by William L. Alton
Growing up, we believed in magic. We didn’t call it magic. Magic was for Satanists. We called it faith.
In the summer, Pastor Foster rented a tent. He set it up in a field beyond Diary Creek. A big tent. Circus sized. Red and blue. Double spires on long poles. A stage at one end. Rows and rows of metal chairs. People came from all over. Hill folk and town folk. City folk too. From Claremore and Tulsa. Joplin even. The faithful and the true believers. Atheists and agnostics. The sinful and the curious. Some people only came for the show. The flash and the bang. It was something new. A distraction. A way to pass the empty, humid evening.
It was a carnival of noise and motion. Pastor Foster shouted and hopped around in white robes. People danced. Hands in the air. Pastor Foster called out names. Crippled people. Sick people. Sinners. Folks suffering from madness. Addiction. Men who beat their wives. Lusty boys who spent too much time in bathrooms. Girls who led men astray.
Aunt Faye took me because I was probably going to hell and because I probably deserved it. I was a bastard. I thought sinful thoughts. I thought about boys and I thought about girls. I sinned and lied about my sins. I was unforgiven. Pastor Foster asked if I rejected Satan. I did. He asked if Jesus was welcome in my heart. He was. He asked if I truly desired salvation. I did. He laid on his sweaty, hot hands. I felt sick.
We believed in Granny Woman. The maker of medicine. She knew the secrets of herbs and barks. Of root and stem and leaf. She made tinctures and infusions for insomnia and depression. For indigestion and headaches and sour throats. She made lotions and salves for rashes and burns.
We didn’t trust doctors or hospitals. Why pay a stranger in the city good money for things we could get from Granny Woman for less? Granny Woman knew how to draw out infection with milk and bread or Slippery Elm. She knew that copper eased arthritis. She knew to buy warts for pennies. Bodark pushed fevers away.
Because we believed in the immortal soul and the forgiveness of sins, Granny Woman cared for both the living and the dead. After Aunt Faye died, Grandma and Big Betty laid her body out in her parlor. They dressed her in her red dress. They called in Granny Woman and gave her bread and wine in a wooden cup. Granny Woman sat in the corner, eating Faye’s sins, sending her on from wandering the earth, saving her from hell. A kind of salvation. Last minute and needed.
We believed in the supernatural. Angels and haints. Nights moved with the dead and the lost. At dawn, roosters called ghosts back to their world. We kept the dead for three days. Just in case. So, they could find their way to heaven. Whenever we walked by the graveyard, we whispered, hoping the departed would leave us be.
We believed because the world was big and death was scary. We believed because things could change without warning or care. We believed because it was all we had.
William L. Alton started writing in the Eighties. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published several books. One collection of flash fiction, Girls, two collections of poetry titled Heroes of Silence and Heat Washes Through, a memoir titled My Name is Bill and three novels: Flesh and Bone, Comfortable Madness, and The Tragedy of Being Happy. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.