As God Bid
She was sitting two pews in front of me in church on Sunday, and I could
hardly hear the preacher, I was so distracted. At first I thought, how could someone
have God in them and be so attractive like to make you want them, but then I saw
how she was paying attention to the sermon and I knew she was with God, and how
the sin was in me, not her.
After the service I left slowly, letting a couple of people in front of me so she
was just behind me. Our eyes met and I knew I wanted to talk to her. After we
filed by the pastor and shook his hand, saying, “Good sermon,” and “Inspirin’,”
we were both outside on the little patio in front of the steps, side by side, but
like we was just watching folks go by.
“That was quite a good sermon, don’t you think?” I blurted out to break
“Yeah, it was good. What part did you like the best?”
“It was all just as good as the best parts,” trying to wiggle out of not paying
“I liked the part,” starting fast like she’d already been thinking about it,
“where the pastor talks about sharing, then gives the example of when he was little,
sharing gum with a girl. It was funny when he said, ‘after I chewed it, a course!’ “
“Yeah, everybody laughed.” So that’s what was so funny. “By the way, my
name’s Jake Brown.” I reached out and she reached out her hand too. I took
it, but I squeezed it instead of shaking it.
“Mine’s Jean Campbell.”
“I haven’t seen you in church before today.”
“I just moved here. Otherwise you would have seen me,” she let out a
nervous laugh, “every Sunday.”
“Yeah. I never miss church myself. It can be hard to keep in touch with the
Lord, on your own.”
“Some people thinks prayer is enough, but I’d miss the sermons and the
responsive readings,” nodding her head to emphasize.
“Yes. It helps you to see the things in your life for what they mean…”
“In God’s plan.”
“In God’s plan,” like me meeting her was, I thought, and God let me skip
the pastor’s sermon so I’d notice her, That’s exactly the way God works, I thought
to myself. “Would you like to walk with me around the cemetery out back?”
I asked, pointing to the graveyard visible beyond the church carriage house.
“Sure. I don’t see why not.”
We started walking, me leading. “They got some old grave stones in here.
Not the oldest in town. There’s two other cemeteries, but there’s some in here
over a hundred years old.”
“They’re near the back.” We walked behind along a recently mowed lane
and straight to a line of trees that marked the end and oldest part. The stones
there were covered with lichen, some were broken and some had been repaired
with metal braces. “Over under this here tree’s my favorite grave,” I said, almost
wanting to take her by the hand. Instead I just warned her, “watch your footing,
there’s some roots can trip you up.” I stumbled a little walking over them, they were
so hidden in the grass. “I bet that tree has grown roots right through the casket.”
Beneath a thick oak was a small chipped and worn marker the size of a book. The
inscription on it said, “Annie, 1879, died at four years.”
“It seems so sad. This one, so small you hardly notice, youngest person,
“She’s my own girl’s age,” sounding like the beginning of a thought, left
That threw me off. “You got a little girl? I didn’t know you was married.”
“I’m not. And I wasn’t.” She looked embarrassed. “I had her out of wedlock.
But that was before I came to the Lord. She’s my cross now. My curse, and
sometimes my blessing, Jamie.”
“Well, I suppose whatever the circumstances, a child is born without sin.
You have someone to see to her while you’re at church?” I knew I sounded terse
right now, but I didn’t want her to think I approved of that kind of thing.
“Yes, my neighbor is a widow, she’s disabled, but she watches Jamie well
enough. She looks after her too while I’m at work. I don’t know what I’d do without
“Where you work?” I played a guessing game in my mind. She didn’t work
with me, so she couldn’t work at too many other places. I bet on Diamond.
“Diamond Match plant.”
“That pay good?” I knew it didn’t. It was a factory, and she was a woman.
“Not much good. But’s what I could get. Before I moved here I was cutting
fish. That was worse.”
“Yeah.” I thought over some of the dirty jobs I’d had. “I did that once.
A lot a work for what it gets ya. And you sure take it home.” I laughed at my
joke. Fish stink is always funny if you’re not stuck cutting fish no more.
“My boyfriend got put in prison for a holdup. I had to work. Then I
moved here to be a step up when he got out. I want to leave that life behind
me.” She sighed. “Of course, I’m reminded every day when I look at my little
girl. Where do you work?”
“I’m over at Crowe Rope. Run one of them big machines, twists nylon
twine into thick rope.”
“Is that a hard job?”
“Bad on your back, hands get nylon melted on them from making splices with
a heat bar. And I get nightmares, ‘bout bobbins of twine running out and I gotta
replace them, but a whole lot of them at once. Like the guy at the circus who keeps
pie plates spinning on the ends of sticks!” I caught myself. I was sounding sour.
Women thinks that’s the same as whining. “It’s okay though. A lot of folks is
out of work. The hardest part is being around Godless men.”
Jean nodded, knowing how that was. “That’s true. I think the Lord puts
us among the Godless sos we learn how to testify, though. I been talking about
Jesus to people at work. Mostly they look at me like I’m crazy, but I think, you
never know who’ll be touched by the word of God. And all the practice makes
me learn how to witness better.”
While she was talking, I was thinking about the filthy mouthed vermin I had
to be around every day, how they joked about how big they was and how much
they did it. I hadn’t testified to no one there in the whole ten years I’d been there.
I guessed me and Jean didn’t see the same about that.
I watched Jean walk over to some overgrowth and pull some daisies, come
back and lay them on the grave of Annie. She turned to me and smiled. “Every
child’s born innocent,” she says, ‘cause that’s what I’d said before. She knew a man
likes being right first.
Some time went by quick. When we got back to the churchyard everyone
had gone home, except the bell ringer, who stayed ‘till last to pick up left behind
bulletins, sweep up in the vestibule and vacuum that burgundy rug that run
between the two sides of the congregation and looks like spilled grape juice.
I hate that rug, and that seat cushion covering, someone said it was called crushed
velvet, and its crushed all right, worn bare and looks like the seat of my work pants.
This isn’t a wealthy town I know. But I pitch in my dollar at the collection plate though,
and sometimes I’d like to know where it goes.
I had a nice time talking to Jean and I don’t let on I ended our walk thinking
bad things about the church, and even how I think the pastor maybe gets too
much money and the church goes to seed for it. But I know that started when I
got walking with her then thinking about the bad fellas at my job, some who make
more money than me and is the most profane ungodly fatherless things that ever
walked the earth. We had a good walk and a good talk, and I asked her, “can
I see you sometime outside of church?” There was a Grange chowder feast
coming up and the money you spend went to a good cause, like a burn unit at
the VA hospital or something. I suggested that and that was a good idea.
I kicked myself after. The chowder feast was a week and a half away. I’m
not good thinking about dates and how close and far away and so forth. I wanted
to see Jean before that, was the thing. I liked her. Not without reservations, with
the kid and all. I hadn’t seen it yet, so I don’t know how good it was trained, and
how it was conceived was bothersome to me. But Jean was so pretty, and had
such a nice way about her, I maybe was tricked. They say women with kids and no
husband is always looking for a situation. I like to think the best of people. And
how good a man would I be if I thought that people couldn’t mend their ways and
turn to Christ for real, even when they were women, and the sin was fornicating?
When I was young and papa was alive things would be more clear. Papa said
once when I was a teenager that if I ever brought a pregnant girl home, he’d give
me a hundred dollar and bounce me out. First thing is, I don’t know where he’d
have gotten a hundred dollar, and second thing is he wasn’t one to talk. Mom
was ripe with me when they got married, my birthday was a month after of the
same year. Sometimes papa put his trust in God when he didn’t have no other
choice, but for the most part as best as I can recall they was both members of
the bad and undeserving, and thank the Lord they never got, because that
wouldn’t have helped me on my path. But in my mind I play what if, and I think,
what if I brought this Jean home with her kid already made, and it ain’t even
mine and I say, papa, I love her. What would he tell me to do? I imagine I’m him
and giving me advice. I say to me, be careful, and keep ‘em both on a short leash.
I went to work all week thinking I should have thought up something sooner
to do with Jean. I have to say I don’t really know what other folks is like, so
it might not make sense to say she was all I thought about , nagging on me
like a woman, not her, but me, in my own head, at work, home, Tuesday Bible
meeting, everywhere. It was so strong, I knew I better be a little cautious of
her, even suspicious. Not just anybody make a man feel bound like that. Strings
is pulled, but, who is pulling them?
Some days of work that interim week was not special. I was much the same
as far as how I performed my job while pretty much distracted. Jonathan, who we call
Monkey, tells me come down to earth, I say what, he says stop spacing out or your
gonna loose your fingers in the engine. I don’t counter him ‘cause I know him all
my life, we went to grade school together. I defended him when other kids was
putting snots on his hamburger at lunch. If he says I’m spacing out, I’m spacing
out. It got me in trouble one day. It could have been worse, but, every bit of
trouble is a wake up call. Losing a job can twist your life in all directions. No one
I know can really afford to be proud.
I guess my mind was elsewhere on Wednesday. I made two bad splices on
the heat bar. Two spools ran out. If I was at the top of my game, I wouldda seen
that I was going to have to take one bobbin off a little before it ran out, because
another was getting low at the same time. What ended up happening was that
both bobbins ran out at the same time and I had to scramble. So I made two quick
and sloppy heat splices, which came loose when they got inside the big rope winding
engine. I heard this “babump, babump, babump,” and the sound of heavy things
slapping together. “Shit,” I thought, “this hasn’t happened since I started working
here.” The supervisor was out that day. I was lucky. I ruined a whole spool of nylon
rope destined for the coast guard. That is, a bobbin with about two miles on it,
may as well just throw away, it was a frayed tangled mess. Jimmie, who didn’t
like me because I didn’t joke much, took it on himself to supervise me. He came up
and tried to fix the tangle on the machine, but it was wound around the engine belt,
and he just went crazy. He took his wrench and held it behind his head
like he was going to belt me with it. I grabbed a metal rod I use to pry snags loose
from the engine and held it the same way. I know Jimmie. He’s all bluster. But
he made me so angry, threatening like that over an honest mistake. I knew he
was just going to throw the wrench aside, which he did. My feelings was
held back, but just. If he’d made a hint of that muscle on his forearm contracting
like I knew it had to, to swing that wrench down on me, I was going to cleave
his brain in two pieces. Someone like that doesn’t ever learn until its too late.
I put my rod down when He whipped the wrench across the room. “Sorry,
Jimmy,” I said.
Me and Jean met in the parking lot at night outside of the Grange hall.
What a weird place, I thought, before I realized how judgmental I was being.
After all, there are all sorts of clubs; Masons, Shriners, Gold Start Mothers,
Legionaires, Grange, and they all do good, social work, and raise money for good
causes. Why, I heard the pastor had approached Shriners for a lump of money
to help a woman and her children out of an abusive situation. So these groups
do well intended work. Though I’m always a little cautious when I hear about
some group coming in and interfering in a family, because of some so called
abuse. I believe there is such a thing as discipline, though I gather its not real
popular right now. I remember my mother saying that secret societies harbor sin.
I think that maybe we all got the grange. We’re Christians. In the same way,
I think maybe all groups are secret evil societies. I didn’t always think that way,
but I was enlightened, like I think a lot of people will be before too long. My
experience of truth came when I was up fishing with a barber from Bangor
Maine who my father grew up around, him a poor man but just taking an interest
in other people’s lives, not like people today, who just want to get away from
each other. He showed me the soda drink Moxie, which he said they gave
to the Christians in the service at the canteen, those few who wouldn’t drink
beer or spirits. And when we was driving in his woody station wagon to a
northern lake to fish perch, he showed me a whole string of houses that was
all overgrown with big fields going to seed like no one was there. Big stretches,
with farm houses on them, but boarded up. He said to me, “see all them houses
and land? That’s bought up by the communists, and when they want, they’re
all gonna move in, legal and they’re gonna own the whole country ‘cause they
all ready bought it up a farm at a time.” I think now maybe he was nuts and I was
just a kid. I got no time for fun and fishin now, just work and getting what I
need. What I find most true is that God hates wasting time. The truth is, I’m
looking to get mated up, legally and right, in the eyes of God. Because, in this
world, if we can pull anything out of the toilet that ain’t shit, you’re golden.
Inside the Grange, there was all sorts of people I know from living my
whole life here. Some I went to school with, others I knew from church. I didn’t
see anyone from work, but that didn’t surprise me. If it didn’t have drinking
or loud music or fighting, they wouldn’t be interested. Church people kept
amongst themselves mostly, though that group didn’t really include me. I’d been
a member of the church for years but still when we’d meet, even after church
service, they’d be holding back their friendship. They’d be polite, but I got the
feeling they wanted to get away from me. My feeling was, they could see how
deeply I was committed to the Lord, and their commitment was just for show.
“Hi, Frank,” I said when I saw the friendly face I’d known longer than just
about anyone, “where’s your chowder?”
“Oh, I didn’t make one this year. I figure give some other folks a chance
at the prize.”
He shook my hand in a hold like a wrestler. His hands were more scuffed
up than mine. A life of taking apart cars at his garage made them like claws.
Still, his friendship was honest. He’d been the school bus driver all through my
grade school years, and that’s where I really knew him from. It was funny seeing
him out like this, because he was cleaned up, his hair was combed and he wore a
suit. Everyone else was just dressed normal, but he always dressed up, like he
had to make up extra for being so dirty on the job. “Do you pick a winner than?”
Every year there’d be a popular vote on the best chowder. The winner got a
cruise around the harbor for an afternoon. “I think Mrs. Ifamy is the best bet.
Its not the healthiest with a skim of butter on top, but you can’t beat the flavor
and the thickness. Almost as good as I made.” Then he laughed, because he
knew how funny it sounded, a man like him having airs about cooking. “Are
you gonna introduce me to your friend?” He’d been giving side glances to
Jeannie. I would have introduced her eventually, but Frank made me look silly.
Because I knew him so well, I knew he didn’t do it on purpose. I dropped it in
“Oh, sorry, Frank, this is Jean, a lady from church, this is Frank, used to
drive our school bus.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she shook his hand. “We just came in. We
haven’t tried anything yet. You say Mrs. Ifamy makes the best?”
We sampled some chowders and Mrs. Ifamy walked away with the prize.
I took Jean home in the car and we said a prayer together before she went in.
It was a good first date. She met someone, Frank, who knew me and she
got to see he respected me to talk to.
We had two more dates. One on a Saturday afternoon. I rented a boat
for a few dollars from the town landing, and we went out to House Island to
have a picnic of sandwiches on the beach there. The other time, we went
for a Sunday drive to Pemaquid, where there’s a lighthouse, and excavation
of an Indian settlement. I saw it on TV on things to do in the summer. By then
I could tell she thought I was really nice. I figured it was time I met her child,
Jamie. I’m a little clumsy around kids. I don’t usually have much to say to
them, but I prepared to talk simple and thought up simple things to say.
When I arrived at her apartment, which was really the first floor of a house,
she invited me in and gave me a cold lemonade in her kitchen. I sat at the table
there as she called Jamie, who came paddling into the room on her own from
the dining room. She made a squealing sound, because she was happy to see
“Aren’t you a little ball of…” I started to say to her like I’d planned, but
before I could get my sentence out, Jamie was taking her clothes off and
throwing them at me, laughing. If she had been mine, I would have slapped
her and put her in the closet. I looked away from her, then at Jean, who saw
how red in the face and angry I was.
“Jamie, no!” You put your clothes back on!” Jean turned to me,
embarrassed. “I’m sorry. Jamie!” She jumped from her post at the counter
and grabbed the child dragging her into the other room amid a high pitched
scream, coming back to gather up the clothes and throw them back at her.
“Dress! Now!” More whining and screams.
“See how it is?” trying to smile as she came back into the room, Jamie,
dressed again and curled up with a favorite blanket on the living room couch.
“God saw fit to put this on me,” Jean said, “for the sins I commit, God give me
a sinful child.”
I couldn’t say anything, because that’s how I felt too. It wasn’t my sin
that caused it, it was Jean’s. So I decided right then, if I was going to be with
Jean, Jamie would remain her cross, not mine, or mine to share.
We were married in the church where we worshipped, where we met.
There was scripture read and hymns sung, and the piano player for Sunday
service came and played the Wedding March and that was good because
Jean liked music, she said. It was all like taken from a book on weddings.
I gave the pastor a piece of scripture and something I wrote about duty and
punishment for him to read at the service, but he looked it over and said he
wouldn’t read it, without even saying why, just shook his head and said, “I’m
sorry, but I won’t read this.” I even gave him fifty dollars for his marrying us,
and he hardly thanked me. And Baptist preachers are suppose to marry
their flock, I never heard of one asking a charge, like the rabbis I hear do,
or justice of the peace, that’s shameful. But I paid him my hard earned money,
even though he was supposed to do it anyway. He married us, but he hardly
looked me in the eyes, and I could see he made some opinion on me. I know
once someone decides on you its never going to change. I decided right then
that this man was not doing God’s work, and that we’d, Jean me and Jamie,
be better off learning the word and will of God at home.
We celebrated by spending three days at the motel in Brunswick.
We neither of us could afford it, but since you only get married once, I bit down
on my lip and said it would be all right. We ate out and drove around to some
scenic sights but I didn’t really pay attention because I was worried about money.
When our three days was up I figured we were finished getting married and it
was a relief. Jean’s neighbor Pearl had watched Jamie for Jean while we were
gone, and I was grateful we didn’t have her with us.
As attracted as I was to Jean at first, things changed when there was a
child out of wedlock, and when I met the creature. I still felt it strong to look at
Jean, but there was always a wall of sin that came between our bodies and I
would have to turn away. When I told her why I couldn’t, she understood, and I
knew she found some solace for her sins in prayer. Still, our marriage was
strong, because I could see Jean truly wanted to walk with God, and I required
some comfort for my loneliness.
I let my room go where I was living, because Jean’s rooms came with
her neighbor, who would come and sit with Jamie while Jean worked. I didn’t
have much to move in and managed in a few carloads.
We stopped attending church on Sundays. We found the day better spent
reading the Bible. For distraction, there was Christian radio which broadcast
music, sermons, and Christian talk shows, like Bob Larson, who spoke mostly
about the sinfulness of media and corruption of children. On the two days we
weren’t at work, Jamie weighed heavy on us. Despite that I let its caretaking up
to Jean, its noise, sinful nature and presence stirred me up so much that sometimes,
I had to go out and walk around the block by myself.
Then one Sunday afternoon, something happened where I just had to
step in and take control. Jamie was making her noises while we were trying to study
the Bible at the kitchen table. She just kept crying and crying. We tried to ignore
her. But then I smelled it. The air filled with the odor. I looked through the doorway
to the living room from my seat and there was Jamie, holding a handful of her own
poop and looking up at the framed picture of Jesus we have on the wall behind
the sofa. Before I could do anything, she launched her missile and it splattered
blasphemously across the beautiful face and robe of our Lord Jesus.
“God damn fuckin, God damned fuckin,” I yelled, “stop the God damn
fuckin mess!” like a cork come out of a bottle. I turned the radio on. Like a
message from our vengeful Lord, there’s Bill Larson on the Christian station,
and he’s on a roll about how the devil gets in the young. But for what I got to
do I don’t need no Bill Larson talking over my shoulder. I flipped the dial and
landed on some of Satan’s music and I turned it up loud. I don’t know what to
do next for a second, and its so cramped and small in here. Then I see the
oven’s still on because we heated it up on broil to make some mini-pizzas
for dinner. I grab that devil’s bitch by the arm in the other room and pull her
in the kitchen. She yelped but I held on tight. She pushed and kicked, but I’m
bigger and stronger and I get her jammed in the oven and a chair back wedged
against the oven door like its all one move. Now its not so loud but for the music,
Jamie’s screaming is real far away. I can see her through the oven window.
She presses a hand against the glass, its like I can hear a hiss, though I know I
can’t really hear it. She jerks it away fast, mouth in that muffled scream still,
she leaves the skin of her palm and fingers stuck on the glass, it curls up and
a piece falls off like fried potato skins. “I’m sending you home sweetheart!”
I’m yelling and I’m spitting and spraying, in my mind I see the dumbest kid in grade
school who used to drool and spray when he talked, while I’m yelling and noticing
Jean there for the first time. Its hard to believe how all different things come
together in a single mind at once, but that’s the way excitement works.
Jean looks real white, but she don’t look like she wants to fight me, in
fact, its something else. She starts moving her hips to the music and liking it.
I see the power it has. I changed the station because the devil is in the music.
I see the devil’s strength is of the world and that’s what I needed. Jamie is
throwing herself against the insides of the oven, but I don’t care now because
Jean has unzipped my pants and is rubbing me, and I’m hard. She takes her pants
and panties off and we do it hard and fast on the floor, the music loud, can’t hear
Jamie, us, grunting and moaning.
When we finished she sat on the floor against the cabinets with a look that
might have meant she was thinking nothing or everything. I figure she was wondering
if she got rid of one child just to make another. Anyway, I turned the oven off,
then I walked out the front and go to the pay phone beneath the streetlight. At
first I almost curse again, but then I remember you don’t need a quarter to call
I call them, and I tell them what I done and where I am.
What I did was unlawful. I’m not going to run from that, though I could
if I had the mind to. The important thing is, have you done God’s will? Its him
put the Devil in the world, by letting him choose. I done what I done in the heat
of the moment, yet I was clear as a bell. Like faith, I won’t know ‘till I see my
maker if I threw sin back in the Devil’s face, or God’s.