Chapter 4 – A Small Metal Cross

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Captain Aiden, welcome to flight 2187 to Glasgow. We’re number five in the lineup for takeoff so we’ll have you in the air shortly for our three hour and twenty minute flight. Expecting a smooth ride. The weather in Glasgow is sunny and seventeen degrees celsius. Relax and enjoy the flight. Once we reach cruising altitude I’ll turn off the seatbelt sign and you’ll be free to move around the cabin and our crew will begin cabin service at that time. Flight crew, prepare for takeoff.”

Liam lifted the shade to look out across the tarmac of Naples International Airport. He wasn’t accustomed to flying this early in the morning. In fact he wasn’t accustomed to doing much this early in the morning as his evenings and nights usually stretched into the early hours not long before dawn before finally falling asleep, usually in an alcohol or drug-induced stupor with a strange woman next to him.

A gnawing frustration inched it’s way through Liam’s mind and body as the plane slowly taxied toward the runway. Frustration over the hour. Frustration with the destination Stag had selected. Frustration over the fact that his new overpaid personal concierge didn’t understand the kinds of places Liam typically traveled to and the kinds of activities he engaged in in those places. Glasgow, Scotland would never have made Liam’s list.

“Why Glasgow,” Liam asked out loud without turning his face from the window.

When Stag didn’t reply from the seat next to him Liam turned to find him, eyes closed, lips moving slightly speaking unheard words, holding between his right thumb and index finger a small metal cross attached to a chain around his neck. Liam watched and waited for him to finish.

“What are you doing?”

“Just praying Mr. Liam. I always pray when I’m in a situation where I’m doing something that humans weren’t meant to do. I don’t fly well.”

Liam shook his head and turned back toward the window. “Stag, if this plane decides to fall out of the sky I really don’t think rubbing that little trinket and mumbling a few words is going to change it’s mind.”

“You never pray Mr. Liam? You don’t believe in God?”

“Not anymore.”

“Do you remember the last time you prayed?”

“I’ll never forget the last time I prayed. I remember everything about that night. Every fucking detail. It was one night in February not long before bedtime. I was eight years old. I did the same thing that night that I had done every night for the past week. I sat on the edge of my brother’s bed and held his hand. It was cold and damp. I could feel it shaking, with the rest of his body. Every few minutes he would begin to shake harder, his face would tense, and he’d make this crying sound before the shaking lessened again. Then it would start all over. He was never really awake. Just there. His face covered with sweat.

“Mom and Dad just kept telling me every day, ‘Pray for Michael. God will listen.’ So every day I prayed. Every day I tried to keep believing that God was listening but he was still sick the next day. Every day he got sicker. I prayed harder. ‘Pray for Michael, God will listen,’ they would say over and over every day. A minister came over one evening and put oil on his forehead and said a prayer. Afterward he turned to the three of us and said, ‘Keep praying for Michael, God will listen.’ So I prayed. Every fucking night I prayed. That night I prayed, ‘God please don’t let Michael die. He’s only 6 years old. I don’t want to be left alone. Please don’t let Michael die.’ ‘Maybe this will be the night that God listens,’ I thought to myself as I turned loose of his hand. One of my favorite toys was a stuffed caterpillar. I tucked it under Michael’s arm, walked over to my bed and got under the covers.”

“Ladies and gentleman this is Captain Aiden again. We’ve just reached our cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. I’ve turned off the seatbelt light so feel free to move around the cabin but please keep your belt fastened while you’re seated in case we hit any unexpected bumps along the way. We should have you to Glasgow in about three hours.”

“So what happened Mr. Liam?”

“My bed was a few feet away from Michael’s. I don’t know what time it was but I woke up to hear my mom crying. I looked over toward Michael and she and Dad were by his bed. Dad had his left arm around Mom’s shoulder, his right hand covered his mouth and his eyes were closed. I knew what had happened. I rolled over onto my stomach, put my pillow over my head to block out everything. I pulled the covers up over me as far as they would go. I didn’t cry. I just laid there thinking, ‘God didn’t listen. God didn’t listen. God didn’t listen.’

“About a year later my Dad came home from work early. It was in the summertime and I was outside playing in the dirt with some cheap toy. He shut  the door of his old truck, walked past me without saying anything, and went into the house. I could hear him and mom talking through the screen door.”

“Hi babe, your home early?”

“It’s over. The mine’s closed. The town just died.”

“It was quiet for a few minutes and I heard Mom say, ‘We’ll just pray. God will listen.’ Ya know Stag, that’s the first time I remember being completely filled with rage. I got up from the ground with that toy in my hand, walked over to a tree and just starting smashing it against the tree, over and over again until it broke into pieces. Then i just started hitting the tree with my hands until my fingers and knuckles started bleeding. At that young age I realized something about God. I wouldn’t have put it in these words then, but the thoughts were there. As a nine-year old kid I began to think about God in four ways, not really knowing which was right.

“Maybe He doesn’t even exist. Maybe we say all of these prayers and we’re just talking to…nobody…nothing. If He existed, why wouldn’t He listen? Or maybe He does exist, but He just doesn’t care. He’s ambivalent. He created everything, but then just leaves us on our own and whatever the fuck happens happens. Or maybe He exists, but He’s just bad. He just lets all of the horrible things in this world happen because He enjoys watching us suffer. Or maybe He exists, maybe He’is good. But me and my family just aren’t good enough for Him to love and care about…and listen to…and help. And everyone around the world who suffers is suffering because for whatever reason, they just aren’t good enough.

“Pardon me Sir, but would you like a beverage?”

“Sauvignon Blanc.”

“So what happened to your family Mr. Liam?”

“My Dad was never the same. He barely talked to any of us. He stared out the window when he wasn’t out doing some odd job like hauling away garbage to the dump for people for a couple of dollars or painting fences for people who could still afford to have people paint their fences. About three months after the mine closed I woke up one morning and he was gone. He never came back. Eventually Mom and I had to leave the house and move in with her mother and step-father in another town a few miles away. Life just went from bad to worse.

“I’m sorry Mr. Liam.”

“Yeah well, it is what it is. I guess what I learned from all of that is we’re really all on our own. Everybody leaves. People you care about just die. People you love just stop speaking to you and walk away for ever. And God…Stag…God does NOT listen.”

Liam leaned his seat back, closed his eyes, and for the next little while drifted in an out of a light, restless sleep until the captain’s voice came back over the speaker.

“Ladies and gentlemen we’ve begun our descent into Glasgow and should have you on the ground in about ten minutes. Flight crew, prepare for landing.”

Liam noticed Stag, once again holding the small metal cross between his thumb and index finger, whispering another prayer as the wheels touched the pavement, the cabin jolting slightly. As they rolled toward the gate Stag pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and paused.

“Christie old friend, we just landed. Will be wonderful to see you again and introduce you to my new friend, Mr. Liam.