“The healer’s home is a genuine trailer and sure as shit there’s the letters J-E-S-U-S graffiti-ed in red right across it.”
My tooth has gone black. My mother said it died from sugar and my forgetful brushing and now I must suffer the consequences. She says it kindly, but it lands hot as the truth, because there’s nothing she can do. We don’t have health insurance and even if we did, dental is never included. So, here I am sucking on a popsicle—the only thing that soothes it—in the God-awful August sun and watching Duris and waiting for Curly to come take us to the healer.
It must be how the rich live.
Yeah, baby, I’ll take you to the healer.
That’s my cousin!
healthcareas we know it?
One rumor: bathes in chicken guts in a tub in his front yard.
One rumor: killed his twin brother and buried him beneath his trailer.
One rumor: is sweet and kind and after he lays his hands on you, you will never get sick again, never be sad, never, never.
One rumor: was once a tax accountant and now is simply crazy with no magic to speak of and don’t go near him.
Part of me wants to ask Curly how he knows where to find the healer. Part of me wonders why Curly is taking me at all. Probably it has to do with Duris and her beauty. Duris and her beauty have opened many doors for her, and on account of our blood relation, they will now open a door for me. For a long time, I did not understand why Duris spent time with me. I thought, she’s bored or has nothing better to do. I thought, we are the only girls of similar age that live at Eutaw Mobile Homes estate. I thought, that’s how family does it. I thought, she is lonely.
We pass a garden of white crosses written on with black paint. White crosses are suddenly everywhere I look. They are stuck deep into the soil and covered in apocalyptic sayings like: HELL WILL BURN BURN BURN YOU.
Curly says, “Here we go now. Getting close.”
READ THE BIBLE
TOO LATE IN HELL FIRE WATER
The water in hell to DRINK is HOT HOT HOT
JESUS GOD SEX SINNERS
Sex Pit Help Me Jesus
Crosses are painted on tree trunks and on broken fence boards and on weather-worn flags and rotting planks that have been nailed to the side of anything or held in place with rusted barbed wire. Crosses grew out of the green bushes. Crosses come out of the green grass and the green weeds and the green ivy that grows over it all. So many crosses. In my eyes, there are only crosses.
“Well goddamn,” whispers Duris, solemn like she’s just entered church.
“Now, now,” says Curly. “Don’t let it scare you.”
When we pull up to the trailer, the sky is burnt orange and too bright to look at straight on. The healer’s home is a genuine trailer and sure as shit there’s the letters J-E-S-U-S graffiti-ed in red right across it. The JESUS paint dripped, and I can see where it ran toward the ground before the sun baked the word into place. This word is not alone. The entire trailer is covered in Biblical scrawl just like the crosses we saw on the road. Crosses dominate his yard, too, as do bike tires and lawn furniture and old freezers and antique lamps and broken dollhouses. Sculptures. Whatever he could find. Busted television sets. Transistor radios. Stereo systems. Garden hoses. Motorcycles. Dead cars. Mattresses. Everything. There is a white leather armchair with a slit down the center gushing out yellow innards and jesusjesusjesusjesus is scribbled across it in black marker. The biggest sign says:
WELCOME TO GOD’S HOSPITAL. ALL Y’ALL WELCOME.
The healer’s got a different kind of trailer than our homes, which could pass as real houses with their well-made front porches and plastic paneling that smells like wood. The carpet inside our homes is chemical clean and the windows are large and have shutters painted a deep dark blue. But there is something sharp and sinister about the healer’s place, like glass that catches the light and glints.
The healer, or at least it must be the healer, steps onto the porch and folds his arms over a long white dress, leans against the doorframe and tips the brim of a broad straw hat. Duris wants to come into the trailer with us, but Curly tells her to stay put. Maybe he thinks Duris isn’t brave enough to handle this. Maybe he wants it to be just the two of us having this experience. Either way, Duris sits in the car as Curly leads me to the stairs. I look back a few times at Duris, her mouth frowns just a touch and her wild eyes are quiet. I’m terrified and close to saying let’s go back, but I feel it’s too late already and my mouth won’t form the request. Duris makes herself smile and I know she doesn’t know what to do. I squeeze my eyes tight. Curly’s hand is on my back, and he applies a little pressure, telling me, without telling me, to go forth.
A pipe snakes through the dead grass and dribbles water from its mouth into a smelly puddle of mud. We walk through a swarm of fuck bugs, through a wall of wet heat, through the prophetic damning sculpture garden. The healer holds us in his gaze the entire time. We step onto the first stair, and I’m not scared anymore. Long, greasy hair runs down the healer’s neck and mixes with the coiled hair on his chest. He smiles at me with rows of perfect teeth. His teeth are pure and good. I wonder if Duris is visualizing. What is she visualizing? What future does she see for me?
Curly and the healer hug each other like brothers. What I’m saying is they embrace in a real way, not a slap of the back and a no homo man. It can’t be true, but I think Curly kisses the healer right on his dry pink lips. Curly says Duris will wait in the truck, but that he’s going come in with me. I try to hide my smile. He wants it to be just us. He doesn’t want me to be afraid.
“She look like a prophet,” says the healer.
I think he means my shaved head, which Mother sheared to peach fuzz after I got lice. I like it so much I want to keep it short like this, even though people at school have been calling me a monk.
In front of his altar to Jesus and other saints inside, the healer asks me if I want coffee. I hate coffee and say so, but I do it politely and the healer has tea. Curly admires the Jesus Altar, which is decorated with golden chimes and copper crosses and framed pictures of Paul the Apostle and Christ. Rosaries dangle from every hook or edge. There are framed pictures of other people, too. Strangers to me, but not to the healer. The altar takes up an entire wall and there is the same scriptural scrawl of GOD HOSPITAL written above the altar on a piece of river wood. I should be scared. I do know this. I know it in my brain, but my heart is on a different path. My heart wants to trust just one thing, and this might be it. The healer stirs sugar into a teacup of black liquid and smiles at me.
The healer, who introduces himself as Dove, walks me out the back door and I hear an engine start up and my blood runs backward and cold. Is Duris driving away? She might try to start a scene and make Curly leave to check on her. No. It idles. Music starts in the truck again. Duris only wanted to play music. There’s Tammy W. again and the sad-sadness comes radiating toward us in the backyard and even Dove stops and closes his eyes in reverence of “Stand By Your Man.” He begins singing under his breath.
The light is soft and spilling through the trees around us. It’s the thin, magic afternoon color that turns everything yellow. Golden hour. We step into that golden light and move toward what looks like a metal intake table with two chairs on either side. Dove pulls his mouth into a smile and gestures for me to sit. I give him the bag of greens and he looks pleased. He puts them on the ground.
A river runs close to here. I picture it winding its way through the thick forest, people I know stuck into fat rubber inner tubes, popping open beers and letting their mutts run along the river’s edge beside them. I can almost hear them laughing though I know that’s impossible.
“You come here for the healing,” Dove says kindly.
We are sitting on lawn chairs pulled right up to the edge of the table. I have taken a cup of tea though I don’t drink it. I just hold it between my thighs. Curly is wandering around the yard kind of nervous with his hands in his pockets and his eyes shifting over all the Jesus junk like he’s looking for something. I don’t even know Curly. His beauty could be one of those tricks the maw warns about.
“Tell me about your symptoms. What’s ailing you?”
I tell him about the screaming pain that won’t relent. It keeps waking me at night. I tell how I don’t want to eat and how I’m afraid to smile because of the way it looks. I tell him there’s a smell, too, like greens that’ve gone to rot.
Dove stirs his cup with a tiny spoon and listens. Mmmmmhmmmm goes his mouth. He nods like he understands and knows just what is wrong. He tells me how God healed him from a calloused cluster of ear cysts that made him deaf as a dog. He tells me how ever since the healing he’s been blessed with an ability to mend others and a willingness to do the dirty work of medicine that others are afraid of doing. He says he does it for free. It’s what the Lord wants.
“Like pulling teeth?” I ask.
“For instance,” says Dove.“Don’t be afraid, baby. The Lord is here.”
Dove crosses his legs in his dress, which might not be a dress but a primitive tunic. There is something feminine about the gangly hand he brings to his mouth each time he sips his coffee. There’s something feral about the smooth muscles that run through his limbs. I trust him. I don’t know why.
Dove begins to tell me how he was given a vision from the Lord that he needed to start his own God Hospital right here where people could get healed for free. He has patients come each week. Most are successful, and they depart happy and smiling and alive. He blesses them before they go with special God water that bubbles up naturally from the ground right beneath our feet. When he says most leave alive, I feel a coolness rise up on my arms.
Dove stands from the intake table and gestures for me to follow him. He takes me further into his property into a clearing. He asks me to lay on what looks like a dental chair. Curly stands beside us, almost like one of those nurses you see on television. The tarp under the chair is flecked with dried brown material. Dove gives me a small Jesus figure to hold during the process.
“In case it gets to hurting,” he says.
Dove pulls up a bucket of wrenches sitting in a teal liquid. It smells like bleach. Crows flap their wings through the sky. I close my eyes and visualize Duris wondering if she should come check on me. I visualize her hand in mine, and I wonder how bad a row of black teeth really is. I ask the God inside of my mind if this is okay and then listen for an answer.
“I’m going to let you be,” says Curly. “Like. Give you some privacy. I’ll check on Duris. She’s using up too much gas running the engine like that. Going to kill the car and then we’ll never be able to leave.”
He makes a nervous laughing sound and waves his arms around like a bird caught in a fight with the wind.
“Five more minutes,” I say, like a question. “Five more minutes then we’ll go together.”
I want to ask Curly if I can hold his hand or if he can sit down with me while Dove operates, but he’s walking away already. He never even looks to make sure the tools aren’t rusted, and that everything is okay. I close my eyes again and I think I hear a voice say: leave.
Dove says all he has to do is pull a few of the bad molars out and then he has a tea he’s going to give me to drink. New teeth will grow in pure and white and never rotten. He smiles his pearly, perfect fangs and he says: “I used to have rows of cavities, man. You can trust me. Trust me, baby doll.”
I grab the Jesus doll’s head and squeeze, preparing for the pain. I wonder if I should tell Dove I have to go to the bathroom, but then what? I imagine myself anywhere different which helps calm a person when they’re about to experience a traumatic event. I think of the soil between my fingers when I dig in the garden at the Eutaw Mobile Homes Estate. I picture pulling the green, fibrous spines of collards from the dirt and how they smell of sulfur and stink in a way that’s noble. I imagine the sun on my neck and my back bent over the little patch of earth I love.
When I look up at Dove, he’s eclipsed the sun. His face is blocking out its perfect circle of light. It glows behind him like a gloriole. When I study his eyes, I see a single wet drop run his cheek. His tear hits me right in the chest. I visualize Duris again. I try to manifest her help, and then I hear her voice call my name. It is singsong, like she isn’t even scared, like I shouldn’t be either.
“Wait,” she says. She’s on the back porch, and Dove looks up, and so do I. She looks younger than I’ve ever seen her look. “Get on up, Rae,” she says. “Get on up, girl.”
But I’m already standing. My legs are beneath me. My bare feet brace into wet soil. The chair is no place for my body. I hear Curly rev the engine of his truck, but it doesn’t even matter. Duris squares her shoulders. She flips her hair back like some kind of splendid horse. She is filled with light, all the light the sun can give has flooded her. Her skin is stitched in gold. She reaches out her hand, and it’s not far now.
Genevieve Hudson is the author of the story collection Pretend We Live Here, A Little in Love with Everyone and the forthcoming novel Boys of Alabama. Her writing has been supported by the Fulbright Program, Caldera Arts, the MacDowell Colony, and the Vermont Studio Center. @genhudson