The girl sits on her old teeter totter in the backyard, eating mini marshmallows out of a bag. Pushes off. Crick. Down. Crick. Pushes off again. Crick. Pork Chop the Chihuahua watches each marshmallow go from fingers to mouth, cocking one eyebrow, then the other.
A man in a black suit and hat walks down the alley. It’s early August, 98 degrees. He has something in his hand.
“Hey, Mister! What’s in your hand?”
The man stops at the fence and holds a hammer and a bar of soap up.
The girl and Pork Chop stare. Mrs. Potter from three houses over once walked through the alley carrying a squawking chicken she was going to turn into a nice soup with noodles and carrots and celery, but that was about as weird as the girl had ever seen.
“Why you wearing that hot suit?” The girl scratches Pork Chop behind his little ears. The tiny dog leans into her hand, shivers with contentment.
The man smiles and leans his forearms on the fence. “Would you like to hear the Word of God?”
“You a preacher or something?”
“Something like that. I help people, showing them God’s goodness and grace.”
“How you find them?”
“They tend to find me.” The man juggles the hammer and the bar of soap to his other hand, pulls a handkerchief out, wipes his brow.
The girl sees her best friend by the trees. Maggie?
The girl and Maggie, flip flops slapping on the sidewalks, giggling, arms draped around each other’s shoulders or waists, eyes down when the older boys would rev their engines and shout as they roared by, then giggling again, clutching their arms, the downy hairs tingling. Then, the girl’s daddy already downstate, springtime, one of the older boys stopping as she walked along the road, offering a ride, No thanks, offering it again, No, really, I’m almost home. Next day, girls laughing, boys pointing, one sticking his finger in her face, We hear you’re a good time. Everyone laughing, the girl cutting through backyards, missing her big bear of a daddy who still called her Princess Sunshine, missing her momma who’s distracted from working three jobs, missing her best friend who called her trash as the girl ran out the school doors.
The man in the suit turns and looks. “See someone?”
“No, guess not. Mister, you haven’t said what you’re doing with those things.”
“Why, to do my washing and build a house for the Lord.”
The girl hears a saw start up in the garage. Daddy?
The girl’s daddy, building her a bookcase on their last weekend together, the girl sitting on a milk crate, watching, listening over the buzz of the saw and pounding of nails. Made a stupid mistake, baby. You mind what’s good and you won’t go wrong. But make sure it’s the good you’re hearing. That’s where I got it wrong. The girl wrapped her arms around her daddy and didn’t let go until her arms went numb.
The man in the suit cocks his head. “Hear something?”
“No, guess not. You got a long ways to go? You thirsty, Mister?”
“No, thank you. I’m on my way to Redemption. I was told it’s just up the way a bit, past the edge of town.”
“Past Mr. Elwood’s dairy farm?”
“So I hear.”
“What’s this Redemption look like?” The girl wonders if it’s a town she’s never heard of or maybe that church out on Hwy B where talk is they play with snakes and fall to the floor. She hopes it’s not that.
The man in the suit drums his fingers on the gate, furrows his eyebrows. “Horses with velvet-soft muzzles tickling your palm for sugar cubes. Lilac bushes big as houses. No fighting. Fresh sheets on your bed every night, and the smell of bacon frying every morning. No one ever has to go away or find themselves alone, because there are no mistakes and no lies. All the ice-cold lemonade and chocolate donuts and French fries with extra ketchup you could ever want.”
She loves it all.
Pork Chop jumps up and down, wagging his little tail. He loves it all too. The girl and the man both laugh. She scoops up Pork Chop and walks toward the gate. She wants to see this Redemption for herself.