It was Monday, and like every Monday for the last twelve years, it was Pastor Frank Kim’s day off. He liked to leave his house by 7 a.m. so that he could miss all the bustle of his three children getting ready for school and his wife – poor beleaguered Liz, the hardworking matron of the Faithful Lambs of God Methodist Church – running up and down the stairs waking, wiping, and making lunch for the brood. But on this particular Monday Frank had overslept, having finally found sleep after a night of alternately pressing up against the wall and coming face to face with Liz’s grinding teeth, and awoke to the screaming of his seven-year-old son, Joshua.
“Mom! Peter wet the bed again!”
Frank could hear Peter’s muffled whimpers – underwater sounds barely breaking through the surface. He was probably speaking into his pillow, a habit that was becoming increasingly frequent as Peter faced the pressures of pre-school: socializing with peers, the forced naps, and hours spent away from his mother.
“Mom! He won’t get out of bed. He’s pretending like he didn’t do it.”
Joshua often spoke in volumes far louder than situations warranted. Liz called it his “middle-child-needs-love-too” voice, but what the child didn’t seem to understand was that this type of consistent and bilious scream for attention was exactly what stood in the way of Frank’s affection. Sometimes Joshua would get a certain look of insolence, and it was at these times – when he looked so much like an angry Liz – that Frank found himself fleeing to the opposite side of the house, convinced that Joshua was a test placed in his life by the Almighty One.
“Joshua, stop yelling. Peter, get out of bed and wait for mommy in the bathroom.” Liz’s voice rose from the kitchen. Her voice was an attractive alto, deceptively low and soft. He could see her moving around in the kitchen. The mismatched pajamas, hair falling out of a loose ponytail, her un-penciled eyebrows arched in concentration. Frank drew the covers up to his chin.
Footsteps scurried about in the boys’ bedroom. Peter’s muffled cries sharpened as the sounds of Joshua’s palms hitting Peter’s back echoed down the hall.
Frank knew that he should be taking a more active part in the disciplining of his children, a role that he left entirely in Liz’s hands. He should be quieting them down, giving Joshua a hug while sending Peter a wink. His own father had been a man who prided himself on having his children tremble in his presence. “A scary parent produces productive children,” he would say, his lips tightening with pleasure. Frank closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. The last person he had wanted to become was his own insatiable father. He knew not to mistake fear in a child’s eyes for love.
“Get up! Mom said get up!”
Frank burrowed into the mattress. His head molded to the pillow. He found that his body simply did not want to extricate itself from bed; it was holding onto the last moments of shelter, fully aware of the storm that was rumbling on its way to him. He looked up at the stucco ceiling of his marital bedroom and prayed to God to allow him to disappear. To allow him to disappear from this house. And as if in direct opposition to his plea for help, he was placed directly in the line of Liz’s vision. Her furious marbles bored into his face.
“You are completely useless. It amazes me how one person could be such a big waste of space.”
Frank’s t-shirt felt damp under the covers. A feeling of nausea gurgled up inside, his mouth filling with saliva. He quickly swallowed.
“Please don’t let your family get in the way of your sleep, dear husband.” Liz’s voice crawled up his skin, callously pausing every few inches to dig its heels into his flesh. “Oh everything for God. But nothing for us. We don’t even factor into your life in that little brain of yours.”
“Liz, please. Let’s not do this.” Frank felt warm but didn’t want to make any movements, as though any stirring might somehow strengthen Liz’s thunderous spite.
“Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do. I’m not the one who is letting this household drown. You’re failing at being the one thing I have asked you to be. You know what that is? It’s being the man of the house, Frank.” She leaned in, her face grim with truth. “You do realize that you’re letting the kids down, don’t you? After last Sunday, it’s not just me anymore, Frank.”
Frank tried to swallow but his tongue sat in his mouth like a swollen chunk of meat. He looked at his wife’s face. Her typically subdued face was checkered with red splotches, the anger eating its way to the surface of her skin. He had the urge to reach up and touch her. To wipe off the red as though it were merely paint and sit her down on the bed next to him. He thought she might smile at him, surprised by this act. He thought she might look at him with the kindness that she seemed only to reserve for their children.
“Don’t even look at me like that. You’re so pathetic.” The red spots seemed to grow in hue and size, threatening to leap off her face and down his throat.
“Mommy?” Peter’s voice rang across the room, surprisingly strong and direct as though he sensed something amiss, more than the usual, between his parents.
Liz straightened. Without turning around to face Peter, she said, “Go wait in the bathroom, honey. Mommy will be right there.” The soothing mother was back.
Peter, his body situated in the middle of the doorway, stared into the room. His straight posture, at once so calm and in control, belied his large head. He stood like a sentry awaiting orders to abandon his post. Frank felt a rush of gratitude toward his youngest son. Peter stood still for a few moments longer before turning around and walking to the bathroom.
Sitting inside his 1992 Toyota Camry, parked in the driveway, Frank closed his eyes in prayer. Gripping the steering wheel, he began: Dear Lord – I am about to embark on yet another day, dear Father. Thank you for…
Frank opened his eyes. He found himself unable to finish the prayer, a routine he performed every morning before easing his car onto the street. No words remained in his brain’s reservoir. The moment he opened his mouth they had drained out of him in quick large whirls. He took a deep breath. His head, normally filled with things to do at church, people to call, ideas for his sermon, felt strangely empty. It was as though someone had taken his head and shook it hard – up and down, side to side – letting all the dollar bills and loose change dribble out. Frank felt disconnected – in a way that made him wonder if he could take the car and drive all the way out into the Mojave Desert and never come back.
The house, which sat directly across from his, had been empty for some time. The front lawn was haphazardly splashed in fading yellows and browns. It was the only untended lawn on the block, and in this distinction, it appealed to Frank far more than any of the other overly tended, green-as-perpetual-spring ones, including his own. There was an honesty in the dried, crunchy grass. When they had first moved in, Frank took it upon himself to take care of the green that surrounded the house. It seemed an integral part of his masculine prerogative. Saturday afternoons were spent grassy-kneed – pulling, cutting and shaping. For a little while every time he looked out his window, he even felt a swell in his heart. But soon this gave way to a sense of dread – how many hours will he have to devote this week? More urgent household duties appeared, ones that needed to be taken care of first, and it was only at Liz’s shrill insistence that he found himself on the ground with his insignificant plot of land. And it seemed no amount of fertilized growth could cover up the smell of defeat that arose from his lawn.
“Dear Lord – thank you for my lovely house. Thank you for my wonderful wife and children.” Frank raised his voice as though the sheer volume could kill any doubts he might have about the validity of what he was saying. “Thank you for always loving and protecting me.” He began to shout. “And let this day be pleasing onto you!” He expelled the last sentence with all the oxygen left in his lungs. Frank was exhausted. He leaned back, his eyes closing as the back of his head hit the headrest. Yesterday’s Sunday service trickled into his mind piece by piece. The replay button had been pressed again, some hundredth time in the past 24 hours.
“I speak on behalf of all the elders at the church when I say that there needs to be more transparency in the way the church finances are handled, Pastor Kim,” said Elder Yi.
It was the monthly finance meeting and, up until the end, Frank had thought it particularly successful with more people in attendance than any other finance meeting in his memory. It hadn’t occurred to him that they had actually attended because the waters were warm enough for the sharks to emerge and hunt.
“As you already know, monthly expenses are reported in the handout given out at the beginning of every meeting,” Frank said. His palms held tightly to his own copy.
“You say they are, but where are the construction funds being spent? Do you know the damage that is being done to our tires every time we drive into the unpaved parking lot?” Elder Yi stood up and unbuttoned his blazer. “What is this? Some third world country?”
A murmur slithered through the seated congregation. Frank’s eyes scanned the room, searching for a lighthouse towards which he could swim. A Mary Magdalene in the rough. But eyes stared back, vague and unmoved.
“Those funds have been re-allotted to sponsor missionaries to China.” A knot began to churn in Frank’s throat, making swallowing difficult. “As we’ve discussed earlier.”
Elder Yi, a successful businessman of sixty-five, looked down with a sad smile. It reeked of rehearsal. “That’s what you keep telling us, Pastor. But when have we seen these so-called missionaries? They’ve never sent us a single photograph of any of these grand things they are doing with our offerings. All we get are more letters asking for help.” He tilted his body away from Frank, his arms spread out to the congregation. “How do we know that we are not being taken for fools?”
Elder Yi had sent a box of seasonal fruits to Frank’s house when he became the head pastor, succeeding Liz’s father. The plastic sheen of the apples, the flawless golden skin of the pears, and the unnaturally large and orbicular nature of the grapes had impressed Frank. Everything looked impeccable, expensive. Expensive enough to say “welcome” without needing a personalized card. The box had arrived with just a generic little sticker tag that read “From The Yi Family.”
Taking the baton, Elder Sung stepped in. “How do we know that the hard-earned money offered by this congregation is going directly towards God’s work? We are, after all, a church within the larger world. A sinful world, Pastor Kim. Every possible precaution must be taken.”
Elder Sung never gave an offering below a hundred dollars, a fact that everyone in the congregation knew. He liked to use himself as an example of God’s graces, proclaiming his wealth as proof that God loved those who wrote the biggest checks. Frank knew of Elder Sung’s hardly legal business ventures – a series of local bars that hired pretty women of easy virtue to serve drinks to wealthy Korean men. Frank had always looked upon Elder Sung, not in disapproval, as he perhaps was obligated to do as a pastor, but rather in a sense of amusement as he would towards a puppy that kept urinating on the rug. There could be things much worse this man could be doing with his money than donating to church. For this, Frank was always grateful.
“Elder Sung, I understand your concern. However, we cannot force the brothers and sisters working courageously everyday to ‘prove’ their existence to us. Their work lies in the hands of the Lord and is not for our approval.” Frank placed his hands on the pulpit. With his head bobbing above water, he could see that the beach was near.
Elder Yi and Elder Sung looked around to the group of elders sitting near the front. A purposeful pause followed; a silent decision had been made. “Pastor Kim, is Rebecca enjoying her new classmates at Sacred Heart? It’s a very good school, I hear, although it can also be a very expensive institution.”
A giant vacuum descended from the ceiling and sucked out all the oxygen in the room. Frank felt water enter his lungs. His legs stopped kicking. He looked to Liz, who sat with her eyes fixed on a spot somewhere behind his head, perhaps willing the spirit of her dead father for help. Her dead father, who had led this church for over three decades without anyone having so much as a harsh word to speak against him. Frank looked out at the congregation. Surely they knew that his Rebecca was invited to Sacred Heart on a scholarship because her grades were superb, her extracurricular activities abundant. Surely they knew how much time and effort Liz spent on the kids, making sure they always earned the best of grades and the most of their teachers’ love. Surely they knew that he would never touch the Lord’s money for his own use.
Yet the congregation sat, damning him with their stillness. They were all waiting for him to fall from his pulpit. And Frank, in his best Sunday suit, was dropping to the very bottom.
Frank opened his eyes. The brightness of the morning left streaks in his vision. He blinked, hoping to see some kind of evidence of God’s remembrance of all the years that he had dedicated to serving the Lord. Today he would take even the tiniest act of love or the simplest gesture of grace.
The neighbor’s lawn stared back at him, open and unrepentant.
Frank started the car. As he steered out of his driveway, he considered his options. He could always retreat to his favorite corner booth at Carl’s Jr., where he could sit with a refillable cup of coffee for hours. Or there was the option of parking and sitting in the shade. He glanced up and saw his eyes in the rear view mirror. Frank felt a pang of disgust. His own eyes seemed so unsure and afraid. He quickly looked away and stared at the stop sign on the corner of the street. He wanted a distraction. He wanted attention and possibly even some affection. Mrs. Ban’s timidly smiling face entered Frank’s head. He knew she always had time for her beloved pastor. He turned on his right turn signal and waited patiently for a car to pass by. He even put up his hand in a stifled wave when he saw an elderly man peering at him through his thick glasses as he drove by.
“It’s the first time I haven’t been to church since I was back in Korea. And I can’t even tell you how long ago that was. This cold has me completely beat.” Mrs. Ban greeted Frank with a plate of neatly peeled and cut apples. “Would you like some tea? I can put the water on.”
Mrs. Ban was an angel. At church, she appeared as needed whether this meant making twenty pounds of kimchee for the free church lunches or standing as a cheery greeter before Sunday services, Mrs. Ban was the consummate servant. She served her God, the church, and Frank with a fervor that simply crackled out of her ninety-pound, 77-year-old body. He was glad that she had been unable to attend service yesterday.
“You look tired, Pastor Kim. You should really slow down or you’re going to get ill.” Mrs. Ban looked at Frank’s face, lightly touching the surface with her concerned eyes.
“I just had a rough time sleeping last night.” In that moment, Frank had the urge to pour out all his worries and problems to Mrs. Ban. He wanted to lay them down at her feet, a weak man’s offering. Perhaps she could drag his sinking body out of the water. He looked at her glistening short curls, tightly coiling atop her head. He could see the sparseness of her pale scalp, – the curls deficient in the cover-up. He patted her hand. “A little nap should have me at a hundred percent.”
Mrs. Ban shook her head in agreement, but her eyes looked uncertain – lingering on him for a moment longer as though she was waiting for him to confess. He refused to say more. He could not appear weak in front of Mrs. Ban. He wanted to be the stalwart that she considered him.
Mrs. Ban used the coffee table to push herself up. “Let me see what else there is. These apples, they aren’t of much substance.”
“No, please. These are great, Mrs. Ban.” Frank’s words slid down her back, ignored, as she made her way to the kitchen. “This really is enough.”
“Just wait there, Pastor Kim. I am sure I have some rice cakes. Somewhere in the freezer from last week.” The edge of Mrs. Ban’s skirt flitted in and out of Frank’s view as she moved around the kitchen. Sounds of dishes hitting the countertop, the refrigerator door opening and closing, the scuffling of Mrs. Ban in her indoor slippers – all of this reminded Frank of his mother, a woman who never sat down longer than the fifteen minutes it took for her to pick at her food during dinner. It had already been seven years since he had lost her to lung cancer – an ailment that had foolishly taken Frank by surprise when he first heard. “My mother has never smoked a day in her life,” he had said, not knowing that the lungs were usually the final place cancer rested after it had spread throughout the body. She had never been fond of going to the doctor, and by the time she could no longer ignore the pain, it was too late. He suddenly missed her as he did his first day of school, the smell of her hair nowhere to be found amidst the crayons and grimy hands.
“Let’s see what’s in this bag.” Mrs. Ban’s voice traveled, soft like cotton, into the room. Frank did not stir from the black folding chair.
Across from him sat a small, outdated television set with a large protruding backside. The sound was muted and the images moved along on the screen, oblivious to their lack of soundtrack. Five women sat around a table, all of them waving their arms around and moving their heads as though they were at the whim of a violent puppeteer. All of them wearing exaggerated Os for mouths, eyes bulging out in surprise. What could be that surprising, he wondered. These women were playing the roles written for them. One was the irreverent one, the other her conservative foil. Frank was a firm believer in predestined roles in life. He had believed that being a pastor was a divine calling. After all, wasn’t that what he was taught in seminary? That man had no choice in the face of God’s proposition. He would have to go down the path that had been predetermined for him, predisposing him to happiness and faith. Frank had been on this path, playing this role – no, it had not been mere play, it had been destiny – for over twenty years since the day he accepted Christ into his eighteen-year-old heart. And now at forty, he felt lost, unable to tell the horizon apart from the muddy bog that threatened to swallow him up with his every step. He wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake. If he hadn’t spent two decades hunting a specter.
“Here you go, Pastor Kim. This is all I could find.” Mrs. Ban knelt as she placed a tray on the table in front of him, her hands trembling slightly. Reaching for a cushion, she sat on the floor with her legs folded underneath. “Try it. The rice cakes should still be good.”
Frank looked down at the pink and green circular blobs, knuckle marks evident from the hands that had kneaded the rice flour. The grease from the rice cakes was starting to moisten the paper plate on which they lay.
“I tell you, I have never had a cold this bad my entire life. In fact, growing up I never took any type of medication. Not that there was much medical help available. But I didn’t take my first aspirin until I came to America. Growing up by the warm waters always kept me healthy.” Mrs. Ban’s words fell out of her mouth in staccato beats as though they were overflowing from a pool inside her mouth, often kept under close watch unless, on occasions like this one, when she was with someone with whom she felt comfortable enough. Frank appreciated Mrs. Ban’s selectivity. She wasn’t one to share about her life with just anyone. Frank felt as though he had earned this privilege in some sense. For the first time in a long time, he felt chosen.
“You grew up in Jeju, right Mrs. Ban?” Frank had only seen the island on calendars he received for free from the local Korean banks. His own family was from the landlocked, industrial city of Wonju, a place he associated intimately with the frightening beauty of looming mountains in the distance and drunk American soldiers strolling the streets looking for young college girls. “Do you miss the ocean, Mrs. Ban?”
Mrs. Ban looked up at him, her cheeks flushed with color as though he had suggested something inappropriate. She stood up from the floor and walked with purpose towards her bedroom. When she returned, in her hand was a pewter picture frame. She held the frame against her stomach, her mouth upturned into a shy, girlish smile. “I haven’t even thought about this photograph in a while. My Hyun Soo had it framed for me. It’s silly, really. But that was me a very long time ago.”
Three young women stood on a rocky beach, each dressed identically in brown, old-fashioned bathing suits – the shorts clinging to each woman’s slender thighs. The suit was held up on top by a single strap, a seductive touch in an otherwise workman-like uniform. Two women wore white cloth bandanas on their heads under what looked to be primitive scuba diving masks while the one on the far left had her wet hair down, long and shiny – playful and young. Each woman carried a net with a round wooden gourd. Frank looked closely at the women’s faces, girls really, with neat feline eyes and small unobtrusive noses. They looked alike.
“My sisters,” Mrs. Ban said pointing to the women with bandanas. “And this is me. When I was fourteen.” Frank watched as Mrs. Ban stared down at herself, her eyebrows flexing then relaxing as though she were convincing herself that this had once been her. Frank looked down again at the downy-faced Mrs. Ban; he tried to imagine which strands of this youthful her she had kept all these years and which she had discarded when she packed her big suitcase for America. What had brought Mrs. Ban over to California? Did she merely follow her husband as she was expected to or had she had ambitions that stretched beyond the confines of her marital responsibilities? Had she believed in providence as well – even as it called her to move a world away from the warm shores she had always known? Frank looked up at the Mrs. Ban he was familiar with. Long, deep wrinkles criss-crossed her face creating a map of grooves and ravines, – a seemingly tactile representation of all her experiences. He wanted to reach out and trace them with his fingers.
“Both of my sisters passed already. Gone on to be with God. They went together so suddenly in an accident. I didn’t have time to go back and be with them. I couldn’t even attend their funerals. I knew if I left work to return to Korea, I wouldn’t have a job to come back to.” Mrs. Ban’s eyes scanned the photograph – from left to right and then back again. “I suppose I should have never been so far away.”
Frank waited for her to continue. He felt a stir inside his body as though it were anticipating movement. He was ready to receive Mrs. Ban’s sadness, her regrets, her story – he, the pastor, would lay on her the healing of the Lord. But, as though a switch had been abruptly turned off, she did not say more. Her soul, which had only seconds ago seemed to be an open window by the ocean, seemed cold, forlorn, and, worst of all, inaccessible. Mrs. Ban stood up and, without looking at him, walked back to her bedroom, the picture frame hanging precariously between her thin fingers.
He had felt his mother’s thin fingers grab his own when the yelling began to be punctuated with the throwing of plastic-wrapped leftover banchan plates, tubes of condiments, and, finally, an entire bottle of kimchee. The sound of the crashing glass was followed by the familiar smell – sour and spicy, fermented and deep. Frank could picture the pile of cabbage lying dead, the red pepper blood oozing onto the off-white tile floor that his mother wiped every night on her knees. Neither Frank nor his mother moved.
“This is what I have to come home to! Every single goddamn night. To this hovel of a house with a wife who can’t even cook a decent meal for her husband. The same thing every night. Didn’t your fat mother teach you anything? That stupid whore looked at me like I was some dirty trash when I first met her. She thought she was so much better, that silly bitch. Maybe she should have taught you some skills instead of putting you on a pedestal. They don’t give cooking lessons on the pedestal, do they?” The refrigerator door slammed. But Frank knew that it wouldn’t shut all the way. It hadn’t been shutting correctly since the last time his father had become upset about the dinner menu.
“Piece of shit.” Frank could hear his father kick at the refrigerator, the bottles lined up on the door clanking violently. “Nothing works in this house. Nothing. Just like the woman running this place.”
The expression on his mother’s face did not change. She looked as though she was staring out over the clean-cut grass of a park instead of at the cramped living room of their one-bedroom apartment. She got this way every time his father began to yell. His mother, who never yelled, looked as though she had left her body momentarily. Perhaps gone for a quick stroll around the block, perhaps watching the squirrels play at Griffith Park. Frank looked down at his own pants and saw the ketchup stain from when he dropped a tater tot on his leg during lunchtime. He put his other hand over it and felt the hand that his mother was holding moisten. He knew that his father didn’t like messes of any kind.
“Oh, don’t you two just look precious. Holding hands like a regular pansy. You know why he doesn’t run around and play with other boys? Because you treat him like a little girl. You’re ruining his life. Not that you can give a damn.”
Frank did not look his father in the eyes when he leaned in, his face mere inches from his own.
“If you grow up to be sad and unsuccessful, just know it was your mother’s doing. She doesn’t know how to do anything. She doesn’t know how to treat a man, and she certainly doesn’t know how to raise one. So you’re going to be no doubt some spineless little shit. God, you embarrass me already.” He grabbed Frank by the collar, pulling him into his face. “Just look at your face. You look like a whiny little bitch. Just like your mother.”
At that moment, Frank had felt a distinct mixture of pleasure and shame. He was glad to be his mother’s son even if that relegated him to the “little bitch” corner of his father’s mind. Yet as a budding boy, he was also upset by his father’s scathing outlook on Frank’s manly ambitions. It didn’t occur to him then or even for many years after that incident to speak up against his father. His father’s overwhelming wrath made him untouchable. When his father was roaring, he seemed invincible.
And then it hit him. In the middle of Mrs. Ban’s tiny apartment, his breath shortened, and his head began to spin. Frank was rocked by the realization that God was not the sympathetic, loving father he portrayed during his own Sunday sermons. God had no room in his world for the small or the meek. He loved to be worshipped and outwardly praised even if those compliments came from disingenuous and insincere mouths. God’s love could be bought by those with the thickest wallets and driven around in the fanciest cars. He wanted to be courted, lavished upon, idolized. God had no room for Mrs. Ban’s trivial family drama. He had no time to come to the rescue of Frank, who had not taken a single, unaccounted cent from the church. Frank understood that God, prideful and vicious, was like his own father, bullying the weak in order to appear larger and stronger. On the day Frank buried his father, he had felt a pressure release from his chest. But with tears blurring his vision, Frank realized that he had never left his father behind. On the contrary, Frank had taken the man he despised the most and delicately placed him as the prized centerpiece of his life.
When Frank opened his eyes, his car was sitting halfway into the church building. White bits of plaster lay like fake shopping mall snow all over the red carpeted floor and the hood of his beige car. He leaned back in his seat and a sharp pain echoed across his chest. The airbag had failed to open, a fact that didn’t particularly surprise him. He was more surprised and even thrilled that the used Camry could even inflict this type of damage on a building. Frank tasted blood in his mouth. He leaned over to the passenger side seat to spit it out but stopped himself. He wanted to linger a bit longer in the coppery grittiness as he stared ahead at the pulpit from where he stood every Sunday.
It gleamed from the front of the room. Its straight-back woodenness exuded a sense of consternation. What have you done, it seemed to say. How will you explain this to the congregation, to Liz, to God? Frank swallowed and went to open the car door. It opened easily. He placed his two feet on the church floor, his body still seated in the car. The pews all looked away from him, facing its stern, misgiving leader in front. Frank rose to his feet unsteadily. Hovering in front of him was Liz’s scrunched up, strangely hairless eyebrows. He reached out for them with one arm. Sensing his lackadaisical effort, they compacted some more before moving back. Frank took a step forward and was faced with Elder Yi’s round spectacles. The lenses were lazed over in frost, giving the pair a feeling of cozy opaqueness. The lack of transparency, Frank thought as he walked quickly towards it. Just as his fingers were about to touch the glasses, his father’s thick husky voice boomed overhead.
“Frank, Frank, Frank,” the voice began to sing. “What’s the matter? Have you lost the way? Where’s it that you’re headed, Pastor Kim?” The mockery trickled through his voice and slithered its way down Frank’s body, leaving behind an oily sheen. He ran, hoping to shake off the grimy feeling, and he stopped short in front of the pulpit. It still exuded a sense of authority that tired him. He knelt in front of it, resting his head on the body. The bas-relief of the cross in the center, normally empty of the body of Christ, had a figure crucified on it. Frank leaned in to get a closer look. Mrs. Ban’s thin arms were spread out, the nails in her hands evident. Her body was barely clad, nearly indecently, in a Greek robe, the fabric resting gently on her torso and upper thighs. Her eyes were closed as if in sleep but the muscles around her eyes were tightened in fear and her jaw was clenched.
“Mrs. Ban?” Frank’s voice spilled out, weak and watery. He traced her body with his hands; he thought he felt her tremble. “What have they done to you?” Frank felt a shaking in the very core of his insides. With the taste of salt on his tongue, he buried his head in his arms and cried into the floor.
“Daddy?” Peter walked in the bedroom, but stopped some five feet away from the bed with his hands positioned uncertainly in front of him. He waited for a moment for Frank to respond. When Frank didn’t say anything, Peter took another step forward. “Daddy, is it ok that I come in?”
Frank nodded. Peter placed his chubby hands on the bed. He saw Frank look down at them and stuck them in his pockets. Frank wanted to reach out and touch them. He wanted to feel his son’s fingers in between his. But he did not move; he lay still, waiting, as he had done for the past two weeks.
“Daddy, you’ve got to get better. It’s not the same at church without you,” he began, “besides mommy and the church ladies decided to serve doughnuts as snack instead of bagels. You love doughnuts, daddy.”
Frank looked into his son’s face. At once open yet tentative, it was like looking into a clear pool of rainwater.
Peter, feeling more comfortable and courageous, climbed onto the bed next to Frank. He stretched out Frank’s arm and used it as a pillow. Frank felt the weight of his youngest’s head; it was heavier than he thought it would be.
Frank felt Peter’s gaze on the side of his face. He lifted his arm and gently rolled Peter’s head closer. His son’s breath, yet to be soured in that grown up way, smelled like summer mist. He began to pat Peter’s back with his open palm, the way his mother used to do when she was putting him down to sleep. The rhythm of his hand touching his son’s back soothed Frank. He closed his aching eyes. His mind eased into an all-white canvas. Soon their breathing syncopated then slowed, and Frank fell into a dreamless sleep.