“The wages of all sin is death!” The preacher’s voice boomed from the speakers, bounced off of the white walls and stained glassed windows and slammed into all five of Italiza’s senses. She could smell the taunting pungency of it, taste its acrid beckoning, feel its cement-rough caress and most certainly hear the sweet grating of its call. Most of all, she could see the outcome of its seduction: death. As the tall brown man spoke, Italiza felt the walls of his church watching her, seeing into her mind. She tried to focus on his delicately shouted words but her attention was diverted. It was as if everyone was looking at her. She could hear them whispering. She heard their laughter disguised in shouts.
“Go on!” someone yelled, “Tell the truth, now!” Italiza stiffened in her seat and pulled the brim of her wide hat down a bit, training her eyes on the stained glass windows. She felt herself begin to shudder beneath the men’s voices and at the same cringe at the women’s cotton-candy colored Sunday dresses. What did they know? The images from the stained glass windows stared back at her in disappointment. Her head began to ache and she could no longer maintain her composure. Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard the words of a hymn her grandmother Lucia used to sing: Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? There’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.
Yes, there is a cross for me. Italiza reached for her purse, stood to her feet and walked toward the front of the church.
“Yes, come, my child.” The tall brown man said leaving his position at the pulpit, taking dramatic steps in time with music played by an organist and drummer. His long legs drew him toward the woman approaching the center of the church. He wiped his thick black brows with a monogrammed hand towel and unconsciously scratched at his left side burn. He always did this when he was expecting someone to kneel, bent, broken and submissive ready to give life and will over to place their existence in the hands of God, as a result of one of his sermons. Afterward he would speak well-practiced, yet sincerely choked–up: just look at what God can do. While praying he never slipped and said what was really on his mind. Just two weeks ago, a young man had come to the altar, tears streaming his face, one hand holding his pants by their waistband, the other clutching the elbow of a well-dressed young woman with one baby on her hip and a toddler hanging on her right hand. As the preacher lamented: just look what God can do. He was thinking,
“I bet this boy got all kinds of kids ‘round here. And this hussy probably full of all kinds of AIDS. Shame, too. Those hips look like they can give a man the what for and keep him locked in glory for a lifetime.” He never tried to judge people, it was just thoughts he could not seem to shake. He had never been unfaithful to his wife and had no outside children. He truly had tried to live up to his role as a pastor, a preacher, a husband, a father and a man of God. Having grown up with a beautiful and impeccably kept yet criticizing mother who disgraced every church she had ever attended with her drinking, fornicating and belligerence, Ernest had developed a knack for wondering what was beneath the surface of the skin people willingly showed. On Monday’s his mother was a well-respected and highly trusted nurse. Something about church made her crazy but she kept going and made Ernest, his sister Julia and twin brother and sister, Stephen and Stephanie go along with her. As Italiza slowly walked forward, Ernest vaguely wondered at her story. He was too captivated by something familiar in the drawn out movement of her bare feet to allow his eye to roam her generous curves. He extended his hand and reassured the girl,
“The altar is open and Jesus is here. All you must do is repent!”
In an instant, reaching a daintily gloved hand into her plain brown purse which hung from her shoulders by a thin cord strap, Italiza pulled out several photographs and tossed them at the feet of the man’s robe. As he instinctively bent to retrieve the photos, a murmur rose from the congregation members seated closest to the front of the church. Pale blue, lavender and soft pink hats turned toward muted tan, foamy green and innocent yellow ones; shiny bald spots spun left to right and gray-haired old men in pin-striped suits stamped their feet in confusion.
“What about you?” The young woman screamed. “When will you repent?”
“My child,” the preacher spoke quietly.
“Never call me that!” Italiza shrieked. Reaching into her plain brown purse once more, she swiftly pulled out the shiny .45 caliber weapon nestled there and aimed it squarely at the man’s chest. She did not flinch as people began to yell and shuffle around her.
“Sweet Jesus Deacon Earl, do something!’”
“She got a gun!”
“Everybody sit down, or he dies right now!” The otherwise calm young woman shouted.
“Please,” the preacher spoke into the microphone. “Sit down, family. God have mercy, maybe we can hear the chil—this sister out and save a soul. All saints oughta be praying right now.”
“That’s right,” Italiza scoffed, holding the gun steady. “Start praying—and while you’re at it, keep the music playing.”