Saturday, May 11, 2019
Brother Love composite by Teagan R. Geneviene
Welcome back to the crossroads everyone!
I should probably begin with a disclaimer. This story is not about religion, nor is it a social commentary — that’s just part of the setting. I also want you to understand that I approach this aspect of the story carefully. While the story includes ways that I knew well and was involved in as a child, as an adult I acquired my own unique spirituality.
That said, last time in A Shadow, now you learned some of the backstory for the Doug Armstrong character. Today I wanted to tell you how his character came to be.
You already know that Dan Antion provides photos to inspire me and illustrate this story — and that he gives me two of the “three things” that drive each episode of this unplanned serial. Shortly after I asked Dan to collaborate with me, we had a conversation about the Brother Love preacher of the Neil Diamond song.
Dan told me about an evangelist who made an unforgettable impact on him as a young man. The preacher had a past. Well, that didn’t fit with my idea of the title character. However, that preacher inspired my “partner in crime” so I wanted to use it somehow.
Church reflected in the river, by Dan Antion
Our discussion reminded me of a visiting preacher I encountered as a little girl. He was youngish, and a little doughy, with a ruddy complexion. He was also a very large, long legged guy. The man would preach so hard that sweat just rolled off him. He always had a big white handkerchief to mop his face. Then when he really got excited, he would go to the back of the church and run across the tops of the pews, sometimes even skipping one, to the front, as the congregation shouted praise!
The Doug Armstrong character is inspired by a combination of the evangelist with a checkered past who made such an impression on Dan, and this astonishing figure from my childhood. One day soon, at his blog, No Facilities, Dan will do his own post about his inspiration.
For Chapter 3, the “things” from Dan are Fog and Fox. The third thing is one Olga Núñez Miret suggested, “Hymnal.”
Fog, by Dan Antion
It’s time to go to the crossroads.
Chapter 2. Doug Armstrong stopped at Birdie Devovo’s house at the crossroads moments after the lights went out. He said he saw someone moving around on the porch. Birdie certainly thought someone was inside. Yet, was it odd that Doug should be there at that specific moment? Was it random chance? Or did it happen by design? If so, then whose design?
3 — A Hymn
Fog, Fox, and Hymnal
Rusted old tractor, photo by Dan Antion
Jinx soared along a current of air. Dawn’s light touched his feathers, making the magpie seem to glow. Watching fog roll into a low area, he knew it would be another hot, humid day.
He alighted on the rusted out remains of an old tractor. Keen eyes watched for the first morsel of the morning, a beetle, maybe a caterpillar.
Then he heard a guitar. The sound came from the graveyard. All thoughts of the insect forgotten, he flew toward the music. Jinx loved blues that much.
He perched tentatively on a spruce-pine branch. Dawn’s light had yet to penetrate the fog to illumine the cemetery. In the shadows below, he could make out a dark figure, sitting on a tombstone. Long fingers reached intricate, but deeply mournful chords.
A single ray of light found a way through branches and fog to reflect on the polished surface of the guitar. Coal-black eyes looked up at Jinx. The musician winked.
“Here, there ain’t nobody going to care how bad you are,” he said with a motion of one hand to include the graveyard. “So, go ahead and sing along. I know you could if you wanted to.”
He shifted on his tombstone seat and strummed an upbeat tune.
Jinx swooped down to roost on the gravestone opposite the musician.
With a grin, he looked at the magpie. His dark eyes never went to the frets or strings of the instrument as he played. It was as if the guitar was part of him. Then he started to sing.
“Hot tamales and they’re red hot. Yeah, she got ’em for sale, hey. Hot tamales and they’re red hot. Oh, she got ’em for sale…”
Morning light streamed through the kitchen window. Motes floated along the sunbeam paths.
There’s nothing like sunshine to shake off a bad night, I thought, as I poured the last drop of Maxwell House into my coffee cup.
A pecking sound at the window caused me to turn. I opened the window and the magpie flew across the room to roost on the open door of the birdcage.
“I thought something happened to you, Jinx. I haven’t seen you in weeks,” I admonished the bird as if he could understand me.
Vintage birdcage, by Dan Antion
There had always been a magpie. My mother said his name was Jinx. She said her mother gave him to her.
Jinx came and went as he pleased. Now and then he would disappear for a while, sometimes weeks or months. Once he was gone for more than a year.
I knew magpies weren’t usually found in Mississippi. I also knew it couldn’t be the same bird every time he came back. The magpie would have been more than sixty years old if that was the case. Yet he was always named Jinx.
A strawberry was leftover on my breakfast plate. I saw Jinx eye it, so I gave him the berry. He started the random noises that he usually made before trying to sing. I figured he was pretty happy.
“Are you washed in the blood? Soul cleansing blood of the lamb,” Jinx sang.
“Where did you learn that song?” I asked in surprise, as if he could tell me.
I remembered it from the old church hymnal. It was probably my least favorite hymn.
Pages of a Methodist hymnal, by Dan Antion
“But it’s better than the sound of hound dogs chasin’ down a hoodoo,” I muttered aloud.
A chorus of distant baying met my ears. I got up to close the window and shut out the unpleasant sound. The dogs probably thought they smelled a fox. However, sometimes I thought the hounds just imagined it for an excuse to bark.
“Hoodoo washed in the blood,” Jinx sang, mixing up the words.
“Maybe you should go back outside, Jinx,” I commented dryly.
The magpie flew to perch on the windowsill.
“All right, Jinx. In or out. What’ll it be? I’m going to close this window.”
The magpie leaned out and looked toward the old road that ran behind my house. Curious, I leaned as well, when I saw a Ford headed our way, on the seldom traveled road.
It was unusual enough for anyone to take the back road, but that was also a relatively new car. Most folks in Parliament, Mississippi couldn’t afford late model automobiles.
The car slowed and pulled into the gravel driveway. A woman stepped out of the car. She looked ordinary enough. Her hair was short, curly, with thick bangs. She walked toward the house, waving when she saw me at the window.
I went outside to see what made her stop. Then I saw a little girl inside the Ford. The child seemed to be struggling to get out of the car.
Fox, photo by Dan Antion
“Tammy, now I told you to stay in the car. We can’t be bothering this lady,” the woman called over her shoulder. “Thank goodness for seat-belts. I nearly ran off the road when a fox ran out in front of me while ago,” she told me. “Thank heaven and safety belts, Tammy wasn’t hurt.”
That situation seemed odd. Not all cars had safety belts, and when they did, most people cut the uncomfortable things out and threw them away.
Jinx flew to the Ford and perched on the side mirror. The girl trilled with delight. The magpie stayed just out of her reach.
When the woman saw them, she screamed and ran toward the car. Jinx made haste up into the branches of the magnolia tree.
“He wouldn’t hurt her,” I called as I ran behind the woman. “He’s tame!”
“Where did he go?” the girl asked excitedly. “He talks. He’s a talking bird!”
“I’m sorry,” the woman apologized for her panic. “Tammy is a free bleeder. The least scratch and… Anyhow, I’m sorry to trouble you, but I’ve made a wrong turn. We’re trying to get to a revival meeting near Parliament, Mississippi.”
Hemophilia, I thought. That would make any parent nervous. I wonder if that’s her mother though. They don’t seem to look much alike.
Tammy obligingly held out a copy of the same mimeographed flyer that was left on my door. Inside the car I noticed the back seat filled with pillows and blankets, a drink box and other things.
Antique globe showing the Mississippi Delta, by Dan Antion
I walked beside the woman when she went to open the car’s trunk. She extracted a stuffed animal and handed it to Tammy. I looked down at the license plate. I didn’t recognize the county name, but I never did know much about the world beyond my home.
“You came a long way just for a revival service,” I remarked.
The woman looked at me with desperation in her eyes.
“They say Brother Love has healing hands. Last year Tammy got hurt at school. She nearly died from a cut that wouldn’t have needed more than a Band-Aid for another child. The hospital bills took everything we had. But I couldn’t sell the car for one without seat-belts. I just couldn’t take the chance,” the woman explained through a nervous smile.
I was pretty sure those two were on their own, without much help from anyone else. I certainly knew what that was like. So, I invited them to come into the house for something cooling to drink.
Birdie Devovo’s house as imagined by Dan Antion
“Do you have any hot tamales? They’re red hot!” Tammy asked a whimsical seeming question of which only a small child would think.
I laughed in surprise.
“What?” the woman turned to the child and asked. “Honestly I don’t know where she gets these things. She doesn’t even know what a tamale is.
Maybe Tammy could have seen into the kitchen window. She looked at the house and then at me.
“I like July better than August too,” she told me.
The woman had the restless expression of someone who wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else. I had seen the look in my mother’s eyes all too often. I wasn’t surprised when she declined my offer of refreshments.
Ready to Travel, by Dan Antion
I wondered if they had the same PanAm calendar that hung on my kitchen wall. How else would Tammy come up with that comment about July and August?
As the Ford got back on the road, I looked toward my kitchen window. The calendar wasn’t visible from the spot where the car had been.
From the branches of the magnolia tree, Jinx started singing Washed in the Blood again.
The sound of the Ford’s engine faded into the distance. I liked the July calendar better than August, but how could the child know?
I had an uncomfortable feeling that I couldn’t quite describe. It was making me irritable.
“For pity’s sake, Jinx. Sing something else,” I said.
“Hot tamales and they’re red hot. Oh, she got ’em for sale,” the magpie sang.
End Chapter 3.
I gave Dan the added challenge of choosing just the right image for Birdie’s house. It needed to reflect the location, Birdie’s status, and her economic level. Plus, since I had already mentioned her porch and screen door, that needed to be included. Dan really rose to the challenge. He did a fantastic job with the yellow house image you saw above. Kudos, Dan!
Here’s Dan’s Thursday Doors post about Birdie’s house.
Real World Notes — A Hoodoo
When used as “a hoodoo,” in this story the term does not mean a religion or practice. “Chasing down a hoodoo” was a phrase John Fogerty used when he wrote the song Born on the Bayou. Fogerty said, “(A) Hoodoo is a magical, mystical, spiritual, non-defined apparition, like a ghost or a shadow, not necessarily evil, but certainly other-worldly.”
Heartfelt thanks for reading Brother Love! If you want to participate by leaving a “thing” to be included in a future episode, please make a comment. Remember this is a mysterious story, set in rural Mississippi of the late 1950s to early 1960s.
I’ll meet you at the crossroads again next Saturday! Hugs on the wing.
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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