Passion of the Priest Ch. 02byJ.B.Shelton©
The phone was ringing when I cut the water off. I let the machine pick it up, too lost in my own guilty mind to talk to anyone. Especially my mother.
"Stephen, this is your mother. Phyllis Johnson called me. Harry's in the hospital. He had another coronary attack. The doctors say it's not good. They think he might go home this time (Mom's strange way of referring to Heaven) , so you need to drive over there and handle it. Your father is on his way to pick you up. I'll pack you a peanut butter sandwich to take with you. Love you, baby boy."
Mother had packed me peanut butter every day for eight years, until I became a sophomore and told her I could no longer stand peanut butter. Then she switched to tuna. I ate tuna every day for the remaining three years of school, dreading the days I had gym class, because I would smell like fish after sweating for an hour, and the other guys would tease me, their jibes nasty and sexual in a way that offended me once to the point of tears. The biggest guy in class approached me. "Are you cryin', boy? Are you a cry baby?" He grabbed the collar of my t-shirt and smacked me against the lockers. "Maybe you're not a boy at all, just a strange-lookin' girl with a smelly pussy." He was holding me with one hand, against my throat, and I couldn't swallow, my breaths shallow gasps.
"Whatcha say, freak? Can I see your little pussy?" He grabbed at my shorts with his other hand and yanked them down to my knees with his long arm. My dick hung out, and no one spoke. He looked at it for a moment, then dropped me on the floor and walked away.
My father arrived just as I was putting on my tie, and I yelled for him to come in. "Good morning, Stephen," he said, sticking his hand out towards me. "Father," I replied, shaking it firmly. He'd been teaching me the importance of a strong handshake and a polite greeting since I was old enough to say "father".
"I brought you a cup of coffee," he said, leafing through my notes on my desk. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, although there was nothing there but sermon ideas and personal biblical translations. I put on my sports coat and slipped my socked feet into some loafers while I grabbed some Pop Tarts out of the cabinet. Father didn't say anything, just shook his head. I was the perpetual bachelor, he told all his friends. I would just as soon eat junk food and drop my clothes off for laundering as I would settle down with a good Christian woman. The only problem was I didn't know any good Christian women. At least not any I could stand.
Half way to the hospital, I found my voice again. "How's Mother?" Father fiddled with the radio stations, pushing buttons up and down the face of the dash, finally locating a station of gospel and bible talk, and he nodded and turned up the volume. I rolled the window down an inch and tilted my head towards the cool morning breeze. September was my favorite month of the entire year.
"Your mother is fine," he said. "She has good days and bad days, of course." Good days being days when she left him alone and was together enough to drive to the mall or to meet her lady friends for women's studies. Bad days being when she screamed at him from the kitchen that the milk was sour again and Stephen wet the bed and she knew he was fucking Miss Betty Lou Simmons, and she wouldn't allow him to be in her house or her hole ever again. Yeah, I guess that qualified as a bad day.
The hospital parking lot was packed tight with an assortment of old, dilapidated vehicles, SUVs and the cars that belong to the physicians, mainly Bentleys and BMWs, although an occasional Porche broke up the monotony. "She told me she'd fix me a peanut butter sandwich."
Father nodded and tipped his head back. I looked into the back seat. There sat a brown paper bag, just like the one I'd carried for all my years of grade-school torment, my name written on the outside in black magic marker - Stevie Wayne Kilroy. I grabbed the bag and tossed it into the trashcan as we entered the revolving door.
The hospital was cold, much like hospitals always are, and I remember wanting to do nothing but scream. Father was silent as we rode the elevator, and Mrs. Johnson was sobbing in the hallway outside Harry's room when we arrived. Father hugged her, whispering soothing words and scripture in her ear. I just walked right past and into the room.
It smelled like piss, silence thick as molasses, and I felt a gag in my throat. I sat near the bed and noticed Harry was awake, his eyes darting around the room until they focused on me. A fleeting smile passed across his thin, tight mouth, and I felt the reflex in my throat again. I took his hand and leaned in close. "Let go, Harry. It's time to move on. This place sucks anyway." His eyes loomed large, but I continued.
"You know what happens if you go home this time? You wear adult diapers, and nurses come in to wipe your ass, and Phyllis puts all your food in the fucking blender so you can suck it through a straw. They roll you around in a wheel chair, and you can't have liquor anymore, not to mention red meat or sex." I let go of his hand and sat back. "It's your choice, Harry. You can decide to stay or go. If you stay, though, you need to know what it will be. Cause it certainly won't be a life."
I stood and walked to the door, then turned around. Harry's eyes were focused on the cloudless blue sky through the open curtains. "Hey Harry?" He rolled his head towards me. "I'll say a prayer you make the right choice, okay, buddy?"
Two hours later, the doctors pronounced Harold Johnson dead. Would I preside over the funeral? No, I don't think so. I just kept thinking, that lucky bastard.