So he came home. After all those years of vowing he’d never go back, didn’t need them, didn’t want them, couldn’t stand that place, those people and their narrow-minded ways, it was home he turned when things went bad. He’d had his fun and the fun was over. Times were tough, and the money was gone.
At least he could eat at home. He could make the rent. It was dull and predictable, but relatively safe.
As the story goes, when he was still “a long way off,” his father came running toward him. Here he was expecting the worst, humiliation, groveling on his part, harsh words on theirs, maybe a bed in that downstairs room off the garage, but no. It was as if his father had been there that moment he paused just long enough to consider going home. He remembered thinking, “What?! Am I crazy? Go home…after all these years?” It was like his father had read those thoughts, for all providence seemed to move him homeward.
Bad luck, yes, bad choices, most said. But he fell in a bed of roses. The father bought him a house on the top of a hill with a view, just like he’d dreamed all those years penned in by highways and high rises. All around was lush green. He could breathe a little.
Now the story talks of the older brother and our man had plenty, some he didn’t even know. In their coffee klatches and around their kitchen tables, they scoffed at his homecoming and wondering how long he’d last before he took off again. Their lips curled and twisted when he started showing up in the pews.
His real life older brother was doubly peeved. After all, he was the one feeding the fatted calf, so to speak. He’d stuck by the old man, done his bidding, built up the family business, even tried to comfort the old fellow by being a better son. Tried to make up for the one that went off.
It wasn’t enough. No, his father needed that son around. And here he was, the fool! The squanderer, the downright heathen, dressed up fine in all those city styles and making pretense of being sorry for his ways, even going to church!
The old man was too soft, kept the boy’s room just the way it was when he left. Little brother could walk right in as if 10 years and half an inheritance hadn’t disappeared, gone down the drain with his first wife and career. From what they heard he lost a pretty nice house too.
It was galling to see this kind of – forgiveness! Were there not limits? Boundaries? Could we trust him not to just empty the till again and run?
It wasn’t long before the prodigal gave them something more to talk about, because he decided to get married, and who he picked set all those tongues wagging. It was Maggie, the town whore. Well, maybe not the charging kind, but she’d slept with just about everyone who’d winked at her, and now they were setting a date and inviting people and making big plans for a church wedding!
The old guys down at the fire hall traded bets on how long it would last. Our son might have done his dirty work afar, but hers was well known. The DUI, the lost license, the men, those two sons always getting in trouble.
It was a joke those two hooking up, in a legitimate church affair, as if somehow they were going to make up for all the past mistakes and be shiny new. It’s a wonder she didn’t wear a white dress!
From what they heard, it was kind of an off white affair, simple, and that loonie bird Lorrie Stimple went on and on about how the dandelions puffs blew through the air as if on command as the happy couple descended the church stairs.
Lorrie was a drinker. But there were church people who went to that wedding too. People who decided to give the couple a second chance. (Some of them also kept track of how much wine the party crowd was consuming, and they were sure to lock their purses inside their cars during the reception. You never know.)
An odd thing happened during that week the prodigal wed his whore.
There was a stranger came to town, a man unlike anyone seen in that small burg, although they’d heard of people like him. Anyone who saw him knew right away he was pretty sick, and not in the passing way. Worse than that he was confused. The few who dared talk to him found out he believed he was a man trapped in a woman’s body.
His name was Elian and he became fixated on a wedding dress hanging for sale in the church thrift shop. One day, he even tried it on. The old ladies at the register were shocked to see him emerge from the dressing room flouncing lace. He couldn’t quite get it zipped, however, and maybe it was because of the commotion he caused or just the heat. But he took off with it, ran out the door and right down Main Street, wedding train flying, bodice trailing, bare chested.
It was quite the sight.
The prodigal missed it. He was busy getting into his tux, and his bride was primping in her chamber.
But they saw it. The fire hall betters, the tongue waggers, the people on their way to the church, the older brother trying not to sweat as he strained in his suit. The whore’s wayward sons and some of her party pals, standing out in the parking lot smoking. And the father waiting for his prodigal son to tie the knot and start over.
They saw Elian in his wedding dress.
It gave them something to talk about at the reception. For once the partiers and the church people found they held an opinion in common. Whoever that fellow was better keep on moving, for there was no room for perverts in their town.
The father, though, he was still at it, the crazy old coot. Last they heard he had tracked that man down and checked him into a hospital, found a doctor and promised to pay the bill. He even reimbursed the thrift shop ladies for that dress. He is still watching over the prodigal son and his bride, doling out grace for all their baggage, even talking sense to her sons.
And the elder brother? He also has a second chance, just like all of us. For the Father’s arms are always open and ready to receive a heart looking for home.