Jabeth Perry Tecumseh Washington shuffled across the porch and eased himself into his favorite spot. As he sat, his nearly century old bones creaked in unison with the equally ancient rocking chair beneath him. He had no family. He and the rocking chair had outlived everyone.
With eyes dimmed by time and cataracts, Jabeth looked across the fallow field towards the levees of the Mississippi river. The slate gray skies and earth the color of the old man’s skin were connected by a perpetual wet fog. It was a typical Southern December day. The kind that clings to you like a cold sweat, offering little of winter’s wonder and a good part of its misery.
His home-health nurse watched from the open kitchen window between them and listened.
“Yes sir,” muttered Jabeth, “She was right about most things but she sho’ was wrong about that one.” The old man, leaned over, spit in a bucket beside his chair and grew silent again.
The nurse stepped onto the porch, placed a shawl around her charge’s shoulders and knelt in front of him. “What was she wrong about Mr. Washington?” She stood back up and turned for the door expecting no answer. All he ever did was repeat that phrase, “she sho’ was wrong about that one.”
“She said I was too little to ask for such a big thing.”
The nurse turned back, shocked that he had actually answered her. “What’s that Mr. Washington?”
He pushed against the protesting rocker arms and stood. Leaning against the porch rail, Jabeth Washington raised a gnarled and aged splotched hand and pointed across the field. “Miss Bertha Lee.”
“I don’t remember that name.”
“Course you don’t. Died a long time ago. She said wasn’t no need for a little boy to pray such a thing. Said you had to ask for little things first. Said I shouldn’t be expecting God to start right out with such a big thing. Audacious was what it was, she said.”
Jabeth’s nurse gazed across the cotton field toward the twenty foot high mound that stretched as far as they could see either way. She knew the stories of the Great Flood of ’27 and the destruction it brought. She had also heard the tales of how, by some fluke or miracle, the Washington land remained dry while everything else in the county was swallowed up by a restless river that would not be denied.
“Audacious?” she asked.
A thin toothless grin creased the man’s wrinkled face. “Miss Bertha Lee knew everything about God a woman could know. Least that’s what she always told us kids. Maybe she did. But I knew what I had read in the good book. You know, where the Lord talks about mounting up with wings like eagles.”
He paused, found his bucket to spit, and pointed back toward the levee. “Everybody was shaking like scared rabbits on top of the house, just hoping for the best. But I didn’t listen to Miss Bertha Lee. Decided to listen to the good Lord instead. Before my momma could stop me, I ran across that field and stood on the levee. Wasn’t nearly so tall back then. And then I did it.”
Jabeth sat back in his complaining rocking chair and sighed.
“What did you do Mr. Washington?”
“I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and did an AU-DA-CIOUS thing. I knowed Miss Bertha Lee was right about startin’ small and all that. But that old river over there weren’t no small thing and it was about to kill us all. So I just bypassed all them little prayers and asked a great big one ...”
Jabeth’s words trailed off as he lapsed back into his usual vigil over the field and levees. The creaking of his joints and the rocker were joined by a thousand tree frogs and a host of Kattydids, interrupted from time to time by the old man’s occasional, “she sho’ was wrong about that one.”
Tears filled the nurse’s eyes as she recalled the test results she had received earlier in the week. The word “positive” ate at her heart. She thought of all the little prayers she had prayed since. Complaints, rather than prayers, would be a better word. And then she followed Jabeth’s gaze toward the levees. She could see a young boy bypassing all those little prayers and simply trusting God with a great big one. And, she joined him.
It was AU-DA-CIOUS.
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