I didn’t want to die.
Daddy didn’t want to either, but he believed them. They told us that if we prayed hard enough, God would remove the cancer from our bodies.
I remember crouching at the top of the stairs listening to Momma plead with Daddy to go to Springfield Mercy for treatment.
“These afflictions are a judgment from God, Angie Sue. If He chooses to heal this town, He will.”
“It’s the water, Derek, not God…and you know it. The plant has been closed for years, but our groundwater is poison now. The county has proven it. This isn’t a ‘God’ thing…it’s a greedy, indifferent, ‘man’ thing.”
“Whatever my God ordains is right. You’ve heard the Reverend preach…we’ve done some heinous evil in God’s eyes to have our whole town judged like this. Nope, the only doctor I will submit to is the Great Physician Himself, and if we pray hard enough, He’ll surely heal me. Now, let’s kneel…”
Momma prayed; from morning till night. I did, too.
Daddy died June fifteenth; on Father’s Day. He bled out during the night from the belly full of tumors that God never removed. Three weeks later, I got a nose bleed that didn’t stop for hours. By the time we got in the car, my light sandy blonde hair was matted thick with blood.
Momma cried all the way to Springfield. And then all the way back to Shady Falls.
We parked in the driveway, stuck to the tacky, vinyl seats. “Well, Gracie, your Daddy made his own decision, and I think you know how I felt about that. But I am your Momma, and I get the last word about you. That being said, what do you want?”
The cicadas’ rhythmic song ricocheted off the trees, making my ears ring. I wiped my blood and tear stained face with my already ruined shirt. “I wanna live, Momma. I wanna finish school…get married…have babies. I wanna die an old woman.”
I watched Momma fold her arms over the steering wheel and rest her head on them, “Then we will fight this with every tool God has given us, baby girl.”
And we did. Momma said that it was ironic that I got sick from the poisoned water, but it was the poison in the chemo that was going to make me better. When my thinning blonde hair started falling out completely, our secret was out, too.
The mighty Reverend and the ruling elders from The Tabernacle Assembly of Holiness and Light held a special session one Tuesday night, and excommunicated Momma and me from the congregation. Folks that had been our best friends shunned us. Other townspeople just didn’t want to get put in the middle. Everybody had their own troubles.
I bawled when Momma put the ‘for sale’ sign in front of the only house I had ever lived in. But no right thinking family was going to move into a town with a forty percent cancer rate. So summer slowly turned to fall…
The overt whispering and evil eyes had gradually eased into an uncomfortable invisibility for Momma and me; that was fine with us. The reprieve came to an abrupt halt when my hair started to come back in. My once-blonde hair was now the deepest shade of black. Momma brushed her hand across the dark, downy tuffs and giggled, “A brand new head of hair for your second chance at life…”
But the Reverend said it was a sign from God: since I rejected the Lord’s plans, I was now the Devil’s child.
The firestorm began.
They threw rocks through our windows. They screamed from the street, “Satan’s spawn!” They burnt a cross on our lawn on Christmas Eve.
Before dawn broke on New Year’s Day, our former congregation surrounded our home and threw a lit gas can into our living room. Momma pulled me from my bed, the smoke flushing us into the chilly air in our night gowns. Her shotgun fired like a cannon above the crowd.
The bloodlust mob fell dumbstruck from the blast. Horrified, I clung to Momma’s waist as we approached the Reverend, the barrel of Momma’s shotgun aimed point blank at his face; our home burning behind us. She pumped the weapon, “If you pray hard enough, do you think God will save you?”
The Bible fell from his quaking hand…its delicate pages absorbing the urine that was pooling at his feet.
A distant siren began its steady approach.
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