“Mississippi,” Part V, a short story

Gpa_bill_coyote_dad_1That was just one of the times Caleb had been drawn to the front of the church, pulled forward by some sin he couldn’t name. Each time, Caleb had felt relieved to be forgiven, but as he had grown older and thought about it more, Caleb began to suspect that his father hadn’t been angered over some sin his son had committed, nor was he particularly relieved that Caleb had chosen to rededicate himself to Jesus. Caleb had finally decided it was shame Hubert felt. Shame that his son had been so weak as to have to prostrate himself before the rest of the congregation.

Maybe Jessica thought he was weak too. She had wanted him to be able to tell her something that afternoon. He should have been able to tell her something about the coyote that would have made her feel better, but he hadn’t, and now he knew that the coyote was going to hang on that box between them like a persistent headache, like the dread a boy feels when he knows he’s going to be punished for something and the imagination has too much time to work. Jessica had insisted on being shown the mailbox. They had walked out to the road at dusk with a gallon of water. She had stared at the box as he described the coyote again, and Caleb knew she was imagining Lulu stretched over the bare metal. Jessica looked at him, waited a long time, but Caleb hadn’t known what to say. Finally she had turned and walked back to the house without saying anything, while Caleb dug the toe of his boot into the gravel, his face flushed with anger and frustration.

After the television preacher signed off with a call for donations, Caleb turned off the set and went back to bed. A light breeze filtered through the screen. Jessica rolled over as Caleb pulled the sheet up.

“Where’ve you been,” she asked. Her voice was thick.

“Watching the preacher.”

“We ought to get a satellite. Two stations.”

“At least one of them is educational,” Caleb said. He wrapped an arm around Jessica’s waist and nestled in behind her.

“It’s public now.  Public television. They don’t call it educational anymore.” She lifted his arm and slid across the bed, closer to the window, closer to the cool night air.



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