32)   Saturday the Eighteenth, 8:00 AM – “Church!”


Twenty minutes earlier, and a few miles south of One World Mall, General Westmoreland Soames… in sober, dark suit and tie… had escorted Miz Lottie up the steps of Mt. Zion Baptist, guiding her into an empty seat as the kids followed; Earline pushing Trevor in a stroller.  (Uncle Raoul remained notably absent and, if any of his customers present took notice, and held Westy accountable, the sobriety of the occasion dictated that they hold their tongues).  The inside of the church was as dank as the early morning sky outside… a closed coffin reposed on the altar as an agitated Reverend Godwin conferred with numerous equally agitated trespassers and Earline and Tyesha found friends in the next row.

          “See, we’re not late…” Westy favoured his auntie with a smile.

       Lottie pointed.  “That Swee’Pea?”

          “No, Mama… it’s an empty coffin.  I told you… Maryland government’s holding up the body for its ‘vestigation.  Symbolic,” he pointed.  “For all the people dyin’ in Nakonset Park…”

          “Po-lice too?” Miz Lottie snapped.

          “Not sure about that.”

          Meanwhile, Tyesha told Bettie, a classmate in cornrows and gaudy, yellow dress, “I heard thirty-one killed, an’ nine police…”

          “I heard fifty, don’t know ‘bout any muhfuckinpo-po…” Betty shot back.

          “Shush up, you,” Miz Lottie leaned over to slap Ty on the side of her head.  “This is the house of God…

          “It’s Saturday…” Earline protested…

          “I know it’s a Saturday,  I’m missin’ Good Morning… well, I s’pose not,” the matriarch suddenly remembered that other problem, “…but shush up, cause Reverend Godwin’s gonna testify…”

          The well-wishers and intruders driven from his altar, Ellsworth Godwin approached the pulpit for what, he knew, would be the most important oration of his life.

          “Brothers and sisters, dearly beloved in Christ… I stand before you, a man humiliated, ashamed, remorseful to the very marrow of my soul.  Last night, I was responsible… in part… for leading so many in our community, some of you even here, this morning… into the valley of the shadow of death…”

          A man still in a bloody suit jacket, an equally soiled rag around his head, stood up and cried out incoherently… evoking a dissonant response of “Amens” and “Right-ons” but, also, demands to sit down and shut up…

          “It… it warn’t your fault, Rev’ren, it w-was them puhpo-lice!” he stuttered.

          Ellsworth Godwin allowed the din to subside, offering up a silent thanks to God.  “Thank you, sir…” he added, “but I cannot let myself off nearly so easily.  I saw injustice but what I really saw was like… like an iceberg of injustice, only the tip showing of that iceberg, like that ice which drowned all those people on the ship Titanic…

          He paused, and more of the congregation began shouting out from the pews…

          “You didn’t know that the police had planned to murder all… how many, I heard sixty of us…”

          “The police didn’t know that those damn gangbangers were usin’ the park to settle their scores       and get innocent people in the way…”

          “What do that boy in that coffin have to do wit’ the police, or the Nation?”

After Miz Lottie herself stood up, crying “Praise the Lord!” Godwin raised his hands for order, and found it.  “Alright… alright!  First of all, I have to clear up a few of these here details, with so many wild stories n’ rumors flyin’, I can’t say for each of us here what the next course of action is to be, only that let it be based upon God’s truth, and not the Devil’s lies and rumors.  This coffin is empty, by the way, the… the authorities have not yet chosen to release young Master Tarleton’s remains to the family, that’s his grandfather, Eb Tarleton over there…”

Eb was, indeed, the boy’s grandfather so, dressed in his workman’s clothes and holding his hat, he stood up, humbly, and declared: “That’s God’s truth…”

“Secondly,” Reverend Godwin pointed out, “I want to mention that it was only six people, six members of our community who died last night, not thirty or sixty but six… well, there’s two more critically wounded, so we’ll see about that.   One policeman dead, not twelve…”

And an unseen voice at the back of the church cried out “Shee-it!”

“There’s still about thirty folks locked up just for being present… I wasn’t arrested, I might add, nor Councilman Higgins, who never even got to speak but has been working all night on getting some accountability for this incident, not even Maryland State Senator Ray Werbele, who is with us this mornin’…”

Heads swiveled towards the only white person in the church – out of habit, perhaps, the politician couldn’t help half-rising out of the far corner of his front-row pew, turning and giving a freaky little wave…

“I mention this to be fair, but also… perhaps especially at this time… to impress upon all of us the importance of fair and accurate communications.  This morning, we are a community cut off from the world outside… we and others like us.  Twenty million, thirty million, even more?  Fifty?  Now I’d be the last person to defend the content of much of which oozes out of our television sets or did, for some of us, until last Thursday night but, in what seems an ever-worsening, Godless world of trash and violence, at least there was a pretense of inclusion.  We could learn what was occurring in the world around us… right over there, in Washington,” he pointed, “but also in New York and Memphis, in England and in Russia, Syria.  Maybe not the whole truth, but some of it…”

          And somebody else shouted “No more!”

“Exactly!  No more.  Now this didn’t all-of-a-sudden jump up a day or two back, we had warning… years of warning in fact… but these implications came all wrapped in pretty ribbons of prophecy, toadstools wrapped in bacon.  World be moving faster every year, man who used to walk riding the horses, then the car, then airplanes, rocketships… the computers getting’ smaller, smaller while them home televisions getting bigger; we’d be able to count hairs in the President’s nose – see the dirt and chalk on a football as it was being snapped, the sweat runnin’ down the faces of athletes, tears from those as that English person kicked off American Icon.  Hallelujah!  Well, that is now, if we happen to have a few thousand dollars lyin’ ‘round.  Or pay the satellite and cable companies their pound of flesh to see what they want us to see, not what we want…”

          The girl in cornrows turned towards Tyesha…

“We got a deal with the H-B-A… well, for sixty days, at least… all that moddy def TV an’ some of those movie stations too…”

Miz Lottie, choosing to disremember her own outbursts, raised a fist, and whispered “Din’t yo mamma teach you any manners?”

“Her momma in prison, down in Flor’da…” Tyesha defended Bettie… in no small part because she was hoping to cop some invites to watch those fancy cable stations…

          “Don’t matter,” Miz Lottie raised her voice.  “Now shush up…”

Reverend Godwin placed his left hand on the empty coffin.  “So it has come to this.  We saw the lie and called it for the lie it was, but we… I, Ellsworth Godwin, personally… failed to understand what lengths those people, out there, would go to, just to keep the lie alive and people in the dark.  That that is what we, as a society, have fallen to, and I am just as responsible for this empty coffin here as were the police who fired the shots, the politicians… from President Rivers on down, and including the Democrats, too… politicians who cut deals with all those business-men the in places we can’t touch, can’t even see… who ordered this about, made all of this come into being, years ago and miles away.”

          He paused, Mt. Zion fallen silent…

“So I am not going to let Swee’Pea Tarleton, nor the other five dead, nor those beaten down or jailed or oppressed rest in peace.  Let there be no respite for the Devil, nor for the Devil’s own!…

          And the Soames matriarch stood up, straight, crying “Hallelujah!

“Thank you, Lottie,” said Godwin.  “Thank you all, for coming out here on such a gray, miserable morning, on so little notice.  Be assured… redemption begins tonight… this very evening after we have laid this boy to rest and enter Paradise!  I know that Councilman Higgins and other fine gentlemen have been working very hard on this tragic matter, but I must say to them… too… I will not be silenced.  And if the price of breaking silence is death, then let God call me to be first to fall into his Heavenly embrace.  I am returning to Nakonset Park tonight… despite the City’s order, despite the National Guard called out, by the way, by a President in office illegally, against the Constitution and against God.  Know that, if you join me, there is a chance… a terrible chance… that you will not see tomorrow’s dawn.”  His voice dropped, ominously.  “I could also say that you might also miss the game, but well, that’s a given, under any circumstances.  I will return, and I will lead the community in marching through the Valley to that office of the FCC at sundown tonight and lay my petition at their door…”

And, now, more parishioners began to praise Jesus and shout…            

“We’ll be with you!”

          “We’re coming…”

“We’re ready to die…”

And Westy leaned over to Miz Lottie saying…

“Guess he’s a brave man after all…”

And Miz Lottie turned, replying…

“His Paradise is just like that other burnt-out place in California wit’ the same name, and he’s just another God-damn fool!”





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