I could see him from the path. Up there, on the hill. Waving at me as though I were old Aunt Bertha coming back from attending some childbirth or something.
How did he know that I was coming back? Who tipped him off?
Of course, he may have thought I was someone else.
Someone he would be glad to see.
I can’t believe how he treated me.
He cried all over my tunic. As though on top of everything else I’ve been through – and in – I needed that on my clothes too.
What a wimp.
Crying over me like I’d just come back from the dead, or something.
And there was my brother, Joseph, waddling around, nodding and nodding that fat head of his. I wonder when the last time he could poke himself and find a rib.
Daddy’s little marionette. Yes, Father. Yes, Father. Yes, Father.
It is kind of funny, though, now. He’s not Yes, Fathering, at all. He looks kind of put out with the old man.
Just one look at Joseph’s face and I wish I had the money to leave again.
That’s not right, really.
I wouldn’t even have to see anyone’s face to wish I had the money so I could leave again.
Where is her face anyway?
I dreamed of seeing her crossing the yard, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her apron, half-running, half-fainting at the joy.
But she’s not out here with us.
Maybe she hasn’t heard.
But, of course, she’s heard.
I’m the big news.
I’m The Big News.
Not much to imagine, really.
In this town.
I’ll be the only news for the next century.
Except maybe for the calf that was born blind or something.
Except no one will cry for me except my stupid father.
No. The neighbors won’t even talk about it. They’ll just do what they always do with really bad news: look at one another and shake their heads and shrug their shoulders.
Oh, well. They’ll think. This is the way with life. You can never get the bad out of your life for good.
That’s me: the bad.
That’s me: the snake.
The snake in the Garden of Perfection.
Just look around, why don’t you?
Look at how nice things are. The house. The barn. The animals.
You’d think you were in a fairy story.
Except this isn’t a fairy story.
It’s a story all right. Just not that kind.
And right now, I get to be a sheep.
A lost sheep that’s been found and brought home again.
The perfect fold. The perfect shepherd. The perfect everything.
Except for me.
I guess I could expand that storyline and make myself the black sheep.
That’s not a character in this or that story.
But I’ll make it so.
I’ll be the snake in the perfect lush farmyard. I’ll be the black sheep in the story that ends happily ever after.
Funny that. That kind of ending. Here and now. In this story. Or even in that one.
Oh, how I hate my father.
Standing there, beaming at me. All I had to do was kneel at his feet and say, “I sorry, Father,” – tears in my eyes, of course – and I didn’t just get a job in his barn. I got a feast in my honor!
How stupid can he be?
If I could I would pull all this perfection down around his ears, and let him sit in the wreckage with boils all over him. Just like Job.
Just to show him that his love – all his love – all this perfection – really amounts to nothing.
But that’s not the real horror of this.
The real horror is that this really isn’t real.
It is a story in a book.
And I’m not even sure that I have any dimension in that story. In that book.
I mean, the book itself has dimensions. Height. And width. Depth.
You can touch the book. You can touch the individual pages.
But you can’t touch me.
I’m nothing more than a symbol.
An icon, really.
An icon of The Forgiven.
Just think. This story is really a retelling of the first story in the Bible.
The snake is forgiven.
Judged. Sentenced to punishment.
But ultimately, let off the hook.
And here I am: redeemed.
Except I’m not —
I’m just a character in a story in a book that people can close and put on the shelf when they want to take their kids to the park and push them on the swings.
I am who they can carry in their hearts when they think, Why, yes, even if I do really bad things, I can be forgiven.
A role model for losers.
Because, in the end, just who is hell is The Forgiven anyway?
All I get to be is the mirror that reflects the greatness of The Forgiver.
That’s where it’s at, really.
In the forgiving.
The Forgiver gets to be the hero.
The Forgiven gets to stay the schmuck.
I get to do the dance of the fool: Hey, Look At Me! I violated my father, and now I get to be sorry, and he gets to be my savior.
I suppose I could ring some bells while I dance.
So. Here I am.
Back where I started.
I was going to be so grand. So big. Friends in all the “right” places. Money in my pocket. Girls willing for me to do anything I wanted with them.
And now I get to take care of the sheep. And the pigs. And the cows. And the chickens.
I guess that makes me a shepherd.
From a black sheep to a shepherd. And all because of an, “I’m sorry, Father.”
Perhaps it won’t be so bad if I learn to nod my head like Joseph and say, Yes, Father.
Perhaps one day I’ll even stop being The Forgiven, and just be a regular person again.
No longer the bright, shining symbol of the one who fucked up and had to come home again just to get a chicken bone to suck on.
Perhaps even one day I’ll have someone of my own to forgive.
Perhaps one day I’ll say to my own son, Welcome home. I’m so happy you are here. I love you.
And the meat does smell mighty delicious.
Should I offer to help in some way?