It wasn’t the heavy dinner that Jonathan had, or the barking of the stray dog from the fields that woke him up. It was when Martha turned on her side of the bed, and he realized that she wasn’t sleeping.
“Honey?” He turned to look at his wife. She laid unmoving, her back turned to him.
With a grunt, he sat up in bed and put one hand on Martha’s shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Come on, you know I know that you’re not sleeping.”
She sighed with what sounded like resignation, and turned to face him. Only the moonlight streaming in through their bedroom window illuminated her face: the sun-burnt skin, the worry lines that have begun to appear along her forehead, and those intense blue eyes that he had fallen in love with since the beginning,
Twenty-six years married and living together, and she was still the prettiest girl on the planet.
“What’s bothering you?” He prodded. She continued to stare up at him for a moment, then suddenly turned her face away; but not before he saw the silver of a teardrop appear in the corner of her eye. She took in a sharp breath that cut off too early and too suddenly to be anything else but a suppressed sob.
He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. “It’s the boy, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t have to. Even with her face turned away from his, Jonathan could almost feel the teardrops escaping her eyes, rolling down her cheeks and into the material of the pillow.
Clark broke a table at school today. Another kid was picking on him, and the only way he knew how to tell the kid to back off was to slam his fists against the table, hard.
“Guess he doesn’t know his own strength,” Jonathan had joked at the principal’s office. Martha, being Martha, didn’t see anything funny about the situation.
In retrospect, the quiet drive home was the calm before the storm. It was when they were finally seated at the dinner table that Martha unleashed the pressure that had been steadily building up inside over the afternoon. Clark just sat at his end of the table, head down throughout the hour-long ordeal. Twice had Jonathan tried to cut in to lighten the atmosphere; and twice had he failed, and decided it unwise to pursue it any further. And finally, when enough was enough, the boy just left the table and went straight to his room, leaving his dinner untouched.
Somewhere downstairs, his cold dinner still sat on the table where he had left it, a piece of cloth covering it.
“I never asked for this,” Martha broke her long silence. There was no disguising the brokenness in her voice. “I mean, I know we’d asked God for a son; but I never asked for this.”
“Darling,” Jonathan kissed her on the neck, and she began to cry in long, hard sobs. He searched his mind for the right thing to say, and came up blank. “I guess…” he tried, “I mean, I’m sure God has a plan, sweetheart. The Lord knows that He’s doing.”
“The problem is that I don’t, okay?” Martha angrily wiped the tears off her face. “I don’t know what am I doing; or what I’m supposed to do. I’m just…”
Her voice trailed off, and with a few deep breaths, she seemed to calm down a little.
“It’s not easy,” she said, swallowing hard, and said no more.
At forty-two, the Kents have already long abandoned all hopes of ever having children of their own, and they were okay with that. They were contended with what they had. They were happy, almost. But when the visiting minister asked them that Sunday morning if they had anything they wanted The Lord to do for them, there was only one thing that came to mind.
And who would have thought that their prayers would be answered through a spaceship that came blazing out of the sky, and crashing right into their farmland?
“I don’t think it’s easy for anyone, darling,” Jonathan said. “But there’s got to be a reason why God sent him to us. And we’ll figure it out one way or another, won’t we? I’m sure Joseph and Mary had it worse when the child of God came into their care.”
Martha managed a small laugh, despite herself. She turned around and smiled at her husband. “This boy will either be our salvation, or our eternal damnation.”
Jonathan smiled. “Then we’d best raise him up right.”
Martha fell silent again at this, and the smile faded from her lips. Jonathan held her face with one hand. “And we will. You know why?”
“Because it takes good parents to raise good kids. And you’re more than good, darling,” he looked at her square in the eyes as he spoke. “‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’, the good book says. You did him a favor tonight. You’re more than good – you’re a great mother, and don’t you ever doubt that.”
The smile returned to her face. “Great?”
She leaned in and kissed him. “Super. I like the sound of that.”
Jonathan stretched and got off the bed. “I’m going downstairs for water. You want some?”
From where she laid on the bed, Martha smiled and nodded, and for a moment, she looked sixteen.
“Be back in a minute,” he said, and made his way out of the room and down the stairs. When he flicked the lights on in the kitchen, he found that the plate had not only been cleared of food, but also cleaned and kept away. The cloth that covered it was laid in a neatly-folded pile just beside the sink. Jonathan couldn’t help but smile.
“Now that’s a good kid,” he said.
And he knew that Clark heard him say it.