The Revival, fiction by Rachel Cunningham

The ush­er man with his bel­ly pooched out in a light-blue suit takes our tick­ets, spits off the side from his chewin tobac­cer, and then con­tin­uin on, he brings us to seats that are bleach­ers offa soft­ball field. Up front is a wood­en plat­form stage with a can­vas top on the dusty field. It don't seem holy to be spit­tin tobac­cer like that, so he must be con­fused with church bein held on a soft­ball field, but some­how I don't think so. Grown-ups seem to know what they're doin and why. They make every­thin they want into fit­tin with some kin­da truth, then call­in it the same as truth; and, then they get mad at us youn­gins for knowin the diff'rence.

I don't say noth­in about how it seems a sin­nin thing to do, spit­tin chew, and in fact I don't need to cause now my two old­er broth­ers are laugh­in about it. Gram­ma tells them boys "hesh up" but they don't hush none, they nev­er do, so Gram­pa takes them off behind the bleach­ers for what he calls a man's talk. He gives my broth­ers too much faith in knowin how to have a man's talk. They're a cou­ple a hoss­es you nev­er see get tamed, and if you know hoss­es, then you already know what don't change. I see Gram­pa knockin a tin a chew offa my old­est broth­er, and I think to myself, it won't make no diff'rence, he'll pro­l­ly get more offa the ush­er man.

Mean­time, Gram­ma wig­gles her­self and me down the bleach­ers to where we sit togeth­er "just us girls" like she's oft to say. She comes up snug to me like a hen, so close to where I can smell her home­made farm soap smell. My maw­maw, she's so big and hap­py. She looks all sorts of lady­like in her yel­low dress, white church gloves, and tan straw hat cov­erin her soft white curls. Gram­ma hands me a piece of hard water­mel­on can­dy, and then she hands me my own Bible. I don't know how she found it. I give Gram­ma a smile to show I'm a sport, but truth told, I cain't stand to be here. The can­dy don't taste as good as usu­al, with my throat dry n' dusty as the soft­ball field isself.

When the boys and Gram­pa come down the aisle of our bleach­er seats, I open up my Bible and refuse to real­ize them boys are near to me. Thank­ful­ly, Gram­pa sits between me and my broth­ers, but I keep pre­tendin to read Scrip­ture and mean­while get lost in my thoughts.

It's awful, what with peo­ple wan­tin to do the right thing and all, which for Gram­ma and Gram­pa means comin down to the revival, some two towns and near­ly a whole coun­ty over, that took an hour in the car with my wild hoss broth­ers pinchin me the whole way. Now we're here and I thought it couldn't get worse, but I been to these before and it's comin back to me, the mem­o­ry of how it goes. I do love my Mama and always will, but right now, I know it's her fault that we're here and I wish it twas her instead.

Mama left us last month, mean­while sayin her good-bye like it twas a good thing, goin and givin her­self a bon voy­age at what hap­pened to be my own birth­day par­ty. Truth told, that made me mad, except the cake was one of the best Gram­ma ever made. Gram­pa cooked up a pig roast and Gram­ma made all the fix­ins, and they had every­one over in the back of the small farm­house, the kin­da place with enough farm to feed and care for your own kin as you go. Not so much able as they once was, even a youn­gin like me knows it wudn't no small thing, this par­ty, though proud as it gets, Gram­ma and Gram­pa would nev­er say nuthin but "eat well and good y'all" and mean it.

They invit­ed fam­i­ly, some farm folk who help out from time to time, and neigh­bors we've known since the old­en times, one of which brought a whole deer in such a way that didn't seem char­i­ty so it was tak­en in good grace. But once word spread that a wid­ow of bare­ly one year, Mrs. Sal­lie Kate Jack­son, was fix­in to leave for Hol­ly­wood, then most cer­tain­ly half the town showed up, and I reck­on that extra deer meat from the neigh­bor saved the day.

There was talk about Mama always tryin to get above her raisin', which I know to be part­ly true, and yet this bon voy­age seemed now to make it all true. Mama dressed up too much, wearin bright-red lip­stick and too much per­fume, dancin around too much with her new boyfriend, a city feller, an out­sider of the worst kind, Mr. John­ny (the Yankee—who was called so in full behind his back, with even the more tol­er­a­ble folk call­in him so). I learnt what Mama and Mr. John­ny said by eve-drop­pin what peo­ple repeat­ed o'er and o'er, as though too much was said about makin piles of mon­ey from movies like Miss Liz Tay­lor cause Mama is pret­ty just like her.

What I know that oth­ers don't is that ever since Miss Tay­lor mar­ried a sen­a­tor from Vir­ginia a few years back in 1976, even before Dad­dy was gone, that's all that got into Mama's head: it was how a celebri­ty could be livin near our parts, though they wasn't tru­ly our parts, but facts didn't seem to mat­ter in that regard, a Hol­ly­wood star was in our parts. All she want­ed was news about Miss Tay­lor, and in the end, I reck­on Mr. John­ny only helped with the thinkin that a life of rich peo­ple could be hers too.

It's a hard shame, truth told, with Mama gal­li­van­tin to Cal­i­for­nia with a man that makes my head hurt. He spits whilst talkin, and he talks an awful lot with a chalky-squawky accent and noth­in off the hard edges on his words, like you got to cov­er your ears to make em not sore inside. Worst of all, he put fool's idears into my Mama about her bein too good for this back­woods town she only ever knew. I get sore with out­sider words like hick and back­woods, but I know my place as a youn­gin, so I keep my feel­ins to myself, but I most cer­tain­ly do not like Mr. John­ny, no sir I do not.

It's now cause of Mama these church folk think we need savin, since word about my Mama got out faster than green grass through a goose. They said Mrs. Sal­lie Kate Jack­son was all but leav­in her kin for dead, even the youn­gins they said, which you cain't alto­geth­er blame with them ornery hell­cat boys but what of the girl they said; and, worse off, Mama goin with some out­sider feller nobody knew from Adam but for his car broke down at Joe Lilly's sta­tion then next he's goin round town like he's one of a hun­dred gen­er­a­tions, goin and takin one of their own; and, sure, they all knew she was like Miss Liz Tay­lor, but not in the looks they said.

And poor Dad­dy, you cain't for­get him. Town folk brought him up all o'er again, and how he must be turnin in his grave. I miss my Dad­dy awful, truth told, all the time, not just when peo­ple care to men­tion him. He passed on not so long ago in a mine acci­dent, but nobody for­gets him since he died a hero for savin his crew. I like when folks bring him up on the by and by, and when they get to rec­ol­lectin. They say I look the spit­tin image of my Dad­dy, but from what I seen, he looks like his own Pa, my Gram­pa, who helps me remem­ber Dad­dy even more than pic­tures on account of their face, hands with dirty nails, and the same raspy voice from minin work.

For sure us youn­gins are goin onstage at the revival for hands layin. We'll get the tongues and the water splashed all over so the clothes are see-through, and for sure there's half my school class some­where in this soft­ball field, in the bleach­ers, in the chairs on the field, or even sit­tin under the tent right up close. I didn't think to wear an under­shirt with my white dress that don't fit to start. Even if we are two towns over, this Preach­er is some­body, and sure near all of east­ern Ken­tucky is here I reck­on. Round these parts, my Dad­dy, Mr. Char­lie Ray Jack­son is leg­end and most cer­tain­ly his soul is with the Lord; and, there­fore, in keepin his youn­gins on his same right­ful path, which is not where his wid­ow is goin with her Yan­kee feller, then an inter­venin of the high­est sort is bein called upon for the wel­fare of their souls. I can feel it most cer­tain­ly, more and more, since I been noticin looks, and I believe it ain't cause my broth­ers are hell­cats.

Gram­ma and Gram­pa want a fresh start they say. For the past month, Mama has been a mail­box ghost with her post­cards comin in from around the coun­try since Gram­ma and Gram­pa are old-timers with the phone by sayin long-dis­tance costs too much. Mama don't write that great, so it's post­cards for us whilst they take their sweet time dri­vin to Hol­ly­wood. Sit­tin here and lookin for redemp­tion from sins is like one of these post­cards that come with­out noth­in on them some­times, just a quick hel­lo and "Love Mama". One day I'll have my own pen to decide what gets writ for me, but as it stands now, it just ain't my place to say what's so.

I'm tak­en from my thoughts and pre­tend Bible-readin by my broth­ers get­tin noisy. I cain't stand them boys. Sure enough, they get back to their ways despite the man's talk, laugh­in and cussin all qui­et and muf­fled enough so Gram­pa cain't notice with his bad hearin. I sus­pect them boys drank Grampa's whiskey back at the house. But no way am I sayin so. They ain't got rules about hit­tin girls, even the ones they seem to like.

The revival starts, and after a few songs and the begin­nin of a ser­mon with a much longer one yet to come, the men in the light-blue suits come to our aisle and we're brought towards the stage. The boys didn't see this comin like I did. For once they hush up. I walk behind them with their heads low­ered and I won­der in my always hopin kin­da way, maybe the church can help them? They're both so tall and dirty lookin all the time, but get­tin up on stage, they look scared and hum­ble. I look down, not wan­tin to meet eyes with any­one I might know, and tru­ly givin this savin a chance, with all my hope in this Preach­er who might help. I hold my Bible close, feel­in like a sin­ner for pre­tendin to read it before, and hopin God ain't mad for that.

The Preach­er starts with my broth­ers, and it's almost like I'm not there, qui­et and off to the side, hands fold­ed, lookin down, tryin to pray though it don't seem I'm doin it right but I hope so. The boys soon come out of their qui­et state and start actin like them­selves again, whis­perin to each oth­er, comin up with some­thin no doubt; and, mean­while the Preach­er gets goin on the bat­tle of God and Satan. He gets to hoovin and wavin his hands UP AND DOWN my broth­ers to chase off evil spir­its, sayin "in order to be RIGHT, you must look to God for His LIGHT, and hold the Lord close to you in faith and in SIGHT, and we ALL MUST attack the Dev­il with GREAT MIGHT!!" I hear AMEN from the stage, from the audi­ence, from all over, AMEN.

He's wavin round my broth­ers, still like I ain't up there, qui­et and standin off the side. The Preach­er shouts, "THE DEVIL MAKES HIS WAY INTO YA, but you got­ta PUSH HIM OUT, you can't let evil take a HOLD a' yer SOUL." He's pushin his hands OUT. The peo­ple out there, so many peo­ple, they put their hands up and they PUSH OUT along with the Preach­er AMEN. My broth­ers both lift their hands and start cryin, beg­gin for for­give­ness, and I cain't believe it. The whole revival cain't believe it. These two boys of Char­lie Ray Jack­son and his dis­gracin wid­ow are touched by the SPIRIT! They're bein SAVED! AMEN!

My old­est broth­er gets on the micro­phone when the Preach­er gives him a turn to pub­licly renounce Satan. He starts out AMEN then starts cryin and car­ryin on about sin, how he knows he's a sin­ner, how the Dev­il won't leave him alone and what it makes my broth­er do. Then he changes into some tongue speakin like he's got­ten car­ried away by the Spir­it, but then he finds a way to slip in cuss words with­out peo­ple catchin on, so then I know he's fakin it. But as soon as I know it, he gets to talkin about me.

He's talkin right into the microphone–right to the whole soft­ball field, our fam­i­ly, our neigh­bors, my school from two towns over, the church of ten gen­er­a­tions that's always known us and our kin–he gets to talkin about lust in his heart, watchin me undress, how he wants to be with me, touch me, and then he cain't help but start to laugh­in and so does my oth­er broth­er, and it's the two of them cack­lin for all to see. The Preach­er grabs the micro­phone and hits both my broth­ers HARD with it. Peo­ple stand in their seats, oth­ers rush the stage, every­one shouts cra­zier than a fox get­tin to the hen house. Gram­ma comes and puts her shawl around me so I cain't see, then she shuf­fles me away, my best white shoes get­tin dusty from the field, and I start cryin, I cain't help it, but my heart is sunk cause now there's noth­in for us if the church don't work.

We make our way to the parkin lot and get in the car. Gram­ma puts us both in the front seat, rolls up the win­dows, locks the doors, and real­izes she don't have the keys. She don't know what to do. She makes a deep breath, and cracks the win­dow. Turnin to me, she pulls me close and snug­gles me in the shawl, and I rest my head on her, calmin down. She has a han­ky and wipes my tears, tellin me, "…hesh girl, you're okay now, hesh up sweet­heart, my good girl, you're okay now.…"

No one is in the parkin lot, so we sit there qui­et, lookin out the car at noth­in, which is when I notice the hills out in the far away. There's always hills, that ain't noth­in new, but some­thin about them is pret­ty with a cer­tain light meanin the start of sum­mer before it gets hot and hazy. We sit there in the car, wait­in for Gram­pa and his car keys, and I want this time to last and not for my broth­ers to come back. Some­how the Bible is on my lap with the edges of its leather cov­er as soft as Gramma's hugs; and, in my own deep sigh, it hap­pens to where I feel that with all this soft­ness put togeth­er, I might have to give the new start a chance, on account of how good­ness seems to find its way inside of bad­ness.

Rachel Cun­ning­ham—also goes by Rachellie242, likes to read at open mikes & has since the ear­ly 90s at about 20 or so venues in Chica­go, Boston, New York, and Eng­land [where she stud­ied at Leeds for a year], and is scant­i­ly published/just at Sham​pooPo​et​ry​.com thus far. She's been writ­ing fic­tion and poet­ry for a long time, and is start­ing to sub­mit work more seri­ous­ly now.

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One Response to The Revival, fiction by Rachel Cunningham

  1. Dave says:

    Great sto­ry. I think Rachel nailed the south­ern voice. Tough to fol­low at first but the cadence quick­ly takes hold and you feel like your sit­ting at a bible thump­ing gospel revival.

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