| Catapult Alumni
Fiction Excerpt from ‘And Let God Sort Them Out’
This excerpt was written by Errol Ray Anderson in A. E. Osworth’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
No one in the Marrow family expects a photograph to change their lives when they pose outside their Atlanta home in the summer of 1979 to promote Paradise Park, their Catholic amusement park. But when Sister Celestine Sejour of New Orleans sees the photo, she recognizes Macon Marrow as the white man who lied about her husband’s role in the Long Binh Prison riots in Vietnam, damning him to an untimely death. She entrusts her daughter, Selah, who has never lived without her father’s ghost, with the project of reconciliation or revenge.
Selah arrives at the Park to find that Macon took his own life years before. Uncertain of what to do, now that the object of her hatred is already dead, she meets Cass, Macon’s favorite, who’s charming and bold, but an outcast in this faith-first world, where he lives as a man despite having been assigned female at birth. He’s a drug dealer by night and park attendant by day, struggling to keep the family afloat, and soon nursing a huge crush on Selah. Without revealing her identity, Selah takes a job reading Tarot cards at the park and inserts herself into the world of the Marrows. The three oldest children—Cass, Joe, and Magdalene—all fall for Selah in different ways, and find themselves competing ruthlessly for her affection, until a dramatic accident sends one Marrow to the hospital and Selah, now pregnant, on her way.
Against the backdrop of a gentrifying Atlanta, the Marrows and the Sejours will come apart and come back together, tangled in violence and desire across three generations. With a bloody and beating urgency, And Let God Sort Them Out explores redemption and faith, revenge and grace, and ultimately what it means to be moral in a country that never has been.
1996: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
During his 33rd year—his Jesus year, if he was being superstitious about it—Cass had a woman for a while who he pretended could be a wife. She was a good girl and so he tried to be better than he knew he was. He had a bit of money then and it made him feel reckless: even the Park was doing alright in those days. Seemed like everyone’s eyes were on the horizon of the dawning millennium, and even if most of the world was more Godless than ever, a small but mighty contingent was rising up in church pews and on talk radio and cable access channels and in AOL chat rooms to find each other and help folks find God. His mother was happier than she’d ever been. People wanted the Park more than they ever had. More than that, it seemed like the whole city was on the come-up, shined and new for the world’s Olympic stage. All those cameras, all those healthy golden athletes, all those visitors, all that money. So Cass took his woman out on the town. Skyscrapers and cranes, car lights and diamonds reflected in her eyes. All he saw was longing, and for a while he was flush with being the cure for it.
While other women wore slip dresses and miniskirts with Doc Martens, she preferred conservative Laura Ashley florals on the weekends, as well as for her job as a stenographer in the big federal court downtown. It turned him on to know what wonders her dresses hid. All day long, she listened to criminals and liars talk. Still, she missed what was criminal in him. Still, she believed his lies. She wanted babies; that too was in her eyes. For a long time she knew enough not to say it, but he saw the way she stared at the women they passed in restaurants, at church, lush in the fullness of their purpose; the way she mentioned with envy even the pregnant woman in handcuffs being led back to her cell. Cass let her see all of him; wrapped his whole naked body around her at night, pressed his hands into the soft round place where her belly might grow in some easier man’s care.
They were happy for a good while. Her church taught her to twist herself into whatever shape he needed. Her church taught her all men were projects and all women perfecters. Her church taught her the only difference between a good man and a no-count one was a godly woman. So for a long time all his failures only made her more holy. She shone in his shadow, in the light reflected by the circle of women who swelled around her in biblical council. She was patient, she was kind, she glowed with purpose. She read books to mold herself into a more conducive shape for him, but whether she believed that he truly was from Mars and she from Venus, it was to her credit that she tucked the paperback into her nightstand when he slept over and only brought it up in such a way as to affirm their complementary differences.
She forgave and waited, biding her time with the confidence of the faithful. He drank too much, sure, but he never hit her. He was gone all day and half the night at the Park, but never had another woman. He often seemed emotionally far away, but weren’t all men? What, to his knowledge, she never shared—not even with the best in her circle of girlfriends—was that part of her confidence must’ve come from the fact that he gave her, and her alone, the secret of his body, its deformity. Their sex together resulted in feelings and sensations her rudimentary talks with her mother and sister had not hinted could be possible. Their special, private connection was not something that could be faked nor taken for granted. God put a promise on his heart. She just knew it.
Cass could’ve gone on like that for a long while, leaving the Park late and coming back to work at dawn, spending nights in her tidy working girl’s apartment with its carefully chosen items, its loving thoughtful placement of matching things. He could have invited that order into his life forever, told himself he would, except he knew that even she would eventually realize that what he offered her was not enough—was in fact, woefully inadequate to the task of adult love.
Disappointing his own mother, he went with her to her parents’ church: a three-thousand person, neo-colonial Southern Baptist castle in Jonesboro, and every Sunday she ran her pale pink nails across the back of his neck, all through the preacher’s fire and brimstone and tears and shouts and pleas for more and more money, and he thought of nothing but how he wanted to get home fast and fuck her before he lost his hunger, his conviction, his own brimstone and fire. Her father looked him steady in the eye and shook his hand hard upon greeting and leaving every Sunday, like they were strangers or business associates or sworn enemies, but by then Cass had shaken a lot of hands. His own hands were harder. He didn’t even have to think about it anymore. He knew how to fit in.
The day things broke apart, the father took him for a walk across the scalding church asphalt, so rich and black and new it was sticky, tugging at their heels, still smelling like tar, like money. He said, Well son, seems like my daughter wants to marry you. And Cass said, Yessir. He said, My wife is ready for grandchildren, you understand don’t you, and Cass said, Yessir. He said, We’d like for her to be provided for, can you do that on your own? And Cass said he could; did not say he knew his girl liked her job, would not quit it except for babies. Then, with it settled, the father wanted to know if Cass would like to come see his Winchester 100th anniversary model rifle, and Cass allowed that he would, and they shook again to close the deal, and the father wiped one small shameful tear and patted Cass on the back, again, always too damn hard. By then the women—his woman and her mother—had come out under the shade of one of the few grandfather oaks that had not been cut to make the parking lot, and waved them over expectantly, seeing the thing had been brokered, and Cass smiled hard, but heard the nails echoing from where the father and time had driven them into the coffin of inevitability and he knew he could not marry her and would have to disappear.