Those Left Behind by Matt Prater
Here, they did as God moved, and when and to what end God moved it.
First, God moved a soft breeze through the room, with the cool wet end of a storm locked in it. He moved in the night nurse, in her gown, on the way to her late ward watch, in a whirl of tongues. He moved in an old man in his red plaid and boots, to stamp. He moved the boys’ eyes off from the back of Kate’s mom’s jean dress, though they moved them back when each swing of her long red hair freed the curve of her to their view. He moved in Brother Bob, who He had, as Bob would put it, plucked out from the mines of War to find, in this new life, the crushed amphibole hearts of men that God could turn to fire. He moved in him to turn the page, to turn to Romans 8:26. To read and make the call.
“For I say – hah! – that God says, this day,” with each hah and stop like a new clank of the pick ax, “the Spirit of God – Good God, Good Glory! – helps us in our weakness. And oh my, glory to God aren’t you thankful for that? I am here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that I don’t know nothing from nothing; I’m just an old West Virginia boy from McDowell County. They didn’t put me into NASA when I got out of Big Creek,” he said, a joke to which only the teachers in the room laughed. “But I do know this: when I’m weak, by God, my God is strong!”
With this he paused and wiped the beads of his work from his head.
“Now let me turn to this Word here: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought” – now I know, I know! It’s a Wednesday night, and there’s barbeque, and I ought not get to preaching, but let me preach for just a second!”
“Preach it!” the old man with his stomp dance to the Lord stomped, paused, and yelled.
“Don’t you think God already knows you need a car? Or a job? Or to get your son off pills? Our God knows exactly what we need. And He cares. And He loves you. But He doesn’t want you to ask Him, to pray to Him, because He needs to know what you need. God ain’t listening to that. God already knew all of this was coming your way a million years before you were born. Nah, listen to this, listen to this, listen to this right here: “But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Do any of ya’ll here have ears to hear how powerful what that’s just saying to you is? When we pray, the Spirit of God Himself prays with us. Now you and I might not be much standing on our own before Almighty God. But God ain’t gonna not listen to Himself. Now I know that might be bad grammar, but it’s good truth.”
“So let me ask you: do you hear Him groaning? Do you hear that call inside of you to come forward? Have you turned from the way? Have you not met the Lord? Or maybe, have you just had a bad go of it—the car’s broke down, you got laid off, your kids ran in with the police, you ran in with the police—it doesn’t matter what it is, but let me just ask you this: do you hear God groaning inside you? Do you hear His call? Come here, come up, and lay your burden down. You don’t have to know what to say, or what to do. God knows you don’t know. And he knows what you need. So come. God’s listening for the Him in you to be speaking back to Him. Will you let Him pour into you? Will you let Him pour out of you? Come. Come.”
Apparently, that night Kate’s Daddy heard the groan of God. He limped up to the altar, but he limped. Behind the teen boy who had hands laid on his right hand every season or so to keep the demon of lust away, and the great aunts of the whole town with their veins and bursitis, he limped, it seemed, with his head so far down the tiny crown of his baby bald spot was offered to the light for all to see, to the altar, glorious but simple, with its Sam’s Club olive oil and an eBay shofar.
He had not done this ever once before, not once that Kate had known. Her Daddy had been marked by God, it seemed, since before the before, like some tall blue jeaned Melchizedek. And no arrows of the enemy could overtake him.
Or at least, that was, until that night.
Kate had been to church every night she could remember, where they had talked of strange moons and the buds of trees, of red in the sky, of the end of all things. Each time there had been a call to turn to God, and some of the men spoke in tongues, and some of their wives cried; or some of the women spoke in tongues, and some of the men cried. All tears cried before the Lord were manly, and anointed; the crying man felt no shame, and the crying woman, overtaken by God, could preach for that moment with the force and the anointing of any man. They said that what had been said in the Book was all right here with us, now, a proof of God’s wrath and love and rage and peace—for those with eyes and ears—in each turn of the page and in each day of the news. They went to church whenever Daddy was home from work, and they had been to church three times a week for weeks, now.
But she had never, ever, seen this once before.
Brother Bob took Daddy’s downturned head and poured the oil from his cupped hand over the bald spot and patted the wet hair down. He stretched his other hand up to the Lord, the bursitised and the lust-laden laying up their other hands on Daddy’s shoulder. Then Bob whispered out some short, sweet line in the coded lilt of Heaven. “Lord God, hah, Heavenly Father God, hah,” he then began, “You’ve said that your anointing, hah, is a hedge over a righteous man. Glory God Father God, you have said it in your word that where two or three are gathered in your Name Father God, where two or three or come together and call on the name of Jesus. Oh Jesus, we call on You now, we feel the power of the Holy Spirit like a soft wind, like a dove of anointing and a tongue of fire, ready to spread over this place. We feel You with us, Lord. We thank You, Lord. We love You. And now we bind, hah, oh Father God we bind! We bind, oh Father God, the spirit of Poverty. We bind, Lord Jesus in Your holy name, the spirit of Unemployment. You have said it is good, Lord God, that a servant of the Lord should labor for his bread. You have said, oh Father God, that those who do not work they should not eat. Our brother, Lord, has come before you now; he wants to work for his bread, Lord, he wants to do as you’ve commanded. We’ve come to believe together, O Lord God Heavenly Father, for the blessing of work to rain over this man. For we know, O God, that all good work is a blessing. That all work, Lord, all good things come from You. And so we come before you now, Lord, our Father, to believe with our brother now and call out unto You. You know his needs You know his heart You know the struggle of his family; You know, O Father God, that he is a man, like unto his namesake, with a heart and mind that follows after You. You know, you knew O God, in the groanings of Your own Spirit within this man, before and better than we, O Lord O God than we can say ourselves. You know what this man needs. We believe, we call, we know we will receive it in Your name. You have said that You are with us Lord, that You will never leave us nor forsake us, that we are worth much more than many sparrows, and that we will not, even at the end of days, be left behind. Your promises are good, Lord, now and always. We say these things knowing now as if we already received them among us, in Jesus’ name. We will not, O Lord, O God, we thank You, be ever left among those left behind.”
“Screw J.B. Hunt,” she had heard him say to Uncle Billy. It was low and hard and he must have thought she had been in her room when he said it. He’d not cussed in front of her, before, not one time in his life.
Kate knew that things were bad.
She was sure that things had come right up to the End.
But she would not say that what had happened at the church had scared her. She would say what she had said the last time she had cried, each time she cried, that it was just the dark that did it; and would he sing to her and she would be so glad that he was home. And he would ask, “Are you my best bud?” and she would say yes; and then he would brush back her hair, and her tears off her face, and rock her in his big stained chair and sing real low and soft “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy (Down in my Heart);” and she would smell the mix of bar & chain oil and black soap and Red Man sap all locked in the cracks of his nails, and get sung on back to sleep.
She saw the clump of his work pants in front of the clothes bin, but did not smell his rough grey soap or see the light of the bath or hear the run from the sink as he shaved.
But then there was his voice come back again, and the thought of that went down. “I’m not some damn pill ass on the dole, man,” he said to Uncle Billy. They were back on it now. You could tell Daddy was real mad if he said the words dole or pill or food stamps, and he’d just said two of them. This was not good.
“Now that ain’t the way the Lord would have us talk now, don’t you think?” Billy said at him and nudged.
“I know that, I know. But still, there’s work.”
“Not that kind. Not that I know of.”
“There is if you want it.”
“Well, you say so.”
Billy spat in his Coke can. Daddy spat in his Coke can. They sighed.
“I mean, it’s like it all got done and whisked up right to the sky, ain’t it?” Billy said. Uncle Billy went to a church, but where there was no talk of worms or fire or the last red moons. Daddy had things to say on that, too, when she was in her room and he thought she couldn’t hear.
“I got your point the first time, Bill.”
Daddy knew quite well the way things used to be. How it used to not be this way. How there were pies on the sills and all of that, cheap gas for all the sleek pink cars. We ate from small plates. We all had nice, small butts. If a kid would bring his cap gun in for show and tell, the worst to come was that it got put in the June drawer.
Folks knew their place.
Kate heard all this and knew that this was not the night to walk in to the fridge for milk, or to sneak out of bed. So she thought to slide back to her room. She’d get back in and get to sleep and not have to hear where the talk went. She did not like to hear Daddy or Billy cuss, but no mind how much they said the next time they would just talk sports and cows and hay and trucks and deer, when Billy said SNAP, Daddy said pill ass, and then they would cuss and hiss and have to make the same promise on sports and deer one more time. And when she heard that talk, it made her just as sad as when they would talk about the End and the Beast at church, and she would cry, and she would have to lie to Daddy on why she had.
So Kate slid. She slid real slow and snake-like. But the hall was dark, and as she slid she hit her hip on the lamp pole and the lamp smacked against the wall.
“Come on in here, Squig!” Billy yelled. “I got them dog ears out for you!”
Billy called Kate Squig. He had three boys of his own; he called them Squirrel and Squid and Squirt. He would take all of them out to hunt, and when he did he’d tell all the boys to do like Kate, that she had “pluck like a Squig-Squaw,” which meant she was good to not make noise. “When you can learn to pull that bow,” he told her, “you’ll be a full Squig-Squaw. We’ll just call you Squig for now.”
So Squig ran on in and hopped up on her Daddy’s lap. Billy and Daddy had the TV on real low to the new shows. Kate didn’t like to watch the news much. She reached on up to click it off and said to Billy, “Mommy said Daddy has to turn it off when he comes on.”
“See, I told you kids don’t like that man none,” Billy said. “That says…”
“Well, like and need ain’t the same thing,” Daddy said, and cut him off. “You think Uncle Billy needs that can of Skoal now, do you Buddy?”
“Nuh-uh. ‘Skoal is coal and you don’t eat coal / cause it makes your whole house stink’.”
“All right, all right,” Billy said, and snapped the can a few times like as to pack it in tight, but then tossed it in the trash can; then he reached in the pocket of his mouth and pulled out the wet chaw and tossed it in after. “Low blow, man.”
Later, after Billy had told her the tale of the Hell Hound and the tale of the Wood Booger, and Daddy had took her and prayed with her and tucked her in bed, Kate’s thoughts turned back to the day. She had been scared, and then scared to be scared; but now, at the end of things, she was not scared at all. Now, there was the same wind as there had been, but it did not scream; the same moon as there had been, but now it was just pink like a cat’s nose, or like a small tree bud (not from the Book, but from the small line of fruit trees along the fences). And so she slid, warm, up to the edge of sleep. And on the edge of sleep she made her prayer, that the wind in the red buds and the wind in the hills would say shhh, Bud; shhh, Squig, in the ears of Billy and Daddy, and of her and of J.B. Hunt, and of all the wives and the uncles and the Mommies and Daddies with their cheeks red and wet in the face, hah, O Lord Our Father, of the world that’s yet to come.