May 1, 2021
26.5 Years Ago
Paul sat at the dinner table quietly eating his food, which was chicken and mashed potatoes. His dad was home, so the house was quiet. The occasional piece of silverware clanked against the white porcelain plates, but those were the only sounds.
The quiet gave Paul more time to think, but he seemed to only have more questions. It’d been just about six months since Nobody had visited. It had also been five beatings. It probably meant Nobody had been some weird game his own imagination had played on him. Except Paul went out to check the next day, and the cracked window was still there. Also, the Bible Nobody had given him was there, so Paul read it.
He’d kept his promise to a man who apparently didn’t care that Paul was still being attacked. But Paul couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t like anybody did anything about his dad’s beatings.
He’d reached the book of Joshua, and one part kept bugging him. “Be strong and courageous.”
Everything he’d read in the book so far frustrated him. If God were real, and he kept bailing the Israelites out, why didn’t he step in for Paul? Why didn’t he stop COVID any sooner? Vaccines had made their way around the country, but if there was a God, why not just miraculously heal everyone? Why not cure cancer and stop death? Why help thousands of Israelites generations ago and no one today?
Whatever frustrated him, that one part just kept ringing through his mind. Why did they need strength if God was going to do everything? Why did they need courage if they knew they had the creator of everything on their side? What does it mean to be strong and courageous.
“Eat your food!” Paul reflexively obeyed.
His father’s tone was angry. It was scary when his father was drunk, but when he used that tone, and he was sober, it was terrifying.
Paul shoved another few bites in his mouth, trying to keep the meal running smoothly.
“What’s wrong?” Paul’s mother asked.
“It doesn’t matter if something’s wrong,” his father’s tone hit a new octave. “I told him to eat.”
Paul glanced at his mother, hoping she’d understand that he was far more worried about his father’s mood than anything else. Anything else. The chicken nearly vanished off the plate as Paul ate it, trying to make sure he didn’t overfill his mouth. His dad hated it when he looked like some sort of chipmunk.
Even as he worked to keep his father happy, Paul’s thoughts drifted. He’d kept his word to Nobody, but he read a lot more than just the Bible. He was trying to figure out how Nobody did it. He read books on science and even a biography on Harry Houdini. Paul really didn’t expect there to be any magical explanation. No, the answer was science. It had to be some sort of teleportation. So Paul had honed in on physics. He had to know how Nobody did it. He wanted to know why he hand’t come back any of the last five times.
Then he read that most recent chapter. It seemed a challenge to Paul. The only reason someone would have to be strong would be if God expected them to do something.
“I’m going out,” Paul’s dad stood from the table, leaving his plate where it was.
Paul shot from his chair and snatched the plate before his dad had made it out of the dining room. Paul rinsed the plate and put it in the dishwasher. He winced as he heard his mom speak.
“Do you have go out?” she asked.
“Gonna spend time with the boys,” he answered. That meant he was going to get hammered.
“I thought you said we needed to watch what we spend?”
Oh no! Mom, why would you say that?
His father had made it to the front door when she asked her stupid question. His head slowly turned around, and his face melted into a look of pure rage.
“Are you telling me what to do with my own money?” His tone was low and angry. His dark eyebrows furrowed together. The sneer alone should have sent both of them running.
“No!” His mom said. She started speaking quickly, but Paul knew it was already too late. “I was just wondering if you’d remembered what you’d said.”
That’s even worse, Mom!
Paul’s father turned. His thick, black boots sounded like thunder as they stomped across the carpet. Be strong and courageous!
Paul moved without thinking.
“Are you calling me a liar?” He screamed the question. Why didn’t the neighbors ever call the police? People in the next county should be able to hear when his father was like this!
Paul’s father reached up a hand to slap her, but Paul made it in time. He charged at his father and drove a shoulder into him as hard as he could.
He bounced off the thick man and crashed to the floor.
Everybody else seemed to freeze. Paul didn’t hurt his father one bit. He seemed stunned. A corner of his father’s lips curled into and amused smirk.
“Well look who decided to grow a backbone.” Paul’s father chuckled and pointed a square finger at him, shouting. “You’re all tough now, aren’t you?”
Until that moment, Paul had always just tried to stand between his father and mother. Every now and then, he’d had to lay over top of his mom to keep his father from stomping on her or kicking her. Those boots were thick!
But whatever he did, it was defensive. This was the first time he’d tried to actually fight, and his first attack simply made his father laugh in derision.
… to be continued …