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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hosea's Son: A Short Story

The grass was more yellow than green as it lined the farm fences along the highway. The trees had lost most of their leaves and the whole earth seemed to be covered in snow and ice and cold…but there was no snow. There was just fence post after fence post, yellow field after yellow field, gray sky followed by more gray sky. Winter surrounded the little car speeding down the country road, a cheap and half-hearted winter at best, but still a winter. Somewhere North or West or East of them, maybe even South, people were shoveling snow off the bottom of their boots, children were lying on their backs making angels in the ground, and cars were being spun into poles and trees by ice. But here, everything was just kind of dying, or at least momentarily giving up on looking the way it could. Jess, who had been looking out the window with one of those smiles that only comes when you’re completely content, looked over at Ammin and sighed, “Isn’t it beautiful outside?”

Ammin hadn’t noticed the outside but out of convention and a sincere desire to trick Jess into thinking that he was fine, looked over at her and said, “Oh yes, very beautiful.”

Ammin and Jess had been driving for over four hours and the conversation and excitement had begun to wear off. They loved each other though. It was the deep kind, the kind that doesn’t need to be excited to be content, the kind that could sit in silence next to each other in the middle of a disappointing winter and not be worried that they couldn’t think of anything to talk about. It was a real love, not like the winter outside. Jess just smiled looking through the car window, enamored by the yellow and gray, and Ammin just looked ahead, fearing the truth of what lay in front of him.

Ammin knew that as long as Jess didn’t say anything and maybe dozed off or something that he wouldn’t have to bring it up, or at least be able to put off talking about it for a little while longer. He just kept driving, kept being boring, kept putting on yellow and gray music to lull Jess into an uninterested and un-inquisitive haze. Ammin had feared this trip from the moment he knew he was in love with Jess. He knew it had to happen and that everything resting behind his name and his family and his horrible mother needed to come out and that Jess would want to know everything, but he was still afraid. And so they drove in silence, the faint sound of wind dancing through the fence posts, the occasional cow disinterestedly looking up at them, the yellow fields and gray skies rising and falling with every hill their little car sped over.

To Ammin, the trip was going perfectly, no questions asked, no secrets revealed, no pain, no anger. Jess was beautiful as she looked out the window, beautiful in the way she loved Ammin, beautiful in the way she hoped and continued to hope in the future that Ammin feared so much. Her delicate eyes were closing as the yellow atmosphere moved her into sleep, and just as Ammin thought she was asleep, Jess rolled over to face him, looked up with her wet and sleepy eyes, her rose shaped lips smirking just enough to show her dimples, and asked, “Do you think people can stay in love their whole life?”

Ammin responded quickly, “I’m sure they can.”

“I mean,” Jess went on, “I know people can love each other their whole life, people choose to do it, I know my parents have. But, I mean, can people be in love their whole lives? I see it in movies, and read it in books, and I know I can’t possibly imagine feeling anything but in love with you,” she blushed and smiled as she said this, “but I don’t know, sometimes I get scared that we will someday wake up next to each other some morning and love, but not feel in love.”

Ammin didn’t know what to say. Does she know what his mother did? Does she know about the nights he spent searching through the neighborhoods and bars with his dad? Does she know the tears he shed hearing his mom upstairs with other men? He would turn the music up to drown it out, or call his dad, or scream into his pillow. He hated his mom for cheating and he hated his dad for loving. How could she possibly ask that? To be in love? The fact that he was even capable of love at all was a miracle. Ammin couldn’t love anything, couldn’t feel anything, until he met Jess outside of his 9:10 class. Jess was everything his mother wasn’t—faithful, beautiful, honest. He was in love with her, but couldn’t face his fear. Couldn’t face that God could be fair and let people fall in love and be happy. All God has ever done was tease and coax his father into a life of miserable love. He didn’t want to think about it. He wanted to think about the yellow winter, the gray sky, the rolling hills, anything but love.

“Are you okay?”
“You haven’t said anything for a few minutes. Have you even heard me asking you if you were alright?”
Ammin looked over at Jess, his eyes afraid of the tears forming, and said, “Jess, there is something I need to tell you.”

Jess looked confused. “I didn’t mean to upset you Ammin, it is a stupid thought to think we can’t be in love forever. It was just a silly question and I feel really bad for bring it up and…”

“Don’t, it’s not…you didn’t say anything wrong. Jess,” Ammin took her hand, “I need to tell you something.”
“You said that already. Now I’m really nervous.”
“I haven’t been honest with you about my parents.” Even though the car was still driving and the engine still running and the wind was still screaming through the fence posts, everything became silent. Jess looked at him confused, not sure if she should be hurt or mad or scared. Her hand became lifeless, her pouty lips became firm, as she braced herself.

“I want you to know that I’m sorry for not telling you all this sooner. I do love you, I’ve loved you since I spoke to you. But I guess I was afraid that you wouldn’t love me back if you knew the family I came from. My parents are not traveling around the world. I just made that up so you wouldn’t try to meet them sooner. I don’t know, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

At that Ammin’s eyes couldn’t hold back the growing tears, he let them go. It was the first time he had cried since his mother left. His soul cried. The years of pushing back the memories, the hate, the confusion, the fear, everything was falling through his eyes onto his shirt. His hand squeezed Jess’s as he tried to fight back the tears, but he couldn’t, Ammin wept. Finally, Ammin looked over at Jess, she was crying. She didn’t know why, she wasn’t mad, or even sad yet. She just knew that it was the time for tears, and she cried patiently with Ammin as he slowly calmed his heart and finished his tears.

The car was silent for a while. Ammin was embarrassed. Jess was concerned.

“Jess, my Father is crazy, and my mother is a whore.” Ammin broke the silence.
“My older brother and sister tried to check him into a mental hospital when we were teenagers, but they wouldn’t accept him, or he would just check himself out.”
“Oh my God! That’s terrible. What was wrong with him?”
“He hears God.”
“He hears God. Like, God tells him to do crazy things and he does them. That’s how I got my name. My name means some lame thing in Hebrew that my Father claims is supposed to be a prophecy for the world.”

Jess did not know what to say. She was shocked. This is not what she was expecting.
“And probably the craziest thing my father did was marry my mother.”
“This is too much. How can your dad marrying your mom be crazy? What is that supposed to make me think about us? I love you and now you’re saying marriage is crazy?”
“No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the marriage itself was crazy, just that my dad chose her.”
“Why, what was so wrong with your mother?” Jess was beginning to get angry, even though she still wasn’t quite sure why.
“I told you my mother is a whore. I mean, she was a prostitute—an actual prostitute. And my Dad married her because God told him to. I know you probably think I’m crazy and I’m sorry for everything. If you want me to turn around and take you home I will. I’m just so, so, so…ashamed.”

The car became silent again. Jess wasn’t mad anymore, but she couldn’t look at Ammin. She didn’t know what to say, or even if she should say anything. So she just waited, she knew Ammin wasn’t finished yet. After a few minutes of looking at the yellow grass, Ammin continued.

“She never stayed faithful to my dad. I can remember her bringing guys home when I was in kindergarten. She didn’t even care I was there. She did that as long as I can remember, and my dad never did anything about it. He would just treat her as though none of it happened, and just cried whenever she wasn’t around. At first I felt sorry for him, you know, but when it kept happening without him doing anything, my pity ran out. You know, people do have a choice in the matter. He is just so weak. Finally, the day before I graduated high school, my mom ran away, or was bought or started working for this guy, or something, I don’t really know. And after I graduated, I left, and until last week, I hadn’t heard from either of them.”

The sky had turned from a gray to dark orange and red. The clouds and mist diffused the sunset so that only a shadow of sunset broke through. The yellow grass grew darker and the fence posts began to disappear but for the few that reflects back the light of the headlights streaming from the car. The air in the car felt profound. Something had changed, not necessarily for the worst, but everything felt different and new. The engine on the car hummed as it went over hill after hill, and Ammin could feel the warmth in Jess’s hand again. Ammin didn’t feel afraid anymore, if anything, he felt vindicated. Jess was still there and somehow, he knew that there love was deeper now. There was still so much to explain, but at least there’s was a love without secrets. Jess sat waiting through the sunset, sad, but content. She was always a quiet processor. As always, it was Ammin that broke the silence.

“Do you still love me, after all that?”

Jess looked up at Ammin, her eyes wet and warm, her lips filled with red, and said, “I love you more now. I can’t explain it, but I just love you more now.”

Ammin smiled. Jess smiled.

“So why now? Why did they call and why are you taking me home to meet them?”
“My dad bought my mom back. He wanted me to come home and celebrate and when he found out about you, he insisted that you come.”
“What about your mom? Did she want you to come home?”
“She said she was in love…for the first time.”

Jess sat there for a long time, her heart thumping along with Ammin’s like poetry from a book. She reached her hand up Ammin’s arm and pulled her body in close to kiss him on the cheek.

“That’s beautiful, Ammin. Truly beautiful.”

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