Someone will come. Someone will find me.
Sirens will sound in the distance. Lights will rise from darkness like seraphs, dancing red and blue. Salvation will be brought by men sent from God. These men will come from the east. There is a campus not too far in that direction, a satellite of the state university. The men will move as quickly as possible along the highway, over black ice, close to the barrier that divides east and west.
Tread marks will lead them to an indentation in the guardrail, scratched with white paint. The men, always moving, will jump down from their trucks, rubber boots clomping to the pavement with the strength of hooves. One of them will wonder aloud how that white car got all the way down the hill by the quarry. “You can hardly see it,” he will say with his hand at attention. His eyes will strain under the swirling clouds that block the moon, that mute the stars. Another, braver, will lead them over the guardrail, hooves romping easily down the hill like broncos through the wilderness. They will follow the path cut by the car as it flipped, over and over, then landed on its hard top, balancing on a caved-in roof.
The Reverend remains strapped in his seat, upside down, his nose only inches from the ground, unable to move. His humble Toyota crashed into a tree with such force that several elderly branches, heaving from the weight of the snow, broke from the trunk, tumbled through the wintry air, and landed on the overturned car. Periodically it creaks, warning him. At some point he knows it will give under the excess weight. But by then he will be saved. The men will have come and gone and in between, ripped him free.
They will come shouting into their walkie-talkies, demanding back-up, cursing, not caring if their words offend him. The glare from their flashlights will find him, then blind him. Someone will shout for the men at the top of the hill to aim their headlights at the quarry, give them some light. The Toyota’s lights will be extinguished, the battery will have died. Once there is light, the Reverend will see how the snow has frozen beneath him, how every window has shattered, how the car he gave his sixteen-year-old son eight years ago crumpled around him as though it were nothing more than a toy, a matchbox model like the ones Davis used to play with.
The youngest, newest, trooper will kneel as close to the car as possible. He will extend his arm through the broken window. He will shine his flashlight into the Reverend’s face, then up and down his body.
“Are you hurt?” He will ask, gently at first.
“Davis?” The Reverend will ask the man. “Is it you?”
“Sir, are you hurt? Can you move?” The trooper’s voice will ring with easy authority over more sirens sounding in the distance, coming their way; over the slow rumble of traffic that will begin to pile up, though it’s after midnight, and the roads are relatively bare. Over the chatter of the Reverend’s teeth, for by this time he will be delirious and so cold that his words will be nearly unintelligible.
The Reverend will try to turn his head until he can see the trooper’s eyes. He will try, but he will fail. He will know that the trooper’s voice is not his son’s voice, the trooper’s hands—large, pale, and strong—are not his son’s hands. He will wonder if these are the hands that will keep him alive, bring him to safety. He will wonder if safety is what Davis sees in That Man, the white one, the one he plans to marry. He will wonder if Davis ever saw these things in him.
“Sir, don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of here.”
“Sunny Boy,” he will say.
“Everything is going to be fine.”
“I need my son. I need to save my son,” he will say.
“Your son isn’t here. He’s safe. It’s only you in this car.” The trooper will consider the fact that he, too, would be thinking of his son were it him trapped in that seat, hanging upside down. With his free arm he will slowly reach his hand through the broken window until he can gently press his palm against the driver’s shoulder. He will do his best to look the driver in the eye. “Sir, we’re going to get you out of here.”
His intention was to go for a short drive, just a little ride to clear his head. He’d driven past the church, The Popcorn Shoppe, and Shirley’s Gourmet Ice Cream Parlor. He’d driven past Montgomery’s Country Store, home to the world’s chewiest pecan pralines. And though he’d slowed down, that moment as good as any for a drink, eventually he drove right on by the local dive. He’d been done with all that for twenty-five years, minus a few bumps along the way.
He’d turned from Main Street onto Route 34, heading south. He drove past True Value Hardware, and the Gemini Boutique. Past the post office and Cooke’s Violins. It was in the east garret of the Cooke’s three story shop, in the small octagonal room with the round window and the red carpet, where Davis, at seven years old, first learned how to hold a violin, scratching out two ugly notes before calmly setting the thing down and declaring that he wanted to play an instrument that allowed him to sit. The place finally shut its doors after years spent struggling to stay afloat.
When the Reverend called Davis to tell him the news, Davis had said, “You could have texted me that,” and hung up. So the Reverend had texted him, “I’d like to see you, son.” But Davis—young, living all the way out there in New York City with That Man, caught up in his life—didn’t make much of an effort. Davis wouldn’t know what it is to call your son with news that should be important to him and be dismissed as though you are some kind of nuisance, when at one time, for a long time, you were everything to him.
From home, New York City was an eight-hour drive, a straight shot. The tank was full, the road mostly cleared from the winter storm that dumped six feet of snow earlier that week. He paid attention to the signs warning him to watch out for deer crossing and boulders that might stumble to the road from the mountains of Pennsylvania. The Reverend was glad for the late hour and the sparsely populated highway.
He knows he must be perched near water’s edge. Every so often, because his ears are well-trained to the noise of the creek that travels along his property, he recognizes the sound of water moving underneath the quarry’s icy surface–everything normal, as is, going about its day. He hears the wind scream through the trees.
He remembers when those horrific screams came from Davis—an aftershock of his mother’s death. Davis and Olivia without a mother. A Reverend without a wife. Davis, at five, practically a toddler, a rug rat, his sister already a woman. The first time Davis screamed—just hours after the funeral—Olivia woke, bounding from her bed, and ran to her brother’s aid. It was she who stood beside him momentarily, unsure of what to do as she witnessed Davis twisting, turning, shrieking like a thing possessed. Senses gone. Limbs flying every which way. She turned on the bedside lamp, took a seat on the bed, and wrapped her arms around him.
The next morning the Reverend sat at the kitchen table, head aching in his hands, doing his best to listen.
“I stayed with him until his arms stopped moving, until he stopped kicking,” Olivia said. She was pouring coffee into a travel mug, her suitcase by the door, her back turned to him. After she set the coffee pot down, she went to the refrigerator looking for milk.
“You’re going to need to watch him. He could hurt himself. He was asleep the whole time.” Her voice was low and serious.
She stirred a packet of sugar into the mug and glanced at the Reverend when she tapped the spoon twice against the mug’s brim. Her face didn’t change—not a smile, nor a glimmer of softness. But she answered his unasked question. “I have to go. Exams.”
He remembers the sound of her heeled boots clicking across the hardwood floor as she walked from the kitchen through the living room, pulling her suitcase behind her. How much she looked like her mother—short, darker-skinned, but shapely like she, with a head nearly shaved—like hers. She stopped in the foyer and turned around, for a moment looking at him, eyes blinking.
“How could you not have heard him screaming like that?”
He closed the door behind her and slumped against it, his cheek sticking to the glass. Olivia had worn her mother’s perfume.
First the diagnosis: Stage IV lymphoma. Then the symptoms came. Night sweats; weight loss; fatigue so severe that his wife was often unable to pick up her child, to keep up with his endless five-year-old energy. Coughing turned to vomiting blood. They did their best to hide her sickness from Davis and Olivia, but in a matter of weeks she was hospitalized for good.
The Reverend didn’t want to bring Davis to the hospital, didn’t want him to see Adina like that, nothing more than skin and bones, cheeks sallow and sunken in, tubes running in and out of her every which way. He felt that he knew best—a five-year old was too young to understand. But she repeatedly asked for her boy, and when it became clear that only hours remained, he sent Olivia home for her brother. He worried for them. The house was nearly an hour-long drive from the hospital and Olivia was upset, emotional, had walked out of the ICU wiping tears on her sleeve, refusing her father’s offer of a handkerchief.
When she returned with Davis, he looked terrified as he slowly entered the room. He held part of his blanket up to his mouth, so long it would’ve dragged behind him, train-like, on the hospital floor had Olivia not been holding it up behind him.
“Go on,” the Reverend said.
Davis didn’t move. The boy was going to have to toughen up. Reverend picked him up and placed him in the bed, alongside his mother.
“Sunny Boy,” Adina said simply, her voice squeezing out the words. She put her arm around Davis. There was light in her eyes like the Reverend hadn’t seen. He watched as Davis–– on his knees, his feet curled underneath him, still in the yellow Keds he’d worn—leaned closer to his mother, his brain trying to make sense of what he saw before him.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” he said.
Adina pulled him as close as he was willing to be pulled, kissing him all over his face, his plump cheeks, his forehead still shiny from the olive oil they used to anoint him every morning, covering him in the Holy Spirit.
Mother and son needed privacy. The Reverend nodded at Olivia. “Let’s take a walk.”
They walked in silence. Father and daughter, first around the hospital listening to the machines beeping, the murmuring voices of the doctors and nurses. They’d used those same hushed tones to talk about his wife, and by extension, his family, their life, their children.
He led Olivia outside, where the warmth of spring was fading into the coolness of night. The wind had picked up, and the Reverend wished for a jacket. This walk was the closest his body had come to his daughter’s in years. He wanted to grab her hand, but it was better not to push his luck.
Olivia looked at him as they passed a willow tree. “Are you ready?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
“Sometimes you treat him as if you never wanted him.”
But she didn’t look away. “It’s true.”
They continued walking until it became too chilly to remain outdoors.
Night after night the Reverend and Adina had watched Davis sleep on his back as an infant in his crib, his little brown head dusted with loose dark curls, his chest bobbing up and down ever so slightly—often the only movement he made during slumber. Like a little old man already bored with the world. He’d been peaceful, quickly learning to sleep through the night.
When the Reverend and Olivia returned to the hospital room, Davis lay stretched in the bed by his mother’s side, sleeping once more, his thumb in his mouth, his cheeks streaked with tears. Adina held him, from somewhere mustering the energy to stroke his forehead. She continued to kiss him every so often, even as the Reverend and Olivia walked in. She scrunched her face and brought a finger to her lips so they knew to keep quiet. Olivia settled into a chair and pulled a book out of her bag, but could not tear her eyes from her mother. The Reverend stood by Adina’s side, and moved to pull his sleeping son from her arms, to give her a break, but she shook her head and gestured for him to come close. He bent down, put his ear by her mouth, the palm of his hand atop hers. She could barely speak.
“Be different, John. He needs you to be different than you were with Olivia.”
She kissed them both, first him, then Davis. Olivia rose from her chair, and went to the side of the bed opposite her father. She placed one hand on her mother’s shoulder, and with the other she held Davis’ hand, stroking the inside of his palm which was turned upward to the heavens while he slept, as though he had an offering.
Like that they remained: Quiet, clinging to each other, praying that it might be enough.
His demons resurfaced.
The Reverend did his best to forget the bottle of bourbon beneath his bed. Three nights in a row he helped Davis move stuffed animals from the rocking chair to the double bed where Davis slept all by himself. He needed company, it seemed. There were giraffes, pigs, monkeys, and a cherished Koala bear named Wally, into which Adina, his wife, had recorded herself singing Davis’ favorite song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” All Davis had to do was squeeze the bear, hold it close, and his mother’s voice rose, seemingly from nowhere. For three nights after the funeral the Reverend sat all night long watching his son sleep soundly, the same as he had always slept: Flat on his back, his right cheek against the pillow and his right arm flung above him, bent at the elbow. Olivia had slept the same way until she turned thirteen. The Reverend enjoyed the nightly ritual of getting Davis ready for bed—helping him brush his teeth, setting out his pajamas, and watching him climb into bed and under the covers after plugging in his favorite night light. It quieted the Reverend, shushed the constant traffic running through his head—visions of Adina, her full thighs, her sharp, strict cheekbones, the three bangles she always wore around her wrist. The way she always called him “my love,” whispering it in his ear when he woke in the morning, and when she kissed him goodnight. The way she called Davis, “Sunny Boy,” because he slipped out easy, like he was covered in Crisco, on the sunniest day of the year.
Helping that child into bed. Watching him fight to stay awake. Three nights the Reverend observed with care. He paid attention to the ways Davis shifted in his sleep—to the right, the left. If he curled himself into a ball, or turned his body around, the tops of his feet searching for the coolest patch of pillow. He slept with his mouth slightly open, his little pink lips, always wet like a puppy’s nose, parted just enough to release a constant whisper. Nothing more than air passing through those lips, those lungs, that heart.
Everything was normal, Davis’s screams from the night after the funeral seemed a fluke, a one-time thing. So for the next two nights the Reverend waited until Davis fell asleep, and then returned to his own bed where sleep eluded him.
On the sixth night he poured a drink—nothing much, a nightcap. Enough to conjure Adina flitting around the room as she always had, a single lit bulb on her vanity framing her face in a soft yellow bloom as she readied herself for bed. So many nights he’d watched her––lying on his back, feet-crossed at the ankles, arms crossed behind his head, a bible resting on his chest and his reading glasses slipping down his nose––as he danced in and out of sleep. That night it was a plastic cup that managed to maintain its balance, even as his chest slowly bobbed up and down with each slow, measured breath.
The next morning he woke, not remembering when, or how, he had fallen asleep. And he’d rolled over, the plastic cup crushed underneath him, the remaining drops of bourbon staining the sheets.
On the seventh night he woke, thinking he heard the wind careening the valley, skimming the creek, screaming with reckless abandon.
He stared at the emptied plastic cup, this time placed near the edge of the nightstand. It took seconds that felt much longer before he realized the awful sound was coming from the room across the hall where Davis slept.
The Reverend stood up, his vision blurred. He ran through the room, across the hall, opening Davis’s door so hard it smacked into the wall, its knob crashing through the drywall, chunks and dust splattering to the carpet.
There was nothing. No ghost in the closet. No monster under the bed. No intruder. Only Davis sitting upright, his little mouth stretched as wide as it would go, his body whipping around. Teardrops fell from blotchy eyes. The Reverend had never seen a body move like that—disjointed, uncoordinated, as though held together by nothing more than a piece of thread that might split at any moment.
The Reverend was bewildered until he remembered what Olivia had done. He ran to the bed and grabbed each of Davis’ toothpick legs with one hand and held them down. Then he mounted the bed and rested his left shin across his son’s ankles. He needed both hands to trap Davis’s wild-moving arms. Palms open. Palms closed. Twice he slapped the Reverend before he caught both arms and brought them down against the bed where he trapped Davis.
From a window, moonlight poured in across his son’s face. Davis’ skin was honey-golden in that light. As his body calmed, he opened his eyes. His were the color of amber, filled with panic and confusion—as though the Reverend, this dark-skinned man not far from elderly, was somehow unfamiliar, someone threatening.
The Reverend released him, leaned against the headboard and motioned to his son, guiding him until the little one sat between his legs. Davis leaned back against his father’s bare chest. The Reverend wrapped his arms around his son and began to sing into his ear, “Hush Little Baby.” He felt his son relax into his body, heard his breath settle back into its normal rhythm. With one hand he wiped the boy’s tears away when he finished the song. Davis turned around, and saw the Reverend crying. Davis placed a hand on the Reverend’s chest and pulled himself up until he brushed his tiny pink lips against the Reverend’s lips.
“No.” The Reverend pulled back suddenly. “That was only for your mother to do.”
The Reverend peeled Davis from his body, and stood away from the bed. “Go back to sleep, boy.” He drew the curtain closed. “Under the covers. Now.”
Davis slid under his comforter. He scrunched up his face, readying himself for tears once more.
“None of that,” the Reverend ordered.
Davis pulled the comforter up to his chin. The Reverend backed out of the room.
“Goodnight,” the Reverend told him, shutting the door behind himself.
He walked quietly to the bathroom. Moonlight peered through the window. He stood at the sink, turned on the faucet, and splashed his face with cold water. He studied what he saw before him, trying to see his face through his son’s eyes: the thick-skinned wrinkles of his forehead. His wide set nose and fat nostrils. The mole on his left cheek with the hairs growing out of it.
His wife had loved this face.
He turned the water off. He went back to Davis’ room, pushed the door slightly open, and squinted in the dark until he could make out Davis’ shape under the covers, clutching a stuffed animal against his scrawny chest, quivering.
Asking, quietly, for his mother.
“Sir, we’re going to get you out of here.”
The Reverend knows a certain type of man is prone to making promises he can’t keep. The trooper will carefully remove his hand from the Reverend’s shoulder and pull it back through the damaged car until he can use it freely. The Reverend, unable to move his neck, will hear his boots crunching against the hardened snow as he moves away from the vehicle.
“Don’t leave me,” he will say. But his voice will barely be audible. He will catch a few of the trooper’s words as he speaks with the other men, arriving in quick, successive, brush strokes:
Assistance. Dangerous. Life.
Out of the corner of the Reverend’s eye, he will see the trooper return and kneel beside him once more. The image will come, quick as lightning, of Davis on his knees on a white rug in an apartment facing a floor-to-ceiling window, mouth open.
“I have a son, too,” the trooper will say while breathing hard. He will bend down, bracing himself against the snow. “How old is yours?”
“…twenty-five.” The Reverend will see that Davis’ eyes are closed, that his head tilts backward, that his right arm reaches around the front of his neck. Is he praying? Does he know?
“You don’t look old enough to have a twenty-five year old son, sir.” There will be surprise in the trooper’s voice. The Reverend will try to smile. He will only be able to feel his face, no other part of his body.
Of course. Davis prays not for his father hanging upside down in a white Toyota next to a quarry.
The trooper will continue. “Mine’s a baby. Seven months.”
The white rug is not a rug, but a quilt on a bed. The arm reaching around Davis’ neck is not his own, but a larger, paler, stronger arm. Their bodies move together, That Man and Davis’, and the Reverend sees how that man presses himself against his son, wraps himself around his son, uses his hands to own his son.
The Reverend will have never been so cold. He’ll have things he’ll want to tell this man, this young, gentle, kind-faced man, who routinely holds a seven-month-old son in his large, pale, hands. He’ll want to tell him how surprising sons can be, how they never turn out the way you want them to, or the way you think they’re going to. He’ll want to warn him not to get too used to being a father; it’s one of those things that just happens to you and once it does, it becomes impossible to think of yourself as a person outside of fatherhood. He’ll want to tell him that moments will come when he will truly hate his child—never long-lasting moments, never yielding dangerous behavior—but they’re real and it’s best to accept them, live in them, and let them pass. He’ll want to tell him that, in fact, it’s the moments when the love floods you, nearly erasing you that you are most at risk of doing something you shouldn’t do.
The Reverend will want to say these things but he will be too cold to move his lips, too cold to feel his tongue. He will close his eyes, hearing the panic in the trooper’s voice as he says, “Stay with me, sir! Stay with me,” because the other men are just beginning to work. He will try to listen, to tether his wandering mind, as the trooper continues to talk.
In time, voices. Movement. Rubber boots clomping through the snow with the strength of hooves. More men arriving, all of them doing their part. It must be bad. He will no longer be able to open his eyes but he will know the presence of the flashlights. From an emergency vehicle perched at the top of the quarry, a steady beam of light will shine upon him. The men will do their job. He will hear them. He will feel them as they tear apart the car, hope rising inside him. They will pull the Reverend free and he will tell himself, I can survive this.
I will survive this.
Someone will come.
The words repeat themselves for as long as possible in the Reverend’s head, washing over him like a current over stones smoothed, sand densely packed.
Someone will find me.