“Fucker!” Floyd yelped loudly when the car door grazed his calf as Annie opened it.
“Oh, I’m sorry, hon!”
“The fuck you are.” Floyd slapped the door and instead of offering his hand to help her out of the car, spun on his heels, and headed toward the church.
Annie took a deep breath, pursed her lips. Floyd is sensitive about his leg, she told herself. It ain’t you. He would have sounded off at anyone. She collected her purse and swung herself around in the seat, grabbed the handle with one hand, and heaved herself out.
Floyd was maybe twenty feet away and had stopped, took out a cigarette, and lit it.
“Hon,” Annie said, “can’t you wait til after? You know I hate when they can smell it on you.”
“To hell with them. Either the good lord is the good lord of tobacco too or he ain’t the good goddamn lord at all.”
Annie walked toward him. “Please.”
“You drug the damn door right across my leg! It hurt and now I need to calm down before I sit in there for two hours listening to bullshit.”
Church was, for Floyd, either “bullshit” or “snake oil,” depending on his mood. When he’d had a few beers he became philosophical and described religion as “more about feeding the preacher’s pocket than feeding my soul.” When he was in a miserable mood it was just “so much bullshit to keep us from having any goddamn fun.”
Ten days earlier, Floyd had been at the gas plant when he stumbled and fell on a catwalk, causing his left leg to be pressed against a generator exhaust pipe. His leg had been burnt enough that he was sent to the emergency room and had to talk to a company lawyer who gave him two days off, paid. Since then, Floyd had walked with a little limp and complained about the pain. He wouldn’t sleep with the sheet on his leg, and groaned when he put his pants on, saying the fabric itself felt like sandpaper on the burn.
Annie had been patient, of course, as always. She kept the dog from jumping on him, made cold compresses for him every morning when he got home. She made his follow-up appointments and went to the pharmacy for his various medicines on her lunch break, or after her shift, if the diner happened to be busy. She took care of him, like she always had, and all she asked was for him to go to church with her without complaint. She’d been raised in the church. It was important to her. And, she often had to remind him, if she was important to him then he’d go without complaint.
But his leg was burnt. Not deeply, but it had been terribly red for a few days after the incident, so she was willing, always, to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The accident had happened on a Thursday, so of course she had stayed home with him that first Sunday. Last night she had asked if he was well enough to attend services the next morning and he’d said that he might be. It had taken some urging but he did finally get dressed this morning and say, “Well, guess I’m going.”
Floyd flicked his cigarette to the ground as they walked toward the door. As was the custom, Pastor Edgar stood at the door greeting each member as they arrived.
“Floyd and Mrs. Turner. So very glad to see you here this morning.” He took Annie’s hand in both of his. “Sorry you missed Sunday School, of course, but I understand you’ve had your hands full taking care of your husband?”
Floyd cleared his throat. “Yeah, she’s had to watch me hobble around a bit.”
Annie smiled. “Oh, you know Floyd. He’s strong as a bull and twice as ornery!”
Pastor Edgar laughed and Floyd said, “Well, I guess we better get in there. Don’t wanna miss the show.”
They began making their way through the crowded foyer. Channel Methodist wasn’t a large congregation, but the building, built some thirty years earlier, was now too small to comfortably handle the flock.
As they walked through, Annie saw a child running toward Floyd. Before she could warn him, the kid barreled into Floyd’s leg. She screwed her face up, hoping to get there before Floyd let out a holler, or worse, said something to the little boy, but Floyd didn’t seem to notice. Annie was confused.
When they found a pew, Floyd started a conversation with Gary Miller and Annie reached for a hymn book on the backside of the pew ahead of them. She made sure it bumped Floyd’s leg, right where he’d set the cold compress the night before—all the while complaining that she’d sure taken her sweet time while he’d sat there in agony.
Annie considered all this as the announcements were made. She wrestled with what to do as the choir sang hymns 38, 232, and verses 1, 2, 3, and 5 of hymn 166. As Pastor Edgar began his sermon, titled “What Are We to Do?” Annie considered the man next to her, who had fallen asleep, sometime between verse 5 of Hymn 166 and the reading of the day, the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 3, verses 1-18.
As they exited, again Pastor Edgar stood by, shaking hands and politely refusing offers for dinner.
Annie extended her hand and her offer of a casserole dinner, as the moment demanded, and then, after Pastor Edgar assured her that he had a dinner engagement at his mother’s in a few hours, Annie said, “Pastor, Floyd was wondering if you might pray over his leg. That it be healed.”
“Do what now?” Floyd, unlit cigarette in his hand, seemed to sway backwards as if a strong wind had caught him.
“Pray over his leg?” It was obvious that Pastor Edgar was equally unprepared.
“Yes,” Annie continued. “It’s been ten days, and it still hurts him terribly.”
“Now, Annie,” Floyd said, “no cause for that.”
“Why on earth not, hon?”
Pastor Edgar swallowed hard, his discomfort apparent. This sort of thing was uncommon, Annie knew. She’d never asked or even seen a congregant actually ask Pastor Edgar to pray over someone. Still, he was a man of God and, while he was no Pentecostal snake-handler, his job was to pray. Annie smiled and held his gaze until he turned to Floyd. “I could say a few words, if you’d like.”
“I think that would be good, Floyd.”
“Well I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Oh, I’m sure it isn’t a bother, is it Pastor?”
“Well, no, of course not.”
Annie looked at Floyd. He was pale and small looking. The unlit cigarette still held between his fingers, his lips quivered. Annie knew there were few things Floyd hated more than bowing his head to anyone or anything, the Lord included. On any other occasion, he would have balked, refused, and walked away. But Annie had maneuvered herself and the Pastor into his way, with folks behind Floyd, staring, wondering why the Turners were taking so long to say their goodbyes. Floyd’s face was now red with embarrassment and Annie knew that was the only thing he hated more than praying.
“Bow your head, hon.”
Pastor Edgar proceeded to ask the Lord for His healing mercies, and that a hedge of protection be placed around the Turner household.
“Amen,” he finished.
“Amen,” Annie replied.
As they walked back to the car, Floyd was quiet. He started around the car to his door when he noticed Annie standing at hers, staring at him. He paused then came back to her side, opening the door for her.
“Thank you, hon,” she said, and got in. Floyd went back to the driver’s side and sat behind the wheel. He hesitated with the key, and stared straight ahead. Annie took the rearview mirror, turned it, and checked her hair.
“I think I’d like you to take me out this evening, Floyd. There’s a new seafood place up in Jacinto City that Pam told me about.” With that she sat back and began pulling a cigarette out of the pack she’d left on the dashboard. “Could you light me up, hon?”
Floyd looked out the way an animal at the zoo looks out of a cage. He reached into his breast pocket, produced a lighter, and turned to her.
“Course,” he said.
Travis Cravey is a high school maintenance man in Southeastern Pennsylvania. His first collection, Manifold, was published by Emerge Literary Journal in August 2021. Honestly, he seems like a pretty good guy.
Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson