This story is by Ruby Grove and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
What Do You Do with a Broken Bible?
Not much moved in the early morning rural landscape. The roads were empty at this hour. Now on the last day of July, the wheat field down the driveway and across the road gleamed gold. To the right, a blue field of flax spread its peace. The morning air refreshed her, kicked her brain into action, and propelled her to plan what to do with the room behind her. Jeanne stepped back through the wooden screen door and gazed around the room.
Mother had loved this room; Father had disliked it and never spent too much time there. A good thing they didn’t live here too many years she thought. She knew why Mother loved it—the long lines of bookshelves. When she and Father moved in, she moved all of Uncle Lesley’s books to the top shelves and installed hers on the easier-to-reach lower ones.
And Jeanne knew why her Father hated the room. Lesley had always been the smarter brother, Lesley who garnered the awards on Awards Day at school, Lesley who earned scholarship money, Lesley who dropped out of college and took over the farm when Grandpa got hurt. As an adult Lesley got elected to the county commission, the water board, the elevator board. And all those comparisons were made —usually in this room.
Dad, did you ever think of you and Lesley as Cain and Abel? The jealousy never took a violent turn, but it must have hurt to have had all of Lesley’s accomplishments thrown at you. At least, I don’t think there was ever any violence, was there?
Jeanne shook off a vision of Father and Lesley fighting in the yard. She hadn’t had a vision in several months. They had plagued her since childhood. Mother had taught her to not mention them when the vision became real a few days after she’d had one. “Just don’t say anything, honey. People might get scared and there isn’t anything you can do to keep a bad vision from happening.” That was hard advice to follow. Shep joined the family when he was just a puppy. He’d been badly injured when he fought a badger in the strawberry garden. Jeanne hadn’t said anything when she had seen the vision two days before. Shep took a long time to heal. Jeanne sat beside him most days. First crying and then reading to him. Mother asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” Jeanne set her mouth in a straight line and shook her head. Mother sat beside her and cradled Jeanne’s head on her shoulder. Did Mother know there had been a vision?
The visions weren’t all bad. She knew she was getting a Brownie camera for Christmas before Christmas came. And she knew Alex Parish was going to ask her to prom. As she got older, the visions became fewer and fewer. She never talked to anyone about them except to a therapist when Daniel left. A vision of Daniel leaving appeared to her in the subway car, just before she got to her stop. She’d run all the way home to keep it from happening. She was too late. His clothes and books were gone when she got there. Mother had been right. She couldn’t keep the bad visions from happening.
The therapist said Jeanne picked up hints of the thing about to happen and then imagined the scene. Hints first and then the vision. Maybe, she thought, maybe.
One photo haunted her since she had seen it in an old shoebox at Grandma’s house. Her father and Uncle Lesley are about six or seven. It is Christmas with tinsel draped across the curtains behind them. As twins they often got the same gifts for Christmas and birthdays. They each got a cowboy pistol and holsters along with a cowboy hat. Father is standing behind Lesley. Each is smiling a toothless grin. Lesley is holding his pistol across his chest. Her father’s pistol is aimed at Lesley’s head.
The photo never caused another vision for Jeanne, but she lay awake nights thinking of the relationship between her father and his brother. The photo became more disturbing when Lesley was killed in a hunting accident in Montana—by a rifle bullet to the head. Another hunter in his hunting party had been careless. A lack of finances had kept her father at home. For that Jeanne was grateful. Her father was inconsolable after the accident. He refused to speak at the memorial service. He left Jeanne and her mother to catch a ride home with a cousin. “I can’t talk to anybody,” he said. When Jeanne and her mother got home, Dad was in bed and he stayed there through the rest of the day. The following day he got up, showered, and went to work at the elevator he managed.
Only three months after that, after the will had been read, Jeanne’s mother and father moved into the big old square farmhouse. Her father rented out the land and kept his job at the elevator. “I hate farming,” he said. A few months later, he retired. Jeanne’s parents had longed for an Alaskan vacation. That’s where they were headed when her father suffered a massive heart attack and the car slammed into the concrete of an overpass. They were both killed.
Jeanne gazed across the room at the overstuffed bookcase. Mother’s books lined up neatly on the lower shelves, but the upper shelves bulged with Uncle Lesley’s books and papers. At the end of the highest shelf, lay the 200-year-old family Bible. Jeanne dragged a wobbly dining room chair into the room and climbed up. She carefully lifted it down and sat on the wobbly chair. She fingered a loose thread and ran her hand over the frayed spine.
Births, deaths and marriages going back hundreds of years were noted in the front. She followed the list to the bottom. A folded paper fell out, continuing the descendants. Grandpa’s name, Fred Whitney, was there with marriage to Helen Gaffney. Then her dad’s name, Dennis Whitney, date of birth, and marriage to her mother. Below that was Uncle Lesley’s name with the name Alice Henry in parentheses. What did that mean? Jeanne’s eyes slid down the page and read the note at the bottom in her Grandma’s perfect handwriting. It read “Alice Hanson gave birth to Lesley Whitney on the same day as I gave birth to Dennis Whitney. Alice consented to Fred’s insistence that we raise the child. She threatened that if she ever heard my son received preference, she would make known the circumstances of the birth. He was raised by Fred and me as our child. As agreed with Alice, Lesley will inherit.”
Had her father known this? Had this been the catalyst that soured the relationship between the brothers? Jeanne took the paper to the front porch and sat in Grandma’s rocking chair. Grandma had lived with this all those years. No wonder she was so silent when family was around. Jeanne remembered when she was alone with Grandma, Grandma smiled and sang and even whistled. She couldn’t show a preference to her son but she certainly could to his daughter.
Jeanne rocked gently, collecting her thoughts. The vision of the fight returns. Only this time, her father and Uncle Lesley are adults. No. It isn’t a vision but a memory. The fight is happening. Jeanne is very young. She, her grandmother, and Mother stand on this porch. The commotion in the yard gets her attention and her mother hustles her through the screen door.
Jeanne continued rocking, trying to remember more. Nothing comes. “What should I do with this?” She stares at the paper. “I could burn it,” she says aloud to no one.
Jeanne thought about “the sins of the father unto the third and fourth generations”. She was the last generation, but she hoped to have children some day. No, one damaged generation was enough.
She folded the paper and put it back in the Bible.