CHAPTER EIGHT: A QUESTION OF FAITH
The day after Peter gets out of hospital Mom arranges a little party for him and Alex, as it had been his eleventh birthday two days before, and they delayed celebrating so Peter could be there. Peter’s feeling quite good but not well enough, his mother agrees, to go back to school for the last two weeks of the term. She phoned Mr. Humphrey and found out that Peter would be passed into grade eight. It’s also the day that Alex picks up his BMX bike that Arnold sent him as a present. The postal box return address in Toronto suggests that Arnold may be in prison again. Peter watches Alex perform wheelies and bunnyhops out on the street and remembers that he’s going to learn how to ride a bike now that he isn’t a sissy anymore. But when he sees Alex fall and scrape an elbow he isn’t too sure anymore. Later Alex proudly asks Peter whom he’d seen watching, “Did you see me go up and down the bus stop bench?”
“That’s nothing, they got rocket packs so that you can fly over ravines and even trees, and they’ve had them for years.” Peter replies disparagingly.
“What can YOU do? You can’t do anything, You don’t even try,”
“I do other things. There’s lots more important things than riding bikes and sports and stuff like that.” Peter tries to sound older and superior.
“Oh yeah,” Alex retorts, “I bet you’re just scared, that’s all.”
“I’m not. I just have better things to do,”
“Like all sorts of things.”
“Like going all crazy when some kid didn’t even hit you?”
“That’s not true.” But Peter knows he can’t explain it. “Why does Alex always have to tease me?” Peter wishes he was back in hospital with Eddie. “I’m not a sissy anymore.” He blurts.
“Oh yeah?” Alex keeps at him.
“No, I’m even going to learn to ride a bike and all sorts of things. You just need faith, that’s all.” He tries to say it with conviction.
“Go ahead, be my guest.” Alex offers sarcastically pointing to his bike.
“But I’m not fully recovered, I’m still sick.”
“Yeah, you can say that again,”
Peter doesn’t have trouble mounting the bike, he’s sat on one before, and he figures out the pedals and the brakes, but when he pushes off, Alex gives him a helpful shove, he can’t quite figure out the steering. He feels very lucky, or is it faith? when he misses the telephone pole, but then he hits the curb sideways and goes sprawling across the concrete sidewalk scraping his right arm and elbow painfully. He’s about to cry when he remembers he’s not a sissy anymore, “Fuck. Shit. Damn.” Peter is not in the habit of swearing but it seems to help. And then he remembers that swearing’s a sin, but not a very bad one according to Eddie. He doesn’t try riding the bike again but it is sort of triumph in that he didn’t cry.
At the dinner party Alex comments to Tom, “You should have seen Peter trying to ride my BMX, like he can’t even steer.”
Peter sees the opportunity, he stands up making a point to rub his sore elbow, “I know you always tease me Alex but I forgive you. I forgive you for teasing me and calling me nasty names.” Peter decides he won’t bring Jesus into it, he’ll do it on his own, “I forgive you, SO THERE.”
“What do you mean? You forgive ME, you lying sneaky bastard. How many times I been whipped for things you done? I know it, and you give me all your plastic shit toys. I’d’ve punched you out a long time ago, and Tom would’ve, too, if you weren’t such a sissy. I should be forgiving YOU.”
“Lay off him Alex.” Tom interrupts. “Leave the poor kid alone… Petey’s got his good points.” and he smirks at Peter who gets the point but is helpless. “And besides it’s your birthday party, Alex old boy, so have a good time.” Tom raises his cut leaded crystal liqueur glass of Calona Crackling Rose which Mom served out earlier. “Here’s to yuh Alex.” Peter joins in the toast, he decides he likes Fuddle Duck better.
Mom arrives with the entree, burnt pork chops in a sauce containing two cans of real French truffles, mashed potatoes with lumps and carrots. “We mustn’t forget the vitamins!” she smiles. Later with the main lights off she brings in a ’Have a Good Day’, happy face birthday cake with candles for Alex and for Peter a pumpkin pie with ’Welcome Home’ scripted in whipped cream on it. Afterwards they order a large pizza with everything but anchovies. Tom stays for the pizza and then the three of them play gin rummy until Hawaii Five O at nine. Peter enjoys the evening.
The next day a Bob Cunningham phones, speaks to Mom and asks for Peter. “Who is he?” Mom wonders. Peter remembers that he is Pastor Smiley’s assistant and that he had spoken to him a couple of times at the hospital. He has something for Peter and he wants to know if it would be all right if he dropped by.
Peter’s excited and rather flattered by the idea of having a visitor. He doesn’t remember much about Bob except that he is very tall and has a has a funny voice. He thinks about Eddie and his being a Baptist. Peter thinks he’s been baptized but he doesn’t think it makes him a Baptist. And he thinks about Eddie and his stories about Baptists being persecuted in Russia. And the early Christians were persecuted and Romans used to feed them to the lions. It’s hard to understand, but the things they did to the Christians in those days. I read all about it in this book in the Public Library that time I had to find a place where the store boys wouldn’t find me. And the martyrs, you should see what they did to them and they didn’t chicken out. That’s how they became saints. I forget their names but I can sure remember the details. Like maybe if I joined the Church and got saved and all that, maybe that would help me to become brave.
Peter’s jaw is set in grim determination when the cruel KGB commissar comes back to the room where Peter is strapped down to a torture table. The commissar leers at him, his pallid hairless face distorted by a twisted grin. “So the beatings didn’t work, well, we have something here that never fails.” A huge black machine with many dials and with wires dangling from it is wheeled into the room. Instinctively Peter knows the Russians would be very scientific. “Now you will give up your decadent, capitalistic religion and embrace Godless Communism.” Peter’s not sure what ’decadent’ means but he likes the way it sounds. Cringing dwarflike assistants attach the wires to different parts of his body while the commissar explains the horroring capability of the machine and lovingly fondles the dials. “When I turn up this dial it will feel like your skin is burning, and some of it will be. And this dial here controls our new pressure simulator, and it will make you feel like every bone in your body is being crushed. And if everything else fails we have this,” he jiggles a wire that loops down between Peter’s legs, “but we don’t like to use it because there are so few survivors. This is your last chance to embrace Godless Communism.” Peter decides that now is the time to bring out his secret weapons, prayer and faith. He quickly briefs God on the situation. He will know what to do. Peter visualizes God scratching his beard with his hairy hand. Maybe he will deliver a power failure, have all their nuclear plants meltdown at the same time… Or better still an earthquake, God is good at them, and that beam up there would fall crushing the commissar. Peter lingers over the details of his eyes bulging and being squeezed out of his head. And his dwarf assistants are similarly flattened by the conveniently situated beam. Peter scrambles free. But what if God doesn’t send an earthquake or even a power failure? Like maybe if you got faith it doesn’t hurt very much. Maybe that’s how the martyrs did it.
Bob arrives at seven in a light blue suit with a briefcase and a brown paper bag. After introductions Mom leaves them alone in the living room. “I’m glad to see you looking so much better.” Bob opens. “The Good Lord must be taking care of you.”
“Yeah, I’m a lot better.” Peter replies politely.
“I know how sad you must feel about Eddie passing away, he told me you were his friend and that he talked to you about Jesus.”
“Yeah, he was my friend too.” Peter is touched and saddened.
Bob reaches out and places his hand on Peter’s, Peter notices that it is pale and hairless. He tries looking up Bob’s sleeve but he can’t see anything. “But we can rejoice that he is with our Lord now.” Bob intones solemnly. “We cannot question God’s wisdom, ’The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh’,”
Peter remains glumly silent for a while. “I never felt so sad before, more than anything I wish Eddie were still alive.”
“We must learn to live with our sorrow. The Good Lord has other plans for Eddie.”
“What other plans?” Peter demands. “He was going to be a doctor or a biologist.”
“Well, uh…” Bob tries to explain. “We just have to trust God. It is not for us to question His wisdom.”
“What’s so smart about Eddie dying like that?”
“God’s ways are sometimes difficult for us to comprehend, especially when you’re young. We must have faith,” Peter looks uncertainly about the room and an awkward silence follows. After a minute Rob continues, “I have something here, something I’m sure that Eddie would have wanted you to have, he told me how fond you were of chess.“ he pulls Eddie’s magnetic chess set out of the paper bag and hands it to Peter.
“Well thanks, I really appreciate it.” Bob sits there looking expectantly at him, Peter doesn’t know what else to say so he looks at Bob’s smooth face and wonders if he has to shave. Maybe he’s one of those homofrodites? Then to break the silence he asks, “Would you like some coffee?”
“Thank you very much, but I don’t drink coffee.,”
“Some tea then?”
“No thank you, I don’t drink tea either, they both contain drugs and the Bible doesn’t say anything about them.“
“I think we got some wine in the fridge, like that’s in the Bible.”
“No, no thankyou. I’ll just have some water please,”
Peter goes to the kitchen to get two glasses of water, while Bob opens his briefcase and brings out some pamphlets. When Peter returns he makes Bob reach out for his glass and he sees that Bob doesn’t have any hair on his forearms either, Peter thinks of spilling some water on his pants so he can check his legs while helping him mop up.
“I have some other things for you.” Bob picks up one of the, pamphlets he’s laid out on the coffee table. Eddie told me you were interested in the spiritual problems of the world.” He hands the pamphlet to Peter.
Peter barely glances at it. “Yeah, we were going to zap all the sinners… Like I don’t mean kill them but… I figured if you had a belief ray gun or a B-Bomb that would just rearrange all the atoms in their brains so that people believed, like it wouldn’t hurt them or anything and maybe we could use it to cure criminals and communism and that secular humanism thing.” Peter decides not to add ’queers’ because it might be rude.
“Well I’m not sure that would be God’s way. People must believe of their own free will, they must take Jesus into their hearts and accept Him as their Savior… Now if you just read this message, it will explain better than better than I can.”
Peter casually flips through the pamphlet. “Does free will mean you don’t have to?”
“It’s up to the individual to either accept Christ or reject Him. Those who reject Him are damned and burn in Hell.”
“Even if you don’t do anything real bad, like maybe you lie sometimes and steal a bit?”
“Rejecting Christ is a far greater sin. And you are forgetting that we’re all sinners, we are all born with the burden of Original Sin.”
“Even babies?” Bob solemnly nods. “You mean he burns them too?” Peter is suspecting bullshit and is beginning to wonder what Bob really wants.
“It’s not quite like that Peter. But you must understand that only through believing in Jesus, that He died for your sins can this burden be lifted. Christ offers the gift of life everlasting. I’m sure you’d want that. And through the church, we also provide Christian fellowship. I want to invite you to our Young Peoples’ Bible Study Group. It meets every Wednesday at seven, downstairs in the church basement. I’m one of the leaders and we pray, sing hymns and study the True Word as revealed by the Scriptures. Eddie was our Secretary-Treasurer. And after we have refreshments, the students take turns bringing things, and I provide hot chocolate. We share in the joys of Christian fellowship. You’ll meet other righteous, fun loving, clean living boys and girls like yourself, and we offer a Bible Study Diploma. And then there’s our Christian summer camp at Communion Lake with a beautiful outdoor chapel set in the forest where you get to see the sunrise at morning prayers. And after classes there are nature craft classes, and volleyball and swimming. Parents can visit Wednesday and Sunday afternoons from two till five. How would you like that?
Well…. uh.” Peter is almost ready to concede that Bob might shave the tip of his chin, and maybe his sideburns a little bit, but the more he hears of his high pitched voice the more Peter thinks homofrodite? “It sounds nice but… I’m pretty busy.”
“I can understand that a bright young man like you must have many things to keep him preoccupied in this modern world of ours. But don’t you think we owe a bit of our time to God, and Jesus?… A few hours, one night a week?” Peter feels uncomfortable. “I know the church is the other side of town, but I could pick you up here at say six thirty on Wednesday and drive you there until you get established.”
Peter has it in a flash. “That won’t be necessary, I’m getting a bicycle and I can ride over. The exercise will be good for me.”
“Very well then, seven O’clock next Wednesday. I could phone to remind you, and there’s a little map on this other pamphlet showing you how to get there. And here’s another pamphlet I especially recommend to you. It will provide you with practical guidance in dealing with the problems young people face today.”
Bob shakes Peter’s hand when he leaves. Peter thinks it feels like a lady’s. And he promises Bob he’ll go to the Bible study group. Maybe it will be good, he’s mainly thinking of Eddie and being more like him.
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