The Broken Cross, Part 2

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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Broken Cross graphic

Sweat slid down both sides of my face on this day, the air humidity-heavy, heavy as the power mower I pushed across the grass. A day for Joey and Wayne and I to swim and check out girls at Halcyon Lake. If we could yank Wayne away from the TV.

Joey would always prod him, “Come on, Kennemer: girls in bathing suits or those stupid soaps and quiz shows? With Harper and me, there’s no choice.”

Wayne always sided with Joey and me.

Now, I recognized the red pick-up truck when it swung to the curb. I had mowed a swath along the sidewalk from the parish hall, past the stone cross, to the street. Ed Outerbridge jumped out of the truck’s cab and walked toward me, hands deep in the front pockets of his denim jeans. The truck’s motor idled high. In the passenger seat sat Jacqueline Stiles, her daughter on her lap. The little girl hid her face from me against her mother’s shoulder. Jacqueline Stiles gave me a weak smile and then kissed her daughter’s hair.

“Too hot of a day for you to be workin’, David,” Ed said over the mower’s throaty buzz.

I pressed my right foot to connect the metal finger with the battery to shut off the engine. Immediately, the whir of the truck’s engine seemed pressed against my chest.

“How ya’ doin’?” Ed asked.

“All right,” I replied. I wiped my arm across the side of my head and forehead.

“How does God like the way you’re taking care of His lawn?”

I shrugged and said, “Haven’t heard from Him.”

“Ha! Good one, David. Neither have I, but that may change.” He looked back at the truck and then at the wide lawn in front of the parish hall. “Look,” he said in a lower voice, “you probably know my situation. I don’t want to put you between a rock and a hard place, but I’m taking Jacqueline and Jenny to the Poconos, just for a week. A little vacation. We need somebody to mow her lawn, check on the house, feed the cat. Jackie’s got a power mower like this one, few years older, but it works. Think you could help me out, take care of things? I’ll be glad to pay you.”

“Sure,” I said.

“You sure it’s all right? I don’t want to —” He waved his right hand, palm open, in front of his chest.

“It’s okay, I’ll do it.”

“Good. I’ll drop off the house key to you later. Cat food’ll be on the kitchen counter. Mower’s in the garage; gas tank’s filled. Thanks a lot, David,” Ed said and, like a coach, patted me twice on the arm and walked back to the truck, his stride still assured. He waved to me, then kissed Jacqueline Stiles as he put the truck in gear and pulled away. She bowed her head as he kissed her, the little girl now between them like a stuffed toy.


“I’m not going to tell you to call him back and tell him you won’t do it,” my mother said.

I had waited until after dinner that night to tell my parents of my verbal contract with Ed. I sat at the kitchen table while they dried dishes and put them in the cupboards.  

“You’ve already made up your mind,” she continued, “but as far as I’m concerned, the whole thing stinks.” She punctuated “stinks” by slapping a dishtowel on the counter.

“He put you in an awkward position, and it wasn’t fair,” my father added.

“It’s only for a few days,” I reasoned with them.

Hands on his hips, Dad said, “That’s not the point. Ed knew what he was doing. He knew you probably wouldn’t say no.”

“Are you still friends with him?” I asked him, not the first time in my life I had ever challenged my father.

His answer immediate: “A friend doesn’t take advantage of another friend, David,” he said.

It sounded like a Sunday School theme, but it made sense. He was right. I was young and wanted to make my own decisions. The one I had made was with a man who had always been friendly to me and who had done me no harm. I would live by my decision.“I’m not going to back out of it,” I told them.

My mother swung a cabinet door shut so that wood slammed metal and wood.

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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.