By: Angela B
Note: Thanks to NT for betaing my work and helping to make it better
Disclaimer: Never mine and never will be
Chris walked down the hall looking for someone, anyone, in the seemingly empty house. Knocking on the door, which used to lead into his parent’s room, and was now Josiah’s, he opened the door. Walking in, he saw the back of his oldest brother’s head over the end of the bed. Walking to the foot of the bed, Chris recognized the object in his brother’s hands immediately. Feeling suddenly awkward, Chris mumbled an apology, “Sorry,” before turning to leave.
“You don’t have to go,” Josiah whispered in a sad tone.
Chris knew that was the best attempt at an invitation to stay he was going to get. Slowly turning back, he eased down to the floor next to Josiah and waited for his brother to make the next move. He knew from his own experience that sharing one’s past was a difficult task, no matter the person.
Josiah carefully opened the box’s lid. Looking down at its contents, he seemed to become lost in time. Chris was unsure whether to stay or go. Josiah had shared a couple of items from his box with them at one time or another, but he wasn’t sure Josiah wanted to share all of them now.
Josiah lifted out a gold chain with a small cross dangling from it. “This was my mom’s,” Josiah whispered, his voice cracking slightly. Josiah took a deep breath and began talking quietly. “Mom became depressed,” he laughed mirthlessly. “Of course, I didn’t understand that at the time. To me, she just seemed sad,” Josiah swallowed hard. “She killed herself when I was six. Hannah was almost five.”
“Mom had the best smile in the world,” Josiah continued with a husky voice, a smile lighting his somber face. “She loved to laugh and could brighten up your worst day. Her eyes would crinkle; her smile would be wide and her hair would bounce when she laughed really hard. She always made moving sound like an adventure.”
Josiah paused for a breath. “We moved a lot since it was Dad’s job to go wherever the church sent him. Mom would always come in with a big smile on her face and say, ‘Guess what? We’re going on an adventure.’ That became our euphemism for moving. We moved a lot.”
Josiah’s mind went back to a time when he was small. He couldn’t recall exactly where they were living at the time, but seemed to recall the house had been quite small. He had been playing on the floor with some toys that had been lost later in one of the many moves. He could faintly remember his mother, without the distinct details of her face, coming in the room with a big smile on face. Sitting down on the floor next to him, she had said excitedly, “Hey, how’s my little man?” He answered her, he was sure. Then she had told him they were moving to a whole different country. He hadn’t understood of course, but his mother seemed excited, so he was too. That was the time they had moved to India. Josiah vividly remembered the strange costumes the people had worn and had asked his mother if he, too, was going to have run around in his robe. She had laughed that special laugh of hers, where her hair, curled in waves, would flow back and forth from her face with each laugh. He loved making his mother laugh. He loved the way her eyes glowed and smile grew larger. Mostly, he loved seeing his mother happy.
Josiah reached back into the box and picked up a picture that Chris had never seen before. “This was the last picture taken,” Josiah said.
The color was poor. In it was a man and woman in their early thirties, Chris guessed, with a boy and a girl. The woman was slender. She had auburn hair, styled in the large curled Farrah Facett style that was still in vogue back then in the early eighties. Her green eyes glimmered with pride for her family. The man sitting next to her had black hair and the same gray eyes as his little boy. The man had the build that was more reminiscent of a biker than a preacher. He had one arm draped around his wife and the other wrapped around the waist of the boy standing next to him. His smile was small compared to the others, but no less meaningful. Hannah was sitting on her mother’s lap. Chris was guessing she might have been around four at the time. The girl was a small carbon-copy of her mother, with the same large smile that seemed to fill her small, fine face. Standing beside his father was a five-year-old Josiah. His brown suit fit him snugly, but the happiness in the child’s eyes took the looker’s eyes away from the suit and directed them to the smiling child. A picture of the perfect family before the ugliness set in. Chris frowned at the thought.
Josiah ran a hand over the frame. “She always told us, she loved us. I guess that’s why I never could understand why she would kill herself.” Josiah’s voice broke.
Chris hesitantly laid his arm around his brother’s shoulders in moral support. They were all damaged in some way or another. He had never realized until now, that had included Josiah. The older brother was always a tower of strength to him. Josiah had the will-power and determination to get through anything, but now, Chris figured there was some things his brother would never get over.
Josiah stared at the picture. He would never forget how his father had gone from being a loving, open daddy to being a virtual stranger in one day. It was like losing both his parents in the same afternoon. They had been living in Missouri at the time. He had come from playing with a friend, with Hannah in tow, and came to a stop outside their house. When he arrived, there were a bunch of police cars surrounding his house and an ambulance. His father had come out of the house looking suddenly very old and different, in a scary kind of way. He had quietly said in a hate-filled voice, “Your mother has chosen to leave us. She will reside with the devil for all eternity.” His dad had then walked on. The young six-year-old had not understood the words. He had started to ask, “Where’s Mo….?” He never got to finish the question. His father had whirled on him with a vengeance and hissed, “You shall never speak of that woman again. Never!” That had been that. From then on, it was only the three of them and, for the most part, it was just Hannah and him.
The two brothers sat in silence for a long time before Josiah laid the picture down. Looking back in the box, Josiah reached in and pulled out a bottle of cologne. Chris read the label: WindSong. “Mom loved this stuff,” Josiah said. “Dad would buy her a bottle every Christmas, I think.” Josiah shrugged, not knowing if the memory was a real one or made up. “Sometimes,” Josiah stopped for a quick look at Chris, before divulging his secret, “Sometimes, I take out the bottle and smell the fragrance, trying to remember her and the good times.”
There had been good times, though the memories of them were sparse and dim. He remember specifically going to an ocean and building sandcastles. The four of them had played and swam in the clear blue water. His father had placed Hannah on one hip and him on the other and treaded out to where the water hit their chests. They had laughed and kicked water at each other. He remembered that day so well, like it was stamped permanently on a memory card in his brain. They’d had bologna sandwiches, potato chips, apples and Little Debby’s oatmeal cookies. To this day, he would, every now and then, buy one those cookies and remember the bright sunny day that was filled with so much fun and love.
Chris nodded in complete understanding. He understood about trying to keep memories alive.
Laying the picture down, Josiah pulled the next item from the box: a round, carved knob made from a deer antler. Josiah rubbed the smooth piece between his fingers. “Dad had this walking stick. This came off the top of it. He had always had it, as far as I could remember. Whenever we went for a walk, even if was just to the corner store to get a loaf of bread, Dad would take his stick.” Josiah laughed a little. “He used to tell Hannah and me it was to keep the bears away.” Josiah laughed a little more. “We lived in the city, then.”
The one thing that stuck out in Josiah’s mind most about his father, before his mother’s death, was that his dad loved to be doing things, mostly outside. The son recalled vaguely how his dad had built them a sled once when they lived in Nebraska. It had snowed the night before, a wonderment of its own to the little boy back then. Josiah had stayed out in the cold garage by his father’s side, watching the man take discarded boards and sand them down to smoothness and then nail them into place. The big man had pulled him and Hannah around and around out in the snow for what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than just one hour. Josiah let a small smile slip out at the memory.
Placing the cane knob beside him, Josiah reached into the box and pulled out a worn, well-used bible. Its black cover was torn on the corners and peeling away from the cardboard underside. The object seemed to weigh Josiah down. Staring at it for a long time, he whispered coarsely, “For a long time I hated this book.” The words hung heavily in the air.
Josiah fell silent for a long moment, before beginning again. “I used to believe Dad was always a good man before Mom died, but changed after her death. As I got older and could think on certain times, I recalled there had been times when he had become angry before her death.” Blowing out a long sigh, he continued, “I think, when most atheist people think of religious men, they tend to think of fanatics, like my dad was in the end. But, there are good men of faith out there. I know it,” he said, his voice carrying a wistful tone to it. “Like Dad,” he said quietly, referring to Bobby.
Chris waited for more, but when it didn’t come, he quietly said, “Yeah, I know a few myself.” Looking sideways at his brother, he watched Josiah finger the bible.
“Before mom died, I liked listening to my dad preach. He used to tell all these wonderful stories. He would get so carried away, it was almost as much fun to watch him as it was to listen to him,” Josiah said, his voice having a happy lilt to it. “After Mom’s death though, his sermons were always angry and he spewed them out like venom,” his voice saddening. “He would slam this…,” he started, looking at the bible, “…down on the pulpit and make everyone jump. He became…,” Josiah paused, looking for the right word, “…scary up there. At home, he would yell at me or Hannah for every little thing.” Josiah stopped for a moment, not sure if he really wanted to divulge the next piece of information. Then in a small voice he confessed, “There were times when I was glad he was gone, and me and Hannah were left behind.”
Josiah waited for the anger to come from Chris. Josiah didn’t think Chris, who loved both his families so much, and would have died a hundred deaths himself to keep them alive, would ever understand that kind of thinking. Looking over at Chris, Josiah felt so much relief flooding him when he saw the understanding staring back at him in those green eyes. Looking back down at the bible he held, Josiah remembered his last vision of his father before his death.
They had been in the Congo. Hannah had absolutely loved it. With its exotic animals and the monkeys everywhere swinging from treetop to treetop. She had been a handful to keep track of. They had been living there about three months when his father came into the hut they were staying in and informed them that he was going deeper into the jungle to meet with some other missionaries. Josiah remembered how empty he had felt at the news. It had gotten to the point at that time where he was relieved when his father would go away and leave them in the care of someone else. Except that day, his father had left and never returned. The plane his father had been on had inexplicitly crashed, killing his father, the pilot and two other people. Another missionary had come that night to tell him and Hannah that their father was dead. He’d been eight and Hannah was close to being seven. The next week, he and his sister had been flown back to the states. Hannah had been placed in a facility that took in special children like her and he had been moved into a group home. He wasn’t allowed to see Hannah at all. He had become angry, rebellious and hateful. He hadn’t lived there too long before a couple came to visit him. He had acted worse than he had ever acted before. The next day, he was told he would be going to live with the lady and man on a ranch, the Walkers. Bobby had to literally pick him up and carry him out to the truck. No matter how hard Josiah screamed and kicked, the man never lost his grip. Josiah was shocked and quieted instantly when he realized the first place they had stopped at was at the facility where Hannah was staying. He had quit screaming and hitting Janis and stared at the place in hope. Janis had told him patiently that the state wouldn’t let them take Hannah home, too, though they wanted to, but they promised to bring him here to see her as often as possible. He had been allowed to stay the entire afternoon with his sister. Janis and Bobby had held to their promise. At least once a month, they would drive Josiah the five hours up to see Hannah, and he was allowed to call her once a week.
The two brothers sat in silence for a long time.
Josiah rubbed the side of the varnished box. “When I was little, I didn’t understand that Hannah was special. She was just Hannah,” Josiah whispered. “Mom had just explained that we had to be careful with her and keep an eye on her, but she was just like everyone else. After Mom died, I became her sole keeper, but she was never any trouble.” Josiah’s voice faded.
Josiah could remember his sister when they were little. She had followed him everywhere. At times, he had become annoyed with her tagging along. Her long auburn braids flapping down her back as she skipped alongside of him. Her insistent chattering about this and that as she floated from one topic to the next without stopping. After their Mom’s death, though, it seemed only right that she stay next to him. There was nowhere else for her to go.
Gaining his voice back, he said, “Before Mom’s death, Dad treated Hannah like a princess.” Stopping, he looked at Chris and continued, “It’s strange, but everything in my life is marked as a ‘before’ or ‘after’ moment.”
Chris nodded in complete understanding at that statement. Everything in his life, also, was marked as ‘before’ or ‘after’.
“After Mom died, Dad became so angry, especially at Hannah, or at least it seemed that way. Blamed her for being the way she was.” Sucking in a deep breath, Josiah quietly professed something he had never told anyone, “One night Dad came home in a blinding rage. I don’t remember why. He took one look at Hannah and went berserk. That was the first time he struck one of us. He began beating and screaming at her. Told her she was a plague and a sinful child or else she wouldn’t be so retarded,” Josiah voice shook with anger. “She was only four, Chris. Only four. And she wasn’t retarded, just slow,” the confessor stated, wiping his face. “At that moment, I began to truly hate him. He hit her with such a force that she fell. Her head bounced off the floor and there was this sickening sound. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”
Josiah voice shook with emotion. “I held her all night after Dad left. After that first night, she was really different. I don’t know if it was because she hit her head and hurt it or because Dad finally broke something inside of her. It was like she quit growing…up here,” Josiah said, point to his head. “After that night, no matter how hard I tried to stop it, hurting Hannah just seemed to be his main goal when he was home.” Josiah swallowed hard. “When he was around, the life and joy just went right out of her. She became this shell of a person. There were many nights when I was little that I…I wished my Mom had taken us with her,” he said quietly.
Reaching into the box, he pulled out a ragged looking Barbie. “This was Hannah’s favorite thing in the world. When the state separated us, I promised her I would keep it safe until we were back together,” Josiah voice began trembling. “I didn’t understand why they separated us. I had always taken care of her. I tried to tell the people at the home, I could do it there too, but they just said no,” The tears began rolling down the large brother’s cheeks. “I thought it would just be temporary. I just didn’t understand and neither did Hannah,” he said. “Later, after I moved here, whenever I used to visit her with Mom and Dad, she’d always ask me ‘When can I go home with you, Josiah?’ I never had an answer for her. Eventually she quit asking.”
Josiah’s big shoulders quaked silently at the hurt of never being able to give his sister what he had: a loving home with parents. Chris waited the pain out. Minutes passed before Josiah could reign in his emotions. “I don’t blame Mom and Dad; they tried. It was just that, back then, the chance of adopting a child like Hannah was difficult, almost non-existent. They held to their word though. They kept us intact as best as they could.”
Chris nodded. “Hannah will always be a member of this family, Josiah. Always.” They had all met Hannah at one time or another. When they were younger, Bobby and Janis had made visiting Hannah a family affair as often as possible. The younger boys, too, had met Hannah. They all sent their greetings, and JD always made cards for her, when Josiah went to visit her. Sometimes, one or more of them would still make the trip with Josiah to see her, and Chris made sure there was always money for the trip and a little extra to buy the sister they hardly knew something special from all of them.
Josiah pulled out the last thing from his box. It was a very old box of crayons, the kind that had come with only eight very big crayons. “She loved to draw and color. Still does,” Josiah said, though unnecessarily. All the brothers had been rewarded with a ‘Hannah original’ and still were at times. “She had such a creative little mind,” he whispered sadly.
There had been times when that artistically creative mind had landed the two children in trouble. Josiah had one distinctive memory of that when they and their father were living with a tribe of Native Americans. Josiah had been playing with some boys and Hannah had wandered off. She had taken her crayons and had started coloring a wolf on a wall of ancient petroglyphs. Luckily, she hadn’t done much damage by the time Josiah had found her. The old woman they had been staying with had laughed when one of the tribal councilmen members had gently, but sternly, rebuked the child for drawing on the walls. Hannah had looked up the man, hands on her hips and said with a pout, “I didn’t do all of this. I just added the color.” The man had just turned and walked away with a grin. The old woman had handed Josiah a wet rag and explained Hannah would be staying with her while he did some scrubbing.
Placing all the items back in the box, he said, “This box helps me remember how good it is now.”
Chris, trying to steer the conversation away from the moroseness that had seeped into his brother said, “Yeah, things are pretty good. Vin is excelling in school, JD is getting back on solid ground again, and even Ezra is coping all right.” Getting a humph from Josiah on this last remark, Chris felt obligated to extend an explanation, “I mean JD breaks his arm, on accident of course; Buck and him have a misunderstanding about Vin falling into the trap; he hasn’t mention Maude in a while. He’s doing good.”
“Maybe,” Josiah said softly.
Chris looked at his brother suspiciously. He hated thinking Josiah knew something he didn’t. “What do you mean by ‘Maybe’?” Chris asked reluctantly.
Josiah blew out a breath. He really didn’t want to go into it now, but knew better than try and stall Chris. “I don’t think it’s so much adjusting as it is accepting what he thinks is the truth,” Josiah explained, still rubbing the box in his hands.
“And that would be?” Chris asked in dread.
“He accepts what happens around here because he feels he has no other choice. There is nowhere for him to go from here. So…he takes it. Like Hannah did,” he added softly.
Chris looked at his brother worriedly. “He won’t wind up like Hannah, Josiah. This time there are too many of us. We’ll fight for him.” Putting on his sternest look, he added, “You’re older now, too. You have more power now, to stop it from happening.”
Josiah sat there for a long time and thought about it. It was true. What happened to Hannah when they were young was because he was powerless to stop it. He wasn’t powerless anymore, though and he had brothers to help. With a slow nod, he began believing in Chris’ words. Josiah patted the lid absently He couldn’t change the past, but he could change the future.
7 B Ranch Index