Washed in the Blood
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
He heard a car out front. Who could it be? He wasn’t used to impromptu visitors. He tried to see out the separation in the curtain, but all he saw was the sun glaring off a white car. It was probably nobody, just somebody looking for the way back to the main highway.
When the urgent knock came at the door, his heart jumped inside his chest. He didn’t want to answer, but he was standing just a few feet away, so he felt compelled to answer. When he opened the door he saw a large, pink-faced man standing there smiling at him.
“Yes?” he said, looking around the edge of the door like a frightened mouse.
“Mr. Whitson?” the large man said.
“Mr. Wolfram Whitson?”
“I’m Reverend Rayford Kennerly. I’m the pastor at your mother’s church.”
“I was wondering if I might have a little talk with you.”
“I promise you it won’t take long. If you’re busy, I can come back tomorrow or the day after.”
“No, it’s all right.”
“Might I come in?”
He stood back and let the large man enter the house. They looked at each other awkwardly and then Wolfram pointed to the couch, indicating it as a suitable place for the reverend to sit.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Wolfram asked, sitting in the chair across from the couch.
“I wanted to express my condolences at the passing of your mother.”
“That was a month ago,” Wolfram said.
“I know, and I apologize for not making the call sooner.”
“What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to ask if there was anything I might do for you.”
“Like what? Dig a hole in the back yard?”
The reverend laughed when he saw that Wolfram was making a joke. “That’s not quite what I meant,” he said. “I meant more of a spiritual nature.”
“No, there isn’t anything,” Wolfram said. “I’m fine.”
“Are you aware that we now offer grief counseling at the church?”
“Grief counseling? What’s that?”
“It’s to help people like you who have recently lost a loved one: a parent, a husband or wife, a child, or even a dog or a cat. You share your feelings of loss in a group setting with others who are going through the same thing. The group meets twice a month, on alternating Fridays. I believe this coming Friday, the day after tomorrow, is their night to meet. Please feel free to attend if you feel you’re up to it. The meeting begins at seven o’clock. Dress is casual.”
“I don’t like sharing my feelings. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Wouldn’t you like to give it a try?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It helps to keep an open mind, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose some people think it does.”
Reverend Kennerly cleared his throat and looked down at the worn carpet, shifted his big legs to a more comfortable position. “I knew your mother for many years. Not only was I her pastor; I was also her friend and spiritual advisor. She spoke often of you.”
“Spoke of me? Why?”
“She worried that you would be alone after her passing.”
“Oh, that doesn’t bother me. And I’m not really alone. I have lots of friends.”
“Well, you see, Wolfram, the thing is that most men get themselves a wife by the time they’re your age.”
“Oh, a wife!”
“Yes, a man needs a wife.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Wouldn’t you like to have one?”
“I just wouldn’t.”
“There are any number of lovely, single young women in your age category in our congregation who would be happy to get to know you.”
“Why would they be happy to know me?”
“We have casual get-togethers called mixers in the basement at the church. It’s a chance for the members to meet and get to know each other.”
“But I’m not a member.”
“That doesn’t matter. The mixers are for anybody.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t mix well with other people. I never have.”
“The point is, it’s not too late for you to have a family of your own.”
“If I wanted a family of my own, don’t you think I would have had it by now?”
“Well, it’s something for you to think about.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it.”
“Well, let me ask you this. Are you eating a healthy diet?”
“Sure. I go into town about once a week to buy groceries.”
“Are you managing the household chores on your own? Laundry and housecleaning”
“Sure, I do those things. I’ve always done them. My mother didn’t do everything. After she fell and broke her leg that time, I did just about everything on my own.”
“I just want you to know that if you need help we have ladies in the church, volunteers, who will come in a morning or two a week and help out with laundry or household chores.”
“Yes, they’re older women, retired, with plenty of time on their hands. They like to help out bachelors and widowers. People like yourself.”
“Do they get paid by the hour?”
“They don’t get paid at all. They’re Christian ladies. They like to help out where help is needed.”
“Well, not quite like Superman. Superman’s a fictional character. These are real people.”
“Real people in real life. Not super heroes.”
“Yes, that’s it. Shall I send someone out for you? Wouldn’t you like some help?”
“No, I don’t think so.
“Well, you’re very lucky, then. Most men are helpless without a woman around.”
“That’s largely a myth and a stereotype perpetrated by women.”
“May I be honest, Wolfram?”
“You’re not an easy man. I’m trying to reach out to you in a Christian way and you haven’t been receptive to anything I’ve said.”
“Just being honest. My mother always said I’m a hard-nosed bastard. A lot like her, I’m afraid.”
“I think it’s more than that. I think you’re grieving for your mother. I think you’re in a fragile emotional state and I think you need help getting out of the hole you’re in.”
“I don’t need any help. I’m not in a fragile emotional state. I’m not in any hole.”
“With your mother gone, you need to ask yourself this question: Where do I go from here?”
“I don’t ask myself questions. Only crazy people ask themselves questions.”
“Come, now, Wolfram! You must want something out of life.”
“I can’t think of a thing. Air to breathe, I suppose.”
“Your mother would be so happy smiling down on you from heaven if you were to become a church member and start attending church services regularly.”
“If you want to know the truth, Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is, I tried church when I was younger and it left me feeling sad and hollow.”
“We’re having a special prayer meeting on Saturday evening that you might find enlightening. The theme will be ‘succor for the lonely’.”
“Yes, ‘succor for the lonely’. The meeting starts at seven o’clock. We’d be happy to have you join us. Dress is casual.”
“Am I the sucker?”
“So, will we see you at the prayer meeting on Saturday evening?”
“I’m afraid not. I have a previous engagement that evening.”
“Wolfram, sir, if you’ll pardon my saying so! Having known your mother as the devout Christian that she was, I find your resistance a little difficult to understand.”
“She wasn’t really a devout Christian. She pretended to be devout because she was afraid of dying and going to hell. When she was younger, she was a big-time hypocrite and liar. She smoked and drank and cursed like a bar on fire. She was a crook too.”
“Well, I don’t know of that part of her life, of course, but I can assure you she confessed all her transgressions to the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever her transgressions were, and she was forgiven. She was washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”
“Do you think she believed that?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Then she had you fooled too.”
The reverend Kennerly took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. There were tears of frustration and failure in his eyes.
“There is one more topic I wanted to broach with you today, Wolfram, but I don’t know if now is the proper time.”
“Sure, lay all your cards on the table.”
“I’m going to make you a proposition and I ask that you give it serious consideration.”
“What kind of proposition?”
“You live all alone in this big house. It has how many rooms?”
“And how many bedrooms?”
“Why does one young man living alone need a house with fifteen rooms and eight bedrooms?”
“I’m beginning to see the light now,” Wolfram said.
“There’s no other way to say it than to just come right out and say it,” the reverend Kennerly said.
“You want me to donate my house to the church.”
“It would make an excellent halfway house.”
“Halfway house. A place for troubled young offenders to stay while they’re getting their lives in order.”
“What are you saying? I don’t want people like that living in my house!”
“Oh, no, no, no, Wolfram! You don’t understand! You wouldn’t still live here! We’d swap you for a smaller, more modern house or a nice apartment in town.”
“Well, you’ve got some nerve, you know that? You want me to believe you’re truly concerned about my welfare, and all along you only want my house.”
“That’s not true, Wolfram! We are concerned about you. When I look at you, I see a lost lamb. I only want to help in any way I can.”
“I warned my mother about you church people, but she wouldn’t listen. They’re always thinking of what they can get out of you!”
“That’s very unkind of you, young man! Having known your mother, I would have thought you were made of sterner stuff. I have nothing but the best intentions toward you. I just thought we might come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I merely wanted to propose the idea to you and see if you might be receptive.”
“Well, the answer is no!”
“Very well. I see where we stand. I thank you for taking the time to talk to me today and I apologize if I offended you. Would you like to pray with me before I go?”
“Well, I’ll be running along, then. I’ll leave you my card in case you have any questions about any of the things we discussed today.”
The reverend Kennerly took a card out of his wallet and put it on the lamp table by the couch and then stood up and quietly went out the door.
After the reverend Kennerly was gone, Wolfram triple-locked the door, closed all the curtains and went upstairs. At the top of the stairs was the room that had been his bedroom all his life. He went inside and closed the door and locked it.
The room had always been his own and nobody else’s. He had spent uncountable hours in that room, from the time he was old enough to have an upstairs room of his own. There was the huge bed in the middle of the room that belonged to somebody in his family who died long before he was born. His mother let him use the bed but always made sure he knew that if he ever left home the bed stayed where it was.
There was the desk where he did his homework when he was in high school. He used to sit at the desk and write awful themes for English class. Any time he had to sit still and do his school work, he was easily distracted by other things.
In his bookcase were all the books he had growing up. Sometimes he would get a book or two at Christmas. Some of them he had read and some not. He didn’t want to start a book like The Count of Monte Cristo because it was so long and he figured he would never stick with it long enough to finish it. Other books he had found or somehow come by in a way he didn’t quite remember. His great-grandmother had given him a big book in German before she died. He couldn’t read it, but he thought it made a good keepsake.
Along one entire wall was the closet that contained all the clothes he had ever worn from the time he started to school. If he took the time to go through all the stuff in the closet and all the boxes pushed against the back wall inside the closet, he was sure he would find things that would surprise him. He or his mother never threw anything away.
In the bottom drawer of the dresser was where he used to keep books and magazines he didn’t want his mother to know he had. Detective stories with pictures of big-bosomed women on the front. Magazines he had carried away from the public library. All so innocent now.
His small-caliber handgun was in the middle drawer of the dresser. He had had the gun for a dozen years and still kept it in the mail-order box it came in. He had only fired it one time, when his mother was away for eight days.
He took the gun out of its box and, seeing it was still loaded, went and stood in front of the dresser mirror where he could see himself. He pointed the gun at the middle of his chest and fired one shot. Since it was such a small gun, he thought one shot might not be sufficient, so he fired again. He watched his face in the mirror as he fired both times.
There was a lot of blood. He knew there would be. It soaked his shirt and his pants and his shoes and socks. He was surprised that his body contained that much blood. As for pain, it hurt, but not as much as he thought it would.
He wanted to remain standing but he staggered and then fell back on the floor by the bed. He tried to pull himself to a standing position but realized he was better off on the floor. There was nothing to do now but wait.
The blood continued to pour out of him. Breathing became more difficult. His vision blurred. He heard voices, but he didn’t know where they were coming from. One of the voices he was certain belonged to his mother. She would have plenty to say about what he did.
His heart sputtered like a piece of broken machinery. He turned his face to the left and looked under the bed. He grasped his left hand in his right hand. He took a few more shuddering breaths, and then the thing that he knew as his life was finished.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp