Authors: Ray Garton
The video he was watching on the monitor ended and he scrolled through the website’s selection, found another that appealed to him, and clicked on it. A redhead and an Asian girl this time.
The day had been tense, as Fridays always were in his house. It had been Bob’s experience that Friday brought a certain tension to many Adventist homes—his oldest friend, Royce Garver, agreed, and back in their boyhood had labeled it “the Friday willies.” When Bob’s dad was alive, his parents used to shout and fight more often on Fridays. Actually, it was his mother who did all the shouting—Dad always clammed up and did not react beyond an occasional nod. She would loudly berate him and Bob as she rushed about the house anxiously getting ready for the Sabbath, as if they expected Jesus to drop by for a visit—or maybe Sister White. Bob sometimes imagined the dusty long-rotted corpse of Ellen G. White standing at the front door with the grey tatters of a decayed old conservative 19
-century dress hanging from her like the skin that was no longer there, her ugly face far uglier than ever, smelling of the mustiness of the grave and the moist, funky odor of earth worms, grinning, maybe with her lower jaw missing, rotten tongue waggling in what was left of her mouth, words garbled and hoarse as she tried to say, “Happy Sabbath!”
As a boy visiting friends, he’d noticed their parents barking at each other more on Fridays, too. Royce had said his had done the same. The Adventists Bob had known had smiled so much when they were around non-Adventists, always setting a shining example for their church, sparkling-clean and appearing so healthy and happy. But Bob had found that when they were at home with themselves, they were very different. The thickness of the tension varied from house to house, but it was always there.
“It’s because they have to be perfect all the time,” Royce had said once. “According to Ellen, we achieve salvation through our behavior. It wasn’t given to us by Christ’s crucifixion, that wasn’t enough. We have to
it with what we do and say and eat and what we think and wear and read and watch and listen to. So the Adventists have to perfect all the time, even though they’re imperfect humans. Who can be happy living like
? I mean, the Adventists don’t even—” Then, as he usually did at some point while ranting about Adventists, he closed his eyes, raised his hands with palms out, and said, “Ah-ah-ah. Don’t get me started.”
Royce had been raised an Adventist, but had grown to despise the religion. A talented artist since grammar school, he had gone pro years ago and had done quite well for himself. A longtime fan of horror movies and fiction, he’d developed a strong reputation as a creator of eye-catching covers for horror novels. He’d won awards and his work was in demand. His strict Adventist family had always disapproved of his tastes, but had clenched their teeth and tolerated him. When he became a professional, however, they’d disowned him, cementing his dislike of the church and making him bitter.
Bob and Royce spoke on the phone a few times a week, had lunch now and then. Royce tried repeatedly to convince Bob he was living under a cloud of fear put there by his Adventist upbringing, that it was destroying his life, and that he’d better get out from under it and away from the cult—Royce always referred to it as a cult, never a church—fast before he had no life left to live. A part of Bob knew he was right, had no doubt about it. But another part—the guilty, afraid part of him that never withered or fell completely silent—always whispered,
But what if they’re
Bob sighed and flopped back in his squeaky chair, distracted from masturbation by his thoughts. He was so horny, he was driven to do it,
to do it—he was
horny, it seemed—but he couldn’t turn off his brain. He was distracted by guilt, his old friend and constant companion.
A more pleasant distraction lured his attention away from the naked women on the screen: Vanessa Peterman. Beautiful Vanessa, with her thick, long auburn hair... breasts generous and round enough to draw open stares even in church... the way she sometimes held her mouth, lips pressed upward slightly, just a bit pursed, the spot of skin beneath her lower lip sucked in a little, thoughtful, but as if her thoughts were naughty...
Bob’s day had begun with a breakfast of Scramblers (instead of eggs) and Vege-Strips (instead of bacon). Most Adventists didn’t eat any meat at all, but all Adventists refrained from any “unclean” flesh like pork or seafood. They were very proud of their “health message”, which began in 1863 in Otsego, Michigan, when God showed Sister White a forty-five-minute vision that contained, according to church lore, extremely advanced principles of health and medicine, including the direction to avoid meat, cheese, and spicy foods. It had always made sense to Bob—within his lifetime, it had been discovered that red meat was harmful to the body and shortened the lifespan. Of course, Royce felt differently. After being cut off by his family, Royce had spent years researching the history of Sister White and the Seventh-day Adventist church, and was always bringing up what he’d learned, throwing it at Bob. He took delight in pointing out the fact that the church taught that it was the only true church and that all the “Sunday-keepers” in mainstream Christianity were just blindly following the Catholic church and its pope, which Adventism identified as the Beast of Revelation, to their doom. He often referred to Sister White as a “drunk” or a “lush” because she had admitted in her writing an addiction to vinegar, which back then was very alcoholic. He enjoyed bringing up the fact that while she was telling her followers to eat no unclean meats, she herself had a large appetite for oysters. And when the subject of the Adventist “health message” came up, Royce always said the same thing.
“That vision in Otsego?” he’d said one day at the diner where they ate. Bob had ordered a vegeburger and that had set Royce off. “You know what God showed her? You know what that great divine revelation about health was? That eating animal flesh stirs the animal
in people and makes them masturbate.”
Bob had laughed. “Stop it.”
. She wrote a pamphlet about it called ‘An Appeal to Mothers: The Great Cause of the Physical, Mental and Moral Ruin of Children of Our Time,’ her first contribution to the great Adventist health message given to her by God. The evils of
, which she claimed caused kidney, liver, and lung disease, cancer, headaches, nervous disorders, memory loss, and of course
. And she said
told her this
. I’ve got a copy, I’ll show it to you. Of course, these were common beliefs about masturbation in her time and she was just ripping off writers who’d made those claims, just like she ripped off writers for all her
books, and even the visions God supposedly gave her. Adventists think they’re vegetarian because it’s healthy and God wants them to be. These days, most don’t know that Ellen said God told her that meat
leads to meat
. And they’re
hung up on masturbation—which is why you’re so afraid you’re gonna burn for whackin’ your willie. I mean, for crying out loud, if that’s so—” Eyes closed, hands up, palms out. “Ah-ah-ah. Don’t get me started.”
Bob sighed again as he stared at the naked women on his computer monitor. He hated to admit it, but Royce was right. Masturbation was the only sex he had—and it was the source of guilt and fear that ate at his guts like a burning, bleeding ulcer.
“You need to cut back that brush in the back yard,” Mom had said over breakfast that morning. “And then fix the lawn mower and cut the lawn before it gets taller than the house. Grandma and I need to go to the store today, so you’ll have to drive us.”
As she spoke, her voice always loud and shrill, Bob kept his head down over his breakfast as he slowly ate. On the radio, the local Christian station played a song about bathing in Christ’s blood. Bob was disturbed by the wet mental image it conjured.
Mom said, “You’ll have to go pick up my prescription at the pharmacy because I need to take my pills before we go to town, and make sure you gas up the car. If you’re too lazy to go out and get a
like most men your age, you can at least make yourself useful around here.”
Bob heard that a lot from Mom. Every time she said it, a quiet, distant voice somewhere far in the back of his head muttered,
It’s not that I’m lazy... it’s that I don’t have the
to go out and get a job, Mom—you won’t
“And you need to give me a bath before the Sabbath,” she added.
The bath. He didn’t think about it anymore. He’d learned how to shut his mind down while he washed her. She’d had a bad back problem for decades that gave her a lot of pain, and as it worsened with time, it made her so unsteady on her feet that she had to walk with a cane. Their bathroom had a bathtub with a showerhead and a curtain. She found it difficult to step up over the tub’s edge, impossible to sit down and get up in it, and was unable to move freely enough to properly wash herself. Bob had offered to install safety rails and a gate in the side of the tub that would make it easier for her to get in and out, but she always claimed it was too expensive and refused. So a few times a week—for years now, though Bob had lost track of how many—he would go into the bathroom with her, start the shower as she undressed, and help her into the tub. He would wet a washcloth, soap it up, and bathe her as she stood naked before him. He would invariably scrub her too fast—”Slow down, this isn’t a race,” she would say—and have to slow his movements as he ran the sudsy cloth over her loose, pale flesh... over the flat, sagging flaps of her breasts... over her drooping buttocks and up and down her legs... up one inner thigh, then in her groin... over the patch of silvering hair—”Make sure you get that good and clean,” she sometimes would say—and between the vertical folds of flesh beneath the sagging scoop of her belly. She was the only naked woman he had ever seen in person, the only female body he had touched so intimately.
There had been a girl a couple of years younger than he during one blue-skied teenage summer—a stubby, homely girl named Gladys—who had sucked him off and allowed him to explore between her legs with his hand, and finally had hiked up her skirt and let him clumsily fuck her behind some bushes at the back of an empty lot in the neighborhood. Gladys hadn’t made a sound the entire time, except to breathe through her nose, which was noisy with allergies. Afterward, he’d lost sleep for weeks worrying that she would get pregnant. That had happened once with Gladys, then never again for Bob. The only naked women he saw after that were those involved in the porn industry... until he’d begun bathing his mother.
He stayed up until the darkest hours of the morning watching porn online—beautiful young women with smooth, taut skin and pert breasts, slender, shapely legs and tight asses. Then he stood in the bathroom and slowly moved his hand over his mother’s aging naked body with jiggling flesh that hung low. It was depressing, so he tried not to think about it, diverted his mind as he washed her, even closed his eyes occasionally. But it was a body, the only one with which he was intimate, and sometimes... sometimes...
he would tell himself,
it’s just coincidental, that’s all, it’s not related, it’s not really happening, not for that reason, no, my mother isn’t doing that, my mother is NOT MAKING ME HARD!
He’d spent much of his Preparation-H Day clearing brush in the back yard and mowing the front lawn. While passing the mower up and down the lawn, he spent half his time facing across the street, toward the Stewart house. Donny Stewart sat in the front window, as usual—thick and fleshy and pale, slumped in his chair beside the lamp, shoulders sagging, arms draped loosely in his lap, head drooped to one side, mouth hanging open, staring, unmoving. He was almost always there, staring out the window, kept alive by his respirator. Even at night, he sat in the golden glow of the tall lamp beside and slightly behind him, half of his face and body in shadow.
During a couple of passes over the lawn, Bob saw Donny’s mother Debra beside him, bent forward, saying something to him, one hand on the top of his head, the other wiping his mouth with a cloth. Donny was nine years younger than Bob and had been in his current condition all his life. He had sustained a high spinal cord injury while being removed from the birth canal, a mistake that had cost the doctor’s and hospital’s insurance companies a lot of money. The Stewarts had put the money away back then and used it to care for Donny—and he required constant care. The money would ensure that he would be provided for even after his parents were gone. That chair and that window made up the small world from which he watched the larger world, unable to move or speak, communicating only by blinking his eyes as drool glistened on his slack jaw.
At least he has an excuse,
Bob thought as he pushed the mower.
I’m almost a decade older than Donny and here I am, in the same place he is—still here, at home, with Mom and Grandma.
His hands clenched on the handle of the mower, his skin sweaty against the chrome, knuckles milky-white. He clenched his teeth until they made crunching sounds inside his head.
And there sat Donny, still as a corpse, in the window. He seemed to be looking directly at Bob, mocking him behind the slack, dead expression he wore, laughing at Bob inside for being even more pathetic than he.
Bob spent the rest of the day driving around, taking Mom and Grandma to town, listening to the religious music and preaching that Mom
had to have playing on the radio, and then bathing her. Yet again.