God in Goodwater: A Short Story

So, this one’s a little on the darker side of the fiction genre spectrum. I think I’m a little too obsessed with the American southern gothic aesthetic lately. And I’ve probably watched too many bad movies. But here’s my attempt to imagine the unimaginable in a psychoanalytical fashion (if that makes any sense. at all). It’s short. Enjoy.

 

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Joe said, “Let’s talk about how you feel,” but I didn’t really feel anything, so he learned to let it go. Clinks the ice in his cup and grits his teeth a lot. Little gestures that aren’t grimaces, but mean the same thing. I never pay much attention to his condition. It’s his business, anyhow.

We spend Friday nights at the football field, watching Curtis dive and fumble. He’s too big to be quick and too dumb to be precise. Sweet kid. Bad brain. But I never criticize. It wouldn’t help. Besides, he’s Joe’s brother, and that means something to Joe.

Saturday is for sleeping in and getting burgers at Gilly’s with the old gang. The construction crew’s heavy lifters and their women. Townies who have no interest in the great wide yonder. We can’t stay gone from this place, anyhow. It isn’t the kind of ride you get to quit early. Reverend made that real clear, to me anyway. The others just kind of know it from the way he flicks his eyes during sermon, or grasps their shoulders. He has claws for hands, that one. 

I fell in love with Reverend when I was a little girl. I wore this yellow dress with white lace trim to his first service and when Jerry went to shake his hand, Reverend said I was lovely. I made Mama wash that dress every week, hoping he’d say it again. He never did and I learned not to love him, but I still liked the tone of his voice on Sundays and the way he tilted left when he meant something other than what he was saying. He’s small town that way.

When I told Jerry I was in trouble, he sent me to Reverend. Jerry always said that my father was the Lord, since I didn’t have a real one and all. This was a father’s chore, and Reverend was the closest thing. 

“What will he think of you?” Jerry asked, not really a question but more a gasp. 

“I dunno.” I’ve never known how to give men what they want, so I just handed Mama a tissue. She was sitting in her lilac chair wondering where we all went wrong and letting Jerry do the talking. Jerry always does the talking, even if he doesn’t want to be my father.

Joe said I was too clever to let a thing like this ruin me. “You could do anything at all, you know,” he said. He’s like that. Eyes on the highway. 

I never asked Joe to stay. I didn’t expect him to, either. He wanted to spread the gospels. He’s got a good path ahead of him here, but a part of me is still waiting for him to up and bolt one of these hot summer nights. Ride out into the sunrise or something. I wouldn’t resent him. It’d just be a little harder, that’s all.

I wouldn’t call my life evil, but sometimes I play with the word. Dance it around on the tip of my tongue. Reverend calls it holy, but I’ve read the Good Book enough to know the difference. I don’t say so, though. I let him think I follow his version of the scripture. He’s got claws for hands, that one, but I never let them sink too deep into my shoulders. Some folks got it in their heads he’s the second coming, and he likes it that way. Sure, I kiss his feet with the rest, but I cross my fingers when I do it. I have my reasons.

Monday nights Joe makes me dinner. We live in a little trailer on Rt One. A mile south of the Church and a half mile north of Mama and Jerry. It’s not much, but after three years we’ve made it our home. Joe does these watercolors and I hang them around the place. When we moved in, Reverend bought us a nice crucifix for the kitchen. 

“Next time you feel like cussing ‘cause you burned yourself on the stovetop, just look on up at the Savior and remember His pain,” he’d said. “That’ll put the Fear in ya.” Reverend likes talking about the Fear. 

Tuesday nights we go to Meeting at the church with everybody. We get dressed up really nice and hug the neighbors. Reverend stands at the door shaking hands and clawing, clawing, clawing. Joe’s as hooked as any of them.

Reverend brought the New Genesis to Goodwater the Sunday I wore my yellow dress. I suppose folks were looking for something to believe in after Pastor Daniel passed, or maybe even before. Something more than Adam and Eve. Folks wanted something to do, other than watch brothers play football and get burgers at Gilly’s. Reverend breathed in the stagnant air, heavy with restlessness, and stirred. Plunged his talons in easy enough. He was small town and people liked that, even if he was from away. 

Wednesday nights the construction crew works and I stay home. Joe likes the work. He’s a farmer, like his father, but he knows fire well enough. The men look up to him, and I think Reverend plans to make Joe his assistant pastor one of these days. A born leader, my man. A right disciple, even if he did get me in trouble. 

Reverend never blamed us. That night I knocked on his door I half expected him to send me to the Father. He didn’t. He just clawed, clawed, clawed. 

Thursday nights I spend with Reverend. Folks in town see it as right and Joe agrees. I am cleansed. But I never feel cleansed. I figure that’s why I don’t believe it the way the others do. They get to praise Jesus and feel pure, while I get dirty. And that’s what it all is, if it isn’t evil. Filthy. But I never say so, because I don’t say anything at all. 

It’s been this way since that first time. I screamed and cried and cursed, and Reverend said the devil had his hold on me. But I’d know the devil if I saw him, and Paxton wasn’t the devil. He had the face of the angels, and I like to think he’s among them now. I like to think he can’t see me from up there–can’t see Goodwater at all. There’s no God in Goodwater. Just the New Genesis and Reverend’s claws.

Friday nights we spend at the football field and Saturdays we go to Gilly’s. That’s life in a small backwater town where Reverend talks about the Fear and young girls get cleansed when they get in trouble. 

Sundays we dress in white and have ourselves a ceremony. It isn’t always exciting, but folks say they feel the Lord in the fire and taste him in the flesh. They sure drink a lot of him, but Reverend says that’s the way it should be. And what Reverend says is what the Lord commands. 

Jesus fed a mob with bread and fish. Reverend fed Goodwater with the Fear and Paxton. 

“Born in the blood of the innocent and struck down by the fire of the righteous,” he’d screamed over my wailing. “The devil shall be expelled and the children released from his charge,” and they clawed Paxton from my arms and roasted his body on the burning cross Joe built and Joe said, “Let’s talk about how you feel,” but how could I feel anything ever again? 

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