Nothing But the Hand of God
(The Preacher's Wife)

by Terry Clark

Lucille sat, hardly able to breathe, sweating though her clothes in the interrogation room off to the side of the squad room. The window in the room was left closed on purpose. The ninety degree weather outside was not nice. Detective Heathrow felt Lucille deserved the treatment. No air condition. No air movement. Just stale and suffocating air. Sweat soaked through rose colored sun dress. Lucille wiped her brow with her dingy handkerchief and sighed and wondered what her children would think. She already knew what Reverend Powers would say.

"Woe unto those who don't obey!"

And point his chafed, dry scolding index finger in her direction. "Obey! Obey! Obey!"

It all came with the package. The marriage. The children. A boy and a girl more influenced by their daddy than their mother. The boy was the worse. He took after the old man totally. Even began to walk and talk like him. Wore his clothes like him. Lucille hung her head and quickly swirled her finger from right to left in a circular motion to speak her mind and mood, "Whoooo!"

Willie was only three when she first saw the signs one morning at the breakfast table.

"Eat your oatmeal. Don't play in it. Come. Be a big boy for Momma," Lucille purred like a woman trying to seduce a grown man. Lil' Willie wouldn't fall for it.

"No!" He said and violently and threw his spoon against the kitchen wall of the kitchen. The force of the spoon hitting it marked the light yellow paint for twenty-five years. Like the cold wound Hezekiah had already put on her on heart, Lil' Willie's scorn only festered, grew larger and burned itself into the spot. Each time Lucille mentioned to Hezekiah about painting over it, he would berate her. 1

"Had no business making Lil' Willie angry. You just mess things up and don't know how to fix 'em."

As he got older, Willie started to dress like Hezekiah, who always looked like he was on his way to a funeral. Dark suit and tie. Polished, black or brown shoes. Even on the weekdays, in the middle of the day he would dress like that. How would Lil' Willie ever go to school and play with the other children and get dirty like them, Lucille often wondered? It was almost as if Lil' Willie knew from day one that he would get preferential treatment from his teachers and the rest of the administration. And he did. Over the years, Lil' Willie never changed his style of dress and even skipped gym. Being the preacher's son had its perks. So Lil' Willie made it point to carry his Bible everywhere he went. It made it easier to make people think he was in deep thought about scripture. The Mothers Board acknowledged early on that they approved of his growth and development and smothered him with their perfume, big hugs and big breasts. The women with daughters felt that if they could get on Lil' Willie's good side, then the easier the route would be to Hezekiah's pants. By sixteen, Lil' Willie was no longer little and practically married off to every teenaged, female member in the congregation. Willie, like his father took complete advantage of the situation. He would date several young ladies at the same time, never committing to just one.

Through the window on the door, Lucille saw Detective Heathrow out in the squad room sitting on the edge of-his desk. The room was busy with activity as the other officers darted throughout the room. Lucille wondered whether Heathrow discussed her case with the other officer he faced or were they talking about the baseball game. Was she more interesting than the Cubs? The Cubs wouldn't be all that interesting. Each year they started out with high hopes of winning a pennant or at least being in contention in September, but it seemed to never happen. Same old stuff. Same old play. Same old fans. Maybe Ms. Kiwi could help. At least she had given them something to talk about, she mused, A preacher's wife? A simple trip and fall? A bullet to the heart? Lucille was sure the coroner wouldn't have to search long to find the cause of death. Maybe Willie would preach the funeral. Yes, that would be nice. It was the least he could do since he loved him so much. Loved him so much. Loved him so much!

Lucille tried to love Hezekiah too. Tried very hard to be a good, long suffering first lady. Hezekiah's creed was that she should, always "obey." Obey his every command and not question, or else she would get the belt and she wouldn't want that. If it came to that, Lucille's self-esteem would kick in and she would cry. Not because she felt the hard, hot, stinging licks but because she felt that she had let Hezekiah down and did not fulfill her obligations as a wife. The beatings would always end the same, a hot bath to keep the swelling down and a gentle scolding by Hezekiah.

"Lucille, baby, why you wannna make me mad? Don't you know Daddy don't like to put the hurt on you? When Daddy has to do that, it don't make me feel good."

Hezekiah rubbed Lucille's back as she wept in heaving breaths. Willie and his sister always listened quietly on the other side of the door. Hezekiah closed his eyes and threw back his head, sucking air between his teeth.

"Lord made you 'all from Adam's rib. That mean you ain't 'exactly whole, you see. So you'll need us to get along. You follow, Lucy?"

In a twisted way, Lucille loved the way Hezekiah would say, "Lucy." Lustful and commanding was how the name had come to wrap itself around Lucille's mind and heart. There was no turning back. No leaving the fold. When Lucille's father gave Hezekiah her hand in marriage, she didn't know that she was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire. Her father had always warned her as she grew up.

"Gal, you got to find yourself a man. If you don't your hair gon' be all over the floor before you twenty-one. And if that happens, we'll be the embarrassment of the neighborhood! Once you leave, don't come back. You can't do no better than a preacher!"

"No better than a preacher." Lucille silently mouthed the words to herself. Did they leave me in this room with the windows shut on purpose or did they forget that I needed to breathe? Breathing on a regular basis was something Lucille had to do when she could. Being Hezekiah's wife was not the easiest thing in the world. He was the reason her hair was coming out, not because she couldn't find a man. Lord have mercy, she had lost her mind.

Lucille felt the heat overtake her. She began to nod and kept flinging her head backwards to stay awake. Lucille thought, shouldn't I be more concerned. This is serious business. After all, a man had died. A man who was her husband, a father, a brother, a son. Only a husband to her-and what a husband. Reverend Powers had been born into the ministry. In his grandfather's footsteps, he started preaching when he was eight years old. The fire and brimstone burned in his young, innocent eyes. Unlike Lucille and the other children, Hezekiah was always in the scripture and quick with a lecture when his peers did wrong. But Lucille had grown to know something else. Something other people didn't know. She had learned it the hard way over the years-with the pedestal and the pulpit come privilege. Six months before their marriage, Hezekiah claimed he had to make sure Lucille was still a virgin.

"You know I don't want to get to that night of consummation and find out something different. The Bible says..."

Lucille interrupted, "Why can't you just take my word for it? Don't you trust me?" Lucille played with the curled, black bangs that hung just above her shoulders.

Hezekiah insisted. "This is what my father required of my mother. It's also a test to see if you will obey."

His eyebrows widened and rose as he placed his hand on Lucille's breast. Lucille tried to resist, but she gave in that night. She couldn't turn down the opportunity to marry the one man all of the church going girls in town were chasing. The one man whom mothers would have gladly sacrificed their daughters at Hezekiah's feet. Lucille got her golden apple and then some.

Lucille was startled by Detective Heathrow's sudden entry into the room. He held a balled up napkin with ketchup stains in his hand.

"Lunch must have been good," Lucille said teasingly.

Detective Heathrow was not amused. "Listen, lady, here's what we have and here's what we know. Apparently, it was the fall down a flight of stairs. internal bleeding explains the lack of blood spill. No sign of struggle. Did you push him from behind?"

Lucille protested, "I didn't..."

Detective Heathrow cut her off and pounded his fist into the center of the table. "Well, how in the hell did it happen? And don't give me that lame ass story about Miss Kiwi or whatever her name is. You're the only suspect. Your son and daughter were at school. You and Reverend Powers were at home alone. Or were you? Did that lady help? You two got something going on? Tell me the truth!"

Lucille inhaled her breath and started whimpering. Heathrow's brow furled and his eyes rolled toward the ceiling. He felt a twinge of empathy for Lucille and decided to take a softer approach.

"Tell me about this Miss Kiwi. Did she put you up to it or what?"

Lucille stopped crying. She let out a breath and fanned under the hem of her sun dress. "Miss Kiwi..., Miss Kiwi.. .she...a friend of mine in the congregation referred me to her. She said Miss Kiwi had helped her before, maybe she could help me. She gave me the number and address. I called the number and set up an appointment. She told me to come that afternoon."

* * *

Hezekiah and Lil' Willie had gone. It was eleven o'clock and Lucille rushed around the house the rest of the morning. She finished cooking dinner, covered the plates in aluminum foil and placed them in the refrigerator. Lucille checked her purse, making sure all the money was there. Miss Kiwi emphasized, several times to her, that any advice given would not be as reliable if she didn't bring the exact amount. As she hurried towards the door, she stopped to look back at the clock on the mantel, just to make sure of the time. It looked as if it were frozen, yet still ticking, stuck on eleven o'clock. It should be later than that, Lucille thought.

Lucille got off of the bus at Wabash and Randolph. She walked slowly, checking the addresses on the huge office buildings. There, in the window of the second floor of 132 N. Wabash was a lighted, neon sign that read "Readings by Kiwi." Lucille rushed and entered through the revolving doors. The cool, air-conditioned breeze cleared her nostrils. She acknowledged the greetings of the security guard at the desk and headed straight for the elevator. The elevator doors closed and the car lifted. Doubt invaded Lucille's mind, perching itself undemeath her flowered hat. She stared at the floor lights on the panel as she wiped the sweat and make-up mix from her face with a Kleenex. Ding! The car stopped. The doors opened onto an outer office. She looked and several feet in front of her was Miss Kiwi's office. The outer office was empty, except for an office chair, desk, small couch and a wall clock. No pictures. No computer. No file cabinet. A low buzzing sound, almost inaudible, hummed in her ears and filled the air. Lucille stepped awkwardly and lightly a few feet forward. She squinted her eyes, and tried, but couldn't see through the shaded glass door. Curious, she reached, turned the glass door knob and pushed forward. It was empty. Right away, she caught the sweet, smell of incense and candles. She couldn't tell exactly which flavor, but it smelled like burnt cinnamon. A voice from a dark comer ordered, "Come!" Lucille took small baby steps, clutching her purse tightly, she crossed the threshold.

Kiwi spoke. The tone in her voice had changed from that of a general to a soothing, mother's calm, "Come in. Sit, my child." Kiwi sat, smiling behind a large, polished oak wood desk and gestured towards a small table off to the side. All of the shades were drawn. The only light came in from the outer office and the lighted candles on the table. Even the noise from the elevated trains and the street outside seemed to be shut out. Kiwi smiled. Lucille studied Kiwi and saw that several of her teeth were missing. Lucille tried to relax as she walked over to the table, at the same time perusing the room. Lucille couldn't tell the exact color of the carpet, walls, the ceiling nor the color of her own dress. By the time Lucille sat down, Kiwi had somehow gotten up from behind the desk, closed the door and was seated opposite her. Kiwi's face had lost her smile and her expression turned serious.

"Did you bring the money? Kiwi asked..

Lucille nodded yes and started to open her purse.

Kiwi held up an open hand. "Stop! Not until we are finished." Then she leaned forward, questioning in a sing-song, "Child, what troubles you?"

Lucille cleared her throat, "My husband. ..he..I need him to stop...if he'd only stop. "

Kiwi urged her on, "Stop doing what he is doing?"

"Yes, but let me explain just what he's doing." Lucille looked puzzled.

"No need. I already know. I feel the vibe. It is one of shame, guilt and fear. Everyone in your community knows of his counseling. His service is to the community. It is the reason most of the parishioners favor you. He is counseling as we speak." Lucille turned away with a shameful look towards the window and then at the floor. "What should I do? I just want him to stop. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to see these same people every Sunday. Miss Kiwi, you understand, I don't mean no one no harm. I just want.. ."

Again, Kiwi's hand went up and Lucille yielded. "There is nothing you can do. The universe will right itself on its own. It will be nothing but the hand of God. We are not in control. You must believe in the spirit and follow my instructions to the letter."

"How will I know if he stops?" Lucille was starting to feel dizzy. The room became stifling. It didn't feel like this when she first sat down, Lucille thought.

"You will know. Just watch the clock."

"What clock? Miss Kiwi, please!"

"Leave the money on the table."

Lucille began to perspire even worse than when Detective Heathrow had first come in earlier. He didn't look too pleased with her story about Miss Kiwi.

"So, where can I find this Kiwi person? I want to talk to her if you don't mind."

"To tell you the truth, sir, I don't really know. After I left that afternoon, I could never reach again. The phone was disconnected every time I tried to call and..."

"Don't worry yourself, Mam'. Tell you what-give me that address again and I'll see if I can shoot over there, just to check her out. You know you'll have to stay in the lock up while I'm gone."

"You mean in a cell? Oh, Lord!"

"I'll leave word so that you'll be the only one in there, okay. And I don't do that for everybody. But I'll warn you now, there'll be hell to pay if you're sending me off looking for this chick for nothing."

Lucille only half listened. She kept mumbling. "Oh, Lord... Lord.. .Lord."

She sat on the mattress, arms folded with a blank look on her face. Her mind had faded into a mist. She felt an overwhelming need to hum a song to herself. The same song her mother used to hum to her when she was a little girl. It always brought her peace. She would sit on the floor and lean on her mother's leg while she sang in a low voice and stroked Lucille's head and combed her thick, black hair. She always teased Lucille that she would one day take a pair of shears and cut it the next time she was bad. The next time never came as far as Lucille was concerned. Her mother took sick and died six months later. From then on, it was as if her father couldn't marry her off fast enough. If she didn't marry, it would break his heart. She would not fulfill her duty as a daughter. He also insisted that she go to church. Besides at school, this was where Hezekiah's touch took hold.

"You know when my granddaddy's gone they'll expect me to pick up where he left off?" Hezekiah spied Lucille from the comer of his eye and with an inquiring look. "

Hmm, and you need a wife. What would a brother minister with a big ole congregation like this do without a First Lady? That would be blasphemous, wouldn't it?" Lucille laughed to herself.

"Watch out now, girl. You might have just what I need, but don't get too hainty on me," Hezekiah said. "You ain't the only fish, you know."

Periodically, a female officer would saunter past. After the fifth time, she stopped. "Funny, you don't look like a murderer."

Lucille felt insulted and tried to snap back at the officer. "What's a murderer supposed to look like?"

The officer had rekindled a boiling pot of intense feelings in Lucille. She reminded her of Eva, the one who broke Lucille's back. Six months earlier, Eva had begun sitting in the second pew of the sanctuary-a painted portrait, wearing wigs, lashes and make-up. Eva sat, a mirrored opposite of Lucille on the other side of the church. Eva's dresses had slowly changed their colors and patterns to those of red and pink flowers. The rumor mill had started and as much as Lucille tried to cover her ears and shield her heart, the stinging would not quit. Even the children in the Sunday school classes giggled and pointed. They had heard the whispers of their parents.

Once, edged on by one of the deacon's wives, Lucille gathered up the nerve to confront Eva. Eva stood fast, with an all knowing smile that (had "clean up woman" written all over it) said, ("If can't keep him happy, what do you expect?") Lucille gave up and left the building with Willie dragging behind, pretending he didn't know what had just transpired and why. That afternoon Lucille got the call from the deacon's wife, who had seen and heard everything and mentioned Kiwi as a remedy. Lucille wondered what time it was. She sat and stared at the comer of the gray, concrete floor. A calm, serene feeling wrapped itself around her. Detective Heathrow had been gone for awhile. It had to be at least three in the morning, she thought. (The night sky had taken over by now.) Ms. Kiwi should be able to set him straight and put an end to all this foolishness. Victory in mind? Whatever it was that happened, they couldn't blame her. All she did was follow Kiwi's instructions. A lock of Hezekiah's hair, placed in a crystal shot glass, buried three inches deep into the ground, exactly six feet from the back of the house in the middle of the yard at midnight. This, Kiwi assured her, would definitely break the spell that these evil women had put on him. Lucille thought to herself, "It will never work. Just a waste of Hezekiah's money spent on Ms. Kiwi."

Lucille heard the commotion down the hall She heard Detective Heathrow clamoring and loud.

"Let her out! Just let her out, Goddamnit!"

Lucille heard the female officer's protests, "Man, detective, what happened? She put a spell on you too?"

Lucille sighed and swung her head slightly to the side, while ignoring the noise outside the cell and listening for the rumbling underneath her feet. The water. The river. The ocean. Whatever it was, it was moving. Talking--speaking her language. Saying something to her. The next thing she heard was the cell door, sliding and opening. The female officer beckoned Lucille to come forward and pointed. Lucille got up, smoothed her dress and stepped into the corridor. She could see Heathrow further down the hall. As she got closer, his face became clearer, but he looked different. A glazed look draped his eyes. His hair and suit was disheveled. He looked like he wanted to say something, couldn't articulate it at all. Lucille brushed past without speaking.

The taxi pulled up in front of the house. Lucille got out and started towards the walk way and up the steps. She stopped briefly at the door and looked up at the stars that dotted the sky. The driver had pulled away. She got up her courage and entered. She made a beeline straight to her easy chair. "His and Hers" was what she had knitted on the shawls that covered the backs. She picked up her knitting ball and decided to finish knitting Hezekiah's sweater. Lucille glanced at the clock on the mantle. It said eleven 0' clock.

Nothing But the Hand of God (The Preacher's Wife) by Terry Clark

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