“What’s going on the marquee today, Utah?” my father asks.
It’s bad enough all the ex-parishioners of this church still hold a grudge against my father for buying this house, but the marquee digs the knife in even deeper. I’m sure the daily quotes that have nothing to do with Christianity get under people’s skin. Yesterday’s quote said CHARLES DARWIN ATE EVERY ANIMAL HE DISCOVERED.
I had to Google that fact because it sounded too insane to be true. It’s true.
“You’ll see in five minutes,” Utah says. He downs the rest of his shake and pushes away from the table.
“Wait,” Honor says. “Maybe you should hold off on updating the marquee today. You know, out of respect.”
Utah stares blankly at Honor, which clues her in that none of us knows what she’s talking about.
She looks at my father. “Pastor Brian died last night.”
I immediately turn my attention to my father at that news. He rarely shows emotion, and I’m not sure what kind of emotion this will bring him. But surely it’ll be something. A tear? A smile? He stares stoically at Honor as he absorbs the news.
She nods. “Yeah, I saw it on Facebook this morning. Heart attack.”
My father leans back in his chair, gripping his coffee cup. He looks down at the cup. “He’s dead?”
Victoria puts a hand on my father’s shoulder and says something to him, but I tune her out. Until this moment, I had forgotten all about Wolfgang showing up last night.
I put my hand over my mouth because I suddenly want to tell them all about the dog showing up in the middle of the night, but I feel like I might choke up.
What does it say about me that I didn’t have any sort of reaction just now to the news of Pastor Brian’s passing, but realizing his dog came back to the only other home he’s ever known makes me want to tear up?
Honor called me a sociopath once while we were in the middle of a fight. I’ll make it a point to look up that word later. There might be some truth to that.
“I can’t believe he’s dead,” my father says. He stands up and Victoria’s hand slides off his shoulder and down his back. “He wasn’t that much older than me.”
Of course that’s what he’s focused on. Pastor Brian’s age. He’s less concerned about the death of a man he’s been warring with for years and more concerned that he was close in age to someone who is old enough to fall over dead from a heart attack.
Utah is still paused at the door. He looks like he’s in a state of disbelief. “I don’t know what to do,” he says. “If I don’t acknowledge his passing on the marquee, people will accuse us of being insensitive. But if I acknowledge it, people will accuse us of being disingenuous.”
What an odd thing to be worried about in this moment.
Honor’s boyfriend tears out his drawing and stares down at it. “Sounds like you’re screwed either way, so I’d just go with whatever you feel like going with.” He says all this without looking up from his drawing. But his words reach Utah anyway, because after a brief moment of pause, Utah walks out the front door toward the marquee.
I’m confused by two things. One being the constant and repeated presence of Honor’s boyfriend at our breakfast table. Two being the fact that everyone seems to know him so well that they’re perfectly fine with him joining in on the family conversation. Shouldn’t he be too nervous to speak? Especially around my father. He’s only been hanging around for a couple of weeks now. Meeting his girlfriend’s family seemed to sit really well with him. I hate it. I also hate that he doesn’t seem like the type of person who talks a lot, but the few things he does say have more weight than if anyone else were to say them.
Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve decided to go on a verbal strike. I’m tired of everything I say not having meaning to anyone. I’ll just stop talking so that when I do talk, my words will count. Right now it feels like any time I talk, my words circle right back into my mouth like a boomerang and I’m forced to swallow them again.
“What’s a heart attack?” Moby asks.
Victoria bends and begins to help Moby put on his jacket. “It’s when your heart stops working and your body goes to sleep. But it only happens when you’re an old, old man like Pastor Brian.”
“His body went to sleep?” Moby asks.
“For how long? When is he gonna wake up?”
“Not for a long time.”
“Is he gonna get buried?”
“Yes,” she says, sounding a bit annoyed with the natural curiosity of her four-year-old. She zips his jacket. “Go get your shoes.”
“But what happens when he wakes up? Will he be able to get out of the ground?”
I smile, knowing how much Victoria hates telling Moby the truth. He asks all the normal questions about life and Victoria makes up the most bizarre answers. She’ll do anything to protect him from the truth. I once heard him ask her what the word sex meant. She told him it was a terrible TV show from the eighties and that he should never watch it.
She places her hands on Moby’s cheeks. “Yes, he can get out of the ground when he wakes up. They’ll bury Pastor Brian with a cell phone so he can call them when it’s time to dig him back up.”
Honor sputters laughter and spews juice everywhere. Utah hands her a napkin and whispers, “Does she think this is healthier than telling him the truth?”
We’re all watching this conversation with fascination. Victoria can sense it because even though she’s failing miserably, she’s giving it her best effort to put Moby’s questions to rest. “Let’s go find your backpack,” she says, pulling on his hand. He stops following her right before they make it to the hallway.
“But what if his phone battery dies while his body is sleeping? Will he be stuck in the ground forever?”
My father grabs Moby by the hand, sweeping in to rescue the desperate Victoria. “Come on, buddy. Time to go.” Right when they round the corner to the hallway, I hear Moby say, “Isn’t it time for your body to sleep, Daddy? It’s getting really old, too.”
Honor starts laughing, and I think her boyfriend does, too, but his laugh is quiet and I don’t want to look at him. I cover my mouth because I’m not sure if laughing out loud counts against my verbal strike, but Victoria’s mothering skills are humorous at best.
Victoria is staring at all of us with her hands on her hips, watching us laugh. Her face turns as pink as her scrubs and she walks swiftly out of the room, headed toward Quarter Three.
I would feel sorry for her if she didn’t bring this on herself.
Utah and Honor begin to pack up their things. I walk to the sink and pretend to busy myself, hoping they don’t ask me if I’m going to school today. I usually take a different car than the two of them because they both stay after school. Honor for cheerleading practice and Utah for . . . whatever it is Utah does after school. I’m not even sure. I go to my room, mostly to avoid looking at Honor’s boyfriend because every time I do I feel a little bit of his mouth on mine from that day on the square.
I wait in my room and listen for the front door to open and close and even then I wait several more minutes. When the house is finally quiet and I’m certain he’s gone, I open my bedroom door and slowly walk toward the kitchen to ensure the coast is clear. My mother is downstairs, but the chances of her coming out of the basement to ask why I’ve skipped school are less than the chances of the Cowboys beating the Packers tonight.
Speaking of. I’m a little disappointed my father or Victoria didn’t notice Cheesus before they left.
On my way into the kitchen, the marquee outside the window catches my attention. I squint to read the words Utah selected to display.
THERE ARE MORE FAKE FLAMINGOS IN THE WORLD THAN REAL ONES.
I sigh, a little disappointed in Utah. If it were me, I would have paid my respects to Pastor Brian. Either that, or I wouldn’t have updated it at all. But to update it without acknowledging the death of the man who erected that very marquee seems a little . . . I don’t know . . . like something people would expect from a Voss. I don’t like validating their negative perception of us.
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