By Terry L. White
A collection of country stories that are sure to touch your heart.
ISBN 1-59431-263-X Short Stories/ Literary/ Apalachia
Cover Art/Maggie Dix
Also available in RTF and HTML formats.
Peace Like a River
Brother Ben waddled down the path to his backhouse and wondered where it was all going to end. As a man of the cloth, he had cautioned the brothers and sisters of Stockton against breaking God's commandments, but like willful children they did as they damned well pleased when it came to thieving, fornication and passing a jug of home brew when the fiddles began to drone.
"To hell in a handbasket," he grumbled and adjusted his worn black coat and rusty trousers for a comfortable communion with his Maker and Mother Nature.
The morning mists burned away, leaving swatches of white snagged up against the mountains to the south. The air was damp and good going down, it loosened the phlegm and rheums of winter. A phoebe called, phe--.bee, phe--.bee, and a nuthatch, upside down on a tree near the privy door, looked at Ben as if considering the splintering necessary a new kind of tree and Brother Ben some unfamiliar species of nesting bird.
In time, his business finished, Brother Ben went back to the house where he breakfasted on pancakes and coffee, the flour a tithe from John Ashe, who ran the mill, and the beverage brewed from a mixture of dandelion and chicory roots, frugally harvested by Brother Ben's own two stubby hands.
Sister Ellen, his woman and wife of many years, crept around the kitchen on silent feet, her rusty hair white at the temples, her hands bony and neat. They fluttered over her pots like birds at the harvest.
"Be a nice day," she said tentatively when she saw her husband put aside his plate and fork.
"Nice enough for sinners," her husband's voice was grim. His face twisted until it was as hard and unforgiving as the oaken stool on which he sat. "Fetch the Book."
Sister Ellen got the Bible and took her place on the other stool. There was, in her properly prayerful attitude, a hint of movement quelled, of an impatient waiting for the moment to pass. Of course, in Sister Ellen's girlhood, evening prayers had been enough, but she had been fixed on marrying Ben Butler, who had collected flesh and faith until he no longer resembled the gangling farmboy who had come, almost speechless to her father's presence, to beg for her hand.
She sighed. The passage her husband read was from the begats. Over the course of time, he had finished reading the Book for the seventh time and now begun anew at Genesis. His voice, droning the dreary list of sons who became fathers in their turn became a chant, lulling her mind to other places, other pastimes. His voice was a fly caught in the corner of a sunny spring window. "And Canaan begat Sidon, and Sidon begat Heth…,"
Once Brother Ben looked up to see the woman smiling, a far-away look of peace on her face, and he scowled his irritation. Not one of his charges, not even this woman he had fed and protected all these years, really heard the Word or truly wished to follow. He fumbled at the tissue-thin pages with blunt, raspy fingers, until at last, the day's lesson was done.
They prayed. Brother Ben prayed for the removal of evil in the village below and Sister Ellen, for her tiresome spouse to leave the house for a spell -- so she could have a little peace.
Perhaps simpler prayers are sooner answered.
Their silence was no sooner broken than Brother Ben announced he had to go to town.
Old Tom looked around resentfully as the saddle went on. The tall bay's back was already sunken from bearing the good brother's considerable weight.
But Brother Ben did not notice, he had his mind on saving his neighbors and his coin. The horse was old in any case.