And Then There Was Owen, Chapter 3: The Christmas Pageant
And Then There Was Owen
A Parody of A Prayer for Owen Meany
By James Smyth, Adam Passarelli, Julianne Ellis, Miriam Miller, and Lili Xu
Chapter 3: The Christmas Pageant
By Julianne Ellis
The Christmas of ’53 was one of the toughest Christmases in the history of our church. This holiday was not only my first away from Sawyer Depot and my first holiday without my mother; the annual pageant also led to an unfortunate turn of events for the former airplane stewardess Barb Wiggin.
During the Christmas break of ’53, I grew even closer to my grandmother and Owen – they were all I had left. Even in their company, however, I discovered that Christmas is a holiday that tortures the mourning hearts of those who have lost a loved one. Constant reminders flooded my mind with memories of the way my life used to be.
Owen reminded me that he believed it was fate that he had killed my mother. He kept saying he was sent for a purpose. “I THINK IT WAS YOUR MOTHER’S TIME TO GO. GOD MADE ME THE INSTRUMENT OF HIS WORKS. SOME DAY BOTH OF OUR TIMES WILL COME; YOUR MOTHER AND DAN’S TIMES JUST CAME SOONER THAN THE REST, AND IT’S BECAUSE OF ME. WE MAY NOT UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT THE ACCIDENT WAS MEANT TO BE,” Owen would tell me, but I still had trouble coming to terms with my loss.
While I knew he was sincerely sorry for the accident, his advice was hard to take because I didn’t believe it was part of God’s plan for my mother at all.
Owen and I spent most of Christmas Break together at Gravesend Academy with some visits to my grandmother’s house on 80 Front Street. I was grateful for his company – anything to keep my mind off my mother. Occasionally, Owen traveled back to the quarry to help his father engrave stones and to work on what he called his “SPECIAL PROJECT,” which he said he had to keep a secret. For the most part, we spent our days exploring the empty dorm rooms at the academy of the boys who were all enjoying Christmas break with their families and loved ones.
Christmas break also meant it was time for the annual Christmas pageant. Because we had always spent Christmas at Sawyer Depot, I never had the opportunity to participate in the pageant, which Barb Wiggin happened to direct.
Everything I had heard about the pageant was from Owen, who was biased because of his feelings toward the director. He always played the part of the announcing angel, which became on eof the reasons that contributed to his dislike for Barb Wiggin. Owen’s size, however, made him a prime candidate for the part because Barb Wiggin could easily hoist him in the air, where he would dangle by a rope for the entirety of the play waiting to recite his lines.
This year, however, Owen would not agree to play the announcing angel. It became obvious that this year Owen had a plan to take control of the pageant – it became Owen’s pageant. He insisted that Harold play the announcing angel. No one could understand why Owen made the heaviest kid, who also happened to be afraid of heights, play his traditional part.
Owen was a smart boy, so I couldn’t quite figure out why he did not seethe ludicrousness of the idea of having Harold, who was three times his size in width, dangle from the rope, a rope he would later refer to as “THE FATED ROPE,” thirty feet up in the air. No one questioned Owen, except for Barb Wiggin that is. She was the one who would be levying Harold into the air, which could be one of the contributing factors to Owen’s selection. We all soon recognized the obvious fact that Barb Wiggin was no longer tha authority figure of the pageant.
Owen owned the pageant.
Owen cast the rest of the parts. He made me Joseph, and he made himself the baby Jesus. He assigned the younger children to be the shepherds, donkeys, and turtledoves. I could see that Owen liked being in charge. It made him feel he was important. He felt like he was “GOD’S INSTRUMENT.”
After several hours of rehearsal and several hours of tension between Barb and Owen, the night of the pageant finally arrived along with what seemed like the whole town that had come to see the production. The lights dimmed down to signal the beginning of the production. Barb Wiggin took her cue to hoist Harold high into the air backstage, struggling the whole time, as the turtledoves clumsily flapped their wings to the song “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
One of the turtledoves tripped on his sheet that was supposed to resemble feathers. He fell into the child who wore the costume of the donkey’s rear end, who proceeded to fall into the donkey’s front end, who toppled into the shepherd, who fell flat on his face. Both donkey ends started to cry, and the shepherd’s nose started to bleed.
Backstage, I could see the airplane stewardess’s frazzled look – look we had all become accustomed to seeing. Owen glanced at Barb Wiggin and then fixed his eyes on Harold up above him and the rope that held him up. I assumed he was pondering how he should take control of the pageant. In an attempt to put forth a distraction, Barb Wiggin suddenly lowered Harold from the sky into the spotlight, using her entire weight ot keep the boy flying, and hissed, “Say your lines now.”
Harold’s eyes became glassy as he looked down at the children crying. He looked out over the audience, who began to stir with confusion. Owen, who knew the announcing angel’s lines like the back of his hand, started whispering loudly so that even the members in the back of the room could hear him. Harold, however, could not even focus enough on Owen to even begin to speak his lines. Barb Wiggin tied off the rope that held up Harold and went on stage to pick up and scold the fallen donkey and shepherd.
Owen stood up from the cradle where he lay and started to recite the announcing angel’s lines to the audience. When he was finished with the lines he knew by heart, he added his own testament at the end of the speech. Dressed in his swaddling clothes, he continued on, “I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT. I HAVE COME WITH AN IMPORTANT JOB TO CARRY OUT. FORGIVE ME FOR YOU KNOW NOT WHAT I DO. I AM JUST AN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY OUT GOD’S PURPOSE.”
Barb Wiggin looked over at Owen furiously. She signaled backstage for the crew to cut the sound and lights. The entire stage went dark; the pageant was over. In Barb’s mind, Owen was the culprit, for no other reason except that she shared the mutual dislike between herself and “GOD’S INSTRUMENT.”
After the chaos subsided and the donkeys and shepherds were comforted by their parents, Barb came storming back to complain to Mr. Meany about Owen’s behavior; she said he deliberately ruined the pageant and disgraced the church with his addition of the lines in the announcing angel’s speech. She thought the bit at the end of the announcing angel’s lines was frightening for the audience. “No one claims that he is ‘GOD’S INSTRUMENT,’ she fumed with an imitation of Owen’s voice. Barb Wiggin continued to give Mr. Meany an earful and spoke words that I dare not repeat.
Owen, hearing the former pageant director complain, noticed Harold still was hanging from the ceiling since Barb Wiggin had tied the rope off. He walked over to the “FATED ROPE” and looked up at Harold hanging from the ceiling. He glanced over at Barb Wiggin talking to Mr. Meany on the stage. He looked at her with contempt in his eyes, and I couldn’t blame him. The former flight attendant had always hated Owen, and she wasn’t afraid to show it.
Owen brought his attention back to Harold swinging from on high. He called out, “BE NOT AFRAID. I WILL HELP YOU.” Quickly, Owen pulled from his swaddling clothes an army knife, and with a swift chop at the taut rope, Harold came plummeting to the ground.
I looked up and saw Harold heading straight down in Barb Wiggin’s direction. He was about to land on her. Before I could muster a warning cry, Harold crushed the pastor’s wife to the floor. Immediately, Mr. Meany and I hurried to pull Harold, who had a cushioned landing, off the woman.
Owen just stared, and I saw the knife he held drop from his hand.
As it turned out, the doctors reported that Barb Wiggin was prone to heart attacks. The combination of Owen’s recitation and Harold’s plummet pushed her over the edge, and the latter knocked her unconscious. Barb was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late; the doctors could not save her. She died of a massive heart attack.
Owen felt so terrible about what he had done that he even made a special gravestone to place at her burial. The turnaround was so quick that I knew he had worked for hours on end. Despite Owen’s contempt for Barb Wiggin, he appeared to be greatly disturbed by her death.
First it was my mother, now the pastor’s wife. I felt sorry for Owen. I told Owen that maybe he was just accident-prone and that it could happen to anyone.
I knew, however, that becoming the instrument of two deaths doesn’t happen to everyone. It happened to Owen. I tried to convince Owen that it was probably just an unlucky turn of events, but he wouldn’t believe me. He insisted that it must be a part of some bigger plan.
It was a plan that we would soon find out.