It wasn't unusual for us to run behind the little wooden chapel in the midst of our game playing to find them back there talking, or holding hands, or, sometimes, even kissing. I remember playing a game of stuck-in-the-mud, which is a game where the "it" person tags someone who is then "stuck" until a fellow team member crawls between the stuck player's legs. It was a game that our parents discouraged because the girls wore their nice Sunday dresses which were easily torn by careless kids sliding between the girls legs. We played it with the stubbornness of preadolescent rebellion.
Ricky Locke was it, and he had just tagged my little brother, Joey. Joey was a year and a half younger than me, so I figured it was up to me to look out for him. Ricky was circling around Joey, daring us to come rescue him. I knew that the straight forward approach was impossible; I had to think of another way. I would have to wait until he was distracted, then run around the church and come up from behind him.
"You can't guard him like that! It's 'gainst the rules!" yelled Lisa Carver in her distinctive, high pitched whine.
She was only six, but she was some kind of gifted child, her parents said. They said she had an IQ of 133, which must be pretty good because they were awfully proud of it. She was always correcting people and pointing out things that they did wrong. One time in the middle of church, when Pastor Cunningham said that the shortest verse in the Bible was Luke 11:35: "Jesus wept", Lisa yelled out, "nuh-uh, it's John 11:35, cause it's talking about Jesus bein' sad cause Laz'rus died. And anyways, Jesus brought him back to life so it turned out that he didn't even hafta cry--but he did anyway."
"I'm not guarding him!" Ricky yelled back. "I'm staying ten feet away," he took a couple of steps away from Joey. "See!"
Ricky's parents always said that he was a born lawyer. He had argued that "guarding" was too general a term, so we ended up setting limit on how close the "it" person could get to someone who was stuck without chasing someone else. When I was it, I went out of my way not to guard because I thought that the game was more fun if you gave everybody a chance. But Ricky wasn't real athletic, so he made up for it by guarding stuck people from a ten foot (or closer) radius.
Lisa threw her arms into the air and let out an exaggerated sigh. Seeing that her guard was down, Ricky ran at her. I didn't wait to see what happened. I turned around and ran. Now, I was always the fastest runner of all us kids, but I knew that I still had a chance of getting caught because Ricky would know what I was doing as soon as he noticed that I was gone. Once he knew what was going on, he would just have to go around the other side of the church and intercept me. I was running alongside the church now, thinking about how to go about rescuing my brother once I got around behind him. Should I just keep running and slide between his legs, or should I stop and make sure Ricky wasn't paying attention first.
Next thing I knew, I was eating dirt. So much for the surprise attack, I thought, Stupid ground can't even stay flat so I can run. I laid there for a moment looking at the wall of the church beside me. It was made of a corrugated gray sheet metal which had faded and rusted in places over time. My dad always said that it had character. My mom always said that it looked like crap.
That's when I heard her cry out. First was the smack, the sound of a heavy, open palmed slap on the face, then came the scream. It didn't get a chance to develop into a full scream; it was quickly reduced to a muffled, high pitched whine. I waited, unable to move while the whine kept going and going and going. Then it stopped. I pulled myself up to my hands and knees and inched closer to the corner of the building. The small rocks and dying grass cut into my knees as I leaned over to peak around the corner.
"Now, you know I love you." Clive's voice was quiet, but harsh with its southern twang. "If you'da believed that to begin with we wouldn't be havin this little problem."
Clive had Sherry pinned on the ground with his knee on her chest and one hand clamped over her mouth. He leaned in close to her, and, sliding his hand off her mouth, kissed her deeply. He slid his knee down from her chest, and her rigid body began to relax.
"What're ya looking at?"
I turned around. Lisa was standing behind me with her hands on her hips.
"Shhhh!" I turned back around. Lisa leaned over and looked with me.
"Are they doing it?"
"No. Shut up."
"Yes they are. They're doing it and you're watching." I ignored her. Clive was laying beside Sherry now, and his hand was casually making its way up her leg.
"Hey Clive and Sherry! You picked the wrong place to do it! Don't ya know that people are watchin?"
Scared and giddy, we ran back to the front of the church as fast as we could. I beat her by a good five seconds. I stood leaned over with my hands on my knees like Mr. Johnson, the P.E. teacher in elementary school, taught me. Ricky ran up to me and slapped my arm.
"You're stuck!" I ignored him. Then came Lisa running around the corner of the church.
"Hey, guess what! Clive and Sherry are doin' it out back!"
Now, you'd think that somebody would just tell the adults what was going on so they could go back and stop it, but that's not the way things worked at my church. I've paid close attention to the way that news spreads there, and this is the only way that I can explain why it took so long for any of the grown-ups to get back and take care of the situation:
After church each Sunday, people would break up into their little cliques and talk for a good half hour. They called it fellowshipping, but most other people would call it gossiping. Lisa's older brother Larry had been half-watching us play, and I saw his head perk up when Lisa yelled. Larry was thirteen at the time and he was trying to get in with the older kids. He would often hang around right outside of their fellowship circle in the hopes of being invited in. He called Lisa over to him and I saw her dutifully relating all the details. With a glance up at me, he bounced off to fellowship his way into the teenager circle. From there, the news would take another ten minutes to make its way into the adult fellowship circles. If someone would have used a more direct approach, just this once, maybe I wouldn't have killed Clive.
I hadn't planned on killing him. In fact, if the thought had crossed my mind, I would have pushed it out. But there I was with my knife in my hand, and there was Clive laying on the ground with blood coming out of his neck. I looked around. Sherry was leaning against the back of the church shivering, and Ricky was on the ground moaning. The deed was over by the time the pastor, Sherry's parents, and most of the adults from the church came around the corner. When I saw them, I dropped my knife and ran. I don't know why I ran. Maybe I was scared, maybe I thought I would get put in jail or thrown in the electric chair. Old man Harmon was the one who caught me. I gave up, letting myself lay limp in his arms as he dragged me away.
Since then, I've been psychoanalyzed and hypnotized for the purpose of finding out what happened, all without success. As strange as it seems, I have perfect recollection of taking Ricky aside and telling him what I saw and heard out back. I remember walking with Ricky to the back of the building hearing a muffled cry. I remember shivering and feeling scared. I remember reaching into my pocket and touching my knife, grasping it , then letting it go. I remember digging deeper into my pocket and touching my little Gideon New Testament. I remember praying "Dear Jesus, help me out here." Then we reached the corner of the building. The next thing I remember is standing over Clive's body.
It seems that Ricky had the same kind of blackout. When he came out of it, he had a huge bruise on his stomach, like he was kicked real hard. Sherry didn't remember anything either. She had tried to cry out again, and Clive had practically suffocated her trying to keep her quiet. The doctor said that she passed out from lack of oxygen. They said that me and Ricky's minds had tricked us into forgetting what happened because it was too much for us to handle.
Now, some people don't believe that God answers prayer. But they weren't with me on that day. I know that the pastor paused and said a silent prayer before coming out back. I know that because I heard him. I heard him ask God what to do. And I heard God tell him not to worry because everything was taken care of.