A Matter of Duty


by A.B. Thomas

The wind tousled the ten year old boy’s shoulder length hair as he sat on the front steps of Papa Jay’s two story Victorian style house. The cloudiness matched the autumn chill in the air, but he didn’t move, only continued to sit quietly. Still dressed in the good black suit and pants that he had worn an hour earlier to the funeral, he reflected that he wished he had changed back into a comfy t-shirt and jeans before coming. But in another hour, he expected that he’d be sitting in the back of his grand parent’s red Skylark on the six hour trip back home. He wouldn’t have time to change and still see Papa Jay. He had been sitting there for almost ten whole minutes, eight minutes longer than he could comfortably sit anywhere without beginning to fidget. He resisted the urge to get up and run – he had a promise to keep, a duty to fulfil.He thought back to earlier that afternoon during the funeral internment and what had led him to sit on the stoop waiting for Papa Jay. It had been real easy to get here, he supposed, considering how hard it had been to convince his friend, Mikey, to help him get Papa Jay alone on such a busy afternoon such as this one. They had argued over it. Mikey had insisted that meeting the Man, as they called him, on the day he was burying his father wasn’t right. He had resisted the boy’s requests until the whispered phrase in the ear, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. Then, the understanding of what the boy meant to do became clear and delectable to the grieving friend.
Mikey and the boy drew near to Papa Jay after the interment ceremony, while everyone waited for the workers to ready the coffin and lower it into the ground. For five minutes they tried closing in on the Man, then backed off slightly each time some other grown up would arrive to talk to Papa Jay. They were beginning to think that two ten year old boys wouldn’t be able to get Papa Jay’s attention…in public.
Finally, Papa Jay noticed the two boys behind him. He turned and put his hand on the darker skinned of the two. “Sorry about your father,” he said kindly to Mikey, “He was a good man. I knew him very well…very well.” The two boys watched as Papa Jay’s smile became almost sickly as he spoke.

“Thank you, sir,” the dead man’s son said. He remembered his manners and introduced the boy as a friend that had come to the funeral with his grandparents.

Papa Jay nodded, “Oh yes,” he said, “You’re the one who was with him when the angels called him home. The Lord certainly was looking after you, after all, not even a night in the hospital.”

The boy fought to keep my face from flushing. He had not expected that Papa Jay would have so much personal information concerning the circumstances of that fatal night. “I wouldn’t rightly call it a callin’ – more like a demandin’.”

Papa Jay frowned. The boy hastily added, “T’ain’t nuthin’ but a hurtin’, sir, and Madame says that a little spit an’ shinin’ will heal me alright, but I ain’t too up on the Lord’s ways.”

The boy inhaled deeply after speaking. The after effect of the soreness in his shoulder seemed to test his vocal chords when he tried to control the tone of voice he used towards Papa Jay; the man he knew to be the cause of the funeral in the first place. But he wasn’t about to let that fact slip out.

“It’s never a bad time to learn the ways of God,” Papa Jay told the two boys, though his eyes remained locked on the heavier set of the children. It was as though he was trying to evaluate the reason his God would have for guiding the bullet away from its lethal destination of this boy’s head and merely graze the shoulder. The majority of the damage done to the boy happened while he was spinning from the impact, and met with the less fatal wooden door frame splinters piercing his upper chest.

What Papa Jay hadn’t heard about though, was the half hour the boy had laid on the floor covered in the shooter’s own brain matter, skull fragments and blood after the shooter had turned the gun on himself. “Perhaps one day you should have a talk with your local minister about these matters.”

Mikey gave a large smile and said, “Papa Jay, you couldn’t talk to him today, could you? You’re ten times better than some Sunday mornin’ preacher with understandin’ God’s plan.”

Papa Jay looked taken aback at the notion of talking with me the boy at such a time as this, but Mickey pushed on. “After all, you’re like family, and he’s like family – learnin’ about the Lord’s way from family is better than a stranger, ain’t that what you said to me?”

Papa Jay was quiet for a moment and then said, “Why don’t you come to see me when the internment is complete and I have said thank you to everyone.” He looked at his watch, “We can have a chat before the reception starts, would that be alright?” He looked straight into the boy’s hazel eyes with his own light blue ones.

The boy said nothing but stared back. Mikey gave him an elbow in the ribs…his sore ones, no less, and answered for him, “That sounds like an idea, don’t it?”

The boy nodded my head at Mikey while holding his throbbing side. Papa Jay didn’t notice, but looked at the children and smiled.

“Well, then I shall see you at my residence soon, then,” he said softly. “I have some things to do here, and then we shall…talk.”

The boy nodded and the walked backwards away from the Man as he turned his attention to several of the older women of the community that had come up to him. Mikey’s forced smiles disappeared. The two looked at each other and nodded – the first stage of the mission was complete. The Man hadn’t caught on that the boy knew exactly how well Papa Jay had known Mikey’s father, the shooter. In fact, they both knew the good father wore a shallow kindly façade; that behind the smile lurked a monster that had systematically gone through his Mikey’s family from his father and mother down to his six year old sister to gain intimate knowledge of each one.

The boy winced from the pain of the wounds he had received less than a week before. He wondered if Papa Jay would have been so avid in inviting another prepubescent child into his private residence as he had done hundreds of times in the thirty years he had been stationed as the town’s moral compass if he had known that it had not been just an attempted murder and successful suicide. That the shooter had been hallucinating that the boy was his boy and that as a good father he couldn’t let the evil taint Mikey as deeply as it had him. The boy wondered if Papa Jay perhaps knew that his defiling of an entire family to satisfy his own petty lusts was the reason for that day’s funeral. He decided that even if the Man knew, he probably didn’t care….

************
A hand came to rest on the boy’s head, jolting him away from his thoughts. Papa Jay’s voice seemed to come from inside a hollow tube as he told the child to come in. The boy nodded and followed the Man inside, watching from the corner of mhis eye as Papa Jay looked around the outside, held the door for the boy to enter. The boy walked a little past Papa Jay and waited while the Man closed and locked the door.

“Just so we aren’t disturbed,” Papa Jay said with a wink to the boy, then motioned for him to go into the windowless study just off to the left of the front hallway. The boy briefly thought about changing his mind; his course of action as he watched the Man go behind a large oaken desk covered with papers, a well worn bible and nine ceramic Jesus’ that the Sunday school had painted and presented to him.

The boy figured that Papa Jay fit the image of what a saintly man looked like; taller than his grandfather though slimmer. There was a sternness of demeanour that was etched into the Papa Jay’s fifty-ish long gaunt face, thin lips that seemed to curl inwards toward his mouth hiding the man’s teeth even when he smiled. Even the way the man stood seemed to exude a forbidding aura, though Papa Jay was stooped down in a shallow leather chair to show concern and understanding.

Papa Jay was the town patriarch in a way; taking over his father’s role as one of the town benefactors at the age of seventeen when the senior passed away. Papa Jay’s family had made a fortune out east before Papa Jay had even been thought of. Papa Jay never had to worry about finances, he had been set for several lifetimes. He never married; he took his role as a town leader far too seriously for that. If someone was sick, he’d be one of the first to visit then ask if there was anything that person would need done and see that it was done. He was the one who organized the different charitable events, donated the most money and when the play ground would fall to disrepair he could be seen fixing it to working order. When the town couldn’t afford to fund an after school program, Papa Jay opened the door to his home for that purpose at the age of twenty. He still operated the afterschool care program; the children of the children he originally cared for now played under his care.

The boy patted his left suit pocket to reassure himself that everything was going to be alright. The familiar feeling of the slim bump from a present grandfather had given him for his sixth birthday rested there, reaffirming his resolve.

“Well, my son,” Papa Jay stated in an inviting tone, “I’m happy that I get a chance to talk to you about the ways of our Heavenly Father and his Son. What can I help enlighten you on so that you can walk in His light along with your friend?”

The boy thought for a moment, then said, “I try to do good things but deeds don’t seem to account for much.”

Papa Jay nodded and replied, “Good comes in many forms, that you try without moral righteous guidance just means that your intentions may not be seen as good but self serving. In the Bible there are many examples of where Evil masks itself with good deeds in order to weave its way into a person’s trust.”

The boy looked at Papa Jay blankly.

He gave a broad smile and paraphrased, “Being good means to serve God. If you aren’t seen as being the Lord’s servant, it can be seen as serving only yourself.”

The boy nodded. “So since I don’t go to Church, I’m evil? Cuz my mamma says I’m evil all the time and God don’t want me there – how am I gonna be good if I ain’t even allowed in the Church?”

Papa Jay chuckled, “By taking Christ, our Lord, into your heart, one cannot help but be good – his love frees us from our sins and makes us see that all are our brothers and sisters. That feeling of family is what binds us and makes us as one showered in God’s love.” Papa Jay leaned forward in his chair, “But is that what brings you here to me today? To see if I can cleanse your soul so that you can serve the light?”

The boy crinkled his nose and answered, “Everbody tells me that I ain’t clean cuz I don’t go to church.”

He paused for a moment, curling his nose up even further as if the action would organize his thoughts better, “But I think I’m cleaner than most everybody…mostly.”

Papa Jay got out of his chair and came to sit on the edge of the desk in front of the child.

“Now what makes you say ‘mostly’? Is there something you need to get off your mind?” he asked gently.

The boy took a deep breath and said, “Evil likes to disguise itself, right? It hides its true form until it’s too late, right?”

Papa Jay paused momentarily, looking at the boy from top to bottom. The boy didn’t like that, and kept his eyes squarely focused on the white square of the adult’s tightly buttoned collar.

“What makes you ask that question?” Papa Jay asked, putting his hands together and resting them between his legs.

“My friend says that what I’ve got is a sign of evil.” The boy lied, but figured that a little white lie could be excused.

Papa Jay’s eye brows went up slightly as he asked, “A sign of evil?”

“My friend tells me that you’ve dealt with this kinda evil…that you can take the devil out of me just like you done did to him” answered the boy. “I figure ya must have done it good cuz his don’t hide – like it’s been purified, I want you to purify me too, so I can be a good boy an’ maybe my mama will love me.”

Papa Jay’s hands had left his lap and now set themselves on either side of his body at the desk, as if bracing himself against the weight of the youngster’s answers. “What doesn’t hide?”

The boy’s face reddened as he stood up. Papa Jay was a couple of feet away, but at that moment he felt as though the man was inside his skin from the way eyes looked at him. The boy undid his pants and let them drop. Papa Jay gave a sharp intake of breath – and the boy knew instinctively it wasn’t from disgust but from something else. He pushed his underwear down to join the pants at his ankles and stood there looking at Papa Jay. The Man licked his lips; The boy noticed the minister’s hands tremble slight as they moved from the desk back to between his legs.

Without taking his eyes of the excitedly vibrating man, the boy grabbed his uncircumcised penis and began to stroke it slowly. His hand moved all the way up, pulling the foreskin taut, then bringing the foreskin all the way back down until it disappeared into the quickly hardening fleshy member. The corners of Papa Jay’s mouth began to twitch.

The boy began to talkas though he didn’t know if Papa Jay was even listening.

“Now, see this here’s the confusin’ part. See how it looks? Like that hooded fella, what’s his name? The Grim Reaper…yeah, that’s it, an’ he’s evil, ain’t he?” He watched as Papa Jay’s blue eyes seemed to turn an icy gray while studying the child’s hand.

“But watch when I do this…the cowl just plumb ol’ disappears, like it didn’t even exist…but then it appears again. So that means I’ve got the evil in me, right?”

Papa Jay didn’t answer for what seemed like an hour to the boy as he pulled his foreskin back and forth while the man watched. “Sir?”

“Hmmm? Yes?” Papa Jay said not taking his eyes off the bald groin. The man moved each of his hands to the side; the boy could see a bulge in the pants.

“Yes, Evil does hide in the most…” Papa Jay paused, “…in the most tempting of places.” He stood up and came close to the boy.

He didn’t move but took his hand off his penis, leaving it sticking out by its own hardness. He didn’t even flinch when Papa Jay’s sinewy right hand wrapped around the penis and roughly pulled back and forth on it.

Papa Jay smiled, commenting softly, “It is fortunate that you have such a good friend who wants you to find salvation.”

“Yes he is a good friend, Father,” the boy answered, wincing as Papa Jay pulled the foreskin to its limits with increasingly rougher tugs.

“I shall have to remember to thank him for his efforts to save your soul,” Papa Jay purred. He released the penis; the boy innerly sighed from the release of the pain the older man had been administering.

Papa Jay stepped back a footstep and told the child to kneel before him so that he could start the cleansing ceremony. The boy started to pull his pants up, but Papa Jay told him not to – they would have to be down to complete the holy blessing. The boy went to his knees; his face just a little lower than the bulge in Papa Jay’s pants.

Papa Jay looked up to the ceiling and said, “Oh great Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing this lost soul to me so that I may show him the path to your glory.” As he said this, his hand unzipped his pants and pulled out his own penis out; waving it less than six inches away from the boy’s face.

The boy fought the two urges than ran through his mind. The first was to run away from Papa Jay and his thin, circumcised five inch penis. The other was to laugh and tell Papa Jay that his own was bigger. The boy did neither but looked at the splotched skin along its length.

“Now,” Papa Jay said in a harsher tone, “To begin the road to your salvation. Take into you me and the more that you give of yourself, the easier and less…painful it will be for you as I sanctify the most inner parts of you.”

“Sir?” said the boy, not understanding.

Papa Jay’s smile became more lurid and a predatory gleam entered the eyes as he clarified matters for the child, “You are going to take my penis into your mouth and suck on it. Make sure you cover me with a lot of your spit.”

The boy played dumb at what the man was intending to do and asked again, “Sir?”

Papa Jay put his hand on the youth’s head and pushed it toward his penis as he spoke. “My son, I have to absolve and purify your sins from the inside out. We’ll pray and then my holy seed will infuse goodness unto you…through your bottom.”

“Yes sir,” he responded.

The boy grabbed Papa Jay’s penis in his right hand, just below the tip. As he inched his mouth closer, he could feel the man’s eyes burning into his scalp. The thin penis throbbed with anticipation. The boy could smell something pungent from Papa Jay’s member, something not right and fought down the bile that threatened to escape from the back of his throat. His hand slipped into the left pocket of his jacket.

“That’s right, my son,” intoned Papa Jay, “Let the love of God fill your mouth.”

He could feel the heat emanating from the penis. He opened his mouth as wide as he could so that the fleshy tip wouldn’t touch his lips. In the pocket, his hand gripped his grandfather’s present and hit a release button on it. He tightened his right hand’s grip. Papa Jay moaned.

He counted one…two…three.

Then, he bit down hard on the penis tip that had entered his mouth while his left hand came swiftly out of his pocket. In his hand was a jack-knife with a three inch serrated edge. The knife his grandfather had given him for skinning the tails off gophers and take into the town office for ten cents a tail; extra money for movies and books. Now, it pierced Papa Jay’s penis between his right hand and the Father’s scrotum, slicing easily into the thick flesh.

Papa Jay seemed frozen for a second but then pushed himself from the boy. He resisted the pressure from the Man’s hands to keep his head straight, making the teeth leave deep gouges in the tip of the penis as it was forced from his mouth. He released my right hand and put it on top of his left hand to steady the knife as it ripped forward through the penis. Papa Jay went backwards.

A sickening stench of acrid urine and blood hit the boy’s nose as liquid poured out from behind the blade sawing its way up the remaining three inches of the penis, sliding out easily once it had sliced through the middle of the tip.

As Papa Jay hit the desk, the boy fell onto his back from the unfettering of the blade in flesh. He still had both hands melded to the handle of the jack-knife. It felt like the world had gone into a slow motion mode; Papa Jay screaming and holding his divided penis in his hands, the Man’s knees slowly unlocking and dropping him down to the floor.

The boy felt no horror, only satisfaction. As he slowly rose to his feet, pants still down at the ankles, he said with disgust, “You know, for big moral man, you sure squeal like a piglet bein’ stomped on by its daddy – ain’t the pure of heart supposed to suffer in silence? Guess this means that you ain’t meant to be wearin’ that halo o’er your head, now don’t it?” The words had no effect on Papa Jay, he knew. He doubted the un-sexified man even heard them; it was more for him – to stop the urge to throw up and cry.

The boy looked at wounded monster as he tried to stand without letting go of his profusely bleeding crotch. Papa Jay struggled to one knee. The boy walked quickly to the desk and picked up a ceramic Jesus, bringing it down on the Man’s left temple. Shards of hardened clay stuck into the minister’s hairline. The boy watched with satisfaction as the Father curled into a ball on the floor, rolling back and forth.

He spat into Papa Jay’s eye. “Madame also told me that hurtin’ has many layers,” he said over the moans of the semi conscious man. “Spit an’ polish works for the ones that ain’t on purpose,” he continued, “But there’s kinds of hurtin’ that are so deep that they ain’t that easy to heal. You caused a lot of deep hurtin’.”

Papa Jay stopped his roll and squinted up at the child. Through gritted teeth he stated in harsh expulsions of air, “I loved them all…there was no pain, just a release of love.”

The boy laughed as he unbuttoned his shirt. His chest was splotched and welted with sixteen puncture marks of various sizes and depth scabbing over. It had taken the doctor three hours to pull out all the wooden splinters from the door frame the bullet had shattered instead of entering his cranium.

“This is what your love caused,” he replied through gritted teeth. “Don’t say this ain’t pain.”

Papa Jay started to open his mouth in response, but a stream of urine drowned out his words and made him choke instead. He looked at the boy as he finally began pulling up his pants and buttoning his shirt back up. The man’s eyes became unfocused; moving quickly as if to force his eyelids closed as the finished with the last button on my shirt.

The boy bent down and with the same blade that he had administered his sentence to the deviant Papa Jay, he took a large tuft of hair and put it in his pants pocket along with the knife. In twenty minutes he would lay the tuft of hair on the pillow of his Mikey’s grandmother’s bed, but for now he was content to watch Papa Jay’s eyes roll back and his face lose all rigidity to the onslaught of unconsciousness. He knew the man wouldn’t die, just as he knew this creature would never face the charges that he should for what he had done for almost three decades. That’s why the boy was here. He recalled what Mikey’s grandmother had said to him the night before the funeral after she had pulled him aside at the family and friend’s gathering.

He had been nervous talking alone with the old woman. She had hardly spoken more than a few sentences to him in all his life. It was more like she had been watching him with a severe look than anything else. He hadn’t been too sure he would like the new interest the old woman had in him at all.

She didn’t glare at him that night. Her eyes seemed to burn intensely, but he could tell that it had nothing to do with him. “Tomorrow,” the old woman spat out in broken English, “Is the beginning of your duty.”

He had expected the old woman to say something in regards to the suicide of her son in law; ask if he had said anything in the final moments – but at the same time the woman’s deep brown eyes told the boy that she already knew. He responded, “Ma’am?”

The old woman’s face seemed to soften as she continued. “Your momma’s right that you have something in you. You’ve got a spirit about you; it ain’t the devil like she thinks, but something more.”

He started to feel his stomach churn. He hated being reminded of his mother and what she always said about him. He wanted to walk away from Mikey’s grandmother and hide in between his own grandparents, but he couldn’t get his legs to move. He said nothing.

The old woman seemed to take no notice of his fear or confusion. “You are a destroyer, to be sure,” she said. “But you are only destructive to amend what the spirits see as wrong. Tomorrow you take your first step into who you and the spirit are – for my family.”

“Ma’am?”

“A man who gets away with evil actions will always be evil – but if you give him a reminder of the evil, he can begin to see the evil and repeal it.” The old woman whispered as she grabbed his arm and brought his ear close to her mouth. In an even quieter voice she hissed, “Remove the evil but make sure he’s around to remember the evil, boy – make sure he’ll be around to remember it.” I had asked what the old woman meant, but she just gave him a smile and had told him he was a bright boy. He would figure it out.

He had spent the night before thinking about it, and in morning had come up with the solution he felt worked best to meet the condition Mikey’s grandmother gave him, as well as ensuring that Papa Jay would never hurt another person again. It would also satisfy the boy’s own sense of irony. He knew what the word paedophilia meant. Obviously Papa Jay had forgotten – perhaps by having to squat to take a squirt would remind him of the misuse and the lack of adherence to the code of conduct he had sworn for the town’s moral beliefs was an apt form of justice.

The boy walked out of the study and down the hallway. He unlocked the door and peered cautiously out. There were several people standing around, Mikey’s cousins. They looked at the boy sternly as he stepped out into the chilly air and towards them. One of the older boys came up and roughly pushed him into the large mud puddle on the side of the road, soaking him and his blood spattered clothing. He would have to change as soon as he returned to Mikey’s grandmother’s house. Of course there would be a certain amount of chiding from the elders that would end in with the chuckling admission of ‘boys will be boys’. There would be the insistence that the clothes would be laundered immediately and sent down clean.

A week later the clothes would arrive at the boy’s house along with a note about the latest scandal to hit the Northern town: Papa Jay had been attacked on the very day of the funeral – witnesses would claim to have seen a man break into his house for the reputed safe full of millions that were supposedly stashed there. Papa Jay would surprise the robber and would suffer deep wounds. The thief escaped but Papa Jay had managed to drag himself to his study before passing out. A suspiciously wide open door would lead a good Samaritan to investigate and find the town benefactor unconscious on the floor. The police would have no leads and the doctors would decide it would be best for Papa Jay’s medical needs to move to a bigger city but would never ask for an investigation into the incident. Papa Jay would spend the remainder of his days with a catheter attached to replace his amputated penis in siphoning his bladder waste. The police would never have any new leads to who the attacker was and would shelve the case under “Unsolved”.

But for now, the boy picked himself out of the puddle. There was no eye contact with anyone, and nothing was said. He was drenched, thickly covered in the mud that had a distinct slimy feel. He began to walk down the street to Mikey’s grandmother’s house, but as the cold wind slashed through the sodden clothes attempting to penetrate to the very bone he felt nothing; no cold, no anger, no glee; after all, it was a matter of duty…