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Joseph Cowley

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Thy Will Be Done
By Joseph Cowley
Friday, March 11, 2005

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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The father she loved to hate. Whose will will be done?


It would be the perfect crime. The perfect murder. An act of nature, of God, really. Perfectly divine punishment. Guilty, she glanced at her father in the passenger seat, wondering if he could sense her thoughts.

He was hunched forward, oblivious, studying the Amish countryside. They had turned off the highway some miles back, the lowering sun glinting for a moment in her rear view mirror as she made the turn southward toward the Appalachian hills where she and Cecil had established a homestead.

Maybe “homestead” was too fancy a word for it. “Research station” might be better. They had purchased the twenty acres two years before, mainly for Cecil, who taught scientific farming at the University in Athens, in southeast Ohio. His doctoral thesis was on hardscrabble farming--that is, how to improve the productivity of poor soils in the poverty regions of the world, and Appalachia was an excellent place to test some of his ideas.

The sun, still above the trees, shone through the side window of the car, giving her father an aura of “saintliness.” Though she knew better. Almost eighty, he looked frail. He hadn’t been a good father. Doting if he had his way, brutal, even cruel, if not. But always dominating, her whole life long, her mother, her sister, all of them. Whether he had forgiven her for marrying Cecil she didn’t know. She hated and loved him.

At the small crossroads hamlet of Unity, where the small general store that served the local Amish was the only sign the hamlet even existed, she made a sharp, ninety-degree left turn on the narrow, macadam road. In the rearview mirror she saw the sun settling into the trees. Soon they would reach the dirt road that ran south into the hills. Passing the occasional farm, her father, rapt, studied them, swiveling his head as each disappeared.

“You can tell which ones are the Amish,” she said, her voice startling them after the miles of silence. “There are no cars in their drive, and they don’t use electricity.” Her father was silent. “They don’t believe in them.”

“Jesus,” he said. “In this day and age.”
He himself had always used the latest scientific advances to advance his business, injection molding. He got a job in plastics shortly after high school and, after ten years of experience, came up with an idea of his own and started his own firm. He had made a fortune. Today it was almost completely computerized. Except for a handful in administration, marketing, finance, and engineering, all it required was cheap labor to watch the dials.

That was where the bind was. His competitors were moving their plants overseas and he was caught in an increasing cost-price squeeze. Unable to let go of the business (he had never had sons and neither her older sister Beth nor she wanted anything to do with it), he worried the problem to death, like a bulldog that can’t let go of something once it has sunk its teeth into it. That was his strength--and his weakness.

She could read him like a book, using the lure of cheap labor to get him to make his first visit since they had moved here some two years before. Something Beth said when she was home this last time made it necessary. Their father was always their major topic of conversation. Beth lived for him, had dropped out of college to take care of him after their mother died. What Beth said was that their father was thinking of changing his will.

The panic she felt surprised her. It was then she knew something had to be done; she had put up with too much of his abuse over the years to lose her inheritance now. The thought of the dysentery a friend from college had suffered when he visited them the year they moved to Appalachia popped into her head. He had made the mistake of drinking the tap water in the barn; they should have warned him but forgot. He almost died.

They thought it was a stomach virus. When it hadn’t cleared up after four days they took him to the doctor, who said it was most likely dysentery. He had them rush him to the hospital in Cincinnati. Their friend was severely dehydrated, his blood pressure dangerously low, and his renal system had shut down. The build-up of toxins in his system might have killed a lesser man, someone older or frailer, or not in the best of health.

Her father said something, but she hadn’t been listening. Whatever it was, he didn’t seem to need a response. She turned south onto the dirt road that led into the hills, the land still relatively flat, still good for farming. In another mile the road would drop steeply into a tunnel of trees, and they would be in Appalachia, a land of green, rolling hills and dark valleys, land too poor for farming and only sparsely inhabited.

“Dumb asses,” her father added. “No wonder they’re so poor.”

“Not all of them are poor,” she said. “Some are quite wealthy.”

He swiveled his head to look at her, not sure he should believe her.

“Then where is all this cheap labor you’ve been telling me about?”

“Adams County is one of the three poorest counties in the state. The unemployment rate has been running above twenty percent for years. You can get all the labor you want for minimum wage. Add a dollar or two and you’ll have the cream of the crop. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

His eyes glinted. He didn’t like anyone telling him what was in his mind, especially his daughters, and especially this one. Beth was more submissive, like her mother; this one too much like himself. A thorn in his side she was, always willful and disobedient. They had been at odds ever since she was a child. At fifteen she ran away from home; after that she made it clear she couldn’t wait to get away to college.
But not the college he chose for her. He had wanted his daughters to become cultured, and ladies, and to marry well. Beth went to Swarthmore, but this one insisted on Cornell. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she majored in political science, a useless kind of subject, then switched to sociology, an even more useless field of study, when she stayed on for the PhD. Her dissertation was on rural poverty, a subject she chose, he was sure, to spite him and show her contempt for the values he had tried to imbue her with.

Their common interest in poverty made it inevitable that she and Cecil should meet. He was enrolled in the School of Agriculture, working for a PhD in scientific farming. Having grown up on a small farm outside of Albany that never provided more than a hard-scrabble living for his parents, his interest in poverty was understandable. But hers? It made no sense.

“Jesus!” he said. “Where’s the money to be made in poverty. Study the wealthy if you want to get rich. Who gives a shit about the poor?”

When she announced that she and Cecil were getting married, it was the last straw. That’s when he gave up on her. Disgusted, he said, “Do whatever the hell you want. You always have. But don’t think you’re going to do it on my money! I’ll be damned if I’ll subsidize your poverty.”

He had worked too hard to earn his money. His first wife cleaned houses for a living while he toiled in the plastics plant sixty hours a week to save enough to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately, she died two years after they started the business. From overwork, it was said, though others have hinted he drove her to her death. Two years later he married a woman from the moneyed class who divorced him after little more than a year.

Their mother was his third wife. She was twenty years younger than he, a meek woman in her thirties at the time he married her, who suffered his abuse without ever saying a word against him for the more than two decades they were married. She developed pancreatic cancer in her fifties. Beth dropped out of Swarthmore to take care of her, and when she died six months later never went back. She said their father needed her. He agreed.

Coming to the end of the farm land, she pointed to some cleared land on their right and said, “Those seven acres are ours. The building in the middle is a kiln for curing lumber. The large barn’s for storing the lumber, the small one’s a tool shed. Cecil keeps his tractor there. We may try lumbering again after he finishes some of his other projects.”
Before her father could reply, the car dropped precipitously into the tunnel of trees. After a hundred feet or so, she turned sharply up a steep drive and stopped the car near a large corrugated steel building that hung over the hill on the left. She said it was their garage. Ahead of them a ranch house, with a picture window and a screened-in porch, was dug into the side of the hill. In front of them the hills of Appalachia stretched to the horizon.

“That last hill you can see on the horizon is Kentucky,” she said.

“It’s a gorgeous view,” he said. “Too bad you can’t package and sell it. It’s the only way you’ll ever make any money out of a place like this.”

When they got out, Cecil, a small, frail-looking figure at the base of the hill, looked up and waved. He was filling a small pond he had carved out at the base of the hill with water from a hose. She waved back.

“He’s going to try growing rice in that pond,” she said. “We have two larger ponds, back in the woods, stocked with fish. Bass, mostly.”

Pointing to the terraces along the side of the hill, her father said, “Jesus, it must have been some job building those.”

“We had someone do those for us,” she said. “It took heavy equipment. Cecil’s growing fruit trees on some of the terraces, and grape vines. We hope to make our own wine in a few years. I have a small garden behind the house. I’ll show you around the place tomorrow.”

“When are we going to see the real estate agents?”

“I thought we might do that Tuesday. The nearest mall is twenty miles away, but I’m sure there’ll be real estate agents there who can tell you about possible plant sites, taxes, the employment situation, that sort of thing.”

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at a building beyond the house.

“Our barn,” she said. “I’ve fixed it up as a studio for myself, with a computer and bookshelves, a small kitchenette, and a lounge area for TV. We don’t keep a set in the house. There’s a bedroom in the back we use for guests. I thought you might sleep there. It will give you more privacy.”

She took his bag and he followed her into the barn.


It turned out, of course, exactly as she had planned. As she showed him about the barn, she opened the refrigerator to make sure Cecil had removed the bottled water. She also put a glass in the bathroom, for his toothbrush she said, but actually to make sure he drank from the tap when he got up during the night, as Beth said he did, his mouth dry from snoring.

She sat watching television with him for an hour that evening after supper, and the next day showed him around their twenty acres--the two fish ponds, the garden where she grew vegetables and flowers for the house, and the seven acres and kiln on the flat land above the trees behind them. It was the next morning, after midnight, that he got sick. She could smell the mess when she went in that morning. It had been coming out both ends.

“I thought it was food poisoning at first,” he said weakly. He was lying on the sofa near the bathroom, his face white. “I could taste the piece of fat from one of the pork chops Cecil cooked when I first felt nauseous. Then I remembered that food poisoning always occurs within the first two hours of eating, and at least four or five hours had gone by since I ate. That’s when I knew it must be a virus. Sorry about the mess I’ve made.”

“That’s all right, Dad,” she said. “I’ll clean it up. No problem. But I think we’d better get you to the doctor. What do you say?”

“No, no,” he said. “It’s just a stomach virus. I must have picked it up on the plane. One of those twenty-four hour things. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

He, of course, had no interest in food, and she left him alone most of the day, only looking in on occasion to see if he needed anything. But he hated her fussing over him and waved her away. Suggesting he see the doctor only got his back up. She knew he wouldn’t take advice from her. By the fourth day he was pretty weak and finally let her and Cecil bundled him into the car and drive him to the hospital in Cincinnati.

It was, of course, too late. He died shortly after admission. They told the doctors about his diarrhea and said they thought it was dysentery, though they kept bottled water in the refrigerator and told him not to drink water from the tap. Her father never would do anything she told him to do, she explained. The doctors agreed that it was dysentery, but said the actual cause of death was failure of the heart, due to the stress of the toxins.

Later, when she called her sister, Beth wept inconsolably. Finally calm, but still sniffling, she said, “He was going to change his will.”

“I know,” she said coolly. “You told me.”

“Yes,” Beth said, “he was going to put you back in.”
And she began again to sob uncontrollably.

       Web Site: Joseph Cowley

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Reviewed by Cles Wilson 7/13/2005
Wow!! I loved it. Looks like Beth set her up.
Reviewed by April Smith 3/14/2005
Whoa, that was a good read. Intense! Especially the second to last line! I enjoyed it. :-) April
Reviewed by Sandy Knauer 3/12/2005
Very gripping work, Joseph. This is a well-written story that covers several important issues - my kinda story ;-) I thank you for the pleasure of reading it.

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