Laying on of Hands
"...leave you peace, My peace I give you...."
The lady was old and she was suffering. There was no other reason for her suffering ... only age. She knew that God had His plan, and it surely wasn't for her to try to make any sense of it ... but there were times when she thought that God had really put a good one over on the world.
"...Look not on our sins but on the faith..."
Such thoughts in church, she thought. Really. But church or no church, she couldn't keep the thoughts from coming. It was hard for her to concentrate on the Mass because of her hands. They really hurt bad.
God wasn't totally to blame. People had done it to themselves, they figured they were so smart. But like the President had said the other night on the telly, it had happened on His watch. I wonder if the President has to suffer with arthritis, she thought randomly.
"...of your church and grant us the peace..."
You live life the best that you can, she thought sadly, and then God pulls the rug out. Well no, not quite like that, unless you were to say that he drags it out bit by bit while He gets His grip on it. That's growing old. The worst part of growing old is that it goes so slow. She thought: On a good day I can walk to the grocery market. And when I'm there I can't get too many groceries because the bags get heavy much faster now. I look out my window, I go to the Tuesday night old folk's card games.... Smart people that we are, we've stretched the life-span. It was something we did while we were young, not thinking what it would be like to be so old for so long....
"..and unity so that we may live forever and ever. Amen."
A cruel thing to have happen, the old woman thought, wringing her hands, carressing one with the other. Oh they hurt so. A tear slipped out of her eye before she could squeeze it back.
"May the peace of the Lord be with you always."
"And also with you," she answered automatically. She sighed again. Lord, forgive this troubled soul, she prayed, it's just the pain talking, You know. She was a lot healthier than most women her age and to her credit she knew it and thanked God for it. It was just the arthritis that she damned.
"Let us share with one another some sign of peace."
She turned to her left to the young man whom she recognized as a regular. He always arrived for the Mass at the last minute and today was no exception. Today, one of the few remaining places had been beside her. She offered her hand hoping
(please dont hurt me)
that he'd be mindful of the old bones. In fact, he took it firmly but gently, carefully and with such respect so that she was oddly pleased and proud of him. He smiled and said "Peace" but despite the smile she thought that he looked a little sad in the place behind his eyes.
It was only as she began to file out for communion that she realized that the pain in her hands was gone.
"Is he here yet?" Dave DeVine asked.
Ryan smirked. "Is the Pope Polish? He's downstairs in the locker room."
"Well get him to hustle his ass up here."
Ryan nodded and went down to find Teddy. Is he here yet. He chuckled again. Teddy probably got here before anyone else. He was new at the game, but if continued spending the amount of time around the club as he was putting in now, he might turn out to be pretty good one of these days, Ryan thought.
The locker room was empty except for Ted and himself. Upstairs, people were beginning to file out onto the ice for the first draw of the afternoon. Teddy sat on the bench, dressed to play, but looking pensively at the floor. Ryan frowned.
"Hey, Ted! You all set?"
Teddy looked up, startled, his reverie broken. Ryan saw that he was rubbing his hand. "Yeah, sure. Be right up."
Ryan paused. Funny guy, this Ted. Polite as hell, kind of fun to be around, but he spent a lot of time just sitting around all by his lonesome. If you caught him off guard
(like I just did)
well, sometimes he looked like maybe he was the lonliest guy in the world.
"Hey Teddy, you okay, really?"
Ted grinned the smile that was becoming famous throughout the club. Ryan believe that many of the woment were getting ready to line up.... Ted shrugged and casually shook his head. "Ah, I just got this funny pain in my hand. It's nothing."
Ryan, who thought that maybe Ted would say the same thing if his hand was hanging to his wrist by a single tendon, said okay and they went up together.
After the game (they had lost and Dave wasn't fit to speak to) they sat around the table drinking Blue and Keiths and Dark and Dirties and Ginger Ale. Teddy was looking up at the TV as the conversation swirled all around, leaving him, for the most part, unscathed. Ryan leaned over and touched his arm.
Teddy turned around. "Yeah," he said brightly.
"How's the hand?"
Teddy flexed it for him, as if Ryan could perceive the diminished state of soreness by viewing the act. "It's okay now. It was hurting like a sonofagun for a while though."
"Wicker's out with the women again," somebody mentioned and Teddy and Ryan both turned to look. There were chuckles all around, 47 women and "Wicker" Langley. The called him "Wicker" because of his uncanny ability to make misdirection shots, bouncing one stone off another one to make his shot. Sometimes they called him Jack the Wicker. Jack Langley wasn't a good player, he was an extraordinary player, not just because of his shot making, but because of his pure enjoyment of the game. Three years ago he had played in the Nationals. Tonight he was out playing a pick-up game with some women who, once in a while might get out for a weekend competition. Ryan thought that if a two-man tent was ever pitched for permanent members, Jack Langley and Ted Jackson would each hold lifetime leases.
So for the next little while the men at the table talked about Jack because there were always new stories about the Wicker and what a great curler he was and what a nice guy he was, then they talked about someone else and what a nice guy he was and then about so-and-so and then about such-and-such and what about blah-blah-blah....
Teddy went back to looking at the TV and wondered about his hand.
More stories from the club.
Jack "Wicker" Langley sat at the window, looking thoughtfully out onto the ice, looking out at Ted "Pardon the Glove" Jackson. Something weird had happened a couple of weeks ago and Jack was paying more attention to Ted. Nobody else had seemed to have noticed but Jack had caught Teddy's eye after it had happened. Dave DeVine's rink had played against Willy Zin's team. Ho-hum, so-what. Two mediocre teams. But the interesting thing was Wild Willy Zin. Willy was a pretty good curler on really bad legs. If you got him on a good night, Willy would give you a demonstraion on how to get beat really bad. But when his knees were acting up, which was often, Willy was just deer in the headlights.
Willy, crazy wildman that he was, had limped onto the ice. The teams shook hands all around as was the custom before the game, and Teddy went to do a practice slide and went down like he'd been shot. He'd gotten up slowly, with Ryan's help, and had limped back to the locker room. Willy had put such a thumping on the Dave DeVine rink that night....
It was purely by chance that Wicker was walking up from the locker room and met up with Ted as he hobbled off the ice. It was a wordless encounter. Jack was surprised at seeing Ted come off the ice so soon, but Teddy just being Teddy prompted the smile to come to Wicker's face and a greeting to form on his lips, a greeting that died when he saw Teddy's eyes. Ted was hurting bad, that was plain. But that wasn't the whole picture. Hell, that wasn't even the worst of it, Jack thought now, looking out at Ted who was determinedly sweeping a stone down the ice.
Teddy had looked scared. Scared green.
"Goddamn, Teddy," Jack murmurred. Mr. Club Congeniality, he thought. Polite to a fault. Now the running gag around the place was how Ted wouldn't take his glove off to shake hands, allbeit a minor gaffe in the etiquette of the sport, but one which Ted covered with a sincerely apologetic grin and the "Pardon the glove" plattitude unfailingly muttered with the same amount of embarassment each time he went out to play.
"What is it Teddy?" Jack had a chance to get a really good look at Teddy's hands, wondering if he had suffered some kind of ugly burn or scar or warts or pimples or something, but Teddy's hands looked perfectly normal.
Teddy was sliding back after having swept in vain for Ryan's missed shots. He caught Jack looking at him and grinned sheepishly. Jack had to grin back.
Jack found himself wondering about Teddy at odd times during the next few weeks.
There he is again, she thought. Two minutes to eleven by the digital clock at the back of the church, and there he was, sweeping down the aisle, his long coat trailing behind, with just enough time to find a spot and kneel down to form an acceptable prayer to his Maker before the priest walked in and everybody had to stand up. She liked this boy. A stranger, to be sure, but irrationally, she liked him. When it came time for the exchange of peace, she looked over to him to mentally wish him well, but he wasn't there. She frowned briefly and then caught sight him of him out of the corner of her eye. She almost had to turn her back on the altar
(which was Bad, almost a sin, something engrained on her by her mother more than seventy years ago)
to look at him directly. He was standing at the back of the church in the little room with two pews and the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother. She had thought before that he looked a little sad and lonely, but know, looking at him stand by himself at the back of the church, he looked entirely fugitive.
He moved his head and suddenly he was looking right at her.
The image of him, the head swivelling, purposeful, his eyes locking unerringly with hers; this stayed with her for a long time. He had turned intentionally to look at her. His gaze hadn't been almost accusing, but in a sad kind of way. He looked as if he wanted to pass some knowledge along to her using only the medium of his stare. She had shivered.
Because, while the intent of that mournful look was lost on her, she knew whatever the knowledge was that he had tried to share with her, it had been very terrible indeed.
Ryan was driving to the club and he was feeling happy. His wife was beside him and he loved his wife very much. Maybe after twenty or thirty years of marriage this love might simmer some and he'd only love her as much as most of the other husbands at the club seemed to love their wives ... but he didn't think so. He thought she was an extraordinary woman. Take tonight for example. On a whim she had decided to come and watch him curl (which was tantamount to watching paint dry, in his opinion). He was lucky to have her, and to his credit, he knew it. Right now, even the thought of suffering under ninety minutes of Dave DeVines's tyranny couldn't put him off his good cheer.
He would have sobered in a hurry had he known that in about twenty seconds he was going to accidently kill his wife.
Jack the Wicker had no game scheduled for the day but was also on his way to the club, hoping either to lend a hand for someone missing a player or to practice by himself. He didn't know that he was running about a minute and a half behind Ryan and his wife and would still have to take a couple of corners before they would come into view. He was far enough behind to miss seeing the accident itself, but came along just in time to see Teddy.
Teddy had taken the bus. He got off at the same place he always did and began to walk the remaining ten minutes to the club. Teddy saw everything.
They were just listening to the radio, content with their silence and with each other. He looked over to shoplift a glance from his wife, and once again was forced to wonder how he had managed to win over this beautiful woman. He smiled a little over his fortune because his wife was a wonderful person and the fact that she was also gorgeous was merely a happy coincidence in his life.
He turned back to look at the road and that was when the car hit the stretch of black ice.
He gasped and he heard his wife do the same. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her hands instinctively fly up to grab on to the dashboard
(my wife, my lovely wife Leigh, and--)
and with a sickening drop in his stomach he realized that he had lost control of the car and that they were going to crash, that the utility pole was looming darkly in front of them and
(she is a lovely lady, an intelligent lady but--)
they hit the pole at a fairly good speed and his shoulder harness bit savagely into his chest and neck. His head swung down precariously close to the steering wheel but missed, and the windshield shattered just out of his field of vision, not because of the utility pole but because... Because, ah dear God...
(she hates to wear her seatbelt)
He looked up, his eyes bleary from the pain and the shock and
(the windshield omigod that was her going through the windshield that was her oh god, i've killed her)
saw Teddy running toward the wreck.
Jack Langley came around the corner and gaped from behind the wheel of his own vehicle. He jammed on his breaks, missing the icy patch that had just victimized the car ahead of him; on this day God was watching out for Wicker Langley as well as for drunks and little children. Wicker returned the favour, exclaiming: "Sweet Jesus Christ Almighty," he said. "Ryan?" He stopped the car and --
-- and it was hard to take everything in because everything started to go very fast, so many things happened and some of them were really hard to cope with. Afterward he would tell himself that he had missed something, some little something that would properly explain the terrible sight he had seen, or perhaps he had never really seen it at all because memory is a tricky thing, isn't it? and is that really Ryan's car?
Yes, it was. For a brief moment he had prayed it was only one that looked like Ryan's car, but now, seeing Ryan shakily pull himself out of the driver's side, he could not hope for otherwise.
Next he saw Ryan's wife. "Omigod..." he said, his voice sounding far and wee. Ryan had brought his wife, beautiful Leigh, who didn't look very beautiful now (although he couldn't see her face, for which he thanked God), but who looked very bloodied, broken and twisted instead. He knew that he was looking at a dead woman.
And then he saw Teddy.
Teddy reached the wreck on the dead run, just as Jack was getting out of his own car. Ted took Ryan by the shoulders and asked some question that Jack couldn't hear. Ryan shook his head in return, then pointed across the hood of the car. Teddy let him go and dashed around the car where he found Leigh.
Teddy froze and looked down at her.
There was a hush as the world held its breath. For Jack "Wicker" Langley, things suddenly had gotten decidedly creepy. A layer of unreality seemed to cover his vision like a thin, white gauze. It was as if every second molecule of substance had suddenly winked out of existence leaving the world to look like a dream, ethereal, ghostly. There was a only the sound of a quiet wind. But, maybe carried on this wind, drifting across empty spaces, Jack could have sworn that he heard a definite, single, simple thought, and he could have sworn that it came from Teddy wondering to himself
(i wonder if i can...)
and then Jack stopped dead in his tracks because, after all, he was hearing voices in his head which is usually a definite no-go. He was still looking at Teddy, convinced that there was something awful going on here, more awful than a car crash and more awful than Leigh's broken body, something was going to happen and he knew he wasn't going to like it.
Teddy was still looking down at Leigh. Studying her. A difficult equation, sir, are you sure that it can be resolved?
And then Teddy looked up.
And he looked Jack right in the eye.
And, oddly enough, Jack was pretty sure he knew what Teddy was going do next.
Ted looked at him for a moment longer, almost as if he were asking permission. Jack stared back, too frightened to move a single muscle lest it be interpreted as some kind of assent for Teddy to do the terrible thing he was contemplating; this was between Teddy and whatever gods he talked to.
Then Teddy dropped his gaze and nodded once to himself, the decision was made and Jack could see that it weighed heavy on him. Meanwhile, Ryan was calling out for Leigh and had started to drag himself around to the other side of the car.
Teddy sighed and dropped to his knees beside Leigh. He took off his gloves and bowed his head, steeling himself for whatever it was that he was about to do. Jack swallowed hard, transfixed.
Slowly, with a great tiredness, Teddy brought his hands up and resolutely placed them on Leigh's waist.
The world, once hushed, now seemed to stand absolutely still. Teddy's mouth fell open and his eyes rolled back. He rocked on his knees, struggling to get one foot underneath him. It looked like Teddy was trying to push himself to his feet.
He didn't make it.
Ryan rounded the car and stopped, looking first at Leigh,
(my god, she's getting up...!!)
and then at Teddy,
(fell? Teddy fell...???)
and he probably felt more confused than he looked.
Jack saw Leigh stirring in the roadside gravel and he thought for an instant that he had to have been wrong, happily wrong, because as you could see, Leigh wasn't dead. He started to move again, simple actions, walk to the car, but his mind was reeling and somewhere from deep inside there was a very rational and stubborn voice shouting to him, pointing it out for him, Leigh was dead, Leigh had been dead, but that was a faraway voice, one perhaps easily ignored. Leigh had been alive all along, you see. He most definitely did not want to believe that Teddy had ... that Teddy ....
His walk to the car became a stumble as shock flodded his system. He staggered under the weight of what he'd seen. For the moment there was no going back to doctor the tapes. He had seen Teddy touch her body
(broken, twisted body)
and now, somehow...
He dropped to a knee next to Ted and closed his eyes. His breathing was ragged. He wouldn't think about it. He must have missed something while the world had stood still. Tears rolled down his face.
"Teddy," Ryan was saying to him, a question in his voice. Yes Teddy, Jack thought. Dear Teddy. What about poor Teddy?
God help him, but it was a long time before he could muster enough courage to look at Teddy.
14 Mar 1987
About: "Laying on of Hands"
The idea of course came during a church
service during the ritual of the sign of peace as I shook hands with an older woman
next to me. The first paragraph of the story was the idea. I didn't know what was to
come next. Curling is a sport I enjoy very much, and proceeding each game there is a
handshake between all the members of the two teams. The rest of the story laid
itself out as I shook hands one night before a game.
The original title was called Laying of Hands, which I thought was kind of funny,
because that was a nickname my volleyball coach gave me in college (seems for a while
I couldn't touch a ball without the ref blowing the whistle....). I changed it after
someone pointed out that the practise I was describing was laying on of hands.
It was changed a third time ("Sign of Peace") when I saw a magazine short story with
MY title, Laying on of Hands. I changed it back for publication here, because I like
it better this way. Sue me.
(This and all stories
remain the property of the author. They are not to be reproduced or republished without
the author's explicit permission.)