The Broken Cross

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Fiction

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

Sand painting of butterflies on stone

The mirror interested me more than Father Hepplewhite’s lessons and sermons. Round, concave, it was attached to a granite pillar in front of the organ and angled to reflect the congregation. An eye, I thought, and remembered theological notions our Sunday School teacher, Mr. Newcombe, had impressed upon us of God: all-seeing, all-knowing.

“Do you think God wants me stop smoking or just change brands?” Joey Wicklund joked one Sunday in class.

Having more of a sense of humor than we realized, Mr. Newcombe smiled at Joey’s question. “I think He’d probably want you to try to cut down, Joey. At least change to filter tips, like these.” Mr. Newcombe withdrew a pack of a popular filter-tip brand from his suit jacket inside pocket and displayed the pack for all of us in show-and-tell style.

“Can I bum one from you after class, Mr. Newk?” Joey said, using the nickname Mr. Newcombe approved of.

“If I gave you one, I wouldn’t be a good influence on you or the entire class, would I, Joey?” replied Mr. Newcombe. He slipped the pack of cigarettes back into his suit jacket.

“We won’t tell anybody, Mr. Newk,” I said.

Another Sunday that spring I asked Mr. Newcombe some questions that had annoyed me since before I received my first Confirmation three years before. Where was God? Who was He? If He was so powerful and wondrous, why did He make Jesus suffer?

Mr. Newcombe shook his head as if he himself was not quite sure of the answers; as if, perhaps, he was trying to dismiss the questions. He finally said, “I don’t know, David. I wish I had the answers myself. We just have to have faith. We have to accept certain things.”

Hung on the classroom wall behind Mr. Newcombe was a painting of Christ being nailed to the cross. Roman soldiers stood guard, watched. The expression on the face of the soldier who drove the nails into Christ’s hands was angry yet guilty, as if he feared consequences of his actions.

I glanced once more at the painting and then shrugged at Joey and Wayne and the rest of my classmates. “What if we don’t?” I persisted. “I mean, coming back from the dead, the whole resurrection thing? I don’t get it.”

My classmates chuckled and glanced at me and at Mr. Newcombe, a teacher trapped in uncertainty.

“David, you ask interesting questions,” he said. “I really wish I could give you better answers, but I can’t. Like I said, we have to have faith in God.”

“Will God help the Phillies and Eagles win this year?” Joey Wicklund asked, to easy, unabashed laughter from us.

“I hope He does,” Mr. Newcombe smiled.

At home, my parents respected my questions but offered a response similar to Mr. Newcombe’s: Some things we can not understand, but we have to have faith. We have to believe.

At fifteen, I believed in ordinary things in my life. I believed my father was a loan officer at Lorrence National Bank, my mother an assistant sales clerk at The Style Shop, a women’s clothing store just two buildings away from the National Bank. I believed Eisenhower was president of the United States, Nixon his vice president. I believed my name was printed on the acolyte calendar to be crucifer at 11:00 Holy Communion the last Sunday in May; unless I became sick, I could not avoid my obligation. Did I have faith in these things? No. Did I have faith in an omnipotent God? I had been taught that I should. I was not afraid to ask questions about God. I was afraid not to believe in Him.

Seated on the organ bench behind the choir stalls, Betty Outerbridge was not an omnipotent choir director but, in the mirror, she could view Susan and the rest of the Junior Choir as they processed up the center aisle. She could see many people in the congregation and, though Ed’s vision of Betty was blocked by the choir and the high back of the organ, she could see in the mirror Ed wave to her as he took his seat.

How did it feel for him, I wondered, to kiss a woman with horse-like teeth? Was it like kissing a stone?


One Sunday morning in May, Ed Outerbridge jerked his Buick to a stop at the curb across the street from Holy Trinity. After Susan crossed Willowyn Terrace, he gunned the engine and, without waving to my friends and me, lurched the Buick around the corner and gunned it down Woodholm Avenue .

Susan, wearing a pink dress with white lace hem, looked like a big girl who still wanted to be a young child. “Hi, David,” she said, but I had already turned my back to her to ask Joey and Wayne to skip Sunday School in favor of taking a bike ride out of town.

Hi, David,” Joey repeated.   

“Shut up!” I replied. “You wanna go with me? It’s gonna be the same crap we’ve heard for years: Jesus making the rounds after the Crucifixion.”

“Can’t,” Joey said. He puffed on a cigarette, turned his head and squinted when he exhaled. “My old man’s an usher today. He’s gonna check up on me… Little Susie got the hots for you? Hi, David.”

“Hardly,” I said.

“Count me out,” said Wayne . He shifted his feet — left foot, right foot — as if practicing a new dance step on the stone cross. “I gotta do a make-up Mother’s Day thing for my grandmother. It won’t be bad. My dad said he’d let me have a glass of wine at dinner.”

“What kind?” I asked.

“I dunno. I’ll clue you in tomorrow.”

“You gotta take a leak, Kennemer?” asked Joey.

Wayne stopped his legs-feet maneuver long enough to say, “You like my moves?”

“Willard might,” said Joey. “Careful he doesn’t see you. He might make a move on you.” Joey took one more puff, pinched off the lit end, and dropped the remaining third of the cigarette into the left pocket of his sport jacket.

The following Sunday Ed Outerbridge repeated the same drop-off ritual for Susan and drove away. Susan did not look at my friends or speak to me. She clutched a white pocketbook against her flat chest and scowled as if she had just failed a test in school. When she processed in with the Junior Choir, she hardly opened her mouth to sing.

(Read the conclusion.)

Heat Wave Contents

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

Pages: 1 2 3


John T. Hitchner was raised in Pitman, New Jersey, graduated from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and from Dartmouth College. He has also studied at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. He presently teaches Creative Writing and Coming of Age in War and Peace at Keene State College, in Keene, New Hampshire. His poetry has been published in several journals, including the Anthology of New England Writers, the Aurorean, Clark Street Review, Tar Wolf Review, Paper Street, and Poet’s Ink. His chapbook, Not Far From Here, was recently published by Scars Publications. His short fiction has appeared in First Class, Lunch Hour Stories, Ginosko, and most recently in Timber Creek Review.