Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Vow

by Rory A.A. Hinton

And Then There Were Three

For Father Louis

"Rory picked himself up and looked down: his hands were full of gravel and blood ... things were different now and he didn't know what to do about it." (Anna Jacobs)

He was on the side of a country road, sweating. It was unseasonably hot that night. His car was parked. He left his right blinker ticking. He had tried to determine what compelled him to pull his car over as he sat in silence listening to the metronome. “Philosophy begins in wonder,” he said as he pulled back the parking break and opened the car door.
     With his head in his hands, and his hands in the dirt, he whispered his vow to the ground. He listened to the cooling pings of the hot engine beside him, and the condensation from the air-conditioner dripping onto the edge of the pavement. He was prostrate, but not religious. He thought of a picture he once saw of Thomas Merton in a book doing something similar in a monastery on a shining marble floor. He leafed through it once at a garage sale years ago when he was interested in self-improvement. 
     A car drove by as he rose to his knees. It did not stop, but it did look familiar. He squinted and tried to identify the driver. All he saw was a rounded shadow offset by the headlights of an oncoming car. As he watched the car drive away into his small town, he noticed the fenced off country lot from across the road. It was covered over by old trees, wild grass, farm equipment long since abandoned, and a broken concrete remnant that once served as a foundation. 
     He remembered the morning he heard the news that the three story farm house on that lot went up in flames. He eventually saw a picture of it in the local newspaper when the first news report was published. The least that most knew was that the oldest son of a family of five set fire to their house, killing his father and younger brother late one summer evening in August. His mother and sister were on a vacation in Northern Ireland and were not expected home for another week. Despite a police investigation, no final report detailing the motive and the method of the crime was released to the public. Everyone in town felt the agony of not knowing. There was no closure.  
     “I wonder how well my kids knew James,” he thought, as he sat beside the three of them during the memorial service in the local United Church. James was the younger brother who had caught the father’s attention, to the fatal chagrin of Charles his older brother. He looked at his kids and wondered if showing parental favouritism was a dishonest virtue or an honest vice. He did not know. He loved all three equally, in his fashion. 
     By the time of the memorial there was conjecture about the why and the how, but nothing solid. Information was gained second hand from volunteer fire fighters who fought the blaze, and from the local police who spoke off the record over dinner with friends. The three surviving members of the family said nothing.
     As the service began the oldest son was brought out in a wheel chair. He was covered in white bandages. His mother and younger sister walked behind him at a noticeable distance. They ignored him with civility. They both spoke at the service. The daughter first, then the mother. They shared words of daughterly love and maternal kindness. This was not the time for forensics. Charles was neither acknowledged nor mentioned. He sat still, mummified. 
     A neighbour woke up to the sound of a raging storm. She looked out her window and saw the house on fire that summer night. She ran across her yard in her nightgown and saw Charles standing by the side of the house, delirious. “I need to put the fire out,” he said as he held a green garden hose in his hand. By this time the house was engulfed in flames. The neighbour took the hose out of his trembling hand and threw it on the ground. She grabbed him by the shoulders and screamed at him. “Charles, what happened?! Where is your father?! Where is James?!” With Thalesian indifference Charles kept mumbling, over and over again, “Why is there nothing rather than something?”
     After the house had been watered down to its skeletal frame, the firefighters found the charred remains of James and his father sitting side by side on the floor behind a bathroom door. They were burned dead, not alive. The autopsy confirmed that they were killed before the fire was set.
     “I wanted them to be together,” Charles told the police from his hospital bed, “they were always together.” Charles informed the hospital staff that he did not want any visitors. Gossip spreads like wild fire in small towns. Soon, Charles was on everyone’s lips. What price recognition? 
     He thought of the vow he had made just moments before these memories came and went, a vow to live a life of moderate poverty, relative obscurity, physical distance, and hermitic silence. It had possessed him long enough. What better place than this to exercise it, while looking across the road at a nothing that was once a something? And what better time than now, as the something that was once his happy life was slowly turning into nothing through the horror of denied betrayal? 
     “The world is a rotten place,” he thought. Best to leave it alone by being alone. Alone, yes, but never alone, not really. A man still tries to befriend his broken places. He stood beside his car and brushed the dirt off his clothes. “Philosophy may begin in wonder,” he thought, “but it does not end there. It ends here.”

Anna Jacobs. Rory's Story: A Teenager's Story Of Loss. Hinton House Publishers Ltd. March 30, 2013.