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Testament

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Worth reading 😎

Covering challenging themes this book is a great young adult book for tackling issues facing young people and some of the difficult issues.

Synopsis

Dana Seibel is expected to graduate with honors and a scholarship to the college of her choice. When she fails her senior science project — a report on the evolution of humanity, her science teacher offers her another chance to get back on track. However, Dana’s father, a third-generation pastor, believes a re-write to be an affront to God.

But her problems have only barely begun.

When Dana arrives home from the prom drunk, long after her curfew, family and personal relationships are damaged. Upon discovering she is pregnant, pandemonium breaks out because Dana’s a virgin!

A battle between faith, logic, and evidence erupts with Dana caught in the crosshairs.

This a great book for raising issues of faith, challenges of life as a teenager - such as sex, alcohol and drugs- and difficult issues of rape and teen pregnancy.


The characters are engaging and the plot moves at a good pace to keep you reading and engaged in the story. IlIt’s hard not to feel sorry for Dana and be angry at her father for his attitudes. The story challenges you to imagine the difficulties of living in a family of strong faith and both the barriers this creates for Dana. It also made me think about the struggles of her father living with his strong faith in a secular world, but I failed to feel empathy for him.


I struggled with how the rape is dealt with in this book. The almost light hearted synopsis sets a tone which detracts from the seriousness of the issue and turns it into a whodunnit. Throughout I felt angry that Dana wasn’t getting better treatment and only her friend Kayla seemed to care about her. The males in the book are almost entirely unlikeable characters with only Fitch being honourable - but even he is a pathetic teen that it’s hard to warm to.


As a young adult book it ends positively, which was both satisfying - knowing that Dana is ok - but also felt a little false and formulaic.


Despite that, I recommend this book though for teens to read as it does raise some challenging themes and deals with them sensitivity. It’s not a difficult read nor is it graphic or violent, enabling younger adults the chance to think about difficult themes.


Reviewed by

Having previously studied English at University I love books. I read regularly and a wide variety of literature and non fiction.
I particularly love dystopian fantasies, adventure biographies and novels, especially those that immerse you in the landscape and historical fiction.

Synopsis

Dana Seibel is expected to graduate with honors and a scholarship to the college of her choice. When she fails her senior science project — a report on the evolution of humanity, her science teacher offers her another chance to get back on track. However, Dana’s father, a third-generation pastor, believes a re-write to be an affront to God.

But her problems have only barely begun.

When Dana arrives home from the prom drunk, long after her curfew, family and personal relationships are damaged. Upon discovering she is pregnant, pandemonium breaks out because Dana’s a virgin!

A battle between faith, logic, and evidence erupts with Dana caught in the crosshairs.

“From Genesis we know: ‘the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.’ This is the word of God.”

                                                              —Pastor Ivan Seibel

 

Kayla scanned the high school cafeteria, searching for a table as close to the windows as possible. The clatter of trays and utensils and the shuffling and chattering of students in and about the cafeteria caused her to nudge Dana's arm. Without speaking, Kayla pointed with her tray to an almost empty table near the cafeteria restrooms, in front of the windows to the outside garden. There was one student already seated at the end of it, but that was okay. They would take the other end, and even if others came to sit, they would have a modicum of privacy. Dana, although in an uncharacteristic stupor, understood and immediately headed in that direction before someone else could beat them to it. After all, window tables were favored on beautiful spring days such as this.

Without acknowledging the other student, the girls placed their trays down, slipping their book bags over the backs of the chairs. Kayla took off her sweater, slid her cell phone out of the back pocket of her jeans, and placed it on the table beside her tray, habitually glancing at the screen for messages. A goofy heart emoji with its eyes crossed and tongue sticking out wagged back and forth with the note, where are you? enticing her dimpled smile. It was from Leo, of course, Kayla’s boyfriend of almost a year.

Her smile swiftly morphed to a frown as she sat down and looked over her tray at a notably distraught Dana. “So, what the hell’s up with Goetz, an F!” Dana wearily raised her head, her eyes bloodshot and tired. She hadn't been crying, but it was all she could do to prevent herself. She didn’t respond, instead looking over Kayla’s shoulder, suddenly feeling the last of her energy drained away.

“The queen is dead, long live the king,” Iain Thompson said as he jive-walked toward the girls’ table, trying his best to be cool, a smile spread across his face. Iain was a nice enough guy and up until today was considered the second smartest kid in school, with a GPA to support it. Dana was, or had been, the smartest. Something for which she, and her father, was proud. “It was only a matter of time, Dana. You knew it, and I knew it,” continued Iain, resting his hand on Kayla’s shoulder in a blatantly friendly gesture. Iain wasn't a friend per se, as friends go, but he was a respected part of the academic student body, and either of the girls, under normal circumstances, would have welcomed him.

“Don’t be a jerk, Iain,” Kayla said, shifting in her seat and looking up to face him, shrugging his hand from her shoulder. “Obviously there has been a mistake. You’ll never beat Dana.”

“Congratulations, Iain,” Dana said, trying her best to put on a smile.

“Ah, don’t take it so hard, Dana. It’s just my turn, that’s all,” he offered, changing gears to alleviate her distress, when Reg walked up. Reg shouldered Iain, almost knocking him over Kayla.

“Hey, asshole, it is your turn. Now hit the road before I hit you,” he said, glowering down at Iain. Regaining his balance, Iain scowled up at Reg, gave a weak smile to the girls, turned, and quickly walked away.

Ultimately, Reg had nothing against Iain either, but Reg’s motivation was always about Reg. It was who he was. Mostly, however, he was able to fool everyone because he had a suaveness that he could turn on and off at will, usually in a way that disguised his true desires. What he probably desired now was to slide his hand inside Dana’s unbuttoned blue sweater and cup her large breasts.

The blue sweater had been Dana’s mothers. It was buttoned up save for the top two missing buttons, lost somewhere, someplace, long ago. To Dana, the sweater represented her mother. It was warm and comforting, hugging her when she needed a hug. Like she did now. How she wished she could run home to her mother, cry in her arms, and feel her mother’s compassion and support. It was times like this that Dana wished for the mother she never knew. A loving, caring person devoted to her family. At least that was what she was told when the topic of her mother's life or death came up. And there was the guilt. Her mother, this loving, nurturing being, would still be here were it not for her entry into this world. As she was delivered kicking and screaming, a healthy baby girl with a life to look forward to, her mother lay bleeding internally. When her mother collapsed, unconscious, it was already too late. She had lost too much blood. She was with God now. Another Seibel sacrifice.

“You can be such an ass, Reg,” Kayla said, glaring up at him.

“Calm down,” Reg replied. “I heard about Little Lady here and thought she could use some cheering up. So here I am. Just in time too, with Thompson rubbing her nose in it, the dick.” He looked in the direction where Iain had scurried off.

“It’s okay, Reg, Iain meant no harm,” Dana said in a voice just above a whisper.

“Well, if he gives you any trouble, Little Lady, any at all, you let me know, and I’ll have a word with him.”

“I just want to be alone with Kayla right now, Reg, if that’s okay, but thank you for your concern. I appreciate it.”

“Glad to help, Little Lady, you keep your chin up.” Reg gave Dana a wink, nodded at Kayla, spun on a heel, and casually walked away.

Dana’s eyes followed him until he was lost in the cafeteria jumble. Kayla had been watching Dana. “You like that guy, don’t you?” Kayla asked, trying to disrupt Dana’s thoughts for a moment.

“Reg means well,” Dana replied.

“It seems to me it’s more than that, Dana. Reg is a good-looking guy, tall, dark and handsome. But he can be a bit of a jerk,” Kayla said, watching for a reaction from Dana. None came.

Dana was awash in despair. She had just been dethroned, and it weighed heavily on her. At least that was Kayla’s perception. Dana was rarely in such a state, Kayla knew, having been her best friend since they were kids. But when she was, she was hard to reach. As in the past, however, Kayla would be there for her, as a good friend should be. Anyway, Dana was always quick to bounce back. It was her nature. Unbeknownst to Kayla, this time would be different.

The school year had begun with enthusiasm. Dana and Kayla, the first and third in academic standing since forever, finally starting their senior year of high school, both with thoughts of college already churning in their minds. Kayla had plans for law school, with Leo, on an almost certain academic scholarship into prelaw at New York University, and a youth’s lofty plans to change the world. Dana hobbled between religious studies with a vague dream of becoming a Doctor of Ministry, highly supported by her father, or a science teacher, like her favorite teacher, Mr. Goetz. He always put his students’ education and understanding first. She wanted to be that kind of teacher.

Dana was pulled continuously by Kayla to join her at NYU, where either future was possible, especially to someone with Dana’s academic record. Both girls had made application to NYU. Dana had also applied to Emory University, which had the most recognized Doctor of Ministry program for women in the country. Emory also had an excellent reputation for creating outstanding teaching professionals. Regardless of prospects, however, the girls still had to get their senior year behind them, and Dana had just hit a wall.

They spent the rest of their lunch in silence, Kayla texting back and forth with Leo and occasionally trying to make eye contact with Dana, who seemed to be staring off at nothing, attuned to her thoughts, her lunch untouched.

 

*

 

Mr. Goetz’s science class had been the last of the morning classes, which preceded lunch on Fridays. It was a favored class, more because of Nic Goetz than science. He was friendly, had a confident air, and challenged his students, favoring no one and everyone at the same time. And good luck trying to pull a fast one on him. He was as quick-minded and witty as any of the characters in his classes. With a PhD. in some science background, Mr. Goetz seemed to have all the answers, all the time.

Occasionally, a student would attempt to catch him with a Google search, but never once in memory had he been outsmarted. On top of it all, he was fit and attractive. The girls adored him. Kayla especially crushed on him, often teasing Leo that when she graduated it was him or Goetz, depending on how the mood swept her. Even the guys admired him for his ability to talk smack on just about any sports topic.

This year, he had given a series of lectures on the latest scientific infusions into the world. They included how artificial intelligence was both a potential benefit and a concern in modern life. Why a mere one-degree Celsius increase in temperature would negatively impact life on Earth. And how a cell phone worked — topical information of the day that might otherwise have been overlooked by this mass of potential geniuses.

Bohdana Seibel had always been a quick study, smart and hard-working. Her schoolwork was second only to her religious studies, but both were paramount in her life. She liked Mr. Goetz because he made science class as entertaining as he did educational. The class project, worth one hundred percent of the grade, was to write a report on The Evolution of Humanity, which was to be handed in on the second last Friday of the school year. When his lectures, and any discussion, were finished, the rest of the time had been given to report-writing. This was a self-study. No help from Mr. Goetz. It was his challenge to his seniors, and, typically, if an effort was shown, it was an easy pass.

Dana had thoroughly enjoyed his classes. Not only did she find the lectures interesting and provocative, but the topic for the final project was one she had studied routinely since she was a child. She had written an exceptional paper and confidently expected to pass and go on to college to become an outstanding teacher just like him. It had been the last class of the year. They received their papers back today and along with them their final grades.

Dana expected that she and Iain would be giving the valedictory and salutatory speeches in front of the entire graduating class and faculty, and, of course, the attending parents and family members. She was proud to be the valedictorian. Her father was proud of her too. He, along with her sister, Anechka, the mother figure in Dana’s life, would be sitting in the designated parents’ seats of the valedictorian, front row center. She had worked so hard. She deserved the honor.

 

*

 

“What will I tell my father?” Kayla was abruptly conscious of Dana’s comment. It was more like a thought spoken aloud than a question. Surreptitiously tucking her cell phone away, Kayla caught Dana’s eye. Dana snapped back to the present and realized she had just spoken out loud.

“You’re going to figure this out, Dana; there must have been a mistake,” Kayla said. “What did Goetz say was wrong anyway?”

As her mind began synthesizing her return to the present, her eyes tearing, Dana looked at Kayla. “Mr. Goetz’s remarks were that my report was plagiarism of biblical text that failed to provide evidence to back up my observations.”

As the words tumbled from Dana’s mouth, Kayla could feel her tension building and knew she must quickly escort her from the cafeteria. Take her somewhere where the two of them could be alone and talk, and cry, and shout if need be. Where nobody would disturb them. Tying her sweater around her waist and slinging her book bag over her shoulder, Kayla stepped around the table and grabbed Dana’s bag, shouldering it above her own.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said, her eyes commanding Dana to follow. As they passed through the cafeteria exit into the garden, Kayla handed Dana back her bag and took the lead. She headed through the garden and out to the student parking lot. Luckily, the busy lot, with its cliques of students strewn throughout, created a maze in which to hide, and the two girls walked to Kayla’s car unnoticed.

Then there was time for Dana to cry, finally. Kayla held and squeezed her hand, intermittently releasing it to drive then returning to it affectionately. She pulled up to the curb at City Park, under the big pine tree. The girls had spent their youths on the park bench not too far away from where Kayla now parked, pondering life as kids and teenagers for longer than either might remember. Since Kayla had got a car for an early graduation gift/birthday present from her parents, the girls usually just sat in it now. Under the shade of the tree, with the windows slightly opened and the radio on, they would chat.

Kayla reached into the glove box and retrieved a box of Kleenex. Pulling out a handful, she offered them to Dana, who by this time had mostly recovered, except for the tears and snot masking her face that needed tending to. Dana breathed a deep, desperate sigh as she finished this task, crumpling the tissue into a ball snugly held in her clenched fist.

“Okay, girlfriend,” Kayla said, handing Dana the tissue box, “why did Goetz fail you?” Dana tucked her balled Kleenex into her sweater pocket and accepted the tissue box, placing it on her lap. One last big sigh escaped as she regained control and turned to face Kayla.

“Mr. Goetz wrote that my report was plagiarism of biblical text that failed to provide evidence to back up my observations,” Dana repeated, recalling the comment Mr. Goetz had written in red felt marker on the last page of her report. At the top of the title page he had scratched an “F,” circled it in the same pen with two exclamation marks beside it, and written Come see me in Monday’s slot underneath.

“What did you write?” Kayla asked, her voice level. She had written the report too, received an A-plus, and could not yet imagine how the school’s valedictorian could have failed it.

Dana blew her nose into a fresh tissue. “A report on the evolution of man. I had it written in the back of my mind since we were juniors. I typed and spaced it as required; I referenced it. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I never plagiarized anything. I quoted some biblical text but gave credit where I could, specifically to God.”

“You quoted God!” Kayla gasped, raising her eyebrows, bewildered. “What do you mean, quoted God?”

“So much of Genesis is God’s word,” Dana replied, “I referenced Him as required. I outlined Genesis, but I used my own words. Sometimes the words of my father, and of other theologians, each of them appropriately referenced.”

Kayla gaped at Dana. She had been raised Catholic, sort of. Her parents had not been practicing Catholics, but they attended the main church events. She knew the story of Genesis, perhaps vaguely, but was taken aback at Dana’s account of her report and its content. “Your report was about Genesis?” she managed. “You gave Mr. Goetz, our science teacher, a report on Genesis?”

Dana, retreated into her seat, not comprehending Kayla’s comments but feeling admonished by them. “What do you mean? Genesis is about God creating us in His image. About the history of our existence. That was the topic.”

Kayla’s shoulders drooped, and she placed her head in her hands, her elbows on her lap, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, began rocking back and forth. Regaining her thoughts and attentive to Dana’s predicament, she started to cautiously and constructively outline what she perceived to be Dana’s grand error regarding her report. Dana, doe-eyed and astonished, listened while Kayla lectured her for what seemed half an hour. When Kayla finished, she was staring at Dana, wondering if she understood the blunder she had made but sympathetic toward her.

Dana’s father was an evangelical pastor, with a strong and unwavering faith, Kayla knew. She had many times broken bread at the Seibel home when Pastor Seibel gave thanks. The prayers seemed to go on forever, so unlike the occasional scripted prayers she had experienced in her own home. Pastor Seibel opined that when thanking God for His abundance, one must not forget anything. Occasionally, Kayla felt rebuked by him for the inconsistencies he noted in her religious teaching and for failing to give herself entirely to God.

Kayla had met Catholic ministers, too, who were strict in demanding obedience to God and biblical text. They usually showed up as guests for the big Catholic events like Christmas and Easter. Her dad always joked that they came to gather the flock and deliver it from evil. It was different for Dana. Her strict religious upbringing was her lifeblood. Like her father, if not because of him, Dana had a profound devotion to God. There were no maybes. Unlike her father, however, Dana was never preachy. But if you knew her well enough, you knew the brief moment of hesitation before she started eating her lunch was thankfulness proferred to her Savior.

The first time Kayla had seen Dana pause, subtly, her head ever so slightly bowed, her hands clasped together, was at snack time in kindergarten when the two were still strangers to one another. Then, in a couple of seconds, Dana was as attentive as before. Kayla would have missed it altogether had she not by chance been looking at her at the time.

“God is the creator of Heaven and earth and all that exists, including humanity.” Dana’s statements were strict and condemning of Kayla’s comments, and Kayla felt the pinch. “My report follows God’s word as our Creator and cannot be judged. I know this history well, and I do not need a lecture from anybody to know it better.” Dana was trying desperately to control her emotions. She had never felt this way before and was as surprised at her reaction as Kayla seemed to be. But she would stand her ground regardless. “Mr. Goetz has made a mistake. I will explain this to him, and he will see his error. It may be that this is the one thing I know better than him. Better than you too.”

Dana reached behind her seat and snatched up her bookbag, pulling it up onto her lap, spilling the Kleenex box to the floor. “I need some time to think,” she said, “and you should do some thinking on this too, Kayla.” She opened the passenger door and stepped out of the car. Through the open window, to an astonished Kayla, she said, “I’m going to walk to church and pray about this. About how I will tell my father. I am going to pray for God’s strength when I speak to Mr. Goetz on Monday. I will see you later.”

Kayla felt empty. As she watched Dana walk along the City Park path away from her, she was struck by the profoundness of what she saw as a tremendous mistake being made by her best friend. And she felt powerless to help her.

 

 

*

 

The Seibels had been an austere evangelical Christian family for generations. Dana’s great-grandfather on her father’s side had been the families first religious leader. Although uneducated, he had been a star pupil in the open church his family began attending when they first immigrated to America from Eastern Europe. The times were trying back then, as Dana’s father shared the stories. The Seibel men were laborers, working long, hard days on farms in the summer and mills in the winter. The women managing the children and clapboard homes. Life was a struggle. There was no formal school for the children to attend, so they were put to work sooner than later.

It was no wonder, then, that as a boy, Dana’s great-grandfather was drawn to the church. At first it was something to stifle his boredom. The church elders taught him to read, and he found memorizing scripture easy. He also realized at this early age that it made him stand out within his community at large. It made his parents, too poor to otherwise be noticed, proud and welcome congregants. As time went on, his rank in the open church increased, and as a young man of only twenty-four years, he was considered the church’s most knowledgeable member. The first Pastor Seibel.

Great-grandfather married young and within eighteen months his wife, only seventeen years of age herself, birthed a son. In time, he too became a pastor, proudly following in his father's footsteps, taking over his father’s growing flock when he became ill with heart disease. Then the congregation decided it was time to build a church. The men got together weekends and evenings and construction commenced.  

However, times were changing. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, was the first man to rocket into space. The historical Russian influence of the congregation made them swell with pride. God was wondrous. These discoveries came with greater understanding, and a new information era started creeping into the community and into its church. American society was ringing with questions that had never before been asked. The space race, for example, posed questions regarding what was out there and how it came to pass. At first glance, it was recognized as God’s great accomplishment, and awe fell over the congregation. Over all except Dana’s grandfather, the second Pastor Seibel.

He began to wonder if his evangelizing was misleading the people. He asked himself why, if God had all the answers, was He not sharing them with His creation? Then he had the misfortune to share his thoughts with his wife. It wasn't long after that his wife miscarried their first child. A baby girl, stillborn and deformed. Grandmother Seibel blamed her husband for his ungodly thoughts and believed that the loss of her child was God’s punishment for her husband’s transgressions. Pastor Seibel magnified his devotions privately and in church, both to appease his wife and his God, but secretly, his confusion grew. Two years later, Ivan, Dana’s father was born. God, once again, had mercy on the Seibels.

Ivan was baptized on his fourteenth birthday by his father amidst the congregation at a shallow bend in the river close by the church. However, his mother remained distrustful of her husband and took to evangelizing Ivan herself. As in the past, the Seibels had been the devotional leaders of the community, in which Ivan’s mother enjoyed some stature. When Ivan was nineteen, his father suffered a massive heart attack and died. His mother convinced him that it had been God’s will because his father had wandered from the Path. It was now up to Ivan to lead the congregation, and in so doing, bring the Seibels back to God.

Ivan’s devotion to his God was immeasurable. He wed the daughter of a renowned evangelical minister, and within a year Katarina was pregnant with their first child, a daughter. Anechka was the apple of her father's eye, even though he spared little time away from the church to spend with her or his wife. It was Katarina’s duty to teach the Gospel to Anechka.

Anechka learned the responsibilities of womanhood from this early age. Primarily, it was the job of the women to be the backbone of the men, such that the men could carry on the difficult tasks of life. The small family was a happy one, mainly when Papa was around. He would play with and tease Anechka, tickling her and pouring endless kisses over her head and hands while Mama cleared the evening dishes.

Then it was time for prayers and bed. Mama and Papa would bow their heads as Anechka mimicked them, and Papa would give thanks. He thanked the Lord for Anechka and Mama and the bounty shared in his home. He gave thanks for his opportunity to serve God and asked God’s help to guide him while watching over his congregation. And one day, he asked God to bless him and Katarina and Anechka with another child. The three of them were so excited when Katarina shared her midwife’s news — she was pregnant. Beautiful and exciting news that Ivan shared in his sermon on God’s Blessings.

The time passed quickly and easily for Katarina, except of course for the aches and pains normal to the condition. It was the woman’s duty to bear this gift from God without complaint. Katarina did so. But in the final weeks, she felt that something was not right. The baby had quit moving. She shared this with Ivan and suggested she see a doctor. But Ivan insisted that her midwife, a member of his congregation, and the hand of God, were both at work to see that she and her unborn child were well. With God’s blessing, what could go wrong? You must have faith, he reminded her.

Only days before her due date, Katarina miscarried. The baby, stillborn, had been a boy. He was severely deformed and twisted. An abomination. Ivan was a wreck. He had given his very soul to God. He had proselytized fervently. He had built a large and ever-growing congregation of believers at the expense of time devoted to his family. And yet, God’s wrath, brought upon Ivan and his family because of his father's broken faith, was as yet unquenched. Ivan prayed.

Katarina became despondent. She did not speak or eat. As the days and weeks wore on, she became thin and frail. Ivan prayed. His sermons became great commentaries on obedience and devotion to God, zealously preached from the pulpit and given in self-prayer. Anechka became the congregation’s orphan. There was never a time when one or more of the women from church were not tending to her or Katarina’s needs. Their clothes were washed. Their bodies were cleansed. The cupboards were filled. The women knelt and prayed with Anechka at the foot of Mama’s bed. The months passed.

It was almost a year before Katarina began to improve. Slowly, she responded to encouraging words to get up from the bed, with help at first, to walk short distances. To start caring for her own needs. Then the needs of Anechka. Then the needs of Ivan. It was almost three years before Katarina was of the presence of mind to try and have another child. Ivan, forever astute and devout and mindful of God, was sure he and Katarina were finally worthy, and similarly desired another child. Another boy, such that eventually the Seibels could magnify their worship and grow the congregation.

It was five years before Katarina became pregnant. She was thirty years old. Her health appeared to have returned, although she remained thinner than she had been in her youth and through her previous pregnancies. The Seibels were thankful to God, but there remained trepidation. At seven years old, even Anechka prayed that Mama would bear a healthy baby. A brother, so her papa’s prayers would be answered. This time, however, Ivan, at Katarina’s behest, had agreed to a hospital delivery.

In the final month of her pregnancy, Katarina’s doctor requested she have biweekly checkups to measure the health of the fetus and of the mother. To a degree, Katarina’s trepidation was diminished. The doctor assured her that all was well and she could expect a healthy baby soon. When her water broke, Katarina was swiftly delivered to the hospital by a caregiver from the church, while another remained to watch over Anechka, whose excitement at having a brother was overshadowed only by Ivan’s endless prayers for the same.

The labor lasted eleven agonizing hours, stealing all but the minimum of Katarina’s strength. With a final excruciating push came the screams of a baby. Katarina could feel the pulse of the delivery room change. As she lay there exhausted, the smiles of her doctor and the attending staff, the cry of her baby, her thankfulness to God, each gave her strength. After a quick cleaning, a bellowing healthy baby girl was placed in her arms. “Bohdana, bohdana, bohdana,” Katarina repeated as she nuzzled and kissed her precious child. A gift from God.

Within the hour, Ivan had arrived at Katarina’s side. He hugged his wife and kissed his baby girl. His prayer of a baby boy was the farthest thought from his mind. “Bohdana, bohdana,” he pronounced, uninspired by his wife. What else was she if not a gift from God?

Then an alarm sounded. There was a frenzy with people shouting and racing around. Just before she passed out, Bohdana was taken from Katarina’s arms. Ivan, against his will, was ushered from the room, the alarm screaming, subdued as the door closed behind him. When the doctor came out only moments later, Ivan’s head was bowed in prayer, his hands clenched over his face. It was almost a minute before he was aware of the doctor's hand on his shoulder. Postpartum hemorrhage, he was told. Katarina Seibel was gone. The doctor's condolence was still reverberating in his mind when the nurse came and handed him his daughter. Bohdana. A gift from God.  

 

*

 

Dana had avoided contact with Kayla over the weekend, spending her time with her thoughts and in prayer. She was not mad at her anymore and had come to question why she had been angry at her in the first place. She knew that Kayla’s relationship with God was passive. Dana wondered why God tested His faithful so pitilessly, as she believed He was doing with her now. As she walked to school for her mid-morning meeting with Mr. Goetz, these thoughts were on her mind.

When she arrived, the science classroom door was closed. Peering in through the window, she saw Mr. Goetz and Fitch, a classmate, chatting and lightly knocked at the door. Mr. Goetz glanced up, saw her there, and immediately waved her in, his familiar smile accompanying the gesture. “Good morning, Dana,” he said. “Just swing the door closed behind you; nobody else will be joining us this morning.” Dana wondered why Fitch was there. While exchanging subdued smiles, she assumed it would all come together shortly.

Seon Fitzgerald was more an acquaintance to Dana than a friend. He had been known as Fitch since junior school due to a speech impediment and his inability to properly pronounce his last name. Although the problem had been outgrown, the moniker was resilient. Fitch was also a member of her father's congregation. He and his family rarely missed a service. His and Dana’s relationship was more church-related than school related, even though they had the bulk of their classes together.

Dana took her typical desk in the front row beside Fitch. She withdrew her report from her bookbag, which she sat on the floor beside her desk, and placed the report upside down on the desktop, folding her hands on top of it. Then she looked up at Mr. Goetz, who was half sitting, half standing against his desk, his familiar pose when not walking about the classroom and lecturing.

“Thank you both for coming in this morning,” he began. “I’m sure you each have questions regarding your papers, and that’s why we’re here today. Let us start then with a reiteration of the project so each of you is clear about the topic and my expectations.”

Dana and Fitch sat motionlessly and listened as Mr. Goetz spoke. “Since I became the science teacher, the senior project has been to write a report on the evolution of humankind. My requirements have always been concise. The project is to be an evidence-based self-study, referenced and double-space typed. I will add that this is a science project, not a theological one.”

Dana was about to interject but Mr. Goetz held up his hand. “Give me another moment to finish, please. Your reports failed to provide evidence in science to support your conclusions. Additionally, using God as a reference is unacceptable because it cannot be verified. Theologically, you are both to be commended for your superior biblical knowledge of Genesis. However, outlining Genesis is not the project.”

Looking at Dana, he acknowledged that he was done and that she could give feedback. “Genesis is the word of God and is inerrant,” Dana proclaimed.

Fitch nodded and added, “Mr. Goetz, science does not have all the answers.”

“Look, Dana, Seon, I am not attempting to alter your philosophical beliefs,” Goetz said. “Nevertheless, this is a science project and is to be considered from a historically scientific perspective. It’s an opportunity to think critically, an opportunity to know the evidence in support of evolution. I am willing to give you both the summer session to rewrite your papers. Your final grades will be determined based upon that submission.”

Then Goetz paused, sighed, and looked directly at Dana. “Dana, unfortunately, this impacts your standing academically regarding graduation. Since your coursework for my class is incomplete, the valediction now belongs to Iain Thompson. Kayla Regen will be awarded salutatorian. If you provide a solid rewrite, not only will you still graduate, but for both of you,” he said, looking at Fitch, “your GPAs may not be impacted either.

“I know in your case, Dana, there is a pending scholarship on the line. I have spoken with the academic committee, and it will remain yours provided that you follow through accordingly.”

Dana was shattered. Bags had formed under her puffy eyes. She could rewrite the paper, even if she did not believe what she wrote. She even suspected that she could manage an A-paper and maintain her GPA and scholarship. But how would she tell her father?

Her father anticipated the honor of hearing his daughter give the valediction. His pride swelled that Dana stood out among her peers. He would want to know why she was no longer valedictorian, and the answer would anger him. Ivan would measure Dana’s failing her project as a condemnation of God’s word. He would consider a rewrite that did not advocate God as the Creator as blasphemous and unworthy of his daughter. Ivan would be unwilling to allow another Seibel transgression from the Path. The penalty for having done so before had cost him his father. Had cost his family a son and brother, and a wife and mother. Ivan would allow no transgressions.

 

*

 

Dana was setting the table for the evening meal and Anechka was busy in the kitchen when Ivan arrived home. As if scripted, he followed his usual path to his office, set his briefcase at his desk, and hung his hat and jacket. In his loving way, he sang to the kitchen, “Mamachka, what wonderful bounty of God have you prepared for us this day?”

“Clean your face and hands, Papa,” Anechka returned. “Dana is setting the table. We’ll be ready soon.”

“Duscha, my love,” Ivan said, entering the dining room and wrapping his arms around Dana from behind, rubbing his beard against her neck. “Will you share with your Papa the secret of this evening’s bounty? Mamachka is too busy for Papa,” he said, kissing her cheek.

“Papa, prepare for prayer,” came the voice in the kitchen.

“I am always ready with a prayer, Mamachka,” sang Ivan as he headed to the bathroom sink to wash his face and hands. Mamachka, Russian for Little Mother, was Ivan’s pet name for Anechka, whom, since Katarina had passed, had inherited the role of homemaker and surrogate mother.

The dining room table was large and long, handcrafted by ancient Seibel men and sufficient for the promise of a large family. The table was set with still steaming pots and freshly made bread. The three sat at one end of the grand table, Ivan at its head and his daughters at each side. Holding one another's hand, they bowed their heads, and Ivan gave thanks.

Dana listened to her father as he prayed, praying herself that he would omit his thankfulness to be present at her valediction, an affectionate and prideful add-in of late. Her prayer was answered. Anechka stood and began ladling the aromatic stew onto her father's plate, then onto Dana’s, and finally her own, and sat down again. Dana, trying desperately to appear normal as the other two began the banter of suppertime conversation, was caught picking at her plate.

“Duscha, eat,” her father implored in his sing-song voice, “Mamachka has made a delicious feast from God’s bounty this evening.”

“Papa…” Dana said, looking up from her plate at her father, unable to continue, the turmoil in her mind taking her over. Ivan, still smiling, looked at her expectantly. “Papa, I failed my science class,” she said, her voice steady. “I won’t be giving the valediction.”

Ivan put down his utensils, wiped his mouth with a serviette, and both he and Anechka stared at Dana, dumbstruck. “Bohdana, what do you mean you failed your class?” Now his voice was subdued and off-key. “You fail nothing.”

“I did, Papa; I failed my science class. Mr. Goetz gave me an ‘F’ on my paper on Genesis.”

“Bohdana, how can this be?” Ivan said. “Genesis is God’s word, his creation. How can one fail Genesis?”

“The paper was to be written from a science perspective, Mr. Goetz said, not from a biblical account. I have to rewrite my paper if I’m going to get to graduate. Mr. Goetz is giving us the summer session to finish it.”

Dana could see her father churning this information in his mind. “Who is us?” he asked. Dana looked at him blankly, not understanding the question. “You said us; he is giving us,” Ivan stammered. “Who is this us?”

“Seon Fitzgerald also has to rewrite his paper. We both got an F,” Dana answered, her voice remaining level, heat invading her body and racing up her neck.

“Genesis is the work of God.” Ivan frowned. “I taught you both Genesis, you and Seon. So many others,” he added, looking at Anechka, then back at Dana. “Who is this Mr. Goetz that would denounce an act of God?” Ivan scowled down at Dana. “I will speak to Mr. Goetz. His knowledge is imperfect! You, Bohdana, have done nothing wrong. Eat!” Ivan picked up his fork and stabbed at his plate. “Eat,” he repeated with stolen calm.

The remainder of the meal was silent. Barely the scrape of a utensil against a plate was heard. When they were done, without another word, Ivan rose from his seat at the head of the table and walked to his study, softly closing the door behind him. A moment later, his muffled prayer was heard.

Anechka and Dana cleared the table. As Dana scraped the dishes and began running water to wash them, Anechka stored the remains, leaving the stew pot to cool on the counter and covering the bread with a towel. “Will you still graduate?” she asked, leaning her back against the counter and watching while Dana scrubbed at a plate.

“Mr. Goetz assured me that if I rewrite my paper, I’ll graduate.” Dana rinsed the plate, racked it, and reached into the sink after another. “If I rewrite the paper, I will still get my scholarship, but because I won’t have completed my paper in time, I won’t be able to give the valediction.”

Dana rinsed her hands and wiped them on the towel around her neck, turning toward Anechka and mirroring her pose. “What do you think Papa is going to do?” She looked at Anechka, certain she already knew the answer.

Anechka looked down at the floor, considering it. “He is Papa. He will lecture your Mr. Goetz on scripture, on Genesis.” Looking back at Dana, she added, “A better question is how will your teacher react to Papa’s lecture? Will he even be so willing?” Dana also anticipated such a reaction from her father and was unsure how Mr. Goetz might respond. When it came to his faith, Papa was a driven man. God’s word and God’s will were not to be questioned. A confrontation between her father and Mr. Goetz could not go well, she pondered. It was possible it might sever the one chance she had been offered to graduate.

 

*

 

Dana and Kayla reunited the following day at school. Dana had a study session set up with Fitch to get their rewrites initiated. They felt that tackling the project together might give them an edge and speed things along. Fitch had convinced her that he was a hard worker, and he wanted to get this paper passed and behind him. Dana, always the pragmatist, believed two heads were better than one, and frankly, the company and the work helped to spell her mind off her thoughts. She had arrived at school early to meet Kayla, who also had a busy day planned. She was the head of the decoration committee for prom, and since becoming salutatorian, she needed to hook up with Iain to address how the speeches would go so that they were complementary and not carbon copies.

When the girls met in the empty detention room, just a short distance from the gymnasium, Kayla was a wreck. The way things had worked out for Dana and the miserable state in which Dana had left her car had her feeling as though she had stolen something from her best friend. She had arrived only minutes before Dana, and upon seeing her, knew she was also struggling. Having been best friends for so long, they had an innate sense of each other. After profuse apologies from Kayla for how things had worked out and Dana’s assurances that she had no grudge with her friend, the tension lifted. Kayla was not surprised when Dana shared the previous night's supper table conversation, but when Leo arrived, the discussion broke off.

Their natural momentum drew Leo and Kayla into a casual embrace and a kiss. Dana thought nothing of it anymore. When Kayla had first declared that she and Leo were going steady about a year ago, watching Kayla awkwardly fulfill the role of girlfriend had been a bit weird and occasionally comical.

However, in recent months Kayla had shared with her Leo’s constant desire to be more intimate, as he put it. That was guy talk for wanting sex, as both girls read it, and Kayla was not ready for that step. Although when she was alone with Leo, it was the first thing he wanted to talk about. Unbeknownst to Dana, Kayla had promised him that prom night might be the night but promptly regretted saying so. It could not be unsaid after that, and the prom was only a week away. Since then, Leo had been insatiable.

Leo was not much for committees or clubs, or help in general, but had offered to help Kayla and her team decorate the gym when he saw it as an opportunity to push his agenda. When he wasn’t with Kayla, he was playing basketball or football or recently driving around in his new BMW Z4 Roadster. Like Kayla’s parents, Leo’s parents had got him the car for his graduation-birthday gift. Their birthdays were only two days apart, both in the first week of July. They would be turning eighteen, but to Leo’s annoyance, Kayla was a couple of days older than him.

Kayla’s parents were financially comfortable, but Leo’s parents were wealthy. His dad was a successful financial adviser and his mom a partner at a law office. Kayla had not known any of this until after she and Leo had started dating. His parents were cool enough but doted on him excessively. The Z, as it turned out, was just another example.

Kayla had received her almost-new Corolla about a week before Leo’s Beamer. In that week, Leo wanted to drive her car everywhere, and Kayla had just handed over her keys and taken the passenger seat. She suspected that the timing of the roadster was a direct result of her parents giving her their gift early. Before that, there had been no mention of Leo getting a car. But as soon as he got behind the wheel of Kayla’s new car, they would head off to a dealership to look at sports cars.

As Kayla and Leo left for the gym, Dana headed to the library to meet with Fitch. When she arrived, he was already sitting at a table, going through some books he’d picked from the shelves. After formalities were over, Dana took the seat next to him, tilting the book he was reading slightly toward her. They had already decided together that they would put their beliefs away and take on this project emotionlessly. Their time was limited, and that left no time for debate. Fitch suggested that they spend this first session diving right into the so-called evidence, and as time went by they could discuss it from a place of reference, drafting their papers as they went.

With the confrontation between her father and Mr. Goetz weighing on her mind, Dana had nevertheless decided to risk her father's wrath and complete the project with the simple goal of passing Mr. Goetz class. She was soundly in accord with Genesis, and her father knew that. She suspected what bothered him was that by failing her, Mr. Goetz was penalizing her for her beliefs. Her father would feel it was his duty to God and to Dana to set the record straight. But thinking this did nothing to alleviate her concern for the pending encounter between them. There was still a possibility that Mr. Goetz would fail her to spite her father’s outrage, even though that did not seem like a Mr. Goetz thing to do. Only time and her best efforts would tell.

 

*

 

The following morning, Anechka was clearing the few dishes from the table that she and her father had used for breakfast when a dreary-eyed Dana arrived in the kitchen. She was surprised that her father and Anechka were at breakfast so early. It was one of only two times each day that the three of them socialized. Papa’s church affairs kept him away the rest of the day, and, after supper, most of the evening too.

She checked the clock above the dining table to see if perhaps she had slept in, an outrageous concept in and of itself. It was just past six. Any other morning found Dana and Anechka preparing breakfast together, which was set out by six thirty when Papa arrived, dressed and ready for work. He would pray, and the three would breakfast and chat. It was an easy conversation, with some joking and laughing. It set the day off on the right foot. “Sit, and I’ll get you some breakfast,” Anechka said as she collected the last of the dishes.

Dana took her place at the table. “Where is Papa?”

“He had some errands to run this morning. He left already,” Anechka said, returning with a plate of now cold sausage, a hard-boiled egg, and bread. Butter, jam, and honey had remained at the table. “I had breakfast with him, but I’ll have another tea with you while you eat.” Anechka set the plates in front of Dana and returned to the kitchen, the kettle just then starting to whistle.

“What errands were so important this morning? Papa never mentioned anything at supper.”

Supper last evening had been quieter than usual, as had the two previous evenings since Dana shared her misfortune with her family. The benign conversations led Dana to hope that Papa had calmed down. She prayed that he would change his mind about going to see Mr. Goetz. There had been no discussion whatsoever on the topic since the first night, which Dana had found comforting. But now, with her father uncharacteristically absent from breakfast and presumed off on a busier than usual day, Dana could feel the tension returning.

Anechka set a steaming cup of tea in front of her sister and sat in Papa’s chair next to her, blowing at her tea cup and attempting a cautious sip. All the while, her eyes were on Dana. Dana thought she looked tired too. Anechka often seemed tired, and Dana imagined that keeping a house, especially holding a house to the standard of her father, was burdensome. Even though they were only three, Anechka’s duties in that regard ranged beyond that of most households.

There was a garden that she alone oversaw, purposely larger than they needed. After the root cellar was full of winter stock and canning, the rest was sold at the summer and fall church markets. These markets were where the congregation sold its wares to the community. Where Anechka earned her personal spending money, amounting to only a few hundred dollars a year, but enough for her to manage. Papa provided for a strict operating budget for the household that took care of essentials and the occasional miscellaneous items that came up from time to time. Dana alone abused most of the miscellaneous portion with school needs, but none of them complained that there was not enough.

On top of the garden work, Anechka managed all the other household chores. She baked and canned twice a week. Washing was an additional two days a week, bedding and linens one day and clothes the other. There was also ironing, folding, and storing all of these items where they belonged. It was up to her to keep Papa’s office tidy too. Dana kept the single bathroom and her bedroom spotlessly clean and helped with the morning and evening meals and clean-up, but the rest fell to Anechka.

Anechka had been eight years old when her Mama died. As the years passed, what Katarina had not had time to teach her, the church ladies had. Taking over these duties full-time, as was expected of her, meant leaving school after only completing grade ten. She was sixteen. Her Papa had many times told her that there were many ways one could serve God. Overseeing a household was one of them.

When she was little, Anechka had helped Mama with these chores. Mama would tell her how important it was to look after a household and to look after Papa, whose work was so important. It made Anechka feel special to help her mother, and she looked forward to it every day. Then Mama died and went to look after her brother in Heaven.

But there was no time to be sad about Mama, because there was a baby sister to care for. After Bohdana came home, a lady from the church would arrive to look after the baby and help Anechka with the chores she and Mama had shared. Sometimes the lady would fold the clothes the wrong way, and Anechka would have to do it again. When the lady was making breakfast or lunch or supper, it was Anechka’s job to watch over her sister. When Bohdana started crying, the lady would give her a bottle or change her diaper or put her down to sleep, and Anechka helped.

When school was over each day, instead of playing with the other children, Anechka would race home as fast as she could. It pleased her Papa that she was such a great help, and he told her so, rubbing his scratchy, tickly beard across her neck and kissing her cheeks. It was all essential work, and it kept her from thinking about her Mama. Papa told her that she was Mamachka now. She felt so special.

As she grew older, these duties precluded Anechka’s attending birthday parties and other events with her school and church friends. But she always looked forward to the church picnic each summer. Her father would give a sermon, and afterward, the ladies would fill the churchyard with tables full of food they had prepared at home. At fourteen, she began contributing too. While the men sat around talking, she helped the women lay out the tables, always with an eye on Dana, who would be with all the other children, running, playing and teasing each other. After everyone had eaten their fill, and Dana was put down for a nap, Anechka helped the ladies clean the tables and store the remains while the men stacked the chairs and tables away.

That was when a boy a couple of years older than Anechka walked up to her, his hand outstretched, offering her what appeared to be a handful of grass. She liked this boy, and they would often exchange smiles in church. The young fellow assured Anechka that they were flowers, and sure enough, once she plucked away the grass, squished within was a dandelion, and she blushed.

Observing this connection, Ivan reminded both of them that there was work yet to do, and without further comment, the two returned their attention to their tasks. Later, Ivan reminded his daughter that talking to boys was not as important as looking after her sister. “Besides, Mamachka, Papa is the only boy in your life, yes?” Ivan smiled at his eldest daughter, rubbing his beard against her face and kissing her cheeks.

Anechka had recently celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday. Papa had given her the traditional leather-bound bible with her name embroidered on the bottom of the front cover and told her what a marvelous woman she had become, placing an affectionate kiss on her cheek and hugging her warmly. Dana presented her with an ornate silver-plated brush, comb, and hairpin set she had somehow managed to acquire for Anechka’s special day. They were lovely, but Anechka had no idea when she might wear such a pretty pin. It was Dana’s secret wish that Anechka would find a young man, perhaps at church, and one day be married. If they moved away, Dana thought, she would look after Papa. After college, of course.

“He never said what he was so busy with today,” Anechka replied, looking over her teacup at Dana and taking a sip. But they both suspected that today Ivan would be visiting Mr. Goetz.

About the author

Brad Wiebe has been called a lot of things, and is proud to add author to soften the blow. When not writing or reading, he can be found atop a fire tower looking for wildfires, or at a lighthouse on the Pacific coast of Canada with his wife. Currently, he is writing his second novel, Savior. view profile

Published on January 20, 2020

80000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Social & Family Issues

Reviewed by

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