by William Morris
Note: I wrote this story several years ago. It was rejected by Irreantum. I tucked it away. I dusted it off last spring, rewrote portions of it (the beginning and the end both got major rewrites) and entered it in the 2007 Irreantum Fiction Contest. It didn’t win or place. What’s interesting is that it that it takes place in the the recent-RM time frame similar to those found in S.P. Bailey’s story Returned and Anneke Majors recently-posted What Are You Waiting For?.
The day after he was supposed to register for BYU’s winter semester, his mother came into his room and yelled, “Tanner Elden Brinkerhof, you stop moping around! Your mission is over! It’s high time you got on with your life!”
The next day was Sunday. Tanner decided to walk to church early and help prepare and pass the sacrament, thinking it was best to give his mother some space. But then the nervous deacon assigned him to the back section of the right row where his mom always sat with a group of cronies now that his dad was always up on the stand.
He kept his movements very crisp and formal, accepting the tray with a firm hand, turning his head to watch his father take a large piece of wheat bread from the deacon’s quorum president, and then walking quickly and precisely to the back pew, tray held with his arm at an exact right angle.
He came to his mother’s row. She was sitting closest to the aisle, an empty space conspicuously between her and the end of the pew, her friends — older single women, widows or sisters with inactive or non-member husbands — corralled to the left. Tanner had to extend his arm a bit to proffer the tray to his mom who was staring, eyes closed, at her scriptures, which were open to 2 Nephi. She took the piece of bread and placed it between her lips and then took hold of the tray, her fingers brushing his as she passed it to the sister sitting next to her.
Tanner took up his sacrament pose — arms tucked behind his back one hand clasping the wrist of the other, head slightly inclined so he could watch the progress of the tray. One of the sisters in the row passed the tray on without taking it. Tanner didn’t know her, but he couldn’t imagine someone in his mother’s circle not taking the sacrament. He figured she was one of those sticklers who would refrain just because she had had said some unkind works the previous week to her husband or mother. Clearly, his mom didn’t feel she needed to sit out a week and repent. Of course, she hadn’t really been unkind — just a little upset. And understandably so.
When she passed the tray back to him her eyes gestured down at the empty space next to her. After the sacrament was over he sat next to her and she gave his shoulder a brief squeeze. He thought about what he should say when the meeting was over, but he had forgotten that it was her turn to set up for the primary. She left sacrament meeting early, and he went to gospel doctrine alone.
After the elder’s quorum meeting, his dad called him into the bishop’s office. He gestured for Tanner to sit down. Tanner chose the chair closest to the door. Always before, when it had been official business, his dad had sat in the chair behind his uncluttered, needs-to-be-re-stained relic of a desk, but today he sat in the one next to his. Tanner wondered what that meant. Was his dad signaling that he was going to play both roles today, or was he simply taking advantage of the uninterrupted quiet the bishop’s office provided?
His dad cleared his throat and asked, “What wrong, son? Your mother is very worried.”
Before his mission, Tanner’s mom would never have asked his dad to do something like this. Their routine was that the moment after she’d lose patience with him, he’d either do what she had wanted in the first place, or he’d do something that was just as acceptable. But his mom had been weird since he’d come home. When she wasn’t acting like he was a stranger, she was making him feel like a child.
He tried to decide whether to stall or be honest. If his dad was speaking as a father then that was cool. But if he was going to bring the bishop thing into it, then Tanner wasn’t sure he wanted to open up. He wasn’t going to be easily lulled into forgetting that, as a judge in Israel, his dad heard the troubles and sins of a lot of saints. They confessed their darkest deeds and deepest fears.
Before his mission he would often come to meet his dad on a Tuesday night after a youth activity or boy scouts, and sometimes he’d forget to hang back and lurk in the hall and wait for an all clear sign from his dad, and when that happened, he’d sometimes catch someone coming out of the bishop’s office, and another anxious, heavy face would burn itself into his memory. And sometimes, even though he knew he was a Mormon boy, true blue, through and through, he’d wish he were Catholic and there’d be a confessional instead of an office — because that’d be more private — but then he’d remember that Catholic priests don’t marry, and if his dad hadn’t married then he would never have been born, and so he’d drop that derailing train of thought and promise himself that next Tuesday he’d get a ride home or wait in the hall.