Alice Wendleken sat swaying in her stiff, wicker rocker attempting to read her heavy Bible. She normally liked to read in the morning before the August heat set in, but she’d spent the morning telephoning the ladies at church about the back-to-school bash and charity drive. In fact she’d talked so much that she forgot breakfast, but she figured that doing the Lord’s work required sacrifices. She’d eat a little something after her reading.
Her Read-Through-the-Bible-in-A-Year pamphlet marked today’s reading for “Nahum”, a little three-chaptered book. It should not be taking so long, she scolded herself, but when she read about “burning anger” in verse six, she couldn’t help but notice the melting heat and an uncomfortably large bead of sweat slide down and pool in the underwire of her brassiere.
She scolded herself for even giving it any attention at all, and instantly banished any idea of adjusting her clothes in the public space that was her front porch. She was keenly aware of her porch being in view of Leroy Herdman’s house.
Shrieks and screams echoed from the Herdman lawn as scantily dressed children sprayed each other in the face with a garden hose. Every time Alice tried refocusing on her reading, a new screech pierced the air. Pursing her lips, she placed a hand in her Bible to keep her place and raised her other hand in a wave.
“Show some courtesy, please!” She called, unheard.
She waved more drastically, and one of the children waved back. Scoffing, Alice lowered her hand to her hip. The child, after giving one last good spray to her brother’s behind, handed off the hose to a smaller sister and ran towards Alice Wendleken’s front porch.
“Hi there, Mrs. Alice!” she said, swiping dripping strands of hair from her face.
“Miss Alice,” Alice corrected, mentally concealing the child’s bikini with a towel.
“Whatcha’ reading?” The girl grabbed the white spindles of the porch railing and climbed up, draping her arms over the top.
“The Holy Bible,” Alice said turning her gaze back down to the page to keep herself from counting the immodest ribs of the girl.
“Hey! I was just at Bible camp!”
“Were you?” Alice raised an eyebrow glancing up to see if she were lying.
“I was there all last week!” The girl leaned back and swung herself back and forth with her arms gripping the railing. “We sang campfire songs, and rode horses, and I wasn’t even homesick!”
Alice concluded that the girl might be telling the truth.
“And one night this big kid got to confessing, and then that got everyone to confessing, and we all stayed out at the campfire way past quiet hour and even lights out because people was cryin’ and talkin’ about Jesus! Even the counselors!”
“That’s nice,” Alice said realizing she’d read the same three verses twice.
“And then the rest of the days was different cuz we didn’t care so much about riding horses, we wanted to read some juicy Bible stuff! This one kid took a Bible from the chapel and carried it around circling his favorite parts, and he showed me this one spot where a girl named “Jail” slammed a tent spike clear through a bad guy’s head into the ground!”
With raving enthusiasm, she sprang forward and water from her flailing hair dripped onto the opening pages of Nahum. Alice dabbed the spots with her hand. She wasn’t surprised the Herdman girl was so enthralled with biblical violence.
“I hope someone told you,” Alice began, “That good Christian women are not supposed to drive anything through anybody’s head!”
“And there was this other lady,” the girl continued, paying no heed to Alice’s remark, “Who cheated on her husband and all these guys was gonna throw rocks at her to death! But then Jesus swooped in and was like, ‘Hey! If any of you never done sinned in your life, then you can throw the first rock!’ but everybody dropped their rocks and left Jesus and the lady so she didn’t get killed – but Jesus was the real one who coulda’ throwed a rock at her cuz he never done sinned! But he was like, ‘where’d they all go?’ and she was like ‘hell, if I know’ -”
“She did NOT say that!” Alice interjected, unable to contain herself.
“Well, she said somethin’ and Jesus was like, ‘I’m not gonna throw a rock, so go on and don’t do it again.’”
Alice began flipping pages to reach the New Testament and find the exact wording of the passage. Sweat beaded on her forehead and a headache thrummed the base of her neck, but she had a suspicion of it’s cause.
“I never really knowed before how nice Jesus is! Of course he’s a baby at Christmas and then dies for our sins at Easter and walks out again, but he was a really nice guy! He didn’t like them fussy churchy people -”
“What ‘fussy churchy people’?” Alice looked up and wiped her brow.
“Them ‘fair-seas’! They wasn’t taking care of their moms and dads and Jesus called them out! They wasn’t kind to poor people neither, and they wanted to chuck rocks at that cheating lady! Course what she done weren’t right, but they weren’t right neither!”
Alice’s head felt heavy and light at the same time. She reached for her drinking glass, but it was empty.
“I’m going in for some lemonade,” she stood and the edges of her vision stung with paint strokes of black.
“I’d love some lemonade!”
Alice thought of protesting the self-inviting wet feet on her carpet, but gripping the door handle was a more pressing matter as the illusive knob was hard to locate. If she just closed her eyes a moment, she figured her head might stop throbbing.
Those distant squeals and shrieks returned through clouded noise, mingled with barked orders.
“Joany, get a wet rag! Harold, call 911! Mrs. Alice is dyin’!”
Cold water dripped on Alice’s upturned face and a wet cloth covered her forehead. Her eyelashes batted open as if peeling back molasses.
“She ain’t dead!” A little girl squealed.
“Shut up, Joany! Don’t scream her ear off!”
The cloth dabbed at Alice’s forehead. The girl in the bikini kneeled on the floor beside her patient.
“You dying, Mrs. Alice?”
Alice cleared her throat. “I think I fainted…low blood sugar.”
“Joany,” she barked, “Get some lemonade! You musta’ fainted alright, Mrs. Alice. You fell right over!”
The boy hollered from the kitchen, “Whaddo’ I tell the cops if she ain’t dying?”
“They still gotta check up on her, Dip Wad!” She turned on her sister, “Not that glass she dropped on the floor! Get a new one.”
A chill replaced the heat in Alice’s body, but she began to sit up.
“Take it easy, Mrs. Alice!” She removed the wet cloth and helped her sit against the wall.
“Here’s your lemonade!” The smaller girl offered the glass, her arm still wet from the hose water.
Lemonade had never tasted so good.
“Ambulance should be here soon,” the boy said coming in from the kitchen.
“Thanks, Harold. Go get Dad and tell him what happened.”
The boy whizzed past, water dripping from his swim trunks.
“I’ll stay right here with you. And I’ll ask Dad if we can go along to the hospital so you won’t be all by yourself.”
The small girl sat beside her sister on the floor.
“We thought you was dead!”
“She’d a seen Jesus, right Joany?” She put her arm around her little sister.
“Cuz she’s a Christian, like us!”
Alice smiled finishing her lemonade. Without prompting, the glass was whisked away for a refill.
I suppose I have seen Jesus, Alice thought wistfully as she looked into the smiling eyes across from her and laid down her stone.