FICTION: Son of Royal by Danisa Bell

He began carrying bundles of items from the house out to a large shed in the far corner of the field. He carried out several blankets and a water basin, along with a Bible and two lanterns and an armful of washcloths and towels. Smaller items he carried in a sturdy department store bag and included scissors, rubbing alcohol, and black garbage bags. At last, Bishop Yoder hauled a desk and a chair and a large mattress from an upstairs bedroom.

When he was finished he sat in the kitchen at the head of the table.

The bishop waited in the dark for Rebecca to awaken and come downstairs. Rehearsing in his mind exactly what needed to be done, he then bowed his head and prayed to God for strength and guidance.

Only a week ago life had been good again. The simple routine of Amish life had returned quickly to his fifteen-year-old daughter, Rebecca, as if the weeks spent living on the streets in Philadelphia with the English boy had never occurred.

He heard his daughter’s footsteps on the stairs and stood, meeting her at the bottom. “You’ve sinned against God, Rebecca, and brought shame to our family and the congregation. I cannot explain such a thing.” He reached out and took her by her arm.

She did not respond or try to pull away from him.

“Yah, it’s the English boy who has done this to you. You laid with him.”

“No, Daat! You don’t understand! I love him.” Rebecca tried to yank her arm free from her father and head back up the stairs. Her voice was still raspy from hours of sleep. “You shouldn’t have come for me. Yah, why didn’t you just leave me in the city with him? He doesn’t call me names or call me fat like the Amish kids do. He told me I was beautiful.”

The bishop’s lanky fingers tightened around his daughter’s arm. “You don’t love this boy. You are just fifteen this month.”

“I do love him.”

Deibel! Yah, the devil has poisoned your mind.” He pulled her past the table. “You’ll stay out in the shed until it’s born. You’ll not come out before then, understand? Until I say it’s so.”

“Please don’t do this, Daat! I didn’t know I was pregnant. I promise you I didn’t know! No one can see anyway. I’m heavy already. They’ll only think I’m growing heavier. Yah! No one can see.”

“Soon they will. Just like I did. And what would they think?” He increased his grip on her arm even more. “You’d be a whore in their minds!”

“Daat, no…”

“The shed’s been cleaned, and you’ll have what you need. You’ll be ready to deliver in less than a month, it seems. This must be done.” The bishop pulled her through the kitchen and toward the door leading outside.

“No! You can’t do this. I won’t let you.” She struggled in a frenzy to free herself from her father’s grip. “You’re only doing this because of the church. What’ll you tell the congregants, Daat? What? They’ll miss me for sure. Please, don’t take me out there.”

“You will not keep this child. You will not give it a name; not even look at it when it is born. Do you understand, Rebecca? You are without a husband. You must ask God to forgive you. And while you are awaiting the birth of the child, you will pray and study His word, all day.” The bishop’s voice faded all at once, and he hesitated in the doorway. He looked out into the darkness, and then at Rebecca, thinking about the congregation and about the community, and the things they would think and say about Rebecca, about the way he kept his own house. With a barely audible voice, he spoke. “We will do what is right by the child and get back to life.”

The bishop guided Rebecca in the direction of the shed. They walked briskly along the wash lines that still hung a day’s laundry, nearly motionless in the quiet morning hours. They walked north along the fields, now sprouting full with tobacco leaves.

“I’m glad your mamm’s not here to see such a mess.” He continued with her in the direction of the shed. “No one’ll hear you out here. Don’t try to yell.”

They reached the door to the shed, and the bishop paused before entering. “There’s food, water, and a place to sleep in the corner. A Bible and an Ausband hymnal are on the desk. I’ll come back during the day to check and bring food and see that you have what you need.” He swung the door open and led her inside.

“Daat, no!”

“It’s best, Rebecca. You’ll see.”

Rebecca raised her fist and aimed at her father with all the strength she could muster, striking him on the side of his face. “I won’t stay out here!”

He grabbed her by both wrists. “Rebecca! Rebecca! Calm yourself, child!”

The bishop released his daughter from his grip and turned and left without looking back. He quickly shut the door behind him and secured it with a padlock, fumbling a few times with the heavy restraint in his nervous, clammy hands as his daughter pounded at the door from the other side.

He turned and walked quickly in the direction of the house, Rebecca’s cries chasing him along the fields.

***

Nightfall came slowly that first night, bringing with it a sweltering summer rain. The bishop came and went without exchanging words with his daughter, only leaving behind a covered plate with steak and peas, and a cup of hot tea.

When he came again to the shed, it was late Friday afternoon. She rose slowly from her place on the bed and met him at the door. Her voice was fatigued with surrender. “Daat, please allow me back inside the house. It’s so hot out here. I feel like I’m suffocating. Please?” Her apron and the prayer covering for her hair lay strewn across the bottom of the mattress. “Yah, I’ll stay in my room and be so quiet. Promise. No one’ll know.”

He took a few steps inside the shed and was silent, entertaining the notion for a second. He walked past Rebecca. His voice was low and thoughtful. “You know it can’t be done.” He turned and faced his daughter. “It won’t be much longer; less than a month. An Amish couple, childless, in Ohio will take the baby. They’re rejoicing and preparing for the arrival of the child.” The bishop walked over to the desk and poured a cup of water from the pitcher and drank it down in four long swallows. “I’ve told anyone who asked that I’ve sent you away suddenly, but only to York, to care for a family member.”

She did not agitate her father with talk of keeping her baby, for now. She feared upsetting him. Rebecca lightly massaged her full belly with her hands to soothe the tightness she had been feeling all day. “I wish I could tell you about him, the English boy.” She was careful to watch for his response. “Yah, he is an outsider, Daat, but he is good.”

The bishop remained silent. His relaxed countenance told Rebecca to go on. “He’s seventeen and he’s in school. Oh, he’s brilliant, Daat, and he wants to go to college to become a physician.” She hoped her father would show forth deep compassion and open his heart. “When he was a small child, he was in an automobile accident and he lost his right eye. He has an artificial eye and because of it he’s been teased all of his life, Daat, just like me. And he loves me.”

The bishop walked over to the desk and took a seat. He watched his daughter’s face beam with the light of a thousand candles. “Yah, and what’s the name of this boy?”

“His name is Hayden. Hayden Royal.”

“Hayden Royal.” He quietly tested the name on his tongue but spewed it out like scalding water. “It wonders me, Rebecca, how could you do such a thing? After all your mamm and I have taught you and raised you to believe. You know which way is right and which is wrong. This is impossible!”

“He’s good, Daat! Freindlich! When I was with him, we stayed in the home of his family. They took me in like I was their own. I became ill and he and his mother took care of me.” Rebecca paused, and hung her head low. “But I lied to them, Daat. I told them I was nineteen.”

“Ei, we didn’t punish you enough when you were small. This is the reason. Your mamm, she let you get on with so much, because you were yet the only one. You were a miracle, she’d always say, because she lost five before you.” The bishop looked at Rebecca. “How did you come to meet this boy?”

Rebecca was silent. She pondered her father’s lack of compassion. Her voice fell to a near whisper. “He came to the Amish Farmer’s Market where we work, many times, and we talked. One time about school, another about our families, everything. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Anything! Oh, Daat, if only you could know him. He is intrigued by the Amish culture besides, and the way of life.”

“Yah, well! They’re all interested in the Amish way, doncha know! Running after us with their cameras and their questions! Been tellin’ you all your life, Rebecca, we’re set apart from the English, from their world. Yah, our way is plain and simple, and they don’t understand. We’re a spectacle to ’em.” The bishop sighed and removed his hat from his head, resting his elbows on his knees. The hair in his long beard had reddened just a touch from the summer sun. He sat twining the rim of the hat with his fingers. “I have failed to protect you. God, how this and not the cancer would’ve put your mamm in her grave today.”

“You didn’t fail me.” Rebecca reached out for her father’s shoulder and was stunned with a paralyzing pain in her abdomen. Fluid rushed from between her legs and down her stockings. She gasped and called to her father. “Daat! Something’s happening!”

The bishop jumped to his feet, dropping his hat to the floor. He guided Rebecca to the bed and instructed her to lie down.

“But it’s not time, right? It’s too early! You said another month.”

He grabbed towels and water from a bag. “Ei, the child doesn’t know this!”

“Are you going to go for the midwife?”

“No. There’s no time. I will have to do it myself and have it done.”

“No, Daat! I don’t want you to do it!”

“It’ll be the same as delivering the mares. We’ve done it plenty. I have to run now to the house for some things, and be quick about it.”

A short while later the bishop returned. Rebecca began to bear down and push.

“It’s coming, Daat!” She bore down again, then stopped to catch her breath. “Oh God, it hurts so bad.”

The bishop lifted the blanket just a little and rested it upon his daughter’s knees. In the dim light he saw the baby was almost out. He instructed Rebecca to push hard with the next contraction.

“I can’t do this, Daat. I can’t.”

“Just push hard when I say it!”

“Please don’t take my baby away. I can take care of it.”

“Push, girl! Now!” The baby was out. The bishop cradled it in his large hands. He did not tell Rebecca it was a boy. He clipped the umbilical cord with the scissors but was immediately startled by the sight of the newborn baby. He rushed him over to the basin of water beside the mattress and began dunking and splashing him to wash away the bloody matter and membranes that covered his body. Something was wrong. The boy infant was not breathing and did not cry, and the bishop did nothing to initiate his first breaths. His gaze was fixed upon the boy and the deep copper color of his skin that did not wash away with the blood. He studied his hair, thick atop his head, a fuzzy, matted mixture of silk and black velvet.

The bishop released his grip on the infant and backed away from it, not able to take his eyes off it. The baby was black!

The infant slid down into the basin; tepid water slowly covered his sinking body until it swallowed up his tiny head. The bishop looked in the direction of his daughter. “What is this, Rebecca?”

She sat up and tried to reach for the baby. “Is something wrong? Why isn’t he crying?”

The bishop did not respond but reached quickly into the basin and grabbed the baby. He pinched him hard on his thigh twice, and within seconds wails of life spewed forth from the baby’s lungs. He wrapped the infant snugly in a small blanket so that his face was not visible; then he placed him on the floor at the bottom of the mattress. His muffled cries filled the thick air in the tiny shed.

The bishop moved quickly. He delivered the placenta and gave Rebecca more towels and some water to drink and placed some food at her side. “Rest. Don’t try to get up. I’ll be back soon.” He picked up the crying infant and headed for the door.

“No, Daat! What are you going to do? Don’t take my baby! I’ll do anything!”

The bishop vanished from the shed. He hurried to the house, where he had more items prepared in the kitchen for the baby, and laid the swaddled infant on top of a pillow on the kitchen table. The brown baby wiggled inside the white blanket. He removed the covering from his head. His infant eyes were open and large as charcoal chunks. The bishop reached out and glided his large hand across the miniature sprouts of the baby’s thick hair. The texture was light and fluffy against the palm of his outstretched hand and made him think of the furry feathers of a newborn chick.

He considered other possible options for a home for him. Surely, he could not keep him, and he could not hand over a black baby for the Amish family. He just couldn’t.

He warmed goat’s milk for him and took a seat in his chair. The bishop lifted the baby’s head gently from the pillow and fed him through an old cough medicine syringe.

He decided what must be done. After feeding him for a few minutes, he scribbled a note on a piece of paper and picked up the baby and pillow. Grabbing a handful of money from a small canister, he then headed to the barn to prepare his horse and buggy.

In the corner he found a box nearly ten inches deep with a pair of work boots inside of it, which he quickly discarded onto the ground. He stuffed the pillow snugly in the bottom, then placed the tiny baby inside the box. He positioned the scribbled note on top of the baby and closed the flaps. The bishop gently settled the infant on the seat beside him and drove his horse and buggy just one mile up the road to the nearest 7-Eleven convenience store, where he found a pay phone and arranged for a van driver.

***

They had driven for over an hour from the 7-Eleven in Lancaster. The bishop had only been to Philadelphia three times in his life, and though he was now a man of forty-seven, growing up only an hour away, he was more uncomfortable this time than ever before. He gently lifted the box with the tiny boy from the seat and placed it on his lap. The taxi driver made his way along the blighted street.

Nightwalkers wandered the busy strip with seemingly no place to go, stopping occasionally to talk or hustle one another, spitting, and flicking lit cigarette butts into the already filthy gutters.

He opened one flap on the box and peeked inside. The rhythmic motion of the vehicle had lulled the infant to sleep. Yah. This is what’s best for him.

At the next corner a rickety black man cried into the darkness: The Laawd is coming, folks! And, he said, tonight could be the very night! Sinners should repent! The preacher man pointed at the gold van as it slowly glided by, shaking a flimsy Bible in the air above his head.

The van driver turned onto a street that the bishop remembered from winter. The city sounds began to fade, and the blackness of night swallowed up the street. They drove for several more blocks. He searched hard to recognize the area where he found Rebecca, sitting on a playground bench, watching children play.

He had hardly recognized her out of her Amish clothing, clad in blue jeans and a green hooded sweatshirt that boasted Philadelphia Eagles 2010. Living like the English.

Yah, this is the neighborhood. The bishop instructed the driver to stop. His feet and hands were like cinder blocks, weighing him down and keeping him from moving.

“So, Amish! What’s a guy like you comin’ all the way to the city for this time of night anyway?” the driver asked, peeking into his rearview mirror. “Don’t usually see you guys this far out after dark.”

The bishop did not answer the driver. He only stared down at the bundle in his lap.

“Hey, mister? You gettin’ out here or what?”

He exited the vehicle with the box and instructed the driver to wait for his return in just a few minutes.

The August night was not too hot. A good thing.

He walked two blocks and then turned left on to another street. He saw the playground and school in the distance but hesitated. The echo of his pounding heart flooded the air around him and crushed the silence of the dark street. The three-story row houses extended for blocks like books lined on a shelf.

What if no one found the baby? He would die. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill. Certainly the baby boy did not deserve to die.

The bishop stood in the middle of the sidewalk, the box bundled underneath his arm. In the distance he could see a figure standing on a stoop and the fiery tip of a lit cigarette floating slowly back and forth, up and down.

He turned quickly and headed back in the direction of the vehicle. It just wouldn’t be right, to leave him in the park. A hospital, yah, would be better. A firehouse, but not the park. He quickened his pace. He would tell the driver to take him to the nearest firehouse.

On the way back to the taxi, he was distracted by the faint sound of singing in the distance. A group of people singing, somewhere in the neighborhood. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. The bishop paused and listened: That saved a wretch like me. Angels? I once was lost but now am found, was blindbut now I see.

A house of worship! He pursued the voices with an anxious pace. They grew louder and stronger. He walked for another block and came upon a small church jutting out diagonally on the corner like the bow of a giant ship, its revered steeple reaching tall above the row houses. SUMMER REVIVAL was spelled out in black plastic block letters on the bulletin at the bottom of the steps. ALL ARE WELCOME. BRING YOUR BURDENS TO THE LORD.

The lights inside were on. Shadows swayed back and forth with the music just on the other side of the red-and-yellow stained glass windows. The bishop stopped at the base of the stairs. The congregation continued to sing: ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home…

He scaled the stairs quickly without another thought and placed the box just to the right of the thick wooden doors. He opened the lid of the box and looked in at the baby with no name, now awake. In the hours since his birth, his skin had become smooth and satiny, dark as a new American penny. The note the bishop placed on top of him was still intact. It simply read: Son of Royal. He closed the flaps loosely, then quickly descended the stairs, leaving the box and baby behind, saturated in the harmony of the grand pipe organ and the worship of the congregants.

He headed hastily in the direction of the vehicle. Tears raced down his face and into his Amish beard.

He did not look back.

Danisa Bell

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Danisa Bell received her Creative Writing Certificate from Emory University. She was recently published in The Penmen Review, and Colere: A Journal of Cultural Exploration. Additionally, she received an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition of 2007.

Danisa has been writing fiction since the age of eight, and spends most of her spare time crafting imaginative tales for her readers. She finds inspiration while enjoying time spent outdoors simply lounging or strolling by the ocean.

If you enjoyed Son of Royal, leave a comment and let Danisa know.

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