Better lock up the pastor’s study, Adam thought as he slowly walked around in the room of books and paintings and art before he left. He breathed in all the sweet smells of a man who knows who he is and why he is. Was Pops ever like this? Adam’s question hung in the air with no answer.
Adam moved around the room slowly taking everything in. He ran his fingers across the back of the deep maroon leather chair that sat at the desk and drank in the perfume of the hide. He carefully picked up a brass figurine of a small child with his curly head laid in the lap of Christ. The piece was amazing and roused the artist within him. He longed for his home, his family, and he grieved for the loss of his own future, of who he could have become.
I trust you, Adam, he heard Pastor Silverman say. What would we ever do without you?
Adam looked around the room again. “I do belong in an office like this.” Alone and defeated or not, there was one thing he always believed in. It was something Pops had said. “Tomorrow is always better if you live fully in today.”
Pops also said, “Hard work never hurt anyone, Son. Laziness destroys the body, the mind, the spirit, and the future of anyone.”
Pops? Why do I remember words of wisdom from him? I haven’t cared what Pops had said for a long time. Why am I thinking about him now all of a sudden? He left us and won’t ever come back.
“I have loosed your memory, My Son,” Shaddi spoke in his ear. “Remember more.”
Moms’ words as he left the sanatarium on Christmas rattled around in his head. “Be fair Adam. Your daddy did not leave us. He was drafted. Your father was . . . no . . . he is a quiet man. But, just because he didn’t talk very much, that does not define his character. He loved us both. He would never desert his country or his family.”
“Truth is the only present I have for you today,” she had said as she kissed him goodbye at the sanatarium. “But, if you will accept the gift, truth will be the most valuable present you will ever receive. Make your peace with the memory of your father, Adam. Only you will suffer if you don’t.”
A gift is it? The “truth” she called it. Tears filled his eyes and that made him angry too. He didn’t want to cry over anything. He was cried out. But, what if Moms is right?
Adam locked the office door and ran his fingers over the panels in the dark, heavy wood. Now I have to get busy. If I don’t, this day will drag on and turn into all the others, full of nothing. Fritzy doesn’t believe me anymore. Mr. G. is probably in the hospital because he thinks I’m a thief. But—maybe things can be different. I know some people believe in me.
He grabbed the sweeper off the floor where he had dropped it and put in the new filter Alfred had nearly died over. Why didn’t I stop him? He cleaned the carpets vigorously, then the mop boards, the window sills, and the furniture. He put a clean cloth over the end of a dust mop and carefully ran the extended dust rag over the surface of all the stained glass windows. With the furniture polish he found in the utility closet, he rubbed the pulpit, lectern, and pews until they shone.
As he worked, he could feel anger and tension flow from his muscles, mind and heart—out through his hands and arms as he polished and cleaned. He laughed out loud. Pops was right! As impossible as that would have been to admit a few days ago, he was living proof Pops’ wisdom was true. Hard work cleanses the mind, the soul, and the body.
Then why do I still feel so confused all the time? Why am I always on the washboard road of life? Why are things so rough? Why does every face of joy have to wear a dark mask? Will life always be this way?
Another day dawned in the belfry on Cranberry Street. I cannot drag myself out of bed. I don’t want to face anything. Adam rolled over and stared at the empty room. The hummingbird was still gone and he was still alone. I have to see Mr. G., not because I must, because I want to want to.
Adam was surprised. He was not stiff or sore as he thought he would be after the previous day’s hard work. He smiled to himself when he thought about all he had accomplished. Amazing how a good day’s work makes you feel great.
The wind had blown hard and cold during the night. Icy air howled through the old rafters and made the room seem even more cold than the temperature would have revealed. He heard limbs crack from tall tree trunks and wondered when one would come through the roof.
Adam certainly didn’t look forward to the hike across town, especially with such a heavy heart, in such a heavy snow fall. How could he look Mr. Gunderman in the eye when Mr. G. thought he was a thief? He had never even seen the carving of the Christ Child and he would never have taken the carving that was so precious to everyone. The strange fact that both he and the thieves needed twenty-five dollars was just a coincidence.
“I don’t know why those guys need the money,” Adam mumbled to the cold, empty tower room. “My cause is noble, well sort of. I needed twenty-five dollars to buy some coal for the farm and to take Frederica to the New Years Eve Party, but now she thinks I’m a liar.” He stumbled around as he looked for his left clodhopper. “I did not lie. I just didn’t tell her about my life. Why would I? She wouldn’t have wanted to be around me if she knew.” The more he thought about the whole situation, the madder he got.
“Wait ‘til she finds out Pops might be a deserter, even if he used to be a good man.” His feelings about his father were a thrill ride, at the top Pops was a great guy, at the bottom a reprobate. That made him even more angry. Why couldn’t he settle his feelings on the man? Why was Pops okay one day and totally unacceptable the next?
He shoved his foot into the shoe that was half buried under his bedding. As he bent over to tie the laces, he spied the little saucer in the corner of the tower and thought of the hummer.
“Just another deserter.” He felt his heart harden with the cement of bitterness. He had plunged once again into the icy, acidic waters of despair. “At least a stone-cold heart will be harder to break.”
I can’t procrastinate any longer. If I’m going to visit Mr. G. I had better get started. He put on his coat, hat and gloves and started out on foot. His first stop was at Pastor Silverman’s home.
“Good morning, Adam,” Mrs. Silverman greeted when she opened the door.
“I need to return Pastor’s keys, Ma’am.”
“Hi Adam,” Pastor Silverman chimed in.
“Yes Sir, Good morning. I’m returning your keys.” Adam handed over the ring with the
fob in the shape of a cross.
“Thank you, Adam,” Pastor said with enthusiasm. “We are so lucky to have someone like you covering for all of us when things happen. We can depend on you.”
“Thank you, Sir.” There’s that flattery again. Does he mean what he says or is he just being happy, happy, happy like a lot of other church people?
“Can we get you some coffee or hot chocolate, Adam?” Mrs. Silverman offered.
“No thank you. I have to be on my way.” He didn’t tell them where he was going. They’d probably want to drive me over. I can’t be beholding to everyone in town, he thought as he started out. He had never minded walking. He was used to being on foot. That was simply how he got to places he wanted or needed to go.
An hour later, covered with icy snow, both on the inside and the out, he stumbled into the main entrance of Middletown Community Hospital. “I would like to see Alfred Gunderman,” Adam whispered and gasped for air as he tried to regain warmth to the breath within him.
“Are you all right?” The receptionist at the Information Desk asked when she saw the tall young boy stagger in. “You don’t have enough spek on your bones to keep you warm.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Adam blew on his hands but his lungs were so full of cold air, little warmth breathed forth. “I would like to see Alfred Gunderman, please,” he repeated. “What room is he in?”
“Are you family?”
“Sort of like family.” Shaddi what do I say? Then he remembered what Alfred had said. “I live with him.”
While the receptionist looked up the room number, Adam turned his back to the desk. He
blew again on his frozen fingers, this time with the warm breath heated by the presence of Shaddi.
“That’s fine, Young Man.” The reception said as she looked down at her notebook. “Let’s see, he is in room 204, at least for a while. He’ll go home this afternoon.”
“Great!” Adam started down the hall toward the elevator.
“Two-hundred . . .” he marked off the numbers from the end of the hall. “Two-hundred two, two-hundred four,” he ticked them off and stopped. Adam took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and walked in.
“Adam,” Mrs. Gunderman hurried over and gave the boy a big grandma-hug. “Tell me you didn’t walk.”
“I can’t, ‘cause I did.”
“Well, I will run you back to town when you’re ready to go. I have to pick up some pills at the pharmacy for Al. Then, I’ll come back here this afternoon and take him home.”
“How are your doing?” Adam approached the bedside cautiously. Mr. Gunderman looked weak to him and Adam was worried.
“Adam, what a surprise. You didn’t have to walk all the way over here. I’m fine. Some
little pills the doc ordered are going to fix me up real good.” Mr. Gunderman reached out his hand and took Adam’s in his.
“I thought your heart attack was my fault―”
“Your fault? No, no, no. My ticker just complains a little sometimes. Doc said I was really lucky this time. He said something caused it to start up again after it stopped. That’s why I need you at the church to help me. To take a little of the load off.”
Adam heard what Alfred had said and a sense of knowing came over him, but that wasn’t what he worried about right then. “Mr. Gunderman, I did not take that Christ Child carving.” Adam was emphatic.
“My goodness, Boy, I know that.” He was not ready to let go of Adam’s hand. “I didn’t get to finish what I was saying yesterday. I have worried about that for the past few hours.”
“Don’t worry because of me, Mr. G.”
“And why not?”
“I have lived a lie—for months now. I didn’t expect you to believe the truth.”
“We shook hands on the truth, Adam.” He smiled with a caring smile. “Now you let me finish. I just meant that it was interesting that both you and the thief said you need the same amount of money, twenty-five dollars. I figured, he must be a young person, like you.” He looked at Adam thoughtfully. “Now, what is all this talk about lies?”
“I just make up things that make me look better than I am. I like nice stories, make believe, rather than the real stuff that’s so hard. Like hummingbirds flying south on the wings of Northern geese. Nice tale, but not true, just made up to make things sound miraculous.” Adam hung his head, his voice was a whisper.
“But the hummingbird story is a miracle, Adam. No, they don’t piggyback on larger birds. But, those tiny hummers, who have to eat nectar all of the time, manage to fly all the way across our southern states to Mexico or Central America with only God as their strength. Some fly through the eastern two thirds of Texas and others through Florida and Cuba. Some little birds fly right across the Gulf of Mexico. If you don’t think that’s a miracle, you don’t recognize the miracles that are all around you.”
Adam smiled and thought about what Mr. Gunderman was saying, but said nothing.
“You shouldn’t live a lie, Son. If a tiny bird can fly hundreds of miles Adam, you can endure what you are dealt. I know you have the strength.”
“I’m afraid, Mr. G. If people knew me, they wouldn’t like me. I don’t like me.” He was silent a minute while fear boiled inside him.
The corners of the hospital room grew dark. Maybe a cloud passed in front of the sun, but Adam didn’t think so. He felt the presence of the shadow people but he did not see them or smell their repulsive odor. He chose to disavow them. In his mind, they were not there.
“Does anyone still think I stole the statue,” Adam asked cautiously. He wanted to know, but he didn’t want to hear the answer. “Like the Bremans—or maybe Fritzy?” Adam could not stand the thought that his name may have been ruined.
“I don’t know, Son. I’ve been in here.”
I do. She was mad.
“I’m glad you’re still here Adam,” Mrs. Gunderman said as she breezed back into the room. “Could I get you to do me a favor?”
“Now a boy can always use a good cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup,” Gunderman suggested.
“All right then, for a sandwich and a bowl of soup, would you please help me take down the Christmas tree at our house and move the living room furniture around so Alfred can see out the window this afternoon when he gets home? While he rests, he would enjoy watching the comings and goings up and down the street.”
“Arletta, I can move that furniture.” Alfred insisted as he rose up on his elbow.
“No!” Arletta and Adam responded in unison.
■ ■ ■
“Now you come right in here, Adam. We’ll tend to lunch first.” Once they were back at the house, Mrs. Gunderman led the way to the kitchen. “I haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday noon either. I stayed at the hospital with Al last evening.”
“You must be hungry too, Mrs. G.”
“I hadn’t thought about food but—oh my. Adam, look at this!” Arletta stood at the kitchen sink and looked out over the back yard.
“I heard the wind blowing last night, but I never thought―”
Outside the Gunderman’s kitchen window the view was a jumble of twisted, broken branches and icy tree limbs. The entire half of Gunderman’s large maple tree that faced the house lay on the ground and the small top branches draped over the back porch rail.
“A few more inches and that tree would be laying in the kitchen, Mrs. G.”
“Well, now,” Mrs. Gunderman rolled up her sleeves and got out a soup pan, “I believe I have several jobs for you, if you want them.”
“Okay,” he didn’t know yet what she had in mind but he didn’t want to go back to the cold, windy bell tower—not yet.
“I’ll show you where I want you to put the chair and you can move the furniture while I fix lunch. Then, if you want to make some money after lunch, you can get the ax out of the shed,” she paused and looked at Adam carefully. “Have you ever used an ax?”
“Now don’t tell me a story, Adam. Don’t stretch the truth. Holding an ax is not the same as using one. Do you know how to swing an ax and not chop your foot off? I can’t send you home to your ma with only half a foot.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I mean, no Ma’am.” He stammered a little but he was telling the truth. He had helped his grandfather chop wood many times, even as a ten-year-old. “You want me to clear that tree away from the house for you?”
“Well, yes, I do. I want you to chop the whole thing up for firewood. If you can get all that done, I’ll give you the four dollars I have in my purse and you can keep all the wood you chop. How is that for a creative barter?”
“That would be great!” Of course! he nearly shouted inside. He hadn’t thought that they could heat the farmhouse with wood in the fireplaces. “I think that is how the farmhouse had been heated when the home was first built. That would be great.”
After lunch, the weather was still bitter cold but Adam jumped right into the job, thankful for the hard work, for being able to help Mr. G., for the money, and especially for the wood. Besides, the hard work kept him warm in spite of the unrelenting winter. With every swing of the ax, he thought of Moms.
When Moms gets home, we’ll have a family again. His mind raced through the empty rooms of the farmhouse and turned on every light. But, with the new illumination came the bold truth that Pops wasn’t part of the picture, not now, maybe not ever.
Shaddi, give me super strength. Adam swung the ax high, the full stretch of his arms, and brought the blade down swift and hard onto the downed trunk. The work went fast, strike upon strike, blow upon blow. He envisioned the rapid, jerky movements of an old time movie, with Charlie Chaplin toddling down the road in record time.
When Adam finished all the chopping, he used a maul and wedges to wrestle the largest logs into firewood size pieces. Mrs. G. had told him to pile up the split wood by the shed until he was able to have the logs transported out to the farm. He stood back and looked at the stack of firewood with pride.
Mrs. G. opened the storm door and called to the boy. “It looks great Adam.”
“It’s a fourth of a cord. I’m sure of it,” he puffed with pride. “I know that a cord of wood measures four feet wide by four feet high and eight feet long when the logs are lined up in tightly stacked rows of the same size pieces.” He stood back and eyed the work he had just done. “Leaning against the shed, I know that stack is a fourth of a cord.”
“Wonderful!” she called out as she started to close the door against the genuine winter day. “You’ve done a fine job.”
As Adam stood admiring his hard, muscle-building work, he realized a truth. With all of the talk about honesty, he still preferred the lie. He knew that wood needs a whole year to cure until he can burn the logs in the fireplace, but he could not face that fact, that truth. All he could see in his homey, imagined scene, was his mother and him sitting in front of a nice warm fire in their own home.
“Adam, come in here please,” Mrs. G. called from the house.
He put away all of the tools he had used and went back into the warmth of the kitchen.
“I have been thinking,” Arletta began and patted the kitchen chair beside her. “Would you like a cup of cocoa? I’ll make you a cup.”
“Yes, Ma’am, that would be great. It is cold out there.” He rubbed his hands together to generate some heat and blew on them with Shaddi’s help.
Mrs. G. passed him the cup and he warmed his hands some more as he wrapped them around the mug. He even thought of putting his fingers in the hot drink. Then he thought of a better idea and blew across the surface of the warm chocolate so the steam could rise and warm his face.
“I have been thinking,” Mrs. G. began. “We still haven’t gotten to the guest area yet, but that’s okay for today. The tree interrupted us.”
“That little guest space has a bedroom, a small sitting room and a bathroom. The apartment is very comfortable. There’s even a little kitchenette. I wonder—now please, don’t take this the wrong way. I know you have a home and family but—I understand from Alfred that your mother has been in the TB Sanitarium and is ready to be released as soon as your home is ready for her. Is that right?”
“Yes,” Adam spoke slowly and wondered what she was getting at. Did everybody in town know that he was homeless, that Moms was sick, and that Pops was a deserter?
“I wonder if you and your mother would be willing to move into the guest house for a few months while your house is readied for your mother’s return. When school starts again, after this Christmas break, I’ll have to go back to work. I’m a cook in the elementary school cafeteria. I know Alfred will not stop working at the church but Pastor will be around every day to remind him to slow down. And, you will be there after school to help him lighten his workload. I sure would feel more at peace if your mother was around here at my home, so she could check on him on Al’s days off. Not do anything, mind ya. I know she’s been sick. I wouldn’t expect her to do a lick of work, but if she sees him laying on the ground in the back yard, I would feel better if someone was here to call for help.”
“Well―” Adam didn’t know what to say.
“Al said the place where you are now living is too small for both you and your mother.”
“Small, yes, too small—among other things.” He tried to make sense of all that had happened. Thoughts and doubts ricocheted around in his head. Why would anyone do anything that big for me? She doesn’t know I’ve been homeless?
“How much would the rent be?” Adam asked. Nothing’s ever free. What else will happen? With every blessing comes a curse.
“Oh, there would be no rent, Adam. You would be doing me a favor. I couldn’t pay you and your mother very much, maybe $5.00 a week?”
“Yes, Dear, of course—for keeping your eye out after Alfred and you could keep the sidewalk shoveled. School will be over in May and then I’ll be home all day through the summer. I can keep my eye on that scamp myself. What do you think?”
“I haven’t seen the space, but if you think the apartment will work, then I guess the place will be okay.” Adam’s head was in a spin. Having a place for Moms to come home was a good thing, he knew that. But, he still didn’t want to accept help from others.
“Don’t be takin’ handouts from anyone,” Grandpa had always warned.
Adam felt poorer than poor. He had no money, no warm home, no running water, no electricity, and no father to make things right. When would the hard luck end? Was this the beginning of the end? Was he now the man in the family? Had Shaddi provided the space or Mr. O’Shaughnessy? And, what would be the cost if the benefactor was the little one?
The sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on Amazon and B&N.com. For a discount, go to www.dorisgainesrapp.com.
The sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on Amazon and B&N.com. For a discount, go to www.dorisgainesrapp.com.