June 1st. My favorite time of the year. The flowers are in bloom and it seems that all is right with the world. I’m walking to church with a song in my heart only it’s not Sunday, that’s tomorrow. Saturday is when I go see Mama. Mama will love these lilies, she’ll love my dress too; it once belonged to her.
“Morning Mama. It’s so beautiful today up on this hill. I brought you some lilies I picked from the garden. You know the one you and me planted together two years ago. You made me promise to bring a batch to you every time they bloom good. So far these have been the prettiest ever. I suspect you’re wondering about beaus. I don’t have any, but I keep praying for one. There is this one man, Jesse, I am kinda sweet on. He’s got the voice of an angel. He sings…”
Down below in the church, I hear music and it was not my imagination. I kiss the cross guarding Mama. Preacher didn’t say there would be a concert today. Normally on a day like today, I would take the long way home pass the old diving bell and dip my toes in the river, but the music stirred me up, like God was calling me. I left my shoes on the hill and walked barefoot to the church. I opened the door and there was nobody except…
“You startled me.”
“I’m so sorry, I heard the music and it was like Jesus was calling me to come and listen.
Jesse smiled. His smile was so warm and inviting. Like a hug.
“Preacher sometimes lets me come in here and practice. Is your name Sarah?”
“You know my name?”
“I make it my business to know everyone in this church. You smell like lilies. You been up on the hill?”
“My mama’s up there.”
“I’m real sorry for that and this.”
Jesse pulls me down on the floor, real rough. My head hit the pew. He put his hand, both small and strong, on my neck. I thought for sure he would kill me. Jesus made me strong though. My head turned to scripture, but I couldn’t remember verses only stories. Jesse was lifting my dress and shedding my undergarments, and then… Mama taught me to be a lady, so I can’t tell you what he did. “Jesus this is my cross, help me look to You like You looked to God.” Then it was over. My body, limp from pain and bloody as he dragged me to the altar only to prop me up like a doll on display.
I was sitting on the choir bench humming a tune I made up in my mind. I look through the hymnal. Shame on me, I almost like the hymnal better than the bible. I hear the door open and close. Did God send another angel for me? No. It was my older brother Jacob; he can never escape that smell. I smiled. Jacob entered a church and the earth did not shake.
“I thought I’d find you here.” said Jacob.
“You smell like whiskey.”
“Hell, I always smell like whiskey. Even on Sundays when I sell the most bottles while you’re in here singing about lovin Jesus in that pretty white robe.”
“I ain’t got all day, so let’s go.”
“Go where, Jacob?”
“Home. You asked me to pick you up at the store, when I didn’t see you there I thought I’d try here.
“Do you know what I was thinking about today?”
“No. I broke my crystal ball Minerva from out on 53, gave me.”
“I was thinking about the time when you, Camp and me got drunk off of Uncle Mount’s white lightening.”
“That was a time.”
“You and Camp wrecked Daddy’s buggy and ruined Mama’s garden”
“That garden looked better ruined.”
“That’s because Mama had a black thumb.”
“What I remember Jesse, is you killing a litter of kittens while you were trying to save their souls. You cried so hard you made yourself sick.”
“The Lord’s work never goes unpunished.”
“Has the new preacher in town ever killed anybody in the river, on accident of course?”
“Preacher’s a good man.”
“Just checking. Thought there might be a club for men who drown their victims while baptizing them.”
“I only drowned the kittens and they don’t have any souls.”
“You drowned your mama, Jesse.”
“She refused to accept Christ, Jacob. I had to resort to desperate measures.”
“I ain’t baptized.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, you and Camp both. Where is Camp?”
“You mean Gehenna?”
“I mean he ain’t here, little brother.”
“I see blood on your hands.”
“I think what you see is dirt.”
“That’s a cruel way to go.”
“So is drowning.”
“You must accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior today, right now, with me as your witness.”
“If you deny Christ, you will burn in hell. Why?”
“Because it pisses you off. I also have no desire to spend eternity on a cloud playing a flute or a banjo with some blond angel. I’m counting on hell having a damn good assortment of whiskey. At least I know I’ll have a few drinking buddies there.”
“I pity you.”
“Not as much as I pity you.”
I slam the hymnal shut. I feel my blood boiling. Thoughts of mayhem and murder enter my mind.
“Who’s the cunt on the floor? The one I’ve been pretending not to notice.”
“Jesus sent her to me, sweet Jacob.”
“Why do you ask?”
“They always are. She’s got blood on her dress.”
“The last one didn’t bleed.”
“The last one had two little children missing their mama. What am I going to have to do with this little dove?”
“Nothing. She has no family”
“That don’t mean people ain’t gonna miss her.”
“She’s so pretty, all still like that.”
“I hope you realize what a fucking monster you are.”
“Jesus don’t like you swearing in his house.”
“But, it’s okay to rape a woman in church.”
“Jesus sent her to me. He knows my weaknesses.”
“Perhaps if your tongue was ripped out of your mouth and hung on the church door with the word rapist written on your white angelic robe, God would stop sending the women to you.”
“You love me too much to do that.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Remember when you burned Daddy’s hymnal because he punished me for not wanting to go to the church picnic?”
“Cracked my knuckles good.”
“So you see, I was right when I said that you love me too much to hurt me.”
It hurts to breathe. My neck feels like it’s being stabbed by a thousand tiny knives as I began to wake up.
“How did I get in here?”
“My guess is you opened the door and walked in here,” said Jacob.
“Do I know you?”
“Jesse, I thought you said this one was dead.”
“Oops. She must have been stronger than the others. Do something with her for me.”
“Don’t I always.”
“I guess, I will leave you two. Miss Sarah, believe me it was a pleasure.”
Pleasure. What does he mean pleasure? All I feel is pain. I began to cry. My rapist is gone and left me with this man who…
Blood. There is so much blood on my dress. Oh Jesus.
“There ain’t no reason for you to be crying. This ain’t nothing you can’t recover from. I buried my best friend today. You don’t see me crying.”
The man walked over to me and roughly put his hand on my mouth. I almost gag from the smell of whiskey and dirt.
“I’ll get you a dress.”
I leave the room and walk into a closet filled with choir robes and a few dresses as well as one or two men’s suits. My hands search through the dresses. I pull out three: a pink one, a green one, and finally a blue one. Why do I give a fuck? I picked the blue one because I knew it would match her eyes. I walk back into the sanctuary. She hadn’t moved
and her eyes were bloodshot from crying. I took the dress off the hanger and threw it at her.
“Wash your face and put this on.”
I watch her struggle to stand up. A gentleman would have offered assistance. I ain’t a gentleman. She limps to the washroom and closes the door. I heard the water running.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
“If you say so.”
“You don’t come to church?”
She walks back into the sanctuary wearing the blue dress. Jesus, she looked beautiful.
“Why don’t you come to church?”
“You about done asking me questions?”
“Dove, I don’t go to church because Sunday is when I make my money. You ever sit in here on Sundays and notice a lot of husbands missing? The men are in the back woods behind my house buying what you call the devil’s brew. I make the best white lightening in three counties.”
I pull a bottle of whiskey out of my pocket and chug about half of it. She glared at me, but she didn’t protest.
“You want a taste; might make you feel better.”
I offer her the bottle. She turns her head away.
“Do I look okay, according to your opinion?”
I grab her by the wrist and look into her eyes. A tiny eyelash had fallen on her cheek. I remove it.
“Better. We got to go.”
It‘s twilight, and the two of us sit at a train station. I stare coldly at the train. Looking over at Sarah I see her fidget with her dress. If she doesn’t stop, she’ll pull a button loose. Her eyes look as if she’s being sent to the slaughterhouse. She turns her eyes to meet mine.
“I could cook and clean for you. Share your bed. Anything.”
I chuckle at this proposal.
“I don’t picture you as a fallen woman.”
“Marry me. I’ll even forgive Jesse because he’s your brother.”
“Dove, you ain’t never gonna forgive Jesse. That’s desperation talking. And another thing, if I plan on getting married to some woman, it’s gonna be me that does the proposing.”
“I already told you. You’re gonna get on that train and get off at Waycross, and you ain’t never coming back here. If I see you or smell you within forty miles of this town, I will personally put a bullet in your head.”
She starts crying again. Goddamn it why can’t she stop the crying?
“I’m still bleeding.”
“As a woman, you should know how to handle that.”
“How did your best friend die?”
“Earlier, when I came to, you told me that your best friend died. How did that happen?”
“He stole money from me. Stupid son of a bitch put it in the car box. Other than me, he’s the only one that had a key to it. He was supposed to make the run tonight, so he didn’t think I would see it. I found him drunk in his house. I drug him kicking and screaming to a shallow grave and covered him with dirt.”
The conductor makes an announcement letting everyone in the station know that the train to Waycross has arrived.
“What if I’m pregnant?”
I lead Sarah to the train. The word pregnant stings in my head and tiny heart. I lean down and kiss her on the forehead. A baby in her belly would be my blood. I take her hand and gently massage her fingers.
“If it was mine, I’d like to see his face, if it’s Jesse’s I’d kill it. There’s an old man, Murray, in Waycross. He buys a barrel a month from me. His hobby, aside from drinking and hunting with arrows, is watching trains. Find him and tell him I sent you. He’ll be good to you.
“Will I ever see you again?”
I bend down and kiss her. Next, I pulled an old stopwatch out of my pocket and put it in her hand.
“Someday I’ll want this back.”
She smiles at me and gets on the train. I don’t stay to wave goodbye.
Tiffany Buck lives in north Georgia on the edge of Appalachia. She is married and has a three-year old daughter. Her interests include writing grit and making her own cosmetics.