Prior to reading, The Caretaker and the Christian, understand that it’s sort of an experimental method of writing, with a bit of a touchy subject to boot. This short story is written from a first-person perspective. The characters juggle the narrative throughout, but the reader will see no hard indications of who is speaking. Also, time and emotion are both afterthoughts. But, something you’ll figure out as the next person speaks. The caretaker, his wife and the client, who is the only named person in the story, Henry Lowe. It begins with the Caretaker discussing things with his wife. It’s very different, but I found it fun to write. Enjoy.
The Caretaker and the Christian
The Health Services Office left another message today. I’m running out of excuses. They are giving me an ultimatum. Either I accept the new schedule, or I’m out on my ear. It’s not that I care whether I work Sunday’s or not. It’s that I know they are going to make me take old Henry Lowe to church.
What’s wrong with Henry Lowe?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Henry Lowe is a decent guy and I can tolerate him on most days. It’s strange. On Monday or Tuesday, he’s actually fun to be with. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned from the guy. I mean the dude was an archaeologist back in the day. A real Indiana Jones kind of guy. But get him on Thursday, Friday, or God forbid, a Saturday. Well let’s just say he’s not the same guy.
Not the same?
Now he looks the same and moves around the same, but he don’t speak the same. On those days, Henry let’s his Christian loose. Yes indeed, that’s what I said, his bible thumping, old world Christian. And believe me, the man knows every damn thing there is to know. Saturday is the very worst. I’ve only did a few, but it was bad, real bad.
This is Henry Lowe, you’re talking about, right? I never heard anything like what you’re saying.
Oh yeah, it’s completely true. He talks too much on those days. It starts out with him saying a really long grace before breakfast. He always reads after that. On Monday and Tuesday, it’s the paper. Thursday a book, always something really old, like Treasure Island, old. Then Friday and Saturday, some kind of church book. Hymnals, theology, prayer, and he’d mix the Bible in sometimes. It’s like he was doing a pregame warmup. I’d be making his lunch usually, when he came in to the kitchen to provoke me into an argument. Son of a gun, if he could always do it. No matter how hard I tried, it happened. Christianity versus Paganism, for the twentieth time.
You are a sucker for a good argument. Especially if it’s about pointing out the evil history of Christianity.
I know, but I literally just can’t see myself taking him to church. I’d have to sit through it with him too. Yep, them’s the rules. If you have a client outside of their home, it’s a 100% close contact order. It means I’d literally have to sit right next to this part-time religious crazy, in a church. In a Christian church, no less. He’d just love that, oh how he would. I’d be forced to keep silent while being preached at by his Pastor. He’d probably follow it up with a healthy second helping in the car, on the way home.
Well, at least you could fight back in the car.
Yeah, I suppose so. And I guess I really don’t have a choice. We can’t afford me being out of work. I guess I can start looking for something else right now. Minimize the damage, as they say. So, I need to make the call. Wish me luck.
So, what’s the damage? Do you still have a job?
Sunday through Wednesday, then three days off. Not as bad as it could be and all. Three days together is better than it was. Two days of hell each week to balance out the two days of heaven. Starts this week. I better iron a shirt and see if any of my jackets still fit.
Wonder if lightning will strike when you walk inside? If the others only knew the real you, they’d likely stake and burn you!
Funny. That’s one of a dozen reasons why I’m freaking out over the whole thing. What if someone we know goes to his church? What if it spreads around our circles that I’m attending church? I’ll be a laughing stock. People will lose trust in me as their ritual leader. Our little secret would be public knowledge after that.
Well, at least we could be honest. I’m tired of hiding our true beliefs anyway. If someone finds out, then I say we raise our witch flag and let the chips fall where they may.
I love the enthusiasm but it’s a bit unnerving. Still, it sure would be nice to have a ritual behind the house or even in the garage. Going deep into the forest to keep hidden is getting harder and harder. Between the hunters, the mushroom foragers and the high-school stoners, it’s hard to keep anything under wraps. Plus it’s just a matter of time before someone’s car gets towed while parked off the motorway.
So, it’s settled then. If it happens, it happens. You should ask the Old Gods for their protection tonight. The moon is full and there’s no wind. Go up on the hilltop, build a fire, and discuss it with them. They’ve never steered you wrong.
You know, it’s true what they say. A man is strong, but when he has a strong woman by his side, he’s invincible. I’ll do it. Be back when I’m done.
No wind. Very odd indeed. The flames are free to move where they choose and the smoke rises straight up. The sky is ablaze with the light of a million stars. The moon glow brings a momentary glimpse of life to the naked branches. It’s completely quiet too, just an occasional whisper of something nocturnal. This is what my ancestors must have seen, when they wandered deep into the wilderness. Wild, unspoiled, and completely beautiful nature. This is the great hall of the Gods, I’m certain of it.
Time passes here much slower than down below. Each second tells the tale of a million tiny shards of nature, all working as one. It’s a symphony of motion, and yet nothing seems out of place. The hunters hunt and they prey freely gives their life force as a sacrifice for the greater good. Rain and dew navigate the cracks and furrows on the land. Joining with one another until they become part of a great channel. And yet, when the heat of the day beckons, they transform and journey to the clouds.
Everything has a role in the turning. The Great Wheel sings a message of trust, to those who still believe. The magick of nature will not abandon humanity, even though humanity has forgotten so much. In this moment, everything is possible. I am supported by a thousand souls which was preceded me. My actions are awaited by a thousand more of my future descendants. It is much bigger than any single action. More important than any conflict or cause. I am a part of the universe and I must fulfill my destiny.
You’ve been gone half the night. Did you find what you were after?
Not really. I never even asked the question. There I stood, in the Great Hall. The universe unfolding right before my eyes. My future and past self, watched me from either side. The spirits of my ancestors all around. And I said nothing, not a word. I just, well I really didn’t need to. I just understood. I fell to my knees and surrendered control over my flesh. I closed my eyes and truly saw. I heard and felt and tasted the energy of the moon. I accepted myself completely, for the first time.
Sounds amazing. Wish I could have been there with you.
Trust me, you were there. Every good feeling I’ve ever had is connected to you. Each time I stumbled and every time I fell, you were there. You are my helping hand and my inspiration. When I am lost, you are the shining light in the darkness. You are one and I am one, but together we are one. I can’t explain it completely, but in my heart there is zero doubt.
That has to be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever spoken to me. I’m speechless.
It’s true, every word of it. But now, perhaps you join me and adjourn to the comfort of our bed. For the night is deep and my bones are chilled. Tomorrow is the dawn of a new day and I’ll be heading into the belly of the beast.
Good morning. I made you breakfast.
Thanks. My stomach has been doing flips since I woke up. I can’t ever remember being this nervous. It’s like the first day of high school combined with the first day of boot camp. I’m going into enemy territory with nothing but my wits and the hope they have plenty of shadows to hide in.
You’re killing me. It won’t be that bad. Have faith and listen to the message you heard on the mountain, last night. The Old Gods will protect you against the zealots.
It’s not funny. Give me a kiss, it’s nearly seven. I’ve got to be on my way.
Straighten out your tie, and say hello to Henry for me! And when you get there, don’t talk to yourself in the rear view mirror for too long. Don’t want anyone thinking you’re daft or worse.
OK, I’ve got this. Just seven steps and knock on the door. I’ve been here two dozen times. So why am I so afraid? It’s just a building and people from the…
Hmm. I forget to even ask what church I’m heading to. Here I go.
Who is it? Who’s pounding on my door at this time of morning?
It’s me Henry; from the Health Services Office.
Oh, yes. I’d forgot anyone was coming today. I don’t usually have anyone come on Sunday. We’ll come in if you’re coming in.
What’s with the jacket and tie? Are you just coming from church or something? Damn sure you’ll never catch me in one of those infernal places of greed and self-righteousness. Those Reverends, they are sick, twisted, and half of them get their jollies eyeing up the little ones. Never catch me near them. It’s just money, money, money and trashing everyone. I can certainly do without someone telling me how many times I was wrong. Mrs. Lowe did plenty of that, mind you. Not interested in another round of misery. Not this kid. Not a chance.
But…how do you….ahhh, but you…
Stop your yammering son. I’m hungry. I put the coffee on already. Drink a cup, maybe it will help you sort all that gibberish out. Come on, hop to it. And get rid of that tie too. It’s ugly and makes you look like a crooked bureaucrat or used car hustler.
Sure thing Henry. Tie is gone, jacket too. Give me a few and I’ll bring you some eggs.
We’ll get a move on it son. I’m not getting any younger. Turn on the TV before you go in the kitchen. There’s a tape in the machine I want to watch. Some new research a colleague sent me on ancient Finnish shamanism. You probably wouldn’t understand, since it’s really old, much older than any of the modern religions, Christianity included. Now don’t go judging me either. Mrs. Lowe did a lot of that too, before she up and left.
OK Henry, I’m not the judging type. Sit down and enjoy your show. Breakfast in a bit.
So how’d it go today? What church collapsed when you walked inside of it? Did you see anyone we know? Come in the kitchen, dinners ready. Tell me all about it.
Laugh it up. Today was unequivocally the weirdest day of my entire life.
Seriously? Church that bad, huh?
There was no church. In fact, Henry Lowe hates church more than any man I’ve ever met. He hates preachers, thinks they are money grubbing pedophiles. And he’s not afraid to tell you everything in great detail too. I’m still in shock. It was unbelievable to hear him bash the clergy, but that’s not all.
This is the same guy who quotes bible verses all day? The same guy who provoked you into dozens of arguments? What gives?
Well that’s the rub, isn’t it? I made him breakfast while he watched a video about, get this, Finnish paganism and a God called Ukko.
Ukko, never heard of an Ukko before. Wait a minute. You’re joking right? Tell me what really happened.
It’s true, every word. It seems that Henry Lowe is a bigger closet pagan than either me or you.
No way! Did he come clean with you?
Well, not exactly, but he hinted about it a lot. At first I thought he was setting me up for a go around. Playing a game with me and somehow twisting it into a fight. But he didn’t. I made his breakfast and sat down with him to watch this tape. He didn’t speak a word until it ended, maybe two hours. Then he turned to me and asked if I thought both animate and inanimate objects had souls, or was it just animate ones.
Holy smokes, what did you say?
Animate ones, choice two. And then I held my breath and waited. The timer in my head slowly ticked down the seconds. Suddenly he blurted out, yeah, me too. Then he started telling me a bunch of stuff about Finnish paganism that wasn’t in the show.
Like Ukko, right?
Exactly, like Ukko and Akka and sacred ladybugs. It was completely unexpected. After lunch we discussed, not argued, by discussed polytheism and the nature of paganism coming back into vogue in the modern world. His word, not mine; vogue. I mostly listened, but when I did speak, it was like he really heard me. He didn’t listen to respond, just heard my opinion. It was weird but also kind of nice.
So that was your day? Watching TV and talking about paganism? And to think, you were scared. Like a schoolboy you were.
Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. You thought the same thing as I did.
I dunno? We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Archeology day right?
Archeology day from a real Archeologist.
Paganism from a real pagan.
Then, Christianity from a real Christian? I’m confused.
Maybe, maybe not. The Gods are just getting started.
I do. Just wait and see…
If you enjoyed, The Caretaker and the Christian and would like to read more of R.J. Schwartz’s work, his author page is here.
Wondering about Ukko, or Finnish Paganism (yes, it’s real) – visit this link.