Mom handed the book of Psalms and Proverbs to me. I reached from the back seat of the Tacoma and received her offering. I wasn’t in the mood for the songs and wisdom of dead kings, so I lay the book in my lap. I watched Mom in the passenger seat, studying her slouched shoulders, wondering how she and my older sister could be so calm about my father’s affair.
Outside my window, fields of corn and soybeans waved their leafy limbs as we drove past. In the driver’s seat, Mary, my sister, sang along with David Crowder’s “All We Sinners.” Her blonde hair rested atop her shoulders like the bristles of a paintbrush suspended above canvas.
I didn’t attend the funeral when my father died suddenly from alcohol poisoning. No longer would he plague Mom with 3 a.m. phone calls. No longer would he violate his restraining order by trying to push his way into the front door. I was relieved he was dead.
When my father’s will came in the mail, Mom called me. She told me she’d learned of Rena, his lover, and Brittany, his illegitimate child. My father had left them everything: a collection of cheap shot glasses, two bank bonds equaling one hundred dollars, and his Volkswagen Beetle. The only thing he left Mom was a note explaining the intimate details of his affair—his final attempt to hurt her. Later, I found the note at her house and burned it. Mom thought she lost it.
Rena had looked up and called Mom a week after the wills were sent out. It was Mom’s idea to meet her. I was reluctant, my sister supportive. We—all three of us—were only half surprised to learn Rena was twenty-five, a year younger than me. That summer day, when we met at a café in town, Rena’s red hair was pulled back into a tiny ponytail, like a tied off balloon. I watched her bounce baby Brittany on her knee. Brittany had the blonde hair of my father.
Rena offered us everything. “All I want is forgiveness.”
Mom, who sat next to her, surprised me with her answer. “For better or worse, you’re family. If you give my daughters the chance to know their half-sister, then I can work on forgiveness.”
“Of course,” Rena said, sitting up straighter, bouncing Brittany a little faster. “Absolutely.”
Mary smiled across the table at my late father’s lover, all grace. Mom looked tired. God commanded forgiveness but I knew she truly sought peace. I set my cup down hard on the table, ignoring Rena’s flinch.
It took two months for Mom to convince me to visit them again.
I absently thumbed the book of Psalms and Proverbs, reading nothing. We arrived at Rena’s parents’ farm, which was an hour outside Columbus, Ohio. We parked next to the two grain silos. Rena greeted us on the gravel driveway with Brittany wiggling in her arms.
“Mom and Dad are on vacation right now,” she said. “Do you want a tour of the farm?”
I did not, but Mom and Mary agreed. We walked around the property, viewed the barns and the fields. My knuckles grew pale from gripping the book. Afterward, we sat together on the wrap-around porch of the farmhouse.
“Do you want to hold her?” Rena asked me. She held her wiggling baby aloft.
I wanted to say no, but I was handed the baby anyway. Brittany’s eyes betrayed our mutual revulsion. Mom ignored this and continued her conversation with Rena. Mary stared silently at the fields.
Brittany’s cheeks flushed a displeased red. She kicked the book from my lap with her chunky foot. It landed on the porch, pages splayed by a summer wind. I glimpsed some words from Psalm 46: “‘. . . know that I am God.’” The baby’s eyes glistened and she blew spit bubbles. I leaned over to pick up the book. Brittany began to cry. I bounced her on my knee.
Cover image by Markus Petritz
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