119 After Words

“Can we go up to your room?” Woody wanted someplace to speak freely and, as he never knew with her, perhaps a simultaneous roll in her hay, or straw mattress, or whatever. “Where we can talk?”

Woody often parked the truck and then took off with Tad, in Tad’s car. On Mondays though, he stayed with Moth, to pick up the battered, barely Chapter 119 After Wordsfluttering pieces of his brother after their father’s ministrations. Herb, even on the off chance that he might notice the truck outside, would never expect to find Woody upstairs and it hadn’t occurred to Woody that his father might want to be in Kitty’s room, especially after a vigorous session with Moth. With his pastoral visit complete, he usually scurried off home to Myrtle though why, Woody didn’t comprehend.

“Sure.” Kitty was curious, after all. There was no lock on her door. Anybody could wander in at will so she’d kept her possessions there to a minimum, as the very thought of Minnie Minus fingering through them revolted her. She left only things that would surely disturb that aura of sanctimony; her unlit, scented candles, and to forestall accusations of reckless pyromania, in scrupulous succession and relishing the deception, she swapped in new candles with virgin wicks for the ones she’d lit the previous night. She secreted in a dresser drawer the flimsiest of sleepwear near a vial of musky perfume but on the single, splintered wood chair left a Bible religiously open to the designated daily passage. Each day, to escape detection, she almost cheerfully lugged the rest of her stuff up and down the steps to her car; it was so, so worth the effort to thwart her prim hostess.

Once in her room, she would firmly click shut the door and quickly light up a dresser top of candles before dousing the merciless ceiling light. If Herbie showed up, she’d claim to be at prayer or already in bed to dissuade him from entering although there had been nights when she’d sensed him hesitating outside, after returning an unconvinced goodnight through the door, stalking awhile before creeping back down the stairs.

With Woody in tow, she switched off the unflattering overhead lighting first, while he removed his dripping coat and draped it across the back of the chair now also stacked with Bibles and promotional materials. Kitty struck a match and lit a single candle.Ā  She sat cross-legged on the bed and patted the space beside her, unsure as to the degree of difficulty this further extraction of family truth might prove. Memory served; he perched on the bed, hoping.

“Tell me.”

“It’s a mess.”

“Is it just Moth?”

“He tried it on with me once a long time ago but my Mom found us. He told her he was saving me but then he stopped and left right away with her. After that, I started working out so I could defend myself if he tried again. He didn’t, and Mom never said a word about it.”

“Aren’t you supposed to tell somebody when stuff like this happens?” Kitty wasn’t up to speed on child-rearing skills but she recalled advice about reporting abuse.

Woody scoffed. “Tell? Like, who? My kid brother, my parents, my teacher – when we were both home-schooled – my pastor?”

“Did you ever tell anyone?”

“Moth, after it happened to him, too, and he told me. See, awhile after my turn, Dad moved Moth into this house as a caretaker, a satellite office person but it was really so he could work Moth over. He was barely sixteen. Moth says the drill is that Dad tells him he’s bad and needs to be punished and Moth’s supposed to say back to Dad, over and over and fucking over, that he’s sorry for everything he’s done, admit that he needs to be healed, even though Moth hasn’t ever done anything, just Dad has, pretending he’s Elijah, or something. It’s all bad shit.”

“And Moth?”

“He doesn’t know how to get out of it, though he knows it’s all crap.”

“And your Mom?”

“As long as it’s not under her roof, she doesn’t care. Moth’s very good at keeping the books straight and he keeps quiet. Why am I telling you all this?” Woody, like many, wanted to tell and then regretted having done it.

“I didn’t try and find them, Woody. It was all happening when I went in the office to drop off some paperwork. I had no idea. I was shocked.” Kitty hadn’t realized that things were this bad for Moth but for her it was an unexpected boon. The riveting details were undoubtedly the means to her end. “You say this happens often?”

“Let’s say regularly scheduled, like church services. He comes Monday nights to review the receipts, when Mom leads a prayer group at the church. Just lately there have been more times, like he’s getting crazier.”

Kitty regarded the burning candle, as if for insight. “Do you ever want to hurt him, your Dad I mean, not Moth?”

Woody gazed into the fire, as if to be inspired to answer. “Hell, yes. I love my brother.” Woody gulped. “I’ll need to go down after Dad leaves. My parents are total frauds.”

“That must have been hard to say.” She’d endured analysis herself, knew the platitudes. Woody wiped away the obligatory tear. She moved to hug him. He offered no resistance. As they moved silently together, still fully dressed, a tap came at the door.

“Kathy, are you still awake?” Kitty moved instantly to a kneeling position on one side of the tract bearing chair, beckoning Woody to the other side of it; he at once obeyed.

“Kathy, it’s Herbie. Can I come in?” They barely breathed. Woody raised his eyebrows and mouthed the question, “Herb – ie?”

The door cracked open. “I want to be with you…” Woody stood up, abashed. Kitty, still kneeling, spun to face the pastor.

“Why Herb! Here we are, your devoted son and I, so deep in prayer for our impending mission that we didn’t hear you. Come, join us.” Like son, like father.

“Whoring? Linwood, leave at once.” Herbie spluttered at the sight before him, indignation rising faster than lust.

“This is my room and we are at work for our ministry.” She reared up, virtuous before the pastor. “You are the intruder here, not Linwood. I invited him here to pray with me. If you will not join us, leave us at once.”

Herbie raised his hand above his shoulder, as if to strike her. Her unexpected defiance defeated his purpose. She knew he was there for more of something else, and he knew she knew it, too. His hand dropped, as did his tone.

“Of course, Kathy. We’ll speak at another time. Please be sure to put out the candle. We don’t want to start a conflagration, do we? Linwood, good to see you at prayer again.” Herbie was bailing out this boat as fast as fast could be.

After the front door slammed shut, they listened for the cough of his car, watched the headlights scour the drive, and only then did they douse the candle. Woody’s confession found its penance while the renewed rain threw itself at the windows, staccato-ed on the drum of the roof, and competed with the rhythm thrummed in the bed just below.