The boys stayed for quite a while, staring and asking one word questions. When the man finally wiped the rest of the blood from his robes, they talked with him, and a few hours into the early morning, and as unbelievable as it may seem, even laughed with him. His eyes were whirlpools to Heath. They mesmerized him, not rocking him to sleep, but exciting him and reminding him of his mother and even Luke, before the addictions. To Hawk they were like swirling galaxies shining out of the man’s head. His name was Christopher, Joshua Christopher if you like, but my friends call me Joshua.
The Cleaners were indeed his family. And Joshua told the boys this family’s story. They had used, what he called his gift, to break a curse and now they kept him locked inside this house. Yes, Joshua was a healer. Every week they would come and “visit” barbecuing and dancing, but really they were making sure he remained compliant and secured. They held their reunions all in secret, not wanting anyone to take their healer away from them. They were selfish and refused to share the gift with anyone. They had all been well and healthy for years, and now spent their time and money on parties and cars and food and clothing.
“Why don’t you just break out and escape?”
“…Because… I love them.”
“Love?!” Hawk blasted.
“Do not misunderstand me,” Joshua cautioned firmly, “This is no weak or pitying love. I know their hearts. I’ve healed each of them many times. Every single one of my children have laid on this very couch in agony or on the verge of death and have poured out their souls to me. And not only then, but I hear them as they converse in their cars and as they dream at night. They are meant to bring others to me. There is nothing I want more than this. And I cannot abandon them to their forgetfulness. Every week I sit with Peter, my eldest and reason with him. I exhort him to bring someone from outside the family, someone who needs me. My deepest desire is to heal more. To repair legs and give new sight to old eyes. I am starved for fresh hearts to bind up. I am bleeding for the sick and dying outside. But every week he forgets. No matter how passionately he swears to me, he always forgets.”
“You honestly believe he forgets?” Heath questioned so well.
“It does sound ludicrous doesn’t it? But you must understand the curse. It was one hundred and ninety-three years ago this fall, when a plague struck our town…” Joshua continued through the morning hours spinning a tale of miracles and joy, of half-claimed freedom and frightened children clinging to the past as if it were a branch over a raging river. The family had lived for more than two centuries this way, depending on the mercy of their father, Joshua, to keep them alive. The curse of the plague was lifted, but not completely. The women could no longer bear children and because of their selfishness, the Christopher family had brought on themselves a fog of forgetfulness so that every week seemed new and they could never remember the promises they had sworn to their father to bring him the sick and needy for healing. And so every Sunday they came with food and clothes and new cars, to laugh and dance, while the world outside was dying.
“This is why I have been playing my phonograph every night since Christmas. For you boys to come. Search your heart. Forget all the mythologies and legends your friends and family have invented about me. They’re all wrong and you know it!”
At exactly six o’clock Heath asked, for his mother’s sake, how powerful a healer Joshua really was. As Hawk snoozed in a huge chair by the window and the morning haze began to rise laboriously from the gardens around the house, Heath looked questioningly into Joshua’s deep eyes, those swirling, hypnotic and wise portals. Taking Heath’s hand, and losing a tear as it trickled to his cheek, Joshua replied, longingly,
“Can you bring her to me? Can you do what my boy Peter could not?”