Emmet Dunnick imagined god spoke to him as an equal. Emmet never listened, nor replied. He wasn’t looking to be confidant or confessor to the divine. Besides, Emmet knew there was little to be gained from such unburdening; forgiveness was fleeting and fickle. As far as Emmet was concerned, god did indeed have much to answer for, he just refused to be the one to grant him absolution.
Once a man of unwavering piety and faith, Emmet no longer even wanted to believe. What he wanted was a merciful and rational world, a meaningful reason for existence, and a comforting and knowable plan, but it was far too late for this. Existence was cruel and fraught with pain. Injustice and indifference were man’s lot in this life: disease and injury, agony and death, loss, ignorance, and indignity, every life ending without regard, begging for mercy and screaming nonsense into the void, no sign or message of salvation from the hereafter offering hope. Death came equally for the faithful and the faithless. Emmet knew this, knew *beyond** certainty or faith, that all were damned, there was no heaven, and each were birthed into their own hell for whatever short span of years allotted.
Perhaps the next world would be more just.
“There is nothing to take, ” Emmet said. “I have nothing left to give.”
Emmet tired of the taste of terror at the back of his throat, like choking on a grimy penny. He feared everything. Ever since he was a child Emmet bruised easily. When cut he bled without clotting; the smallest of injury potentially fatal. He learned risk aversion at the youngest of age, seldom went outside the home, never helped with any task that required labor or used a tool that could cause him harm. He kept to himself, kept to his room, and spent long nights in contemplation of the bible and the sacred.
He’d resolved to a life of near solitude and service, intended to live a monastic life, but then he met the woman who would become his wife. She was to be called Mary Louise Dunnick and she gave him a son, and they named the boy Ethan, and for a while they seemed happy.
Emmet preached the word and secretly worried that he would be taken from this life, leaving mother and child behind to fend for themselves, but this is not how this narrative was to play out. Mary gave into drink before their child learned to walk. She blamed Emmet for her unhappiness, and was vocal with her criticisms of his inadequacies. She made him feel guilt and shame for the acts of nighttime indecency he visited upon her body. “Your desires are an abomination. No man of god would want a woman in such ways! I am your wife, not your whore.”
As much as he tried, and as much as he wanted to be, Emmet was not a good man. There was relief when Mary died. His mourning and grief were mostly public theater for the benefit of his parishioners. Left with a child to raise on his own, Emmet did the best he could for a man with his weaknesses. He was strict with the child, but as long as the chores were done, studies committed to, and prayers made, he left the boy mostly to his own devices. Emmet seldom brought the rod to bear; the child did not need disciplined in the manner of the mother. They lived a mostly peaceful existence. At least until Ethan reached his teenage years.
When the boy was was old enough, and strong enough to no longer fear his father, the life of both Emmet and Ethan changed. Ethan found a love of sin and women, of drink and fornication, devoting his days to drunkenness and carnal acts without repentance. Emmet once again retreated from the world and kept his life free from blades and other sharp objects. He never again looked for another to bring him any joy, no son to love, no woman to share his bed. There was an understanding between the two men: As long as appearances were kept, Emmet remained silent, and as long as the father did not challenge the son, neither reached for the rod. It was an uneasy truce, but both knew that someday Ethan would murder his father.
That was until Ethan met Holly Allgood. She was one in a line of willing young girls. She was a plaything to the preacher’s son. She was no seductress. She did not need to tempt him to sin. She was attractive and innocent and curious. For a short time Ethan imagined she’d be a calming influence on him, that he could court her and win her love, that he could take her as his wife, and she would be his completion, but when he found she was no better than a harlot, that she was a creature of her base nature, his frustration condemned him to anger and shame. Ethan wanted to do bad things with good girls, but he held women to a higher standard. Any amenable woman was unworthy.
“When Holly was good, she was all good. When Holly was bad, she was all bad,” Ethan Dunnick would say, deliberately trying to damage Holly’s reputation. He wanted to hurt her in ways he did not understand. He wanted to make her feel the way she made him feel.
He’d been lying in wait to accost Holly. He planned to invite her again to the barn. To once again try to be with her in the way of animals and men, and if she was unwilling, well then, he dreamed of hurting her until she complied. If she was willing, then he was certain he’d be able to perform this time. No more sticky seconds of shame and mortification. He would prove his prowess.
A simple bee with a simple sting. A sharp pain on the back of his hand. He did not yell out. Did not want to be found in hiding. And after-all, it was only a bee sting. He brushed the insect aside. Looked in fascination at the stinger still penetrating his flesh. “It’s only a little prick,” be thought, “A brief moment of discomfort.” But he was wrong. He started to feel sick, to feel faint, and when he did try to call out for help, he was unable to breathe, could not make a sound.
He was discovered later that day, shallowly breathing, and with a barely discernible fluttering pulse. There was nothing to be done for him and he died several days later on a Sunday. His body was laid to rest that very day and everyone thought this was appropriate for the son of a preacher.
What little faith remained with the father was extinguished that day. Ethan’s death proved to Emmet that god had no plan, no power over one’s life or death, or even love in his infinite heart. Emmet knew he was equal to god, not because of arrogance or hubris, but because god was so damn common.