For those of you who don’t know, I published a novel (see above). For those of you who know that, but don’t know this, I’ve started to serialize it on my blog as a way of a) drumming up publicity and b) providing it free to readers who couldn’t otherwise read it. In the Land of God Chapters I – III are already available, and I plan on continuing this until it’s available in its entirety on my blog (or until there are cries of, “Please, stop!“) If you like what you read, it’s available on Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback.
Since they had moved to New Canaan, Abraham and Sarah had planned on returning to Chicago for the birth of their child. Near the end of the harvest season Sarah’s belly had grown to the point that she didn’t believe it could grow anymore. When Abe wasn’t tending to Sarah he was making preparations for the next sowing season. He had bought the necessary equipment, but lacked a crucial part: the seed.
He could have bought from a supplier in town, but he had a better idea. One night after dinner he turned to Eli and said, “How would the people around here feel about selling me seed?”
“That depends. How much are you willing to pay, and how much do you need?”
Abe showed Eli the projections he’d scratched on a piece of paper.
“Well Abe, you need quite a bit, that much is plain to see. That part shouldn’t be a problem, most of these farmers have a surplus after the harvest. The real problem is they’re going to charge you a lot.”
“I’m willing to pay it.”
Eli shook his head, “No, you’ll pay more for their seed than you would pay the supplier in town. They’ll do it out of spite, try to send you a message, it’s not financially responsible.”
Abe leaned toward Eli, “The money’s not an issue, this is about building friendships. I can’t have an entire town of people hate me and my family. I thought if I did this, maybe it could build some trust.”
Eli leaned back in his chair, “Even so, they’re going to sell you the lowest quality seed they have.”
“It doesn’t matter. I believe that if I show them I’m willing to work with them, then maybe they’ll work with me.”
Eli sighed and handed back the paper to Abe, “I’ll tell you one thing Abe, you’re a Romantic and an optimist. Fine, I’ll write up a list of people. We’ll go out tomorrow and see what happens.”
“Thank you Eli. Maybe if you come with me it’ll look better.”
Eli smiled, “Well, for most people, but I can think of one person that won’t want to see me.”
“Don’t worry about it. Go, be with Sarah, I’ll write up that list.”
After Abraham left the living room Eli went into the kitchen to begin working on the list. He started with his closest friends in New Canaan, then worked down to acquaintances, then farmers he knew by name, and at the far bottom of the list he wrote one name: Phil South. He considered scratching it out, or tearing off the bottom of the paper, but decided to leave it. Abe needed to learn sooner or later, better this way than through conflict.
Phil South had moved to New Canaan shortly after Eli. He came with a wife, a young son, and a drinking habit. He came from a wealthy family, and unlike Abraham that privileged lifestyle imbued him with a pernicious laziness. When Phil arrived in New Canaan he bought some land from Eli, the same land that Abraham and Sarah now occupied.
The New Canaanites had tried to welcome him into the community, but he rejected them. Their poverty, their ignorance, and their work repulsed him. He came to New Canaan with the hope that with a little money and influence he could build an empire, then employ the locals to do the work for him. This never happened. The New Canaanites, despite their lack of education understood disdain and arrogance. Phil rejected them, and in turn they rejected him. Phil and his family became pariahs, left alone to either die, flee, or make amends.
Phil never swallowed his pride, so the shops in town never worked with him. His tools became rusted and useless, so it became hard to work the field. He knew nothing about farming, so most of his crops died or grew up weak and shriveled. On top of all of that his drinking problem never abated. The only shopkeeper that dealt with him was the owner of the general store, and that was because Phil bought a fifth of whiskey every other day.
All of these things caused Phil to be unsuccessful. He tried to sue Eli, claiming that Eli had sold him fallow land, but given the circumstances nobody believed him. He lost the case and became a laughingstock. At best known as the town drunk, and at worst known as the rich, arrogant city-boy that couldn’t have a single, good harvest.
After awhile his wife left him. She fled in the night while Phil was in a drunken stupor, at least that’s what people said. Nobody knew exactly where she went, but there were rumors that she’d gone back to the city to be with some rich suitor. Phil and his son lived together on the farm after that, but once the son turned eighteen he left too, never to return. Most assumed he had run away from home, off to join his mother in the city, but two men knew the truth: the postmaster and Eli.
Any hope for Phil vanished after his son left. He didn’t bother with growing any crops, and in short order the house fell into disrepair. As Phil collapsed, so did the integrity of his property. Weeds sprang up, thorns choked out the other plants, and he rarely left his house except to get food and drink. He took no interest in the outside world, except one summer when he heard the growl of a motor in the distance. Over the next few weeks he peeked out his windows or watched from the backyard as an old man and a young man cleared the land south of him and built a farm.
The next day, Abe and Eli got into the car and began making the rounds. They zoomed from farm to farm, negotiating with each farmer. None of the men seemed receptive, but they couldn’t turn up a good deal. It didn’t matter to Abraham that the farmers marked up the price, what mattered is he was establishing connections; a name with a face, a human attached to a concept. It didn’t hurt that Eli came with him.
By the afternoon, Abraham’s car struggled to haul two grown men and the bags of seed in the back. They had to stop back at the farm a few times to unload the seed, refuel, and check on Sarah. Near the end of the day they had only one name left on the list of farmers.
“Looks like Phil South is the last name on the list, who is he?” Abraham asked Eli.
Eli kicked the dirt with a boot and said, “Eh, he’s the farmer to the north, just across the pond.”
“Let’s go talk to him, I’ve talked to everyone else, might as well get him too.”
“We have enough seed Abe, I don’t think we need to talk to Phil.”
“This isn’t about getting more seed, I’d just like to meet him and if he’s willing to sell then I’m willing to buy.”
Abraham walked toward the car and Eli grabbed Abe’s arm. “Abraham, are you sure you want to meet him?”
Abe studied Eli, wondering what the old man hid from him. “Of course I want to meet him, he’s my neighbor. Why shouldn’t I meet him?”
Eli sighed. “No reason Abe, no reason.”
Abraham went inside and told Sarah about meeting with Phil, while Eli paced outside hoping for Abe to change his mind. Abraham returned and noticed Eli’s anxiety.
“You ready Eli?”
He nodded and said, “Let’s drive there. I don’t think Phil would appreciate us walking across his property.”
Abraham shrugged and prepared the engine. He climbed into the driver’s seat and Eli into the passenger’s seat. They drove away from the farm, across the bridge that spanned the creek, and up the next road. When they arrived at Phil’s farm, the first thing Abraham noticed was how sad everything looked. The farmhouse’s peeling paint and broken window on the second floor. The barn threatened to collapse, its roof sagging and defeated. Rusted tools and farm equipment were scattered around the dusty, weed-infested yard. The field beyond the house contained nothing save dirt and a few withered stalks of dead corn.
“Doesn’t seem to farm much,” Abe stated.
“No, no he doesn’t.” Eli paused, “Park on the road, Abe, it’ll be better if we do.”
Abraham shrugged and agreed. They stepped out of the car and began walking up to the decrepit house.
“We don’t need to do this, Abe.”
“I want to, he’s my neighbor and he deserves to know me.”
Eli shook his head and said no more.
Before they reached the house the front door swung open. In the doorway stood an old man. His face worn, wrinkled, and tired. His hair was white and patchy, and he squinted his eyes even in the late afternoon light. He appeared weak and ready to collapse like everything else on his property, but he also seemed ready to fight; a beaten dog filled with enough will to hate. The old man leaned against the door frame and scowled at the men approaching the house.
“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” he growled, his words dripping with whiskey.
“Phil, it’s me, Eli,” he responded with caution. “Your new neighbor, Abe, came with me. He wanted to meet you.”
The two men walked up to the front porch. Abe extended his hand to Phil, but Phil scowled at the gesture. Abraham let his hand fall to his side and he stepped back.
“Eli…” Phil said, his voice trailing off. His eyes grew tighter as he probed his brain trying to attach a memory to the name.
His eyes widened as he recognized the name, “You rotten, old bastard,” he growled. “What business do you have being on my property? Coming for more of my money?”
“That’s not what we’re here for,” Eli responded, keeping his voice even and calm. “Abraham here just wanted to introduce himself, and see if you wanted to maybe sell him some seed.”
Phil laughed, “You think I’ve got seed to sell you? Hell, does it look like I’ve got seed to sell you?” His humorless smile vanished, “Besides, I wouldn’t sell to you two anyway.”
Eli glanced at Abraham hoping he kept his mouth shut, and Abe stayed quiet. He raised his eyebrows and folded his arms over his chest.
“So, you wanna be a farmer, city boy?” Phil asked Abraham. “You gonna be a farmer like the rest of us?”
“That’s the plan.”
Phil scoffed, “Why the hell would you wanna do something as damn stupid as that?”
“I didn’t want to raise a family in a city. I thought it’d be safer, and easier to raise a family in the countryside.”
“Safer?” Phil said with an incredulous laugh. “Oh, that’s funny city boy!”
Abraham pressed his lips into a thin line and took a sharp breath through his nose.
“You think it’s so bad in the city, so trying. Wait until your crops fail, wait until you get a debt you can’t pay off, and wait until these people turn their back on you.” He pointed at Eli, “This one sure will, I’ll tell you that. You won’t last a season down here.”
“Is that so?” Abe retorted.
Phil smirked, “I know it, I bet Eli here sold you bad land like he sold me bad land.”
“Listen here you lying son of a bitch,” Eli snarled. “I didn’t sell you bad property. You’re just a miserable drunk that was too lazy to make a go of it.” Eli looked into the house seeing the filth and piles of garbage, “I’d be surprised if you could wipe your ass on your own. I thank God your wife and son aren’t here to see what you’ve turned into.”
“Don’t you dare talk about my family like that!” Phil screamed. “Don’t you ever bring up my wife or son!” His voice broke as he spoke the words. “You’d never understand that kind of suffering…”
“You don’t have a monopoly on that suffering!” Eli shouted back at him.
Phil roared and hurled himself at Eli. The two men slammed onto the porch, clawing and punching at each other. Phil flailed around, his drunk swings no match for the directed, powerful assault unleashed by Eli. Phil kicked Eli in the stomach and broke free. He scrambled inside, reached around the corner, and grabbed something out of sight. Abe rushed over to help Eli to his feet, and as he did he heard a metallic click from the doorway.
Phil stood in the doorway, pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Abe and Eli. Abraham ducked and tackled Phil throwing him back into the house. The gun dropped to the floor and discharged with a thunderous boom. Both slugs went into the ceiling raining down dust and debris on the two men. Abe landed three quick punches on Phil’s face; the young man’s strength and adrenaline a vicious combination.
Abraham jumped up while Phil laid on porch clutching his battered face. He moaned as blood poured through his fingers and he sputtered unintelligible curses. Abe and Eli ran back to the car, looking over their shoulders every few seconds to see if Phil had regrouped. Abe cranked the engine while Eli stared at the porch, waiting for Phil to get back on his feet.
The old man rolled onto his knees, then slowly stood up.
“Abe, he’s back up!”
The engine roared and Abraham swung into the driver’s seat. He and Eli looked at Phil, and Phil glared back at them. Blood soaked the front of his shirt due to a broken nose and punched out teeth. He stood still, a grimace on his face, allowing the haunting silence to fill the distance between them.
Abraham shifted the car’s gears and drove away from the farm, retreating to the relative safety of him farm, leaving behind a cloud of dust, tire tracks, and the genesis of a future conflict.
When Abe and Eli got back to the farm, Abe helped Eli inside and sat him down at the kitchen table.
“What happened?” Sarah asked as she entered the kitchen.
“We’re alright, just get us some water and a damp cloth,” Abe responded.
After she returned and Eli collected himself they told her about what happened at Phil’s farm.
“Shouldn’t we do something, Abraham?”
“Go to the sheriff?” Eli asked. “No, they don’t get involved with feuds like this. They’d tell us to stay away from him, and him to stay away from us. They’d probably be annoyed that we bothered them over this.”
“He sounds dangerous though!”
Abe shook his head, “I think he’s just a crazy old drunk. Nothing worth being concerned about, right Eli?”
“I think you’re right Abe, but nevertheless it wouldn’t be unwise to take some precautions.”
“What kind of precautions?”
“We’ll put up a fence on the other side of the pond. Nothing too complicated, just a barbed wire fence to let him know he’s not welcome on this property.”
Abraham nodded, “Alright, we’ll go into town tomorrow.”
Later that night, while Abe and Eli sat at the kitchen table having a couple glasses of whiskey Abe confessed to Eli, “I wish we could just kill him and get it over with.”
Eli’s eyes widened. He never knew Abe to be a violent or drastic man, and the confession came as a shock. Rather than chastise Abe he said, “It would be easier, but it wouldn’t be justified.”
“When would it be justified?”
Eli took a drink and considered his response. “Well, if you caught him trespassing on your property I suppose then that wouldn’t raise too many questions.”
Abe nodded, satisfied with the answer.
“But Abraham, listen. It may not seem like it right now, but taking a man’s life, even the life of a man you hate as much as Phil, it’s not a trivial thing. Even if you believe it to be justified and righteous, you still took a man’s life, and nothing can bring that man’s life back. Do you understand?”
Eli gave Abraham a sad smile and said, “Have you killed a man?”
“Then you don’t understand.”
The following day, Abraham and Eli went into New Canaan. In the months that had passed since Abe and Sarah’s arrived in town the general attitude toward Abe had changed significantly. None of the farmers or shopkeepers scowled at the first sight of Abraham. Instead, they smiled and nodded or at the very least tipped their hat at him. He had yet to grow anything, which meant he wasn’t their complete equal, but they at least saw him as a fellow human being.
They entered the hardware store and t smelled of wood, metal and oil, clean and grounded aromas. An old man sat in a chair holding a newspaper, and the owner stood behind the desk.
“Abe, Eli, what do you need?”
Eli approached the counter, “You have any fence posts and barbed wire?”
“Thinking about getting livestock?”
“No, we’re just…making sure a neighbor knows his boundaries.”
The owner smirked, “Having problems with Phil South?”
Abe stepped in, “No problems, just some extra security.”
“Heh, well I doubt a fence is gonna stop him, but if you want to build a fence then I’m happy to sell to you.”
The owner gathered the materials and Abraham moved to pay him.
“You don’t owe me anything,” the owner said. “You’re an alright city boy, and I don’t wanna see anything happen to you. Phil South has been trouble since he moved here. Maybe if the drunk sumbitch’ll think twice about causing trouble if he slices himself trying to get through a fence.”
Abraham put his wallet back in his pocket, “I appreciate that.”
The owner waved his hand dismissively, “It’s not a problem. We have to take care of our own, don’t we? Besides, who else will?”
Abe smiled and nodded, “No one, I suppose.”
“If you want some extra protection I can sell you one of these,” the owner said, motioning to the various polished revolvers in the glass case.
“That’s alright,” Eli said, “I have something already.”
Abraham and Eli left the store and on their way back to the car Abe turned to Eli and asked, “What did you mean back there, about having something already?”
“I’ll explain after we get the fence set up.”
Back at the farm they hauled the wire and posts to the northern edge of the property. Eli held each post while Abe hammered them into the ground. The echoes sounded like gunshots ringing across the empty field. Once they set up the fence posts they unrolled the barbed wire with care, ensuring they didn’t cut their hands on the razor-sharp barbs.
In the distance they saw a figure emerge from Phil’s house. The figure began walking across the open field, stopping every few steps to watch Abraham and Eli, a dark specter haunting their work; watching, observing, and planning his next move against the farm.
“Just let it be, Abe. There’s no point starting trouble if he isn’t causing trouble. He’s just watching us.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“As you shouldn’t, just ignore him. If we don’t bother to notice him then maybe he’ll go away.”
Abe and Eli returned to their work, trying to ignore Phil’s slow advance toward them. With the fence completed it stretched from the west tree line to the east tree line forming a concrete northern border.
Phil walked across the tall grass on the other side of the fence and approached the fence. He leaned on one of the posts and said, “I see you put up a fence, hope it’s not on my property.”
“It isn’t Phil, it’s a good twenty feet behind the property line. That means you’re on my property.”
Phil shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking past Abe and Eli at the farmhouse.
“Suppose your woman’s pretty much ready to have your kid.”
“Phil, what the hell do you want?” Eli asked, stopping Phil from goading Abe into conflict. “You don’t want anything to do with us, and we don’t want anything to do with you. So unless you have a good reason for being here, I suggest you leave.”
Phil laughed and held up his hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t come here to start a fight, I just came to investigate what you two were doing near my property.” He paused then added, “A man’s got the right to do that, don’t he?”
Eli and Abe stared at him without replying.
Phil chuckled, “Are you two still sore about our little altercation yesterday?”
“You attacked Eli and tried to shoot us,” Abe said through clenched teeth.
“Well, you two did barge onto my property and got me all agitated.”
“We came over so I could introduce myself!”
Phil leaned back and said, “Huh, you city boys have a funny way of introducing yourselves.”
He smiled, waiting for Abe’s reaction. The heavy silence begged for a reaction. Someone needed to break the tension.
“Phil, get the hell out of here,” Eli said in a commanding voice.
“What are you gonna do Eli? Take me to court? Or maybe you’ll run away if things get too tough like you done before. What are you two gonna do to me?”
“I’ll kill you,” Abe said, his eyes fixed on Phil, his left hand gripping the sledgehammer. “If I see you on this land again, I’ll kill you, and I won’t think twice about doing it.”
Phil’s mouth spread into a toothless grin and he squinted his eyes, “Fine, that’s fair.” His grin turned into a scowl and he snarled, “But if I ever see you, or anyone from this farm on my land-”
“Just go, Phil,” Eli said.
Phil stopped talking and gave a slight nod to Abraham and Eli. He turned to walk away then spun around and kicked the nearest fence post. Abe lunged forward, but Eli grabbed his shirt to stop him.
“Better fix that post,” Phil muttered as he walked back to his house.
Abe and Eli watched him leave, repaired the fence post, then walked back to the farmhouse.
After eating lunch, Eli said to Abe, “Go out to the barn and I’ll meet you out there.”
Abe did as instructed and went out to the barn. It still smelled of new wood with the earthy aroma of the dirt faintly accompanying it. He sat down on the ground and leaned back against the wall. It was cool in the barn, and only a little light came in through the loft window and the gap between the barn doors.
A few minutes later the barn door swung open and Eli came inside carrying a small, polished wooden box. On the top of it was an etching of a bald eagle clutching arrows and an olive branch. Eli walked over to Abe and sat down beside him. Eli opened the box and extracted a shiny revolver, the kind issued to a young officer in the Grand Army of the Republic.
Eli held the gun in his hands, examining it, turning it over, opening the chamber and giving it a gentle spin.
“Did I ever tell you I fought in the Civil War?”
Abe shook his head.
“I was a lieutenant in the Army. My parents had money and they knew the right people. They got me a position as an officer and because of that I got one of these.” He held up the revolver for Abe to see it better.
“I never even shot the damn thing. I…ah, got hurt before I could even shoot it.”
Abe cocked his head, “The war ended before you recovered?”
Eli shook his head, “No, I got discharged once I recovered. The Army decided I’d given enough to my country already.”
“How did you get hurt?”
“I got hurt in such a way that it didn’t kill me, but it killed my future.”
Abe thought about what Eli meant, then finally understood. “Oh, that explains why-”
“Why I never married? That’s right.”
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Eli.”
Eli shrugged and said, “Me too. But that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” He handed the revolver over to Abe, “I wanted to talk to you about giving you this.”
“I’m an old man, Abe. There’s no telling when I’ll go, and I wanted you to have something to protect yourself and your family with. I’ll teach you how to use it, so in case something happens you’ll know what to do.”
Abe let the revolver sit in his hands, he treated it like a holy relic too delicate to be touched.
“It won’t break if you hold it by the grip,” Eli chuckled.
Abe’s fingers curled around the grip and he put his index finger on the trigger. Eli took Abe’s hand and said, “First lesson: don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to pull it.”
Eli stood up and said, “Come with me outside, I’ll show you how to shoot it.”
The two men exited the barn. The sun had already made its way toward the horizon, a clear sign that fall and the winter approached. Storm clouds moved in from the west, the massive thunderheads gray and reaching high into the sky, one last storm for the season. Abe noticed the approaching storm, and despite not being a superstitious man he found it unnerving and symbolic of something. Storms could renew, but they could also destroy, and he wondered if the storm foretold of renewal or destruction.
Eli led Abe over to the line of trees next to the creek. He pulled a knife from his pocket and etched a target into the trunk then stepped back to inspect his work.
“It wouldn’t be good enough at West Point, but it’ll do for us.”
He walked back over to Abe and took the revolver from him. Eli pulled six shells from his pocket and methodically loaded them into each chamber. He held the gun with two hands, his forearms tensed, but relaxed at the elbow, his feet shoulder width apart. Eli exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The gun’s muzzle erupted with light and smoke and sound. He worked with the recoil allowing his arms to become parallel with his body. A bullet slammed into the tree sending splinters of wood flying in every direction.
He lowered the revolver and handed it over to Abe.
“It may look easy, but if you’ve never fired a gun before it’ll take some getting used to.”
Abe mimicked Eli’s stance, took aim, and fired. The bullet skipped off the side of the tree and hit the tree next to it. He lowered his arms and said, “Helluva kick on this thing.”
“You’ll get used to it. Try again.”
Abraham did as commanded. He took aim and fired again, this time the bullet struck one of the outer rings of the target.
“Better, at least you got inside the target this time.”
Abe fired two more shots, each one closer to the center of the target. The clouds darkened the sky over the farm, and a few errant rain drops hit the leaves at the top of the trees. Abe took aim one last time, centered on the target and pull the trigger. The bullet hit the center of the target causing a spider web of cracks to form. As soon as the noise of the gun dissipated, the sky seemed to return fire with a loud crack of thunder.
Eli inspected the target. “Good shooting for your first time. Now let’s get inside before the storm really hits us.”
They walked back across the open field toward the house, Sarah stood in the back door with both of her hands on her round belly. She ushered the two men inside and sat them down for dinner. With the dishes cleared away, and Sarah in the living room, Abe and Eli went out on the porch to enjoy the last storm of the season.
Eli turned to Abe and said, “I never really told you about my life before New Canaan, did I?”
“No, you haven’t.”
Eli rubbed his cheeks with one hand and said, “I guess I owe it to you to tell you about that.”
He leaned back in the chair and began his story. “I grew up in an old mill town in Massachusetts. My parents were wealthy people, claimed they could trace our lineage back to before the Revolution. Phil’s parents were…” he paused, mulling over how to continue the story, “They were wealthy people too. Phil and I were best friends. We did everything together, went everywhere together, and shared just about everything.”
He sighed before continuing, “The only thing he ever knew was out of bounds was this land, and my fiancée. She and I loved each other, Abe. That’s a rare thing in wealthy circles, but we did. We had plans to marry, but the war interrupted us.
My parents thought it would be fashionable for me to be an officer in the Army. It’d impress their Abolitionist friends, they’d look like good patriots sending their son off to fight the rebels.” Eli shook his head, “They didn’t give a hoot in hell about any of that, they just knew it would be good for their business. So, like I said, I became a lieutenant and went off to war.”
“What about Phil?”
“He was too young, his family…cared about him. I made it to the front and the first time I saw combat I got hurt, like I told you. Once I recovered and got home, I broke off the engagement. After that, I couldn’t stand to be around and have that constant reminder of what I’d been denied. I took my inheritance money and headed west.
On the way, I stopped in New Canaan, and thought it’d be a good place to settle down, so I did. Time passed, I started my business, and Phil contacted me. Said he’d gotten married and wanted to move here, so I told him I’d help him. I’m sure you’d understand my surprise when he showed up his arm around my old fiancee.”
Abraham sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“I wanted to stay professional about things, but I just couldn’t. I sold him the property, but I refused to help him. As a result, his farm failed. I guess it was my way of getting revenge. When he started telling people I’d sold him bad land that was it. I took him to court and won, but by then our friendship had already ended. That was just me twisting the knife a little more.”
Abraham nodded and looked down at the floor, listening to the gentle roll of thunder and the raindrops hitting the puddles. “I’m sorry Eli. It’s one thing to be betrayed by a stranger, but a good friend? The only thing worse would be a family member.”
“I always felt cheated. Like his life was supposed to belong to me, like his son was supposed to be my son, like I was supposed to share my bed with his wife.” Tears formed in Eli’s eyes. “After his wife left, people said she got sick of Phil and walked out, but I know the truth. When his son left and didn’t come home people said the same thing. I knew the truth and it damn near killed me.”
Abe paused for a moment before asking, “So, what happened to them?”
Eli patted Abe on the knee and said, “I’m sorry Abe, I’ve dug up enough skeletons tonight. I’d rather not dig up those too.”
“I understand…and I finally understand why this land meant so much to you.”
“It felt like, if I could just be close to them it would be like I was a part of their life,” Eli said in a choked voice.
The two men sat on the porch listening to the rain and the thunder and watching the flashes of lightning.
Eli turned to Abe and said, “Why did you come to New Canaan?”
“Sarah and I came from wealthy families in Chicago, bankers and industrialists. I never saw it, but I knew how they ruined lives, cared for people like they were just accounts, and how they cared more about their accounts than they cared about people. I knew that I didn’t want to raise my child around that.
I heard there was property for sale down here, and it seemed far enough away from that terrible business. I know it’s not perfect here, Eli, but at least down here I feel like I can be human, and more importantly my child can grow up feeling human. I always felt like an asset, and I know Sarah felt the same way. We didn’t want that life anymore, and we didn’t want that for our family.”
“I think you made the right choice coming down here. You, and Sarah, and I, we all grew up in that environment, and no child deserves that. It may not be easy for them, but it’ll be better for them.”
The storm continued late into the night and grew in intensity. When Sarah got into bed she winced from the sharp pain that radiated through her abdomen. She hid it well, and dismissed it as a strong kick from the baby. Sometime around midnight she woke up from a peel of thunder and an agonizing pain that shot through her stomach. She sat up in bed and clutched her stomach.
Abe sat up beside her and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
The lightning flashed and the thunder roared and she groaned.
“I think the baby’s coming.”
“I’ll send Eli for a doctor.”
Sarah cried out then caught her breath, “No, the baby’s coming now. I need you to help me downstairs.”
Abe helped Sarah out of bed and onto her feet. Eli appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s having the baby.”
Eli’s face turned white, then he said, “I’ll go downstairs and boil some water.”
He retreated from the doorway, ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. Every few feet Sarah bent over and cried as new pains rippled through her body. They reached the bottom step and Sarah almost collapsed.
She moaned, “Just let me have the baby here.”
Abraham hoisted her up and half-dragged her to the kitchen. Eli waited in the kitchen, his sleeves rolled up, and a pot of boiled water next to him. He helped Abe to lie Sarah down on the kitchen floor. She hiked up her dress and spread her legs.
Outside the storm raged on. Wind shook the house and rain lashed at the windows, the force of it threatening to destroy the house and everyone in it. Sarah’s cries matched the thunder, and every time she screamed louder the thunder rose to the challenge. Eli held her hand and wiped her brow while Abe knelt between her feet. Sarah tried to focus on staying calm and leveling out her breathing. She wasn’t sure if women had heart attacks during child birth, but she didn’t want to risk it.
She looked up and said between breaths, “I didn’t think it would happen this soon, is it too soon?”
Abe shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”
Eli tightened his grip on Sarah’s hand and said, “Don’t think about that, just focus on having the baby.”
She pushed, and pushed, and pushed until she thought she might pass out, then relief washed over as the baby left her. A small creature coughed then began crying. Before she had time to smile fresh pains gripped her body. She dug her fingers into Eli’s arm and pushed again, this time unconsciously, followed by another tidal wave of relief. Another miniature cough followed by more crying.
Abe wrapped his two sons in the same blanket, gently wiping their faces with a wet, warm towel. They squalled, their faces contorted and mouths agape. Eli helped Sarah to lay her head down. She wanted to see her children, but she needed the rest. The wind died down, becoming a gentle breeze, the thunder became a dull rumbling in the distance, and the rain a light tapping on the roof.
“Sarah, we had twins,” Abe said in a breathless voice. “They’re boys, two sons.”
Abe, usually not an emotional man, allowed tears to flow down his cheeks and catch in his beard. He held the babies to his chest and wept. Eli came over to him and patted him on the shoulder, and he cried too. He cried out of happiness and sorrow, overjoyed to be here for the birth of these beautiful things, and grieving that they could not be his own sons.
In a weak voice Sarah said, “I want to see them.”
Abe brought the two babies to her. She placed them on her chest. Their crying had lowered to a whimper. She placed one on each breast and they ate. Each boy looked the same: black hair, softness around the eyes like their mother, the rest of their face strong like their father. Despite their sameness, something set them apart. When the first boy came he cried, but it seemed out of a known necessity. When the second boy came he cried, but it seemed to be different than instinct. It seemed like an outpouring of emotion before any human knows emotion, a primordial wail.
“What should we name them?” Abe asked. The question directed at Sarah, but it also included Eli’s opinion.
Sarah petted the first boy’s head and said, “Isaac.” She switched hands to pet the second boy, but she frowned, “I don’t know about him.”
“Ishmael,” Eli said. Sarah and Abraham looked at him. “Ishmael. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael.” He shrugged, “Just seems appropriate.”
Abe and Sarah looked at their sons.
“Isaac…and Ishmael,” Abe repeated in a whisper. Sarah smiled and said, “The sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael.”