Who Shall Wear the Robe and Crown?
Image by Claire LeFew
The station was a mess of fry grease and Windex with a Fleetwood Mac song playing from somewhere in the wiring. He bought something to drink and asked his friend at the counter for a pack of cowboy killers.
“Thought you were quittin'?” asked the clerk, a heavier man in a gray t-shirt.
“Thought I was too.” he replied.
“I got some patches if you want ‘em,” the clerk said changing the ten.
“You can hang on to ‘em, John.”
The clerk handed over three dollars and some coins.
“Big day Sunday, right?” the clerk asked.
“Yep. You gonna be there?”
"Sure. I’m pickin’ up two shifts on Saturday,” he shut the register and changed his tone, “Are her folks gonna show up?”
The clerk frowned. His friend crumpled the plastic wrapper from the cigarette pack.
“I know Emilia’s different, but shit, her own folks don’t care?” John questioned, his friend picked up his things and turned away, “See ya then, Will,” the clerk said to the back of the other man’s head.
Will Trent drove through the patches of houses down at Deacon’s Ferry. He could remember when he was four and the land was still overgrown fields and oaks. Two decades years later it was covered in little modular houses with beaten-up mailboxes and flowerbeds, but on either side of the neighborhood the old woods still grew high above the rooftops. He finished his cigarette and tossed the butt out the window.
There was a young girl playing in the driveway when Will stopped outside a faded yellow house near the end of the street. She looked up from her pavement drawings, her dull brown hands and knees dusty with chalk, and saw him. The girl knocked over her pail of chalks as she scurried inside.
A few moments later Emilia stepped out from the open garage. She had cut her hair, not quite a bob, but shorter than it had been.
“Hey there.” she said getting in the passenger seat.
She kissed him on the cheek and he put it in drive.
They left the street of cramped houses north of the river and drove into Ellis. The Oussawack was high and running quick from a late summer storm the day before. Emilia tapped her fingers on the armrest and watched the fading orange rays of sunset cut through the windows of the Ford. They might’ve talked about the future or they might’ve talked about town gossip. Maybe they talked about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.
There were a couple places open after seven downtown, mostly bars, but there was always the Imperial Palace. It stuck out like a red and gold mess along the main street, the local fix for that syrupy all-American Chinese that everyone eats. The front window might’ve served as a lighthouse with its gaudy neon dragon and Cantonese lanterns. The two of them took their usual spot.
“Mamá wasn’t talking today,” Emilia said after a while.
“She give a reason this time?” Will replied.
“What do you think?”
Will hesitated for a moment, then sat up straight, “She’s gotta come around sometime.”
“When?” Emilia said blankly.
“I dunno, but you can’t go on thinkin’ she’ll always be that way.”
The young woman felt the ridges of the gold band set with a stone on her finger, “Maybe for years, maybe forever.”
Will went out to smoke in the middle of dinner. At their first meeting this would’ve been nothing, but he hadn’t kicked the habit like he had said he would, so the annoyance had been allowed to fester. Now it was the second thing hanging in the air above them besides the Pérez family’s feelings.
“I want you to quit it,” Emilia said out on the sidewalk.
“Man can only do so much,” Will replied leaning on the window, the dragon floating above his head.
“Are you really trying?” she said, “I mean, you tell me every week you’ll stop but you don’t even do anything.”
She gave him that look, something she inherited from her mother. Dark eyes as serious as a graveyard. Will pitched the cigarette into the street.
“Then that’s the last one.”
She turned and went back inside, Will followed and they finished their meal.
Two days later, Will was pissed. A mechanic’s shop demands a certain amount of smoothness in the work even if you’re fourth down on the totem pole on a crew of four. The entire shift he was dropping tools and struggling to stay calm. It got worse when a dementia-ridden lady on the phone called about a bad ignition for the third or fourth time that afternoon.
He ditched his friends at the garage and went for a drive. The road took him out past what was left of the Norfolk Southern depot, the broken down sheds in their decay, the rail lines still snaking through the woods. The fork after that would either lead south to the river or west to the flatland of strip malls and drive-thru’s. Will took the one less traveled.
He needed a fucking cigarette. It was worse than the other times he had tried. His hands were restless and he wanted to move, thankfully the river was in sight and he could stop the truck. Had to be somewhere quiet, no idiots complaining, no noise from Emilia’s folks, nothing.
There was sanctuary here, he thought. At the river’s edge he crouched down and plunged his hands into the Oussawack. Maybe that would stop the shaking. He dug into the muddy clay and tried to count down from a hundred.
The phone in his back pocket started ringing around forty-five. Will swore and took his hands out of the river, quickly drying them on his pants, but missing the call. In a moment it rang again and he snapped it up.
“Hey, what’s goin’ on?”
There was silence on the other end for a moment. Then Emilia replied, “My parents want to meet.”
“Okay, when?” Will asked, pacing along the sand bank.
“Right now, Papá wants to talk and I think he can get Mamá to finally say something. Everyone’s at the house.”
“Are they gonna be calm about it?” Will desperately hoped so since it was their turf.
“They should be. Papá told me to call you so we could settle it.”
“Aight, I’ll be there in ten.”
“I love you,” Emilia said.
“Love you too.”
Will started speeding back toward Deacon’s Ferry. The yellow house was just in view when he started feeling the restlessness again.
Emilia’s family was in their living room, surrounded by the faces of their relatives in wood and plastic frames, with the communion of saints in miniature gold shrines on the walls. Will was always surprised at how much Emilia looked like her father. She looked almost nothing like her mother, save for the eyes.
When they first met a year and a half ago both parents were skeptical, but things seemed to improve in the months after. The irony was that any progress was shot to hell when Emilia recently got home with an extra weight on the third finger of her left hand.
Mr. Pérez was already standing.
“Hello, Will,” Emilia’s father said offering his hand. Another mechanic. Will knew the hands well. Mrs. Pérez said nothing, she just watched her daughter sit next to her fiancé.
“How are you doin’ sir?” Will asked trying to test the waters.
“I have been doing better, thank you.”
Heavy accent, very soft, but he had better grammar than most people in that part of the county.
“That’s good to hear,” Will replied.
“Are still going to take Emilia to your church on Sunday?” Mr. Pérez said.
Shit. Will couldn’t read him with his mind so restless. He started drumming his fingertips on his knee.
“Yes he is,” Emilia replied. That got a look from her mother.
“I must ask you not to go then,” Mr. Pérez said.
“She wants to go, sir. I ain’t gonna stop her.” Will replied.
“You and Mamá and Gabi are still welcome to come,” Emilia added quickly. Mr. Pérez went on.
“A marriage is one thing, but you want her to change her religion. I cannot say I will support…” he kept going, but Will was watching Mrs. Pérez. She had to be wanting to say something. Emilia’s father was still talking when Will spoke up.
“What about you?” he asked the stone-faced woman across the room. With that he could feel Emilia squeeze his hand, “Why don’t you say nothin'?”
“Emilia’s mother feels the same way, I already said that…” Mr. Pérez interjected.
“I asked her,” Will said cutting him off, almost a snap. After a few seconds the older woman spoke.
“If she cared for her family she wouldn’t leave them for you.”
“Well she ain’t a kid,” Will replied, trying to keep composed. His head was killing him now, “You act like I’m tryin’ to break ya’ll up.” Emilia protested and Mr. Pérez tried to rein him in.
“We are concerned that Emilia isn’t thinking about the…”
“No you ain’t, you think I’m some kinda problem and want me out,” Will went on. He was losing it.
“You have bad blood,” Mrs. Pérez said flatly, “That’s all there is.”
“¡Mamá! ¿Por qué insultarlo?”
“¡Porque mi hija se convertirá en basura blanca!”
They went at it like that for a while. Mr. Pérez couldn’t get a word in. When there was nothing else for him to say, Will went to sit in the truck. After some time Emilia came out of the house and joined him.
The Sunday service was done and the families with temperamental kids had left the wooden Baptist church up the Decatur Road. A line of pickups and hatchbacks began in a procession to the river. They parked in the dirt clearing and the crowd took their place.
The middle-aged pastor had three new believers in white cloth gowns, all of them standing halfway immersed in the water. Emilia was last. When it was finished Will gave her a towel, hugged her, and they walked through the stream of praises and glory be’s of the other congregants.
Will saw the Jeffords from a couple houses down talking to the pastor’s wife. They had come out for their nephew’s baptism. Nice enough people.
“Never seen that one girl before,” Mrs. Jeffords said.
“You think they’d give ‘em their own church?” her husband added.
“Maybe when there’s enough of them,” the pastor’s wife shrugged. Will turned to listen.
“There’s too many of ‘em already,” said Mr. Jeffords.
“Important thing is that they’re getting saved,” replied the pastor’s wife.
“Can’t they get saved back where they came from?”
At that Will left the crowd and saw Emilia waiting back at the truck.
“Still wish your folks had come around,” Will said once they had shut the doors of the cab.
“I think it’s better they didn’t,” Emilia muttered.
The truck picked up speed and they were soon gone from the river’s edge.