Pastor Himes called me toward the wiggly light of a pool set into a stage, and some invisible person pulled cords that opened curtains. He stood waist deep there, dressed in a white sheet and wearing his big black-rimmed glasses. He had a microphone that he raised sometimes to send his tongues into the PA system. When I hesitated, twisting and untwisting the front of my own sheet in my right fist, he waved me forward with a fish-flop of his hand. He said things to everybody as if he were saying them to me. I was about to enter the Water of Life that would wash away all mistakes anybody had made, and forgiveness would always be right there as needed.
The last time I had been this close to pastor Himes was when I was with a bunch of other twelve-year-olds sitting in a tent. It was at our Pioneer Boys for Christ campout, and we were all staring at the white-hot scrotum of the gas lantern with him trying to scare us. He told us that some people, lost in swamps, had saved themselves from total mosquito bite blood loss only by smearing thick mud over every square inch of their flesh. He asked us if we thought we could do that by ourselves, or if we might need someone to help slather it on the hard-to-get-at places on our backs. Most of us figured that just rolling in it would be good enough. Then pastor Himes started to cry and said that lots of things in life called for unusual measures, and that the body of Christ, smeared with blood, served as a reminder that an upside-down mortgage and the wrong wife were mere tests. Also, that depression itself was a kind of Devil’s blanket-party.
There in the little pool, wearing my white sheet, I was having second thoughts. And it was when I took back my one step down into the water that he moved toward me like he might be able to save things if he could get hold of me and pull me in. But he got foot-tangled and fell forward like I saw Grandma do once in her bathing cap at the lake, lips tight so as not to taste such water while surging into it. He had the microphone held up high at first, then—not.
At that moment a noise poured from the sanctuary speakers that will forever make all who were there cringe at the sound of something damp being thrown into hot oil. A sound we will all hear when we set out for that other shore.
Against the Current
We called him Slap because half of his face was always red. He would look at you like he wanted to ask a question but couldn’t remember what about.
It was Slap who showed us the outlet game. We kids would all join hands in a long chain, and then Slap, at the front end, would plug in an extension cord and take hold of the part that had the insulation stripped off. When you had ten or more people holding onto each other it was just a tickling buzz that came through. But the game was to let go one at a time until it got so powerful that people would start to beg for the cord to be pulled out of the wall.
The best part was when Slap would pull the plug almost out, stand up and lean as far as he could away from the wall—and then let go of the whole chain of people. He would stand shaking real fast for a second and then his tilt would make gravity pull the plug the rest of the way out. Talk about being saved by falling down. Then one time someone in the chain picked up Slap’s iguana and put it in a coma for the day. He stayed mad about that for a while.
The last we heard he was in jail because all the kids at the day-school where he worked started to draw pictures of themselves with their hair standing up with sparkles in it.
His mother has the iguana now. We see her, on our way home from school, sitting on her front porch with it. She has a leash for it that looks a lot like the cord we used when we jitterbugged.
Daryl Scroggins taught creative writing and literature for a number of years at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of North Texas. He and his wife, Cindy, recently relocated to Marfa, Texas, where they pursue art and writing projects. His poems, short stories, and creative non-fictions have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country, and his most recent book is This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press).