Aidan Davies knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what. Several nights over the last couple of weeks, his father, Alastor, had arrived home, walked straight into the kitchen without a “hello” to anyone, slammed the door of the microwave (in which Lucy had placed his cold dinner), and stabbed the buttons with enough force to make the microwave hop back, as if trying to protect itself from his fingers.
The morning after the most recent of these nights, Lucy told her son that his father had been meeting with various factions of the church’s leadership. “What’s a faction?” asked Aidan, as he pushed around the oatmeal in his bowl.
Lucy held tight to her warm mug with both hands. “It’s a group within a bigger group that doesn’t agree with the rest,” she said.
“And there are factions at church?”
“And they don’t like Dad anymore?”
More questions clambered to the tip of Aidan’s tongue, but a long sigh from his mother told him that she wasn’t up for an interrogation. So he chose just one final question to ask, one that meant more than all the others.
“Are we going to have to move again?”
At these words, Aidan noticed tears brimming in his mother’s eyes. Lucy put down her mug and ran the sleeve of her bathrobe across her face. Then she stood up, pulled a brown paper sack from the counter, and handed it to Aidan. “Here’s your lunch,” she said. “You’re going to be late for the bus.”
She kissed her own fingers, touched his cheek, and gave him a long look. Again, he saw her eyes swimming. Then he watched her wander away in the direction of her bedroom. I wonder if she’ll still be in there when I get home, he thought.
That afternoon, Aidan put his schoolbag down on the kitchen table and poked his head into the master bedroom. “Brigid?”
Aidan’s sister looked up from making their parents’ bed. “I just put her in the shower,” she said, nodding toward the bathroom.
Aidan moved to the opposite end of the bed and began stuffing the sheet between the mattress and box spring. “No, no.” said Brigid. “You never do it right.” She untucked the rumpled sheet and made a perfect hospital corner. “Like this.”
“Look at you two, making my bed.” Lucy came out of the bathroom wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, with a towel wrapped turban-style on her head to keep her hair from dripping. “My babies are so thoughtful.” She pulled Brigid and Aidan into a hug.
“Mom, we’re not babies,” said Aidan.
“Oh, I know that,” said Lucy. “But you’ll always be my baby.” She reached for his cheek, but he swatted her hand away. She reached again. Another swat. Lucy switched tactics and came at him with tickling fingers. Brigid joined in and soon the master bedroom, so still and stagnant and quiet for hours on end, was filled with laughter.
Then the doorbell rang, and the laughter ceased. Aidan saw Lucy’s eyes widen and then shut tightly. “Brigid,” she said. Her voice was clipped, commanding. “Take you brother upstairs.” She stood up. “Please.”
On his way up the back staircase, Aidan could hear the door opening and his mother’s voice sounding too bright, too controlled. Then he was safe in his room surrounded by LEGO bricks until a few hours later when he heard his father’s voice roaring in the kitchen downstairs. He could hear every word even through the layers of walls.
“I told them that if they ever came to the house, I would, I would…” Alastor’s voice trailed off. Aidan crept out of his room and perched at the top of the stairwell. Brigid sat next to him and held his hand. Just then Alastor found his train of thought again. “I come home to find my wife crying on the floor in the kitchen. Who do these people think they are? My wife, curled up in a ball. I told them that if they ever disturbed you, I would, I would…” He trailed off again, but this time he punctuated his words with what sounded like a punch to the side of the refrigerator.
Then there was silence. Aidan and Brigid tiptoed downstairs and found their parents both sitting with their backs against the dishwasher. Lucy’s face was tearstained, but she wasn’t the one crying now. Alastor was sniffling and hacking and wheezing and all Lucy could do was stroke his cheek with a trembling hand.
Two days later, Aidan walked across the street to the church. It was a crisp morning, but he didn’t put on a jacket since he lived next door. He slipped into the sacristy and donned his acolyte robe. He lit the candles on the altar and retrieved the big cross, which he wasn’t able to lift last year but could now. Alastor joined him at the back of the church and they walked in together. Three-dozen or so parishioners stood as they entered.
When it came time for the sermon, Aidan settled himself in his customary seat in the chancel. His father gave him a faint smile before taking a deep breath. “John the Baptist called the people he talked to a ‘brood of vipers.’ Well, you know what? It seems we have a similar brood here. On Friday evening, I came home to find my wife sobbing on the floor because someone had come…”
Just then, a man stood up from a pew in the middle of the church. “Why don’t you just sit down and shut up,” he said.
Alastor fell silent, and the man’s voice echoed throughout the nave. Then Aidan could hear his father whisper, “So…you, too.” Aidan looked from the man to his father and back again. And then he burst into tears. Alastor walked the few steps to Aidan’s seat. “Do you want to go home, son?” he whispered.
Aidan couldn’t find words, so he just nodded numbly. His father pulled him from the seat and embraced him. Then he carried him to the side door of the church. And Aidan ran away, his tears streaming and the skirt of his vestments flapping in the wind. He wished his house wasn’t so close by. He wished he could go home and be safe. He wished he could run until the church and those factions and those people hurting his family would disappear on the dark side of the horizon.