Anna’s hands caressed the worn wood pew she sat on in the little clapboard country church. It had the soft feel of wood that has been used gently but frequently for generations, and it was better to think about the wood beneath her fingertips than the sound of David’s voice as he closed the Sunday service with a prayer. Her stomach upset had not waned and by her count, Anna was approaching six weeks with child. She still did not know what she planned to do about it, what she wanted to do about it. The shuffling sounds of many people rising told Anna the service was over. She picked up her Bible and hymnal and made toward the center aisle and the big double doors leading outside.
Anna stepped outside into a light dusting of snow on the ground already, with more falling from the gray clouds overhead. It was midday but already dark enough to be mistaken for dusk. Anna saw Joanna off to one side, huddled together with Rachel speaking in hushed tones. Rachel’s husband Daniel hadn’t been at church that morning. Several of the older children were walking and talking together, taking the supervised chance to smile at the boy or girl they liked. Sweet and simple Luke Archer walked with them. “I miss the old minister’s sermons!” he was saying in a too-loud voice. “Micah was the greatest.”
David came through the church doors like a shot, pushing Anna out of his way and to the ground as he passed her. Anna’s hands landed in snow and frost, catching her fall. She heard David’s voice bellowing in rage. “I am the MINISTER!” He slapped Luke across the face. His mouth hung open in an “O” of surprise and tears welled up in his eyes. “You will all treat me with respect!” David screamed, punching Luke in the stomach hard enough to make him crumple over to the ground. Luke curled into a ball and cradled his head in his arms while David started to kick him.
“That’s enough,” Caleb’s clear voice called out as he took long strides to cover the distance between the two men and himself. “You need to stop now.” David continued kicking and reigning blows on Luke until Caleb caught him by both shoulders and barked out “David!” while shaking the minister. David glared at the Caleb and shoved the bigger man off of him. His eyes flashed with rage and his breathing was ragged, but David merely spit on the ground near Luke and walked away.
Luke still lay there, curled up and crying. Caleb lifted him in arms made strong by years of toil, and carried him to the family truck. Anna helped Mary gather up her children and loaded them into the bed of the pickup. “We’ll take care of him,” Mary promised Anna. “We always look after Luke, like he was one of our own brothers.” Anna hugged Mary and let her friend leave, knowing Mary and Caleb would do all they could to help Luke recover from this. As they drove away, Anna wondered if they could help her recover too.