This is the first installment of a fictional story called, MacArthur and the Investigator. There is no schedule for when new sections and chapters will be published. We hope you enjoy and benefit from this new genre on The Bruised Reed.
On a wooden bench in a wooded park sat a portly man in a tired suite. The tip of his head hovered 70” from the ground, and he wore a mustache that could not connect in the middle. This bench was his favorite place to sit because it was always vacant. Mr. MacArthur had few pleasures, except that things would remain as they were.
The park was modest, though it boasted hundreds of trees. Most of these were evergreen. A white oak could be seen here and there. The soft walking track hugged the park edge, weaving in and out of trunks. Sixteen laps came to one mile (though Rap Gilligan, the retired Sheriff, swore it took seventeen). Most people found this too repetitive. Mr. MacArthur, to the contrary, often mused that if he ever took up jogging, this would be the ideal track. Creaky swings and a thigh-burning metal slide waited dead-center of the park. Mr. MacArthur had a running estimate of how many pebbles had stolen away on the knees of toddlers, who had knelt down to play by the swings. By his calculations, the city would need a new truckload of gravel in thirteen years.
Facing north towards a thick forest, the prized bench sat next to a large cedar. It was close enough to enjoy the afternoon shade, yet far enough to avoid falling spiders. From this bench Mr. MacArthur could see the entire park, and he would typically do one of two things. His first choice was always to, as he called it, SOC (Sit and Observe the Climate). SOCing took practice. Any passerby might distinguish daydreaming from a good SOC by the movement of eyeballs. Daydreaming tends to lock the gaze, but SOCing requires constant movement. Mr. MacArthur had perfected the craft. He noticed everything from his bench: oak leaves erratically dancing in a high breeze, a mother sneakily scratching the inside of her nose, roofers faintly tapping in the distance, bees furiously rejoicing over a new flower.
When SOCing had run its course, Mr. MacArthur would slip a quick hand into his coat pocket to remove a glass bottle of Irish whiskey and a book. The whiskey would return to the coat after a quick tip, but the book would stay open until it was read through to the back cover. “No loose ends,” he was fond of muttering. Matters once begun needed to be completed. Even so, the digests were never more than a hundred and twenty pages, so the session inevitably ended within an hour.
There were peculiar days, however, when a good SOC proved sufficient. These days typically came with the changing temperatures of Spring and Fall – seasons that brought reunions. Bees would dance together, families would walk together, dogs would wrestle together, and deer would scout from the wood line, together. A peculiar afternoon like this was what Mr. MacArthur called a “Together Day,” and it was his favorite. A Together Day demanded a long SOC and promised warmth in the belly that was sure to last through the night.
This day happened to be a Together Day – a sunny Friday following a stormy April Thursday – and there sat Mr. MacArthur, on a wooden bench in a wooded park in a tired suite. The corners of his mouth formed a bowl, as he watched three sisters chase one another over pine roots. Across the way a fox slinked his way outside the forest, and two well-fed mutts forsook their tennis ball for the livelier prize. An orchestra of birds carried on in the canopy. He did not have the faintest idea what their names were, only that the woodpeckers held a monopoly on the rhythm section – and that, of course, they were all singing together. They must be, because today was a Together Day.
After a generous hour of SOCing, Mr. MacArthur rose nimbly and came to the street. A right turn and meandering stroll would bring him to Martha’s Chapel in twenty minutes. He was the caretaker of Martha’s Chapel, employed by the landlord, Dr. Thomas Leafe. The position required guard duty from six to midnight, after which certain maintenance/cleaning duties would be conducted. In grass-growing months, Mr. MacArthur would mow the small church lawns every other Saturday. $2500/month, plus living expenses and free medical care from Dr. Leafe himself.
The greatest honor of all, he felt, was that his duty involved a chapel, for he was a very religious man. Mr. MacArthur was raised Presbyterian, and his convictions only ever deepened for that tradition. He was convinced that every created thing – from burning stars to frantic mosquitos – belonged to God, the Creator. “What more sacred calling could there be than to guard the house where My Savior’s bride gathers?” This is how Mr. MacArthur saw it, and as he entered the cemetery, making for the rear entrance of Martha’s Chapel, he thanked God for one more Together Day.
Around nine the next morning, the sun introduced itself above the trees. Crayon wax warmed on the window sill, where it had been smeared decades before by a child. Mr. MacArthur had turned this Sunday School room into sleeping quarters. Duty typically ended by two in the morning, which gave him more than six hours of rest. At fifty-three, he found this to be sufficient. On rainy days, he would spend time in the study, which he had furnished in a second room on the opposite side of the chapel.
From a partly-overcast temper the sky betrayed, Mr. MacArthur decided that today would not be one of those lovely, unique days. Even so, the weather prophets foretold no rain, and so promptly at noon – after morning stretches, a modest breakfast, Valley of Vision reading with coffee, and two bowls of English Luxury in the briar pipe – he strode through the cemetery towards the park. Not every day can be a Together Day, or else peculiar days would not be so special, he thought to himself. Even so, there was something in the air that excited Mr. MacArthur.
As he veered left from street to park, a hush seemed to fall. The birds dampened their twerping. The squirrels stood on hind-legs, one with an acorn clasped in his left hand. Hickories that guarded the track entrance seemed to bow in reverence – or was it fear? Something wasn’t quite right, but odd things were not odd in Patchwood. So he edified the tree in passing: “’In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other.’ Ecclesiastes, Mr. Hickory. Keep your chin up.”
Thirty seconds of brisk walking put Mr. MacArthur in line with the lonesome bench – his bench. Whereas it was before hidden by hickories and a wide pine, at this moment it became unmistakably perceivable, some thirty yards away. This was unfortunate, because Mr. MacArthur needed a clear reason to be confused. This was his park, and that was his bench. Right – but it certainly was not vacant.
Who was that woman?