By Bettyann Moore
Long before the sun came up on the morning after Porpoise had his talk with his uncle, he looked groggily up from his pillow to find his father staring down at him.
“Get up!” he commanded the boy.
“Wha ..., what?”
“Out of bed, now. Meet me in the barn in five minutes!” Brian turned on his heel and marched out of the room, switching on the overhead light as he left.
Porpoise scrambled from his tangled sheets and rooted through the pile of clothes on the floor. He yanked on a t-shirt and overalls, grabbed a pair of socks, gave them a sniff and scurried barefoot down the stairs. He pulled on his boots, then realized he’d forgotten to put on his socks, so he stuffed them into his pockets and ran out to the barn where Brian waited.
Fully expecting to have some emergency task to see to, Porpoise was surprised to see his dad standing stock-still in the center of the barn. Porpoise approached him slowly.
“Dad?” he said.
Brian grabbed his son’s forearm and pulled him down as he dropped to his knees.
“Pray with me,” he ordered.
For the next half an hour, Porpoise knelt next to his father on the hard-packed clay of the barn floor as his mother’s chickens squawked and pecked around them, hoping to be fed. By the time Brian rose from the floor, Porpoise’s bare feet in his boots were cold and numb. He hobbled to a stand as pinpricks of life came back to them.
Brian strode across the barn to the tractor. “We’re baling today,” he said over his shoulder.
Porpoise scrambled after him, thinking, What? No breakfast first? He didn’t dare say it aloud. His father’s ramrod straight posture and the grim set of his mouth brooked no discussion.
After the farm work was done, Porpoise found himself kneeling in chicken shit once again. His father’s after-dinner apocalyptic readings from the Old Testament, thankfully, were given in the living room. When he could, Porpoise made silent appeals to his mother, but they went unanswered. Thea merely shrugged and bent her head to listen.
Thea McAllister’s love for her husband was complete and instantaneous from the first moment she saw him. She had gone into the marriage knowing full-well Brian’s proclivities. It was part of who he was and she had no interest in changing that. She had no idea what prompted his sudden and vicious denial of his nature. It not only drove him to a religious group that he would have found intolerant and judgmental just months before, but it made him ornery and hard to live with. It was taking its toll on the family. When she prayed, she was pretty sure she wasn’t praying for the same things as her husband.
In his bed at night, Porpoise tried to reconcile this new father with the father of old: the joking, tolerant father. The one who wore women’s underwear; Porpoise had no doubt that tidy whities were now the order of the day. The boy was starting to see a connection there. He was cool with the whole God thing, but having someone else’s version of God and religion shoved down his throat, that wasn’t cool.
The Right Reverend Truegood was coming to dinner.
Thea, having never met the man, had a few misgivings, but rose to the occasion. She planned on making her special meatloaf. Porpoise, though, Porpoise was livid. In the first place, the man made his skin crawl. In the second place, he had made plans to go bowling with his uncle. Brian had even given permission, then reneged, saying that the boy’s place was at home that night.
Thea was more understanding. “I’ll just call and invite Woody to dinner, too,” she told her son.
“Dad won’t like it,” Porpoise said, scowling.
“I’ll handle your dad,” Thea said. “Who knows? He might like the idea!”
Porpoise snorted. “Uncle Woody won’t want to come,” he insisted.
“Oh, quit worrying, he’ll want to come, trust me.”
“Hello? Mom? Uncle Woody is gay! He’s a “homosensual” headed straight to hell as the Reverend puts it.”
Thea laughed, then looked thoughtful. “Could be a very interesting night,” she said.
The Right Reverend Truegood set the tone for the evening by showing up half an hour early, as he always did when invited into a parishioner’s home “to catch them being themselves.”
Porpoise, hair still damp from the shower, answered the door.
“Uh … Reverend, you’re here,” he said.
“Of course I am, son!” Truegood boomed as he brushed past the boy. “My, my, what a fine home you folks have.”
Flummoxed, Porpoise stood by the open door as Truegood strode into the living room, looking high and low as if he were planning on buying the place. He had picked up several knicknacks, turning them over then setting them down, before the boy recovered and followed him inside. He noted that Truegood had dressed up for the occasion by wearing high-water green plaid polyester slacks and an unstained white golf shirt. His socks, in scuffed brown loafers, matched his shirt.
“My mom is probably in the kitchen … not sure where my dad is,” Porpoise said, wishing they’d appear. “You’re awful early.”
“Early bird catches the worm, my boy!” Truegood bellowed as he plunked himself down on Brian McAllister’s favorite chair.
Porpoise wondered if the man ever spoke any softer. Truegood settled back into the chair, hands behind his head, elbows high, as if he were settling in for a nap.
“Where’s your manners, boy,” he said. “You have any libations?”
“Liba … oh, you mean like something to drink?”
Truegood chuckled. “Yeah, like something to drink.”
“Well, we always have lemonade, I’m pretty sure there’s coffee … water, of course,” Porpoise began.
“Nothing stronger?” Truegood looked sly.
“Stronger … like beer and stuff?” Porpoise was surprised. The Reverend was forever going on about the evils of drink. “No sir. I mean, we used to, but Dad poured it down the sink. He had whiskey I think.”
The Reverend frowned and licked his lips. He startled a bit when the doorbell rang. “Who might that be?”
Porpoise thought it was rude of him to ask, but he answered anyway. “That’s probably my Uncle Woody, he’s coming to dinner, too.” He went to get the door just as his dad came down the stairs and his mother came out of the kitchen.
His uncle, sharply dressed in grey pinstripe pants and white shirt, stood grinning on the doorstep, a bottle of good wine in one hand, flowers and a wrapped package in the other.
“Porpoise, me boyo!” he said in a fake Irish accent. “Thea, me darlin’!” He noticed Brian at the bottom of the stairs. “Big brother o’ mine, you’re a sight for sore eyes.” He looked over Brian’s shoulder toward the living room. “Ah, I see your company has already arrived.”
All eyes turned to the Reverend, who stood stiffly in the center of the room.
“Reverend Truegood!” Brian said, abandoning his brother to his wife and son and going to greet the man,“I didn’t know you were here. I hope you weren’t kept waiting long.” He cut his eyes at Porpoise, who didn’t notice.
The cluster of mother, son and uncle stayed by the open door while Woody distributed his gifts. “These are for you, Thea,” he said, handing her the flowers. “And this is a little something for you, LD.” He handed Porpoise the package. “I don’t think you have them yet.”
“Oh, Woody, that’s so sweet of you,” Thea exclaimed, holding the bouquet to her nose. “Excuse me, though, I should say hello to our other guest and put these in water.” She hurried off to meet the Reverend.
“Holy cow!” Porpoise yelled, opening his package, “It’s a blue Snaggletooth and a Greedo!” The boy’s eyes shone. “Do you have any idea how cool this is?”
“I think I can guess,” his uncle said, laughing. “Make sure you put those away somewhere safe; they’ll be worth something some day. Now, come introduce me to this famous Reverend.”
“Oh, okay,” Porpoise said. The two headed to the living room where the good Reverend had his hands placed on top of Brian’s and Thea’s bowed heads.
“Geez ...” Porpoise muttered, “even at a dinner party.”
Woody made an “excuse me” sound in his throat.
With a grateful look at Woody, Thea excused herself to check on dinner and put the flowers in a vase. Woody extended his hand to Truegood.
“Reverend Truegood, I presume,” he said in a girly, lispy voice Porpoise had never heard him use before. “So lovely to meet you!”
“Lovely,” Truegood muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets and taking a step back.
Brian’s smile was automatic. He recognized his brother’s “routine,” the one they used as boys whenever they ran into fearful bigots. He recovered and quickly wiped the smile from his face. “Reverend, this is my brother, Woody,” he said.
Woody ignored the man’s reaction and minced up to him. “My stars, you look so very familiar,” he exclaimed., “but the name …” He snapped his fingers. “I know!” he said. “That drag queen group … are you one of the Truly Good Sisters?”
Brian frowned at his brother, though Porpoise thought he saw a twinkle in his eye.
“Er, heaven’s no!” Truegood said. “An abomination unto the Lord!”
“An abomination?” Woody said, hand fluttering around his throat. “Their act is pretty tacky, but certainly not an abomination.” While Truegood sputtered, Woody held the bottle of wine up to his brother. “Brian, I brought your fave Merlot.”
Brian glanced at the preacher. “Alcohol is ...” Brian began, but Truegood stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Now, brother McAllister, a drop of wine at dinner can’t be construed as a sin. Jesus, after all, turned water into wine.”
“Oh, and how I wish he’d show us that little trick!” Woody said. “All I can do is turn wine into pee.” He giggled like a school girl. Porpoise could barely contain himself. Brian hid a smile behind his hand.
“I hate to interrupt your nice time,” Thea said from the doorway. “but, dinner is served!”
Woody poured the wine while Thea brought the meal to the table. The Reverend, who had been seated next to Woody, scooted his chair away, but looked rapturous as he reached for the wine and watched Thea bring in the food.
“Meatloaf?” he said, the dismay evident on his face. “Brother Johnson’s nigra served lobster thermidor with the most heavenly baked alaska ...”
Thea stopped dead in her tracks. Had the man just called someone a “nigra” and insulted her food?
Brian frowned. “Thea’s meatloaf is famous hereabouts,” he said, reaching for it.
“Oh, my goodness, yes!” Woody cried. “I live for the day I get to eat Thea’s heavenly meatloaf. It made me what I am today.” He beamed a goofy grin around the table.
Everyone smiled, except the preacher, who shuddered. Thea put a tiny portion on his plate, while she gave everyone else super-sized slices.
It was all downhill from there. The good Reverend managed to insult everyone in the room, and many more who weren’t. He chastised the “little woman” for allowing Brian to get up to fetch the dinner rolls, insisting that a good “helpmeet” would never do such a thing. Brian, he said, needed to take the “reins of control” over his family, using force when necessary. Leslie’s collection of Star Wars figures were “of the devil” and would “turn him into a sissy boy like his uncle.” He refused to accept dishes passed by Woody’s hands.
Brian’s face grew redder and redder as the reverend’s talk became louder and more insulting (he’d drunk most of the wine himself). Each statement – each judgment – made him wince. Why had he never heard how ignorant the man sounded? He looked around the table at his family. Thea, he could tell, was either ready to cry or hurl food in the man’s face. Porpoise, eyes wide and jaw open, was getting an education that Brian never intended. And his little brother – a generous, kind man – was itching for an argument, but didn’t want to be disrespectful in his brother’s home.
Finally, during a dessert of homemade ice cream (“Certainly not on the same par as baked alaska, I must say.”), Brian had had enough.
“Reverend Truegood, if that is your name” he said, winking at his brother, “I think it’s time for you to leave.” He stood as the preacher sputtered, spraying red wine over the table.
“Brother McAllister!” he cried, “what’s the meaning of this?”
Brian reached for the man’s elbow to bring him to a stand. “The meaning – of just about everything,” he said, escorting him to the door, “is certainly lost on you. Intolerance and hypocrisy are not welcome in this home. I’d insist you apologize to everyone here, but I doubt you’d get it.”
“God will punish you for this!”
“I might be punished for some things, Reverend,” Brian said, shoving him out the door, “but not for this.” He slammed the door, leaving the man seething on the doorstep. Truegood turned to pound on the door, but the cheering on the other side sent him scurrying down the walk.
Brian did a lot of soul-searching during the rest of the week leading up to Woody’s party. He spent the evenings taking long walks with his brother and talked well into the night with his wife. Porpoise felt the tension drain from the house.
Everyone for miles around came to the party, with the exception of the Reverend. He wasn’t missed. Porpoise watched as his dad joked around with Mr. Simpson, the mailman, and Larry from the hardware store. Brian looked up at his son and winked.
“Helpmeet!” he bellowed across the room where Thea was discussing a new movie with friends, “fetch your man a beer!”
“Fetch it yourself!” Thea yelled back, laughing.
“He looks pretty happy, wouldn’t you say?” Woody said, sidling up to his nephew.
“Happiest I’ve seen him in months,” Porpoise said, then raised his eyebrows, his eyes wide. “You don’t think he’s …?”
“I don’t think who’s what?” Woody said, playing dumb.
“You don’t think my dad’s wearing ladies’ underwear, do you?” Porpoise asked.
There was, of course. a lull in the conversation just then. All eyes turned to the mortified boy who wished the floor would rise up and swallow him. Just as suddenly, the party chatter resumed. Porpoise was confused.
He needn’t have been. Everyone had their secrets.
Larry the hardware guy liked women’s feet, a lot. The mailman spent long hours playing with plastic army men up in his attic. Mrs. O’Riley, the librarian, had the biggest pornography collection in the state. Only Suzanne Westby had raised her eyebrows, but she was a writer and was already forming a new story in her head.
It wasn’t for them to judge.