A young girl grieves for her friend...
Note: Sometimes we adults judge harshly because we do not have a clear picture of the soul of a child, but what a child outwardly projects is not always what he feels.
Fishin' & Stuff
It’s too bad that Joe died, but he shouldn’t have double-dared me. I didn’t mean to make him drown. I think about what happened while I’m getting ready for church.
I hate going to church. My granny expects me to get all dressed up every Sunday. You can’t imagine how miserable that is for me. I have to wear a dress! And as if that’s not bad enough, Granny stuffs an old-fashioned Easter bonnet down over my head and ties it with one of those big frilly bows, like I was a pet poodle or something. And she expects me to wear those silly black patent leather shoes – the ones that are brand new and rub the back of my heels until they're all red and aching.
Granny makes me sit beside her in the church. The benches are wooden and hard as granite. In fact it’s just like when you sit for an hour on a big, old, rounded boulder and your bottom goes to sleep. You almost don’t want to move afterwards because you know those little stings are gonna’ start pokin’ away the moment you fidget to the left or right.
I hate the way the minister always hammers the pulpit. That’s OK for awhile. I watch, hoping the wood will break and shatter down onto the ground, and then everyone will have to go rushing out of the church because of the wood dust spreading across the inside of the sanctuary. But it never happens, and Rev. Smith just keeps on thumping. I guess his fist never feels it, but my feet do. The vibration always travels from the pulpit down to my feet, and it runs clear up my toes and into the blisters forming on my heels.
I wish the reverend would stop pounding. It makes me remember how the carpenter is gonna’ have to nail Joe’s coffin shut. I wonder if Joe’ll be able to feel that -- you know, the way vibration travels . . .
If I were a minister -- which I’d never be ‘cause on Sunday I’d rather be down by the creek waving my feet in the water, feeling the icy cold of the current and squishing the flowing mud through my toes -- but if I were a preacher woman, why I’d talk about how good it is to feel God deep inside me. I’d tell my congregation that God was like water, flowing inside and around ‘ya. I’d tell them that God was free to help and give all the comfort ya’ needed. In fact, maybe I’d tell everybody that God was like the fish swimming in that creek up yonder, gliding up and down, sometimes even against the strength of the current, sometimes swimmin’ from one side to the other. I’d talk a heap about God, but I’d never hit my fist on the pulpit.
‘Course everybody might not like me talking about God. And if I brought up the creek they might get mad, especially Joe’s mother. She might yell at me again – like she did when I told her about how Joe didn’t come back up. But that wasn’t my fault. I told her, but she wouldn’t listen. Only Granny took heed. Granny knew I didn’t mean for it to happen.
I bet Reverend Smith wouldn’t keep knockin’ on that pulpit if he had a chance to go fishing with me. He and I could bait our hook with one of wiggly worm and toss our line into the water, and we’d just sit there talking about good things and how great it was to be alive on a Saturday morning. That’s what Joe and I always did.
I think Rev. Smith needs to do an awful lot of fishing. He needs to sit some. He’s always worrying about Satan tapping him on the shoulder. But Satan never goes down by the creek. I know, because no one’s ever tapped me on the shoulder there. Besides, I just can’t picture Satan sitting in the sunshine eating a tuna fish sandwich.
Last Saturday when Joe and I were down there sitting in the shady part of the creek bed next to the old chestnut tree, squirrels were running themselves silly chasing each other. Joe dared me to walk clear out into the middle of the creek. But I said, “No, I won’t do it.” That's when Joe double-dared me.
Granny’s handing me the hymnal. She can’t read, but she pretends she can, and I run my finger along the words so she can look like she’s following along. It really doesn’t matter, 'cause Granny knows all the words to the songs. She sings like nature. I can almost hear the leaves rustle and the squirrels chattering through her voice. I’d never tell Granny that. She might be insulted, but I think that’s a compliment. If God’s in all those things, isn’t it good to sound like them?
Joe used to tell me that one day they’d be locking me up for being a witch ‘cause I talk like that. But witches don’t believe in God, do they? Joe never knew the answer to that. He’d just shrug and tell me not to talk like a girl.
Darn. The song's over, and Reverend Smith is pounding again. I’d never yell at my congregation. I’d smile at them and sing with them, and I’d let them feel the love of God. I’d tell them not to double-dare people, too. I wish Joe hadn’t gone into the water. He didn’t have to prove to me how brave he was. I already knew it.
“And Satan is going to come knocking at your shoulder, and what will you tell him?”
I wish I could stand up and answer Reverend Smith. I do know the answer. I’d tell Satan not to come knocking on my shoulder. I’d tell him not to pound, or knock, or hit anything -- and not to go into the creek when you didn’t know how to swim.
I brush back my tears. I'm not supposed to be crying in church. I'm expected to be listening to Reverend Smith, not thinking about things like Joe being dead. Granny passes me a tissue, and I blow and wipe.
Then Granny puts her arm around me and pulls me close. That's the good part about sitting in church because sometimes Granny takes my hand, and she leans in close and whispers, “I love you.” I think when someone says that to you inside a church, it has to mean something extra special.
I wish I could tell Joe that. He’d probably just tell me I was talking like a girl again, but sometimes he used to get that funny look on his face, and I’d know he was listening real good. I’d know that I was speakin’ into him, touching that place inside.
“I’m sorry about the double-dare,” I whisper softly so Granny can’t hear. “I sure do miss you, Joe.”
Then even though I'm in church supposed to keep my attention on the preacher, my head sags down. I'm staring at my shiny patent leather shoes -- but I'm no longer seeing them. I'm picturing the way Joe used to look -- his crooked smile, those watermelon rind, green eyes of his that used to tease me, flashing like a mirror in sunshine. I can almost feel the touch of his hand in mine, the roughness of hands all scratched and battered 'cause he was always digging up stones to toss into the creek or doing battle with swords made out of tree branches.
The Reverend is still pounding away. Someone behind me coughs. Shoes shuffle. Mrs. Cutter, sitting in front of me, fans her face with an old paper fan. I close my eyes even tighter and shut it all it, then, despite being in church, I let my tears fall.