Become a Fan
At the Breakfast Table
By Lindell J Kay
Saturday, October 26, 2002
Shelton Barlow came home from his first semester at college and took his little brother out to celebrate.
The next morning when he came down to breakfast, his mother and father were cool and silent.
“What’s wrong?” Shelton sat down at the table and began his breakfast of waffles and jelly biscuits.
“You took your brother out last night.” His mother spoke down at him from the rim of her glasses. His father grunted and snapped his morning newspaper up between his face and Shelton’s.
“We had fun.” Shelton still did not understand his parents’ coolness. “You said you wanted us to get along better when I came home.”
“I read some of your school work last night.” His mother breathed out slowly as if she were trying to calm down.
“Pretty good, huh? Did you read my report on Hemingway? I hope I can write like him someday.”
“Yes.” His mother sighed heavily then continued with a tired voice. “I don’t understand what’s going on. You went to Sunday school. You even talked about being a preacher at one time.”
“Your mother,” His father lowered the newspaper and spoke with a edgy tone, “is trying to ask why you wrote that you don’t believe in God anymore.”
“Because I don’t.” Shelton bit into a crisp piece of bacon. “I did, of course. All my life. But only because you taught me to. At college, I learned to think critically about my beliefs. I read a lot of books. It’s common sense that God doesn’t exist.”
His mother took a sudden breath. She sat down and began her breakfast without looking at her son.
“Son,” his father set the newspaper aside, “I was afraid when you went off to that school this would happen. I hoped we learned you better.”
“It’s taught, not ‘learned.’”
“See here, boy, you can forget any notions of coming home and correcting me with correct English. They tell you to lose all respect with your faith up at that school?”
“I knew that’s what this was all about. What are you, jealous? Resentful?”
“I didn’t need college. I got by with my two hands.” His father held out his hands, palm up. They were calloused and blistered from years on the job.
“This is not about you and your father. This is about your brother.” His mother broke in.
“What does he have to do with it?”
“Everything.” Shelton’s mother’s hands trembled. She had to set down her silverware. Her knife and fork clanged in the ceramic plate.
“Your brother came home stoned last night.” His father shook his head in his deliberately slow manner that always conveyed when he was disappointed.
“And it’s my fault?” Shelton laughed. “I came home early. He stayed out with some friends.”
“This has never happened before. He’s never done this before.” His mother rubbed her temples. She pulled her graying brown hair back and rolled it up in a ponytail.
“You mean he’s never been caught before.” Shelton raised his voice. “So what are you saying? I don’t believe in God anymore so you assume I gave my baby brother drugs. That’s absurd!”
“Watch your tone, son. You won’t talk to your mother that way around me.” His father stood up and carried his dishes, his breakfast uneaten, to the sink.
“I don’t do drugs. I’ve never done drugs. What? I can’t be moral without your God?”
“‘We decide what is right or wrong.’ Your brother told me that last night. I’m assuming you taught him that.”
“Yes. But not as an excuse to do drugs.”
“That’s all that stuff is, an excuse to do wrong.” His father sat back down and visibly relaxed his muscles. “Listen, Shelton. I’ve heard all this before. During the war, there was a lot of this talk going around. My father, your grandfather, bought into it like a lot of people did. He used to tell me the same things. He hated God.” Shelton’s father reached across the table and grabbed his son’s hand in a rare display of affection. “Your grandfather hated God because of the war, I guess. He never would say what happened over there. He was forced to kill, I suppose. He never forgave himself or God. And he never forgave me when I started goin’ to church with your mother.”
“I know all that.” Shelton leaned back in his chair, pulling his hand away from his father.
“Your grandfather hung himself.” His mother looked at Shelton with glossy eyes.
Shelton looked away. “A lot of religious people have killed themselves. It doesn’t prove anything one way or the other.”
“Who? What person believes in God and kills themselves?” His mother rubbed her eyes; she was determined not to cry.
“The men who blew up the World Trade Center believed in God.” Shelton wished he had not been trapped into this position. He had wanted his father’s affection for years, but not at the cost of his own convictions. It felt like his father tried to trade a show of love for his compliance.
“Men who blow up buildings and kill people don’t believe in the same God we do.” His mother’s jaw tightened.
“Eric Rudolph blows up abortion clinics. He kills people. He’s a Christian.”
“Abortion is wrong.” Shelton’s father balled up his fists and then opened them against the table.
“So is blowing people up. It proves my point. You think he is justified in killing abortion doctors? Then you are deciding what is right and what is wrong.”
“We were talking about suicide.” His father routed the conversation back to where he thought he was in control.
“Fine.” Shelton hesitated, but just momentarily. “Suicide is wrong, right?”
“Yes.” His mother quickly agreed.
“And any one who commits suicide goes to hell, right? That’s what you always learned me.”
“Yes, son. My father is in hell right now because he killed himself.”
“When Jesus was on the cross he cried and gave up the ghost. Suicide.”
“You give me cold chills, Shelton.” His mother wrapped her arms around her waist.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” His father rose from the table and his chair fell backward making a loud clap against the tile floor. Shelton’s mother jumped at the sound.
“The Bible says that no man took his life, that he laid it down. Jesus committed suicide. He should be in hell right now.”
“I’ve heard enough!” His mother shouted. “What did they do to you at college to make you say such things?”
“Christ is not in hell.” His father’s face tightened. His heart began to pump faster and faster as if it would burst out of his ribcage.
“If he’s not in hell then that means God bent the rules for him, but not for your father.”
“What?” Shelton and his mother asked in unison.
“I said get out of my house. You’ll never talk like that around your mother again.”
Shelton shrugged his shoulders and got up to leave.
“Don’t let him go.” His mother pleaded with his father.
“You started this, dear. It’s finished.”
Shelton paused for a moment then rushed out the front door.
His brother was sitting on the steps. “You told them.”
“You got a lot to learn.” Shelton sat next to his brother.
“What’re talkin’ about?”
“You should respect mom and dad.”
“Like you just did?” Shelton’s brother laughed.
Their father walked up behind them but stopped just inside the screen door.
“Listen. I’m a man.” Shelton stretched his legs. “I’m in college. You’ve barely started high school.”
“So I ain’t allowed to think for myself yet?” His brother snarled.
“Yes. If you don’t want to go to church anymore, tell them. But doin’ drugs, at any age, is not an exercise in freethinking. It is self-destructive.”
“You said I was free to decide what was right and wrong.” Shelton’s brother rubbed his neck with both hands.
“Do you think everyone should smoke pot? Doctors, bus drivers, soldiers?” Shelton smiled.
“Huh? What kinda question is that?”
“I take it your answer is no.”
His brother thought hard for a moment. “Bus drivers shouldn’t. And doctors, I guess. And soldiers if they expect to win.” His brother laughed.
“Since there is no God and we have to decide what is right and what is wrong for ourselves, we have to be careful.” Shelton took an audible breath. The tenseness in his body from his confrontation with his parents was leaving him. “When you smoke pot, you’re saying everyone should smoke pot.”
“Whatever decisions we make we are saying, ‘this is how mankind should act.’ So we have to be careful what we do. When you smoke pot, you’re saying bus drivers and doctors should smoke it. When you do drugs you are approving of their use by everyone.”
“That’s why you don’t do drugs?” His brother was beginning to understand.
“Yes. I think you should go tell mom and dad you’re sorry.” Shelton stood up to leave. “And don’t smoke pot anymore.”
“Where you going?”
“He ain’t goin’ nowhere, I hope.” Their father stepped out on the porch. “Shelton...let’s go inside, sit down at the table, and eat breakfast like a family.”
His father stopped him once they were back inside. “Son, I don’t like your views on certain things, but I can tell you have grown into a good man.”
“What about me, dad?” Shelton’s younger brother asked with a grin.
“You come home stoned again and I’m gonna kick your ass.” Their father gave a smile that left them to guess whether he was serious or not.
They ate breakfast together that morning. Shelton apologized to his mother for upsetting her. He was careful not to apologize for what he said, just that it upset her. They never discussed religion at the kitchen table again. The subject was never brought up around Shelton’s mother again; but sometimes when it was just Shelton and his father, like on fishing trips, his father would ask Shelton why he felt the way he felt; and Shelton would talk about Hemingway and Albert Camus and the deeper meanings of the book of Job; and his father would listen.
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|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|This one is well written, like the references to the book of job in this. I figured that I might drop a comment since I was looking around the horror genre.|