Here is the rock rising out of the ground. Huge, horizontal, and gray with two big ruts as if a wagon with metal wheels had cut a track over many years. This is the place. The pine woods around me; the view that goes on and on over a plain of fields. The sky is blue and utterly empty, almost soundless but for the calling of crows, a few chipmunks scrambling among the lichen and cones. This is the place I will sacrifice. My son. I will do this. It will happen. It must. I can do it because I have to.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIf I don’t, I am no father. I have no faith. And yet the vomit spurts up, empties the stomach like a bucket. The body says no. How can one control the errant animal of the body?
IIIIIIIIIIIII climb the creaking stairs to his room. He’s asleep in his bed with the paint chipped off the metal bedstead, an alderwood airplane on the rug near his hand, as if it had dropped from his grasp when he fell asleep.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThrough the cowboy curtains with their water stains from a window left open in the rain, I can see the hills. That’s where I need to look: to something permanent, eternal, and green.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe breathes through his mouth, and his hair is thick like dog fur. His tan and pink face tempts me to idolatry. I know it even as I feel it. There is danger here, like getting on your knees next to a well, looking down, down to the dark bottom. Bending over to find the reflection, the liquid movement that tells you it’s water, you lose your balance.
IIIIIIIIIIIIDon’t look into the darkness, the well of covetousness. The things of this earth will wither and fade and pass away. There is no salvation in them. Cling to the will of God, that solid, un-changing, mysterious rock.
IIIIIIIIIIII“This is the holiest day of our lives, son. What would you like for breakfast?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Pancakes with extra syrup and bacon?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe body, just like Saint Paul said, refuses the will of God. My stupid worthless tears sizzle in the frying pan with the pancakes and bacon and fried potatoes. I put a scoop of ice cream on the pancakes. It’s such a beautiful day.
IIIIIIIIIIIIWe walk without hurrying, through the pasture, back to the woods, a gradual climb. A mockingbird sings all its myriad songs, and we try to name each one.
IIIIIIIIIIIII pull my axe and gun and shovel in a wagon. I hold his hand with my other hand and talk about crops and things his mother said.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt’s a crucifixion yes, of us both, and will surely be followed by Easter. Is there a right way to do this? I fear I’ll deaden myself like a zombie, but I know that isn’t what God asks. He asks our faith. He asks us to feel His guiding presence, the holiness in every moment. Even in his final hours, Jesus remained aware while he died, turned to the thief and reassured him, even forgave the ham-mering Romans. How did he do it? Only when all his work was done did he cry out with a loud voice.
IIIIIIIIIIIIWe reach the rock and stand a while looking at the view.
IIIIIIIIIIIII am raising the axe. Am I? Everything, my own sanity depends on one clean blow. In the right place. Oh God, don’t let me do it wrong. Don’t ask that of me. You have to help me with this. “Look the other way, son, towards the clouds.” Is it my voice saying this? “Wait. Kneel quietly and pray. In a minute you’ll see your mother.”
IIIIIIIIIIIII will remember the back of his neck with its little white hairs.
IIIIIIIIIIIII can’t. I don’t trust myself. It will have to be the gun.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe boy turns.
IIIIIIIIIIII“We have to do it another way. We have to put the gun in your mouth. Then it won’t hurt for sure.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIWhy do children obey? I must obey God the same way, even though I am sick past sickness, questioning, and trembling.
Worry scrunches his face. He has seen squirrels on their broken backs, flailing their tails back and forth. He has heard the screams of pigs, the least obedient animals.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Trust me and trust God.”
IIIIIIIIIIIISweat runs down my body so sudden and copious that I notice it like a light rain has started. I have to stop trembling so the barrel won’t click against his teeth and hurt the loose one. I am in the world of those who torture and are tortured. I see why executioners drink. Maybe after all, we need to distort. I have to become the wooden man, after all.
IIIIIIIIIIIIMy son, Ben, looks into my eyes, then looks away. He sees he is on his own. Another boy would fight and run, but not my son. To do this, I have to prevent that distance, I have to make this world alone fade from sight, but not from him, not from love. How is that possible? I wipe the barrel on my jacket to get any dirt off, and I do what a loving father does. I let him help.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Put the barrel in your mouth.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Pretty far but not so you choke or it’s uncomfortable.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHis hand is on the barrel. Who is saying these words? God must have given me strength. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Pray with me: Our father…Amen.” His voice grows stronger as we follow the familiar words together.
IIIIIIIIIIIII put my finger on the trigger, that cool, hard piece of metal that connects to wood and a long metal tube that sends out—with enormous force—gunpowder rolled in a plastic tube with a little egg of steel in the end. Intricate invention. I feel the aliveness of his foot when mine bumps against it. Goddamn it. I brace myself and make that tiny, tiny motion. If you weren’t up close, you wouldn’t even see it, the movement of one finger.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt’s so loud and violent. On the rock is a sudden flood of blood as if oil had burst forth, a gusher, with specks of meat and hair. I have a mighty urge to form it back into a ball, and put it on the shoulders which are still fine, quick, while there’s time. I stand over his body and touch his legs. Something is wrong with his legs. They don’t feel right. I panic. I don’t look at the hills or clouds. They mean nothing. Then my body takes over again, that stupid thing. I vomit and vomit though there’s nothing in my stomach. And then I’m dizzy.
IIIIIIIIIIIII lie down on the rock next to him. I don’t look at the hills or clouds. They stayed there or floated on while all this happened, and didn’t intervene. All I want is to stay here forever and protect my son from harm. I lie there a long time with my arm around his body to comfort him after that terrible experience. And yet the thought is seeping into me like the blood into my clothing: it was worthless, and nothing can be done now. I hear crickets and snakes, bats and owls. It is almost night. I reach for the gun and kiss the end of the barrel where it met his precious saliva.
IIIIIIIIIIIII am not going to be with God. I am not going to heaven. I’m getting away from Him at last, into the black eternal that is neither caring nor cruel, where Ben is and where I can never find him. The Bible says to lose yourself, forget yourself. I always thought it meant something else.

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