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Fiction #364
(published January 10, 2008)
Can I Get An Amen?
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
We were all expectin' Verna Mae to fall out at that baby's funeral. What we weren't expectin' was for Big Joe to show up. For there to be a fight right there 'fore that child laid out so pretty. And we certainly weren't 'spectin' someone else dead by noon and another funeral we'd be plannin.'


'Lord a mercy,' I'd thought as I stumbled through the early mornin.' I had to get William his breakfast, pack his lunch. There was two baskets of clothes I needed to get to Miz Wilson 'fore her family took to walkin' the streets naked. And I still needed to press my hair, besides.

First was gettin' William out the door. I called him to the table, had some eggs scrambled and the last slab of ham fried by the time he come in.

"I was hopin' for some grits," he said, pullin' out his chair.

"Ain't watchin' no water boil this mornin', William Turner. Got more to do than I got time. So you just keep your mouth busy eatin' those eggs."

Lord, was I happy when he did just that.

I opened the icebox. I let the Lord know that I wan't needin' no fish; a couple slices baloney would do. I waited. I closed the icebox. I decided to steal a few pieces of the fried chicken I was takin' to the church for the supper after the service. There were three slices of bread in the box and though I thought they were stale, I wrapped them in a napkin, then tucked them and the drumsticks in a bag and set it on the table by Willliam.

"Look like I'll be havin' a quick lunch."

"I'll bring you a plate from the service."

"Some greens would be nice," he said and I promised I'd bring some. Collard, if they had 'em.

"And some pig's feet. Cornbread. Potato salad, if they got it."

I put my hands on my hips and stared at him. "Now, I can't be goin' through the church kitchen doin' no grocery shoppin'."

William just shrugged. "Ask and you shall receive."

"That is blasphemy, William Turner," I scolded, though I had to smile. My William is a heathen who don't never go to church, but Lord knows I love him like the Devil. I was hopin' he'd go with me, him bein' some distant cousin of Verna Mae's, but he said it was only his dead body that'd ever be inside a church. "You better get goin' 'fore I give you somethin' you sho didn't ask for."

William stood and scooped up the bag. "If I ask for some sugar, I'm gonna get it?"

"You sho will. Somethin' more if we had time."

"But you got mo' things than you got time," he said, grinnin' and pressin' his lips against mine. He went out the door and left me with those dishes, Miz Wilson's dirty drawers, my nappy head and that baby child waitin' on her trip to Heaven.


Reverend Kimball tol' Verna Mae to cry till her heart felt refreshed. "The sadness will pass, Sister. Trust the Lord and cry tears of joy cause your child has gone home . . . Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?"

The deacons try to pry Verna Mae from the coffin and I wondered how quick we might get that baby in the ground. My belly was grumblin' so.

Amen, I murmured.

Just when I thought the Reverend was windin' down, the church doors flew open. The congregation turned and watched as a dark figure stepped in from the sunlight streamin'.

There were some gasps and whispers as Big Joe made his way down the aisle and stood right in front of that baby's box.

"Fool, you need to go! " Verna Mae hollered. "You ain't got no right to be here!"

"Got as much right as you," he tol' her.

Someone behind me popped her lips.

Verna Mae reminded him that he'd left.

For a harlot, somebody said.

"I left you, not her."

Verna Mae's tongue and fingers went on waggin'. I wondered who would be the first to go upside the other's head.

Reverend Kimball shook his head. "Joseph, you just turn around, Son. Turn and go."

"She my child."

"She may been born of your seed, but she's got no need of an earthly father now."

Big Joe stood there.

"You are wayward and coursed in the deeds of Satan. A prodigal child, but Boy, there ain't no 'welcome home' for you here."

Big Joe didn't budge.

Reverend Kimball sighed. He slammed his hands against the pulpit. "There are many a room in the Lord's House, but there is no room for defiance!" He brought out his pistol, aimed it at his oldest boy and pulled the trigger.

Big Joe fell with a thud in front of the pews.

"A child shall honor his mother and his father, saith the Lord, so that his days on this earth may be many. Days for Joseph have been cut short, as the Lord hath commanded. Can I get an amen?"

I didn't think my mouth would work, but it obliged the Reverend.

"Amen," I said.

This piece first appeared in the online journal Chaotic Dreams.

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