Happy Clappy

September 7, 2014  
 
“I cannot stand a happy clappy church,” Farmer Orville said. “That minister we got now, he goes up and down the aisles, happy, happy, feel good about yourself. Religion ain’t about feeling good. I want a man of stature standin’ in a pulpit over me, ringin’ the truth. Them ACL Lutherans, they got women preachers.”
 
I just listened; Orville doled out the theology. Nothing will ever change either of us. I searched the horizon for the space ship that would take me home.
 
We both watched Reba the farm dog come running from the blackberry bushes, some poor critter dangling from her mouth. It was a large field mouse. Reba tossed it, caught it in her jaws, bit down with a satisfying crunch and swallowed it whole, a mouse tail the last bit, looking like a tampon string then disappearing into the belly of the beast. 
 
I blanched. I’m awfully dizzy these days. Reba, meanwhile, crawled between my legs and onto her back, a slight bulge in her tummy: “Scratch me, Gene.”
 
“What,” Orville said. “It saves me dog food. Did you think wolves eat brie?”
 
I never thought wolves ate brie.
 
“In the good old days, men and boys sat on one side the aisle, women and girls on the other. Now they set together, they gossip. They do a lot of things when they’re together. Oh, don’t get me started.”
 
It doesn’t take much to get Orville started. In this case it was me driving up when I’m not supposed to be driving. Today was his seventy-seventh birthday. He complained that his kids and grandkids ate him out of house and home, the day before at his birthday party. 
 
I looked at every angle of the house, the barns, the corral, the fields and woods. It was like I was seeing them for the very first time. The colors were more vivid, the birdsong sharper, the earth smell so intense.
 
The male barn cat (they don’t have names) climbed on my friend’s overalls leg and hung in the breeze by its front paws. Orville shoved it toward me and it jumped on me and hung from my left pants leg and bloodied my knee. I checked to make sure the blood didn’t run. 
 
I’m not supposed to cut my nails lest they bleed. I’m not to participate in contact sports. I’m not to eat fried foods. I read this over a plate of fried green tomatoes. I know what I’m not supposed to do, but there are no “to do” guidelines. 
 
I have never been happy clappy. Many times I came out of the closet naked, after I was locked in for speech and denied food, by the old man. He used to clap me over the ears for small transgressions; my ears ring to this day. Now for a climax, he’s given me lethal cholesterol.
 
I know what the mouse felt like, at the moment of crunch. I spent my childhood hiding from a master mouser. There is a heaven for mice. There is a hell for men.
 
Orville opened wide his arms. Silly me, I thought he wanted a hug. I sure could have used a hug. He saw what I thought and said he’d have to pummel me if I came closer. 
 
He wasn’t kidding. 
 
We both know–you do know, don’t you?–the Dog Star will eat us.
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