I slept soundly for the first time in months; no nightmares and no getting up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. When I awoke at six, I felt wonderful -and what was more, my backache was gone. When I urinated, the sphincter valve opened all at once; not the way that it had been for the past week,as if the valve was frozen and could only be opened a little at a time.
I turned the TV on and sat up in bed and watched the early morning news. It was one of those days when not much had happened. In fact, the most exciting thing that the news people could drum up was a bill on tax reform. It was, I thought, just slightly more interesting than discussing the fact that the sun rose this morning and predicting whether it would rise tomorrow. I decided to call Laura at 7:45 A.M. in order to take advantage of the lower rates.
"Well," Laura asked, "how did it go?"
"Would you believe it if I told you that I've been saved?"
"No!" she snapped, apparently in no mood for my jokes,"What happened? Did you see Allen?"
"I spent all of yesterday with him and about two hours with Brother James."
"With Brother James; that's a surprise! Well, what do you think?"
"It's about the way Kit said it was. You can tell her that I've confirmed her observations and conclusions. In fact, I found myself liking Brother James; he reminded me a bit of my father -he even had butterscotch drops on his desk, like my father used to have. He's a story telling preacher. He's also a very lonely man but I don't think that there's much in the way of meaness or guile in him. Allen seems to loves him very much."
"Nothing wrong with that. The more people you love, the better off you are. Kit said that he had a child-like quality about him."
"That pretty well describes it."
"Does Allen still think that the family was ganging up on him."
"No. I think that I explained why we did what we did. You would have been quite proud of my wonderful tact and restraint."
"Do you think that Brother James wants Allen to follow in his footsteps; to take his place?"
"Sure! He'd love to have a son like Allen to follow in his footsteps. I don't think that there's much chance of that, though; Allen seems headed for a career in business."
"So you feel much better about the whole thing than you did?"
"You know, hon, I feel as if I was the one who was crazy. I agonized for months over something that I could have handled without any thought or preparation whatever. I created a monster out of Brother James, all in my imagination. I pictured him as some arch villain, a Myung Sun Moon or worse; a Svengali who had hypnotized my son and was going to destroy him. Insted I find a kindly, slightly nutty old man who reminds me a bit of my father. Anyway, my feeling that I'd been a total loss as a father is gone. The kid's going to be all right."
"You've probably gained more than you realize."
"I certainly hope so -it's been one hellish experience!"
"Well, make sure to tell him that I'll see him after Christmas."
"I love you."
"And I love you. See you in a few days.
After the phone conversation, I got dressed and went out to pick up some food for breakfast; orange juice and a doughnut to go with the motel's coffee. I had my coffee and doughnuts and then I went for walk by the marina.
As I walked I kept thinking about the events of the previous day. Too many things didn't seem to fit; and I wasn't happy until everything could be tied up into a neat package.
When Allen had come home, after he had "found Christ", he was the weirdest kid I could imagine. He bowed his head and loudly said a long grace, even though he must have known that it would irritate the hell out of me. I kept feeling that I was being baited. And those letters about miracles and visions: Kit had remarked how strange it was that Allen hadn't send letters like that to her. Then, in Michigan, he said that he wanted to talk, and he never did. He had put on a big show of how Christian he was. He couldn't have displayed his Christianity more if he had decorated himself with a neon cross that said 'Jesus Saves'. I kept thinking that Allen had been trying to get my goat. The more that I thought about it, the angrier I got. The message to me from Allen seemed to be " I'm going to do what I want and I dare you to even try and stop me!" Allen invited Kit to visit him, but he hadn't invited me me --the idea had to originate from me. I had felt that Allen was afraid, either of me, or of what might happen.
Then yesterday, on the wharf, as if out of nowhere, was a relatively normal young man who bore no resemblance to the strutting idiot I'd seen in Michigan. And at dinner last night, not only didn't he bow his head, but grace never even came up; it didn't seem to matter -we just sat down, ordered and ate. There was a funny look in his eye when I ordered an ale, as if he was going to make some remark, but then he apparently thought better of it.
No! I thought, I'm not crazy! I had plenty of reason for concern about his sanity.
Then it hit me, and I stopped and said out loud, "That little shit! He deliberately baited me to get me to come down here!" I turned and looked around to make sure that no one had heard me (only crazy people talk out loud where others can hear).
Yes, I thought, it made sense only if, in some way, Allen had set the whole thing up.
No, there was nothing wrong with my reasoning.
The little bastard!
What a goddamn thing to put his parents through -and for what?
Why would he do something like that to me and Laura?
I walked and thought: come on, now, Howard; you're not going to attribute some Machiavellian plot to the kid, are you? Maybe not, but there has to be some explanation for the whole thing. People don't just pop from sanity to insanity and then back to sanity again without some reason. Why would a kid rack up his parents? Revenge? Hardly; besides we haven't done anything to him. Little kids do all sorts of horible things to their parents to test their love
Then it hit me! I remembered Brother James's story about how his parents had thrown him out of their home because he had become a Christian; how even when he was starving, they wouldn't take him back. Allen knew that I had very strong feelings about religion. If he became someone whom I would absolutely detest; embraced a religion that denied my only god, "Reason", would I stop loving him? Would I kick him out? Deny him as a son?
Yes! that had to be the explanation.
Now the puzzle was solved; all of the pieces fit and the story was complete. Even the incident with the gold watch and coins -I never knew that he was so insecure about my love.
Now he had put my love to the supreme test.
As I walked along the wharf, feeling secure in my understanding of what had happened, and why; I sighed deeply, and whispered out loud:
"So you wanted to know if I would go on loving you no matter what you did: Well, My Son, now you know! Now you know!"
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