Seven-fifteen a.m., August 26 the anniversary of his father’s death
forty-five years ago, he was abruptly awakened from a steamy,
sweaty sleep to the sounds of the local high school
band director’s baritone voice alternately rising to alto and
lowering to basso profundo as he screamed mercilessly at the
hapless teens in ill-fitting uniforms and lugging instruments
too big for them south on the street just beneath his bedroom
window. He thought he had seen the band director in a liquor
store just beyond the boundary west of the dry town. Then, as if in a panic,
the band members began playing – very, very fast, very, very loudly and very,
very badly. He understood why the director was beside himself. It was Thursday
and they had to perform the next evening during half-time at the first football
game of the season. It was the town’s people’s weekly social event of events.
It had been a recent move following ten years in one town and seventeen
in that southern state of mind at least seven generations deep to a smaller
northern town whose culture of uptight, upright people whose roots only
went back two generations. Their grandfathers had been uptight, upright
religious fanatics in Europe and he was to learn that the country they left was
really happy to see them go as they all got on the ship and sailed west. If
nothing else, they were industrious if not particularly productive. They rose
early to punch the time clock and retired early and in between sometimes
smiled at each other’s faces, lowered their eyes most times even before
meeting others and then looked suspiciously at each other’s backs and never,
ever said hello first. He went into the bedroom reserved for his son who was
off at college only three miles away but who only came home on school holidays.
He had a clearer view of the band from there. He was upstairs in this huge house.
Clockwise from his and his wife’s bedroom at eight o’clock, southwest to his son’s
at ten o’clock northwest around to the bathroom due north to an empty room at
one o’clock northeast, across the stairway at three o’clock to his daughter’s bedroom at
four o’clock southeast. Two closets due south separated her bedroom from theirs. His
daughter’s room was newly painted pale green at her request; it was an artificial way of
trying to make the move easier and bring succor and assuage guilt-ridden parents for
taking her away from her friends of ten years, but for however nice and comforting the
room may have looked, he could still hear her through the two closets crying while lying in
her new big fluffy bed. Her school was just across the parking lot and local girls who had
known each other all their lives and were BFF stopped by each morning on their mothers’
orders to walk her to school. Each afternoon she walked the eternal path westward to
what was now supposed to be her home. Downstairs there was a big foyer at six
o’clock due south, a big, formal living room in which the furniture they brought looked
small. It was directly beneath their bedroom. The big, formal dining room adjoined
the living room and off the dining room between twelve o’clock a.m. and p.m.
was a small kitchen with a small family room directly north where they spent
most of their time huddled together watching T.V. when the three were
home which after his evening meetings was every night. In between
the kitchen and family room was a cabinet. That would be three o’clock east.
On the top shelf pushed way to the back behind closed doors was the bourbon
and vodka. He and his wife drank white wine, which was kept chilled behind
a lot of food containers in the refrigerator. He always carried the empties in a
brown paper bag to a dumpster at a grocery store in the next town. One night in the
middle of reruns of the Rockford Files, their daughter stated sarcastically and accusingly
in her best and deepest southern drawl, “Y’all drink every night.” He and his wife argued
a lot and sometimes she would storm off to the pastor’s study that was converted into an
art studio four o’clock southeast just next to the three o’clock southeast stairway and
downstairs half bath under the stairs. She sat for long periods of time staring at her easel.
He felt bad that his daughter had to witness such times. The basement was dark and
dank. One room at six o’clock south was where they had deposited coal years before.
There was still some soot on the walls and floor and a chute at seven o’clock
southwest just above the foundation. The walk-in attic was 360 degrees huge.
Dead center was a big, old T.V. antenna, a remnant from the days when
previous occupants had to close thick drapes to watch television surreptitiously .
On the floor beneath one badly screened crevasse where walls and the roof met but
parted as the house settled years ago was a pile of bat crap. Two weeks earlier a bat
had buzzed him as he lie in bed. He jumped up, grabbed his tennis racket, turned
on all the lights in the huge house and opened the door downstairs three o’clock east.
The bat flew out. In three days he would have to preach his fourth sermon about the love
of Jesus at the church only a block away directly west in a town his son had derisively and
with a bit of pain called “Beaver Cleaver-ville” into which the family dog would periodically
and resolutely escape. He could get pretty far on those short little legs. The dog was one
determined, head-strong, beagle-dachshund mix. He’s had the run of the neighborhood
before. Sadly, he was often just a poor old scapegoat. Within ten minutes of
his departure neighbors would call to say exactly when the little dog left the yard and in
what direction he was headed. Sometimes the little guy could be found forlorn at the
pound. As he moved toward the twelve o’clock north bathroom, he thought about
raising a fist skyward right through the huge bat crap attic, past the giant antenna
and cursing God for taking them away from their old Kentucky home, not that it was
always heaven there, but he knew it was his decision to follow what he believed
was “The Call.” He took a leak and stepped into the shower. As the water
poured over his head he, too, cried. He dressed hurriedly and walked west
to the church right on time because he knew the wives of time-clock
punchers were watching him through their partially opened blinds.