I turned to see my old man creeping out from under his covers like death’s spindly pet.
“It wasn’t either of our faults.” His shriveled frame bounced and tossed with the jolting movements of the wagon.
“For God’s sake, get down and hold on.” I was trying to think of a way to get us to the hospital in one piece.
“It’s for God’s sake I’m talking to you now, son.” Quivering and weak, like a newborn calf sloughed from the womb, he flopped into the seat beside me. “Your mother’s death, it wasn’t either of our faults.”
A coil sprang in my gut. “Really? We’re gonna talk about this now? After twenty years of neglect, you’re gonna bring this up right now?”
“Now or never, son.”
The whine of a revving combustion engine caught up with us as two Model Ts sprang into view, closing the gap fast.
“I suppose it was God’s fault then?” Superstitious old bastard wasn’t any different than Nanette or the rest.
“In a matter of speaking, yes.”
“So you quit on him, like you did with the rest of us? Is that it?” The highway was smooth and straight, the Model Ts less than a hundred yards behind.
“I never quit on any of you.”
“Like hell. Mother loved the faith so damn much. It was everything to her. When you quit the Church it killed her.” After nearly twenty years I had finally said it. I’d finally laid the blame for my mother’s death squarely where it belonged.
“I know you want to believe that, son. Hell, I believed it for a time. You’re right about one thing. I did quit the church. But what you’ve never understood, is that God and the Church are two separate things.”
“Sure. The Church is full of all the idiots who worship him.” As much as I wanted to focus on putting my old man in his place, I knew the impending forecast for flying bullets was somewhere north of fair to middlin’. I just didn’t know how many bullets to expect.
“In that, we agree more than you know.” A violent coughing fit interrupted him. I took the opportunity to check the progress of the Ts—thirty yards and closing. Finally he continued in a weaker voice than before. “In the end, your mother understood. I couldn’t serve an institution that no longer believed its own founding documents or values. We didn’t belong in that church any more than God did.”
“You know what I don’t understand? How do you justify making decisions about what everyone else gets to believe?” Machine gun fire sprayed across the back of the wagon, answering my question from earlier. Lots of bullets.
“It’s called the truth, son. Whether you believe in it or not. I thought you would have understood that much, being so black and white as you are.”
“Since you’re so full of beans, take the reins so I can save your self-righteous ass.” I tossed the reins in his face and leapt into the back of the wagon.
Kneeling, I tore two strips of cloth from the blanket and wrapped the palms of my hands. I knew what I was about to do would hurt a hell of a lot more than continuing this abysmal conversation. But at ten yards away I figured the chance of machine gun bullets hitting their target was about straight odds with me hitting mine. Good thing I don’t gamble.
Two full strides and I launched off the tailgate of the buckboard. Briefly I caught the expression on the driver’s face—the one that said “I’ve never believed in God or devils, but I think it’s time to start.” Maybe I’ve made more believers out of men than my father after all.
I floated for an eerie split second, preparing my mind and body for the collision. Knees bent slightly, I impacted the top of the grill feet first, absorbing as much of the blow as the muscles and tendons could stand without tearing. The brakes squealed as the car began a subtle slide. Crumpling into a ball I let my knees strike my chest, absorbing more of the blow. Then tumbling head first I shattered the windshield with my buttocks before clutching the roof of the T with both hands.
Despite the cloth wrapping, glass cut into my palms. The auto bounced, in danger of losing control and killing us both. Once again taking advantage of the laws of physics, I swung my body over the driver’s side of the car and let the force of the slide push me through the opened window and into the seat. Clocking the driver in the chin with my boot, I shoved him out of the way long enough to stabilize the vehicle.
The shock having worn off, he took a swing at my face. Ducking, I let him crack his knuckles on the back window before delivering a headbutt to his nose. Effective as it is messy, he grunted and fell limp. I kicked the passenger side door open and shoved him out. He landed poorly, the second Model T barely missing him. This was where it would get fun.