The Gifts of Faith - Answers (Ch. 15)
“Who the hell do you think you are barging in here like this?”
“I’m your son who’s lived in the dark for 28 years and I need some answers. You can begin by telling me about my mother. Who was she? Why have you never felt the need to tell me about the woman who gave birth to me? Why have you ignored my questions all these years?” Nathaniel stood face-to-face with his father and wasn’t about to back down.
It was time to man up.
Haywood Baxter was a formidable man and not used to being confronted. He’d always been a man of means – bad means, that is. He was respected by some and feared by most. He turned his back on Nathaniel as he walked towards the kitchen and ordered Nathaniel out of his home.
Nathaniel had had enough of his old man’s aloofness and bully attitude. He wasn’t getting away with it this time. Nathaniel followed his father down the hall, grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to turn around. You’re going to face me you son of a bitch. I’m not afraid of you anymore.
“Tell me about my mother! You owe me that much. I’ve waited long enough – too long. Who am I, Dad?”
“Go get us a beer out of the fridge, Nate and meet me on the front porch.” Haywood knew Nathanial hated being called Nate and that’s precisely why he did so.
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Nathaniel joined his father on the porch, handed him a beer, and sat in one of the two rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch. As he waited for his father to speak, he recalled how cold this house felt when he was growing up. Aside from its welcoming Victorian structure, there was nothing warm about the place.
“Tell me about my mother, Dad.” Nathaniel took a long swig from the frosty bottle, growing more impatient – and angrier.
Haywood let out a sigh and rolled his eyes as he often did when talking with his son. His contempt didn’t escape Nathaniel.
“Your mother’s name was Julie.”
Nathaniel got up from the rocking chair and sat on the railing so he could see his father’s face. “Julie what, Dad? Who was she before you married her?” Let’s see if the SOB tells me the truth.
“Her name was Julie White. She was from Flowery Branch and worked for me part-time while she was in high school. She answered the phone mostly. When she was a junior she lost both her parents – killed instantly in a bad car wreck - and came to work for me full time. Dropped out of school.” Haywood was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation but Nathaniel had no intention of leaving until he got what he came for.
“Why’d she drop out of school, Dad?”
Haywood lit a cigarette and took a long drag before answering. “Her folks didn’t have much money. Left her just enough to pay off the house and not much else. She needed to work to keep the lights on, food on the table, that sort of thing.”
Nathaniel interjected, “And you fell in love with her?”
“Hell, no I didn’t fall in love with that puny, sickly little bump of a girl!” The veins in his neck popped up like snakes on fire as he shouted his disgust.
“Then what?” Nathaniel was hoping the memory of his mother was too painful for the ornery old coot and that’s why he never spoke of his mom, but obviously that wasn't it.
“Just hold on. Let me tell it my way in my own time or you can just hop in that fancy car of yours – that I paid for – and git the hell outta here!” Haywood lit another cigarette and went into the house. After a few minutes he came out with a couple more beers, a bottle of Southern Comfort, and a shot glass.
Nathaniel waited while his old man poured himself a shot and finished his cigarette. It was quite a few minutes before Haywood continued. “Julie wasn’t much to look at but she was real smart. Soon she took over the bookkeepin’, orderin’ supplies, schedulin’ appointments, and pretty much ran the office. By that time my business was doin’ real good, so I was grateful to have her around.”
Haywood seemed to drift off in memories he wasn’t willing to voice. Once again, Nathaniel waited patiently. Come old man, spit it out. Get to the point!
“One Fridey night I got a phone call from Julie. I could barely understand what she was saying, she was cryin’ suh hard. I tole her ta calm down or I was gonna hang up the durn phone. Turns out she was workin’ in her garden afta work at just about dusk. Someone -they nevuh did fine out who – attacked her and had his way with her.”
Nathaniel’s heart broke at that moment hearing what the woman who would become his mother had to endure with no one to turn to but his crotchety old man. “So, why’d she call you?”
“Julie had no family. No friends. I was pretty much the only one she could turn to. She was too ashamed to call the law. Besides, she nevuh saw the guy’s face – least that’s what she tole me.”
Another shot. Another cigarette.
“Anyways, I tole her to pack a bag, that she could stay here for a few days ‘til she felt safe enough to go home.”
Well that was mighty white of you! Nathaniel thought, but held his tongue.
“Turns out she nevuh did go back home. She’d work for me and be fine, but when the day was done she’d go to her room and wouldn’t come out, ‘cept for to eat once in a while. She was real depressed and seemed to get even sicklier than she already was.
“It wasn’t too long ‘fore she discovered she was pregnant.”
This revelation really ruffled Nathaniel’s feathers. “You mean to tell me you took advantage of her you son of a bitch?!”
Haywood jumped up from the rocker and got right up into Nathaniel’s face. “I nevuh touched the waif, Nate! Don’t you fuckin’ git it? She was fuckin’ raped! I married her sorry ass to save her name you ungrateful son of a bitch!”
Nathaniel couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Now it all made sense. Why his father never connected with him and why he seemed to resent him all of his life.
Haywood was on a rampage now. The anger he’d been holding in for 28 years came forth in a vomit of anger. “We had a nice wedding. Made a public announcement and everything just to keep the demon that was growin’ inside her a secret. And on the night she gave birth to you she died right after she named you. And I was stuck with a kid that wasn’t mine. What the hell was I supposed to do? I buried her and raised you. That’s all there is to the story.”
Haywood grabbed the bottle of Southern Comfort and headed off the porch into the abyss of his mind. Nathaniel thought about following his father but thought twice about it. He needed time to absorb all he’d just heard.
Holy shit. I’m not his son. No wonder he’s been so cold all these years! He resents me and probably even hates me. What happens now?
Julie's Message to Her Son
Nathaniel descended the porch steps and hopped in his MG. He took the long way home oblivious to all sound but that of the thoughts that were hammering his mind.
When he got home, his first inclination was to pick up the phone. “Hello, Faith? Hey, it’s Nathaniel. Do you mind if I come by this weekend? I’m sure you and Sarah could use some help in the garden.”
Shauna L Bowling
Refining, Defining or Rhyming
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