Published: September 2021
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
In the meantime, their adult offspring, Rich and Sandy, grapple with the aftershock of a tragic incident that has shadowed their lives since high school. What will happen when their secret is revealed? At the eleventh hour, Gayle re-enters treatment. Will it be too late?
This is a story of resilience in the face of uncertainty, hope in the midst of darkness, and family ties strengthened by life’s vicissitudes.
Praise For Broken Pieces of God
"A sensitive and moving tale of family tragedy and renewal." - Kirkus Reviews
"A truly lovely book, gentle and humorous, about a couple having to deal with the hard stuff life can throw at you and finding a way through." –Reedsy Discovery
The first week off was fine. He fairly flew out of bed each morning, as if he were on vacation, eager to get at the day. He’d brew coffee, read the paper, check the weather forecast, shovel the snow, warm the cars, do the grocery shopping. But after ten days, his once scintillating routine had become drab and lifeless, mirroring his mood.
By then Eddy Kimes was struggling each morning to find an adequate reason to leave the shelter of his cocoon-ish bed. How deliciously soft the mattress was, how sauna-like the comforter. Was it possible that the sheets were lined with an invisible adhesive? So difficult it had become to throw them off, to sit on the edge of the bed and then stand on what felt like a ledge, to face a new day. Now Gayle was the first one up each morning, something that had never happened before. With all that was going on, bed was the last place she wanted to be.
Eddy’s normal routine was to rise at 5:30am to be at work by 7:00am even though he didn’t need to be there until nine. It was the best way to stay on top of things, to make sure his crew was ready to go. You could never tell what might happen and when. An outage somewhere. A storm coming. Pole down from a drunk driver. Always something.
Eddy sat on his bed for several minutes watching the curtains wave in the breeze. Spring was struggling to arrive; the air was still so cold it could have been the dead of winter. Eddy got up, made the bed, showered and finally started to wake up. The house was quiet. He wondered how, or if, Gayle had slept.
He looked in the mirror at his morning shadow and decided he didn’t need to shave today. By dinner he’d look like a fading boxer—pug nose, square teeth, puffy eyes and a dark veil across his jaw. He’d like to grow a beard but Gayle thought it would make him look pudgier. Not pudgy, but pudgier. He leaned closer. He had extra face on every side.
Eddy got dressed, a pair of fire hose work pants, a black T and a flannel shirt.
He had forgotten that Gayle had early appointments. He didn’t like having strangers in the house when he was still waking up, but like she said, “Tax season is tax season; we need every penny.” Truer now than before. Gayle was a hard worker. And a good wife.
Coffee was brewed. He stood in the kitchen admiring March. There was snow in the far corner of the back yard where sunlight couldn’t reach. The garden was thawing. No buds on the trees, but there were daffodils and tulips showing. A wedge of geese overhead, a reticulated woodpecker working the oak, some wrens at the feeder. The sky was blue. Nevertheless, they could easily get ten inches of snow that night. March in western New York.
The door to Gayle’s office was closed. Eddy could hear murmurs inside so he knocked and stuck his head in. Jesse Gordon sat across the table from Gayle.
“Hey, Eddy, how’s it going?” Jesse owned a string of gas stations.
“I’ll know in about an hour.” He smiled broadly. “I don’t know what I’d do without Gayle here. And I’m not alone.” He winked.
“C’mon now.” Gayle was hunched over her computer, a legal pad beside her, tax forms stacked all around.
Jesse turned sideways in his chair. “Any final news on Universal and Scope?”
“Nothing,” said Eddy.
“What a mess?”
“How’s the gas business?”
“Prices are holding. Never can tell, though.”
Gayle looked up from her work. Her face was sallow. She smiled.
“Morning, honey. How’s it going?”
Her back now to Jesse, her smile turned into a grimace. “Fine.”
“Can I get you something? Tea, maybe?”
She stuck out her tongue. “No thanks.”
“Nothing, really.” Their eyes locked for a moment.
“Okay. I’m going for a walk. I’ve got my phone if you need anything. From the store or whatever.”
Jesse shifted in his seat, eager to get back to his refunds.
Eddy stood on the front porch for several minutes. White clouds with smoky bottoms had arrived from the west. He breathed deep as a bellows. As the sun emerged from behind a cloud, he could feel a hint of warmth on his face. He unzipped his jacket. Another deep breath and he headed down the sidewalk.
Caroline Kerrigan was digging near her front porch. She wore baggy sweats and a hoody. And gardening knee pads. Her gray hair was tied in a red checked kerchief.
“Getting started already,” said Eddy.
She got up on her hands and knees and then sat back on her heels. “You’re still alive, I see. I don’t think I’ve seen you since December.”
“Decided to come out.”
She got up and met him at the fence.
“We’re like groundhogs, aren’t we?”
“How was winter?”
“The kids came home for the holidays. Then they went back. We’ve been waiting for spring ever since.”
“And you? How are you doing?” She leaned on the fence post. “How’s Gayle?”
“Busy with taxes.”
“Nothing stops that girl.” Caroline leaned across the fence. “I think that’s good.”
Caroline’s face had a pliable quality. Her smile could spread ear to ear, eyebrows up to her hairline. Or it could get small and closed down, eyes narrow and lips curled at the corners, held in place by her ample cheeks. That was the face she used now as she spoke; a face that was trying to say more than her words could tell. “It can be hard.”
“This is true. See you.”
“Okay. My best to your better half.”
When Eddy was growing up, the Park Pharmacy was on the corner across from the village square. A few years ago, it was replaced with a Walgreen’s so big that locals called it the battleship. Eddy wondered why they needed a drug store that sold groceries. The only smart thing they did in this transition was to keep Sam Cunningham as the pharmacist.
Sam was a classmate of Eddy’s in high school. He was a star basketball player. Eddy wasn’t. He had good grades. Eddy didn’t. He went away to school. Eddy stayed home. Eddy was his best man when he married Marianne. And he held Sam’s hand for months after Marianne died.
When you opened the door at Walgreen’s, a tone sounded and someone would say, “Hi, how are you? Can I help you?”
Today, though, Nellie was behind the counter. She turned on her mic. “Oh no, is that Eddy Kimes; quick, tie everything down.”
Eddy grinned and asked Nellie how she was doing.
“That son of mine is going to be the death of me. That’s how I’m doing.” She went on from there. It had taken many visits over an extended period of time before Eddy understood that Nellie didn’t want any response, especially any suggestions; she mainly wanted an ear. He stood and nodded.
“Is the boss in?”
“Where else would he be?” She pointed toward the pharmacy.
Eddy passed row upon row of painkillers, sleep aids, nausea medicine, stool softeners and antacids before he found the condoms. He emptied five boxes into his jacket. He dinged the bell repeatedly when he reached the pharmacy counter.
Sam’s white lab coat was pristine. He had four pens in his pocket protector. He took off his glasses, pulled a wipe from a nearby dispenser and rubbed his lenses with care. He held them up to the light and was dissatisfied, so he huffed on them and wiped again, this time with a tissue.
“And what can I do for you today? I can see you are experiencing great discomfort. If I were to guess, I’d say it was hemorrhoids. Wait, no, that’s not it. Incontinence, right? I can see it in your eyes.”
“Wow, and you didn’t even go to medical school.”
Sam pointed at Eddy’s jacket. “What’s going on there?”
Eddy unzipped his jacket, leaned over and the condoms filled the counter like so many shrink-wrapped checkers.
“An aspirational purchase. Always important to dream.”
Eddy bowed slightly at the waist.
“You are becoming a degenerate old fool,” said Sam.
“What do you mean, old?”
Another customer approached. Sam picked through the alphabetized prescription bins.
“There you go, Mrs. Hollings. Do you have any questions today?”
Mrs. Hollings shifted her cane from one hand to the other so she could manage the card reader better. She was breathing hard and found it difficult to speak. “No.”
“Okay. Just click there… That’s it… Now swipe. Let’s try it again… The other way. No, the other other way… Okay, there you go. Just check the upper box. Now all you have to do is sign and you’re free to go.”
“Thank God.” Mrs. Hollings’s face was stern. She held up a crooked finger. “Didn’t used to have to do all this. I don’t like it.”
“No one does. That’s the beauty part.” Sam folded the top of the bag and handed it to Mrs. Hollings. “There you go. See you next week, Nancy. Take care.”
Mrs. Hollings inched away from the counter, her back arched.
“That’s going to be us, Eddy.”
“No, really.” They both watched as Mrs. Hollings reached the front door, Nellie helping her out. “You sooner than me, but still.” Sam swept the condoms into a box and put them under the counter.
The phone rang. Someone had questions about statins. Eddy was impressed with how much Sam knew about medicine. He should have been a doctor. But Sam told him it wasn’t the life he wanted. Being on call all the time. Never turning off the light and calling it a day. Eddy didn’t believe him.
Sam hung up and leaned on the counter. “So, have you heard anything yet?”
“Going to call them?”
“They’ll call us, I’m sure.”
Sam shook his head and looked at the register.
“Don’t wait too long.”
Eddy nodded at the bins behind Sam. “I think you’ve got something back there for Gayle.”
Sam retrieved a bag. “This should help some with the pain. At least for now.”
“That’s what we want.”
“Yeah. Pain is, well, pain.”
Sam’s face got puffy and old right before Eddy’s eyes, like he remembered everything in his life all at once and it wore him out.
“Look, Sam, thanks for—”
“It’s nothing. Now go on before Gayley thinks you’re lost.”
Sam and Gayle had dated all through high school. They were lab partners in ninth grade biology. She was head of Debate Club. He was president of Key Club. They went to every dance and every sporting event together. If one was seen alone, someone always asked where the other one was. Sam and Eddy hung together on the weekends and some week nights, but Gayle always came first. Eddy and Gayle were friends by association.
Sam and Gayle double-dated to the prom with Eddy and Maggie Dunaway. Sam drove his uncle’s white Caddy. The school had a tradition of couples switching partners for one dance, so Eddy danced with Gayle. He didn’t think anything of it until she was pressed against his chest. Being face-to-face, her eyes so pale, so blue, was overwhelming. When she talked, her voice gently vibrating, she seemed so comfortable. Eddy’s heart skipped beat after beat, though Gayle seemed not to notice. They clapped at the end and thanked each other. She smiled and pressed his arm with her left hand.
Sam left for college in early August. Gayle enrolled in community college near home and Eddy got a job with the cable company. Sam asked Eddy to check on his girl from time to time, which Eddy did, reluctantly at first. He’d call her on the phone or stop by if he saw her on the porch. Once they got together for lunch. Then they started seeing each other regularly.
When Sam came home at Christmas, they told him. He’d wondered why her letters had gotten shorter and shorter and less frequent. “You can punch me out if you want,” Eddy had said. Sam laughed but stayed away until he went back to school in January. When Sam came home in the spring, he had a new girlfriend. He acted like nothing had ever happened. They never spoke of it again.
From time to time, though, he would still call Gayle “Gayley,” his high school pet name for her.
“Will do,” said Eddy. He turned to leave, then stopped. “How’s Jamie?”
A frown crossed Sam’s face. “Jamie is Jamie, you know.”
“Has he come back from respite care yet?”
“Pick him up tomorrow.”
“How did he do this time?”
“Pretty good, I guess. Less upset. At least that’s what they said.”
“It’s hard. But sometimes you have to take a break.”
“Yeah, well...” He pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows.
Both men shook their heads and looked at the floor. “If you need anything, Sam...”
Eddy stood at the corner of Park and Main. Grand elms, oaks and horse chestnuts filled the town square, their limbs still bare, some showing green tips. These trees, some over two hundred years old, were a source of pride for the town. Some had metal rods between their heavier, longer branches, and a few were rotting, but their resilience made everyone feel rooted, feel good.
The square had crisscrossing sidewalks that met in the middle at a white gazebo that was trimmed in navy; it had a vaulted roof and a flag on top that was so big you could hear it flapping from almost everywhere on the square. There were swings and slides and sandboxes in the southeast corner. A flower garden. A fountain that soon would be operational sat in the northwest corner. There were benches and picnic tables, all anchored in cement since several had been stolen a few years back. Great mounds of icy, blackened snow were piled in every corner, the only place the DPW could think to put it in the depths of winter. While most of the grass was brown, there were hopeful patches of green here and there.
Clevon Gaddis sat on a bench near the gazebo.
“How about this,” said Eddy as he looked up at the trees. “Gives you a good feeling when you can sit on the square again.”
“I suppose it does.”
Eddy sat down and both men were quiet for a few moments. Clevon took off his gloves and laid them on the bench. His hands were chunky and raw, work hands.
“So,” he said.
“Yeah, I know.”
“What do you know?”
“I’m afraid not much more than you know. I am way outside the loop at this point.”
“Damn.” Clevon shook his head hard. “Not fair, not fair at all, plain and simple.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“Well, no one’s closed the doors. Nothing like that. I’ve seen a lot of owners come and go. They all had ‘new ideas’,” he air-quoted. “And then they’d settle down or they’d sell out and we’d start over again. But the work still had to be done by someone. Cable doesn’t lay itself. And that means they need people, people like you and me.”
Clevon had been with Universal for seven years, which made him a newcomer. Eddy had been with the company when they were Minute Cable, Total Cable, Cable Quest, Cable 4U, Everlasting Cable, then Unlimited Cable and, nine years ago, Universal Cable. Every time there were changes, wages dropped, layoffs followed, some jobs were lost, then most people were hired back and, in the end, they went on.
“I still don’t like it.” Clevon’s hands were fidgety and he looked back and forth like he was waiting for a train that was never going to come. “How many weeks you been off?”
“Eight. I’m ten. Driving me a little crazy. I don’t want to sit; I want to work. That’s what I do.”
“You’re looking at it.”
“Well, I’m sure—”
“Of what? Did you hear about overtime?”
Eddy had heard rumors that he tried to ignore.
“I’ve heard a lot of stuff. Nothing certain.”
“Well, this is certain. Ralph was at the meeting this morning and Danvers himself told everyone that unlimited overtime was a thing of the past. Do you believe that?”
Eddy unfolded his arms. “He said what?”
“What I said—no unlimited overtime. Period. End of sentence.”
Now it was Eddy’s hands that were fidgeting. The family room—overtime had helped buy that. The boat—overtime again. College for Rich and Sandy—if it weren’t for overtime, they’d be working at Walmart, or worse, Universal.
“Are you sure about this? I mean, are you sure Danvers didn’t say they were thinking about this or were just threatening to do it—”
“None of that. Done deal.” Clevon was breathing hard.
Eddy rubbed his palms on his pant legs and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees.
“Look, Eddy, I know you been a company man for a long time; and the company’s done good by you. You’re a supervisor and all that. But times have changed. That don’t matter anymore. Then was then. Now is now.”
Clevon opened his mouth but closed it again. He patted Eddy on the back and stood. They shook hands. Then Clevon crossed the street and got into his gray Saturn.
Eddy didn’t think he needed to tell Gayle any of this, at least not now. When you’ve been married as long as they’d been married, you learn when to say things and when to wait. Everyone says ‘being honest’ and ‘always telling the truth’ are what make for a good marriage. Eddy agreed. Up to a point. When it came to being honest, timing was everything. It’s not what you say, but when you say it and how you say it. Or, whether you ever say it at all.
It takes a long time to figure this out, especially with someone you love. When Eddy was laid off the first time, Gayle was pregnant with Richie. It was a hard pregnancy. She was very sick. Eddy got up every morning and ‘went to work’ even though he didn’t have a job, just to keep things normal. It was about three months before new owners settled in and he got his job back. In the end, he never told her. What did it matter? Sometimes you have to keep things to yourself; otherwise, everything might crash into a million pieces on the floor. Then what? Life only seems imperishable.
The park was getting busy. A half dozen squirrels on the run, moms and dads pushing strollers, kids on swings. Cardinals trilling and somewhere a woodpecker was pounding. When winter came, Eddy loved the silence. But he loved the sound of spring even more.
The chimes at the First Presbyterian Church marked the hour. Eddy stopped for a moment to watch city workers clean the fountain and then he headed for the church. A few tiles were missing from its slender spire. There were modest double doors at the entrance. There were stained glass windows on either side of the front door and three larger ones on both sides of the building. Above the entrance was a rose window depicting creation, modeled after the one at the National Cathedral. The sanctuary was lined with oak pews. Wood beams anchored the vaulted ceiling. On the altar there were a small lectern and a larger raised one where the preacher preached. The choir loft was behind the altar and above the loft was a gold cross, probably nine feet tall. At least that’s how Eddy remembered it from when he and Gayle had gotten married.
Eddy headed round back to the meditation garden. It was sequestered behind dense holly bushes surrounding a twelve-foot-tall statue of Jesus. The bronze plaque said—Jesus the Consoler.
In the ‘50s, when the church was going great guns, a rich congregant died and left money for the church, stipulating that it had to be used for an “external adornment of a religious nature.” Church folk say that the marble was quarried in Greece and sculpted in Italy. It arrived on a massive flatbed. Schools closed early so children could watch the fifty-foot crane hoist the gleaming white Jesus into place.
Some whispered that area Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans and Catholics smiled through thinly veiled covetousness when Rev. Cecil Upchurch discovered an imperfection—a chip the size of a man’s thumb near Jesus’s collarbone.
Stunned and embarrassed, church elders wanted to sue. But Rev. Upchurch saved the day. Kind of. He said the “notch,” as it became known, was a sign of Jesus’s identification with human imperfection and a reminder that Christ alone was perfect. Most members accepted this, though several members left for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where money matters were handled more deftly.
This opened the door for every arm chair theologian in town to take shots at The Consoler. The biggest complaint was that Jesus’s nose was too large; that it wasn’t “Anglo-Saxon” enough; that it looked, well, “Jewy.” Upchurch explained that Jesus was middle-eastern. And a Jew. Many congregants were aghast. Behind closed doors, some members suggested that it might be time for Rev. Upchurch to consider a new calling. Some even referred to him as “Rev. Upchuck.” Others left to join the Chapel of the End Times out on Town Line Rd.
Finding no one in the garden, Eddy sat on the cool marble bench. He looked up at Jesus’s face, which was tilted down as if looking back at him. “Howdy.” Jesus looked a little sixties-ish, his hair long and his beard thick. There was a faint smile on his lips. His arms were outstretched, billowy sleeves hanging loose, palms up, fingers open and curled slightly. His feet were bare. The years and the winters had replaced his gleam with elephant gray grit.
Eddy came to the garden for the first time when he started getting bad news. He was out for a walk and passed the church. The bushes rustled in the wind and he looked up, noticing Jesus’s face peering over the holly. At first, it seemed funny to Eddy. Notre Dame may have their Touchdown Jesus, but we have Jesus the Voyeur. He kept walking, but on the way back, he went through the opening in the bushes and sat down on the bench. There was nothing out of the ordinary about his visit, except that he enjoyed the aloneness of it. He went back from time to time after that.
When he first told Gayle, she stopped folding the laundry. Her expression said, ‘I don’t know who you are at all’. Not that she was anti-religion. It was more that they had never been church people. Neither of their families had been regular either. They went on holidays, but even then, it didn’t matter which church they went to, just so it wasn’t too far away. Eddy felt uncomfortable under Gayle’s gaze. He tried to explain. “I, it’s, I don’t know what it is…it’s just…”
Gayle seemed to accept his reasoning. “Do you pray or something?”
“I don’t know.”
He kept going. Touching the statue’s feet or the robe made him feel different. He couldn’t say why, except that he felt far away and nearby all at the same time. Other times, it felt worrisome to sit there staring at a giant slab of marble made to look like a famous man from old.
“Hey, Eddy.” Peter Goff had been the minister for fifteen years. He was tall, slender, a little bent over, perhaps from the burdens of his calling; sinewy; a shock of white hair that made him look like an Old Testament prophet. Gray eyes. Peter was nearing his seventies. He wore black trousers, black shoes, and a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned to the neck.
“Mind if I join you?”
Rev. Goff often arrived shortly after Eddy sat down, his office window within sight on the second floor of the education wing.
“We could use a coffee machine out here.” His eyes closed and his cheeks swelled when he smiled.
“You’re the boss, aren’t you?”
Peter eyed the statue. “Actually, he’s the boss. From what I’ve read, he’d probably favor a wine rack to a coffee maker.”
There was always patter at the beginning, usually about the weather or the need for repairs on the roof, sometimes sports. This was followed by quiet, adjustments to sitting on the stone bench, and then one of them would speak, if only to break the thunderous silence.
“You know, I’ve been studying that face for a long time. I think I’ve figured it out.”
Rev. Goff liked to say things that invited a question. “What’s that?”
He pointed up. “Who he looks like.”
“I’ve only seen the painting in person once.”
“The Mona Lisa.”
Eddy shook his head.
“I think his smile is Mona Lisa’s smile.” He waited for Eddy to respond, but he didn’t. “You know, some researchers did a study of her smile. They had people rate whether she was happy or sad or what. And ninety-seven percent said she was happy.” He rubbed his stubbled chin. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t know if it’s that clear cut. Maybe all those people just wanted her to look happy.” Eddy stole a glance at his watch. “The smile, if you want to call it that, seems more ambiguous, more mysterious to me.”
There was eagerness on Peter’s face. Eddy often didn’t understand what Rev. Goff was talking about, but he liked him anyway. He liked that even though he was a minster, Rev. Goff insisted on being called Peter; he liked how curious he was about everything, like a child. And even though he usually came to the garden to be alone, he appreciated Rev. Goff showing up from time to time.
“I just think it’s a nice statue.”
The holly rustled and darker clouds began to assemble.
“So, Eddy, how are you doing?”
“I’m sure you are.” Peter folded his hands in his lap and looked sideways at Eddy.
“You have a lot going on.”
“Must be hard at times. Carrying so much.”
“You’ve been coming here pretty often of late.” He pointed to his office window. “I have an even better view of you than Jesus here.”
“That you do.”
Peter shifted and crossed his legs. He licked his lips and took a few breaths before he spoke again.
“You know, Eddy, this statue is called Jesus the Consoler for a reason. Everybody needs consolation, comfort, at one time or another.”
Peter, his face aglow, looked up at the Consoler.
“Sometimes you need to lift up your burdens. You know, turn them over to a higher power.”
This was the first time that Peter had ever gone religious on Eddy. Eddy understood, though, that Peter didn’t show up so often just for sports talk and the weather. He knew Peter would love to bring him into the fold, to have him sit inside instead of out. Eddy wanted to say something, but he couldn’t find words for the confusion inside.
“Well, I should go,” said Rev. Goff. “Do you mind if I pray?”
He took Eddy’s hands in his and bowed his head. His forehead was furrowed and his eyes fluttered, but he didn’t say a thing for a minute or more, just “Amen.”
Eddy stayed a few minutes longer after Rev. Goff had left. The brisk air made him stand. He looked at the stone face of Jesus towering over him. He started to walk away but stopped and turned back. Something was different. He stood on tiptoes to get a closer look. Then he turned away, blinked hard and looked at the face again. He did this several times.
It was the mouth. Something was different about the mouth. He stood back a few feet and squinted. He was sure that if a bunch of researchers asked a thousand people about this smile right now, ninety-seven percent would see sadness. He closed his eyes again and then took another look. Or was it puzzlement?
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