Chapter 5: Peeking at Eternity

Reuben knows there is no reason to try to cast Davy in a redemptive light, because it's something he wouldn't want. In fact, he doesn't speak and his eyes seem dead as they await Ted Pullet's arrival. Reuben babbles to Davy that he knows his older brother didn't mean to do it to which Davy answers, 'œDon't say it's all right, Rube, don't say it. I meant to do it. I meant to. Hear me?' Then, all the squad cars arrive, the cars that weren't there for them when Israel Finch and Tommy Basco attacked Swede.

Reuben now takes a moment to tell about another miracle his Dad experienced. When Jeremiah was 28 years old, he was raised up by a tornado along with the roof above him and a few loose boards he was setting into the floor. At the time, Jeremiah and Helen were married and Davy was a baby. Jeremiah was studying to be a doctor and Helen was home with their baby. When he wasn't studying, he worked sweeping and painting in the athletic building twenty hours a week. He was at work the night of the tornado, the only story he has every told his children in whispers. The athletic building was the only one on campus not made of brick and the tornado headed right for it. Jeremiah said it didn't sound like a train as everyone who has experienced one always says. Instead it sounded like a mountain breaking loose and skidding sideways over the ground. He looked up and saw shingles in the air and bits of skylight glass hovering in circles. Then, he felt himself move upward.

In the meantime, Reuben's mother had awakened in their third floor garret in time to see the rotating head of the funnel as it moved down the street. She flew immediately to Davy's room, grabbed a folded quilt and braced it against his window. This in his Dad's story is always the moment of triumph, the turn of the war toward winning - Davy rolled and smacked his little lips in his sleep while Helen felt the glass begin to ease away from its desire to shatter unmercifully around the room. Once the winds had passed, Helen ran immediately for the telephone. The line was dead, but the handset was strangely so hot to the touch that it burned her hand. She felt like it was more frightening than the storm itself, because it seemed outside of nature. It foretold evil. Within an hour, someone knocked at the door to tell her Dewey Hall was down, and they'd found no sign of Mr. Land. Reuben can only imagine his mother's state of mind. Only once in his life had he ever known grief so hard he could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of his stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone's been missing too long. Finally, during late morning, she received a phone call from a woman named Marianne Evans whose farm was four miles north of town. She told Helen that she had a man drinking coffee on her porch who said he was Helen's husband. Reuben says they all hold the story inside themselves differently: Swede sees it as significant as any epic she or anyone else could write. After they grow up, she writes to Reuben about that days and says, 'œIs it hubris to believe we all live epics?' (pg. 55) She and Reuben both knew from that day on that their father was baptized by that tornado into a life of new ambitions, which unfortunately, became a life of no ambitions according to their mother. He willingly leaves his prosperous future as a doctor and plunges his hands into the sewer by becoming a janitor instead. He tells his children, 'œI was treated so gently up there, kids.' (pg. 56) Davy, at the time, was annoyed by the whole idea of a fatherly, protective God while his mother must have felt violated by the covenant that was created between her husband and God. She tried to make the best of her husband leaving his studies and becoming a janitor, and had two more children. However, her sense of violation of the covenant between herself and her husband caused her to just leave without explanation. She later married a doctor in Chicago and never again contacted her children in any way.

Davy is placed in handcuffs and driven to the Montrose jail while the rest of them go to a hotel for the night. Reuben notes, 'œThe whole thing was no less a tornado than the other.' The next day, they go to see him and he doesn't seem like a monster at all and in fact, Reuben notes that he seems all right and his father concurs. Once they arrive home, Reuben asks his father if he wants him and Swede to do anything, to which his father answers, 'œPersevere.'

As the days begin to pass, people the family doesn't know begin to drop by and offer their support, while lots of people they do know stay away. People like Harold Barkus, their auto mechanic, who had once come to Dad when his wife had left him, Leroy Biersten, the principal of the school, who sat grieving at their table when his daughter ended up pregnant to a man who abandoned her, Oscar Larson, who liked to take Dad fishing, Gary Sweet, the butcher, whose freezer Dad fixed during a hot spell, and even Ron Simmons, to whom Dad gave odd jobs around their house when he couldn't found work, none are there when he needs them. Only James Reach, the Methodist minister, Dr. Nokes, and Gerald Layten, the owner of the dime store stand by him.

Dad is the one who suffers the most when they visit Davy. Reuben looks at his brother sees his faith and certainty that he'll get out soon. Even the newspapers support Davy's right to defend his home and that sparks people to write so many letters that one of the deputies brings a shoes box belonging to his daughter - covered in pink ribbons and all manner of brocade and peppermint swirls - to hold them all. Eventually, Davy is charged with two counts of manslaughter, because of his age and because the victims were bent on mischief, a word that appalls Swede. Davy also finds a lawyer - Thomas De Cuellar.

Swede becomes engrossed in her writing and has plenty of time to do so, because Dad is reluctant for them to return to school. He is weathering a gale with the superintendent of schools, Chester Holgren, who has made the statement that he has decided to 'œscour that janitor's teeth.' He begins to harass him on the job, asking him to do more and more, including unclogging a sewer, even though the school system has always hired the local plumber for such jobs. The night of the sewer mess, the superintendent shows up at their door to order Jeremiah to come in early to work to do his regular chores he had been unable to finish. When Swede sees who it is, she says, 'œDid a skunk walk through the door? Pee-yew!' (pg. 65) However, Holgren doesn't get it. All there is in his eyes is spite.

Mr. DeCuellar tells the family after meeting with Davy that he has never represented anyone so unconcerned with his own defense. He insists that he was not forced to shoot the two boys. If he hadn't wanted to shot them, he wouldn't have. Mr. DeCuellar had argued to Davy that we are all forced at times and that none of us are wholly our own masters. If that were so, why couldn't Davy walk out of his prison a free man? To which Davy replies, 'œWell, maybe I will.' Furthermore, Mr. DeCuellar can't even make Davy feel proper remorse for what he's done while the courts refuse to allow him to be tried as a juvenile even though he's only sixteen. Reuben understands that, because sixteen or not, Davy has been an adult for a long time.

Meanwhile, Swede grumps and types alone in her room, and Reuben knows she's having trouble with her poem. One night, she comes into Reuben and Davy's room with her sleeping bag and asks Rube if she can sleep there until Davy comes home. Of course, she asks her brother if he thinks Davy will really come back at all. This gives Reuben a big lump in his throat, and so when he demands to know why she has been in her room typing so much, she finally tells him the truth - she can't make herself kill off the character of Valdez. She says she's written the death scene ten different ways, but none of them work for her. She just can't find a way to kill the character so that it really happens. It's as if he has a life of his own even though Reuben asks her, 'œWho's running this story anyway?'


This chapter reinforces the idea that what we do doesn't just impact on ourselves, but can have a lasting impact on everyone around us. Davy chose to kill Finch and Basco, but his family suffers almost as much as if he had in some way killed them as well. He also becomes difficult for Mr. DeCuellar to represent, which brings despair to his family who, as voiced by Swede, wonder if he will ever come home. There is also the sense that he will try to flee from his prison cell, which could create an even greater burden to them all. The final impact of Davy's choice is Swede's epic poem. Valdez is the villain of her story, but she just can't kill him off, a characteristic that seems to further show the separation between Davy and his family as well as reinforce that sometimes there are events in our lives over which we never have any control.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Peace Like a River".