After a life full of loss Taylor doesn't believe in God, but it sucks that he isn't real.
| The lights were lowered in pseudo-night, but the beeps and hisses from the machines surrounding the bed destroyed any cloak of peace the darkness offered. Tay rubbed the heels of her palms into eyes gritty from lack of sleep and too many tears. She couldn’t believe she was back here. Here, in Harlem. Here, staring at a display that couldn’t begin to understand the size of the heart it monitored. Here, listening to a machine breathe for the woman whose powerful voice shook dust from the church rafters. Here, in a sterile hospital room where it always ended.
How many had it been? Her fight with hospitals had started in utero. She’d been cushioned from the horrors of her father’s bullet-riddled body. Her mother had sworn only her swollen belly had saved her from the same fate that night. Her snort sounded loud in the gloom. A stupid t-shirt slogan, Caution: Baby on Board, had been the difference between life and death, for both of them. Her dad hadn’t been as lucky: DOA, Dead on Arrival.
When it was her time, her mom had gone out with a little more flare. She’d had a front row seat for that one. Violent convulsions and projectile vomiting had kept the ER nurses hopping. The end result was the same. Grandma’s end had been slow and torturous, disease stealing her mind long before her body. Tay had fought to be remembered. Still, the hospital had won. Foster sisters and brothers, friends, there’d been so many more over the years. How many had the hospital claimed? She didn’t have a number. Too many. And here she was again.
The cheap vinyl chair squealed in protest as Tay shifted. The still form in the bed didn’t move. That, alone, was wrong. Belle was a whirlwind, constantly in motion. A force of nature, and one you didn’t want to cross. She wiped tears on her shoulder. Her cheeks felt raw. Tay would’ve sworn she’d run out of tears years ago, but never for Belle. The woman had ignored files full of fights and flight and a pre-teen’s sullen glares to scoop her up out of the system and give her a home. A real home, and her first hug.
Tay swiped at her leaking eyes again. Both the home and the hugs had felt restricting at first, but she’d gotten used to them. She’d learned to count on them. Look where that had landed her. What she wouldn’t give for one of those spine bending, smothering embraces now.
The door creaked and her head whipped up. Pastor Paul stood in the doorway, his battered leather bible in hand. Rage roared through her, white hot.
“I understand that you’re upset,” he said, extending a placating hand.
“Obviously you don’t understand English. I said, get out.”
“Taylor, I came to pray for Sister Belle.”
“I don’t care why you came. There’s nothing you can do here.”
“Even if your belief has wavered, Belle’s is strong. She would want me here,” he argued softly.
“My beliefs haven’t wavered, as you put it. I still think your God is a fraud.”
The pastor winced.
“I don’t want to hear it. Your whole religion is one ludicrous lie after another. We’ve had this argument before. Do you think I am going to suddenly believe that there is a loving and merciful God when Belle is lying in this hospital bed fighting for her life?”
“We don’t always understand, but the Lord—”
“Don’t preach to me. If there was an all-powerful being that looked out for us lowly humans when we’re good, why would he let this happen? Why would he permit this to happen on his own doorstep?” Taylor demanded, sitting up in her chair.
“God gave us free will. Men hurt your mother, not God.”
“That’s the best you’ve got? Free will?” Tay scoffed. “Then let’s look at it this way. That church is supposed to be the house of God, some sort of sanctuary, a safe place. Belle probably spent more time there than you do. She went there to clean God’s house and what happened? Scum beat her into a coma and left her lying in the gutter like garbage. Steps from the front door. Was your God just not home? Was he busy with something else, or are you telling me that this free will bullshit means that God had to be okay with what happened because it was those bastard’s choice? What about Belle’s choice?”
“Don’t you see? God is Belle’s choice. He always has been. Belle has always put the Lord first. Do you think she would’ve stayed home that night even if she’d known what was going to happen?”
The question was a hard kick in the gut, stealing all her air. No. Belle had never backed down from anything in her whole life.
“Maybe not, but maybe she would’ve at least taken a baseball bat with her.”
To her surprise the pastor chuckled.
“She just might have. Sister Belle is a strong and determined woman. As big as her heart is, I wouldn’t want to cross her.”
“Which leads into the other question. Who did? Even the worst on the street steered clear of Belle. She was hands off. Food is a powerful negotiator. Her cookies are better than cash.”
“I’ve told her on more than one occasion that her chocolate chip walnut cookies should be a sin, but one I will continue to beg forgiveness for.”
“An hour on the treadmill might be more beneficial than a chat with your imaginary savior.”
“He feels your pain, Taylor, and is there to help you with this burden if you will just open your heart to him. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18.”
“The last person I opened my heart to is lying in this bed. I don’t think it can take any more disappointment.”
Paul looked like he wanted to say something else, but thankfully stayed silent. Taylor smoothed the sheet and blanket that covered her foster mother. The anger drained out of her replaced by exhaustion. Her shoulders slumped. She needed to sleep, but she didn’t want to leave Belle alone. The next flood of friends or family would come soon so she could at least take a break. Friends and family made her think of Belle’s address book. The cover had those two words, Friends & Family, surrounded by hearts. Some of the loving symbols were original and others Belle had doodled over the years. The book was packed with names, addresses, and phone numbers in Belle’s careful print. Notes, and kids or spouse’s names, surrounded them. Some had been crossed out so many times it was difficult to find the most recent, but Belle tried to keep up with each one of her kids.
“Do you know that she has fostered a hundred and eighteen kids?” she asked softly.
“I knew it was a lot. I didn’t know an exact number. That is a blessing.”
“She has at least a Polaroid of each one of us in a big photo album. Those of us that were lucky enough to stay a while have our picture on the dining room wall.”
“She is truly a saint.”
“A mother. She always corrected people that said that. She said she is just a mother.”
Silence hung heavy between them. Her limbs felt numb.
“I know this is difficult for you, Taylor. I wish I could help ease your burden. Maybe for Belle’s sake we can agree to disagree and call a truce. Let me pray for her, for both of you.”
Taylor stared down at the still woman. The bruises visible on Belle's face turned her stomach. For all the violence in their neighborhood and all the problems that had walked through her door, Belle had always seemed to rise above it. She was the strongest woman Taylor had ever met, and crazy or not, Belle credited God with that. A delicate gold cross shown bright against the lined ebony skin of her throat. The necklace was a constant. Taylor had demanded it back as soon she’d realized the hospital staff had taken it off her mama. She chewed her bottom lip, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling to stall fresh tears. Belle believed in God. She found comfort in him. What right did they, or she, have to deny her that? Swallowing against the lump in her throat, she nodded at the pastor.
“Thank you. You’re doing the right thing,” he said, relief obvious as he opened his bible.
Floating with the drone of the pastor’s voice, Taylor fought to keep her eyes open. She swayed, catching herself against the side of the bed. How many times had she sat on the hard wooden church pews, drifting in and out? Religion had been one of the few things she’d ever argued with her foster mom about. She’d had too much love and respect for Belle to fight her on Sunday mornings. She’d gone, but it had never swayed her belief, or lack of. Listening to Belle’s soulful voice had been the only plus. If there were angels, they had nothing on Belle.
“I’m sorry. I need to check that.”
Eyes snapping open, Taylor stared blankly at the nurse. The other woman apologetically gestured to one of the machines on the other side of her.
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
Hugging herself against a flood of embarrassment, Taylor hastily stepped back out of the way. Pastor Paul gave her what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile. Manners required that she try to reciprocate. Dried tears made her face feel tight. The nurse and pastor exchanged polite small talk. It was funny how now, at the worst of times, they all fell back on manners. Like it really mattered anymore. Nothing really mattered.
The doctor said Belle was on borrowed time. This time Taylor would truly be alone. There’d be no fairy foster mother to sweep in and make life better. Her hands shook as she wrapped them around one of Belle’s. The older woman felt cold. Rubbing the callused hand between hers, Taylor tried to bring the familiar warmth to it. These hands were Belle. They could stroke you, or slap you up-side the head when you needed it. Strong, but soft. Always sure. A hot tear fell on Belle’s skin. In a world where nothing had been sure except misery and death, Belle had offered a bit of surety. Having that ripped away hurt.
None of this made sense. She thought about all the people the hospital had claimed. From the few stories Tay remembered, her dad had been a swaggering thug. Drugs had destroyed her mom. Even her Grandma had quieted her demons with the bottle until it had claimed her liver. She brought Belle’s hand to her lips and kissed it softly. Maybe none of them had been worthy of a loving deity, but Belle was. It sucked that there was no God.
WC ~ 1848
© Mara McBain 3/2016
PROMPT for March 2016: Write a story that explains your character's particular views on faith. Is he or she an atheist? Agnostic? Theist? Deist? Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.? Whatever your character's faith may be, show and/or tell us about a formative experience that led to those beliefs.
* Disclaimer * ~ This story is not a reflection of the author's views on religion. "No God" is a work of fiction.