The tires squealed as Rodger turned the corner into the cemetery. The sign on the opened gate read: hours: 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The weather had turned ungodly hot and humid. His own sweat made him itch and want to be anywhere else. He parked the car and loosened the top button of his shirt, then discarded the tie. He climbed out of the car, leaned against the door, and scanned the rows of grave sites, neat and orderly. As a boy, he had played hide and seek on summer nights amongst the tombstones and over the graves of long-dead relatives. Never had found any ghosts.
Rodger walked to the far side, to where Sam’s grave lay. A few flowers, blue forget‑me‑nots, dotted the site. Grass had begun to fill in the outline. He bowed his head, his mind a curious blank.
He tried to find reasons, tried to think that in the unknown mind of God there might be an answer. But it was all too much, all so little.
Rodger backed away and turned on his heel, reading each marker as he moved slowly eastward. He stopped beneath the boughs of a huge, sprawling trunk with peeling bark. Ada had said underneath the walnut tree. There it was, a fresh mound of dirt dotted with red and white carnations with no head stone yet. Beside the newly dug earth of his father’s grave, lay a grassy strip that would be his mother’s grave some day. He wondered if his mother had ever looked into his father’s eyes and fallen in love with him. Or maybe his father had felt like a schoolboy, too, once. Maybe. Could have been.
Rodger picked at his bandage, trying to ease the discomfort. He worked his fingers underneath the adhesive and worked loose the edges. He brushed away beads of perspiration on his lip, swatted at flies.
“Well, damn, Dad.” He focused on the spray of carnations at the top of the grave. He could see his dad’s face so clearly in his mind’s eye and felt some essence of his dad lingered.
“I remember you taking out your railroad watch every night at 9:15 to check the Night Express comin’ through. Every night.” Rodger played with a piece of tape between his fingers. “You’d get the most god‑awful longing on your face.” He flicked the sticky ball away. “I felt for you. Every goddamn night. I wish I could ask you if you did it for us, left the railroad for a safer life.”
Rodger watched a mockingbird dance along a branch of the walnut tree. He spat. The bird took flight.
“I’m going to be a father, but the baby might not live. I’ve had so many people I’ve cared about die that I thought I couldn’t care very much anymore. But I do.”
“The more I know, the less I know.” He backed a step away from the grave. “About you. Me.”
Rodger clenched his fists, staring fixedly at where the headstone should be.
“I can’t play it safe, not even for Adele.” He squatted down on his heels. “I gotta fly. That I know. And I’ll be damned if anyone will ever tell me I can’t.”
He stood as if to leave, but found he could not.
“It’s a rotten deal. You’re gone just as I had a chance to know who the hell you were.”
His throat tightened, aching as much as his shoulder. A bird’s shriek made him start. He searched the grounds until he spied the offending male calling for his mate.
“See, he just builds her a nest and stays for a little while. That’s the nature of the beast.”
Rodger unclenched his fists and focused on his palms.
“I never forgave you for not telling me what was important. I felt I walked along a dark road all alone. Big Red, Dee, and all my dreams up in smoke. You never said a word. You could have, you know. But,” he stared intently down at the ground in front of him, “it was better this way. The way I learned. My own way.”
He suddenly felt drained of all the bitterness and fatigue of the last weeks. He turned and walked back to the car. Sitting at the wheel, he unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. With quick jerks, he stripped the tape off, burning his skin, then wadded the sullied and frayed tape into a huge ball and tossed it in the back seat of the car. He put his shirt back on, buttoned it, got out of the car and stood inside the door so that he could unzip his pants and tuck his shirt in properly. Finished, he tilted his head all the way back to look up into the tree, searching for movement.
There was no breeze to ruffle the leaves, only sunlight reflecting through the branches, throwing shadows and light. The glare of the sun made him blink. He strained his eyes to see the outlines of bark and leaf.
After a moment, he rested his chin on his chest and rotated his shoulders. He climbed back into the car and headed for Ada’s house.
He parked his mother’s car on the street between her house and Ada’s, then quietly shut the car door. Long strides brought him up the walk to the porch. He jumped from the bottom step onto Ada’s porch, just as he had always done as a kid. He opened the unlocked screen and, leaning against the door, held onto it as it swung him into the house.
“Ada! It’s Rodger!”
He heard Ada’s voice, soft and cajoling. Then he saw a kitten bounding down the hall. Spying him, the kitten sprang straight up in the air, then bounced over to him. Ada appeared in the doorway.
“Rodger! I thought I heard you!” She rushed across the room to hug him.
Rodger pointed to the black, fuzzy creature. “What is that?”
“You’ve never seen a kitten?” Ada asked innocently. “Meet The Kid.” She blushed. “He reminds me a lot of you.”
“I hate cats.” Rodger patted Ada’s cheek, then made a face at the kitten.
Ada swept up the kitten in her hand. The Kid turned and started biting and swatting at her fingers.
“Make yourself comfortable.”
Rodger sat down on the bluish-green sofa, bent over and unlaced his shoes, using first one foot, then the other to push off a shoe. He stretched out on the couch, covering his eyes with his right arm.
“I stopped by Dad’s grave.” He peeked between his arms to see the kitten claw at the lace doily over the fraying material of the green chair that Ada sat in next to him. “Sam’s, too.”
Ada restrained the kitten with both hands, putting him in her lap. She stroked his head and calmed him as she spoke.
“Most everybody in town showed up for your dad’s funeral. Fred Hewling closed his business for the day.”
Rodger could remember lying here listening to the radio as a kid. Sometimes, after he’d put out the garbage cans for Ada, they’d make popcorn, then sit on the couch and listen to The Shadow and munch handfuls of popcorn together. Many times they would say very little all night, just be with each other.
“Uncle Kyle told me about Dad. The Army. The medals.” He dropped his arm, but did not look at Ada, his gaze riveted on the ceiling. “Secrets. All these years.”
Ada watched him. She put the kitten down, shooing him away. “It wasn’t meant to be like that. Your father wanted you to make your own way, not try to live up to some glamorous image.”
“He was right. I didn’t have a glamorous image to live up to.”
“He gave you wings, Rodger. Don’t deny him that,” Ada shot back.
Rodger sat up. “I don’t know what you mean.” He rubbed his temples.
“John gave you your independence. Sam never would have let you near Lucy if it hadn’t been for your father.”
The words bit into him. Ada spoke calmly but with fierceness Rodger had never heard in her voice before. He didn’t like the change in her. He couldn’t argue with her.
“Rodger,” she softened, “don’t you understand? He loved you so much he wanted you to be the best, do the best, and have the best he could give you. Not be a reflection of him. He fought your mother over so many issues that concerned you and boxing and just about everything!” Ada suddenly angered. “And what right do you have to judge him?”
Taken aback, Rodger stammered, “I…don’t really. It’s just…that…I don’t understand.” He stared directly into Ada’s eyes. “Or maybe I do. Beginning to.”
Ada stood then moved to sit down next to Rodger, placing a hand on his. “I understand how you feel. I do. But somehow,” she hesitated, patting his hand absently, “we’ve got to bury our childhood. It becomes like a thin veil that stops us from seeing clearly.”
“I get your point. I’m trying to see through that veil.”
He sat up abruptly. “Dr. Adams thinks there may be complications.”
Ada shivered. With a catch in her voice, she asked, “What did he say?”
“Stillborn. Normal labor.” Rodger willed his headache away. “Adele doesn’t know.”
“It’s not a sure thing, Rodger. Dr. Adams couldn’t know for sure.”
“No, he said maybe.”
“Then we’ve got hope.”
“That’s about all, Ada.”
“No, Rodger.” She leaned close to him, touching his good shoulder. “I know it seems like you’ve lost a lot. You have.” She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. “But, with faith, we go on living. And there will be happy days for us. You. Adele. Me.” She gestured to the house next door. “All of us.”
A moment of strained silence hung over them. Rodger went to the radio and turned it on. The announcer blared, “A train wreck, southside of Chicago, just a mile out of the Williams Station, derailed. Several people injured. Doctors from surrounding areas called to aid the victims, many women, children and soldiers.”
Ada frowned, clucking in dismay. “That’ll put our hospital staff short. And already, with the younger ones enlisted, there is only the nursing staff to handle all of it. Luckily,” Ada sighed, “our town has very few crises.”
Rodger sat again on the couch, looking sharply at Ada’s face. So many changes in her, yet, really, she remained much the same. Except for moving a little slower, Rodger thought, she hadn’t changed.
With an annoyed wave at the radio, Rodger snipped, “The train wreck will be the talk of the town. Every little thing is something to sit and discuss for hours.”
“I can imagine it’s not what you’re used to.” Ada got up and turned the radio off.
Rodger swiveled to look out the window. “Saw a lot of dying, Ada. It’s part of the job. Every day counts.”
The front door to his mother’s house suddenly opened and out rocketed Rachel, headed straight for Ada’s house. Breathless, she charged into the living room, passed Ada at the door, and stood before Rodger. Rodger braced himself, ordering his thoughts as Rachel gasped and heaved out unintelligible words. The kitten hid beneath a chair, mewing. Rodger sneered at it, wanting it to go away.
Rachel waved frantically at the house. “The hospital!”
Rodger nodded, perplexed. “Yeah, we heard it on the radio.”
Ada spoke, her voice low and reassuring. “It’s all right, honey. There will be doctors and nurses to take care of the people.”
Rachel scowled at them, shaking her head and gasping, “Come on…Adele.”
Rodger gently held Rachel by the shoulders. “Adele? In labor?”
Ada muttered, “Oh, my God,” as she hurried out the door.
Rodger hugged Rachel quickly. “Don’t be scared, Tagalong. Everything’s going to be all right.” He squatted and gathered his shoes, sitting on the edge of the couch to hurriedly put them on. He stood and held his hand out to Rachel.
“Let’s go see what’s happening.”
She latched onto to his hand, looking up with frightened eyes. Rodger guided her out the door with the kitten following.
“Stay here,” he ordered, kicking at it.
Rodger fished in his pants pocket for the keys to his mother’s car. Ada and Kyle were struggling with Adele down the steps. Rodger hurried to move the car from the curbside to the driveway. Leaving the engine running, he scooted across the seat and flung the door open. Kyle lowered Adele into the seat, into Rodger’s hands. She groaned.
“How far apart are the pains?” Rodger looked at his watch.
“Four, five minutes.”
Kyle poked his head inside. “I can drive.”
“No, thanks,” Rodger slid back to the steering wheel, releasing the brake. “I’ll get us there.” Kyle gave a sharp wave of his hand.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rodger studied Adele’s face. Sweat trickled down her forehead and temples. Her eyes were screwed shut, her nose puckered, and her lips stretched taut against her white teeth.
Rodger let go of the steering wheel with his right hand, to give a reassuring pat to Adele’s arm.
“Hang on, kid, we’ll be there in a jiff.”
“Rodger … I … can’t,” Adele cried out.
“Yes, you can.” Rodger swerved to miss a careless dog. He ran a stop sign. “Look! There’s the hospital!”
Adele whimpered. Once again, her swollen body lurched and shuddered. Her damp dress clung to her. Raindrops of sweat dripped from the ends of her hair.
Rodger sprinted to the front doors of the hospital. Nurses and orderlies crisscrossed the halls. Rodger grabbed a nurse by the arm.
“My wife’s having a baby!” He jabbed at the air, toward the car behind him, as she pushed away from him.
Irritated, the nurse pointed to the desk. “The receptionist will help you.”
Rodger rushed to the desk. “My wife! She’s having a baby!”
“Last name?” The woman pulled out a sheet of paper and began writing.
“Brown. Listen, she’s in the car and—”
Rodger slammed his fist down. “Goddamn it! She’s having the baby in the car!”
The woman looked up in alarm, throwing her hands up. The pen she had been writing with arced across Rodger’s nose as she sprang to her feet.
“Wheelchair!” she barked.
Feet scurried. An orderly whizzed past. Rodger, on the run to the car, was unexpectedly joined by two more people.
Hands, swift and efficient, lifted Adele from the front seat and into the wheelchair. She panted and moaned, her body heaving in great spasms. Rodger watched helplessly as they wheeled her through the doors and down the long corridor to the delivery room. He dashed to catch up to Adele, turning to face her as he danced on his toes in a backward shuffle until they came to a stop before the delivery room doors.
Want to read more? Read online for free>> Or buy your own copy of Forcing the Hand of God: paperback or hardcover on Amazon.com or ebook (multiple formats available) on Smashwords.com.