Without Choking

"But, we must hold strong. It has been five years now since we last lost the four young children that held the promise of Bomont's brightest future—" Shaw read out loud.

I uttered a slight, little laugh. But I didn't smile at the inserted mention of the four children, the one reference that had been continually slipped into Sunday service these last five years. My lips wouldn't curl upwards enough and I settled for that cough-like chuckle and I waited for him to finish reciting his sermon before I offered anything.

"We shall never forget that day, March 25th, when we lost our sons and daughter, neighbors, friends, cousins, niece and nephews," Shaw droned.

I nodded along and observed the kitchen. Everything was in place. A carefully arranged bouquet of yellow tulips on the counter, the calendar flipped to mark April and it's showers. The floor swept, the teakettle filled with water and waiting, the clock ticking.

"But let us not have lost them in vain! Should you be like Jezebel, who disobeyed God and disregarded his warnings and died for them? No! The Lord taketh away and giveth back. And then, I think I'll have the choir do one of their songs, you'll think of a good hymn to put in there, Vi."

"You've always been good at speeches, Shaw. Sometimes I think you ought to have gone into politics! But, do you think that perhaps you should talk a bit more from the Bible? We just had Easter, after all." I managed to say, putting a hand on his shoulder as I read his speech to myself over his shoulder.

"Maybe I could take out the Jezebel reference and use a metaphor of Jesus dying on the Cross instead," Shaw said idly, taking a pen out to scratch it out.

"That's not what I mean," I said very quietly.

Shaw's face grew grave. "It's been five years, Vi. I'm not Regan, who thinks he's got the election in the bag." He then turned around and put on the radio—one of his classical pieces. I glanced at the clock as Shaw settled back down at his typewriter, clacking away. The clock ticked to 3:12 and then Ariel waltzed through the door, like any teenager come home from school.

"Hi Daddy, Mom." I smiled at her, patting my husband's shoulder as I straightened up and smoothed out my polka dot dress.

"Are you hungry?" I asked as I bustled around the kitchen, pulling out tea cups and boiling hot water.

"I'm starving!" She said.

I let the teakettle boil and the conversation grow cold.

"What's this?" I heard, the typewriter clicks slowing and Ariel trying to carry on a conversation, her pleasant tone dropped and bitterness crawled in. "No, don't tell me. Hadyn, the Second Sonata?"

"The Fourth."

"The Fourth, right," Ariel nodded along as I hastily started pouring the hot water and dipping tea bags in. "I guess that kind of music's ok, huh, Daddy?"

"Meaning?" Shaw said, his voice rising.

"She's just making a joke, Shaw." I soothed, handing him a tea cup and spoon. He accepted it and set it down next to his typewriter and began clacking away again over Hadyn's Fourth Sonata.

"I am aware of that, Vi." Shaw retorted, almost wounded, before turning back on Ariel, his tone almost milder. "This kind of music is uplifting. It doesn't confuse the mind."

I squeezed my daughter's shoulder as I passed her and she rallied herself at that, taking a deep breath, seeming to realize that the topic was one she should avoid, and she diverted our attention from the tension in the room with another conversation.

"Are you working on your sermon?" Ariel tried again as I sat down at the table now with my cup of tea.

"I am," Shaw commented.

"Remember when I was a kid, on Saturdays I'd come and sit and listen to you over and over?"

I took a sip of tea. Ariel used to sit there and applaud for her father's sermons and Shaw and I would have a daily drink of tea when they got home and we all would sit down for dinner together as one happy family then, Ariel eager to talk about tomorrow's service at the table.

"I do indeed," Shaw murmured.

"And then I would clap, and you bow?"

"Daddy!" Ariel announced. "That was your best sermon ever! I love the story of the Good Samaritan."

"I know," Shaw said, winking as he drew her close for a hug. "That's why I'm telling it. It is almost your birthday, after all."

"Will you tell the story of the Prodigal Son when it's his birthday?" Ariel asked. "That's his favorite story."

"I think he'd prefer to spend his birthday not in Church, Ariel. Sometimes, when you get older, you want to do what's cool instead of what's right."

"That's stupid!" Ariel said indignantly. "I won't ever do that."

"Well, you seem to have outgrown that." Shaw muttered, bending over his sermon.

"Shaw!" I burst out, setting down my tea cup with a rattle.

"What just happened? Did I say something wrong?" Ariel protested, looking at us both.

"Your father's had a difficult day." I said stiffly, not looking at him.

"Vi! I can speak for myself." Shaw snapped curtly, typing away furiously.

Ariel's eyes met mine, frustrated and angry, her bottom lip stuck out and her face firm. "Honey, why don't you set the table?" I suggested in my fakest-happy voice, reserved usually for the Sunday School children who started the fights.

She glanced at her father and set down her cup. "No thanks. I'm not really hungry right now."

I watched her helplessly. I put down the tea pot and then sat down in the chair at the kitchen table, and stirred my tea, letting it warm my hands. And I waited until Ariel left the room.

"Shaw, if you are angry with Ariel, would you please get to the point?" I said in a low voice.

Shaw abandoned his typing now, looking up at me, his face filled with frustration. "I'm not angry, I'm concerned!" He protested, looking almost amazed.

Her bedroom door slammed shut upstairs and I resumed my normal speaking tones. "Well, then! Get to the point." I said almost cuttingly. He opened his mouth to speak, but I beat him to it, pointing a finger in his face. "You two speak and nothing gets said."

"Have you see her with this Chuck Cranston? The last time I walked in on the two of them—" Shaw said quietly, making a steeple with his fingers.

"You told me," I sighed, taking a sip of tea. It was hot and burned my tongue slightly, a warning not to hurt others with it.

"The boy has a record of arrests!"

"And the more you object, the more intrigued she's going to be." I suggested, tactly trying to cool his temper and my drink.

"So, I should hold my peace?" Shaw argued, crossing his arms.

"I do. And I pray, that her infatuation with Chuck Cranston lasts no longer than mine with Elliot Crisswell."

He threw me a dark look. "Elliot Crisswell was not an overheated delinquent." Shaw finally muttered.

"Oh, he most certainly was." I teased, a smirk probably crossing my face. I took a sip again to cover my smile but—

"That is not funny." Shaw reprimanded.

The cup in my hands felt cold despite the tea still inside the warmed china. I lowered it back down to the table without taking a gulp, or even a sip. "I was trying to lighten the mood." I said stiffly, pushing the cup away.

"Well, I can't! I'm frightened about where Ariel is, what she is doing—"

"You can't expect her to sit at home with us!" I argued.

Shaw turned away, his fingers searching for the keys and he began to read his sermon silently to himself. "Let's stop this conversation right here."

"Conversation?" I said, shaking now, palms against the table as he looked up.

"Vi," he uttered, his tone a warning.

"I seem to have walked in on one of your sermons," I burst out, walking away towards the window, carrying the teakettle back to the stove.

"Please!" Shaw said and I looked back at him as he stood up. For a moment, I hoped—"Let's not say anything we might regret," he finished. He walked out of the room, his back to me, already reading the sermon to himself.

I glanced at the kitchen clock—3:34 p.m. In twenty-two minutes, I managed to boil the tempers of both Shaw and Ariel and have four unwanted conversations.

Next to the kitchen clock, was an oak-wood Cross, a symbol of our faith and beside that, a framed portrait of a family. Father, mother, son and daughter. The picture of the family I lost.

"I'm sorry," I whispered to them, swallowing my pride like how I usually swallowed my real words. "I remember when—"

Myself, a younger woman in that picture, she smiled, still in her Sunday best. She didn't have any regrets. Shaw, the husband and father in our family portrait still laughed at our jokes. Ariel had clapped for her father's sermon then when that picture was taken. And Bobby had been alive.

"I remember when we used to be a family." I repeated finally, before turning my back on them and going to the kitchen table.

His tea cup remained untouched.

So, this was written as a character study. For my senior school musical, I was cast as Vi Moore, the preacher's wife in Footloose. Not the character I originally wanted, I'll admit. But I came to respect her and consider her more than any other character so far. She was such a strong character, trying closing off her every emotion for Shaw's sake until he offends her instead of Ariel after this little scene takes place. She thought about every word she said, and even when she's referring to Ariel, she still is giving her opinion. Quite a change from myself!


Yes, I took the dialogue from the scene. That is because, as I wrote originally in the very first sentence of my author's note, a character study, meaning it focuses on a certain character in a scene.