The Broken Cross

By on Feb 12, 2017 in Fiction

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I walked up Willowyn Terrace on my way home. It had stopped snowing. Sand-like snow covered the sidewalk and lawns, but the sidewalk was not slippery. The sky was darkening from pale to deep gray, the damp icy air a premonition of more snow that night. I doubted school would be canceled tomorrow. Joey and Wayne and I believed our school superintendent only canceled school if he slipped and fell on his driveway.

Sixth period tomorrow, our English teacher would test us on the Julius Caesar study questions. “Let’s separate the sheep from the goats,” she liked to say before quizzes and tests. “Amen!” Joey and Wayne and I would assent, nodding and grinning to each other.

At Willard Wilson’s house, lights shone in all the windows that faced the street, but no silhouette moved behind the windows. Willard Wilson, I thought, was a man who walked to and from church and then hid inside his house. My father had once told me, “Willard’s an odd duck, but he does give a lot of money to the church.” When I asked Dad how much, he said, “More than I make in a year, that’s for sure.”

What cruel joke was Willard scheming for his poodle now, I wondered as I scanned the empty widow’s walk.

The air suddenly filled with a curtain of snow. My face tingled with flakes.

I then heard a noise from somewhere in the block ahead—near Holy Trinity, or maybe at one of the houses across the street from it. The noise sounded like the slam of a hammer against wood or the cut of an axe into a tree; steady hits two or three seconds apart. I saw no one in the yards of the houses I passed.

In the middle of the next block, parked in front of Holy Trinity, was a pick-up truck: Ed Outerbridge’s. Snow had already covered the truck’s roof but not the hood.

The sounds punched harder, louder, within them the harsh exertion of a human voice. Ed wielded a sledgehammer down upon the stone cross. Pieces of it flew back at his jacket and pants and fell to the snow-tinged grass.

I stood where I hoped I could become invisible near the truck. Ed’s body worked like a machine. He lifted the sledge hammer and drove it down into the cross. Again. And again. He growled with each hit. He breathed hard and fast and wielded the hammer like a weapon around and up and down faster upon the cross, its chunks now like war-torn rubble in the snow.

Then Ed paused, scouted Willowyn Terrace and the area near his truck. I realized he saw me through the darkening air. He rested one foot on a slab of the cross and hefted the hammer in his right hand, as if deciding what to say or do next. He dropped the hammer to the snow.

Immediately, the front door of a house across the street swung open and slammed the wall beside it. A man wearing an open jacket walked down the front steps; without breaking stride he called out, “Cops are gonna be here any minute, buddy.” The man then pointed to Father Hepplewhite, hatless, black topcoat unbuttoned, walking slowly in front of the church and studying the scene before him.

“You gentlemen making a citizen’s arrest?” asked Ed Outerbridge of the man and Father Hepplewhite.

“That’s about it,” said the man.

Ed picked up the sledgehammer, pointed the handle in my direction and said, “There’s another witness for you.” Pointing it at Father Hepplewhite, he added, “Father, don’t bother to forgive me. I know exactly what I did.”

“As does our Lord Jesus Christ,” Father Hepplewhite said.

I fantasized Father Hepplewhite would raise his right hand in a blessing. He did not.

“He may be your lord and master, but he ain’t mine,” Ed replied.


My parents and Betty and Susan Outerbridge were gathered in our living room when I arrived home. Their faces told me that they knew what I had witnessed on the lawn of Holy Trinity.

Betty sat beside Susan on the sofa.  Betty’s coat covered her shoulders like a cape. She was the first to speak to me. “Are you all right, David? I am so, so sorry you had to see it.”

“Dad didn’t mean it, Mom,” Susan said. She frowned and looked down at the rug when she added, “I want to go see him.”

“Not if he’s with his girlfriend you won’t,” Betty told her. “He oughta be in jail.”

“When can I?” Susan asked.

“I don’t know.” She took Susan’s hand gently. “Come on, let’s go home.”

“He said to tell you he was sorry,” I said to Susan.

She stood in front of me. Her eyes questioned what I had just told her.

I did not lie. “Your dad… He wanted me to tell you he was sorry for what he did,” I said.

“Thanks,” Susan said, but she expressed it as if she herself was sorry for her father’s actions.

After they had gone, my mother and father picked up cups and saucers from end tables and from the coffee table in front of the sofa.

“That was a nice thing you said to Susan,” my father said to me.

I did not answer him; I did not know the right thing to say.

“It was,” my mother said. She held one cup and one saucer in each hand. Before she took them to the kitchen, she said, “Probably the nicest thing anybody’s told her in a long time. It was the truth, wasn’t it? Ed really did say it?”

“Yes,” I said.

As she walked to the kitchen, she said, “I hope he meant it.”

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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.