Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chapter XIX: Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child

Benny flicked through the channels. He moved the channels past a cooking show, a show with a young couple looking for houses, a myriad of talking heads doling out news of varying importance, some band performing with acoustic instruments dressed up like lumberjacks, an infomercial for a new knife that promised it could cut just as easily through an aluminum can as it could a tomato – Bill wondered why anyone would ever need to cut an aluminum can? Benny finally settled for a sports show providing the latest statistics for college football.

"Georgia's looking pretty lousy this year," Benny said.

Bill nodded. "Georgia's looking pretty bad most years these days."

Benny grunted. "Your Gators aren't doing so hot either, bub."

Bill shrugged. He continued his conversation, but his mind roamed elsewhere. He felt the sheets beneath him, heard their stories: the lonely business men, a bickering vacationing couple fighting quietly with the kids asleep in the twin bed next to them, a pair of newlyweds. He paused at the feeling of the newlyweds, grew embarrassingly aroused, and tried to shift his thoughts further away. He was not some creepy peeping tom and had trained himself to ignore such stories. Young couples seemed to be everywhere. They were in gas station bathrooms, on picnic tables, in the woods, in rental cars. Everywhere.

Bill thought about his wife and wondered if she would have been open to such things when she was younger. He doubted it, but then again, he wasn't sure. He missed his wife but could only see her with the other man. He wondered if a place could rekindle what was lost, or at least slipping quietly away, but doubted it. He needed to talk to her, to tell her his thoughts, but he worried how she would react. Could he get her to believe him? Yes, he knew he probably could, but what could this development possibly add to their relationship? They had been slipping out of touch for years. They had sunk into the routine of busy lives – separate careers, kids, PTA meetings, book club meetings for her, fantasy football for him, his model ships, her romantic comedies – there just wasn't enough time. They had lost time for each other. What they were – the young couple who stayed up all night talking or making love – had changed into what they had become – business partner who were lucky to sneak in twenty minutes alone to themselves once the kids were asleep, and usually, they were so exhausted by that time they most likely spent those moments getting ready for bed themselves in a state of zombie-like exhaustion.

Bill looked over to the phone but decided not to pick it up. Not yet.

Benny started flipping through the channels again. He paused at an infomercial with athletic women pole dancing in fluorescent leotards and smiled over to Bill. "Great way for a girl to get in shape, huh?"

Bill politely smiled back. "Think that lady down at the pool uses this workout?"

Benny laughed. "You mean Magda?"

Bill caught the reference to Something About Mary and laughed, too, but it was simply a social effort. His mind roamed, and where it roamed there was very little humor. The sheets beneath him, the bed, and all the embedded memories of the hotel room became background noise. He thought about his vision at the church. He thought about his vision at the walking track. He thought about the crime scenes. Most of all, he thought about the victims: kids, just little more than babies. They were so innocent, so trusting, so undeserving of such a horrid fate. How could faith twist into something so sick and peculiar? How could the words of a kind and perfect man simply asking people to love one another turn into such a fugue of violence?

"Spare the rod and spoil the child."

"Huh, what'd you say?" Benny hit mute on the television.

"As a kid, were you ever beaten?" Bill asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"I just remembered something about Green. At least I think it was Green. There was a bestselling book a few years back, a Christian living thing, about discipline and child-rearing. I remember buying a copy of it at the suggestion of a fellow church member. It was pretty harsh stuff, I thought. All about spanking and using paddles and switches and stuff and talked about how liberal psychologists were trying to take away parents' rights to use corporal discipline in their homes. A spanking manifesto, basically. I thought it was pretty harsh stuff, honestly. I mean, yeah, I spanked my kids from time to time when they were little. But sparingly. Typically just popping their hand if they reached for the stove or slapping their butt if they tried to run out in a parking lot, that sort of thing. My parents spanked me. I got paddled a few times in school, but it wasn't all there was to discipline. My parents rewarded good behavior and sent me in the corner if I acted out most of the time. I only remember a handful of spankings. I tried to do more or less the same with my own kids. But this book, what it said was just so harsh, I felt. It quoted that line from the Bible again and again: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.'"

Benny nodded. I think I know the book you are talking about. It got the headlines for a while when I was in college. Kind of like the Chinese Tiger Mom thing at that time."

"Was that written by Green?"

Benny scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Maybe."

Bill nodded his head. "I think so, too. Let's go online and find out. If so, I think it's time we have a talk with Green's son."

Benny slipped his laptop out of its case and turned it on. "It'd be flimsy evidence, won't hold up in court, but if you're right, this might just be a godsend. Fits our profile anyway."

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