Chapter 5 Country Parish
Jerald K. Ward
The church rested on iron beams that sat atop concrete blocks. The moonlight crept be- neath the building into where it had happened. The cellar walls turned into rocks, their color darker in the moonlight. The countryside was illuminated and still, except for the tall grass swaying in the wind. A cloud fell into the light of the moon.
Fred moved into the darkness beneath the church, which sat high on its beams, some- how more looming than the memory that surrounded him.
The church was set for migration in the morning. It would be moved into town, down on the south side where there was a distinct lack of religion. Father Martin was excited for the change. He had grown lonely in the country. He hadn’t had a full house since the 80s, when the farmers in the community still had values, when they were allowed to have a day off. He had already moved his apartment to the property that morning. The money from the state was useful; he would be able to relocate instead of rebuilding.
St. Luke’s parish had seen the Catholics come and go. As of late, the corporations were buying up the properties and the owners were cashing in, moving to the city. Now with the highway rolling through, there was no hope for the countryside. It was all becoming sprawl. The hills of corn and soy were now becoming development properties, anything to warrant an exit sign: a restaurant here, a hotel there, no room for a church in this path.
Father Martin sat at the table facing the window with his book open to Acts 17:28.
“For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”
He pondered the move and prayed that God would forgive him.
Fred looked at the boarded up basement entrance. He wanted to climb inside and rip the place apart. His boots dug at the earth and stone as he climbed back out to get his tools.
From the back of his pickup, Fred took his hammer out of the toolbox. His grip tightened around the handle, making a rubbery crack. The toolbox slammed as he shut it. He looked around to make sure it was clear.
The claw dug into the wood that creaked and cracked under pressure. The nails whined as they were pulled out of the floor above.
The room was empty. The pews were gone; there were no bibles or tapestries. The moonlight cast through the stained glass. A pale red slanted across the floor to Fred’s feet. He had been baptized, taken his first communion, and witnessed his friends Earl and Jamie get married there. The church had been part of the community in those years. He had fallen in love with Jane Henry during bible study as a young boy.
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He wasn’t there to reminisce. He climbed back out and traded his tools for gasoline.
Father Martin dressed down to his underwear and under shirt. He stared at himself in the mirror across from his hotel bed, his body grey and old. Memories flooded his mind. The pain showed in closed eyes and short breaths. He dropped to his knees.
“Please Lord, remove these thoughts from my mind. Please Lord, forgive me.” Tears fell down his face to the bed spread. Suddenly he inhaled and stopped crying. From his suit- case he produced a smaller wooden box; inside this box was a leather flog. Martin placed a towel on the floor, faced the mirror, and removed his shirt.
The can of gasoline sloshed as Fred swung his arm. Anger filled him as he ducked into the basement again. His eyes went directly to the corner. He remembered seeing Father Mar- tin’s back and hearing his voice, soft and sweet. He heard Jane ask, “Why?” Just a low innocent voice tickled with excitement. She was ten and Fred was eleven. Father Martin reached out and touched her. Fred crept behind the broken pew. He wasn’t supposed to be in the basement, but why was Jane? That was unfair.
Tears welled in Fred’s eyes as he remembered her naked body on the stool in the corner. She was so innocent. Her family had moved when she was fifteen. She had never forgotten, she had never told, and neither had Fred.
“She was the one, I’ve always known it.” Anger rose within him. That day had changed them both.
The scent of the gasoline was everywhere, then the match. The square room glowed orange. Fred waited until he heard the wood catch and pop, and then he dropped back into the basement for the last time.
Father Martin stood above the rubble. The iron beams that had held up the church were charred and still warm. The ashes let off a little smoke as a fireman hosed them off.
“Well, looks like you’ll be rebuilding after all. I’m sorry this happened, Father Martin. You’ve still got all the bibles and pews though, right? At least you’ve got that.” Jake, the fire- man, gave Martin a rough pat on the back. Pain shot through him. “Thank you, Jacob. But I think this has been a sign for me to hang up the cloth.” He squeezed his hands together, trying to forget his back.
“Yes.” He looked to the sky. “Sometimes His ways aren’t so mysterious.”
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