November 19, 2009

Hunters Chapter 3

"Five place settings tonight, Joe. Pastor Jesse will be coming to dinner."

Of course, I already knew that we would be having company. Our father had lit all five lamps and the dining room was devoid of comfort. The lighting of lamps was his own peculiar celebration of a kill. Certain parts of their bodies contained oil that burned brightly and endured, much like the oil, I'm told, of a whale.

The lamps were our father's statement to the world. He believed unquestioningly in the superiority of man and few things filled him with more pride than our little house in the woods standing like a beacon against the encroaching darkness. It was an invitation and a challenge, both to human wanderers and otherwise.

Edward pressed his face against the window. I used to do the same thing when I was his age to remind myself that the world outside still existed. The brightness of our world inside blinded us to everything else. I left him and stepped into the kitchen. It was like walking off the stage of a morality play. The bright light from the dining room cast long shadows across the wooden counters.

My mother was humming. She always hummed the same tune when she cooked. Once when I asked her about it, she just shook her head and told me that her mother used to sing this song, but she could never remember the words. When I was eight, I wrote my own words for it, something to do with rabbits, I think. She just smiled and told me that it was supposed to be a love song.

"It's almost ready, dear." She spoke without looking up, assuming that whoever it was had come to the kitchen out of impatience.

"I don't care, ma. I'm not that hungry." Everyone would have been happier if I didn't sit with them at dinner, and yet it would be an inappropriate suggestion. Perhaps she liked having me there. "The table is set."

She made a vague, pleasant sound of approval. Pastor Jesse's visits always put her in a good mood. While she knew that the women of the town envied her marriage to the best hunter New Birmingham had ever known, she would never be satisfied until she could bring him closer to God, for he must see the divine purpose behind his killing.

I watched her as she moved around the kitchen with her own regal grace. The kitchen was her kingdom. Nothing happened without her approval and there was never a superfluous movement. I savored every one of these moments that I managed to steal. A knock on the door awoke me from my reverie and signified the end of my temporary peace.

Edward stood aside as Pastor Jesse glided through the door with his long strides and over-sized magnanimous smile. He was trying to overpower Edward's inscrutable stare with those teeth of his, and for a moment I believed that he might succeed. The battle was interrupted when my mother rushed between them and grasped the pastor's hands. Like almost all of the women in the region, she gushed over his youth, his rare red hair, and his unshakeable faith. He turned his smile toward her face and I shuddered.

"I do hope you enjoy rabbit stew, Pastor. We caught the rabbit in one of Hector's traps today."

"Oh, Mrs. Harding. I'm sure I never have tasted rabbit stew that could compare to the heavenly smell wafting from your kitchen."

My mother burst into girlish giggles at the nonsense that was spewing from the pastor's mouth. Everyone was a sucker for a grandiose way of speech around here, whether or not it made sense.

"Please, Pastor. Call me Mary." She hurried back to the kitchen as my father appeared in the dining room.

"Well, Pastor Jesse. You honor us with your presence again. Have a seat and remind me if men of your position are allowed to drink whiskey with us common folk." Disdain dripped from his lips as he gripped the pastor's hand with excessive firmness.

"I'm afraid not, Hector. However, I'm sure that will not prevent me from enjoying your hospitality on this fine evening."

I sensed Edward as he slipped past me and out the front door, leaving it slightly ajar as an invitation for me to follow. I was not in the mood for the pre-fight show between my father and Pastor Jesse. The real sparring would begin about halfway through dinner.

Edward sat on the front steps, not daring to venture any further. "He sure talks funny, don't he?" His elbows were placed on his knees and his face in his hands. He rocked back and forth, uncomfortable as always in his church clothes, which doubled as his dinner guest clothes. I doubted that there was a child alive who felt at home in a grey three-piece suit. It was a gift after he won his first shooting competition. I think he would have preferred a bike.

"He just likes to sound different from the rest of us, so's we know that he's better." I sat down next to him. "I wouldn't worry about it."

"How come mom keeps inviting him? She knows it just makes dad angry." I was surprised again by his alacrity at reading the people around him. Perhaps it came, as it did with me, from being generally baffled by people's day-to-day actions.

"You know those stories mom reads us, the ones that always have a moral at the end? She invites Pastor Jesse to say things like that to dad. Because he sure won't have them from her."

He stopped rocking and stared at my face. He was unsatisfied with my answer. So was I.

"Come on. Let's get back inside. You know dad'll be mad if he has to come fetch us."

Moments later we were distributing bowls of steaming rabbit stew. Certain meals call up a sense of nostalgia even in the very young and I could see on Edward's face that he was imagining a quiet family meal without Pastor Jesse. It smelled like the end of a perfect autumn day, but the blinding light of the lamps gave the scene a false, dream-like quality. We sat down daintily, as we'd been taught, except for my father who slumped into his chair with a crash. He picked up his fork.

"Pastor Jesse," my mother blurted, "would you do us the honor of saying grace?" She must have rehearsed the phrasing of her question for hours in the kitchen and it came out a little flat, perhaps because of her haste to interrupt our father.

The red-headed pastor beamed as if he was surprised. Clasping his hands together, he cooed, "the honor, Mary, would be mine." He closed his eyes and took a slow deep breath, assuming that we, of course, would follow suit. Our father glared at us until we imitated the pastor's position.

"Our father, dwelling in the earth beneath us and in each one of us, protect us from cosmic predators. Do not lead the invaders toward our humble planet and do not tempt us to seek them out again. Permit us to rejoice in our planet's simplicity and to rid our world of the alien presence. We give thanks for the bounty that is before us, for your earth provides us with everything that man will ever need. Amen."

"Amen," my father repeated without delay as he grasped his fork and dug into the stew. My mother's eyes remained closed for a few moments before whispering "amen" and beaming toward the pastor. I ate slowly and basked in the quiet that our father's ravenous appetite permitted us.


antonabadzhiev said...

You are going to film that all! You are the James Quill in film-making!

Quill said...

I was thinking it seems up Spielberg's alley, but I'll need to supervise.