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Larry Stephens has once again written about Binnacue, Pennsylvania. You can read his previous stories here: Binnacue, Pennsylvania
https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/larry-stephens-%EF%BB%BFbinnacue-pennsylvania/ Binnacue, Pennylvania – Jamal https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/larry-stephens-binnacue-pennsylvania-jamal/
Binnacue, Pennsylvania: A Long Time Ago
By Larry Stephens
Larry Stephens has once more taken us back to Binnacue, Pennsylvania. You can find his two previous stories here:
What matters the day, or even the time of day? Thomas Mendelson glared balefully at the bright sun as it dropped over the western horizon, inviting a rich tapestry of deepening color to paint the skies. He sighed deeply, shoulders slumped, a myriad of aches and pains nagging at him.
“Shall I bring supper?”
Thomas turned to see his wife Mary, meek, timid, hands bunching and opening in the folds of her apron, eyes cast to the floor. She glanced up briefly making eye contact with Thomas, then hurriedly dropped her gaze again lest he become angry. Again.
Thomas was always angry.
He grunted, turning back to the window. “Why must you ask? You should know by now, woman.” He heard her feet shuffle away without another word and closed his eyes. Grief, sadness, frustration, and smoldering anger washed over him — an all-too-familiar feeling since Thomas and Mary lost their two sons.
The Sarver family held a massive plot of forest that lay squarely between Binnacue Proper (the town itself) and the Binnacue Shire, which sprang up along the shores of the Binnacue Creek, a bubbling, raucous stream literally bursting with trout, minnow, and crayfish galore. The fishing was fabulous and the water was clean and pure.
Oh, the Sarvers wanted to own Binnacue, but they were roundly denied in their pursuit. They then went after Binnacue Shire, but the locals of the Shire would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Sarvers and their high-fallutin’ ways from back east Philly way.
Ergo, the Sarvers were left with their little estate on the northern end of Binnacue Proper, or they could just pack up and go back to Philly. Or wherever. Nobody really cared, so long as the Sarver name never came up in barroom conversation without a venomous spitting accompaniment.
But the Sarvers were crafty, and so they bought the deep forest plopped right between the two Binnacue settlements. A Sarver ‘visionary’ proclaimed the forest would be immensely profitable for the family in the future, and so the land was bought, a title was drawn up, and money landed in the Binnacue coffers.
Within a week, men were plowing their way through the deep forest, cutting a swath through the elms, oaks, locusts and brush, felling trees and hauling out firewood that would last the Sarvers for decades. Once the teams made it through the forest to Binnacue Shire, it was time now to lay a path that would connect The Proper and The Shire, and so in came wagon loads full of chipped limestone, and in one short summer season, a clean path bisected the Binnacue Forest that would last for centuries.
Binnacue Proper held one Smithing shop where one man pounded out dozens of rail spikes and tool heads for the cutting of the Binnacue Forest Path. Without the services of Mendelson’s Smithy, well the Sarvers would have had to set up their own smithy, which was far too much work for aforesaid Sarver visionary.
They were born about three years apart from each other and died within three weeks of each other as if they could not stand to be away from their sibling. Grief stabbed him behind his eyes and they welled; he bowed his shaggy head and raked a thickly-calloused hand across his seamed brow. I cannot do this…
‘Consumption.’ Fools claiming to be men of science; what do they know with their leeches and piercings and snake oils? For all their talk, they were no better at saving James and Michael than the silly priest who claimed that the children were possessed by demons.
Anger flared, replacing the yawning chasm of grief, and it was welcome to Thomas. Anything was better than the grief, the loss, the knowledge that those two beautiful boys would never get to see another sunset like the one gracing Thomas’ dark visage even now. Thomas raised his fist and stared at it and blamed God.
God loves us. Sure He does. He loves us so much that he just rips our hearts right out of our breasts and leaves us with … nothing. What kind of God does that? What kind of God slays two innocent children, and in so doing, utterly destroys any hope of Thomas loving his now-barren wife, Mary?
Because Thomas realized grimly when it came to feeling love for his wife, all he felt was a gaping void. For while Thomas did indeed blame God for killing his boys, he also blamed Mary. She should have been a better mother to those boys.
But now? She could not even bear more children to help the couple offset the loss.
It was as if God deemed Thomas and Mary unfit to have children, so He killed the ones they had and refused to let them have any more. This was not the first time Thomas had had these thoughts, and they enraged him once again.
Thomas was a Smith, and a good one at that, spending over twenty years at the craft. Iron cords of muscle rippled through his forearms and shoulders, and yet it was those very same arms and shoulders that pained him now as his stomach rumbled in hunger. He spun away from the window abruptly to move to his chair before the fire pit in the center room of their three-room house, built entirely by Thomas himself. The fire was low, but it warmed his bones nonetheless. He stared at the dancing tongues of flame, brooding.
Mary quietly placed a rough wooden plate at his feet where a chunk of bread rested against red meat, then stepped back to take up her chair across the room. She picked up wooden needles and began to knit, intent on the task before her as Thomas began to eat.
He looked at her as he chewed bread.
Mary continued. “There is a revival—”
“Bah!” He spat chewed bread from his mouth.
“Perhaps we should go.”
“And do what?”
“Well, since we lost the boys—”
“We didn’t lose the boys! God—your God—took them,” he shouted.
Mary stared at him, wounded. But the floodgates were opened now, and Thomas gave in to the rage that burned within him. “You want to go to some revival to praise God? Are you daft? You would sooner waste your precious time that could be better spent on the chores that need doing around here, on praising some god that doesn’t even care enough about us to save our boys?” The wooden plate flew across the room to slam into the wall and Thomas surged to his feet, his face red with rage.
“Why? WHY? Your God doesn’t give one whit about us. Where is He? Eh? I’ll tell you where He is—”
“He’s NOT HERE!”
“He let our boys DIE!”
“No, Thomas, it wasn’t Him.”
“You’re a fool, Mary.” He stormed to the window, turning his back on Mary. She bowed her head and sobbed, which angered Thomas even more. In a flash he bolted to stand before her, his rage towering, barely able to control the fury that urged and pushed him to lay into her with his scarred and powerful fists. She looked up at him; eyes red and puffy with tears and the two stared at each other, mere inches and entire universes apart.
She reached for his hand. “My husband…”
He roughly shook his hand free. “Don’t touch me. I want nothing to touch me ever again. Your God,” he scoffed, ”useless, just as useless as you are now, Mary.”
She took his hand more forcefully and with determination. “Listen to me, Thomas—”
Fury roared between his ears. All he wanted was to be away. From her. From the crushing grief. From this God that she was going on about. From the guilt that assailed his every waking moment that maybe he didn’t do enough to save the boys, maybe he did something wrong and if this God loved everyone so much, why couldn’t He just answer their questions and make this living hell end?
Before he was fully aware of it, his powerful hand flashed out and cracked her cheek resoundingly. Her head snapped back against the chair and her hands flew to her face as a flood of tears sprang forth and she cried bitterly.
When he realized what he’d done, he turned away from her to stand woodenly before the fire, empty, numb. Alone.
Mary’s small hands came around Thomas from behind, encircling him, and she leaned her tear-drenched face against his back, the wetness soaking through his shirt, and she held him, still crying.
He turned to face her and she looked up at him. He looked at her, then asked, “Why do you love me so, Mary? All I do is hurt you.”
She rested her head against his strong chest and said nothing, and something broke within Thomas as the scent of her hair wafted to his nostrils. Both man and wife sank to the floor, and the explosion of tears and grief that held Thomas in its iron grip for so long burst forth, and Mary held on dearly, weathering the storm.
Ages passed in minutes, and then a sharp knock at the door. Thomas broke away from his wife, helping her to her feet. Wordlessly he moved to the door with Mary in tow.
Thomas opened the door to greet skies that were minutes away from full-on night, and a lone man of short stature who gazed up at Thomas with piercing, sad, brown eyes. “Who are you and what is it, strang—”
“There is much pain in this house,” he said and pushed his way into the room. Thomas closed the door; he and Mary turned to the stranger.
“I am Daniel Nash.”
Thomas moved to stand before Nash. “I am Thomas and this is my wife, Mary. Why are you in our home?”
“Because God led me here.”
“What?” Mary gripped Thomas’ forearm tightly.
“Sit with me, please.” And he sank to the wood floor, cross-legged, spine rigid, and waited for the couple to join him. Thomas shrugged toward Mary and sat with his back to the wall, Mary at his side. Thomas flipped a couple more logs on the fire and poked at it for a bit.
Mary looked at Nash, whose lips were moving soundlessly. “Sir, I cannot hear you. What are you saying?”
“Everything I do, I do because I am led by God our Father to do so.”
Mary asked, “Are you … an angel?”
“I am not. I am a servant.”
“You said ‘God led you to our home.’ Why?”
“Because you are suffering.”
“Who says we’re suffering?”
He was so matter-of-fact about it, something Thomas was struggling to reconcile. Mary didn’t appear to be having as much trouble buying into what this Nash character was saying. “There is no God,” he countered.
Nash gazed at the Mendelsons. “Surely you do not believe that to be true?”
“I do. What other reason is there for the death of our children and us not being able to have any more?”
“I cannot tell you that, my friend.”
“Of course you can’t—”
“Only that God has a reason for everything—”
“And, let me guess, He’ll reveal that reason to us in His own good time?”
Nash smiled. “So you DO believe—”
Thomas surged to his feet, that familiar rage blooming in him again. “You’re daft! You believe in fairy tales and you’re trying to make us believe in them as well. Why? What do you want?”
“I want nothing. God gives me everything I need. All we need do is believe—”
“Bah!” spat Thomas. Mary reached for his hand and looked up into his eyes, pleading.
Nash continued, his voice soft, sonorous, deep and gentle. “Thomas. You have suffered great loss, but everyone at one time or another suffers great loss. It’s not the loss itself that is the issue, sir. It’s the loss of yourselves that’s at stake here, and God has led me here to help you find yourselves again through Him. Do you understand?”
Thomas snapped, “Can He bring our boys back from the dead?”
Nash replied, again matter-of-factly, “Do you believe that He can?”
Thomas opened his mouth to reply, but he had nothing, no retort. He searched himself, trying to come to grip with the roiling emotions that threatened to engulf him. He could not honestly respond ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ nor did he want to.
“What were you doing when I knocked on your door?”
Mary glanced at Thomas, who had resumed his seat. “We were—”
“What business is it of yours, Nash?”
Nash bowed his head for a moment then looked up at the couple. “You were in the process of trying to heal. But I say to you that you cannot heal yourselves. You can try, but true healing for you needs to happen within your souls.”
Thomas was stunned. “How—”
Nash climbed to his feet. “It is time for me to take my leave.”
The Mendelsons stood as well. Mary asked, “Mister Nash, are you part of this revival that’s happening tomorrow night?”
“I am, but it is not happening tomorrow night madam. It is happening now. The Lord moves when He moves, not when we say it is time for Him to move.” Nash walked to the door, opened it onto a full-moon night, then turned to the stunned couple.
He stretched out his right hand, palm up. “Will you join me now, Thomas and Mary? Will you allow our God to heal your souls? Will you believe?”
Thomas looked toward Mary. “Say yes, Thomas. Please.” He took her hand and they moved as one toward the door where Nash waited, his lips moving soundlessly as he watched the couple. Then…
“Come.” And the three stepped into the brisk night together; Nash making his way from the side of the Binnacue Shire onto the Binnacue Forest Path which was lit deep within the forest by seemingly hundreds of torches that had a strangely mystical quality about them.
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