Leeza is comforted by a neighbour over her dying father and estranged brother in an alternate reality where the USA is divided by East and West.
If you’re a fan of Amber’s writing you’ll enjoy Prayer Of A Western Relic. At 1500 words Amber is able to explore themes she has developed through her writing such as family, faith and conflict.
Beginning with a short introduction of Leeza, we learn that she she is trying to keep her life together as her father passes away and her brother passes into fundamental beliefs.
A story of divided loyalty, though both the brother and father are causes for concern, they play no role in the narrative. Instead, the tension is between Leeza and Nadine, her Father’s carer, as both women learn to confide in each other despite it all.
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PRAYER OF A WESTERN RELIC
A Short Story Of Divided Loyalty
by Amber Fernie
With red-rimmed eyes, Leeza stood by the mantle looking at a picture of herself and her brother Simon as children. It was taken the Halloween they’d dressed as The Wonder Twins, going from door to door, saying, “Form of…a trick!”, “Shape of…a treat!” It was stupid, and didn’t even make sense, but everyone thought it was adorable, and they’d gotten a pretty big haul that year.
She smiled weakly at the memory, until she recalled the last picture she’d seen of Simon. It had been on the evening news, and showed him standing on the outskirts of a little boy’s funeral, holding a sign that said in bold lettering, “GOD HATES FAGS!!!” The child had been the victim of a school shooting, and a wall of mourners tried to shield his mother from the sight. It was a blatantly gratuitous outrage, and Leeza was mortified by it.
While she had been disappointed in Simon’s misguided decision to go east, he’d never been hateful before, and they kept up a tense correspondence for awhile. At times their back and forth digs had even been amusing. But when their father decided to come out of the closet a few years after their mom died, that changed. He was given plenty of support from friends and loved ones, but not from Simon. Leeza’s brother had already been pretty fanatical, but upon hearing his dad’s big announcement, he really went off the deep end. Joining the Eastern Army had been bad enough, but even they distanced themselves from the hate groups Simon now associated with.
Succession wasn’t enough for these people. Not content to have their own territory where they could make all the discriminatory laws they wanted, these were people who snuck across borderlines so they could still protest the funerals of children and soldiers. Over time, communities adapted better ways to deal with these intrusions, and since they were no longer getting the reaction they wanted, the violence of the protests had been escalating. They would never be satisfied, and they would never stop. And Simon had gone AWOL to join them.
Even still, when their dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Leeza had gone to great lengths to track him down, and when she finally got ahold of him to relay the grim prognosis, she thought he’d come to his senses and make his way back home, but instead he proclaimed it “God’s judgment” and hung up. She hadn’t spoken to him since.
Meanwhile, the tumors in her father’s stomach distended it into a ludicrously pregnant state, as they slowly ate his life. Leeza’s dreams were haunted by nightmare visions of the brood of invaders inside his body, reproducing and taking over, assimilating healthy cells into more killers. She saw them milling around holding protest signs, calling to her brother to join them…
She was exhausted, and it was becoming too much for her to handle by herself. There, in the next room lay her last remaining family, fading away. Simon no longer counted, as far as she was concerned. But for the constant shaking, and the ceaseless tears, and the stone sitting in her stomach, Leeza felt utterly alone.
Startled by a knock at the door, she remembered that she was expecting one of her father’s home hospice workers. She took a moment to rub at her eyes and straighten her clothes, and swallowing a lump in her throat, took a deep breath before letting Nadine in.
Leeza knew that Nadine was a Christian, but didn’t generally have a problem with her. She was skilled and kind, and other than the occasional “God bless!” and penchant for softly singing hymns as she worked, she wasn’t too preachy. But the sight of the silver cross hanging beneath the collar of her crisp white uniform was always jarring, and today Leeza just couldn’t handle it. She simply said, “You know where everything is,” and went into the kitchen. A Do Not Resuscitate order hung prominently on the refrigerator door, a requirement of the hospice organization, and Leeza bristled each time she saw it.
She wasn’t expecting Nadine to follow her, and jumped when she heard her ask, “Leeza? Are you okay?”
Unable to answer, she just sat down, numb. She didn’t want to start crying again. Nadine wrung her hands momentarily before stammering out, “Oh, you poor thing. Let me make you some tea.”
Through a fog of disconnectedness, Leeza was vaguely aware of Nadine opening and closing cabinets, and she faintly heard the whistle of the tea kettle, but she wasn’t sure how many minutes had passed before a cup was placed in front of her. When it was, she blurted out what she’d been thinking since meeting the young woman. “Why aren’t you back East with the rest of them?”
“Oh.” Nadine was visibly shaken, and sat down across from her, carefully weighing her words. She fingered the pendant around her neck, a nervous habit Leeza had noticed before. “Well…for one thing…I guess I never thought it was a good idea for people to live in an echo chamber. But, also…I think…I don’t really subscribe to the particular form of yodeling those folks are doing. I’m not actually even sure I’d be very welcome there.” She looked down at her hands while saying all this, adding meekly, “This is my home. I don’t want to leave.”
It wasn’t really the answer Leeza was expecting, but then, she didn’t know what she was expecting. She hadn’t really planned on asking the question, and realized she was too tired to pursue a follow-up. Sighing, she nodded and sipped her tea. For a time, Nadine sat silently across from her.
Eventually, someone must have spoken first, but neither of them had much awareness of who it was. They allowed conversation to drift for awhile; books, music, movies and other things of little consequence. When Leeza mentioned that smoothies were the only food her father could tolerate these days, Nadine gave some advice on how to fortify them by adding some protein powder, or even just powdered milk. She stayed there with Leeza, passing the time until she seemed less distraught than before, and then excused herself to attend to the needs of her patient.
Leeza silently observed Nadine with her father, and watched the cross dangling above his face. Unlike the eastern half of the Great Divide, people were still free here to believe as they wished, but given the political tone of the day, Christianity wasn’t exactly a popular belief to hold to. Leeza thought grudgingly, it took balls to wear that thing in public.
Suddenly, the weight of what Nadine had said about not thinking she’d be welcome back east hit Leeza, and she was very sad for her. Leeza realized exactly what holding to her beliefs was costing Nadine. This was a woman without fellowship, probably as alone as herself.
All at once, the world seemed very loud with the echo chambers Nadine had talked about. Leeza felt dizzy from the voices of regurgitation all around her. She felt that the whole country, East and West, was just standing on ceremonious rhetorical piles of vomit, everyone convincing each other that the ground under them was solid, with no disagreement, not even discourse, tolerated.
Yet here in the west sat a quiet woman wearing a small silver cross and wiping her gay father’s brow, checking his temperature…trying to make him comfortable so he could die in peace. She wasn’t any more gentle, or caring, or concerned than any of the other hospice workers, but she was gentle, and caring, and concerned. There were no picket signs in this room. Just the actions of someone trying to live her faith, even when it seemed like no one in the world agreed with the way she was doing it.
Leeza realized that she was seeing a snapshot of the dream of diversity aspired to sometime in the past, when people still believed in freedom, and tried to agree to disagree. There was no conversion happening here; Leeza had no plans to ever share Nadine’s beliefs, but there was a relic of something lost that was both living and dying right in front of her, and for the first time in her life, she silently rooted for someone not to lose their faith. She wished she could take a picture of the woman, and send it to Simon with a message attached that said, “This! This is what YOU should be doing, Simon! He’s your father! This is what the man you proclaim to follow would be doing!”
But she knew Simon would not accept it.
Just as she knew that Nadine was in a minority.
From the door, Leeza saw Nadine again touch the pendant she was wearing, her eyes surveying the room, resting momentarily on a picture of Simon near the bedside, and then she looked out the window, whispering earnestly, “Help him, Lord.”
But Leeza could not tell if Nadine was praying for her father or her brother. She chose to believe it was both.