Rob Williams stared deeply into the man in the mirror. Examining each of his wrinkles. Trying to read them like some gypsy fortune teller. What hope had this one come from? Which fears furrowed the brow to chisel these lines?
He inhaled deeply, his eyes moving to his dirty blonde mane. His beard was peppered with white. Streaks of a deep silver-gray were winning the campaign in patches throughout his head.
“What are you looking for, son?”
Sometimes the voice was his and sometimes it was something completely alien, like an ancient scroll calling out from a time long passed. Today it sounded like his father. His father the carpenter.
”Do you even know the question?”
Rob wakes up alone. Charlotte had been, understandably, none too pleased with Rob’s new friend Miriam coming home after ReVival. The trailer they had rented near PRIME HQ was hardly big enough for the two of them to being with. All things being equal, Rob wasn’t sure how pleased he was with the new addition to their sitcom family. He couldn’t let Miriam go, though. Not yet. She understood the voice. There was an answer here, but Rob felt like he was listening for distant whispers in the wind on a summer night.
He sat up, his back a symphony of crackles and pops. It hurt the worst in the morning. Once he got moving the pain became sustainable. He had taken up stretching again with this new found fire. He didn’t feel great, but he had surely felt worse. There was a clean shirt pressed and folded sitting on the chair across the room.
“What are you looking for, Rob?”
It was Miriam.
”What are you looking for? Your shirt is over yonder, I got it ready for you. We have a big day today. You need to look proper.”
At times it seemed like she was talking with the voice. Like they were telling secrets. A sick game of hide and seek where everyone had gone home and he would eternally be searching. The abandoned child once again. There was an answer here. Somewhere below the self doubt and the years of hate and all the pain.
“Well, go on. We need to get some food in you.”
Rob stood and dressed. As he buttoned the shirt, he looked at the man in the mirror.
He is surprised to find Charlotte in the kitchen. She has on her gray Vans sweats and a blue tank top. Rob bites his bottom lip as he admires the work age and gravity has done on her body. When he was younger he wondered how men found women that looked like they’d lived life at 120 dB attractive. He understands now. With each passing season of her body she is more captivating to him.
The three of them sit at the kitchen table in front of a feast Miriam had prepared. A true smorgasbord. Eggs, bacon, sausage, grits. All the fixings. Rob and Charlotte instinctively grabbed their forks, ready to dig in. Miriam clears her throat politely. Charlotte grips her fork hard enough to leave an impression in her hand. It’s how high Miriam holds her chin. A literal looking down with that soft smile.
“Oh, right. Sorry. Old habits die hard.” Rob says as he relinquishes his utensils.
Charlotte’s frustration is notable. But, she loves him. She bears a smile, fearing her molars might break off if she grits any harder.
“Rob, would you like to lead us? It is a man’s place to carry his Word and Light into his home.”
Rob closes his eyes. He interlopes the fingers of each hand.
“Father, we ask that you…”
His brow furls, trying to remember the prayers of his childhood. He squints his eyes as if squeezing them hard enough may force the long forgotten words to the surface. He thinks of the AA people. The way it seems to come to them so naturally. Surrender.
“Surrender,” the voice says softly, like a father holding his child riding on training wheels for the first time, whispering courage as directly into his brain as possible. “You cannot force this, Rob. Faith is not another problem you can attack with brute strength. And you’re living the results of every tool in your toolbox just being a bigger hammer than the last. Aren’t you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Open your heart and let it flow through you.”
Let it flow.
“Father, we thank you for this glorious feast and for the hands that prepared it. We ask that you let it nourish our bodies so that we may do your work well. Please, Father, continue to guide us on the path of righteousness. In your name we pray – amen.”
The girls’ reactions couldn’t be on further ends of the spectrum. Charlotte is stunned. Before her eyes she is witnessing her man fading away. Yes, he was sober. And drawing a steady paycheck. And fucking winning. But, she’s always loved that deep pain in him. Both sides of the coin.
Miriam, however, is enthralled.
“Rob, that was beautiful.”
They all eat, mostly silent. Rob feels the fracture in his relationship growing wider with each bite. There has to be an answer here.
“When I said burn the ships, I meant all of the ships. You must be willing to reach absolute bottom. Faith without works is dead.” The voice booms. It hits Rob like a 12 gauge. A searing pain in the gut. He hears his heartbeat in his ear. Rob excuses himself, retreating to the bedroom to stare at the man in the mirror again.
“No. No, I can’t. She has been my lighthouse all these years.”
A soft rap at the door.
“Rob, can I come in?”
Miriam. Surely Charlotte would love this.
The voice swirled around him, circling like a tornado.
“Stop worrying about what she wants, son. You have a higher calling. Trust the process. Open the door.”
She stands in the doorway in her red dress. Despite his contempt for what Miriam is doing to his relationship with Charlotte, he is putty when she locks eyes with him. There is a fiery glow in her eyes, like she knows a secret. She knows the answer – he’s sure of it. He cannot help but look down as he talks.
“Are you ok?” Miriam asks, raising her hand to rest on Rob’s shoulder.
“You know, my whole life I been scared. When I was a kid I was scared of my dad. He was a real tough son of a bitch, liked to have a few too many and play the bongo drums off my skull. I could tell when it was coming. He’d come home smelling like Old Grandad and slamming all the doors on his way to my room. Like a fucking hurricane just growing intensity with each step. Round about fifth grade I started swinging back. Of course, he’d just double down on the ass whupping, but I was just so damn scared when I heard him coming. Something else took over. Going through school I wasn’t the smartest kid, really struggled with math. So I started getting in trouble cause it was easier being the kid who was kicked out than the kid who didn’t understand fractions. No matter how bad you are at reading and writing, nobody talks shit to the guy who got into a fist fight with the gym teacher.”
Miriam puts her hand on Rob’s chin, lightly pushing his head up until their eyes meet.
“I hurt people. Some of them real bad. Really it was just cause I was scared. I been living my whole life as a god damn nine year old with my back up against that wall in my room, listening to his steps lumbering down the hall like thunder. And anytime that door opened I came out swinging. Never even stopped to see what might be coming through it. The dope, the booze, all of it. I’ve just been scared.”
“Do you know what the opposite of fear is, Rob?”
“No, silly,” Miriam giggles, “it’s faith. Men of courage have faith. Sometimes you have to take these things piecemeal. And that’s ok. His Word and Light doesn’t make too hard of terms on those who seek it. If you want to live without that fear, try having some faith.”
Rob’s always modeled himself as someone who could read a poker face. She means every word she’s saying.
“What the hell does that even mean? You have faith. God, I wish it were that simple for me, Miriam. Maybe I’m just broken.”
“Faith is not as hard as you make it seem. When you flip the light switch, you just believe the light will come on. Believing in his Word and Light is just as simple. You just need to surrender. The only thing standing keeping you from walking in the sunlight of His Word and Light is you. You need to surrender and be of service. There are many sinners, Rob. They need absolution. This is your calling. You’re meant to be a tool, a conduit, to redeem the unrepentant souls. Pray. Pray to be an instrument of his Word and Light. Pray to bring salvation to the sinners of PRIME and beyond.”
Rob drops to his knees, weaving his fingers together.
“Father, I pray that I may be your righteous sword. Please let my fists be your ordnance. Show me, Father, how to be of service. Allow me your strength to cleanse the transgressors and bring them absolution in your Word and Light. Amen.”
Miriam giggles and smiles, her hand soft on Rob’s shoulder.
“Twice in one day, Rob. Hope we don’t get struck by lightning. Now come, we have work to do.”