Thorn of the Rose Issue Issue 12: Escaping into Trust
Do you trust kind words or harsh actions?
“You come from a long line of believers,” Sarah would say anytime Thorn asked about the past, about who they were, about why others could go to school openly--but Thorn’s own schooling was from outdated and hidden archives and videos on an ancient Mac, unconnected to anything.
“Your grandmother trusted in God, trusted in her husband, and never said anything other than to stay sweet.” For Sarah and her sisters, staying sweet was exactly that, an exercise in trust--trust that everything would work out all right in the end. Even when you were beaten to the point you could not breathe for having your hair out of place, your skirt mussed. Even to seeing your sisters married off and wearing high collar blouses to hide the thumbprints along the hollows of their necks.
Stay sweet. Trust, no matter what. Yet Sarah would stop short of exploring these darker layers of trust and mistrust, ending the conversation with “But you know what I really learned from them? It is better to stay sharp than to stay sweet—of course, that is why we are in this mess, but it is better. Trust me on that one, my sharp little angel.” And she would smile sardonically as she looked around at whatever dark room they had sheltered in this time—a dingy motel room with its inevitable broken light bulb, counting out coins on the bedspread to see if they could swing the cash to stay there unregistered, or a couch at a friend’s house with the inevitable demands that Sarah pay for the couch by going into the bedroom or bathroom and coming out a long time later, pale and worn out.
Thomas had come into Gray Oaks four days before Sarah turned 18. He arrived amidst the swelling number of refugees from the Registration Acts: illegal aliens who could find no other work now that every job paid in credit to the registered number; survivalists terrified that the number of the beast would be carved into foreheads next, rather than simply stamped on retinas; those who did not want to divulge their pasts to the compulsory registrars. The refugees took their place in the community, mouthing or shouting their agreement to condemn the abominations, the internet, the homosexuals, the registrations, the credit card accounts. Trusting Pastor Corner and the elders to lead them into the paths of righteousness, the lands of milk and honey here in the short growing seasons of Montana, they settled in.
But Thomas questioned the doctrine. Women have souls as well, so why should they not have a say in godly matters? If God’s handiwork was to be respected, then no one should beat a child or whip a woman, for wouldn’t this be disrespectful to the Lord’s work? If he were married, he’d treat his wife like the treasure God meant her to be, he said. Sarah listened to his quiet voice, hiding behind the doors so she could learn more. Doubting Thomas, the elders dubbed him almost immediately. They told the girls to stay away from him as he espoused apostasy, as he might not actually agree with all of the Ends of the Earth Fundamentalist Church of The Most High’s teachings.
Moreover, Micah told Sarah, Thomas’ skin was black, and this might or might not indicate the mark of Cain. The survivalist camp about 50 miles down the road certainly thought that was an issue, Micah pointed out. Best not to interfere.
“Didn’t Pastor Corner say that it doesn’t matter the color of the skin, it is whether you can trust whatever lies beneath those bones that counts?” Sarah rejoined when Micah had singled her out to warn her against Thomas.
“Women should be seen and not heard,” Micah replied. “You are getting above yourself, woman.” And Sarah went back to spooning mush into Gracie, the youngest of the tribe. She rocked Gracie on the tiny porch of their cabin, staring up into the dark pines on the cliff above them, crooning a song at the back of her throat “Stay sweet for the Lord always, and again I say stay sweet.”
As she sang quietly, her father’s voice rang out from beyond the workshop, where they kept the tools to maintain the wind farm. “ Sarah always has had that tendency to wander, Samuel. I trust you’ll keep her on the straight and narrow.” Sarah looked up at the two men approaching the house, and then went inside quickly to show she had not heard.
Later that night, she rapped at the window of the bachelor’s cabin where Thomas was sleeping. Told Thomas that the survivalists down the road were going to come for him and a few of the others whose skin made their reliability questionable. She had packed some food, gotten a few coins. They could leave that night. They did. There were few places, though, that would take an unregistered person, let alone a couple. Sarah refused to even tattoo a mark on her forehead, to pretend to be registered. Thus, they were outcast. They wandered, following rumors of jobs, down to Denver, Colorado.
But here, too, there was no work, no refuge for the unregistered. After a series of cash-only shelters or hiding in church basements, Thomas said he would strike out on his own—and then come back for Sarah soon enough—when he could find a place that would take them both, no questions asked. He never did come back though, and Thorn was born in a back-alley mid-wife’s room a half a year later.