Archive for the 'Saved' Category

06
Aug
07

Saved

Six-year old Tanner Johnson wriggled and squirmed in his sunday suit on the pew next to his mother. The starch in his stiff white collar and cuffs had softened under his relentless fidgeting, but the vest with the big black buttons still felt tight and rigid like a piece of cardboard against his spine. He pulled on the buttons and wiggled his shoulders.
“Sit still,” his mother whispered, taking his hands from the buttons.
“But I hafta go,” Tanner whined, kicking the books on the back of the pew with one outstretched toe.
“Do you remember where the bathroom is?” his mother asked.
“Yes.”
“Okay, you can be a big boy and go by yourself. But come right back. No dawdling, okay?”
“Okay,” Tanner sulked, sliding off the padded bench and crawling over crossed legs and skirts to the aisle. His mother watched him slip out of the big double doors under the gaze of the smiling ushers before turning back to the service.
Outside the sanctuary the church was utterly still. Heaps of flowers on silver trays lined the hall, waiting for the children to fetch them to decorate the Easter cross. Tanner ran a hand along the top of the trays, feeling the soft petals and knocking the flowers down in a yellow and orange avalanche. He picked up a daffodil and crumpled it in his hands. The yellow head caved and wrinkled, smearing his palms with orange pollen.
Through the window, the Easter morning looked as if it had been made of multicolored glass. Each blade of grass was a sparkling emerald so illuminated by the clear sunlight that it made Tanner’s eyes water to look at it. He wished he were home rolling in that grass with his dog, instead of being stuck in a shadowy old church that smelled too strongly of Easter lilies.
Something tickled his palm. He itched it against his sleeve, wiping the sticky flower juice onto his white cuff and leaving a streaky stain. He examined the hand, noticing the tiny black feelers still wavering in a quagmire of orange nectar. It was an ant. He squatted down, watching the trail of ants that looped around the trays before congregating among the yellow daffodils. Tanner put his face down close to the carpet, watching the neat moving line. He pressed one finger down on the line, feeling the unlucky ant wriggle against his finger tip and marveling at the immediate chaos as the ants spread apart, unable to rediscover their trail. “Stupid ants,” Tanner thought. “Why would you follow a bunch of crummy flowers inside when you’ve got loads more of crummy flowers outside?” He didn’t like flowers. They smelled like his sister’s lotion. He wondered where the ants came from.
Tanner pushed through the heavy wooden doors and crawled out into the sunshine, following the line of ants. The sidewalk felt cold and rough against his knees and fingers. He followed the ants all the way along the tidy lawn to the curb, where they disappeared into the bark at the base of the Easter cross.
Every year the church erected a large wooden cross by the curb. On Easter morning when Tanner arrived, it was already strung with flowers. Tanner didn’t really understand the cross. His mother said that a long time ago some guy had died on one and these crosses were supposed to make Tanner remember. Tanner thought that if he was supposed to remember that the guy died, the cross should be covered in blood, not flowers.
Tanner knelt behind the cross and shoved a piece of bark down the ant hole. A mass of black bodies appeared, swarming over the lawn and spilling onto the curb. Tanner liked the way the ant’s bodies shown in the sunlight, like black ninja armor.
Across the street a little old lady and her white dog stopped to look at a rose bush. The white dog looked at Tanner and smiled, its long pink tongue waving. Tanner shoved another piece of bark down the hole. He wished he were at home with his dog.

Alex Heid woke up with a headache. He couldn’t remember the details about why he had this particular headache, but it happened often enough that he could guess.
He had slept long enough through the clock alarm that neighbors downstairs had started pounding on his floorboard with a broom. It made his head throb to the uneven beat of the pounding.
Alex revved the engine of his blue Honda and drove through a stop sign. He switched his grande Americano to the other hand as he sped through the light Sunday traffic. His employer was such a tightass that he wouldn’t even give Alex Easter morning off. What a bastard. Any other time Alex would have skipped work anyway. But he had already ditched twice that month and one more time was liable to get him fired.
When he was a kid his parents always dragged him to church Easter morning. He had hated it, sitting there in his itchy Sunday clothes in the cloying lily air of the sanctuary. The preacher said that Jesus had died for all the sins of the entire world. Alex had known that nobody’s blood could wash him free of sin. It just made him feel more guilty because now he had the death of some idjit-martyr on his conscience along with all the other crap he’d done. And that was back when the kids still called him Alex Heid. Now most of his acquaintances just called him Acid Head.
The church came into sight. His mother was probably in there right now, perched primly on the pew in her little white hat and Sunday gloves, praying for the soul of her poor lost son. He took a gulp of coffee. He hadn’t seen his mother in years. She probably looked a lot older, maybe like the little old lady walking the white dog on the other side of the street. He took a wild swig of coffee and missed, dribbling the steaming liquid down his shirt. He cursed and swerved a little. Goddamn he had a headache.

Ms. Minnie Thomson paused at the rose hedge across from the church. In the April sunshine the budding leaves shown like ragged veins against the pale green skin. Josephine stared across the street.
“What’s that you smell, Jo?” Minnie asked the little white Westie. She glanced across the glaring street at the church. Its white steeple sparkled like a mirage. Once Minnie had been an active member, but after her husband Albert died the Easter before last, Minnie just hadn’t had the heart for it. She used to help decorate the large wooden cross the church put up for Lent. She would get there early and string it with daffodils and tulips from her garden. Now she and Josephine just admired. She gazed at the cross. A little boy was kneeling behind it with his back to her. He had a grass stain on the seat of his knickers.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in church, young man?” she called. The boy started and twisted around.
“No,” he yelled, thinking he was about to get in trouble.
Minnie smiled. “Maybe you should go back inside before your mama gets worried,” she suggested. It made her think of her own son’s escapes from the sanctuary. Usually she had found him playing in the nursery. He was dead now, having died serving over seas, and having left a pretty young widow. The gal had gotten hitched again a couple years back, so Minnie didn’t hear from her much anymore except for the occasional Christmas card.
“What’s that you got there?” Minnie asked the boy, seeing his hands were full of bark. She started across the street.
“I found ants,” the boy said. “Lots of them. Look.”
A blue Honda squealed around the curve and Minnie paused, balancing on the yellow dotted line in the road. Josephine backed up and barked. Acidhead Alex looked up from his spilled coffee and saw the old lady standing in the middle of the road. “Shit!” he yelped, swerving to the other side of the road and onto the curb. The wooden cross thundered into the front of his car.
“Hell, Lady” Alex hollered, forcing the door open. His now empty coffee cup tumbled to the pavement. “What the hell were you thinking, standing in the middle of the road like that?” The little lady didn’t move. “Look at my car. Do you know how much that’s going to cost me?” He shouted, wincing. What a headache.
“I think you’ve got more to worry about than your car,” the lady said, turning a peculiar shade of pale. She peered around him at the splintered wood jammed into his front bumper.
“What in hell are you talking about?” Alex said, walking around his crumpled hood.
“Aahh, Jesus Christ,” he swore, sitting heavily on the hood and clutching his aching head. “Jesus Christ.”
“I should hope you’re praying, young man,” Minnie scolded. “Now run inside that church and call for help.”
“Call God for help?” Alex said weakly, still clutching his head.
“No, fool. Call 911 for an ambulance. Quickly now!”
Alex leapt across the lawn and into the shadowy church hallway. Piles of flower petals on trays reared back in the breeze as he passed. He hadn’t been in a church since he was 15. He was almost afraid God would smite him as he ran like the devil through the quiet halls. “Jesus, a kid,” he thought as he ran. “A kid. I’m going to get fired for sure.”

Ten minutes had passed since Tanner had left the sanctuary and Tanner’s mother was getting anxious.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” she whispered to her two daughters. “I’ve got to go find that brother of yours.”
The girls exchanged knowing glances and giggled, their ribbons bobbing.
“He’s probably playing in the nursery,” the eldest offered.
“Thanks Clara,” Mrs. Johnson replied. She picked her way carefully to the end of the row and out of the room.
She was standing in the abandoned nursery when she heard sirens pull up to the church. “Oh no,” she gasped, her heart launching into a frantic patter. She held onto her skirts and ran, high heels clicking down the dark flower laden hall.
Alex ran outside when he heard the ambulance pull up. The old woman was kneeling with the dog beside the fractured cross, singing a quiet hymn. Captured beneath the wooden beam, the boy lay still amongst the crushed daffodils and violets. There was a ragged tear along one side of his forehead, just beneath the hairline, where blood blossomed and dripped down his cheek and across the bridge of his nose like a tear.
Alex perched on the hood of his car, feeling sick. “I gotta lay off the shit,” he muttered, rubbing his pounding temples. “A fucking kindegardner. Jesus.”
A woman in a flowered dress raced across the lawn, holding her white hat to her head. When she saw the paramedics clustered around the boy, she burst into tears.
“I’ve been looking for him everywhere,” she blubbered.
“Are you the boy’s mother?” a paramedic asked.
“Yes,” she gasped. “Is he all right?”
“Well, it looks like that cross took the blunt of the blow. He may have a concussion and some internal injuries, but he’s coming around.”
“Momma?” Tanner whimpered from the stretcher.
“Thank God,” Mrs. Johnson said, grabbing his sticky daffodil fingers. “How are you feeling, honey?”
“My head hurts a lot,” Tanner complained. “And I’ve got flower juice all over me. I’m going to smell like Clara.”
The paramedics laughed. “You sure are one lucky fellow,” one said to Tanner. “Without that cross, you could be dead.”
“You’re one who can truly say he was saved by the cross!”
As the ambulance drove away, carrying Mrs. Johnson and her son, the church doors opened, spilling the congregation onto the sparkling lawn.
“Is everything all right?” the minister asked, standing like a balding disciple in his white robe.
“There was an accident,” Minnie explained, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. Josephine whined.
“Why Ms. Minnie,” the minister said. “How good to see you again! I hope no one was injured?”
“A little boy from your congregation was taken to the hospital, but I think he’s going to be all right. A little boy named Tanner?”
“Oh yes, Tanner Johnson. Is he all right? What happened?”
“This young man here swerved onto the curb and hit him,” Minnie said, pointing toward Alex, who was slouching by his damaged car. “If the cross hadn’t gotten in the way, that little boy could have been killed.”
“Saved by the cross, eh?” the minister chuckled. “Well I’m glad our religion is of some service.” The minister peered at Alex. “Is that Alex Heid?”
“Yeah,” Alex admitted reluctantly, scuffing the curb with his shoe.
“It’s nice to see you again, Alex. How are you?”
“I’m fine.”
“What happened here?”
“Ah, I was heading to work and spilled some coffee on myself,” Alex explained sheepishly, looking down at the stain on his shirt. He didn’t mention the hangover. “But Mrs. Johnson said she won’t press charges, so I’m free to go.”
“Good, good,” the minister nodded his head. “ Your mother is inside. Would you like me to fetch her?” He looked eager.
“Nah. Listen Father, I really got to get to work.”
“Well all right, Alex. I’ll tell your mother you stopped by.”
“Thanks,” Alex said, hovering with his hand to the door of his car.
“Give me a call when you’re ready to be saved!” the minister called cheerily. “Happy Easter!”
Alex turned and gave him a weary smile. “Happy Easter, Father.” He got into the car and put it into first gear, flicking a meandering black ant off the stick. Through the cracked windshield he could see the remains of the cross. “Saved by the cross,” he repeated. “Jesus Christ.”  Then he drove to work.

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