by Johnny Lang
This is the story my grandmother told me since I was a child.
|Mark sat in the living room wearing his freshly-pressed, gray pants and a tightly-fitting, white tank top. Holding the Sunday paper straight in the air, his old eyes worked hard to read the sports page. His glasses slid to the end of his nose as he leaned forward to read the small print. The white hair on the sides and back of his bald head hinted at a day when his hair was full – those days had passed long ago. He lowered his paper and looked out above his glasses to see the morning news on the TV, which was on a few feet behind the paper.
The TV set was old and had no remote control. It made a "thud" noise when the dial was turned to change the channel. A cable ran from the back of the TV to a metal antenna that was attached to the topside of the small house. Two channels were barely visible through the snowy screen, but the three Mark cared about were clear and in color.
Zelma sprayed her curly short hair with hairspray one last time. The black in her gray hair was now only a reflection of her youth. She wore a long conservative blue dress with a thick black belt pulling in at her waist. Her dark shoes weren't in style but she gave that up many years ago for comfort. The more modern heels that all of the younger women wore hurt her back too much. She caught the smell emanating from the kitchen, which sat just down the hall from the bathroom, and walked across the hardwood floors into the kitchen. She slid her oven mitt on and opened the stove door. The heat and smell moved through the house as she lifted the soft fluffy biscuits from the oven. She called for Mark, and after a few more seconds with his paper, which he folded and sat on the armrest of the couch, he entered the dinning room.
Zelma prepared the biscuits the way Mark liked them with white gravy made from the bacon. She talked while he sat and listened enjoying his morning breakfast. He heard these stories hundreds of times but he still gave her a recognizing nod. She talked about the prayer she made in hopes of being alive to see her grandchildren – the first was due in just a few short months.
Once they finished their breakfast, Mark put on his dress shirt. His callused hands, which were rough from the work he did in the garden, and his efforts to keep the old car running, fought to button his shirt. He found the tie he always wore with his gray suit and fitted it around his neck. Sliding his jacket on, he called for Zelma to leave. He walked down the gravel driveway. His mind was at ease when the old car started with one turn of the key. Exiting the house clutching her Bible and softly talking to herself, Zelma checked to assure the door locked behind her and went to the car.
The house was on a small straight road, tucked between two patches of small woods, and sat across from a large cotton field with its specks of white freckling the landscape. A hill bent the road slightly towards the sky causing the horizon line to be hidden beneath its climb. They drove to the church that was only a few miles away.
Mark allowed Zelma to exit at the steps of the large church. She stepped out of the car and stood for a moment, preparing herself for the climb. Her bones ached as she lifted her legs and started up the steep stairs in front of the church. She reached half way up the steps and her body tilted back. Her hand slipped from the railing and she began to fall, two hands pressed into her back to stop her. Lifting herself back to her feet, she turned to thank the person that had saved her but no one was there. She felt a sense of someone standing there even though she could not see them.
Mark met her at the top of the stairs and as he approached she said, "My prayer was answered." He gave her a questioning look so she continued, "an angel helped me get up those stairs this morning." He gave her a grin, thinking she wasn't being serious, and then continued inside to enjoy the Sunday service.