Conversion by Michael Amos Cody
The old woman and the girl, her great-granddaughter, sat on the covered porch of a weathered board-and-batten farmhouse and watched a group of men work around the prefab church building across Lonesome Mountain Road. Both munched on salted slices of raw potato and looked on without speaking. The northeast breeze danced the girl’s long blond hair across her face and quivered kinky iron-gray escapees from the old woman’s bun. Both squinted against the late morning glare that fell straight down beyond the shade of the porch roof and bathed the activity around the opposite gray-and-white building. The old woman and the girl chewed and swallowed and reached for their next slices.
The men filled the clear air with the thump and snarl and screech of hammer and saw and crowbar, the whines of handheld electric tools. One group tore down a storage shed, and another group took apart a small, stand-alone structure designed to look like an old-fashioned well with a bell in place of the bucket. A third group near the front entrance unboxed a variety of lighting fixtures and doors inset with colorful glass, then carried these through the building’s double doors and disappeared. Two men removed three white crosses that stood in the north yard, to the right of the driveway, and laid them on a tarp spread at the edge of the gravel parking lot in the same order as they’d stood—short, tall, short. Stained glass windows—white doves in their top corners, white lilies in their bottom corners, and red crosses in their centers—winged the doors in the façade, and these they carefully pried from their frames and laid on the tarp with the crosses. At the left edge of the circular gravel drive, two men lowered and folded the weathered and frayed American flag, then pushed and pulled its naked white pole, dug around it, and lifted it free, dirt flaking from its rough concrete cone of root. Another man, young and lithe, climbed a ladder and scrambled onto the roof of the prefab building. He wore khakis and carried a white nylon rope looped around his left shoulder. He dropped the rope in a coil and without hesitation shimmied up the spire to detach its cross and ball. When down on the roof again, he dismantled the spire and used the rope to lower the disassembled pieces to hands waiting below. Then he secured his end of the rope to the spire’s base, which remained in place, and flowed back down the ladder to the ground.
Between the sounds of careful destruction and construction, the old woman and the girl heard strange accents and unknown tongues as the working men called out to one another from time to time. The workers were all young—of the old woman’s daughter’s and granddaughter’s generations. And they were healthy—not a fat man among them. Their work clothes seemed from the “Men’s Workwear” section in one of the old mail-order catalogues that no longer appeared in the old woman’s tilting mailbox. Sweat glistened on various shades of brown faces and forearms, and sawdust and small splinters speckled the black hair of those working with saw and crowbar.
The girl turned to look at the old woman, who looked back and raised an eyebrow. Then the girl shrugged and turned again to watch the activity just as a new man arrived in a shiny green Nissan pickup with a large U-Haul cargo trailer in tow.
The new arrival drove the truck into the yard where the crosses had stood, stopped while two workers unhitched the trailer, and then wheeled the truck back into the parking lot, where he stopped again, killed the engine, and opened the door. He stood tall after he unfolded from the cab. His skin was the same brown as that of several others, but his beard, with no overarching moustache, and his hair, thinning and parted on the left side, were a blend of white and gray, striking in contrast to his complexion. He wore round, silver-rimmed glasses, green surgical scrubs, and brown sandals.
His entire face smiled when he looked across the road and up the embankment at the old woman and the girl. Although they didn’t respond in kind, his smile didn’t dim as he turned and joined his colleagues, who gathered around him with their own brilliant smiles and obvious deference. He spoke to them gently, and their smiles broadened in return. He handed a keyring to one man and, as he continued his gentle speech, pointed toward the doors of the church and to the tarp, then gestured to the cargo trailer. As the men busied themselves with their assigned tasks, their leader turned and strode across the road, where he stood for a moment and looked at the brambles of blackberry and wild rose on the low, graded embankment and then up at the old woman and the girl.
"Assalamualykum, sister,” he said, smiling and bowing slightly. “I am Dr. Muhammad Baddour. Please allow me to apologize for the disruption of your peace this fine day.”
The old woman munched on potato and nodded.
Behind Dr. Baddour, a brawny man ducked into the trailer and began handing out rolled rugs of varying sizes, and one or two others carried each of these into the building.
The girl turned toward her great-grandmother, and when the old woman nodded again without looking down at her, she turned back to the man and brushed blond hair from her face.
“We will finish with our noisy work as quickly as possible,” Dr. Baddour said. “Everything is almost prepared.”
Now a line of men emerged from the church carrying the pieces of a sound system—speakers, speaker stands, microphone stands, mixing board, boxes brimming with cables and cases of microphones. Each handed his burden to the big man stooped inside the trailer, who disappeared for a moment and then came back emptyhanded to take another piece.
“We wish to be good neighbors,” Dr. Baddour said. “Please speak to us at any time, if we may do anything to assist you.”
Three men carried the crosses to the trailer, and the man inside took them out of sight.
Behind the old woman and to her left, the screen door screeched open, and her grandson stepped out onto the porch and stood there, heavy-bearded and thickset and shirtless, wearing only faded, mud-spattered blue jeans and unlaced brogans. Short dark hair tilted in several directions on his head and patterned the bulk of his tanned torso.
Dr. Baddour offered a diminished smile and a terse nod in recognition of the new arrival.
“Where’s Pastor Donald and his people got to?” the grandson asked.
“They are none of my concern,” Dr. Baddour said, turning for a moment to look over his shoulder at the work carrying on behind him.
“They know what y’all’re doing?”
“They had some trouble, I think.” Dr. Baddour lifted his chin. “As for what we are doing today, it is ours to do. The building now belongs to our community.”
Again the girl and the old woman exchanged a glance for a nod, and again the girl turned back to the man.
“Y’all Indian?” the grandson asked.
“Yes, some of us are Indian, brother,” Dr. Baddour said. “Some of us—”
The men who’d been carefully wrapping the stained-glass windows, the spire, and the cross and ball in canvass delivered them to the man in the trailer, who motioned them aside to make room for the oak pulpit two others were just wrestling through the double doors.
“Ah, no, I see,” Dr. Baddour said at last. “Those of us who are Indian are generally from the north central regions of India, on the other side of the world.” He paused again. “And those of us from the many nations of Africa arrived directly from those nations and do not descend from American slaves.”
The pieces from the roof and the bell now went into the trailer.
The grandson grunted and turned and disappeared into the house, letting the screen door slam at his heels.
“Very well then,” the smiling man said and raised his hand. “Assalamualykum, sister. Peace be upon you.” Then he bowed slightly and turned and strode back across the road, where he directed his attention and that of his carpenters to dismantling the signage.
They turned first to the sign that stood close beside the road and read, “Lonesome Mountain American Christian Church.” This the workers carefully detached from its two stout posts and leaned against the side of the trailer, leaving the posts themselves planted. Above the double doors of the entrance, a second sign hung in the gable, this one a large slab of rough-hewn wood with the words burned into it.
When this was unbolted and lowered, it and the roadside sign were wrapped in blankets and loaded into the trailer.
Then the same young man again climbed the ladder to the roof, followed this time by two others.
The old woman stood up and brushed the palms of her hands down the bodice of her brown dress and the lap of her navy-blue apron.
“It’s lunchtime, Livvy,” she said and disappeared into the house.
Livvy stood and, for a moment, watched as the stoutest man on the roof began hoisting a small green dome the size of a soap-boiling kettle upwards from the hands of two men on the ground. Then she turned and disappeared as well.
By the time the old woman and Livvy returned to the porch and took their seats, the ribbed green dome Livvy had seen being raised was mounted on the absent spire’s base, and rising from its apex, a slender golden stem ended in a golden moon shaped at a stage something less than a quarter. The trailer had been closed and reattached to Dr. Baddour’s truck, and the men stood in the gravel lot of the building, some talking in groups and others looking up at the dome and crescent moon. Many of them had changed clothes. Wood chips and sawdust were gone from their hair, and all appeared clean and smiling.
The building’s double doors stood open, revealing an interior floor that appeared a reddish confusion of colors and patterns, and somewhere inside a man began to sing indecipherable words in a voice both tremulous and strong, sliding through intervals odd to the ears of those on the farmhouse porch, who watched as the men quieted and Dr. Baddour, with wordless handshakes and pats on the back, shepherded all into the building. Then with his back to the activity inside and his smile beaming at the watchers across Lonesome Mountain Road, he disappeared beyond closed double doors.
Livvy stared a few moments at the inanimate scene and then turned to look up at her great-grandmother, who shrugged, spat off the side of the porch, picked up the faded overalls she’d been patching before all the activity began that morning, and set to work again. Livvy turned back to watch a black Chevy Silverado roll slowly past the building in the direction of Runion, its driver invisible beyond tinted windows.
“I’d say this day won’t end without some spot of trouble,” her great-grandmother said when the truck noise faded.
Livvy turned again just as the old woman pulled the pile of blue jean cloth against herself, beneath her slumping breasts, to protect it from spatter off the stream of tobacco juice she jetted into the sparse grass of the side yard.
“Don’t know what it’ll be,” the old woman said. “But it’ll be something—”
“Big Granny,” her grandson yelled from inside the house. “Where’s them other overalls that was on the door in here?”
Her hands collapsed into her lap, and she sat still a moment, except for the slight lift of her body with the deep breath she drew.
Livvy turned back toward the road and the building on the other side of it.
“Big Granny,” her grandson yelled again.
“I’m patching them,” she said no louder than if he were standing on the porch beside her chair.
“I was gonna wear those,” he said through the screen door, where he suddenly stood in only his white briefs and white socks.
“You’ve got other britches, I reckon,” she said. “Get some on.” She lifted her hands and began working again to patch the seat of the overalls. “Or you can wait on these if you’ll not stand there naked for all the world to gawk at.”
“I ain’t naked and ain’t nobody gawking,” he said and turned back toward the dark interior of the farmhouse. “And I can’t wait on you.”
Big Granny didn’t respond other than to shake her head and continue her needlework.
Livvy suddenly stood and hopped down the steps to the yard. She swiveled to look at Big Granny for a moment and then hopped across the side yard and into the woods toward the spring house.
“Leave them lizards where they be,” Big Granny called after her.
“What?” her grandson yelled from inside the house.
After the double doors had opened again, most of the men left, all traveling in the direction of Runion. Dr. Baddour and a crew of three remained and spent the midafternoon at work around the front of the building. They first installed windows and blinds where the two stained-glass pieces had been. They turned next to the two posts left standing after the removal of the previous occupants’ signage and spent over an hour attaching a new sign to the posts.
Then the stoutest man among them backed a small blue pickup near the posts and lowered the tailgate to reveal a bed partially piled with stones—most of them rectangular prisms of varying sizes and most of them dark in color, tending toward the red spectrum. Over the next two hours Dr. Baddour and the other two handed the stout man stone after stone as he raised a monument to frame the sign along the bottom and up each side.
“That big’n’ does mighty fine stone work,” Big Granny said.
Livvy didn’t turn but nodded her head as two oversized pickup trucks—a red Dodge Ram and the same black Silverado, each coming from a different direction on Lonesome Mountain Road—skidded to a dust-raising stop in the gravel parking lot.
Dr. Baddour and his coworkers straightened up and glanced at each other and then waited, looking from truck to truck.
Invisible drivers shut off engines, and the trucks stood quiet for a moment. Then all doors opened at once, and eight men, ranging in age from late twenties to early sixties, stepped down onto the gravel. They wore loafers of black or brown, dress slacks of blue or brown or maroon, short-sleeved white shirts, and neckties of various somber colors with subtle, angular patterns. Three wore this uniform draped over an enervated thinness, and the other five pushed hard at buttons and seams with bellies and hips and thighs.
“Greetings, gentlemen,” Dr. Baddour said. “And welcome.”
The new arrivals stood hitching up the waistlines and shaking down the legs of their slacks. Three of them lipped cigarettes from packs pulled from their shirt pockets and lit them.
“Dr. Baddour,” the driver of the Silverado said at last.
“Mr. Johnny Anderson, you appear to have lost some weight,” Dr. Baddour said with a smile. “How have you been sleeping since our last meeting?”
“Better, doctor,” Anderson said. “Much better.” With his right forefinger inside his keyring, he swung the keys in three full circles and then tossed them onto the seat of his truck and shut the door. “At least I was until all this mess got started.”
The men with Anderson nodded their heads and those smoking blew clouds from their nostrils.
The driver of the Ram stepped around to the front of his truck.
Dr. Baddour glanced at him and then turned back to Anderson, asking, “To what mess do you refer?”
“This mess right here,” the Ram driver said in a guttural voice and with a jerk of his arm. “You devils taking apart our house of worship to do God-knows-what unholy business in it.”
Big Granny grunted, and Livvy turned to look up at her.
“Don’t need to hear what that Andy Campbell’s saying to know it ain’t good.” Big Granny stopped, then rearranged the overalls in her lap.
Livvy’s eyes lingered on Big Granny for a moment, and then she turned back around.
“Begging your pardon, my friend,” Dr. Baddour said. “Whatever we do is ours to do, as this property is now held by the Muslim Community of Western North Carolina.” He partially extended his arms with hands open and palms up. “But please let me assure you that nothing we do here shall be unholy.”
“Bullshit,” a second Ram man said.
Campbell turned to look at the thin man with greasy, golden brown hair and eyeglasses that were thick-rimmed and thick-lensed.
“Now, Bruce,” he said. “Brother Wallin. Pastor Donald wouldn’t want you to use such language in defending him.”
“And what’s the difference, Andy,” Johnny Anderson said, “between Bruce’s BS and you calling the doctor and these men devils?”
One of the Silverado men huffed.
“And this ain’t about Donald Roy, anyway” he said. “This is about our church, which he’s all but ruined, by the way, along with a bunch of lives.”
“Hey, Gentry,” a third Ram man said. “We know what you think he done, but a bunch of us don’t believe he done it.”
“And even if he done it,” Campbell said, “which I don’t think he done, it don’t ruin him, Rick. All King David done to get hold of Bathsheba didn’t ruin him for God, did it?”
“And you’re still alive,” Bruce Wallin said with a half grin.
“Not dead like Uriah,” the third Ram man said.
“My friends,” Dr. Baddour said, his arms opening again. “Please, let us talk together about why we are here.” He paused a moment. Then, “That is, why you are here.”
The spring hinge on the back door of the farmhouse screeched, and then the door slammed. In a moment, an engine grumbled to life and gravel began to pop under its tires. Big Granny and Livvy watched their old Ford pickup come from out back and nose up to Lonesome Mountain Road, then pull out to the left and chug toward Runion.
“No telling when we’ll see your uncle again,” Big Granny said and sighed.
Big Granny blew another sigh from her nose, and Livvy turned and looked up, brushing away strands of blond hair that had again blown across her face.
“Such acting up,” Big Granny said with a shake of her head.
Just as the sound of the old pickup faded, three cars arrived to join the scene across the road. One up from town pulled into the parking area behind the Silverado just as one down from Lonesome Mountain stopped behind the Ram. The third, also up from town, parked alongside the road, in front of the newly erected signage. From these cars, seven women and a child emerged—two, dark-skinned and black-haired, from the BMW M3 parked in front of the sign; two from the Buick LeSabre behind the Silverado; three and the child, a girl of six or seven years old, from the Ford Taurus behind the Ram. All gravitated toward the closest group of men.
"Assalamualykum, sisters,” Dr. Baddour said to the women who stood on the other side of the sign from him and his work crew.
“Wa Alykum Assalam,” the older of the women said, while the younger modestly bowed.
Dr. Baddour smiled at them just as one of the newly-arrived Taurus women huffed.
“If y’all are gonna talk out loud in my presence,” she said, “talk American.”
“Amen to that, sister Doris,” Andy Campbell and Bruce Wallin said together.
“Sounds like a bunch of jibber-jabber, amen,” Doris said.
“It is a simple greeting,” the stout layer of stone said. “Peace be unto you.”
“I don’t give a flip what it means,” Doris said. “It’s offensive in my hearing.”
The stonemason stared at her through narrowed eyes but said nothing more.
Big Granny blew another sigh from her nose, and Livvy turned and looked up, brushing away strands of blond hair that had again blown across her face.
“Such acting up,” Big Granny said with a shake of her head. “And from them that got every cause to act better.”
Livvy nodded and turned back around. She stretched her bare legs out in front of her, bent and grabbed her toes, held and then released, planted the small feet on the second step below her, planted an elbow on a knee and her chin in her palm.
“Lord, forgive them that think you’d’ve acted thataway,” Big Granny said.
The young girl in the scene playing out across the road stood between Bruce Wallin and one of the Taurus women. She attempted to get the attention of one and then the other, tugging at pantleg and skirt and peering up into their faces—his reddened, hers pale. But Wallin kept his eyes locked on the Muslim men, while her mother seemed trying to see all the faces there but repeatedly glanced with a look like confusion or fear or both at the younger of the two M3 women.
“Muslims live in every county in these mountains,” one of the younger men with Dr. Baddour said with a sweeping gesture of his arm. “We have needed a mosque for our brothers and sisters in Mitchell and Yancy and Haywood. Many of them do not wish to deal with the traffic in Asheville to attend the overcrowded mosque there.”
“Yeah, but this ain’t a mosque,” Johnny Anderson said. “This is a church.”
Dr. Baddour raised a hand.
“In its essence, this is a building,” he said. “Neither Christian nor Islamic.” He paused and looked at the faces surrounding him. “My friends, if I may,” he said with a smile. “Let us begin again.” He pressed his palm against his chest. “For those who do not know, I am Muhammad Baddour, and I am a family physician. Your friend Mr. Johnny Anderson is my patient.” He indicated the stonemason. “And this is Dr. Jamil Salim, who is Professor of Engineering at Runion State University.” With a wave of his hand, he presented the two younger men. “These Nigerian brothers are the twins Moosa and Najeeb Yakubu, university engineering students.” Finally, he extended his arms in front of him as if for an embrace. “These are my wife, Anne, and Dr. Kanta Sidhu, who is a pediatrician in Runion.”
“Molly, be still,” Wallin said without turning away from those caught in the middle of this gathering.
Rick Gentry lurched forward from the passenger side of the Silverado.
“Look, I was here when we dedicated the building,” he said. “Janie and me was both—” He stopped and stood, and his head bowed.
Everybody looked at him for a long moment. A couple of men shifted gravel with the toes of their loafers.
“We were all here,” Anderson said at last. “Seems to me like if it was dedicated to God then it’s got to be undedicated or something before it can be turned into anything that’s not a God-fearing church.”
“And who’s going to do that?” one of the Silverado women said. “Our preacher’s taken all our money and gone off God knows where.”
“Why, he ain’t neither, Rose,” Doris said. “He’s just over in Burnsville.”
“And he’s holding the money as our pastor,” Campbell said. “He’s trying to find us a new place.”
“Do you really believe that, Andy?” Rose said. “Doris Johnson, do you really believe that?”
“I do,” Campbell said.
“I’ve got faith in Pastor Donald,” Doris said.
Rick Gentry looked up at them.
“And is Donald Roy holding my wife over in Burnsville, too?” he said and waited a moment. “And paying her way with the congregation’s money?”
Everybody stared, but nobody moved until Molly broke away from her parents and in three strides stood in front of Dr. Kanta Sidhu, holding the hand her pediatrician had extended at her sudden approach.
“Hey, Dr. K,” Molly said. “Do you know me?”
“Molly, get back here,” Wallin said.
Dr. Sidhu smiled and lowered herself into her skirt until she was at eye level with the girl.
“I know you, Molly, of course,” she said. “But I can hardly believe how much you have grown since your last appointment.”
“I turned six on April the 18th,” Molly said and smiled.
“Well, you look healthy and happy and almost big enough to be seven.”
Molly laughed and drew herself up to her full height.
Everybody watched, but nobody spoke.
“Are you out of school for the summer, Molly?”
“Yes, ma’am, and I was supposed to be in bible school today but they ain’t having it so we’re going fishing when we leave here and fish ’til it’s dark.”
“Molly,” Wallin said, but his daughter seemed not to hear.
“You know, Molly, I have never been fishing,” Dr. Sidhu said.
“Oh, it’s fun! We take a picnic, and I like to splash in the water and try to skip rocks and lots of other things.”
The pediatrician smiled.
“Do you catch many fish?”
Molly stood still for a moment and looked in the direction of the old woman and the girl sitting on the porch across the road.
“Not really, I guess,” she said and turned back to her pediatrician. “But even when I do, I make Daddy let them go.”
“Well, Molly, you be careful and have fun, whether you catch anything or not, okay?”
“And I will see you before school begins again, yes?”
“Very good, Molly,” Dr. Sidhu said and rose. “Many of my children bring me pictures they make in Miss Barnett’s art class. I hope you will bring me one of yours.”
“Oh, I will, Dr. K, I promise!” At that Molly turned and skipped back to where her parents still stood and took each of them by a hand.
“Do you know her?” Big Granny asked, pointing with her chin toward the little family across the road.
Livvy turned and shook her head.
“Well, she’s awful bright and shiny to come from them two,” Big Granny said.
Livvy looked a moment longer and then turned back to the scene across the road.
“We’ve seen miracles right on these premises,” Andy Campbell said.
“Amen,” Doris Johnson said.
“Remember when old Pastor Rash held his revival here?” Campbell said. “How he lit that torch and then petted the flame like it was a kitten?”
“And not a burn,” Rose said.
“Not a burn,” Doris echoed, pushing up her glasses and dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
“Those were blessed days,” Anderson said and turned away from the group gathered in the circular drive and looked down the road toward Runion.
In a moment, a car rolled carefully into the parking area. Then two more arrived and found places. Soon the two dirt-and-gravel lots were full, and cars surrounded the trucks that faced each other in front of the building. More cars lined the roadsides.
The Silverado and Ram people bunched closer together, except for Rick Gentry, who remained apart.
Many of the workers present in the morning now returned with women and children. More arrived besides these and surrounded the group surrounding Dr. Baddour. One lanky, white-turbaned man passed through the throng around the roadside sign, the Ram, and the Silverado and disappeared into the building, leaving the double doors standing open.
“And just what’s going on here?” Doris said. “What are all these people?”
“It is almost time for Asr,” Dr. Baddour said, again spreading his arms as if for an embrace. “Our late afternoon prayer.” He smiled and looked around at the people gathered. “We will not always come at this time in such numbers, but it is our first day here as a congregation.”
“Congregation, my foot,” Doris shrilled. “Congregations are for Christians.” She crossed her arms over her breasts. “This looks more like one of them gang riots, amen.”
Everybody turned to stare at her for a moment.
“Good Lord, Doris,” Rose said. “What’s got into you?”
“What’s got into you, Rose?”
Somewhere inside the building, a man began singing.
Molly’s mother gasped and covered her mouth with her fingers, and Doris Johnson covered her ears with both hands.
“My God, what is that noise?” she said.
“Do not be ridiculous,” Dr. Baddour snapped and stopped, then drew and released a quick breath. “This is our traditional call to prayer, and so, as we are also God-fearing people, we must go.”
The recent arrivals, who’d been standing and listening and glancing at each other, began to flow toward the open doors.
Rose and the second LeSabre woman turned away toward their vehicle.
“Look, y’all,” Anderson said. “We’re just here for our church, and it looks like all we got left of it is to make sure our crosses and such are handled proper.” He rubbed his right cheek with the palm of his hand. “Everything looks on the up-and-up to me.”
“There ain’t no church without Pastor Donald,” Campbell said.
“No church without Pastor Donald,” Doris said.
“Don’t you mean no church without Jesus?” Rick Gentry said.
Doris looked directly at him for a moment and then at Dr. Baddour.
“No church without Pastor Donald.”
Livvy suddenly stood up, and several of those across the road looked in her direction, as if the brightness of her had caught in the corners of their eyes. She stood staring back at them, and the surrounding woods seemed to go quiet.
“Livvy,” Big Granny said.
The girl didn’t turn. Her hair blew across her face, and her toes wriggled.
“Livvy, darling,” Big Granny said. “Just leave them be.”
At this, Livvy turned—eyes narrowed, lips pressed together, chin jutted.
“It’ll be all right, Livvy,” Big Granny said.
After a moment, the girl’s face relaxed, and she turned and again sat down on the step.
Dr. Baddour still stood loose-limbed and lanky in the center, his smile the one bright spot in the withering scene. He motioned the stonemason and the Nigerian twins toward the entrance, where they hovered, watchful, in the double doorway. Then he turned to Rick Gentry.
“Your Jesus, peace and blessings be upon him, brought beautiful messages of loving thy neighbor and welcoming the stranger.”
“Pastor Donald preaches that means love thy American neighbor,” Doris said.
“And welcome the legal stranger,” Campbell added.
“I am sorry for your loss and the pain you feel,” Dr. Baddour said to Gentry. “You are welcome to this mosque at any time.” Then his smile reappeared. “And I’m also accepting new patients.”
With that, he turned, strode to the doorway as his friends went inside. He turned again, and, with the same smile as before at the old woman and girl across Lonesome Mountain Road, closed the doors.
Big Granny chuckled.
“Now that there’s a man,” she said. “I don’t care what.”
Livvy nodded but didn’t turn.
The people in the parking area stood a few moments and stared at the closed doors, not even turning when the LeSabre, its tires grinding and popping across the gravel, backed out onto the blacktop and sped away toward Runion. The sound of it faded, leaving only the returning sounds of birds and bugs and the hum of indecipherable voices from inside the mosque.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Andy Campbell said.
Doris Johnson huffed.
“You gonna turn Arab now, Ricky?” she said, her arms crossed over her breasts again.
“Muslim,” Gentry said.
Johnny Anderson stepped around the front of the Silverado, opened the driver’s door, and raised up on the step bar.
“Gerald and Ray, let’s go,” he said. Then he turned back to the Ram people. “Y’all tell Donald that I’m having Dr. Baddour deliver the church’s stuff to my house. He can come get it there if he’s of a mind to.” He started to duck down into the seat but popped back up. “You coming, Rick?”
“Yeah, I reckon,” Gentry said. He turned toward the Silverado but then kept turning until he’d made a circle and faced the Ram and Taurus people again. “No, wait now. What’s the difference between me turning away from Jesus and going Muslim and y’all turning away from him to worship the likes of Donald Roy?” He then turned again and opened the Silverado’s front passenger door.
“Why, there’s a world of—” Campbell started.
“Ain’t no difference, Andy,” Gentry said and stepped up into the truck. “No difference at all that I can see.”
“Ricky Gentry, you’re gonna burn in hell,” Doris Johnson shrieked. “And I’m just gonna sit up there and laugh.”
“Watch your language, Sister Doris, there’s people praying in yonder,” he said, dropped down into the shotgun seat of the Silverado, and shut the door.
When the Silverado had backed out of the lot and disappeared in the direction of Runion, the remaining members of Donald Roy’s church stood quietly and seemed to look everywhere except at each other.
Finally, Doris Johnson stooped over, picked up a handful of gravel, and threw it at the closed doors of the mosque.
“Doris!” Molly’s mother said.
The hum of voices from inside continued unbroken.
“Pastor Donald is gonna get an earful about these Arabs and Ricky Gentry,” Doris said.
Bruce Wallin awkwardly stooped and picked up Molly.
“Brother Campbell,” he said. “Can you put Harold or Gary in the bed of the truck and give Sisters Doris and Elvira a ride back up the mountain?” He reached out a hand to his wife, and she dropped her ring of keys into it. “We’re gonna take this little girl and get down to the river and try to do some fishing before it gets too dark.”
Big Granny and Livvy sat on the porch and watched the sky change as the sun set over the mountain behind them. They shared a love of the softly fading light and the gentle cooling of the day. The eastern sky had darkened enough to reveal its brightest stars but still remained light enough to silhouette the mountain ridges. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees from its high, and both porch-sitters wore sweaters they’d brought out with them after supper.
“Did you like your fish?”
“With all that talk about fishing this afternoon, I’m glad we had them that your uncle brought home over the weekend.” She folded the overalls she’d finished with the last of the good light and lay them aside. “Too bad he didn’t get none, but that’s just his luck, I reckon.”
Livvy nodded again. She huddled herself forward to warm her arms between torso and thighs. Then she was still, her head turtling up just over her knees to look across the road.
One lone security light, partially blocked by the high limbs of the trees to the left, lit the silent and still mosque and parking area, washing out all the color of the building and sign and stone, the leaves of trees and grass.
The people of the Ram had left only minutes after the Wallins left in the Taurus, and the congregants at the mosque then came out to find themselves alone on the property at last. They’d stood briefly and talked quietly together. And then they’d gone too.
“Livvy, it’s going on 9:30, so let’s go in and close up for the night.” Big Granny picked up the folded overalls and held them in her lap. “After you brush your teeth, you go on up and get in the bed. And be sure to pray that the meanness we seen over yonder today don’t get in your dreams, or you’ll be shaking the whole place.”
Livvy pulled her left arm from under herself and extended it to point toward the darkening eastern horizon.
“What is it?”
The girl didn’t raise up but pulled her right arm free, reached back, and beckoned Big Granny with three quick crooks of her index finger.
“Well, if I get down there, you’ll likely have to help me get back up,” Big Granny said with a grunt as she stood.
Once seated a step below Livvy, Big Granny lay her left forearm along the step behind the girl’s back and leaned so that they were cheek-to-cheek. Before she tried to see what Livvy was showing her, she turned and tenderly kissed the girl’s temple. Then she settled in and looked.
The mosque’s crescent moon rose just above the mountain ridges and hung silhouetted against the dusky blue heavens. It lay on its back above the skyline and seemed as if extending arms to reach for the zenith except that its points turned slightly towards each other. From this vantage point, its arms held a pulsing white star in their silhouette-black embrace.
“Well, ain’t that something,” Big Granny said, then turned to look in the girl’s face. “Reckon what it might mean, Livvy?”