Ms. Tenney took a deep breath and whispered to herself some of God’s words: ”neither cast ye pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” She pushed the double doors open and began the slow process of dragging herself directly to the front of the church during the Town Hall meeting. The scraping noise against the wood floor stopped the conversations among the good country folk and heads swiveled to see what the racket was. Ms. Tenney took her place in front of the locals and locked eyes with each and every soul before she spoke. The crowd did what everyone does the first time Ms. Tenney comes into view; they wonder how she was made.
Ms. Tenney was thin and wiry with loosely attached bones wrapped in translucent skin. Standing in front of the townsfolk in the First Baptist Church on Main Street, she looked as if a good gust would topple her down and her hair would get tangled in the wind and drag her off.
“My hands are the voice of God.” She held out her calloused palms in offering. “For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O Lord, how great are thy works!” Her voice gained strength the longer she spoke, like a muscle that finally remembers what to do.
“Yer boys are now tween me and my work. It’s gonna stop.” She paused the fire and brimstone in her voice so she could fix her eye.
Ms. Tenney’s eyes were her only proof of life and when they fixed on you, you knew you were fixed on. That’s what Holden thought as he slouched in the back of the room, enjoying the unexpected show. He had been dozing off, hunkered down in the wooden folding chair the way he always did at Town Hall meetings, but this woman made him almost want to sit up. Ms. Tenney’s finger was coming at him.
“Yer the boy. I seen you. You tearing down my box and I cain’t get my orders. I got orders comin’ from as far as Baltimore.” Ms. Tenney kept her finger directed at Holden and began to drag herself towards him while she spoke.
“I got no quarrel with none here, ya’ll leave me be. But you boy, and yer friends. Ya’ll know my glass figurines of Jesus are what I got to sell to good Christians. I cain’t do that without no mailbox. God’s work cain’t be done without my mailbox. You quit whatcher doin’. You quit knockin’ mine over.” She stopped screeching and locked eyes with Holden.
The townspeople shifted in their seats to silently follow her as she scraped and screeched her way to the back of the room. She leaned in and Holden could smell the smoke. Cigarette and furnace fumes poured out of her and Holden thought that he could see the odor coming off of her. He smiled.
“God’s got his eye on you boy, and all that you been doin’. I know.” Ms. Tenney’s voice plummeted from a yell to a hoarse whisper.
Ms. Tenney straightened herself and looked at the room one last time. All of the upstanding citizens of Mitchellville were open mouthed and silent. This was the first time in fifteen years anyone in the town had seen her, much less heard her speak. Ms. Tenney lived beyond the edge of town. She lived at the bottom of a long dirt road that had two ends in sight: the broken down farm, or the road that led out of town. The people of Mitchellville never took too much notice of the dirt road since Ms. Tenney had never been anything more than the hermit Christian who spent her days making glass ornaments of Jesus in the manger.
“Ya’ll been told. The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence.” Her voice back to its screech, Ms. Tenney turned and dragged her body the few feet to the double doors, pushed them open and left the room.
There was a pause before the explosion.
“Settle down, now, ya’ll.” Mr. Mitchell pounded the gavel on the podium, knowing it wouldn’t help.
Mr. Mitchell, the great-great-grandson of the town’s founder and mayor for ten years running, looked out over his flock. He took in a deep breath and held it in his barrel chest longer than he should have. He finally exhaled. His people were excited and it was never a good thing to let them get excited overmuch. He looked at the crowd and caught eyes with Holden. This was Holden’s doing.
Mr. Mitchell knew every Friday and Saturday night in the summer, Holden and his boys would pick a stretch of boxes along one of the flat roads on the outskirts of town and take swings at them. Most people would leave the boxes alone for a few days before replacing them. Only Ms. Tenney replaced hers the day after they knocked it down. After replacing her mailbox hundreds of times, Mr. Mitchell guessed Ms. Tenney had finally had enough. He knew how she felt.
Mr. Mitchell stared at Holden for another two seconds and for one of those seconds he wanted to smack the constant grin off the boy’s face and feel it come off in his hand. He shook his head and asked the Lord to forgive him. Mr. Mitchell took another deep breath and thought about how much he hated his only son but sometimes wished he didn’t. Mr. Mitchell asked the Lord for forgiveness one more time.
“C’mon, ya’ll, it’s all right.” Mr. Mitchell, still looking at Holden, blinked first. He continued to pound his gavel and looked away from Holden because he knew that Holden was making plans.
Holden’s smile remained fixed to his face as if it didn’t belong there. The minute his father looked away, his eyes darted as he took in the reaction of the town. His tall, muscular frame remained slumped in his chair. To the rest of the town, he was the picture of youthful good looks and exuberance, the kind of boy the townspeople could not stay mad at for very long and no one ever tried to. Holden Mitchell’s charm was as noticeable as his blue eyes. The attention of the room focused on Holden and his eyes twinkled like the light of the Morning Star. Satisfied that none of this could be Holden’s fault; the townsfolk returned to what should be done about Ms. Tenney. By the time Holden left the meeting, he had formulated his plan.
A month later, Mitchellville was still discussing the events of that night and there was a collective sense of anticipation. Holden knew this would happen and had been biding his time. He was getting impatient himself, he needed what he did on the weekends when he and the boys went out knocking down mailboxes. But Holden knew what value was; he wasn’t one of those who didn’t recognize a good thing right in front of his face. Holden knew the Devil is more patient than God, so he waited and his patience was rewarded.
“She dumped me, man.” Chad sat at Holden’s kitchen table, his face in his hands. “I can’t believe it. I was gonna propose.”
It was a summer afternoon in Mitchellville which meant the air was so thick with humidity, everyone in town pushed through it like that dream of walking against the wind.
“What happened? You can tell me. It’s not as bad as you think it is. It’s going to be all right in the end.” Holden’s voice was a conscious combination of patience and joy.
Holden walked around the kitchen, got Chad a beer and engaged in enough eye contact to keep Chad from running off. Holden knew what value was, Chad was a good thing staring him in the face.
Chad shook his head, holding back the tears. He didn’t want to seem weak, but Holden was his best friend. At the end of two hours, Holden reeled Chad in.
“You need to hang out with us, it’ll do you some good.” Holden said.
“I dunno. We could get into trouble. You know what happened at the last meetin’.” Chad started on his fourth beer.
“That’s why we have to do it. Think about it. You’re the captain of the football team, straight A’s, full scholarship to college. You’re the pride and joy of Mitchellville.” Holden leaned into Chad, just enough to prove his honesty. “You are what everyone wants to be. What good has it done you?” Holden’s grin began only slightly.
“I dunno. That’s yer thing. I know you and the guys like it, but it’s not for me. Besides, Chrissy never liked it. She said it was wrong to mess up other people’s property.” Chad focused on pulling off his beer label.
“Chrissy told you it was wrong?” Acting on its own, Holden’s grin continued to spread.
Chad nodded slowly.
“The same girl who just dumped you because you’re going off to college and not staying in this…”
“I’ll do it.” Chad cut Holden off by pounding his beer on the table.
“We’ll go round up the boys.” Holden’s smile lit up the kitchen.
Holden knew enough about Chad to keep quiet about what they were about to do while they drove around to pick up Tommy and Mike. The trick with some people was to let them come around to your way of thinking and then say no more about it. Too much talk in the present ruins plans for the future. Holden drove in silence with a mind filled with the possibilities of the night. He couldn’t wait to taste Chad.
Holden had learned that, with certain boys, breaking the law and getting drunk were just what it took to give him what he needed. After the rush that knocking down mailboxes brought, Holden would take the boys into the woods, let them whoop and yell and then take care of the hard ons they got. Later, when the boys were sober, Holden would blackmail them to his heart’s content. So far, he’d done five boys from the football team but Chad would be his crowning achievement-- the unattainable dream finally corrupted.
It was well past midnight by the time Holden and Chad had picked up Tommy and Mike, and drained the liquor cabinet at Mike’s house. Mike was chosen to drive because Holden wanted a front row seat to witness Chad’s first bite of the Apple. He wanted to take in the whole thing, the way he always did when his best laid plans were unfolding.
Ms. Tenney’s mailbox stood upright on the long stretch of paved road and it sat there, unguarded and tempting. In the bed of the truck, Chad crouched over the edge and cocked his arm back, ready to take his swing. Tommy was sprawled out against the wheel well, lazily finishing the last beer. Holden was facing Chad, tense, his mind already racing forward to the woods and Chad’s body beneath his. Chad shouted, “Batter up!”
Mike gunned the engine and Chad took his swing at the mailbox. Chad was perfection within reach and Holden watched his body move and felt a surge of ownership. Holden wasn’t sure who screamed first when Chad straightened up to look at him.
Holden tilted his head to the side during the time it took for him to recognize Chad’s face with a thick shard of glass wedged into his right eye from the glass mailbox. Holden didn’t know that blood had a smell. The screaming continued and Mike slammed on the brakes. Chad stared at Holden, open mouthed, touched the blood and crumpled: an unconscious new monster.
Standing in the bed of the truck, while Mike and Tommy crouched down and hollered, Holden looked around and saw the truck in the distance. Illuminated by a full moon that looked handmade, a pickup truck with a trailer attached to it was bumping along the dirt road, driving away from Ms. Tenney’s farm. When it reached the main road, it turned left and creaked to a halt. The two trucks were headed in opposite directions on the flat road, with no ends in sight. Holden fixed his eye on the trailer and watched as it disappeared into the thick, summer darkness.