FOUR O’CLOCK AND EVERYTHING (draft excerpt)

A Month of Sundays (ch.5?)

First Sunday.
Rope’s End Congregational Holiness Church was a little white chapel-like structure at the right angled meeting of Four O’Clock and Rope’s End. Four O’Clock was the street I’d grown up on, just about everyone we knew lived on it. Rope’s End? Well, that was the joke, wasn’t it? The house of God could be found at Rope’s End.
The building itself sat on a single wooded acre. The church faced the street. To the left of the church was a small gravel parking lot, room for about two dozen average-sized vehicles. Out back, within the rod iron realm encircling over 75% of the plot of land, was a sea of old headstones, dead flowers, and cracked statues and monuments.
We sat on wooden benches in itchy drugstore pantyhose, swatting at ourselves with fans made from giant tongue depressors and oval-shaped cardboard cutouts. Ginger, Porter, Grandma Kate, Olive, Mable, and I, we took up an entire pew of our own. Then Porter’s parents dragged in and sat down next to Mrs. Hattie and Jael, behind us.
Mrs. Hattie and Grandma Kate always sat in front of or behind each other. This made it easier for them to whisper or pass each other gum, candy, or cough drops. Or, according to them, it made it easier for them to check the other one’s page and chapter numbers whenever one missed the chapter and verse the first time it was announced.
Sunday school was a thirty minute selected story and prayer meeting. Then, there was choir back in the main sanctuary. Reverend Gables did a talk on the sins of the flesh. Those of us still awake at the end of the hour held hands and prayed before dismissal.

Second Sunday.
A little girl stood up and made a most joyful noise, every other word to Jesus Loves Me, off-key but sweet and sincere just the same. When she was done, the small crowd erupted. Her mother clapped proudly. Her Sunday school teacher swiped at her wet eyes with a crinkled tissue. The little girl bowed and took her seat in the third row with her parents and little brother.


Third Sunday.
Sunday morning. Sunday night. Canned food drive for Thanksgiving.
Marvelle Flank started praying out loud, again. She mentioned her boyfriend and the church organ player, Irene Dently. Even the pastor’s eyes popped open.
The last church picnic reception of the year was held after service in the back church yard in front of the cemetery. Porter grumbled because he had to stay late and clean up because his mother pinched his arm under the table. Ginger kept patting my arm and telling me things I didn’t care to know about. Marvelle Flank listened in with a cocked eyebrow and wide open ears.

Fourth Sunday.
Our little singing girl got up to sing her special song. Her two front teeth were missing. She was wearing a cute purple dress with sweatpants underneath.
Olive fell asleep before the sermon. Mable sat quietly coloring me a picture on pink construction paper. I took it when she was finished, thanked her, and kissed her cheek. Ginger was snoring between us.

Next Sunday.
Grandma Kate and I volunteered to make muffins for the Sisterhood Sunrise breakfast. Ginger ate half the nuts and fruit before we could finish baking the first batch the night before.
Morning came sooner than any of us would have had it. Olive had a runny nose. Mable ripped her pantyhose on the porch railing, on the way out of the house.
The little singing girl got up and did her song. The church erupted into applause. She bowed and did a sort of curtsy. Everyone laughed.
Pastor Gables let us know before dismissal we’d be having a guest pastor the next week. I was half asleep. And then he said his name.

For a week, I dreaded the next Sunday, day and night. I moped around, pretending not to see and hear the whispers from people around Blossom. They were talking. Of course they were talking.
I sat up at night, two little girls with icy feet tangled up at my side, searching my desperate brain for some sort of exit strategy. I figured the easiest most obvious route would have been to fake sick. Who’d believe it? Of all the times for Kelsea Browning to miss a Sunday morning church service?
I coached myself. I egged myself on. I gave myself pep talk after pep talk. I’d go.
You bet, I’ll go—I told myself.
I really, really didn’t want to go.

Saturday night, I stood in the glow of the fluorescent light above the bathroom mirror. I studied my boring, unremarkable reflection. I hadn’t changed much at all since the last time I saw him, had I?
“People are gonna talk,” Ginger said, appearing in the bathroom doorway. “Might as well give them something to talk about.”

I pushed the sanctuary doors open and quietly stepped inside. Reverend Gables was just introducing the guest speaker. I tugged the skirt of my little dress and then the neckline, respectively.
He stood and walked up to the podium. He turned around. I froze. He looked at me, flinched and knocked over the podium sending books and paperwork shooting across the gaspy room.
“Shit!” his voice echoed off the sacred walls.

I sat on the river bank, fishing pole in hand, feet dangling over the cold, muddy water. Hours oozed past. My chilled cheeks went from heat-hot embarrassed to ice cube cold. Eventually, a Mrs. Kate shaped shadow appeared in front of and directly to my left.
“What kinda bait you got?” she asked.
I held up a half empty bag of thawed-out hot dogs. She looked them over and shook her head. I dropped the bag and went back to staring down at the water.
“You gave them old biddies in the front row a sure enough show, eh?” she asked.
Great. She had jokes. I shrugged.
She leaned in, took the back of her hand and smeared at my smudged eye makeup. I held still and endured. She laughed a little, to herself.
“You don’t need this powder and polish,” she told me. “Just painting a peacock.” Tick-tock. “You’re a purdy little thing. Always have been. Somebody ain’t smart enough to know that ain’t good enough for you. Best to let him go on and wait for one who knows what you’re really worth. You know that.”
I wasn’t ready to talk about it.
She cupped my chin in her hand, forcing me to look her in her eyes. My eyes bounced away, ashamed. She shook her head side to side.
“It’s been a joy raising you up, Kelsea Browning,” she said.
She kissed the end of my nose.
“Why are you talking like this?” I asked.
She’d been doing it a lot lately, talking about how old she was getting. Her time was coming. Making peace with life. Making the best of life. Regrets. Memories. The afterlife.
I hated it.
“I didn’t teach you right in some ways,” she told me. “I tried, but I think I made you more like me than I meant to. I wanted you to be you, not me. In a lot of ways you are, but in some ways…”
She smiled and patted the side of my face.
“We’re alike,” I offered.
“Yeah,” she winked. “I reckon we are.”
We fished for a while, soaking up the serene Sunday evening, not talking much, just being together. Then eventually, she got up, dusted off, and informed me she was going to start home. She reminded me to watch the time and be home for supper. Then I watched her ghost vanish down the dirt and gravel road in the distance.

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