Piety


2007 Rodney Cox

Marla Jaeger woke in the morning to the sound of birds. It was good to sleep in on Saturdays. Still, there were things to do. She got up yawning. After a quick trip to the bathroom, she approached an altar that stood in the corner of her room. She lit candles and poured some high quality mead into two offering bowls; one for Frigga and one for Thor, her Patrons.

“Mother Frigga, Father Thor, I pray to you and make this offering of meat do you. Grant me your presence through out the day. Let my actions be worthy of you and the example you set. Keep my daughter safe and let her grow strong in Your love and in Your worship.”

Marla sat for a moment in silence, enjoying the quietness and peace before her Gods. A warmth woke in her and spread throughout her being. She smiled and whispered, “Thanks You.”

She rose, showered, got dressed, and then went to wake her daughter. She still felt the earlier warmth within her and felt at peace. Marla had found it best to start the day in communion with the Gods. The day would go more smoothly and she would make better decisions.

Marla opened the door to her daughter Tanya’s room and stepped in. Tanya had kicked the covers off during the night and looked vulnerable and exposed. She tended to be over protective of her daughter. She tried not to, but it was hard. Since the death of her husband three years ago, Tanya was a treasured connection to her late spouse. Marla resisted the urge to cover her back up. With a sigh she flicked on the light and gently shook her daughter, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. Big blue eyes opened and gazed at her, a smile lit up the small face.

“Good morning, honey.”

“Morning, mama. Is it time to go to the park?”

“Almost. You need to wash and get some breakfast. But first, your prayers.”

“Ok.” Tanya got up and went to her own altar, touched the various figures that were there and then bowed her head, praying silently. There was a look of intent concentration on her face. When the girl was done, she ran to the bathroom. Marla smiled and went downstairs to start breakfast.

Soon her damp daughter was at the breakfast table with her Viking longship model, dressed in her favorite clothes. Luckily, Marla had thought to wash them the night before. The shirt had a Thor’s Hammer embroidered on it, and Tanya wore it often. Marla had sewn protective runes in all her daughter’s clothing and had asked Frigga to bless them to keep Tanya safe.

When breakfast was ready, Marla put two plates on the table, heaping with scambled eggs, bacon and toast. Both got juice to drink.

“Can I say the prayer, Mama?” Tanya asked. Marla nodded.

“We ask the Gods to bless this food to make us strong and wise,” Tanya prayed. Then she made the hammer sign over her plate, a gesture echoed by her mother.

As they ate, Marla looked at her daughter’s ship. It was a full replica of an ancient Viking long boat. However, there were obvious flaws when it had been patched with tape and white out. She thought about the kind man who had fixed the ship the day before when her Tanya had tripped while holding her precious ship.

She had been surprised when she had not immediately interceded when the man, Bill, had approached her daughter to help. Marla was wary of strangers around Tanya, but something had eased her concerns. This man, she knew, was not a threat. In fact, she had found herself attracted to him. He was handsome and she had sensed a kindness in him. Watching him with Tanya told her that he liked kids. And Tanya, who was shy around people, seemed to like him immediately.

“Do you think that nice man will be there today?” asked Tanya, breaking Marla’s reverie. She blinked.

“I’m not sure.”

“I hope so. He gave my boat a name. Shield Bearer.”

“That was nice of him.” Marla agreed. She had hoped that Bill had gotten her hint that they would be back. She felt a surprise. Even though it had been several years since her husband’s death, she had not felt ready to date again. The concept seemed alien to her. Maybe Frigga was trying to give her a nudge. Well, she thought, nudge away.

After breakfast, and cleaning up, they got into the car and drove to the park. Tanya immediately wanted to go to the pond to try out her boat. Marla wasn’t sure it was up for further excursions in water. The repairs looked pretty temporary. She sent a prayer to Frigga, asking for things to work out.

As they got to the water she saw that Bill was there, with a motorized model of a sloop already in the water. “Thank you, Frigga,” she said in relief.

Tanya ran up to Brian. “Well hello there, Tanya,” he said, a big smile on his face. He saw Marla and his eyes lit up. “I was hoping you’d show up.”

“Oh?” Marla asked. He blushed a bit, which Marla found charming for some reason.

“Well, the repairs I made yesterday were only temporary. I brought some stuff to make it a proper job.” He gestured to a big box by a nearby bench.

“You didn’t have to go to that much trouble.”

“Of course I did. I couldn’t have Shield Bearer be sailed only half fixed.” He turned to Tanya. “If you would permit me to work on your ship, I’ve brought another one for you to play with while I’m busy with yours.”

Tanya nodded and held out her precious ship, which Bill took from her reverently. He handed over the remote control for the sloop and showed her how it worked. With a smile, Tanya went to play with it, sending it out upon the pond, chasing ducks.

Bill sat at the bench with the long boat, working quickly and expertly. Marla joined him. “This is really good of you,” she said.

“It’s the least I can do. Meeting your daughter yesterday helped me wake up finally” He continued to work competently on the boat, fitting new pieces and gluing them in place.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, some time ago, I had a very painful break-up. To hide from the pain, I buried myself in my work, and forgot to stop when the hurting went away. But yesterday I decided to actually live again.” He stopped at Marla’s guarded expression. “I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”

Marla looked up. “No. It’s just that Tanya’s father was killed several years ago. I wanted to hide from the pain to, but I had my daughter to look after.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. Actually I did hide from the loss. We moved here to make a fresh start, away from all the...”

“Painful memories?” Bill finished.

Marla smiled. “Yes, that’s it exactly.”

“Did it work?”

“Some. Tanya is still having a hard time adjusting, but we are doing ok. How about you?”

Bill chuckled. “I think I’ll be ok.”

“The Gods provide,” said Marla, watching her girl playing.

“That they do,” said Bill. Then he turned to her. “Did you say Gods? As in the plural?”

“Yes, I did.”

Bill nodded. “So you’re Pagan then?”

“Yes, that’s right,” responded Marla. She looked a bit warily at Bill, trying to judge his reaction. She found herself saying, “Are you okay with that?”

“Oh sure. Growing up, my family was only nominally religious, like most people. In college I was good friends with a couple of Asatruar. They were really nice guys, always making their own mead. I even went to a couple of their ceremonies. Simples, Simbas…”

“Sumbel?”

“Yes, that was it. It seemed to me that they had a healthier view of religion than those wackos who would jump on random students on campus.”

Marla smiled. “Yeah, generally, that’s the case. What did you think of the sumbel?”

“I thought it was very respectful and dignified. Are you Asatruar?”

“Well, not really, but close enough. Why do you ask?”

Bill smiled. “Well your last name, Jeager, Tanya’s longship. Plus the Thor’s Hammer you’re wearing.”

Marla unconsciously touched the medallion around her neck. “Sometimes I forget I’m wearing it. Most just think it’s a funny looking pendant.”

“I saw what it was right off. I’ve always been fascinated by Norse culture and as a kid read all I could find on the subject. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized anyone actually still worshipped those Gods. It was refreshing.”

“But you never pursued it further?”

Bill shook his head. “No. I guess I wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t something I grew u with and our society tends to not take seriously anything that isn’t mainstream. At least with religions anyway.”

Marla looked at him. “And how about now?”

“Well, now… I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it much. I have a open mind about it. I wouldn’t know where to start.” He had finished his mending and brought out some paints and began to cover up the new wood. The new paint matched perfectly.

Marla smiled. “Well, I don’t want to pry or push you. Religion is a serious business and not to be jumped into lightly.” Bill nodded. “Especially if someone you are attracted to is in a different religion than what you are familiar with,” she added.

Bill suddenly stopped painting and his face turned a bright crimson. He cleared his throat. “This is awkward,” he began. “Is it terribly obvious?”

Marla nodded and gestured to the box full of supplies. “You don’t go to this much trouble for casual strangers if you’re not interested in them. Really I’m flattered.”

Bill got self-conscious then. Being told by someone that they were flattered usually meant that they weren’t interested, but were trying to be kind. “I’m sorry to bother you. Maybe this was a mistake.”

Marla put her hand over his. “It’s okay. I was hoping you would get my hint and be here.”

“You did?”

“Yes.” Now it was her turn to blush. “Forgive me for being forward, but there was something about you yesterday that I found attractive. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that. I’m glad you’re here.”

Bill smiled at her and placed his other hand on hers. “Me too,” he said. Then he went back to painting the model, the smile still on her face.

Tanya came running up. “Is it fixed?”

Bill looked at her. “Yes. I’m just painting her now.”

“Can I sail it?” Tanya asked, looking expectantly up at him.

“Not yet. Everything has to dry and the glue needs to set. Maybe tomorrow it will be ready.”

Tanya looked disappointed. “Oh.”

”If you like, you can keep playing with the sloop.” Her face brightened and she ran back to the pond.

Marla moved closer to him. “She’s quite taken with you.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. You’re her hero after you fixed her boat yesterday.”

“I’m glad I was able to help. It was good for me.”

They sat for awhile and Bill finished painting the longboat as dark clouds gathered in the sky. “Looks like rain,” he said.

“Yeah,” Marla agreed with a sigh. “We probably should get going.” She didn’t really want to go, but they couldn’t stay in the park if it rained.

“If you aren’t too busy… perhaps I could invite the two of you to lunch. My treat.” Bill asked. Marla noted the guarded expression on his face. Life can be harsh, she thought and few escape unscathed. A testing ground for the Gods. She though of her own loss and Bill’s painful last relationship. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

She gave Bill a smile. “We would love to.” His look of relief snagged at her heart. She had a feeling the Gods were nudging them together. She had never been so immediately attracted to anyone like this before, not even her former husband. Okay, she prayed silently, I’m trusting You know that You are doing.

She called Tanya over, who was initially unhappy as she thought they were going home, and she wanted to sail more. But once she found out that they were going out to eat, she brightened up. They decided to take Bill’s car and he would bring them back to the park afterwards.

“Now how are we going to to have the longship in the car if it’s just been painted?”

“Never fear,” said Bill and pulled out a special rack. “The boat can rest on this. I painted the bottom first so that it would be dry enough to be put in the rack, while the rest of it dried.”

Marla shook her head in disbelief. “Bill, you are a treasure,” she found herself saying.

“Well, I wanted Tanya’s ship to be treated right. It is, after all, named after a Valkyrie.”

They laughed and got into the car, leaving the precious longboat safe in Marla’s vehicle. Bill drove them to a nearby diner. “I’ve driven by this place for years and never went in.” He found a parking spot and they entered the restaurant.

After ordering, Marla asked, “So, Bill, what do you do for a living?”

“Oh, I’m an accountant for DynaComp. It’s nothing too exciting, but it pays the rent. How about you?”

“I’m the office manager for Santini Imports.”

“Sounds like a mafia front,” Bill said.

Marla started laughing. “You wouldn’t say that if you ever met my boss. Roberto Santini is anything but mafia. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve over met, and hospitable to a fault. Roberto really helped us when we moved here. He’s been like a father to me. Half the time he calls me by one of his different daughter’s names. He has something like ten children, most of them grown now and moved away.”

“He seems someone worth knowing.”

“Perhaps I’ll take you to see him one day.”

After their food arrived, Marla looked at Bill. “If you don’t mind, we would like to say a prayer first.”

Bill looked a bit surprised, but nodded. Marla and Tanya bowed their heads and Bill followed suit.

“Thor, we pray to you and give thanks for this meal. Let it make us strong so that we, like You, may face the ettins in our lives. In exchange, we make You this offering.” Then they made the sign of the hammer over their food as Marla set the beer she had ordered off to the side.

Marla noticed Bill looking at her with a bemused expression. “Is there anything wrong?” she asked. She had been nervous about the prayer, and would have been tempted to not say it if Tanya had not been along. She wanted to reinforce a respect for the Gods and their duty to Them. Marla hoped Bill wouldn’t be freaked out. Some other men she had attempted to date in the past couldn’t seem to handle her religion. Well, best to get it over with early on, she thought.

“No, quite the opposite,” Bill told her. “That was really neat. I take it the beer is for Thor.” Marla nodded. Bill continued, “For some reason I found it to be very meaningful. Can you tell me more?”

So Marla explained the ancient concept of hospitality and quoted Odin from the Havamal, “A gift demands a gift.” That they made offerings to the gods and if accepted, then they could expect blessings in return.

“Wow,” said Bill. “That makes so much sense.” Then he looked around the table. “Do you think it would be okay if I made an offering?”

Marla looked at him with pleasant surprise. “I’m sure it would.”

Bill asked the waitress for an extra plate. When it arrived, he carefully cut off a piece of his sandwith and put it on the plate. Tanya added some of her french fries and her pickle. Marla smiled and added some of her chicken.

“For Thor,” Bill said, then looked worried. “Did I do that right?”

Marla started laughing. “You did fine.”

They ate and talked about religion and it seemed to her that Bill was really sincere in his interest. Marla found herself studying him closely as they ate and talked and didn’t detect any creepy vibes from him. There had been a few guys in the past that had initially seemed okay, but had turned out to be unsavory. She had learned to be careful of new men, especially where Tanya was concerned.

She thought about how easily and quickly she had felt comfortable with Bill and wondered if the Gods weren’t taking a hand in things. Let him turn out to be a good man, she prayed silently.

Finally it was time to go. Bill paid the check, although Marla had insisted on paying the tip. He drove them back to her car and while Tanya got inside, she chatted with Bill, who was sitting in his car.

“Would you be free to come back to the park tomorrow?” she found herself asking.

Bill’s face lit up. “Sure. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Great. See you around noon.” Then on impulse, she reached in and kissed him on the cheek. Bill sat there with a silly grin on his face. She waved goodbye and got into her car and they both drove off. Marla found herself humming as they made their way home.

“I like him,” declared Tanya. It was unusual for her child to take to anyone so quickly, especially men. Marla figured that there was a part of her that didn’t want her father replaced. But on the other hand, it was clear that she needed a stable father figure in her life.

“I like him too,” Marla said. “We will be seeing him tomorrow.”

“Yay!” her daughter exclaimed. “We should make an extra offering to the Gods to say thank you.”

Marla looked at her daughter and smiled. “You know what?” she asked, “I think that’s a great idea.”


 

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