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Conclusion; The All Saints Church
The All Saints Church
The hopelessness and despair appeared less and less in Caroline’s heart. The numbness stayed with her the majority of her days.
All eyes were on her as she recanted to the crowd the day she had looked at the unborn fetus lying in the overgrown wheat field next to her. She was amazed she had opened her eyes and saw anything, certain she should have been dead, along with her fetus. Her legs still brown, a putrid odor coming from the stains of her blood, mixed with her fetus. She told the crowd it was an act of God that led her to a pond where she washed the brown stains from her legs. She had pulled long blades of yellow, pale wheat out of the earth and covered the remains of her baby. That night, she walked along a road, headlights glared in her eyes, periodically. One car passed slowly by. She watched it turn around and slowly creep toward her.
"Lost little lady," came a voice from a man, older than Caroline’s grandfather would have been.
"Yeah, had a fight with my dad. Ran and can’t find my way back to town," Caroline responded, her voice sounding foreign and distant to her. She didn’t know the name of the town, and couldn’t even remember how many days it had been since she had spoken to anyone.
To Caroline’s amazement, the man offered her a ride. About thirty minutes into the drive, the man pulled into the "Roadside Inn." He told Caroline she could use the phone to call her dad, if she didn’t let the staff find out she was there. She almost cried as her mom’s voice drifted into her memory.
After dialing the phone number she learned how to recite and knew since first grade, Caroline waited for her mom to answer. She wondered what her sister would say if she was the one to pick up the phone. "The phone number you have dialed has been disconnected," was the only voice that answered her desperate rings of help.
She explained to the crowd, that was the first night she turned her first trick. She got twenty bucks for stripping naked and letting the old man spank her behind and call her by his daughter’s name.
The next trick she flagged down was just as old and asked her to perform the exact same way. She got twenty bucks from him and told him if he didn’t let her use the shower, she’d call the cops.
With each penis she licked, she choked down the vomit, thinking only of her next warm meal and clean pair of jeans.
Caroline was eighteen years old and had slept with over 40 men by the time she had met Father Patrick and Sister Mary.
It was Paul’s turn.
Paul had been on the streets for seven years, he explained to the crowd gathered around the kerosene heater.
But, the truth was Paul never had a chance. Born to two parents who did nothing but drink grain alcohol they had made and kept in an old shed behind the log cabin deep in the mountains of Spokane, Washington, Paul was actually a success story. How he managed to get out of the mountains, away from his father before his father had physically disabled him was, in Father Patrick’s opinion, a miracle.
"You had no chance with an illiterate father who in a rage of fury murdered your mom, deep in the mountains where people are scarce and the justice system doesn’t reach," Father Patrick said to Paul. "You tried to get out of the hopeless despair you were born to ."
"I never have touched an ounce of alcohol, since I left my pa, runnin’ the entire way," Paul said, his eyes growing wet. Father Patrick was proud of him. Paul wiped his right eye with the cuff of his pale blue, checkered flannel shirt. He pulled the orange cap that Father Patrick gave him over his ears. "When my dad whacked my ma across the back of her skull with a hatchet, I just screamed. I thought I was next. The blood just gushed out of her ears as she tumbled to the floor, moaning."
Barb and Caroline began to cry as Sister Mary held Josh’s hand. Josh knew, they all knew, they were the lucky ones, they were alive.
Paul continued, steadying his breath, he had to tell someone. Finally, there was someone who wanted to listen. "My pa, he just left her there. He stepped over her, like she was nothin’ and went into the kitchen, sat at the table and poured himself a drink. I didn’t know what to do. There was no one to call, besides we didn’t have no phone. I went into my bedroom, got my blanket and put it on my ma. I put my pillow underneath her head, then went into my bedroom, got on my knees and prayed for God to help my ma."
"The next morning when daylight came, I had to help my pa take my ma’s body out into the woods.
I thought it was only a matter of time ‘til he knocked me, dead. Only, I became my Ma for him. I cooked his meals, I chopped the logs, and I drank with him. I hated the taste, but he said he’d tell the cops I killed my ma if I didn’t. Truth is I was more afraid of dying by his hand then I was of the cops."
So, one day, I did a horrible thing. My Pa was passed out on the kitchen table. I grabbed the pick-up truck keys, a few clothes and I took off. It was late when I got to town. I shut my headlights off and drove real quiet-like around the butcher shop. I broke the back door entrance in, took as much food I could and grabbed three hundred dollars out of the cash register. I figured I’d get caught, but I never did. I parked in the bus station bought a one-way ticket to a town I never heard of and never looked back."
Paul was fifteen when he began his life on the streets.
"I promised myself, one day I’d pay Mr. Jensen the butcher back."
Josh spoke, next.
Josh had just turned seventeen and had already been on the streets for three years. He told the group how he cased each joint out, like his grandpa taught him, before he hit. He’d been on the streets for a week, snatching purses. He had made a total of two hundred dollars. He explained to everyone how he'd watch the ladies get out of their cars, laughing at the ease of hitting the woman with babies. When the cops started showing up, he just moved to the next town.
Although, Josh’s hair was straggly and his clothes weren’t new, he was in better health than the rest. His right shoulder was slightly distorted from the broken collarbone the "bourbonized" man cuased and his teeth were cracked and broken. But, his legs were muscular and strong. At least that was the way he perceived himself to be.
He told the group of how he thought he had committed his first murder. A young couple, holding hands walking down a dark sidewalk passed by him. He had a piece of plywood he always carried and whacked the guy’s head in. The girl started yelling and screaming as the blood gushed out of the guy’s eye socket. Josh got scared the cops would show, so he grabbed the woman’t purse from her shoulder and took off running.
He told of how on his sixteenth birthday, he had went by his mama’s house and caught a glimpse of Claire, who had turned into a beauty with grandpa. He watched them pull out of the driveway in the blue rickety van. He thought as they passed, Claire had recognized him, but couldn’t say for sure. They really weren’t his family, anymore. He left. Swiping a twinkie at a bus station, he slipped into a back seat of a bus, resting his head against the window. No clear idea of where he’d end up next.
Sister Mary smiled warmly at Barb who had shortened her name and her dress to attract the men with fat wallets. Had it not been so bitter cold, and had her stomache not ached so much, Barb would have sneered and ripped Sister Mary apart with a tirade of insults that would make Mother Teresa cry. Barb may have been only seventeen, but she had lived a long, bitter, putrid life thus far. And, Sister Mary’s smile, however warm it was would never repair the scars seared into her soul. Barb had encountered her type, before. They had no clue as to the hardness and cruelty of people. But, if Sister Mary and Father Patrick wanted to hear her story of how her mother’s boyfriend raped her from the age of eleven, until her escape, Barb would let them in on every detail. She’d told teachers and priests before, then watched them cower in horror. They’d walk to the phone and call her mother, telling her to come get her troubled daughter.
Half way through the lurid details of her life of a child prostitute, Father Patrick patted her knee, and apologized for the horror she had seen. That was the first time Barb had heard anything other than disbelief, or denials.
"maybe you and Caroline can cry on one another’s shoulder’s," suggested Sister Mary.
"I haven’t cried since I was six, Sister Mary," said Caroline.
"Cry for Barb, cry for Josh, cry for Paul, and cry for yourself Caroline. Cry for the unfairness of life. Cry for all the times you reached your hand out for help and got it slapped," said Sister Mary.
She continued, "I’d like to tell you that there have been plenty of wealthy people who I called and just jumped at the chance to help children like you. But, you all know Father Patrick and I must have tried before, you are all smart enough to know that."
Barb looked around the church with no electricity, or heat. For the first time Barb understood there were some people that would have helped, if they could. Several people gave her free coffee, used clothes, rides, a donut, or sandwich. If Barb thought, she would say, yes some helped with what they could afford to.
That night, Paul lay on the bench pew, hearing the different rhythms of the temporary group he had found himself sharing the night with. The January winds howled and whistled, rattling the stained glass church window panes. Everything and everyone was temporary in Paul’s life. Food pantrys, homeless shelters, store cellars, garages, garbage dumpsters were the main thoughts in Paul’s mind. Would he be spotted, how long could he safely stay. Paul glared at the words he couldn’t read on the stained glass church window paine, then his eyes drifted upward to the face of the Virgin Mary, a baby wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket in the Virgin Mary’s arms. Soon, Paul was sleeping, dreams of a mother living in a little, white cottage with pale yellow shutters, dialing phone numbers from a phone hanging on a wall, surrounded by dainty blue flowers. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the air as she dialed and dialed, looking for her son, Paul. She had decorated a bedroom full of his favorite things with a dresser full of warm, wooly clothes.
Josh was in the church pew behind Paul, facing the opposite direction, his tummy was full. And, it was a rare occurrence in Josh’s life when he didn’t have to fight for a full stomache. He pulled the orange, knit cap over his eyes and half of the bridge of his nose. Josh dreamed of Claire, his baby sister. He dreamed of her high school graduation as she smiled, clutching the diploma. He dreamed of her walking down a flower filled church aisle on grandpa’s arm. Thoughts of grandpa in a black tuxedo he had swiped made the corners of Josh’s mouth turn upwards as his heavy snores mixed with Barb’s whose feet were lying across the aisle, her head facing the stained glass church window of a magnificent chapel in puffy, white clouds, a slow winding path, leading upward.
Barb lay on her back, her head slightly tilted, sleep not coming. She stared at the cross on the magnificient church chapel, listening to the howling January winds, outside. Barb’s lips weren’t blue and her rotting teeth weren’t chattering, so she’d stay as long as they allowed her, deciding to hold her rage deep inside. Food and shelter wasn’t easy to find in January, so she’d do what the Father and Sister asked, within reason. The road remained covered in thick snow. There were no distant lights, signifying others, anywhere. If she was going to die by the hand of one of them, at least it would be in a church. She wondered what her older brother was up to. She hoped he got rammed into the First Presbyterian Church walls by a huge snow plow, driven by Father Charles, his crumpled body bleeding out everywhere. Or, maybe churned up by a farmer’s wheat cutting machine. His body mangled and and lying in the dirt as the barking dogs munched it down for dinner.
Dinner sat in Caroline’s tummy. Room temperature chili wasn’t the best thing she’d ever eaten, but she didn’t have to fight for it, so it was o.k. Caroline could hear Barb moving her shoed feet around in the church pew behind her, mixed in with the noise of the rattling windows. Caroline stared at the stained glass pane of the little baby in the cradle, a soft, white blanket tucked under her little, dimpled chin. Caroline closed her eyes to dreams of running through the tall, green dewy grass, holding the hand of a giggling little girl with yellow ribbons in her pig tails. They ran on, laughing as their pleated dresses gently brushed against each other’s.