered up Henry, and went down the street in an almost-run.
************** End of Part One. 7. *****************
See you in September, LM