short story –

13 Aug

Casting Stones at the Holy Communion Sanctified Heart Church and Bingo Parlor

It's 11:30 or so on a Sunday and I am throwing pea-gravel at a stained glass window of the Holy Communion Sanctified Heart Church and Bingo Parlor. It’s not like I have anything better to do. Services start at 9 and 11. Nine’s too early for me. Eleven works much better. Young Joseph P. Tucker presides over a thin congregation of the meek and merciless. I wait for the organ to die down before I throw one small stone at a time up against the glass.

I’ve been in the church a thousand times, sat through Young Joseph P. Tucker’s laborious lectures about salvation and Christ and all the good little things on this earth. He’s tall, stands ramrod straight, sweats like a junkie running a marathon. To make a point of sorrow he removes his silver rimmed glasses, rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs. Sometimes he has to sigh a couple of times to really get the point across. When things really get going, blood pumping, glory be and all that bullshit, Young Joseph P. Tucker shoves his index finger on his right hand toward heaven, lets it shake a little. For emphasis. The congregation, deep in their Sunday morning rut, smile serenely, sometimes linger over donuts and coffee. If Young Joseph P. Tucker has done his job the collection plate comes in light, more bills than coin. I used to drop in bus tokens, laundry receipts, all manner of things I found in my pockets. Once I accidentally dropped in my dope dollar, still rolled in a tight tube. Had to chase that down, three rows back.

Young Joseph P. Tucker finally asked me to stop attending.

“This isn’t a debate, you know?” He said.

“I don’t follow.” I said.

“During sermons. You don’t have to debate the points I make.” He said.

“You’re often wrong. In fact I wonder if your seminary school was on the same island as my doctor’s school.”

After having that conversation twenty or so times I did stop. He engaged two rather large African-Americans as deacons with the specific directive that all are welcome, except Jack Henry.

The area behind the church, directly below the stained glass window, a rather mawkish depiction of Christ on the Cross, is an unused area. There’s a concrete walkway that goes only so far before giving way to pea gravel. It’s a sheltered area, to degree. A large coral tree shadows most of the walk and half the church wall. A good place to smoke, after service, during. Usually a gaggle of boys gather, bum smokes, paint grade illusions of sexual conquest. One day, after hearing too many pussy references from eyes that had only seen pussy on the porch or on the Internet, I picked up a small, gray stone and threw it.

I smiled at the sound. The boys shit their pants in Holy terror and vaporized. Young Joseph P. Tucker had stopped mid-sentence, standing at the altar, eyes glancing around in wide wonder. In his head he thought Jesus himself made a rebuttal about something said, some tidbit, some nuance spoken from a sermon he ripped from the Internet. Sermons.Com. He started up again, his words barely audible to my ears, but I could sense his excitement, his fervor, the spirit of Christ himself burning down through the fingertips of Young Joseph P. Tucker. Again and again he pounded his fist into the old oak of the lectern, his glasses slipping to the tip of his Roman nose, his right index finger pointing to heaven, trembling.

Without calculation I tossed one small stone after another. Each hit with a small “tink.” Fifteen minutes before the end of service I walked away. Not out of fear of discovery, but for lack of smokes.

At the corner I bought a fresh pack and a Budweiser Tallboy, sat on the curb and watch the parishners flew like rats from a burning bush. A bale of the faithful stood around Young Joseph P. Tucker, congratulating him on channeling the spirit of Christ, for the most dynamic and inspiring sermon of his life.

From that day on I stood under stained glass, with a handful of pebbles, tossing them one by one. Word spread that Young Joseph P. Tucker had the gift, the voice, a direct line to the Kingdom of Heaven. The congregation grew, a sound system installed, a choir reborn, an additional service added. When the tall skinny blonde newswoman from Channel Seven showed up to interview the suddenly famous Young Joseph P. Tucker, she didn’t think to ask why the Spirit of Christ only echoed at the eleven am service and never when it rained. No one questioned me, standing behind the church, under a coral tree, smoking and drinking beer from a brown paper bag.

With the sound system in place I could follow the sermon better, my stone casting more timely. It became a great game.

One of Young Joseph P. Tucker’s deacons finally caught on to my antics. The deacon and Mrs. Beverly Johansson slipped out the side door of the church, creapt under the shadow and sanctity of the coral tree for a moment of blissful coronation. I saw him just as he pulled Mrs. Beverly Johansson’s pink lace thong from her ankles, just as my arm cocked back stone in hand.

“Hey brother.” I said.

“You ain’t s’pose to be ’round here, Mr. Henry.” He said.

“And I s’pose your hand shouldn’t be buried between the legs of Mrs. Beverly Johansson.” I said.

The Deacon removed his hand from beneath Mrs. Beverly Johansson’s skirt and returned her panties in a gingerly way, as if he suddenly realized they were heavy with skidmarks. He muttered something about me not saying anything to Mr. James Johansson, proprietor of Leo’s Gun Shack on 5th Street. I made a stuttering promise, one I broke a minute after Young Joseph P. Tucker called me into his office.

“Jack Henry, you fuck!” Young Joseph P. Tucker said.

“Hello, Joe.” I said.

“What in the name of Christ are you doing out there?” He said.

“Casting stones?” I said.

“Really? I get that. Is there a reason?” He said.

“Does there have to be?” I said.

“Yes. Absolutely.” He said.

“It’s my calling, I think.” I said. “God works in mysterious ways. Works through others. Shit like that.”

“Shit like that? Shit like that? You miserable prick.” He said, his face pink and red, snot dripping from his nose, eyes bulged. “You stay the fuck away from my church, hear me?”


Six months later the Deacon I caught hand deep in Mrs. Beverly Johansson appeared at my door. Seems the congregation dwindled back to a loyal few, donations dried out, the sound system repossessed.

“Joseph wants you to come back. Do what you was doin’. You know? The stone thing.” He said, wringing his hands like a Chinese butcher preparing a duck.
“How’s Mrs. Beverly Johansson?” I said.

“She fine, you know? Seems Mr. Johansson had an accident at work one day. Don’t get ’round so good no more.” He said, smiling suddenly.

“Really? I hadn’t heard that.” I said.

“So, I’m suggesting that you come back.” He said.

“I’m no inclined to do that. You tell Joseph that.” I said.

“Okay. He gonna be mad ’bout that.” He said.

“And learn to speak, would you?” I said as I closed the door.

“Who was that, hon?” Mrs. Beverly Johansson walked back into the room, naked and smiling.

“Your other boyfriend, the Deacon.” I said.

“I haven’t touched him in six months.” She said.

“Don’t I know it.” I said.


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