Sun, Stand Still: Chapter Three

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
13 min readMar 20, 2021

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Chapter Two available here

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. — Matthew 20:20–23

Sunday, March 20, 1999

The music livened up Mom enough that she joined them at the table for dinner. She sat sandwiched between the twins, her favorite spot, and they took turns helping to feed her the soup that Aunt Jude had warmed up for her.

The Reverend’s prayer for the meal was quick, since he had left hamburger patties cooking out on the grill, but he made sure to mention his gratitude for the blessing of his wife’s presence, and he held her hand across the table throughout the prayer.

As the tiny blessing ended, Scott took a look at his mother, taking in the blonde hair and green eyes so much like his own, the smile lines gone strangely limp, and had to step away. He made it to the hallway on the children’s side of the house before the tears came, and when he hit his room and pressed the foot switch of his fan, he stopped fighting the sobs entirely.

He didn’t have much time before his absence went from “understandable” to being “a scene”. This was the south after all, and saving face was next to godliness, but he let the cracks that had formed in him for the past week split open in the moment and let the pain burst through the last bits of resistance.

There was a light knock on the door — Monica or Jude, Scott thought, since his dad would just enter — but the door stayed shut. Scott rubbed the tears from his eyes and stood, coughing as he steadied himself.

He cracked the door and Monica’s eyes poked through the gap, kind and searching. He looked at her for a moment then opened the door wider. They sat on his bed and he fell into her arms, crying again. He expected a joke, a wisecrack, something. Not even necessarily at his expense, just something to undercut the emotion. Instead she held his head in her arms and rocked him, gentle as a baby, and let herself cry for a moment in silence, too.

Scott pulled himself up and stuffed Monica’s face into the crook of his neck, then helped her up off of the bed, wiping a tear from her eye, and gave her the smile he needed to for her to know they would both be ok.

As the two oldest children came back to the table, Jude was egging on the minis into talking more.

“So what did you two think of Joshua?”

“I thought he was cool.” Kendra said, knees pulled into her chest, noshing on a fry. “Not as cool as Moses, but he was ok.”

“No way.” Titus shouted across their mom’s plate. “He was way cooler than Moses!”

“Moses did the plagues!” Kendra shouted back, “That’s way cooler than Joshua!”

“Joshua stopped the sun!” Titus said, leaning far over his mother, “Your taste is horrible.”

Their father came back just in time, plate of burgers in hand. “Neither of them did those things, kids.”

“They did too!” Kendra shouted, “Miss Emily taught us about it and we read it in the bible!”

“No, what I mean is that God did those things. Moses and Aaron and Joshua were just there to show the bad guys what God could do. Isn’t that cooler?” He asked, popping a burger on every plate around the table.

Kendra looked from her father to the burger as though he had just slipped arsenic into it, and gave a disappointed shake of her head.

The kids stationed themselves at the sink after the meal, and as Kendra groaned in protest about being stuck on scraping duty, — a punishment for calling the Almighty lame — Titus hummed some songs from Hercules to himself and bobbed his head.

Dad pulled Scott aside and handed him the keys to his car. “Go. Now.” He said, cupping his son’s shoulder. “Get lost.”

He called into the kitchen for Monica and, as she came into the living room he said to her “Make sure your brother stays away from here for the night” and palmed a twenty into her hand.

“You sure you got the night shift all ok?” Scott said to his father.

“Go!” Jude, who had walked Scott’s mother back, shouted through a door.

“Ok, ok!” Scott said. “Yeesh!”

He walked into the parlor, grabbed his guitar, and with Monica in tow left the house.

In the car, he stuffed the instrument into the back seat and looked to his sister. “I don’t even know where to go.”

“Just get on the Trace, you weirdo,” Monica replied. “Stop overthinking everything and just do nothing. Drive, and when we see a cool place, we can stop there. Garrison Creek?”

Scott’s eyes bulged as he remembered the first night he drank a beer, and the warning he had gotten from the ranger after Sweeney threw up over his shoes. “Nah, not there.”

“The bridge?”

“Nah. Darryl hangs out there and he thinks I owe him ten bucks.” Scott replied. “What about Glenrock Branch?”

“What the hell?” Monica asked. “You’re gonna trap me in a car with you for ninety minutes one way?”

“I’m supposed to go away.” Scott said. “Why not go far?”

“Because I don’t want to spend three hours in a car tonight.” Monica said.

“Ok, sure.” Scott said, tired of the exchange. “We’ll just see where we stop, how about that?”

“That’ll work.” Monica said, kicking her feet onto the dashboard.

They turned onto the Trace, that endless stretch of slow beauty, set the cruise control, and popped Mazzy Star into the tape player.

“You haven’t said a peep about your guys.” Monica said. “How’s Jason and Paul? Are they mad about the tour dates?”

“Jason’s just mad, period.” Scott said. “You know Paul, though,” he said with a smile, “He gets it. God, his grandma died from Alzheimer’s maybe a year ago, and he wished he could’ve been there for-”

“Mom’s not dying.” Monica said.

“No, she’s not, she’s-”

“Sick.” Monica said, as though her words could slam a lid on the thought. “She’s sick, but she just needs some rest.”

“Yeah.” Scott said. “Better doctors wouldn’t hurt either.”

“What do you know about her doctors?” Monica said, with enough venom behind it that Scott fixed his eyes on the road for a few minutes.

“Sorry.” She said.

“What happened to ‘go and be something?’” Scott asked. As the words left his mouth, he wanted to pull them back in.

“Are you kidding me?” Monica said.

He hated himself for it, but Scott doubled down. “No, I’m not kidding Monica. We talked. We talked for hours the night before I left. I didn’t want to go and you said ‘go and be something!’ You said you’d never forgive me if I stayed, so what, do you just never forgive me either way?”

“Shut up!” Monica snapped. “I know what I said, but you still left! You still went away and left me with-” she gestured around, waving her arms, trying to find the words that escaped her, “THIS! This comatose mom, this random lady who thinks she’s our Aunt living in our house, and dad and the minis!”

“Jude’s not some random lady-”

“Oh my God, shut up!” She shouted, loud enough that Scott instinctively pulled the car off the road at a stop on the left.

“Yes!” Monica shouted at him from the passenger seat, twisting to face him now that the car was stopped and they could really raise the volume. “I did that! I told you to go! I blessed it! And do you know what!?” She asked, leaning towards him, “I wish I hadn’t! I wish I would’ve told you to stay, because this sucks! You left! You got to go have fun and run all across the country with a couple of potheads and I had to feed mom soup and help get her kids ready for school while she laid in her own fucking drool, you asshole!”

“How the hell do you think I felt!?” Scott shouted, matching his sister decibel for decibel. “You think I didn’t spend every single second thinking about all of you back here? You think I didn’t hate myself for leaving? You think I don’t think of anything except for this place? Jesus, I nearly drove home when I was in Memphis! I nearly cancelled the whole tour on the second date!”

“Maybe you should have!” Monica screamed. She opened her car door and grabbed Scott’s guitar, “Maybe you should’ve done one fucking thing right and come back if you actually cared!”

She grabbed the guitar from the back seat and vaulted it across the parking lot where it landed with a thud on its back. She looked from the instrument to her brother and back again.

“I am so sorry.” She said, quietly.

Silently, Scott walked over to the guitar and picked it up. It landed flat on its back, and a piece of the back panel was missing.

In his head he asked himself what his mother would’ve done when she was younger, before the depression took her. He held a thought of her hands on his cheeks after he had broken a window, the feeling of her unconditional love and forgiveness, and he fretted the most dissonant chord he could think of, then strummed it slowly.

Monica’s fear turned to relief, and she fell against the car laughing.

“Oh my God, I am so, so, so sorry,” she said, clinging to him tightly as he came back. “I’m sorry! I don’t know where that came from!”

“Your gut.” Scott said, setting the guitar back on the car and hugging his sister back. “I’m glad you said it. Really. It needed to come out.”

“I’m still sorry.”

“Stop it.” Scott said. “It’s fine.”

He felt the guitar against his stomach. It would need to be sanded down, but it would work. It would never be completely comfortable laying on him, but maybe that was best. Something to remind him of home.

He looked at the sign of the stop they had found themselves in. Leiper’s Fork.

“It’s destiny.” Scott said, waving her along. “C’mon, let’s get to one of these tables a little further in.”

They plopped down onto a chipped and antiquated picnic table for the second time in a day and Scott looked around at the stars poking through the dense canopy.

“You were gonna tell me about something earlier. Something from that weird book about the con-artist.”

“Hyperborea. And stop insulting Helena, please.” Monica said, laying back on her side of the table and meeting Scott’s eyes from the other side under the tabletop. “Scott, it’s so cool.”

Scott fished in his jacket pocket for something to smoke, lit it, and began idling into a melody on the instrument.

“These people who were North of the North wind, the Greeks thought. They said they were giants who never got old or sick, and who could make the sun stand in the sky with their magic-”

Joshu-aaaa-” Scott growled to the tune of Dragula.

“Pretty much, right?” Monica went on. “These people, they just chilled out in this perfect, endless day. They sang, they danced, they made magic. Then one day, they just decide they’ve had enough, and an entire nation jumps off a cliff.”

“What the hell?!” Scott said, stopping the tune.

“No, it’s messed up, but it’s beautiful!” Monica said.

“It’s theatre-kid nonsense!”

“No, listen!” Monica said. “Things have to have an end! That’s what the legend tells us, that’s what the myth means! Even in paradise, there’s got to be an end. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just laying around on a cloud. It’s just, I don’t know, enduring.”

Scott thought for a moment, then began plucking again. “You really think that’s true?”

Monica kept her eyes on the stars and answered. “I do. I don’t think I should. I don’t know what that says about me and heaven and all of dad’s stuff, but I think it’s right.”

“I think it just means that’s what you think.” Scott said. There was a half-formed melody in his mind, and he worked at it on the guitar as he spoke, coaxing it into a realization. “I don’t even think you’re wrong.” He paused for a moment, letting the ash fall beside his face instead of on it. “If there’s no end, no cap, it’s just…”

“Pointless?”

“Maybe? A tour’s got to end. An album’s got to stop. A book’s got to have a back cover.” Scott said, and the melody fell in place. “It shows you that it’s about something. Besides, if good things have an end, bad things have to end too. Mom’s thing, long tours, whatever happened to Jude. It’s all got to stop, right?”He looped it, working at it, and Monica turned to face him.

“What’s that?”

“Whenever I’m working on a song or an album or anything, I can get it 98 percent of the way done, but it’s never finished until that last two percent hits me.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Monica asked.

Scott strummed the melody again, varying it, thinking of something Jude had played earlier that day. “This is the two percent. The end, the stopping, the big pause. I’ve been working on some stuff and this makes it all makes sense. It makes everything I did before click into place.”

“That’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid, shut up.” He said to her, smiling ear to ear.

They stayed out late that night, and Scott, working at the melody until Monica was ready to kill him, began to spin his mind up to the next project, the next album. He sang to her. Some lyrics were written before, some just seemed right in the moment.

When the night was at its darkest and Monica could barely keep her eyes open they left, headed back for Franklin.

They reached the house and left the car, and Scott pulled his sister into a hug. “I’m moving.”

“I know.”

“New York, I think.”

“I’ll miss you.” She said.

“I’ll come back.”

“I know. I’ll still miss you.”

He held her for a moment, coughing away the tears, then headed inside. “I need to sleep.”

“Oh my god, same.” Monica said. “Can’t believe you kept me up this late, you weirdo!”

“Shut up.”

In the house, Scott quietly walked to the kids’ side of the house and went straight to bed. Monica, though, walked to the cloister, where Jude’s bedroom was still lit up, and looked inside. Her father stared back at her, like a deer in the headlights, and Jude, seated on her bed with her legs pulled under herself, looked at her with a pleading glance.

“Good night.” Monica said, and shut the door.

Wednesday March 20, 2019

Kendra had thought of this moment for years. She’d run through a million different ways it could all shake out, a million variations of how she could eviscerate this woman, especially in a public place like this. All of them involved her being able to move or speak, and both of those seemed out of the question right now.

And how did Jude not recognize her? She had raised her for God’s sake! What was the matter with the woman?

Mickey reached across the table and took her aunt’s hand, then pounded the rest of her beer. “You sit,” she said, grabbing a glass of water. She hesitated for a moment, then turned back to Kendra. “Actually, maybe grab the bags and be ready to run.”

“What the hell are you gonna do?” Kendra said, hand tight on her niece’s arm.

“Get some family payback, auntie.” Mickey said. “Ride or die?”

Kendra rolled her eyes. “Don’t do anything to get us arrested Mikaela, I hate Ohio.”

Mickey nodded and walked across the room. Kendra clutched their bags tight, and she was grateful she had left her suitcase in her car. When Mickey got to Jude’s table, she stood off to the side, and introduced herself.

From this far away, Kendra couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she watched Jude’s face oscillate between a loving, maternal look and fear. The man she was with, a husband or brother, maybe, held her hand and looked from Jude to Mickey and back again a few times.

Then Jude’s mouth went wide, and she looked as if her spirit had broken, and Mickey whipped a drink from the table into her face before charging back to the table,

Kendra stood up, locked eyes with Jude for a second, and a beat or two too late, mouthed an awkward “Go to Hell” to the woman before darting out of the cafe.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” She said to Mickey, pulling her along towards the parking lot. “Meet me at the hotel!”

Kendra tailed Mickey’s power-t-laden Subaru to the hotel and met her in the parking lot, frantic as she went to her niece’s door. Halfway through the drive she remembered how much they had both drunk, and hoped the adrenaline was sobering them up, though she was sure it wasn’t enough.

“What did you say to her?” Kendra asked, pulling the girl from her car and walking towards the lobby.

Mickey turned to Kendra and sighed. “Not my proudest moment, Auntie Ken. I played the dead dad card.”

“What?” Kendra said, stepping back. “Wait, how?”

“Yep.” Mickey said, rocking from foot to foot as though she had just come through the other side of a street fight. “C’mon, I’ll tell you at the bar.”

“Tell me here.” Kendra said. She held Mickey by the arms and smoothed down her sleeves, hoping it would calm her a bit,

Mikaela looked at her with Scott’s eyes and Scott’s smile, and Kendra’s heart nearly burst.

“I told her who I was, and I said it’s a shame she couldn’t have been at my dad’s funeral.”

Kendra’s eyes went wide.

“I said if she’d come, my dad might’ve gotten out of the casket just to throw her homewrecking ass out the door.”

Chapter Four coming June 2021

© Phil Lofton, 2021, all rights reserved.

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Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.