Sunday mornings belonged to the Lord. Dad stuffed his
muscled arms and wide shoulders into his white dress
shirt and dark blue jacket. He wrapped his red-striped tie
around his thick neck and pulled on his polished shoes,
not his tall, worn boots. He always wore his Stetson. Dad
growled twice for me to wear my tie, coiled under the
bunk bed like a diamondback, but no way would I put
it on. I caught Danny pocketing a baseball; he glared at
me not to tell.
In Sunday’s best, lurching at each stop sign on the way
to Phillip’s Presbyterian, Danny and I each kept to our
side of the back seat of the Olds, any hand, foot or brave
body part that crossed the invisible line now fair game
for destruction. We knew Dad’s long arm, slung across
the empty passenger seat, could bullwhip us into place,
but even that couldn’t stop us from the reward of nailing
each other. As we slowed to turn into the church parking
lot, we craned to see if the fire station doors were open,
to catch a glimpse of the trucks lined up like Fourth of
July firecrackers, ready to light up and roll out.
Church bells and white cotton gloved greeters welcomed
us into the vestibule. We followed Dad to the center of
the church and sat down on a red cushioned pew. Light
filtered down through St. Paul’s crystal white and cobalt
robes, avenging sword, and righteous stance. it
began. My right foot moved from toe to heel and side toside. My leg and the rest of my body joined in a restless, wig.
gling itch. My feet hit the back of the pew in front of me—Mr
Ferguson turned and grunted. Dad’s heavy, callused hand, nails
trimmed and ranch-dirt-stained, latched into my arm, flipped
me out of the pew like a fish on a hook, and dragged me down
the aisle through the back door. Out in the vestibule, his left
arm held me in place—I caught a whiff of Old Spice—as his
belt lashed my thighs. As we walked back to the pew, I heard my
friends snicker in the back row. Danny stole glances at me and
smirked into his hymnal, already open for the next hymn.
Pastor Gibson in his long black robes floated over to the giant
bible to give us the Lord’s Word. The lights dimmed and the
sermon started. As amens floated toward the Lord and Jesus, I
listened hard because later at supper, Dad would question me
on the sermon. Today, Jesus was forty days out in the desert. A
bright, warm, transparent ribbon shone from the windows; I
stared up at St. Paul and wondered if he ever used his sword.
Jesus hiked out in the wilderness with flies and lizards. That
sounded cool. I wondered how big the lizards were. Even with
the Devil tempting him, it couldn’t have been that bad. Jesus
was out camping. Danny’s finger poked into my side, hard. I
countered with a fist to his arm. Dad’s heavy hand gripped my
shoulder. He pulled me over his tight-laced shoes to put himself
between us. Danny eyed me the way my horse, Ginger, would a
choice piece of grass just outside her reach. The organ bellowed
and the rest of the church joined in.
The passion of the lesson still clung to my backside as Danny
sang. And as we joined hands to finish the last hymn of the
morning, I looked up to see my dad’s shaved face glimmer in the
light from St. Paul. The Lord spoke and my dad listened. Then it
happened. Dad looked down at me. His thick fingers touched my
tieless collar. He knew. I bit my lip, but he just tousled my hair.
Pastor Gibson raised his hands. wasteland under my bed
summoned me: the unfinished homework, Danny’s lost baseball
cap, and my teacher’s crumpled warning note—all smoked like
the fresh branded hide of a bawling calf. My fingers reached for
the missing tie. Somewhere deep inside his pocket lay Danny’s
baseball, homeruns and strikeouts, games of boys in the green
damp grass. I couldn’t swallow.