Needles and tubes. Needles and tubes sticking out of her arms, poison working through her veins, killing her just as sure as the cancer. Maybe quicker. I still have dreams about Elizabeth’s gray face, her fighting for breath through the last night, the preacher reading the Psalms over and over. When I walked into the waiting room Matthew looked up at me with a scared face, hoping for good news, mad at me for not letting him go in to see his mother. I know now that it was wrong for me to keep the boy out. It was wrong to try and shield him from death that way. I didn’t do him no favors. Probably would have helped him grow up to be more of a man. I didn’t let him cry at the funeral neither, and I don’t expect he’ll cry that much for me.
I had every intention of telling Matthew about my cancer today. Him not knowing all this time has been a weight. We don’t talk that much anymore, and when we do, there’s just never any natural way to bring it up. Before we even get to the “Hey, how are you doing?” part of the conversation, I usually just start in on his wolves and he gets tight-lipped and starts staring off at the trees behind me, still acting a kid. When I saw his truck coming down the road today, raising a dust cloud like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, I set myself to tell him. I set my truck square in the middle of the road and put her in park and waited, but he just slid past me and barely waved. He was dragging a gutted coyote behind his truck, which got my hopes up, but then the dust began to settle and I was sitting in the middle of the road, all alone, and I swear my hands began to shake so hard I couldn’t hold on to the steering wheel and I started to cry like a woman. It hurt. My head filled up with pressure and I couldn’t hardly breathe. My eyes wouldn’t dry no matter how hard I wiped them with my sleeve. It felt like all of God’s creation was staring at me, laughing at me for my weakness, and I cursed my son Matthew for driving past me and bringing me to this sorry condition. God forgive me, I cursed my son for acting just the way I taught him to act all his life.
On the television the preacher sits with the open Bible on his lap, but he never looks at it. The man’s eyes never move away from the camera and his voice grows and grows, filling the room with righteous anger:
“The Bible says that the mark of the beast and its accompanying technology will be installed by the Anti-Christ as a means of managing the new world order that he is creating right this minute. This new order will be a complex and complicated system to administer, even for a man who can perform great ‘lying signs and wonders.’ Tracking the movement of people, equipment, goods and finances, is going to take a sophisticated system that will enable the coming world ruler to control the global government, the universal monetary system, and the unified religion that together will comprise the new world order.”
I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about, but I believe him, and then he runs off a passage of scripture that gets my attention: “Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.” His gray eyes are boring into me and he goes on for a while, and I think he must be speaking to me:
“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God.”
The man goes on to talk about microchips the size of a grain of rice would be implanted under the skin of the right hand or the forehead. He used an overhead projector to throw diagrams of a bald man with lines like they use to scan groceries, but I can’t follow what the, but I’m still thinking about those wolves and a man that “should make up a hedge.”
When the preaching ends I turn off the set and turn on the lamp beside my chair. My hands have quit shaking enough to roll a cigarette. It looks like a dog turd, but it will smoke. My Bible just seems to fall open naturally to the book of Job these days, and that’s where I want to spend my time. Listening to that fool question God. I light the end of the cigarette and feel the powerful quenching of the demons that have been screaming through my body since I got out of bed. I feel like tonight maybe I’ll make it through the cigarette without coughing, and I do. I smoke it down to a burning ember, drop the nub into the fruit jar, then begin to read.