So due to time constraints, my short story for this year’s cantata was cut. Instead, I’m posting it here for others to enjoy. At the end, I was going to sing the song a cappella; I’ve instead inserted the YouTube version of the song I had selected.
Please share as you wish. Peace.
Edge of Night
It started to snow sometime during the night.
The car’s tires thrummed along the asphalt, the headlights illuminating the swirling flakes as they fell. The wipers whisked across the windshield at a steady pace.
My eyes swept back and forth along the highway, looking for a sign, any sign. A single thought hammered at my mind, over and over: Why did he run?
It’s been days since my son left in a flurry of anger and hurt.
All I really wanted to know was why. My son was a good kid; he had his faults, like we all do. Ever since his mother died several years ago, however, he had changed. Anger seemed to constantly boil across his face. We could never talk anymore without rage and misunderstanding exploding forth. The tribal police were constantly delivering him to my door.
That fateful night replayed once more and I watched it unfold, an observer to the madness. Kaitlin had arrived at my door shortly after dinner; I knew she was my son’s girlfriend but hadn’t seen her in a while. She was in tears, clutching a bundle of blankets. “Please,” she asked, practically begging. “I don’t know what to do.”
She thrust the bundle into my startled grasp and it cried. It took a moment for me to realize it was an infant. I looked at her, puzzled.
“He’s not eating and keeps crying,” she sniffled.
I nodded and stepped back into the house, Kaitlin following. As I ushered her into the living room, that’s when I realized I was holding my grandson. I looked at the young girl for confirmation, who nodded, tears beginning to flow once more.
The next hour passed quickly; all I could think about was why Tomas would hide this from me. I helped feed the baby, showing her a few tricks I had learned from my wife before she passed. Kaitlin started to sob again, afraid of Tomas’ reaction; he’d told her not to come. And she couldn’t tell me why.
Tomas walked into the house sometime that evening and saw Kaitlin and the baby. I tried to talk to him, but everything escalated quickly. Tomas said so many hateful things; I was left reeling from the verbal assault and the surprise of the child. Before I could recover, he was gone, taking his girlfriend and their son.
I thought he needed time, that this would blow over as usual. But after three days and no sign of him anywhere on the reservation, I knew he had run. Kaitlin’s parents didn’t know nor didn’t care. And I had no idea where to look.
My prayers that night were fervent. I hadn’t prayed in a long time, hadn’t wanted to face my fears and hurts. But I had no choice now; my son and his new family were out there, alone.
I went out to the fields like I used to in the past, surrounded by the stars, reminded once more of His promises. There, the expanse of the sky around me, I broke down and wept. My hurt, anger, despair, grief…it all poured forth. The walls of so many years crumbled, falling to the ground like so much dust.
A song that my wife used to sing all the time kept resonating in my heart that night. For the first time in many years, it poured from my heart and rose to the heavens. As I sang, I could feel Him with me, so close. I could hear him telling me that this, too, would pass. And that I needed to go. To pursue. To not let go.
The next morning, I threw some supplies into the car and hit the road, letting Him lead me. With no idea where to go or what to do, I had to surrender myself to Him. The miles flew by, the stops frequent. I fought despair every moment, my heart gripping His presence as the only thing that mattered.
The hours on the road were a blur. I lost count of the times I cried, my soul casting about for my lost son and the new family I wanted to know. Now here I was on a country road in the middle of nowhere, a blizzard descending upon me.
I wanted to just stop the car, curl up in the seat, and let everything go. But I couldn’t. My heart burned deep inside me. This was my son, my family. I would not stop, never stop, until he was found and in my arms again.
Up ahead I saw the shadow of a building, a bus station from an older era. Nothing stirred as I passed; it was dark, a hole in the world. The blackness seemed to lunge forth, threatening to devour my heart.
The car stuttered and swerved as the wheels hit something. I stopped the car and got out, walking around, checking the tires. The night was quiet, peaceful, the snow a gentle swirl as it blew all around. I looked back at the station, my feet already walking towards it even as it sat there, a silent monument to my failures.
I knew if I found them, everything would be forgiven. We would make it work, somehow. I just wanted to see my boy again, hug him tightly, and bring Kaitlin and their son into the fold. But what if I couldn’t? What if they were truly gone? Would I ever see him or them again? Was I now utterly alone?
I reached the building and looked around. No sign of a car or people; it was indeed abandoned. See? The darkness seemed to whisper around me. You have failed again. They are gone. All gone… The blackness surged around me and I despaired, sinking to my knees as I wept.
I would fight; I had to fight. I knew His heart; if He would not leave me, then I would not give up. Even as the sobs wracked my crumpled form, the song I had held in my heart these many days came forth.
*** *** ***
It started to snow sometime during the night.
The boy pulled the stained and torn blanket up under his chin in a feeble attempt to ward off the biting wind whistling through the abandoned storefront. Trash swirled around the floor. Outside, the world was gray, flecks of snow dotting the parking lot and street. A single streetlamp remained dimly lit; the rest were smashed and broken who knows how long ago.
A whimper came from Tomas’s side. The girl, curled tightly against his hip, shivered. He moved more of the blanket over her body, trying to keep her warm. The small bundle clutched tightly to her chest whimpered again. He reached down and stroked the small patch of pink skin exposed to the air, then tugged the baby’s woolen cap down so only its nose and mouth peaked through.
The girl opened her eyes, looking at him. Her expression was one he was familiar with: fear. It was a face he wore a lot himself, when she wasn’t looking. He smiled at her, caressing the lock of hair poking out from her ski cap. “Shhh, Kaitlin. Just the wind.”
She nodded, sighing and curling tighter around the child. Her eyes drooped closed again. He took off the threadbare towel from around his shoulders and laid it over her body. He didn’t dare get up, though he ached to stride across the cold floor, stretch his tired muscles. Doing so would deprive the girl and his son of his desperately needed warmth.
Unable to sleep, unwilling to move, he sat in the dark, staring out as the snow continued to fall. Why? He asked himself for the millionth time. No answer was forthcoming, as always. Discarded paper rustled through their makeshift shelter.
For the millionth time he asked himself why life had tossed him here, halfway across the state shivering in an abandoned bus station in the middle of nowhere. Running, always running.
It was a common element in his life to this point. Bullying? Change classes, or change schools. Bad grades? Find solace in the bottom of a bottle. Mom died? Retreat into the heart, and build a fortress against the despair.
The argument that pushed him over the edge seemed like it had happened yesterday. Coming home after a long day running around, he found Kaitlin cowering in the corner of the room, arms wrapped around their newborn son. His father looking at him with that look; disappointment, anger, resignation, all wrapped up in one. This time, Tomas didn’t wait for the tirade. He struck first, unwilling to be another victim to life’s constant disappointments. Words poured forth, statements aimed to hurt. Their argument escalated, bile and poison flowed, and then Tomas had had enough. He grabbed Kaitlin and left the house, the door a heavy slam behind them.
That was five days ago. Since then, Tomas had slowly worked his little family across the state. His car broke down a day after he left; it probably still sat abandoned. They started hitchhiking. A friendly couple dropped them off at a crossroads several miles back. They’d given them some money, probably enough to get to by for a few more days.
Tomas shivered again, tucking his hands in his armpits and squeezing. The space he’d cleared out behind the station’s counter kept the wind mostly off of them, but the temperature was still brutal. He couldn’t build a fire; there were no matches and he never paid attention when his father used to take them camping.
He looked down again at Kaitlin. When she told him she was pregnant, it was a punch to the gut. What did he know about being a father? He thought about leaving her, like a lot of guys he knew around the rez did when they got news like that. But deep down, he knew he couldn’t abandon her. They decided to keep it a secret for as long as they could until he could figure things out.
She finally told her parents a month before she gave birth. Compassionate people, they kicked her out for her behavior. Tomas helped her settle in at a local shelter. He had already decided to not tell his father; he knew his reaction would be the same. Why would it be any different?
Tomas shifted his position, stretching his back and letting Kaitlin move closer, their son now tucked tightly between them.
The silent night reminded him of the times when his mother would take Tomas out into the plains that surrounded the family farm and look up at the sky. “Tomas,” she would say, “up there is the promise of God. See those stars and remember that He came down here on a night just like this one – dark and quiet and full of sorrow – and became one of us. And then later on, when His work was finished, He went right back up there, carrying the sorrows of the people and leaving the world full of a secret joy.”
He remembered asking how he could find that secret. “You just ask Him,” she replied. He remembered seeing the tears rolling silently down his mother’s cheeks as she gazed up at the stars that covered the sky. She then sang, a song that was seemingly always on her lips. He didn’t mind; it both comforted and soothed Tomas’ heart. It was a quiet song, full of hope and promise and joy. He felt safe and comforted every time he heard it.
“Did you ask Him to take away the cancer?” Tomas had asked the last time they had stargazed.
She nodded. “He always knows how to answer us, even if we don’t know the right question. We just need to listen.”
“He doesn’t listen to us,” Tomas whispered into the dark, echoing his memories. No answer came when he’d raged at the sky after she died. None ever came. Tomas never asked again.
His heart ached as he rummaged through his memories, the cold creeping into his bones. An overwhelming sadness crushed him. How was he supposed to care for this girl and little baby? No home, no family, not even a proper room to rest in.
He blinked away the tears threatening to fall, the outside road briefly lit by a passing car. The snow was blowing harder.
Tomas hugged himself tightly again. What if they couldn’t find work, or a place to live? What happened when the money ran out? How would they eat? Why had their parents abandoned them?
Tomas sat, staring, crushed by the weight of his memories and failings. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure approach. Stopping outside the station, the bundled man looked around. He watched the man stand for what seemed like an eternity, becoming one with the snowfall and darkness. Then he fell to his knees, sobbing. Tomas blinked.
He heard the song gently wash over him.
Tomas’ heart broke open, and gathering his family together, ran to embrace his father.